Title: First Things First
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Merlin wakes from a coma. Food is the first thing on his mind.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Sorry I missed last week, real life is crazy!
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur saw Merlin shift. Immediately, the king sat forward, the back of his fingers brushing against Merlin’s cheek. He had lost weight during the time he had been unconscious, his cheekbones standing out more than usual. Bags circled his eyes despite the fact he had been asleep and Arthur shuddered at how gaunt he looked.
Merlin’s skin felt dry under his touch, as if all the moisture had escaped him. Considering the battle they had had keeping him cool while the fever raged him, Arthur wouldn’t be surprised if that were true.
Now, however, he focused on the flicker of Merlin’s eyes. He had definitely reacted to Arthur’s touch and Arthur brushed his fingers again. Merlin’s lips twitched and Arthur felt the weight lift him. For three days now he had ignored matters of state to sit by Merlin’s side, helping Gaius nurse him even if he got in the way more than he assisted.
“Merlin?” Arthur called softly and was rewarded with another twitch. Arthur knew he should send for Gaius, but he wanted a few moments alone with his love. Merlin was the only person who could see through him and would be the only one to realise how much it had terrified Arthur watching him slip away, knowing there was nothing he could. It was selfish, he knew that, but he needed a moment to be vulnerable.
“Up you get, lazy,” Arthur teased, “you’ve been lying around too long.”
A soft groan escaped Merlin’s throat, but to Arthur’s delight, his eyes opened. They were unfocused and Arthur could see he was struggling to concentrate.
“You should know where you are,” he said, leaning forward to ensure that Merlin could see him. “You spent most of your time in it. Admittedly, naked. With me beside you. Also naked.”
A grin twitched Merlin’s lips. He put his palms on the mattress and Arthur knew he would never be able to sit up on his own. He slipped onto the bed, one arm sliding around Merlin’s back as he supported his weight before resting him back on the pillows. Merlin was breathing hard and his face had turned ashen.
Arthur was just about to yell for Gaius when Merlin spoke.
“That’s better.” His voice was a hoarse whisper, but it was the most welcome sound Arthur had heard in days. He made to slip back into his chair, but Merlin’s hand touched his own and Arthur stayed where he was. Unable to stop himself, he cupped Merlin’s cheek.
“I thought we lost you.”
“Don’t get rid of me that easily,” Merlin muttered, shutting his eyes. Arthur didn’t know if it was in reaction to his touch or because the act of sitting up had drained him.
“You don’t remember?” Arthur asked. Merlin shook his head, then grimaced, clearly regretting the action. Arthur sighed.
“You were a bigger fool than you normally are,” he said, trying to keep the anger from his voice. Now was not the time. “You stepped right in the path of the spell.”
The spell, Arthur internally added, that had been destined for him. Gaius had explained Merlin’s magic had been combating the dark magic, which was why he had been unconscious for so long. What Gaius didn’t say – and what Arthur didn’t need him to say – was that if the spell had hit Arthur, he would have been dead instantly.
“Oh, yeah,” Merlin said. Arthur lifted an eyebrow, then swallowed a rebuke. This argument would have to wait until Merlin at least looked better. He breathed deeply to control his temper.
“How are you feeling?” It felt like a daft question, but Arthur was no physician and it was the only way he could monitor Merlin.
Merlin thought for a moment, a grimace crossing his face. But before he could answer, his stomach rumbled and Merlin flushed. Arthur laughed.
“Hungry,” Merlin admitted. Arthur slipped off the bed.
“Then I shall order you a feast!”
He spoke quietly to the guard on the door, asking him to send word to the kitchens and to Gaius. Then he returned to Merlin’s side, clasping his lover’s hand in his own. They didn’t say anything; they didn’t need to. Merlin’s fingers curled around Arthur’s, and it was enough for the king to know that Merlin was truly awake.
The food arrived before Gaius. Arthur had his suspicions though and knew the physician was giving them some privacy. Arthur helped Merlin straighten up, then slid a tray onto his lap. When he pulled the cover aside, Merlin groaned.
“I thought you said a feast,” he protested, a dismayed look on his face as he stared at the watery stew on his lap.
“You won’t be able to stomach it.” Arthur knew that Merlin had to take his time building his strength up. But he also knew that the man wouldn’t like it. Sure enough, Merlin pouted. Then his stomach rumbled again.
“It’s this or nothing,” Arthur said sternly. Merlin reluctantly picked up the spoon and Arthur watched closely, ready to intervene if Merlin needed help. The last thing he needed was burns from spilt stew.
Despite Merlin’s protests, he only managed half before the spoon fell from his fingers and he yawned. Arthur pulled the tray away, his own stomach clenching and reminding him that he hadn’t eaten. He glanced over at the other tray on the table.
“Go,” Merlin said sleepily, seeing his look. “I’m not going anywhere and you look like hell.”
“First things first,” Arthur said. He helped Merlin lie back down, watching him breathing as Merlin’s eyes shut.
Then he crossed the room and lifted the cover on his own meal. The smell alone was enough to make his mouth water. He glanced at Merlin, but he had already fallen asleep. Feeling guilty – but knowing Merlin wouldn’t be able to eat this– Arthur tucked in.
He had never realised that looking after someone could be such hungry work.