Warning: AU (modern), language, substance abuse, graphic imagery

Pairing: Merlin/Arthur

Rating: R

Inspired by: One Real Thing by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox

Summary: The course of true love never did run smooth. Arthur and Merlin knows this all too well.

Author: Spirit

A/N: Final chapter! Chapter has been edited to comply with rating. For the full NC-17 version visit my LJ. Please be warned that this isn't your typical Merlin/Arthur fic. The relationship is and will be shown to be somewhat different from the usual. It isn't disturbing, just different. All I ask is that you'll give it a chance and hopefully, by the end, you'll understand it and enjoy reading the fic as I've enjoyed writing it.


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ALL THE COMPLEXITIES

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Take a leap like the world's not there.

We get tangled in our words...

Love is a dare.

Boys Don't Die by Rich Jacques

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For Merthur Dreamer, who made writing this fic an absolute pleasure to share.

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Part Four

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Merlin was still asleep when Arthur woke again and Arthur was glad.

Arthur knew that Merlin needed the rest. The past few days hadn't been easy for either of them, but for Merlin it had been a non-stop whirlwind of being in constant motion. Although Arthur loved that Merlin focussed so intensely on him, it made him worry as well. Merlin had the ability to never stop until he fell unconscious from exhaustion, but Arthur didn't want that for him.

Arthur stared down at Merlin's sleeping figure while he ran gentle fingers along Merlin's cheek, caressing Merlin's lips. He wanted to press his mouth against every inch of Merlin's body, because it was still so surreal to know that he could now.

Always could, Merlin had said.

Arthur tightened his arms and pulled Merlin even closer, drowning in Merlin's scent and the way Merlin felt so good pressed against his side. It felt insane how much in love he was with this man.

Arthur had loved Sofia, in a different way. He had been committed to her, would never have even considered being unfaithful to her. He had sworn to spend the rest of his life with her, and he would never have gone back on those vows, despite what she thought.

But the way he loved Merlin, there was no comparison. The way he loved Merlin was consuming, blinding, terrifying, in its intensity. And it never went away, was always burning in the corner of his heart reserved for keeping Merlin safe and healthy.

He had thought the way he loved and cared about Merlin was tied in with his concerns of keeping Merlin alive, and that once he got Merlin on the right track that his feelings would fade. But it hadn't. Seeing Merlin happy, and successful, and healthy, and safe, had made Arthur's heart swell with pride. Had made the fire burn stronger, brighter, and he knew that he would always feel this way.

"I love you," Merlin whispered softly, against Arthur's neck. "I didn't say it earlier and I don't want you to think that what we did meant nothing."

Arthur was surprised. He hadn't realized that Merlin had awoken. He felt a little guilty, but since it was already mid-morning, it made sense that Merlin wouldn't sleep for long.

He bent to kiss Merlin's lips gently at first, but then Merlin gasped and quietly moaned into the kiss, and it deepened into something hungry and needy. Arthur found he could only go along for the mind-blowing ride, pulling Merlin onto his body, lacing his fingers through Merlin's hair, and wanting, needing more and everything, and not wanting to stop.

"When you kiss me like that," Arthur groan, finally wrenching his lips away from the intoxicating taste of Merlin's mouth. "How could I ever think you don't mean all of it?"

Merlin shrugged. He was lying on top of Arthur looking down, biting his lower lip, his cheeks were red, and he couldn't seem to hold Arthur's gaze.

"You looked like you were thinking about her," Merlin said quietly. "I thought I should point out that I know I don't compare, but I love you, and I always have. I'm sorry. I wish I wasn't so used, so second-hand. I wish I was better for you, like she was better. If I had known, had thought for a second that you wanted me, I would have tried harder to deserve you."

Arthur didn't know what to say to that. There were no words. All he could do from now on was to show Merlin that they could deserve each other.

"You're the one in my bed, the only person I ached with wanting to be here," he pointed out, reaching across the space to touch Merlin's chin. "You're the most important person in my life and I want you to stay right here with me all the time."

Merlin looked away, then ducked his head. He hid his face in Arthur's shoulder, and he was shaking the way Arthur knew he did when he got too emotional and was trying hard to contain himself.

"I mean it," he murmured, stroking Merlin's hair and the rigid line of Merlin's back. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. It's what I always wanted, even when I was married and knew it was wrong to want you with me, so damn much. I couldn't make myself stop. I couldn't make my heart let you go. So tell me, you want to be with me too."

"Arthur," Merlin whimpered, as if it was killing him to hear the words, the request, the promise in Arthur's words, and Arthur wanted to take it back, but he couldn't. He couldn't spare them this, the truth, finally spoken aloud between them.

"Ask me again, when you mean it," Merlin whispered, still hiding away. "When you're better. When you're not on another continent and your whole life, your whole world, isn't somewhere else, safe, away from all the shit I cause you."

"Damn it!" Arthur growled.

He flipped them over, reversing their position, rolling onto Merlin's body, until Merlin was pressed into the mattress, legs wedged between Arthur's legs, and their body aligned so that Arthur could feel every breath that Merlin took, even as Merlin's body trembled.

Looking into Merlin's big beautiful blue eyes, all the irritation and anger disappeared. All those people who had never wanted Merlin, who had only wanted to use him, had made Merlin like this, Arthur knew. Everybody dying, or leaving or wanting someone better, it had done this, and Arthur knew that when he left he had caused pain as well. All he could do was hope that time would heal the wounds.

"I'll call Gwaine and have him ring the office. I'll have someone arrange a flight for us out of here tomorrow morning. I only want to be with you and I mean it. If you need me to be somewhere else to prove this to you, then I'll do it."

Merlin's eyes widened in fear."No! I can stay if you want to stay. I believe you."

"No you don't yet, but you will. I want to keep you. I swear I do, and I'll show you every day if you let me."

Arthur bent to kiss Merlin again and again and again until Merlin stopped shaking and was moaning and gasping in his arms, as they rocked and slid their bodies together. Until he could see the doubt and the fear being swallowed by only that soft endearing look in Merlin's eyes that Arthur knew meant that Merlin had no more sad thoughts to distract him.

He would have carried on, ruthlessly wiping away everything but desire and the promise of forever until Merlin surrendered, but they were suddenly interrupted by the ringing of Merlin's mobile.

Arthur cursed out loud, and Merlin calm and happy again, smiled at him. Arthur snagged the phone from Merlin's grasped, rolling off and away from the intoxicating pull of Merlin's body. When he did, Merlin shrugged, sat up in the bed, kissed the back of Arthur's neck, then made his escape to the bathroom.

Arthur lost a few seconds of his life watching Merlin's beautiful, retreating backside, before he remembered that he had a phone in his hand.

"You have shit timing," he snarled. "Though I was just thinking about ringing you."

"Nice to hear your cheery voice mate," Gwaine responded, in a gratingly happy voice.

Arthur grunted. Gwaine laughed.

"Did he help? It sounds like he helped."

Arthur took a moment to consider what to say. If it was Morgana the details would be begged for and Arthur would listen to her analyse this new step in his relationship with Merlin, to death. But it was Gwaine, and details may not be appreciated.

"Thank you for sending him to me," Arthur finally responded softly. "I know that it was you who did it, even if it was Morgana who told him the truth about me and Sofia."

Instead of denying this, instead of sounding embarrassed or even apologetic, when Gwaine spoke again it was in a serious, level voice, so rare that Arthur was surprised.

"I use to wonder about the two of you," he said. "I didn't get it. I know you're his best friend and not me, but I care about him a lot too. I see the way he is with you and the way you are with him, and I didn't understand because you make it look so natural, so simple, like you don't even know what you do to each other."

Arthur felt his skin burn as he realized what Gwaine knew, even as he thought about how it felt to have Merlin on his knees at the side of his bed, asking ever so sweetly to take care of Arthur.

"And it isn't weird?" he asked.

Gwaine laughed. "It's weird as hell! But it's how I knew he needed to find you. You weren't going to get better with me or Morgana or Gwen or Lance or anyone else. Just Merlin. He needs you like you need him. The rest of us, we don't talk about it, but yeah, we know how it is with the two of you. So don't think you have to hide it, because that would be even weirder for us."

Arthur hid his eyes with his hand and wondered if he could do that, if this was what Merlin meant earlier. Could he do everything he always did in private to protect Merlin, when the world and their friends were watching and knowing. They didn't need their relationship to be misunderstood. And he wondered if they would be judged by others' standards.

"I only know how to love him the way I love him," Arthur said. "And I've never loved him like it was easy. I don't think I could reduce us to easy anyway."

On the other end of the line Gwaine smiled and Arthur heard it reflected in his voice when he spoke.

"Then I did good, and now you owe me."

Arthur rolled his eyes but he reluctantly smiled as well when he spoke, "I don't owe you yet, but I will. I'm coming home. Well, Paris first to see Morgana. Merlin has a life to get back to and I have a business to drop in on. So if you would be so good as to make arrangements for us to fly out tomorrow, I'll be grateful. I'd do it myself but I have plans for the rest of the day."

"Of course you do." Gwaine snickered. "I expect you'll have plans a lot of evenings from now on."

"Fuck off," Arthur told him.

But when Gwaine laughed, happy and accepting with no judgement, Arthur silently thanked the universe for the great bunch of friends and the sister he had, and for Merlin, and for how much they all cared enough to make sure he was okay and getting better after everything that had happened with Sofia.

"Thank you," he whispered into the phone to Gwaine, and to all of them at once.

And then even though he wasn't sure Gwaine even heard, he quickly hung up, embarrassed and blushing and happy, finally, after so many years of just getting by.

...

The shower was still running when Arthur knocked on the bathroom door. He didn't expect Merlin to hear the knock, much less answer, so once he knocked he went ahead and entered.

Merlin was standing under the spray of water when Arthur slipped past the shower curtain.

Arthur reached over to gather Merlin's slim body into his arms, immediately getting thoroughly wet as well, but he hardly noticed. He kissed the side of Merlin's neck as Merlin tilted his head to one side to give him better access. Then he licked at the water that streamed down Merlin's shoulder and arm.

"This is nice," he said into Merlin's ear before kissing that part of Merlin as well.

He slid one hand down Merlin's flat stomach, curled his fingers to very lightly scratch across the smooth, slippery surface. Merlin arched into his arms and gasped a low, needy sound that vibrated though Arthur's body.

"God you feel so good," Arthur murmured. "I can't get enough."

"You feel good too. I'm the one who needs this, crave this. Do you have any idea how much I use to dream that you would touch me like this? I'm so afraid you'll wake up and I won't have this anymore," Merlin countered, even as Arthur pressed against him to belay his fears.

"Not a dream."

Arthur gently coaxed Merlin to turn his head so that their lips could meet, grateful when Merlin responded. Their mouths seemed to collide together, not gentle like their first kiss had started out, not urgent and needy like their others, but hard and desperate as if neither of them could bear to lose the connection. Arthur could already tell that these kisses, Merlin's kisses, were going to become his own addiction.

When they broke the kiss, Arthur rested his head on Merlin's shoulder while Merlin tilted his head back to rest on Arthur's. They stood like that, bodies perfectly aligned again each other, swaying a little, as the water from the shower rained in front of them, drowning out even the sounds of their ragged breaths.

"I could get use to this, if you let me," Arthur whispered into Merlin's ear, above the sound of falling water.

Merlin hummed contentedly but then he sighed. "Are you sure you want this? With me?"

"It's all I want now," Arthur told him, and it was so true it made Arthur's heart hurt. "You're all I want, forever now. Just say you want this too."

Merlin turned in his arms, his cheeks wet and his eyes soft and worried.

"You shouldn't want me," he whispered. "I'm bad for you. I'll mess up one day and it won't be good. I'll stay with you like I use to be around, let you have this, have me any time you want, but you should find somebody to be happy with."

"I'm happy with you," Arthur responded sharply.

But Merlin shook his head, sad and worried, and it hurt Arthur even more.

Arthur cupped Merlin's face between his palms then rested his forehead against Merlin's. He closed his eyes, wanting to fix whatever broken part it was inside of Merlin that wouldn't allow even this bit of happiness. Merlin shivered, and Arthur slipped his hands away to gather Merlin against his body, holding him so tightly there was no room for doubt that this was where Merlin belonged.

"Are you all right?" Arthur asked, opening his eyes as he pulled away only far enough to gaze at Merlin's face, when Merlin's body shook again.

"Yes," Merlin answered, but then he shook his head and couldn't meet Arthur's eyes anymore. "Can we pretend I am?"

"Tell me what you need," Arthur said gently.

Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur's neck, and pressed a kiss to Arthur's jaw before he slid his lips an inch further to whisper in Arthur's ear.

"Take me to bed," he begged. "Please. Please, Arthur."

Arthur's breath caught.

Merlin had never been like this before about sex. He laughed, made it into a game, made it into a challenge, made it into something that was irresistible and almost inevitable whenever he so much as walked into a room. But he was never like this, never shy and soft and begging and scared that he was asking for something he couldn't yet have.

"All right," Arthur told him, because there was no other answer he could give, not when he wanted it too. "But only if you swear it won't make it worse for whatever is wrong."

Merlin thought about it, then shook his head. "I don't think it will. When I knew I didn't deserve you, no matter how much I needed you, it didn't make any difference wanting you. Making it worse, doesn't matter because you're still too good for me, even now when I'm a little better than I was before."

'Damn,' Arthur thought. 'How do I make this better?'

He kissed Merlin again, as softly as he could so that his lips barely ghosted again Merlin's mouth.

"I've always wanted you the way you are," Arthur explained. "You're good enough, you've always been. I love you. I love all of you, and I wouldn't change anything."

Arthur took Merlin's hand, slipping it down between their bodies so that Merlin could feel how much he meant what he was saying. Could feel how much he ached and desired and needed Merlin.

"Oh God," Merlin gasped, as he slid his hand away to rub against Arthur's erection. His voice was rough, unsteady and filled with so much need it made Arthur's body burn with desire. "I love you. I love you so damn much. I've wanted you for so long. I need to feel you want me too. I need to feel you inside me, making me all yours. Any way you want. Just please, please Arthur, please take me. Have me."

Arthur pulled Merlin into another kiss, stopping the words as they spilled from Merlin's lips. He slid one hand back into Merlin's wet hair and slowly moved the other down the curve of Merlin's back, to rest on the soft mound of Merlin's ass, holding him in place so Merlin could feel that he wanted what Merlin wanted and that he had no desire to deny any of them.

"There's condoms and lube in the drawer by my bed," Arthur whispered when he could bear to move his lips away from Merlin's again. "Dry off, then go wait for me in there."

Merlin's eyes had gone all sorts of soft, all sorts of beautiful, as Arthur looked at him. At Arthur's words though, he bit his lower lip for a second, then gathering courage, he looked back at Arthur shyly.

"What?" Arthur asked softly.

"I have a paper in my bag that says I'm clean," Merlin said. "I was tested about two weeks ago. I try to get tested as often as I can now."

Arthur slipped away from Merlin, taking the time to gather his own thoughts, as he reached over and turned the shower off. When he heard Merlin behind him fidget in the new silence, he turned around to face him.

Arthur closed the small distance between them, cupping Merlin's face between his palms.

"When was the last time you had sex with someone?"

Merlin briefly closed his eyes. To think. To remember. Arthur wasn't sure, but when Merlin opened by his eyes, Merlin's cheeks were flushed.

"A while," Merlin whispered. Then he cleared his throat, and his voice got stronger when he spoke again. "Maybe, ten months ago. I follow the rules. I'm careful now. I was safe with him."

"Then what are you asking?" Arthur probed gently.

"I want you to trust me," Merlin responded. And he met Arthur's eyes steadily, with no secrets, and no lies. "I don't ever want you to need condoms with me. I've been trying to make sure you never have a reason to any more."

Arthur rested his forehead again Merlin's and waited for the emotions that fluttered behind his ribcage to pass.

Merlin was clean, had been so very careful, and he wanted to be with Arthur. It was a string of realizations that exploded like a firecracker in Arthur's heart. This gift that Merlin was offering, meant more than Merlin knew.

"I'm clean too," Arthur whispered back. "After I found out about Sofia, I've been almost obsessive about being sure."

"So..." Merlin left the question hanging.

Arthur smiled. He leaned away, only far enough to kiss Merlin's forehead, then the tip of his nose, then gently, slowly, he kissed Merlin's lips.

"So go wait in the bed for me. I want to give you what you want," Arthur murmured.

Merlin's eyes were glistening with emotions when he met Arthur's gaze. But his voice was calm, accepting, quiet and obedient, when he spoke.

"Yes Arthur," he said hoarsely.

The realization that this new quality to Merlin's voice, that Merlin had been using only soft sounds in a slightly rough voice since they woke up, was because of earlier, made Arthur's body burn. And he had to fight the urge to grab Merlin from behind and pull him back into a possessive embrace, even as he watched Merlin slip away and into the bedroom.

Merlin was sitting on the bed when Arthur slowly approached him a few minutes later. Merlin's gaze never left Arthur's face, searching it seemed, for reassurance that Arthur was sure it was still okay. Arthur smiled, hoping to soothe the anxiety.

"Come here," he said when he was just a few steps away from Merlin.

Merlin rose in a fluid motion that was all straight lines and beautiful, smooth skin that made Arthur's gut clench and his mouth water with need.

When Merlin was close enough he pulled him into his arms, needing to feel Merlin's body pressed against his, to remember yet again that this time this was real. This time, Merlin belonged only to him, wanted only him.

"I want to touch you, taste you, feel you against me everywhere until I'm burned into your skin. Until I'm all you know. All you remember," Arthur breathed into Merlin's hair and against Merlin's neck.

"Yes." Merlin's voice was breathless, laced with a need that Arthur loved to hear. "Yes. Please Arthur. I want you to make me yours."

"Lie on the bed," Arthur instructed. "On your back."

Merlin did as requested, unfolding on the bed, welcoming Arthur's gaze. Arthur drank the sight in and felt like he could never get enough of how good, how beautiful and pliant Merlin looked like this. Ready and waiting.

Arthur climbed Merlin's body, pressing every inch of himself against Merlin. This was where he belonged, Arthur knew. He never wanted another moment when Merlin wasn't close to him. They fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, their souls, their hearts, intricately entwined.

Merlin's eyes were pools of glistening blue, as he leaned up, and Arthur met him half way. Their lips connected and Arthur felt the jolt shoot through his body. He would never, could never, get enough of kissing Merlin, would spend the rest of his life needing Merlin's kiss.

"Want to make you mine so you never forget me," Arthur whispered against Merlin's lips.

"How could I forget you?" Merlin asked in a voice choked with unshed tears. "I will love you for lifetimes."

But Arthur knew that Merlin didn't think he was worthy to spend the rest of their lives as equals, together. All Arthur could do was show him.

Merlin made needy sounds when Arthur kissed his way slowly down Merlin's body. Arthur wanted to kiss him, to touch him, to play with him with his fingers and his tongue. Merlin was his, all his, finally there was no one else.

"So beautiful," Arthur said.

Merlin hissed, raising his knees to give Arthur better access. Arthur smiled. He trailed a finger down the soft skin of Merlin's inner thigh, and listened to the hitch in Merlin's breath.

Merlin opened his legs a little wider, and Arthur dipped his head to slowly lick the hard flesh there, but he didn't take it into his mouth the way he needed to.

Instead, he looked at Merlin, meeting his gaze. Merlin's eyes were wide and unfocussed, his breathing shallow, like he was wasted or high. But Arthur knew that Merlin hadn't taken anything, hadn't had anything to drink, not for a long time. Merlin had followed the rules so carefully and it made Arthur happy.

"You'll be good for me, won't you Merlin?" Arthur questioned. "I don't want you to come until I'm inside you."

"Yes Arthur," Merlin responded. "If it's what you want. I won't come until you tell me to."

God, Merlin was amazing. So calm now. So compliant. Arthur wanted to reward the both of them. It had been so long since he had done this, but doing it with Merlin felt so right.

He explored, licking and swirling his tongue, focussing all his attention on Merlin's responses. Merlin's taste saturated his mouth and Arthur couldn't get enough as he used his mouth and his tongue to chase the taste, tasting everything.

Arthur could feel how much Merlin loved this. Merlin was shivering, gasping, moaning. But there was no desperation, no trying to rush, or to push Arthur to do more. Merlin accepted all of it, trusting Arthur to make it good.

Arthur took his time, pulling out the pleasure maddeningly slowly. But Merlin still didn't come. Arthur was impressed with how incredible, how amazing, Merlin was being.

He reached for the lube that Merlin had left at the side of the bed, lathering his fingers. He teased over the place that he ached to be, circling his fingers over the crinkled skin.

Merlin cried out, a sound that was ripped from somewhere deep inside him.

Arthur could see how much Merlin wanted this. He could feel just how ready Merlin was. He felt every tremor that ran through Merlin's body as Merlin gasped, but Merlin didn't beg, didn't say a word, even as Arthur teased him. He just pulled his legs up more, putting his hands behind them, breath hitching more and more as Arthur's fingers dipped inside him over and over, only to retreat.

"I want this," Arthur told him quietly. "I want in. I always did, and I never thought you'd ever let me do this."

Merlin's breath caught on a ragged sob, "Want it too. Didn't know how to not want it."

The way Merlin opened up, his body accepting Arthur's fingers, pulling Arthur in, was so sensual and so accepting. It was a rush for Arthur seeing Merlin like this.

"You're so good," Arthur praised him.

"I want to be good for you." Merlin breathed. "I want to deserve you."

Arthur curved his body to kiss Merlin's stomach, never losing the slow, sliding rhythm of his fingers.

"I know you want to, and you are. I wish you'd let yourself believe me."

Merlin didn't beg, didn't make demands, he didn't even ask, but Arthur could tell when Merlin reached his limit. He spread his legs, digging his heels into the bed, his breathing seemed to shatter in his throat as he gasped. His cries got sharper, louder, desperate, as if each one was torn from him. His body clenched around Arthur's fingers over and over in waves, holding on as if he couldn't bear to let go each time Arthur pulled his fingers out.

Arthur didn't bother asking if Merlin was ready. This was as good as begging, in Arthur's mind. He was long past the point where he was so hard it hurt and he didn't see any reason to delay any more. Arthur slid his fingers out gently. Then he just lined up, and pushed in with one fluid motion. He held still, letting them both adjust.

Merlin moaned loudly, "Yes! Arthur. Oh fuck, yes."

Merlin reached for him, pulling Arthur deeper, wrapping his legs around Arthur's hips, as if he couldn't get enough. As if, Arthur was everything in his world, and his body was trying to hold Arthur inside forever.

"God, you feel so good," Arthur told him. "So good like this. So good. This is all I want now. Only you, baby."

It was intoxicating, the way Merlin looked, how good he felt, the sounds he made. Quiet at first, he began panting and moaning as Arthur slid in each time. He gasped, and each gasp turned into cries that rose in volume. He knotted his fingers into the sheets, arched his back as Arthur knelt to get a better angle.

Merlin's cries were raw and wild and Arthur loved every sound he made as he listened to the desperate, needy whimpers that mixed in with his own moans of pleasure. And he watched Merlin's face, and couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.

For all the times that Arthur had seen Merlin with other people, for all the times Arthur had walked in on Merlin during sex, Arthur had never seen Merlin like this. Merlin had never been so into sex, never losing control and giving it all up, and taking it, desperate and clingy and wanting, taking all of it willingly. Like Arthur owned him and this was what Merlin had wanted all along.

"I love you," Arthur gasped against the side of Merlin's neck and into Merlin's ear.

He knew that neither of them could last much longer, so he slid his hands between their bodies.

"Come now," Arthur commanded. "Come for me Merlin."

Merlin's body went taut, his body arched as he dug his blunt nails into Arthur's back. He gasped out Arthur's name in a broken sob. Then as incoherent as he had been earlier, as compliant and obedient as he had been, accepting everything that Arthur gave him, now he seemed to find the words that he had been too afraid to say. They spilled from his lips as he found his release, the words a stream of begging and pleading that tumbled out as if Arthur had broken into the most secret place of Merlin's heart.

"Please, please, please Arthur. Please. Oh God, don't stop. Don't leave me. I need you. Always. Only you Arthur. I love you. I love you. I love you so much. Please Arthur, I'll do anything you want. Don't go. Please. Please Arthur, I need you so much."

'Oh Merlin,' Arthur thought. 'I've only ever wanted you. Forever now.'

All that need, all that ache that he had caused in Merlin when he went away, even though he had fixed the obvious wrong, it had hurt Merlin. He knew it now like he knew nothing else. This was why Merlin had been afraid to commit to him earlier. This need to be enough for Arthur, had driven Merlin for years. It had helped him to heal when Arthur asked him and it had given him strength through the years they had been apart. But now, now they were so close to finally getting it right with each other, and Merlin was so afraid it couldn't be all true that he had been fighting it. Arthur could see, all this, now.

He couldn't hold back, not after Merlin's words hung between them in their desperation. Arthur grasped Merlin's hips tightly and gave up all control. Merlin watched Arthur, his eyes fixed on Arthur's face as Arthur finally came with a sharp cry. Merlin held him, as if he needed to hold on to Arthur to make sure that this was all real, and as Arthur came down from the high of his release, he could understand Merlin's need.

"I love you," Arthur said again, slowly and deliberately so Merlin could hear every word. Could remember, and hear the truth. "I am completely in love with you Merlin."

Merlin's arms tightened around Arthur's shoulders. He hid his face at the side of Arthur's neck and Arthur felt him tremble as he sobbed and cried in gasping, body jerking tears, and let go of all the doubt and the uncertainty and the pain of thinking that he wasn't enough for the man he loved.

"You had to know, you had to realize how much I love you. I've been in love with you for so long, it's the only thing I ever knew through all our years," Arthur told him.

When the tears stopped, Merlin nodded. He shifted his head so that he could speak against the side of Arthur's face.

"I know," he choked out, sniffling and taking a deep, ragged breath. "After a while I got that you loved me. I just never thought, could never let myself believe, it was in the way I wanted. But I get it. I know now."

Arthur shifted, sliding behind Merlin, he wrapped Merlin into his arms, not caring that they were sticky and sweaty. He curled against Merlin until he was spooning Merlin from behind, their bodies bent and bowing and flowing along each other. His bent knees were tucked into the bend of Merlin's knees and his fingers tangled with Merlin's fingers.

Arthur allowed them the silence to just hold each other, to indulge and relax and take it all in as he tried to calm his racing pulse.

"Will you come with me back to London?" Arthur finally asked, breaking the silence.

"Yes," Merlin breathed. "If it's what you want then it's what I want too."

Arthur kissed the back of Merlin's neck, taking a moment to taste the salty tang of Merlin's sweat there.

"What do you want? Tell me."

Merlin was quiet in Arthur's arms, as if the question had caught him off guard. But his slow, steady breathing, convinced Arthur to be patient and allow Merlin to find the words.

"I want," Merlin began slowly, almost hesitantly. "I want to be with you all the time. Not in an obsessive way, but sure of my place in your life. I want to give you everything, anything you want. I want to be there for the times you laugh and the times you cry. I want to fall asleep in your arms every day of my life from now on and wake up to your kisses. And I want this. You in my bed, pulling you into my body, making love with you, whenever and wherever you want. You don't even ever have to ask. I want to do everything for you, and make you happy and know your every need so that you never have to need or want anything because I'll know and I'll have it ready for you."

Arthur's heart felt like it was going to burst at Merlin's words.

"You're amazing!" Arthur gasped out. "You're incredible and brilliant and perfect in every way for me, and you already make me feel like I can't breathe without you. All of that, I want it too. I never, ever, want to be away from you anymore. I want to wrap you up and be protective and possessive and never, ever, let you go because I don't make sense without you."

"So you'll keep me?" Merlin asked so very softly, as if his whole existence hinged on Arthur's response.

"We'll keep each other," Arthur replied. "We'll be by each other's side and we'll make each other strong. Is that all right?"

"Yes." Merlin's voice drifted back, sure and steady and happy.

Arthur trailed his fingertips back and forth up Merlin's arms, before shifting to tuck strands of Merlin's hair away as he leaned up and over to kiss and kiss Merlin's cheek and jaw and every patch of skin his mouth could reach.

"I love you," Arthur whispered. "I love only you."

Merlin sighed, as a small smile tugged his lips upwards and he turned in Arthur's arms to press his forehead again Arthur's, nose against nose, before allowing their lips to meet in a brief, light kiss.

"I love you too," Merlin replied.

And Arthur knew that for as long as he lived he would never get tired of hearing Merlin say those words.

...

"Hello. This is your pilot speaking. I've just taken the seat-belt sign off so you can now relax, loosen your death grips on each other, take a breath and enjoy the rest of your flight. We're now suitably cruising at an altitude of 40,000 ft. I'm sure somebody will be around to try and feed you soon. I wouldn't recommend the crisps but that's just personal preference. In the meantime, maybe I should mention for the benefit of a certain passenger that this is a 10 hrs. flight to Hong Kong where we'll have a 12 hrs. layover, followed by a 13 hrs. flight from Hong Kong to Paris. I implore you, don't all show your excitement at once."

Arthur who had been chuckling softly at Merlin's increasing anxiety, started to laugh when Merlin shot up in his seat cursing.

"He's just teasing you Merlin," Arthur laughed.

Merlin glared, not so much it seemed at Arthur, but at the private jet and the voice over the speakers representing the pilot flying it.

"Thinks he's fucking funny!" Merlin growled.

Arthur laughed again. "Just be glad he's taken this time out of his life to come and get us. He didn't have to volunteer to use the company jet to flight all the way out here for this."

"He loves flying. He hardly ever gets to do it since he married Gwen. This is a treat for him so don't tell me anything about favours. If anything he fucking owes us for this."

Arthur leaned across the space between himself and Merlin, touching his lips to Merlin's mouth and coaxing the hard lines away. Merlin melted into the kiss, his tense anxiety seeming to fade as he trusted Arthur to make it all better.

Arthur hummed contentedly as he pulled away. He couldn't bear to abandon Merlin's skin entirely, so he got only as far as resting his forehead against Merlin's before he spoke again.

"Hong Kong is nice this time of year. I'm sure we could find something to do with the twelve hours."

Merlin sighed. "It's not the twelve hours layover that has me concerned. I'm better when I have both feet on solid ground. And I wouldn't mind spending a day lying around naked for you to see and want and touch. But that's almost thirty five hours before we get home. Two days in transit!"

Arthur smiled against Merlin's cheek and kissed the sharp edge of a cheekbone and Merlin's temple. Once he started, he couldn't seem to stop kissing Merlin, and Merlin who was always so damn tactile, usually only exacerbated the need in Arthur by leaning and curling into the kisses.

"So go talk to Lance. Once he switches to autopilot he'll be out here anyway. Maybe if you ask nicely, he'll consider calling in a change in the flight plan," Arthur whispered against the shell of one ear.

For all his complaining, Merlin didn't seem to want to move though. He turned his head to kiss Arthur, a move which Arthur thoroughly approved of, and when the kissing started to heat up as it inevitably did with them, Merlin moved his armrest out of the way and climbed into Arthur's arms. Arthur stretched out lengthwise across the two seats when Merlin fitted his body above him, pressing into Arthur as if he craved the contact.

"You feel so good," Arthur groaned between kisses. "God, I love the way you fit against me."

Merlin's eyes were like an ocean as he briefly paused to meet Arthur's gaze.

"That's because this is where I belong. I belong to you now in every way and I'm not wasting any more time not showing you," Merlin said softly. "I love you so much. And when I didn't have you, when I knew you belonged to someone else, it felt like I'd been ripped in two. I never want to live with that feeling ever again."

Arthur laced his fingers through Merlin's hair and pulled him back down into another searing kiss. His tongue, his mouth, his whole body claimed Merlin as his. Arthur wrapped his arms and legs around Merlin's body, surrounding him, as Merlin seemed to want to melt and merge with him.

"I know what you want," Arthur teased, when he felt Merlin's erection pressing into him. "If you're good, when we get home, I'll let you have it."

Merlin was slowly writhing in his arms, as if he wanted to climb into Arthur's body and stay buried there. Which was something Arthur had no problems allowing Merlin to do. At his promise, Merlin looked up with eyes like saucers, pupils dilated to the point where the blue appeared like inky darkness.

"You've never done that before," Merlin gasped. "Are you sure you want me to be your first?"

Arthur laughed gently against Merlin's lips. "My first. My last. My only. All yours, Merlin."

Merlin whimpered at the words, a sound of pure need. Then, he attacked Arthur with his mouth and his body again, curling into Arthur, desperate and incredible, and making Arthur's blood sing with desire to hold him and never let go.

Except, there came the sound of an embarrassed clearing of throat and a stammered interruption.

"Excusez-moi monsieur, vous avez faire un appel?"

Arthur tore his attention away from the beautiful man in his arms to glare at one of only two flight attendants on the jet. Neither of whom he knew, which meant that either they were newly employed at Pendragon Corp. within the years that Arthur was oversees, or they had been especially employed for this flight.

Her French was native Parisian which made Arthur sigh. This meant that he had to respond in kind to her out of polite respect.

She had excused herself and asked if he wanted to make a phone call. Something he had requested the second they stepped onto the jet. Her interruption could only mean one thing then.

"Yes, I would still like to make that phone call," Arthur told her in the melody of her native tongue. "Can I do that now?"

"Oui, monsieur," she answered with a small nod of her head and a shy, embarrassed smile.

Arthur had no idea, he realized, if Merlin understood the rapid conversation or not. Though, it did stand to reason that Merlin had to learn a little of it for his PR job. As soon as the flight attendant beat a hasty retreat however, Merlin peeled his body away from Arthur. It was a process that pulled a low growl of discontent from Arthur, and made Merlin shoot him a quick, naughty, grin.

"I have to use the loo and then I'm going to beat some sense into our pilot. You go make that phone call."

Merlin ran the fingers of both hands through his hair, and looked like he would rather jump out the plane than leave Arthur's side. Arthur wasn't particularly pleased about being interrupted either, so he tilted Merlin's face and softly kissed him again and again, until Merlin moaned desperately, and had to practically jump out of the chair and run, to escape.

Arthur spared a moment to watch Merlin's retreating form, before he sighed, and connected the satellite phone, dialling the familiar number quickly.

Whoever picked up his sister's mobile was clearly not his sister as she said, "Allo? Qui est-il?"

"May I please speak with Morgana Le Fey?" Arthur requested tiredly, using his sister's public name.

"Who is this?" the voice on the other end asked again.

It had been a while since Arthur used his credentials to intimidate anyone, but he was irritated and impatient and Merlin was off being moody somewhere else on the plane, and his sister had some strange, suspicious person answering her personal line, so Arthur took a deep breath and let fly.

"This is Arthur Pendragon, CEO of the Pendragon Corporation and brother to Morgana Pendragon otherwise known as Morgana Le Fey. Now, do you think you can be a little helpful and find my sister please, or do I have to get really serious and start throwing death threats around?"

It didn't take more than two minutes before Arthur heard the phone being handed over, and Morgana's laughter filled the line.

Arthur immediately relaxed, loving when he could catch his sister free and happy. They had spent years being at each other's throats, especially because she had hated their father with a burning passion, but now, they were finally, truly, okay with each other and Arthur enjoyed their brief family moments.

"Well you just scared the piss out of her!" Morgana gasped between laughter.

"Give her a raise on my behalf, or something," Arthur instructed.

There was a flash of silence then a sharp intake of breath and then Morgana seemed to shriek in pure delight.

"Morgana, please!"

"Don't act like it's not my right to be happy to hear your voice you plonker! You coudn't call, you couldn't bloody write, you couldn't take a moment to tell me you weren't fucking dead? Do you have any idea how worried I've been when you just disappeared and no one could get a hold of you? You're my brother. I actually do care if some psycho bitch tries to take you out with her. I never did like her you know."

Arthur smiled through the rant. She'd been worried. It was sweet. It also made him sad to realize that she thought he didn't care enough about her to tell her himself how he'd been doing. It hadn't actually been like that and he wanted her to know.

"I'm sorry little sister," he soothed. "I was..."

But there were so many words that could have filled the end of that sentence. Sad? Lost? Watching my life, my plans, and all my hard work for how I wanted my marriage to be, die with her. He didn't know how to say all that without admitting how wrong he had been in choosing Sofia over his heart.

"You were..." She paused too, but then continued. "Waiting. You were waiting for Merlin, because God knows he's the only one who could have helped you."

And wasn't that the truth.

Merlin, with this perfect timing, wound his way back over to Arthur. He stopped and raised an eyebrow when Arthur remained seated the way he had been, sprawled across both seats, phone tucked against his ear as he looked up at the man who had been his whole life and world since he was twelve years old.

Merlin reach down and shifted Arthur's legs open. Then without ceremony he sat between Arthur's splayed legs, back against Arthur's chest, leaning so that his head rested on Arthur's shoulder. He pressed his cheek to Arthur's cheek before gently kissing the corner of Arthur's mouth. Arthur wrapped him up in the arm not holding the phone and curled his legs around Merlin's legs, breathing in the scent and feel of Merlin in his arms.

Merlin sat relaxed and patient. Holding up his fingers, he played with the ring that encircled his middle finger, twisting it from side to side. Just watching him, watching as it caught the light and glistened with each twist, made Arthur's body tighten in response.

"I love you. I love you. I love you," Arthur murmured over and over, this mantra the only one he knew, and now he finally got to tell Merlin, as often as he thought it.

"I love you too," Morgana laughed. "But if it makes you feel better, I'm sure Merlin loves you as well."

Arthur rolled his eyes at how exasperating she was being and how much he missed her, even though he had often flown in to Europe to visit her and do his duties as CEO for the company. And he thought of all the times he hadn't had the strength to ask and she had filled him in anyway on how Merlin was doing. He never told her he loved Merlin, he never told any of his friends, but somehow they all knew and all seemed to be in support.

"Do you mind if we take a detour and stop in Belgium before coming to see you?" Arthur asked her, between light kisses to Merlin's shoulder. "I want to marry him, and I don't know if I can wait."

"Oh shit." There was a pause. Morgana's voice was all choked up on the other end of the line when she spoke again. "You're making me cry and they'll never forgive me for ruining my makeup. Oh God. Of course I don't care if you take a day or a month to be with him. You've just spent years apart and now you're finally getting it right! I'm so happy for you two."

Except she didn't sound happy. Mostly she sounded like she was sobbing and couldn't catch her breath to get the words out. Again, to Arthur, it was touching and sweet.

"Go be beautiful," Arthur said to her when she stopped being happy long enough to take a sniffling breath. "I'll see you soon. And I promise, I'll have my heart with me this time."

Once Arthur hung up the phone, he turned all his attention on Merlin again. Merlin was still playing with the ring on his finger. Arthur knew how much Merlin despised flying, so it didn't take much to see that Merlin needed distractions and this was as good as any.

He dropped the satellite phone and cradled Merlin's body into a tight embrace.

"Say yes," he whispered. "I know we don't need anything official, but I married Sofia when I should have married you. I want to fix that."

Merlin smiled, taking Arthur's hand to entwine their fingers together. Arthur wasn't wearing a ring, but the ring on Merlin's finger meant more than a symbol of love. It was a brand, a promise. It bound Merlin to Arthur in every way possible. Saying wedding vows still wouldn't be strong enough to truly cover all that it meant, but Arthur wanted it anyway.

Before Merlin could respond though, the other flight attendant shuffled over to them. She too wore an expression of utter embarrassment having to interrupt their intimate moment.

"Could I get you something from the bar?" she asked, surprisingly in English, having perhaps learned from her co-worker's mistake. "We keep it well stocked Mr. Pendragon with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Whatever you and your...guest...would like, I'm sure we have it available."

Merlin smiled at her but offered absolutely no response to her question. Instead, he turned in Arthur's arms, and stretched out on Arthur's body, curling into Arthur's side, tucking his face into the side of Arthur's neck and began to lick and nibble a path to Arthur's ear.

Heat shot through Arthur's entire body and all coherent thought fled at the feel of Merlin's mouth. It took a while for him to remember they had an audience.

"A glass of red wine for me," he breathed out when he could get his mouth to work again. "Just water for him."

"Are you sure, sir?" She looked uncertain, hands fluttering to her hair as she watched them.

Arthur could only imagine what a deliciously sexy sight they made before her, especially Merlin who was lying between Arthur's legs and had slid both hands under Arthur's shirt, trying to touch and taste all that he could.

"I'm sure," Arthur growled, waving her away impatiently.

Once she was gone, Merlin laughed, and leaned up on his elbows on the narrow seats to smile down at Arthur.

"Yes," he said softly. "Yes. Yes. Yes..."

Arthur glared at him, then pulled him down into another of their heated kisses, cutting off the teasing hint to Merlin's voice and the strings of yes. But the acceptance made Arthur's heart soar, and he couldn't help the way he held Merlin just that much tighter in relief.

It took only a few seconds for Arthur to realize that Merlin was shaking.

He petted Merlin's hair, kissing him and soothing him, knowing that Merlin needed to just be held until the wave of emotion and fear and whatever else that drove these moments, passed.

"You're okay," Arthur said. "I'm here. I have you."

Merlin slid down Arthur's body, curling and arching his back, almost kneeling in Arthur's lap. He nudged his head under Arthur's chin, like a puppy needing to be safe, and he pressed a kiss to the base of Arthur's throat, in a sign of submission that made Arthur's chest ache.

"I love you," Merlin said hoarsely, still not meeting Arthur's eyes. "Only you for so long. I don't want it to be any other way."

Arthur shifted his head away, and tilted Merlin's chin up until they were looking into each other's eyes. Silver and sapphire. Arthur knew he wanted nothing more than this for the rest of eternity.

"It won't be any other way," Arthur assured Merlin gently. "I want to keep you forever. You belong to me now. No one else, ever again."

"Yes Arthur," Merlin breathed.

And it was all Arthur needed to hear, because nothing else mattered except how much he loved Merlin and how good they would be together for the rest of their lives.

.

xxx...The End...xxx