“Painkillers,” Arthur steamrolled past Merlin the second he opened the door to their apartment. Merlin, head throbbing, opted to lean against the door, watching Arthur somewhat detachedly as Arthur pulled knife somewhat frantically out of one of their drawers to cut into the bottle of Merlin’s prescription.
“You’re supposed to take these before you go to sleep,” Arthur explained, not looking away from the bottle. Merlin had heard all of this before, at the doctor’s, but he let Arthur keep talking anyway. “Just for now. But the antibiotics are for longer, and the insulin…”
“The insulin is always,” Merlin remarked, a little too tired to be having this conversation for the forty-seventh time. He had been counting. All week in the hospital, Arthur had been in a static loop, repeating what the doctors said and little else; however, his panic was palpable. The twitch in his eyes, the slight tremor in his hand, the way he paced and walked and had to move move move.
“Here,” Arthur emptied two pills into his hand and reached them out, across the chasm between the two of them. “It’s supposed to help with the nausea.”
“Thanks,” Merlin forced himself across the room, still unsteady on his feet, the product of five days in a hospital bed. Arthur’s eyes were quick at assessing him, if he would fall, if he needed help, but he didn’t reach out.
He hadn’t been reaching out.
Merlin took the pills with a glass of water Arthur had at the ready. Attentive, Arthur had been. Affectionate, he had not.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” Arthur’s eyes surveyed him critically, hawk-like in his attention.
“To brush my teeth before bed? Yeah,” Merlin wanted touch Arthur’s face, but refrained. Arthur seemed too skittish for that right now, which really wasn’t fair; Merlin was the one who was sick, who wanted his boyfriend’s attention. Well, he had the attention part, but he wished Arthur would stop focusing on symptoms and start focusing on emotions.
Arthur had never been much good at that, though; Merlin supposed he was expecting too much from him.
Whatever. Merlin raised an eyebrow at Arthur before heading into their bedroom and through to the bathroom. Regardless of Arthur, being home after the hospital was a good feeling. He had all of his things here; he was going to sleep in his own bed tonight instead of in the cramped hospital bed with the itchy sheets and no Arthur.
Well, Arthur had been there. Arthur had been there the whole time, Merlin knew, but he hadn’t really been mentally present for most of it, too busy hounding after the doctors and making phone calls and whatever else one did when their boyfriend collapsed at work.
At least Merlin hadn’t been the one to go through that. His own illness – that was fine. He could handle that. Merlin didn’t think he could’ve handled it if it had happened to Arthur.
“Do you need another pillow?” Arthur was standing expectantly right outside the bathroom door. Merlin nearly jumped.
“No,” Merlin said, pulling off his t-shirt. “Just the one – like always. Things are still the same as they were last week, Arthur.”
Arthur was quiet for a moment, but his stare said enough as Merlin got into his pajamas.
“Alright, so I have to give myself a shot every day,” Merlin shrugged. “Worse things have happened.”
It wasn’t like Merlin was enthused about his diagnosis; diabetes hardly sounded like a walk in the park. But though it was permanent, it wasn’t nearly as serious as it could be. Once he recovered from this initial spell, he could keep it in check and live next to normally. Everything would go back to normal.
Well. Hopefully Arthur would go back to normal.
“Come here,” Merlin, groaning slightly, pulled himself into bed. Arthur’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment as if he were considering it, then sat hesitantly on the other side of the bed. However, his eyes kept darting out the doorway. For what? Medicine had been taken; the doctors had given him his shot before they allowed him to leave.
But Arthur was still on edge.
Merlin finally reached a hand out to set on top of Arthur’s clenched, white knuckles. “It’s gonna be fine, Arthur. This isn’t gonna be a big deal unless you make it one.”
“Of course it’s a big deal,” Arthur said a bit gruffly, still not looking at him, and Merlin’s heart seemed to sink into his chest. “I mean, you were sick for days before…before you fell, and I didn’t do anything about it. I barely noticed. I just thought – I mean, you get sick so often. And I didn’t worry any of those times, either. If I had made you go to the doctor’s…”
“Is that was this is about?” Merlin couldn’t help but feel slightly better as he rubbed his thumb across Arthur’s wrist. “Arthur, it’s not like I was checking myself into the hospital, either. I was hoping it was just a virus. And I thought I was doing a bang-up job of pretending like everything was fine.”
“That’s why I should’ve made you go,” Arthur stared determinedly at the floor. “If something’s wrong, you pretend like it’s nothing. If nothing’s wrong, you’re bratty about it.”
“I’m not,” Merlin’s lip curled slightly at the word, “bratty. You are.”
The use of his least favorite word did have some uses; it made Arthur chuckle after a hellish week of not even seeing him smile. “Yeah, but you are, too.”
They were quiet, a heavy weight still permeating the air around them. Finally, Merlin leaned back onto the bed, grimacing as he did so, the soreness in his body none too happy about movement.
Arthur remained sitting, but Merlin stared at him expectantly, his hand still on top of Arthur’s. At long last, Arthur laid down next to him. He tried to turn, but Merlin shook his head.
“Need to lay on my back,” Merlin said softly. “Here, put your head here.”
He shifted slightly so that Arthur could keep his head next to Merlin’s shoulder. Hesitantly, Arthur did as Merlin asked, and the quiet continued on, as did the light. Neither of them moved to turn off the lamp, knowing that the night wouldn’t be over until the tension was addressed.
When Merlin woke up in the hospital, Arthur had been next to him for all of two seconds before darting out to find doctors, and then had hung in the back of the room when they’d showed up. He’d followed them around, asking questions, taking notes, learning everything there was to know about what he needed to do, what Merlin needed to do.
But he hadn’t spoken to Merlin. Hadn’t even reached a hand out to touch, to say I’m here, it’s okay.
“When I kept losing consciousness,” Merlin started, mouth dry, “I thought there was someone holding my hand. Was that you?”
Arthur didn’t answer, but he nodded slightly into Merlin’s shoulder, enough so that he could feel it.
“Then why didn’t you while I was awake?” Merlin said softly, something squeezing inside of him and threatening to break. “Not that I’m not grateful for your hours of research on insulin treatment, but I would’ve found hand-holding to be much superior.”
Arthur replied what felt like minutes later, but Merlin gave him the time. “The pulse monitor. On your hand.”
“What about it?” Merlin asked, and Arthur’s head shifted so that his hair was brushing Merlin’s chin, his eyes as far away from Merlin’s as they could go.
“I remember it,” Arthur said softly, “from after the car accident.”
“Oh,” Merlin said, and a flood of guilt usurped his annoyance.
Arthur and his mother had been in a car wreck just after Arthur’s sixth birthday. She’d been driving him home from soccer practice. Arthur had lived; Ygraine hadn’t.
“I was holding her hand when she died,” Arthur continued, his voice growing raspy. “I remember holding onto the monitor. Shaking it. Shaking her. Calling for my father. For the doctors. I don’t remember what happened after that. Other than that she was gone.”
“I wasn’t dying,” Merlin slid one of his arms around Arthur’s waist to squeeze. “I was never dying.”
“I know,” Arthur curled just slightly into Merlin. “But the call…getting to the hospital…seeing you just – just lay there…and then, even after you woke up. It was all I could think about. What would happen if you –”
There was a layer to Arthur’s voice, one that Merlin hadn’t heard in a long time. It was thick and heavy and blurring his words.
“You didn’t want me to see you cry,” Merlin held onto Arthur’s waist tightly as Arthur buried his nose in Merlin’s t-shirt, his sniffling painful yet somehow relieving to hear. “Arthur…”
“You were sick,” Arthur’s voice was steelier, but still shaky. “You were sick and in pain and I wasn’t about to make it all about me like I do everything else in our goddamn lives.”
“This was a bad time to start evaluating your flaws,” Merlin said matter-of-factly, but he knew his voice was thick with tears as well. “Arthur, all I could see was that you didn’t want to be around me, and it made me feel like shit. Much more so than any other imagined flaw you think you have. Much more so than being in the hospital. You’re…you know you’re all that matters to me. Flaws and all.”
Merlin hoped that saying so would be enough to calm Arthur, keep him from flying too far off in his land of insecurities, of which Merlin knew there were plenty. Arthur would get lost if he spent too much time there. Merlin wanted him here instead.
“You’re all that matters to me,” Arthur said, and even though he still wouldn’t look up, he balled the cloth of Merlin’s t-shirt into his fist, his fingernails putting pressure on Merlin’s chest. “That’s why I was so – so – scared.”
Arthur could admit his weaknesses; he had proven himself capable of it many times over. But what Merlin had never heard before was an admission of fear. Arthur had been raised by a father who blamed him for his mother’s death, who didn’t teach him how to be a good man, but instead how to be an automaton, a stone statue, one to be feared. Fear existed to Uther Pendragon in how other people responded to him, not the other way around.
Merlin knew Arthur completely; he knew that many things scared Arthur. His father, for one. Snakes and spiders. Being seen as a failure. Losing people.
He hadn’t heard Arthur admit it before.
Merlin put a hand on Arthur’s chin to pull him up. He only resisted for a moment; his eyes met Merlin’s, wide and scared, and Merlin kissed him lightly.
“It’s all in the past now,” Merlin said softly as Arthur nestled into the pillow again, his lips hovering over Merlin’s shoulder. “We’re not going anywhere – I have to give myself a shot. Eat a little better. But it’s all going to be normal again.”
“I have a list,” Arthur’s tone was not as panicky as it had been earlier in the day, but he was clearly reverting to his tendency to mother Merlin medically, “of all of the foods you need. The liquids. I’ll go shopping tomorrow –”
“Tomorrow’s Tuesday,” Merlin reminded him. “You’ll have to go back to work.”
“Not until next week,” Arthur said, lips brushing Merlin’s shoulder. “I’m off right now.”
“Really?” Merlin couldn’t help but smile a little. Arthur never took time off, and Merlin figured that the six days of the hospital would have him gung-ho to head back.
“I’m not,” Arthur cleared his throat, and Merlin could tell it was to keep an excess of emotion from leaking into his voice, “leaving you alone right now.”
Merlin refrained from bundling Arthur into his arms and squeezing too tightly; there had been too much outpouring for Arthur tonight. Too much for Merlin, too, actually. Exhaustion was creeping in.
“A whole week of you,” Merlin hummed. “What a treat.”
“You sound sarcastic,” Arthur grumbled, but the conversation started to flow like it normally did, when nothing was wrong, when they could just tease each other and exist in each other’s space seamlessly, fitting together without trying.
“Not sarcastic,” Merlin grinned. “Not at all. Just thinking of all of the things you can do for me this week.”
“I’ll make all the meals, and I know how to administer your shots –” Arthur started with the utmost seriousness, but Merlin cut him off with a snort.
“That was sarcasm,” Merlin nosed at Arthur’s hairline. “See the difference?”
“See? You’re a brat when nothing’s wrong,” Arthur said with a faux-grumpiness about him that Merlin adored. “What else do you need? Sire? My lord? My beloved?”
“Wouldn’t say no to a lullaby,” Merlin couldn’t help but giggle a little, his exhaustion melting into a happy tiredness. The world was finally realigning itself.
Merlin expected a snort and a shove from Arthur, or maybe just the snort considering how paranoid Arthur was about Merlin being ill.
Instead, after a second’s silence, Arthur’s voice, smaller than Merlin had ever heard it, began in an off-key tune, “You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy…when skies are grey.”
Merlin opened his mouth to say something, only to find that he couldn’t.
“You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you,” Arthur continued, his eyes downcast, his head turned away, his voice shaking just a bit, “please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Arthur trailed off with uncertainty, and Merlin could see a blush creep around his cheeks to the back of his neck.
Merlin turned Arthur’s head toward his, and promptly buried his head in Arthur’s hair, now the one that didn’t want anyone to see him cry.
“Thought you said you had to stay on your back,” Arthur said, muffled, into Merlin’s chest, but Merlin didn’t let go.
“I was expecting some trashy Smash Mouth song,” Merlin carded a hand through Arthur’s hair as he pulled away. “Maybe I need to go to the hospital more often.”
Arthur’s face crumpled. “Don’t you dare –”
“Sarcasm, Arthur,” Merlin laughed, and then kissed him.