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"Stop being such a girl, Merlin."

"Well, I'm sorry for not seeing the point in this."

"The point? It's a hunting trip! The point is to hunt."

"You mean to slaughter innocent animals for no good reason? That's the point? Ah, well then, pardon me for not being particularly entertained by this pastime."

"You don't need to be entertained; you just need to be quiet."

"Why on earth would I do that?"

"So as not to scare away all the game."

"Maybe that's exactly what I want to do; alert all the animals to your coming so they can escape before they're cut down in the prime of their lives."

"Merlin."

"Yes, Arthur?"

"Shut up."

"Ah. You only ever say that when you know you're losing."

"Now, Merlin."

Merlin smirked and fell silent, hearing sniggers coming from the knights surrounding them. He had won the argument and everyone knew it, including Arthur. Gwaine was biting his lip to try to keep from laughing out loud, and he nearly lost it when Merlin caught his eye and smiled lopsidedly at him. Leon was smiling indulgently at the two of them and shaking his head in a sort of fond exasperation. Elyan was smothering a laugh behind his hand and Percival was just smiling benignly. The four knights other knights who had come with them, with whom Merlin was not very familiar, looked mildly uncomfortable with Merlin's disrespectful attitude and the other knights' nonchalance toward it, but they held their tongues. They knew it wasn't their place to speak up if Arthur didn't see fit to actually reprimand Merlin.

They rode for a few more minutes in silence, waiting for a deer or boar to cross their paths, but nothing seemed forthcoming. As the sun came directly overhead, Arthur brought them all to a halt near a stream to rest and water the horses. They all dismounted and went about their chores, but something felt off. It was quieter than it should have been, Merlin realized. It put him a bit on edge, but he went on preparing lunch for the gathered knights. It wasn't much of a surprise, then, when thirty or so bandits came roaring out of the surrounding woods into their camp.

Merlin immediately scrambled out of the way of the attackers, searching for Arthur. He saw him engaged in a swordfight with two bandits and he looked to be winning. Merlin was heading for the tree line, hoping to hide and work his magic as he usually did, when he was drawn up short by an ugly and brutish bandit with a sadistic grin on his face. He stumbled backwards as the man slashed at him with his sword, ducking and dodging until he could scoop up an abandoned sword from the ground. He brought the borrowed sword up to block a heavy blow that sent jolts of pain up his arms. He gritted his teeth and blocked another blow, still being forced back by the brute force of the man before him. He was quickly tiring, his arms shaking and his heart pounding, and he realized he was being pushed further and further away from the knights, from anyone who would come to his rescue.

Another heavy overhanded blow knocked the sword from his hand just as his heel caught on something behind him, sending him sprawling on his back. The bandit loomed over him, still grinning, and brought the sword up for the kill strike. Merlin instinctively raised his hand, scrolling through discreet spells in his mind that could save him, but he needn't have worried. The man made a strange choking noise and looked down to find the tip of a sword protruding from his belly. The sword was retracted and the bandit collapsed sideways to reveal Arthur, bloody sword in hand and a scowl on his face.

"Stop lazing around, Merlin, this really isn't the time."

Then he was off and back into the fight. Merlin rolled his eyes and huffed in irritation, but climbed to his feet. He crouched behind a nearby tree and began using his magic to turn the tide, tripping bandits and dropping tree limbs on them and so forth. They looked to be doing well, until Merlin saw a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Arthur stumbled backward, gasping, face twisted in pain. He was clutching his stomach, and his hands were covered in blood. He collapsed to his knees and fell backward. Merlin rushed to him, weaving between friends and foes alike until he knelt by Arthur's side. Prying his hands away, Merlin gasped and tried not to be sick; Arthur had been practically gutted. Merlin could see his intestines fighting to leave his stomach cavity, blood pouring out thick and dark. There was no way he could survive this.

Merlin's mind shut down for a second. Then it kicked into overdrive, going over and over every healing spell he had ever tried to learn, looking for something, anything, that could save him. Nothing he knew was strong enough to fix this, and even if he had known a spell he probably wouldn't have been able to perform it; he had never gotten the hang of healing magic. He could feel his magic pulsing beneath his skin, filling him, fighting to get out, to help, but he didn't know what to do. Arthur's eyes were closing, his breathing sharp and shallow.

"M...Merlin…" he choked.

Not knowing why he did it, just following his magical instincts, Merlin placed one shaking hand on Arthur's forehead and the other directly over his heart. His magic was swarming, buzzing inside him, pushing against his skin. Without thinking of a spell, without thinking of anything than the desperate need to heal his friend, his brother, his destiny, Merlin let his magic loose.

It exploded out of him with surprising violence. A wave of bright white light erupted from him and raced across the clearing, killing the remaining bandits but leaving the knights gaping, and felling the trees surrounding them for several yards. Merlin could feel his magic rushing into Arthur through his hands, filling him, and he could feel himself getting something in return, but he couldn't think what it could be. He didn't know how long he held this connection, pouring his magic into Arthur's body and soul, but when he next looked down, Arthur's wound was completely gone. Finally, gasping, Merlin wrenched his hands away from Arthur, whose eyes flew open.

They were glowing gold.