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Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin, else I would be happy. Very happy.
Chapter Two: Denial
"Breakfast is ready, Merlin," Gaius' voice called out to the closed door behind him. He lifted the serving spoon and let some porridge drip into the two wooden bowls sat on the table with a wet splat.
Setting the pot down with more force than intended, the elderly physician sighed and walked up to his ward's door before rapping loudly on the wood. "Merlin!"
Still no movement, not even a disgruntled half-asleep mutter that usually followed in the mornings.
Gaius frowned in puzzlement as he put his ear to the door. Not hearing anything, he poked a finger through the hole by the latch and flicked it open, before poking his head round. "Merlin?"
The physician let out a relieved sigh at the sight of his ward, lying on his left side with his long legs bent, seemingly fast asleep. Merlin's breathing was deep, and his thin sheet lay forgotten on the floor in a crumpled heap. Gaius opened the door further to step in, the creaking causing Merlin to stir.
"Breakfast is ready, Merlin."
Merlin frowned, and slowly blinked his eyes open to the sight of his room bathed in morning sunlight. He stretched his legs, causing his feet to dangle over the edge of his bed, and rolled onto his back to bring his arm up to cover his eyes. As he did so, he felt a familiar object in his palm shift, and he clamped his hand around it tightly before remembering with embarrassment that Gaius was stood in his doorway.
Bolting upright, Merlin twisted round to slide his hand quickly under his pillow to hide the rose, but Gaius had seen it.
A blush crept to his cheeks when he saw Gaius' eyes flicker to the rose and then back to him, and looked away. Swinging his legs round to rest them on the cold floor, Merlin reached for his boots that he had discarded the night before and slipped them on.
He stood and walked over to the open door to grab his brown jacket from the hook. Pulling it on, Merlin turned with a sad look to look back at his hard pillow and then closed the door, before walking down the steps to sit at the table.
Gaius was already seated, and looked up to greet his ward. "Good morning," he greeted.
"Morning," Merlin replied quietly.
Taking in Merlin's appearance, he could tell that the young man had not slept well. His eyes were slightly puffy, and the dark circles beneath them made him look paler than usual.
The observant physician was well aware that Merlin had not had a restful night, as it had been in the early hours of the morning that he had awoken to the sound of quiet heart-wrenching sobs coming from the young warlock's room, despite the door being closed. Between sobs he had heard Merlin utter Freya's name in grief and desperation, and was somewhat relieved that Merlin had finally allowed himself the opportunity to grieve.
The few days ago when he had entered their shared quarters to see Merlin sat silently on the stairs, not much had been said. It wasn't until later that evening over their evening soup that Merlin had opened up and told Gaius everything. How he had felt to no longer be alone, the happiness he felt when in her presence, the candles, their kiss, the rose, their plan to run away... her death. For several hours whilst Merlin had talked, Gaius had not interrupted once, merely smiling when Merlin did, pleased and yet saddened at the happiness the young man had felt and lost. Through those hours, not one tear drop had fallen, though Merlin's eyes had shined brightly, refusing to shed them in the presence of anyone.
The time between then and now, Merlin had been quiet and refined, not the usual happy-go-lucky person he naturally was. Gaius had hoped that he would have allowed himself to grieve, but the warlock had not done so. It soon became so noticeable that Arthur, Gwen and Morgana quickly became aware of how he was acting. Gaius had to resort to telling them that Merlin had received disheartening news about a family member. A lie, yes, but one Merlin had asked him to use. If asked if he was alright, Merlin had merely smiled a smile that did not reach his eyes and brush the topic off.
"Did you sleep well?" Gaius asked casually as he took a mouthful of porridge.
Merlin looked up from his porridge briefly to look the older man in the eye before resting them again on the food before him; scooping and dripping his porridge back into the bowl absentmindedly.
"Mmm hmm," came the response with a slight nod.
Gaius was a little shocked to see tears welling up in Merlin's eyes, and felt his heart drop with helplessness. There was only so much he could do, and forcing Merlin to move on wasn't one of them. He wanted to help, but this was something Merlin had to do for himself, painful though it was to watch.
"When are you needed for work today?"
Merlin sighed and did not remove his gaze from his bowl. "Not until after midday. Arthur has things to prepare for, for when the five Kings arrive tomorrow afternoon."
To say Gaius was relieved at getting Merlin to say more than one or two words was an understatement. He gave a brief smile, more to himself than for anyone to see, and set his spoon in his empty bowl.
"Do you want some herbs collected?" Merlin cut across, impassively.
Gaius blinked, rather taken aback, but quickly recovered. He understood that Merlin would think he would be needed to carry out an errand for him, as usually, when Merlin had some free time, Gaius would ask him to do one. Today, he had a different agenda for the young warlock in mind.
The only problem would be convincing Merlin it would help, as the young man would most probably dismiss the idea in favour for not going there again...
"No it's alright, thank you, I would like to get them today," Gaius answered. "It's been a while since I went herb gathering in the woods."
Merlin eyed him warily, not fully content with answer he had received. He didn't mind because, if anything, running more errands would take his mind off of the last few days.
"I don't mind, Gaius."
"No no, this old man needs to get out of the city once in a while."
Merlin turned his head and narrowed his blue eyes ever so slightly in contemplation of his guardian before him who ate his breakfast silently. Gaius was up to something, he was sure of it. A rarity though it may be, he wasn't convinced that he was going to like what the physician would suggest.
Gaius rose from his seat and carried his empty bowl and spoon to one of his work benches where a small pot of recently heated water sat waiting. Merlin watched him as he dipped the bowl in to soak for a few minutes, but did not say anything.
"Merlin," Gaius began with his back to the warlock. The sounds of the water sloshing around in the pot filled the room. "I think it may be for your benefit if you," he paused, "go to the lake."
Merlin dropped his spoon with a wet clatter into his porridge, his whole body tensing. For a few seconds he mouthed wordlessly as he tried to come up with an excuse, any excuse, not to go back there, his eyes threatening to spill more unshed tears.
Of all the things he thought Gaius was going to ask of him, this wasn't one of them. He had been expecting chores, errands, leech tanks that needed cleaning out, but not that. He suddenly felt like he had been plunged into a dark hole in the ground, desperately trying to claw his way out but unable too.
"Gaius," he said frantically, swinging round to look at the man. "I don't need to go back there. I'm fine, really I am. I've been able to carry on with my job, haven't I? I've been able to carry out errands for you... I'll do some errands instead. I'll take Morgana's potion to her for you an-"
"Merlin." Gaius turned to face Merlin and sighed. "I think you need to, Merlin. People are starting to worry, I'm starting to worry. Look at you," he said as he walked towards the overwrought young man opposite him. "You're not sleeping, you're barely eating. If you carry on like this you are going to make yourself ill."
Silence followed as Gaius watched the young man. He was almost able to hear Merlin's heart thudding loudly as though prepared to run. He had to tread carefully... he was worried that if he said the wrong thing, the warlock would completely close off.
Merlin's gaze darted from object to object in the now seemingly very small room, in the hope that surely something could help him. He felt awful putting everyone, and especially Gaius, through this with him... it just made it all the worse. He thought he had been handling it rather well, getting on with daily life in the hope that externally, nobody would be able to tell he was far from alright. But Gaius didn't miss a thing.
"I'm sorry, I never meant to put any of you through this..." he said quietly, meeting Gaius' gaze. "But how can it help? Going back... there?"
Gaius gave a tiny sigh and sat down besides Merlin, placing a wrinkled hand on the young mans slumped shoulder. "I know it may sound impossible, but sometimes, visiting a person's place of rest can help you move on. Believe me, at this age I have had to do it plenty of times. Unfortunately, it is something everyone will go through repeatedly during their lives. It's accepting that we can't change what has happened and learning to move on that is the difficult bit, but will help us."
He heard Merlin choke slightly and gently squeezed his shoulder.
"It's alright to be afraid, Merlin."
Merlin sniffed, bringing a hand to fiercely wipe a fallen tear away. He breathed in deeply and straightened up a bit in his seat.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologising, Merlin. You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Sorry. Maybe... maybe I do need this. I need to make my peace with the fact that she is... gone."
Merlin rose and surprised Gaius by heading towards his room. He suddenly stopped, and turned to the physician. "I don't suppose you have a piece of spare cloth do you? Just a scrap will do."
"You get your things and I'll get you some," Gaius said rising from his seat, his joints clicking slightly.
Merlin flashed a quick smile and walked up the stairs, returning a moment later with his scarf tied around his neck and the rose laying delicately in his hand.
Gaius emerged from the broom cupboard, a small piece of cream cloth in his hands. "Here you are."
Merlin extended his arm to take it and carried that and the rose over to the table. "Thanks," he said.
He flattened the cloth scrap on the table, and placed the rose in the middle, before bringing the ends in to gently fold around the flower. Once certain it was safely wrapped, Merlin picked it up and tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket, patting it distractedly.
He abruptly stopped and froze, as though suddenly realising what exactly he was about to do and where he was about to go. Regaining his composure from his brief lapse, Merlin turned to Gaius and exhaled.
"Thank you, Gaius, for," he paused. "For helping me."
Gaius smiled and embraced him like a father would a son. "Thank me when you get back. Take as long as you need."
Merlin smiled back as Gaius patted him on the shoulder, and headed towards the front door, pulling it shut behind him, leaving a relieved and proud Gaius behind.
And that's chapter two! One (maybe two) more chapters to go...!
A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have reviewed so far – please continue to do so! ;-)
Lady Elrayen x