Title: This is the Tempest We're Fighting For: Chapter 5
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: Merlin is a complete mystery to Arthur.
Word Count: 1,210
Prompt: #216: Distractions
Author's Notes: Follows this on ao3|LJ
In the morning Arthur's headache recedes. Everything has cleared. His body still hurts, a twinge of discomfort as he moves, but he's well rested, feels better than he's felt in days. Even his mood has improved, his spirits lifted. Something changed overnight. He's decided he's going to face the day. If there is even the remote chance his men survived like he did, then he's going to chase after it. People in the islands near by must have heard something, local talk of misfortune and sunken ships always reach the right ears. It is possible the remains of their wreckage have been found. And if that's the case, if they went down with the Avalon then he's going to spend the rest of his life remembering each and every single one of them. His men. All with the same loyalty they showed him every time the set sail towards a new world.
He's lying on his bed, staring at the shapes on the ceiling, pondering whether Gwen would agree to leave him ashore once they reach dry land or not. He's leaning towards a positive answer when there's a knock on the door.
Arthur sits up, looks towards the door as if he can tell who's behind by staring at it long enough. "Come in," he rasps out, sleep clinging to him. He doesn't expect to see Merlin. The sun is barely rising over the horizon and he's already awake.
He nods when he steps inside, Merlin looks tired not nearly as rested as Arthur feels and he suspects he's the culprit behind the dark circles around Merlin's eyes.
Last night his fever addled mind prevented him from being coherent and alert. He remembers no more than bits and pieces of the evening. Merlin checking up on him every couple of hours, humming in satisfaction as the fever began to go down. Arthur speaking nonsense and Merlin lending him his ear. Merlin speaking, voice mellow, his hands cold to the touch and Arthur eventually fell asleep surrendering to his tiredness. He doesn't know at what time Merlin finally left him on his own.
Arthur watches every movement Merlin makes. He moves around the small cabin with the easiness of someone who knows their surroundings. He leaves a plate of food and a metal jug on top of the table and Arthur immediately wants to reach for it. Craves fresh water more than anything. He could probably drink the entire sea if it were possible. Nonetheless he stays put.
"Here. You could use these," Merlin says, walking closer to him. He sets a pair of breeches, a tunic and boots in a much better state than the ones Arthur owns. They're sadly on the floor, torn and dirty they can't even be called boots anymore. "And Gwen asked to see you once you're ready."
Arthur is taken aback, stares at Merlin and then at the clothes, then back at him again. "You know, I can't figure you out," he declares.
Merlin stands up straight crossing his arms. "Huh. Is that so?"
"Yes, one day you come trudging in here lacking tact and then--you take care of me all through the night. And now you even bring me clothes," Arthur elaborates, watches how Merlin shifts his weight from one foot to the other. Sighs. His arms dropping to his sides like he's defeated.
"I'll admit I was a bit...ill-mannered," Merlin begins, Arthur's eyes widen in disbelief. "Fine more than a bit. But you have to admit you were a prejudiced prat when we met."
Arthur scoffs, offended by the accusations. "I was not."
"You really were. I mean, if you tell the person who's about to examine you and possibly heal you wounds if there is someone else available to do the job, it's because you don't trust them. I don't like being considered the lesser choice."
And fine, Arthur does get it now. He might have been rude, but it's not like Merlin was any better. He slumps against the wall. "I apologize if I caused you any grievances. I'm not used to seeing someone so young as yourself being the one in charge of the health of an entire crew."
This time Merlin smiles, and what sounds a lot like laughter comes out from between his lips. He shakes his head and moves a bit forward, Arthur thinks he's about to sit on the bed next to him, but chooses the chair he left last night close to the bed instead. "I think I understand. When people see me board or leave the ship they infer I'm the swabbie." Merlin rolls his eyes in a good-natured way. "I learned what I know from the best. I can cure almost any ailment."
"I believe you. I feel better now. A new man," he says, opening his arms wide presenting himself, showing he's well on his way to recovery.
Merlin snickers. "You might be. Yet I think you're in dire need of a bath and a change of clothes."
"Excuse me, are you insinuating I look terrible?"
"No, I wouldn't say terrible. I think the appropriate word for this case is ghastly."
Arthur finds himself smiling, his chest no longer tight every time he breathes. Finds it easy to answer, "You do need to work in your bedside manner, or else your patients are going to hide from you."
"Are you calling yourself my patient?"
"Maybe. We'll see if I make it to the night."
Merlin hums, picking at a lose thread on his breeches. "I'm thinking you're not as bad as I initially thought."
"No? That's a relief," Arthur responds, throwing himself back down on the bed. Notices the sun has fully risen.
"Or maybe I have been right all along and you're manipulating me into believing you're an affable man," Melin says pensively, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"I would never do such a thing. Captain's honor." Arthur brings his palm to his chest, right above his heart, and it might have been an action done in jest, but he actually means it. His honor, his words are what he has left. What Arthur can offer.
"Very well, Captain. I'll have to trust you on this one."
"You do that."
Silence falls on them, Arthur moves around, goes to lay on his side and peers at Merlin. He's quiet, pensive. Lips parted. Arthur has the sudden need to understand him.
"By the way, thank you for last night," he mutters.
Merlin shakes his head vehemently. "No need. It was my duty."
"I don't mean the medicine. I meant your words."
"Oh, that. You remember. I thought you were completely gone."
"Not everything but enough. I guess you were right about moving forward."
Merlin practically beams, a pleased expression taking over his features.
Arthur is completely absorbed in Merlin he forgets about meeting Gwen until someone else knocks on the door and Freya walks in before he has a chance to reply.
"I think I better take my leave." Merlin says standing up, greets Freya when they meet halfway into the cabin. Arthur almost wants to ask him to stay. He pauses at the door. "I'll be seeing you."
Possibly the days to come won't be as dreadful as he had feared.