“Merlin, can you please not open the curtains?” Arthur moaned, throwing an arm over his eyes.
Merlin ignored him, securing each sheet of fabric with a tie to keep it in place on the sides of the window. “Gaius says sunshine is good for you. Soup and sunshine. I brought the soup from the kitchens, and now you have the sunshine as well!”
Merlin fetched the tray from where he’d left it on the table, hiding a wince at the unappealing colour of the contents. Audrey had really outdone herself the past few days, each bowl of soup appearing less and less like it had been created out of actual food. Pretending to stumble on a non-existent obstacle, Merlin whispered a charm, hoping it would be enough to mask the taste of sewage. Then he pasted his smile more firmly on his face and gently placed the tray across Arthur’s thighs.
Arthur himself hadn’t moved from his prone position, arm still grinding into his eye sockets. His breaths came laboured and noisy through his clogged nose –mouth breathing was a disgusting habit apparently only practiced by commoners, no matter the circumstances-, and Merlin could see his throat convulsing slightly as he fought back a round of hacking coughs. It really had been a miserable week for his prince. Even Uther had had to concede to Gaius’s orders for bed rest after Merlin found blood on Arthur’s handkerchief from his lungs’ attempts to evict themselves through his mouth.
But Arthur had never seemed so down as he did today. Merlin sat on the edge of the bed beside him and rubbed circles on Arthur’s chest, hoping he wouldn’t notice the bit of warmth from the spell to attempt to break up the fluid clogging his lungs. “What’s the matter, love? Do you have a headache?” No matter what Gaius recommended, he would close the curtains immediately if it was hurting his prince.
Arthur sighed and didn’t answer at first. Merlin was about to get up and darken the room again when he spoke. “I have a cold. A cold, Merlin. But just look at me.” The words were choked out, but Merlin had the grace to pretend he thought it was from the illness instead of the tears slipping out from under Arthur’s arm. “Even Morgana managed to attend all of her functions while she was sick. I can’t even sit up without help. Gods, I’m pathetic.”
“Morgana had a cold,” Merlin corrected gently, removing his hand from Arthur’s chest to reach up and lift the arm from over his prince’s reddened eyes. “Gaius says what you have is much worse than that. I know you like to think yourself invincible, you stubborn clotpole, but you’re really really not. So please do us both a favour and accept that you’re going to have to have a bit of a lie-about to get well.”
Merlin carefully helped Arthur into a sitting position, going through the motions of making sure his pillows were expertly fluffed, despite the enchantment he’d put on them ages ago ensuring they would never go flat. “Besides, you know if Morgana had had to be put on bed rest, she would have been milking the opportunity for all it was worth, not moaning about how she would rather be out whacking people with shiny sticks.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards. “Are you saying you want me to order you about? In that case, I have a list of chores that you could be doing to fill the time you can’t be following me ab-”
Merlin shoved a spoonful of soup into his prince’s mouth, forcibly cutting of his words. “Ah, but if you send me to muck the stables I won’t be here to fulfill your every whim, now will I?”
Arthur’s grin formed fully, a sly twinkle in his eyes as he grabbed Merlin’s wrist and rubbed a thumb lightly over his pulse point. “You know, being stuck in bed can make a person very whimsic-”
Arthur was cut off again, but this time not by soup. He began coughing in earnest, one hand groping for a handkerchief while the other grasped his chest. Merlin immediately jumped off the bed to shove him forward, splaying a hand on his back and muttering fervently under his breath, half of it spell and half soothing encouragements. After what felt like a lifetime, Arthur’s breathing eased, and he could lie back again.
“I told you not to do that,” he wheezed, glaring weakly at Merlin. “What will my father think if I heal faster than I’m meant to?”
“Probably something about your strong Pendragon constitution,” Merlin snapped back. He kept his hand rubbing circles to hide his faint tremor. Seeing Arthur struggling to breathe like that squeezed at his heart every time. “For all your whinging, you keep forgetting I would cure you in an instant if you’d let me.”
“And you keep forgetting I’d rather lie in this bed forever than see you on the executioner’s block!”
They both scowled at each other for a moment longer until their anger faded as quickly as it had come.
“Just promise me, Merlin,” Arthur begged softly, “that I won’t get better a minute before Gaius says I should. Even if it means I’m stuck here for the rest of winter.”
Merlin saw the almost imperceptible wince Arthur gave at that thought. He felt terrible for his blindness. He knew how much Arthur struggled with feeling useless. He wasn’t even allowed any visitors who might come with strategies to be planned or fighting techniques to be critiqued (not that he hadn’t tried, but Gaius had put his foot down after two squires nearly set the prince’s bed on fire). Combine all that with missing out on his favourite season of the year, of course he was depressed. Yet he was willing to let it continue for Merlin’s sake.
Merlin leaned forward and kissed Arthur softly on his overly warm head. “Eat your soup. I’ll be right back.”
“What happened to fulfilling my every whim?” Arthur called after him, but Merlin just let the door slam behind him.
Forty minutes later, he returned to the room to find an empty bowl and a sleeping Arthur. Smiling fondly at his snoring prince, Merlin got to work. Once everything was set up, he lay down and waited for Arthur to awake.
He next opened his eyes to sharp pokes in his side. Arthur was staring down at him in a mix of alarm and awe. “Merlin. What did you do?”
Merlin grinned and sat up with a small yawn and a nonchalant stretch. “It’s a snow-knight. I thought the resemblance was quite striking, don’t you?”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed with annoyance even as his lips gave a twitch. “What if someone sees? Maybe you could blame my recovery on me, but I don’t think anyone is going to believe that this is a natural occurrence!”
Merlin just beamed brighter. “This” was his own version of a winter wonderland. A small hollow at the edge of the woods was enjoying a patch of bare grass as his stolen snow had been gathered and heaped into Arthur’s room. Every flagstone had been covered in white fluff, and then spelled into immortality against the heat from the hearth. The life-size snow-knight stood with sword at the ready, complete with his own trusty manservant at his side.
“Perhaps it’s slipped your addled mind, sire, but you are highly contagious and thus under a strict quarantine. Not even the king is allowed into these rooms.” Arthur still didn’t look convinced. Merlin rolled his eyes. “Plus I locked the door, dollophead. One word and this all becomes an indoor pond.”
Arthur’s gaze softened, and Merlin took the opportunity to produce his last present. “Your sword, sire.”
Now Arthur’s laugh was genuine as he spotted what was in the proffered hands. “A stick? You want me to fight with a stick?”
“Not just any stick, my lord. A shiny stick.”
Arthur grabbed the glittering twig and rapped Merlin over the head before collapsing into giggles. The giggles swiftly turned into coughs, however, as his lungs scrabbled for air. Merlin quickly yelped a word and the attack eased, but Arthur’s good humour didn’t return.
“Take it away, Merlin. This will only make me worse, and I don’t want to risk you joining me here.”
Merlin snorted, though he couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt. “Do you really think I would do anything that might harm you? The snow’s enchanted, you prat. It might feel a bit cold, but it’s no worse for you than that soup you had for breakfast.” He steeled himself for another moment of wrath. “And as long as you’re touching it, your lungs will be clear. Not healed, mind,” he corrected quickly, “but at least you won’t have to worry about coughing.”
Arthur gave him a long look, then without a word shoved him out of the bed. Merlin landed with an oomph on his back in the snow, but before he could give a cry of outrage, Arthur was on top of him, snogging him senseless. Merlin grinned into the kiss, not caring a bit that Arthur was crushing his ribs and his mouth tasted strongly of Gaius’s potions. He hadn’t been properly snogged in ages, certain noble prats refusing to risk contamination, magical immune systems be damned.
When Arthur finally pulled back, he gave him one last peck on the nose before sitting up. “I’m afraid you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, Merlin,” he tutted, eyes sparkling. “You see, shiny sticks are all well and good during the summer months, but a great warrior must be proficient with all sorts of weapons. And I,” he leaned forward to whisper hotly in Merlin’s ear, “am the greatest warrior of them all.”
Before Merlin could react, a handful of snow was smashed into his face. Arthur skittered away, cackling with glee.
“Oh, you’ll pay for that, Pendragon,” Merlin growled in mock offense, shaking himself off and scrambling to his feet. “Didn’t your father ever teach you not to piss off a sorcerer?”
“Yeah, but he meant the powerful sorcerers. You know, the kind that can do a bit more than a little charm to keep off the chill. Besides, I have it on good authority that the most powerful one loves the pants off me.”
“Hmm…” Merlin tapped his chin consideringly. “I’m not quite convinced about that. Perhaps we’d better take your pants off and test this theory.”
“Perhaps we should.”