Once he had obtained the sleeping draught he quickly made his way back to Arthur’s room, leaving Gaius to inspect the cube.
He stood morosely by the door for a moment, staring sadly at the figure in the bed before gathering himself and going over to Arthur.
The prince heard him.
“Who’s there?” He asked fearfully, still not able to open his eyes without sending the blazing light into the room.
“It’s me.” Merlin said, his voice weary, “I brought you a sleeping draught.”
He guided Arthur’s hand to the phial of liquid and watched in horror as he missed his mouth each time he tried to bring it to his lips. Merlin had never expected to see the prince so completely helpless.
He gently directed the phial to Arthur’s mouth, a deaden expression on his face as he found Arthur’s hand cold.
“Its horrible.” Arthur stated, a glimmer of his old self issuing from his tone of voice.
Merlin was almost lured into thinking he was getting a little better but his hopes were dashed when Arthur grimaced with pain yet again.
“I’m sorry.” He said suddenly, confusing Merlin. What was there to be sorry about?
“What for?” Merlin asked.
“For taking the cube. I never listen to you but I should.” Arthur said with complete seriousness.
“Yes, you should.” Merlin tried to laugh but it only came out as a strangled choke.
Arthur also tried to make a joke of it and lighten the mood but his grin turned to a twisted one of pain.
There was a short pause full of silence, only broken by Arthur’s rasping breath.
“I could help you, you know.” Merlin said.
“What do you mean?” Arthur asked drowsily.
It was slowly killing Merlin to watch his friend in so much pain and he suddenly had an overwhelming desire to go against everything Gaius had taught him, blow all cover and just cure Arthur like he knew he could. It wouldn’t take long for him to find the right spell. He could have Arthur cured in no time, or so he thought and wished.
“What I mean is there’s something…that…umm…you don’t know about me…and umm…well, I can cure you…” Merlin mumbled, tensing up and his stomach winding into knots.
“I…err…well, that is to say…that…I umm…well, you know how magic is forbidden in Camelot and stuff…well, and I couldn’t tell you before and…err… PLEASE DON’T KILL ME!” Merlin blurted out. Arthur didn’t answer so Merlin continued to jabber, “I’m actually a…a…a…” Merlin could bring himself to say it even if he was dieing to tell, “What I mean is…I’m a warlock.” He said, squeezing his eyes tight shut and getting ready for a blast of anger that he belive would come.
There was none.
Merlin dared to open his eye a crack to find Arthur sound asleep.
Merlin felt somewhat put out. He had just said what he had wanted to say for months and when he finally had done so Arthur had fallen asleep right in front of him.
How like Arthur…
He sadly continued to say what he felt though. Somehow it was easier to do when he wasn’t actually listening.
“I’m a warlock and I’ve saved your life more times than even I can remember. You understand why I couldn’t tell you before? I’m really sorry.” He said with a lifeless expression, “I hope you can forgive me. I would never use magic for bad and I’m defiantly not here to destroy Camelot. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. There’s this dragon under the castle, you see. He told me that we’re two sides of a coin and I’ve got to help you reunite the land of Albion.” Merlin told Arthur, who looked peaceful for the first time since the cube had attacked him.
It was rather ironic really that when he finally heard the truth that he was asleep but Merlin couldn’t stop and just kept going, sadly telling him of how he’d saved his life behind his back.
“I slowed down time to save you from lady Helen, brought the snakes out of Valiant’s shield, helped you kill the Avanc, rescued you from Sofia, made the tornado appear in Ealdor. Yes, that was I not Will. And then, not so long ago, I went to the isle of the Blessed and bargained my life for yours to save you from the Questing beast. I’m not ashamed to say I would die for you, Arthur, and I also don’t care if you never hear this because you’re asleep, but I just want to know anyway.” He rambled; sitting on the end of the bed and resting his head on his knuckles while Arthur gently snored.
“Life isn’t fair, is it?” He told the prince, “You being asleep and all while I tell you the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Well, I guess there’s nothing more for me to say so…umm…goodnight, I guess.” He stood up, took one more wistful glance at Arthur and left.
The following hours passed like years for Merlin while he sat opposite Gaius and stared unseeingly at the cube as the physician examined it with every tool imaginable. At times Merlin would think he had cracked it when his uncle suddenly went ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ but he was then disappointed as Gaius’s expression turned to that of confusion once again.
He would often go and check on Arthur every time his uncle got too annoyed with him for asking whether he had found anything yet. He would sometimes find the prince asleep but other times, randomly, Arthur would jerk suddenly awake, screaming about someone else’s death to which Merlin could only tell him no one had died and try to comfort him.
So there he was, Arthur lying is his arms, unconscious. Last time he had woken up, he had asked Merlin not to leave his side, he was scared and terrified about hurting anyone if the opened his eyes again.
A few hours later he jolted awake once more, having had another dream. From what Merlin could discern from the mindless babble it had been him who had died yet again.
He held his friend closer as Arthur sobbed quietly to himself.
“Please don’t leave me, Merlin.” His friend begged him; “I can’t do this without you.”
Merlin looked at him and tried not to cry. It was hard but he could stand it
for his best friend.
“I’m not going to leave you. I never will.” Merlin told him quietly.
He couldn't believe all this madness. His best friend was defenceless and he
couldn’t help him.
He just stayed there, supporting him in his arms and not for the first time in his life, Merlin thought of Arthur as his brother.
But in that day the young warlock aged more than a hundred years.
The next morning Gaius had still not got anywhere with the cube. When asked he had said ‘it’s as baffling as a teenagers mind’ and Merlin had asked no further questions on suspicion he was talking about him.
His uncle had been working all night (one of his specialties) and Merlin had found him slumped in a chair when he had emerged from his room with nothing for company save a molten stump of wax that could no longer be called a candle.
He had woken as early as he could so that he was free to spend the day with Arthur as Gaius had advised. Merlin wouldn’t have cared if Gaius hadn’t said it a good idea and had in fact ordered him not to go under pain of death, he was going no matter what and nothing could stand in his way! Except for perhaps Gwen.
She had appeared around the corner in the way she did far too often and she seemed to have a question for him so he, being the polite well brought up boy he was, stopped to let her ask it.
“I didn’t know you were back, Merlin. Did you have a good time? Where’s that fish you promised me?” She asked with a little laugh.
“Well…umm…it’s a long story, to be honest. But I did kill a fish.” Merlin said, quite truthfully referring to the Leviathan.
“Oh, really? How big was it?”
“I’d tell you but you wouldn’t believe me.”
Gwen laughed; clearly thinking it was a joke.
“Well, I don’t know what I would have done with if you had brought it back. Anyway, it was nice to catch up.” She said; waving goodbye as she continued on her way down the corridor and Merlin went on his way down his.
As he hurried down the many halls Merlin wondered whether Arthur was awake or not. He also wondered if perhaps the sleep the elixir had brought had blunted the agony he had been in before. Merlin sincerely hoped so but he knew that in the furthest regions of his heart it wasn’t to be.
The previous night he had said ‘life wasn’t fair’ and he’d meant it.
He walked into Arthur’s chambers without knocking as usual to find the prince in exactly the same place as he had left him before.
As Merlin crawled apprehensively towards the bed at a snails pace Arthur suddenly sat bolt upright.
“NO!” He yelled.
Merlin jumped but quickly regained his wits.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” He asked, trying to stop Arthur from thrashing around.
“Is Morgana alright?” The prince cried, sweat trickling down his face.
“Yes, yes, she’s fine.” Merlin reassured him but Arthur didn’t calm down.
“Is Merlin alright?” He demanded.
“I am Merlin.”
“Are you alive?”
Arthur seemed satisfied by this and lay down again.
Merlin couldn’t help but notice that his shirt was damp with sweat but his hand was cold as he gripped it tightly, staring with horror at the prince who didn’t even seem to be able to think logically enough to realize that if someone was talking to him then of course they were alive.
“Why is it so cold?” Arthur croaked after a lengthy pause in which Merlin tried to pull himself together.
“I don’t know.” Merlin said, running the tip of his tongue over his suddenly dry lips and pulling another of the fur rugs over the prince to keep him warm.
Arthur stared with closed eyes at the top of his four-poster and shivered.
“Where am I?” He asked in a small voice that reminded Merlin of a lost child.
“In your room. Don’t worry, your safe.”
“Are you going to leave me?” Arthur asked with barely hidden desperation.
“No. Never.” Merlin choked, holding back tears of helplessness as Arthur stared lifelessly at the ceiling again.
There was another long pause and even though he was trying his best not to cry Merlin soon had streaks of tears glistening on his cheeks. He wiped them away furiously.
“I need to get out of here.” Arthur suddenly said.
Merlin swallowed before answering, not trusting his voice.
“Why?” He asked.
“The airs crushing me.” The prince said, “Take me to the roof.”
Merlin understood exactly what he meant.
“C’mon then, lets go. Do you think you can stand?”
“Of course I can stand!” Arthur said with a grimacing ‘I’m-trying-to-look-fine-but-quite-clearly-I’m-not’ appearance about him as he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed, doing his best to ignore the sudden dizziness and nausea he felt pulsing through his head.
He stood; ignoring all flustered help attempts from Merlin, and promptly collapsed on the floor.
“Whoa, are you alright?” Merlin asked anxiously, helping him into a sitting position.
“My head…” Arthur groaned and clutched his throbbing forehead.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” Merlin said doubtfully.
“You’ll have to tie me up in a sack to stop me.” Arthur told him crossly, pulling a face as he attempted to get to his feet.
Merlin sighed and rolled his eyes, though glad to hear that sarcastic tone once again, and let Arthur support what seemed like his entire wait on him.
They staggered out of the door and made their way down the corridor, somehow managing to avoid all eyes as they made there way to the roof.
As Merlin hobbled up the stairs to the battlements, Arthur leaning on him like a life support, his breath was yet again taken away at the sight of Camelot laid out before him in all its splendour. It was one of those misty green spring days when you could almost smell the rain of the previous night and every colour seemed sharper.
It was such a shame that Arthur couldn’t see it.