Pairings: Merlin/Arthur, pre-slash
Warnings: Dislocated knee.
Disclaimer: The characters don’t belong to me; they are the property of the BBC and Shine. No profit made.
Word count: 3,733
Spoilers: Series 1 & 2.
Summary: Merlin climbs a pear tree. Gravity.
Notes: Written in response to the following kinkme_merlin prompt: While hunting Merlin tries to be useful by climbing on a tree to get some fruits. But he falls and Arthur has to look after him for all the way home to Camelot, trying to make him comfortable.
Some of the other nobles were on his side and wanted to continue, loving the sport and the chase as much as Arthur himself did, while a few others evidently wished to set up camp for the night, if their grumbling was anything to go by. The grumbling came from those older noblemen who had arthritic joints or suffered form the gout and who had only tagged along to have a chance to get noticed by the crown prince. The servants, a motley crew made up by the youngest and oldest members of the servantly spectrum, kept their heads demurely bowed, but there was a suspicious murmur of assent on their part when Merlin voiced his protest, “Arthur, it's getting cold and dark and I'm hungry.”
“You wouldn't be that hungry if you'd had boar, Merlin, would you? We're all going hungry because you're the clumsiest person ever,” Arthur retorted, deliberately avoiding all further discussion.
Merlin's head dipped for a second but then it lifted and he flashed an angry but determined look at Arthur that didn't bode too well.
They continued on till it became impractical. They had all eaten hours ago and a few stomachs rumbled loudly. Light was fading. The beaters could no longer see where they were putting their feet and that was potentially dangerous. Hunting was one thing, risking his men's lives fruitlessly quite another.
Arthur tugged on his horse's reins and called a halt, jumping down swiftly and efficiently. He flung the reins to Merlin a little viciously. He watched as the servants, his included, busied themselves with tethering the horses, building a bivouac and taking out and airing the bedrolls. It would take a while and they had only small game to partake of because the boar that should have been their main course was somewhere else roaming freely in the woods. Thanks to Merlin. When Sir Geraint's servant got a merry blaze going, Arthur sat before it, secretly delighting in the warmth emanating from it. He stretched out his hands and legs and his lips curved up involuntarily. He felt like saying something nice to Merlin since he hadn't treated him very well before. When he looked up, searching for Merlin, he realised his servant was not there; he was not chatting with the other servants, he was not off sulking in a corner because Arthur was a prat, and he was not trying to filch any salted meat from the man in charge of the provisions.
Arthur's head whipped from side to side, scanning the clearing. Of Merlin there was no immediate trace, which was strange since Merlin wasn't really the type to slink off to brood alone. If he wanted to gripe about Arthur's behaviour he'd do it in plain sight. Arthur got up, wiping his trousers, and asked Sir Geraint's servant if he'd seen Merlin.
“He was here a moment or two ago,” was the answer he received.
Arthur decided to take a stroll around. Not to find Merlin, no, he just needed to stretch his legs after a day spent riding. He wandered about, breathing in the fresh evening air and the smell of pine and moss. He heard the bubbling sound of water from what had to be a nearby streamlet. He whistled and desultorily attempted to find his wayward Merlin. A few minutes later, no more than two or so, he distinguished the blue shirt and russet jacket that characterised his manservant and made him very recognisable from afar. The fact was, though, that said jacket was not spotted on ground level. It wasn't because Merlin, the idiot, was apparently experiencing a regression to childhood moment and had started climbing up a pear tree, feet scrambling for purchase. He was using the bark's gnarls, knots and holes as footholds as any good country lad would. At least Merlin had some operative knowledge of the art of tree climbing.
“Merlin!” Arthur shouted. “What are you trying to achieve? Get down.” Merlin, being light and moderately limber, had meanwhile managed to clamber up the trunk, so that he was now sitting on one of the branches, hooking his knees around it.
“You said it was my fault we had no dinner yet, so I'm providing,” Merlin yelled down at him, looking both miffed and guilty.
Arthur hurried in the direction of the incriminated tree, looked up and said, “Merlin, get down, I said.” And, “Did you test that branch first?” After all Merlin was not really weightless for all that he had this slender, twiggy build. Arthur was beginning to understand how his nurses had felt when he'd disappeared on them to perform a quest of some kind, only he, strong and agile even as a child, had not been an accident waiting to happen like his manservant. They were talking about flailing, clumsy Merlin here and not his own athletic self.
As if to confirm Arthur's reasoning and opinion, the branch Merlin had perched on gave out an ominous noise. Merlin was now balancing on it like a tight-rope walker, one arm hugging the trunk while the other was extended towards the leafy part of it in order to pick up the tasty fruit. Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and considered climbing up after Merlin, but before he could so much as bat an eyelash, the branch bent, cracked, snapped and Merlin came crashing down.
Arthur closed his eyes.
There was a dull thud, an ooomph sound, but no shout.
When Arthur reopened his eyes, Merlin was an untidy lump at the foot of the tree. Considering that he'd fallen from a decent height he could have broken his neck. And if he hadn't, Arthur would wring it for him! Merlin had his own eyes tightly shut and Arthur hurried towards him, cold sweat running down his neck already, heart beating double tempo in his chest. Merlin could have hurt himself pulling that useless, useless stunt.
“Merlin?” he asked, crouching by Merlin's side and feeling his throat for a pulse. Merlin's lashes fluttered and he realised that there had to be one obviously. Merlin even opened his eyes then, hissing and whimpering. Arthur felt Merlin for injuries, running his hands along his scalp – there was a scratch on his forehead – shoulders and arms. Nothing of moment, but dirty and torn clothing and bloodied knuckles. When his hands moved lower though, Merlin stopped him by intercepting them with his own. “Don't,” Merlin mumbled, panicked. “Don't touch it.”
“What shouldn't I touch?”Arthur asked. He wasn't Gaius, but he had assisted a number of injured men on the battlefield and he needed to know in order to help. Then he understood. Merlin's trousers were hiding most of it, but on the basis of the unsightly, anomalous shape, Arthur decided that Merlin's knee was dislocated: the straight line his leg should have formed was now crooked and the kneecap was clearly out of joint.
“You fell on a bent knee, didn't you?” Arthur asked, not expecting an answer, but reconstructing the fall in his mind.
“Just don't touch it,” Merlin panted. “I feel like throwing up.”
“Merlin, I know how to deal with it,” Arthur said. Once he'd reduced his own shoulder, so he had the basics down. They had no physician here and they would have to wait till morning before they could head back to Camelot. That would not do. “I have to put the bone back in line.”
“Must you?” Merlin asked, looking him in the eyes. “I'd rather,” he said, on a belaboured breath, “not move. Ever,” he added.
Arthur passed a hand through his hair. He didn't want to be the one to do it, but he couldn't wait. He knew there'd be problems if he waited and that it'd be a risk to Merlin's health if he did: cut circulation, cut ligaments and tendons. It would not be nice if he let more time go by. He didn't say a word. He ripped the leg of Merlin's trousers, studying the injury, and called out for help.
“I need help here,” he shouted at the top of his voice, bellowing as he did when he was giving out orders during a battle or a very important training session.
He held Merlin's hand in the meanwhile, twining their fingers. “You idiot, you'll be fine,” he rambled on. “Happened to me too. Shoulder, was right as rain the day after.” He was lying. It had hurt for a month but he had been able to walk and go about his business almost unimpaired.
“Sire?” was the answering shout. Arthur grew impatient. What was the use of being prince if his subjects didn't get a move on when it was required?
“Are you lying?” asked Merlin, smiling faintly.
“Are you accusing your prince of being a liar?” Arthur quipped.
“Uh, Uh.” Merlin nodded and looked up at him. His brows were furrowed in pain, he was breathing fast and intermittently biting his lower lip.
Succour, or Sir Geraint and a page of his – a fifteen year old boy from out of Camelot – finally arrived, out of breath and decidedly nervous. “Are you well, sire?”
Arthur shrugged. He clearly was fine. “He fell off this tree,” Arthur explained curtly, pointing to Merlin's recumbent form and the tree hulking behind them with his free hand. “Kneecap went on a holiday tour of the provinces. Help me get it back in place.” The page boy's face went white, whiter than Merlin's if possible. Sir Geraint nodded but he did look queasy as well. Soldiers preferred blood and gore to crooked joints. He motioned for Sir Geraint to move behind Merlin so that the knight could cradle Merlin's upper body by hooking his strong arms under Merlin's armpits. Merlin's torso was thus resting on Geraint's knees. Geraint threw a look at Arthur's hand, the one holding Merlin's, but he had the decency to lower his eyes and not to comment.
“I'm doing it,” Arthur assured Geraint, changing the subject of what had been a silent exchange. “Just hold him. Not that tight, Geraint. I think he's already had enough.” Arthur moved to crouch at Merlin's feet. “Hey, Merlin,” Arthur said, to distract him. Not knowing when the pain was coming was better than bracing yourself for it when there was never enough bracing or mental preparation to be done. He pulled the leg swiftly and firmly, straightening it and pushing the twisted kneecap back into place so that the errant, abused bone could slide back into its natural, God-given position.
Merlin screamed wildly, the kneecap popped back into place and Arthur sighed in relief, as he watched Merlin breathe far too fast in response to the pain surge. He was covered in cold sweat and looked as if he was about to give in to his prior urge to vomit then and there. “Better than Gaius, I wager...” Arthur said, fake swaggering in his tone.
“I hate you,” Merlin cursed. “You-- you could have warned me.”
The page paled further. He was not used to servants who took such liberties with their employers. Thankfully, Arthur might add, or they would soon have a revolution on their hands. Sir Geraint, who knew Merlin a bit better, just grinned a little, knowing that that was Merlin's way of expressing himself.
“We should get him back to the camp,” Geraint suggested. “Can you walk?” he asked Merlin.
Merlin shrugged. “I'm sure I can... if I try.”
“We'll help you,” the page boy offered, looking sympathetically at Merlin.
“No need,” Arthur grouched. He sidled closer to Merlin, slipped an arm beneath his knees, paying attention not to exert pressure on the injured one, while he put the other around his manservant's shoulders and lifted. He picked Merlin up and started walking back towards the camp, wobbling slightly under the weight, but not heeding Geraint's flabbergasted face, the page boy's flushed one, or Merlin's pinched with pain moue.
“How are you doing?” Arthur asked later that night.
“Better. Throbs and hurts, but I don't feel like puking my guts out,” Merlin said, an aborted smile faltering on his lips. Arthur plopped down next to him, placing his elbows on his knees and looking sideways at Merlin's sprawled form. “Well, it's your fault. What possessed you to climb that tree?”
“I've done it countless times!” Merlin protested. “Me an Will--”
“Will and I,” Arthur corrected.
“I know grammar.” Merlin pouted, burrowing under the blanket Sir Geraint's page, Halwyn as it turned out, had hunted down for him.
“And you know what 'supercilious' means,” Arthur said teasingly. “Quite a good teacher that Gaius.” He suddenly knelt, grabbed the hem of Merlin's pilfered blanket, and uncovered Merlin's leg to check on the swelling. Merlin's knee was red and twice its normal size. Still, a predictable reaction to the dislocation.
“It was my mum who taught me,” Merlin corrected him, then he noticed Arthur's frown and asked, “That bad?” in a little worried tone, that made Arthur's heart clench.
“I think it's fine, considering.”
Merlin smiled tentatively.
“I could get you drunk, so you won't feel the pain till tomorrow.”
“Then I'd have a sore, swollen knee and a hangover,” Merlin objected, shifting up and hissing because he'd disturbed his leg. “Besides, you just want me drunk so you can have your wicked way with me.”
It was a joke, Arthur knew that. It was a joke because they'd never.... Merlin ogled girls and Arthur liked Gwen, but Arthur felt hot and bothered all of a sudden. It might have been because he heard himself say, “Only in part.” He went for a smirk, trying to pass it off as something else, something of no account, but he knew it wasn't. “Just sleep, Merlin.”
He'd partly owned up to the impossible.
Arthur called off the morning hunting expedition.
Baron Egbert stood up from the bivouac and objected, “But sire, this was meant to be a three day expedition!”
Arthur held himself stiffly. “If you haven't noticed, we have an injured man among us. We're heading back to Camelot.”
Egbert marched up to him and inclined his head. “I see,” he began. “Though I think you could send him back to Camelot with another servant for company. This is the annual boar hunt, and the boy is but a servant, his injury no real cause for concern.” Arthur let him plough on. “I remember that time two years ago when one of the beaters broke his ankle, he was sent back with an escort...”
“Are you questioning my judgement?” Arthur finally bellowed.
“Then we all make for Camelot.” Arthur turned on his heels and went to join Merlin, who'd heard everything and was now looking sheepish. “Sorry,” Merlin said. “You can, really. Do as he said. I can even walk.”
Arthur knelt down, head bent. He checked Merlin's leg, looking for a pulse in his foot. He found one and relaxed. “I'm going to ask you the same thing I asked Egbert,” he said, caressing the patch of skin beneath his thumb.
Merlin blushed scarlet, but he sat up, leaning towards Arthur, and said, “Yes. You feel guilty because I sneaked away and hurt myself and you see me as your subject and you were responsible for me and some such nonsense. Actually, as you reminded me, I was the moron. I always did it as a child. Only I didn't think that I used to do it in a different,” Merlin trailed off, drew in air in and continued, “way back then. This time I did it in another one and it was my fault. So let me ride back home and don't go crossing noblemen.”
Arthur gave a last pat to Merlin's foot and rose. “I'll take you to Gaius myself. That leg needs a splint.”
Arthur sat on his horse, a tall brown charger that was the envy of many in Camelot. He stretched his hand out and offered it to Merlin. “You're riding with me,” he said curtly.
Merlin hopped on his good leg and looked around. Arthur could hear the murmurs that would give birth to a thousand rumours himself. People were coughing, shaking their heads, one beater was sniggering and Egbert was cursing. He didn't want Merlin to hesitate and make a spectacle of this. “Come on,” he added impatiently, wagging his fingers.
Merlin, with the help of Halwyn, climbed up so that Arthur was sitting behind him. He placed both hands on the saddle horn for balance and settled against Arthur's chest, moving gingerly because of his leg. Arthur reached around him for the reins. He spurred his horse on and, waving a hand up in the air, gave a silent order of 'onwards'. Everybody hurried after that.
“You're as pale as a sheet.”
“Don't think so, no,” Merlin said. He was slumping in Arthur's arms. He was very much a dead weight, which meant Arthur had had a good idea when he'd decided that Merlin was to ride on his horse. Since Arthur was all that was holding Merlin up now, it was fair to say that Merlin would have fallen again if he'd been allowed to ride his own mount, or worse, if he'd been allowed to journey on alone towards Camelot.
“You didn't crack a rib or two as well?” Arthur probed. “Problems breathing?”
“Nope and nope,” Merlin said, annoyed to find Arthur fussing. “I'm just... tired. It tends to hurt more as the hours pass.”
“We're calling a halt.”
They had to stop twice on their way back to Camelot and sleep on the way an extra night. He just didn't want to make the trip back hell for Merlin, for while he needed a visit from a qualified physician, he also needed not to be tortured on the way. Merlin could barely dismount on his own steam and Arthur had to resist the urge to convey him to his bedroll by other means.
Baron Egbert complained vigorously all day. If he'd wanted to spend another day in the wild early that morning, by evening he'd changed his mind. “It's madness. It's bad enough that we had to cut the expedition short, but since we're headed back we might as well do it quickly so that we can sleep in our fine beds tonight.”
Arthur ignored him, preferring to see to his horse and discuss the guard shifts with Geraint and Gawain. As he did so, he noticed Geraint's slip of a page stealing away to go and join Merlin by his bedroll, which was actually Arthur's because Arthur had ceded his to his injured manservant.
“Your page should be stopped,” Arthur grunted.
“He has a thing for Merlin,” Geraint acquiesced, chuckling. “It's innocent.”
“Sire, everything you've done for Merlin: cutting the hunting expedition short, giving him your things – I understand, but Halwyn is just a boy and maybe he's in need of a friend. I'd rather not say anything to him.”
They'd all gone to sleep. The others. Stars were twinkling overhead and an owl was calling out to another owl in the trees around the small clearing they had chosen. Arthur and Geraint had both agreed on the choice, considering the spot easily guarded. They were to rest near a lake, which would make their improvised but necessary stay a pleasant one. Merlin was lying next to him on his good side, chest rising and falling rhythmically. He wasn't asleep though. Arthur had slept next to Merlin often enough, hunting, in Ealdor, the time Arthur had decided to have Merlin at his beck and call all day and all night, to the point that he recognised the pattern of his breathing when he was truly dozing.
“Comfortable?” Arthur asked.
“Remember the ribs thing?”
Arthur moved his head a little – it wasn't nodding since he didn't have the energy for it, but close enough. Of course he remembered, he was no fool.
“Maybe one's cracked.”
“Merlin.” Arthur's voice expressed his exasperation. “Come on, come here,” he added, manhandling
Merlin into his arms.
“My head's fine. I don't need you for a pillow.
When Merlin's breath evened out, Arthur knew he'd fallen asleep.
Camelot's turrets and crenellated towers rose in the distance, flags fluttering and swinging in the wind. Arthur held Merlin closer to him and asked, “Ready to dismount? I'll help you down.”
“I can do that by myself, you prat. It was not your fault.”
“I haven't looked after you because I feel guilty. You're right: you were a world class idiot to go up that tree. Were you thinking you'd turned into a squirrel?”
Merlin snatched the reins away from him. “Then why did you look after me?”
Arthur smiled, leant into Merlin and said not a word. There'd be time to talk about that when Merlin was given a clean bill of health by Gaius.