Title: Father Figure
Character/s: Merlin, Gaius
Summary: Blood ties aren't everything.
Word Count: 598
Prompt: 97 - You and I
Author's Notes: Well within the limit for the third week in a row! \o/ (Also fills my trope_bingo square 'Chosen Family'.) Not betaed, sorry.
Merlin had that look on his face again. The one that Gaius had learned to hate because it normally preceded some major disaster or some fateful twist to the boy's destiny that neither of them could prevent.
"Here." Gaius ladled out a bowlful of the stew he'd prepared for their dinner. "You'll eat this before you fall over."
For a moment he thought Merlin might just leave. He had raced into their quarters, run up the stairs to his room and come back out with what looked suspiciously like his book wrapped up in cloth and half-hidden under his jacket. Gaius pointed a finger at it.
"And where are you taking that?"
Merlin tried unsuccessfully to tuck the book further under his jacket, and tried even more unsuccessfully to look innocent.
Gaius raised an eyebrow, which was all it ever took. Merlin sighed, and put the book on the table.
"I wanted to try a spell. Out in the woods."
"Yes, that went so well last time. Sit down." Gaius was pleased to see Merlin obeyed him. No need to let the boy see that he was pleased though. If he'd been caught with that book... Gaius didn't want to think about it. Not his boy.
Merlin wasn't his, of course, but more and more it felt like he'd found the son he never had. And he wasn't going to lose him simply because of Merlin's own careless naiveté.
"Eat." He pushed the bowl towards Merlin, who looked at it longingly. It was likely he hadn't eaten since breakfast, Gaius knew. He suspected that if he wasn't around to push food at the boy, Merlin would probably starve to death. He was so busy taking care of everyone else that he never remembered to take care of himself.
Merlin picked up a spoon, and started on the stew. Relieved, Gaius ladled a bowlful for himself and sat down to join him.
There were plenty of households in the kingdom who would think the pair of them lived like kings because they could afford to sit down to meals like that. Merlin, he'd noticed, had looked at the first meal Gaius had ever given him in something approaching awe because he had come from one of those households. That was the first, and possibly the last time Gaius had managed to render him speechless.
And why shouldn't they be able to afford it? The king's physician and the prince's manservant were hardly the most lowly positions in the castle. Merlin's money for the most part went back to his mother and the rest he insisted Gaius take for his keep. Gaius saved it for him, for the day when they might both have to flee Camelot. Merlin had no material possessions to speak of, and never seemed to want any. People were all that mattered to him, some more than others. It had warmed Gaius' tired heart when he'd realised how high he was on that elite list. He'd never be top of it, there was only one person there.
Merlin shovelled down the stew, barely even chewing it. "I'll have to get back to Arthur soon. I just wanted to try this one spell first."
"It must be serious if you're risking being exposed as a sorcerer. Again."
It was too old an expression that looked back at him from such a young face. "I don't know what to do."
Gaius picked up Merlin's empty bowl to refill it. They'd get through it, whatever it was. They always did.
"Why don't you tell me about it..."