Nightfall was upon Camelot and there was excitement in the air. A celebration was underway for the kingdom's newest knight. Unfortunately, not everyone was in a festive spirit.
Merlin had just finished what was possibly one of the longest weeks of his young life. He was beyond exhausted and was counting down the minutes to when he could collapse in his bed.
Of course, he would have to go by Gaius' chambers first to make sure that his mentor was doing okay. Gaius had been terribly ill all week and Merlin had done his best to take care of the man who he cared for like a father.
This was the cause of Merlin's exhaustion. It was not easy to care for a sick person on top of serving a prince who could be quite the prat when he so chose. Fortunately, Gaius was on the mend.
Merlin was leaning against the wall behind Arthur's chair and was quite surprised to see that Arthur had apparently been trying to get his attention for awhile.
"Merlin," the prince said in his annoyed voice, "I need some more wine. Why does it have to be so difficult to get you to do your duties?"
"Sorry sire," Merlin replied before stiffly walking to refill Arthur's glass. Under normal circumstances Merlin would most likely say something cheeky in response but he was too tired to care about much of anything.
"What's wrong with you anyway?" Arthur asked.
Merlin was shocked that he had even noticed anything was wrong. Merlin had been barely able to function for the last three days. If not for his magic he was sure that he would not have gotten even half of his chores done.
"I'm just tired," Merlin replied softly.
"Why on earth should you be tired? You've shown up late to work every day this week."
Merlin just shrugged and went back to his position against the wall. It wasn't worth the effort to explain. Perhaps Arthur had not heard that Gaius was ill? Or perhaps he did not realize that Merlin would spend all of his free time taking care of the elderly man.
Merlin noticed that his entire body was beginning to ache. His head had been throbbing almost non stop all week. He knew that was from getting so little sleep. He figured the rest of his body was catching up to make his suffering more complete.
He wondered idly whether it would be alright if he just slid down the wall and sat for the duration of the evening. He wasn't sure how much longer his aching legs were going to keep him standing.
He startled a bit when Gwen suddenly started speaking to him. When had she arrived?
"Merlin, are you alright? You look terrible." she asked in a concerned voice.
Gwen had always been such a great friend to him that he felt fine with confiding in her.
"I'm really tired Gwen," his voice sounded pathetic even to his own ears.
"Is Gaius okay? He's not taken a turn for the worse has he?"
"No, he's doing much better. Thanks so much for helping me care for him. It's just been a long week, ya know, looking after Gaius on top of everything else," Merlin replied.
"Why don't you just excuse yourself for the evening. Go get some rest, you really look like you need it."
"You're the only person who's even noticed. I don't think Arthur would be too happy if I left early. It'll just add to his impression of me being a lazy git," Merlin said quietly.
Gwen just looked at him with comforting kindness. He could also see a little fire in her eyes.
"Does Arthur even know that you've been spending every waking moment looking after Gaius?" she asked.
"No, it's not important; I'm his manservant. I can't skive off my duties. Besides, I'll be fine once I catch up on my sleep. It's not even an issue."
Gwen did not look convinced but Morgana was beckoning her over so the conversation was at its close.
"Please take care of yourself Merlin. You need to put yourself first once in awhile," she said before parting.
"Thanks Gwen, I'll do my best."
He watched Gwen as she made her way across the room. He felt so lucky to have such an amazing friend.
The night wore slowly on and the wine was disappearing as the party grew more raucous. Merlin had only strayed from his spot against the wall whenever Arthur requested something.
The noise in the room was killing Merlin's head. Every time he had to move from his spot he felt sure that his head would crack in two. The lights, sounds and smells of the party were making him incredibly nauseous and he was afraid that what little he had eaten that day would soon be making a reappearance.
Someone laughed much too loudly right next to Merlin. The sound pierced his head like a million knives and his vision temporarily grayed out.
It was too much for him. He had to get out of there and quickly.
Eyes clenched shut and hands gripping his sore head he started walking in the general direction of the door. Unfortunately walking with your eyes shut is never the best idea.
Merlin tripped over a nearby chair and landed on the floor hard, scraping his elbows up painfully. The jarring impact sent him over the edge and he found himself throwing up violently. He couldn't even feel embarrassed about it. It felt like an eternity had passed before it ended.
All too soon he felt himself being jerked roughly to his feet. Arthur was glaring at him with a look of disgust on his face. This confused Merlin, his brain felt slow and stupid due to the haze of pain that still engulfed his head.
"You idiot!," Arthur growled, "Have you been drinking this entire time? How dare you embarrass me in front of all these people! My own servant making a drunken fool out of himself."
Merlin was slowly catching up to what he was saying and was about to defend himself when Gwen stepped in.
"Arthur, the only fool here is you." A collective gasp echoed through the room. Gwen was only a servant after all.
Arthur looked as though he was about to remind her of this but she didn't let him get a word in.
"Are you blind Arthur? Have you honestly not noticed how exhausted Merlin has been all week? I've been watching him all night and he could barely keep himself standing. Did you not realize that Merlin has been taking care of Gaius this entire week?"
Arthur was just staring at her with his mouth slightly open. Finally, he closed it and said, "Gaius is ill?"
Gwen gave him a withering look and said, "He's doing much better, but the point is that Merlin has been spending all of his free time taking care of him as well as doing everything you throw his way."
Arthur turned to look at Merlin. He was slumped in a chair gripping his head in his hands. Arthur was shocked to see the paleness of his skin, the hunch of his shoulders and dark shadows under his eyes. He realized that Merlin had not complained once this entire week about feeling unwell. That was the kind of person that Merlin was though.
The prince felt like kicking himself for not noticing something sooner. He gave Merlin a hard time but he was also very fond of him. No time like the present to try to make things up.
He sat down beside Merlin and softly spoke. "Merlin, you should have told me what was going on with Gaius. I would have given you the week off."
"I'll remember that next time," Merlin replied in a whisper.
"You haven't caught Gaius' illness have you?" Arthur asked worriedly.
"I don't think so. Nothing sleep and a strong headache remedy won't cure," Merlin said while rubbing his still aching temples.
"Let's go," Arthur said suddenly. "Can you walk?"
"I think so," Merlin said as he slowly stood up. The pounding in his head increased and he felt a bit dizzy. He leaned slightly against Arthur and was pleased when the prince started guiding him. It was best that Merlin not have to think much at the moment.
"I need to check on Gaius," Merlin whispered.
"No, you're not going anywhere but to bed." Arthur stated firmly.
Merlin began to protest but Arthur cut him off. "I'll check on him when I stop by to get you something for your head."
Merlin could find no fault in this plan so he simply allowed himself to be led to his room outside of Arthur's. He eased slowly into his bed and was surprised when he felt Arthur pull off his shoes.
Lying down felt heavenly, his body seemed to sink into the bed more than usual. To top off the wonderful feeling he felt Arthur place a cool cloth on his aching forehead.
Emotions welled up inside him at this small act of kindness. He was glad that his eyes were closed and Arthur could not see the sudden wetness there.
"Thank you Arthur," Merlin whispered before falling into peaceful oblivion.
"You're welcome Merlin," Arthur replied. "Sleep well my friend."