Disclaimer: Clearly I own Merlin. Clearly this leaves me enough time and energy to write these little tales of adventure instead of just including them in the show in the first place. (Pah-lease. If I owned Merlin, Kilgharrah wouldn't exist, Freya would pop by Camelot for afternoon tea much to the consternation of everyone except Merlin, security would actually be worthwhile, and Gwaine would have red hair.)
Not related in any way, shape, or form to either of my two ongoing works. Just a fun, stand-alone little thing I thought you all might like. Enjoy!
Gaius was sitting at his desk, attempting to improve a recipe for some vile-tasting cough medicine when he heard the voice of the king echoing down the hall. He glanced at the door, sighed, and tucked the parchment into the book at his elbow, waiting for the impatient king to come tearing through in search of a certain dark haired warlock.
He was not disappointed. With a loud cry of "MERLIN!" the doors flew open and Arthur Pendragon stormed in. The physician opened his mouth to explain, but never got the chance. "Gaius, where is he? He does realize that I gave him the afternoon off, not the rest of the week?" Gaius once again started to speak and was once again cut off as Arthur marched through the room, headed for the on the other side. "If he's slept in because he was at the blasted tavern last night, I'm going to kill—" The words died on the king's lips as he stood in the doorframe and stared into Merlin's room.
The physician sighed and stood. He moved slowly to the door and glanced in over Arthur's shoulder. Merlin was exactly where he'd left him: abed, pale, drawn, sleeping fitfully, sweat glistening on slightly sallow skin. His breathing was regular, or at least, more regular than the last time Gaius had looked in on him, and he wasn't tossing nearly as much as before. On the whole, Gaius thought he looked much improved. "I am sorry, sire," he said. "I meant to send a replacement to you and Gwen this morning, but I slept in. I was up with him later than I am accustomed."
The king swallowed, his expression wavering between deep concern, anger, and uncaring. "…What's wrong with him?" he asked, dropping his voice so as not to disturb the sleeping young man. "He was fine yesterday morning. Better than fine. Why is he sick now?"
"You gave him the afternoon off," Gaius said, shaking his head. "Usually I can coax him down, but I was too busy and he could have gone another week anyway, but then Morgana came and I was recovering and we've been so concerned with putting everything back to rights…"
"Wait," Arthur said, tearing his eyes away from Merlin and fixing the physician with a dark stare. "What do you mean coax him down? What does me giving him the afternoon off having anything to do with anything?"
"…It's hard to explain. Merlin does work hard. Harder than you give him credit for. When a sickness or cold or bug catches up with him—which it does more often than you would think, what with him living in the physician's quarters that gets sick people floating in and out all the time—he ignores it. More than that. He very nearly wills it away, because he doesn't have time to become ill. He has too much to do, and lying in bed for extended periods of time doesn't work for him. He's healthy as a horse, and his body is good at fighting things like that…but after going for so long, exhaustion catches up and he has to work through that, too. He honestly doesn't notice. He feels perfectly normal. But when he gets a break of more than a few minutes at once, his body stops fighting everything and he just…crashes." Gaius shrugged. "He's not the first person I've seen do it, and this won't be the last time it happens either."
Arthur was slightly horrified, and he looked from Merlin to Gaius. "Why haven't I heard of this before?" he hissed. "He's never sick."
Gaius smiled and shook his head. "As I said, I can usually coax him down. He doesn't know I do it. Sometimes he's not even aware he was sick. I keep an eye on him, and when I see him start to flag, I can almost direct the illness. I can usually keep it under just a few night hours of exhaustion and fever every couple of months, and that holds him over until he gets his midwinter holiday."
"I always thought he went to Ealdor," Arthur said, fiddling with the ends of his tunic.
"Heavens, no. He's spent the last four years bedridden and one-quarter dead while we wrestled a worst-case-scenario strain of whatever illness happened to be most prevalent in Camelot at the time."
Merlin moaned, drawing their attention. He turned his head, eyelids flickering. "He'll be waking soon," Gaius said as he eased the door closed. "It's better than it looks. This fit was worse than usual because we had to let it go so long, but I managed to head most of it off yesterday afternoon when you let him go early. He just needs a day of rest and he'll be back to his old self."
Arthur swallowed. "He can have as much time as he needs," he said. "And…when he's better, I'll see about relieving him of some of his duties."
"Oh, that's not necessary. He actually enjoys working for you, even if he won't admit it."
"Even so," the king argued. "That's not right. I don't want him getting sick like that. It'll only worry me." He bit his lip and cast a sideways glance at Gaius. "Don't tell him I said that."
"Not a word, sire," answered the physician with a smile.
Arthur nodded his thanks. "I can find myself another servant. See if I can't salvage the rest of my morning. When he wakes, tell him I want to see him early tomorrow, to make up for this." He turned around and marched away from Merlin's door. He stopped on his way out and, not looking at Gaius, asked, "…You'll make sure he gets better?"
"Of course, sire," Gaius said with a bow.
Arthur nodded and swept out of the room. People asked about Merlin all day, but Arthur only said he'd been given the day off. He couldn't bear to go into the reasons why.