Arthur had never met anyone as accident-prone as Merlin. For every bump or scratch an ordinary person got, Merlin had at least three more. If other people had bruises, Merlin’s were always deeper. He found it strange because Merlin, while always slightly clumsy, had only recently started showing up almost constantly injured.
And as hard as Arthur tried not to worry (Merlin certainly didn’t seem that concerned about them) it was difficult not to when the man you were in love with looked like a human pincushion most days.
If Arthur didn’t know better (and he did know better because as a concerned boyfriend he’d done his damn research) he’d say that Merlin was being bullied. But Arthur had discovered long ago there was nothing other than Merlin’s mysterious bumps and scratches to prove his hypothesis. Merlin, while tired most of the time(“Medieval History is not for the faint-hearted, Arthur.”) didn’t seem at all emotionally distraught or hurt. The only thing wrong with him were those damn marks that Arthur couldn’t explain.
It bothered Arthur, but he tried his best to brush it off. If it was a real problem, Merlin would tell him. He was quite outspoken about most things.
Things reached a tipping point when Arthur’s doorbell rang late one Tuesday night while he was studying and his heart nearly stopped when Merlin all but collapsed onto him the moment he opened the door.
“Merlin, what the…?” His arms were scratched beyond belief, he was covered in blood and he was trembling. “God, what’s happened to you this time?”
“You should see the other guy,” said Merlin weakly as Arthur helped him inside. After settling Merlin down on the edge of the bathtub, he handed him an old t-shirt from the washing hamper to staunch the blood flowing from a deep cut on his forehead and began cleaning the scratches on his arm.
“I’m driving you to the hospital as soon as we get you cleaned up,” said Arthur. “That head needs stitches.”
“Really? Wow, I’m going to look so badass,” laughed Merlin and it took all of Arthur’s patience not to lose it with Merlin.
“This isn’t funny, you arse,” he snipped. “I wish you would just tell me what’s going on. Who keeps hurting you like this? Why won’t you tell me?”
“I'll… It's… I mean, I will tell you, I promise,” said Merlin apologetically. “Just… can I have a glass of water first? I’m feeling a little dizzy.”
Arthur helped settle Merlin down on the floor so that he wouldn’t do something stupid like slip into the tub, gave him strict instructions to keep the t-shirt pressed tightly to his head and went to fetch Merlin his water. It gave Arthur a moment or two to gather his thoughts.
He was fuming.
While he was slightly annoyed at Merlin for his blasé attitude at being attacked and beyond furious with whoever had attacked him, Arthur was mostly mad at himself. He was one of Camelot’s top athletes and Merlin was a scrawny Medieval History major. If he’d just insisted that Merlin come over and study at his flat instead of at the library, none of this would have happened.
Figuring he’d deal with himself later, Arthur went back to the bathroom. After handing Merlin his glass of water, he picked up the flannel he’d been using to clean Merlin, gave it a rinse and found, as he turned to get the last of the dried blood, that the cuts and grazes across Merlin’s arms had vanished.
“Merlin, your arms!” said Arthur, his heart thudding rapidly. “What the fuck?”
“Oh shit,” said Merlin, glancing down at his arms. “Shit, love, I can explain.”
Arthur reached for the t-shirt pressed against Merlin’s forehead and wrestled it out of Merlin’s grasp with ease.
“Your cut’s gone too!” said Arthur, taking a step back in surprise. What the hell was going on? “Elena hasn’t just been trying out her stage makeup on you again has she? If so, it’s not a funny prank. You know how your mysterious injuries freak me out.”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” said Merlin, pulling a hand down his dirty but otherwise perfectly healthy face. “It’s… I mean I have mfhfm.”
Merlin mumbled the last word as if he was afraid to say it.
“You have what?” Arthur asked, about two seconds away from having his legs give way beneath him.
“Magic,” said Merlin softly. “I have since I was born. It’s… I mean I use it for… look, it’s kind of a long story and I swear I’ll tell it to you in full someday. For now, you should know that you’re kind of a big deal as far as the universe is concerned and Kilgharrah – he’s a dragon – says that I’ve sort of been unofficially officially appointed to make sure that you stay alive. It’s difficult to tell because the bastard speaks in almost pure riddle, but there was a lot of talk about destiny and coins and… anyway. The reason I’m always covered in scratches and bruises is because I spend half my life killing shitty magical things that are trying to kill you.”
At this, Arthur’s legs actually did give way. He didn’t know what to say to that. What was he supposed to say to that? It was completely insane.
And yet, Merlin’s cuts and scratches had disappeared, so it couldn’t be as far-fetched as it sounded.
“Arthur?” Merlin asked, eventually. He looked so uncertain and afraid that Arthur’s heart clenched painfully.
“Is that the only reason you’re with me?” asked Arthur, voicing a sudden fear of his own. “Just because this dragon or whatever told you that I’m your ‘destiny’?”
“No, love,” said Merlin, scrambling to his knees and taking Arthur’s hands in his own. “No, all of the dragon stuff happened a few months after we started going out. I remember thinking at the time that it was really convenient that the universe wanted me to keep you out of harm’s way when that was kind of what I was already doing.”
“And were you ever planning to actually tell me?”
“I was,” said Merlin. “I was just waiting for the right time. I mean, it’s not exactly a casual dinner topic, is it? It was getting harder and harder to explain away the injuries though, so I knew I had to do it soon. Then the Sidhe started causing shit and pretty much every spare moment I’ve had the last while was used finding out what the hell was going on. I just came from dealing with the situation, er, permanently.”
“Shit,” said Arthur, releasing one of Merlin’s hands to run his fingers through his hair. “That’s… Shit. They’re trying to kill me?”
“Sometimes,” said Merlin. “Other times they just want something from you. I’d never let them actually get to you, though. I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty powerful. The most powerful in the world according to the dragon. I’ve got you covered, trust me.”
“Is that how you managed to heal a cut that definitely needed stitches in a matter of minutes?”
“Why don’t you just always do that then?” asked Arthur. “You’re always covered in scratches and bruises. Why not just heal yourself?”
“Ah,” said Merlin. “Well most of the time I was slowing down the healing process so that you didn’t get too suspicious when I was bruised one day and completely fine the next.”
“But if you heal yourself so quickly, surely it would have made more sense to just heal before I saw you again? That way I wouldn’t have even known that there was anything to be concerned about in the first place.”
“I…” said Merlin, looking thoroughly stumped at this. “Actually, yeah. That would have made more sense.”
Arthur couldn’t help but laugh as he pulled Merlin into a kiss.
“Most powerful sorcerer in the world and still an idiot.”
“Oi, careful. I’m the only thing standing between you and a never-ending parade of crazy.”
“And that would be a comfort if you had any scrap of common sense,” chuckled Arthur, getting up. Though he felt infinitely more comforted knowing that Merlin could look after himself (and Arthur too apparently), part of him worried that knowing that he was going out with a sorcerer – and a powerful one at that – would change things between them.
Almost as if to reassure him, however, Merlin slid on the edge of the shower curtain as he tried to stand up and ended up back on the floor where he’d started.
“Don’t laugh,” said Merlin, barely containing the grin on his own face as Arthur helped him up.
Some things would thankfully never change.