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War of Attrition

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Arthur winced in pain and gingerly touched his arm where Leon’s steadily darkening shirt was wrapped around it.

It had been a stupid mistake. If he had just waited for Elyan to reload then he could have covered him when he moved postitions. He scowled and kicked the footlocker by his bed.

“And who are you then?” Arthur demanded, for a tall and gangly boy had just slipped into the tent.

“Er. Sorry. Gaius said you were in need of a medic?” The boy said, holding a bag emblazoned with the symbol of the red cross up for Arthur to see. Other than that, he was wearing dark colored clothes with no sign of who he was.

“Gaius sent you?” Arthur asked, “What would you know of medicine? You look too young for enlisting.”

“No offense, but I don’t think you should insult the one who’s going to be treating your wounds. Besides, I’m plenty old enough to be drafted, as it turns out. You can’t be much older than me. What are you, 24 or 25?”

Arthur was, in fact, 24 but he wasn’t planning on admitting it him. He was a little thrown by how this strange man was speaking to him.

“Don’t you know who I am?” He asked.

The man looked up from where he’d begun to unpack his bag onto Arthur’s table, seemingly uncaring the mess he made of the papers there.

“Sorry, have we met? I’m new and I’ve met so many soldiers these past few days. I’m Merlin.” Merlin gave an exaggerated bow and continued his work.

“No, we haven’t met. And I’m no ordinary soldier. My name is Arthur Pendragon.” Arthur said importantly.

Merlin’s hands stilled where he had begun to roll up his sleeves.

“Oh,” He said dumbly, “Gaius didn’t mention that.”

“Well, I’m mentioning it.” Arthur bristled, “And you’d do well to remember it. And hurry up! If this wound were any worse, I’d have bled out by now.”

Merlin frowned but he finished his sleeves and approached Arthur.

“Any reason you didn’t immediately report to the medical tent?” Merlin asked as he rolled up Arthur’s sleeve and pinned it so it’d stay. Arthur’s arm had been hastily wrapped on the way back to his tent. It wasn’t a terrible wound, a bullet had only grazed him.

Arthur glared at Merlin who didn’t seem to notice as he wandered back over to the table to grab some of his supplies.

“I don’t like going there. It’s depressing. And I waited a bit to summon anyone to make sure the worst-offs were taken care of first.” He winced as Merlin pressed a liquid-soaked cloth to his skin.

“I can’t argue with that,” Merlin said.

Something in his voice made Arthur ask, “You don’t like working in the infirmary?”

Merlin huffed a laugh.

“Definitely not. I used to faint at the sight of blood. I got over that quickly enough here though.”

Arthur wondered if she should be worried that Gaius had sent this person to tend to him, but nothing Merlin was doing seemed amiss.

“Why are you working for them? I thought you had to have prior training to be put in medical instead of becoming a soldier.”

Merlin began wrapping bandages around Arthur’s arm.

“Normally you do. But uh…And I wouldn’t be telling you this, but Gaius speaks highly of you…Gaius is my uncle and he managed to get me placed with him. And I guess they agreed that I wouldn’t be much use in a fight.” Merlin gestured to himself almost self-deprecatingly.

That much was true. Merlin was skinny enough that Arthur could probably take him apart with one blow.

Merlin finished with Arthur’s bandages and unpinned his sleeve.

“It should be fine in a week or so. If it changes color or starts leaking…things... then you come straight to the infirmary, you understand?” Merlin tried to look stern but Arthur certainly wasn’t intimidated, “Are there any other injuries, sire?”

Arthur glared but Merlin’s teasing smile didn’t falter.

“No.” He snapped, and Merlin turned to put away his things.

 “Alright, alright. No need to get annoyed. I’ll just be on my way.” 

Arthur examined his bandages while Merlin packed his bag and wiped up some of the blood that Arthur hadn’t noticed he’d trailed. They were actually done neatly even though Merlin didn’t seem like he’d be professional at anything.

Merlin waved on his way out of the tent but Arthur didn’t bother to say goodbye.

 

“Arthur, can you see anything?” Leon asked.

“No. Any word from Percival?” Arthur asked, lowering himself back into the foxhole.

Leon drank from his canteen then offered it to Arthur who accepted it gratefully. The last time he’d been to the infirmary, to check up on Lancelot, Merlin had lectured both of them on the dangers of dehydration. He was hoping to avoid it the next time he went.

He wondered how he and Lancelot were getting on. They’d seemed friendly when he was there, though Lancelot was friendly to everyone. Merlin seemed to even get along with Gwaine.

“I don’t think they’re back yet. Hold on,” Lean scrambled across the hole to grab the flashlight and he carefully used it to flash morse code to the foxhole where Gwaine and Tristan were hiding. A few seconds later, they responded.

“No, sir. No sign of them yet. What should we do?” Leon said, stuffing the flashlight back into his bag.

“We’ll give them a few more minutes. Someone should fetch a medic. Percival wouldn’t be late for no reason.” Arthur said.

Leon paused, “Merlin, sir?”

Arthur gave him a sharp look.

“Just get whoever’s free, Leon. We don’t have the time to be picky.”

Leon nodded and Arthur grabbed his gun to spot him as he prepared to make a run towards the trenches.

No one made any shots and Arthur was able to breathe again. He didn’t want his men to pick up on it, but Percival and Elyan being late made him nervous. Resigned to not being able to rest until Leon gets back, Arthur set himself up with his gun over his lap to wait.

It’s around a half hour later when he sees the flashing coming from Gwaine’s hole. He scrambled to grab the flashlight and then deciphered the message.

“B-A-C-K”

Arthur turned his own on.

“H-U-R-T”

A pause.

“Y-E-S”

Arthur swore under his breath.

“C-O-V-E-R”

He waited for an affirmative before he grabbed his bags, took a deep breath, and darted across the distance to Gwaine’s hole.

Elyan was there, sweat-soaked and cursing wildly as Tristan wrapped his bleeding leg in one of their glags, which maybe wasn’t so patriotic but Arthur hardly felt that mattered at the moment.

Percival was beside him, also sweating and trying to help Elyan take a sip out of his canteen.

“What happened?” Arthur asked, sliding down to squat next to Percival.

“Rogue sentry. We got him but not before he got a lucky shot.” Percival said.

“Leon’s gone to get a medic, but it may be some time before one’s able to help us. Do you think we can carry him?” Arthur looked to Gwaine who nodded.

“Alright. Percival, are you hurt?” Arthur looked at him but he just shook his head, “Okay.  Gwaine and I will take Elyan back to the trench and get him a medic. Percival, you stay here at your post. Tristan, alert the commander that we’re short a few men and to dispatch a full unit. Then both of you report back to me when they arrive.”

“Yes, sir.” They said together.

Arthur and Gwaine lifted Elyan and carefully climbed out of the hole with Tristan and Percival covering them. They set off towards the trench.

“Find Leon.” Arthur told the soldier who ushered them in and closed the door after them, “Let him know that we’re here and to rest up.”

The soldier muttered an affirmative and Arthur pulled Elyan and Gwaine towards the infirmary. As always, the infirmary was pretty packed and Arthur wasn’t surprised to see the medics were running around. He spotted Merlin carrying bandages to where Gaius was bent over another soldier and before he fully thought about it, he was shouting, “Merlin!”

Merlin spun around, saw them, and waved. He dropped off his bandages before pointing at an empty bed and hurrying to clean up the blood-spattered sheets and replace them.

“Sorry, sorry. It’s been really hectic around here.” He said when Arthur and Gwaine finally heaved Elyan up onto the bed, “Just one gunshot?”

Elyan nodded as Merlin used scissors to cut away his pants leg and grabbed a few instruments.

“Gwaine, can you grab those clean cloths and the alcohol? Arthur, can you clean up some of the blood from his leg?” Merlin ran off before either could respond so Arthur found a rag and some water and carefully wiped away the blood and pressed it against his wound so more wouldn’t come out.

“You’re going to be okay, Elyan.” Arthur murmured,

“Yes,” Merlin agreed, appearing again beside them and holding a syringe, “But you’ll lose less blood if your heart’s not beating so fast so…sorry about this.”

Before Elyan could protest, Merlin injected the syringe into his arm. He grabbed the alcohol soaked cloth from Gwaine and set to furiously scrubbing his surgery instruments, which were, Arthur realized with a sick feeling, stained in blood.

Finally, he deemed them clean enough to actually start extracting the bullet from Elyan’s leg. Gwaine turned green and excused himself but Arthur stayed to help. When Merlin was finally finished and Elyan’s leg was wrapped in bandages, they were both covered in blood, sweat, and alcohol.

“Thanks,” Merlin said, pausing finally to look at Arthur for the first time, “I really appreciate your help.”

“You look dead on your feet. How long have you been here?” Arthur asked.

It was the truth. Merlin’s clothes were stiff with dried blood and his pale skin was stained with it even on his face and neck. His hair was a mess and his eyes were red with exhaustion.

“Five this morning? To be honest, I have no clue what time it is.” He looked around and having decided that everything was under control, he sagged against the bedside table.

Arthur unhooked his canteen from his pack and offered it to Merlin who gratefully took it and chugged.

“Thanks for taking care of him. Lancelot too. You’re pretty good at this, actually.” Arthur said.

Merlin capped the canteen and handed it back, “You sound surprised?”

“Yeah, well. The first time we met, you said you fainted at the sight of blood. Look at you now.”

“True,” Merlin shrugged, “See anything enough times and you get used to it. How long are you back?”

“I’m not sure. We’re not supposed to be back yet but I made an executive decision. I guess we’ll wait for Lancelot to heal up so we’re not short two men.”

Merlin smiled, “That’s good. Maybe you can help me some more. We make a good team.”

“Yeah, sure. But only if you go rest now. You can’t help anyone if you pass out mid-surgery.” Arthur said sternly.

“Deal.” Merlin nodded and let Arthur walk him to the Medics quarters.