Summary: When Merlin goes out to deliver medicine near Yuletide and doesn’t come back when expected, Arthur gets concerned. He goes out with the knights to search for him. But when they find him, Merlin is in a bad way. It’s a good thing he has Arthur to tend to him.
Warnings: Hurt/Comfort, Injured Character
Word Count: 3866
Author's Notes: Dear lawgoddess,
Thank you so much for sending some prompts my way earlier in the fest. I really liked all of them! But when it came to writing this, your first prompt is what stood out to me. I’ve tried to also include some of your likes as well. I do hope that you enjoy it! Happy holidays/Merry Christmas! (PS. Writing summaries is NOT my forte)
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Arthur jumped as the door to the council chambers opened. He’d not long dismissed the council, and his thoughts had been consumed thinking about Merlin.
It just wasn’t like him to not make it back from a delivery. To be late, sure. But to just not turn up, no.
Gallvenstone wasn’t even that far. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t had experience of snow in the winter. Merlin grew up at the base of the mountains in Essetir. He’d seen his fair share of white winters. Arthur had asked his knights to keep an eye out on him on their patrol today.
Leon strode into the room flanked by Gwaine and Lancelot.
Arthur jumped to his feet, glancing between them, hoping to see a glimpse of dark hair and a flash of red or blue. He was sorely disappointed.
Leon lowered his head and spoke, “I’m sorry, sire. We saw no signs of him.”
Arthur passed them as he headed towards the door. If his knights couldn’t find him, and the idiot couldn’t make his way home himself, then Arthur would go and find him himself.
“Ready the horses,” he told them all. “And pack a bag.”
Within the hour Arthur and the knights were heading out of the courtyard, their horses laden with bags, bedrolls and food for the journey.
Leading from the front, Arthur headed off in the direction of Gallvenstone. He kept his eyes peeled and senses sharp as Hengroen trotted through the crisp snow-laden ground.
He should never have let Merlin go. But Merlin had insisted. And now here they were, a king riding out leaving the kingdom without an heir.
Arthur should have gone with him. Or failing that—it was difficult to get away from the castle around yuletide—at least sending Merlin with a knight to escort him. Who knew what had happened to him. He was such a clumsy idiot, maybe he’d had an accident. Or worst still, maybe he’d been accosted by bandits.
Oh Gods, why had he let Merlin wonder out alone in this weather? If he had encountered bandits, Merlin would be useless against them. He could barely wield a sword and certainly never bothered to carry one. Not unless you counted the little blade he carried in his boot for harvesting delicate plants and herbs—which Arthur didn’t.
They traipsed through the woods, cold and bare and unwelcoming compared to the warmer months. To Arthur, it always felt as though the woods did not appreciate a human presence in the winter. He felt as though he was being watched, eyes following him in the ominous, stark silence.
But none of that mattered so long as Merlin was missing. Arthur would push through anything to get to him. Just thinking of never finding Merlin had a cold chill stealing into Arthur’s heart. The idea was unthinkable.
They stopped shortly after noon to rest and water the horses, as well consuming a meal themselves. Arthur found himself eating automatically, without thought or feeling, not even tasting. He was a soldier first and foremost. Food was fuel. A means of keeping going. He knew he’d be of no use to Merlin if he didn’t eat. So eat he did.
Before long they were on their way again, this time getting closer and closer to the point at which the patrol had turned back to return to Camelot. Arthur slowed their pace and examined their surroundings more closely. He tried to think like Merlin. What route would he have taken? There was a more direct route to the village from here, but in the winter it was often impassable. Surely Merlin wouldn’t have been so stupid as to take that route? The other way was always passable, even in the worst of weather being a general throughway for the entire kingdom.
He paused to consider his options. He couldn’t rule out the possibility of Merlin being an idiot. And he would never forgive himself if he left a single stone unturned.
“Gwaine, Percival,” he ordered. “You go that way. Leon, Lancelot and I will continue this way. Go as far as you can, and if you find no sign of him, then return back to Camelot.”
They nodded at him, tugging on the reins of their horses to turn them onto the track, almost hidden by the snow, and the two groups parted ways.
As they grew closer to the village, Arthur had them all dismount and spread out. The snow was freshly fallen out here and it was more difficult to spot any tracks or signs of disturbance. Arthur swore, if they continued riding and turned up at the village this evening to find Merlin there, smiling and bright, eating good food and drinking ale with the villagers, then Arthur would strangle him with his bare hands. They had agreed that he would head out and be back within the day. Whilst it was a long day, it was perfectly possible to do if you were fit and healthy as they were.
Merlin had become so essential to Arthur since he’d become king, in so many new and unexpected ways. Of course, he was somehow wise and gave Arthur guidance, he also gave Arthur the courage of his convictions, reassuring him that he was worthy. They’d always had a strong and enduring friendship, no matter what life had thrown at them. But that had deepened into something sweeter and deeper, like an aged wine.
Arthur would never have thought he’d feel this way about anyone. Yet here he was, going out of his mind because his lover was missing.
He walked along the wintery path, the snow crunching beneath his feet. The wind was starting to get up and it wouldn’t be long before the light began to fade with it, being so close to the solstice. Damn, Merlin.
He scanned the snow around them, until he felt blind from it, for though it was a dull day, the snow reflected what little light there was back to them. Arthur found himself wandering a bit off course without even realising it. His heart skipped a beat as he spotted a rather familiar buckled boot partially covered in snow, attached to a very familiar scruffy manservant down in the ditch below.
“Over here!” Arthur yelled, hurrying down the slope so quickly that he almost tripped himself, which is what he suspected had happened to Merlin.
When he reached Merlin, he turned him over and examined his face anxiously. Merlin’s face was pale, his eyes closed, and lashes icy. Arthur pulled out a small knife and held it to Merlin’s mouth, it took a moment, but Arthur almost wept with relief when his breath fogged the blade.
He pulled Merlin into his lap and held him tight, pressing a kiss into his hair. “Thank the Gods,” he whispered.
Sir Leon and Lancelot slid down the bank and rushed towards them both. Their arrival spurred Arthur into action. He hurried to unbuckle his cape and as they helped lift Merlin, he wrapped the cape around him.
“Let’s get him to the horses and then find somewhere to make a fire and set up camp. We need to warm him up,” he told them.
There was no way they’d make it back to Camelot tonight with the way that the evening was rapidly drawing in.
Lancelot nodded and climbed out of the ditch. Lancelot had an excellent eye for these kinds of things, and Arthur knew that he was going to do a quick scout of the area for a suitable site.
With Sir Leon’s help, they got Merlin out of the ditch and onto Arthur’s horse. Arthur climbed on after him and they started out to follow Lancelot’s lead.
Lancelot didn’t disappoint. He’d found a sheltered clearing not far off of the path. Obviously other people had used it similarly in the past, as there was still the remains of a fire pit in the centre.
“Pitch a tent,” Arthur told Sir Leon. “Lancelot, fetch some wood, as quick as you can.”
Whilst the others went about their business, Arthur propped Merlin up against a tree and went to get blankets, bedrolls and a tinderbox from their horses.
Lancelot rushed back with a small bundle of wood, before dashing off for more. Arthur arranged them in the firepit and started to strike his flint and steel. It was hard work with freezing hands and damp wood. But finally, on his sixth attempt a few embers caught on the dry kindling he’d placed at the centre. He held his breath for a moment until some of the wood caught. Then he set about getting Merlin closer to the fire.
Merlin blinked and struggled to focus his eyes. He was so tired, but he tried to stretch nonetheless, only to find himself restrained.
“Shh, you idiot. You knocked yourself out somehow and got yourself sick. You need to get warm.”
Merlin nodded. He couldn’t place the voice exactly. But it was familiar. He shuddered violently, and his teeth chattered.
“He needs more direct heat, sire. I’ve seen this before when I was younger. With one of the equires. His lord, however, knew what to do. He, um… Well, sire—”
“Skin-to-skin,” said Merlin, still shivering.
“Of course,” said Arthur. “I’ll do it. Keep the fire burning. Merlin, let’s get you to the tent.”
Arthur half-helped, half-dragged Merlin over to the tent.
“Th-this t-tent is nice,” said Merlin with a shudder. “S-sturdy, l-like you.”
Arthur sighed. Just what he needed, a silly, incoherent Merlin. He pulled the tent flaps closed and laced them to keep the heat in. At home, Merlin would have slid a heating stone between the sheets before they went to bed. But they had no such luxury here. He went about ridding Merlin of his cold, wet clothing, pushing off his jacket and tugging at the damp neckerchief. He stripped off his shirt as Merlin stood, swaying slightly as he continued to shiver. Arthur helped him out of his shoes and socks, then removed his breeches and smallclothes.
“Get in the bed,” he told Merlin, but Merlin just stood there. Arthur rolled his eyes and quickly stripped himself.
“Come on, you idiot,” he said, leading Merlin to the pile of blankets and helping him in.
He got under the covers himself and pulled Merlin into his arms. A shudder tingled down his own spine. Merlin was ice cold. No wonder he wasn’t making much sense. He held him close, sliding a leg between Merlin’s so that they were flush against each other. He recalled now a similar situation where a knight had fallen in a lake back when he was a squire. One of the men had done the same to warm the poor soul. Arthur hadn’t been privy to the finer details, and it certainly hadn’t occurred to him just how intimate an act it would have been. At least Merlin was dry now, and hopefully, he would start to warm up soon.
Merlin hummed and pressed himself closer, curling himself around Arthur’s form. Arthur felt his body reacting and scolded himself. This was not an appropriate time for any of that.
Smiling against Arthur’s shoulder, Merlin murmured, “You—you like that, huh?” Before yawning and falling dead asleep. Arthur couldn’t help but chuckle and feel relieved. Merlin was going to be fine.
Arthur stretched and blinked his eyes against the morning light that filtered through the canvas of the tent. It was morning, finally. He glanced down at Merlin, still snuggled close and felt his forehead. It felt normal, thank the Gods.
They had had quite a night, with Merlin waking several times, alternately shivering or sweating as he worked his way through some kind of fever. Arthur kept him close to him. Not wanting him to catch a chill and make himself sicker still. Merlin had fought against him at one point. There were bruises on Arthur’s shins and arms to attest this, and Merlin likely had matching bruises on his wrists where Arthur had restrained his efforts until he had calmed and fallen asleep again.
He brushed the hair from Merlin’s forehead and pressed a kiss there in a moment of tenderness. He was so glad that they had found Merlin before the worst had happened, not that he’d ever tell Merlin that in so many words. But it felt safe and right to express his gratitude with a gesture in this private moment in time.
“Sire,” came a voice from outside the tent. “We ought to eat and ready ourselves to leave if you wish to return to Camelot today.”
“We’ll be right out!” Arthur called.
He slipped out of the bed and dressed before poking his head outside the tent. His saddlebag with a change of clothing had been placed outside the tent. Sirs Leon and Lancelot nodded at him from the fire where they were stirring something in a pot.
Arthur returned inside to see Merlin sitting up, blankets pooled around his waist.
“Thank you,” he said, stretching his arms above his head before elaborating, “for looking after me last night.”
“Of course. It’s what anyone would do,” said Arthur dismissively as he dug through his bag. He threw a clean undershirt, socks, and a pair of breeches at Merlin.
“Put those on,” he told Merlin. “Then come join us for breakfast.”
After they had broken their fast, Arthur ordered that they pack away their camp and soon they were heading back to Camelot. Merlin wore an unamused scowl at Arthur’s insistence that he ride in front of him.
Arthur however was having none of it. He’d already almost lost Merlin once, and he was not prepared to so much as let him out of his sight for the rest of their journey. He had ordered Merlin onto his horse, wrapped in his cape. Threatening that otherwise he would lay him across Hengroen for the trip home.
With Merlin safely on Arthur’s horse and the snow paused for now, they made good time on their way home, reaching Camelot before the noon hour.
Arthur was greeted at the castle by Gwaine and Leon. Arthur had intended to send Merlin straight to Gaius’s experienced hands to check on his recovery. But when he was informed that Gaius was attending the sick in the lower town, he escorted Merlin to his chambers and ordered a maid to prepare a bath. Merlin was grimy and if Gaius wasn’t able to attend to him. Arthur would.
Shortly after they arrived at his chambers, a group of maids trooped in and out of the room with a tub and pail after pail of hot water.
“Arthur, I can help!” Merlin had protested, until Arthur had fixed him with his steeliest glare. Merlin had ended up sinking into a chair at the table, too tired from his ordeal to fight back.
Once the maids had left, a calm settled across the room.
“Come here,” said Arthur, motioning to Merlin to come over to the tub.
He started undressing him again, musing how much their roles had been reversed for the past twenty-four hours.
“You are filthy,” he said, as he undid the cape he’d tied around Merlin’s neck, letting it fall to the floor around their feet.
“Arthur, I can undress myself,” Merlin complained, as he tugged the hem of his shirt over his head.
“I’m aware of that,” said Arthur. “Doesn’t mean that you get to.”
Arthur had intended on using the excuse of undressing Merlin as an opportunity to examine him in the light of day. He wasn’t about to let that slip through his fingers. He ran his hands along Merlin’s sides, checking and looking for any bruises, cuts, or scrapes. He was relieved when, though he found plenty of dirt, there appeared to be no damage done. He made a mental note to check Merlin’s head when he bathed him in the tub.
He tugged at the belt around Merlin’s hips, wasting precious time fiddling with the obstinate buckle before it opened and he slid it off. Then he knelt and helped Merlin out of his boots and socks, casting them aside.
“Arthur,” Merlin grumbled, about to continue with his objections as Arthur pulled at the laces of his breeches and let them pool around his ankles. Merlin was bare underneath as he stepped out of them. Arthur hadn’t had a change of smallclothes in his satchel back at camp.
Looking at him approvingly, Arthur stood and stepped closer into Merlin’s personal space under the pretense of untying and discarding his neckerchief. Arthur pressed a kiss to the soft space there, and wrapped his arms around him as Merlin melted into his arms.
“Thanks for rescuing me,” Merlin whispered into his chest.
Arthur merely pressed his face into Merlin’s hair, enjoying the feeling of Merlin; solid, warm and real in his embrace.
“The water’s getting cold,” he said finally, letting Merlin go.
“What about you?” Merlin said, eyeing Arthur’s still-dressed form.
“That’s not important right now,” he said. “Get in the tub.”
Merlin scowled at him.
“Merlin, that was an order.”
With a roll of his eyes, Merlin turned and stepped into the tub. Arthur couldn’t resist watching the way that Merlin moved—even though he knew it was wrong, Merlin had been through so much and needed rest, but it was impossible to resist, what with the way he lifted his long, lean legs that lead into his small, perfect, pert arse.
He made his own way to the tub and kneeled on the stone floor behind Merlin.
“Sit back,” he said gently, as he grabbed the scented bar of soap and one of the clean bathing cloths the maids had left beside the tub.
“Not soap!” said Merlin.
“Yes, soap. I keep telling you, we’re in Camelot now. You need to let go of your country bumpkin ways.”
Before he’d come to Camelot, Arthur had been horrified that Merlin had never even taken a bath, let alone used soap. River-bathing or a wash down with a water bucket, was the country way of bathing oneself. Ever since he’d found out, Arthur made it his mission to convert Merlin to this more civilised way of cleaning himself.
Arthur lathered the cloth with the soap and started to rub Merlin’s arms, washing away the layers of grime of the past few days, then rinsing the cloth in the tub. He continued doing this methodically until Merlin’s arms and chest were squeaky clean. Merlin made no further protest, becoming loose and compliant as he relaxed from the warmth of the water.
“Lean forward and close your eyes,” Arthur said softly, before starting to slowly tip water over Merlin’s hair with his hands to wet it. He worked up a foam with his hands and ran the suds through Merlin’s hair, combing his fingers through the slippery strands. He searched for a bump, his relief palpable when he didn’t find one.
He worked in a peaceful silence, save for the occasional splash of water as he methodically washed the dirt from Merlin’s body. When he was finally satisfied with his work, Arthur sat back and eased himself up onto his feet. He rubbed at his sore knees before he shucked off his own shirt, placing it on the table. Boots and socks followed; deposited on the floor where his belt, breeches and smallclothes joined them.
He slid down into the water behind Merlin, who shuffled forward to make room, parting his legs to pull Merlin closer to him.
“You are never to go off delivering medicine in the middle of winter again, you hear me?” Arthur told Merlin quietly, letting him settle into his arms.
“I won’t,” agreed Merlin. “Unless it’s an emergency.”
Arthur splashed his face with water.
“Not even then,” said Arthur, starting to feel rather relaxed himself now that they were both cocooned in the safety of his own chambers. “I’ll send Gwaine to do it.”
Merlin chuckled lazily and Arthur started to kiss Merlin’s neck again, peppering it with kisses. He let his fingers stroke along up and down Merlin’s sternum and belly. Merlin groaned and shifted to tilt his head, granting him better access.
Letting his fingers skirt lower, they crept ever closer to Merlin’s groin. Arthur let them brush along the length of his cock that was rapidly filling at the featherlight touches.
With a soft moan, Merlin tried to push up into his touch. He really shouldn’t, not with what Merlin had been through. But Arthur couldn’t help himself.
“Uh-uh,” Arthur chided. “Patience.”
He continued tracing lines with his fingers, turning himself on as well with his teasing and the little bitten-back noises Merlin was making. He pressed his cock against Merlin’s back to ease his arousal. Eventually, after he could bear it no longer, Arthur wrapped his fingers around Merlin’s cock and gave it a firm tug. Merlin groaned with relief, arching into his touch.
They absolutely shouldn’t be doing this so soon after Merlin’s ordeal. But it wasn’t Arthur’s fault that Merlin was so damn tempting. He was irresistible. And he seemed to be back to his normal self. Gaius would probably have made him go to bed. But Arthur would put him to bed too, in good time. And in Arthur’s own bed which was vastly superior for recuperation. So all would be fine.
Arthur worked his hand along Merlin’s length, the water in the tub sloshing around them and onto the floor as he increased his pace. As Merlin’s breath quickened and his body tightened, Arthur knew he was close. Some nights he’d tease Merlin, bringing him all the way to the edge, before backing off. Trying to see how many times Merlin could take before he broke down and begged. But not tonight. He was serious about getting Merlin tucked up in his bed, and if he was tired and saited, all the better.
Merlin came apart with a small cry, spilling his seed into the water.
Slipping his hand between himself and Merlin’s back, Arthur pumped his hand up and down his own cock, stripping it fast, close to the edge. Soon he followed Merlin’s lead with a long groan, before slumping back against the edge of the tub.
They dozed for a few moments as tiredness overtook them, the water warm and soothing, before Arthur decided that they needed to get out. He poked Merlin in his side.
“We ought to go to bed.”
“Already?” Merlin yawned. “It’s still light out.”
“Yes,” said Arthur, giving him another jab in the ribs. “And I can sleep whenever I like, I’m the king. Out.”
The both stood and carefully got out of the tub, Arthur insisted on toweling Merlin dry, since Merlin was now close to being as useless as Arthur liked to claim he was. He ordered him to bed, and by the time Arthur had dried himself off and climbed into bed, Merlin was fast asleep.
Arthur found himself not far behind as he closed his eyes and promised himself that it was just a nap. Before they both slept through clean until morning.