A/N: Title and quotes from "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" by Walt Whitman. The poem is (depressingly) apt, at least in regards to the original legend. Hopefully, that will not come to pass this time around. Apologies for the overused metaphor and the lackluster summary; I couldn't think of a better one. If you have a suggestion, feel free to tell me!
Shine! shine! shine!
Pour down your warmth, great sun!
While we bask, we two together.
He has fallen asleep in the bath again. The late afternoon sunlight ambles in through the open windows, glinting on the golden crown that lays crooked on Arthur's head. Lazy specks of dust dance in the beams scattered around that leave the room awash in light.
Merlin leans against the closed door and smiles at the tableau. Arthur, like many others, prefers to have the windows open in the summer; unlike others, however, it isn't to catch the breeze, but to let the sun in. He delights in the sun, so much so he has idly considered adding it to the Pendragon crest. Merlin has thought it would be rather appropriate, and has envisioned Arthur as a kind of sun god, racing across the sky on a horse made of fire, Excalibur drawn and ready to serve.
He pushes away from the door and approaches Arthur, who does not stir. He kneels down and leans against the edge of the tub. The sunlight frames Arthur's face now, setting his hair aglow. He flickers his eyes over him, taking in the lightly sun-bronzed skin that has been the result of several days riding and training on a short patrol with his knights. King or not, he has never been unable to stop the habit of riding with his men, even if he cannot travel too far from castle without flustering his advisers. Arthur has accepted and calmed their fears with a new-found graciousness that they laud, leaving only Merlin to see him rolling his eyes and send pleading looks towards the heavens when their backs are turned.
Merlin smirks. My king, he thinks.
He lets the tip of his fingers slip into the water and is surprised by the coolness that meets him; Arthur has been in here longer than he thinks. He closes his eyes and focuses on warmth: the feel of the late sun, the sensation of magic in his blood, the heat of Arthur's skin in the midst of passion, and wills into the water. He could murmur a spell and have it hot in a moment, but he doesn't want to risk waking Arthur just yet.
He feels the faint burning sensation behind his eyelids and knows that his eyes are now the color of Arthur's favored afternoon sun; it does not fade as easily now, and he wonders if the day will come that it never will. He opens them and watches the faint glow that surround his fingertips flow gently into the bath. The temperature rises, but still Arthur does not wake. He begins to trail his hand up Arthur's arm, hovering just above the surface; the resulting glow shines for a moment before fading, settling into the skin. He moves further, over a warm shoulder and up Arthur's neck to his face. He crosses his cheek and then pauses at his lips, stroking them faintly; Arthur takes a deep breath and gives a contented sigh.
Merlin grins at the response and keeps going, trailing back down down the neck and other shoulder, and further down the other arm until he reaches the water again. In his mind's eye, the golden lines are still as clear as day. He grins wider, and lets his hand drift up to Arthur's chest. The letters begin to appear, glowing and settling into the skin, faded, but still quite apparent to him. Just as he finishes, Arthur lazily opens one eye and looks at Merlin, who doesn't even bother faking any innocence and simply continues to grin. Arthur smiles in response and tilts his head further aside, in question. He glances down at his chest, but Merlin knows he is unable to see the words that continue to shine for him. Instead, he lets his grin slide into a soft smile, and Arthur understands, as he always does. Here he is, golden and sun-kissed and brilliant with light, and Merlin couldn't deny him anything in the world.
He leans over to murmur something, but is cut off by a kiss, tender and affectionate. He lets himself be drawn in by Arthur's heartfelt response, saying all the words he couldn't express, telling him more than a dozen languages could ever hope to do. They don't need words to tell each other what they already know, and as Merlin kneels there beside Arthur, diffuse in the warm afternoon sunlight, he knows he wouldn't have it any other way.
Low hangs the moon, it rose late,
It is lagging--O I think it is heavy with love, with love.
He stands by the window, pale skin aglow like polished stone and eyes alight with a pale blue; they are unfocused and lost in far away thoughts. The rest of him is swallowed by the shadows, as if he is a only a ghost half in this world. It's always the moonlight that does him in, calling to him as mother to her wayward child and lulling him to the window, naked and bare before the opaque rays.
There are many nights like these, when Arthur awakes against the cool linen sheets to find himself alone in the bed and Merlin by the window, drawn by the restlessness in his magic to look out onto the night and hear a song only meant for him. Arthur does not mind these nights, for they are Merlin's alone. He lies there, entranced by the tableau before him, and soon-- perhaps too soon-- he quietly rises and stands behind Merlin; close but not touching, not yet. Merlin knows he's there, but is also still lost in waking dreams, and Arthur does not want to wake him just yet.
If he is truthful to himself he enjoys the restlessness, as it matches his own and somehow manages to bestow a grace upon Merlin that few who knew him in his earlier days would believe. Whenever lords and ladies come to visit they are astounded by the elegance on display by he who has been a servant, and somehow manage never to see the times when Merlin finds a wall in greeting instead of a doorway, seemingly moving just to spite. To be fair, Arthur grants, sometimes the walls do move, dizzily worse whenever Merlin has lost himself in a bottle of wine or two, leaving Arthur to navigate his own castle as if it were a labyrinth he has never seen.
He closes his eyes and listens to their breathing; at first he thinks they are in tune, but listens closer and discovers that Merlin is a shade behind, beside him and yet watching over his back. He smiles at this, at their relationship, and lets it flow over him. He opens his eyes and brings his hand up to Merlin's back, framed in translucent light, and allows it to rest just above the ashen skin not entirely claimed by shadow. Sometimes he thinks he can feel the magic that thrums in Merlin's blood; reaching out to him and bringing him closer, deeper.
Mine, he thinks with awe, and he knows it as much as he knows he is wholly Merlin's.
He brings his hand up slowly until he reaches Merlin's neck and hears his breath catch. Arthur grins at the response, and begins to gently stroke him, across his shoulder and down his arm; he lets his fingertips dance over his back again, only to return their upward path. He strokes the other side of Merlin's neck for a moment before mirroring the path back down. This time the catch comes again, and he presses himself skin to skin and nuzzles Merlin's neck. Merlin tilts his head away and gives him better access; he kisses the expanse still bathed in lambent rays, and keeps kissing until he has followed the invisible trail his hand left behind. When he gets to Merlin's hand he steps back and bends over to kiss it, as if Merlin were a maiden. He looks up and sees Merlin looking back at him now, an eyebrow raised and an expression the clearly questions Arthur's intelligence, motives, and probably everything else. Arthur laughs softly, unable to hide his amusement.
Merlin smiles at him then, and Arthur wants to tease him even more, but he is in profile, lucent and grey and obscure, and Arthur can do nothing but watch as Merlin pulls him up. Arthur wants to say something, to whisper and shout all that he feels from heaven to earth, but no words come, and then they are not needed, as Merlin leans over and kisses him. He understands, Arthur knows; understands and accepts, and this is the way it is, and the way he only ever wishes it to be.
Winds blow south, or winds blow north,
Day come white, or night come black,
Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
Singing all time, minding no time,
While we two keep together.