Title: Your Luck Runs Out
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin's haunted by the image of Arthur lying cold and dead, and by the years he's spent walking the earth alone.
Word Count: 857
Prompt: #169: I'm here
Author's Notes: The title has been taken from Metallica's All Nightmare Long.
Your Luck Runs Out
When Arthur finds out, it's been exactly six weeks since he returned from Avalon. He's shocked that it took him this long to figure it out. At first he's angry at Merlin for not telling him, for keeping secrets yet again, but then he takes another look at the exhaustion and the anguished look in Merlin's eyes, and his anger savagely turns onto himself; he mentally berates himself, because how could he have missed it for so long?
Merlin shakes his head, as if he knows exactly what Arthur's thinking. "It's not your fault." He likely does. After all, he’s always known Arthur better than Arthur knows himself.
"I should've noticed. I should've been there," Arthur's voice breaks with the ache in his chest, but he carries on. "The way you've always been there for me, Merlin. I'm sorry."
Merlin steps forward, closing his hand around Arthur's wrist. "You're here now, Arthur. That's all I care about."
Merlin's hair is plastered to his forehead and neck with sweat. He has bags under his eyes, and the tremble in his slight frame belies the strength of his words. Arthur knows he's not alright, hasn't been since the day he'd said goodbye to Arthur's dead body, and he knows that he's lying, that Arthur simply being back isn't enough.
When he'd heard the cries from Merlin's room that night, he'd grabbed his sword and blearily stumbled in to find, no sorceror, no bandit, but Merlin's sleeping form hunched in on itself and his voice screaming, 'Arthur!'
Arthur had been frozen. His heart had inexplicably clenched. The next words had been close to a physical blow, causing his breath to hitch in his lungs.
'Arthur, no, please! I need you,' Merlin had sobbed in his sleep, amidst erratic breathing. Arthur had felt something twist and curl in his gut, something which felt suspiciously like sorrow. All this time, he’d believed Merlin had been alright. Lucky, even. He’d been so wrong.
Merlin had suffered just as much as any of them. He’d lost, perhaps, even more.
Arthur had knelt down by Merlin's bed and shaken his shoulder. Merlin's eyes had flown open, flicking wildly from side to side until they'd settled on Arthur.
"Arthur," he'd breathed. "What are yo- "
"You were shouting in your sleep."
Merlin's eyes had widened. "Sorry," he'd mumbled, not meeting Arthur's anxious gaze, "just a nightmare, I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's no big deal, happens all the time."
All the time? How was it that Arthur hadn't noticed before then? He’d felt a strange compulsion then - a feeling of wanting, no, needing, to protect Merlin.
Merlin had scrambled out of bed and was almost at the door before Arthur had found his voice again.
"And it's always about the same thing, isn't it?"
He hadn't received a reply.
Now, Arthur reaches out a hand to push Merlin's sweat-soaked fringe back. Merlin's fingers tighten, almost imperceptibly, on his wrist. His eyelashes flutter gently over unfocused eyes; he looks like he's going to nod off at any moment. Arthur takes his hand and tugs.
"Come on, back to bed." At this, Merlin's gaze is sharp once again, and he looks almost... Frightened?
"I'm fine, really. Wide awake, in fact," he says. His voice is shaky, but he's standing tall as if he's determined to prove himself.
Arthur sighs. He weighs the pros and cons of lifting Merlin up, before deciding that's, indeed, the best method, and he throws him over his shoulder. Over the centuries, Merlin has only gotten lighter. Arthur decides he has to do something about that too. He wishes for the hundredth time that he hadn't had to leave Merlin alone. That he could have given him more than this, more than nightmares, something better than hurt.
Merlin squawks indignantly. "Put me down!"
Arthur obliges, placing him carefully back in his bed. Merlin pouts at first, but then his expression shifts into content as Arthur gets in beside him.
"You're staying, then?"
"Of course. Where else would I go?" Arthur pulls Merlin closer, tucking the blankets around them and pillowing Merlin's head on his chest. "Go to sleep."
Arthur, himself, cannot sleep. His mind keeps him up, thinking about Merlin, how slowly the years must have passed. He wonders if Merlin has had nightmares and nobody to hold him for the entire time.
There's a lump in his throat. Subconsciously, his hand rubs circles into Merlin's back. In return, he gets a sleepy sigh.
When Merlin wakes, panting and sweating, in an hour, he looks decidedly less haunted. Arthur smooths a hand through his hair, again and again, until Merlin's eyes drift shut. His hand finds Arthur's in the sheets, and he clutches it.
As his breathing evens out and his hold slackens, Arthur presses a kiss to his temple and whispers, "I'm never leaving you again, I'll always be here." Before he falls asleep, he prays to whomever is listening that if he is to die once more, Merlin needs to come with him. Because, if it's up to him, Merlin will never be alone again.