Merlin swung his feet out of bed, put them on the floor and contemplated the pros and cons of standing up.
For one, it had been almost a week since he had been rescued, and he had gone past 'antsy' long ago. For another, he hadn't been allowed out of bed the whole time. At first, it hadn't been a problem, since he had slept for about eighteen hours a day. Something about 'total exhaustion' and his body 'not made to have it's conscious mind forcibly separated from it'. But being restricted to bed rest for a week seemed somewhat extreme.
On the other hand, Gaius was almost certainly going to walk through the door the second he tried to get up. It was how his life worked.
He huffed a sigh and decided to risk it.
Holding onto the cot, he slowly got up. After a few seconds of wobbling, he straightened and grinned.
There was a knock at the door.
Merlin frantically tripped over his feet getting back onto the bed before remembering that Gaius wouldn't knock to enter his own chambers. He sheepishly compromised by sitting on the edge and said "Come in," hoping whoever it was hadn't heard his scramblings.
It was Arthur. Merlin blinked, slightly surprised. Arthur hadn't been in to visit him yet. Gaius had mentioned he was busy handling the fallout of exposing his uncle as a traitor, which had predictably sent the castle into an uproar.
"Arthur." He tried not to let his surprise show. After all, he did understand that managing a kingdom in the midst of a small crisis took precedence over visiting a tired servant. Yet here the prince was, looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable.
"Merlin." No, it wasn't an illusion, Arthur was uncomfortable. Merlin had seen him at more moments of weakness than anyone else, but it was still an odd sight.
"How are you doing?"
"Fine." Was that what he had come down for? He could have asked Gaius just as easily.
"Are you -" Arthur paused, and Merlin instinctively knew he was struggling with something. "Were you hurt?"
Merlin was slightly confused. "No, Arthur, I'm fine. Just a few scratches."
He thought that might reassure Arthur, but if anything it seemed to increase his discomfort.
That surprised Merlin. He knew that, despite himself, Arthur did care about him. After all, he had come to rescue him from the woodsman, and he could pull up a dozen times where mortal peril had threatened him (with Arthur knowing) and the prince had shown he cared then. It was buried rather deep, but it was there.
"It's just - ah. You won't get any more -" he gestured vaguely towards Merlin, "scars?"
Oh. In all the events, Merlin had nearly forgotten about his slip-up. He recalled that vivid moment when he had realized he had just blown one of his secrets, and the expressions on everyone's faces.
He supposed the sudden reveal of a large quantity of scars would be somewhat…memorable.
"No, no. I'll be fine, Arthur." Merlin stressed the word, hoping to alleviate some of the concern the prince was showing. Not that it wasn't nice, but Arthur hardly needed extra worries.
Arthur stared at him for a handful of heartbeats with an unidentifiable expression on his face. It was then Merlin began to seriously worry about his friend. What on earth was going on?
"I -" Arthur stopped, and started again "So you don't usually get scars?"
Ah, so that was it. Arthur was concerned about what happened during his self-imposed duties. Thankfully, he could be completely honest in answering.
"No. Barely ever. I'm very careful."
Well, relatively honest.
Arthur took a deep breath, and looked him squarely in the eye.
"So for every scar you have, there are how many other times you've been in situations like last week?"
Perhaps he should work on his reassuring skills.
"Um," he said, primarily because he didn't know what else to say, "I - uh…"
"Because you have a lot of scars, Merlin." Arthur's gaze never wavered, and Merlin suddenly thought he would like to have the uncomfortable Arthur back. "And if you barely ever get them, then the only conclusion is that you risk yourself so often that those 'barely evers' add up to a lot."
It was times like these when Merlin really didn't like that Arthur was not, as he so often called him, a clotpole.
Merlin swallowed and averted his eyes.
There was a heavy silence.
He had to say something.
"Do you remember Valiant?"
Merlin surprised himself with what he said. Arthur seemed just as startled, and he frowned.
"Do you remember him?"
Arthur's frown deepened a shade, but he evidently gave Merlin the benefit of the doubt. "Valiant?"
"The knight who cheated with a shield of magic snakes?"
"Oh. Right. I remember him. Why?"
Merlin smiled a bit sadly. "Do you remember I warned you about him?"
Something in Arthur's face shifted. Merlin almost thought it could be called a wince. Evidently he had remembered that the prince had been thoroughly chastised for having no proof, and taking it out on the servant.
Silently, Arthur nodded.
Merlin let himself meet the prince's eyes again. "I realized then. I was in the perfect position to protect you. There were lots of things that would I would never have any proof for until it was too late. So if I worked alone most of the time, there would be more lives saved. And I could do it. Alone, I mean. It's - hard, sometimes, but I'm good at it. And it's worth it, because you're here, and standing, and alive and if I hadn't done it you wouldn't be, so I if you think I wouldn't do all of it over again in a heartbeat you're a complete clotpole."
It was true. It tore at him inside, to know he would poison Morgana, have to watch Lancelot die, and kill so many people all over again if it meant Arthur living, but he would.
Arthur's eyes were suspiciously bright, and he blinked a few times more than strictly necessary. Merlin felt himself doing the same. They held their gazes for a few seconds more, and Arthur spoke in a low voice.
And for the first time in a week, Merlin smiled.
What? No, of course I didn't go through that entire adventure just to get to this specific conversation because I had it in mind from the beginning and wanted Arthur to get a real perspective on what Merlin does for him.
Wherever did you get that idea?
Also, i'm officially allowing anyone who would like to to create a companion fic, if they want to. Show what happens to Agravaine, write about Gwen raising Bedivere, everyone making Merlin tell the stories behind his scars, whatever. Have as much fun as I did.
Au revoir, mes amis!