Summary: Arthur is going through a hard time as the newly crowned King of Camelot, and everything seems to get harder and harder until he comes to discover the most shocking secret he could have ever imagined, greatly affecting his relationship with his beloved servant.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this (except for the plot) and none of this has really happened (that I know of).
A/N: By the way, sorry for taking so long to post a new chapter of this one... Especially considering and I'm not totally happy with it, but... hope you enjoy it anyway! ;)
Everybody in Camelot awoke with a dreadful feeling in his guts the next morning. The news of what had happened to the King and his men had reached every house in the village, and the fear of a war, that until then had been so abstract, had suddenly become definite. They trusted their King with their lives, they knew he would take the best course of action and protect them as long as he could. But that didn't mean they were not in danger.
Merlin could read this same fear in Arthur's eyes as they got ready for the day in the King's chambers. Not fear for his life, Merlin knew that much. But he feared he might take the wrong decision again, that he would fail in protecting his people, that he wouldn't know what to do. And Merlin was afraid too: he feared for Arthur's life and emotional wellbeing.
"Merlin, please, could you help me with the armour?" Arthur asked, taking Merlin out of his reverie, coming to him and depositing the pieces on the table.
"I thought I wasn't supposed to be your servant anymore" Merlin joked, trying to break the tension of the room.
"That's why I said please" Arthur joked back, placing a tiny kiss on Merlin's nose, and the latter could only comply and help Arthur get ready.
Merlin worked in silence, carefully tightening all the belts that kept Arthur's armour in place. He pretended not to notice how the King hissed when the armour made contact with the wound on his shoulder, because he knew Arthur would not appreciate the concern right then and the last thing Merlin wanted was to put more pressure over him. But he couldn't help but to worry about him.
"Ready?" Merlin asked when he was finished, firmly holding Arthur's arm as if he could somehow pass some confidence and reassurance on him.
Arthur nodded, not finding the need for words, and gladly smiled at Merlin in gratitude when the latter joined their lips in a quick peck and gently pushed him through the door of his chamber. It was time to face reality.
All his most trusted knights were already in the Council Room when Arthur made his appearance, Merlin close at his heels. In moments like that Arthur felt very grateful Merlin was still his servant to the eyes of everybody in Camelot, as he could have him near to support him in almost any situation. Like the one they were about to live now: when Arthur would officially declare war on Essetir.
"Gentlemen" Arthur greeted them when he made it to the end of the table.
"How are you feeling, milord?" Leon was quick to ask, worried as always about his friend.
"I'm alright, Leon. Thank you for your concern" Arthur nodded at him in agreement, and turned to the rest of his men. "I guess you all know the terrible happenings that took place in our deeply failed mission"
Nobody said a word, but Arthur saw a few of the men (the ones who were not so close to him so as to be considered friends) lower their heads, as if wanting to avoid his gaze so he would not guess their disappointment in him, or so he thought. He noticed, though, how Leon, Gwaine, Percival and Elyan all looked at him, heads high, as if daring someone to speak ill of their king, and Arthur had to suppress a smile at their never-ending loyalty.
"So, as you can imagine, there's no way to avoid war now if we want to protect the people of Camelot" Arthur announced.
"We're behind you, sire" Gwaine spoke on every knight's name, giving him their support.
"We'll leave immediately. Only a small guarding patrol will stay in Camelot, to protect it if need should arise, and everyone else will be going with me"
"Why don't we wait for them here?" Percival suggested. "We'll stand a better chance, they won't be able to enter that easily"
"I know, but we can't risk it" Arthur explained. "If they do enter, we'll be putting everyone in the citadel at risk. And it would be a death sentence for those living outside the walls" Arthur answered confidently, though Merlin could tell he was doubting himself in every one of the words he was saying after the hard blow of just two days ago.
"You're right, milord" Leon nodded. "We should meet them half way if they are already coming for us"
"Does anybody else have anything to say?" Arthur asked, always ready to give his men the voice to suggest and give their opinion, but nobody said anything. They knew it was the only thing they could do. "In that case, we'll leave immediately"
As Arthur and his army readied the horses and the supplies they would need (as they probably wouldn't reach Essetir's army until next day and they would camp for the night), Merlin approached Arthur, worried as he was about his physical wellbeing.
"Are you sure you're up to this?" Merlin asked. "You're still wounded"
"It's not that bad" Arthur dismissed him as he tried to tighten the belt on the horse's saddle, but the movement of the arm was causing him some pain that clearly reflected on his face, so Merlin gently pushed him aside and finished the job himself.
"Arthur, I took care of it, I know exactly how bad it is. It has to be quite painful. I saw you flinch when the armour made contact with it, and even know I can tell you're hurting, you can't deny it"
"Well, of course it hurts. But what do you want me to do, to tell the knights to go on without me because I have a little pain on my shoulder?"
"I don't think it's just a little pain. And it's not just that. That wound could easily get infected if not treated carefully"
"I promise I'll take care of it so that doesn't happen"
"I'll make sure to do it myself, thank you" Merlin cockily answered, moving to the next horse, that Arthur hadn't noticed until then.
"Merlin, you're not coming" Arthur suddenly said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Excuse me?" Merlin asked, his eyes so wide Arthur would have laughed if the situation wasn't so dramatic.
"I thought you knew"
"What, that you were planning to leave me behind? Sorry, I had no idea" Merlin answered, quite indignant in Arthur's opinion.
"Look, I know you always come with me but..." Arthur tried to reason with him "this is not a watch patrol, it's not a mission or a hunting trip. This is a real war and... I can't risk bringing you with me"
"What do you mean, you can't risk it?"
"I don't know if I'll be able to protect you" Arthur explained, begging him to understand his fears for him.
"I don't need you protecting me, you know? I'm a big boy now" Merlin sarcastically replied.
"Merlin, you don't know how to fight. What are you going to do when someone attacks you? Because it's going to happen"
"I don't know what I will do, but I'll manage" Merlin assured him, once again frustrated about not being able to tell Arthur the truth about his magic. "I'm going with you"
"Merlin, no..." Arthur insisted, shaking his head sadly.
"Arthur, I'm not asking for your permission. I didn't go with you once and look what happened. It's me who is not risking it"
"Merlin, as much as I love you and I would have loved for you to be by my side, what difference would that have made?"
"I don't know" Merlin lied. "At least I would have been able to take care of you sooner"
"You mean if you hadn't been hurt too or..." Arthur shuddered at the thought of losing Merlin, and the latter felt a rush of love and sympathy towards him, knowing how it felt to see your lover hurt. He was not going to be convinced to stay, though.
"I know what it feels to worry about the person you love. Believe me, I do" Merlin explained, discreetly picking Arthur's hand in his. "That's why I can't stay here, not knowing if you're alright, or even alive. You can't ask me that"
"Merlin, that's an order" Arthur answered, but he didn't sound convincing even to himself.
"To hell with your orders, Arthur, I'm going. You'll have to lock me in the dungeons if you want to stop me and, even then, I promise you I will find my way out before you can even know what happened. If I get to go at your side or at your shadows depends only on you"
"I really can't stop you, can I?" Arthur answered fondly, unable to stop a smile spreading in his lips in spite of the obvious defiance in Merlin's words.
"You can try" Merlin answered, equally smiling.
"You're something else, aren't you?"
"No, I just want to take care of you"
"Alright. I guess it's your decision" Arthur finally conceded, not at all convinced but knowing there wasn't anything he could do.
"Don't blame me if you end up pushing up the daisies" Arthur sadly joked, his heart already beating faster with apprehension of what was about to come.
"I won't, I promise" Merlin joked back with a wink and squeezed Arthur's hand a little tighter before letting go of it.
They spend the day advancing towards the enemy. They were all both apprehensive and anxious about the battle, but they didn't want to rush it because they wanted to be prepared and rested, as well as the horses, so the best solution would be to camp for the night and wait until the next day.
When they found a secluded place that would give them enough protection in case of danger, everybody started working to make camp. Sometimes they would install some tents to be more comfortable, but they were not going to do it this time, as they were only going to spend one night and they needed to be prepared, just in case Essetir's army would reach them before they expected.
As soon as they stopped, Merlin asked Arthur to let him see the wound, but the latter quickly dismissed him and said he was going to collect wood for the fire.
Merlin took charge of the cooking, as he usually did, but out of the corner of his eye he could see Arthur trying to pick up the wood for the fire. He was not being very successful, though, because just the motion of stretching his arm every time to grab a log was torture, just as it was to hold the ones he had already picked if he changed hands. They kept continually falling off his arms, Merlin noticed the third time he heard Arthur curse the logs. He was about to take pity on him and help him when he saw Percival beat him to it.
"Oh, thank you, Arthur, let me take them" he said grabbing all the wood from the floor and from Arthur's arms without making a big deal or giving him the chance to protest.
Merlin chuckled silently at the lost expression on Arthur's face when his job was taken from him. He knew Arthur was frustrated –about the war, about his injury–, and his way to deal with it was to keep himself occupied. Not really knowing what to do, he moved to the horses and tried to unsaddle his, again unsuccessfully because of the heavy weight of the saddle.
Merlin could only see him struggling for a minute until he couldn't stand it no more and swiftly walked to him, not wanting to embarrass him but needing to stop his stupid actions before he would reopen the wound.
"You don't have to do everything yourself" Merlin told him as he put his hand over Arthur's to stop his movement. "I'm sure any of the boys or myself will gladly help you in anything you need"
"I didn't come here to sit and watch the others do all the work, Merlin. I came here to fight" Arthur protested, shrugging Merlin's hand and trying again to lift the saddle.
"Yes, and fighting is something you won't be able to do if you keep forcing that shoulder so much. You should take it easy so when the time comes you're as strong and healthy as possible"
"Give me that" Elyan said as he passed by Arthur and jokingly pushed him away from the horse and he continued unsaddling it without saying anything else.
Arthur just sighed in frustration –why did everybody had to defy him like that?– and said no word as he turned around, purposefully walking away from Elyan and especially Merlin.
"Now will you let me take a look at your wound?" Merlin insisted to Arthur's back, even if he knew the answer he was going to get.
"Not now, Merlin" Arthur protested, not turning away to look at him nor stopping because of the frustration he was feeling.
"I said not now, Merlin. I'll go and fill some canteens by the stream" he announced as he disappeared, and Merlin let him go with a sigh, knowing he needed to be alone for a while.
"Don't worry about him, Merlin" Leon whispered to him when he approached the fire in which Merlin was cooking. "You know how stubborn he is"
"Yes, I know" Merlin smiled gratefully at Leon, grateful he had someone who knew about them to some extent and whom he could talk to at times like this. "He just... he can't stand being injured, and he has so much pressure on his shoulders..."
"He just needs a moment to work on his anger" Leon answered with a knowing smile. "He'll be back to being sweet Arthur once he has calmed down"
"Sweet Arthur? Have you just met him?" Merlin joked.
"Yeah, try to convince me you don't think he's sweet" Leon joked back, friendly slapping Merlin's back as he stood up again to keep making camp.
As Leon had wisely predicted, Arthur came back after a while and silently made his way to Merlin, sitting next to him with their backs against a big log as a silent apology and smiling at him when Merlin tenderly offered him a plate.
"Thank you" Arthur plainly said, although Merlin could read much more on his voice and his eyes, so he moved nearer to him and kept eating.
There was a light conversation between the men, some bad joking and a lot of camaraderie, but none Arthur or Merlin took place in it. They contented themselves with the contact of their bodies, pressed against each other from shoulder to thigh, and the knowledge of the love they shared.
After a while, some of the knights started getting sleepy, so after the guarding shifts had been scheduled, some of them starting spreading their bedrolls and only a few of them remained around the fire.
Merlin could see Arthur's eyes growing heavy –as he was obviously still not recovered from his wound–, and he knew he needed to take care of him as soon as possible so then the King could sleep as much as he needed to.
"I really need to have a look at your wound now, Arthur" Merlin said, turning to him, and he immediately noticed Arthur tensing again. Why did he have to be so stubborn?
"It's not necessary, Merlin, it doesn't hurt, it can't be that bad" Arthur answered, obviously sick and tired of being the centre of attention because of an injury.
"Well, it will be if we don't keep it clean, so please..."
"Merlin, will you let it go, please? I'm alright, there's no need..."
"For God's sake, Arthur!" Leon almost shouted, surprising everyone because of the unexpectedness of it. "Will you please let Merlin take care of your wound?"
"But..." Arthur mumbled, trying to defend himself like a little child being scolded by his parents.
"No buts. You've been like this all day and, honestly, Arthur, I've had it up to here! We need you whole and healthy for this, so if you're too foolish to do it for yourself, at least do it for Camelot, you stubborn... sire" Leon finished, his face turning into a bright red when he became aware of his outburst and the way he had talked to his King.
Nobody dared to speak a word, some of them –like Merlin or Arthur himself – too surprised to form any words; others, like Gwaine or Percival, clearly amused at the situation.
"You're all ganging up against me" Arthur protested insolently as he gave up and straightened his position against the log so Merlin could help him out of his chain mail and take a look at his wound.
"Don't be so childish" Merlin scolded him in a whisper, so only he would listen, but he couldn't help a little smile at the offended pout in Arthur's lips. "They only worry about you, as I do"
"You all should stop treating me like a little kid" Arthur mumbled, still embarrassed at having been scolded like that.
"Then stop acting like one" Merlin answered with a fond laugh. "They want to help you. Is that so terribly wrong?"
"No, damn it" Arthur groaned, and immediately sighed in rendition. "I know it's not. It just..."
"It frustrates you, I know" Merlin finished the sentence for him, making Arthur smile.
"As always, you know me too well"
"And as always, that's just because I love you" Merlin answered, pretending to watch the wound from really close so he could place a tender kiss on Arthur's shoulder. "It doesn't show any signs of infection, fortunately, but the armour surely is not helping to the closing of the wound. How does it feel?"
"Tender, to be honest, but it's nothing I can't take"
"I wish I could do something to take the pain away" Merlin lamented, as he rebandaged the wound and helped Arthur put the chainmail again.
"I know if there was something you could do, you'd do it" Arthur answered with a smile, grabbing Merlin's hand to squeeze it in adoration for the boy, not noticing how guilty his words made Merlin feel.
"Can I spread your bedroll without you being offended by it?" Merlin only half-joked, and Arthur chuckled at him.
"Yes, please. But only if you spread yours really close to mine"
"Arthur..." Merlin was about to protest, but Arthur wouldn't even let him.
"Just... close, Merlin. No one will notice. Please, if I can't hold you at least... I need you close tonight" Arthur almost pleaded, and Merlin knew well enough he couldn't deny him anything.
"Of course, love" he answered with a comforting smile, and he quickly complied.
Later that night, as the only people awake where the knights keeping watch and the silence reigned in the camp, Merlin silently sat up and made sure Arthur was asleep. He couldn't stop thinking about Arthur's words: if there was something you could do, you'd do it, and he felt terribly guilty. Of course it was not his fault he couldn't use magic in front of Arthur. But neither was Arthur's fault, and he was not going to let him suffer if he could do something to prevent it. So without hesitation he put his hand on Arthur's shoulder and threw a little spell that would send some of the pain away.
The touch of his hand, though, immediately awoke Arthur, who usually was a light sleeper, especially when camping.
"What's wrong?" he drowsily whispered when he noticed Merlin hovering over him. Fortunately for the young warlock, he was too sleepy to notice the panic in his eyes at almost having been caught.
"Nothing, I was just... checking you didn't have a fever" Merlin explained, moving his hand to Arthur's forehead to feign he was checking his temperature.
"I love you so much" Arthur confessed in a rush of love at feeling so cherished and cared for.
"I love you too" Merlin answered, and the guilt in his heart was so big that he didn't even protest when Arthur curled towards his side and picked the brunet's hand to hold it against his chest, immediately falling asleep again with the peace of being loved.
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