Title: Simple Words
Authors: Elizabeth Wilde & Chad Moore
Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Rating: NC-17 aka MA
Pairings: Arthur/Merlin, OMC/Arthur (one-sided), Arthur/OFC, OMC/Merlin, Uther/OMC
Summary: Merlin and Arthur discover that saying "I love you" doesn't eliminate the barriers between them.

Warnings: This story will contain violence, non-con and a whole lot of sexual content. If any of these things bother you, please either avoid this fic entirely or read the warnings included with the chapters carefully. This story also features both het and slash, though it focuses primarily on slash.
Disclaimer: BBC owns Merlin and all related characters, Robert belongs to Chad, and Beth owns Henry, Morena and Theoden. We just couldn't resist playing with the boys a bit, but I promise that we shall return them mostly unharmed.
Distribution: Nowhere without permission from the authors, my site at wilde
Feedback: to wilde

Chapter 1
Violence and very mild slash.

They'd come from everywhere all at once. Merlin wasn't even sure what direction the brigands had come from originally or if they had dropped from the trees. All he knew was that the two knights who had accompanied Arthur and himself on the short jaunt across the country hardly seemed like enough once the bandits set in. He was barely skilled enough with a sword himself to make any difference at all.

He watched as the other men fought and tried to help, but the quarters were too close and their eyes to sharp to risk magic. If Arthur were to see... The thought of what the Prince might think pained him almost as much as the idea that he would be executed should anyone find out. The action moved so fast that he barely kept up. Looking around for Arthur, Merlin finally spotted the other young man. "Arthur!" His call was lost in the sound of battle, and there was no way to make himself heard naturally. One of the bandits was coming up too quickly, sword held at the ready. If he wasn't stopped, his sword would end up buried in Arthur's back.

Without thinking, Merlin threw himself forward. There was no time for anything else, nothing other than a spell that might save Arthur in time. The sword slid through him. The blade was sharp, and for a moment, Merlin was shocked at how little it hurt, but the pain set in even before the man drew the blade free again, leaving the wound to bleed freely, apparently intent on finishing what he had begun. Without the blade's weight holding him up, Merlin pitched forward onto the dirt, barely staying on his knees through the suddenly blinding pain.

Starfire burned within Arthur as he turned and watched helplessly as Merlin was felled by a bandit's sword. In that split second beforehand, an angry retort aimed at Merlin teetered perilously on Arthur's tongue, but any ire the prince felt toward his servant for interrupting the flow of battle was forgotten in an instant. A death rattle erupted from the bandit's gurgling throat as Arthur stabbed his sword clean through the man's heart. He wrenched the weapon free, heedless of the blood now staining his chainmail, and rushed to Merlin's side. "You idiot!" Arthur exclaimed, his eyes shimmering with worry and concern. "Why did you have to get involved?"

Merlin looked up into the Prince's bright gaze and tried to focus on the words coming out of his mouth. He could see that Arthur's lips were moving. "Idiot" was easy enough to discern - he knew the shape of that word on the man's mouth quite well. "He... he was going to... hurt you..." The words sounded sluggish, and Merlin was finding it harder and harder to stay even upon his knees. The sounds of battle were fading, and he honestly wasn't sure whether everything was under control or if he was fainting. "Arthur..."

"Merlin!" Arthur cradled his servant in his arms, careful not to jostle the wounded man too badly. He glanced up, signaling the knights who had managed to see the bandits off. "Help me with him." Wasting no time, Arthur and his men returned to Camelot post-haste, the prince refusing to release his grip on Merlin even as one of the knights tried to insist on carrying his weight. He Merlin to his own room and ordered the men to fetch Gaius immediately. Once he was alone with Merlin, the prince gazed at the other young man with increasing worry. Merlin's skin was whiter than normal, and sweat had broken out on his forehead. "If you're trying to leave me, you could have gone about it another way," Arthur half-joked, reaching out to stroke Merlin's hair.

The ride had been a blur of trees and bushes and the oddly reassuring thump of Arthur's heart against his ear. Separated from that warmth, Merlin began to feel a chill once more. /Blood. I've lost a lot of it./ He raised one trembling hand and saw that it was stained with scarlet. "Oh..." That looked bad. Terrible, actually. Too frightened to look back down at the wound, Merlin looked up at Arthur instead with wide blue eyes. "Am I going to die?" he asked quietly. Arthur had seen mortal wounds many times. He had surely watched knights die in battle. If it were that bad, surely Arthur would know.

Gaius bustled in before the prince could answer. "Not today. Not if I've anything to say on the subject." The man's mouth was set in a grim line as he carefully cut away Merlin's shirt. The wound was a through and through, piercing Merlin's pale flesh front to back. "It seems to have missed any major organs, but the bleeding..." The frown on the physician's face showed clearly what he thought of that. "My Lord, if you would step outside? I will call you when I have done what I can for the wound."

At the suggestion, Merlin whimpered and clutched at Arthur with his bloodied fingers. "No... no, Arthur..."

Though Gaius raised his eyebrows, he allowed, "You may stay... if you like, My Lord."

"Yes..." Arthur didn't hesitate, moving to the other side of the bed and reaching for Merlin's hand. It was cold in his warm embrace, and Arthur rested his other hand atop Merlin's in an attempt to warm him. For a moment prince and servant's eyes locked, and he swallowed down an abrupt swell of emotion. "Will he be alright, Gaius?"

The wound was terrible, and Gaius felt himself waver as he caught the barely restrained urgency in Arthur's voice. "This must be thoroughly cleaned before I can make a proper inspection," the old man replied noncommittally.

"Let me, then," Arthur volunteered, releasing Merlin's hand and pouring fresh water into a bowl. "Fetch whatever you need, Gaius. I'll look after Merlin."

Gaius hesitated. It was hardly like Arthur to volunteer for such duty, but he needed the assistance. "Thank you, My Lord," he said at once before slipping from the room.

On the bed, Merlin shivered. He wished he still had his shirt on, but then they couldn't see the wound. "It's bad. I know. Gaius... he looked scared." The truth was that Arthur looked scared, but Merlin couldn't bring himself to say just how much that frightened him. He didn't want to cry. It would be silly and childish and weak. He'd done what he had to do. The idea that it could be Arthur on the bed bleeding was enough to bring Merlin's thoughts somewhat into focus. That would have killed him even more surely than the blade. /He isn't supposed to take care of me.../ "You don't have to stay," Merlin allowed somewhat reluctantly. He wanted Arthur to stay. In fact, he wanted Arthur to hold his hand and brush his hair back like his mother might have if she was there. He wanted Arthur to tell him that everything would be just fine even if it was a lie. If Arthur said it, he could believe anyway.

"I'm not leaving," Arthur said firmly. A soft smile tugged at one corner of his mouth, as he added, "Don't think you're going to bleed all over my bed and not clean it up." His attempt at levity failed, and Arthur concentrated instead on cleaning Merlin's wound. Dipping a clean cloth into the fresh water, the prince took extra care wiping away the dried blood. Arthur examined the jagged wound, disliking its angry-red color and how it marred Merlin's otherwise perfect flesh. The sword strike had gone clean through, but Arthur had witnessed far too many men dying of such wounds, and it filled his heart with dread.

Merlin managed a shaky smile, but another shiver wracked his body before it could really take hold. "Could you... sit closer?" He knew he sounded absolutely pathetic, but he felt small and cold and absolutely terrified. Arthur was being uncharacteristically kind and indulgent. Merlin couldn't bring himself not to take advantage of it a bit no matter how he'd likely pay for it later. /If I live to./ That was why Arthur was being so kind, of course. Arthur thought he was going to die. The thought brought on a new tremor, and Merlin had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from whimpering. Between the pain and the fear he felt utterly miserable.

Arthur complied without hesitation, inching nearer even as he pursed his lips together and made a gentle shushing sound to Merlin. "I'm right here. How many times do I have to tell you? I'm not going anywhere." Despite the chiding remark, Arthur simply could not veil the deep concern he felt for Merlin. Although the prince might behave at odds toward his feelings, Arthur had come to rely on Merlin in a way he never thought possible. The thought that his servant... no, his friend, might... "Now you listen to me," Arthur started, "you're going to get better, and afterwards... don't you ever try anything so foolish again. Where would I be without..."

Arthur never had a chance to finish his sentence as Gaius returned carrying bandages and a bowl filled with crushed herbs. The prince cleared his throat, and the physician faltered momentarily, noting the closeness between the two younger men. "This should help," Gaius announced, hurrying forward with the medicine. Arthur moved reluctantly aside to allow the man to work. "You did a fine job cleaning the wound, Sire," Gaius commented, setting the bowl and bandages on the bedside table. "Help me to sit him up. I must cover both sides."

Nodding, Arthur cradled the back of Merlin's head and raised him gently. "Take it easy now," he murmured, his eyes flitting between Merlin and Gaius as the older man began to work.

Merlin whimpered as he was shifted on the bed. The tears he'd fought so hard against welled up in his eyes anyway as Gaius pressed the poultice against his wound. If he hadn't known that it was best for him, he would have cried more openly and begged the physician to stop. Instead Merlin bit his lip until he tasted blood and ignored the tears rolling down his cheeks. He closed his eyes as Gaius unfurled the bandages around his slender body.

"There, now. You will be right as rain in no time at all." The bleeding had slowed enough that Gaius was less worried about Merlin's chances than he'd been not so long before. "Sire, surely you have other duties to attend to. I will stay with Merlin and see that he rests easy."

The words were spoken as the men eased Merlin back down onto the pillows. The servant wanted to protest once again, but he'd already asked too much from Arthur. It was ridiculous thinking that Camelot's prince had nothing better to do than see to his needs and sit with him like a nursemaid.

Arthur winced in sympathy for the pain Merlin was enduring. He gazed at his friend for a long moment, relief seeping into his tense muscles upon hearing Gaius' favorable diagnosis. It was only the physician's offer that drew Arthur's attention away from his ailing friend. "No, I will remain by his side," he said firmly. "That's what Merlin wants, isn't it?" Arthur glanced back at the other young man. "Until he's well again, he should have what he desires."

Merlin and Gaius both looked absolutely shocked at the words, but Merlin was the first to truly absorb them. The smile that lit his lips was enough to make him look somewhat less miserable for a moment. Arthur was staying with him. He was volunteering to be at his side. Perhaps it was only because he felt responsible, but Merlin couldn't help being thrilled anyway. He had wanted Arthur at his side so much, so badly, that he didn't really care about the whys. "Thank you, A- Sire," he corrected himself at the last moment. If Arthur was going to be kind to him, the least he could do was use the proper terminology and respect for the young prince.

"We'll have none of that now," Arthur said, fixing Merlin with a steely gaze in an attempt to be firm with his servant, but his concern was palpable and shone through his royal stiff upper lip facade. "It's alright, Gaius," he told the older man. "I'll take care of Merlin." Ignoring the surprised expressions and feeling only slightly self-conscious, the prince reached for another clean cloth, dipped it in the water and soothed Merlin's forehead.

Gaius smiled softly, rising to his feet. "I can see you are in good hands, Merlin." He turned to address Arthur before leaving the room, "If you need me, Highness, please do not hesitate to call."

Whatever Gaius had given him was certainly dulling the pain, but Merlin could also feel it dulling his senses. "Think... it's working. Whatever it is," he mumbled. The feeling of the cool cloth on his clammy flesh was a welcome bit of refreshment. Merlin found that he couldn't even remember precisely what the brew Gaius had poured down his throat tasted like. /It was only a moment ago, wasn't it?/ "I'm glad you're not dead," Merlin said in a slightly unsteady tone. He was drifting a bit again by the time he added, "Me too. Not dead, I mean. Like not being dead..." He blinked slowly as if even that normally instinctive action was suddenly on a delay. Above him with the light of the window behind his golden hair, Arthur appeared to glow. He looked almost angelic, which was quite amusing to anyone who knew him well. Merlin almost giggled. "Like you too."

"You are drunk," Arthur stated, wearing a hint of a smile. He had little knowledge of the effect of Gaius' medicine, but this latest concoction had definitely been potent. Merlin remained feverish, and Arthur could even feel the heat of his skin radiating through the wet cloth. It alarmed him; the prince could do little more than trust in the physician's skill to make his friend well again. Despite the exasperation Merlin often caused him to feel, Arthur had come to rely and trust the other young man, and, although he might not acknowledge it, he admired Merlin for his steadfast convictions. "Why is it you're always there to look out for me?" he murmured, half to himself.

Merlin, barely aware that Arthur was speaking but hearing the pleasant, low buzz of the words on some peripheral edge of his attention span, smiled. "You're pretty, Arthur." Again, he blinked slowly as he watched the prince shifting above him. The room felt chilly - no, warm. Too warm. He sighed and tried to kick the covers off only to find himself shivering a moment later. An expression that was very nearly pouting settled on Merlin's features, and he finally compromised by shifting closer to Arthur's body. When that provided insufficient warmth, Merlin shifted again, half dragging himself onto the prince's lap, one arm stretched out across Arthur's legs while his cheek rested against the other man's thigh. "'S'better," he mumbled against the fabric.

"Merlin..." Arthur started, but relented once his friend was comfortably resting on his leg. He didn't mind, and it actually felt... nice. His face warming with a soft smile, Arthur touched Merlin's head and allowed himself a moment to comb his fingers through the silken strands of dark hair. "You must really be out of it," the prince decided, puzzling over Merlin's 'pretty' comment. "That's alright, then. Nice to hear my good looks haven't gone unnoticed." Arthur shifted ever so slightly, giving Merlin more room. His friend had nearly died trying to save his life. As foolish as Merlin's actions had been, Arthur wasn't going to deny him anything, especially not any comfort he could offer.

"I noticed," Merlin mumbled sleepily. The truth was that he was barely hanging on to consciousness but was too comfortable to be willing to not enjoy it for at least a few minutes. "Pretty... pretty eyes." He wasn't sure at all of what he was saying. The words spilled forth with even less consideration than usual, and Merlin's eyes soon grew heavy. They fell closed before he could stop them. "Gonna sleep for a bit... right here..." Soon Merlin was drifting off into unconsciousness.

Arthur watched Merlin as he slept, softly humming as he stroked the man's hair. Did Merlin really think he was attractive, or was it only Gaius' potion putting words in his mouth? The thing that struck Arthur was the sincerity Merlin expressed, and it made the prince reflect on their time together. Not only did Merlin take care of him, but the servant stood up to his pig-headed stubbornness and made him see sense even when he ignored and tried to push Merlin away. Merlin cared for him, and Arthur cared for him. But was there something more? He gazed at his sleeping friend, feeling a twinge his heart.