Word Count: 959
Warning: Sequel to No Choice But This. Vague mentions of torture.
Summary: Oh, Merlin thinks. That’s why no one is coming.
Out of the Wreckage
By Elandria Lore
The first thing Merlin sees when the pain dims is a face he doesn’t recognize. He flinches back and whimpers, but the face just comes closer and closer; the eyes a huge and furious blue, the mouth pinched in a thin line. There’s a splatter of blood cutting across high cheekbones and onto gold blond hair, and suddenly Merlin realizes that he’s staring at Arthur.
Except that he can’t be staring at Arthur because he clearly remembers sending Arthur very far away, a spell that had taken so much out of him that he hadn’t even screamed when they started to beat him.
Well, he hadn’t been screaming then, but he must’ve done since because his voice is rough when he says Arthur’s name.
The face nods, and Merlin tries to move because the guards might come back, soon, any time, and Arthur has to get away.
“Shhh,” Arthur says, reaching for Merlin’s tied wrists with shaky, red stained hands.
“You came back,” Merlin says, dazed at the feel of Arthur’s touch on his skin, and he knows he’s smiling giddily through cracked and bloodied lips.
Arthur tenses for a moment and looks down at him, his eyes still wild like unused magic. “Of course I did,” he grits out, like he’s been screaming too.
He’s wearing armor that’s not his, and the sword he’d slid into the scabbard at his side wasn’t his either. He doesn’t ask where Arthur got it, just concentrates on the way the candlelight glints off of Arthur’s hair, and deepens the shadows on his face.
Merlin’s not entirely convinced that Arthur’s real yet, and just in case he isn’t, he wants to savor the dream.
But just in case he is real, Merlin feels compelled to warn, “The guards will likely be back any minute.”
“Nobody’s coming back,” Arthur says curtly as he unties the ropes that are holding Merlin’s ankles.
He hears Arthur’s hissing breath and he consciously doesn’t curl his toes against Arthur’s steely-eyed gaze.
“I don’t know that I can walk,” he admits, and Arthur’s glare turns from the throbbing flesh on Merlin’s feet to the floor next to him.
Oh, Merlin thinks. That’s why no one is coming.
Arthur wants to kill them all again.
He doesn’t actually remember much of it, just the driving urgency of running through they gray blue mist of the forest, his feet pounding through the underbrush almost as fast as his heart pounded in his chest.
Merlin had sent him away.
He’d touched him like no one had ever touched Arthur before; pressed so close that they were almost one, and then had yanked him from their embrace so fast, it had been like a sword slicing him cleanly in two.
He crashed wildly through the trees, his shirt catching and snagging on snarled branches before he burst into a clearing where his father’s men had created their war camp.
Swords were raised before they recognized him, then dropped in relief. Arthur didn’t let their relief last for long.
Skin bleeding and stinging, his chest burning, and sweat dripped down his face, he raised his hand to the first man he saw. “Give me your sword,” he ordered.
“Sire?” the captain of the guard inquired, stepping forward. He watched for a brief moment as Arthur armed himself with another man’s weapons. “Should we not sound the retreat now that you have returned? We are still outnumbered,” he pointed out.
“You may retreat if you must,” Arthur said, cinching the belt tight, then looked up to the man he’d disarmed. “I thank you for your service,” he said to the startled man. “Should I not return, my father will repay you for the cost of your steel.”
“Sire,” the captain said again, this time more urgently. “We cannot let you return for an act of revenge.”
“It’s not vengeance,” Arthur said shortly, because every moment he was here, Merlin was there taking the brunt of fists and weapons that should have been meant for the both of them. “It’s rescue.”
He hadn’t let the captain argue further, merely turned on his heel and mounted a horse too swiftly for anyone to stop him. He’d heard a cry go out to muster arms and follow, but his thoughts had all been focused on one thing.
Merlin had saved him.
And he was going to damn well return the favor.
And now Merlin is here, in front of him and alive, but his life has come with a price. Arthur wants to weep as he gathers him into his arms as gently as he can to take him from this place. Merlin’s skin has been split and bruised with fists and metal; his gentle, wide-palmed hands lay limp and useless at his sides, the bones inside them cracked and broken; the skin on his feet is swollen and blackened, and that’s just what Arthur can see.
The battle is almost over when he reaches the courtyard. Smoke from small fires choke the air, and blood stains the stones as his men continue to fight.
“Sire,” the captain calls as he rushes to Arthur’s side.
Arthur sees the keen interest in the captain’s eyes at the limp body that lies cradled in his arms, but leaves his command simple. “Raze it to the ground,” he says, “then burn it.”
“And the prisoners?”
The captain of the guard is a hardened warrior with over two decades of experience in Uther’s army, but whatever is in Arthur’s eyes has him paling beneath his soot-covered skin and stepping back.
“Yes, sire,” he nods, “It will be done.”
Arthur strides off through the courtyard, uncaring of the chaos around him, the memory of Merlin’s screams still echoing in his ears.