Bundled up in a nest of bed linens and blankets, Arthur had spent the day sweating out his fever, forcing down doses of Gaius’ vile remedies, and blowing his nose until it was raw. He absolutely hated being ill, more than most things in the world. He’d been so weak that morning that he could barely sit up on his own, couldn’t bathe himself, and worst of all he couldn’t train. Leon was leading the men through training that day and they were probably having quite a time contending with the first serious snowstorm of the season, a snowstorm that Arthur had been waiting on for weeks so that he could show the men the tactics that he had come up with for winter battles.
It was like his body was betraying him.
Shuffling around in his bed, Arthur huffed irritably and flopped onto his stomach, only to sigh loudly and flip over onto his back. He was tired of being in bed but Gaius had threatened to slip him a sleeping draught if he dared get up. Arthur had been so thirsty all day that he wouldn’t have been able to avoid drinking the damn thing so he’d been forced to concede and stay in bed. But he was far from happy about it.
He’d been confined to his chambers all day—it won’t do for the people to see their prince in such a state—forced into silence in order to preserve what little voice he had , his throat so raw from coughing that he could barely speak, and he couldn’t stand it. The only thing that kept Arthur from going completely mad with boredom that day was Merlin’s constant presence in the room.
Merlin was the only person that Arthur would allow into his room that day. Truth be told, Merlin was the only person willing to put up with Arthur’s foul mood; Gaius told him off for acting like a child and the servant assigned to draw Arthur’s bath had quickly found another way to occupy himself once he realized that the Prince was sick. Arthur’s foul moods were legendary, especially those brought on by illness and before Merlin arrived in Camelot, the servants would draw lots to decide who would have to serve him. Merlin never seemed to mind though. He was immune to Arthur’s foul moods, giving back as well as he got, and Arthur preferred his insolent muttering over the other servants who would just cower and shrink under the weight of Arthur’s glares. When Merlin wasn’t muttering things about Arthur that should have got him thrown in the stocks, he was humming to himself or prattling on to Arthur about the things that his mother would do for him whenever he got sick as a child back in Ealdor. The first time, Arthur had teased him about it but had eventually been forced to admit that Merlin’s soft murmuring was strangely soothing and that he’d rather Merlin’s nonsense talk than another servant’s ever-present silence.
Which was why Arthur was feeling so irritable right now.
It was obvious that Merlin wanted to be outside. He’d been anticipating the snow just as much as Arthur had, possibly more seeing as it was to be the first snowfall since he came to Camelot. When peals of laughter and joyful shouts had started drifting up through the window half an hour before, barely audible through the glass, Merlin’s attention had quickly shifted from Arthur to what was happening in the courtyard below and he’d had been staring out the window ever since. He’d continued to half-heartedly shine the vambrance in his hands but had quickly given up the pretense to watch the proceedings avidly, alternately chuckling and sighing to himself every few minutes. Arthur had initially been put out at being so thoroughly ignored now he just felt bad for keeping Merlin from enjoying the day simply because he was feeling miserable.
“Go on, if you want to,” Arthur said, his voice rasping over the words, “you don’t have to stay holed up in here with me. Go enjoy the day.”
For a moment, it looked like Merlin was going to object and insist on staying inside with Arthur and Arthur desperately hoped that he would. He didn’t particularly feel like spending the next who knows how long staring at the canopy of his bed.
I’d much rather have Merlin here.
He knew he was doomed to do just that when Merlin cast a longing look towards the window and fiddled with the vambrance slightly before answering him.
“I won’t be long,” Merlin said, laying the vambrance and the polishing cloth on the table, “I’ll be back before you even know I’m gone.”
Every second will be unbearable.
“Please, Merlin, as if anyone could help but notice that you aren’t in the room,” Arthur said, adopting his most mocking tone, “the sheer magnitude of the peaceful silence would be enough to remind them.”
Instead of being insulted, Merlin just looked at Arthur like he knew something about Arthur that Arthur didn’t even know and it was unsettling. Arthur fought not to fidget under the look and forced his face into his princely “I’m bored with your presence” expression. Waving his hand dismissively, he addressed Merlin again.
“Best be off, Merlin, before I change my mind and make you stay here and finish your chores like a proper servant.”
“We both know I rarely do anything like a proper servant.”
“A fair point, Merlin,” Arthur said, feigning deep thought, “care to remind me again why I don’t just sack you and get one?”
At that, Merlin just grinned slyly. “Because, much like every other time you’ve sacked me, you’d just end up rehiring me again. You miss me too much when I’m not here.”
Indeed I do.
Arthur forced a cough to diffuse the awkwardness he felt at Merlin’s response, a cough which in turn wreaked havoc on his sore throat and resulted in Merlin rushing to his side with a small cup of warmed wine from the pitcher on the mantle. He held the cup up to Arthur’s mouth as he drank and Arthur let himself be coddled, enjoying Merlin's concern and the smell of him beside Arthur’s bed. Warmth spread throughout Arthur’s body at the first sip and he knew that he would be drifting off shortly, which was perfect since Merlin would be gone anyway. Merlin took the cup away when Arthur was done and fiddled with the bedclothes before heading for the door.
“You’ll probably sleep now,” Merlin said, smiling and in Arthur’s wine-warmed state, he couldn’t help smiling back. “I should be back before you wake up.”
And then he was out the door. Arthur counted the minutes as they passed, fighting off sleep until he heard Merlin let out a joyful whoop from the courtyard. Then he smiled to himself and slept.