So when I posted this on LiveJournal, I included an embedded music player that played Woods by Bon Iver, because that's the song that inspired this and I think it added atmosphere. So this is a link to the song - http : // www2 . mp3raid . com / search / download-mp3 / 296177 / woods_bon_iver . html without the spaces, obviously. The site's fine, don't worry, it won't contaminate your computer. :)
DISCLAIMER: If I owned Merlin, there would be more orgies.
Merlin is waiting for Arthur when he comes back from training with his knights, sweaty and strained. "Have fun?" Merlin raises an eyebrow with a smirk. Arthur scowls and throws his gauntlet at him. Merlin, uncoordinated as always, totally fails to catch it, and ends up bouncing it through the air in a kind of dance before finally capturing it in his pale hands with a grin.
"Well done, Merlin." Arthur rolls his eyes. "Now help me out of this stuff – I can barely move. Is my bath ready?"
"Of course, Sire," Merlin says, with that touch of sarcasm and amusement in his voice that is always present when he calls Arthur Sire. He dutifully unbuckles the leather straps and pries the armour plates away from Arthur's body, carefully putting them in a pile on the table in order of size. He will polish them while Arthur has his bath. It's a ritual as comfortable and familiar as breakfast, and it feels like they've been doing it their whole lives. Or at least, that's how it feels to Arthur.
He grunts and rotates his shoulders as Merlin removes the hauberk from around his neck and steps back to grin. "Tough day?"
"You have no idea. Useless new boy." Arthur groans, recalling the truly awful recruit he's been battering into shape. What shape, he couldn't say, but it would be crooked, wonky, and unable to stay upright for long. Kind of like Merlin. Except Merlin would be able to charm him while Arthur watched him fall over.
Merlin frowns. "Son of Lord Jols? I'll remember in a second…"
"Jude." Arthur tells him, pulling his shirt over his head and dumping it on the floor, moving over to the screen Merlin's set his bath behind. "And while the brat's a demon with a bow, he can't hold his sword and walk at the same time. A bit like you used to be, actually."
He can practically hear Merlin roll his eyes. "Well if you managed to knock a simple peasant like me into something resembling a sword-wielding soldier, just imagine what you can do with the son of a high-born lord." His voice is layered thick with sarcasm, and Arthur sighs, his eyes rolling back in his head as he slides into the water. How Merlin manages to make it piping hot every time, he'll never ask. Mostly because he fears the answer.
"It's not all fun and games for the gentry, Merlin," he admonishes half-heartedly.
Merlin sighs. "Yeah, but it's still better for them than everyone else."
"Aaand there you go with your class wars again," Arthur rolls his head on his neck and relaxes. "Next thing I know you'll be leading a revolt and overthrowing Kings far and wide, having them ruled by a man they've propped up on a pedestal to think for them."
"I wouldn't go that far!" Merlin protests, and Arthur hears the clank as he begins to clean his armour. "Just a little more fairness."
"Mmm." Arthur slides underwater and shivers as air bubbles escape his ears. He surfaces quickly – for some reason, whenever he's underwater, he feels like he's drowning, and sometimes Sophia is watching…
He leans back so his ears are submerged and thinks on the other feeling that rises whenever he ducks his head under. The feeling of numb assurance that someone is coming to help him, someone is coming to rescue him. The strangest thing is that that person is always his manservant. Foolish, loyal, brave Merlin.
Through the sounds of water, he can hear Merlin polishing his armour, and he knows that it'll be better taken care of in Merlin's hands than anyone else's. Merlin, Merlin, Merlin…it isn't safe to think about him this way. God knows, the idiot is reckless enough when it comes to Arthur's safety – there's no reason to let him know of Arthur's feelings for him. That might spur him on to greater feats, and Arthur really does not need that. Not now, not ever. He would give his life for Merlin's, and he knows that Merlin would give his life for him. Their respective tests with the goblets, both poisoned and drugged, have proven that.
And Arthur really wouldn't be able to take another test. He's sick of tests. He's sick of being made to feel inadequate, and yes, he knows his father loves him, but it doesn't mean he likes him. And it hurts, it really, really hurts, when he meets his father's eyes and sees nothing but grimness and disappointment ready to fall if Arthur makes a wrong move. And recently, he's been making too many wrong moves. He's been defying Uther more and more, and the King's anger is growing. What would the people think if he couldn't control his own son?
Arthur raises his ears above the water and lets himself be lulled into a doze by the repetitive sounds of Merlin at work. Merlin, Merlin, Merlin…always it comes back to Merlin. And Arthur wouldn't have it any other way.
He's not sure exactly how Merlin feels about him, and that's another reason why he won't allow himself to give in to his instincts around him. If Merlin freaked out, got angry, left…Arthur isn't sure how he'd cope. He's gotten used to having Merlin around as a permanent fixture – he can remember what life was like before his brainless friend came along, and it wasn't anywhere near as interesting.
And dangerous. Because Merlin has a secret, and he doesn't know that Arthur knows. He's not sure when he started to suspect Merlin was using magic, but it was quite early on. Maybe when Merlin looked so confused when Arthur twisted his confession during the water crisis. Maybe that light in Nimueh's cave. Maybe when around him, Arthur's luck seemed to increase to dazzling levels that couldn't possibly be attributed to chance or fate. There had to be something more.
Arthur thinks he became certain when they went to Ealdor, and Merlin conjured that whirlwind. He had tried to act casual in the cottage when Merlin nearly confessed before the battle, but when he had demanded the sorcerer stepped forward, and Merlin did so, there was no mistake. Arthur has spent his whole life hunting, trapping, and interrogating criminals. He knows that look better than he knows his own face. And if Will hadn't been shot…
He had tried to hint to Merlin afterwards – "You shouldn't have kept this from me, Merlin." – but he hadn't had the courage to risk their friendship and tell Merlin that he knew. And at that time, he had still been blazing with furious betrayal. Not any more. After the miniature witch-hunt in Tauren's wake, Arthur had seen the fear in Merlin's far-too-expressive eyes, and stayed silent.
He has no doubt Merlin would be overjoyed to know that Arthur knows about his powers and is willing to keep his secret, but truth be told, Arthur wants to hear how Merlin explains it himself when the time comes. And the time will come – Arthur knows it. It's inevitable. They're close as it is, and growing closer every day.
But never close enough to touch. That is Arthur's deepest secret – every time Merlin looks at him with that crooked smile, every time his body catches a certain light, Arthur's stomach does something strange and fantastic, and all he wants to do is reach out and touch him. Run his hands through Merlin's hair, over his shoulders, down his chest. Everywhere.
He stays in the bath till the water gets too cold for him, and then hauls himself out with a grunt, grabbing the towel Merlin's put over the screen for him. "You done yet?"
"I've been done for ages," Merlin grins as Arthur steps into view, towel wrapped round his waist. "I thought you'd drowned or something."
"You wish," Arthur quips. It's dark outside now, he notices, and remembers a vague something about supper. "What am I meant to be doing, Merlin?"
"Giving me a raise?" Merlin suggests, and grins when Arthur scowls. "Alright, alright. Erm...something like you're not eating here tonight…" he frowns, then snaps his fingers. "Got it – you're dining with the King and Lady Morgana."
"Wonderful." Arthur rolls his eyes. "Now go and find out when."
Merlin sighs dramatically. "Right you are, Sire."
Arthur watches as Merlin walks out. It shouldn't be possible for such a pale, lanky peasant to look like a work of art when he moves, but somehow Merlin manages it. And Arthur's stomach does that thing again, and his eyes roll back in his head a little.
A word springs suddenly to mind – sublime. And Arthur sighs, turning away to get dressed, mentally preparing himself for an evening of pandering to his father and being incredibly careful around Morgana. That woman knows more than any gossip-wise scullery maid. And Arthur is praying she doesn't pick up on his feelings for Merlin – who knew how disastrous that could be?
Arthur's walk is stiff as he retreats from his father's imposing presence and down the hall. He hears the door behind him close and takes a deep, shuddering breath. This is not how it is meant to be. He is under some sort of review – his father will be checking on him regularly, probably bribing his knights to get their opinions as well. This is betrayal in a way Arthur has never truly experienced. Uther has always pushed him, and pushed him, and pushed him, and now…now he's pulling him back. Like a dog on a leash. And Arthur hates feeling collared.
Morgana did her best to influence him in her own way, but her relationship with his father is still shaky after he locked her up, and Arthur understands that she is wary of pushing him too far again. Without Uther, Morgana is nothing, but Arthur will still be Prince, no matter what his father does.
Tests, tests and more tests. That's all he ever seems to get from his father, and it galls. He shouts in frustration, lashing out and punching a wall. Stupid, he reflects as his knuckles protest. "Why can't I ever win?"
"Because then your thinks father he would lose," a voice behind him says, and Arthur spins to see Merlin, of course.
"Lose?" Arthur gapes at him – how did he know he would be here anyway? – "Lose what?"
"Lose you," Merlin says, as if it is obvious, and maybe to him it is.
"Would that be so bad?" Arthur mutters.
"Of course it would!" Merlin is quick to the mark, defiant. Arthur looks at him in surprise, and he blushes and drops his gaze. "I mean, he's just trying to protect you."
"No he's not." Arthur says bitterly. "He's trying to control me. I've been defying him too often, and he's growing worried." He heaves a sigh and hits the wall behind him half-heartedly.
"Don't –" Merlin starts forward and grabs his hand, and Arthur wills every single nerve in his body not to burn and freeze simultaneously and alert Merlin. He fails miserably, but Merlin doesn't seem to notice, absorbed in the grazes on Arthur's knuckles as he is. He sighs and rubs them slowly, and Arthur's breath hitches and his stomach explodes, sending tingles right up to his chest and down to his groin, and he wants so badly to reach out and touch…
But Merlin looks at him and pulls away. "Come on," he says. "I'll get you some salve for that."
Arthur fights to control his breathing as he follows Merlin back to his chambers. "Why do you care so much, Merlin? No other manservant of mine has cared as much as you."
"Am I just your manservant?" Merlin looks at him over his shoulder, a gleam of something in his eyes.
Arthur smiles unwillingly. "No. Not any more."
Merlin's smile could light up the whole of Camelot. "And the feeling's mutual – that's why I care."
"But," Arthur walks into his chambers, smiling at the way Merlin refuses to hold the door open for him or face him when he's talking. "Some of the knights are my friends, and they don't care anywhere near as much as you do."
Merlin's shoulders stiffen, then relax. "Would you drop it if I told you it was my job?" He asks hopefully. Arthur narrows his eyes, curious now.
Merlin sighs. "Tough."
"Oh no," Arthur strides forward and grabs Merlin's shoulder, spinning him around to face him. "Go on – what were you going to say?"
"Nothing." Merlin looks at him, and there's truth in his gaze. "Honestly – I don't really think before I speak."
"You don't think at all." Arthur says automatically, and they both smile, glad to slip back into this comfortable routine they've created. But then Arthur frowns, reaching for that scrap of something Merlin's left dangling. "Merlin honestly – is it because I'm the Prince? Because you, I don't know…want a raise, or something?"
Merlin's expression darkens and he pulls away, and Arthur curses himself for wounding his manservant's fragile sense of honour. "Look, I didn't mean it like that –"
"Yes you did!" Merlin accuses. "Why can't you just accept that I care because I like you, because underneath all the swagger and bravado, I can see the person you really are? Is that so difficult?"
"How can you see that?" Arthur asks.
Merlin fixes him with an unfathomable look. "Arthur, I can see everything about you."
Arthur wonders if that's true. "Everything?"
Merlin nods, and there's that flicker of yearning in his eyes that sends Arthur reeling. "Everything, Arthur. I'm just waiting till you're ready to admit it to yourself – and I'll wait forever."
Arthur swallows and steps forward. "What if…I'd already admitted it to myself, but the problem is I just can't read you the way you can read me?"
Merlin frowns, trying to keep up with all the things they're not saying. "Um…I'd say there's no time like the present." He decides finally, eyeing Arthur with a mix of confusion and hope. "And I think all the stuff we're not saying should be said." He turns away, not looking at Arthur when he says, "by one of us, at least."
"So say it." Arthur whispers, stepping closer.
Merlin hangs his head. "I can't."
"There's this thing Morgana and I would do when we were children." Arthur says slowly, still unsure. "She'd tell me a secret, and I'd tell her a secret, and we'd promise we would pretend it hadn't happened afterwards – we'd just go on with our lives like nothing had occurred."
Merlin takes in a deep breath. "Only if you go first."
Arthur bites his lip uncertainly, then closes his eyes and decides to take the plunge. "I think…I think this is dangerous, and stupid, and I'm already telling myself not to do it, but…I like you, Merlin. As more than a manservant, more than a friend." He winces inwardly, and prepares himself for the anticipated rush of disgust and horror.
It never comes. Merlin is still, and Arthur wishes he would turn around so he could read his expression. "Really?" And Arthur's heart leaps – Merlin's voice isn't disgusted; it's hopeful, breathy.
Arthur swallows and nods. "Yes."
Merlin sighs and his whole body sags with something like relief. "Yes…"
"This is okay?" Arthur asks anxiously. "This isn't…you're not…angry, or something?"
"Never." Merlin's smile is clear in his voice, and something in Arthur's chest that had been coiled up tight unwinds, and the feeling is wonderful. Now, he wonders, could he touch? Would Merlin let him? He takes two steps forward and tentatively touches his fingertips to Merlin's hips. When Merlin doesn't move away or tell him to stop, Arthur slides his hands forward, resting them comfortably on Merlin's waist.
Merlin takes half a step back, and both of them stop breathing as they fit together, Merlin's back against Arthur's chest. Arthur slides his hands forward daringly, wrapping his arms around Merlin loosely and resting his chin on his shoulder. Merlin's breath hitches and his chest shudders under Arthur's arms as he tilts his head back, eyes half-closed.
Arthur is in a world of his own and Merlin doesn't do anything – stands perfectly still while Arthur spreads his fingers over the rough cotton of his blue shirt and breathes deeply, inhaling the scent of Merlin's hair against his cheek. Hesitantly, he touches the tip of his nose to the soft point behind the angle of Merlin's jaw, and when Merlin tilts his head to the right to give him better access, Arthur nuzzles his way along it, drowning in the feeling of Merlin's skin.
Merlin can do nothing but breathe unevenly as Arthur's arms tighten around him and he begins to kiss his neck. Dry, chaste butterfly kisses that send Merlin's pulse racing, his fingers twitching at his sides. He can't move at all – he fears that if he tries, he will simply collapse, and there is no way he is risking that now. Not when Arthur is growing bolder and sliding his hands lower…
Arthur finds the edge of Merlin's shirt and slips his hands under it. Merlin jumps, and Arthur freezes, terror sending his heart pounding, but Merlin just gasps a little and relaxes into him, letting all his barriers down. He trusts Arthur completely, and Arthur realises he would sooner die than betray him. That's the last coherent thought he has before losing himself entirely.
Merlin's skin is smooth, hair dusted lightly over his chest, and Arthur could count his ribs. He does, and gets to five before he gets distracted by the way Merlin is breathing – loudly and unevenly, juddering gasps. "Arthur," he breathes, "Arthur, Arthur…"
"Merlin," Arthur murmurs in reply against the crook of his neck. "Merlin…" Merlin's skin is hot under his hands, and when Arthur ghosts his palm further up, he can feel Merlin's heart beating. It's fast, matching his own, and Arthur sighs as Merlin drops his head right back onto his shoulder, eyelids fluttering and skin stretching taught over his throat. Arthur leans forward and around to kiss it, brush his lips over Merlin's adam's apple and whisper, "Merlin," over and over, a mantra almost like an incantation or chant.
Merlin sucks in a breath and tries his hardest to stay upright. But it's so very difficult when all he can feel are Arthur's hands and Arthur's mouth and Arthur's chest warm and solid against his back. Arthur, Arthur, Arthur…The words are a litany in his head, and he's sure he's gasping them out loud, but honestly he wouldn't be able to tell – he's no longer Merlin, or even a person with a solid body. He only exists at all where Arthur's skin, warm and smooth, touches his.
Arthur gasps against Merlin's neck and hitches his thumbs over the material of Merlin's shirt, sliding it up and up, and Merlin raises his arms so slowly it's almost painful, but Arthur finally gets the shirt off him and discards it with a flick of his wrist. And now Merlin's back is there before him, pale and smooth like a new canvas that Arthur can't decide whether to preserve or decorate. Merlin decides for him when he melts against him, a deep moan sighing from his lips, and Arthur sweeps his hands up over his chest, holding him close.
The firelight on Merlin's skin turns it from pasty to silken, smooth and rich in the flickering orange glow. Arthur leans his chin on Merlin's shoulder and looks down with slitted eyes to the shadows playing over Merlin's chest and tries to catch them with his hands, scudding up and down Merlin's sides and then lying perfectly still, one on his hip, the other curled around and under his arm to hold his shoulder, and Merlin sighs, "Arthur," and his chest jerks as he breathes erratically.
"Merlin," Arthur thinks he breathes in reply, walking them backwards towards his bed. "Merlin, Merlin…" Because in the end, it always comes back to Merlin. It always will.
The backs of Arthur's knees hit the edge of his bed and he falls backwards. Merlin rolls on top of him and then away, and there's a flurry of limbs and gasps as they right themselves so they're lying facing each other, and someone's leg catches the candle stand, sending it tumbling to the ground with a deafeningly muffled clang and plunging them into semi-darkness, the only light now coming from the fire, which blazes and crackles loudly to match their heavy breathing.
Arthur can't see Merlin's face clearly – the curtains are blocking the firelight and casting their profiles in shadow, the shade sliding over Merlin's skin like a caress, and Arthur matches it, sliding his fingers up the pale arm and sighing, "Merlin," and Merlin's eyes roll back in his head and he leans into the touch. This moment is perfect, and for a moment they simply lie still on top of the sheets, finding each others eyes in the half-light.
Arthur's are wide, his pupils dilated, blinking fast. Merlin's are lidded, half-blown with the sheer ecstasy of Arthur's touch. He still can't move properly, and simply closes his eyes when Arthur does. Rolling onto their backs, their hands find each other and connect them, filling the small gap between them as they pant and try to control themselves, getting their breaths back.
"How is this going to work?" Arthur murmurs, and Merlin feels a jolt of lightning race up his leg at the sound. He swallows and tries to order his brain enough to reply.
"We'll do everything we usually do, I suppose," he says quietly, his voice only slightly slurred. "But with more." He squeezes Arthur's hand and Arthur squeezes back.
"More." Arthur whispers, trying out the sound on his lips, on his tongue. "Merlin –" he turns on his side and reaches his hand up to touch Merlin's face. Merlin turns his head to face him at the same time, and Arthur freezes, not moving. His fingertips are so close to Merlin's sharp cheekbone he can almost feel it. And Merlin tilts his face ever so slightly to connect them, and Arthur relaxes.
"More," Merlin repeats, and his eyes are so full of promise, Arthur's heart skips a beat and he suddenly forgets how to breathe.
"Merlin," he murmurs huskily, flattening his palm and fitting it into the sharp curve of Merlin's cheek. He rubs his thumb under Merlin's eye, and Merlin's eyelashes flutter against his nail. Arthur smiles slightly and slides his hand back to cup the curve of Merlin's neck, slipping his fingers into the soft hair there and sweeping forward, leaving it in clumps of inky black.
He traces his hand downwards, tracing Merlin's collarbone and the soft dip between them with a kind of curious wonder he's never felt before. Merlin's heart is still beating fast as Arthur places his palm over the skin there, leaving it still for a moment to gather what little thoughts are still in his head. He's losing himself completely in this, in Merlin, learning the feel of him, the shape of him. It's almost like a form of worship, he's so careful.
He hesitates when he reaches Merlin's hip, and the ridge of his breeches. He wants to know every part of Merlin, but he doesn't know what to do next. Merlin is almost panting under him, his hand squeezing his in tight bursts of erratic excitement. "Arthur," he gasps, "please…"
"I don't know what to do," Arthur whispers, his head swirling with sensations.
"Then make it up," Merlin breathes, his eyes meeting Arthur's, pupils blown wide and breath quick and unsteady. "Just…" His other hand twitches and Arthur can feel him doing something as quickly as he can, a kind of desperation shining in his eyes, and Arthur's eyes widen as he realises Merlin is unlacing his breeches.
"Arthur!" Merlin grabs his wrist and squeezes, then loosens his hold and strokes Arthur's hammering pulse so gently Arthur feels his entire torso implode, lightning shooting up and down his chest, to his groin and shoulders. It feels incredible, and his breathing comes as unsteadily as Merlin's. Merlin guides Arthur's fingertips to slide just under the edge of his breeches and lets go, leaving the next move up to Arthur. "Please," he breathes, making a sound in the back of his throat as Arthur's fingers twitch instinctively. "Arthur…"
Arthur swallows and nods, sliding his fingers further down. Merlin gasps and arches against him, and suddenly his hands erupt into life, skimming under Arthur's shirt and clutching at his skin like he's the one who matters here, and Arthur almost whimpers because he had no idea that anything could feel this good.
Merlin tugs and pulls and succeeds in peeling Arthur's shirt off as Arthur pulls Merlin's breeches wide and takes a deep breath in an attempt to steady himself – totally useless against the power of Merlin's skin on his – before brushing his fingers along Merlin's erection. Merlin makes a gasping, squeaking, sobbing sound and clutches Arthur's bare shoulders tight, shuddering weakly.
"Arthur," he gasps, "I never told you…my secret…"
Arthur doesn't reply, just rubs his thumb over the tip, slick with pre-cum, and Merlin moans and thrusts into his hand. "My secret…" he tries to continue and Arthur's eyes roll back in his head as Merlin's nails dig into his shoulders.
"Tell me." This is it, he knows, and in some deep part of his mind, he is secretly afraid, but this is Merlin, and what they're doing now feels so good that none of that matters.
"It's this." Merlin says in a surprisingly clear voice, and as he comes into Arthur's hand, his eyes open wide and Arthur sees gold flare inside them, strong and deep and beautiful, and he makes a shocked sound despite himself and yanks his hand back fast without thinking.
Merlin grabs his wrist and squeezes his eyes shut, trembling all over with release. "I tried to tell you," he chokes, his fingers burning a bracelet on Arthur's skin. "But –"
"I knew." Arthur whispers, prying his hand free and wiping it on the sheet behind him before reaching up to hold Merlin's face with both hands. "I've known for ages, Merlin. I was waiting for you to tell me."
"You knew?" Merlin opens his eyes, and though there are still flecks of ochre in them, they are mostly back to their normal dark blue, though in the firelight they look black. The contrast between the colours is startling, and Arthur finds himself watching intensely as the gold flickers, fades, and finally melts away.
"I had suspicions," Arthur murmurs. "But since Ealdor…I've been certain."
Merlin sighs, the action rattling his entire body and releasing a pressure seated deep inside him. "Arthur…"
"Yes?" Arthur shifts closer, presses his forehead to Merlin's, and the world seems to slow down, time bending and rearranging around them, and maybe it's magic, or maybe it's simply the effect they have on each other.
"I…" Merlin takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, then opens them again, and Arthur's vision blurs at the desire he sees there. Arthur strokes his thumb over that soft spot behind his jaw, and Merlin swallows. "I can't think when you're doing this." Arthur makes to pull away, but Merlin grabs his hands and holds them there. "Did I say I wanted to think?"
Arthur smiles, small at first, then wide, and he meets Merlin's eyes in a rush of friendship and understanding that is somehow more, and that's when Merlin kisses him. It's different to every other kiss Arthur has ever shared with someone, but maybe that's because they had all been girls, or perhaps it's simply because this is Merlin, and Merlin has always been different, and always in a good way.
With the other girls it had been uninteresting, dull, but Merlin is something new and unexpected. His lips are soft, softer than Arthur would have believed possible, and they are dry against his. Arthur pushes forward and flicks his tongue out to wet them, and suddenly everything fits together. One of Merlin's hands is tangled in Arthur's hair; the other is scudding its way down Arthur's side, tracing old scars.
Arthur cups the back of Merlin's neck and Merlin moans, sliding his knee between Arthur's legs and rubbing up against the growing hardness in Arthur's breeches. The hand on his side slips under his waistline, and one touch is all Arthur needs. Merlin draws back with a gasp as Arthur throws his head back and screws his eyes shut as his entire body tightens like a bow string and he makes a sobbing, keening noise like a whine, biting his lips shut so it doesn't escape.
Merlin holds him tight as Arthur's world explodes into stars, his vision streaked with coloured lights as he drops his head into Merlin's shoulder and gasps for air, shuddering and jerking with the streaks of lightning racing through his body from wherever Merlin's skin touches his.
This is how life should be, is Arthur's first thought when he comes back to himself, fuzzy and hazed. Paradise like this should be kept and preserved and made to last forever. Merlin's hands rest on his shoulder and chest, trembling and hot. Arthur reaches up to touch the one on his chest, covering it with his palm and sliding his fingers between Merlin's. He can feel the tendons in the back of his friend's hand move as Merlin twists his wrist so their palms are together, fingers entwined.
A forehead touches Arthur's and he leans forward, heart still hammering. "Stay with me."
And Merlin smiles in the dark, his fingers squeezing Arthur's between their chests. "Always."