I hope you like this next little installment and for those of you who are Supernatural fans, you'll note something from that series has been shamelessly incorporated into this story. Again - I have no beta for this, so if you note any mistakes, just let me know.
Summary: Merlin can't even sleep without getting into trouble. Set shortly after Agravaine arrives in Camelot.
The first time it happened, Gaius wasn't overly worried.
That night, he had gone to bed at his usual hour only to be awoken only a short later to the sound of feet shuffling through his chambers. Scared at first that someone had broken into his rooms, Gaius sprung up from his bed as quickly as his protesting joints would allow and grabbed the nearest weapon he could find, the candle holder next to his bed. While Gaius was no spring-chicken, he could defend himself if need be and a good knock on the head with the heavy pewter could do some serious damage.
The aged physician was ready to shout a warning to whomever had dared to come into his rooms in the middle of the night, but as soon as he saw the slim, barefoot, and dark-headed figure, he relaxed, recognizing his ward even in the dim light. While Gaius was relieved to see that it wasn't burglars, but only Merlin making his way across the room, he also felt like giving the boy a piece of his mind for waking up at such an ungodly hour.
The lecture he was about to give him, however, was not forthcoming as the physician took in his ward's blank and dull expression. Something wasn't right.
"Merlin?" He called, but the boy didn't seem to hear him. Instead, he walked over to the cupboard and took out a bowl and spoon. He then walked over to the table and set the bowl down before taking his seat and picking up his spoon, dipping it into the empty bowl and then lifting it to his mouth as if eating the non-existent food.
"Merlin, what on Earth are you doing?" Gaius asked as he crossed the chambers, his concern growing.
With unfocused eyes, the boy paid his guardian no heed and continued to make the motions of eating, silently dining on air. Merlin's glassy, blank expression never changed, even as Gaius reached the table and waved a hand in front of the boy's face. At was if Merlin wasn't even conscious of what he was doing and was acting without any thought whatsoever.
Gaius, being a physician, began to see Merlin's behavior for what it really was – sleepwalking. While this was not a condition that he usually treated, he could clearly see that Merlin was not the slightest bit aware of what he was doing and was most likely in the midst of a dream. And even though it was somewhat amusing to see the young man dressed in only a nightshirt and with his hair sticking up in all directions as he ate a meal that wasn't there, Gaius decided that the best thing to do would be to get Merlin back in bed before the boy could wander anywhere else in his sleep.
Taking hold of Merlin's hand, Gaius halted the spoon from reaching his mouth again and grabbed the utensil from him, placing it on the table, "Come along, Merlin. I think you've had quite enough for now. Let's get you back to bed."
Gaius clasped his hand around Merlin's elbow in order to encourage his ward to rise form the table, but the moment he tugged on him, the young man immediately jerked and the expression on his face went from a pale shade of smooth blankness to sheer, white terror.
Merlin yelped and yanked himself out of Gaius' hold, stumbling to his feet in one swift motion and knocking his chair over as he backpedaled blindly. Long, gangly legs soon became entangled with the downed chair and Merlin fell, his rump landing hard enough on the hard stone floor for Gaius to feel through his feet.
"Where? … What? …" Merlin gasped. Shocked and disoriented, his head darted about and his eyes were as wide as a hunted deer. He panted and gulped, trying to gather his wits and failing rather spectacularly. "How did I get here?"
"It's alright, Merlin. Calm down." Gaius consoled, kneeling on the floor next to his ward, his knees objecting to the unyielding stone as he clasped Merlin's shoulder. "You've been sleepwalking," he explained.
"Wha?" Merlin asked, wide-eyed and still very confused.
"Sleepwalking, Merlin." Gaius repeated. "You must have been acting out your dreams."
Merlin rubbed his face and shook his head, "I don't remember that. All I did was go to bed and the next thing I know I'm here on the floor."
"Don't worry too much about it. These things sometimes happen when the mind is stressed or over-tired. It's a wonder that something like this hasn't happened sooner what with the way Camelot and Arthur seem to be in constant peril. Perhaps this is just your mind's way of coping with the pressure of your destiny. "
"Destiny … " Merlin blew out a breath of air, scoffing slightly, "I don't see how walking in my sleep is going to help me keep Arthur from getting killed by the hoards of enemies that want him dead."
"The mind is a strange thing, Merlin – mysterious and complicated. Even after all of my years of practicing medicine, it still amazes me what it is capable of and why it does the things it does. I fear no one will ever completely understand it."
After coaxing his ward off of the floor, Gaius ordered Merlin back to bed and then retired to his own after he was certain the boy was deeply asleep again.
The next day, turned out to be just another ordinary day. Merlin woke late and rushed off to serve the prince while Gaius spent his day preparing potions and making the rounds to his patients. No one attacked the castle, no evil sorcerers came to town seeking revenge for this or that, and nothing disturbed the peace that the city had awoken to. All in all – it was a rather dull and uninteresting day filled with the usual work that exhausted both Gaius and Merlin. By the time bedtime rolled around, both had pretty much forgotten the events of the previous night and gone to bed without any reservations.
But that evening, Gaius was once again awoken in the middle of the night – this time to the sound of glass shattering and books crashing to the floor. Gaius shot up like an arrow to see Merlin standing in the middle of the room, his eyes glowing golden in the darkness. Bottles of potions, books, and even the table and chairs were swirling around the room in mid-air all apparently at the control of Merlin's magic. Several bottles were hurtled into the walls, books flew off the shelves to join in the fray while the fire in the hearth flared into a roaring inferno.
His heart thumping, Gaius flung off his covers and then ducked his head just in time as one of his mixing bowls was tossed into the wall behind him.
"Merlin!" He shouted, but the boy only stood there, eyes glassy and face devoid of expression, completely oblivious to the havoc he was creating. It appeared that Merlin's bout with sleepwalking was back, but this time with a vengeance and he needed to wake the boy up before his chambers were completely destroyed.
Dodging some flying cutlery, Gaius used his arms to shield his face as he maneuvered towards his ward until at last, he reached the boy's side and he grasped his shoulders, spinning him around. Even at half-mast, Merlin's eyes flared bright with magic, but there seemed to be no consciousness behind them. Gaius shook Merlin none too gently and when that failed to wake the boy, he had to resort to something he was loathe to do; slapping Merlin soundly across the face hard enough to make his hand sting.
While Gaius hated what he had had to do, the effect was immediate. Merlin's eyes snapped open wide and the golden glow was extinguished, replaced by terrified blue irises. At once everything that had been lifted in the air, dropped to the floor with a resounding crash, loud enough for the physician to worry that the guards might come charging into the room at any moment.
Merlin jerked in his guardian's grasp and made a sound close to that of a shriek, his head whipping about in confusion and fear until his eyes landed on Gaius.
"Gaius … what?" Merlin gasped between breaths, "How did I …?"
Gaius, still gripping Merlin and breathing as though he had just run a race, could feel the tension in his ward's muscles building. As Merlin began to tremble, his knees buckled and Gaius had to increase his hold on the boy to keep him upright.
"Whoa … It's alright, Merlin."
Merlin gulped, shaking his head as he surveyed the room and its broken contents, "What happened? Who did this?"
It seemed to suddenly dawn on the boy how he came to be standing in the middle of the room with Gaius beside him amongst piles of fallen books and broken glass and if possible, his already pale face took on a chalky hue.
"Oh no … I did this?"
Gaius could only nod in reply.
Again, Gaius nodded, still trying to calm his heart down enough to speak and reassure the boy before he fell into a full-blown panic. But already, Merlin was visibly shaking, looking up and down at Gaius, "Are you alright? Did I hurt you? … oh, Gaius … I'm so, so sorry. I didn't even know … how could I have done this? What did I do? Oh God …" He rambled, words tumbling out of his mouth, close to hysteria.
Gaius did what came first to his head and pulled Merlin towards him, drawing the trembling boy into a firm embrace. "Shhh … It's alright, Merlin. I'm fine. And so are you. Just try to calm down."
Merlin tensed under Gaius' arms, and pulled away, raking a hand through his hair as he circled and paced across the room in agitation. "Calm? How can I be calm, Gaius? I just used magic in my sleep – I didn't even know what I was doing. Look at this place – look what I did without even realizing it. What if I do this again? Or worse – what if I hurt someone next time?"
Gaius tried to reach for Merlin again and get him to stop pacing the room in his barefeet before he walked over the broken glass and shredded his feet. "Merlin –"
"No … I can't let this happen again." Merlin shot back adamantly. "What if I had done this with Arthur nearby? What do I do?"
Gaius wanted to reassure Merlin, but in truth, he too was worried about the same things. He didn't have the first clue how to help him or even where to begin. He didn't even know what was causing the boy to sleepwalk in the first place. All could say was, "We'll … figure it out."
Even to Gaius' ears, that sounded rather doubtful.
Merlin didn't dare go back to sleep.
He busied himself with cleaning up the mess he had made of Gaius' chambers, all the while his mind was spinning with worries and what-ifs. Thankfully, the damage was limited to only the main room of the chambers, but Merlin knew it could have been much worse if he had somehow managed to sleepwalk his way out of their rooms and into the rest of the castle.
Mostly, his mind was stuck on one thing – he couldn't trust himself – he couldn't trust his magic. He had never lost control like this before and it scared him like nothing ever had before. He'd faced battle and monsters and the face of evil itself with Morgana's immortal army, but in all of those instances he had never felt fear such as this. How could he protect Arthur and Camelot when the monster he had to save them from was himself? The thought alone made him quiver and caused a nauseating wave of anxiety to worm its way through him.
Gaius worked quietly alongside him, sweeping up broken glass. He too seemingly lost in his own thoughts as he helped to restore the room to some semblance of order. He knew Gaius was would do everything he could to fix whatever was causing Merlin's affliction, but what was he to do in the meantime – never sleep again?
He could go maybe two or three days without sleep, but eventually, he knew his body would demand rest. Could he hold out that long before he and Gaius could discover a cure? And what if there was no cure? Could he even stay in Camelot knowing what he was capable of doing in his sleep? Even if Gaius locked him up in his room at night, Merlin knew that his power was great enough to cause destruction across the city even from there and he wasn't willing to take that risk. There was no telling what his sleeping mind might make him do and the people of the kingdom might be safer if he was nowhere near them.
Dawn was beginning to break by the time the room was back to an acceptable state. Merlin would have to find a way to replace all of the bottles he had broken and help Gaius brew all of the potions that had been spilled, but if anyone were to walk into the chambers now, they would not find anything amiss. Which was just what happened when Arthur himself strolled in unannounced and without bothering to knock. The prince wore a rather harried look as he sought out Merlin and began speaking.
"Good, Merlin. You're up early for once." Arthur remarked with more than just a hint of condescension.
Merlin rolled his eyes, "And for once it looks like I don't have to pry you out of bed before noon."
"Shut up, Merlin. We have to get going." Arthur flipped suddenly into a serious mode, "Agravaine just received a report that some mercenaries working for Morgana have been spotted near the eastern border. We leave in half an hour."
At the mention of Arthur's uncle, Merlin felt his teeth set on edge. While Agravaine had only arrived in Camelot a few weeks earlier to help Arthur since he became regent, Merlin had taken an almost instant disliking to the man. There was something in his placating smiles that struck him as disingenuous and conniving. Merlin, of course, had no proof that Arthur's uncle wasn't anything other than concerned for the welfare of Camelot and his nephew and had therefore held his tongue, but he just couldn't bring himself to trust him and kept a wary eye out for him.
"Half an hour? How long will we be gone?" He asked, dread creeping up on him.
"A few days most likely, so pack accordingly." Arthur instructed, turning on his heels and heading for the door. "And don't be late!" he called, over his shoulder before he closed the door behind him.
Merlin's heart thudded against his ribs as he turned to Gaius. This was just as he feared – being out with Arthur while his magic seemed to have a mind of its own while he slept. He would have to stay awake the entire time even though patrols were notoriously exhausting for the servant. Dammit … why couldn't the bad guys take a few days off for once?
As soon as Arthur left the room with the news that Merlin would be accompanying him on patrol, Gaius knew that Merlin was going to have a rough couple of days ahead of him.
Anxiously, Merlin turned to him with pleading eyes, "What am I supposed to do, Gaius? I don't know if I can stay awake for however long this patrol will be."
"Perhaps you should stay behind this time. I can explain to Arthur that you are ill."
"He won't believe that – he just saw me up and about. Besides, how can I protect Arthur if there are mercenaries that work for Morgana out there? I have to go."
Gaius nodded and conceded to Merlin's point. He didn't like the boy's stubborn resolve to protect the prince at all costs, but he knew there would be no talking Merlin out of following Arthur. Instead, he walked over to his locked cabinet, thankful that its contents at least had not been disturbed during Merlin's nocturnal disturbances. He wanted to tell his ward that everything would be alright, but Merlin couldn't take the risk of falling asleep and letting his magic run wild again until Gaius had found a cure for his sleepwalking – if he could find one at all. Until then, however, the physician had only one thing he could offer to aid his ward. Unlocking the cabinet, Gaius pulled out a full bottle of a tonic stimulant used for patients with ailing hearts.
"Take this with you, Merlin. However, do not drink more than a mouthful every six hours or so. Too much of this will make your heart race … perhaps even stop altogether if it beats too fast. So please … promise me you will take just enough to keep you going and no more. Hopefully, by the time you return, I will have something to cure your sleepwalking and you can get some real rest then."
"I will, Gaius. Thanks." Merlin said, taking the bottle from the older man's hands before racing to his room to get dressed. A few moments later, Merlin hurried out the door, tossing a quick good-bye to his guardian before disappearing.
Gaius watched Merlin leave with a little nervous bubble expanding in his gut, hoping that the boy would heed his warning about the tonic he had given him and not push himself too hard or take too much of the medicine. But then again – this was Merlin – sometimes things tended to go in one ear and come right out the other without bothering to even enter his brain. Gaius sighed – there was little else he could do for now except dig into his stacks of books and find a solution to Merlin's newest problem.
Arthur was annoyed.
Four days – four fruitless days they had been scouring the eastern border and so far, there was no sign of the mercenaries. He was starting to think that the reports must have been false and that this whole search was a waste of time.
On top of all of that there was Merlin. The first night he had been his normal irritating self, bumbling about as he did his chores, but then over the last two days, he had gotten worse – sometimes babbling on and on, talking a mile a minute to anyone who would listen and then other times, he'd catch the boy nearly falling asleep in his saddle. His mood swings were also becoming increasingly hard to cope with as he would go from being cheerful and almost manic to sullen and depressed in the space of minutes. It was almost dizzying to watch and as time dragged on, Arthur was nearly at the end of his rope.
Arthur was loath to admit it, but he was worried. Over the last few days, the dark circles under his servant's eyes had deepened as though he hadn't slept at all and his face had thinned out, accenting his already prominent cheekbones until he looked perfectly gaunt. Aside from the first night, Arthur couldn't even remember seeing Merlin eat since they left. However, his servant was constantly moving and radiated a sort of nervous energy that made the prince exhausted just to witness – as if the boy was afraid that if he stopped and sat down for longer than a minute then he might pass out.
Currently, Merlin was hustling about their campsite for the night in a flurry of motion, darting about almost frantically as he went back and forth between doing this and that, making a fire, starting their dinner, and tending to the horses of the knights – never sitting still for even a moment between jobs, but never really getting anything accomplished either. It was like he couldn't focus on any one task long enough to finish it and when he did finish something, it fell far short of even his servant's normally low standards.
Feeling a headache creeping in, Arthur finally snapped at his manservant when the boy offered him a bowl of pottage with a shaky hand. The prince, while used to Merlin's lackluster cooking skills, was floored by the supper given him, nearly spit out his first bite, finding the food barely lukewarm and horrendously undercooked. "Merlin! For God's sake, what is wrong with you? How long did you cook this?"
"Uh –" Merlin responded, running a jerky hand through his hair and fidgeting, "A while, I guess?"
"A while? You guess?" Arthur repeated, with clear exasperation. The other knights in the party were also mumbling at the state of their suppers and this only made Arthur feel even more justified at berating his servant. "This is inedible; you do realize that, don't you? How are we supposed to track down a band of mercenaries when you feed us this dung?"
Merlin shifted from foot to foot and wrung his hands like he didn't know what else to do with them." I – I'm sorry …" he offered, "I thought it was cooked enough." Hurriedly, Merlin snatched Arthur's bowl away from his grasp and then went about taking the knights' bowls in a flurry, mumbling apologies as he darted from one man to the next and dumped the stew back into the pot over the fire.
Merlin kept moving as he babbled incessantly, "Just give me a few minutes and I'll gather more wood for the fire and get everything straightened out and then everyone will have supper and –"
"Merlin, stop!" Arthur shouted. Finally, the servant froze for long enough to turn and look at Arthur, his eyes wide and nearly frantic as he panted. Something was definitely wrong with him, the prince decided.
"Why don't you just sit down for a minute, will you?" Arthur ordered. "You're making me dizzy."
Merlin's swallowed and nodded as he rubbed his hands on his pants and took a seat on the log set up next to the fire. Even while seated, Merlin's leg bounced up and down and his hands were in constant motion.
"I should get some wood for the fire." Merlin stated to no one in particular. Apparently, even sitting for two minutes was too much to ask. Arthur threw his hands in the air, giving up.
"Fine. Go. Take a walk, whatever you need to do, Merlin. Just get out of here for a while and don't come back until you've got your act together again." Arthur demanded, his voice sharp with frustration.
Merlin practically bounded up and disappeared into the surrounding woods within moments. Arthur watched him go, feeling a renewed niggle in the back of his mind that made him want to follow after the boy and demand that he tell him what was wrong with him. At the same time, Arthur could hear the voice of his father and his uncle in his head telling him that as prince and regent, that it would be improper for him to worry about his servant. After all, Merlin was supposed to be there to serve him – not the other way around and going after him was supposed to be beneath someone of his station. Then again, if Arthur had strictly followed his father's example, then he never would have allowed commoners to join the ranks of his knights and he probably would have never been able to defeat Morgana after her betrayal became known.
Arthur tried to put Merlin's behavior out of his mind and switched focus to the task the patrol had set out to accomplish. He could clearly see that his knights were just as frustrated as he was that they had come up empty. Even Gwaine, usually the most jovial of his knights, had been scowling all day and he was beginning to think that turning around heading back to Camelot would be best for all of them. They all needed some rest and Arthur needed to speak with Agravaine about making sure that any reports they received about their enemies in the future were verified before they went out on any more wild goose chases.
Finally, Arthur announced to the knights that in the morning they would head for home. That news seemed to cheer everyone up and the atmosphere around the fire relaxed. Gwaine began telling stories about barmaids that made even Lancelot laugh and before long, Elyan announced that the stew Merlin had left cooking over the fire appeared to finally be done and started dishing out the food to everyone.
It was Lancelot's question of "Shouldn't Merlin be back by now?" that cut short everyone's good mood.
Arthur hadn't realized that over an hour had passed since Merlin stalked off into the woods and suddenly he felt a little guilty for nearly forgetting about him. He had been a little harsh with his servant and though Merlin had thoroughly deserved it for being so incompetent, he should have come back within a half hour at most.
"I'll go find him." Gwaine volunteered, making to stand, but Arthur held up his hand and beat him to the punch, wanting to get a hold of his servant and make sure he was alright with his own eyes.
"No … you all stay and eat. I'll get him. He probably got lost or something equally stupid. I'll be right back." Arthur stood and grabbed his sword without really thinking, always prepared for anything. But Merlin had gone out into the woods without such protection – hopefully, he hadn't needed any, but with his servant's penchant for trouble, the odds were against that.
Merlin left the campsite as fast as his legs could take him without making it look like he was running away. He was embarrassed over the fact that he had apparently not cooked the stew long enough, but over the last few days, it had become harder and harder to concentrate and do anything right.
To put it bluntly, Merlin was exhausted. The first night of their patrol hadn't been too bad – he had managed to stay awake without the help of Gaius' tonic, but by the afternoon of the second day of running around the countryside on horseback, he had started to get sleepy. That was when Merlin decided to break out the stimulant.
At first, just a mouthful of the liquid had done the trick and kept him awake for a few hours without any side-effects, but as time wore on, Merlin found that he needed more and more of the stuff just to keep his eyes open. The extra energy the tonic gave made him feel awake, yes, but also made him twitchy and nervous, made him babble for hours, took away his appetite, and left him feeling like he had to keep moving or his heart might explode out of his chest. His magic took was stimulated by the medicine and it bubbled just under the surface of his skin, feeling not unlike an itch that he just couldn't scratch.
But when the tonic started to wear off, he was even more tired than before and soon a mouthful wasn't enough – he had to take two , then three, then four. Gaius would probably be angry at Merlin for taking so much, but he couldn't let himself fall asleep – not with Arthur around and the potential for using magic while sleepwalking.
Once Merlin was out of eyeshot from the camp, he stopped for a moment and leaned back against the trunk of a tree. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he was just so tired than if he closed his eyes for even second, he knew he would fall asleep. He needed more of the tonic – even if the stuff made him feel like a nervous wreck.
Reaching into his pocket, Merlin pulled out the bottle and uncorked it with a hollow sounding pop. He looked inside and saw to his dismay that there was only a little bit left – perhaps only three or four mouthfuls. What was he going to do without it? He was so exhausted that he knew rationing it wouldn't do any good – he'd fall asleep for sure. Maybe he should just swig the rest of it? Maybe that would be enough for him to at least make it through one more night.
If Merlin had been thinking clearly, which he hadn't in several days, he would have taken the time to rationalize whether or not it was a good idea to chug the rest of the tonic, but as it was – all he could think about was not falling asleep – it was all he really cared about.
All in one go, Merlin tipped up the bottle and swallowed the remainder of its contents. It took only a few moments for him to start feeling the effects as his heartrate shot up and his hands began to twitch. But this time, he could feel something different happening – his blood pulsed madly through his veins and he felt so hot that he worried that he might spontaneously combust. Sweat formed on his brow and dripped into his eyes, matting his hair to his head. The world started to spin and tilt as his felt head light enough to float away if it hadn't been attached to his neck.
His hand gripped his chest where he worried that his heart just might break his ribs it was pumping so fast. His knees gave out next and he slid down the rough bark of the tree while every muscle in his body spasmed and twitched uncontrollably.
Merlin sat shaking on the cold ground, finding it hard to catch his breath and too scared to move. Gods … what had he done?
The darkness of the woods made it hard for Arthur to see, but thankfully, Merlin was rubbish at moving through any sort of terrain without leaving a trail behind. All he had to do was follow the line of broken foliage and disturbed leaves and before he knew it, he was almost tripping over his servant as he sat on the ground.
Merlin had his back to a tree with his arms wrapped around his legs, knees pulled up to his chest. His face was hidden from Arthur as his forehead lay on top of his knees, unmoving.
Arthur let out an exasperated huff for his servant to know that he was there. "Merlin … finally. What is taking you so long?"
Merlin didn't look up or respond. Initially, Arthur figured that he had fallen asleep, but as he grasped the younger man's shoulder to shake him awake, Merlin's head sprung up, his eyes wide and darting from side to side, pupils as small as pinpoints and not quite focusing on anything at all. It was then that Arthur noticed that Merlin was shaking and coated in sweat that soaked his hair and shirt.
"Gods … Merlin, what happened?"
Merlin started to rock back and forth where he sat, panting heavily and shaking his head, "Can't …"
"Can't fall asleep … can't …" Merlin was reaching hyperventilation as though talking was making him winded, "I'll walk … can't do that … I'll hurt you … can't sleep …"
Arthur noticed a bottle lying discarded on the ground. He bent down and picked it up, sniffing its contents. He instantly recoiled at the powerful smell of some kind of unidentifiable concoction emanating from the bottle. Whatever it was, Arthur got the feeling that it was most likely the cause of his servant's behavior.
"What is this, Merlin? Did you drink this?"
"It's … it's … medicine."
"Medicine? What? Are you sick? Why didn't you tell me, you idiot?"
Merlin again, shook his head vigorously. "Can't sleep. I'll hurt you."
"What are you talking about?" Arthur had many, many questions for his servant, but his answers would have to wait it seemed as Merlin suddenly pitched forward with a moan, gripping his chest in pain and causing a barb of panic to strike the prince.
Arthur reached out and caught his manservant just as his eyes rolled up into his head and he passed out into Arthur's arms. With Merlin pressed to his chest, the prince could feel his servant's heart pounding far faster than he thought was possible. His skin had taken on a waxy sheen and was clammy to the touch, but hot with fever.
Arthur was at a loss over what to do for a few seconds as his own heart sped up along with Merlin's, but he forced himself to be calm, to think and then he raised his head and shouted. Moments later, his knights found him desperately clutching to his ailing manservant.
Gaius found the cause and the solution to Merlin's sleepwalking far faster than he expected.
The cause, he had come across mostly by accident while trying to dig out Merlin's spell book from under his bed where he found a small piece of fabric sticking out from between the mattress and the slats of the bed. Pulling at the curious piece of cloth, Gaius found that the fabric was actually a small bag and one that he recognized almost immediately; a hex bag.
Hex bags were the work of dark magic – not something that Merlin would have been dabbling, of that he was certain. Someone must have placed it there under his bed as an enchantment, but who could have done it was the question. While it was true that Merlin had made plenty of enemies since he arrived in Camelot, this one had all of the hallmarks of the old religion and most disturbingly, of a high priestess such as Morgana.
Morgana had plenty of reasons to hate Merlin, especially after he spilled the cup of blood that kept her immortal army alive, and it wasn't surprising to him that she would try to exact some kind of revenge on him. However, it was worrying how she had placed it there without anyone noting her presence in Camelot. And even more troubling than that was the probability that she had someone on the inside of Camelot that was doing her bidding who might never be detected.
Right after finding the bag, Gaius took it to his work bench and opened it. Inside of the small bag was some rather nefarious and ultimately disgusting items; small finger bones, a desiccated frog's liver, various herbs, and part of a mandrake root. Consulting his books, Gaius found that a bag such as that could be used to induce madness to the point of suicide in the person it was planted on. The bag probably would have worked if Merlin had been a normal individual or even someone with small amounts of magic, but Morgana didn't know just how different and special the boy was. His magic would have protected him from the worst of the hex bag's effects, but it was still powerful enough to affect him adversely and cause his sleep disturbances.
Countering the hex bag's effects was rather easy. All he needed to do to break the enchantment was burn the thing, which he did with all due haste.
But that had been three days ago and Merlin still hadn't returned with Arthur's patrol. He had no way of informing his ward that the spell had been lifted and that it was safe for him to sleep again without worry. Four days without sleep would be almost impossible without the tonic Gaius had given him, but even with it, he would be exhausted and drained. But what worried him more was the cumulative effects the medicine would have on his ward. It was never meant to be taken for such an extended period and knowing Merlin, the boy would do just about anything to protect Arthur and the knights he called friends, even if it meant risking his life.
Gaius tried to distract himself with his work, mixing replacements of the potions and draughts that had been destroyed during Merlin's midnight escapade, but his thoughts always kept returning to the boy he would have been proud to call a son.
On the evening of the fourth day, as Gaius prepared to resign himself to another night of fretting over Merlin, a bang at his door and the entrance of the prince with Merlin in his arms confirmed all of his worries.
Arthur rushed into the chambers and went straight to the patient cot where he laid Merlin down. There was no need for the prince to call for the physician as he was already by Merlin's side, examining him.
"What happened?" Gaius asked, but given the state of his ward, he already had a suspicion of what was wrong.
"He collapsed and his heart his racing." Arthur responded and without hesitation, he pulled the empty bottle of stimulant Gaius had given Merlin from his pocket, "I found this next to him. I asked him what it was and he said something out it being medicine. He said he couldn't sleep and strangely thought that he was going to hurt me for some reason. He was talking all sorts of nonsense before he passed out. Is he sick, Gaius? Why wasn't I informed?"
Gaius felt Merlin's pulse, finding it beating erratically and far too fast. Indeed, his fear that Merlin would take too much of the draught had be realized. He wanted to berate the boy and curse his stupidity, but answering Arthur had become a priority and he needed to come up with something plausible before the prince became suspicious.
"I'm afraid, Sire, that Merlin had come down with a nasty case of the flu and was feeling rather poorly the day you came to take him on patrol with you. I wanted him to stay, but you know how Merlin is – he didn't want to be left behind. I insisted that he take this medicine with him, but it would seem that he is having an adverse reaction to it." Gaius shook his head, not in the least feigning the guilt he felt for allowing Merlin to leave with Arthur. "I fear I should have been more insistent that he stay."
Arthur frowned, but seemed to accept the physician's explanation with a small nod. Thank the Gods Arthur was no physician – he would have called Gaius out on his lie right away, but the prince didn't have a clue as to the first things about medicine.
"I suppose that explains why he was acting so strange. Will he be okay?" Arthur asked.
"I believe so." Gaius replied, heading for his supplies and pulling out various ingredients that would help to calm Merlin's heart down. "But I will need to counter the effects of the draught first."
Quickly, Gaius had a draught mixed and had Arthur plug up Merlin's nose as he poured the drink down his throat and coaxed him to swallow. Once he had the liquid successfully in is ward, Gaius waited a few minutes and then checked Merlin's pulse again.
Finding that Merlin's heart rate was beginning to drop, Gaius let go of the breath he had been holding and affectionately rubbed the top of Merlin's hair in relief.
Arthur, who had been standing aside to allow Gaius to work, approached, seeing that the physician had visibly relaxed.
"He should be fine, Sire." Gaius informed the prince, answering the question Arthur didn't have to ask. "I believe he should fully recover given a few days' rest."
Arthur visibly deflated and sighed with relief as he shook his head. "Stupid, idiot. He should have just told me what was wrong – I would have let him say behind or sent him home to recover."
Gaius couldn't help but agree, "Merlin is stubborn. He didn't want to let you down."
"I know." Arthur said quietly, nearly half-admitting how much his servant meant to him before switching in what Merlin called his 'prat mode'. "But, one of these days his stupidity is going to get him killed – probably by me."
Gaius placed a hand on Arthur's shoulder, "I'm afraid, sire, that you will have to queue up after me."
Merlin woke in his own bed for the first time in, well … he couldn't really recall, but it felt like forever. It felt wonderful.
He stretched arms over his head and curled his toes, reveling in the warmth under his blankets as he yawned loudly. He felt refreshed and rested – a far cry from the mind-numbing exhaustion that had filled his last lucid moments.
A throat cleared beside of him and he turned his head to find a stern-looking Gaius sitting in a chair to his side. Even though he was only half-awake, Merlin recognized Gaius' lecture-face anywhere and he knew he was in for a long talking-to.
"Good to see you awake, Merlin. How are you feeling?"
Merlin took a moment to assess himself. He felt pretty good, all things considering—he just wasn't sure how he had ended up in his bed when the last thing he remembered was walking into the woods to gather some firewood. All he could clearly remember was the need to stay awake and willing to do anything to not fall asleep. However – he must have been asleep for some time if he was feeling this well rested.
"Uh … fine … I guess. How long have I been asleep?"
Gaius raised an eyebrow, "Three days." He informed Merlin calmly.
Merlin was taken aback. "Three days? … Three? Really? But … did I … you know … do the sleep-walking thing again?"
"No. You should be happy to know that your sleepwalking problem has been solved. You shouldn't have any more episodes and you can rest easy at night – so long as you check under your bed for any hex bags, that is."
"I found one under your bed. Who it was that placed it there, I can't say for certain, though I have one suspect in mind."
"Morgana." Merlin stated without asking whether Gaius believed so too.
"I wouldn't doubt it. However, that is a question we shall ask later. For now there are more important things to discuss."
Silence stretched on as Gaius sat quietly as if waiting for Merlin to say or do something. When Merlin couldn't think of what it was he was supposed to say, Gaius spoke up again.
"You're very fortunate; you do know that, don't you, Merlin?"
Merlin didn't get a chance to respond before his guardian began to speak again. "The amount of tonic you consumed should have killed you."
Oh … that's what Gaius wanted to talk about.
"I'm sorry, Gaius."
"I thought I explained the dosage to you."
"Yes … but it was too hard to stay awake. I needed it. If I had fallen asleep there was no telling what I could have been capable of – I had no control. I've never not been in control of my magic, Gaius …" Merlin swallowed hard past the lump growing in his throat. "and it … it scared me – my magic scared me. I could have used it without even realizing it – Arthur could have found out my secret or even been hurt by me. I'm supposed to be the one that protects him – not the one that harms him. I never want to feel that way again."
"I understand that, but all the same, Merlin, this deeply disturbs me. Yes … protecting Arthur is your destiny, but how can you fulfill that destiny if you are dead? You need to use a little common sense now and then and realize that you are just as important to Albion as Arthur."
Merlin dipped his head, "But … I'm … I'm not, Gaius." He said softly, "Arthur is the one who is supposed to unite the kingdoms and bring magic back. I'm just – just the one that has to keep him alive until then."
Gaius shook his head sadly and reached out to pat Merlin's knee, "Oh my boy – how can you think that? You are so much more than Arthur's protector. You have changed him – for the better. He is becoming the man that will be the greatest king ever only because you have shown him how. But more importantly – you are his friend and he would protect you as fiercely as you watch over him – just as I always will. In fact, you should have seen how worried he was when he brought you here –"
Merlin felt a grin creep onto his face, imagining the prince in such a state. "Arthur? Worried about me?"
"Indeed. It was quite the sight to see." Gaius shrugged, "Too bad you were unconscious at the time."
Merlin sighed, disappointed that he had missed that, but glad all the same that he had Gaius – his own protector and savior looking after him just as he looked after the prince. He wasn't sure he could ever tell the man just how much he meant to Merlin – after all, there just weren't so many words.