Title: A Different Kind of Hero
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin had always known it would be an ill omen for the world when Arthur returned.
Word Count: 916
Prompt: 127 - Protection
Author's Notes: This also fills my hc_bingo square 'Epidemics and Pandemics' - that's 8/25 done.
A Different Kind of Hero
Merlin had always known it would be an ill omen for the world when Arthur returned, a time when there was some horrible reason why he would be needed again. Merlin had always needed him, but apparently that counted for nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Time was something Merlin had a great deal of. He’d filled much of it pining over Arthur, filled with regret. The rest of the time he’d studied, tried to improve the world. Medicine was something he had learned from Gaius at a very primitive level. He’d built on that knowledge over the years, and combined it with his magic to make him a very effective healer. Never again would he be faced with someone who meant everything to him dying in his arms while he was helpless to prevent it. So he had studied, learned everything that he could.
1,600 years was a long time. But no amount of study could have prepared Merlin for the flu epidemic that had swept across the world in the past seven months.
And what use was Arthur? He hadn’t studied medicine, or politics, or anything useful at all. When Merlin found him he was working as a porter at the hospital. Not a typical position from which to rule the world. Worse, because of his job and his wish to help the patients, the prat had left himself exposed to the deadly virus over and over again. It was a miracle he hadn’t come down with it yet. So many had fallen.
“There were eleven more dead this morning,” Arthur told him. “We’ve burned the bodies.”
It was all they could do. Like the Black Death over again, except this time it was worse. A higher population meant a greater loss of life and there was no sign of anyone recovering. The hospital where Merlin and Arthur worked… all hospitals, really… they had just become a place for people to die. This, then, would be the way the human race went out.
Merlin held Arthur close and wished that they’d been allowed more time. It couldn’t be long before Arthur went down with it, before his skin took on that sallow look and his eyes glazed over. Merlin couldn’t bear to lose him again so soon.
Somewhere there was a bell ringing, an indication that more victims had been brought in, and Arthur was off to help lift them onto their beds, to help hold them down whilst they were given the drugs that eased their suffering a little. That was what he did. That, and bury the dead. It wasn’t a very kingly thing to return for. Hardly the saviour of the world.
Reluctantly Merlin followed. His protective suit and mask were in place, not that he really needed them. There was a horrible, frightening finality to what was happening. What if everyone died and he was still there, living on? It didn’t bear thinking about.
Arthur and his men had their hands full with the new intake. One of the patients was fighting them, terrified. Everyone knew what the drugs did, that it would be the end of their conscious thought. Most welcomed it, but the ones not so far along with the disease weren’t ready for that yet.
Merlin watched, and it was as if things were happening in slow motion, although in reality it was in microseconds and there was nothing at all that he could do to stop it. The patient flailed around, oblivious in their fear and suffering, one hand catching Arthur’s protective suit and pulling, ripping…
He was going to lose Arthur all over again.
They rushed Arthur to a decontamination shower, left him under there until his skin was wrinkled like a prune and then still left him there for longer. After that, the only thing they could do was wait.
Days passed. More people died. Arthur carried on helping to move the dead, helping to tend to the sick. Merlin watched, terrified, for the signs that he knew would come.
It was a cough at first, it always was. Merlin caught the fear in Arthur’s eyes as it happened, as he coughed once, twice.
“You should keep away from me,” Arthur warned him, but it was far too late for that. Besides, it wasn’t as if Merlin was going to die.
He walked with Arthur back to their room and closed the door, preparing to sit and wait for the end again. He didn’t have to wait more than a few days.
“I thought you were going to save the world by leading us into a glorious new age,” Merlin told him. “Lead us to great victories.”
Arthur smiled a little smugly. “Anyone could do that.” He picked up a box of syringes and turned to go. He had, at least, learned to administer injections now. Merlin was far too busy in his lab to help. “Hurry up with those. We need more.”
Merlin nodded. He was working as fast as he could. The cure was being replicated all over the world now but so many people were coming to the place that the miracle had come from. They wanted to see the man who had managed to fight off the virus and the magical doctor who had developed a cure from that man’s ancient and immune blood.
The once and future king had come back as a hospital porter, almost a servant in some ways. And he had saved the world.