Chapter 7

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According to Gaius, Merlin was very lucky. He didn't feel very lucky but apparently having his brain not turn to soup was his mentor's definition of great fortune.

A pretty low bar it seemed.

Gaius had not let him out of bed for even an instant yet.

On one hand, he was dying to get up and see how his parts worked. On the other hand, he was petrified to get up and find out that he was even more crippled than he knew of. As such, he lay on his back by the fire.

Feigning sleep.

He'd really no desire to talk anyways. Everyone, including Gaius, wanted to either re-hash his illness and tell him just how badly he'd frightened them or try and cheer him.

Cheer me because I'm a cripple.

Oh sure, Gaius said he might regain some use of his arm, but really, what good was a servant with one arm? Or a physician's assistant? Or a warlock.

One more kind word or pitiful glance and he thought he'd throw up.

So, he pretended he was asleep.

And that was how he found himself listening to Arthur and Gaius blathering on about him as if he wasn't even there.

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He'd heard the door open and quietly close. The air moved and, after a moment, he felt someone standing silently over the bed. Watching him.

Arthur.

Merlin didn't need magic to feel Arthur's presence.

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"How is he Gaius?"

"Mending m'lord."

Merlin struggled to keep his face motionless.

"It is going to be a bit slow-going Arthur; the poor dear nearly lost his life. But, I don't suppose I have to tell you that."

"No, I don't suppose so."

Merlin wished he'd thought to tuck himself all the way under the covers. Maybe all the way up to his nose. He couldn't protect himself from the worry in Arthur's voice, but at least he could have hidden his injury. The weight of two sets of prying eyes washed over him. He could feel them staring at his stitched and bandaged neck. But mostly at his useless right arm. His damned hand was already pulling into a painful fist so Gaius had bound it to a splint to allow him some use of the fingers.

The urge to move was almost unbearable.

"Have you given your father's suggestion any thought?"

"What? Replace Merlin?"

His throat clenched. Well, here it is.

"Surely you are joking Gaius. Mortimer? Dear gods, the man is so slow the whole kingdom could be taken over before he'd gotten my armour on. And dull…" Arthur went on dramatically "the man is dull as dishwater. Worse! No, I'd sooner have half of Merlin than ten Mortimers."

"There are other servants to choose from, sire. I know you feel an obligation, but I do not believe Merlin would want to feel like a burden to you. An obligation only."

Merlin wasn't sure about that. At this point, he was pretty well willing to take what he could get.

"No. I'll not replace him Gaius. The topic is closed."

"You need to understand Arthur. Although I will certainly try my best, Merlin will always be badly restricted. There are certain injuries that just cannot be healed."

Behind the dark of his eyelids, Merlin felt a burning begin to threaten.

"What? That?" he heard Arthur snort derisively. Arthur certainly never snorted, and not ever about something so important.

"Yes that sire. For the gods' sakes, the poor boy's got one good arm! How's he to serve you properly?"

"His arm? That's nothing. A flesh wound."

Maybe Arthur didn't understand how seriously he'd been damaged by his illness?

"Gaius. Merlin was never a very good servant. Right? Right. Late. Lazy, clumsy. Falling alternately off of things and into others. Nowhere to be seen the moment danger arose."

Merlin idly wondered if he was supposed to be insulted.

"Sire. You can hardly blame…"

"No. I'm not finished Gaius." Arthur no longer sounded like he was joking, or making light of Merlin's misfortune. He could picture Arthur clearly, he knew exactly what the prince looked like when he got this way. Brow furrowed. Like as not, he'd be pulling a hand through his already mussed hair. "Merlin was only ever good at lazing about, running his mouth, criticizing his prince." Arthur cleared his throat and continued "And of course, the rather small matter of being a good and loyal friend." The dip in Arthur's voice warmed Merlin's chest and face.

"That is true Arthur."

"Well then," the prince commanded as if everything was already decided "there should be no discernable difference if he has two arms or one. No arms, now that would be a problem, I'd be hauling him to his feet any time he tripped, but one arm…one arm will be quite alright."

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Gaius had finally let him up and about. As it turned out, he appeared to be in good working order. Except his stupid, slow, and generally uncooperative arm. But, if it didn't bother Arthur, how could Merlin possibly let it bother him? Especially considering what disabilities he could have very well been left with.

He sat, relaxing, bundled in the beautiful red cloak Arthur had left for him. That had been a welcome surprise.

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Merlin must have dozed off as the icy blast of wind and banging open of the door gave him a start. Dressed for the weather, Arthur held the door, ushering in a small flurry of men bearing heavy baskets of food, flagons of wine, and load after load of good firewood.

In a blink, the servants were gone and the door shut tight against the evening chill.

He couldn't quite believe his eyes. "What's all this? Are you moving in with us sire?"

Arthur was looking at Merlin's now-vacant sick bed. For a moment, in the firelight, Arthur looked odd. Lost. As though he'd misplaced something. "Sire? Arthur?" Arthur's gaze slowly pulled from the bed to Merlin's face, for a moment he looked so truly sad that Merlin thought something may have happened.

Just talking had got Merlin hacking and wheezing again, but Gaius said that would go on for a fortnight at least. Coughing or not, he struggled to his feet and wobbled his way to his friend. "Arthur. Are you alright?"

Arthur's "yes" was a creaky little thing. He cleared his throat and started again. "Yes. I'm fine Merlin, just remembering something is all."

It took a moment for Merlin to figure out what had happened next. He was suddenly enveloped in cold air, fur, and strong arms.

An embrace.

An embrace from the perfectly-self-contained Prince Arthur? By the time he'd wrapped his brain around this Arthur had pulled back and held him out at arms' length. Getting a good look it seemed.

"Are you sure nothing is wrong Arthur?"

"Yes. It's, it's just good to see you on the mend Merlin."

He couldn't help but smile—despite the fact that he was still pretty well confused. "It seems you care after all."

"Don't count on it Merlin." The prince joked.

"But truly Arthur, what are these supplies for? Am I to take them somewhere? I think Gaius will have my head if he catches me working. I'm ready, but you know Gaius. He's only just let me out of bed not an hour past."

He couldn't contain the blasted tickle in his throat a moment longer and found himself bent over, wheezing and coughing up some ugly bit of phlegm, he thought Arthur was likely unconvinced of his work-readiness. Damn cough.

Yup. The prince's eyebrow arched and before he could blink, Arthur had him by the elbow and was steering him back to the chair as if he were a doddering old man. That said, he nearly toppled into it. Perhaps not quite ready for work then.

"No you lunkhead, you're not to deliver them somewhere. They're for you. And Gaius."

"Alright. Now I am really confused."

Arthur squatted down on his haunches with one hand on Merlin's knee. "You've come to the end of your probation Merlin. Passed it, but only just barely. You will be paid each fortnight from here on. This…" Arthur waved at the treasure of goods as if it were nothing "is your back pay."

Merlin was speechless.

And speechless did not happen to Merlin very often. Arthur's face quite clearly indicated that he was feeling uncomfortable. Embarrassed even. Trust Arthur to be embarrassed only when he did something good.

"My probation period? Forty and a half fortnights; that is the probation period? A bit of an odd number isn't it sire?'

A look of relief crossed Arthur face. Teasing was a manner of communication the prince could deal with. He clapped Merlin heartily on the shoulder and then used him to lever himself up from his crouch.

"You're right Merlin; it should have been two full years. Shall I have them bring all this back then?"

"You wouldn't!" he squawked.

"Don't test me Merlin." Arthur's face strived for serious, but after a heartbeat it cracked into a wide and boyish grin. "Get better my friend. We've a kingdom to run."

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The end.

Thank you for reading, please please leave me a review (or two or seven!) I would love to know what you thought or felt. Merry Christmas all!