Title: The Fractured Prince
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Merlin wondered if he was too late to help Arthur.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Taken from the donate-a-prompt: Fractured
Author's Notes: Follow on from The Dragon Prince and The Elusive Prince.
A voice calling his name drew Merlin from his slumber. He opened his eyes, blearily rubbing a hand over them and lighting his candle with just a word. Stars scattered the night sky and Merlin knew dawn was a long way off. He wondered what had awoken him when Kilgarrah called him again. Merlin threw the blankets off and sat up with a yawn. Only entering the cave would silence the dragon once he started to call.
Merlin dressed in the dim light. Gaius was asleep as Merlin tripped his way past, but the warlock knew it wouldn’t have mattered either way. All he would have to do was mention Arthur’s name and Gaius would throw him out. Gaius cared more deeply than he had ever admitted to the warlock.
Merlin staggered his way towards the dungeons, then turned left. The guards let him past with a wave of their hands. After a month of visiting Arthur, they were used to Merlin turning up at random times, even in the middle of the night. Merlin knew they must be reporting his movements back to the king, but as no one stopped him, he wasn’t going to invent trouble.
Merlin honestly thought he was walking through the castle in the dark because a dragon wanted to tell him something. But as Merlin drew level with Arthur’s door, he stopped. A tugging sensation pulled at his soul and Kilgarrah was quiet. Merlin realised the dragon hadn’t called him down here because he couldn’t wait until morning, but because Arthur needed him.
Fumbling with the bolt, Merlin drew it back. The room was in darkness, but Merlin knew his way around well enough now to make it to Arthur’s rickety table. He fumbled for the candle, hearing muffled cries from the far side of the room. When he couldn’t grasp a flint, Merlin cursed and breathed a spell. He only lit one, knowing Arthur’s eyes were more sensitive than his own.
Turning, Merlin’s heart skipped a beat when he saw the dragon prince. Arthur wasn’t in his bed, but curled up on the floor on the far side of the room. He was sobbing.
Arthur didn’t acknowledge him, but Merlin carefully edged across the room. He looked Arthur over and scanned the room, but there were no signs of shackles, no hint that Uther had been down here. Dropping to his knees, Merlin wedged the candle into a crack in the wall and gingerly reached out, touching Arthur’s shoulder.
This time, Arthur looked up. His eyes were rimmed red, making them seem even more unusual on his human face. But all Merlin cared about was sheer misery in them. Before he could stop himself, he gently pushed Arthur’s hair back from said eyes and smiled softly at him.
“I’m here,” he whispered, “you’re not alone.”
Arthur took a gulp of air, struggling to control himself. Merlin carefully put an arm around him, pulling Arthur close. Before he knew what was happening, Arthur had buried his face in his shirt, clinging on like Merlin was the only real thing he knew. Knowing that Arthur was too caught up in his misery to speak, Merlin held him. He caught himself humming, an old song his mother had used to calm him down, and gradually felt Arthur relaxing against him. When the prince sniffed, Merlin sat him up.
“You’re not using my shirt as a handkerchief,” he teased lightly and was rewarded with a faint smile. Arthur wiped his eyes and sat back against the wall. He looked exhausted.
“What is it?” Merlin asked. Arthur had always maintained a cheery demeanour when Merlin was down here. This was the first time he had seen him crumble.
“I had a dream,” Arthur muttered, avoiding Merlin’s eyes. Merlin didn’t need more than that: Kilgarrah had told him Arthur suffered from vivid nightmares, he had done ever since his father had locked him up down here. The dragon tried to shield him from what he could, but no one could enter Arthur’s mind when he was asleep.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Arthur shook his head, looking at the candle instead. Merlin sighed, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s alright to not talk about it,” Merlin said quietly, “but it’s also alright if you want to. You know I’m not going to tell anyone.”
“You haven’t got any friends; you’ve got no one to tell.”
“I’ve got you, haven’t I?” Merlin knew Arthur by now, knew his reaction to emotions was to close himself off. Considering all he had was an overgrown lizard who liked to talk in riddles for company, Merlin couldn’t blame him. But a genuine smile shot over Arthur’s face at Merlin’s words and hope entered his eyes again.
“Really?” Arthur said, a childish joy in his voice. “I’m your friend?”
It was moments like this that made Merlin remember how isolated Arthur was, how young he could still sound despite them being the same age. He smiled in response.
“Yes, Arthur. You’re my friend. And friends share, so if you want to tell me about the dream, it’s fine.”
Arthur slowly opened up and when he was done, Merlin promised that he would bring down some sleeping draughts from Gaius as long as Arthur promised not to use them every night. Arthur agreed and Merlin helped him back to bed. He didn’t think about what he was doing as he hitched himself on the edge of the bed and let his fingers gently comb through Arthur’s hair, humming again as the prince slowly fell back to sleep.
Merlin sighed heavily once Arthur’s breathing had evened out. He had sworn to Gaius that he would help the prince to the best of his abilities – both magical and otherwise. But Arthur was fractured. Broken apart and then pieced together again, but what had been broken couldn’t be made whole again. Not truly. Merlin just hoped he wasn’t too late to help Arthur.