Yeah, I know. It's been a while. But here it is and it's fairly long so I hope that makes up for it. Thank you to everyone who reviewed and liked it so far, you guys are wonderful. Normally I would have a whole long a/n at this point, but I'm rather burnt out and sick at the moment so I'll just let you read. Enjoy. (:
Claude hefted the young boy in his arms and starting walking towards the physician's chambers with Merlin at his side. Though he tried to hide it, he kept sending curious glances at Merlin who was still coughing and wheezing slightly from all the smoke. He had to admit, he was very impressed with the young man. Not only had the servant rushed in and saved the small boy while Claude stood frozen from shock, but he also has stayed in the blaze to free the horses, which wasn't something someone would normally do while in a fire.
From what Claude had been told by the other guards and from what he had just witnessed there was a lot more to Merlin than meets the eye and he is a very unusual person.
He had seen the brief flash of worry and fear when the Prince Regent had said that he wanted to "discuss something with him later". But even that fear hadn't been anything remotely close to how scared Claude himself would be if the Prince had said that to him. Then again, it was now glaringly obvious that the two of them—master and servant—were a lot closer than one would expect. In fact, the supposed fear was more of nervousness than anything else.
Now the two of them were walking to get medically checked up by Gaius and the boy looked for all the world like any other servant—if a bit singed one—not someone who had the bravery or quick-thinking of a knight.
Claude sent another look at Merlin and noticed how his left hand seemed pretty badly burnt and how half of his clothes seemed to have been eaten up by the fire. Going in to save the young boy and then the horses hadn't been very easy or kind on the manservant. In all truthfulness Merlin looked like hell.
"You did a brave thing, going in there; I may not have been able to get the boy out if it weren't for your help, Claude."
Claude was startled by Merlin's words. Firstly, he had been thinking too much and hadn't even realized that Merlin had noticed him observing him. And then he was surprised that Merlin could still talk with how much he had been coughing. As it was, his voice was only a little rough.
It took Claude a few moments to process what Merlin had said. "I froze, though," he said after a moment. "You ran in immediately while I just stood staring like an idiot. You're the brave one." Claude was ashamed.
Merlin looked pensive. "Perhaps, perhaps you froze, but you still came to your wits in time to help me, and that matters a lot more than who went in first or who acted the quickest. This isn't some sort of competition. And besides, living in Camelot…you get used to crazy and dangerous things happening all the time. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen in the few years I've been living here. Once you see an army of skeletons or survive a dragon attack a little thing like a fire doesn't seem so big. But that doesn't mean it isn't. Any one of us could die in a fire as easily as by anything else. Who knows, perhaps your hesitance saved your life today, or perhaps even mine." Merlin smiled warmly at him. "Don't blame yourself for not acting quickly when everything turned out fine. People second guess themselves enough when bad things happen as it is." Merlin got a distant and slightly pained look in his eyes. "We cannot change our past or the decisions we made, all we can do is learn from both our mistakes and our triumphs so that we can make the future a better place."
By this time they had reached Gaius' room and Merlin opened the door, reverting back to the young silly-looking boy that Claude had first seen him as. But for his part, Claude was shocked at the wisdom that the manservant had shown and about how he had tried to comfort him when he should have been angry. Merlin may have been right that his action may have saved them both, or Claude's hesitance may have been what caused that horrible burn on the servant's hand. Yet Merlin had tried to relieve his guilt. It seemed that the more Claude saw and found out about Merlin the less he understood and the more confused he got.
As Claude stepped into the room he sighed in relief. He was tired, burned in several places—though they were all minor—and his arms were starting to hurt from carrying the dead-weight of the young boy. In all honesty he just wanted to lay down with something cooling on his burns and sleep for twelve hours. The adrenaline had long since left his system and he felt ready to drop.
An old man that Claude had seen on a few occasions had his back to the three of them and seemed to be stirring some concoction on a table. But when he heard the door open he turned around and Claude saw an expression of worry, shock, exasperation, and concern flit over his face.
"Merlin! What happened?" he asked and Claude couldn't miss Merlin's flinch.
"Gaius, it's not that bad. The stables caught on fire and I may have rushed in there, but it's nothing to worry about," Merlin replied and Claude had a feeling that the young man was trying to avoid a scolding. And from the look on the old man's face it hadn't worked.
"You rushed into a fire? What could have possessed you, Merlin? Are you trying to kill me with worry?" Gaius almost yelled.
Merlin seemed to be attempting to keep his distance from Gaius, but it was in vain because the physician marched over to him and began to poke and prod practically everywhere on his body. "What happened? Are you hurt?"
Claude was stunned at how the old man's voice sounded angry and deeply worried at the same time. He wondered if maybe this was just something Merlin provoked in people.
Merlin pulled back from Gaius and said, "No, Gaius, I'm fine, it's Claude and Rian who need to be looked at." Merlin gestured to the two of them and Claude was reminded of how Merlin seemed to know everyone's name.
"And what about your hand?" Gaius asked in an accusing tone.
"Rian hasn't even woken up yet, I think that's far more worrisome than my hand which doesn't even hurt anymore," Merlin replied.
Gaius looked as if he didn't believe the bit about not being in pain, but he went over and looked at the small boy in Claude's arms. "Lay him over here," Gaius said as he turned and bustled over to one of the cupboards and started to rifle through it, pointing to a bed in corner of the room as he did so.
Claude laid the boy, whose name was apparently Rian, on the cot and then stood off to the side, though what he really wanted was to crash somewhere. He knew that he should be stronger and not let the dull and sometimes sharp pain from the burns get to him. But coming off of the adrenaline high he had been on had left him wiped out, plus, he just wasn't used to this.
Claude looked over at Merlin who wasn't portraying any signs of pain or tiredness and wondered if maybe living in Camelot really did harden you to things like this. Or maybe it was just Merlin. Still, though, he sincerely doubted what the boy had said about his hand not hurting. The large red burn covering most of it looked angry and Claude knew from getting a minor burn once that this would last for a long time.
Currently, his own burns stung like nothing else and he felt moisture prick at his eyes from the pain of it. He shifted a bit and couldn't help the groan that escaped from him as the movement rubbed against another painful mark. Before when carrying the boy his concern and interest had been getting the unconscious lad to Gaius and observing Merlin. But now the pain was really starting to get to him.
It took Claude a moment to realize that both Merlin and Gaius had heard his expression of pain. "Why don't you sit down, my boy?" Gaius asked kindly, "You must be tired."
"Yeah," Merlin said with a grim smile, "I think it's safe to say that you're off duty for now. You may as well rest." Claude couldn't help laughing a bit at that and was still chuckling slightly as Merlin gently grabbed the sleeve of his guard's uniform—miraculously managing not to further aggravate any of his wounds as he did so—and pulled him down to sit in perhaps the only chair in the room.
It struck Claude at how considerate Merlin was since there were plenty of other seats in the room that had been much closer to them, but Merlin had deliberately chosen one he could lean back against and relax in, unlike benches and stools.
Sitting down alone made Claude feel worlds better and he felt his eyelids droop slightly in anticipation of their much-wanted sleep. He took off his coat since it was bit warm in the room, especially when considering the extra heat his burns added to him, and then began to remove his chainmail. He knew it was probably bad manners to just take off all his stuff and just dump it in someone else's home, but at the moment he just wanted to be comfortable. And besides, it did seem like Gaius minded since he was tending to Rian, and Merlin actually seemed to smile as he watched Claude relax.
The manservant had moved off to the side of the room and was leaning against the wall and seemed to be watching both him and Gaius' ministrations simultaneously. Looking at him now, though, Claude saw the dark and heavy circles under his eyes and finally noticed the exhaustion he had been previously searching for. And yet this tiredness was something that took a lot more than a brief brush with death—or at least a brush with fire—to cause. This was a weariness that came from long sleepless nights and a next to constant worry of something or for something. Claude's mind jumped back to the wisdom the boy had displayed less than ten minutes ago when he had been telling him not to second-guess himself. Perhaps that wisdom was truly and justly earned.
Suddenly Merlin shifted from where he was and began to walk over to Gaius and it was only then that Claude noticed the change in demeanor in the old man.
"Is he going to be all right?" Merlin asked as he looked down at Rian whose bottom half was covered with a blanket while his top half remained bare. Even from where Claude was sitting he could see the ugly burns and even a few small bruises that marred his chest.
Though Claude himself was worried about Rian, he found it a bit strange that Merlin sounded as concerned as if he knew the boy personally, which, for all Claude knew he did.
"Yes, he's going to be fine," Gaius answered as he began to put some sort of salve on the burns. "It's nothing serious," he continued, "just some minor burns, a few bruises that won't even hurt much, and he's probably going to have a sore throat for a day or two. But you got him out in time and there's nothing that will even leave a mark, let alone cause permanent damage. The reason he's out is probably because of the smoke and, judging by the bruises, something fell on him. Well, that's what it was to begin with, now he is just sleeping." Gaius smiled and then looked at Merlin expectantly.
"Claude was wearing chainmail, Gaius, the chances are that he has a lot more burns than me, and probably more serious, too." It was obvious Merlin was trying to stall having his guardian look at him, though why Claude couldn't understand.
"Ah, no," Claude said, trying to be selfless and let Merlin have his wounds tended to since he had been in that raging fire a lot longer, "Merlin…you-you should go first. Your hand looks really bad." Unfortunately, though, he sucked at being selfless.
"Nonsense," Gaius said as he practically pulled Claude's thin and now rather-burnt shirt off of him and began to inspect the damage, "I don't need both of you avoiding treatment. Truth is, you look like you're about to fall asleep and this will be much easier if you are awake so I'd better do you first anyway."
Claude couldn't argue with that reasoning, and, as he looked down at his chest when he heard a sharp intake of breath coming from a certain manservant, he couldn't deny that his injuries were quite possibly the worst. Merlin had been right. All over his chest and probably his back, too, there were rows and rows of tiny, ring-shaped red burns that had obviously been caused by the chainmail. No wonder his chest hurt so much.
Of course, he had seen nasty and even dangerous burns before—the one on Merlin's hand being one of them—and these small ones were hardly that severe. But there were a lot of them and they all stung and heated up his skin so that he was sweating. To be honest Claude felt a little sick at the sight of it all.
Gaius seemed to take it all in for a moment and then went to work on all of it, though, Claude was grateful that it didn't hurt too much.
"So," Gaius said in a vaguely scary voice, "how about one of you tell me exactly what happened?"
Merlin cringed slightly before deflating and answering the question, sort of. "I don't know really," he answered truthfully, "Claude; do you know how the fire started?"
Claude shook his head. "No, I think you actually noticed it before me. All I know is that the stable caught on fire very quickly with this—Rian trapped inside." He really would have to start calling him by his name.
"Yeah, Rian was unconscious when I found him. It's possible that he's the only one who can tell us what happened."
"Well then," Gaius said pointedly, "maybe we should wake him up." Gaius gave a sharp nod of his head in the direction of one of the cabinets and Merlin made his way over there.
"You're right. Arthur will come asking questions soon and if I can't provide him with a satisfying answer he may just kill me with the ridiculous chores he'll burden me with," Merlin remarked. Merlin pulled a small bottle out of the cupboard and brought it over to Rian and un-stoppered it underneath his nose. Rain jerked straight up and gave a short cry of alarm. Merlin quickly set down the bottle and lowered himself to the boy's level and placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him down.
"What-what happened?" Rian asked breathlessly from all the scared panting he was doing.
"I was hoping you could help us with that," Merlin said. "There was a fire in the stables. Claude and I ran in to get you out. You're safe and only a bit burned, but we still don't know what caused the fire. Can you tell us?"
Rian stared up at Merlin for a confused moment before he paled even further as his memory of what happened returned to him. He began to shake uncontrollably and looked up slowly at each man in turn with such fear in his eyes that it pained Claude and probably the others, too, to see it in such a young and innocent boy. "Are…what is going to be done to-to me?" he asked hesitantly as if he really didn't want to know but needed to.
"Nothing is going to be done to you other than what is necessary to heal your burns," Gaius replied gently but firmly so that there was no room for doubt. "But, like Merlin said, we are curious about how the fire started."
Claude had thought that the boy couldn't get any paler, but at Merlin's name his head swiveled sharply and his eyes lighted as they found Merlin and then Rian turned a sickly and gray shade. The guard didn't know if Rian hadn't seen Merlin around very much, or if, judging by his shocked expression at the time, he just hadn't been aware enough to realize that it was him.
"You're…you're Prince Arthur's servant?" If he had sounded scare before it was nothing compared to how terrified he seemed now.
"Yes," Merlin answered with a frown on his face. Apparently he couldn't fathom why anyone would be afraid of him.
"Is…is the Prince going to pun-punish me?"
Merlin's features seemed to crumple in pain at that and Claude knew that the pain didn't come from his wounds. "No! You are not going to be punished," Merlin stated with vehemence. "Why on earth would you think that?"
Rian's gaze fell to his shifting and twisting fingers, not looking at any of them as if he was ashamed. "I…I serve Lord Calmond and today he was summoned to the castle. When-when he came out of his meeting with the Prince it was too late for us to return home so we were allowed to stay here tonight in…in the castle. He sent me to check on his horse and to make sure it was clean and well-fed. I was just so tired I—" he seemed like he couldn't continue but then Merlin put his good hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring glance when Rian looked up questioningly. It bolstered the boy's confidence a bit and he picked up his tale again.
"When Lord Calmond has to go to the castle he…he gets very nervous. His mood turns a bit foul and he always gives me many more extra chores to do. I guess I haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately. And so when I went to the stables and found that no one had taken care my master's horse I knew it would take a long while. I suddenly got so exhausted and I felt so dizzy. I was…holding a torch in my hand at the time. When I woke up a fire was blazing all around me and I had a headache from when I had hit the floor. The only thing I could think of to do in my panic was to get my master's horse free. I suppose it wasn't exactly the smartest thing I could do, but I probably wasn't thinking clearly. But as I tried to get the horse out a saddle that was hanging nearby fell off its hook and landed on me and knocked me to the ground. I managed to push it off of me, but that time I was having trouble breathing and I remember everything going black. I…I woke up here." Rian finished his story and lowered his gaze once again.
Claude felt incredibly sad and angry for the young boy. He had been over worked and had fallen asleep standing up and had accidentally dropped his torch. It was by no means his fault, and yet Rian blamed himself and feared that he would be punished for it. And if Claude had anything to say about it not a single person would lay of finger on the young servant.
"It's okay, Rian, it wasn't your fault," Merlin said kindly as he placed a warm blanket around his bare shoulders.
Suddenly they all jumped as the door to the room was flung open and Prince Arthur himself strode in. "Gaius," the royal said both pompously and kindly—though how that was possible Claude wasn't sure—"how are they?"
"Only minor wounds sire," the physician replied. "What about anyone else? Are there others who are hurt?"
Claude noticed that Rian seemed to have shrunken down into a ball on the bed and Merlin had gone to stand in front of him. And Claude couldn't fail to notice that the manservant held his burnt hand out and that it looked far angrier now.
"No, no one was hurt except for Gwaine," Arthur answered. "His cloak caught on fire and I believe his ego was singed. However; I don't think it's nothing that the right amount of ale can't make him forget." Arthur smiled merrily, but soon he sobered up some. "We just managed to put the fire out, but I'm afraid that there is next to nothing left of the stables. But I suppose we should be glad that the horses are safe. A few of them got burned but we have people attending to them. In fact," Arthur said thoughtfully, "I think one horse made it out without so much as a singed hair. I believe that was the one that belonged to Lord Calmond. At least he'll be happy to hear that his favorite horse is perfectly fine."
Claude as well as Merlin and Gaius stole a look at Rian and they all saw him relax some and a bit of the fear disappear from his eyes.
"Now Merlin," Arthur said, turning to his servant to look directly at him. But as Claude watched, the pompous look on the Prince's faded away to be replaced with something else entirely, and he realized that Arthur had noticed Merlin's hand. Claude was unable to tell what emotion was in control since they all seemed to be battling for dominance. There was fear, anger, pain, confusion—as if he couldn't comprehend what he was seeing—concern, and many other emotions that were too faint for Claude to pick out.
The guard found it almost laughable now that he had once seen the two of them as no more than Prince and servant. It was clear that Arthur really did care deeply about his friend.
Claude watched as Arthur's face finally settled into an expression of anger and annoyance—rage seemed to be the Prince's default emotion and he now seemed to be falling back on it—and the Regent continued.
"Merlin, tell me exactly what happened out there? I went to bed with Camelot safe and nothing on fire other than the logs in my hearth and then I woke up to yelling. I ran outside and I saw the stable on fire and nearly consumed. And THEN I see dozens of horses flee from the stables and you stumble out like the bumbling idiot you are. So, pray tell, what did I miss?"
Claude knew that the prince was just trying to cover up his concern with anger, but he could tell that his harsh words were having a very negative effect on Rian. He was shaking so badly that the guard was surprised that he hadn't fallen off of the bed yet, and his eyes betrayed more fear than Claude had thought was possible to feel.
Merlin, still standing in front of the cot, took the tiniest look back at Rian and then looked resolutely at Arthur, a kind of burning determination and resolve in his eyes. Claude wondered what he was going to do. He didn't have to wait long to find out.
"It was my fault, Arthur, I started the fire," Merlin said.
Claude couldn't believe it! Of course, he hadn't thought that Merlin was just going hand the boy over for some sort of horrible punishment; he knew that the manservant was far too kind for that. But he still hadn't dreamed that Merlin would lie to the Prince Regent. Claude had long since gotten over his problem with Merlin's insolence to Arthur, but he still found it unbelievable that he was lying to his master and obvious friend.
He looked at Rian and Gaius and noticed that they both were just as shocked. Gaius was still cleaning his various wounds and accidentally pushed down a bit too hard which earned a hiss of pain from Claude. But he wasn't thinking about the pain at the moment, he was thinking about the sheer relief on Rian's face. Instantly he knew why Merlin was taking the blame.
"I put off mucking out the stables because, honestly, who actually likes doing that? I went to do it tonight because I like doing it when it's dark out and peaceful. And, well, I was kind of tired so I stumbled against the wall and I accidentally knocked a torch out of its bracket on the wall. I tried to put the fire out but it was too late. I remembered seeing Rian," he gestured behind him, "in there and I found him and tried to get him out. But a fiery beam fell in front of our path and I couldn't get around it. Out of nowhere Claude appeared and helped get both of us out. We would both be dead if it weren't for him." Merlin threw back a smile at Claude and then continued his story.
"But I just couldn't leave the horses in there to die. I guess I have grown rather fond of them. I ran back in and freed them." Merlin shrugged his shoulders. "That's it. I'm really sorry, Arthur, that I caused the fire."
Claude was stunned at how good of a liar Merlin was. If he hadn't known the truth he would have believed him.
The prince was speechless for moment before he slowly said, "You started the fire?" A long pause. "You started the fire." This time it wasn't a question. "Merlin! That is without a doubt one of the stupidest things you have ever done, and that's saying something! And I can't believe that you ran back in for the horses! Are you trying to kill yourself? They may be some very good horses, but your life is worth more than theirs!" Arthur faltered for a second as if he had just realized what he had said. "After all, you are servant to the Prince Regent, I don't have time to look for and train another servant. Those horses could have been replaced, but there's no one like you anywhere, Merlin, you are one of a kind." Arthur laughed suddenly at that. "But honestly, Merlin," he said, far more serious now, "a lot of people could have been hurt by your bumbling mistake. I know what my father would do if someone did something as stupid as that, accident or no." He sighed.
He turned his attention to Gaius. "Is anyone badly hurt?" he repeated.
The physician shook his head. "Minor burns and bruises, though, I haven't had a chance to look at Merlin yet. The one on his hand may be the worst."
Arthur eyes drew down to the burn and Claude couldn't miss the slight shudder that passed through him at the sight of it. He doubted the shudder was from how gross it was, but rather that it was on his friend's hand.
"Well," Arthur continued, "seeing as no one was killed or seriously hurt by your actions, Merlin, and since you did make up mostly for it by saving the horses and the boy…I suppose no great harm was done. But Merlin," Arthur said warningly, "what you did could have had very bad consequences. It should never happen again. What if the fire from the stables had caught on other buildings? Many could have died. In the future I don't want you mucking out the stables at night. Seeing as how that looks pretty painful," Arthur nodded at Merlin's hand, "you can have the next few days off. I'll leave it up to Gaius' professional opinion as to when you can return to work." Arthur looked like he was about to leave when he stopped himself and turned back. "Really, Merlin, what were you thinking by going after the horses?" he asked incredulously. "What in the world would possess you to do that?"
Merlin smiled. "Well, I knew you would be heartbroken if your favorite horse died, sire."
A smile twitched on the corner of Arthur's lips. "He is a very good horse." Then his expression grew grave and sincere. "Merlin, never risk your life for something as stupid and as worthless as that of an animal again. After all…I'd be hopeless without my manservant."
Now everyone in the room grinned. Claude could tell that the Prince admitting how he felt wasn't very normal, but it was becoming so with every passing day.
"Merlin, remember to get your hand taken care of," Arthur said as he turned to leave. "It looks painful." And with that he left.
Everyone in the room was a shocked at Merlin for several reasons, but it was Rian who spoke first. "Why did you take the blame for me? Why did you lie?"
Merlin went over and knelt beside the cot and took Rian's hands in his own good one. "Because I am Arthur's servant, sometimes he goes both easier and harder on me for that. What happened out there was an accident, but Arthur was right, Uther would not have cared. Arthur is a better man than him, but whatever punishment he decided to give you did not deserve, do not. It is not your fault; it is the fault of a man who overworked his servant. You are not to blame for what happened."
"Neither are you," Rian replied.
Merlin chuckled. "I often get blamed for things that aren't my fault. But don't worry; I can handle whatever Arthur throws at me." He laughed again as if it was some sort of inside joke. Gaius seemed to get it, too, because he smiled. "As it is he'll probably just throw me in the stocks or make me muck out the stables for a week, which considering the circumstances isn't very likely."
"The stocks?" Rian questioned guiltily.
"Yeah, and probably not even that since he hasn't done that to me in years. He just uses it as a threat these days. Though, he was right, it was rather idiotic of me to save those horses."
"Yes it was, Merlin," Gaius said, slapping Merlin lightly.
"I don't want you to be in trouble because of me," Rian said, obviously still guilty.
"Listen to me," Merlin replied reassuringly. "I'm Arthur's friend and his servant. And on both counts it is in his best interests if he is remotely nice to me."
"But what if he hurts you?" the boy asked.
"He won't," Merlin said confidently. "He's a better man than that. He's the best man I know, and that's saying something. I trust him with my life. The worst he'll do is throw a few extra things at my head and give me an angry lecture. And even if he does do something worse to me, I can handle it. You shouldn't have to. Believe me, there's not much that Arthur could do to me that I haven't already been through at some point."
Claude's mind flashed back to the story the guards had told him. He shuddered now as he thought of their descriptions of how they had beaten him. He didn't doubt the truth of Merlin's words.
Rian moved a bit and gasped in pain. Merlin quickly got up and grabbed a bottle of something and handed it to the boy. "It will help with the pain," he said.
Rian gulped it down and after a few moments laid his head back on his pillow. In a matter of minutes he was asleep.
"Was it supposed to do that?" Claude asked.
"Only if he was already very tired, which he was," Gaius replied. The old man stood up and looked down at him. "I've taken care of all of your burns, now all you need is sleep." He went over and practically pushed Merlin onto a stool. "Now your turn."
Merlin didn't protest and only confirmed Claude's suspicion that the only reason he had avoided Gaius' ministrations before was because he was worried about him and Rian. He couldn't believe how selfless this young man was.
Merlin pulled off his shirt and Claude gasped at what he saw. Huge burns littered Merlin's chest and arms as well as small ones, and they all looked far worse than any of Claude's own. He couldn't even imagine how Merlin had walked around and acted normal as if he wasn't in a great deal of pain. If he thought that his own injuries were painful he had no idea what Merlin's must be like. However, what shocked him the most was not the current wounds, but rather the scars that were spread everywhere on Merlin's body.
A bunch of tiny white scars were scattered in random places and sometimes even bigger scars that looked as if they were made by a sword could be seen. In the center of Merlin's chest Claude saw a huge burn mask that looked fairly old. It covered most of his chest and Claude couldn't fathom how the manservant had survived such a horrible burn. It was still an angry red so it must have been bad when it was fresh.
Between the old wounds and the new injuries Merlin looked just awful. And what little of his unmarred-skin that Claude could see was pale from exhaustion and pain.
Merlin saw him staring and looked down himself and cringed as he saw the burns.
"Merlin! What were you thinking? I should have attended to you right away!" Gaius exclaimed.
Merlin looked sheepish but seemed to decide that it would be better for him if he stayed silent. Gaius went to work on the burns and started to flinch every time he touched him. No wonder, Claude thought.
He was still staring rather rudely at Merlin so he moved his gaze from his torso to his face and asked, "What-what happened to you?" he croaked.
Merlin winced and looked down at himself again. "It's like I told you. Living in Camelot makes one used to danger."
"All that from living here?"
"Well no," Merlin answered, "some of it is from going on quests with Arthur to distant lands. To be honest, I don't really remember how I got most of these."
Claude almost had trouble believing that, but he could see the truth in Merlin's eyes. "You look like you should be dead several times over," he stated, his throat strangely thick. He found it almost painful to think of what this selfless, kind, compassionate young man had been through in his young life.
"Believe me," said Gaius from where he was tending to Merlin, "there has been a few times where I thought he was."
Claude shook his head to gain control of his thoughts. "Why," he asked suddenly, "did you do that? You lied for the boy. Would the Prince really have hurt him?"
"No," Merlin said positively. "Arthur wouldn't blame Rian, especially if he found out who really is to blame. I've met Lord Calmond and I know he isn't a cruel man. However, he can be oblivious to the suffering of others and often puts himself before everyone else. He gets nervous in the presence of the royal family and, as I have learned myself, like many nobles he takes out his stress on those weaker than him. He needs to know that his insensitivity could have cost many lives tonight." There was a bit of anger in Merlin's tone as if he was indignant on Rian's behalf.
"Don't worry, Merlin, I will pay a visit to Calmond tomorrow," Gaius reassured him.
Merlin nodded appreciatively, then turn back to look at Claude. "No, the real reason I lied was because I could see the fear in Rian's eyes, he was deathly afraid of what might happen to him. I wasn't about to tell Arthur he was the cause of the fire right in front of him. Besides, if Arthur did happen to be in a foul mood and wanted to dish out some punishment, then at least it would be me and not him." Merlin shrugged his shoulders and Claude felt the sheer power of the boy's innocence and disregard of his own safety and comfort blow him away.
He shook his head in disbelief and chuckled slightly. "I never met anyone like you, Merlin."
Both Gaius' and Merlin's eyes twinkled at that. "You're not the first person to say that to me," he replied.
Claude sighed and closed his eyes. He was so tired. The captivating conversation and having some of the pain go away had helped him to stay awake, but now he felt as if he could sleep for a week. He knew that any moment now he would crash and would unable to move for hours. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he opened his eyes tiredly.
"You really should get some sleep; do you need help getting up?" Gaius asked kindly.
Claude nodded and the old man grasped his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Thank you," he muttered. He was just about to walk out the door when Gaius called out to him and came over.
"Here," he handed him a bottle of what he expected was painkiller. "Take that whenever you feel you need it, but don't drink too much at a time or you might start to lose feeling in your fingers and tongue. Oh, and you should sleep on your side tonight since the burns might make it a bit hard to breathe. I will want to see you some time tomorrow to recheck your wounds and to tend to them."
Claude nodded and watched as Gaius turned back to Merlin and heard the physician's laugh as they both saw that he was fast asleep.
"Most may have some trouble seeing it, but I've known this boy for over four years and I know that he has been dead on his feet for hours, even before the fire. I suspect that the only reason he didn't call attention to how horrible he was feeling was because he was worried about the two of you," Gaius gestured to Claude and Rian, "and wanted to make sure you were taken care of first. He is a good man."
"No," Claude said firmly, "he is a great man."
"Yes he is. Sometimes he is selfless to a fault and will often put others before himself. He has gotten most of those scars helping people, and I doubt anyone but him really knows the depth of the sacrifice that they are a testament to. He has a kind and good heart and I know he would never hurt anyone unless he absolutely had to. Sometimes I wish that he wasn't quite so kind and trusting, that maybe he would look out for himself a little bit more. But it would be like asking someone to destroy a work of art. Merlin is unique in many ways and I would never want him to become like everyone else. He's better than that."
"I may not understand him," Claude said slowly, "but I know this…I am glad that I met him and I would be content if I could be half the man he is. Unfortunately I feel like I have a long way to go, but I think that meeting him will help me with that."
"Yes, that's what Merlin does," Gaius replied fondly, "to everyone he meets. He changes them, makes them a better person. Makes them want to be a better person. Just by smiling at them, by looking in their direction, by helping them out when they need it, by caring about what they have to say as if they are the most important person in the world, Merlin changes them. Go where you want, but you will never meet someone like Merlin."
Claude silently agreed. He looked at the peaceful and sleeping form of Merlin and wondered how the boy could be both so complicated and simple at the same time, yet somehow it fit him. Merlin was a strange person, that much was clear, and yet Claude had the feeling that he was only just realizing exactly how strange.
So...was it good? Did it meet your expectations? I know that Merlin seemed a bit OOC, but I'm beginning to think that maybe I shouldn't even worry about that anymore for this universe because Arthur and Merlin were pretty out of character in the first story, too. I'm not sure why that is, but I have trouble getting some of my characters to cooperate in these two stories. Well, I hope that despite that you liked it. Originally I wasn't planning on writing another sequel, but then I got the idea that I could sort of do a companion piece for this fic and in it have Arthur's point of view and maybe even Merlin's. It would be a chance for more bromance since this story didn't have enough of it for my taste, and I would be able to write a scene where Arthur thanks Claude for "saving Merlin". At this point it's not very well thought out, but go ahead and review and tell me if you want more of this series and if I show write that short story. Also, tell me if you want more Merlin and Arthur or more Claude. How many people like him?
Well, thank you for reading and being so supportive. Please review and tell me if it's good. So far this series has gotten a pretty big reception. Oh, and I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, at least, those of you who had one. I have no idea if people celebrate it in other countries. I should look that up. Bye!
"For I have overcome the world."