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by astolat

for the prompt "sloth," with many thanks to Mia for beta! ♥

The castle is sweltering in the midsummer heat, stones breathing damply under the sun's height when even the air lies still. Training and necessary drill is a thing for the morning, to be endured; now at last the armor has been discarded, and Arthur's flung himself naked over the crushed red expanse of his coverlet, his hair untidy against the crimson and his back sticking to the wool beneath him. Thin shining lines of sweat trickle down the side of his face and his arms as he breathes only shallowly, resenting even that much movement.

He is miserable with heat, his skin prickly and rank with dried sweat, but he can't move enough to go and summon a bath. He closes his eyes and tries not to be, to somehow find a way outside the flesh that feels this moment like a trap. He can't entirely manage it.

Even the breath of air stirred by the opening door is a blessing, for the moment it lasts; then there's an awkward ringing clatter of jug and ewer and goblets. "I'll just—be leaving this here, then," Merlin says. "And—"

"Bring me water," Arthur says with his eyes shut, and flicks his fingers when Merlin comes over to the bed with a goblet. "In a skin."

"D'you want me to pour it right in your mouth," Merlin says sarcastically, and Arthur says, "Yes, do that."

Merlin's eyeroll is silent and perfectly palpable. Arthur almost smiles, except it's too much work. Merlin tips the jug carelessly, and water splashes sweet into Arthur's mouth, over his cheeks and chin and neck. It's blessedly, miraculously cold, as though Merlin somehow managed to bring it up from the cellar depths without lugging it all the way through the oven-hot corridors. Arthur gulps at it thirstily, not caring that there's water puddling over his eyelids and dripping into his ears.

At least not until he's drunk his fill, and feeling more in charity with his own body. Then he tells Merlin, "Now clean up the mess."

"You're the mess," Merlin says. "Do you want a bath?"

He still doesn't want to move even that far, and this is excuse enough to avoid it. "No, I don't want to move from my comfortable bed because you can't help pouring half the jug on me when all I want is a drink. Wipe me off."

"Ass," Merlin mutters, not really quietly enough.

But he goes and comes back with clean cotton rags, so Arthur generously overlooks it as Merlin mops away water and sweat and grime. He can't help but sigh, his chest unbound enough to take in deeper breaths, as Merlin wipes his neck. "More," he says, when Merlin's finished; he doesn't care anymore how it looks.

There's a pause. The bed creaks with Merlin's weight; then the sound of water trickling as Merlin wrings out a fresh rag into the ewer, and then it's cold on his shoulders and his chest, strokes along the lines of his body. Arthur half expects Merlin to be rough, in what little revenge he can get away with, and Arthur doesn't know what it means that Merlin's hands are gentle instead, and careful, dipping into every hollow of his ribs, following the curve of the muscles of his lazily outflung arms.

Without being told, Merlin wipes down his feet, and his calves, and his thighs; by the end of it he's handling Arthur's limbs with a kind of steadily growing confidence that Arthur eventually recognizes from the second time Merlin put on his armor.

He has no intention of admitting as much to Merlin, or anyone else in the world for that matter, but Merlin is a quick learner. These days he sometimes seems to know better than Arthur does what he wants. There have been times when Arthur's opened his mouth to order a buckle tightened, and before he can, Merlin has done something to three others entirely, and it's better than any fit Arthur's ever had. Or if he is just thinking perhaps he wants some bread and meat, Merlin hands him an apple; it breaks crisp and sweet on his tongue, and he's not hungry anymore in the least.

There's a rustle of bedcovers, and then Merlin says, "Roll over," and pushes him; Arthur blindly rolls, and he's on the clean sheets of the bed instead of the woolen coverlet, and there's a pillow waiting for his head. He lies there drowsing while Merlin wipes his back clean, shoulders to waist to ankles, long smooth strokes.

He seems to be finished, and Arthur is thinking of ordering Merlin to draw his bath now. Then Merlin wrings just a little water onto him out of a fresh rag, directly between Arthur's shoulderblades so the drops go trickling freely down his spine and collect in the hollow of his lower back like a small pool of cold. Arthur groans involuntarily, and Merlin wipes it away and does it again.

Arthur doesn't even think of interrupting anymore. Merlin keeps dripping water onto him like rain on parched earth, all over his body; it's trickling through his hair, spilling down along his ribs, and then Merlin pours a little more over Arthur's ass and thighs. The water finds a way between his legs, goes everywhere like an extension of Merlin's hands, and Arthur is breathlessly hard, swollen, where his cock is pressed hotly between his belly and the bed.

"Hm," Merlin says over him, thoughtfully, and this time he trickles the water more carefully, and it's dripping between Arthur's legs again. Arthur has his face pressed into the pillow, and he's panting into it when Merlin bends down and licks some of the water off him with the tip of his tongue.

It's exactly what he wanted. Arthur doesn't move; he doesn't have to. Merlin presses him open and licks him again, and then he moves Arthur's legs apart. Arthur hears him drinking, and Merlin's mouth is cold and shockingly good when it touches him again, tongue poking inquisitively in, because Merlin doesn't know the meaning of boundaries. Not for his tongue, or his fingers, or his cock, slick and long and hard, pushing into Arthur as he lies there pinned down by a fresh wave of heat, sweating all over again.

= End =

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