“I am not eating that! I’m not a child, for God’s sake!” Arthur rasps irritably, shoving at Merlin’s arm, nearly tipping the bowl into Merlin’s lap. He punctuates his refusal with a coughing fit, turning his head away and covering his mouth with his fist. When he settles and looks back, Merlin is still perched on the edge of the bed, one knee bent so his knee presses into Arthur’s leg. “You’re going to catch this, you know. Just go on, Merlin.”
The ice is melting on the spoon, the thin slivers disappearing into a pool of dark liquid. Arthur’s mouth is watering at the thought of the cold treat on the back of his tongue, but he’s far too old for such indulgences, even when he’s sick.
“We both know it’s too late for that. If I was going to catch it, I would have caught it by now.” Merlin stirs the spoon down through the bowl, bringing the deep purple grape juice up and over the ice chips again. “If you’re stubborn for too much longer, it’s just going to melt. You have no idea what I went through to get even this much ice from the cook. She’ll never give up another chunk of it, not even for you.”
Arthur knows it’s a ridiculous attempt at bribery, but he feels so rough and his throat’s so raw that he can’t bring himself to call Merlin on it. “Hand it over, then. I’m not an invalid; I can feed myself.”
The grin on Merlin’s face is nearly worth Arthur’s embarrassment, but when he lets the first spoonful slide over his tongue and down his burning throat, he can’t help but think he’d give up half his honour and all of his pride for ten more bowls full of the flavourful ice.
“Is it too tart? I nipped a spoonful of honey and stirred it in,” Merlin says, sounding inanely proud of himself.
Arthur swallows gingerly, his throat soothed by the ice, and rolls his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be doing my laundry or something?” he asks, but his heart isn’t in it. Merlin’s company is distracting and far less grating than either Morgana’s or his father’s. It’s not escaped his notice that they tend not to visit when Merlin is sitting with him.
“Gwen’s delegating for me. The servants are all a bit more concerned now that half the citadel can hear you coughing, even though Gaius says it’s a good sign.” Pushing up from the bed, Merlin opens the bedside cabinet and rifles around inside, sighing and untying his own neckerchief when he apparently can’t find a cloth in the cabinet.
“It doesn’t feel like a good sign,” Arthur mutters, taking another bite of the ice chips. As he sucks the flavour from them, Merlin reaches down and swipes the kerchief across his chin. Arthur jerks away, batting at Merlin’s hand, a noise of protest the best he can manage with his mouth full as it is.
“You’ll stain the sheets if you’re not careful!” Merlin warns, cupping his palm under the bowl as if Arthur is in danger of spilling it.
Arthur purses his lips and looks away, swallowing and fighting the urge to smile. “I wouldn’t care to stain the sheets,” he says, mouth twisting and then breaking into a rueful grin as he looks back to Merlin.
“Yes, but I’m the one who gets to wash them and grape juice is notoriously difficult to... oh!” Merlin laughs, sitting back down on the bed beside him, fingertips reaching up to thread through the hair at Arthur’s temple. His touch is cool and gentle, tracing Arthur’s hairline from his forehead all the way back behind his ear, over and over. “Soon- we’ll be able to be together soon.”
Arthur takes another bite, letting the ice melt on his tongue and the cool liquid slip down his throat. He closes his eyes and sinks further back against the mound of pillows Merlin insisted on putting behind him to prop him up as he slept that morning.
“Are you going to stay, at least?” Arthur asks, a wave of sleepiness overtaking all efforts at subtlety. He really has no cause to be disappointed. He hasn’t the strength to bed Merlin properly anyway. “You should stay,” he murmurs, opening his eyes and glancing down at the bowl of ice chips, lowering it to rest on his stomach.
The fingers leave his hair and he misses them instantly, but Merlin takes the bowl and spoon from him and it’s such a relief not to have to think about holding it anymore.
“Are you through?” Merlin nods toward the bowl and Arthur shakes his head, lets his eyes fall closed again. He won’t ask, but Merlin will understand anyway. “There’s not much left.”
He opens his mouth just a little and a moment later feels the icy metal of the spoon against his lower lip, then the sweet flood of cold washing over his tongue and freezing all the way down his throat. It’s heaven, he thinks, even with the fever, even with the cough.
“One more spoonful. There’s no shame in letting me tend you when you’re ill, you know,” Merlin gently chides as Arthur accepts the last bite, his throat blessedly numb but the combination of delicious flavour and soothing cold still too good to refuse. “You might even enjoy it if you’d stop fighting me.”
He hears the soft clunk of the bowl being set aside and the click of the lock falling into place on the door to his room, then feels the bed dip as Merlin stretches out beside him, his breath warm against Arthur’s neck, his fingers cool as they brush low across his stomach.
“Kiss me,” Arthur murmurs, head tilting back as he arches gently into Merlin’s tentative touch. As Merlin leans in to obey, Arthur pushes back into the pillows, fingers brushing mournfully across Merlin’s full, red lips. “Wait, no. Not on the mouth.”
Merlin nods and presses a kiss to his temple, then beneath his ear, lips moving gently as he slowly wraps his fingers around Arthur’s burgeoning arousal, pumping in long, lazy strokes, coaxing the need to the surface.
Slow, pulsing waves of want roll beneath Arthur's skin, melting away every distracting concern, every ache of his illness as desire floods his chest and limbs, spreading out until his fingers twitch with the need to touch and his toes curl into the soft, cool sheets.
If he breathes slowly, in time with the movement of Merlin’s hand, his breath doesn’t even hitch with a hint of cough and he can fill his lungs as he hasn’t been able to in days.
“That helps,” he admits, willing Merlin to understand just how completely relaxed and comfortable he’s made him, and hears Merlin’s low chuckle, feels the vibration of it against the underside of his jaw just before the scrape of Merlin’s teeth.
“Good... that’s good,” Merlin whispers, his voice low and thick with desire. He moves carefully, slowly, his leg shifting over Arthur’s thigh, Merlin’s knee slipping down between his own. Merlin’s hips press against him, his cock thick and hard beneath his clothes. “How – how far can we go?”
Arthur’s fingers curl into the waistband of Merlin’s breeches, tugging at the laces. “Take them off.” It’s answer enough, and Merlin strips his breeches down and kicks them to the foot of the bed.
Arthur lifts his hands from the bedclothes, laying them lightly on Merlin’s hip and thigh, drawing him up and over until he’s straddling Arthur’s groin, their cocks lying side by side. He slits his eyes open and squeezes Merlin’s thigh, leaning up and trailing his fingers over Merlin’s hip, slipping them down between Merlin’s parted legs.
He’s barely had time to tap his fingertip over Merlin’s entrance, teasing the tight ring of muscle, before Merlin reaches behind himself and stills Arthur’s hand.
“Lie back and let me...” Merlin gently moves Arthur’s hand away and Arthur nods, breathing out and closing his eyes again as he sinks back into the pile of cushions behind him.
As Merlin stretches up to the bedside cabinet, the hard little peeks of his nipples brush along Arthur’s chest, the evidence of Merlin’s familiar responsiveness feeding his desire. The familiar sound of glass clinking open and closed makes Arthur shift in anticipation.
“God, I want to kiss you,” Merlin breathes out, half whine and half plea and Arthur opens his eyes, staring up at the vision above him. Merlin looks like an angel, haloed by light, skin soft as silk and translucent as wings beneath his fingertips. It’s ridiculous, he knows, but then, Arthur’s mind is a little off-kilter with his fever, a little addled with weariness and he can’t be bothered to find a more logical comparison.
Merlin’s bare thighs slip a little wider across his own, his rumpled tunic so long it drags along Arthur’s cock and hangs over Merlin’s completely. His hair is a week overdue for cutting, just as Arthur likes it best, long enough to curl over the tops of his ears and down the nape of his neck, long enough bury his fingers in.
The room is dim, the thick, heavy curtains drawn in deference to Arthur’s light-sensitive eyes, and Merlin looks lovely, so pale he glows as if reflecting the diffused brightness of the full afternoon sun. He’s rocking back and forth, pulling his tunic up and holding it against his chest with one hand while the other moves behind him.
Arthur can’t just lie there; he needs to touch, to feel what he can’t see. He reaches around, slipping his fingers alongside Merlin's long, thin ones as they tease his entrance. He twines their fingers together, smearing the oil over his own, then lines one finger up alongside Merlin’s and slips inside with him on the next stroke.
It’s hot, close, the soft caress of Merlin’s body clinging to the thick bundle of their fingers. It’s something he’s never shared with anyone before, the two of them feeling the same sensation at the same moment. He closes his eyes and can almost feel the stretch, as well, the gentle burn and twist, the slick glide as they pull out and push in together again and again. Merlin’s finger wraps over his and curves them together, rubbing as one over the swell inside that makes Merlin’s spine straighten, makes him move and keen softly. The sounds he makes as their fingers slowly work him open are the most needful, desperate noises Arthur’s ever heard.
“Please, Arthur. Need you inside me.” Merlin kisses his plea into the skin of Arthur’s chest, tongue and teeth and lips working his nipples into taut peaks.
“Are you sure?” he asks between panting, shallow breaths, because he can’t believe anyone would find him anything other than pitiful at the moment, but Merlin moans and sinks all the way down on their fingers, back arching and head falling slowly back as if savouring the depth of the touch, the way Arthur’s palm cups his arse.
Arthur runs his hand softly up Merlin’s belly and chest, pushing at his tunic until Merlin catches on and nods, pulls his finger free of his body with a soft groan and slowly strips his shirt off, leaning forward as Arthur’s hand settles on his hip again.
Holding Arthur’s gaze as he kneels up and reaches beneath himself, Merlin gently guides Arthur's finger from his body, strokes his slick fist once up Arthur’s aching cock, holding it steady against his stretched, entrance. He shifts down, taking Arthur into his body slowly, smoothly, pausing and breathing and then rocking back a little more. A little more.
Merlin’s hands close on his chest, pushing him deeper into the mattress as he moves up and back, easing himself down until Arthur is as deep as he can be, warm and held, Merlin’s body a tight, hot sheath of pure pleasure, his weight settling deliciously over Arthur’s lap.
Merlin stills there for a long moment, eyes glittering with the edge of lust but mouth soft and wet on Arthur’s skin, lips pressing against his ear to whisper, “Just let me take care of you.”
Arthur closes his eyes and nods, lets himself drift between feverish drowsiness and the languid slide and roll of Merlin’s body around him.
Lips ghost over his cheek, his eyelids, his jaw, Merlin sucking and tasting his throat, the juncture of shoulder and neck, up beneath his chin. Arthur moves into every touch, moves as Merlin directs him, head rolling on the pillow, hips canting ever-so-slightly as Merlin’s thighs begin to shake.
His palms close over the trembling muscles, rubbing up and down, squeezing and kneading, urging Merlin to keep going, to never, never stop.
When he opens his mouth to speak, to ask for more, for harder, to offer to take over, Merlin presses a finger to his parted lips and pushes back, the cadence of his hips picking up, though his kisses are still slow and gentle, careful. “When you’re better, I want you to fuck me, but tonight, we need this.”
Arthur groans and digs his fingers into Merlin’s thighs, feet flexing against the sheets, hips easing up to meet Merlin’s fragmenting rhythm. Arthur lays his open palm over Merlin’s chest and eases him back, stares into his eyes, curls his hands up behind to curve over Merlin’s shoulders and draws him slowly, purposefully down. They’re so close he feels like he’s inside Merlin’s skin, the softness and strength and smooth, unmarked beauty surrounding every part of him.
“I missed you, missed this.” It’s breathed out, warm against his throat, and when Merlin moans, Arthur feels it move all the way through him like a warm shiver, like his lifeblood is humming with Merlin’s words. He thrusts in a smooth, even measure, strength he wasn't aware he had pulled from an unknown well locked away just for this, just for Merlin.
“It’s never been like this,” he says, voice hoarse with need. “You feel so amazing.” He rubs deep into the taut skin where Merlin’s thigh meets his groin, cups his sac to feel it draw up and tighten, then closes his fist around Merlin’s straining cock, holding his breath as Merlin’s cry is muffled against his shoulder and his body goes rigid.
Arthur drives up into the pulsing constriction of Merlin’s orgasm, the rhythm of his thrusts as quick and sharp as each squeeze of Merlin’s body around his cock and he holds on, back arching as he follows Merlin over the edge. Merlin rides him all the way through it and beyond, fingers digging into his shoulders, mouth an open, wet heat everywhere but the one place Arthur wants it most. The waves crest and break again and again, Merlin’s body closing tightly around him even as they calm and still.
He breathes deeply and savours the warm slickness surrounding his cock as he settles back against the pillows, pulling Merlin down with him, their chests slipping as they press tightly together. When Merlin begins to move away, Arthur helps him shift off of him, his cock slipping free, his body already regretting the loss of Merlin around him.
Unable to even consider spending another hour alone in his bed, Arthur urges Merlin onto his side next to him, pulling Merlin's hips flush against his lap, back to chest, their legs twining together. He works one arm beneath Merlin’s neck and the other between his legs, fingers slipping and circling the hot, swollen skin of his entrance. Arthur closes his eyes and rubs gently, slowly, fingers slipping in and out as Merlin sighs and moves his hips languidly into the touch.
He smoothes his fingers from Merlin’s body and reaches up to the cabinet top, finding Merlin’s kerchief and slipping it up between his thighs, swiping away the slickness before folding it in half and wiping Merlin’s chest and stomach in gently sweeps.
“I thought I was supposed to be taking care of you,” Merlin whispers, turning his head just a little as Arthur tosses the cloth to the floor and tucks his face down against Merlin’s neck.
He’s too far gone to answer, to think of some clever retort and get in the last word. It doesn’t matter, not now, not like this. He drapes his arm over Merlin’s hip, inhaling the salt-clean scent of his skin. It’s cool against every part of him, drawing off a bit of his heat.
He drifts off imagining Merlin’s mouth on his, tasting the sweet, cool tang of current in his kisses.