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Apparently I'm on a bit of a roll at the moment. Set after 4x02.
Merlin shivered as he drew the blanket higher up on the bed. If he buried himself under all of these layers, it might stop the cold from feeling like it was constantly penetrating his body and seeping into his bones. He knew that it was just because of everything catching up on him that he was cold, it wasn't as if there was anything that anyone –aka Gaius – could do about it.
The journey back from the Isle had been one of the hardest journeys Merlin had ever been on. He had been with Arthur before when the prince had lost men, but never when he had lost a friend in such a way. Lancelot hadn't just been a good knight, he had been a friend to them all. Little did the others know quite how close the servant was with the deceased man, although they at least gave him some space. They knew they had been friends, but they just didn't realise that Lancelot had been the one that Merlin trusted when he could trust no one else, not even Arthur. But he had been a good friend to them all and the mood had been heavy and sombre. The knights all snapped at each other at various points on the journey, trying to deal with their grief in whatever way they could.
Arthur, however, had been silent and Merlin knew that was a sign of how badly the prince was taking it. While the men had all sworn an oath that they would die for their prince, Arthur never expected anyone to sacrifice themselves for him. He had gone out there with a duty to save his kingdom, and he had lost a friend in the process. Merlin knew what was going through his mind. If he hadn't been knocked out (Merlin never wanted Arthur to find out it had been him to move the prince, knowing that meant he was somewhat responsible for Lancelot's death), then it would have been him that walked through the veil.
He would have saved the kingdom, but only for the time being. Merlin had been at court for long enough to know that without an heir, Camelot would fall in days. Considering Morgana was on the prowl as it was, they wouldn't stand a chance without Arthur. Lancelot had saved the kingdom not only from the Dorocha, but from an otherwise unavoidable war. His sacrifice had been greater than anyone as of yet realised.
Between a silent Arthur and the snapping knights, Merlin had never been so glad to see Camelot. But that relief was short lived when Gwen came rushing out to meet them. After greeting Arthur, it hadn't taken long for her face to fall and a quivering voice ask what happened when she noticed that someone was missing from their group. Arthur had wrapped his arm around her shoulders, handed his reigns to Merlin and led her into the castle, talking quietly. The rest of the knights had been quick to dismount, but there was a tense silence as they bedded down their mounts and retired back into the castle.
With both his and Arthur's horse to sort out, Merlin found himself out in the stables far later than the rest of them. He had finished, but had no desire to return to the castle. He had left it fearing what would happen, knowing that it was only by sacrificing himself in Arthur's place that he could save his destiny as his magic was useless against the Dorocha. All of their missions had always contained an element of danger, but Merlin had never thought about just how mortal they all were. Not only his friends, but him as well.
He shouldn't have been returning to Camelot himself, not considering his encounter with the spirits. Two of them should have been lost on this journey, but only one had paid the ultimate price. It was hard walking into the castle knowing that he nearly hadn't returned, and knowing that there was an empty room where there should have been a knight resting. He didn't know how to tell Gaius that Lancelot had taken not only Arthur's place, but Merlin's as well. He knew what his friend had been intending, and had seen his opening when Merlin had been engaged on conversation. Merlin wasn't sure who Lancelot had ultimately paid the price for, all he knew was that his friend was gone.
Gaius, however, didn't blame his ward the way Merlin thought he should have done. He was nothing but a comfort, letting Merlin vent all of his pent up emotions. The others just thought he was grieving, they had no idea the weight that was crushing down on him over what had happened. He should have been more alert, should have realised that Lancelot was planning something by the way he had been speaking. Merlin had eventually passed out and fallen asleep, sheer exhaustion finally catching up with him as he realised that, regardless of the outcome, it was over.
The funeral was hard, but Merlin knew that his friend was given the honour that he deserved. It was hard that they could only burn a spare cloak, there was no body to lay to rest or scatter to the winds. Lancelot had just vanished from their lives, although Arthur made sure that everyone knew precisely what he had done to save the kingdom. It was easier after that, the grief beginning to lessen as the days went on.
Despite giving his life, Merlin knew it was what Lancelot would have wanted. He was too heroic for his own good, and would much rather die saving the kingdom and his friends than on some pointless mission. The thought gave Merlin comfort and he found that keeping busy helped. There was so much to do with the amount of people who had been killed, and the sheer number that now wanted to return to their villages after seeking refuge in the citadel during the time of terror.
The last few days had been manic, but now Merlin had the chance to start to breathe again. His duties had settled back to normal, even if Arthur wasn't quite himself just yet. The prince was still quiet, and merlin could read in the lines in his face that he was blaming himself still for Lancelot's death. After trying a few times to reassure his master, Merlin gave up and decided the only person who would truly be able to help was Gwen. But while her own grief was still strong, everything was tense. But it was a relief to have things return to normal. Although they would never be able to put this attack behind them like they had done with all the ones before, Merlin was sure it wouldn't take them long to move on.
After all, he knew once again that was what Lancelot would have wanted.
He had been back at work for two days now and Merlin was exhausted as he crashed into bed and instantly snuggled under the blankets. As soon as he stopped working, he felt cold. Not just because of his actual temperature, but as if the cold was seeping into his body the way he had first felt when everything had started. Keeping busy had meant that Merlin could ignore it, but now he was trying to pull up even more blankets and he knew that something was wrong.
He didn't feel ill, but the idea of even leaning out of the blankets in order to draw the candle closer made him shiver. Letting his eyes flare, Merlin dragged it over with magic. That act in itself made a little warmth flood his veins, more because it was such a relief to feel his power working the way it should do. It had been unnerving and somewhat terrifying to realise that he was just as vulnerable as the rest of them. With the candle closer, Merlin disappeared under the blankets entirely and let his body just give in. Maybe if he slept, he would feel better by the time he was needed to return to work. His mother had always sworn that sleep cured everything and he knew that Gaius would agree with her.
Letting his eyes fall shut, Merlin curled up as small as he could go. Tucking his feet under his body and his hands under his arms, the warlock tried to allow sleep to take him. Despite his exhaustion, sleep was a long time in coming. His body was simply too cold to stop shaking and he knew that more blankets wouldn't do it.
Just as he finally felt himself go under, Merlin felt a flash of panic. What if he didn't wake up again? It was only now he truly let himself think about the feeling of the Dorocha passing through his body and he realised that it was no surprise that he was cold. Everyone else who had come into contact with them had instantly frozen. To death. His powers had somehow kept him alive, and adrenaline had stopped him thinking about it after that.
But just as he made to call for Gaius, sleep took him hostage and dragged him under.
Arthur knew that things had been troublesome lately with everything that had been going on, but he didn't realise that would mean he would be forced to go hunting down his own servant. Merlin had been quiet the last few days, but considering they had all just lost a friend, Arthur thought nothing of it. But when he had woken that morning to find the curtains still drawn, the fire unlit and breakfast nowhere to be seen, he knew it was time to remind his servant of his position and that life couldn't continue as normal if the prince had no breakfast.
After checking in on his father – grateful that Gwen at least still seemed to have her wits about her despite her eyes being red from crying – Arthur made his way towards Gaius' chambers. He knew if the physician saw him coming, he would be quick in making sure that Merlin got out of bed. Having no desire to wait for the lazy sod, Arthur didn't try to mask his approach and let his feet clump along the corridor as he approached, bursting through the door without knocking.
A tirade was already forming on his tongue when he took in the room. Any harsh words died on his tongue when he saw Elyan heating something over the fire, Gwaine looking grave and Percival standing there. Arthur knew that look of helplessness on the large knight's face though – knew that he wanted to be helping yet there was nothing for him to do.
"What's going on?" The prince demanded, immediately noting that Merlin was nowhere to be seen. Normally, if anyone was hurt, he would be the first to be by Gaius' side in order to aid his mentor by helping out. Now that Arthur was thinking about it, Gaius was nowhere to be seen either. As if Arthur's thoughts had flown out of his head and up towards the servant's room, the physician appeared at the top of the stairs.
Arthur thought his heart missed a beat at seeing how grave the old man looked.
Repeating his question, a little louder this time, Arthur shut the door behind him as he moved further into the room, eyes drawn to the small door that indicating where Merlin's room was. Gaius saw where he was looking and nodded.
"He's ill, Sire. Perhaps gravely so."
"I can't wake him. Nor have I ever felt anyone so cold."
This time, Arthur's stomach dropped. He couldn't lose someone else. More importantly, he couldn't lose Merlin. While he would never admit it, he would be lost without his servant, his best friend. The idea that something was gravely wrong with the man was not one that Arthur had any intention of keeping in his mind.
"Take him to my room," he ordered, turning on his heel as he spoke. He knew by the time that he had gone to the kitchens and found something to eat – and found a servant to go and stoke up the fire in his rooms – the knights would have organised themselves to get Merlin there. He left as soon as he spoke, knowing that they would be watching him with incredulous expressions. He knew he would be able to make it to the kitchens at the very least before they realised that he was being serious.
Arthur managed to do just that, swiping enough breakfast for two – he told the Cook it was because he was hungry, but knew deep down he wanted Merlin awake to share it – and collared a servant and sent the lad scurrying to his rooms ahead of the prince. By the time Arthur arrived, a roaring fire was burning in the grate and Merlin had been placed on his bed, thick blankets covering him. Now that he could see his friend, Arthur felt cold himself at seeing how pale he was and how Merlin's lips seem to be turning blue. The knights had all left, but judging by the set to Gaius' eyebrows, Arthur had a feeling they had been thrown out.
"How is he?" The prince asked quietly, moving further into the room and putting the leftover food on the table. He saw Gaius look, but ignored it. He knew the old man wouldn't be lecturing him now, not when there was a chance the food was for Merlin and the fact they were in Arthur's rooms in the first place. But Arthur had been in Merlin's room in the winter (normally because Merlin thought he could get away with not leaving the sanctuary of his pitiful bed) and knew it was freezing. If Merlin was cold enough not to awaken, he needed the warmth only the best rooms could offer. And as Crown Prince and acting Regent, Arthur knew his room was high up on that list.
"Holding on," Gaius said gravely, tugging another blanket over his ward. "His body temperature is worryingly low, he's trying to conserve energy to turn to heat by staying asleep."
"So he'll be okay?"
"No one else who was touched by the Dorocha have lived, Arthur. We can only hope that since they are now banished, their effects are reduced." Arthur felt like a small child being chided at Gaius' tone and he busied himself straightening his sword for a moment. By the time he looked back up again, Gaius had closed the distance between them and rested a hand on Arthur's shoulder in a fatherly fashion.
"He's got more colour than when I found him this morning. He is strong, there is every possibility that he is going to be just fine."
Arthur nodded, his eyes on the floor rather than facing Gaius. The old man squeezed his shoulder before dropping his hand.
"I need to see to my other patients. Will you be able to watch him for me? Yes? Good." Arthur didn't have the chance to protest, or admit that he would have no idea what to do if Merlin should suddenly get worse again before Gaius had picked up his bag and swept from the room. Arthur stood there for a moment, a little lost, before dragging his chair around towards the bed.
It made a harsh scraping noise on the floor and the prince winced, expecting the noise to be loud enough to force Merlin from his slumber. If that was the case, however, Arthur would have continued to drag the chair until kingdom come. But there was no movement from the bed and Arthur sat down, propping his feet up on the end of his bed and stared at his servant.
"Wake up," he implored the man quietly, a lost tone to his voice that Arthur would never let anyone else hear. But Merlin never did as he was told even when he was conscious, so it came as no surprise that he didn't so much as twitch this time.
Arthur sat there nearly all day. A servant brought him lunch and the prince pulled over a stack of reports to pass the time while he waited for Merlin to stir. He considered going to see to his other duties, but terror filled him that Merlin would go and do something stupid like die while his back was turned and then Gaius would again be disappointed in him.
So Arthur simply sat there, by his servant's side and waited for something to happen that would indicate he wasn't about to lose someone else close to him. First Morgana, then his father was had become just a shell… he couldn't lose Merlin as well.
But it seemed fate wasn't ready to make him face his destiny alone. As the evening drew on and Arthur was forced to get up to light the candles since it was obvious no one was coming to do them, a soft moan came from the bed. The prince was back by Merlin's side in an instant, pretending that he hadn't actually moved. He hadn't imagined the noise though, for no sooner had he sat down when Merlin's eyelids flickered before slowly opening.
"Where am I?" He murmured, voice heavy with fatigue and his teeth still chattering. Arthur let his hand rest against Merlin's forehead, ignoring the man's squirming.
"My rooms," he eventually muttered. "And you'll be pleased to know you aren't about to die."
"What?" Seeing the confusion in Merlin's eyes, Arthur filled him in on how the servant had simply slept the day away while Arthur had been running around seeing to his duties. Merlin's eyes flickered to the chair and a small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. He knew Arthur was lying, and Arthur knew that he knew it.
But neither of them said anything to correct it.
Merlin sat slowly, up, pushing the blankets off him. Arthur immediately pulled them back on.
"Wait for Gaius," he ordered in his best princely voice. Something told him that it was only the concern he could feel shining from his eyes that meant Merlin backed down rather than his tone of voice. Still, the fact that the servant allowed himself to be covered back up again was good enough for Arthur.
Silence fell between them as they waited for Gaius and Arthur found that he was avoiding Merlin's eyes. He didn't particularly want to admit he had just sat here all day, worried that his servant was about to die. There was something in Merlin's expression that made him think his friend already knew though. When Gaius knocked on the door what felt like hours later, Arthur could feel his usual defences slotting back into place. Just as he stood up, the Crown Prince once again, Merlin's hand rested briefly on his arm.
"Thank you," the servant whispered and Arthur curtly nodded, pulling away. But as he let Gaius in, telling him that his idiot of a servant had decided he was going to wake up after all, he saw Merlin's smile. Merlin knew he had sat there all day, and he knew that he had been worried. The fact that Arthur wouldn't say it didn't matter.
And Arthur knew that he knew.
Strangely enough, he didn't care either that his vulnerability was once again shining through. Merlin always seemed to bring that side out of him, even from day one. To start with, it had been a nuisance.
Watching as Gaius fussed over his ward, scolding him for not saying anything and Merlin squirming like a scolded child, Arthur decided that he really didn't care. After all, it wasn't really a weakness if no one else knew, and considering the one person who did see his vulnerable side was Merlin, Arthur didn't think that really counted.