Title: You don’t know what you’ve got…
Disclaimer: I own nothing but an overactive imagination. And a computer.
Summary: In which Merlin gets ill and accidentally reveals his magic.
Warning: Some references to events in season 1, particularly 1.08. Assumes an already established relationship between our boys.
A/N: Again, thanks to Rizzy for betaing this one real quick and forhils for holding my hand when I got scared and for the appropriate icon.
Arthur was woken by a light kiss on his nose. He wrinkled it and opened his eyes to see Merlin sitting on the edge of his bed, looking down at him.
“Hey,” Merlin said softly with a wide smile, “I didn’t know you’d be back.”
“Got back late last night. Or early this morning,” Arthur said sleepily, “one or the other.” Then he reached up to give Merlin a proper kiss. He’d been away on a rather sensitive diplomatic mission and wasn’t scheduled to return until later that afternoon. However, the discussions being completed, and Arthur eager to return to Camelot and Merlin’s arms, he’d pushed his entourage and they’d returned in the small hours. Arthur had crawled into his bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.
“We don’t have to get up just yet, do we?” Arthur asked tracing a teaser finger along Merlin’s arm.
“I’m afraid so,” Merlin said, “I’ll get some hot water for you and then I’ve got to help Gaius. There’s been a bit of an outbreak of winter illnesses and he’s up to his neck in work. I only came in here to make your bed up for this evening.”
“I don’t know why you bother,” Arthur said propping himself up on his elbows to watch as Merlin flitted about picking up clothes that Arthur had discarded wearily on his return, “we’re only going to mess it up later.”
“If I didn’t, someone else would have to wash your sheets,” Merlin said stooping at the foot of the bed to prise one of Arthur’s boots out, “and we wouldn’t want that.” He stood up, brandishing the boot, and wobbled, putting a hand against one of the bedposts to steady himself.
“You alright?” Arthur frowned.
“Just stood up a bit quick. Do you just want a jug of hot water, or a bath?”
“A bath if you’ll stay and scrub me.” Arthur said promptly with a mischievous grin.
“Arthur!” Merlin warned.
“Fine, fine, just a jug will do.” Arthur was secretly pleased at Merlin’s generous heart in helping Gaius. Although he was equally as disappointed not to have Merlin scrub his back. Which would usually lead to him accidentally splashing Merlin. Which inevitably led to Merlin having to take off his soaked clothes.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” Merlin promised, his thoughts having followed a very similar thread as Arthur’s. He let go of the bedpost he’d been holding and took two steps towards the door.
Then, in front of Arthur’s horrified eyes, Merlin’s legs crumpled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
He’d never been more scared in his life.
Arthur only took a moment to ascertain that Merlin was unconscious, and not anything worse, before he flung open his bedchamber door and bellowed at an unfortunate passing servant to fetch Gaius at once. The terrified page scuttled down the passageway as if a dragon were after him.
“Arthur?” Morgana had come round the very same corner alarmed by Arthur’s shout. She took one look at his unkempt appearance and his evident agitation. “Arthur what’s wrong?”
Arthur looked at her with large, frightened eyes that worried her and said brokenly, “Help me.”
When Gaius arrived, slightly out of breath and confused at the garbled message he’d been given, Morgana and Arthur had managed to strip Merlin to his underclothes and to put him in Arthur’s bed. Arthur was prowling about the room liked a caged animal and Morgana was sponging Merlin’s head with cold water.
“What happened?” Gaius asked as he strode towards the bed. Arthur managed a jumbled account as far as Merlin’s collapse and Morgana finished as his voice failed him.
“He’s far too warm Gaius, I’m sure of it,” she concluded, laying a hand on Merlin’s forehead. Gaius motioned for her to move and bent over to examine Merlin.
Morgana shot a troubled glance at Arthur, who had stopped pacing and stood at the end of the bed watching every move the physician made through critical and concerned eyes. She wanted to go to him, to put an arm around him or to comfort him somehow, but she didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
“I think it’s just a cold.” Gaius said eventually raising a hand to pre-empt an outburst from Arthur who had abruptly opened his mouth, “but it’s been exacerbated by something.”
“Is it –” Arthur said hoarsely, “magic?”
“I think it’s unlikely that he’s been somehow enchanted,” Gaius said carefully, “it’s more likely at this moment that he’s not been drinking enough. Or possibly, not eating properly. He must have plenty of fluids.”
Morgana volunteered to get more water and swept from the room. Gaius looked thoughtfully at the pale figure in Arthur’s bed. Then he looked at the Crown Prince.
“I think we should move him to his own room.”
“Why?” Arthur snapped immediately.
Gaius could not say what he feared. That when Merlin had last taken ill, he’d started to lose control of his magic. That once, a sneezing fit had ended in several glass vials being mysteriously shattered and a sheet set fire to.
“I just think it would be better.”
Morgana returned with more water before Arthur could respond. Without prompting, she poured a cup and waited for Gaius to lift Merlin’s head so she could give him a drink. Merlin swallowed and stirred and coughed. And coughed. And coughed.
Gaius was the only one who felt the magical tremors leave Merlin’s body but even Arthur at his most unobservant could not fail to notice when one of the curtains at the end of his bed began to smoulder. He stamped out the flames quickly, cursing.
“That stupid fire has been spitting embers for weeks,” he said with a glare towards the fireplace, “I shall have to get the chimney swept.”
Gaius silently gave thanks for the prince’s slowness and only briefly wondered if such a thought was treason.
“About moving him –” he suggested.
“Will it endanger his health if Merlin is not moved?” Arthur asked.
Gaius was startled by the question and answered honestly. “No.”
“He stays.” Arthur’s mouth set in a firm line and Gaius knew there was no opposing him.
Morgana, who had been staring at the smouldering curtain as if she had seen a ghost, was now darting confused glances at the physician and the prince who seemed to be staring each other down, and none of them would have noticed Merlin opening his eyes if he hadn’t done so with a moan.
A few questions and soothing answers later, in which Merlin was told that under no circumstance was he to attempt to work or really get out of bed at all, and that he must drink lots of water and eat properly, Gaius and Morgana left the invalid under Arthur’s supervision.
Being a nurse wasn’t all that great, Arthur decided. For a start, his patient was less affectionate than usual. In fact, he was generally just asleep. Secondly, Arthur didn’t appreciate the way his heart twisted every time his patient coughed, or sneezed, or made any sound that implied pain. Which was a lot of the time. But the pleadings from Morgana, the reproaches from Gaius and the slight rebukes from Uther could not move him from Merlin’s side where he sat for most of the day, barely moving to eat.
At night, when everyone else who fussed around him, which was highly irritating considering that he wasn’t the one who was sick, finally left him alone, Arthur would climb up onto his bed and curl up with his head on Merlin’s chest. It wasn’t very comfortable, and Arthur painfully felt every cough that juddered through Merlin during the night, but he couldn’t sleep without listening to the reassuring beat of Merlin’s heart.
After what seemed an eternity, but was in reality only a few days, Merlin began to spend more of his days awake than asleep and Arthur reluctantly agreed to return to some of his duties. But as soon as any official business was concluded, he was to be found, boots off, cross-legged on the bed regaling Merlin with tales of what had happened, impersonating with such accuracy the foibles of some of Camelot’s finest that Merlin would laugh until he inevitably dissolved into a fit of coughing and Arthur would, once again, feel his heart constrict.
Gaius would visit once a day bringing with him one of his foul concoctions that he swore were of medicinal value and watched through wary eyes as Merlin drank it. He once broached the subject of moving Merlin but was met with such stony silence from the Prince that he never suggested it again. Morgana also visited daily, sometimes more, and would not leave until she’d laid a cool hand on Merlin’s head, murmured something about “too warm” and watched him drink a tankard of water. Sometimes, she’d stare at the singed curtain at the end of the bed but she never said anything more. Gwen would visit often, usually bringing more water or food at Arthur’s request, and looked at Merlin through brimming eyes and didn’t say anything.
One day Uther had even visited. He crashed through the door during one of Merlin’s more violent coughing fits and Arthur jumped off of the bed like he’d been shot. A candlestick had also clattered loudly to the floor, which Merlin later claimed he’d knocked there whilst coughing. If Arthur noticed that it was out of Merlin’s reach he never said anything. Luckily, the noise and drama convinced Uther of Merlin’s very real illness and he left, forgetting why he’d come, with mutterings of wishing Merlin a speedy recovery. They’d laughed about it afterwards, as Arthur propped Merlin up on several pillows and expertly fed him soup, but they both wondered what had brought Uther there and what would happen when he remembered. After the dishes had been cleared, Arthur had tucked Merlin in with a kiss to the forehead, and snuggled up beside him as usual, listening to the steady thudding of Merlin’s heart.
That night was one of Merlin’s worst. They’d both slept fitfully for a few hours until Merlin had begun to moan pitifully. Arthur could barely remember the time when Merlin’s moans were the substance of his dreams, and not his nightmares.
Merlin appeared to be asleep, but was restlessly struggling against the bedclothes tucked tightly around him. He was flushed a deep red and his hair was sticking to his forehead. Arthur pulled the bedclothes back and saw that the thin material of Merlin’s clothes was almost see through with sweat, and sticking to him. He sent a guard with an urgent message for Gaius and began to peel the clothes from Merlin. It wasn’t particularly easy, Merlin being rather ungainly and wincing and whimpering in pain at every touch, but Arthur was determined, and the stronger of the two, and he only ripped Merlin’s shirt a little.
Merlin shuddered and tried to pull away as Arthur patted his burning skin with a cold, wet cloth. He began muttering in a language that Arthur could not understand and that caused him to worry about exactly how feverish Merlin’s mind had become. Merlin began to struggle again, as if he were trying to get out of bed, and cried out as Arthur pinned him back down onto the bed. With each yelp from Merlin, Arthur felt an unfamiliar burning sensation in his eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry,” over and over until Merlin abandoned his fight and collapsed back onto the pillows, and began murmuring strange, foreign words again. Gaius arrived, as Arthur was about to abandon all pretence of manliness and dissolve into hysterical sobs. He willingly stepped aside, trying to regain his composure. The physician examined Merlin quickly with a grim face and began pouring all manner of liquids from small glass vials into a large goblet. Merlin gave another cry and a stream of unintelligible words babbled from his mouth.
“He’s been doing that for a while,” Arthur said, “Has the fever affected his brain?”
“It’s quite common,” Gaius lied to reassure the prince. “It shouldn’t cause you too much concern.” Arthur accepted this with a relieved nod of his head. “Can you feed him this?” Gaius asked handing over the goblet. He lifted Merlin by the shoulders and Arthur poured the liquid into Merlin’s mouth, coaxing, encouraging him to swallow the draught. Gaius laid Merlin on the pillows and rummaged in his bag. Then Merlin began to cough and flail, knocking the goblet from Arthur’s hand. Arthur ignored it rolling on the floor as Merlin attempted to get out of the bed again.
“Merlin, you can’t get up, lie down, lie down,” he said soothingly, looking towards Gaius for direction. The physician was staring at Merlin and he looked alarmed. Arthur looked back at Merlin again and noticed that it wasn’t just Merlin’s shoulders that were off the bed. It was his whole body hovering a few inches above the mattress.
“Wha -?” Before Arthur could ask any questions Merlin’s eyes snapped open. They were nothing like his usual brilliant blue, but were golden and glowing. Across the room, the bust of some deceased warrior shattered into tiny fragments. Arthur leapt back as if he’d been burnt. Gaius stepped in with another small vial, which he poured down Merlin’s throat. Then, with a gentle push, Merlin sank back down onto the bed and closed his eyes. Gaius knew that even Arthur could not fail to recognise Merlin for what he really was now.
“Did you know about this?” Arthur demanded gruffly.
Gaius refused to meet the prince’s eyes.
“I see.” Arthur said, his lips setting into a grim line. Then he spun on his heel and stalked out of the room. And out of Camelot.
Even in this darkest moment, Merlin knew what had happened and something broke inside of him.
Arthur wasn’t seen for days.
Then Merlin stopped eating.
He’d lie, pale and wan, in Arthur’s vast bed and sleep. He’d reluctantly swallow the medicines Gaius supplied, although there was little resisting the physician, but more often than not, he would feign sleep whenever any food or sustenance was brought into the room, be it by an obedient page or a worried Gwen, and he would keep up the pretence until the cold and inedible fare was removed again. Without Arthur to prop him up against pillows and make sure he consumed every morsel left for him, there wasn’t anyone with the time who cared enough to make sure Merlin was following instructions and eating. Until Gwen mentioned her concerns to Morgana, and that lady realised that Merlin’s stubbornness, or perhaps extreme illness, would be of great harm to possibly the entire kingdom and decided to take on the nursing of the invalid herself.
So when Morgana entered Arthur’s chamber, which was still Merlin’s sick room, two days after the prince had stormed out of Camelot in the middle of the night taking only a couple of knights and his hunting gear with him, she was confronted by the sight of a seemingly asleep patient and Gwen, her usual sunny expression replaced by one of tense uneasiness, placing a bowl of gruel on the bedside table.
Morgana strode towards the bed, placed a hand on Gwen’s shoulder – partly to comfort and partly to prevent the maidservant from leaving the room - and examined Merlin’s face intently. His face was an unhealthy chalky colour and his lips cracked and faded to an almost grey hue. His eyes were closed but Morgana noticed how they seemed to twitch and she knew he was pretending.
“Merlin!” she commanded, without any thought of adopting the hushed tones that everyone else had when visiting the sickroom. She wished that she knew of the servants other names. Simply saying ‘Merlin’ didn’t quite command the attention that, for example ‘Arthur Jameson Uther Gaius Arbuthnot Filton Pendragon’ did. Nonetheless, she continued, “Merlin. Open your eyes this instant. I know you're awake. You will eat your breakfast. And you will like it.”
Gwen was staring at her mistress and looking somewhat like a startled deer. Morgana did not meet her eye, but continued to stare at Merlin, hands on hips, her gaze burning into him. He cracked open one eye and then the other reluctantly.
“Better,” she said in the same stentorian tone.
Gwen helped Merlin into a sitting position and supported his head and shoulders whilst Morgana sat determinedly on the edge of the bed and spooned gruel between Merlin’s hesitant lips.
“I’m warning you Merlin,” Morgana said clearly, but at a slightly quieter volume, “sickness or no sickness if you try any funny business with this food, I’ll dump the rest of it in your lap.”
Gwen blinked, shocked at her mistress over Merlin’s shoulder, but Morgana was rewarded by a ghost of a smile on the patient’s lips. When she’d fed Merlin the last of the watery gruel, she set the bowl on the tray and helped Gwen to tuck him back beneath the covers. Then she sent Gwen and the tray to the kitchens with orders to bring back plenty of water “and perhaps” she added as a hopeful afterthought, “some soft fruit.”
Merlin was lying with drooping eyelids, genuinely sleepy, and looking so forlorn and vulnerable that something stirred inside Morgana that she hadn’t felt in a while. Not since the Druid boy had come to Camelot.
“Oh Merlin,” she said softly reaching out her cool hand to rest it on his forehead, “what’s wrong?” But she knew he wouldn’t answer. He hadn’t spoken for days.
She soothed his hair reassuringly as he closed his heavy eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Gwen returned with the water and the fruit and then went in search of some food to tempt her mistress with.
Morgana gently got up from her seat on the edge of the sickbed and went to stare out of the window at the woodlands beyond Camelot’s city walls.
“Arthur Jameson Uther Gaius Arbuthnot Filton Pendragon,” she hissed, softly so as not to disturb Merlin. Her eyes glittered angrily. Then they softened as she leant against the window wall and sighed, “oh Arthur, where have you gone?”
Gaius visited around lunchtime to force more medicine down Merlin’s grudging throat. Morgana took advantage of the patient’s preoccupation to stuff a strawberry between his lips. He pursed his lips as if he were about to spit out the offending fruit, but in the face of Morgana’s delicately arched eyebrows, challenging him, daring him, he resisted and swallowed the delicious berry. If he were awake or happy enough to care, he might have noticed that it was the first thing that tasted better than decent in over a week.
Morgana managed to tempt him with two more strawberries and some juicy slices of some other fruit he’d never recalled eating before. Then he turned his head away stubbornly as she waved a grape in his face and refused to look back. Morgana toyed with the idea of tackling him to the mattress and jamming the fruit into his mouth, but upon reflection, decided this was not a wise or a ladylike move. So she coaxed Merlin to drink some water and then tucked him in firmly. Once again, she stroked his hair from his face as he fell asleep.
When Gwen came back to remove the lunch tray Morgana was looking out of the window again, intensely, as if she could make Arthur return by staring hard enough. Gwen left the tray and went to stand next to her mistress.
“You’re doing fine,” she said and squeezed Morgana’s hand.
“He needs Arthur,” Morgana sighed.
“He’ll be back,” Gwen said confidently.
“I wish I had your faith,” Morgana said with a sad smile.
They stood, side by side, hand in hand, looking out to the horizon until Gwen knew she had to return to her duties. Morgana gave her an impulsive hug before returning to her contemplation of the horizon.
Between them, they fed Merlin a dinner of soup and then discreetly withdrew into an antechamber whilst two male servants bathed him. Then Gwen fluffed up the pillows and Morgana tucked the soft sheets around the silent patient and, settled into a chair beside the bed for the night vigil.
The next day followed a similar pattern, with Morgana alternately coaxing and bullying Merlin into eating, and Gwen silently, but loyally, supporting her mistress’s efforts. Merlin was awake slightly more than the day before but he still said nothing even when Morgana ventured a few tender questions. After Gaius administered Merlin’s daily dose of medicine and the patient slept, Gwen led her exhausted mistress from the room to settle her down to rest and took over the vigil.
Morgana returned at the same time as the dinner tray and they settled back into their usual routine of feeding Merlin. Afterwards Gwen took the tray and Morgana rummaged through the cupboards in the antechamber looking for more pillows. She thought she heard the slight footsteps of Gwen returning and called for assistance. Then she heard a loud thud, dropped the armful of assorted clothing and linen, and shot back into the main chamber.
Merlin was no longer in bed, but was half way across the room on his hands and knees vomiting into a convenient bucket. Morgana crossed the room in a whirl of skirts and slipped an arm around Merlin’s frail, skinny chest, supporting him as his fragile arms buckled beneath him. She rubbed a calming hand on his back and held him until he stopped heaving and collapsed against her, shivering violently. Despite Merlin’s meagre form, Morgana wasn’t strong enough to drag him back to the bed and had to scold her mind from panic as she wondered how to heat up her now freezing patient.
The door opened behind her.
“Oh thank goodness! Gwen I need you to get someone to help,” she said without turning. Footsteps hurried towards her and strong hands reached to help her. She looked up from her trembling charge straight into a pair of wild, haunted blue eyes:
Instead of radiating heat as he had at the beginning of his illness, Merlin was now very cold and continued to shiver as he was placed back into the warm bed. Arthur held his servant up, strong arms wrapped around him, pressing close to share body heat, as Morgana gently wiped Merlin’s face and then thrust an empty bowl to him as he retched again. She summoned a servant to bring more water and clear away the bucket and bowl. Then, to save time, she went, herself, to fetch Gaius.
Alone with Merlin since the revelation of his magic, Arthur was not sure what to do. He settled Merlin down amongst the pillows and blankets, trying to make him as warm as possible. Merlin was still shuddering, his teeth chattering, half asleep, half awake so that Arthur wasn’t sure that he was aware of his surroundings at all.
Arthur edged away to stoke the fire.
“Ar-Arthur?” Merlin stuttered in a cracked and pitiful voice.
“Here, Merlin,” Arthur moved back to the bedside and reached out a hand gently to cup Merlin’s face, tracing a thumb comfortingly across the patients cheek. “I’m right here.” In that one moment, with that one tentative word, all of Arthur’s fears and confusion melted away and he knew that, whatever happened, he wanted Merlin and he needed Merlin and that as soon as Merlin was better, he was going to show him how sorry he was for ever doubting him. Merlin nuzzled against Arthur’s hand and stilled. For one heart-stopping moment Arthur thought that he would never get the chance to make amends. Then he noticed the slight rise and fall of Merlin’s chest and Arthur felt his own heart thudding back to life, and a solitary, relieved tear trickled down his face, which he abruptly swept away.
Gaius and Morgana returned. Gaius went straight to the bedside whilst Arthur looked at Morgana with a mixture of hope and fear and something that neither of them could quite define as the physician examined Merlin.
“He’s over the worst.” He diagnosed at last and Arthur and Morgana exchanged broad smiles of relief. Gwen, who had hesitantly followed the physician and her mistress into the room, gave a squeak of delight and flung her arms around Morgana first, and then Gaius, whilst Arthur ignored them all and sank onto the bed as his legs gave way.
When Merlin woke the next day, the first thing he noticed was a bitter, acrid taste in his mouth and he immediately reached for some water to wash away the foul sensation. The second thing he noticed was that he felt much, much better. And thirdly, he was alone.
He’d just finished swilling out his mouth with water and had settled back amongst the pillows when the door inched open and a bedraggled and drained Arthur came in slowly. Neither he, nor Merlin, said anything as he approached and stood next to the bed, hands folded in front of him with a slightly bowed head.
“I’m sorry.” Arthur said clearly, but unable to meet Merlin’s gaze, “I should never have doubted you. I should never have left you. I was –” he hesitated, “I was scared.”
“Of me?” Merlin ventured.
“Of you, for you, of myself, I don’t really know.” Arthur admitted. “I was a prat.”
“A prat and an arse.”
“And I’m an idiot.”
“I don’t care.” Merlin was smiling.
“I can change –”
“Arthur.” Merlin was smiling more broadly. “I don’t care that you’re a prat and an arse.”
“You – don’t?” Arthur finally met Merlin’s gaze.
“I wouldn’t want you to change.”
“You – wouldn’t?”
“No,” Merlin said with a chuckle, “I want you, you prat, with all your imperfections.”
“I can’t – I just – I –” Arthur couldn’t speak through his relieved grin.
“Come here you idiot,” Merlin patted the bed beside him.
Arthur only just remembered, in his haste, to kick off his boots before he clambered up onto the bed. Merlin wound an arm about the prince’s shoulders, pulling him back to rest the golden head on his shoulder. At first they didn’t say anything: they didn’t need to. Merlin looped strands of Arthur’s hair about his fingers and brushed them away from the prince’s face.
“I thought you were going to leave me.” Arthur whispered eventually, “and then I left and when I came back I thought I’d lose you again.”
“Never.” Merlin said pressing a kiss to the curls. Then his fingers resumed their stroking and Arthur relaxed drowsily.
“Merlin?” he mumbled sleepily.
“Love you.” And he drifted into a peaceful slumber.
- Current Location:Room, with a cat asleep on her lap
- Current Mood: drained