Title: Keeping Warm Rating: PG Word count: ~650 Pairings: OK - You don't need slash goggles to see Merlin/Arthur in this one, although it is still pre-slash. Warnings: cuddling, background deaths of OCs Disclaimer: I do not own this version of Merlin, nor am I making any profit from it. Prompt: This was written for Merlinadvent 2009 Day 10, using the prompt: keeping warm (yep - we're being super-original with titles today!)
Merlin invites himself into Arthur's bed.
Arthur is cold. Merlin has put heated stones in his bed to warm it, but it feels as if the ice has gone through to his bones. All day he has been out in the freezing north wind working to lift the rubble where a wall collapsed on several shanties - not a wall for which he was responsible, thank heavens, but all the ablebodied men of Camelot had turned out to help.
In the first two hours they had found half a dozen survivors, but as the time wore on only bodies were pulled from the rubble. It was the children that really got to him. He'd been trained to kill since birth - but not children. Small bodies should breathe and laugh and move, not lie still and smeared with dust as women wailed around them.
And now he couldn't even get warm in his own bed.
Merlin had fed him hot soup as he worked - the castle kitchens had sent down several cauldrons to feed the workers - and at day's end Arthur had collapsed into his chair and used a knife and fork to shovel - something, something dry and tasteless as far as he could recall - into his mouth before Merlin scooped the heating stones to the foot of his bed and replaced them with Arthur in his warmest nightshirt.
"I'm so cold," Arthur complains to Merlin, who is still puttering around, damping the fire for the night and putting away small items.
"Would you like me to stay?" Merlin says casually, half turning from the window, where he is adjusting the blind.
Arthur looks at him a little blankly and Merlin flushes. "Gwen is sharing Morgana's bed these cold nights, and I wouldn't mind a little warm company myself. I just wondered."
Arthur's mind is moving like treacle, slowed by the cold and exhaustion, but he knows a good offer when he hears one.
"Good idea," he says dreamily. "Do you need to fetch anything from your room?"
"I should tell Gaius not to worry, I suppose," Merlin says. "Back in a moment."
Arthur lies in the flickering firelight, freezing and suspended in time until Merlin plunges back through the door and begins to shed layers of clothing: neckerchief, boots and socks, overtunic and breeches all go in a pile on the floor so that when Merlin clambers into bed he is dressed in nothing but his long undertunic.
"God, you are cold," he says, plunging down to the bottom of the bed to bring a warm stone to where Arthur's cold feet can rest on it. Arthur is facing the fire with Merlin on the bed behind him, and Merlin has no hesitation in arranging the long lines of his body to warm Arthur's back.
"Better?" he says, and Arthur allows a long shudder to run through his body as the warmth of Merlin's skinny (living) frame seeps into his muscles.
"Mmm-hmm," he agrees, and leans back into the warmth. Merlin hesitates a moment and then brings his arm to lie along Arthur's side. Arthur's bones are beginning to de-ice and he sighs with pleasure.
"Good idea," he murmurs again, and then he drifts into sleep.
In the night he wakes briefly to see Merlin add another log to the fire and poke it up a little. The firelight on Merlin's white undershirt and pale legs is lovely to watch, but the space behind Arthur seems cool and empty. He is glad when Merlin climbs back in and arranges himself back to back with Arthur.
"G'night," he says, and Merlin jumps a little.
"I thought you were asleep," he says. "Goodnight, Arthur."
Time seems suspended in the deep watches of the night and Arthur lies there listening to Merlin breathe. It's reassuring and warm; it's companionable and far too tempting. He wishes that he could ask Merlin to stay for the rest of the winter, but unfortunately he knows better than that.
___________________________________ The eleventh ficlet in the marzipan series is NOT YET WRITTEN