„You can't use it, Merlin. Never. I forbid you, understood?"
„And do you think you can do as I say for once?"
„I promise you Arthur, if this is what you want, then this is what I will do. I've already told you, my powers are all yours."
„Fine. Now, bring me my armour."
Arthur didn't know what made him feel more distressed, the fact that Merlin was a sorcerer or the fact that he could end up burning on a pyre anytime. Of course he felt betrayed and knew it would take time for him to be able to forgive Merlin, but on the other hand, he was quite moved. After all, Merlin risked his life every day just with being by his side and saved him many times before. He never asked for credit and even now, he was worried about Arthur. He saw it on him. Arthur shook his head. Really, Merlin was an idiot. He should worry about himself. Fear settled itself in his mind. Images kept popping up before his eyes, Merlin burning, Merlin losing his head, Merlin gone. Arthur decided he definetaly wouldn't let any of this happen. So he did the only thing he could come up with at the moment. This way, Merlin wouldn't reveal himself out of some stupid selfsacrifice, which was very, knowing him. Arthur was suprised it didn't happen before. Oh, wait, it did. He thought as he remembered the time Merlin admitted being a sorcerer before the king and the whole court. He let out a low growl at the memory, which made Merlin jump out of his skin. Of course. Merlin must thought he had forbidden it because he was full of hatred for sorcery and never wanted to talk about this again. Arthur was angry enough to let Merlin think that way, only for a little more. He deserved just a bit of punishment for lying to him.
Merlin was okay with anything, since he was suprised he was left alive. A day before, they went hunting and was attacked by bandits. They were mad men, really, fighting like they adored the sound of the baldes hitting each other. It was too much, even for Arthur, so Merlin had to 'cheat' a bit, to be able to get away. Unfortunately, Arthur wasn't knocked out this time and saw it very clearly. They spent the night talking. Well, it was more like an interrogation, but Merlin didn't mind. Arthur took it much better than he expected. He was furious, but didn't order the guards to arrest him. And he was willing to even let Merlin stay beside him. For Merlin, it was enough. What he said was true, his magic was Arthur's so he had the right to dispose it. At least that was what Merlin thought. He was too relieved to think about the problems it can cause. No more lies, finally. He wouldn't let Arthur down on this one. Not again. Never again.
Arthur's armour was on, so they were ready to go. Uther ordered his son to chastise the bandits who dared to attack him. Merlin didn't like the idea of meeting them again. There was something off with those men. They were the more bloodthirsty than natural outlaws. Of course, he would go with Arthur. Even without magic, he might be able to help.
Those men were insane, Merlin was sure this time. They attacked like a pack of wolves, growling and shouting. Their barbaric attitude was a suprise for the knights. There weren't many men fighting but it was a total chaos anyway. Soon, knights started to get separated. Merlin stayed as close to Arthur as possible. It was obvious he couldn't fight with his sword skills in a battle like this, so he tried to hide. Suddenly he saw Sir Eleim appearing on his left, fighting with a red haired, animal-like man who had an ugly scar on his face. Behind them, another bandit turned to stab Sir Eleim in the back. Not thinking, Merlin jumped to his feet, and started to run to the attacker's direction, his sword pointed ahead. He managed to suprise the other man, forcing his atteniton on him in place of the knight. With one blow, Merlin's sword went flying and now he faced with a blade pointing at him. It was Sir Eleim's turn to make a move. He quickly kicked the scar-faced and grabbed Merlin from the ground, stabbing his sword inside the other bandit.
„Run!" he shouted. Merlin ran. He turned back to see the scar-faced slice Sir Eleim and shoot after him. Uh-oh.
It was an uneven race, since Merlin kept tumbling on roots and rocks. Eventually, the other man reached him and shoved him down on the ground.
„Well, well, look at what I caught. A little rabbit." his voice was raspy and low, it made Merlin freak out.
Arthur tried hard to keep the group together. Their lines were totally messed up. He finally defeated the man he was dueling with and looked around. Most of his knights were there, but some drifted further. When they took down the last bandit in their sight (which took more time than it should have been), they started to scan the closer areas. Arthur turned to make sure Merlin's still in his hideout behind him. His heart skipped a beat. His manservant was nowhere. He started into the woods, panic rising in his guts. Not too far, he found Sir Eleim.
„Here! We have an injured!" He shouted. Sir Eleim was in a sorry state.
„Merlin." he choked out.
„You saw him?"
„That way." Sir Eleim pointed with his hand faintly. Another knight was by his side now, so Arthur stood to search the direction he showed. All of them froze as they heard a loud scream. It was no question whose voice it was. Arthur started running immediately.
Merlin was kicked down on the ground once again. He had two deep cuts by then, one on his left arm, one on his right leg. The scar-faced must have been a professional. The wounds were bleeding and hurting quite bad, but not enough for passing out. He pointed his sword to Merlin's stomach.
„What? Stopped screaming already?" This was a sadistic bastard. Merlin pressed his lips together. He wouldn't give him that pleasure again.
„Aw, how cute." The blade of the sword cut into flesh and Merlin couldn't help letting out a groan as it slowly, really slowly wandered down his abdomen, drawing a crimson line in it. It suddenly stopped when they heard Arthur's voice.
„Oh, I guess they are looking for you. How sad, I really enjoyed this game."
Arthur spotted the two figures in the woods. His blood became ice as he saw the bigger one pointing a sword to the smaller one, which was definetaly Merlin. That idiot! He could kill that man in a blink of an eye, what is he doing? It clikcked in a second later. Arthur cursed and started shouting.
„Merlin! Defend yourself! You hear me! DO IT!"
Merlin wasn't sure if he heard it well, but there was no more time to think. The scar-faced man's sword lifted up to slice him. His eyes glowed the instant the spell came up in his mind and the bandit flew back, crushing into a tree. It didn't slow him down. He cursed as he got up in a second.
„What the hell? Playing nasty?" he growled, but before he could approach Merlin, Arthur was already there.
„Oh, pretty guardian. You wanna play too?" Arthur's answer must have been an insult and a dirty one, Merlin couldn't get it entirely because it was mostly a snarl. There was something about the bandit's mother and the devil's 'parts'.
This time Arthur looked like a wolf. He striked so fast and so hard that there was no hope to his opponent. The ugly face soon fell onto the ground.
Arthur had to blink several times. His rage made him see the world in red. He couldn't remember the last time he got this furious. It was scary. A heavy huff behind him helped his mind to sober. He turned. Merlin was trying to get on his feet.
„Stay, idiot!" In a second he was kneeling beside him.
„Let me see." He gently lifted Merlin's tunic which made both of them hiss. The slashes weren't deep enough to threaten organs, but they bled in a dangerous pace.
„It-it's better than it looks." Merlin tried to smlie reassuringly. He was paler than ever and was termbling harder every minute so it wasn't comforting at all. Arthur frowned. Merlin couldn't stop complaining about his chores, but he would say 'I'm fine' over and over again when he was burning with a fever or had a serious injury. Arthur found that everytime Merlin said he was okay, his stomach twisted in fear because it meant something awful. He started to tear stripes from his tunic.
„I try to bandage them, but Gaius will need to stich you." Arthur jumped as Merlin let out a loud gasp.
„Hey, cool it!"
„I-I don't think it's that bad. Maybe your bandage will be enough."
„Merlin, I know you're scared of needles-"
„I'm not scared, I just don't like them."
„Fine. But these won't stop bleeding until closed properly. Take it as an opportunity to face your fear."
„Oh, what a prat."
„Why? It's a ridiculos thing."
„I face needles when you kiss a snake."
„I'm not scared of snakes, Merlin. They're just mere animals. Slippery, disgusting, poisonous animals…" Arthur's voice trailed off. Merlin chuckled, but it ended as a horrible choke.
„Ready." Arthur didn't sound satisfied. The bleeding hardly stopped. He put his arms under Merlins' and gently set him up. Merlin couldn't help crying out. Arthur kept holding most of his weight, but the movement still made the wounds open up more. The bandages were soaking wet in a minute.
„It will be a pleasure to ride a horse." he said sourly.
The trip back to the city was slow and painful. Besides Sir Eleim, two other knights were out of kilter. The others had light wounds. They made strechers from wood to spare the injured from horse-riding.
Of course, Merlin refused to take one, saying others needed it more, but Arthur wasn't in the state of arguing. He just pushed him down and walked beside him the whole way. He kept talking to Merlin, ordering him to stay awake and then babbling on incoherently.
Arhur had to admit to himself, he was terrified. Merlin's wounds was not as bad as for example Sir Eleim's, but he looked much worse. The bleeding just wouldn't stop. He didn't have much on his bones to begin with. Arthur couldn't help thinking that if Merlin faints now, he might not wake up and this thought turned his inside into an icy mess.
When they finally arrived, in spite of the efforts Arthur put in, Merlin was barely awake.
Gaius ordered servants around, organising the tending of knights. Shortly, everyone was in his place so he rushed to the bed where Arthur laid Merlin. He was still conscious, but hardly spoke and his eyes kept drifting away. Arthur talked to him constantly, trying to keep him from blacking out.
„How is it?" he asked Gaius.
„He has lost a massive amount of blood. I need to stop it quickly." Merlin's eyes snapped open. He clenched the edge of the bed. Arthur grabbed his hand.
„Hey, it will be over in a second." he murmured. Merlin looked at him with frantic eyes.
„Hold him down." Gaius said, voice cracked. Arthur sat on the bed, one hand on Merlin's good arm, the other on his shoulder. As the needle enetered his arm, Merlin groaned and started to struggle.
„Sssh, it's okay, I'm here." Arthur lowered his head, making their forehead meet. Merlin closed his eyes, breathing in pained huffs, but stopped shifting.
It took long. Merlin's breath became heavier and heavier. Arthur locked his eyes on his face. A storm thundered inside him, anger, fear, guilt at the same time, but he couldn't afford cracking. So he just gripped Merlin intensely as if it was his hands keeping the boy from breaking into little pieces.
Merlin's mind was one big, pumping wound, burning with white fire. Feeling the needle move in and out his skin, leaving tight stiches behind, he thought he could throw up any second. He tried to concentrate on Arthur's low murmur near his ear. He couldn't make out what he was saying, but it didn't matter. His voice was enough. Him being there was enough. Rarely, Merlin managed to open his eyes to get a glimpse of the prince's pure blue iris. In that feverish chaos, those were like cool water. He was there. Arthur was there. Merlin decided to make it through for his sake. He tried hard, because he was beside him. And when they were together, they were whole.
It went almost good, until Gaius started the last one, on his abdomen. On that point, Merlin lost it. He choked and lifted his waist, trying to get away from the needle.
„Merlin don't!" Gaius cried out.
„Hey, hey!" Arthur pushed his shoulders down.
„I can't, I can't." Merlin said on a faint voice.
„We're almost done. Almost, okay? Just a bit more, please. Please." He whispered. Merlin looked up at him, eyes clouded with pain. He nodded faintly and buried his head into Arthur's chest, as the prince leaned closer.
Merlin trembled like hell. Arthur felt uselessness making his eyes burn. Not having a better idea, he continued to mumble into Merlin's hair.
„Look, if you do this for me, I will get a snake, okay? And I will pet it and you can laugh at me and mock me as much as you like, because I will hate it, surely. I do afraid of snakes, you know. They are disgusting and I always fear one will just slip into my armour. So please, I'm sure you don't want to miss it, do you." He went on until Gaius interrupted at last.
„Ready." He aged at least ten years.
„You made it, Merlin, you hear me? It's over." Arthur brushed his hair. Merlin was covered in cold sweat. He shot a last glance at the prince and closed his eyes.
„Gaius?" Arthur asked, panic in his voice.
„It's okay. He needs rest. I have to take a look at the other patients."
„Don't worry, I'll stay."
„Thank you, sire."
„Don't thank me." Arthur said under his breath.
Pain was the first thing Merlin knew. He felt his wounds straining. Stiches, ugh. Fighting down the nausea, he slowly opnened his eyes. There was someone beside him. Although his vision was still blurry, he knew right away, who was that.
„Arthur?" His voice was hoarse.
„Merlin? You're awake! God damn you!"
„Yeah, good to see you too."
„You were asleep for three whole days!" Merlin's eyes widened.
„What?" Intuitively, he tried to sit up. His body burned up with pain.
„No!" Arthur pushed him back. „Don't move you moron! It will tear Gaius apart if he has to stich you up again."
„Oh, yeah, stiches." Merlin felt nausea coming back at him.
„Hey, stop turning green. Don't you dare vomit out that little food we managed to push down your throat."
„I hate stiches."
„I know." There was a pause. Merlin searched back in his mind. The last thing he remembered was Arthur's low voice whispering to him, and his chest close, making Merlin feel safe. He blushed at the memory.
„You stayed with me the whole time?"
„Of course. It was the least I could do." Arthur sounded guilty. Merlin couldn't understand why.
„What do you mean?" Then, it dawned on him. „Oh, I'm sorry."
„You're sorry? For what?"
„For using magic." Arthur glared at him, not believing his ears.
„ Merlin, you are an idiot."
„You keep saying that."
„Because it's true! You should have used it before that bastard did this to you! He could have killed you!"
„I know. It's all my fault. I was being childish. I'm so sorry." Arthur's voice was low now.
„Merlin, there's something we need to make clear. I forbade you using magic because I was afraid you would end up on a pyre. You're far too reckless." There was a long pause.
„I'm really sorry." He said again.
„No, it's not. Look at yourself."
„No, really. I'm… That means you're not disgusted with me?"
„How could you even think that? I could never be. Angry, furious, of course, but never disgusted."
„So you don't hate me?"
„Merlin, it's starting to get offensive. You think that little of me?" Merlin let out a loud huff which made Arthur jump.
„What? Your wounds?"
„No, no, I'm just so… glad."
„God, how can you be still alive? You're ready to incantate in the crowded streets of the city, but wouldn't use magic in a deserted forest when your life is in danger."
„It's because you ordered."
„Oh, and since when do you follow my orders?"
„At least, this time I didn't have to save your royal arse."
„Oh, yeah, but you know, I was wondering. Isn't self-defence something people, without mental affliction, do instinctly?"
„It is, my 'I walk into traps every second week' prince."
„Very funny. Don't get so full of yourself just because you can do tricks."
„Yes, I'm altering your order: don't use magic in front of my father."
„What? I never… wait, I did, didn't I."
„Merlin, you are an idiot."
„Stop saying that! Besides I've just remembered something. Haven't you said something about getting a snake?"
„Oh, shut up alredy."