Originally posted on LJ, for Round 01 at the glomp_fest.

Title: Those Who Favour Fire
Recipient: sighnomore
Author: darksagegrl0
Rating: NC-17
Pairings: (main) Arthur/Merlin | (secondary/non-explicit) Arthur/Gwen, Gwen/Lancelot, Gwaine/Merlin
Word Count: ~4200
Warnings/Content: Some slight Gwen-bashing (if you squint); angst; impied het; h/c; sexual content; slight OOC(?)
Summary:For the prompt of a Future!Canon setting with Arthur as King and Merlin dealing with the Arthur/Gwen relationship.

Author's Notes:Yeah, I suck at summaries… And this ended up being more angsty than I had originally intended. :/ Points for whoever can find the Star Trek quote. XD

sighnomore, I tried to incorporate as many of your 'likes' as I could without making it seem too disjointed. Not quite sure how well I managed that though, considering my writing is always a bit disjointed anyways. XD Either way, you've been glomped dearie and I hope you like it.

Just want to say thanks to my sister for not only giving me someone to bounce ideas off of, but also for looking over it when it was finished. I honestly would not have gotten this done without her.
Disclaimer:The characters depicted herein belong to Shine and BBC. I make no profit from this endeavor.

Title taken from "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

"And how is the wonderful Court Warlock doing today?"

Merlin looks up from the almost indecipherable script of an old magic text at the sound of the Queen's voice. Gwen stands in his doorway, her purple gown accentuating her like her servants dress never could have, still looking as beautiful as the first day he'd met her. She hadn't been Queen then, hadn't even let herself entertain the notion of being married to Arthur or part of the royal household in any station higher than as maidservant to the Lady Morgana. Of course, it has been many years since then.

Merlin smiles at Gwen, "Very well, Your Majesty." They share a small secret smile at the title. Even four years after her and Arthur's marriage it's strange for both of them to address her as such.

"That's good to hear. I trust, Merlin, that you will remember to be at the feast tonight?" Gwen sends him a knowing look, "Arthur has been complaining about your inability to attend, and he believes it is your duty as a member of court that if he and I must suffer Lord Bancroft's long-winded speeches then you must suffer with us."

Merlin chuckles, "Yes, Gwen. I'll be sure to leave to sanctuary of my tower for a few hours tonight."

Gwen is quick to send him a relieved smile, "That's good to know. He does get rather anxious when he has to deal with visiting dignitaries by himself," She pauses briefly, considering her next words and whether she really wants to say them. She seems to reach her decision and says quietly, "You know how much he needs you Merlin. Even now, five years into his reign, he needs you. At his side. Just as he always has."

The two of them remain quiet for a moment, both in the knowledge of what that really means to Merlin. Four years now, Gwen and Arthur have been married, and Merlin has given up trying to tell her not to feel sorry for him. Arthur needed a queen and he'd chosen her, his true love. It was not Merlin's place to resent his best friend for something that she could not control. Arthur was destined to be with Gwen and they both knew it. Perhaps one day she would stop feeling so guilty for hurting Merlin in this way. Perhaps.

Eager to withdraw himself from the morose atmosphere, Merlin nods quickly and stands to escort Queen Guinevere out the door. "I shall see you at the feast Your Majesty. I think it's high time I caused a little mischief for Arthur, don't you?"

Merlin gives her a small smirk and a raised eyebrow that makes her laugh. They both remember what happened the last time the Court Warlock decided to make trouble. No one was quite sure whether or not the poor Dame Olga would ever be the same again.

Gwen goes graciously out of his rooms and heads for the long stairwell that separates him from the rest of the castle, giggling all the way. As she begins to descend she calls back at Merlin, "All right, but whatever it is you have planned it had better not include me or my dress, please!"

Merlin just laughs and doesn't answer her. They both know he won't dare to mess with the Queen's precious gowns. Besides, messing with the King's outfit is far more amusing.

You'd think he'd be used to it by now, sitting at the feast—at the King's side even—rather than serving it. But even in the four or so years that he's been the Court Warlock, Merlin still finds it odd to sit at the head table, surrounded by all the finery and more food than he can possibly hope to eat. In fact, he hardly eats anything. Instead he prefers to observe. The behaviors of those who think no one is looking are most fascinating to him.

For example right now, as he peers over the rim of his watered down wine at the Lady Vivian, recently arrived from her home in North Umbria and almost as recently married to a frightfully overweight man called Lord Charles. She sits almost halfway down the table from Merlin own high-stationed spot, but is still close enough that Merlin can see the scrunched up face of distaste mar her face which immediately—and almost hilariously—changes to a besotted gaze when she moves her sights to Arthur. Never mind that he has married another and has shown nothing more than the proper polite acknowledgment to her, Trickler's spell is still in effect and she remain hopelessly in love.

Merlin smirks to himself. Sometimes he feels like an outsider looking in on everyone else like a cat would watch a small fish in a pond. He rather likes comparing himself to a cat—though honestly, he hasn't gotten that spell quite right yet.

Taking a small sip of his wine he continues his quiet observation. As his gaze moves along the table it passes over the Knights. Arthur maintained that the Knights of the Round Table was an exceedingly silly name, but for some reason (probably because of Gwen) the name had stuck. He pauses on Gwaine, taking a moment to admire the way everyone else seems to gravitate towards him.

Gwaine is fascinating in the way that he keeps his audience entertained with one of his stories. Merlin's sure it's something bawdy and quite possibly too rude for the current setting, but Gwaine never has any compunctions being the troublemaker of the Court. He catches Gwaine's eye for a moment and they share a secret smile (with a flirtatious wink on Gwaine's side—really there's no putting a leash on that one). There is every possibility that Merlin will end up in Gwaine's bed at the end of the night. And judging from the lascivious look Gwaine is sending him now, he's in for quitea night. Promises promises, Merlin thinks wryly.

Moving on before he starts exchanging more heated looks with the Knight, Merlin shifts slightly in his seat so he faces slightly to the side and looks out of the corner of his eye, focusing finally on the man to his right: his King. Arthur is magnificent, as always, and Gwen looks like a dream next to him. Surreptitiously, Merlin meets Gwen's eyes and gives her a not-so-subtle wink to which she tries to hide a smile. It's time.

Over the years, Merlin has come to find that saying spells just doesn't work as well for him as it does for other magic users. His magic is more instinctual, and using it without charms or words is what works best for him. So it's with nothing more than a tilt of his head and a flash of gold in his eyes that he casts his spell on Arthur.

At first the King doesn't notice anything, so caught up in trying to stay awake in the face of Lord Bancroft's latest tale. Gwen has a hand in front of her mouth, trying in vain to hold back her laughing. Before long, others start to notice the change in his Majesty's wardrobe. The Knights are the first to start reacting, not having the tact or not really caring for it as Gwen does, they devolve into laughter quickly. It's only when Lord Bancroft starts sputtering and turning red in the face and Arthur has to ask him what is wrong that their great King notices anything odd. He looks around the room and takes a glance down at himself.

"Merlin."

And boy, if looks could kill, Merlin'd be a pile of ashes right about now. Later, after Arthur's finished yelling and glaring and generally prissing about like the big prat he is, he'll perhaps allow—with a bit of prodding and convincing from Gwen and the Knights—that Camelot seeing their King in a bright pink gown complete with a bosom to rival that of Lady Vivian was probably just a bit funny.

The lake is calm when he arrives, like it always is. The surface of the water like glass, yet giving no clues as to what lies beneath the surface. In the darkness, it is a murky blue that Merlin can only wonder at as he sits at the shore and looks out across it. It's quiet here.

Merlin sits in silence for what seems like hours, just staring at the water gently lapping at the edge of the shore. He almost wants to reach out and touch it, see if it really there. But he can't move, can't bring up the energy to shift his limbs. He can't do anything but sit there, thoughts welling up in his head like the tears in his eyes. Silently, he lets them spill over. Thoughts of Arthur tonight, and Gwen, always by his side and closer than Merlin could ever hope to be. Of Gwaine, his best friend and greatest comfort, even though it's never enough, never what—who—he really wants. Not even registering the wetness on his face he begins to speak softly towards the lake.

"It hurts Freya," In the silence his voice, no matter how soft, is still shockingly loud in his ears. Even more so is the choked laugh he lets out. "You know, it's funny. Arthur once told me that it could never happen between him and Gwen. They could never be together. He said that to admit his feelings, knowing that… hurts too much."

Merlin pauses to suck in a deep breath that makes him shudder, shaky as he is from crying. "And he was right. To love someone, knowing you can't have them… its agony."

He closes his eyes, shutting out the world, like admitting it is more painful than the feeling itself. And it is. It isagony. To watch them together day after day for years. One would think that after so long he would have gotten used to it, that the pain would have dulled. But it hasn't. Not even a bit.

And he is fighting with himself every day not to just pack up and leave. No matter how unbearable it may be to see them together, he knows that at least Arthur still needs him in some way, even if not in the way that Merlin wants. Arthur needs his friend and advisor. And Merlin can be that for him, that at the very least.

So Merlin stays, in the hopes that Arthur will still need him in his life. Even if it tears Merlin apart inside, he stays.

Gwaine, while being a good friend and an excellent knight, is also a wonderful lover. There are certain advantages to being with a man who had experienced pretty much everything carnal that could be experienced, and was inventive to boot. Neither of them held any illusions though. They were not in love, nor would they ever be. Their comfort in each other was exactly that: comfort. Gwaine knew of Merlin's feelings for their King. He never mentioned it or asked Merlin about it, but he knew. After all, it was kind of hard to deny it when the name on Merlin's lips when he comes is not Gwaine's. Gwaine would probably feel jealous, had they not decided at the beginning of this thing between them that it would only ever be casual.

They were friends above all else. And friends worried about each other, which is why when Merlin trudges into Gwaine's chambers looking like a drowned rat with red, watery eyes, Gwaine is instantly at his side asking what is wrong.

"Merlin? What is it?" There are no traces of the usual joking demeanor in Gwaine now, the concern for his friend showing clearly in his voice.

Merlin shakes his head slowly, looking down at his mud caked boots. He makes a vague gesture with his hands and heads past Gwaine to flop down on the bed. With his feet hanging off the edge and an arm folded over his eyes, Merlin makes small grabby movements at Gwaine. It seems tonight is not going to be as sweaty as he'd been looking forward to. Gwaine heaves a small sigh of lament before moving to sit next to Merlin on the bed. He reaches out a hand and runs his fingers though Merlin's hair.

"You want to tell me what going on with you tonight Merlin? You've been acting out of sorts lately."

Merlin is silent for a long moment, then sighs softly. "Why am I like this Gwaine? Why do I keep doing this to myself?"

Gwaine purses his lips slightly, knowing exactly what Merlin is talking about, but unsure of how to reassure him shot of bringing him close in an embrace and telling him over and over how amazing he is. He tugs at Merlin's hair to make the other man look at him. Merlin's eyes are starting to tear up again.

"I don't know why you do this Merlin. But, you have an amazing capacity for love. It's his own fault if doesn't see how wonderful you are. I've always said that the Princess is an idiot for choosing Gwen over you haven't I?" He raises and eyebrow and Merlin glumly nods. "And the fact that you've stayed by his side, even while seeing them together, only shows how strong you are. If he's going to be great arsehole who can't see that, then he doesn't deserve you Merlin."

Merlin doesn't say anything, only continues to look up at Gwaine with silent tears running over the sides of cheeks. He sniffs and curls up around Gwaine's thigh. His voice is muffled as his speaks into the coarse fabric of Gwaine's breeches, but the broken tone of it is unmistakable, "You know, the sad part is that I still want him, even if he doesn't deserve me."

Gwaine's own eyes tear up at the utter hopelessness in his friend's voice and it's all he can do but to gather Merlin up in his arms and hold him to his chest. No one but Gwaine would ever know it, but the Court Warlock was surely suffering from a broken heart.

Merlin goes on like this for months, just as he has the past five years; the facade he puts on in public is practically flawless, but the moment he's alone or with Gwaine or at the lake, it's like he loses himself. He becomes a shell of what he used to be. And he's tired. Exhausted from keeping face, from trying to show the world that he's fine. Sometimes it saddens him how easily others believe the lie he shows, how easy it is to hide.

It's almost like old times, before Arthur became king, before he knew about the magic. The magic was easy to hide too. Too easy. Just like this.

The funny thing about hiding a secret: you can see the signs that others are hiding as well. Merlin recognizes the sly glances between the Queen and First Knight. He sees the guilty looks directed at a King whose back is straighter than usual. He hears the whispers from the servants. In the end, it's not much of a secret really.

When Gwen and Lancelot leave, they go quietly, almost invisibly. Merlin doesn't even know about it until he visits the King and Queen's chambers looking for Gwen because she hasn't paid him her usual daily visit. What he finds instead is a room that looks just as empty as it was when it was only Arthur who occupied it. Gone are Gwen's dresses and trinkets, her small vanity desk that he once been covered in pretty jewels and silk scarves and other fancy things that a queen surrounded herself with. The bed looks unslept in and the breakfast on the table long gone cold and untouched. Merlin's eyes drift along the length of the room to find Arthur in his favorite spot by the window, looking down into the courtyard.

Merlin slowly walks up behind the King.

"Arthur?" he says quietly, as if to say it any louder would startle the other man. Arthur acts neither startled, nor surprised.

Without turning he speaks to Merlin, "I knew about them, you know. I knew that she was still in love with him, and he with her. I even knew of her adultery. The reason I didn't try to stop her, the reason I didn't confront them about it, was because I didn't want to lose them. As friends. I needed Lancelot as a knight, and the people needed a queen. It would have become too complicated had I confronted them about it. Its better this way."

For a moment neither speaks. Then, after years of suppressed feelings and hidden emotions, Merlin finally reaches his breaking point. "'It's better this way?'" He growls, "How can you say that it's better this way? How is your queen running off with your knight in any way better?"

It's either Merlin's raised voice or distressed tone that makes Arthur turn to look at him in surprise. It doesn't really matter which because the next moment Arthur is crossing the room to grasp Merlin's shoulders.

"It's better because we don't have to continue with this charade anymore. None of us. I loved Guinevere, Merlin. I did. But her feelings for Lancelot would have always been there; Lancelotwould always be there. But she married me, agreed to be my queen," So far Arthur's voice has been hard, stern almost. As if he is trying to force Merlin to see something in his words. When he continues though, his tone is softer, "That was a long time ago Merlin. Things have… changed. I don't love her anymore. And she doesn't love me. Not as we used to."

Merlin makes a protesting noise, "That's ridiculous Arthur, I've seen you two. You can't find two people more in love."

But Arthur shakes his head and adjusts his grip on Merlin's shoulders, moving a step closer, "Except her and Lancelot. Face it Merlin, they have true love. They have kept their feelings for each other for the last seven years. The only person I have ever had that amount of feeling for is you."

Merlin can't breathe. Can't do anything but stare at Arthur with his mouth hanging open. It's what he's been wanting to hear for so long, so he must be dreaming right? There's no way Arthur just said –

"I love you, Merlin. You. Not Guinevere. And I may have been a royal class idiot not to realize it before, but I do now. Gwen and Lancelot can have each other and run off together. I don't care." Arthur brings up a hand to Merlin's cheek and meets his eyes. "I don't care about that, Merlin. I want you."

Merlin swallows thickly and takes a deep breath. "You arse."

A confused look crosses Arthur face, wiping away the hopeful expression that he had before. "Er…"

"You absolutely arsehole!" Merlin hits Arthur in the shoulder as heard as he can, which is unfortunately not very hard at all so Arthur barely flinches. "How? How can you just stand there and tell me you love me? Yesterday you seemed happily married to the love of your life and now you tell me you're really in love with me! What the fuck is wrong with you!"

Merlin bites his lip and blinks away his tears. "What the fuck took you so long you idiot?" he whispers brokenly.

Arthur huffs a relieved laugh and leans forward to rest his forehead against Merlin's. Their eyes fall shut and they stand there in front of each other, breath matching unconsciously.

When their lips meet, it's slow and soft, almost hesitant in its execution. Merlin makes a keening noise in the back of his throat at the feel of Arthur's lips on his.

They pull apart and look at each other. "Merlin…" Arthur whispers. He trails off and doesn't continue, content to just lay his hands on Merlin's slim hips and wonder at how red Merlin's lips are. Merlin breathes out slowly, looking back at Arthur with something akin to astonishment.

"I've wanted… but I never thought."

"Shh," Arthur interrupts him and places a finger over Merlin's mouth. He glances down in a uncharacteristic gesture of shyness. "I… I've never been with a man before, Merlin. I have no idea what you would expect from me, or what to do."

"We don't have to do anything, Arthur. I don't expect anything," Merlin stresses his last word, trying to make it clear that it's enough to even kiss Arthur, to be so close to him, he doesn't needto be with him in that way if he's not ready. Arthur shakes his head and looks into Merlin's eyes earnestly.

"I want to," He lifts one side of his mouth in a lopsided smile, "Merlin, I really want to be with you. If you'll have me."

Merlin returns his smile, brightly and eyes glittering in the happiness he's finally allowed himself to feel, "Arthur. I have been and always shall be yours. I love you, you clotpole."

They undress each other slowly after that. Taking time to run their hands along the planes of each others' bodies; committing every inch, every scar, every hard angle and soft curve to memory. They learn each other as much as two people can. When Merlin's hand finally reaches for Arthur's cock, it's all Arthur can do to not come that very moment. He tenses and tries to hold back the wave of pleasure that threatens to spill over. He squeezes his eyes shut and begs Merlin to please, please, "Inside me. I want you inside me. Please. Merlin."

Merlin opens him gently, slowly, bringing Arthur to the brink and then backing away again. Arthur writhes on his fingers—impossibly long inside his body—riding them wantonly, grasping at the silk of his bed, body jerking every time Merlin's fingers brush over that spot deep inside him that makes the heat pool in his belly and makes him see stars.

Merlin enters him just as gently as he prepared him, setting up a slow steady rhythm for Arthur to get used to. It gets to the point where Arthur can't bear it any longer and moans with Merlin, urging him tofucking move, damn it. It doesn't take long for Arthur to reach his peak, the feeling of being joined so intimately is almost enough. He calls Merlin's name and comes, back arched, head thrown back, hips jerking up to meet Merlin's even as his orgasm wracks his body. Merlin fucks him though it, almost to where it begins to hurt, before thrusting in as deep as he can and pulses inside him, Arthur's name a whispered sigh on his lips.

They remain close, neither making a move to separate or to clean themselves. They stay like that until their breathing returns to normal and their bodies have stopped shaking. Then Merlin gently pulls out and lays himself along Arthur's side, curling his arm around Arthur's torso and tucking his head into kiss the side of Arthur's neck. Their almost asleep when Arthur feels the dribble of Merlin's come between his legs, and though it makes his cock twitch at the thought of that little bit of Merlin in him, it is also not a state he wants to go to sleep in.

"Think you can clean us up now Merlin? I'd rather not be sticky in the morning." He yawns. He feels rather than hears the chuckle Merlin lets out and with a wave of a hand their skin and the sheets are cleaned of semen and sweat. Merlin snuggles in closer and soon his breath evens out and he is asleep. Arthur, wants to keep him awake; they have things to talk about, things that need to be addressed. But he doesn't. Really, it doesn't matter that much. As long as they're here now. They have this. That's what matters. Arthur brings a hand up to run through Merlin's hair and breathes in the scent of him before joining him in sleep.

Coda

Gwaine understands. In fact he goes so far as to congratulate Arthur on finally ceasing to be such an oblivious idiot. There might have been name calling as well had Merlin not interfered with that wide, bright smile that no one has seen in years.

Their days hardly change from before. Arthur is still the King and does kingly things. Merlin, the Court Warlock and occasional healer for those who need more than a few potions or poultices. Their interactions with each other show hardly any change at all, except they become deeper somehow. More intimate, in a way that only lovers seems to have.

They don't live happily ever after, though it's a near thing. There are still so many things to deal with. So many things that need to be done. Morgana, wherever she is. Merlin has a feeling they'll see Mordred again in the future. Uniting Albion. And a little thing called Destiny.

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."

– Marilyn Monroe