Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Gaius, or any of them. They, at least, would be grateful!
Note: This is a tag to one of the ending scenes of 4x8, "Lamia."(any other Final Fantasy fans know exactly what this episode was about when they read the title? hehe) I've had it in the works since shortly after the actual episode aired but it took some intense procrastination for the beginning of a new semester to inspire me to find an ending for it. And yes, I'm aware that this has been done and re-done and over-done and well-done and every other variety of done. Well, perhaps except this one. That's the point of it, really. I'm hoping to show you a different side of Merlin's response to what happened with the way the knights treated him and Gwen in this episode. For the purposes of my story you're going to have to assume that various of the knights were indiscriminately, physically unkind to our favorite warlock during the countless hours of off-screen time they had while enchanted (not much of a stretch, I think, all things considered). For once, I'm not entirely sure if I want to be finished with this in one chapter. I definitely have material for another (though I can't promise when it might spring into existence), so I won't mark it 'complete' just yet. If you want more, please tell me by review. Likewise, if you are satisfied with where it ends, I may declare it finished. In any case, I hope you read, review, and enjoy! Yoroshiku ne!
Of Guilt, Blame, and Misappropriated Weaponry
"Well don't think about it too hard- I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself," said Merlin, smug as ever.
For once, Arthur didn't offer a verbal retort. He just made a face and cuffed his friend lightly. Then he turned away to see to preparations for their departure.
That would have been the end of it, if he hadn't cast a glance behind him as he walked away and caught a glimpse of something odd out of the corner of his eye.
Merlin's grin of indignation at being thumped by his master was momentarily replaced by a short, but very real, grimace of pain.
Arthur swung back round and pointed a finger at his surprised servant. "What was that?"
Merlin blinked in unfeigned ignorance. "What was what?"
"Just now- you had a look."
Merlin raised a skeptical eyebrow, "I really don't know what you're talking about, sire." The 'sire' bit was a bad choice- Merlin could see Arthur's suspicions growing.
"You looked," said Arthur, eyes narrowed, "like you were hiding something."
Before Merlin could object, he reached out and grasped the arm he had punched moments earlier.
Merlin looked at the hand on him, looked up at Arthur, who was still scrutinizing him with deep suspicion, and looked back down at the hand. He said nothing.
Slowly Arthur's grip tightened. He didn't have to increase the pressure by much before-
"Owww! Okay, stop!"
And Arthur released him immediately. He towered over Merlin, arms crossed, and put on a glare that clearly said ,"Now what do you have to say for yourself, Merlin?" to his somewhat embarrassed servant.
"So I've got a bruise," Merlin scoffed, pulling a face and shrugging, albeit a tad stiffly. "You did see the size of the monster we were fighting. You killed it, after all."
Arthur frowned, clearly not buying it, "Ah, huh..." he said.
Merlin moved to back away, but Arthur caught his sleeve. "Roll this up, then," he ordered.
"Arthur..." Merlin's voice held a note of pleading.
"Now," the king commanded flatly.
Merlin complied reluctantly- rolling up his sleeve to reveal an angry purple bruise that was only just beginning to fade to green at the edges. Worse; it was clearly in the shape of a very large handprint.
Arthur peered accusingly at his servant. "So the Lamia did that, did it?"
Merlin shrugged again, "It was in human form before it changed into a monster."
"Oh yes," Arthur agreed, "It was a girl, according to Gwen. A girl with little, girly hands." He matched his hand to the handprint, demonstrating pointedly that it was even larger than his own.
Merlin looked down in defeat, finally out of excuses and evasions.
Arthur released Merlin's arm and tugged the sleeve back down for him. He waited a beat for Merlin to come forward with an explanation, but when the servant remained silent he went ahead himself. "Gwen told me the knights fell under some sort of enchantment- that they weren't acting themselves." He began in a measured tone. "She assured me that they never laid a hand on her..."
Merlin nodded his vehement agreement, still not looking his master in the eye.
"It seems you, on the other hand, were a different story altogether."
Merlin put his hands up in a gesture of hopelessness, "You know me," he said, "never know when to keep my big mouth shut!" His laugh sounded forced, even to his ears.
Arthur breathed a noiseless sigh. "And that's what I was afraid of," he said with resignation.
Merlin gave him an apologetic smile.
Arthur frowned, closed his eyes, and ran his hand over his face, "Right," he finally said. "Just-," he grimaced, "pull up your shirt and lets see the rest of the damage, shall we?"
Merlin's eyes widened and he looked like he was ready to argue afresh, but Arthur fixed him with a glare that said, "Do it, or I'll make you." And the thought of getting manhandled by a furious Arthur did not appeal, so Merlin quickly looked to either side of himself, making sure he wan't being observed, and did as his master had instructed.
And instantly regretted it.
Merlin watched and saw cool blue eyes catch fire with righteous anger as Arthur surveyed his servant's thin frame.
Merlin, too, glanced down, knowing more or less what to expect but having had yet to examine himself after the battle. Even his eyebrows shot up in surprise as he saw a truly impressive collection of livid bruises decorating his pale torso, and a few considerably darker ones marring the left side of his rib cage. That bit actually looked better than it felt. Those ribs grated together every time he took a breath.
"What in God's name...!" Arthur nearly roared when he finally found his voice.
Merlin dropped the shirt and gave Arthur a look that begged him to keep his voice down.
"You look like you were trampled by a horse!"
Merlin scrunched up his eyebrows in an expression that was clearly meant to tell Arthur he was being preposterous.
"Not just one horse, though- maybe a whole mounted regiment!" Arthur continued his rant, though at a slightly lower volume. "Injured or not, I swear, those men are going to get a piece of my mind..." he said with a growl and turned towards the door behind which his four knights were being tended by Gaius.
"Arthur, please." Merlin said admonishingly, standing up quickly (more quickly than his ribs approved) to catch the king by the arm.
'No, Merlin." He shook the arm free, but at least turned back to face Merlin again.
"Arthur, they were under an enchantment..."
"There is no excuse! They were sent to protect you and Gwen." His lip curled as something occurred to him, "When I even think what might have happened to her..."
"Arthur." Merlin said in such a sharp tone that the king's rant was temporarily stalled. "You really believe I would have let anything happen to Gwen at their hands."
Arthur looked incredulous, "And how do you propose to have protected her?"
Merlin looked Arthur in the eye. There was hurt there, bordering on anger. Then he glanced meaningfully down at his now-covered injuries.
Arthur took a step back. "You don't mean..."
Merlin looked at him coolly. "Lets just say, whenever I had any reason to suspect that she might come to harm, I made certain that their attention was fixed on me."
Arthur stared, stunned. He had thought he knew the measure of Merlin's bravery and self-sacrifice, yet he was unprepared for this revelation. It was several moments before he finally placed a firm hand on his servant's shoulder and stammered a heartfelt, "Thank you, Merlin."
Merlin brushed off the thanks with the hand, instead taking the opportunity he'd created by silencing Arthur. "Look," he said seriously, "They are still recovering. Gwen and I have forgiven them. If you must bring the matter before them, will you at least wait till they are off their sickbeds?"
Arthur looked downright dissatisfied, but acquiesced with a slow nod. "But what of you, then?" He asked, gesturing toward's Merlin's chest. "I'm no physician, but I've good reason to know that when ribs look like that- they need tending. Why haven't you had Gaius take a look?"
Merlin shrugged and gave a short laugh, as if the matter weren't even worth considering. "He's had his hands full- I decided to wait."
"Well I was just in with him and he's not busy at the moment," Arthur said, pleased to finally take action, "So..." he put an arm around Merlin's shoulders and began guiding him towards the door.
"Arthur, don't..." Merlin pulled back, resisting.
Arthur, confident in his decision, simply enlisted his other arm and forced Merlin along.
"Its not..." Merlin tried to twist away as they reached the door, but, weakened as he was, did not succeed.
"Arthur, NO!" The near-panic in his servant's voice stopped Arthur cold and he released Merlin, who quickly backed away from the door.
"What's the matter?" Arthur demanded. "Surely you're not..." He looked at Merlin closely. "You're not, afraid of them now, are you?" He made it sound like an impugnment, but the vengeful fire was back in his eyes and it's wrath wasn't meant for his servant.
But Merlin's eyes widened and he looked genuinely insulted. He opened his mouth as if to speak but only uttered a short laugh before shaking his head and walking further from the door to sit on the edge of a nearby wagon.
Arthur followed, and raised his hands to the side with a, "What?" before joining him.
"I'm not..." Merlin began, then shook his head once more, "I can't believe that's what you think of me."
Arthur just frowned, confused.
"I'm not afraid of them." Merlin explained. "I'm afraid of hurting them."
Arthur's frown deepened, but for once he let Merlin continue.
"Four of my best friends are lying in that room recovering from being controlled, abused, and finally half-killed by some sort of long-extinct magical monster. If they remember anything at all from their time under her influence, it's probably only snatches of bad dreams. The last thing I'm going to do is walk in there and reveal to them that those nightmares are reality."
The king was still giving him a look that fell somewhat short of complete understanding.
"Arthur, imagine how you would feel if you found out that you had done this to me."
Arthur paled. The thought made him sick.
Merlin saw the look on his face, "Exactly." he said.
Not for the first time this day, Arthur grew unexpectedly in respect for his servant.
Merlin waited a beat and then sat back a bit further. "So I'm afraid if you really want me to see Gaius you're going to have to go and fetch him out here yourself." He said with a small, slightly smug smile.
Arthur, who had been more than ready to do just that, had to pause, "Now wait a second-" he said, standing up and facing his friend, "That sounded suspiciously like an order, Merlin. Since when does a king 'go and fetch' people for his servant?"
"I dunno..." Merlin said lightly, playing at giving the question consideration. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "Maybe when that king is feeling grateful that said servant risked his life for his lady, or when he's sorry for impugning that servant's honor, or at least when he'd rather not find a replacement when the servant dies of a punctured lung..." Merlin shrugged, "Take your pick."
Arthur cocked his head and then shook it with a very false grimace, "Sorry Merlin, wrong on all counts. I can't think of any circumstance that would justify that kind of indignity." He raised his arms and shrugged as if to say it simply couldn't be helped.
"Luckily for you, I happen to have left my sword in there." he gestured to the doorway as he backed toward it. "And as I retrieve it, I may mention your situation to Gaius- if I remember."
"If you remember." Merlin repeated, trying to hide a smile.
"If." Arthur pointed at Merlin before disappearing through the doorway.
Merlin smiled warmly and smirked as his friend left. Then he got back to work.
Several minutes later a familiar figure emerged from the hut and stormed toward him toting a medicine basket. "Merlin!" Gaius nearly yelled.
Behind him, the king slipped quietly out the door and headed in the opposite direction, glancing back at guardian and ward and trying with little success to stifle a wide grin.
Merlin looked up just as Arthur disappeared around the side of a building.
He didn't see the grin. But he did catch sight of the sword now hanging on Arthur's belt.
It was most definitely Percival's.