Still don't own it, funnily enough!
Thank you so much for all of the lovely reviews in the last chapter and all the people who added this to alert/favourites, it really meant a lot to me. Thank you!
When Gaius returned nearly an hour later, he found the two boys deep in conversation, barely noticing his arrival. With an all knowing smile, the physician set about making dinner, automatically making enough for Arthur as well. How many times had the prince had dinner in the physician's chambers when he had once again been rejected by his father? Not that he would have ever admitted it to the prince, but Gaius had enjoyed his company. Now Merlin was here, the feeling of loneliness the physician didn't even realise he was feeling had vanished, making him feel years younger. It would be good to have both of them here.
The two were so wrapped up in their conversation, they didn't notice the time fly until Gaius placed the bowls of steaming stew in front of them. Thanking him, the boys continued talking whilst absentmindedly eating at the same time, causing a raising of an eyebrow from Gaius. However, he wasn't going to stop them, he knew they needed this chat more than they needed to focus on their food. Hopefully the incident, whilst painful for the young warlock in his charge, would bring them closer together, make Arthur realise what he had been missing all of these years. Merlin hadn't even noticed he had stopped complaining about the prince every day he got home from work, he had just grown used to Arthur's peculiar habits.
Lighting the candles around them, Gaius' yawn went unnoticed by the youths sitting at his work bench.
"Merlin, I'm taking your room. When you two are finally done gossiping like a pair of old ladies, you can have my bed."
"Oh, right, sorry Gaius." And in his very apologetic mood, Merlin turned straight back to the smirking prince, continuing the debate on whether hunting was good or not. He knew full well Arthur's reasons, as Arthur knew full well his servant's, yet the conversation was more than that. It was a way for them to get to know each other. Duty meant they never had the time to simply talk, yet the afternoon had provided them with the reason they needed, and it was doing them the world of good, healing the small rift that had begun to rip through their new found friendship. Shaking his head with a smile, Gaius climbed the stairs to his ward's room, glad it was not something he had to do every day.
The night drew on, but eventually, Merlin couldn't hide the pain any more. Seeing the fifth grimace, Arthur rolled his eyes. Would it have hurt for the servant to simply say he was sore?
"Get some rest, Merlin."
"That involves moving," Merlin moaned, glancing over at the bed on the other side of the room and then back at his own comfy position. Smirking, Arthur stood up and almost threw Merlin over his shoulder, whilst being mindful of his sore arm and ankle, crossed the room and deposited him on the bed, laughing at the protests that emerged as a result.
"You were saying?"
"You are such a prat, you know."
"Yep. Now sleep." Grumbling to himself, Merlin lay down, pulling the blanket over him and almost immediately falling asleep. Sitting back down on the stool, the thought crossed Arthur's mind that he should perhaps head back to his own chambers, but couldn't help but echo Merlin's previous thought about that involving moving. His chambers suddenly seemed a long way away and gone were the days when Gaius could carry a sleepy prince back. Maybe just a quick rest was in order before making the journey…
A thin beam of sunlight filtering weakly through the window was what woke the prince initially, but his stiff neck immediately stopped any thoughts of him drifting back off to sleep. Stretching as he stood, Arthur raised his arms high above his head, trying to release the stiff muscles in his back. Looking around him, he paused mid action and smiled to see Merlin was still asleep, although the smile faded somewhat when he saw even in sleep, Merlin was trying to protect his arm. Running a hand through his tussled hair, the prince sighed. What had he done?
Moving into the corner of the room to splash the cold water over his face in order to wake him up further, Arthur paused briefly to steal a look outside. It was barely even dawn, the courtyard below silent. Everything was so peaceful. Lost in thought, Arthur finished the journey to the corner of the room, crouching down to scoop the icy water in his hands. Splashing it onto his face, Arthur shuddered slightly as the cold hit him, but it certainly succeeded in waking him up. Stretching once more, the prince winced slightly as his back clicked its protest at having spent the night on a stool, but Arthur didn't mind. It was times like this that made him really appreciate what he had waiting for him back at his own chambers. Striding with a confidence ease back into the centre of the chambers, Arthur froze as his foot caught on a mop he didn't even know existed. Diving to catch it, the prince sighed in relief as he stopped it from hitting the ground, placing it back where it belonged. Moving away again, Arthur didn't see the movement until a sudden crash made him jump about a foot in the air. Turning slowly back around, Arthur fixed the mop with an accusing stare as it lay innocently on the floor.
"Wow, didn't think you would ever be outwitted by a mere mop. How do you feel, Sire?"
Spinning sharply at the mocking voice behind him, Arthur wasn't quick enough to hide his smile as he saw his servant sit up.
"How are you feeling?"
"Apart from my arm is about to fall off and it feels like someone is sitting on my foot?" Seeing Arthur wince guiltily, Merlin immediately regretted his choice of words. He hadn't meant for the prince to feel bad, he had stopped blaming Arthur the minute the normally proud man had managed to apologise, he had just decided it would be best to be truthful to stop the prat coming up with a ridiculous list of chores for him to do.
"Good morning, boys." Turning simultaneously, both master and servant turned to look at the stairs, only to be met with a bemused Gaius. Whilst he enjoyed their bantering, it was too early in the morning for the two of them to be at it already.
"I heard a crash, is everything alright? You didn't try and get up, did you, Merlin?"
"Me?" Merlin asked, pretending to sound offended. With a pointed glance, he looked down at himself still comfortably snuggled in the blankets and then back at Gaius with a raised eyebrow. The physician seemed to understand his point, and smile apologetically.
"Ask Arthur if you want to know what the crash was. Our prince can't defeat a mop, what chance does Camelot have, Gaius?"
"I thought you told him to ask me?" Arthur couldn't help but comment, amusement lacing his tone.
"You told Gaius to ask me, then proceeded to tell him."
"What? Oh shut up, Arthur." Smirking, Arthur sat himself back down on the stool he had spent the night on, conscious of Gaius' stare. Eventually, when no explanation seemed forthcoming, the prince glanced up.
"What?" He demanded in a somewhat rude tone, earning him a disapproving look from both the physician, and to Arthur's shame, his servant.
"Sorry, Gaius. You're watching me, what's wrong?"
"Sire, what are you doing here?"
"I was making sure Merlin was alright, you know that."
"So you've been here all night?" Opening his mouth to come back with a witty response, Arthur shut it again with a snap, feeling a blush begin to work its way up his neck. He was still declaring at every possible moment how much of an idiot Merlin was, yet in the space of a month had disobeyed his father and risked his life to save the idiot, and had now just spent an entire night on a stool to make sure he was alright.
"It was a long way to my chambers." He stated calmly, trying to maintain some of his princely dignity, although the effect was lost somewhat as Merlin snorted in amusement. Catching Gaius' eye, the prince grinned at the look that had overcome the physician. He too seemed to be remembering the days when he could carry Arthur back when he fell asleep.
"Anyway, the distance doesn't seem as bad this morning. I shall return to my chambers immediately. Merlin-"
"I know, I know, you want breakfast, your armour polishing, your room tidying and to meet you on the training field in half an hour."
"-Get some rest."
"Oh. Thank you, Sire." Watching Arthur leave with a slightly stunned expression, Merlin turned to Gaius, hoping to find an answer, only to find the physician was on the move, beginning to get things together for breakfast. Swinging his legs of the bed, Merlin felt a piercing glare in the back of his head, and glancing up guilty, caught sight of his mentor watching him, disapproval clear on his face.
"I've used magic to numb the pain, I can't feel it. Gaius, please?"
"Oh fine then. But if you break something, don't come crying to me."
"Thanks, Gaius." Hobbling over to the table, Merlin sat himself down rather heavily. Just because he couldn't feel it didn't mean his ankle would stop refusing to support his weight. Besides, there wasn't often Gaius and Arthur let him get away with nothing.
And nothing was precisely what the warlock spent the day doing. Gaius helped him up the stairs to his own room after they had eaten, and Merlin didn't leave it again for the rest of the day. Having shut the door with a mere flash of his eyes, he had spent the day studying magic, knowing that it was risking throwing away the companionship and friendship Arthur had been offering if he was caught. Yet the warlock couldn't resist it, he hadn't had the chance for a long time to dive into the depths of his book, he had been kept far too busy. At first, he had been studying magic by night, but when the chores from his mentor and master alike continued to increase, he found he was too tired. So having a day off was a blessing for the servant, a small part of him thankful for what had happened. He managed to master so many new spells, including one to muffle any sounds coming from his room along with almost an alarm system, warning him if anyone was approaching. It was nice to spend some time for himself for once without running around after either Arthur or Gaius for a change.
Yawning, Merlin had just placed the book back in its hiding place when he felt a tingling sensation overwhelm him. Startled, the warlock couldn't for the life of him work out what was causing it, before he realised with a rueful smile it was his alarm. Whispering incantations under his breath, he quickly removed all the spells, sitting back innocently on the bed as Gaius walked in.
"I need to check the wounds, Merlin. What have you been doing all day, I haven't hear sight nor sound of you."
"I thought that was what you wanted?" Merlin asked cheekily, trying to look innocent. His eyes, however, gave him away as they flickered guiltily to where the book was hidden. For anyone who didn't know what was under the servant's floorboards, the gesture would have meant nothing, but Gaius knew full well what it meant the servant had been doing. Not in the mood to scold him further considering he had had a couple of tough days, the physician instead played along.
"How did you know, Merlin? It was all my master plan really, getting you out of the way."
"Planning a takeover of Camelot then, Gaius?" An amused voice sounded from the doorway, making the pair of them jump. Leaning against the frame casually, Arthur stood with his arms folded across his chest, one eyebrow raised in amusement.
"Well, Sire…" Not knowing what to say, Gaius tried to hide how fast his heart was beating. He had come so close to saying something to Merlin about his magic, what if Arthur had been standing there the whole time?
"Although if it involves getting rid of Merlin, I'll join you. I've had such a peaceful day."
"Oi!" Merlin cried, sitting up straighter and wincing as Gaius took his movement as an excuse to lunge and take hold of his injured arm. Trying not to move, Merlin looked away as the physician unwound the bandage. He didn't want to face the bloody mess on his arm. The trio stood in silence as the physician worked, but he quickly had Merlin bandaged back up and declared they were healing well, causing Arthur to let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. If there had been any sign of infection or something going wrong, the prince didn't know how he would face his servant.
"So, what are you doing here anyway, Sire?" Merlin eventually asked, determined to break the awkward silence that had fallen over his little room as Gaius had tended to him. He knew Arthur was still feeling guilty, but also knew it didn't matter what he said or did, he would continue to feel so. All Merlin could do was try and reassure the prince that he was absolutely fine.
"I came to tell you I expect you back at work tomorrow, unless you happen to lose a limb over night. If that is the case, send word." And so saying, Arthur strode purposefully from the room again.
"What was that all about?" Merlin mused, not meaning to say it out loud. One moment the prince was joking about with them, the next he was being strictly professional. What would come next?
"Give him time, Merlin. You don't realise this, but Arthur has changed a lot. In the past, you would have been sacked for missing a day's work, regardless of injuries. He also would have been the one throwing the mace." Speaking softly, Gaius wanted his ward to understand quite how much the prince had matured over the last few months, needed him to appreciate this new found friendship with his servant was something unfamiliar to Arthur, he had never had a true friend before.
"So he really was a prat then?" Merlin asked quietly, staring at the door as if Arthur was going to suddenly materialise in it.
"Was being the right word," Gaius corrected, pulling a small phial out of his pocket and handing it to the warlock. "Drink this, it will prevent any pain coming from when you sleep."
As Merlin downed the whole contents in one, grimacing at the aftertaste, Gaius smirked. Within a few moments, the servant was desperately trying to fight the pull of sleep, his eyes growing heavy. Gently navigating him back onto the bed, Gaius watched in satisfaction as Merlin fell asleep. Technically, he had been right, Merlin wouldn't feel any pain, but what he hadn't told the boy was that the contents of the small bottle was what would make him fall asleep in the first place.
Leaving Merlin's room and shutting the door softly behind him, Gaius sighed deeply for a moment before he set about writing reports for the day. He knew Merlin, knew that whilst he had enjoyed the day of relaxation, he would have been too restless to get any sleep. Whilst the warlock may not have realised this, but Gaius knew quite how many times his charge snuck out in the middle of the night, and doing that whilst being injured was just spelling trouble, especially considering how clumsy Merlin was. At least this way, he would get a decent night's sleep.
And a decent night's sleep was indeed what Merlin got. Cracking his eyes open, the warlock tried to simply shut them again as the sunlight streamed through, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Time to wake up, Merlin."
"Wha-? Don't wanna," his words slurring, Merlin once again tried to snuggle into the warmth of his blankets when a sudden thought made him open his eyes properly. He didn't even remember going to bed, the last thing he could recall was drinking Gaius' medicine. Trying to fix the man standing above him with a glare, Merlin knew the effect was lost somewhat by the fact he was still half asleep.
"The prince will be waiting, Merlin. You need to get a move on." And so saying, Gaius tossed his ward one of the many shirts littering the floor, helping him into it when his arm restricted his movement somewhat. The look of sleepy confusion on the boy's face was almost comical, Gaius could almost see the cogs turning trying to work out why he was so tired. Well, let him figure it out himself, the physician was in no hurry to be met with accusations. All which would have been true, of course.
It took them some time, but eventually the pair of them had Merlin in a half decent state in which to serve the prince. After almost walking into the broom cupboard instead of out of the door, the servant was eventually on his way towards Arthur's chambers, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he did so. He felt so disorientated, his body and mind refusing to wake up properly. Whilst it took some time, the warlock did eventually make it to the prince's chambers, stumbling in without knocking, only to find Arthur up and dressed, an empty breakfast tray balancing on the edge of the table.
"You took your time, Merlin."
"How-? You're dressed."
"Observant as ever. I had a feeling you would be late, so I ordered another servant to attend to me this morning, hence why I've already had breakfast as well."
"Oh." Merlin stated, somewhat stupidly. Nothing was as it seemed this morning. Watching him, Arthur hid his smirk. He didn't just have a feeling Merlin was going to be late, he knew after Gaius had confided in the prince about the fact he was going to drug the servant to make sure he slept.
"Come on, then."
"Let me guess, training field?"
"Smarter than you look, Merlin. I never did get my training session the other day."
"You're already good enough, why do we have to go again?" Merlin groaned, not realising he had actually complimented the prince in something that was meant to be a complaint. Frowning momentarily, Arthur seemed to find the hidden compliment as he picked up his sword and the knives. Playfully punching his servant on the shoulder, the prince strode from the room, knowing without having to look that Merlin had bent down to get the rest of the equipment and was following him.
Hearing a clatter, Arthur glanced behind him to see his crossbow falling from the servant's laden arms. One of them still showing the bandage wrapped tightly around it, Arthur cursed inwardly, forgetting his servant was still injured. Without a word, he picked up the crossbow and hefted it into his own arms, balancing the distribution of equipment evenly between the pair of them. Astonished, Merlin was actually lost for words as Arthur once more strode off, unknowingly reinforcing what Gaius had told the warlock only the night before about the prince changing.
The pair of them walked companionably side by side for a while as they headed towards the training fields, feeling closer than they had yet managed, even after Arthur had risked everything to save Merlin. They had almost reached the castle doors when Merlin once again stumbled, falling into an undignified heap on the floor as the equipment spilled from his arms. Hearing the yelp of pain as he landed on his injured ankle, Arthur immediately spun around, dropping his own load.
"Are you alright, Merlin?"
"He still hasn't learnt a servant can't walk side by side with their masters, has he?" Narrowing his eyes as Owain stepped from the shadows, Arthur knew without a doubt it was through no fault of his own Merlin was lying on the floor, despite his clumsiness. Luckily, the servant had the sense to stay quiet, carefully drawing his leg into him and whimpering slightly.
"We can teach him that as well, can't we lads?" Adding the last part over his shoulder, Arthur felt a fury he didn't know he possessed build up inside him as the rest of the group stepped from the shadows, laughing openly.
"Arthur-," Merlin whispered from where he was sitting, his heart pounding uncomfortably fast. The prince had promised he wouldn't let it happen again, but Merlin knew Arthur exactly meant for it to happen last time either, he had just lost control. Which meant that despite promises, it could easily happen again.
"No girls to protect you now, boy." Percival snarled, stepping forward towards the fallen servant. With the familiar noise, Arthur slowly drew his sword, levelling it at the man. Unable to take another step forward, Percival glared at the prince.
"What are you doing, Sire?" He asked, forced politeness entering his voice. Arthur knew how much he hated doing it though, he had no respect for Arthur the man, only the prince.
"Something I should have done a long time ago," Arthur snarled back, his eyes glinting dangerously. Stepping towards them, Arthur positioned himself between them and Merlin, meaning if they wanted to hurt the servant, they would first have to get past Arthur and his sword.
"My Liege, you have been misguided. Please, Sire, give us the honour of teaching your servant respect."
"Very well," Arthur responded coldly, sensing Merlin tense in fright behind him. The prince, however, was not finished, nor did his sword lower at all.
"After you've taught yourself."
"Arthur, please, what are you doing?"
"My prince?" As the guards came trotting obediently into view, Arthur coldly regarded the men in front of him, all of whom had turned a rather ashen colour at Arthur's summoning.
"Take these men to the dungeons. They are to see no one. They are not to be released until I give the order."
"My Lord, please, consider what you are doing. We are Knights of the Realm. You are weakening Camelot by having us out of action."
"And you are weakening Camelot, not to mention what it means to be a Knight, through your bullying ways. A Knight should have the utmost respect for everyone, as it is his duty to protect every citizen of this kingdom. You are not fit to be Knights. Take them away."
After an initial struggle, the group allowed themselves to be marched away. Sheathing his sword with a sigh, Arthur blew out the explosive breathing he had been holding throughout the ordeal. Bending down, he pulled his servant to his feet, responding to Merlin's small smile of gratitude with one of his own.
"I promised, idiot."
"Arthur, thank you."
"Sire?" Turning once more, Arthur felt his smile widen as Leon came running onto the scene. "What happened? I saw what looked like half of our Knights being marched to the dungeons. What did you do?"
"What did I do, Sir Leon?" Arthur asked formally, although the smile did not leave his face. "I let my head rule my pride. Merlin, come."
And with that, Arthur picked up his share of the equipment and continued on his journey towards the training ground, almost as if he nothing had happened.
"He's changed so much," Leon murmured quietly, just about allowing Merlin to hear him, although there was no way Arthur would be able to.
"Merlin, you idiot! Are you coming or not?"
Scampering after his master, Merlin paused after a few steps. Turning back to Leon with a wide smile on his face, the servant rolled his eyes in Arthur's direction.
"Nope, not changed that much. He is still the same prat I first met."
"Coming, Sire." And with that, the two boys made their way to the training field, putting behind them the whole incident, only taking the lessons they had learnt from it onwards. Arthur now truly meant what Leon had always taught him about not letting his pride rule his head, and Merlin… Well, Merlin realised he could have a lot worse for a master than the prince he so fondly referred to as the royal prat.
Ta da! The end! So Arthur isn't that much of a prat then! :) Please review!