Warnings: h/c, gratuitous fluff, and generally schmoopy
Summary: When Merlin is ill and has an asthma attack, Arthur helps him to breathe again.
Disclaimer: I (sadly) do not own these characters and make no profit.
Author's Notes: Written for myashke . Hope you're feeling better, hon.
In his imagination, Arthur’s mornings are always perfect.
The sun would stream into his window and warm his skin. Soft sheets would spill from his shoulders and pool at his waist as he sat up, birds chirping cheerily while Arthur stretched with a grin. Merlin would be right next to his bed, waiting to feed him grapes. Arthur would suck them lasciviously from Merlin’s fingertips and watch Merlin squirm while Arthur sucked and tongued his fingers (how Merlin would actually feel about this fantasy, Arthur had no idea). In these moments, all would be right in the world. This is how Arthur wished his days started.
It’s nice to want things.
Because on this particular morning, what Arthur really gets is startled into consciousness by the loud thunk of his chamber door against the stone wall (of course, there was no streaming sunlight or chirping birds, damn it all). His body jerks abruptly upright at the sound of objects clattering to the ground, and he mumbles something that sounds like Fuck’s sake, Merlin!
Merlin hacks loudly in response.
Arthur wipes the sleep from his eyes (so that he can glare at his servant properly, of course). Merlin is bent at the waist, shoulders jerking forward harshly with the force of each cough. His cleaning supplies are strewn around his feet, scattered from where they landed when the fit began.
Arthur softens at the sight, recalling how miserably ill his manservant sounded yesterday. “Last night I ordered you to take today off from your duties, Merlin. You’re still not well. It won’t do either of us any good to have you sputtering around like that all over my chambers.”
“I’m fine, Sire,” Merlin wheezes, sounding anything but. He rests his hands on his knees, still slightly doubled over, fatigue apparent on his thin frame. “I just-“
Another fit of coughing cuts Merlin off before he can finish. Arthur rises from the bed, brows drawn together in concern as Merlin’s skin becomes pale and sweaty. His raven hair clings wetly to his forehead. “Merlin, please. You must go and rest,” Arthur says as he puts his hand on Merlin’s shoulder.
Suddenly, Merlin’s cough transforms into a series of alarming, rapid wheezes that sends Arthur kneeling in front of him. Merlin kneels too, gasping shallow, desperate breaths, and registering the look of sheer panic on Merlin’s face, Arthur pulls Merlin’s chest loosely against his own. “Breathe,” Arthur commands softly, “breathe, Merlin.”
Arthur’s hands gently rub up and down Merlin’s back, which is shuddering as he strains and struggles for air. As Merlin’s hands fist in Arthur’s shift, Arthur scrambles for a coherent thought about what in God’s name he is supposed to be doing in this situation.
Then he remembers: Gareth on the field, overexerted and gasping in the stifling summer heat, and Gaius rushing out with minty, sharp-smelling oil. Afterwards, Arthur had Gaius make him a spare jar, liking how the smell invigorated him and wanting a spare in case this happened again.
Arthur settles Merlin back against the edge of his bed and dashes to his cupboard. Glasses tink against each other as he searches and finally retrieves the correct jar.
Very gently, Arthur slides in behind Merlin, settling his servant between his legs. He reaches around to the front of Merlin’s neck (thank god Merlin had left off that awful neckerchief today) and grasps the collar of Merlin’s tunic, unceremoniously ripping the garment open. He’d envisioned doing this before, but under very different circumstances, and Merlin would be panting for very different reasons.
Arthur uncorks the jar and slowly pours the oil onto Merlin’s bare chest. Immediately the sharp, herbaceous smell of the oil invades the room, and Arthur slides his fingers into the oil, rubbing softly along Merlin’s stuttering chest.
“Breathe,” Arthur whispers against the shell of Merlin’s ear. “Calm down, Merlin. Slowly, slowly. Breathe.”
Merlin’s back settles against Arthur’s chest, his breath still ragged as Arthur works the oil into the heated skin. “You’re burning up,” Arthur says when Merlin’s forehead falls to Arthur’s neck. “Breathe, darling,” Arthur lets the endearment slip. Maybe Merlin won’t remember. “Let the air in.”
Arthur holds him loosely, his fingers encouraging the fragrant oil release its clean smell for Merlin to breathe. Between the oil and the steady rise and fall of Arthur’s chest behind him, Merlin’s breath finally deepens, and the panicked expression on Merlin’s face smoothes over to one of exhaustion.
Merlin’s eyes slide shut, and satisfied that he is stable enough, Arthur gently lifts Merlin to his bed.
While Merlin dozes, Arthur arranges for several other servants to pick up Merlin’s duties for the rest of the week and consults with Gaius about what has happened. With Gaius’s advice and several more jars of oil, he prepares to become Merlin’s caretaker. Gaius had protested that Arthur was going above and beyond what was necessary, that he’d done enough already and need not put himself out, but Arthur insisted that this was something he’d wanted to do. For so long he’d been pampered and cared for; for four years Merlin had done all Arthur had asked of him. Arthur finds that caring for Merlin feels as natural as breathing.
After several hours he orders a bath drawn and laces the water with the oil. As the warm water releases the oil’s scent into the room, Merlin begins to stir. Carefully Arthur unlaces Merlin’s breeches and slides them off, focusing on Merlin’s ankle, calf, wrist- anywhere but the line of dark curls leading from Merlin’s navel to his flaccid cock. Now was not the time to look at Merlin like that. He assists Merlin in relieving himself, and fetches him some water to drink.
Arthur lifts him from the bed, taking the few steps to the tub and carefully lowering him into the fragrant water.
“Arthur,” Merlin whispers, his voice harsh and gravelly.
“Shh,” Arthur says. He studiously sets about lathering a cloth with soap, then pours a bit of the oil on it. He sets the cloth to Merlin’s shoulder, massaging a slow path across the back of Merlin’s neck to the other shoulder. The cloth dips to Merlin’s collarbone, and down slightly lower to his chest. Here, Arthur pours oil directly onto Merlin’s chest and works it in gently.
Arthur rubs the cloth below the level of the water, making sure to rub every inch of Merlin’s chest three times over, noting the deep rise and slightly ragged fall of Merlin’s chest. He gently nudges Merlin’s shoulder in a silent request for him to lean forward. Merlin does, the feeling of the cloth running over his skin soothing away the soreness there. Merlin hums contentedly at the sensation.
Arthur’s hands pull Merlin’s shoulders back against the tub. He places his fingers against Merlin’s forehead, gently tilting his head back. Arthur pours warm water from the pitcher over Merlin’s dark hair, and then pauses when Merlin’s gaze locks on his own.
The furrow of Merlin’s brow and the look in his blue eyes are asking Arthur the silent question: Why? Why are you doing this for me?
Arthur brushes the damp locks from Merlin’s forehead, and then runs his fingers down Merlin’s temple. Because I want to.
Seemingly satisfied, Merlin’s eyes slide shut, exhaustion from the illness overcoming him. He exhales a ragged breath, giving in to Arthur’s ministrations. Arthur’s cock stirs into life with his fingers caressing Merlin’s hair and with Merlin’s full lips parted like that. He wills his erection to die down.
He rinses Merlin’s hair and assists him to a standing position, running a dry cloth over Merlin’s slight frame and through his hair before lifting him back to bed. Merlin falls asleep wearing one of Arthur’s shifts.
Later that night, Arthur climbs in bed behind him, pulling Merlin’s back to his chest, letting the steady rise and fall of his own chest lead Merlin into breathing a deep, dreamless sleep.
Gaius teases that Arthur is after his job.
Over the course of the week, Merlin begins to sound less and less like he’d gargled with poison. Arthur checks on Merlin between his daily duties, keeping him confined to Arthur’s chambers so that Merlin doesn’t “have the rest of the kingdom sounding like they’ve swallowed glass” (Merlin squawks at this, earning him a pillow flung at his head). Merlin’s breathing starts to return to normal, and with Arthur feeding him every two hours, he regains his strength.
Arthur really can’t help but laugh to himself as, six mornings after Merlin’s initial coughing attack, he finds himself feeding Merlin grapes in his own bed. Destiny has different plans than his own fantasies.
Merlin moves to pluck the grape from Arthur’s fingers. Arthur yanks his hand back out of Merlin’s reach. “Let me,” he says, placing the grape to Merlin’s lips. “You’ve become insufferable, you know,” Arthur says. “You hog the covers every night.”
Merlin sucks at the offered grape, his lips lightly brushing Arthur’s fingertips. “I was quite ill, if you remember, Sire.” He chews the grape, swallows, and adds, “and you emit heat like a great bloody furnace. I had to escape you before I melted. And then I’d be a giant puddle in your bed. You’d probably still complain to puddle-me.”
This time it’s a slice of apple that Arthur holds up. Again Merlin tries to reach for it, but Arthur pulls it back. “I said, let me.” Merlin drops his hand resignedly. Arthur places the slice to his lips and Merlin bites. “Of course I would complain to puddle-you. You can’t lie about in my bed as a great lazy puddle. Don’t try to change the subject, Merlin. You’re a nuisance even while sleeping. You’ve been kneeing me with your large knobby knees,” he accuses, feeding Merlin the rest of the apple slice.
“Because you sleep in the shape of an X and leave me no room,” Merlin says as he chews.
Arthur bites the apple, his eyes dropping as he sniffles. “Seems as though you’re better,” he says to the sheets.
“Much,” Merlin says, reaching for another grape from the platter. Arthur slaps his hand and picks the grape, holding it to Merlin’s lips. “I’d like to thank you for your kindness, Arthur. And I suppose I’ll return to my duties today,” Merlin says with his lips against the grape, then sucking the object into his mouth.
Entranced by the action, Arthur’s fingers linger too long against Merlin’s lips. “You’re well enough, I suppose.” He lets his fingers fall. “But you should come back here to sleep. Because.” Arthur swallows heavily as he looks at Merlin, shirtless, looking like he belongs in Arthur’s bed. “Because you’re still, ah, you know, sick and all that,” he states.
Merlin nods in response, his eyes still on Arthur’s fingers. “Wouldn’t want to infect others,” he agrees.
Arthur lifts another grape to Merlin’s lips, and this time, Merlin sucks past the grape and onto the tips of Arthur’s fingers. “Finally you say something sensible,” Arthur says a little too breathily as Merlin’s lips pull quite obscenely from Arthur’s fingers.
“It’s been known to happen every now and then,” Merlin says as Arthur places another grape to his lips. Merlin’s blue eyes darken as he holds Arthur’s gaze. “You called me darling,” he whispers, and then his tongue swipes Arthur’s fingers as he licks and sucks the grape into his mouth.
“I did,” Arthur gasps. He can’t help but moan as Merlin swallows the grape and then returns his lips to Arthur’s fingers, sucking for a moment before sliding off wetly. Unable to wait any longer, Arthur pulls Merlin up to his lips and kisses Merlin as if he was the one desperate for air and Merlin contained all the oxygen in the world.
Merlin’s mouth is sticky and sweet on Arthur’s tongue, his little grunts fill Arthur up and it’s all he’s ever wanted as Merlin pants underneath him, this time breathless for Arthur’s kisses, for Arthur’s sweat-slicked skin, for the glorious hardness of Arthur’s cock sliding against his own.
After Merlin spills between them, his come coating Arthur’s stomach, chest, and even his neck, Merlin understands now the beauty in being breathless for all the right reasons.
That night, Merlin returns to Arthur, claiming to still not feel well. Arthur examines Merlin thoroughly against the bedpost and on the table.
The next week, Arthur claims that Merlin still looks pale, and rejuvenates Merlin against the door and in the antechamber, then curls protectively around him in his own bed.
Merlin sleeps in Arthur’s bed the following month when Arthur states that Merlin is too flushed. Arthur claims that if Merlin “sweats it out in front of the fire”, he just might be able cure Merlin. And Arthur tries, in every position possible, to make Merlin sweat.
Over the passage of time, “you don’t look well” comes to mean something entirely different when it is whispered against Merlin’s face with Arthur collapsed on top of him, his eyes filled with love when he says it.
After Arthur becomes king and Merlin has been sleeping in his bed every night for years, it finally changes. “I love you, Merlin,” Arthur says. “Stay with me.”
And he always would.