A/N: Alright, you guys can blame Oz for this. I'm working on my own novel, so this is going to be the only one shot I do. I just…I really wanted some cute Arthur and Merlin non-slash stuff. So, you get this silly pointless little one shot. This is my first time trying to write these guys, and I'm still working on the subtleties of their relationships. Despite that, I hope you all can enjoy. –Reggie
Merlin winced as he shifted in his bed, loosing track of his count of the cracks in the ceiling. It was very difficult to distract himself from the pain when the pain kept distracting him from his distractions. Or, something like that.
His everything hurt; elbows, head, even his pinky toe had something to complain about. And he couldn't find it to blame even one of inch of his skin. This had officially been the worst week of his life.
It had started out simply enough. Another reluctant hunting trip beside Arthur, where he'd struggled to chase away every helpless animal he could manage because really they didn't need them at the castle, did they?
Arthur had just been cursing him into the next decade for scaring away yet another doe when Merlin had heard it. A weak cry and magic barely brushing his own.
'Can anyone—hear me? Someone, please?' The voice had been a male's, and it had faded in and out in volume as though the speaker were in great pain. 'Help me.'
How could he have refused?
With a hurried excuse to the King about proving to him that he wasn't completely incompetent and that he would catch dinner for them, at which Arthur had scoffed, Merlin had gone in search of the desperate druid.
With all the blood in the clearing, it hadn't occurred to him to pay attention to the wrongness he sensed in the air. After all, when a living thing was hurt like this, when wasn't it wrong?
'Stupid, foolish, idiot of a sorcerer,' Merlin muttered to himself, as he tried to shift without wincing.
It was such an obvious trap in retrospect.
A group of renegade druids had coated the only one of their group that had mastered the ability of mind-speak, covered him in animal blood, and had him call for the Emrys. They had known that he was riding with Arthur and they had wanted him.
Merlin had no sooner gotten to the man's side and rolled him off of his face, to see how he could help, before the man had grabbed his wrist and grinned. "Surprise, Emrys."
A collar had been snapped around his neck, one he'd have to research when he was allowed out of bed. Somehow, with all the runes it had etched into the leather, it had sensed when he reached for his magic. Not just the spells he needed to speak, but what he could do without, and whenever he called even a thread of it up the collar had constricted and cut off his air.
More than once during his days of captivity, he had struggled to free himself, to call for Kilgharrah, until his vision had faded and he had blacked out from lack of air. For all the good it had done him.
This group hadn't wanted Arthur or even Camelot. No, they had set their sights much higher. They wanted the power of the Emrys to bring about their own golden age—one where those without magic were wiped from all Five Kingdoms.
When they hadn't been able to persuade him, either with threats nor force that was a good part of the pain Merlin grimaced at now, they had instead settled on trying to take the magic from him, to absorb and use as their own.
Convinced that this time, when need was dire, he would be able to free himself, he had once again choked himself into blacking out. He awoke to find himself chained down, with symbols of the old religion painted all over his body.
Four of them had chanted in the magic tongue; the fifth had started carving over those painted runes with a knife, etching them into his skin.
He hadn't given them the satisfaction of screaming, though the long slow cuts of the knife had caused white hot pain to flash before his eyes and his breath had become ragged as he felt the life being sucked from him with each tear at his flesh and each drop of his blood that fell to the stone floor.
Merlin had marveled at the cruel destiny that would let him die, like this, when it had nothing to do with him protecting Arthur and how the hell would losing someone else to magic help return it to the land exactly?
Not four heartbeats later, the man carving into Merlin's chest had toppled headless to the floor as Arthur's sword found its target. No knights. No army. No Merlin, even, as he lay gasping and struggling weakly on the floor. Just Arthur against now four renegade druids, Excalibur singing as she struck with righteous fury.
It was almost embarrassing how quickly Arthur dispatched them when he, Merlin, the Emrys of prophecy, had been able to do nothing.
The reversal of roles had stung his pride nearly as much as wounds on his flesh.
Arthur had, with surprising gentleness, loosened the bonds that had held him down, and when the collar had been removed there had been the glorious feeling of his magic returning to him and he'd sighed audibly with relief.
"Come on, you lazy idiot," Arthur had muttered as he shifted Merlin slowly into a sitting position. "My boots have four days' worth of grime on them and they won't just clean themselves."
"You're always telling me you could do better," Merlin muttered through gritted teeth, his vision swimming. "Now would be an excellent time to prove it."
When Arthur didn't reply, Merlin had decided he probably looked terrible. When Arthur had put him on the horse in front of him, leaning against Arthur's chest while his king had held him securely upright with one arm, Merlin had begun to worry that maybe he was even worse off than he felt. Arthur had, after all, let him fall off his horse more than once before and now he was being held almost protectively. It was bizarre, to say the least.
He had been promptly dropped off in Gaius's lap as Arthur, clear blue eyes cold as his blade, had told them both he was going to patrol the woods for any more that may have been in that band. No enemy that dangerous to Camelot could be allowed to escape. Merlin had wanted to tell him that he hadn't seen anymore, but Gaius had shushed him and threatened him with the worst kind of sedatives if he didn't cooperate.
It was the grief in his mentor's eyes that made Merlin be still and behave more than the bluster, the warlock reassured himself now. He wasn't afraid of any foul smelling concoction Gaius could cook up. Not after some of the things he'd been forced to try anyway. The potion for the troll alone was bad enough to cover any mixture.
Now he was on forced bed rest, and Gaius watched him like a hawk ensuring he ate because he had had neither sleep nor food during his few days of captivity. It was a little annoying because really, he was feeling much better, and if Gaius didn't keep insisting that people would notice if he was suddenly up and about again and would just let him try a few of the healing spells in his book maybe he could stop dwelling on how very alone and helpless he had felt, and how happy he had been to see Arthur.
Trying, and failing, to blow some stray strands of black hair out of his face, Merlin twisted onto his side with a grunt. At the very least maybe Gaius could bring him some reading material to take his mind off of things.
He was just debating getting up grabbing his book, Gaius finding out be damned, when he heard the door open.
It was not, as he had expected, Gaius or even Gwen with her sorrowful eyes and some treat or other for him that she had brought, but Arthur. The king was standing in the doorway of his room, dressed in his every day tunic, and looking as uncomfortable as Merlin had ever seen him.
"I was going to bring you some of my armor to clean," Arthur explained in a rush, "since you are probably bored and everything, but Gaius took it from me."
"Well," Merlin said, raising one hand and then letting it fall to the bed in a gesture of what-can-you-do, "that was kind of you."
His master must have seen that as an invitation to come in as he knocked some clothing off the only chair in the room and brought it over. He turned it around so the back was facing Merlin and straddled it instead of sitting in it properly, for some reason. "You look better."
"I should hope so." He pushed himself up onto his elbows, writing a long stream of horrible curses for anyone that tried to break his ribs again, and struggled to suppress the wince his face automatically tried to contort in to. He couldn't show weakness like this to Arthur. Not if he ever hoped to be able to actually accompany his King in the future, anyway.
"Seems like there will be little scarring," Arthur motioned to his chest awkwardly. "Not sure whether you should be grateful or not. Gwaine tells me girls go mad for them."
"You should know by now never to trust Gwaine in anything. Besides, the last thing I need is someone to see them and think I had them done voluntarily."
Arthur snorted. "Like anyone could ever think you were a sorcerer, Merlin."
"As much as you say that, I sure seem to end up in the dungeons for it an awful lot." True, it had been a while, and with Arthur as King now such acts were becoming less frequent for anyone. It had just been all he could think to say, and he had to say something because if he didn't Arthur would leave, and he knew he didn't want that.
Gwen, Gaius, even the other round table knights that had come to see him had been well intentioned, but all had looked at him with such pity. They had avoided talking about what happened, seeming to think that Merlin wasn't ready to deal with it, and had treated him like he was made of glass.
Arthur had wanted him to clean his armor, and Merlin couldn't have been happier about it. He felt better already, seeing no pity in the King's eyes. There was anger, certainly, but not at Merlin, and a little pain too, but he didn't treat him any different and it was like someone had opened his window and finally let some new air in to the stuffy sick room.
Somehow, Arthur knew what he needed right now was for everything to be normal.
"You don't need anyone to think you're casting spells for that. Your cheeky tongue will do just fine." Leaning over Arthur grabbed a glass that had been sitting on Merlin's bedside table. After checking inside to see that it looked like water, he took a swallow.
It was too good an opportunity to resist. "Let Gaius know how that potion goes, will you? I'm sure he'd love to know how it works on someone that isn't being cleansed of magic. I think he said something about boils."
When Arthur spit the water all over him, Merlin reflected that while it was probably deserved, it had been completely worth it. "Thanks."
Coughing a little, Arthur just gaped at him. "Boils?"
Merlin nodded soberly, letting the water drip down his face for a moment and fighting a grin. "Yes. And horrible bed sores. Or was THAT what it was supposed to be treating…"
Making a disgusted face, Arthur returned the cup. "I don't even want to know about your sores, but if they're getting that bad maybe you should probably come out of hiding."
"I'm not hiding." Merlin sulked, pausing in using his blanket to mop up his face to motion at the door that separated his little room from the rest of Gaius's chambers. "I'm under very strict orders not to get up."
"And since when has very strict orders stopped you?" Arthur's face was all business now. "Gaius may be right, and you maybe should stay in bed, but from what I can see it isn't really doing that much good. You look terrible, Merlin."
"I thought you said I looked better."
He was ignored. "If you let them stop you, then they've still won."
"They aren't—" but he trailed off, suddenly unsure. In his own stupid way, Arthur did have a bit of a point. Yes, he'd been ordered to stay in bed, but Merlin knew that he could have gotten up at any time. Particularly now, when most of his wounds had healed over and left him only with a mild ache. Aches that weren't so bad when he had something else he could think about.
He could see it in Arthur's eyes that the King knew this, that he wouldn't ask him to do anything he couldn't handle, but he thought that lying here wasn't helping.
And, of course, he was right. Because Merlin still felt helpless when he sat here, had to keep reminding himself that he wasn't chained up anymore. He hadn't seen the sky in over a week except what he'd caught through half-lidded eyes on Arthur's horse and his own small window. His spirit quite suddenly longed to see it.
"Am I to understand that I am being given permission by the King to defy my physician?" Merlin half grinned. Being able to point and say Arthur told me to would be very tempting.
"Not direct orders, of course." Arthur walked over and helped Merlin up, slinging one of the thinner man's arms over his shoulder when he wavered unsteadily on his feet. "Just a short walk, though, might do you some good. You could always stand to try and put a little muscle on you, you scrawny idiot."
His legs, weak from little use, struggled to hold him for a few steps before he grew steadier. Arthur didn't let go of him as the went down the steps, and the King half carried his servant out to some fresh air.
The wind smelt of freedom, and Merlin closed his eyes, drinking it in. Some of the ache in his chest that he hadn't realized was there faded slightly, a little butterfly of fear he'd been holding to his chest floating away. The world wasn't suddenly different, full of people that wanted to hurt him lurking around every shadow. No, just shadows that were going after Arthur, as usual, and because those were unprepared he knew he could face them as he always had before.
Just because he had been caught didn't make him weaker, the world that was the same told him. Now he was more prepared. Stronger.
The pair watched silent for several long moments the people passing by around them.
It was Arthur that spoke first, his voice low and still quite serious. "Do you know what they wanted with you?"
It was like Merlin could read the other man's mind on his face. What Arthur was really asking him was if it was his fault. He smiled a little in appreciation for the obvious upset the idea seemed to cause Arthur, and reached automatically for a half truth. "They thought I was someone else. Seems it's not as hard to believe I'm a sorcerer as you like to think."
"If all of Camelot's enemies were like you, I'd sleep a lot safer at night."
Merlin wobbled slightly, more at the thought of how much Arthur would regret that statement if it turned out to be true than anything, but the King took it as a sign that Merlin had had enough for now. Again with a tenderness few would believe him capable of, the Once and Future king lead his servant back to bed.
"I wouldn't try that too often," Arthur said once he had him settled again. "But I do believe you're looking better already. A little less like a skeleton, I think."
"As you are the expert on the walking dead, I'll take your word for it." The little walk had exhausted him more than he cared to admit, but for the first time in a week Merlin felt almost like himself again. Whether it was the air or the company he couldn't say, but he smiled to himself as his eyes began to droop. He smiled his thanks at Arthur, who seemed to understand what it was and stood to take his leave.
The king was nearly to the door when he half turned. "Oh, and Merlin?"
"Hm?" The young sorcerer asked, half asleep already.
"The next time you're too ashamed to face me because you couldn't catch our meal, keep in mind that there are a lot of much easier ways to avoid the embarrassment."