Merlin nearly had to jog to keep up with Arthur's brisk pace, and he was getting tired of it.
"Arthur, what's the big hurry?" he puffed.
"I've told you, Merlin, I've only got a few hours before I need to be back at the castle. Don't you ever listen to me?" Arthur answered huffily.
"Right. Sorry," Merlin mumbled.
"Hey, Merlin," Arthur said, pausing and turning to look at him.
"Cheer up!" He smiled and Merlin rolled his eyes as they continued their trek to the city.
"Why are we going to the city again?"
"Because, Merlin, I'm bored. And because Morgana's birthday is coming up and I need to get her something."
Merlin's eyebrows shot up, but he didn't say anything. He wouldn't have expected Arthur to get something for Morgana himself, and he definitely wouldn't have expected him to go down to the market to find something for her. He was almost impressed.
They reached the market in record time, and soon Arthur was wandering around, looking at all the vendors, looking for all the world like a little kid. He finally stopped in front of a young girl who was there with her handmade necklaces, and began examining them, one by one. The girl recognized him and looked a little embarrassed at the attention.
Arthur picked up one of them, eyes shining. He showed it to Merlin, a wide grin on his face.
"Look at this. What do you think Merlin?"
Merlin smiled. "I think she'll love it."
"I'll take it," Arthur told the girl. "How much?"
She looked taken aback. "For you, your majesty? Why, nothin'!"
"No, no, I insist!" Arthur replied pushing some coins into her hand. "Thank you. The lady Morgana will love it."
The girl nodded, her jaw hanging open, and watched them leave with wide eyes. Arthur admired the necklace one more time before slipping it into his pocket.
"We'd best get back to the castle. Come on, Merlin!"
Merlin froze, closing his eyes. "Oh…oh no."
"What?" Arthur asked.
Merlin sighed. "Gaius had some things he needed me to fetch. I'm so sorry, I can't believe I forgot! You go ahead, I'll-"
"Just hurry up," Arthur interrupted.
"Thank you," Merlin breathed. "You're the best."
He and Arthur wove through the crowds, Merlin gathering the things Gaius had told him to get.
"How much more of this do we need?" Arthur griped.
"Just one more thing, I think," Merlin replied, scrutinizing what looked to Arthur like nothing more like a leaf.
"Good, it's getting-oof!" Arthur fell to the ground as someone not paying enough attention plowed into him.
"I'm sorry! I'm so very sorry!" the man cried, helping Arthur to his feet. "I do apologize for my clumsiness."
Arthur waved a hand dismissively, giving the man a tight smile. "No harm done. Really! Just be more careful."
The man gave him a small nod and went on his way.
"Are you alright?" Merlin asked, doing a rather poor job of containing his amused smile.
"I'm fine," Arthur grumbled, sweeping the dust from his front. He paused, frowning, and reached into his pocket.
"He took it."
"What?" Merlin asked, confused.
"He took the necklace!" Arthur snapped, already pushing his way through the crowd. "Hey! Stop!"
The thief began running, and Arthur and Merlin set off in pursuit.
"Move. Move!" Arthur shouted as people scurried to avoid the chase. The thief looked over his shoulder, and began running faster, pushing people into Arthur's path, finally knocking over a cart. It slowed Arthur and Merlin down enough that he was able to vanish down an alleyway.
Upon reaching the opening of the alley, Arthur let out a curse. "Which way did he go?"
"I'm so sorry, Arthur, this is all my fault-"
"Okay, you go right, I'll go left. Give a shout if you find him."
They both took off again. Arthur ran down the alley, turned the corner-
And nearly ran into a wall."Damn!" He folded his fingers behind his head, trying to figure out what to do next. Suddenly, he heard a shout. He exhaled loudly. "Merlin," he sighed, running toward the sounds of a struggle.
He came around a corner and caught sight of them. The thief had Merlin against the wall, his hands around his throat. Merlin's face was growing red, his eyelids fluttering, his hands scrabbling uselessly at the aggressor's hands.
"Hey!" Arthur shouted. The man looked over and Arthur drove a fist into his temple. The thief dropped like a rock, and Merlin slid down the wall, coughing and gulping down air.
"Are you alright?" Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded, still trying to catch his breath. Arthur knelt by the unconscious thief, searching for the necklace. He finally found it and pulled it from the man's pocket, a triumphant grin on his face. "Here it is!" He began to turn his head when a glint of something caught his eye. He looked over. A dagger was lying on the ground near the thief, red to the hilt.
"…Merlin?" He turned.
Merlin was sitting slumped on the ground, his breath coming in pained gasps, his hands clasped firmly to his side below his left ribcage.
Arthur crouched in front of him. "Hey, Merlin. Merlin!"
Merlin looked at him with eyes wide and bright with pain. "Sorry…sire," he panted.
Arthur took a hold of Merlin's hands and pried them gently away from his side. Blood was soaking through Merlin's shirt, warm and sticky.
"Is it...bad?" Merlin asked.
Arthur snorted, hoping he didn't appear as worried as he felt. "Hardly. It's barely a scratch!" He pulled Merlin's scarf from around his neck and pressed it against the wound. Merlin let out a weak cry of pain and tried to squirm away from his touch. Arthur winced. "I'm sorry."
"My scarf," Merlin protested.
"I'll buy you a new one," Arthur promised. "Now we ought to get back to the castle. Come on. Keep pressure-there, well done. That's it."
He took Merlin's arm and pulled it around his shoulders, holding Merlin's hand in his own. His other arm he wrapped around Merlin's waist.
"Good. Here we go!" Arthur stood, slowly to let Merlin get his feet beneath him. Merlin grunted in pain, stumbled, and would have fallen if not for Arthur's strong grip. They made slow work of it, Merlin putting most of his weight on Arthur.
They were about halfway back when Arthur stopped for a short break.
"I have to catch my breath," he said, though they both knew it was for Merlin's benefit.
Merlin's forehead was shining with sweat, most of the color drained from his face, and he was wheezing badly. The scarf was soaked through with blood.
They took a few more steps before Merlin shook his head and stopped walking.
"Arthur. Stop. I'm not going to make it." Merlin said weakly.
"Come on, Merlin. Yes you are. One step at a time. Come on!" Arthur urged.
"I can't," Merlin said, his voice almost a whisper. He looked up at Arthur with wet eyes, and Arthur saw not only the pain, but the fear that was in them.
"Nonsense," he scoffed. "You're just over-reacting. As usual."
Merlin gave him a weak smile, then broke into a sudden coughing fit. Blood flecked his lips. He looked over at the young prince. To Arthur, he looked to be on the edge of despair. Then, a sort of defiance flooded Merlin's eyes and he stood a little straighter. "We'd best hurry," he said, his voice reedy.
"That's the spirit," Arthur answered with a grim smile.
"Sire! Sire, the king requests your immediate presence."
Arthur stared at the guard in disbelief. "Do you see this man?"
The guard glanced over at Merlin, who was now barely conscious. He looked back at Arthur. "I'm sorry, Sire. It is more of a demand than a request."
Arthur's eyes fell to the other guard's hand, which was inching closer to the handle of his sword.
"Look. I'm sure you've got your orders, but I am telling you that if I have to put my injured friend down to draw my weapon, it will not end well for either of you."
The guards glanced at each other. Arthur took this as a "Go ahead" and pushed past them.
"Come on, Merlin. We're almost there," Arthur murmured.
"Did you mean that?" Merlin asked dazedly.
"Of course. It would have been a lot of work to put you down then pick you back up again."
"No. I mean…friend?"
Arthur looked over at him. "You're hurt and you've lost a lot of blood," he answered tersely.
Merlin gave him a bleary-eyed smile. "You said 'friend'." He coughed again, and said, "Sorry," before going limp in Arthur's arms.
Cursing, Arthur half-carried, half-dragged him through the halls to Gaius's chambers. "Gaius!" he shouted, supporting Merlin in one arm and pounding on the door with the other.
Gaius opened the door, his eyes immediately falling on his injured student. "Come on, come in. Let's get him to my cot. Quickly now! There, lie him down there! Good. Now what on earth happened?" He had already begun cutting away Merlin's shirt, and Arthur winced when he saw the wound. Gaius looked up. "You look a bit pale. Do sit down before you faint."
"I do not faint!" Arthur said indignantly. "I'm fine. Just see to it that he is, as well."
"Could you fetch me some water and a rag?"
Arthur nodded, moving quickly. Gaius nodded appreciatively and went to work cleaning the blood from Merlin's torso.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?"
Arthur sighed. "It's my fault. This man stole something from me and I made him come with me to chase the thief. He went into an alley and we weren't sure which way he went, so we split up. I heard Merlin shouting, and ran to find him. When I did, the thief was choking the life out of him. I knocked him unconscious and searched him for the necklace he'd taken. Something caught my eye, and there it was. The knife, bloodied. That's when I realized…" He trailed off, leaving Gaius to fill in the rest.
Gaius' mouth was set in a grim line, and Arthur watched him worriedly.
"What is it?" he ventured.
"He's still bleeding, and there's a high risk of infection. There's something I can do for both, but it will be very painful."
"Well, you've got to do it if it'll save him!" Arthur urged.
"I don't know that it will save him," Gaius answered.
"If there's chance, then you have to take it!" Arthur's voice was nearly a shout, his words raw with emotion. "This happened because of me, Gaius. He was trying to help me. I shouldn't have let him out of my sight. You've got to try."
Gaius sighed. "You're right, of course. I'm going to cauterize the wound."
Arthur winced. It was a fairly new practice, often used on wounded soldiers. He'd often seen-or rather heard-the affect it had. He watched as Gaius put the fire iron in the fireplace.
"I'm going to need you to hold him down, as tight as you can."
Arthur pushed his sleeves up. "That shouldn't be a problem." He grabbed Merlin's shoulders in a firm grip. Merlin let out a weak groan. Arthur looked up at Gaius, who was getting ready to take out the fire iron.
"Are you ready?"
Arthur nodded, looking away as Gaius put the hot iron to the wound. Merlin let out a scream and jerked. Arthur held him down tighter, squeezing his eyes shut.
"It's done, Arthur, you can let go now."
Arthur slowly opened his eyes. Merlin's breath came in ragged sobs, his face tight with pain. Arthur gave his shoulders a quick squeeze.
"My father wanted to see me. I should go. I'll be back to see how he's doing."
Gaius didn't respond, occupied with making up some sort of salve.
"Right," Arthur muttered to himself. He turned to leave.
"Arthur," Merlin rasped.
Arthur turned back. "Yes?"
Merlin didn't answer for a moment. Then he said, "For being my friend."
"Get better soon, Merlin. I think the blood loss must be messing with your head." But he said it with a smile.
"Arthur! Where have you been? You missed the dinner party entirely! Not only that, but you disobeyed me. You were instructed to come here as soon as you returned. You can't keep doing this, Arthur!"
"I'm sorry, Father. Merlin and I were pursuing a thief and he got injured. It took awhile to get back, and then I had to help Gaius help him. I meant no disrespect."
Uther sighed, leaning his forehead against his hand. "It's always that servant of yours, isn't it? I'm beginning to think he's more trouble than he's worth."
"No, Father," Arthur protested quickly. "He's saved my life on more than one occasion, and he's trustworthy and-"
"Alright, Arthur. Was the thief stopped?"
"And you recovered what was stolen?"
"And Merlin-is he going to be alright now?"
Arthur shrugged. "I really can't say. Gaius is doing what he can. I guess we'll find out soon enough. Is there anything else?"
Uther stared at him for a long moment. "No. Just don't let it happen again."
Arthur bowed, and left, going right back to Gaius' chambers.
Merlin opened his eyes, blinking in the light. His throat was parched, and he felt like he hadn't eaten in a week. He began to push himself up on his elbows, only to have a searing pain shoot through his side. He let out a groan and fell back, chest heaving.
Gwen beamed at him. "It's good to see you awake! How are you feeling?"
"I'm hurting, and my throat is very dry, and I'm starving."
"Oh, right. Well, you've been unconscious for four days now. I'll got fetch you something to eat. And I promised I'd tell Arthur and Morgana the moment you woke up."
Merlin frowned. "Arthur?"
"Of course! You are his friend, after all. I'll be right back."
A few minutes later, Arthur burst into the room, followed closely by Morgana.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried with a broad grin.
Merlin, momentarily forgetting his injury, tried to sit up again. Arthur was by his side in a flash.
"Whoa, Merlin! Take it easy. It's a nasty wound you've got there." Arthur spoke with genuine concern, Merlin noted.
Morgana came to his side. "I heard what happened, Merlin. Thank you." She planted a kiss on his forehead.
Merlin felt himself blush. "Oh, it was nothing, really. I was just…helping a friend."
Arthur looked at him. And he smiled.
So, yeah. This was just an idea that sort of popped into my head. I'm almost done with the first season, so I'm a lot behind, but I tried to capture their relationship as best I could. Hope you enjoyed! Please feel free to review, I really appreciate it.