Hero by Emachinescat

A Merlin Fan-Fiction

SUMMARY: Tag to "Darkest Hour Pt. 2". Arthur and the knights take care of Merlin after the Dorocha attack and before they split up. Arthur struggles to say his goodbyes and Merlin is, of course, a selfless idiot. 4x02


A/N: So, I promised more tags, here's another. I felt like they were missing some good bromance and whump between the end of last episode and the beginning of this one, so naturally I took it upon myself to write what might have happened in between. :) This could also be a follow up of "Stone Cold", my tag to the first episode, but it can stand alone, too. Hope you enjoy; please review! XD


Hero

Merlin's face was paler than the grave, his lips a dangerous shade of blue, and frost coated his features – from the fringe of black hair playing against his frozen forehead to his discolored lips. For several long moments after Merlin's wide, sightless eyes finally dropped closed, thankfully saving Arthur from the intense, pained gaze, Arthur couldn't speak, couldn't even think. Then Lancelot said, "We need to warm him up, Arthur."

Arthur stared at his servant's frost-bitten face for several seconds before snapping himself out of his disbelieving stupor. He didn't know how it could be possible. Gaius said that no mortal had ever survived a Dorocha's touch, and Merlin hadn't just been touched by it, the monster had gone all the way through him, thrown him against the wall, and frozen him. But Merlin wasn't dead. Not yet, anyway.

Gwaine tried to come forward and help Arthur with Merlin, but the prince would have none of that. This was his fault. If he had been quicker, had gotten out of the way sooner, had stopped Merlin from his idiotic, loyal, self-sacrificing leap at the monster… He forced himself past his dark 'what-ifs' and gently scooped Merlin into his arms, fancying that he could sense the coldness radiating off his skin even through his chainmail. With a shove of his feet against the hard ground and balance only achieved through years of training, he stood, bringing the completely limp servant with him as he rose. Arthur tried not to look at Merlin's lax face as he carried the self-sacrificing idiot away from the site of the attack and to the fire. Lancelot and the others followed close behind, one torch flickering for the safety of seven men.

There was no other attack as they made their way back to camp. When they reached the dying fire, Arthur glanced up and was relieved to see that the sky was beginning to lighten fractionally. Soon it would be day, and the Dorocha hated the light. Arthur carefully placed Merlin against a crumbling wall near the fire, leaning his thin, gangly frame against the rough rocks, then took a spare shirt and wadded it up, placing it behind Merlin's head as a pillow. Something soft and warm brushed against his skin and he saw Percival standing beside him, a blanket in his giant hands. Arthur took it, knelt down next to Merlin, and covered him up. Using a corner of the blanket, he carefully began to wipe the melting ice from Merlin's face, worry escalating when Merlin didn't so much as twitch at the contact. He placed a hand against Merlin's neck and almost recoiled. So cold… But there was a pulse.

When Merlin's face was dry and fractionally warmer, Arthur stood, swallowing heavily as he looked down at the unconscious young man, heart aching as he thought, once again, what a sacrifice Merlin had made. And it was all going to ultimately be in vain, too. Sure, he had saved Arthur's life, but the prince was just going to travel to the Isle of the Blessed to die, anyway. Arthur was going to completely nullify Merlin's selfless act. No, he told himself firmly, not willing to try and talk himself out of his decision, no matter how much he secretly wanted to, Merlin's sacrifice isn't in vain… By saving me, he's kept me alive to do what I set out to do – save Camelot. He's a hero. He's saved Camelot. But somehow, Arthur got the feeling that Merlin hadn't saved Arthur just for the prince to sacrifice himself at the Isle.

It didn't matter. This was for Camelot. If Arthur's death would ensure that his people would live, he would gladly pay the price.

"Arthur." Arthur turned slowly to see the other knights standing around him, various stages of concern on their faces. It had been Leon who had said his name.

"Yes?"

"Not to be rude, Sire, but isn't it odd that Merlin is… well…?"

"Alive?" Arthur supplied, stroking his chin and resisting the urge to turn around and check for Merlin's breathing once again. The truth was, the same thought had been lurking in a corner of his mind since he'd discovered that Merlin still lived, but he hadn't wanted to dwell on it. After all, Merlin was alive, and that was all that mattered. Still… Gaius himself said that no one survived the touch of the Dorocha. All of the other victims had died instantly. But Merlin, though at first he had looked as dead as the others, hadn't been killed instantly. Why was that? What was different about Merlin that kept his heart beating through the Dorocha's touch? Merlin was much smaller and weaker than many of the other victims Arthur had seen. But Arthur hadn't wanted to question it. Not now, not when Merlin was still hovering on the brink of death.

Leon nodded shortly, his eyes confused but not unconcerned as he glanced at Merlin. "No one else has survived, Arthur. It's just… strange."

"Well," Gwaine said, moving away from the others and to Merlin's side, where he crouched and placed a strong, comforting hand on the unconscious man's shoulder, "I'm just as befuzzled as you gentlemen are, but I, the true optimist that I am, am not going to look into this deeply. The way I see it, Fate has cut Merlin a break and we shouldn't spend our time headaching over why he hasn't keeled over, but figure out a way to fix him the rest of the way."

Arthur felt a small smile begin to tug at one side of his mouth as Gwaine voiced what he himself had been thinking – with a very Gwaine-like twist, anyway. Lancelot was quick to agree, his eyes steady and dark as they bored into Arthur's. "I don't know why Merlin survived," he said so calmly that Arthur had to wonder if maybe he somehow did know, "but we should just be thankful he's alive and find a way to get him help."

Percival went to Merlin's other side and placed a strong but gentle hand on the boy's forehead. "He is still very cold," he said, "and his breath is short. Arthur, if he doesn't get help soon, he's not going to make it."

Elyan furrowed his brow. "But… the quest."

"The quest? Elyan, this is Merlin we're talking about here!" Gwaine snapped. "He's the kindest man you'll ever meet and he's dying because he jumped in front of an evil spirit to save Arthur! The quest can wait."

Arthur knew that Gwaine was only speaking so harshly because of his bond with Merlin. He and Merlin had been great friends from the start, and Arthur knew that Gwaine cared deeply about Merlin, just like Lancelot and yes, Arthur himself, did. To see Merlin so weak and vulnerable was nearly unbearable. Elyan seemed to realize this and he backed off, only adding, "He's my friend, too, Gwaine, and I'm also worried about him."

Gwaine just glared while the others looked between the two apprehensively. Finally Gwaine either felt he had gotten his point across or had just gotten bored of Elyon's guilty face, because he turned away, his attention back on Merlin, who still hadn't moved. Arthur glanced around at his men, noting how comfortable they were referring to Merlin as their friend, taking care of him with ease, and worrying about him as if he were one of them, a knight. Merlin had had an effect on every single one of the knights gathered here. Arthur couldn't exactly place it – loyalty, friendship, brotherhood? – but whatever it was, Merlin's presence had made their small band that much closer, had humbled them all, and had shown them what it meant to be a genuinely good person.

Merlin just seemed to have that effect on people. And now he was dying.

There was a weak moan and Arthur's head snapped around so quickly that he heard a resounding click, but he didn't so much as flinch at the twinge. Merlin was awake. In an instant, Arthur had rushed to Merlin's side. Percival moved aside so that Arthur could crouch beside his friend but Gwaine didn't move, instead helping support Merlin, murmuring quietly to him in reassuring tones. Merlin's eyes, dazed but thankfully void of the painful vacancy they had held earlier, wandered lazily around until they found Arthur.

"Ar…thur…" he groaned, his voice hitching. "You… 'kay?"

Arthur chuckled slightly. "You're the one that is frozen half to death, Merlin. Shouldn't I be asking that of you?"

"'T was goin'… 'fter… you," Merlin reminded the prince, coughing weakly.

"Yeah, but some idiot jumped in the line of fire before it could get me," Arthur countered softly, putting a hand on Merlin's shoulder. He was freezing, even through his clothes.

Merlin huffed wearily. "T'ld you… 'M happy t'be… your ser… vant 'till the day… I die, p-prat."

Arthur felt his heart quicken in fear. "Oh, no, no, no, Merlin, you're not going to die. Stop talking like that, you hear me? We'll get you patched up… I promise."

Merlin blinked at his master before slowly turning to face Gwaine. "G…waine, c'n I talk to Arthur… please?"

Gwaine, unable to deny a sick, pitiful, puppy-dog faced Merlin anything, simply ruffled Merlin's hair and nodded. "'Course. Since when do you need my permission to do anything, mate?" He leaned in a little closer. "Oh, and Merlin, before I leave you two alone, I don't want to hear anymore of this 'dying' nonsense outta you, ya hear? The princess is right. You'll be fine."

Merlin gave a clumsy attempt at a smile. "Thanks, Gwaine."

Gwaine smiled and stood up, hastily brushing his eyes as he went to help the others with the horses; the sun had risen by this point and it was time to begin packing up camp.

Arthur addressed Merlin. "What is it, Merlin?"

"I know… you're plannin'," Merlin said. Of course he did. He had been in the room when Arthur had declared himself to be the sacrifice. "'N you can't do it, Arthur. Please."

Arthur felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes but he held them back with a wave of pure stubbornness. "Merlin, don't—"

"Y'can't die, you're too im-important. T-take me, Arthur. 'M dying anyway, I'll be the—"

"Shut up, Merlin." Arthur's voice was soft but stern. He noticed Gwaine and Lancelot glancing their way questioningly, but Arthur ignored them, as well as the spike of anger and fear welling inside of him. "Just shut up."

"Arthur—"

"No. Absolutely not. Merlin, you are not going to die. We'll get you back to Camelot, to Gaius, and he'll fix you. You'll be alright. And there is no way in hell that I'm going to sacrifice you to heal the rift. You… you're the last person I'd even consider, Merlin." His voice broke slightly as he admitted this, but he didn't care. He was going to die, wasn't going to see Merlin ever again.

"But—"

"Please, Merlin, don't even ask this of me. I won't – can't – do it. Camelot is my responsibility alone. If anyone is going to die to save her, it will be me."

Merlin didn't respond, but whether it was because he was upset or had simply run out of the energy to speak, Arthur didn't know. He stood up after giving Merlin's shoulder a soft squeeze and approached Leon, who was standing aside, brooding silently. The other men were readying the horses and packing up camp, but when Lancelot saw Arthur go talk to Leon, he was at Merlin's side in an instant, and for that Arthur was very grateful.

"We have to get him back to Gaius," Arthur said to Leon, breaking the man out of his thoughts.

Leon looked at Arthur, the expression on his face understanding but reluctant. "And abandon the quest?"

Arthur answered resolutely, "He saved my life; I won't let him die."

Leon's response was quiet and true. "But Sire, if we don't get to the Isle of the Blessed, hundreds more will perish."

Arthur knew he was right even as he looked over to Merlin, but they couldn't just take Merlin with them; he'd die. He was sick and hurt, he needed a physician if he was going to live. As he watched, Percival once more took Lancelot's place by Merlin's side as the former came to join Arthur and Leon's conversation. "Let me take him," Lancelot requested.

Arthur considered this but shook his head. "Carrying a wounded man, alone, it'll take you two, three days to reach Camelot." And Merlin doesn't have that time, was left unspoken but acknowledged.

Lancelot thought for a moment. "Not if I go through the Valley of the Fallen Kings." When Arthur hesitated, not wanting to leave Merlin's safety in the hands of anyone but his own, Lancelot added, "We cannot abandon the quest."

At Leon's "Sire, he's right," Arthur knew that he had to agree. Leon was right. Lancelot was right. Arthur was just going to have to trust Lancelot to take care of Merlin, to get him back to Gaius safely. It was all he could do. Camelot had to come first.

This time, he allowed Percival to lift Merlin's dead weight and carry him to his horse. Arthur helped him place Merlin on the saddle, not missing the way Merlin draped over the horses neck like a newborn babe with no control over its head or extremities. As Lancelot mounted his horse and the others backed away to give Arthur time to say goodbye, Arthur began to secure Merlin to the saddle, ensuring that he wouldn't fall off. As he worked, Merlin's weary eyes followed him, and Arthur, knowing that he had to set things right before they parted and never met again, said, "This is my fault. And I'm sorry."

Merlin didn't answer right away, but when he did it was only after taking a huge breath and gathering as much energy as he could. "Take me with you, please."

Arthur, not willing to listen to Merlin wanting to come along or to die in his place, instantly shushed him with a gruff, "You'll die, Merlin."

"You… don't 'nderstand. Please, Arthur." Arthur's heart nearly broke at the physical and emotional pain in his friend's voice but managed to remain relatively light.

"Do you ever do as you're told?"

Merlin was apparently in no mood for lighthearted banter and instead said as earnestly as possible, "I have to come with you…"

Arthur's response was clipped. He understood exactly what was going on – Merlin had made that clear enough when he had offered to be the sacrifice. Arthur wouldn't have it. "Merlin." It was a warning, but also conveyed the truth – Arthur was already terrified enough about losing Merlin; he shouldn't make things worse by offering to jump onto the sacrificial alter himself. Arthur couldn't take it.

Merlin didn't speak again, but Arthur could see unshed tears forming in his eyes. With what he hoped was a confident look, he placed his hand once again on Merlin's shoulder and squeezed, trying to convey through a single gesture that everything would be okay.

He heard Lancelot saying they had to leave and backed away, the pain inside of him almost too much to bear. Merlin had saved his life by risking his own and had offered to do so, yet again, at the Isle of the Blessed. As Arthur watched Lancelot and Merlin, hunched over on his horse, fade into the trees, he realized that he had had the most loyal, selfless, and kindhearted man by his side all these years and he hadn't even thought to thank him for his service. For saving his life. Repeatedly.

At least now, Merlin would get to live. Camelot would live.

These were the only thoughts that would be able to get him through this quest, and to the very end.

Merlin's alive, and he'll stay that way because of you. You can repay him, thank him, by doing this, by saving Camelot and saving him.

With that train of thought set firmly in mind, Arthur mounted his own horse and rode with his knights in the opposite direction that Merlin and Lancelot had taken. Merlin was a true hero, and in his latest feat he had opened Arthur's eyes as to what true loyalty meant. Arthur was going to follow in Merlin's footsteps and be a hero, too – the kind of hero that his kingdom would be proud of.

THE END


A/N: Of course, if you've seen the episode (which I'm assuming you have), you know that Arthur doesn't end up sacrificing himself (would kinda ruin the show if he died, after all), but I didn't go into that because this was just covering the beginning portion of the episode. :) And the ending to the episode, man, that was crazy! Anyway, here's hoping you enjoyed – please review!

~Emachinescat ^..^