TITLE: The Magic of Caring
RATING: PG (maybe PG13 if you stretch)
LENGTH: 1979 words
SUMMARY: A major injury in battle prompts Merlin to send King Arthur to the one person who will best take care of him...with unexpected results.
NOTES: Written for the fifth challenge at the Arthur/Gwen Last Author Standing. The prompt was, "Merlin the wizard accidentally sends King Arthur (who is in FULL BATTLE GEAR) to the present day. He ends up in Gwen De Vere's posh apartment. Of course Modern!Gwen has no idea who he is and thinks he's some kind of a pervert while on the other hand Arthur sees her as his wife Queen Guinevere Pendragon."
The air crashed with the shouts of men and their drawn weapons, but Merlin could barely discern Camelot’s knights, their colors washed away with driving rain. Percival was easy, taller than the throng surrounding him, and there was Gwaine, howling in delight as he drove his blade into the belly of another man. But the one Merlin most wanted to find was nowhere to be seen.
His voice joined the cacophony, unable to be picked out from the rest even by his own ears. He shouted again, bounding over bodies that thankfully did not belong to Camelot, and scanned across the battleground in search of his king.
The crackle of magic afforded him a lead, but it was both a glimmer of hope and a bastion of doom. Rumors had suggested Morgana was responsible for the latest attacks, but Arthur dismissed them, asserting nobody had seen her since her last foiled attempt.
They should have been more wary.
Merlin chased it down, lashing out at everything that crossed his path. His heart thundered by the time he reached the knoll's rise, only to stop dead in its tracks when he saw the blade slice through the air, straight for Arthur's chest.
The fiery bolt from his hands slammed into the marauder’s gut. As the man’s body flew through the air, the sword he wielded dragged a deadly path behind him, slicing through Arthur’s armor in a flurry of golden sparks.
Merlin reached Arthur in time to catch him as he crumpled, dragging him away from the fray. Blood seeped over the edges of the seared metal. Though Arthur struggled, another cut along his right arm hindered his movement, and he collapsed against Merlin, the rain pelting down so hard it bounced off his armor.
Merlin eased Arthur to the ground, bracing his hands against Arthur’s shoulders to keep him still. “You're hurt.”
“I can still fight.”
“And then you'll die.”
Merlin’s heart twisted at the sight of his crooked grin. “You're always such a beacon of hope, aren’t you?”
“It's not your time. Camelot needs you alive.” He paused. “Gwen and your son need you, too.”
A dirty move, but it did the trick. The grin faded, and Arthur swept his gaze back over the fight. The rain washing down the sides of his chest plate created tiny red rivers in the mud.
“Then do what you must,” he finally said.
Merlin nodded. His healing spells were worthless against magic-inflicted wounds, but Arthur needed to be properly tended to anyway, someplace far from the battlegrounds, by someone who would do everything she could to see that Arthur lived.
Taking a deep breath, he began the incantation.
Gwen’s bones ached. It was her own fault for volunteering for an extra shift in Casualty, but she hadn’t anticipated a four-car crash adding seven more hours to it. She’d been exhausted, but she could sleep after she was dead.
Which, if her screaming muscles had anything to say about it, would be sooner rather than later.
Bowing her head, she let the scalding spray wash over her. A moment later, the pipes behind the wall whined. The heat vanished, and Gwen yelped as the water turned to ice. Skittering as far away as she could get, she frantically tried to turn it off, only to shove at the stall door and stumble out when she couldn’t succeed fast enough.
“Great,” she muttered as she stood in the middle of the bathroom, shivering and dripping. “Fan-bloody-tastic.”
She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her, intent on getting to the phone. This was the last straw. Mr. Penn was fixing the plumbing this time if she had to hire a solicitor to force his hand.
Something blocked the door. Before she could catch herself, Gwen fell over it, landing in a heap on its other side.
As she drew her bare legs back to see what had been in the way, her eyes widened. A man in chainmail rested on the floor. He turned his head in her direction, and the startling blue gaze that met hers froze her in place.
His voice was low and rough. Under other circumstances, she might have found it sexy. But she had no idea who he was, so the fact that he knew her name was more chilling than the shower had been.
“What do you want?”
The smile that had started to form faded, his brows pulling together into a frown. “I…” His lashes fluttering shut for a moment. When they opened again, he lifted his hand to reach for her, only to drop it back to the floor with a pained hiss.
She glanced down. Blood ran in the cracks of the floor, slowly trickling toward her.
“How did you get in here?” she demanded more forcefully.
A slow shake of his head. “Must've been magic.”
“Right. And I’m the bloody queen.”
“Well. Yes.” When he attempted to roll onto his side, his breastplate shifted to reveal a long, angry cut across his chest.
Instinct took over. “Lay back.” Her knee came to rest in a pool of blood, but she ignored it for a better view of his injuries. Whatever had hurt him had sliced through his armor like paper. Blood still flowed from the open wound. “I've got to get you out of these things.”
The smile returned, lopsided and surprisingly adorable. “Whatever my queen desires.”
The blood loss was going to his head. Now he was just babbling.
It took some deduction, but she finally figured out how to remove it, piece by piece. He tried to help, but the cut on his arm tore further, and she ordered him to be still. Through it all, his eyes never left her, tracking her movements when she fetched more towels to staunch the bleeding, following her again when she went in search of her first aid kit. By all rights, he should have passed out long ago, but every time she glanced at him, he was alert, his jaw strong, his gaze clear.
“I need to get you to Casualty.” She wouldn’t even try to figure out how he’d managed to break into her flat. Clearly, he knew she was a doctor, or he wouldn’t have come to her for tending.
He frowned. “Can't you stitch me up?”
“Well, yes, but—”
The hand on his uninjured arm lifted to rest on her forearm. Even through the blood that now coated both of them, his touch was warm and electrifying. “I trust you, Gwen. With my life.”
She sat, transfixed. Maybe she’d treated someone he knew. That would explain it all. It didn’t explain how she could look at him and believe he meant every word, though. But somewhere, beyond the point of rational thought, she did.
“All right. But the first sign of trouble, and I’m calling an ambulance, understand?”
His thumb stroked the side of her wrist, slow and soothing. “Absolutely, my lady.”
Merlin’s horse pounded into the courtyard, breathing heavily from how hard he’d pushed her. Squires waited to help, but he slid off on his own and ran for the stairs, shouting for Gwen the whole way. She appeared from the dark corridors, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, her eyes dark with worry.
“How’s Arthur?” he panted before she could speak.
“Isn’t he with you?”
“What? No. I sent him to you.”
She shook her head. “I haven’t seen him since you left. The reports—Merlin!”
Her voice trailed after him as he ran past. Arthur must be in the castle somewhere.
An hour later, he had to admit defeat.
Gwen hovered in the background as he tore through his supplies, looking for the ingredients to reverse what he’d done. Without a word, she helped him set up, and though her eyes held no censure, the weight of his failure to protect Arthur bore him down. He could only hope that this spell would work better than the last.
The words fell from his lips, awkward and hot. Gwen sprinkled the potion he’d made along the bed between them, then sat back, watching, waiting, until the air began to thicken, the shadows taking form. Neither one of them breathed, not until they heard his first inhalation, and even then, Gwen’s voice was barely a whisper.
Slowly, his eyes opened, his head turning toward her. Merlin sighed in relief when he saw the familiar love shining there
“See?” Arthur said. “I told you everything would be all right.”
She glanced over at Merlin, who shrugged. He had questions of his own.
“Arthur, where’s your armor?”
Gwen stood in the doorway, staring at the empty bed. Not more than six hours ago, she’d finally finished stitching his wounds and helped him to her bedroom so he could rest. Then, she’d cleaned up the mess in the hall and promptly collapsed on the couch, fully intending to call Casualty as soon as she woke up.
Now, that was no longer necessary.
She might have believed the whole thing was a dream if it wasn’t for the pile of mangled armor in the corner of the room. Proof that someone had been here, but her guest had left as mysteriously as he’d arrived.
A knock at the front door finally pulled her away from all the questions whirling around inside her head. Pulling her hair back into a ponytail, she went out to answer it, casting one last glance down the length of the hall to check that all the blood was gone.
Her greeting died on her tongue at the sight of the man smiling at her from the hallway. He wore a threadbare T-shirt stretched over incredibly broad shoulders, and his faded jeans bore the same spattered damp spots his shirt did. In his left hand was a heavy canvas bag, open at the top to reveal a myriad of tools. If it weren’t for the scruffy moustache and beard, he could’ve been her guest’s doppelganger. Even the eyes were the same.
“I’m looking for Dr. DeVere.” Dear Lord, the voice was the same, too.
“Arthur Penn. My father sent me around to work on the plumbing. I need to check to make sure your shower is good again.”
She blinked. “How did you know it wasn’t working?”
His cheeks went pink. “I didn’t until I arrived actually. I was supposed to have it fixed before it broke for good. Sorry about that.” He nodded to the room behind her. “May I come in?”
Her body was on autopilot as she held the door open. The scent of his sweat and a musky aftershave filled her head as he walked past.
“I didn’t realize Mr. Penn’s son was a plumber,” she said.
“I’m not. My father’s a firm believer in learning the business from the ground up, my time at Cambridge be damned.”
He continued chattering as he let himself into the bathroom, leaving her to hover in the hall. It wasn’t the same person, of course. The hair was wrong, and the shirt thin enough to see there was absolutely nothing wrong with the man’s strong chest.
But the feeling that she still knew him prevailed. All the way back to the door when he was done.
“Listen…” At the sound of her voice, he paused on the threshold, waiting for her to finish. Gwen cleared her throat and met his steady gaze with her own. “If you’re done for the day, would you like to get something to eat? There’s a pub around the corner that’s got a great menu.”
His surprised smile took her breath away. “I’d love to. Thanks.”
She might never understand what had happened today, but she could recognize a good omen when she saw it.
As well as a good man.