A/N : Hi everyone! Thank you thank you thank you for your kind reviews on the last chapter. I was feeling rather insecure about that one, and I really hoped you'd like it! Here's the next chapter - - and I hope you'll like this one as well. I was really drawn into this chapter while writing it and to me it's kind of special. (all my chapters are, but this one just has a tiny extra bit, don't know why!)
Please let me know what you think? Because you are all so very amazing!
Xo, as always
He had craved the news all day, yet now that the bit of information floated in the air between them, he wished for time to stop. More than anything, he wanted this moment to remain, to make it linger. While he cloaked himself in the comforting feeling of the knowledge Merlin had awoken, he would not need to speak. There would be no need for them to work things out, for he could pretend that everything was as it had always been.
She would not grant him such pleasure. "Are you not going to see him?" He could clearly distinguish the already forming complaint she would hurl at him when he respectfully declined to see his newly recovered friend. But he would let her down, just this once. He'd let himself down, too.
"In a while."
"Well, I'm going." Morgana proudly stuck out her chest, the necklace that rested against the hollow of her throat rising with the fierce movement. He supposed this was her way of taunting him, wanting to draw him out of this shell he found so warm, yet desperately confusing. "At least Merlin will know some of us care enough about him to visit him after he nearly died."
He looked everywhere but at her, for some unknown reason finding the floor ten times more fascinating than the presence of the incredibly stubborn woman who had known him since before he could remember. She'd always been there. He frowned, but his lips never moved, even as she stalked from the room.
Having Morgana by his bedside felt strangely familiar, and he wondered if it was the same for her. It hadn't been a long time ago when he'd helped her locate the druids in the forest, when he had made her face her own destiny. Yet she knew nothing about his.
The only fact that could not be concealed was how much he cared for the hard headed man he served. Because try as he might, he was an open book where Arthur was concerned. The latter, however, was an entirely different matter.
He spoke easily with her, her soft voice nearly singing the words to him. It was a soothing rhythm to his torn ears, to his battered body. A lullaby for the broken.
Yet the anxiety still itched underneath the surface, moving around his heart and holding it in a tight lock. He had to know the words that would sting – he had to hear the unchangeable verdict.
"He's not coming, is he." He didn't bother turning it into a question.
"He is." Morgana spoke convincingly. "He just needs to do some errands for his father. You know how Uther can be."
Merlin managed a soft smile. "You don't have to lie to me."
She shook her head, biting her lips. The skin above her eyes puckered slowly as evidence to her clear disappointment. "I'm sorry."
He shrugged, his shoulders moving against the mattress, making a soft swooshing sound vibrate in the room.
"It's not your fault." He murmured faintly. "And it's not his fault either, so promise me you won't give him a hard time."
For the first time since he had returned to this very chamber, the sound of laughter bounced against the walls, and he engraved it in his memory. "Merlin, giving Arthur a hard time is pretty much all I ever do around this place. It's a habit," she rolled her eyes. "and one I don't intend to break anytime soon."
He had pressed his body against the wall, his eyes cast down and his hands useless by his side. Though she had known something had happened between Merlin and this man she called her brother, she only realised how deep the wounds ran at this very moment.
"Are you alright?"
His breath caught, as if he only now registered the fact that she stood beside him, reaching out to touch his arm. His wandering eyes caught her own. "I'm fine."
She wanted it to be the truth so badly. Yet she'd always known the moment a lie fell from his lips, and this time she wouldn't even pretend to think about it. "Well, Merlin's not."
Arthur tensed, every fiber of his being on full alert. "He's getting worse?"
"Physically, he's getting better." She reassured him. "But I think he misses you. I could see it in his eyes. And he asked for you - "
"What did you.." he shook his head, searching for the words he seemingly found so very difficult to speak. If he was this way about asking her what excuse she had invented, she could hardly imagine how he must have been affected by it all. "..did you tell him I was…?"
"I told him you were doing errands for your father. Everyone knows how demanding he can be."
"Did he believe you?" The question was so soft, so vulnerable, it made her want to… do anything. Anything to make this right again.
But all she could do was shake her head.
The hours crept by. He did not come.
Merlin had meant every word of what he'd told Morgana : it wasn't Arthur's fault that he wasn't here anymore, the prince had nothing to do with all of this. Merlin was the problem that ate away at them both, and he would have to search his own cure to the illness.
His mother had never been more overjoyed or overbearing, which he both loved and hated. All the while she sat by his side, clutching his hand and wiping at the strands of hair that clung to his face. Gaius, however, had just sat back and watched him for a while, then continued with his daily duties. He could tell his mother was slightly annoyed by the way Gaius discarded his foster son so easily, but Merlin knew better. The relief he'd seen in Gaius' eyes… he'd never seen an emotion more intense than that. Gaius knew he needed space – and granted him his wish. For he needed to think about how to fix it all, how to save his friendship.
His mother had not spoken one word about her conversation with Arthur. Maybe it was better that way - he couldn't bear to think about the outcome of that situation. But he needed some comforting words more than ever. He needed just the faintest ammount of hope.
Night fell over Camelot and – thank God his mother returned to the chambers they'd prepared for her – he lay back against the covers. He was alone again, with the dreaded sense that this state would remain.
The hours crept by. He didn't leave his chambers.
Yet now that it was dark and the silence seemed all too hard to handle, he wished he had. He knew Merlin was alright this time, so he would not spend another restless night praying for someone…anyone…to help Merlin survive, but he had not seen him. Not since he lay the bleeding body down upon the cot, the sudden emptiness feeling almost as if someone had torn away a little part that had always remained beside him.
The most terrible revelation was the sense that maybe he was the culprit of this loss.
He was pushing Merlin away, though he wasn't exactly sure why. True, Merlin had lied to him ever since they'd met, but he'd also saved Arthur's life on several occassions. So if magic was the great evil his father made him believe it was, why had Merlin been so kind?
"Please don't think any differently of me."
"I won't. It's alright to be scared, Merlin."
"That's not what I meant."
Merlin had wanted to tell Arthur right then and there, but a foreign source had prevented him from doing exactly that. Merlin had saved them all that day and as a result, had watched his old friend die in his arms. The same friend who took the blame for what had happened. Arthur cursed himself. He had not been the same kind of friend to Merlin, the one who accepted him for who he was – completely. What kind of friend did that make him? What kind of man?
He walked from his room with only that last thought in mind. That and the need to establish if Merlin was okay for himself. Because he'd only received bits of second hand information and it would not do. Not anymore. He knew Merlin would be asleep by now, so he felt safe – invisible – as he slowly opened the door to Gaius' laboratory, wincing when it creaked.
Almost as if the scene were staged, the light coming in from the window shone exactly on the spot where Merlin's bed was situated. The dark patches that indicated his wounds and bruises provided a shrill contrast with the whiteness of his skin. He seemed at ease in sleep, at least. Arthur took in every bit of the image while he stood by the door, silent and still as if sculped.
It was only when he turned to leave that everything shifted and his safety net was ripped form underneath his feet. The small voice tugged him back into the room, forced him back into reality.
Please tell me what you think? (oh, and sorry about the cliffie, I'll make it better with hugs and cookies!)
Xo, as always