Disclaimer: Not my personal property and I take no property claims to the show/characters.
Merlin was all elbows and knees. He was just edges, edges, edges – pointed and jagged, like, at times, his attitude towards Arthur with his whole 'no-I'm-not-going-to-bow-my-head-are-you-archaic-or-something?' defiance.
Arthur had suspected as much when he had first seen Merlin – first came face-to-face with him as Merlin was intervening and his cheekbones were right there. Right there where Arthur just stared at them – and wondered if his shoulders and ribs and hips were as obvious, as obtrusive.
And this was why Arthur always made Merlin ride behind someone else if circumstance dictated they suddenly had one less horse and an extra rider – which was often just as much a result of bandits or sorcerers or magical creatures as a result of Merlin not tying the horses up properly. Not, as some suspected – Merlin, that is – because Arthur could not control himself with Merlin's soft, warm breath on his neck or his hands flitting between Arthur's waist and thighs. No, it was because Arthur did not relish in bruising behind his knees, along the back of his hips, and on his sides from Merlin's pointy appendages. Small, circular, purple and almost black bruising that would take weeks to fully heal because of the awkward placements and constant use of those muscles.
So, Arthur always made him ride behind Elyan or Gwaine or Percival, and, occasionally, he would push whoever it had been a little harder the next day at training. Not for any reason, really.
And this was why Arthur rarely carried Merlin when he was hurt – he would have Percival do it, or a few of the other knights together – because he had once done so and ended up with an elbow or a knee in the eye and gut and other, unsavory places, and Arthur would frankly like to avoid such things.
But, when Merlin was wounded and there was no one else around, Arthur would gladly hoist Merlin up like a sack of potatoes – not that Arthur had ever carried such a thing – and trot off with him on his shoulder. It was a method he had found reduced the bruising to a single side – one only needed one arm to fight, Arthur always thought to himself cheerfully.
And Merlin would grumble and whine and fuss, and Arthur was tempted to grumble and whine and fuss right back – yes, Merlin was hurting, but Arthur was hurting, too. He held his tongue every time, though, and merely thought of all the lovely chores waiting for Merlin back in Camelot.
And, it wasn't as if Arthur was unsympathetic towards Merlin or any such thing. Every time he noticed the other's absolute scrawniness, Arthur knew it was because of how hard Merlin worked and where he had grown up and maybe, just possibly a little, also Arthur's fault.
So he devised plans to secretly feed Merlin up. Arthur put in an order to the kitchens to fill his plate with extras for his meals through a quiet servant and then always had Merlin bring his meals. And, as many times as he could without giving himself away, Arthur would drop knives on the floor and take a long time in finding them or would suddenly jump up in the middle of his meal to go find a paper on his desk for several minutes – long enough for food to be snatched. When he turned back to his plate, Arthur tried to take care to say something along the lines of 'Oh, I must have eaten my other sausage already!' or 'Perhaps the bowl has been absorbing some of the soup, how interesting.' By Merlin's poorly-hidden smirking, Arthur always knew he had succeeded.
But, it wasn't enough. Of course it wasn't. Merlin's type of work didn't allow for the 'extra padding,' as he would say, that Arthur's did; not that Arthur's did though – he was a knight, a knight who was fighting fit at all times. Not…not padded.
And, so, to Arthur, every hug they shared was a battle. One where Arthur was stabbed and prodded and poked – there was no escape, he was surrounded on all sides by elbows and knees and hips and shoulder blades and cheekbones and collar bones and even, sometimes, ankles, the deadly little things – until he was almost willing to surrender. To fall to his knees before Merlin and ask him – no, beg him – to please, please just let Arthur have this moment. To please just let them share this warmth for a time without Merlin wiggling and – and just poking everywhere!
But, he never said such a thing – Merlin would give him the Look, the one like he thought Arthur was insane, a common look between them, and say something along the lines of 'Arthur, did you talk to any strange, very pretty ladies today?'
And, so, when they were curled in bed together, Arthur would push Merlin's head down into the pillows and lay on him as he arranged the limbs as he desired. He would press kisses against each part as he lay it aside – they were still parts of Merlin after all, and he loved them; just not as much when he was trying to sleep because he had training in the morning and a council meeting after and maybe a garland competition in there somewhere. He would arrange them with elbow there out of the way and hips turned for the perfect inclined angle and knees bent towards the far side of the bed. And, Merlin's cheek squashed against the soft linen would slur his words as he questioned, "Ah-thur, wha' you doin'?"
And Arthur would shush him and maybe, just maybe, his hands would find their way to Merlin's shoulders and back and massage away the day's stresses and pains – and Arthur was always surprised at how tense Merlin's muscles were, as if he had more stress than Arthur did.
And then, Arthur would finally flop down, free from the pain of awkward edges, and snuggle in and pull the furs up over them.
And, in the middle of the night, occasionally, Arthur would end up with an elbow in his windpipe.
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