Summary – Beyond duty there is so much more, and it takes Merlin and a little tumble for Arthur to realise it. Merlin/Arthur oneshot. Autumn fic. Excessively fluffy.

Something that just begged to be written because really, who can deny that these two should have been together from the start?

A Little Sense

The polished metal glinted in the air, making only the slightest buzzing noise as it swung by Arthur's ear. The silver reflected the bloody red of his surrounds and his feet crunched on the delicately decaying memories of lives past. Scarlet silver arced gracefully over his head, changing hands while continuing seamlessly to brush by his feet on the opposite side of his body seconds later.

The swift blade moved so fluidly that the prince seemed surrounded by the flowing curve of glancing light in the last glimmering rays of the sun. Leaning a little to his left in a move indistinguishable to most as being separate to the sword's endless dance, Arthur peeked over his shoulder and barely caught the intended sight he was awarded by the extra few centimetres. The sight of his equipment piled high against a large maple tree. The sight, of no patiently waiting and blatantly impressed manservant. Arthur frowned. Where on earth was Merlin?

The younger man had clearly not been as enthused as Arthur by the idea of solo training in the forest. Well, not at first. A few moments of thought after the suggestion – order – had been voiced Merlin had appeared to brighten considerably for no reason apparent to his master. But then, Arthur hadn't minded too much. Not once his servant had acquiesced. Not once he'd seen just how bright Merlin's smile could become or how brilliantly his eyes could sparkle.

The glade hadn't been hard to find. It had taken Arthur many weeks to find the perfect one, long ago as a small child in need of a space away from the inexhaustible list of duties smothering his childhood.

He didn't think Merlin had ever been here before – not too deep into the forest and with nothing special to anyone other than Arthur – but he'd be lying if he said he hadn't felt a rush of something in his chest akin to pride or deep happiness when he'd seen Merlin's clear approval in the form of that huge grin of his when he'd subtly – with a flourish – unveiled the area so precious to him. Arthur had to admit that it was probably as much due to the beauty of the natural layout as to the fortunate time of year that made the scene so picturesque.

Where he normally found the lush green grass and bright sunshine peacefully tranquil with the towering heavily-laden trees muting the outside world and housing its own busy, little lives; Arthur had been taken aback himself by the changes autumn had wrought. The green on the ground had been thoroughly quilted with a mottled patchwork in shades of deepest red and russet and overhead the sun caught the edges of the stronger golden leaves amongst the litter of red still clinging hesitantly to their branches.

Deep drifts of the softly rustling leaves lay against the trunks of the surrounding trees, tucking them in comfortably and making the small space feel cosier and more private than ever. It felt like its own little world, warm and full of life despite – or perhaps because of – the shedding trees above and the detritus surrounding them. It had a new kind of beauty to it and after a quiet moment of reflection and a glance at Merlin he'd felt his lips twitching in a pale shadow of Merlin's delight. It was enchanting.

Knowing his manservant as he did and appreciating the peace his glade afforded him, Arthur had allowed Merlin to rest beside his equipment under the pretence of guarding it from foes – despite the fact that in all the time Arthur had trained here he had never been accosted – and the far likelier threat of a covering of fallen leaves while he trained. He had merely been going through the motions, relaxing into each pose and focusing on the feeling of muscles flexing and releasing, his own breath and the quieter echo of the tree's reply permeating the air with calm.

He had meant to enjoy the time and use the peacefulness to clear his mind whilst simultaneously taking advantage of the opportunity to covertly watch Merlin and discover the reason behind his unusually bright mood. He told himself that his own covert staring was to ensure that his manservant continued to fulfil his duties adequately, not willing to admit that he wanted to ensure that the cause of his peace remained present and Merlin's smile stayed unmarred.

Somewhere between the ringing of metal, falling leaves and quiet birdsong Arthur had missed the sudden absence of his friend and now stood staring at the empty space Merlin should have occupied. His equipment remained untouched other than a light smattering of the blushing star-shaped leaves which he couldn't find room in his sudden unease to fault the other for. Nothing could have happened to him surely; they were alone and completely safe and though Merlin lacked any kind of self-defence – or self-preservation – skills whatsoever, Arthur had enough for two. Certainly enough to have been able to sense any approaching danger.

Though Arthur was fairly confident in his ability to keep the two of them safe and was therefore reasonably capable of believing that Merlin – the reckless, irritating fool who would soon give him heart failure from worry alone – had simply wandered off, the twinge of doubt and roiling miasma of apprehension would not dissipate. Did not; until he found another sight that left him a little short of breath a few minutes of searching later.

Rounding another large tree – evidently with enough leaves to shed to create the blanket lying so heavily upon the ground – Arthur found Merlin. His manservant's brilliant neck scarf was lost amongst the flurry of red and brown surrounding him, the leaves fluttering to the ground before another exuberant kick accompanied by a light giggle sent them dancing into the air again.

He wasn't sure how long he watched him, time just seemed to float away as Arthur found himself leaning against the tree he stood beside and drinking in the sight of his friend who had yet to notice his – rather amused – presence. Merlin, bright and laughing and acting like the epitome of... well, himself, dominated his thoughts so thoroughly that Arthur only realised he had been staring when the amount of time that had passed became apparent in the changing light.

As the sun started to sink, its rays had become a buttery yellow and had set the leaves on the ground, in the trees and in Merlin's gleaming black hair on fire – and the result had that feeling spreading through Arthur's chest once more; that dizzy, happy rush that left him inexplicably short of breath. It was like magic.

His head gave a little shake as though of its own volition as he tried to get his thoughts back under control. Loath as he was to ruin the scene before him, they both needed to return to the castle before the sun set completely. Arthur watched as Merlin's playing – there really was no other word for it and that alone made Arthur smile – slowed more and more. Clearly Merlin was tiring and had also possibly noticed the dying light as Arthur had. Realising it wasn't due to Merlin's noticing the eyes trained so obviously on him – still – Arthur's smiled turned mischievous. He could hardly let his servant continue to be so reckless with his own safety and who better to teach him a little awareness of his surroundings?

Stalking to the side to move further behind Merlin so as not to be seen in his peripheral vision – if his entirely unaware and altogether far too trusting friend was in possession of the ability at all – Arthur snuck up as quietly as he could behind his servant, being very careful of each footfall and the quiet crunching that even his own much vaunted stealth couldn't completely mask.

He managed to get almost entirely to the other side of the clearing where Merlin had leant forward, back bowed – and completely open to attack the knight in Arthur moaned despairingly – with one arm braced against a tree while he caught his breath, when Merlin's other hand came up and ran absently through his hair, pale fingers combing the jet black easily and making it stand haphazardly on end. The casual action caused Arthur's stomach to flop and his concentration to slip ever so slightly, his foot coming down a little too heavy not to make an all-too-audible crunch as a result.

Merlin spun on the spot just as Arthur tackled him, taking care to pull them both to the side so as not to crack Merlin's head open on the tree trunk behind him in the process.

They landed with a softened thud in the bed of leaves, one of Arthur's hands coming up immediately to cup the back of Merlin's head – he'd gone to enough trouble stopping it from splitting against the trunk to let it smash on the ground now – and his other hand bracing his weight on the other side of Merlin's head so as not to squash his smaller friend. They both stayed very still for a moment and Arthur could feel Merlin's fast breathing in the slight space between their chests as it began to even out below him.

Looking at Merlin's face so close to his own – the wide startled eyes, the attractive flush that sat high on his cheekbones which had already been pink from his earlier playing in the leaves and was fast deepening to match his scarf – Arthur quietly spoke, his usual, casual tone ruined by their proximity and the feelings this inspired in him.

"You realise a Prince's manservant should have some grasp of self-defence? You didn't even sense me until I was right behind you, did you?"

The question had of course been rhetorical, but then Merlin rarely let an opportunity to speak slip by. Nor, Arthur thought a little dazedly, was there much chance he knew what a rhetorical question was. Arthur was almost surprised by how fast Merlin's grin could unfurl across his face to melt the shock away and his eyes shone the brightest blue when he uttered,

"Who said I didn't know you were there?"

Merlin's face had been close before, so close Arthur had felt the warm words fan softly across the skin of his cheeks, but at that Arthur's face dropped lower. And lower. And as his lips brushed so very, very lightly against Merlin's and his eyes fluttered shut, as darkness surrounded him and silence reigned broken only by the whisper of the leaves above and the roughness of the dying ones beneath – the scratchiness of them beneath his palm so unlike the softness of Merlin's lips under his, responding to his – to prove the world still existed; Arthur decided that like his glade, his Merlin was something precious to be protected, something he needed; there to remind him that life wasn't all about duty. That beyond that, there was so much more.

I was going for cute, did I get there? Please let me know, it's my first Merlin fic... and my first slash fic... and my first fic in a very long time... reviews are like bluberry muffins...??? :)

for readers of MH - the update on my profile is unfortunately still true though I'm in the process of trying to edit the next chapter, I love your patience, please dont lose it yet? Plushies for all and please, I turn 20 on monday and love blueberry muffins - go wild :p

have fun and thanx for reading, 'til next time x