Merlin watched Arthur in silence. He still looked pale and as if a breeze could knock him over. But he was standing on the balcony to let the people below see him, alive.
All Merlin could do was pray that no one could see how Arthur's legs were shaking and how pale he was. Arthur had to stand tall and with confidence, for the sake of everyone.
Arthur's face didn't give anything away. He looked sorrowful from the news of Uther's death, but there was a stubborn determination there as well.
It gave Merlin hope in more ways than one.
Later, at Gaius insistence, Arthur saw his advisors from his bedchamber. The loss of Uther in the field had weakened Camelot’s victory. They wanted Arthur crowed at once, then paraded before their vanquished enemy as a symbol power.
Merlin’s eyes flashed angrily. Arthur too, had almost died! He needed time to recover his strength. Merlin made the chamber doors fly open and brought forth a magical wind to sweep the advisors into the corridor.
He turned to see Arthur’s reaction but the King was asleep. Merlin reclaimed his seat by Arthur’s bedside where he stayed until the sun had set.
Merlin summoned the book from under his bed. He gave Arthur a quick look, but the prince... or rather, king, was still fast asleep, tiredness creasing his forehead.
Slowly going through the book, Merlin looked for anything that might speed up Arthur's recovery. A potion or a spell...
He may have reacted rashly to the advisors, but they were right. If Arthur showed weakness the enemy would return and no ally would stand with him if he lacked the necessary strength and determination.
Leaning forward, Merlin brushed sweat damp hair from Arthur's forehead, frowning at the warmth of his brow.
Without conscious though, he sent tendrils of cooling energy dancing over Arthur’s exposed skin and Arthur moaned in response. Merlin took a steadying breath. It would be so easy… but he couldn’t – no wouldn’t take advantage of Arthur in this state. Drawing back, he replaced his energy with a dampened cloth, which unfortunately elicited much the same response from Arthur.
Merlin was glad of the interruption when the door open and Gauis worried face appeared around it.
“Merlin, you need to sleep. Let me watch over him until dawn.”
“I can’t leave him,” Merlin whispered. “Don’t ask it of me.”
The night was cold and Merlin shivered a little as he forced his eyes open again. Looking over at Arthur he found himself being observed.
"You're awake," he stated.
Arthur nodded, but said nothing.
Merlin sighed. "You should go back to sleep," he told Arthur, who just kept staring at him. As if he was trying to tell Merlin something important.
Merlin leaned over to brush the back of his hand over Arthur's forehead. He found it a little cooler than before and sighed with relief.
As he made to step back, Arthur's hand came up to grasp his wrist.
“I remember,” he croaked. Merlin tried to pull away to get him some water, but Arthur held his wrist in a grip of iron that bellied his weakened state. “On the battlefield,” Arthur continued, his voice growing stronger. “You saved me.”
Merlin took a deep breath. In the heat of battle, he hadn’t been careful about hiding his powers. He’d seen Arthur go down, and everything else had paled to insignificance as he struggled to fulfil his destiny.
“You weren’t even supposed to be there.” Arthur accused, pushing up onto his elbows. “And… you look terrible.”
“Thanks!” Merlin replied wearily.
Arthur stared up at him, frowning. "Why aren't you asleep?" he asked. "Don't tell me you think I need someone to watch over me."
Merlin raised an eyebrow and colour flushed across Arthur's cheeks. "I'm in my bed, what can possibly happen?" he amended.
"An evil sorcerer could come in and try to kill you," Merlin said, only half in jest. He feared that people would take their revenge on a weakened Arthur, for the people Uther had executed.
Arthur shook his head slowly, then stared at his own hand around Merlin's wrist and tugged lightly. "Fair enough," he whispered.
Merlin pulled free and fetched Arthur some water. If he were to regain his strength, he would have to eat soon, but at the moment, Merlin was more concerned with dehydration. “Drink this,” he ordered, smiling at Arthur’s halfhearted attempt to raise an imperious eyebrow.
He helped Arthur sit up and held the cup to his parched, cracked lips while he drank. Easing Arthur back down to the pillows, he felt Arthur’s fingers curl around his wrist again.
“Lie down.” Arthur said softly.
“What?” Merlin jerked back in surprise.
“Merlin, you’re asleep on your feet.”
Arthur slid sideways, making room.
Merlin stood perfectly still. He wasn't sure if Arthur was clearheaded enough to make such a request. Although, what Arthur left unsaid....
It wasn't only get Merlin to rest, but just as much because Arthur needed the company.
Merlin toed off his boots and made to lie down opposite Arthur, as was custom when they were out and shared sleeping-space.
A resigned sigh stopped him and Merlin realized that things had already changed, long before Uther's death.
Heart beating too fast, Merlin slid under the covers. Lying still, eyes closed, he kept inches of space between them. Afraid to move.
“Merlin,” Arthur’s breath ghosted over his face. “Look at me.” Arthur’s eyes were bright and clear in the moonlight streaming into the chamber. “Thank you.” He said simply.
Whether he referred to the battle or just simply for being here now, was a conversation for another day. Merlin finally relaxed, and drifted off to sleep.
Gaius found them entwined in the morning and closed the bed-drapes. He gave orders that the king was not to be disturbed and smiling, walked back to his room. Today was not the end of an era. It was the beginning of a new one.