A/N: Hello! So, another Merlin oneshot. Obviously, I have no actual rights, am making no money, etc. Ok, so it says no slash in the summary, and I didn't write is as such. However, I have been told it's bordering a little bit. So, whatever you want. I like to look it as extreme bromance. Please enjoy and tell me what you think!

The Hurt and the Healer

"…In accordance with the laws of Camelot, I, Arthur Pendragon, find you guilty of treason and must sentence you to death." He raises his hand in the air and lets it hover.

The man's eyes are brown, like Gwen's, Arthur knows from the trial. And his time in the dungeons has made him look scruffy like Gwaine. And once the comparisons have started they won't stop and he wonders if the man on the gallows is compassionate like Percival, or joking like Elyan, or clumsy and loyal like Merlin, or noble like Lance—he forces his hand to fall.

The drums stop, and the door opens. A few people in the crowd look away and Arthur wishes he could too. Instead he counts to thirty, slowly, then turns and sweeps gratefully out of the noon day sun. But the heat on his skin doesn't stop when he's in the shadows and he's blinking spots out of his eyes. And he wants to run to his chambers, but kings don't run and even if they do, he's not sure he could.

Merlin will be there, a voice in his head that sounds like his father admonishes.

Exactly, he replies.

Arthur, Merlin believes, should be grateful he had such an "incompetent" servant. If, for example, George had been in charge of polishing and dusting and airing the king's chambers, there would not have been the empty bucket stowed behind the chest in the corner when it was supposed to be in the closet two flights of stairs and three halls down. And therefore, when Arthur came into his chambers, paler than Merlin himself, hands shaking, sweaty and eyes unfocused, Merlin would have had nothing to shove under the king's nose when his knees give out and he begins retching.

Merlin had not gone to the execution. Arthur hadn't made him since the first time he'd accompanied the then-prince to a beheading and it had ended with Merlin blinking up at an irate prince with a stinging cheek. He'd offered for this one, with it being Arthur's first as king and all, but Arthur had replied, "And have you faint like a girl and take a tumble over the balcony? I'll pass thanks." So instead Merlin's sitting on the floor of the king's chambers, leaning against the poster of his bed, polishing one of the innumerable things that seem to always need polishing when the doors are thrown open so forcefully they ricochet off the wall behind them. Arthur stumbles in, looking sicker than when Morgana cursed all of Camelot and Merlin's on his feet in a second.

"Arthur?" He asks, hesitant, and then he doesn't particularly want Arthur to try to answer because he thinks if the other man tries to open his mouth he's going to vomit. So, he dashes for the corner where he's stowed the pail he uses to mop the floor and makes it back to where Arthur's knees have hit the floor just as he bends double. Merlin sends a quick glance at the open double doors and they slam shut, but Arthur's too busy being ill to notice the gold fading from Merlin's irises when he turns back to look at him. And because Merlin lives with a physician and because it's Arthur, he stays kneeling on the cold, stone floor, his long fingers gently kneading the back of Arthur's neck and brushing through his sweaty hair, knowing the touch on his fevered skin will keep him grounded as the king of Camelot purges his stomach of his breakfast.

When Arthur's breathing evens, Merlin squeezes the back of his neck to send the message that he'll be back in just a moment before standing and making his way to the door. He knows the guards will be wondering, but, as is their duty, not asking about not only the abrupt and not entirely natural closing of the door but also the sounds of their king being violently ill within the chambers. But Merlin also knows that both the men posted, though good and respectable, outrank him several times over and will probably not enjoy him, the king's personal servant or not, ordering them about. But Arthur's breathing is getting worse behind him and Merlin's sure his stomach is about to purge itself again. So, channeling as much of Emrys as he can without his eyes turning the color of the sun, and with a mantra of Arthur needs you, you've done much harder things than this, Arthur needs you running through his head, Merlin pulls open the doors.

When both the guards don't immediately turn to look at him, he almost turns to run back into the king's chambers. Instead he says, in his best impression of Arthur's commanding voice, "Guard!" Perhaps it worked too well. They both snap to attention and turn to face him, their stammers of "yes, sire!" dying half-way from their lips. Merlin lets their momentary confusion work to his advantage. "I need an empty pail, a clean cloth, a large pitcher of cold water, and a tray of warm broth and bread brought up as soon as possible. I also need Gaius told that the king requires a sleeping draught and Sir Leon sent for immediately. Is that understood?" The guards stare at him a moment longer before nodding into a sort of half bow and muttering "yes…sir?" Merlin lets Emrys stay with him until the doors are securely closed, then he slumps against them and breaths again.

Arthur is where Merlin left him, breathing into his knees with his forehead resting against shaking arms. The sorcerer gives himself just a second to watch and try to figure out what exactly was wrong with Arthur. He had been nervous this morning, certainly, and Merlin had had to joke and banter and be clumsy all morning in order to coax a smile onto his face. But by the time the crowds had assembled, Merlin was sure Arthur had been feeling confident in his decision again. And there had been no hint of fever, no sign of stomach illnesses, or internal bleedings or anything that would cause such a violent upset. Merlin checked, with gentle tendrils of warm magic as he dressed the king, on a regular basis to make sure that all was well. Confused and concerned, Merlin once again kneels next to the shivering, sweating man, running a hand, feather light, twice up and down his spine before speaking.

"Think you can stand up?" He mutters, his mouth close to Arthur's ear. When he receives a nod, he moves his hands to Arthur's elbows and gently hauls him up. He sways, dangerously, and they both almost go crashing down, but Merlin adjusts his hold around Arthur's waist and starts pulling him to the bed. It takes them almost five full minutes, with another stop for Arthur to cough weakly into the pail. Merlin sincerely hopes as he does that he's too out of sorts to notice that Merlin shouldn't be able to hold up Arthur and the bucket at the same time. But when they finally reach the comfort of the bed, Arthur collapses onto it, taking Merlin with him, and grunting when his head falls back against Merlin's protruding clavicle.

"That was your fault!" Merlin says quickly, when Arthur begins his familiar, if not slightly weak and breathy, intonation of "Merlin." And Merlin feels a tiny bit of the tension in his shoulders ease when a huff of breath that might resemble laughter tickles his ear. But it's still too close to a shudder or a sob for his strong king and reminds him of the image of Arthur kneeling, sick and shaking, on the floor. So he casts his jokes aside and quickly, but gently—always gently with Arthur—untangles himself from the bedclothes and Arthur's limbs and gets to work.

As soon as his support is gone, Arthur tries to slump into his pillows, but Merlin quickly stops him with a hand on his shoulder. "Just a minute, sire. Let me get you out of your formal attire." And Arthur sighs and his eyes slide closed, but he does his best to stay sitting upright as his servant undoes the cape clasps and unlaces his shirt. Finally, Merlin pulls off the worn calve high boots and swings Arthur's legs onto the bed. It was as Merlin was drawing the curtains to the windows and starting the fire that a knock sounded at the door. Arthur stirs from his half doze and tries to call to the person to enter, but his throat is raw from retching and Merlin, just a few feet away, can barely hear him. So Merlin calls out instead, his own voice strong in place of his master's.

Leon's head poked through, his curly hair looking even more out of control than usual, as if he ran from the other side of the castle. He notes Arthur staring blearily at him from the bed and Merlin, still kneeling at the hearth and wisely decides that it's Merlin that needs to be talked to. He comes over and they speak quietly, Arthur's most trusted knight obviously alarmed at the sight of his king. Merlin assures him that Arthur will be fine by tomorrow; though he himself has to fight the way his gut is twisting with worry, and gives him the excuse that Arthur was just in the sun too long. Leon promises to keep all matters of state away from the king unless absolutely necessary. He sweeps out, with one last bow and murmur of "sire" to Arthur.

Two servants step through the doorway with Gaius just five minutes after Leon leaves, one bearing a tray with a bowl of steaming broth and a plate of fine bread and another with the pitcher of water and pail that Merlin had sent for. He gestures for them to set both down and thanks them, before shooing them out so Arthur can have some quiet. The physician immediately approaches the bed and begins to appraise his patient.

"Well?" Merlin asks, bringing a bowl of water and a cloth to the bedside table. "What's wrong with him, Gaius?" The elderly man turns to look at him; eyebrow raised in what Merlin knows is a sign of confusion.

"I don't know. He just came in here and was ill?" Merlin nods vigorously in confirmation. "He doesn't have a fever, or chills or anything that would point to a serious sickness. I guess the only thing we can do is keep him comfortable and hope he's better in the morning. You can give him this with his meal," Gaius says, seeing Merlin's dismay, and holding out the asked for sleeping draught. Merlin nods his thanks and closes the door behind the physician. Merlin returns to Arthur's side and begins to wash away the sweat and traces of sick. He spends the next hour alternating between trying to get Arthur to eat something and forcing water down his throat. Finally, when Merlin feels Arthur is sufficiently rehydrated and Arthur has told Merlin that if he tries to slip the sleeping draught into his drink one more time he'll have the palace horses trample his armour just so Merlin can get the dents out, Merlin settles down at the side of the bed and Arthur closes his eyes and gives in to exhaustion.

Merlin is surprised when Arthur's large hand encircles his wrist as he sits on the edge of the royal four-poster bed and loses himself in thoughts. Not only because he'd thought he'd been asleep, but because Arthur usually isn't one for touching. The king allows a friendly nudge, or shoulder pat every once in a while. When one or the other is in that tenuous vulnerable stage that is too deep for something as simple as that, there have been careful, cautious embraces. And even more rarely, just twice in all the years they have known each other, Arthur has given Merlin a look—as he blew out the candles and bid him goodnight—of such desolation and loss and pain, that Merlin had forgone all attempt at decency and custom and toed off his boots and crawled into the empty space by the line of Arthur's body and stayed with him till dawn. (They never spoke of these nights again.) But now Arthur's hand is tight around his wrist, and when Merlin asks what he wants he just pulls. Merlin whispers that he doesn't understand and Arthur pulls harder until Merlin falls over his legs.

And when Merlin looks up to glare at the sick king and he sees that look his heart plummets and his throat constricts and his eyes prick with tears already cause he'd sworn the first time he saw the ice creep over those blue eyes that he never wanted to see that look again. So he immediately clasps the hand back and toes off his boots, clambers over Arthur and settles against him with his back propped up on the headboard. He buries his hand in Arthur's sweat crusted hair and says nothing when he turns his head into his servant's side.

Merlin allows Arthur to just breathe for several minutes, his breath shallow and uneven, soaking through Merlin's thin shirt and making the skin over his ribs feel hot and sticky. And when Merlin feels he's composed himself slightly he shifts so that Arthur has no choice but to look up at him. "Will you tell me now? What happened?"

Arthur swallows, hard, a couple times before speaking, his voice hoarse and reserved. "That man. What if… What if he was innocent?" And Merlin is the one that has to break eye contact now because it feels like there's something lodged in his throat that might suffocate him if he doesn't look away from the blue of Arthur's eyes. He lets his head fall back against the wood and gulps down the obstruction because he understands now and how could he have not seen it before. There's a fascinating cacophony of emotion fighting for dominance in his thin body; sorrow and worry—sorrow that he had to make this decision and run a kingdom and that he lost his father—for Arthur making his stomach turbulent and ice cold while pride, unadulterated pride and affection are swelling in his chest. Because Arthur, King Arthur Pendragon, "trained to kill since birth," who never once turned away or flinched at an execution, was feeling guilty; was afraid that he had cast incorrect judgement and that a man had been wrongly killed because of it. And not just guilty, so guilty he had literally made himself sick with it.

The crescendo of brotherly love that comes with that thought has Merlin resting his forehead against Arthur's temple and he can't help the small smile that graces his lips when Arthur doesn't pull away. "You know he wasn't. I was at the trial, Arthur. The evidence was undeniable."

"That may be so, but perhaps we missed something." He doesn't listen as Merlin tries to assure him that the search of the man's house was thorough. He does pull away from Merlin's gentle touches now as he lets his agitation come through. His shaking his getting worse and his color is draining except for two bright patches of color high on his cheeks. And the tides are suddenly changing in the war of Merlin's emotion—he's much more worried than proud now. "Maybe there were extenuating circumstances."

"Like what?" And Merlin's too busy trying to get Arthur lie back against the pillow to tease Arthur that he didn't know that the king knew a word that long.

"He could be seeking justice for an old wrong." Merlin scoffs, and Arthur knows his view on revenge well enough to not need an elaboration. "Maybe he thinks the taxes are too high." A raised eyebrow this time. "Or perhaps his wife or child practices sorcery and in order…." But Arthur never finishes his sentence. Instead he pales and Merlin barely has time to put an arm out before Arthur slumps over the side of bed to where the empty bucket's been stored, just in case.

He lays back a moment later, sweating again, and Merlin is busying himself with getting a cup of water so that he won't see the tears leaking into Arthur's hairline because he isn't sure his heart—or his magic, which has been buzzing and flitting haphazardly under his skin this whole time—can stand seeing him in that kind of pain. After he's lifted Arthur's head into his arms and made him drink, Arthur again begins to speak and no amount of shushing from Merlin will quiet him.

"Oh, gods, Merlin… I didn't think about his family. He probably had a wife. And kids. And I just killed their father. And now there's another little boy who'll be the village punching bag and another little girl who won't know how to protect herself and another woman who's lost everything. And it's all my fault."

Merlin, who'd been listening with a sad understanding on his face, suddenly proclaims, "Arthur, no!" and, tilting Arthur's head back, forces eye contact. There's a fire in his eyes that Arthur's seen before and he knows he's about to be scolded—not the kind of scolding he used to get when he was young and would sneak food from the kitchens with Morgana and would take a short cut through the council chambers, forgetting they were in the middle of a very important meeting; but the kind that he'd only started receiving since Merlin had arrived, when he would finally let his doubts of his abilities to be a leader show and Merlin would tell him, in a far kinder way than anyone ever had, that he's an idiot and Merlin believes in him, so he should too.

"Arthur," he says, and his voice is as gentle as the fingers that are working away the headache that's forming in the base of Arthur's skull. "This man wasn't a nice man, he wasn't good. Maybe he did have a family, but maybe he hurt them. He wanted to kill you. You've done nothing wrong; done nothing but your duty as king and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I understand that there are some parts of being king that are rather less agreeable than others and this is one of them. And I'm glad you don't enjoy this, you shouldn't, and it'd be disgusting if you did. But you can't make yourself ill with guilt just because the man died on a gallows instead of a battlefield." Merlin brushes the hair out of Arthur's eyes while he takes that in for a few seconds before asking, even more softly, "Do you understand?" Arthur nods mutely and Merlin grins down at him before lifting his head off his lap because he's losing feeling in his toes.

As he's adjusting Arthur's pillows again and settling himself against the wooden headboard once more, he casually says, "Besides, it's a good thing he died now. It's better than what would have happened to him." But that makes Arthur freeze and stare at him and demand, in his most kingly voice, what he's talking about. And though Merlin tries to change the subject about five times, Arthur just continues to look at him until finally Merlin sinks down into the pillows with him and looks at him right back and finally concedes. "Oh, my king. I may not condone revenge, but do you really think, if someone were to kill you, Arthur, that I would just carry on living and breathing knowing that your murderer was doing the same?" And Arthur blinks once, twice, three times before letting his head fall forward onto Merlin's shoulder and does not move it. It takes them only seconds to fall asleep.

That's how the kitchen maid finds them, that evening. With the King of Camelot and his manservant both asleep in the same bed, the servant's dark head bent so his forehead was nestled in Arthur's golden hair, while his cheek is pressed into the cavity of Merlin's scrawny shoulder. He's clutching to the ragged homespun tunic and, even in sleep, she can see the red of his eyes and the paleness of his skin. Merlin, whom the girl has seen in the early mornings in the kitchens and has grown to like a great deal, has his arms carefully wrapped around the king—in less of an embrace and more of a protective shield. The king shudders, then, and Merlin pulls him closer to keep him warm. And it is quite possibly because of this that the girl abandons her frozen sentinel at the door and moves into the dark room. She sets the tray silently on the table, with more broth and bread and some fresh fruit, and though her job is simply "take His Majesty his supper, bring his luncheon dishes back," after another glance at the sleeping pair, she can't help herself.

She crosses to the windows and soothes them shut, the smell of sick all but gone from the room now, and then to the dim hearth where embers are fading to dark red. She is just adding the last of the logs to the now burning fire, the process having taken much longer than usual in her attempt at stealth, when she hears shifting from the bed. She springs to her feet and whirls to find, not the king's, she is grateful to see, but Merlin's blue eyes blinking at her. Arthur, she notes, is still cocooned safely between the bedding and his manservant. Not entirely sure what to do with herself, she stares at him until he smiles at her and mouths a small "thank you." She then dips into an awkward curtsy and hurries out, flustered at being caught seeing them, and forgets to gather the uneaten lunch.

When the girl is gone, and Merlin's grin at her awkwardness that reminds him a little too much of Gwen fades, he looks down at Arthur. Arthur… looks small in his arms. But his breathing is deeper and stronger than before and he is not quite so pallid. And Merlin would like to let him sleep and not think about what happened today and his responsibilities of tomorrow and his regrets of yesterday. But the lack of light seeping underneath the curtains is telling him that it's long past dusk meaning that Arthur hasn't eaten in well over twelve hours and what he did manage to eat this morning he had purged earlier anyway. So he carefully and slowly pushes himself away from Arthur, trying not to disturb him too greatly, until he's kneeling by his hip. He then runs his thumb firmly up and down Arthur's forearm until he begins to blink blearily at him through the semi-dark.

"I'm sorry to wake you up, Arthur, but you really need to eat something before I let you go to sleep again." All he got in response is a mumble that sounded suspiciously like a curse and his name. Merlin flashes him a quick grin, because that was much more like the Arthur he knew, and then proceeds to prod him into sitting up against the headboard. When Arthur is propped up and looking slightly more alert, Merlin crawls off the other side of the bed and crosses to the table to bring the tray of food. He pushes a chair with his hip as he carries the tray back, a skill he learned only after coming to Camelot and started working for Arthur.

He sits by Arthur's bedside as he slowly slurps at the broth. They talk, casual and light as ever, ignoring the pail by the bedside and the way Arthur's hand shakes as he lifts it to his mouth. Merlin tries not to stare longingly at the fruit on the tray, studiously ignoring the fact that he hasn't eaten since over an hour before he woke Arthur up this morning, but he thinks Arthur notices his glances, because he declares imperiously that he doesn't like strawberries or peaches and shoves them towards Merlin. Merlin looks up at him disbelieving because he knows for a fact that those fruits are the king's absolute favorite, but Arthur just continues to dip pieces of bread into the dregs at the bottom of his bowl, so he reaches forward and happily begins to pop them in his mouth, savoring the flavour. He's finally able to coax the sleeping draught down Arthur's throat, when the dishes have been placed back on the table, and he sits back into his chair to wait until the king is soundly asleep. But as Arthur settles into the pillows again he looks at him, his blue eyes wide with a strange kind of imploring embarrassment, and Merlin finds himself again crawling onto the royal four-poster.

And when Merlin wakes up at dawn the next morning he knows without opening his eyes that Arthur is better because Merlin's hand isn't fisted in the back of Arthur's tunic and his breath isn't tickling Merlin's neck and he can't smell the expensive oils that Arthur uses when he bathes and there's no extra heat or pressure against him making him sweaty. Instead, there is the sound of Arthur's deep breaths, that Merlin calls snores just to annoy him, a couple of inches away from his ear and Merlin's tempted to hit him with a pillow to quiet him, but he knows it's time for him to get up any way. Merlin's knee is jammed into Arthur's thigh, because Merlin isn't used to having a bed that can accommodate his height and curls into himself when he sleeps, and when he shifts away, he's sore in a way that tells him it's been there most of the night. The only other point of contact between the two, the one that makes Merlin open his bleary eyes and give a small affectionate smile, is Arthur's right hand wrapped loose and gentle around Merlin's left wrist.

He spends a few minutes trying to ease his hand free without waking Arthur up, but he's already slept longer than he should and Arthur's going to be busy enough as it is today and he just really doesn't have time, so he gives up and just pulls and tries his best to contain his laughter when Arthur's eyelids flutter and his hand tightens subconsciously around Merlin's and he makes a sleepy, inquisitive noise. And when he tugs his fingers free one by one and Arthur's blue eyes blink up at him he whispers, "Sleep a little longer, Sire. I'll come get you soon," and he can't fight his smile when Arthur follows his order for once.

He comes back, half an hour later, in a fresh tunic and with Arthur's breakfast balanced on one arm and his freshly laundered clothes hanging on the other and he pushes the door open with his back, as always, and pulls opens the curtains and calls out a chipper, "Good morning, Sire!" And Merlin is happy to have the previous day become number three on that list of nights that they just forget about—to be locked away solely for the nights when Merlin is laying alone in the dark and feels his destiny suffocating him and needs to be reminded that Arthur turns to him for comfort before anyone else and that small thought allows him to breath, just a little bit. But as Arthur sits behind his desk and Merlin walks past him to begin straightening the havoc that had been rent on the chambers the day previous, he hears Arthur's quiet murmur of "thanks."

He tries to hide the way he freezes in surprise, then turns to Arthur, smiling broadly and returns happily, "Anytime, Arthur."

A/N: An deireadh! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it! Please let me know what you think, I love hearing what you all thought. Have a great day!