Disclaimer: I own nothing, all rights belong to their respective owners.
Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. This one takes place after 5x08.
Merlin knew that he was due in Arthur's chambers. He also knew that he had been due there for the last candle mark or so. He couldn't help it; his leg was slowing him down far more than he thought it would. He had let Gaius treat it once he had made sure that the king was no longer in any danger, but he hadn't told the old man precisely what had happened. He had just let Gaius think that he had taken a fall in the woods. Technically, it wasn't far from the truth: that had been how he had hurt the limb. But he just didn't want Gaius to know how close Morgana had come to actually succeeding removing the only barrier she had to killing the king. It worried Merlin that she already knew that he was part of the reason why Arthur survived every attack and that was without her knowing about his powers.
But he could still protect Gaius.
He knew that the old physician would be beside himself in anxiety if he knew that his ward was being targeted for the witch's attacks as much as Arthur was. After all, Merlin didn't have the knights of Camelot at his beck and call to protect him, and depending on who was around, it was just as dangerous for him to use magic to protect himself as it was going against Morgana in the first place.
Then again, Merlin also didn't have a wife that was trying to kill him.
As he limped along, Merlin realised that his mind was going wild about what he was going to say to Arthur. Not only had he disappeared for a couple of days, he had also done so when the king had been expecting an important guest. Merlin knew that his master would have been beside himself with annoyance that he didn't have a servant to rant to about everything that was expected of him whilst the man was there, especially as Merlin knew that he didn't like their guest. But Arthur knew that he had to put personal feelings aside when it came to the protection of Camelot.
That didn't stop him from moaning to his servant about it though. This time, however, Merlin knew that it was not Sarrum that was the problem, it was the Queen. It was hard enough having to lie about the fact he knew the only reason Arthur was even alive right now was because of a quick piece of magical interference from his servant, let alone hear him go on about how Gwen had saved the day by revealing the treachery behind the plot. Merlin had no idea if that was the role she was going to play this time, or whether they were just going to make it look like Arthur had never been the target in the first place.
But thinking about it all made Merlin's head hurt. Arthur had already scolded him for not being there and apparently being off with some girl. Whilst Merlin had just wanted to crawl into bed after that tongue lashing and hope that something happened to make Gwen snap out of her evil mood, that had not been the case. So instead, he found himself forcing himself back to Arthur's chambers when he knew that the king would be present, but the queen would not. Gwen was down in the market, making her presence known with the people whilst her husband got ahead on some paperwork. Arthur was never in the best of moods when he was forced to sit at his desk and pour over reports, yet Merlin didn't know when else he was going to get the chance to talk to him.
Yet what the servant didn't think about was how close that he too had been to death. Technically, he shouldn't even be alive. It was only thanks to his magic and Daegal that meant he was even making this journey in the first place. He had a feeling that Gaius knew he wasn't being completely truthful about what had happened due to the paleness of Merlin's skin and the beading of sweat on his forehead, but considering the wound was beginning to look infected; Merlin had simply blamed it on that. His determination to protect the physician from the truth meant that he was adamant that he was just going to force the last bit of poison from his body by using magic. He had certainly tried, but as to whether or not he had succeeded, Merlin had no idea.
Unfortunately, he hadn't done so.
Arthur's door was in view when Merlin suddenly realised that his vision seemed to be swimming alarmingly. He could barely focus on Arthur's door, let alone putting one foot in front of the other. Determined to inform his king about Gwen's treason, Merlin leant to one side, allowing one shoulder to take his weight as it propped him up on the wall. Unable to stop himself, he wiped his hand across his forehead, blinking in surprise when he felt it wipe the sweat away. Heart beating uncomfortably fast, Merlin raised his hand again. This time, he forced himself to keep calm and concentrate as he tried to take note of what he was feeling, but even despite his swimming mind, he knew that he was burning up.
Get to Arthur.
It was the only thought that he could lodge in his head. As soon as he had stopped, a slight ringing in his ears had begun to slowly build and as Merlin stepped away from the wall, he found that he was forced to throw out his hand in order to stop his legs from simply buckling. He managed to stand upright again, but the corridor seemed to be spinning around him in a way that he knew was not good. Licking his lips in concentration, Merlin took another step forward.
This time, he wasn't quick enough to stop his knees from hitting the floor. Knowing that standing up was going to be a bad idea; Merlin knelt where he was for a moment, palms pressed against the cool stone as he gasped for breath. It was nice and cool down here, Merlin considering just staying there for a moment and letting himself cool down.
As soon as the thought flickered through his mind, Merlin shook his head. He had to get to Arthur; he had to carry on thinking straight. Forcing his head up, he tried to force his eyes to focus on the king's door again, knowing that he needed something to ground himself. But as soon as his eyes latched onto the source that he was aiming for, the door opened. The movement was enough to make Merlin lose all concentration and his sweaty palms slipped on the floor, sending him crashing down onto his stomach. He made one more attempt to get up and get moving as a pair of feet entered his vision, but before Merlin could even lift his head properly, blackness overtook his vision and he passed out, sprawled across the corridor floor.
For his part, Arthur simply stared down at the collapsed form of his servant in absolute astonishment.
He had only been going to clear his head for a while, get away from thinking about tax reports and how the grain harvest had done that year. His wife was out in the town enjoying the sunshine and Arthur had every intention of joining her for an hour or two, knowing that Merlin didn't dare turn up when he was in the middle of reports. His aim seemed to improve tenfold when he was immersed in reports, simply because he found them so boring. But with no Merlin to distract him, Arthur had been bored. Donning his cloak, he had opened the door, glancing down the corridor as he did so.
He wasn't sure what to make of the sight of Merlin on his hands and knees on the floor. Arthur had taken a step towards him, a scathing comment on the tip of his tongue about the servant's clumsiness as a way of hiding the concern that had overtaken him when he had realised what he was seeing. But he had only just reached Merlin when he heard the way that the man seemed to almost be gasping for breath. He certainly didn't have time to say anything – mocking or otherwise – when Merlin had simply collapsed.
"Merlin?" Very gentle, Arthur nudged him with his toe. He knew that Merlin – despite his moaning that no one ever gave him any slack – hated to be fussed over. When the warlock didn't so much as stir at Arthur's nudge, the king found that he was dropping to his knees next to him. He carefully placed a hand on his shoulder and shook him slightly.
"Sire?" Arthur jumped at the voice, but turned to see a guard standing behind him hesitantly.
"Go and tell Gaius to prepare his bed, I'm going to need him."
"Do you want me to fetch him here?"
"No, I'm coming to him." The guard dipped his head in respect and hurried off. Arthur had no desire to make this a big issue –he knew how much Merlin would hate that. So instead of summoning the physician and making the whole kingdom aware that medical attention had been sought near the king's chambers, he instead was simply going to take Merlin home.
"What have you done this time?" Arthur murmured softly, rolling Merlin onto his back as he did so. Blinking in surprise, Arthur couldn't stop the feeling of unease from trickling down his spine at the black smudge that was in the corner of Merlin's mouth. As Arthur watched, Merlin's head tossed to the side slightly as he moaned, more of the substance appearing. He still didn't awaken though, and Arthur knew that whatever he was seeing, it was serious. This was no accident, of that he was sure.
This was poison.
Not stopping to think about who would poison his manservant, Arthur stood up. Leaning over, he took hold of Merlin's arms and pulled the slender man up and over his shoulder. He knew that it was potentially not the best position for Merlin to be in, but the quicker the king could get him to Gaius, the better for all of them. Setting off at a brisk pace, Arthur found that his mind was racing as he tried to think about when on earth someone would have had the chance to poison Merlin. Had he been the target, or was the poison been meant for his king and Merlin had accidentally perhaps taste the food or wine that had laced it? Had he deliberately thrown himself into harm's way once again to make sure that Arthur was not hurt? After all, this would not be the first time that Merlin had taken something poisonous to try and protect Arthur, and the years gone by would have only heightened that desire to protect rather than diminished it.
With his mind in turmoil, Arthur barely noticed where his feet were taking him. Luckily, he was not only heading towards the physician's quarters, he also seemed to be automatically taking the quieter routes, the ones where people would not immediately start gossiping about what was happening. Merlin was well liked; Arthur knew that news would spread quickly if he disappeared for another few days. The journey to Gaius' chambers seemed like one of the longest ones Arthur had ever taken considering he could feel the way that Merlin was trembling over his shoulder, but eventually, the stairs came into view.
Taking a moment to make sure that Merlin was secure, Arthur heard the door open from someone above him. The guard that he had sent ahead stepped out, but simply made sure that he was out of the way. He seemed to know that offering to take Merlin from the King would not be met with kindness, but Arthur simply nodded his head and began to climb the stairs.
"What happened?" Sure enough, Gaius was waiting for them at the top as well, instantly reaching out a hand towards Merlin. Arthur didn't stop moving even when he could feel Gaius trying to take his ward's pulse, but instead headed straight for the little bed. Sure enough, it had been made up for a patient, but Arthur could tell by Gaius' behaviour that he had not expected that patient to be the man he considered to be a son to him.
"I found him collapsed outside of my door." Arthur murmured, tipping Merlin off his shoulder and onto the bed. He barely noticed that he found himself automatically repositioning the man to make sure that Merlin couldn't fall off before wiping his thumb across the corner of the warlock's mouth, studying the black substance that had continued to gather there. He had certainly never seen anything like it before; he just had to hope that Gaius had and knew what to do.
"Collapsed?" Gaius seemed to freeze from where he had been bustling about before coming over to the bed. He placed his hand on Merlin's forehead, eyes widening in alarm at the young man's temperature before taking his pulse properly. "Well this is no infection."
"Infection from what? Gaius?" Arthur found that he was being ushered back a step as Gaius pulled off Merlin's boot and rolled his trouser leg up. The king felt an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of his stomach as the bandaged was revealed. Maybe he shouldn't have been so dismissive over the idea that Merlin had been with a girl. As Gaius untied the bandage, Arthur found that he was leaning forward. He knew enough about wounds to know his servant had received this one during the same time period that he had been missing for. Gaius probed and prodded at the wound for a moment before redressing it and sitting back, looking both confused and worried. It was never a look Arthur liked to see on his physician's face.
"I knew he wasn't well. He told me that the wound was feeling warm, a sure sign of the beginning of an infection. He's been with me for years, Sire, he knows these sorts of things so I believed him. But the wound is clean and healing well. Therefore…"
"Therefore something else has happened to the idiot. This is poison, isn't it?"
"I can't tell for sure, he might just be unwell…"
"Gaius, in all the time that Merlin has been in Camelot, have you ever seen him unwell apart from a slight cold at worst? He never gets ill and now he has just collapsed halfway down a corridor. Look at his mouth, Gaius, that does not happen naturally. Someone has poisoned my servant."
Saying it out loud suddenly made it all the worse. Arthur strode over to the door and beckoned the guard forward.
"I want to know Merlin's movements from two nights ago. I want to know where he went, and who he met. I'm led to believe it was a girl from the lower town somewhere. I want her found."
"Sire." The guard hurried off, but Arthur moved back into Gaius' chambers, sitting down on a stool and watching as the physician laid a cooling strip of cloth upon Merlin's forehead, clearly trying to cool him down. Merlin was restless, moving and moaning slightly, but Arthur knew that he was no closer to waking up than he had been when he had collapsed in the corridor. This was just his body reacting to the poison.
"Who would want to poison Merlin?"
"Can you think of no one?" Arthur hadn't even realised he had been thinking out loud until Gaius responded to him, and then he could only stare at the old man.
"Only one. But there was no way that Merlin has been anywhere near Morgana, even he isn't that stupid. Besides, Gwen told me about his secret liaison with a lover, you were there, you heard her."
"Perhaps she was mistaken." Arthur blinked at the coolness in Gaius' voice, but found that he couldn't say anything to reproach the old man. Merlin was clearly in danger, fighting for his life. Arthur was not about to bring up the issue of how one should address their queen in a situation like this. He was never going to be as cold hearted as his father in that sense.
"Can you cure him?" Right now, Arthur found that he didn't particularly care who it was that had poisoned Merlin. All he wanted to know was whether his servant was going to be alright or not. That was the only thing that mattered right now, and that was why Arthur once again found himself speaking before he knew what he was saying. "Can I help?"
Gaius almost seemed to pause in astonishment, his eyes widening slightly as he looked over at the king. He seemed to realise that Arthur was being genuine though, so he nodded.
"Get his boots, jacket, scarf and shirt off, we need to bring his temperature down."
"Do you want to help or not, Sire?" This time, Gaius' voice was almost challenging. Could Arthur bring himself to reverse their normal positions and help undress Merlin despite the fact that it was normally the other way around in order to help a friend? Or would his mind set as a king stop him from doing so?
"Very well." Understanding and accepting the challenge for what it was, Arthur moved forward as Gaius stepped towards his shelf, clearly rummaging through his many bottles in order to find what he was looking for. The boots were the easy part, as was the neckerchief. But trying to pull Merlin's arms out of his jacket with no assistance from the man himself was a lot harder than Arthur thought that it would be. After almost pulling the servant off the bed in order to free his other arm, Arthur was practically panting by the time that the jacket was off. Surely the shirt had to be easier, right?
"Arthur, I need to go to the lower town. There is a herb being sold there that should help him awaken. Until I know what happened, treating him is going to be hard. You'll stay, won't you?" Gaius was gone before Arthur had the chance to answer. Yet the King knew that Gaius hadn't really just asked him a question – he had delivered a statement. When it came to those he cared about being ill, the physician certainly didn't hesitate when it came to telling Arthur what to do. But considering it was his ward in question, he must have known that, despite their bickering, Arthur wasn't going to let anything happen to Merlin any more than Gaius was. The old man left the room and Arthur turned back to his unconscious servant, already seeing the way that his fever – if that was what it was - was getting worse.
"You are such a pain." There was no trace of annoyance in Arthur's voice though, just fondness as he slipped onto the bed behind Merlin. With one arm laying across the back of Merlin's shoulders and carefully holding him up, Arthur used the other to begin to tease Merlin's shirt off. Luckily, it was considerable easier than the jacket, although Arthur was just hoping that he had misheard the slight tearing noise as he whipped it off over Merlin's head. As Arthur lowered him back down, however, Merlin suddenly groaned again.
The King had just slipped from the bed when he had the feeling that he was being watched. Looking up, he blinked in surprise to see that Merlin's eyes were suddenly open. But whilst he was looking towards Arthur, it was more than obvious that he wasn't focusing properly. Yet Arthur was still able to work out what it was that Merlin was telling him. Using knightly reflects, he leant back, letting his hand search without looking until it grabbed onto a bucket. Just in time, he brought it forward, rolled Merlin and shoved it under his head just as his servant lost the contents of his stomach violently.
Trying to control the urge to copy his servant, Arthur found that he was rubbing a hand up and down Merlin's back as he heaved. Eventually, the man fell back, gasping and heaving for breath. Arthur moved the bucket and forced Merlin to lie back down again. It showed how ill he was as Merlin went down without fussing, something that Arthur wasn't sure he had ever done before.
"Don't try and speak, Merlin, I don't want to find out if you have anything left in your stomach to bring up." Yet Arthur's actions were betraying his words as his hand had found the cloth that had fallen from Merlin's forehead as he had retched. Dipping it in the water, Arthur proceeded to lay it first across his servant's forehead, then wiped it across his chest soothingly as it became apparent that Merlin's temperature was still rising. The warlock's eyes had shut again, but whether he was still alert, unconscious or simply sleeping, Arthur had no idea.
"Thank you, Sire." Gaius' voice made Arthur jump, for he had not heard the physician return at all. One moment, he had been trying to cool Merlin down, the next the cloth was being taken from his hand. Instead, Gaius pressed two plants into his grip.
"Can you pound these together until their juices mix?"
"I… yes," Arthur had initially gone to refuse, about to say that he was the king of Camelot, he did not stand there and mix plants together. But then he looked at Gaius properly, and saw that the old man was genuinely scared for Merlin. He wasn't sure what it was that was plaguing his ward, and so did not know what it was that he had to do. How could Arthur try and pull status when something like this was happening? Instead, he just took the plants, moved over to Gaius' work bench and began to do as he was told.
"Gaius, he woke. Well, he stirred enough to throw up spectacularly before…" Arthur waved a hand vaguely at the bed, gesturing to how Merlin now was. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting Gaius' reaction to be, probably more concern, but he didn't expect the man to smile.
"Good boy, Merlin."
"What? Gaius, how is him throwing up good?"
"You already have decided that he has been poisoned, correct?" Arthur nodded, not being sure why Gaius suddenly looked relieved.
"He hurt his leg two days ago, Arthur, the time when neither of us could find him. I believe that if it is indeed poison at work here, then that is when it was administered. Now, looking at Merlin now, it was a potent one, but he must have had help. After all, he has been walking around for the last few days; someone must have known what it was to counter the effects. If he has just thrown up, hopefully it means the last of the drug has just left his system."
"Oh." Arthur didn't quite know what else to say, so instead continued to grind up the plant. Gaius was mixing together the contents of a few different bottles, swirling them into one beaker. It was clear that whilst one eye was watching the concoction closely, the other eye was monitoring Merlin. Even Arthur had to admit a small amount of colour had trickled back into the warlock's cheeks since he had emptied his stomach, and his breathing did seem to be a little better.
"I'm done." Handing Gaius the grounded up plants, Arthur watched as the old man nodded his approval before tipping the strained contents into the same beaker.
"Hold his head up." Yet again, Arthur didn't even think of protesting. He was not a king in here; he was just someone trying to save a friend's life. He slipped back onto the bed, sitting Merlin up until the servant was leaning against the master. Merlin's head was resting on Arthur's shoulder, but the king tilted him forward a little until it was more upright. Once again, Gaius nodded his approval and gently placed the edge of the beaker against Merlin's lips.
"Drink it, Merlin. Drink it down now, all of it…" As Gaius continued to murmur, Arthur frowned. Merlin wasn't swallowing, the mixture was just trickling down his chin again and the warlock's head was trying to turn away. Arthur could see by the expression on Gaius' face that that was not good – Merlin needed to drink the contents. Arthur himself could feel the man's burning temperature, knew that he still needed help even if he had expelled the remnants of the poison.
"Merlin, you're going to be mucking out the stables unless you do as you are told and drink that damn medicine." Arthur's voice was almost harsh and he gave his servant the smallest of shakes as he spoke.
"Sire!" Gaius' scold, however, died on his tongue as Merlin's head shifted again. Only this time, he seemed to be going back towards Arthur. The king nodded sharply and Gaius once again tried to trickle the tonic into Merlin's mouth.
This time, however, Merlin swallowed.
Gaius didn't smile as such, but Arthur saw the way that his eyes softened and a look of relief spread over his face. Arthur helped him tip the rest of the medicine down Merlin's throat before slipping out from under him and helping to lie Merlin back down again. The physician pulled the blanket up to Merlin's waist, explaining that just because he was hot now didn't mean that he would stay that way once the potion started to take effect. Arthur simply nodded, sitting down next to the bed. He barely even noticed what he was doing, or the fact that he had already made up his mind to stay here until he knew that Merlin was going to be okay. Gaius bustled around, spooning more potions into Merlin's mouth before sighing heavily.
"Can I rely on you to stay here and watch over him? I have a few other patients who urgently need my attention."
"What if something happens?" Arthur just hoped that the panic in his voice wasn't obvious, but Gaius rested a gnarled hand on the king's shoulder.
"It won't. Look, he is sleeping." Gaius didn't wait for a response this time, but simply picked up his bag and swept from the room. Arthur sighed, but knew the man knew what he was doing. If he had any doubts about Merlin's safety, there was no way that he would have left the room. Arthur just took that to mean that now Merlin's breathing had evened out; he was going to be fine. Still, that didn't stop him from altering the blankets a little.
"So you can do as you are told occasionally?" Arthur murmured, needing some sort of noise to break the silence as he stared around for a moment.
"Not making a habit of it." The voice was hoarse and rough, weaker sounding than Arthur had ever heard from Merlin before. But it was still his servant's voice, and when he looked back at the bed again, Merlin's eyes were focused on him this time. Unable to stop himself, Arthur smiled.
"Just follow one more. Get some rest."
"Yessire…" It was nothing more than a mumble and Merlin's eyes flickered shut at the same time. This time, Arthur watched him closely, reassuring himself that Merlin had just fallen asleep and nothing worse. Sighing, Arthur sat back on his chair.
He knew that he was just going to have to wait until Merlin told him what really had happened before anything could be done about it. But considering the man spent half of his life claiming that he was worried something was going to happen to his king, was Merlin that oblivious to when he really needed to take some time off and just let himself heal? Arthur was determined he was going to force his servant to start taking better care of himself once this was over.
But for now, he just watched him sleep, the rising and falling of Merlin's chest reassuring him that he was still there for the king to yell at later. Right now, that was all Arthur particularly cared about.