Title: Soldier On
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gaius, Uther
Summary: Arthur had kept himself going. Now he didn't need to.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: Welcome Home
Author's Notes: Enjoy!
Arthur led the way back into Camelot, aware he was swaying in the saddle from sheer exhaustion. His gaze roamed the welcome party, lingering on his father as he gave a short nod. But he couldn’t find the face he was looking for and concern shot through him. He masked it though, dismounting and somehow managing to stay on his feet.
“The northern border is clear, Sire,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. He pressed one hand against his ribs, despite it jarring his broken fingers. He had never experienced a fight like it; the bandits had simply refused to surrender. His father returned his nod.
“Good. Report to me immediately in the council chambers.”
Arthur balked but his father had already turned away.
“Sire.” Gaius stepped forward and Arthur moved forward, knowing the physician would lower his voice. “Arthur is injured and his men are exhausted. The border is safe; the briefing can wait until morning.”
Gaius was using the tone that even Uther struggled to overcome. If Uther insisted, everyone would know he had put the report over his son’s well-being. He looked back at Arthur and clearly noticed the paleness to the prince’s cheeks.
“Very well. Report first thing.”
“Sire,” Arthur dipped his head and waited until the king had taken his nobles back inside before leaning against his horse.
“You’ve done well,” he told his men. “Go home. Rest. I don’t want to see any of you for at least a week.”
He knew Gaius would have his work cut out for him patching them up and the injuries meant they would be low on numbers for a few weeks. But Arthur preferred his men to fully heal before returning to duty; it was too easy to lose someone if they weren’t up to full health. The men disappeared and Arthur handed the stable boy the few remaining coins he had, knowing he would be up late seeing to their horses.
“Where is he?” When Arthur had left, Merlin had been fighting a fever. It was the only reason his lover had remained behind and even then it was after a fierce argument with both Gaius and Arthur. Arthur’s previous fears that the man hadn’t pulled through returned. Gaius smiled and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Waiting for you.”
Arthur needed no further encouragement and Gaius had the sense not to remind him about his own injuries. He didn’t know how he made it to his chambers so fast, but when Arthur opened the door, he truly felt like he was home.
A blazing fire warmed the room and Arthur could smell food. There was also a steaming tub and he knew Merlin’s magic would keep it hot until Arthur was ready for it. He looked around, his gaze seeking out the warlock.
Merlin was standing at the window, but he turned slowly as Arthur entered. The prince’s sharp gaze noticed that Merlin had lost weight and he still didn’t look well, but he forgot about those things when a beaming smile split over Merlin’s face and he closed the distance between them.
“You’re home,” Merlin breathed, fingers tracing Arthur’s face as if to convince himself he was real. “You’re really back.”
“And you’re alive.”
“Of course I am, you idiot.”
Arthur laughed, then choked with a strangled sob as it pulled at his ribs. Merlin’s face instantly morphed into an expression of concern.
“Come on, Sire,” he murmured, “let’s get you comfortable.”
Everything after that passed in a haze. Merlin undressed him with steady hands, but Arthur saw him flinch more than once when he saw the cuts on Arthur’s body. The prince knew he hadn’t looked after them properly but they had limited supplies and his men came first.
“Lay back,” Merlin said, directed him to the bed. Arthur did so and instantly began to doze. He was warm and comfortable and knew that Merlin was alive and healthy. He didn’t need his adrenaline any longer.
But his nap was short lived and he opened his eyes with a hiss of pain as Merlin started rubbing something into the cuts. He instinctively grabbed Merlin’s wrist, then relented at the look his lover gave him and let Merlin treat them. He pulled away the makeshift bandaged around his ribs as well before securing a new one.
“You’ve been learning,” Arthur murmured sleepily. Merlin smiled, but it was a shadow of his usual grin.
“I have to keep you alive somehow.”
Arthur had nothing to say to that and allowed Merlin to continue patching him up. Once everything was completed to Merlin’s satisfaction, he helped Arthur sit up. He drew a bowl of warm water from the tub and proceeded to bathe his prince there on the bed. Then he helped Arthur eat, but by this point, the prince could barely keep his eyes open.
Merlin eventually gave up, helping Arthur lie down. Arthur curled one arm under his head and lay on his side; the most comfortable position for the injuries scattered over his body. Merlin extinguished the candles but left the fire burning as he drew the covers over Arthur’s bare legs. He made to leave but Arthur shook his head.
“Stay,” he whispered, “I need you.”
Merlin needed no further encouragement than that. He shucked off his clothes so fast that Arthur suspected he used magic and slipped into bed, spooning his prince. Arthur felt the last of the tension ease away at feeling Merlin pressed against his back, safe in his lover’s arms again.
His breathing began to even out and he sunk into the embrace. Merlin’s lips brushed against the back of his neck.
“I’ve missed you,” Merlin whispered, his voice cracking. Arthur reached around and awkwardly found Merlin’s hand in the bed.
“Get some sleep,” Merlin said. He pulled the covers further up over them and Arthur relaxed into the pillows. He was home. He was safe.
“Welcome home,” Merlin whispered in his ear.