I'm so sorry for the extremely long wait; work, school and medical problems dragged me away from fan fiction. Anyway thank you for all of your support, reviews, alerts and favourites – you're all amazing!
And thank you Susie666 for all of your help! Katherine Moonhawk unfortunately wasn't able to beta this for me due to illness and a very busy schedule, so I'm very sorry for any mistakes.
Arthur knocked lightly on the physician's door and then quietly entered. Gaius was sitting in his chair and momentarily looked up before turning back to his thick, dusty book. The old physician was very used to Arthur's visits by now.
Arthur had just walked past Gaius when he swivelled back and approached him.
"How is he today?"
Gaius sighed, and without removing his eyes from his page, answered, "The same, I'm afraid. Although be warned he is a little agitated this morning, so be careful."
"Who can blame him?" Arthur murmured under his breath as he continued his journey to the small room. He heard Gaius hum in approval right before he knocked and entered.
Merlin was lying on his bed, reading his magic book. Arthur flinched a little, still trying to get used to harbouring a sorcerer, but who could blame him from being a little opposed to it? He was committing treason after all!
His friend must have caught it as he placed the book quickly underneath his bed and muttered a quick 'sorry' to the prince.
Arthur just sighed and sat at the edge on the bed, like he always did.
"No, its fine..."
They sat there for a few seconds, silence looming over them for a minute or two as Merlin twisted his hands and the prince inspected his friend - the bruises underneath his eyes were a little darker than they were the last visit, his skin paler and bones more prominent. The boy was slowly declining in health, and no matter what he, Gwen or Gaius did, it wouldn't stop. Arthur shook his head softly and sighed.
"Have you eaten anything recently?" He asked, although he already knew the answer.
Merlin glared at his hands and shook his head, "I tried but..."
"Yeah...do you feel any better?" Again, he already knew the answer.
"Oh, just dandy" Merlin joked.
Arthur gave him a small, understanding smile and stood, moved to the closet and removed a well used Morris board. It had become a tradition for the pair to play it while Arthur visited; it kept them both occupied and removed unwelcome and uncomfortable silences. Arthur sat back down as Merlin shuffled to the side a bit to allow room for the game to be set up on the bed.
They played in silence for a while, apart from the occasional banter.
"So I think that makes it 3-1 to me, don't you think?" Merlin chirped to Arthur as the prince glared at him. Merlin was unnaturally good at this game, although it probably did help that Arthur was semi letting him win, but it was a small price to pay to see his friend laughing and smiling again.
Arthur cleared the board again to start the new game; however, when Merlin picked up one of his pieces to place on the board, his hand shook. It started as a small tremor but quickly escalated to violent shaking; the warlock quickly withdrew his hand, trying uselessly to stop it by clamping it down with his other hand. The prince knew he couldn't do anything, and he felt helpless because of it.
"I guess it hasn't gone yet, then?"
Merlin gave a small bitter laugh, "no, but I suppose it hasn't gotten worse, so I'm not dead yet."
Arthur flinched a little, and thankfully Merlin hadn't seen it this time, because at one point they weren't sure if he'd live. His magical overload had cost him dearly and it was as if his own blood was killing him.
Gaius had said that his body had been put to the limit, saying that Merlin not being able to control his full ability yet was probably not the only reason that the true extent of his powers had been locked away inside of him, but also because his body had to be used to that amount of magic before adding some more. Now his body just couldn't deal.
Merlin stared out toward the window, a longing look on his face. "Did Gaius say anything about me being able to leave this god forsaken room any time soon?"
Arthur bowed his head; his thumb and forefinger come up to rub the bridge of his nose. The prince hated giving bad news, he really did.
"Sorry, Gaius didn't say anything directly about it, however he did say you hadn't improved so-"
"Yeah, I know. I have to stay here." The bitterness in his friend's voice hadn't shocked him in the slightest. Truthfully, Arthur had to admit, if he had been in the same situation and unable to leave his room he was sure he would have snapped a very long time ago.
"Look, I wish we could sneak out and everything but we just can't risk it. It's too dangerous for you and for Camelot"
"Yeah, I know" Merlin repeated "I just wish I could control it better."
That was another bittersweet truth of letting powerful magic overwhelm you. It had always been instinctual for Merlin but lately he had been moving, alighting and making things through magic subconsciously and completely unaware. If his father saw, or anyone else for that matter, his head would be on a chopping bloke, and Arthur had gone through too much trouble to keep him alive to let it all go to waste now.
The other thing was that he didn't have as good as an emotionally control over his power as he used to, which all round meant he was a lose canon and a danger to everyone around him.
"Any word on Morgause yet?"
Arthur shook his head regretfully. Morgana had returned after the whole ordeal, they all had had their excuses ready for Uther and she was no different. It made Arthur sick knowing she was twirling his father around her little finger and he could do nothing to stop it.
She and Arthur hadn't spoken apart from a few words during his father's presence. Uther just thought that they had had an argument, that technically speaking was true. Gwen did her duties as normal, much to the displeasure of Arthur, although he did have to wonder how long it would last. Their icy reception of each other and Gwen knowing of Morgana's betrayal meant that she'll probably fire the maid any time now.
Arthur sighed, they truly were at stalemate. He couldn't accuse Morgana of anything, not with his father doting her every move and she could have two people he cared about executed with one word – they were only servants, after all.
It was times like this that Arthur wondered how Merlin coped – this whole castle was filled with backstabbing liars. Yep, sometimes blindness is the nicest option.
"Look," Arthur said "she's probably alive and working on her next plan to kill us all but we'll beat her, alright?"
Merlin slowly nodded, his head finally turning back to Arthur and the board.
"And anyway, she doesn't know you're Emrys, the all powerful one, right? Meaning she doesn't know the full extent of your powers, so I say we still got one hell of a chance to beat her."
Merlin huffed, swallowing all the arguments that he had showing how screwed they were. No, he let the hope from Arthur's words sink in and then he embraced it, never wanting to let go and prayed he would recover from this.
"Okay, so you up for this round? Because I'm ready to kick your butt."
"You sure about that, sire?" Merlin asked as he raised an eye brow that would make even Gaius proud. "Maybe we should make this more interesting, if I win, you muck out the stables, I'm sure your new servant would be glad not to have that annoying chore."
Arthur scoffed, he really didn't want the wager but turning it down showed weakness and he never showed weakness. "But now, my dear Merlin, what would happen if I win?"
Merlin just smirked, "Well, my lord, you'd have the honour of finally beating me."
The glare Arthur sent would have had the bravest knight of Camelot shaking in their boots but as it was, Merlin just gave him a very toothy grin and Arthur softened. It was nice to see his friend's rare smile...but was it worth the stables?...
THE END (...hopefully)
I hope that that is a better ending (you didn't think I would let Merlin off the hook that easily, did you?). I feel that I have set myself up nicely for a sequel although I still don't know what to do.
'Whisperings of a Cave' won and should start soon so please read that one too. Oh and of those that don't have me on Authors Alert, I have just posted a Merlin one-shot so please read that too!
Thank you again! (and please, please review!)