Title: This is the Tempest We're Fighting For: Chapter 4
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Arthur never needed anyone to take care of him while sick, but that was before.
Word Count: 1,160
Prompt: #215: Handle with Care
Author's Notes: Follows this on ao3|LJ
Sleep won't come easy for him, ghosts and shadows swiftly invade his dreams and by morning Arthur feels the repercussions of a night spent with eyes open, focusing way too much on the rough material of the thin sheet covering his body to repel the voice calling out his name in desperation. The crisp smell of the ocean is very strong, percolates through the tiny window above his bed. The ship sways, moves forward towards an unknown destination. For the first time of his life he doesn't know where he is, and the situation is completely out of his hands. He's at the mercy of another pirate, of another captain, of a crew he knows nothing about.
He experiences the same helplessness he felt the night of the storm. Right at the moment when he saw the sky was set on bringing its fury down on them and he knew he could do nothing to stop it.
Arthur's thoughts run amok until the first light of day.
When the sun filters in he begins doubting his ability to stand on his own two feet and leave the cabin—which now has been loaned to him for however long Gwen plans on keeping him on board—and face the day. But he feels the obligation to do so, even when his body is rippled by tremors. Arthur wasn't raised to be holed up, he's strong. He's well aware of the fact he has to push through and eventually have that talk he owes to Gwen. She deserves to ask and get answers about her brother, even if Arthur himself doesn't remember a lot about the last moments they spent in each other's company.
He tries to stand up only to fall back down and finds he is unable to leave the bed. His breath is coming out shallow, his throat feels rough and his eyes are watery and red. This time every ache is physical. He tries to get up again and again, but his agility has abandoned him and moving doesn't come easy to him. Everything around him spins, and if he were a newbie to the life of the sea then he could blame it on seasickness. But no, not him. He was born on a ship and he will die on a ship.
Although this is too soon, he can't go. Not yet.
He laughs at the irony of the situation, ends up coughing, embracing his middle and falling completely on the cot he called bed for the night. Maybe the sea is ready to claim him too, to take him back to his crew.
The world is moving too fast, topples over, goes black.
It takes Arthur a few tries of blinking and passing air though his nose to bring his world to lucidity. Then he hears voices, two distinctive tones speaking softly. Hushed. Whispering. He strains to hear but can't catch a single word, but if his ears don't deceive him Gwen is there in the room, talking with someone who's crouching next to his bed. Arthur is positive he's heard the second voice before too.
It isn't until he blinks the tears from his eyes and some of the heaviness away he can place a face to the voice. Merlin.
"What? Why are you here?" He croaks out. His mouth parchment dry. Lips cracked.
He sees out of the corner of his eye Gwen moving closer. Merlin stares at him, if the way his eyebrows raise towards his hairline like he's demented, then Arthur must look awful. Even worse than he imagined.
"Someone got themselves sick," Merlin answers. Behind them Gwen snorts.
"I guess by someone you mean me." Each word hurts, burns as it comes out. He does feels rather ill, hot and tired and drowsy and...Merlin still has the bluest eyes he's ever seen. His cold hand feels good against his clammy skin.
"How are you feeling?"
Arthur tries to focus on Gwen but fails. He's been doing that a lot lately. "Awful."
"You show it. When you didn't make it out to the deck I figured there must be something wrong. You don't give me the impression of being the kind of man who would throw themselves overboard to run-or well, swim away from unexpected happenings."
He can hear the humor she's trying to imbue into her words and he's thankful. "I tried."
For a moment the heaviness on his chest is not caused by the maladies he's suffering from.
"We always have more time," Gwen says, hesitates but doesn't add anything else. Arthur has come to find silence is their middle ground.
"You can go if you need to. I can take care of him," Merlin offers, and even in his state Arthur is surprised, even more so when Merlin applies something to his forehead that is almost magical because the heat in his body doesn't feel as oppressive as before.
Gwen walks over to the door, but stops, hesitating. "Are you absolutely sure? I do have a few things to sort out but if you don't want-"
"Yes, I'm certain. I'm a miracle worker, remember? If I stay here he'll be out of the woods faster." Merlin smiles all big and warm and Arthur thinks this is the first time he's seeing one of those. After meeting him the day before, he couldn't have imagined he was even capable of such niceties.
"You've convinced me. I'll leave you to it then, just forego the bloodletting."
Gwen's words ring in his ears after she leaves. Arthur imagines leeches stuck to his skin and he shudders not completely sure if it's because of the visuals or the illness.
"Don't worry. I've never been too keen on the method. I trust my herbs more," Merlin says, working on a vial he's shaking from hand to hand.
"What happened to me?" He asks, and his questions has so many meanings Merlin gives him the only answer he can.
"Probably exhaustion," Merlin replies. "I was surprised you could even stand yesterday."
"Yes, I was too if I'm being honest. Everything hurts."
"You should stop talking then. Get some rest, but drink some water first. You need it."
Arthur does as he's told, guiding the cup of water he was offered to his lips with Merlin's help. He hadn't noticed his hands were shaking until that very moment, when Merlin's hand landed on top of his own and they stayed stuck together until Arthur drank the last drop of cool water.
Merlin gives him an odd look. Shakes his head and gives him the vial he had in his hands before. Arthur downs its contents in one go. "Will I be better now?"
"Maybe. If you do follow my instructions from before."
Arthur falls asleep with a taste of honey and peppermint on his tongue, the feeling of soaked washcloths being applied to his forehead and Merlin's eyes never straying from him.