Merlin strolled through the streets of Camelot late one evening, thumbs stuck casually in his trouser pockets. The air was cool and dry, gently caressing his face and rippling his hair as it passed. It had been merely a fortnight since he and Arthur had returned from the battle at Camlann, and one week later Merlin had been named Court Sorcerer, or Court Warlock, as he liked to call himself – the word 'sorcerer' held way too many negative connotations for his liking, what with Uther's reign still fresh in everyone's minds. His job was to protect the kingdom from evil magic and do his best to serve the King. This wasn't such a difficult task, since he had already been doing this all along since his arrival in Camelot. Besides, since Morgana's death and their victory in battle, there had been little to protect Camelot from.
Because of his rise in status, Arthur urged Merlin to constantly have at least two guards protecting him. Even when Merlin was picking herbs for Gaius, he'd always have two of Camelot's guards on the lookout for attackers. Merlin felt it rather unnecessary for them to watch his every move, since he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but Arthur was adamant. "You can't even swing a sword properly, Merlin, and even with all your magical abilities I doubt you'd be able to fend off anyone wanting you dead." Merlin wasn't used to being so closely watched, and wondered how Arthur managed to do it without going crazy. Perhaps it was because Merlin was so used to his former life being Arthur's manservant, but it really unsettled him greatly.
It was only tonight that Merlin was free from this recent obligation, for Arthur had a speech to write promoting the allowance of magic to be used in his kingdom, and was holed up in his bedroom furiously writing. It was an opportune moment for Merlin to slip out undetected and have a little walk alone for a breath of fresh air.
Little did he know that he was being followed. Merlin's guard was down, so he didn't see the shadow following behind, slinking into the shadows whenever he turned a corner so as not to be seen; nor did he hear the pitter-patter of footsteps. It was only when he was well away from the castle that he was suddenly attacked. Strong hands grabbed him from behind and twisted his arms forcibly to his back; Merlin cried out but there was no one to hear him. He tried to use his magic to defend himself, but his attackers apparently had magic as well as strength. He heard a spell muttered indistinctly, binding his magic so that if he tried to free himself it would only make it worse. It reminded him of the time Morgana and Morgause had left him in the middle of the forest bound in chains, surrounded by giant scorpions inching in for the kill.
"Got him," said a gruff voice, one that Merlin did not recognize. "He'll fetch a good price if we hold him for ransom." The words sent a shiver running through Merlin's body; what were these people going to do to him?
"Please don't hurt me," he managed to say, but with a crunch the other man had twisted his arm. Merlin yelled in pain; his shoulder had probably been dislocated from the way his right arm hung limply.
"Why are you doing this?" he choked. He could taste blood at the back of his throat.
"The only reason why King Arthur appointed you as Court Sorcerer was because he has feelings for you," snarled one of the men. "You are just an ordinary warlock with nothing to your name."
"That's – not – true," Merlin burst out, still able to find the indignance bubbling from within himself to respond. Someone kicked him in the stomach for his cheek, and he saw stars. Collapsing onto his side he begged for them to stop, but they only laughed and started to hit him again without mercy.
"Perhaps he uses you for intimate purposes. He raised your status so he can have you more often in his bed." Another burst of pain came forth as he was forced to his knees and received a sharp blow to the head, not enough to knock him out, but enough to feel the sting.
"We cannot have such an abomination in our kingdom. The Prince may have married a Queen but we cannot have him arranging dalliances with his Court Sorcerer." Merlin felt another kick, but he hardly had the strength to cry out.
His vision was fading, but he had to hold on… if only there was a way to break the binding spell they had placed upon him, then he would be able to free himself and blast the two men far, far away… Merlin heard an indistinct shout and realised someone was calling his name. He was now too weak to get up, but in his blurry vision he could see someone dressed in red running in his direction.
"I command you to stop! I am the King!"
Suddenly the pain ceased, and from the way Merlin felt a wave of powerful energy surging through his body, the binding spell had also been lifted. He only managed a groan before his head lolled on the cobblestone street.
"How dare you!" he heard Arthur shout. He knew it was Arthur now; who else would be dressed in Pendragon red so late in the evening? "Do you know who it is you have just attacked?"
The man with the gruff voice replied. "It is the Court Sorcerer, my Lord."
"He is not just the Court Sorcerer," breathed Arthur, his voice getting more dangerous by the second. "He is Emrys, and he is the most powerful warlock ever to have walked this Earth. A name that should strike fear into the hearts of the boldest men, and here you are treating him like he is worth nothing!" The two men were backed up into the wall as Arthur took a menacing step forward. Even though the two of them were each at least a foot taller than the King, it was all for nothing as they cowered under his glare.
"I could have you hanged," said Arthur murderously. "But I have decided to be merciful. I hereby banish both of you from Camelot." He viciously unsheathed his sword and pointed it at one of the men's throats; Merlin felt a surge of pleasure as he heard a whimper elicited from the man. "I'm warning you," Arthur whispered, threatening him. "If you dare to even touch the walls of Camelot ever again from this day forth, I will personally have you cut up and fed to the pigs." The tip of the sword pushed further up against the man's throat; one more inch and it would draw blood. "Have I made myself clear?"
There were murmurs of, "Yes, my Lord," and "Crystal, my King." Arthur gave both men a hard shove and they loped off into the darkness.
Up till this moment Arthur had been standing tall, strong and defiant, but as the two men left his shoulders suddenly slumped and he rushed over to Merlin's side. "Merlin, please tell me you're alive," he said, a hand brushing Merlin's brow. His eyes fluttered open briefly; blue sought out blue as they stared at each other. Arthur looked so relieved that he looked almost close to tears. "I have to take you to Gaius," he said.
Merlin felt a hand sliding under his back and lifting him up, he gave a groan of pain as blood trickled from the side of his mouth. Another hand hoisted him up and then Arthur was carrying him, stumbling slightly, but carrying him back to the castle. The pain was too great in Merlin's shoulder, and before long he had either fallen asleep or passed out in Arthur's arms.
Gaius was getting ready for bed when Arthur suddenly burst into the room, carrying a limp, slightly bloody figure in his arms. "Heal him, Gaius," he said almost brokenly, laying Merlin down on the nearest bed. "He's been hurt."
Gaius' eyes widened as he assessed the situation. A bruise was quickly blooming on Merlin's arm that looked in need of urgent treatment, and the rest of his body looked either broken or badly injured. "You must give me time and quiet to perform the treatment, Sire," he said. "Merlin has suffered greatly and I need to concentrate on healing him."
"Of course," said Arthur, relieved that Merlin was going to be all right. "I'll come in tomorrow morning."
"I'm afraid I will have to deny you that, Sire," said Gaius. "His current condition indicates he may not be conscious for days. There would be no use for you to stay by his side, it would only bring you misery, my Lord. I urge you to visit him in a few days' time or so."
Arthur's eyes filled with concern. "Will he be all right, Gaius?"
"For now, it is hard to tell," said Gaius quietly, but honestly. He hesitated as Arthur's shoulders slumped. "But given his power and the number of injuries Merlin has sustained before this, I believe he should be able to make a full recovery before long."
Two days later, Arthur came down to Gaius' chambers again. "How is he?" he demanded, trying to look over Gaius' shoulder for a glimpse of Merlin.
"He is gravely hurt, my Lord, and I have treated his wounds with my strongest medicine," said Gaius. "But I am pleased to say that it will only be a few days before he makes his way to a full recovery. Since he has come to he has managed to heal the worst of his injuries – "
"Gaius," Arthur interrupted, suddenly straightening up. "He's awake?"
"Yes, Sire – " Gaius began, but Arthur had already pushed past him and made a beeline for Merlin's room. "He is still very weak, my Lord, I would advise you not to tire him out!" Gaius called after him. He only saw a nod from Arthur's head before his blonde head disappeared into the room. Gaius wisely left him to his devices, taking his bag with him as he left to look for some herbs.
Arthur was barely able to contain the tumult of emotions within him, and it was only after the door slammed shut that he saw Merlin propped up at an angle on his bed, eyelids half-shut, his visage pale and sweaty. Seeing him, Merlin managed a weak smile, but Arthur ignored him and let his rage break out.
"You really are a total BUFFOON, aren't you, Merlin?" he shouted. "I keep reminding you that you cannot go about unprotected, and you go and wander late at night in the middle of the streets! Surely it must have occurred to you in that thick head of yours, magical or not, to take a guard or two with you? Have you heard none of my warnings? Oh, no, you say. Obviously, because you're Merlin Emrys, the greatest, all-powerful sorcerer of all time, so there's no way anyone can hurt you. You idiot. It was only fortunate that I finished my speech early and was able to notice your absence that I came after you and found you on the ground next to those two bastards – " His voice cracked, but he hurtled on. "You went and got yourself into a fight and damn near got yourself killed, do you hear me? You're supposed to be protecting me, not the other way round! How am I supposed to survive without you if you had died, may I ask? How would I be able to live with myself – "
It was only a whisper, but the slightest movement of Merlin's lips stopped Arthur in his tracks.
"Don't – shout," said Merlin, his voice so quiet it could barely be heard in the silent room. "Hurts…"
Arthur's demeanour changed in less than a second. His rage seemed to fall out from beneath him and he was stripped bare in its absence. Now he was worried. He rushed to Merlin's side, his coarse, calloused hand gripping Merlin's lithe and bony one in his, the other one running through his raven hair. He fell to his knees and buried his face in Merlin's shoulder, the one that wasn't injured, and tried to hold his emotions in. No man is worth your tears, he told himself, no man is worth your tears. After a few moments of repeating this, however, he thought, screw this. The tears were running down his face in careless abandon, and he was rapidly dampening the sheets as he wept by Merlin's side.
"Never – do that – to me – again," he choked. "I could have killed myself when I saw you on the ground. I thought you were dead."
Merlin didn't reply, but his hand lifted to stroke Arthur's hair and wipe the tears from his eyes.
"How could you have been so stupid?" Arthur repeated. "I thought after Morgana, all evil magic was gone."
Merlin managed to smile weakly. "No," he said. "Wrong."
"You idiot," said Arthur with feeling, then repeated his words with more emphasis, "You idiot."
He heard Merlin chuckle, then wince from the pain. "Your idiot," he whispered. "Clotpole."
Arthur looked up, eyes still shining with tears, and kissed Merlin's forehead. He moved on to kiss every single bruise he could find – over Merlin's left eye, his shoulder (lightly, so as not to hurt him), his wrists, his little finger, even a light touch of his lips to his stomach. Merlin gave a sigh as he did so, before Arthur pressed his lips to his, hands cupping his cheeks, protectively leaning over him.
Arthur could just feel Merlin's lips smiling back into his mouth. "Your clotpole," he said.
This came to me in a dream, no joke. I woke up in the middle of the night to jot down some notes so I could write it in the morning. What do you think? Drop me a review :)