forget me not (and I'll remember)
"Merlin, what the hell is this?"
Arthur was staring pointedly at the table, where a bunch of bright blue forget-me-nots were arranged in an ornate vase. Merlin stood demurely behind the table, grinning at the prince as if Christmas had come early.
"They're for you," Merlin said.
"For… me?" Arthur stepped closer, bending over slightly so he could peer at the flowers up close, and sniffed. From the slightly surprised expression on his face (which he masked quickly, of course), Merlin could guess that the sweet aroma of the flowers had appealed to the royal olfactory senses. Which was just as well, because Merlin had taken extra care to pick the freshest ones while he was out gathering herbs for Gaius. "How nice. Who are they from?"
Merlin blinked, and his grin disappeared for a moment. He hesitated. "Um. They're from… er, well, me, really."
Arthur's confused expression became even more pronounced as he looked up from where he was bent over to smell the flowers. Merlin noticed that the colour of Arthur's eyes matched that of the flowers almost exactly, and couldn't help but think how simply alluring the view before him was. "You're giving me flowers, Merlin? The last time I checked, it wasn't any sort of special occasion." His lip curled up in a half-smirk. "I had no idea you were such a romantic."
"I'm not being a romantic," Merlin said hotly, feeling his face go crimson. Perhaps Gaius was right, and this really was a stupid idea after all. "You were asking for flowers the other day, so I picked some for you."
Arthur frowned, not understanding. "Since when?"
Merlin sighed with exasperation. He knew the prince was stupid at times, but this was something else. "I picked flowers for Morgana when she was ill, remember? I tried to hide them, but you saw through me anyway. And then you started spouting all that nonsense about receiving a 'token of my affections', so I assumed you were just being jealous that I hadn't gotten you any – "
Arthur barked out a laugh, and Merlin began to think uncharitable thoughts about how it sounded like a donkey's bray. "You think I was jealous, Merlin?"
"Of course you were," Merlin retorted, not caring how insolent he sounded. "And it wasn't the first time, either. Gwen gave me a flower to put in my neckerchief once, that time before we went to defeat the afanc, and you started asking me questions about who I'd gotten it from." He was blushing so hard now he was certain the red of his cheeks clashed with the colour of his neckerchief. Not that it mattered, but he wasn't going to let his prince embarrass him for another moment longer. "Look," he said hurriedly, "let's just forget about all this. I'll take the flowers." He reached out a hand to grab the vase, but suddenly found his wrist trapped in Arthur's firm grip.
Merlin looked up, shocked. Arthur's hand was surprisingly warm, albeit slightly calloused, and the feeling of his skin surrounding his wrist sent a wave of heat travelling up Merlin's arm and through the rest of his body. As he paused, Arthur loosened his hold on his wrist and then, ever so slowly, slid his hand down to cover Merlin's, interlocking their fingers. Merlin's head snapped up so fast he almost got whiplash, and found a pair of bright forget-me-not blue eyes staring at him, twinkling a little.
"That won't be necessary," Arthur said quietly, with a look on his face that was difficult to decipher. "But I should say thank you, Merlin." His thumb caressed the back of Merlin's hand, making Merlin feel like a deer being hunted down by the prince himself.
Merlin let out a squeak that sounded something like a strangled attempt at 'okay', and as soon as Arthur finally released him, he bolted from the room.
From that day on, the forget-me-not business became a sort of routine between them. Every time Merlin went out herb-gathering, he'd always gather a bunch of forget-me-nots for Arthur to replace the old ones in the vase. He always managed to obtain fresh ones before the ones sitting in the vase withered, and even when they weren't in season, he'd conjure some up on his own. When Arthur asked him one day how he'd managed to get forget-me-nots even in the middle of winter, he'd just shrugged and said this species was particularly resilient. He had the advantage in this case, as Arthur didn't know very much about gardening or botany at all, so whatever came out of his mouth would go unnoticed by Arthur, who only cared about the flowers themselves.
It was nice, Merlin had to admit. Sometimes, when he brought Arthur his dinner late in the evening, he'd catch Arthur glancing at the flowers on the table and smiling softly, before abruptly coming back to himself and hurriedly schooling his expression into something that looked more regal and prince-like. Arthur was evidently trying to hide how much he liked the fact that Merlin would get flowers just for him, and no one else.
It was all fine and dandy for both of them, until one time several weeks later when Merlin walked in with a new bouquet while Arthur was in the room, and Arthur had offered to put the flowers in the vase for him instead of having him do it.
"You won't know how to arrange them properly," Merlin protested, as Arthur took the flowers from him. "You have to cut the stalks at an angle so the flowers don't dry out too early, and make sure they get enough sunlight so they photosynthesise, and change the water if it goes stagnant – "
The rest of Merlin's sentence was interrupted by a choked-off gasp as Arthur roughly grabbed him by the hand and pulled him in, before closing his mouth over his.
Christ, thought Merlin, who was so surprised, he forgot to shut his eyes. It really wasn't fair at all that Arthur had to be so good at everything, kissing included. He stood stock-still in Arthur's arms, not sure of what to do, or whether he'd be crossing the line if he so much as moved. What was Arthur doing, and why? Had he really been jealous of Merlin getting flowers for other people all this time? Was he only doing this out of obligation, because he felt like he owed something to Merlin?
Suddenly, Arthur pulled away, and their lips parted with a wet click. "You're thinking too much," said Arthur, his voice a little husky and sending delicious shivers down Merlin's spine. "Just… feel."
When he moved in again, Merlin was ready. He kissed back and crowded closer, pressing the length of his body to Arthur's so he could feel the muscles beneath his skin. Arthur's grip on his hand tightened in response, and his other hand still clutching the flowers came up to Merlin's back, stroking up and down. The petals rustled a little and tickled the back of Merlin's nape, making him giggle into the kiss. Instead of breaking away and telling him off like Merlin had expected, though, Arthur started chuckling as well, and the kiss became decidedly more playful as they tasted each other's breathy laughs, wrapped up in each other's arms.
It was Merlin who made the next move, daring to let his tongue dart out and skim lightly across Arthur's lip. Arthur let out a groan of surprise and crushed their mouths together, licking into Merlin's mouth with a tongue that needed to conquer. Merlin let him, tilting back and opening his mouth wider for better access, and Arthur stepped forward to press him up against the cold brick wall, chest heaving, his burning hands moving slowly downwards to cup his –
There was a loud knock on the door, and the two of them broke apart as if they had received a mutual electric shock. "My lord?" came a muffled voice on the other side of the door to Arthur's chambers. "The King requires your presence in the throne room immediately."
"Tell him I'll be there as soon as I can," Arthur said, his voice hoarse as he stared wide-eyed at Merlin. "I'll – um – just get ready."
There was a pause before the sound of footsteps dying away could be heard. There was total silence after that, with the only sound being that of Merlin and Arthur's heavy breathing as they looked at each other, each daring the other to break eye contact first. Arthur still had the bunch of flowers in his hand, though the stalks were now looking very crooked in places, and some of the petals had fallen off, dotting the carpeted floor with varying shades of blue.
Merlin's gaze snapped away first, clearing his throat as he stepped away from the wall. "I'll just – erm – go and give these herbs to Gaius now," he said quickly, and before Arthur could so much as bat an eyelid, he had sprinted out the doorway and down the corridor out of sight.
Merlin and Arthur never spoke of the kiss they had shared again, though the routine continued. Ever since that day, every time Merlin brought a new bunch of forget-me-nots to replace the ones in the vase, he would blush furiously and turn his head away from Arthur so the prince wouldn't see. The prince would similarly look away from the table, setting his jaw hard so he wouldn't show any hint of emotion on his face. It was an unspoken agreement between them that whatever had happened could not continue, and that it would be best if they just forgot about it (which was ironic, since the flowers represented the idea of doing the complete opposite). It wasn't just because they were master and servant, but also because the idea of a prince courting a man was unheard of in their time. If word broke out about them, it would be a total scandal, with unthinkable repercussions, not to mention a total embarrassment to the kingdom.
So the years passed, and before Merlin knew it, Arthur had become king and taken Gwen as his queen. Merlin didn't have anything against Gwen; he knew she would be a good and kind queen who had a charisma that would make her well-loved and respected by the people of Camelot, and possessed all the fine qualities required of nobility to boot. He knew that it was unusual for him not to feel any kind of jealousy regarding the fact that the person he loved had married his dearest friend, but in time he realised that all he had ever wanted was for Arthur to be happy. He continued to convince himself of this fact, even when he sometimes cried himself to sleep late at night, cursing the injustice of it all. He thought that Arthur looked happy, at least, despite the forced smiles he sometimes gave his wife when they sat side by side on their golden thrones. At least Gwen was perceptive enough not to rant about Arthur when she was alone with Merlin sometimes.
On the day Arthur announced to the knights that they would be making their final stand at Camlann, it was with barely held back tears that Merlin placed the freshly picked forget-me-nots in the vase for what he feared would be the last time. He had also brought Arthur's armour along, which he laid out on the table, the metal chainmail newly polished and gleaming as it caught the light. The knowledge that he could not accompany Arthur broke his heart even more, and when he lied to Arthur that he had to collect 'vital supplies' for Gaius, the stricken expression on Arthur's face told him that he didn't believe him one bit. The deceitful words tasted bitter and stale on his tongue, but he forced them out nonetheless, knowing it was all for the best.
"You know, Merlin, all those jokes about you being a coward… I never really meant any of them. I always thought you were the bravest man I ever met," Arthur told him, his gaze soft and his emotions open for all to see, since Merlin was the only one to see them. He never had to put up pretenses for Merlin, who always saw through him in the end no matter what he did. "Guess I was wrong."
It felt like a lance had pierced Merlin through the chest. Biting his lip, he turned away and made his way out the door. It was only when he was safely back in his own chambers that he let the tears fall, already dreading the morrow.
"I can't go on," Arthur said, his voice low and so painfully weak. His head was slumped to the side and the angle of his body awkward as he sat in the horse's saddle, barely holding onto the reins. The horse whinnied and shook its mane, as if agreeing with Arthur.
"There's not far to go," Merlin assured him, hoping with all his might that his words would motivate Arthur to continue. "We need to reach the lake before dawn."
Because if we don't, Morgana will find us. Or worse, you won't be able to make it, and I can't let that happen. I won't let anything happen to you, Arthur. You can trust me. Just please, please hold on. My heart is breaking just from looking at you.
But evidently, Arthur was too tired. "No, Merlin. No." There was a slight hitch in his tone and a slur in his voice as he said the words, and Merlin slowly realised that Arthur really couldn't go on at this rate. The effort would surely kill him. Merlin's eyes went to the wound in Arthur's torso, which had stopped bleeding for the most part, but the gash was gaping wide and going a very unhealthy colour.
"All right," he said finally, giving in to the pained expression on Arthur's face, to the lines in his furrowed brow as he closed his eyes in agony. "We rest for an hour."
They found a nearby clearing with a convenient log for Arthur to lean against, and Merlin gathered firewood while Arthur sat there watching him. Merlin was so engrossed in his work that he barely noticed, concentrating hard on locating every bit of dry wood he could find to start a fire. Arthur had to be kept warm if he was to have any hope of surviving this, and even then his chances were slim.
"Merlin," Arthur said suddenly.
Merlin's attention instantly went to him, and the logs he had collected fell out of his hands and rolled on the grass as he made his way over to Arthur, kneeling by his side so he wouldn't have to talk loudly and strain his voice. As soon as he was beside him, however, Arthur only smiled at said, "Look."
Merlin looked. His eyes followed Arthur's gaze and rested upon a patch of grass not so far away, where a small sprig of forget-me-nots were swaying gently in the evening breeze. He looked back at Arthur, who was smiling the first real smile Merlin had seen in quite some time, so much that little lines appeared at the edges of his crinkled eyes. Shaking his head, Merlin smiled fondly back at him before pressing his lips to Arthur's forehead, then gently on his lips. "Get some rest. We must journey again in an hour," he breathed softly against Arthur's mouth.
Arthur looked slightly stunned for a moment at the forwardness of Merlin's actions, though not at all displeased. His eyes stared into Merlin's, a deep, clear blue that bled honesty and pain alike. "I'm not going to survive this, Merlin," he said quietly, his voice almost inaudible. "I'm not. You know that, Merlin, at the bottom of your heart."
"I won't let it happen," said Merlin firmly, kneeling so that his legs were on either side of Arthur's, allowing him to look directly back into Arthur's eyes. "I can't lose you, Arthur. It's unfathomable. I… I can't."
Arthur looked so lost then, his eyes glistening with tears as they stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. There was a calm, peaceful silence between them, and for the first time, both of them acknowledged what they had; a relationship that went beyond friendship or love, one that would stretch out and conquer time if need be.
A long moment passed before Arthur's lips moved again. "Kiss me."
Merlin did. His lips were shaking as they met the king's, and before Merlin could get a hold of himself his entire body was shuddering with suppressed sobs, all trying to force their way out of his body at once. When he let go, the kiss got a little messy with Merlin's tears flowing over both their faces, but Arthur didn't seem to mind. His hand reached up to grab Merlin's hip, managing to still him for a few seconds as he kissed back desperately, bittersweet and reverent and oh, so painful, like he was trying to memorise every bit of him, like he was about to slip away any moment.
At long last, they broke apart, breathing hard. There was a sheen of sweat on Arthur's forehead, plastering his fringe to his face. Merlin reached up to wipe it away, but Arthur stopped him with his hand, pressing their palms together. "Let me," he murmured, and cupped Merlin's face with his other hand, his thumb stroking his cheek and wiping the tear tracks off Merlin's face. Merlin closed his eyes and let out a shuddering gasp. When Arthur was done, he turned away from him towards the patch of forget-me-nots, and whispered a spell. The flowers detached themselves from the forest floor and moved towards them until they reached Merlin's side, where they stopped. Merlin looked back at Arthur this time, and made sure their gazes were locked when he said the next incantation. His eyes glowed golden, and in the next moment, both of them were suddenly surrounded by the forget-me-not petals, which were raining down on them like some freak explosion had occurred, blasting the flowers into pieces.
Arthur laughed loudly, once, then winced as the effort burned his chest. Merlin shushed him with another kiss.
Merlin called Arthur's name brokenly as the king's eyes became half-lidded and his body went limp in his arms. "No," he gasped out, checking his pulse and finding nothing. "Arthur!" Merlin shook him desperately, willing for him to respond. "Arthur!" he yelled, touching Arthur everywhere in an attempt to get him to wake again.
For a moment, Arthur did; his eyes blinked as they came back into focus, and his mouth fell open in a soundless gasp. Merlin's magic was being drained from him much too fast from the effort of sustaining Arthur's life, but he gritted his teeth and held on. He couldn't let Arthur die; it was a notion that he could not accept. "Stay with me," Merlin begged, his voice breaking.
Arthur's mouth opened and closed a few times as they tried to form words. Merlin leaned his closer, his forehead almost touching his king's. "What is it?" he whispered.
"F-f…" Arthur's breath shuddered, and he inhaled sharply once before he tried again.
"F-forget… me n-not."
It felt like Merlin's heart had been broken in two. He wrapped his arms around Arthur and cradled his head, whispering furiously, "No, I'd never do that, Arthur. I won't forget you. I'll always remember you, always…"
By the time the last word left his mouth, Arthur's body had gone still again, and Merlin knew that no matter what he said next, his voice would be falling on deaf ears. "Arthur," he choked out, caressing Arthur's hair. "No…"
It took a long time for him to accept what had happened, that what he had been dreading for years now had now come to pass, and worst of all, that there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening.
When he screamed for the dragon, his voice had gone hoarse from crying, but he didn't care. If he lost his voice, it would be a small thing compared to the loss of the greatest friend he had ever known.
A thousand years later…
"Shh, Merlin, don't cry. I didn't come back just to see you cry."
But Merlin couldn't help himself. All the pain he had suffered over the last millennium poured out of him like a tidal wave, and a torrent of tears coursed down his cheeks like some internal dam inside him had burst its banks. He buried his face in Arthur's shoulder and wailed, consumed by emotion. Arthur sighed and fondly ruffled Merlin's hair, which had turned jet black again moments before Arthur rose from the lake. The old man's clothes were hanging loosely off Merlin's now skinny frame, and Arthur couldn't help but think that he looked slightly ridiculous.
It felt like at least an hour had passed when Merlin's cries were finally reduced to intermittent hiccups, though in reality it was barely a blink of an eye after all the time Merlin had waited. "I'm not dreaming, am I?" he said, holding Arthur's face and tracing its contours, as if to confirm that he wasn't some sort of mirage. "It's really you?"
Arthur laughed. "No, I'm a ghost returned from the dead."
With a surprising burst of strength, Merlin pushed him away and punched him in the arm. "Don't joke about that!" he yelled, his eyes burning with tears.
Arthur would normally have told him off for being his usual insolent self, but when he saw the emotion in Merlin's eyes, threatening to spill over, he realised he just didn't have the heart. "You're right," he said, holding his hands up in what he hoped was a placating gesture. "I'm sorry. It's really me. The wait is over."
Merlin stared at him and took one breath, two, three, before he suddenly raced forward and hugged Arthur with so much force that he staggered from the impact. "Finally," he breathed into Arthur's ear. "You have no idea how long I've waited, Arthur…"
Arthur chuckled and patted him on the back. "Come on, Merlin, let's get out of here. I'm soaking wet."
Merlin had a lot of fun showing Arthur around the modern world. On his first morning back, he made Arthur twin cups of coffee and tea, asking him to decide which one he liked more. He was surprised to find Arthur take an intense liking to freshly brewed coffee, and from then on he made Arthur a steaming mug of it every morning for breakfast. When they had finished exploring Merlin's flat and Arthur had learnt everything there was to know about electricity, Merlin took him outside, taking him to places like the museum, country parks and shopping centres. Arthur had a lot of fun running full pelt against a pair of automatic doors at the latter and laughing in delight when they opened for him. "If only we had these back in Camelot," he said. Merlin only laughed and warned him not to crash into anyone trying to make their way outside.
It was on one Tuesday afternoon that Arthur discovered the extent to which the social aspect of society had progressed. They were sitting on a park bench eating ice cream (Arthur had vanilla, and Merlin chocolate) when a couple passed them by, hands entwined and laughing. It took a few moments for the two of them to register that they were both men.
Arthur grasped Merlin's hand. "Merlin, is this normal in today's world?" He nodded towards the couple, trying not to look too conspicuous.
Merlin smiled at him. "It's as normal as normal can be. Britain passed the law for gay marriage around three months ago. It's been a long time coming." He shrugged. "A few people are still against it, of course, but I'm guessing it won't be long before it's a universally accepted thing."
Arthur's eyes were bright with wonder, but Merlin didn't see the look behind them that always appeared when Arthur had a plan.
"Arthur, this is ridiculous," Merlin said as Arthur dragged him into a restaurant. "Are you sure you even made the right booking?"
"I'm positive," Arthur replied, going up to the counter at the entrance. "Pendragon, table for two."
"This way, sir," the waitress said kindly, and as she turned to lead them to their table, Merlin raised an eyebrow at Arthur, who shrugged.
It was a much fancier restaurant than what Merlin was used to, but not too posh as to make him feel uncomfortable. "It looks like you've finally figured out how to use the phone," he commented as they sat down. "I hope you didn't shout down the line."
"I remembered not to," Arthur reassured him. "But only just," he added, grinning.
"Why did you take me here, anyway?" Merlin asked curiously, leaning forward.
"I wanted to treat you," Arthur replied, nonchalant. "Dinner's on me today."
Merlin looked at him warily, but decided to drop the matter. He wasn't going to object to a free meal. "All right. But you do realise that the money you're spending was originally mine, right?"
"Shut up, Merlin."
They ordered their food and ate quickly when it arrived, talking all the while. Arthur tried not to laugh too loudly at the various couples and families sitting all around them, each staring under the table and tapping on their phones. "It looks like they're staring at what's between their legs if you can't see what's underneath the table," he whispered conspiratorially to Merlin, who chortled at his words. "Don't they get cricks in their necks?"
"Of course they do. They just don't care," Merlin replied. "I'll teach you how to use one sometime; you'll need one if you ever go wandering off on your own." He barely suppressed a smile as he thought about how Arthur would enjoy playing games like 2048 on a brand new phone.
When they finished their meal, the waitress took their plates and cutlery away. Arthur was looking decidedly more nervous by the second. "Merlin," he said, stopping the other man short as he moved to gather his things and leave. "Just stop a moment. There's something I'd like to say to you first."
Merlin gave a half-smile, his eyebrows moving close together as he tried to figure out what all this might mean, but sat back down in his seat. "I'm listening," he said.
Arthur leaned forward and took Merlin's hand in his, encasing it between his palms. "I know I was a royal prat a lot of the time, and still am, even now," he began slowly. He glared at Merlin's expression, which was barely fighting down a laugh. "But I want to make the effort to let you know how much I care about you." he paused and looked down at their hands, taking a deep breath. "I understand that I will never know how much you've done for me all these years, and I'm sorry for all those times I overlooked all that you've sacrificed. I'm also sorry for pushing you away. I didn't want to. You've always held a… special place in my heart, Merlin. I want you to know that." He looked up into Merlin's eyes, which were now not so full of humour, hanging on to his every word. "The reason why I asked you to come here tonight was to ask you something." He reached one hand under the table to feel around in his bag. It took a few seconds and a bit of rummaging around, but eventually when his hand emerged again, Merlin gasped, his own hand flying to his mouth, eyes wide.
It was a bunch of forget-me-nots, slightly crumpled from having been squashed into the bag, but a bunch of forget-me-nots nonetheless. Arthur slipped his hand out of Merlin's and held out the flowers to him. "I couldn't forget you if I tried, Merlin," he said. "So, with that… will you marry me?"
There was a stunned moment of silence between them, when it was suddenly broken. "Yer'll have ter do that all proper, first," came a gruff voice from behind him, and Arthur whipped around to find the unfamiliar face of a bearded man staring back. "Usually when you propose ter someone, you have to ask on bended knee."
Merlin laughed out loud, though the sound was slightly muffled from the way his hand was still covering his mouth. Arthur blushed. "Thank you," he said. "I'm new here, so I'm not too familiar with the customs." He slid out of his chair and went down on one knee, taking Merlin's hand in his while the other clutched the bouquet. "I'll ask again," he said. "Merlin, will you marry me?"
Merlin didn't even hesitate. "Yes," he said, tears threatening to spill over again. God, don't get so fucking emotional when Arthur's proposing to you, idiot. "Yes, I do," he said again, and when Arthur got up and pulled him out of his chair for a proper kiss, the crowd that had gathered behind them in the restaurant cheered for them both.
And they both lived happily ever after, and all the guests wore forget-me-not blue to their wedding to celebrate. There's no shortage of that "something blue" for Merlin and Arthur, then :)
This story was inspired by a fanart by OrangeMouse, which can be seen in the cover image for this story.