I'm going to make several disclaimers right now.
First off, I don't own Merlin. As shocking as that must be for all of you, it's true.
Second of all, I'm not a migraine sufferer. I make this statement because some of you readers probably do get migraines. They're not uncommon. I wanted to make it clear that if I describe things inaccurately, it's because I've never experienced it. I'm going on hearsay and imagination. Any notes on what I'm doing right or wrong would be appreciated.
Lastly, the story is a little bit Merlin/Arthur, but it's really a friendship fic. If it comes off as more, then it's only because I tend to overdo the male bonding. And possibly partly because I'm listening to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack as I write it.
Come what may…
Please enjoy the story!
Merlin woke up to a headache so bad that he wanted nothing more than to turn over and go right back to sleep. However, he did not—partly because he knew he wouldn't be able to fall asleep again through the throbbing and partly (but only a very small part, mind you) because he had duties to fulfill for a certain pratly young Prince.
So, despite the opposition from his aching head, he left his chamber and walked into the next room where Gaius was preparing a thick porridge of some sort.
He did not feel hungry—on the contrary. He felt a bit nauseous. But he knew that not eating anything before a day of work would only make him feel worse, so he forced a few bites before leaving for Arthur's room to wake the sleeping Prince.
It was swelteringly hot outside, which slowed the young warlock's pace considerably. Because he hadn't slept in or taken the time to eat a decent breakfast, he might have actually been on time for once, if it hadn't been for the bloody heat and his bloody headache.
By the time he actually arrived in Arthur's room, he was sweating and utterly miserable. His eyes protested every light that shined in them and his head throbbed with every noise and movement that was made.
From Merlin's entrance alone, Arthur would not have suspected anything to be different about his manservant. The door swung open without so much as a knock and immediately the warlock was creating a racket in an attempt to hastily straighten things up to compensate for being late.
It wasn't until Arthur opened his eyes and stared the servant down with a glare that should have struck him dead on the spot that the Prince noticed the awkwardness of Merlin's movements. Sure, the boy was clumsy. Before meeting him, Arthur hadn't known that one person could even be such a walking disaster.
But this was different. His useless, disrespectful servant flinched with every noise that was made, and his hands lacked any strength or grace to their gestures and almost appeared to be shaking.
"Up, prat." His usual smirk was gone, and he moved deliberately and abnormally slowly.
Arthur pretended not to notice.
"Your breakfast is served." Merlin's tone was barely above a whisper.
"Aren't you going to draw the curtains?" Arthur asked. That was logically the first thing that should have been done. Did Merlin expect him to eat in the dark?
"I suppose if you really need the light, I could do that…" His offer seemed hollow, for he made no move to actually touch the curtains.
"Well, unless you have some kind of sudden moral opposition to a lit room, then that would make sense. Any decent servant would have figured that out before I had to ask, Merlin."
His words had no meaning, the Prince's only goal was to get a rise out of his servant. Insulting him usually did the trick. Half of him expected that remark to return Merlin to his usual self, but his plan failed. The dark haired male stood in front of the curtains hesitantly before squinting and opening them wide, as he did every morning.
Arthur seemed pleased that his order was fulfilled, but Merlin's pained expression did not go unnoticed.
Merlin angled himself so that he was facing away from the window. The light in the room was painful, but preferable to looking directly at the source.
"Alright, I'll ask you outright. What's the matter with you today?" Arthur asked, fed up with both waiting for Merlin to begin complaining by himself and with trying to decode him.
"I don't know what you mean, Sire," he said, trying to sound convincing.
"You know I could put you in the stocks for lying to me, right? I wouldn't hesitate."
Merlin paled at the threat and decided that, even though he believed that Arthur was exaggerating, even the slightest possibility that he would have to spend any amount of time in the sweltering heat with the overwhelming sunlight and people throwing things at hishead was a danger real enough to tell the truth.
"It's just a little headache."
Or, at least, part of the truth.
"Ah, well. You can close the curtains back up if the light is bothering you. I don't really see why you hid it from me, if it's something that trivial." He tried to seem relatively uncaring, but did take the consideration to lover his speaking volume, at least.
Arthur hadn't expected him to actually close the curtains, and was a little surprised when the light that had once filled the room dimmed significantly and his eyes had to readjust slightly, but he had given permission, so he couldn't complain. Plus, Merlin seemed to be more comfortable in the darkened room.
His headache must be a little worse than I supposed. The Prince thought, still mostly oblivious to the world of pain that his scrawny manservant was experiencing.
"I had plans to practice combat outside today. Think you can survive it?" The question was dripping with sarcasm, but truly was asked in earnest. If Merlin felt the need to decline, he wouldn't hold it against him.
Merlin scoffed, not even taking the offer as a serious one because of Arthur's tone.
"Of course I'll survive. It takes a little more than a headache to get rid of me, Sire."
Merlin could spit out that word like no other man Arthur knew. It was infuriating, but somehow comforting as well. If Merlin had the energy to attempt to make the Prince's life a living hell, he surely was fine for combat.
"Glad to hear it. We'll begin as soon as you get me dressed."
"Well of course, Merlin. It's going to be a dreadfully hot day, so I want to get some training in before it's too hot to do anything."
Merlin said nothing. The Prince slipped out of his once hushed tone and was talking in his full, obnoxiously loud speaking voice. Everything sounded like a declaration with this man, Merlin noticed sorely.
Getting Arthur dressed had not been exactly pleasant, but also not intolerable.
Merlin was slowed by the fact that any jarring movements sent spasms of pain through his cranium, and the Prince had not taken kindly to this fact.
He began to yell at Merlin, but stopped when he flinched in obvious discomfort. It registered for the first time that his servant was indeed trying his best, so he decided to be more lenient.
Just for today, of course.
Everyone had their off days, and Arthur certainly wasn't cruel. He teased Merlin, sure. Called him names like "useless" and "idiot", but only because they were all true statements. The Prince didn't have any ill-bearings towards the fellow, though.
Quite the opposite, really. He'd formed a bond with him.
By the time Arthur was fully dressed in his battle armor and Merlin in the armor he wore when practicing with the Prince, Merlin felt miserable. He began to doubt that he would be able to last the whole day in this sort of pain, and contemplated telling Arthur as much.
However, he refrained because by the time he made a definite decision to back out of training, Arthur was already barking orders at him to block the attacks he was making on the boy.
Every time the metal clanged, it rang inside his head and throbbed until he thought he might be physically ill. The metal was shady, mainly because he had only a small square to see out of, but the sunlight bounced off the light dirt and back into his eyes excruciatingly. All this combined with the heat of the day, the fact that he was sweating more than normal with the increased exertion every movement took, and the fact that he had hardly eaten anything over the course of the day began to take its toll on the warlock's body. The pain was more intense than anything he could remember feeling before.
First he felt nauseous. His stomach rolled, and he felt that he could be sick. Trying his best to stop moving with Arthur still swinging at him, he took a few steps back to get his bearings.
The next thing he noticed was that he felt a numbing sensation throughout his body. At first he couldn't tell whether he was cold or hot, but as the moments passed, he decided that he was definitely burning. Unbearable heat radiated inside his metal suit, adding to the rolling of his stomach.
The final thing he noticed was that his vision went black. This was the frightening part. He was standing, but felt unsteady and couldn't see anything at all. All sounds became distant and dull.
The blackness didn't last long before his limbs went limp and he could no longer fight unconsciousness.
At first, Arthur didn't even realize that Merlin had fainted. He was a clumsy boy, and often tripped or was knocked over during their training sessions.
It wasn't until he walked over to his unmoving body and outstretched his hand in assistance that he noticed that Merlin was not conscious.
"Merlin? Hey, you idiot, can you hear me?"
Arthur frantically got off as much of Merlin's armor as he felt necessary and called another servant to fetch cool water.
He put a hand to Merlin's forehead to see how overheated he was, and found it surprisingly void of fever. It was a little warmer than it should have been, but certainly nothing that should have made him collapse.
It was only a few moments before Merlin came to. The pain in his head was worse than ever, and he no longer had the armor to block out the offensive sunbeams.
He suddenly became aware that Arthur was talking to him.
"…right now, Merlin? Should I send for Gaius?" Merlin was lying on his back on the ground, wearing significantly less armor than he had remembered sporting before he collapsed. Arthur was kneeling next to him, shouting much louder than necessary out of fear and urgency.
"I'm right here, stop yelling," he moaned. "I'm fine. It's nothing serious. Leave Gaius alone, he has work to do. I just want to go inside," Merlin mumbled, so quietly that Arthur had to strain to hear him. They boy laid his arm over his eyes in an attempt to shield his eyes from the sun.
"Of course, we'll go inside once you're fit to stand again. In the meantime, keep lying down. How do you feel?"
The servant let a low groan escape his throat. He was definitely in too much pain now for the "I'm fine" game.
"My head hurts." He moaned miserably.
Arthur smirked. "I would imagine. You probably knocked yourself stupid falling on the ground like that," he teased. Taking another glance at his ill looking manservant, he offered again, "Should I have someone get Gaius?" more gently as an afterthought.
"There's nothing he could do. And the headache was the cause, not a side effect."
"You fainted… because of a headache? I've never heard of such a thing."
"It's really bad," Merlin replied, his voice barely audible and pained.
The Prince was slightly worried now, but feigned indifference anyway. "I gave you the chance to decline training, Merlin. You should have said something."
"You mean in your room? That was hardly a choice! You said that if I could survive, then I should come. Obviously I'm still alive, so I would have been lying." The boy said in a harsh cross between a whispering tone and a yell.
"Had you told me that you were going to faint like a girl then I would certainly not have made you come out here."
"Well, coincidentally, had I known that I was going to fai—collapse valiantly, I wouldn't have come out here, either."
Arthur almost chuckled. Even now he was insufferably disrespectful. The younger man was still lying on his back with one arm draped over his eyes, angry but in too much pain to do anything about it.
The laughter in his face died away, however, when Merlin shot into a sitting position suddenly.
"Merlin, I think you should keep lying down for a little while. Can't have you fainting again," Arthur coaxed while trying to push gently on the boy's shoulder to get him to recline again, but the servant was having none of it.
His face went a shade paler and he put a hand to his mouth and closed his eyes tightly, feeling as if he might lose the small amount of food he had eaten that day.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Arthur asked; worry starting to seep into his voice. Merlin looked really ill.
He left the question unanswered, not really trusting himself to speak quite yet.
The silence upset the older boy further. He began to stand up. "I'm getting Gaius. Don't move from this spot, I'll be right back."
Merlin reached up and grabbed the Prince's wrist, eyes opening despite the brightness of the sun, and Arthur crouched back down to look at his face.
"I'm just sick to my stomach. But it passed. Can we please go inside now?"
"If you think you can walk. I'm not carrying you to my room."
Merlin nodded, and stood, with the help of Arthur, and the two walked towards the inside of the castle. The servant leaned on his master of support, putting more and more of his weight on him as they walked closer to the castle.
As they began up the stairs to Arthur's room, Merlin's vision went blurry. Another side effect, he thought bitterly. The next thing he knew, his foot underestimated the step and he tripped.
Thankfully Arthur was already holding most of the boy's weight; when he felt Merlin seemingly go limp he picked him up as gently as he could, so as not to further aggravate the pain, carried him to the top of the stairs, and set him down.
Merlin looked up at him questioningly, squinting at the light in the room. The headache had died down significantly now that he wasn't outside with Arthur beating on his metal armor.
Arthur didn't say anything, and the boys walked to his room without another word or incident.
The servant stood awkwardly in the center of the room, desperately wanting to lie down again, but knowing that to do so could get him in a lot of trouble. Servants did not sit down in their master's rooms while they were supposed to be working.
He was relieved when Arthur guided him to the bed and said, "Just lie down already, imbecile."
The Prince chuckled slightly when Merlin did lie down—face first.
"What are you doing?"
"It blocks out the light," he answered quietly, hardly making an effort to lift his face from the fabric of the bed to be understood.
Arthur sighed and rolled his eyes. "Just be sure you don't asphyxiate."
Merlin made an affirmative whimper, and the Prince decided to busy himself with other things that would be quiet while the servant slept (or tried to).
About an hour passed uneventfully. Merlin had not made a sound in so long that Arthur was beginning to wonder whether or not he should be concerned.
Just as he approached the bed to ensure that his friend was still breathing, the boy on the bed began to stir. He turned over and sat up slowly, blinking tiredly.
"How are you feeling?" Arthur asked him in the softest voice he could manage.
Merlin smiled. "Better. Completely exhausted, but at least the headache is gone."
Arthur smiled back in relief. "So, does that happen often?" the Prince tried in a jesting manner, but not without undertones of concern.
"Not often, but it's not the first time. Actually, it's the third since I've arrived in Camelot. This is the first time it's been that bad, though—I've never passed out from them before. Gaius says they're from overwork and stress," the warlock answered.
"Well, next time it happens, just stay home. I don't want to see you in that kind of pain again, and I especially don't want to see you trying to work through it. I've never seen anyone experience that kind of pain from illness and live through it. I was…." Arthur trailed off, thinking he's said too much.
"Worried? Afraid?" Merlin finished teasingly.
"Of course not! Merely… slightly concerned."
"Really! Do you carry everyone you're 'slightly concerned' about up the stairs?" What remained of Arthur's fear for the servant's well-being disappeared. If he was making jokes and laughing again, he must be feeling better.
"If you tell anyone about that, I'll have you thrown in the stocks," Arthur quipped with fake irritation.
"It's a deal… provided that you don't tell anyone I fainted."
The boys smiled at each other and shook hands, verifying the promise to not speak of the incident again.
The Next Day
As Merlin followed Arthur down the stairs on their way to combat practice, they were stopped by Gwen.
"Arthur! I've been meaning to talk to you! I just wanted to say that I thought it was incredibly sweet the way you carried Merlin up the stairs yesterday after he fainted," she chirped.
Arthur and Merlin looked at each other and paled.
So much for their secret.