Title: The Washerwoman [Part 3]
Word Count: 1000 words.
Prompt: #286 Anguish
Summary: “Don’t ask me to explain it,” Arthur said, through gritted teeth, “because I can’t. But I know what I saw. You were dead, and then you weren’t." [ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 ]
Notes: This was supposed to be a simple 2-part story... *facepalm*
Merlin came to slowly, which, frankly, was more than he had ever expected to do again. His side ached, but not as though it had been pierced by a blade: more as if he had bruised his ribs by falling against the balustrade again, a deep ache but not a life-threatening injury.
The voice, as familiar as it was unexpected, made Merlin’s eyes fly open. He was lying on his back inside a makeshift tent, Arthur seated cross-legged on the ground beside him. The prince was only visible in profile, but from what Merlin could see he didn’t look happy.
“Tell me, Merlin,” Arthur said, the muscles of his jaw flexing as he spoke. “What part of ‘stay back’ is so difficult for you to comprehend?”
“Um.” Merlin tried to sit up and groaned as his muscles protested. “The part where I’m actually supposed to do as you say?”
With a scowl, Arthur laid his hand flat on Merlin’s chest and shoved him none too gently back to his pallet. “You’re a servant, you idiot! What the hell were you thinking, throwing yourself in front of a sword like that?”
Merlin winced a little at the volume. His back hurt, his ribs hurt, and his head— his head definitely hurt. He felt like he’d gone ten rounds with a giant and lost. Multiple times.
“Believe me, I won’t do it again,” he muttered. “Especially since I clearly can’t expect any gratitude for saving your life.”
“Gratitude!” Arthur practically snarled. “You expect me to be grateful when you— when I thought— ”
He pushed himself abruptly to his feet and stalked across to the tent opening, running a frustrated hand through his hair. When he next spoke, he had his back turned to Merlin, his arms folded protectively across his chest.
“You died, Merlin. For a moment there, you were dead. I saw you die.”
Frowning, Merlin looked down at himself. His various aches and pains aside, he seemed remarkably, well, alive for a dead person. “Arthur…”
“Don’t ask me to explain it,” Arthur said, through gritted teeth, “because I can’t. But I know what I saw. You were dead, and then you weren’t. And when Robin and his men realised you had come back to life— ”
“The cheerful fellow who nearly stabbed me, Merlin. Do keep up.” Although Arthur’s words were light, his tone was anything but, and he didn’t turn to look at Merlin as he went on. “When they realised you weren’t dead, they stopped fighting and offered us shelter here in their camp until you woke. Apparently, they’re under the impression that you’re someone rather important.”
Merlin swallowed hard. Arthur sounded like he was waiting for Merlin to deny the accusation, but if Robin did have magic, as Merlin suspected, then chances were he and his followers knew about Emrys. At least they'd stopped trying to kill Arthur now that they knew who he was, but Merlin couldn’t help feeling like maybe he’d stepped out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire.
When he said nothing, Arthur huffed out a breath and dropped his arms, his shoulders straightening. “Right,” he said, shaking his head. “I suppose that says it all, really.”
He didn’t look back when he walked away.
Merlin’s recovery was rapid—more so than he thought he deserved, really—but it seemed to take forever until he had regained his strength, even if it was only a matter of hours. The other knights gave him a wide berth when he emerged from the tent, taking their cue from Arthur and treating him with a wary respect that bordered on distrust. It hurt, more so than he'd expected, although he supposed he ought to be grateful that he was still alive at all.
Then again, he thought, a trifle hysterically. If he really couldn’t die, what could Arthur do to him, exactly? Bore him stupid? Yell him into submission? He was untouchable.
Untouchable. For some reason, the word made his blood run cold. Yes, he was untouchable all right, freakish even in the magical world. Most normal creatures could die, even magical ones, though they were usually harder to kill than most. So what the hell did that make him?
They spent exactly one night in the brigands’ camp, which was all that Arthur would allow them before they were on their way. He and Robin seemed to have gotten over their initial meeting and become firm friends, which Merlin might have found amusing if the other man hadn’t almost killed the prince, and taken Merlin’s life into the bargain. It didn’t matter that death was apparently not a permanent state for him; he still wasn’t about to trust someone who thought stabbing people with a sword was an appropriate conversational opener.
Robin apparently guessed as much, or perhaps he didn’t trust Merlin, either, because when he approached him to say his goodbyes he remained at a respectful distance, giving Merlin a tiny bow.
“Emrys,” he said. “I would like to apologise for attacking you and your king. I did not realise who I was dealing with until it was too late.”
“You’d be surprised how often that happens to me, actually,” Merlin said drily. He glanced over at Arthur, who was watching the two of them with his arms folded, his face unreadable. “Hopefully there’s no permanent damage done.”
Robin followed his gaze. “He will forgive you,” he said confidently. “He was most grieved indeed when he thought you dead; he came closer to killing me than any mortal man has any right to.”
Well, that explained one thing, at least. But somehow, Merlin had difficulty believing that Arthur had been as shaken as the other man’s words suggested. “He certainly doesn’t seem very upset now,” he said, scowling.
Robin only smiled, a hint of cold amusement in his eyes.
“Give him time,” he said. “The two of you have much to accomplish before the sidhe’s tale comes true.”