Bonus 2

 Title: Bonus 2
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Merlin
Rating: PG
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my 'verse. I don't get paid a cent to play. Please don't sue and make things worse.
Summary: Merlin knows he cannot let Arthur down.
Note: Part of the 12 Ficlets in 12 Days project 2009-2010. Written as a bonus for nermal

Merlin woke and immediately wanted to go back to sleep. His head felt so full and fuzzy, and from the second he lifted his head, his nose refused to stop running. Luckily, he kept a handkerchief under his pillow, with which he slowed down the result of his streaming nose as he pulled himself up and out of bed.

If it weren't for Arthur, Merlin would merely have woken up with this horrendous cold and gone right back to sleep. Gaius would try to rouse him, surely, but snuggling under the blankets and placing a pillow over his head would probably be enough to show the elder man he was not to be disturbed. In fact, the court physician would probably take care of Merlin, seeing to his temperature and brewing a nice, herbal tea to help clear his head a little. It would take days to nurse him back to health, possibly as long as week.  

But Arthur wanted to go hunting today for the festival tomorrow and he insisted that Merlin come along. The last time Merlin had gone with him, Arthur's luck had mysteriously improved. He had returned home at the end of the hunt that time with two stags, a bear, seven rabbits, and no fewer than twelve pheasants. He had brought several of the pheasants and the stags to the castle for a feast, but Merlin had hinted that he give the rest of the game to the town folk of Camelot and Arthur had done just that. Arthur had gone hunting since then, but had done abysmally. The prince had therefore declared Merlin his good luck charm and insisted the man accompany him on all subsequent visits.

ihhhhh… ihh-Kutchffffffff!” This sneezing would simply not do. Even if Arthur took him along, the noise would surely scare away every animal in the forests. Merlin snuffled wetly into his hanky and sunk back onto his bed. “hihhhhh-Irschhffff! Ih-Kih-Tishhffffff!” With a head cold so unrelenting and badly-timed, there was only one thing Merlin could do about it.

He remembered reading something about this in one of those library volumes he wasn't supposed to have been looking at. It shouldn't have been much different than relieving Gwen's father of that plague. In fact, this cold should have been significantly easier because he knew what it was, whereas that plague had been so sudden, horrible, and mysterious. However, Merlin spoke a few words and summoned all his energy… and nothing happened. Nothing at all. No flare behind his eyes. No gathering of healing energy. No change at all.

In fact, Merlin felt a bit worse—more exhausted. And, unbelievably, more sneezy. “ihh-Chuffff! Hih-Shuffff! Ehhh.. ehhh-IHShuhhh!” His hanky was getting wet, and he was getting the shivers. Merlin snuffled, wiping his nose with a dry edge of the hanky as he pulled a blanket around himself. Maybe this required more energy than he currently possessed. Maybe there was something in the magic that prevented its use on one's self. Maybe he just wasn't as good as he thought he was.

But the fact was that he wasn't doing this for himself. He was doing this for Arthur. Arthur wanted him at the hunt. Arthur needed him. “For Arthur,” Merlin whispered out loud. “For-ihhhh… ihhhHihShhffffff! Snrff! For Arthur,” he repeated. He closed his eyes, concentrating harder this time. “For Arthur. For Arthur. For Arthur. For...” Another sneeze. Was coming on. He held his breath and thought about Arthur, thought about getting rid of this cold.

And, all of a sudden, the tickle in his nose was completely gone. Merlin sniffed, and his nose didn't run. Merlin threw off the blanket and didn't feel the need to shiver. Cautiously, not quite daring to believe it, Merlin stood back up. The sneezes stayed gone. The cold stayed gone.

Merlin felt like shouting with joy, but it was early yet and he didn't want to wake Gaius… mainly, because he was fairly certain Gaius wouldn't like what Merlin had done. But it wasn't as though he had hurt anyone with the magic. All he had done was get rid of a tiny little head cold so that he could do as Arthur wished. Merlin had little choice about his destiny to assist and protect the future kind of Camelot. And Merlin couldn't do that while sneezing. There was nothing wrong with this.

Merlin got dressed, watered the herbs in the window boxes, and started breakfast. He was just finishing up with the eggs and porridge when Gaius woke. Sleepy, Gaius “Good morning”ed him and then helped himself to a cup of strong tea. As they sat down to eat, there was a knock on the door.

Gaius abandoned breakfast to answer it. “Arthur,” the man said, loud enough for Merlin to catch the surprise in his voice. “I don't believe Merlin was expecting you until sunrise or so.”

“I know,” Arthur said. He sounded tired and… Merlin stood, alarmed. “I woke up feeling perfectly fine this morning but half an hour ago I started sneezing.”

“Sneezing?” Gaius repeated. Merlin's cheeks went red, and he turned slightly in his chair to keep them from seeing. “Let me have a look at you.”

The remainder of Merlin's breakfast was torture. He listened to Gaius examining Arthur. He listened to Arthur's complaints. He listened to Arthur's sneezes. “huh… huh-C'hushhhh! Nnghhh-Cheshhhhh!” And every one of them only intensified the guilt Merlin felt.

Because he was sure now. The timing was too perfect: the moment he had gotten rid of his cold, Arthur had come down with one. And the symptoms were too identical: the same runny nose, sneezes, and chills. It was Merlin's cold, all right, gone from Merlin's head and transplanted right into Arthur's.

huh-uhhh-HihChuhhhh! Ihh… hehhhh… huhKitchuhhh! SniffSNIFFSniff!” As if that guilt weren't bad enough already.

“I'm afraid there's nothing more I can do for you,” Gaius said. “Take these herbs with your tea and get as much sleep as possible.”

Arthur nodded briefly then buried his nose in the crook of his arm. “huhh-Ehktchhhh!” He snuffled into his sleeve and turned wearily to go. He scrubbed his nose repeatedly with the cuff of his sleeve and called over to Merlin, “We'll have to call off the hunt today. I'm sorry.”

“It's… not your fault,” Merlin replied. He hadn't wanted to go out on the hunt anyway. He didn't enjoy hunting the way Arthur did and he certainly wasn't interested in going without him. “Feel better, Arthur.” It wasn't much comfort to either of them.

Hesitant, Merlin watched Arthur leave. It would have been easy to go back to eating his breakfast now. It wasn't as though he could explain to Arthur what had happened. But this was his fault, all his fault.

Merlin jumped up from his seat and bolted for the door. He caught up with Arthur a minute later, two corridors away. Arthur was leaning against a closed door, sneezing. He was sort of curled against the door, nose in the crook of his arm. He looked strangely shy and uncomfortable, sneezing out in the open like this.

Merlin put an arm around the man, who jumped, startled to find Merlin there. “What…?”

“I'm going to look after you,” Merlin said. And the guilt that had been weighing him down began to lift.

“You don't sniff-SNIFF-sniiiifffff… you don't have to do that. It isn't your fault I caught a cold, is it?”

Arthur asked that with a laugh, meaning he didn't expect an answer. And Merlin knew better than to tell the truth anyway. What was one more lie of omission between the two of them? “I know I don't have to, but you need someone to look after you.”

“I can do all right on my own.”

Merlin would not give up so easy. “I can make you tea and you can send me to get anything you might want—hankies, blankets, food, anything.”

“I… I-huhhh... I'd rather… huhhh-Ehktchuhhhhh!” The sneeze came so quickly, a mix of unrestrained sounds. And Merlin didn't like the sight of Arthur rubbing his already damp sleeve at his nose.

There were few things that would convince Arthur to let someone see him like this at all, let along for the duration of a cold, and the look in Arthur's eyes told Merlin the man was still unconvinced. So Merlin moved close under the pretense of handing over a handkerchief—a clean one—and used his own brand of magic. He slipped his other arm around Arthur and placed a kiss just beneath Arthur's left ear. Then, soft and gentle, he nuzzled against Arthur's skin, whispering all the while, “I know exactly how ill and stuffy and miserable you feel. I will help you feel better.”

They heard footsteps and, hastily, Arthur shoved Merlin away. It was only one of the guards making his rounds. The guard merely glanced in their direction and didn't break his stride. But Arthur's face was hot with guilt and he shivered helplessly, finding no comfort from the cold castle walls.

The future king made no further objection as Merlin steered him through the halls and straight to bed, especially not when Merlin climbed in beside him. Arthur curled his body against Merlin's and Merlin couldn't help but smile a little as he stroked the light hair. It would take days to nurse him back to health, possibly as long as week.