Character/s: Arthur, Gwen, Merlin
Summary: His visible wounds are superficial, but the ones buried inside him can't be mended with alcohol and herbs, not even if the person providing a cure for sore bones has the deepest eyes he has even seen.
Warnings: anachronisms, free adaptation of history and piracy facts, mentions of minor injuries.
Word Count: 1,147
Prompt: #213: Eye contact
Author's Notes: Follows this on ao3|LJ
Gwen's and his own footsteps are too loud. Booming. The ship's wooden surface creaks beneath them, it smells like saltpeter and wet wood, tastes of crystallized salt and iron. There is a twinge between his rib cage, something which digs so deep Arthur finds it hard to breathe.
The silence crawling around them isn't uncomfortable, but it isn't a comfortable one either. It's the kind of wordless void you encounter when grief hangs above you and you're doing everything in your power to avoid its presence. To keep the pressure on your chest at bay. And yet Arthur can see the weight of sadness on Gwen, on the way her steps falter and how she opens her mouth but only air comes out, a sob stuck somewhere between her stomach and throat. Arthur admires the way she's still standing. The way she makes her feet move like her world keeps turning the same way and with the certainty the sun will come out day after day and will rise over the horizon.
Gwen stops suddenly, her face turned towards him, eyes searching for something he can't give her. He doubts he ever will be able to.
Her hand is poised over the door, when she says, "Did Elyan...did he..."
Gwen doesn't finish her questioning, snaps her mouth shut like her words are something dangerous, forbidden. She looks more troubled than Arthur has seen her since he set foot on her ship. Perhaps a bit tired.
"I'm sure he misses you."
Arthur avoids the past tense, forgets the last time he saw his face and instead sees the corners of Gwen's mouth lift trying to form a smile. She just nods and opens the door.
Eventually they'll both have to face what happened that night.
Arthur is shown to small cabin near the front of the ship where the rest of the crew's quarters are. It's way too small if he compares it with his previous one, and is stripped of any sort of luxury. Gwen waves her hand around the space as if to show him around but there's not much to see. Her footsteps echo around them and Arthur still has the urge to apologize to her. But he isn't sure being sorry about Elyan's fate is enough for both of them. After muttering a few things about the ship's rules Gwen asks him for how long he was trapped on the island and not receiving a satisfactory answer she laughs but without a hint of the mirth he now knows she's capable of.
Then she brings someone in, a gangly guy with messy dark hair and blue eyes. Arthur wasn't aware he was waiting outside until the moments he steps into his field of vision, chewing on his bottom lip, a medical chest safely tucked on his arms. He's probably wondering what to make of him, of this messy, dirty Arthur Pendragon who looks nothing like the tales tell. He's aware his stay on the Diamond can't remain a secret forever. Before long he'll be answering questions he'd rather not hear.
"This is Merlin, he'll help you with your wounds. If you don't mind I would like to have a talk with you tomorrow. I want to know what happened to...my brother. I want to hear everything," Gwen says, the word 'everything' underlined.
There it is, the moment he saw coming since he learned Elyan is her brother, her silence before had only bought them a bit of time until they faced the inevitable. Arthur nods, can't say no to her request. He wouldn't. Gwen slips away silently, leaving him to his own devices.
The guy, Merlin, he tries to remember, gestures towards the small table with only one chair in the middle of the room. It takes up almost half of the space. He puts down the chest and looks inside it, hands searching for something. Arthur sits down. Merlin doesn't look at him. A frown appears on his face taking out scissors, a mortar and a clout, placing them on the table.
"Give me your hand," he instructs with no preamble.
Arthur does as instructed, his knuckles are bloodied, dirt under his fingernails and stuck to his skin. He can still feel the coarse sand itching his skin, rubbing it red.
"Are you positive you can do this, you seem a bit..." Arthur waves his hand around, searching for a perfect way to describe what he means to say. "Is there someone else who could-maybe heal me?"
Merlin's head shoots up, he narrows his eyes dangerously, looking at Arthur like he just slapped him. Arthur doesn't look away, stupefied by such defiant eyes. Merlin pours what clearly is a bottle of rum over his hand, and cleans the blood and dirt and sand with the clout, pouring more alcohol over open wounds. Arthur hisses at the burn. Grinds his teeth.
"You could've warned me."
"I thought you were a tough man of the sea."
Arthur stares at him in disbelief, no one in his entire life has spoken to him like that. Merlin works dutifully, patching him up in record time, putting ointments on the more superficial wounds. Grinding what look like roots of blessed thistle to him in the mortar. Applying the mixture on each of his wounds rewarding him with relief.
"What..." Arthur mutters, still watching every move Merlin makes, the way he measures and mixes. How he knows exactly how to cure Arthur's wounds and pains, at least the ones that bleed and will scar with time. Arthur is sure the cure for maladies of the soul isn't inside Merlin's chest. Such a thing can't be found between jars of rosemary and juniper.
"You think you can avoid doing something reckless or stupid or both for a while? You might want to avoid chafing and infections," Merlin tells him.
"You don't even know me, why would you assume I act like an idiot?" Arthur asks affronted, not even sure why Merlin has taken such unexpected dislike of him in such little time.
"Well, you don't look as who would sit while the rest are up and about. Even if you need to take it easy like you do now." Merlin kneels beside him, lifts the rags he used to call clothes and cleans the wounds above his ribs.
Arthur wants to protest but finds he doesn't have the power to, his tiredness making itself known. The heaviness on his bones is dull.
"There. You'll live, Captain," he says as he finishes patching him up. "Sleep. Just try not to rest on your sides."
Merlin marches out of the cabin without so much as a glance back after he cleans up and puts his things back inside the chest. Arthur remains glued to his seat, mouth agape, wondering if being here, in this ship is a good or a bad thing.