Happy birthday clea2011!!
Title: All in the Mind
Pairing/characters: Merlin, Arthur (Merlin/Arthur if you squint a bit)
Disclaimer: Not mine. BBC and Shine own them.
Word count: approx 2315
Summary: Right then, Merlin was the only thing standing between the king and a very pissed off lizardy creature.
AN: Birthday fic for clea2011.
AN2: Fills the hc_bingo ‘Hallucinations’ square on my hurt/comfort bingo card.
Fic on AO3
“Have I mentioned recently that you are heavy?”
Merlin staggered deeper into the tunnels, carrying the limp, unhelpful, and really really heavy king of Camelot along with him. Well, perhaps ‘carrying’ might be too generous a word. ‘Dragging’ might have been more accurate. But no doubt Arthur would complain about such treatment once he was fully conscious again, so, purely in the interests of an easy life, Merlin intended to tell him that there been a lot of manly carrying.
“Wonderful,” Merlin muttered, stumbling slightly on the uneven ground. “Now you’re making no sense as well as being heavy.”
Somewhere behind them, the creature roared.
Merlin winced. It sounded like it was quite a way behind, but, given the size of the thing, still rather closer than he would have liked. He rounded a corner and almost went face-first into a rock wall. It was a dead end.
Merlin muttered something that his mother wouldn’t have approved of.
Arthur, all but hanging off Merlin’s shoulder, mumbled something that sounded a lot like, “Language, Merlin.”
“When you can walk by yourself you can comment on my language. Until then, shut up.”
“Can’t say things like that to me, I’m the king. The kittens will punish you for things like that.”
Just for that, Merlin dropped him. He winced again at the noise of a fully chainmail clad man hitting the ground, and then he paused and thought back over Arthur’s last statement.
Arthur didn’t reply, so Merlin dragged him against the tunnel wall as far around the corner and into cover as he could manage. He manoeuvred Arthur onto his back and then made a cursory check for injuries.
There was blood running freely from Arthur’s temple, from when there creature had thrown him against the cave wall, but it didn’t look too serious. Truthfully, Merlin was more worried about the cloud of greenish breath the creature had blasted Arthur with right after the throwing incident. Green was never a good colour when it came to monsters and mysterious clouds, in Merlin’s experience.
It worried him that he had no idea what the creature was, either. A big scaly lizardy thing, definitely not a dragon because it didn’t have wings, and nasty pointy teeth and a taste for humans. Merlin could almost see the disapproving expression on Gaius’ face at that description.
Also, since Arthur had stabbed it at least twice with no discernable effect, Merlin was beginning to wonder if this might fall into the category of things that could only be defeated with magic. But Gaius and his books were three days ride way, the knights were all lost in the labyrinthine tunnels somewhere, and right then, Merlin was the only thing standing between the king and a very pissed off lizardy creature.
Without warning, Arthur lurched upright and grabbed Merlin’s arm. His eyes were wide but, somewhat unnervingly, utterly focussed right on him.
“The kittens won’t let me fight.”
Merlin paused, considered that statement, and then slowly and carefully peeled Arthur’s hand off his arm and pressed the king to lie back down.
“It’s okay, Arthur. There are no kittens.”
“You don’t understand!” Arthur wailed.
Merlin slapped a hand over his mouth and muffled the rest of his words (he thought he caught something about the kittens being in a conspiracy with the rabbits, but at that point he was more interested in keeping the noise down than the intricacies of small mammal politics).
Arthur was clearly delirious. Or hallucinating. Or something. Merlin was fairly certain Arthur had taken worse head injuries than that before and not been affected in this way, so chances were it had something to do with that cloud of green lizard breath.
Merlin carefully eased his hand away from Arthur’s mouth, finally letting go when he was sure there wasn’t going to be any more shouting.
“Arthur, listen to me. Do you know where we are?”
“The kittens’ dungeon.”
“Right, yes. That’s definitely where we are.”
Arthur tried to sit up again and grabbed Merlin’s shoulders.
“They want to hurt you, Merlin. But I won’t let them.”
“I’ll be fine. Nobody is going to hurt me.”
Well, not counting the lizard creature, at least.
Arthur pulled him down and whispered in his ear.
“They’re more powerful than you think. They have magic.”
Merlin tugged himself away. It would probably have been funny in other circumstances. Assuming they both survived he was going to have blackmail material for months out of this. But right now, the fact that Arthur was, apparently, completely off his head was not funny in the slightest.
“I’ll be careful.”
He heard a noise from down the tunnel, something that sounded suspiciously like the heavy footfall of a large creature.
Merlin considered his options, and wasn’t pleased to realise that it was a spectacularly short list.
“Merlin, they’re coming!”
Arthur sounded... scared. It was that, more than anything, that did it.
“Stay here,” he told Arthur.
Merlin stood up, stepped out into the tunnel and faced the lizard creature. It was just coming round a bend further down the tunnel and it roared when it saw Merlin.
“I’ve had enough of you. You get one chance to leave us alone, or I will kill you,” Merlin shouted.
The lizard creature roared again.
“Isn’t there anyone capable of a sensible conversation here?”
The creature still seemed to be struggling to get its huge body around the tight corner, so Merlin breathed deeply, focussed his power, and roared a dragon command to back off. The creature roared right back at him, and finally cleared the corner so that it was facing him head on.
Well, he’d suspected it wasn’t a dragon or dragon-kind, but it had been worth a try, just in case there was a way of doing this that didn’t involve violence.
Speaking of which...
The creature crouched, its limbs tense, its claws flexing against the rocky floor of the tunnel. Merlin looked it right in the eye. Then he raised his hands and hurled the biggest fireball he could create right at it.
The creature screamed and lunged towards him. Merlin stood his ground and picked the creature up with his mind and threw it backwards. That might have worked slightly better if it hadn’t been such a big creature in such a small tunnel because there really wasn’t room to throw it properly and it just hit its head on the roof and flailed a bit. Before it could recover, Merlin hurled another fireball at the lizard creature, holding his concentration to create a constant stream of fire that engulfed the creature completely. Its cries echoed in the narrow tunnels and Merlin could see it writhing within the flames. He let his hands drop and watched as the creature tried to force itself backwards around the corner, trying to get away, still crying and whimpering. After all the bluster and roaring earlier, it was almost pathetic.
Merlin let it go. He didn’t really want to kill it, and besides, if it died right there it was going to block their only way out of this tunnel. He watched as it disappeared round the bend, and listened to the sound of it retreating into the distance. When he was sure that it had truly gone, he closed his eyes and let himself breathe.
He looked round. Arthur was staring at him from where he was still lying on the ground. For a second Merlin felt a chill race through him at the thought that Arthur might have seen any of that.
“Arthur, it’s okay.”
“Merlin. Merlin, please!”
What the hell?
He approached slowly, and when he got nearer he saw that Arthur’s gaze had become completely unfocussed. He was staring right at Merlin but didn’t seem to be reacting to his approach at all.
“Arthur? What is it?”
He knelt at Arthur’s side and touched his shoulder. Arthur snapped round at the contact but still seemed not be able to make eye contact. He grabbed blindly at Merlin and his fingers gripped Merlin’s jacket.
“Run, Merlin. I can’t fight them all.”
What had seemed amusing only minutes earlier was becoming less so by the second. Arthur was still in the grip of what appeared to be a magical hallucination and it seemed to be getting better, not worse.
“It’s okay, Arthur. I’m here. I’m safe. We’re both safe. The creature has gone.”
“Promise me,” Arthur said urgently. “Promise me you will save yourself if I can’t hold them off.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m staying right here.”
“Please Merlin. You have to. I can’t... I can’t bear the thought of you dying. Please, Merlin, just go.”
For a moment Merlin was too stunned to react. Then he did the only thing he could think of. He gathered Arthur into his arms and held him tight.
“I promise,” Merlin whispered.
The lie seemed to calm Arthur, but he burrowed his face into Merlin’s shoulder and continued to mumble things that made no sense, things that made Merlin want to go after that creature and kill it for what it had done to Arthur. He forced the rage down and just spoke softly and quietly, reassuring him over and over that they were both going to be okay.
He had no idea how long they sat there like that. Eventually, Arthur’s grip loosened and he seemed to be gradually leaning more and more weight against Merlin’s chest, his ramblings becoming ever more quiet and incoherent. When he had not spoken for several minutes, Merlin decided he must have lost consciousness, and tried to lay Arthur back down.
Arthur mumbled something that sounded like a protest.
“I’m still here,” Merlin said. He sat down at Arthur’s side and tugged the king of Camelot to lay with his head resting on Merlin’s leg. Arthur curled around him and wrapped an arm around his waist.
“Can’t lose you, Merlin. Not you. You... you’re my friend. Trust you more than anyone.”
Merlin swallowed and found he couldn’t speak.
He looked down and realised he was absently stroking Arthur’s hair. The man seemed calm for the first time since they had been attacked by the creature. Merlin dared to hope the worst of the hallucinations might have passed now.
“I need you.”
The words were so quiet Merlin wasn’t sure he had heard properly. He closed his eyes until he was sure he was completely in control, and when he opened them again he looked down at Arthur and smiled.
“You have me. Always.”
It was probably a couple of hours later before Arthur woke up. Merlin still had his hand tangled in Arthur’s hair and didn’t really notice that fact until Arthur tried to shake him off.
“Merlin, what is going on?”
He sounded confused, but not in a ‘crazy scary kitten related hallucination’ type confused, and more a ‘just woke up somewhere strange and no idea how he had got there’ kind of confused.
“I was starting to think you’d never wake up,” Merlin said in as normal a voice as he could manage.
Arthur slowly pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around.
“What happened, where are we, and why was I lying in your lap?”
Make that confused and slightly suspicious. Yep, Arthur was sounding more like his old self every moment. Merlin tried to quell the tiny spasm of disappointment in his chest that things were about to return to business as usual.
“You got attacked by a lizard creature, I carried you to safety and we’ve been hidden here while you had hallucinations, probably caused by the lizard breathing noxious gas at you. And while you were busy hallucinating, I scared the creature off with a burning torch.”
Arthur frowned at him.
“You carried me? You carried me?”
“Oh, that’s nice. I tell you about a great big lizard that caused you to have insane hallucinations, and the thing you find unbelievable is that I might have saved your life.”
“That’s not actually what I said,” Arthur replied. Then he frowned again. “Hallucinations?”
“Do you remember anything?” Merlin asked. He honestly wasn’t sure what he wanted the answer to be.
Arthur seemed to think for a moment.
“I don’t know. Bits, things that make no sense.” He looked up at Merlin with a strange expression. “I remember you wreathed in fire, glowing, like magic, and shouting something.”
Merlin managed a tight smile.
“Well, that was definitely a crazy hallucination.”
Arthur nodded and actually chuckled.
“Well yes, obviously.”
Merlin grinned, and then stood up and picked up their things and dusted himself off. He offered Arthur a hand and was pleased to note he only wobbled a tiny bit when he got to his feet.
“If you’re recovered now, I suppose we should get moving and see if we can find the rest of the knights. They’re probably still lost in the tunnels somewhere.”
He turned to go, but Arthur touched his arm to halt him.
“Merlin. I... uh. I don’t remember much of what happened, but one thing I do remember is you talking to me, and keeping me safe. Thank you, Merlin.”
Arthur held his gaze for another few seconds and then abruptly turned and started heading down the tunnel. By the time Merlin caught up with him, that look had gone and Merlin knew the moment was over.
“So,” Arthur said with what sounded like forced normality. “What did I say or do while I was supposedly hallucinating?”
“Oh, all sorts of things,” Merlin said. He felt a grin form. “In fact, you said I was the best manservant you’ve ever had, and that I was well overdue for a week’s holiday.”
“Just how stupid do you think I am, Merlin?”
“Do you want a truthful answer to that?”
Arthur threw his a half-hearted glare.