Author's Notes: Written last winter for camelot_solstice on LiveJournal. This is Merlin OT4, which means Arthur/Merlin/Gwen/Morgana, and all possible combinations
Harm and Good
"Do you yield?"
Arthur blinked. He had the distinct impression that something was pressuring his neck, light but startling through his armor. Nothing else at the moment was quite as clear, though that may have been because the breath had been knocked from his lungs just a moment before. The sun was glaring down at him from above. So he was flat on his back, then? Strange.
The voice came again. "Do you yield, Sire?"
But those words did not make sense. Arthur, yield? He must have misunderstood.
"Do I what?" he rasped out.
There was a pause. "DO... YOU... um... YIELD... Sire?" The voice was louder now. Louder, as if he were deaf – which he was not – and more hesitant, almost – embarrassed? Arthur was dimly aware of a sound like the sudden rushing of a stream that rose up around him, ready to engulf him at any second.
Arthur blinked again, and then abruptly, he understood. Disbelieving, his hand shot up to pull up his visor. A dark shape stepped in front of the sun, shifting perhaps uneasily, and he recognized Sir Leon.
"Sire?" Sir Leon asked.
Sir Leon, Arthur realized, was standing above him with a sword hovering inches from Arthur's neck. Or not quite at his neck; Sir Leon had lowered the weapon slightly as he stared at Arthur in concern. And the stream was not a stream, but the murmurs of a befuddled crowd as they took in a scene they had not expected. They had not expected the great Arthur Pendragon to do something as stupid as trip and fall and lose a bloody tournament. He had not even been knocked unconscious, just winded briefly – jostled about a bit, as usual. It appeared that that had been enough.
Arthur had not expected it either, but Sir Leon was obviously waiting for something. It was all Arthur could do to comprehend it. He searched vainly about the grainy dirt and sand for his sword, for any weapon that might be used as a distraction, and then saw a gleam out of the corner of his eye. His sword was out of reach, too far away to even tap at hopelessly with his foot.
Leon lowered his own sword a bit more, but did not otherwise move. When he asked if Arthur would yield for the fourth or fifth time – Arthur was not quite certain of the count at this point – all Arthur could manage was a very shocked, very quiet, "Ah...yes?"
A little known fact about Prince Arthur that was, in fact, known quite well by his friends and servants was that he did not like losing. No knight, or especially a prince, did. The difference was that while some knights might have accepted defeat with grace, recognizing the superior talent of their opponent, Arthur... had difficulty with this. Arthur may have grasped Sir Leon's proffered arm, clapped Leon on the back as soon as he had regained his feet, and declared Leon the winner with a smile that could have a won a tournament on its own. As soon as he was inside, however, the castle staff watched as Arthur waved away the court physician's attempts to examine him, and retreated to his chambers with a loud slam of his door. The less wise and knowing of them might have excused even this as a prince's need to reflect upon the lesson of honor and fairness he had just learned, so that he could apply it to his own future actions as King of Camelot.
The aforementioned friends and servants – and servants who were friends – however, were not fooled. They knew very well that Arthur was not immersed in Deep Thought as he would like others to believe. He was not even composing himself in a quiet melancholy. Arthur, they knew, was sulking. Sulking like a child who has just had his favorite toy taken away for what he believes is no apparent reason.
Morgana waited approximately five minutes after Arthur's retreat to lose her patience.
"This is ridiculous!" she huffed outside Arthur's chamber door. She seemed to take out her frustration with him on said door, beating upon it furiously – and rather obnoxiously – with her fists. No answer came from the other side, and though she appeared to have expected this, her lip still curled dangerously. Merlin, who was watching her carefully, thought it might even have curled the ends of her hair. He hoped that no one would walk by just then.
Thinking to distract her a bit, or at least prevent her from blowing up the entire corridor, he said, "Just give him a bit of time, Morgana. He'll, um, get over it. You know."
Morgana turned to him with a scowl. "You know very well that he won't."
"Well, I mean, we can't exactly barge in there and –"
"And hit him a bit till he comes round? We know he's not injured." Which was not precisely where Merlin had meant to go with that sentence, but it contained the same sort of sentiment. In truth, Merlin had planned on 'barging in there,' but only to talk to Arthur, convince him to eat and to come out of his room. If Merlin happened to let slip a few "you're being such a prat, you know"s in the process, well, that was that. Perhaps he would end up in the stocks for his efforts, but at least that might cheer Arthur up. Merlin had been just about to use magic to open the lock when Morgana came charging down the corridor, gown billowing wildly behind her like smoke and flames, and he had had to quickly put down his hand and give her a wide grin.
"Can't we?" asked a voice from behind them.
The normally calm and sympathetic Gwen stood with her hands on her hips, lips pursed. One arm was looped through the handle of a covered basket. The basket itself rested comfortably below her hip.
Merlin saw Morgana regarding the basket with interest. He met Gwen's eyes, questioning.
"Fruit. For Arthur," she explained a bit dryly. "Uther wants to congratulate him on taking his defeat so well."
Uther, apparently, did not know his son as well as he thought he did. At Gwen's explanation, Morgana eagerly took the basket from Gwen's arm and began to root through it. She paused only to pop a grape into her mouth, and continued searching until she located a particularly ripe pear. Then, without pause, Morgana hurled it at Arthur's chamber door, where it splattered against the wood.
"My Lady!" Gwen exclaimed.
"Er," said Merlin. He was about to add something else when the three of them heard some shuffling from Arthur's chamber. The shuffling grew louder, and then they all heard the distinct click of a bolt sliding out of the way. Merlin held his breath. The door opened just slightly, and they could see Arthur's miserable face peeking out from behind it.
"What," he demanded, "was that?"
Merlin caught Morgana's right arm as it came back in preparation to pelt an apple at Arthur, but he was too slow to realize that her left arm might also be a threat. As it turned out, her aim was deadly, no matter what arm she used.
Arthur howled and clutched at his nose, a large grapefruit rolling away from his feet. Gwen had the sense to extricate the basket from Morgana and take hold of her other arm before anymore harm could be done.
"Sire –" began Merlin, but Arthur slammed the door. Wrenching herself free, Morgana all but flew forward and threw her weight against the door before it could be locked, but she was a second too late, and Merlin was saved the task of scraping his destiny off of a wall. Morgana landed in an undignified heap on the floor. Merlin's breath caught again, but Gwen rushed forward, and the two of them sat there together, Gwen holding Morgana's hands in her own steadying grasp until Morgana's enraged expression had cleared. Then they began to laugh. Merlin chuckled in relief. If Morgana was laughing, then she was not hurt – nor, he reasoned, would she be likely to hurt Arthur.
With Gwen's assistance, Morgana gathered herself up and knocked, this time rather daintily, on the chamber door. "Come out, come out, Arthur!" she called sweetly. "It's brooding that sets ladies' hearts aflutter, not sulking."
"I am not sulking," came Arthur's voice. It sounded odd, as if he were pinching his nose shut. "I am, at this very moment, protecting myself from harm."
"Surely you can't be frightened of a lady, Sire," Merlin taunted.
"I'll tell you when I meet one," was Arthur's deadpan response.
"Coward," Morgana accused.
This, at last, had the desired effect. The door flew open, revealing the great sulking prat himself, altogether far from terrifying as he apparently was holding his nose to keep it from bleeding. Merlin felt a pang of sympathy. Morgana, on the other hand, did not pause for such reflections: she sprang into the doorway so that Arthur could not slam the door once more without causing her harm. Her sudden movement toward him caused Arthur to stumble backward and land on a pile of cushions that everyone except Merlin would later swear had not been there just a moment before. Morgana stepped gingerly around him, and, shrugging, Merlin and Gwen followed her inside.
"Please, Sire," said Gwen, crouching down next to Arthur. Merlin went immediately to Arthur's other side. He felt a sudden warmth for Gwen, at her quickness to offer comfort. Morgana perched herself on Arthur's bed just above them. "We just want to help you."
Arthur's gaze softened a little, though he still held his nose. "Kind Guinevere," he said with a sad little sigh. "Surely you can see that you are worrying yourself for nothing. I am perfectly fine. And not sulking," he added with a harsh look at Merlin.
"I didn't say anything!" Merlin protested. Well. Not about sulking, in any case.
Gwen bit her lip. Arthur frowned. "What?"
"It's just... I mean..." Gwen fidgeted, and then something seemed to overcome her, and she raised her chin. "I'm sorry, Sire, but there isn't much else to call it when you've shut yourself up like this. Clearly, you're not injured, so you've nothing to recover from. I mean, you can't very well expect to win every tournament, can you? What's the point if not everyone who participates has a fair and equal chance of being victorious? Sir Leon fought quite well, and no one should be punished for that. "
Arthur stared at her in surprise, and Gwen dropped her eyes. "Um, that is, um, sorry, but –"
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Morgana huffed. "Don't apologize. You're right. Somebody needed to get it through his thick head. We've all been trying, you know. We're all friends here, so you oughtn't be afraid to speak your mind."
Merlin took advantage of the moment. "You're being such a prat, you know," he told Arthur, because he felt it needed to be said. The indignant look on Arthur's face after all of this was quite comical. Merlin stood, grabbing a pitcher of water he had left that morning, and returned with it and a cloth. Scooting forward on the bed, Morgana bent down, and with surprising gentleness, drew Arthur to lean against it. Gently but firmly, she pried his fingers from his nose. She clucked her tongue and rolled her eyes.
"Baby," she chided. There was a bit of blood on his hand and around his nose, but it was otherwise fine. His cheek had a scratch, and his hair was still matted down with dried sweat from the tournament; he probably had bruises, but they were not on his face where they would have been immediately obvious. Merlin knew Arthur had looked much worse, though that did not stop the nervous thrum of Merlin's heart. Now that he, Morgana, and Gwen had used gruffness and guile to break into Arthur's chambers, they could tend to him with a softness that Merlin felt was much more appropriate.
Taking the cloth from Merlin, Gwen smiled and dipped it into the pitcher. "You are a bit of a baby," she agreed softly, and shyly ran her fingertip just above the scratch on his cheek. She did not linger there long, however, and began to very determinedly wash the blood from his nose. At her touch, Arthur's eyelids fluttered shut, and he seemed to lean into her hand.
Before he could stop himself, Merlin carefully took Arthur's hand. There was a mixture of dirt and blood swirled in patterns on his skin. It had always surprised Merlin that Arthur's hands were rough, not the smooth hands of someone unaccustomed to labor; Arthur's hands spoke of dedication, though Merlin knew for a fact that it was not to chores. Arthur had other duties, and they did not leave him softened.
At Merlin's seemingly unexpected touch, Arthur's eyes flew open. "What," he demanded, "do you think you are doing?"
"Helping," Merlin said brightly, and scooped out a handful of water to splash onto Arthur's hand. The liquid turned the blood and dirt into a thin layer of watery mud, running in rivulets along Arthur's skin. Merlin traced them almost curiously as Arthur began to relax.
"Here, Merlin," Morgana murmured. He looked up, and found her offering him a white handkerchief she had withdrawn from the folds of her gown. It was still warm, and it smelled like her. The particular scent was one Merlin had never quite been able to identify, but he had always liked it, and liked how it seemed to suit her. Merlin accepted the handkerchief gratefully, and worked to scrub away the mess.
Morgana absently played at the strands of Arthur's dirty hair. She seemed not to care the least bit for whatever grime must certainly be there, which surprised – and impressed – Merlin, who had never seen her this way. She hummed quietly to herself, and Gwen joined in for the parts she recognized. When Merlin tried to sing along, he was quickly hushed by a horrified groan from Arthur. Gwen giggled.
"I thought you only sang like that when you were drunk," Morgana commented, her tone suggesting she had learned something very important.
"Unfortunately, no," Arthur intoned, eyes still closed. "Otherwise I'd have had all the taverns shut down."
If Merlin sang a little bit more after that, well, the music was calling to him.
When Merlin had finally been quieted – to spare their ears, naturally – Gwen brought the cloth to Arthur's forehead, bathing it once as if he had a fever, and then she pressed a swift, bold kiss to the cheek with the cut.
"There," she said, sounding quite satisfied with her handiwork. Morgana gave Arthur's hair an affectionate tug, and for a moment, Merlin enveloped Arthur's hand in his own. Then they were breaking apart, breaking contact with one another to sprawl out lazily upon the floor and the bed.
"You know," said Morgana after a pause, "you can't expect us to cosset you like this every time you lose."
"I don't lose," Arthur replied.
Merlin raised his brows, and Morgana shot Arthur an arch look. Gwen went back to pursing her lips.
"All right," Arthur conceded. "But I don't lose often. And I hardly call this cosseting. After all, you did try to murder me with fruit earlier. Nearly broke my nose."
"It's all part of the process," said Merlin, grinning.
"Everyone needs a bit of fruit thrown at them to stay humble," Gwen promised. Merlin nodded. He could attest to that.
"You're such a baby," Morgana said again, shaking her head. "Next time you start sulking, we really will have to take care of it my way."
Arthur cracked open one eye at that. "Do I even want to know?" he asked Merlin and Gwen.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Merlin heard something about 'hitting him till he comes round.'
He shared a look with Gwen, and they both shook their heads emphatically.
"I thought not."