I Should Not Dare to Leave My Friend by Emachinescat

A Merlin Fan-Fiction

Summary: An injured Arthur is desperate to go after Merlin, who has been captured by bandits. It doesn't matter that the knights are already out searching for the servant. He trusts them, but this is Merlin that's missing. Too bad Percival's his bodyguard and Arthur's as weak as a newborn foal. Written for Febuwhump on Tumblr. Day 2: "I can't take this anymore"

A/N: Takes place sometime after Arthur becomes king, probably season 4, though there's no definite timeline. Enjoy!

I Should Not Dare to Leave My Friend

I should not dare to leave my friend,
Because - because if he should die
While I was gone - and I - too late -
Should reach the Heart that wanted me -

If I should disappoint the eyes
That hunted - hunted so - to see -
And could not bear to shut until
They 'noticed' me - they noticed me -

- From "I should not dare to leave my friend" by Emily Dickinson

Arthur awoke to disjointed memories and searing pain in his abdomen. An air of terror hung over him like a shroud, though he had no idea where it had come from. A low groan escaped his dry lips as he forced his eyes open to see a brown and white blur hovering over him. He blinked slowly, and the blur morphed into something resembling the court physician.

"Gaius?" He didn't try to sit up, or even move. He didn't believe it was physically possible for him to do so, he was so dreadfully tired. Even his lips barely moved as he spoke.

"Sire!" The relief on Gaius's weathered face was evident, but a tightness lingered around the edges of his mouth and the corners of his eyes. "It is good to see you with us once more. It has been a harrowing two days." He brought a flagon of water to the king's lips, tilted his head, and helped him drink.

Arthur grunted as pain flared across his ribs. "What happened?" The memories were still chasing themselves around his head, indistinct and confusing. Flashes of color, someone yelling, the clashing of metal against metal, a cry of pain…

Gaius raised his eyebrows in concern. "You don't remember?"

"Pieces," Arthur clarified, letting his eyes flutter shut while he tried to recapture the chaotic moments in some semblance of order. His eyes snapped open. "We were ambushed," he said, "on our way back from a patrol. I was hurt…" He lifted the blanket and glanced beneath at his bare torso, covered in a swath of red-blotted bandages. "Stabbed." He ordered his mind to cooperate, to help him remember faster. Something was wrong, he could feel it, something beyond the stitched-up wound in his ribs. "I was distracted."

"Do you remember what had your attention?" Gaius asked gravely. Arthur narrowed his eyes as he regarded the physician, feeling more than ever that something was very off, even if he could not immediately place it.

At once he realized - every other time he had been injured, even if it hadn't been to this extent, someone else was always there when he woke up. Someone fretting and babbling like the imbecile he was, someone who was quite noticeably missing from Arthur's bedside.

The king couldn't believe it had taken him this long to realize that Merlin wasn't in the room with them. Putting together Merlin's absence and the anxiety still residing in Gaius's eyes, it clicked that the only reason Merlin wouldn't be waiting for him to wake up was if he physically couldn't - and with that, he remembered.

He remembered with agonizing clarity the ambush - it had been Arthur, Merlin, and a handful of the knights. It was a routine patrol, and no one - save perhaps for Merlin, who seemed to think danger lurked underneath every rock - had expected anything to go wrong. The area had been quiet lately.

And then they were surrounded by bandits, great, hulking men, dressed in a combination of rags and fine clothes no doubt stolen off the backs of their victims. There were ten bandits and five of them - Arthur, Merlin, Leon, Percival, and Elyon - so the odds were fairly even, even if Merlin was fairly useless.

That's when it happened - Arthur glanced over to check that Merlin was out of harm's way, and indeed, Merlin was standing off to the side, worthless as usual, but he was safe, and then out of nowhere a bandit seemed to materialize behind him. Even as Arthur shouted the warning, he knew it was too late. Merlin was focused on the battle and didn't hear the man behind him until a sword hilt crashed into the back of his skull. He crumpled - unconscious, Arthur prayed, but that had been a hard hit.

Momentarily forgetting that he was in the middle of a fight himself, he lunged forward to reach Merlin as the bandit who had attacked him scooped the limp form up and flung him roughly over his shoulder. A cold dread descended on the prince. There was only one type of bandit that took prisoners - slave traders. And they were taking Merlin.

That's when he suddenly realized that he wasn't standing anymore, but kneeling, and that the world was growing cold and still, and that people were yelling something ... his name?

The forest tilted, and that is when the pain came, a great burning across his ribs. He brought his hand to the pain and it came back red. The last thing he saw as he fell to the ground was three bandits racing off into the tree line, Merlin slung over one's shoulder. He heard someone call his name, the sounds of battle growing distant and less important.

After that, there was nothing.

Despite his earlier conviction that he couldn't move in his current state, Arthur jolted upright and nearly passed out again from the agony that assaulted his midsection at the motion. "Merlin," he groaned. "They took him."

Gaius nodded wearily. "When you went down, the knights finished the battle, killing those who hadn't already fled or been killed. After making sure you were alive, Percival ran after the bandit who had taken Merlin, but he was too far gone."

Sickness cloyed in Arthur's heart at the thought of Merlin in the hands of those monsters. Merlin might be a frankly terrible servant and pointless in a battle, but he was as loyal to Arthur as any of his knights - moreso, probably. After all, his knights followed him into battle because it was their duty. Merlin followed him into battle because he was stupid, but also because he was devoted to Arthur and maddeningly brave at times. He had become a close friend to the king, a staple in his life, someone that Arthur frankly couldn't imagine not being in his life. Somehow, that skinny moron had managed to save Arthur's life on more than one occasion, not to mention the times he'd stood at the king's side to defend Camelot.

Arthur couldn't leave him on his own. He gestured vaguely at his prone body. "How bad is it?"

Gaius gave him a stern look. "Bad enough that you are going to need several weeks, if not more, to fully recover. The cut missed any vital organs, but it was long and deep, and you lost a lot of blood. Miraculously, only a minor infection set in and I was able to get your fever down swiftly.." Gently, pain in his own eyes, Gaius confirmed what Arthur already knew, "It is certainly bad enough that you cannot go after Merlin. I'm sorry, sire."

The backs of Arthur's eyes burned and he swallowed, teeth clenched at the injustice of it all. If it had been him who had been taken, Merlin would run after him in a heartbeat, injured or not.

Clearing his throat, Arthur asked, "Is there anyone out looking for him now?"

Gaius dipped his head. "Sir Gwaine is leading the search party. Elyan and Leon are with him, along with Sirs Galahad and Roland."

"What about Percival?"

Gaius hesitated for a fraction of a second. "He had important business to attend to in the citadel."

Arthur nodded slowly, distracted by trying to ward off thoughts of what could have happened to Merlin in the past two days, what might be happening to him at this very minute. If they had plans to sell him, he could very easily be taken outside of Camelot's borders, and it might be impossible to find him again. He couldn't just lie here and let the search go on without him.

"I have to join them," he grunted, trying to push himself off the bed and swearing loudly as pain lanced across his ribs.

Without warning, out of nowhere, a large hand appeared and gently pushed Arthur back onto the bed. Arthur hadn't even realized there had been anyone else in the room; they must have been lurking in the back corner. His eyes lurched up to see who owned the hand resting kindly but firmly on his shoulder, and suddenly he knew what the important business in the citadel was that Percival had to attend to.

He was to be Arthur's guard, there to make sure that the king didn't try to sneak off and join the search while he was still healing.

"Would ordering you to let me go as your king make any difference?" he asked the giant of a man blandly.

Percival offered him a sympathetic smile. "Absolutely not, my lord, but I appreciate the effort." He sobered, then added, "Gwaine won't stop looking until he's found Merlin, Arthur. You know that."

Arthur did, but it didn't make him feel any better.

A week passed. Arthur had had a slight flare-up of infection but was once again on the mend. Gaius mentioned that he should be able to remove the stitches in a few days' time. But Arthur was still weak from blood loss and the infection and in no condition to ride out into the forest looking for more trouble, according to Gaius. And although Arthur was now encouraged to take short walks around the castle several times a day, Percival was always trailing closely behind to make sure he didn't make a break for it.

On this particular evening, Arthur was resting in his desk chair, sick of being in the bed and needing a change of pace. His still-healing wound ached in this position, but it wasn't as intense as it had once been.

"This is ridiculous," he growled at Percival, who was reading a patrol report in a seat by the door.

Percival glanced up from his task. "I know it, sire." He went back to reading.

"I feel completely fine."

Percival's eyes flickered back up. "I highly doubt that, your highness."

"Gwaine and the others still haven't returned."

"I've noticed."

"They could be in danger themselves. Someone ought to go after them." Arthur knew that the amount of time they had been gone was not unusual given the nature of their quest. He knew that he was being petulant and probably driving Percival insane - this was not the first time they'd had a similar conversation - but it was better than doing nothing.

Percival quirked an exasperated eyebrow. "Someone like… you?"

Arthur groaned. "Stop humoring me. It's annoying."

Percival didn't respond, but his expression clearly read, I know the feeling.

Arthur fell silent, retreating glumly back into his own thoughts and worries.

A week. Merlin had been in the clutches of bandits for seven days. Who knew the extent of the abuses he had suffered? Were they feeding him? How injured was he? He had taken a hard hit to the head… Or had they auctioned him off to someone already, like he was a piece of meat at the market? The thought, one that had been frequenting Arthur's mind ever since he first woke up and Merlin was gone, left a horrible pit in his stomach and caused the rage to rush through him like a tidal wave.

And he was sitting here, useless, injured. He knew full well that Merlin would have already found a way past Percival if their roles were reversed. But Percival was quick and keen, and he was also large and easily barred any doorway he stood in, and Arthur was in constant pain and weak and exhausted from fighting the fever.

He burst out suddenly, his voice a raw flood of emotion that even he could not have predicted: "I can't take this anymore!"

Percival looked up from his work in earnest now and met Arthur's anguished gaze. It was clear to the king that Percival knew full well this wasn't about the pain or the weakness or the exhaustion. It was about the constant worry, the guilt and dread and the horrible expanse of unknowns. Arthur's servant, his friend, was missing, going through gods knew what, and Arthur hadn't been able to protect him.

Worse, he couldn't even lead the quest to bring him home.

A hand fell on Arthur's shoulder. He glanced up through the threatening tears to see that Percival had set aside his reading and now stood by his side, a pained look on his face to match his king's.

"I know," he said simply.

"As soon as the stitches come out, I'm leaving," Arthur warned fiercely. "I don't care what Gaius says. You won't be able to stop me."

He glared up at Percival, who regarded the clear challenge with respect in his eyes.

"I know," he said again.

For now, Arthur supposed, that would have to be enough.

A/N: Whaaaat? Emachinescat is willingly writing Arthur whump? ;) Check the sky - pigs be flyin'. (Okay, so there was Merlin whump in here too lol.)

I will be continuing this story line from Merlin's POV on day 16, so be on the lookout for that! I'd love to know your thoughts! Thanks so much for your support!