Title: Just…Don't be a Prat
Summary: But when he saw a young, blond boy enter with his breakfast tray that was most definitely not his manservant, Arthur felt himself go from calm to irate in a few second flat. Consequently, the first words out of his mouth were: "Where's Merlin?" And they were perhaps a little harsher than he would have liked.
Characters/Pairings: Merlin/Arthur pre-slash, or gen, depending on your perspective
Spoilers/Warnings: Follows directly after the events of 1x13 "Le Morte d'Arthur"; h/c
Word Count: 11,383
Disclaimer: I could only dream to own something as wonderful as this show.
Author's note: So this was a birthday present for my dear friend Dilso. It was supposed to be short. Unfortunately my brain does not seem to know what that means. This is my first real foray into the Merlin fanfiction world, so please provide me with some constructive feedback if you have any! Otherwise, I hope you enjoy :)
Just…Don't be a Prat
Arthur stood silently, staring out his bedroom window long after the last rays of light faded away into dusk. The soft crackle from the fire hummed in his ears, a few lit candles littering the room the only remaining light source as another day drifted away. Arthur should have retired hours ago, but for some reason his mind was on edge, filled with random thoughts that would not quiet.
He thought of his recent brush with death and the turmoil experienced by those closest to him. He thought of all the duties that awaited him upon his recovery. Perhaps most surprisingly, though, he thought of the last conversation he'd had with Merlin. It had occurred several hours ago and yet something about his manservant's words continued to weigh heavily on Arthur's mind. Something that struck a cord somewhere deep within him and refused to release its grasp.
"I need to talk to you," Merlin announced, once again barging into Arthur's chambers without so much as a knock. This was starting to become a habit of his.
Arthur shot him a look. "You still haven't got it yet, have you? I decide when we need to talk."
But Merlin had been determined. "Not today."
Arthur tried to hold back his sigh. "I sometimes wonder if you know who I am."
"Oh, I know who you are. You're a prat. And, a royal one."
it been anyone else, Arthur might have had him thrown in the dungeon
for insubordination. But he knew that if Merlin had something to
say, then no amount of threatening to throw him in the stocks or the
dungeon was going to hinder him. Instead he asked, "Are you
ever going to change, Merlin?"
"No, you'd get bored." And it was probably true. But Arthur vowed to never admit that out loud. Merlin paused, and then: "Promise me this, if you ever get another servant, don't get a boot-licker."
That had been a shocking statement, and Arthur reacted as such. "If this is you trying to leave your job..."
I'm happy to be your servant 'til the day I die," he responded
immediately. And Arthur actually believed the words that he spoke.
"Sometime I think I know you, Merlin, other times..."
"Well, I know you. You're a great warrior. One day you'll be a great King."
very kind of you," he responded, genuinely touched. And it was.
Arthur still never was able to get over how Merlin could
simultaneously insult and compliment him almost in the same breath.
It was so disobedient and yet so…Merlin.
you must learn to listen as well as you fight."
he was getting advice? The conversation would have been bordering on
comical if Merlin hadn't looked so damn serious. "Any other
"No. That's all. Just...don't be a prat."
Arthur had scoffed at the words at the time, chalking it up to Merlin being Merlin. But ever since Merlin had walked out of his chambers, a solemn look planted on his features, his words had tumbled around in Arthur's head. And the more he thought about them, the more that he came to the conclusion that Merlin might have possibly been saying good-bye to him.
The idea was ludicrous, of course. Where on earth did Merlin have to go? Surely if he'd wanted to stay in Ealdor with his mother, he would have made that known weeks ago, when they had all been there. But even if that were the case, he simply would have asked to go visit, and Arthur would have let him. Perhaps a little begrudgingly - good service was not hard to come by (which was not to say Merlin fell into that category anyway); but good company was (which Arthur unwilling admitted that Merlin often was, when he wasn't driving Arthur completely batty). Surely the man had not found another job. He was barely hanging onto the one he currently had, it and it wasn't like Merlin was incredibly skilled in much of anything that could be of use out in the real world. And to the best of Arthur's knowledge, Merlin had not secretly married one of the serving girls and was running off to start a new life with her.
Which meant that logically, Merlin had not been trying to say good-bye to Arthur. Except that the more he pondered the situation, the more convinced Arthur became that this was exactly what was happening. And in spite of everything Arthur had on his mind, this thought troubled him the most, because it didn't make any sense. Not at all.
Arthur's night was plagued by restless sleep and dark dreams that woke him through sheer terror alone. He could not remember any of his dreams, but he made a mental note to go and speak with Gaius later on that day. Perhaps he could use some of that sleeping draught that Morgana so commonly took.
In spite of feeling physically exhausted, there were only so many times Arthur could wake up in a fright and desire to fall back asleep once again. Shortly before the crack of dawn Arthur finally gave up fighting his own body and decided to get up and ready for the day. He briefly considered sending someone to wake up Merlin and make him dress Arthur. But after a few minutes of careful contemplation, he finally decided that it wouldn't be fair to force Merlin awake simply because he could not sleep. Though it would serve the man right for his odd behaviour the previous evening.
Instead, Arthur dressed himself. It wasn't that he wasn't fully capable of doing this every day. But why waste valuable energy on something if he had someone else who could do it for him? At least that was what he told himself, and it usually seemed justified in his mind.
A couple hours later he heard a soft knock at his door and felt a sense of relief wash over him now that Merlin was here. It was ridiculous, really, but something still didn't sit right with him. And Arthur was pretty sure some of his nightmares had involved his manservant.
"Enter," Arthur said formally. He was still bothered by their previous conversation and he wasn't about to let Merlin off the hook that easily. But when he saw a young, blond boy enter with his breakfast tray that was most definitely not his manservant, Arthur felt himself go from calm to irate in a few second flat.
Consequently, the first words out of his mouth were: "Where's Merlin?" And they were perhaps a little harsher than he would have liked.
"I'm not sure, sire," the boy responded, avoiding eye contact as he started placing Arthur's breakfast on his table.
Arthur frowned. "You must have some idea, if you're here instead of him. Who sent you?" he demanded, taking a few steps towards the table.
"When I came to the kitchen this morning I was told to bring you your food, my lord," the boy told him quietly, continuing the task of serving Arthur his breakfast.
"By who?" Arthur pressed, leaning forward and resting his palms against the cool wood table in front of him. He needed to know just where in the hell his manservant had disappeared to this morning. The boy glanced up to meet Arthur's piercing gaze quickly before casting his eyes downward again, almost fearfully. It was such a bizarre feeling, the quiet submissiveness that this boy demonstrated. He was an example of everything that a good servant embodied. It made Arthur feel a little uneasy, though he couldn't explain why.
"By Edel, my lord," the boy answered a moment later. "One of the other kitchen staff."
Well that solved nothing, Arthur mused to himself. "And who informed Edel?" he found himself asking, knowing full well that it was unlikely that this servant would actually know.
"I'm afraid I don't know, sire," he responded with a humbled tuck of his chin, confirming what Arthur already knew.
Arthur heaved a frustrated sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. "Well-" he began, but quickly realized that he had no idea what this servant's name was. He struggled to remember if he'd ever been told while instinctively knowing that he probably had.
Thankfully the boy seemed to catch on quickly. "My name's Henry, sire," he said, still carefully keeping his eyes averted.
"Henry, go find out from Edel who gave the order to have you deliver my breakfast this morning and come report back to me with a name," Arthur ordered, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Henry nodded. "Yes, my lord," he said, and briskly hurried out the door.
Arthur remained standing for a few more moments, feeling a mixture of frustration, anger, and something else that he couldn't quite put his finger on. After a few moments he sat at the table and picked at the food in front of him. But he wasn't really all that hungry.
It was a couple hours later when Arthur heard a soft knock at his chamber doors. He wondered who it could possibly be. Henry had returned shortly after Arthur had sent him away, only to report that Edel had told the boy to bring Arthur his food when Merlin failed to show up at his usual time that morning. It was possibly the most unhelpful piece of information he could have hoped for and after the boy tidied his room and removed his bed sheets, Arthur dismissed him. The boy was thoroughly annoying and Arthur simply did not have the patience to deal with the likes of him today.
And since he currently had no servant in his chambers, Arthur realized that he would have to answer the door himself. With a resigned sigh, he strode over to the door and pulled it open to reveal the smiling face of Gwen.
"Good afternoon, your highness," Gwen greeted him cheerfully. It wasn't such a surprise that she and Merlin were such close friends, Arthur thought. They both had the same utterly gleeful countenance, and sometimes Arthur had to wonder what they could possibly have in their lives that could explain such a thing.
"Hello Gwen," Arthur began, forcing a polite smile in return. "What can I do for you?"
"Well actually, I was looking for Merlin," she started with a wry smile. "I want him. Well no, not want him, exactly. Not at all. What I mean is that I need him. Well, I don't actually need him, need him. I just wanted to know if he was here because we're supposed to go and gather some supplies for Gaius and since he wasn't there I thought he might be here with you, since he's your servant and all."
Arthur watched and listened to Gwen as she became more and more animated throughout her long-winded spiel, brows rising higher and higher with every word she spoke. Finally he held up a hand to silence her, but the gesture was kind.
"Gwen, he's not here," Arthur interrupted, before she had a chance to carry on further.
"He's not?" She sounded surprised. Folding her arms across her chest, she gazed up at him with a quizzical look. "Do you know where he is, my lord?"
Arthur huffed. That was the ultimate question today, it would seem. "He hasn't been here all morning. The last time I saw him was yesterday evening," Arthur told her, backing away from the door and gesturing for Gwen to come inside.
"Well that doesn't seem like Merlin at all," Gwen muttered as she entered his chambers, the beginnings of a frown forming on her face.
"Not really, no," Arthur found himself agreeing. Merlin had been late more times than Arthur could count, but never this long. At least not without some sort of reason. The previous night's conversation continued to dance around the edges of his mind, but he quickly shoved it aside.
"Where do you think he could be?" Gwen asked in quiet contemplation, though Arthur wasn't entirely sure if she was asking him directly or thinking out loud.
"I don't know. Maybe he befriended a deer and is hanging out in the woods. Maybe he was on his way this morning and fell over his clumsy feet somewhere along the way. There are a million possibilities." He hoped the sarcasm came through and not the hint of concern that he couldn't seem to extinguish.
The prince's words seemed to have been enough, though, as Gwen's smile began to return. "You're right. I'm sure it's nothing." She turned her eyes downward. "Sorry to bother you sire," she said with a curtsy, turning to leave.
But before she was able to take more than one step out the door, they both heard the sound of people shouting just outside Arthur's window. Without a moment's pause, Arthur rushed over to his bedroom window and looked out into the courtyard. A moment later he felt Gwen's presence right behind him. There seemed to be a crowd quickly gathering at the gates to the palace and by all appearances they were surrounding whoever had just entered the gates. Arthur was unable to see what was going on, but he could tell that many of his knights were getting involved.
"What's going on?" he heard Gwen ask.
"I don't know," Arthur answered honestly, feeling his heart rate unexpectedly quicken. He shot her a quick glance before silently turning and walking briskly out of his room, heading in the direction of the commotion.
In the few short minutes it took Arthur to walk through the castle and out the front door, he found that the original crowd had nearly doubled in size. Arthur could not explain the unease he felt the closer he got to the group, but his heart rate had steadily increased since leaving his chambers. There was a large part of him that really didn't want to know what the fuss was all about. Because that way he wouldn't have to face whatever fear it was that was slowly building in him. But he knew that was defective logic. He was the prince and he had a duty to the people of Camelot to deal with whatever issues came their way. This situation was no different.
"Out of the way!" Arthur commanded, pushing roughly through the people on the outskirts of the crowd. He didn't particularly care about being polite when he had no idea what he was dealing with. It only took a moment for the onlookers to realize that their prince was demanding a clear path before they began to voluntarily part for him.
When he finally made it to the source of the commotion, the sight in front of him brought Arthur to a complete halt. There was one horse covered in red stains. Beside the horse stood a man who was being supported heavily by two of his knights. His blue tunic was stained crimson, though it was unclear as to whom the blood belonged to. It took Arthur a moment to realize that the man was Gaius, and that he was arguing with the knights helping him. But the thing that made Arthur feel sick – the sight that literally knocked the breath from his lungs – was of the crumpled, bloody mess lying on the ground in the lap of one of his knights. It was clearly a man, but the amount of blood and filth covering him made it hard to tell for sure. Arthur had seen many war injuries before, but this one hit him like a full blown punch to the gut because there was only one man Arthur knew that wore a neckerchief.
"Merlin," he whispered, and for a moment wasn't entirely sure that he'd even said the word at all. But then he heard someone scream from behind him – probably Gwen – and he knew that it was true.
Arthur felt like he might be sick right there in front of everyone, but at the last moment he managed to pull himself together and force a sort of detachment from the situation so he could figure out what was going on.
"Is he…?" Arthur asked Percival, the knight currently supporting Merlin's body on the ground, letting the question hang darkly in the air. He didn't want to finish the sentence…didn't really know that he even wanted to find out the answer.
"He's still breathing," Percival replied after what felt like an eternity. Arthur released the breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding, thanking the gods for that one useful piece of information.
Tearing his focus away from his manservant for a moment, Arthur looked over at the court physician and his long time friend. "Gaius, are you all right?" he asked tentatively.
"I'm fine," came the rough reply. And though he didn't look fine, Gaius was able to stand and speak, so Arthur knew he was already worlds ahead of Merlin.
"What happened?" Arthur demanded, but all strength and force was drained from his voice.
"We were attacked by bandits, sire," Gaius muttered, and Arthur could swear that he saw tears forming in the elder man's eyes. "Merlin tried to protect me, but they were too strong. He took the brunt of the…" Gaius stopped speaking as his voice broke, and Arthur had to avert his gaze.
Turning his attention to the knights and guards standing around the scene, Arthur addressed them. "We need to get them both inside. Now!"
Gaius immediately began protesting that he could walk just fine on his own. But when his legs started to shake after a couple steps he reluctantly accepted the support once again. Two of the castle guards – both tall, muscular men – moved to lift Merlin from the ground. But something suddenly felt wrong, and Arthur didn't want anyone else touching his servant.
"No." The word was firm and directive and both guards immediately halted their actions, turning to glance quizzically at the prince. He could see the challenge and doubt in their eyes, but his meaning was painfully clear. So without another word, the men backed away from Merlin and made room for Arthur.
Taking a steadying breath, Arthur knelt down beside Merlin, swallowing the bile that rose in his throat once again. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, mentally attempting to ignore the excessive amount of blood that surrounded and covered the man, before gently pulling Merlin into his arms. He was not a small man by any stretch of the imagination, but Arthur found he could easily bear his weight. Holding Merlin closely to him, Arthur walked as quickly as he could reasonably manage, muttering soft words in a failed attempt to sooth the cries of pain that poured from his servant and friend.
Gaius seemed to have recovered some of his strength on the walk back to his workshop. By the time Arthur made it there with Merlin, he was bustling about the room, throwing orders around at various servants and preparing to attend to the injured man. Arthur couldn't imagine how difficult this must have been for Gaius, to be treating the man who was like a son to him for near-death injuries. Again.
Arthur knelt before the bed that had been set up for Merlin and lowered the man down into it as gently as he could, cringing at the sharp cry of pain he heard. Gaius began working on removing Merlin's bloodied clothes so he could get at the injuries the moment Arthur had managed to remove his arms from under his body. Stepping back so as to not get in the way, Arthur watched with a sort of detached, sick feeling as Gaius and Gwen and several other servants bustled about the room.
He didn't think he could stand to stay there any longer, when a young page approached him and fearfully informed Arthur that his father wished to see him immediately. He wasn't sure he'd ever been so grateful to be summoned anywhere in his life.
Uther was waiting for Arthur when he arrived. He stood and walked across the room to stand opposite his son. The King eyed Arthur curiously, an unreadable expression on his face, and folded his arms across his chest. With a wave he dismissed the servants in the room, then gestured for Arthur to take a seat. Arthur didn't move, so neither did Uther.
"Tell me what happened," Uther requested, cutting to the chase immediately. He'd never been one for beating around the bush.
"Gaius and Merlin were attacked but a group of bandits in the forest," Arthur informed him, feeling his chest tighten unexpectedly.
"What were they doing out there?" Uther questioned.
Arthur faltered. He had no idea. It was something he hadn't even begun to start considering. "I'm not sure, my lord," was his only reply.
Uther's face remained deceptively blank. "Are they all right?"
"Gaius appeared to be pretty shaken and worn out, but it would appear that any physical injuries he suffered were minimal," Arthur reported.
The King nodded, seemingly please with this answer, though one would not be able to tell based on his expression. "And the boy?"
"Merlin," Arthur stated firmly, suddenly feeling annoyed. But he immediately regretting the tone he had used and hoped that his father hadn't noticed. Unfortunately, a slight flicker of confusion passed across Uther's face, and Arthur knew that it wasn't the case. He continued to speak anyway. "He was badly injured. I don't know the extent of these injuries at the present time."
"You were the one who brought him back to the castle, I assume," Uther responded, sounding as if he already knew the answer. His expression revealed something akin to concern, and Arthur felt a little uncomfortable.
"How did you know?' he began, folding his arms to mirror the stance of his father, though it was more defensive than anything else.
Uther did not respond, merely letting his gaze quickly scan Arthur. The small act was not lost on the younger Pendragon, and he lowered his own gaze, uncrossing his arms in the process. It only took Arthur a fraction of a second to clue in to what his father had figured out right from the start. A long trail of crimson extended from one shoulder to the other, dipping down to his waste so that virtually the entire front of his shirt was stained in blood – Merlin's blood. He hadn't even realized this was the case, instead having focused on getting Merlin back to Gaius' workshop in one piece.
"Oh," was all Arthur could muster when he finally looked up to meet his father's imploring stare.
Thankfully Uther, for once in his life, let the issue drop. Though Arthur was sure they'd have to discuss it at some point in the future. "I assume you will be seeing to this matter personally," Uther asked, though it once again sounded more like a statement of fact then a question.
Arthur nodded. "It shouldn't take us long to track down this group of bandits and bring them to justice for their crimes," he informed his father.
"Make sure that it doesn't," Uther warned him before dismissing Arthur to clean himself up.
Arthur absolutely did not dwell on the fact that his clothes were literally soaked in Merlin's blood as he peeled them from his body. This was not such an unusual occurrence in his life. Even in his short years on earth, he had been involved in many battles and been covered in the blood of both friend and foe alike. Maybe not quite to this extent, but it wasn't really beyond what he often dealt with. He'd seen men come back from the brink of death before, with even worse injuries than Merlin had suffered. Everything would be fine, he reasoned. This was just another regular day.
Yet for another typical day, Arthur sure didn't feel like it was.
The rest of the day passed by quickly. Arthur spent the next several hours wandering around, interviewing people and trying to get to the bottom of what happened, attempting to find out if anyone had any information on the whereabouts of the bandits. Arthur conducted most of the interviews himself, though sent one of his knights to speak to some of the individuals in the castle, including Gaius. The prince reasoned that it made more sense for him to send someone else while he was in town. They could accomplish more work and obtain more information that way. It had nothing to do with the fact that he didn't want to have to see Merlin in that broken and beaten state once again. At least that's what he firmly told himself over and over.
While Arthur was conducting interviews, he sent some scouts out into the forest to try and track the location of the bandits. By the time he was done a couple of the scouts had returned, and Arthur retired to his chambers to look over the reports. He was determined to find these people as soon as he possibly could. He would not allow such a crime to go unpunished.
That evening, as Henry was cleaning up his chambers and turning down his sheets for the night, Morgana decided to pay him a visit.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" he asked suspiciously, pushing back his chair and rising to stand.
"I just wanted to see how things were going with your investigation," Morgana replied, looking unusually serious as she walked over to the table beside which Arthur stood.
"It's going all right. I've gathered a lot of information already. I think we should have them soon," he told her, though it wasn't the complete truth. Arthur hadn't uncovered nearly as much as he'd hoped to by this point. They did not know what direction the bandits had headed, nor did they know who these men were. Which meant that he had a lot of work ahead of him tomorrow. But it wasn't a complete loss.
Morgana nodded, as if she wasn't particularly concerned with those details. "I spoke with Gwen not too long ago," she informed him in a tone that implied she had some important insider information.
Arthur waved a hand errantly when she didn't immediately continue. "And?"
"And she tells me that you haven't been by to see Merlin today," she shared, shooting him a half-glare.
Arthur quirked a brow. "And this is relevant to my investigation how?"
"It's not. That's the point."
Arthur huffed in annoyance. Why did he constantly have to deal with this woman? "Look, I have work to do, so if you wouldn't mind getting to the point or leaving me alone, that would be great." He knew his words were harsh, but he really didn't have time for this right now. He'd managed to get through most of his day without thinking (too much) about Merlin and the condition he was in. Arthur was not about to allow Morgana to push his buttons right now.
"I just think your focus is on the wrong thing," Morgana offered with a casual shrug that was far more than just casual.
Arthur felt his chest constrict slightly at her words, but he pushed the feeling aside. "Well I appreciate your concern. It has been dully noted," Arthur told her diplomatically and turned away, hoping she would take the hint and leave him alone.
When he heard his door close softly behind him, Arthur let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
Sleep that night was fitful at best, filled with nightmares that Arthur was grateful he didn't remember.
The next day Arthur had only one mission – to track down the bandits that were threatening Camelot's safety. He worked hard, barely taking time to eat anything or stop for a break. But his lack of progress was immensely frustrating, and part way through the day he decided that he would have to go do some investigating of his own if he expected to ever find these bandits. As it was, they already had over a day's head start on Arthur.
Arthur pointedly kept himself busy. So busy that he didn't have time to concentrate on much else. He was finding the lack of sleep somewhat distracting, but he knew that he had no choice but to continue on. He owed it to Gaius, and especially to Merlin, to track down the people that had tried to kill them.
But as it turned out, Arthur apparently wasn't going to be getting much sleep that night either. Morgana burst into his room once again, later on that evening, a look of indignant fury on her face. She stormed over to where Arthur sat at his table, maps and reports strewn haphazardly around the area.
"Have you even gone to see Merlin today?" she demanded instantly, apparently not interested in wasting any time in getting to the point of her late night visit.
Arthur glanced up at her with a look of disinterest and heaved a heavy sigh. "I've been busy," he muttered, returning his focus to the papers in front of him.
"Oh yeah? Doing what?" she challenged, hands on her hips. Arthur refused to meet her gaze, but could literally feel the glare she was shooting him.
"I'm trying to track down that group of bandits, if you must know," he responded, and was surprised to hear how calm and collected his voice sounded.
Morgana let out a noise that sounded very much like a scoff. "And there's no one else who could be doing this instead?"
Arthur took a deep breath, trying to calm his slowly fraying nerves. Morgana could be a beast when she set her mind to it, and he was not in the mood to be having this conversation right now. Especially not when he hadn't slept for the past two nights. Never mind the fact that she was technically correct. There were plenty of other people who could be hunting down the insurgents, and in fact he was well aware that there were people trained to do just that. But Arthur wasn't the type of person who could just sit around and wait for things to be taken care of and hope that they would be done properly. Who knew who else these bandits would injure if given the opportunity? And by busying his mind with this project, Arthur found he didn't have as much time to think about what had happened…what shape Merlin had been in when they'd found him…
He shook his head, as though physically banishing the thought from his mind, and forced himself to meet Morgana's stern gaze. "There's no one I trust enough to do it properly," he finally shared. And for what it was worth, it was the truth.
Morgana pressed her lips together and he could actually see her expression soften, the coldness in her eyes melt away. She took a step closer to the table and took a seat directly across from him, folding her hands delicately, though there was nothing delicate about Morgana when she was in a raging fury.
"And there was no way for you to take some time out of your busy day to come and see Merlin for even ten minutes?" Her words were still stern, but some of the edge was gone.
"And do what, Morgana? Talk about the weather? Tell him he's an idiot? Sing songs and hope that he'll wake up?" Arthur threw his hands up in the air, frustrated. What did she expect from him? Certainly not to spend his every waking moment with his manservant when there were a million other more productive things he could be doing.
"At least he'd know that you cared," she retorted, folding her arms across her chest.
Arthur pointedly decided to ignore that accusation, though he couldn't seem to prevent the sting of her words either way. Did she really think that little of him? Scowling, he glared at Morgana. "He probably doesn't even know that anyone's there are all," he argued, knowing full well that he'd not only avoided the question but had also provided a lame rebuttal.
"Maybe," Morgana acquiesced, surprising Arthur momentarily. "But maybe he does know. What if the situation were reversed? Wouldn't you want to know that he was there for you?"
"He'd probably manage to drop something on my head, or set my bed on fire, or do something equally stupid to further complicate my injuries," Arthur replied, attempting to smirk. But the gesture fell completely flat; even he knew there was nothing funny about the comment.
"You really are a prat," Morgana grumbled, rolling her eyes and standing up.
"Don't call me that," Arthur immediately spat, voice cold and hard. Merlin was the only one who called him that, and she knew it. Arthur knew that she was trying to push his buttons, and it annoyed him how easily she was able to succeed.
"Then don't behave like one," she shot back, folding her arms across her chest and coming to stand in front of him, a frown planted neatly on her face. "Why is it so hard for you to admit that you care about him? That he means something to you?"
"He's just my manservant. He's easily replaceable," Arthur defended, but instantly cursed the cruel words that he had let slip from his mouth. They were untrue – both knew this – but he felt like he was being backed into a corner. And Arthur found that these days there were times when he spoke without thinking, no doubt another example of a certain individual's influence on his life. Arthur stood awkwardly and walked over to his bedroom window, as much to distract his mind as to avoid Morgana's horrified glare.
Several moments passed in silence as Arthur struggled to calm the insanity that had invaded his mind, and for a moment he thought that perhaps Morgana had finally tired of him and run away. This turned out to be the wrong assumption when he heard soft footsteps coming up behind him.
"Arthur…" Morgana began, and he felt her rest a gentle hand on his left shoulder. He tensed slightly at the unexpected contact, but quickly relaxed into the touch. "What if Merlin had died and you hadn't been there?"
Her words were soft – barely above a whisper – but they hit him like a punch to the gut, and Arthur felt like the wind had literally been knocked out of him. What if Merlin had died yesterday or today and Arthur hadn't even…? Hadn't even what? Hadn't gone to visit? Hadn't told him how much he appreciated him? Hadn't told him he was sorry for allowing this to happen in the first place? Merlin was without a doubt the worst manservant he had ever had. His daily incompetence and insubordination would have been enough to have him sent to the dungeons by anyone else with a reasonable mind. And yet Merlin was honestly and truly the best friend he had ever had in his life. He challenged him unlike any other, drove him to near madness on a regular basis, but also proved to be fiercely loyal and a great source of entertainment when he wasn't driving Arthur up the wall. And most importantly, Merlin liked and respected Arthur the man, not merely Arthur the crowned Prince. The thought of him dying was unfathomable and so he'd refused to even think the thought. But with Morgana forcing him to confront that possibility, he was feeling more and more ill as time passed.
"He's stronger then that," Arthur finally stated feebly, pressing his right hand to his forehead and covering his eyes. How was it that he felt so weak all of a sudden?
"You'd better hope he is," Morgana's stated quietly, a touch of sorrow and sympathy laced into her soft voice. And then, just as suddenly as she'd arrived, she was gone once again, leaving Arthur to his unwelcome and unwanted thoughts.
It was barely past breakfast the next morning when Arthur found himself standing outside Gaius' workshop. He hesitated for only a moment before reaching up and knocking heavily on the door. A few moments later, Gauis pulled back the door to look into the prince's face.
"Sire," he said warmly, though there was no mistaking the surprise in his voice. "Come in." Gaius stood back and allowed Arthur to enter the room, following behind him. There were remnants of breakfast still on the table, and bottles, vials, herbs and books littered the room. This was perhaps the most disorganized Arthur had ever seen Gaius' chambers, though he found he wasn't particularly interested in that at the moment.
"I'm here to see Merlin…" Arthur began, knowing full well that it was probably obvious, but stopped himself both physically and verbally upon catching a glimpse of Merlin, lying on a bed off to the side of the room. Gwen sat beside him on a small stool, wiping his forehead with a cloth. As soon as she saw Arthur, she gave him a light smile and instinctively stood. But he barely noticed her presence though, as his eyes came to settle squarely on Merlin. He looked only slightly better than he had two days ago, but it was hardly an improvement.
He somehow found that his legs had begun to act of their own accord, bringing him across the room to where Merlin lay. Arthur took a seat beside Merlin on the stool that he was only vaguely aware had been recently vacated for him by Gwen. As he watched the rise and fall of Merlin's chest – because it was easier to look at his chest then his face – Arthur felt a renewed sense of rage begin to boil in his blood once again. It always angered Arthur to see an innocent citizen injured in such a brutal and heartless manner by people who were lower than scum. But this wasn't just any citizen. This time it was his manservant…his friend…Merlin.
He vaguely registered hearing a soft cough and redirected his attention to Gaius. He looked more worn and weary than Arthur had remembered seeing the man in quite some time.
"Sire, I need to run a couple errands and retrieve some fresh bandages for Merlin. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to stay with him for a few moments?" Gaius questioned, gathering up some supplies and placing it into the sack he had placed around his shoulder.
Arthur felt an instant moment of panic at the thought of being left alone with Merlin. What if something happened while Gaius was gone? It felt like too much responsibility. "What about Gwen?" he asked quickly, looking between the two of them.
Gwen opened her mouth to speak, but Gaius beat her to it. "I require her services as well, my lord. The more help I have, the quicker I can return," he told the prince, voice forceful and yet convincing in a way that only Gaius was able to be.
"And what would you have me do?" Arthur asked uncertainly.
"Just keep him cool with the cloth inside that bucket," Gaius responded, pointing to the pail that rested beside the bed. "He developed a fever early this morning and we need to get that under control as soon as possible."
Arthur opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again once he caught Gaius' gaze. He suspected that the physician was attempting to give him some time with Merlin and so he didn't argue. "Yes, all right," he agreed, looking down at Merlin once again.
"Thank you, sire. We shall return as soon as possible," Gaius told him with a grateful smile, and a moment later he and Gwen were gone.
Arthur heaved a sigh, running a hand down his face before allowing his arm to drop back to his side. He tilted forward, resting his arms on his thighs, as he looked down at the man lying in front of him. There were still several blue-ish purple bruises around his eyes, the skin swollen and damp from sweat. Merlin's lower lip swelled, a long string of dried blood seemingly the only thing holding the delicate skin in place. There was a long gash that began just under the left side of his jaw and trailed down to his shoulder and out of sight. Various other large gashes and cuts littered Merlin's soft features. His skin was frighteningly pale, highlighted even further by the darkness of his cuts and bruises and the damp brown hair that was matted to his forehead. The sight caused Arthur's stomach to plummet to his feet, and once again found himself biting back the rage he felt.
Reaching down to the pail of cool water that rested near his feet, Arthur pulled out the cold cloth and rung out the excess water. He brought the cloth up to Merlin's face and with a gentleness he didn't even know he possessed, lightly pressed the cloth to one cheek and then the other. Arthur could literally feel the heat of Merlin's fever radiating from his body and was almost surprised he didn't hear a hiss when the cool cloth touched his face.
A few moments later he dipped the warming cloth into the cold water once again. Brushing an errant strand of sweat soaked hair from Merlin's forehead, Arthur placed the cloth across his brow and sat back with another sigh. He watched the gentle rise and fall of Merlin's chest for several moments, as if still trying to convince himself that the boy was alive, before feeling the compulsion to talk.
"Morgana seems to think that you might be able to hear what people are saying to you," Arthur began quietly, though his voice seemed to reverberate in the stillness of the room. "I think she's crazy," he added, almost as an after thought.
But after a few moments of silence, he found his mouth was suddenly moving of its own accord. "You really are a blasted idiot, Merlin," Arthur muttered, shaking his head. But there was no malice in his voice. Only frustration and a hint of sorrow. "Always getting into trouble and needing me to fix it for you." Arthur paused for a moment to look around Gaius' workshop once more, ensuring that they were in fact alone.
"I know I've said it before, but it's worth saying again. You are without a doubt the worst manservant I have ever had. And I've had many servants in my lifetime," Arthur shared, feeling somewhat guilty about the way he'd started off this lovely one-sided conversation. But this was how they were, how they usually interacted. And somehow it made talking to an uncharacteristically silent Merlin a little easier to deal with.
"You barely do any tasks with any sort of actual skill. I'm amazed when you get even one thing right, which is very rare. You constantly disobey my orders, or choose to ignore them completely. You're always challenging my actions, my views and my authority. I have half a mind to think that you're not scared of me in the least. You don't even have the decency to show me proper respect. What servant calls their master by their given name?" Arthur shook his head and almost had to stifle a laugh. Merlin really was something else. But perhaps the most telling sign of all was that in spite of all Merlin's faults, Arthur allowed him to carry on just as he was. Enjoyed things the way they were, even. It was something he never would have permitted his previous servants to do, and he wondered when Merlin had managed to have such a profound impact on him.
He heard Merlin groan then and Arthur's eyes flickered to the man's face, scanning it quickly to ensure that he was okay. He still looked as uncomfortable as before, and he was definitely not awake. Arthur reached up to feel the cloth and was surprised when his hand came into contact with its warmth. The cloth had barely just been put on his forehead and already it was burning up again.
Arthur dipped the cloth into the cool water once more and gingerly returned it back to Merlin's forehead.
"I don't really want to have to have to break in a new manservant," Arthur started, feeling slightly more comfortable talking out loud to his silent friend. "Goodness knows that my life would probably be in order, things would be clean and organized, I would be shown the respect I deserve, and I could probably accomplish way more in my day..." he trailed off, suddenly deciding that he didn't really need to finish that sentence.
"The fact of the matter is that you were right the other day when you said I'd get bored with you if you started acting like a proper servant." The admission was a little easier than he thought it would be. So much for taking that one to the grave, though, he thought wryly.
Merlin continued to breath softly, chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. The silence that hung in the room was insufferable, and Arthur felt the urge to keep talking just to avoid the quiet of the room.
"I'll have you know that you ruined one of my favourite shirts," Arthur told him, quirking his lips ever so slightly. "That's going to be one hell of a stain for you to clean when you're feeling better," he added, feeling like he needed to ease some of the tension in the room. The truth of the matter was that Arthur had literally burned that shirt two nights ago. He could never wear it again, even if by some miracle someone had been able to remove the blood stains. It would only serve as a reminder of this event…whatever it was.
"Just…make sure you get better," Arthur finally said, bending forward and resting his head in his hands. After a moment he lifted his head, resting his chin on his right palm. "A good King needs a good friend and advisor to make sure he doesn't lose his perspective." The rest was left unspoken, but Arthur hoped that if Merlin could hear him, he'd know who it was that Arthur had been referring to.
Arthur reached for the cloth resting on Merlin's forehead, but stopped his hand midway there. He couldn't explain why, but he suddenly felt an inexplicable desire to wrap his arms around Merlin and somehow take away his pain. Without a doubt, he would make the individuals who did this to him suffer in the same way Merlin was now suffering. Instead of removing the cloth, Arthur found his fingers lightly brushing the hair away from his forehead and the side of his face, and he found himself quickly becoming overwhelmed by his emotions. Deciding that it was all too much for him to handle right now, Arthur found that had to turn away once again.
There was a sound from behind him all of a sudden, and Arthur whipped around in his chair, instinctively grabbing for the hilt of his sword. But when he saw who it was he immediately relaxed, letting go of the sword and allowing his arms to rest at his side.
"Hunith," Arthur managed to choke out. "I didn't realize…I mean, I didn't know you were here. Though of course it would make sense that you'd be here." Arthur let out a tense sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry. You just startled me," he admitted, meeting her gaze.
"I'm sorry for giving you a fright," Hunith said, shooting him a sad smile. She made her way towards Arthur, taking a seat on a nearby chair. The prince followed suit, sitting once again on the stool beside Merlin, but this time facing the man's mother.
"That's quite all right," Arthur found himself responding, though he didn't think it was really necessary. Hunith smiled at him all the same. Her smile was so similar to Merlin's sometimes that it still shocked Arthur.
They remained in companionable silence for a moment before Arthur felt compelled to say something. "I'm sorry about Merlin." And then, without really thinking he added, "And I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect him." His voice was barely audible, but Hunith seemed to have heard him.
She shook her head and let out a small laugh. "You know as well as I that Merlin is perfectly capable of finding trouble on his own, even with a watchful eye on him," she told him firmly, her gaze intense. "He's been like this ever since he was a boy."
Arthur couldn't seem to stop the soft smile that graced his features momentarily. "That's an understatement," he admitted, thinking back to all the times he'd already had to bail Merlin out of hot water in the short time they'd known one another.
"So don't you dare take the blame or allow yourself to feel guilt for this situation," Hunith informed Arthur. He couldn't help but feel like he was being scolded, and yet he welcomed it with open arms. He nodded solemnly, turning to watch Merlin once more.
Silence sat in the air between them, save for Merlin's steady breathing, but it was comfortable and supportive somehow. Arthur felt like her presence lifted some sort of weight off of his shoulders, though he couldn't quite explain how or why.
"He thinks the world of you, you know," Hunith finally offered.
Arthur's head shot around to stare in shock at the woman across from him. "I can't possibly imagine why," he mumbled, refusing to acknowledge the hint of disappointment that snuck into his voice. "I tell him all the time what a terrible servant he is. I'm constantly berating him for one thing or another. He's told me numerous times exactly what he thinks of me, even though I could have him thrown in the stocks for a week. Which I sometimes do..." Arthur stopped, not wanting to further explore this line of thought.
"But you trust him and you support him when he needs it," she pointed out delicately, eyes soft and imploring. "He can count on you in the same way you can count on him. I've heard the way he speaks about you and the way he speaks to you. You're very important to him, contrary to what it might seem."
Arthur felt something warm swell in his chest at her words. Truth be told, he wasn't even entirely sure what to even say to that. Except to admit that he was a little surprised by her admission. Though if he really took the time to think about it, he supposed she was correct. Arthur had gone out on a limb for Merlin more than once. But truth be told, Merlin had done the same for him. He'd never had a servant that cared that much about him. Especially not enough to risk their life to save his. Sure, part of a servant's duty was to offer their life as a sacrifice for their master, if it came down to it. But Merlin would do it even if he hadn't sworn to do so. Even if Arthur sacked him and he had absolutely no reason at all, except for the sole fact that Arthur was his friend. And if he really was being honest with himself, he would do the same for Merlin. It was somewhat of an overwhelming feeling, given the precarious situation Merlin was currently in. So instead of responding with a million words that he wouldn't be able to properly choose, he decided not to speak at all, favouring the idea of reapplying Merlin's cool cloth once more.
"You care about him too," Hunith remarked when he was finished. It wasn't a question. It was an observation.
Arthur sat up straight, craning his neck to peer at Merlin's mother and immediately found himself wanting to protest. But he didn't. "Yes," he responded instead, and felt some relief that he'd said it and the world hadn't imploded.
"You're a good man Arthur Pendragon. You're going to make a fine King some day," Hunith told him with a bright smile.
"Thank you," Arthur responded, genuinely touched. He would have to make a point to spend more time with Hunith the next time she was out to visit. Hopefully under better circumstances.
Arthur was plotting the perfect time to bring her back to Camelot for another visit when Gaius and Gwen returned from their errands. With a gentle pat to Merlin's shoulder and a smile to the other three occupants in the room, Arthur headed back to his chambers to get ready to hunt down the bandits that had done this in the first place.
A couple hours after his visit to Merlin, Arthur and a few of his knights were preparing to leave in search of the bandits who had attacked him and Gaius. The most recent reports indicated that they were closer to Camelot than had originally been presumed and they finally had enough information to make a move. Arthur was having a hard time believing that they could be quite that stupid, but he certainly wasn't complaining. It made his job a hell of a lot easier, though Arthur was admittedly pissed off that it had taken him almost two full days to find them.
Still, it was water under the bridge if they were indeed able to capture the renegades.
Henry was able to prepare him to ride out in an unexpectedly efficient amount of time. His armour was spotless and his horse was ready to go before Arthur even made it to the stables. He was respectful and obedient and Arthur couldn't even find anything to scold him for. Henry seemed like a nice person and he was an exemplary servant. But he was painfully dull, and Arthur couldn't wait until he could finally sack the kid. He'd make sure he was rewarded for his excellent service first, though.
Arthur and his men found the bandit camp only a couple hours ride Southwest of Camelot. The entire showdown was anti-climatic in the end. There was a group of four of them but they were certainly not in any position to fight back. All four of the men looked to be in nearly as bad shape as Merlin was. It was a wonder they were even still alive at all, but it explained why they hadn't made much distance since the initial attack.
By all appearances this group had almost been literally mauled and left for dead shortly after they'd attacked Gaius and Merlin. Arthur had to admit that it was a very coincidental and bizarre twist of fate, but was pleased with how conveniently it had worked out in the end. Of course, now he knew that there was yet another group of insurgents on the loose. But that was a mission for another day. Besides, the men absolutely weren't providing Arthur with any further information on this second group, so he was left with no other option.
Ultimately, the group of bandits went willingly with Arthur as prisoners, and by the time he returned to Camelot it was still relatively early in the evening.
Henry had a hot bath prepared for him by the time Arthur returned to his chambers. And after dismissing the boy, Arthur peeled off his damp and dirty clothes, feeling some of the tension in his body finally melt away had he sunk into the warm water. He remained in the water until his fingers and toes started to wrinkle, but it was the most relaxed Arthur had felt in days.
It wasn't until some time later that Gwen stopped by to inform him that Merlin's fever had broke, and he was conscious and aware.
Arthur deliberately waited at least a half an hour before finally heading out to see Merlin. He'd been to Gaius' workshop more in the past few days than he had in months. At the very least since the last time Merlin had been deathly ill. This was starting to become a habit that Arthur hoped would not continue.
When he arrived, Hunith, Gwen and Morgana were all sitting around Merlin's bed, smiling and talking softly. Gaius was nowhere to be seen, though it was entirely possible he had already retired for the night. It was starting to get late. All three heads turned to stare at him as he entered the room.
Arthur moved until he was in Merlin's line of vision. He caught Merlin's eyes briefly before returning his attention to the three women.
"It seems a little crowded in here. Perhaps I should come back later," Arthur suggested, though he honestly didn't know how much longer he'd be able to stay awake.
But before he'd even finished his sentence, Morgana was standing up. "Don't be silly," she exclaimed, waving her hands dismissively at him. "Gwen and I were just leaving, weren't we Gwen?" she announced, turning to look at her maidservant.
"Oh. Right," Gwen agreed hastily, shooting a quick smirk at Hunith and then Merlin before following dutifully after Morgana. Arthur had to use all of his will power not to roll his eyes at the two of them, though he was appreciative of the gesture.
"I should be retiring for the night too," Hunith added a moment later, standing up and moving to kiss Merlin on the forehead. "Sleep well, my boy," she whispered, and looked at him so lovingly that it made Arthur long for that kind of motherly love too.
"Don't keep him up too late," she directed towards Arthur with a wink.
Arthur chuckled as Merlin responded, "Mum!" in his whiniest voice.
"I won't," he promised, raising one hand in oath. She seemed to be satisfied with his promise and made her way into the other room without another word. Arthur grabbed one of the stools and pulled it up right beside Merlin's bed, plopping down on it without his usual grace.
"Boy you sure know how to clear a room," he heard Merlin joke, voice slightly raspy.
"Shut up Merlin," Arthur ordered, but it was nothing short of affectionate.
Merlin grinned up at him, and even though he still looked terrible, he also looked content. And for the first time in nearly three days, Arthur grinned himself, unable to contain it.
"You look like crap," Arthur mused, biting back a laugh.
"Thank you," Merlin deadpanned. And maybe even rolled his eyes. But it was hard to tell under all the bruising and swelling.
"I wouldn't want you to think I'd gone soft or anything."
"Of course not, sire." There was definitely an eye roll that time.
Arthur did laugh with that comment and Merlin joined in. Arthur hadn't realized how much he'd missed Merlin's presence until this very moment. But there were still some things that needed to be discussed. "How are you feeling?" Arthur asked, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his thighs.
"Like a tree fell on top of me. A tree full of armour. And horses. And maybe a mace or two."
Arthur held back a sigh and tried to smile. "Yeah well, you need to toughen up."
"So it would seem," Merlin agreed reluctantly. Then abruptly changed the subject. "So do you have a new servant?"
"Yes," Arthur told him.
"Oh." Arthur couldn't help but think that he distinctly heard something resembling hurt in the man's voice.
"But only temporarily," he rushed on to assure Merlin with a smile.
Merlin grinned back at him. "Who is it?" he asked.
Arthur had to think for a moment. "Henry, I believe. Blond kid."
"He must be thrilled. He's a pretty big fan of yours," Merlin shared like a gossipy woman. Then got a mischievous smirk on his face. "Though I can't possibly imagine why."
Arthur feigned annoyance, which wasn't exactly hard to do. "Hey watch it. I can still have you sacked at any point in time," he reminded his bed-ridden friend.
"Yeah, but you won't," Merlin shared, his voice sounding so convinced that Arthur couldn't even keep up the façade.
"Probably not," Arthur admitted. "He does things with far more competence then I could ever hope to see again in the near future-" Merlin snorted, then closed his eyes for a moment, as if in pain. But a moment later he seemed fine, and indicated for Arthur to continue. "But he's so boring. I never thought I would get sick of hearing the word 'sire' before."
Merlin laughed once more and looked like he wanted to make some sort of sarcastic remark. But in the end he apparently chose to keep it to himself, as they fell into a comfortable silence instead. It was at least a minute or two before Merlin finally spoke up again.
"You look tired. Exhausted even." It was a comment, not a question.
Arthur raised a questioning brow. "And what makes you say that?"
"You're slumped over on the chair. Not your usual posture at all," Merlin shared. It looked like he was frowning, but Arthur couldn't quite tell.
"I'm fine," Arthur responded immediately. But then the universe had to continue working against him, and the next second he found himself yawning, in spite of his greatest attempts to hold it in.
"Your eyes are bloodshot," Merlin proceeded to point out, as if the evidence wasn't already piled up.
"Doesn't mean I'm tired," Arthur scoffed, though he had no idea why he was getting so defensive. The reality was that he was beyond exhausted. He just wasn't sure why he didn't want Merlin knowing this piece of information.
Merlin watched him for a few moments, almost as if sizing him up. Arthur didn't like it one bit, but he didn't say anything.
"Are you okay?" Merlin finally asked, and the genuine concern that came across in his voice was enough to melt away any frustration that had just been building.
"Yeah. I am now. It's just been…a trying few days," Arthur found himself admitting honestly, though it really sounded quite pathetic coming out of his mouth. Merlin had been the one struggling for his life. All Arthur had to do was track down and capture the idiots who had done this in the first place. Still, perhaps it was the lack of sleep finally catching up to him, but he just didn't have the energy or the heart to pretend that he was perfectly fine. Besides, Merlin was a damned genius when it came to figuring Arthur out. How he could be so utterly incompetent in everything else was still a wonder to Arthur.
"Morgana told me how worried you'd been," Merlin shared, voice barely above a whisper. Arthur made a mental note to hunt her down and kill her later. "Was I really that close to death?"
"I'm not sure," he answered honestly. "But it sure appeared that way."
Merlin seemed to consider this information very carefully for a few moments, lost deep in thought. "Thank you," he finally responded.
"For what?" Arthur asked, raising both brows questioningly. He really hadn't done anything worthy of praise, as far as he was concerned.
"For everything," Merlin answered. Though Arthur didn't consider it much of a useful answer. He frowned and folded his arms across his chest.
"I didn't do anything," Arthur told him gruffly, staring down at his legs. "You should be thanking Gaius and Gwen and your mother. Hell, even Morgana."
"So you didn't catch the people who did this to me?"
Arthur scoffed. "Of course I did."
"Then thank you."
"It was my duty," Arthur rebutted, wondering when he had become so humble. Normally he'd be boasting his own accomplishments like there was no tomorrow. This time, though, he didn't feel like he'd done anything particularly worthy of such praise.
Merlin raised one eyebrow, looking like he wanted to argue further, but thankfully decided to let Arthur have this one.
"So, anything exciting happen while I was unconscious?"
"I suppose I should get going," Arthur finally reluctantly admitted, nearly an hour later. He had given up trying to stay sitting upright on the stool and had instead moved to sit on the floor beside Merlin's bed, his head resting lightly on his left arm.
"If you can make it back to your room," Merlin joked with a grin. Arthur would have swatted him if he'd had the energy to do so, and if Merlin hadn't already experienced an inordinate amount of pain in the last couple days.
"I'm perfectly fine to walk back to my room, thank you," Arthur informed him, sitting up straight and attempting to stand. Merlin watched in amusement as Arthur made three valiant, though unsuccessful, attempts to get to his feet before finally settling back on the floor.
"I think I'll be fine to take a small nap here. Then I can head back after," Arthur informed Merlin with a huge yawn, as if he thought this was the most brilliant plan he'd ever come up with.
Resting his head back on the side of the bed, and closing his eyes, Arthur allowed himself to start drifting into sleep, in spite of being on the cold floor. He was almost asleep when he felt a tapping on the top of his head. Forcing one eye open he looked over to see Merlin hitting him on the head.
"You can't sleep on the floor. You'll freeze," Merlin informed him.
"There aren't really any other options," Arthur mumbled sleepily, closing his eye again.
But that incessant tapping wouldn't stop. So Arthur pried his eyes open and shot Merlin the nastiest glare he could muster in his current state. "What?!"
"You could sleep in the bed with me?" Merlin offered, patting the small space beside him.
Arthur grumbled to himself, annoyed. "Are you kidding me? There's not enough room."
"Sure there is. If I just move over a little, there's tons of room," Merlin told him. And without waiting for a response, he started to slowly shift to the outer edge of the bed, which did not prove to be an easy task. Arthur heard the grunts of pain and could feel the movement beneath his head. A minute or two later – which could just have easily been an hour, as far as Arthur was concerned – the movement stopped.
"Okay, there you go," Merlin told him. "Tons of room."
"I don't know…" Arthur told him hesitantly.
"We always share the same bed when we're on hunting trips. What makes this any different?" Merlin asked with a deep yawn, trying to sound confrontational but failing miserably.
There were numerous reasons that he could give, but he chose the one his brain first registered. "On hunting trips you haven't been terribly injured. That's the difference," Arthur shared with him, sighing.
When he felt a gentle hand come to rest on his arm, Arthur looked up in surprise. He met Merlin's gaze and waited for him to speak. "Arthur, you're not going to hurt me, if that's what you're worried about. Just get into this bed and don't be such a prat." It sounded suspiciously like an order, but for some reason Arthur was perfectly fine with that fact.
It only took a minute to make his decision. Through sheer will and determination, Arthur managed to remove his boots and pull himself into the bed beside his already asleep manservant. He curled up on his side and found that it would do. Certainly more comfortable than remaining on the cold floor, at the very least.
Arthur was asleep before his head even hit the pillow. But it was the best night's sleep he'd had in a long time.
A/N: Now has a sequel – If They Hurt You (They Hurt Me Too)