It wasn't until days like these that Merlin actually allowed himself to actually consider moving away from Camelot, giving up on his destiny and going back to Ealdor to live on a farm. Every piece of his body was screaming out to sleep and he still had half a bowl of potatoes left, perched on a chair and peeling, peeling, peeling.
Peeling potatoes wasn't supposed to be his job, but as a manservant he was allowed to be snagged to perform random duties and Arthur didn't mind loaning him out to various other places in order for work to get done. And most of the time he didn't mind helping when he was needed and did so cheerily, enjoying being able to lend a hand to ease the burden of someone else.
But this was ridiculous.
Peeling potatoes wasn't part of his job description. Especially not extremely late at night when he was padding back to Arthur's room, ready to curl up next to his King and fall fast asleep. He supposed Deliah, the cook, didn't understand that when Merlin was heading the opposite direction from Gaius' quarters that he wasn't actually still on duty, but still. It was late, for gods sakes! He was tired. Deliah had already retired for the night, leaving him alone in an empty kitchen peeling a mound of potatoes bigger than he was high.
And peeling potatoes was a delicate job- he didn't know a spell that could make it go very much faster without risk of cutting the potato in half. He swore viciously as he cut his finger again, forced to throw out the potato and stick his finger in his mouth after blood dripped out. His hands shook from exhaustion and it made peeling even more difficult when he couldn't fully rely on his hands. Plus, the fires were out so it was cold, making his hands numb and clumsy.
No one else knew that he had spent most of the last two days fighting a sorcerer who had integrated himself in as a stablehand and meddled with Arthur's horse before the joust. No one else knew that he had fought the man in a magic fight and nearly gotten skewered for his trouble. The bruise from a stake whacking into his chest was easily covered by a shirt. But he was /tired/... the all-consuming work of protecting Camelot and taking care of Arthur was hard enough, not adding on the extra tasks he got assigned to.
He sighed and forced his mind to stop it's racing, focusing instead on the task at hand. Perhaps if he peeled quicker he could get to bed for a few hours before the sun rose and it was back to work. Arthur would already be asleep (at least, he hoped), which meant no cuddling despite his longing for it. All he could look forward to tonight was to relax and sleep.
Merlin put down the last potato with an all-consuming sigh. He was stiff, cold, and tired. Pulling himself out of the chair he stumbled forward until the blood flowed back into his legs, putting away the knives and throwing out the peels before leaving the room. He clambered up the few flights of stairs and pushed through the door into Arthur's room, murmuring something unheard to the guards who just exchanged knowing looks and let him pass.
His legs nearly gave out at the sight of the extravagant bed and Arthur, curled up under the covers on his side and snoring softly. Pulling off his sweaty clothes he quickly changed into a large nightshirt (one of Arthur's old ones) and clambered into his side, wanting nothing more than to just collapse and sleep.
His sleep-addled mind didn't quite understand it when Arthur turned over, grabbed his arm, and hauled him bodily into bed. He slipped and half-collapsed into his side, nearly sqashing Arthur. "Wha-?" he blurted out.
"Where have you been?" Arthur said sleepily, slurring his words but pulling Merlin close so he could wrap himself around the other boy. At the touch of his skin Arthur's eyes focused a bit more, glancing at Merlin as if worried. "Why are you so cold?"
"Kitchens," Merlin whispered, snuggling into Arthur's touch. Arthur didn't answer at first, instead dragging the big comforter over Merlin and himself, tangling up their legs under the sheets. Merlin let out a small whimper of pleasure, allowing his stiff muscles to go limp against the bed, trusting Arthur to take care of him. He smoothed back Merlin's hair, pressing a kiss onto his forehead.
"Kitchens?" he finally asked. "You can't mean you were still peeling those potatoes I had you help with hours ago." His voice was pleading.
"Potatoes," Merlin ground out, unable to string more than a few words together. He snuggled in and placed a kiss on Arthur's throat to assure him that he wasn't angry and that Arthur shouldn't feel guilty. But Arthur's arms around him turned into vices, securing Merlin to the bed and to him.
"You can't... you went back to them after helping me get ready for bed?" he gasped. "Merlin... jesus christ. You're going to make yourself sick- you had a busier day than I did!"
/You don't even know/, Merlin's mind supplied, but outwardly he shrugged. "Sorry."
"Merlin, I want you to promise me something-,"
"You come to bed with me the moment I sleep. No ifs, ands, or buts. I don't want you getting sick or overworked- I've seen servants better than you bedridden for weeks for being overworked, wracked with fever. I ... I can't see that happen to you."
Merlin snuggled into Arthur side. "Then let's let me sleep," he said softly. /Sorry, Arthur, I can't agree to that. Magic, you know./
Arthur flushed softly, blue eyes warm. "Yes, right. Goodnight, Merlin." He placed a kiss onto Merlin's forehead. Curling up close, Arthur fitted his body around Merlin's and together they slipped off to sleep.