They left on a two day hunting trip.
They were gone a week and a half. The knights were sent out looking for them, as were the guards. Uther was nearly wild with worry.
Then, without any fanfare, without anyone finding them, they just came back on their own. Horseless, they walked back into their home.
Now it had been a week since Arthur and Merlin stumbled back into Camelot, haggard and tired, covered in bruises and blood. Merlin's shirt was gone, and a new burn was on his chest, right next to the scar from where Nimueh had tried to kill him. Arthur favored his left side, where he had a fractured rib.
For the first time in his life, Arthur had refused to answer his father when he asked what happened. Uther had demanded to know, but Arthur looked at the floor with shadowed eyes and shook his head, swaying on his feet. Merlin leaned against the wall in the back and looked small, not meeting anyone's eyes even when Uther asked him a question.
So they'd gone to Gaius, been patched up, and sent to bed. And that was the end of that.
But not really.
Merlin was not inconspicuous by nature. Wherever he went, he was usually the first person his friends noticed, and everyone had a word or a greeting to call out to him as he passed by. Before the hunting trip, he'd called right back. Now he looked alarmed when he heard his name, his eyes widening before he remembered who'd yelled to him and he calmed down.
"Just jumpy," he told Gaius when he was asked, and he smiled convincingly. "I'll be fine."
And he would be, he was sure. Just as soon as he stopped leaping into the air and yelping every time Gaius tapped him on the shoulder.
He stuck closer to Arthur these days. He'd always followed the prince a bit like a faithful dog, but now he was rarely seen anywhere but at Arthur's side.
Though one could argue that was for Arthur's benefit and not his own.
Arthur kept waking up in the middle of the night, gasping. Sometimes a strange whining sound was coming from his throat, a noise without a name that he wasn't sure how he was making. He was kicking. His sheets were confining.
His hands would find their way to his head. He felt his hair, his face. It didn't hurt to touch them; the bruises were fading. He touched his arms. They were free.
The panic faded.
Then he would remember Merlin, and it came back. What seemed like a thousand different vivid memories crashed down on him and made his heart pound. Merlin. Where was Merlin?
He would throw aside the covers and get to his feet, his fast breathing the only sound in the darkness. And he would walk through the night to the physician's chambers, trying to calm down. If Gaius was sleeping, he didn't wake him up, just slipped past him and up the stairs.
He opened Merlin's door.
Merlin would be sleeping there on his bed.
And the panic, fierce like fire, would cool as he shut the door and went back down the stairs and to his own room.
The minute Arthur shut his door, Merlin's eyes would reopen and he would go back to staring at the ceiling sleeplessly. He didn't want Arthur to know he knew. He didn't want to talk about it.
They'd be fine, he was sure. And Arthur probably knew it too.
Arthur and Merlin would be fine.
Shuddering, Merlin would try to push his own memories away and turned over onto his stomach, hoping to get some sleep that night.
A/N: This story is not going to be continued. Just something I have been thinking about lately and wanted to write down. Oh, well, thanks for reading. Tell me what you think?