Written for lilybell's Fanfic Contest-a-palooza on tumblr. Check our her fanart if you haven't already!
Merlin, despite being a fairly pitiful excuse for a servant, was actually quite adept at sewing. Any holes or tears in Arthur's clothes (and there were many of them) were fixed promptly and neatly, the stitches perfectly even. Arthur wouldn't have believed Merlin didn't just get one of the chambermaids to do it for him if he hadn't personally seen Merlin sewing, a peaceful smile on his face as he worked. Merlin himself didn't seem to find the skill all that impressive. He worked quickly and professionally, more so than at any other task. When questioned about where he'd learned it, Merlin had simply shrugged, working his needle through Arthur's trousers.
"Everyone can sew in Ealdor," he'd answered. "Most of us couldn't afford to replace clothes. We had to make what we had last."
He said it so matter-of-factly, Arthur would have been content to just leave it at that, a method of survival. But Arthur kept finding Merlin, intent on his sewing, usually skiving off any number of his other duties, and it wasn't always his own or Arthur's clothes he worked on. A visiting noble's shirt, some poor servant's trousers, a knight's cloak, and, once, Morgana's favourite flowy gown; all came to Merlin torn beyond repair, and all were returned to their owner, good as new. It was unnerving, Arthur had been known to say, to see Merlin so enthusiastic about a chore. Sewing wasn't just a method of survival for Merlin in Camelot: he actually enjoyed it.
So, after six years of walking in on Merlin, needle in hand, and more than a year of waking up with Merlin in bed beside him, it didn't really surprise Arthur when he opened his eyes to the sight of Merlin propped up on his pillows, head bent over his sewing. Arthur didn't say anything for a moment, content just to watch. Merlin's long fingers worked quickly and efficiently, and Arthur found himself captivated by their movements.
"What are you working on?" he asked eventually, scooting over to nose against Merlin's hip, grinning when his lover squirmed.
"Arthur, that tickles," Merlin scolded, half-laughing. "It's a shirt, for Sir Leon. He asked me to mend it."
Arthur frowned. "Why can't his own servant do that?"
Merlin looked down at Arthur's face, eyebrow arched. "Jealous that Leon's getting me to do him favours?"
"No," Arthur scoffed in a tone that clearly meant the opposite. Merlin smiled and lowered a hand to run it through Arthur's hair.
"Leon's servant isn't feeling well. He asked for my help instead." He smirked down at Arthur. "It's really nothing to be jealous about."
"I am not jealous, Merlin," Arthur sniffed in return. Merlin laughed.
"If you say so, Arthur," he replied fondly. Arthur considered denying it again, but knew Merlin would see through his lie. Merlin always did. So he said nothing, just leaned into Merlin's touch, like a cat. Merlin laughed softly again, bending down to brush kisses to the top of Arthur's head. They stayed that way for several minutes before Arthur sighed.
"We should get going," he mumbled. "I've a knighthood to bestow today."
Neither of them moved. Merlin's hand didn't even bother to stop its stroking through Arthur's hair. The king huffed, hot breath skating over Merlin's skin and making him wriggle.
"We're going to have to get up eventually," he pointed out.
"I'm not the one who needs to be anywhere today," Merlin countered. Arthur looked up at him.
"But you are the one whose job it is to dress me."
"Which you've proven on several occasions to be capable of doing by yourself."
"Fine," Merlin sighed grouchily, letting Leon's shirt fall onto the cabinet as he swung his legs over the bed. He was about to push himself to his feet when Arthur, with an impish smile, snagged his wrist and tugged, pulling a surprised Merlin onto his back, where he sat blinking up at Arthur's grinning face.
"Good morning, by the way," Arthur said cheekily, bending down swiftly and pressing their mouths together. Merlin's mouth was pleasantly sleep-warm and surprised, but he moved away before Merlin could respond properly, looking smug. Merlin blinked for a second, then scowled.
"Bloody prat," he mumbled, making Arthur laugh.
Arthur stretched, groaning lowly when his oft-used muscles pulled and loosened. Behind him, Merlin rummaged around for his own clothes, then set about gathering Arthur's for the knighting. They moved in comfortable silence, not feeling the need to fill the air with useless chatter. It was one of Arthur's favourite things about their relationship—that they could spend so long just talking, but in the end, they didn't have to; they could just be.
"Arthur, where's your spare cloak?" Merlin's voice piped up, interrupting Arthur's musings. Arthur turned to look at his manservant standing by his trunk, frowning.
"What do you mean? You're holding my cloak right now."
Merlin shook his head. "This one's got a tear in it. You'll need to wear your spare."
Arthur's heart contracted. "It's got a what?" he asked tensely, striding forward to examine the garment in Merlin's hands.
"A tear," Merlin repeated, looking surprised by the concern on Arthur's face. "Along the hem, see? It must have caught on something when the maids did the washing."
Arthur looked, and saw what Merlin was pointing at. The cloak was indeed torn, and badly, its hem practically entirely off. Frayed bits of fabric already lined the rip, some of which had caught and pulled, creating newer, smaller tears leading higher up. Arthur swallowed, trying to contain the gloom that bubbled up at the sight of the gash, running his fingers along the frayed hem helplessly. He knew it was stupid to be so upset—the cloak was old, and a few inches shorter than it should be, but Arthur couldn't help it.
"Can you fix it?" he asked Merlin, hoping against hope that he could. Merlin shook his head, and Arthur's heart plummeted.
"No. Not without cutting half of the fabric off," Merlin said regretfully, eyeing Arthur in confusion. He placed a tentative hand on his arm. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Merlin," Arthur retorted hollowly, not moving his eyes from his cloak.
"It…it's just a cloak, Arthur," Merlin continued, clearly confused. "You have another one—"
"My father gave me this cloak," Arthur admitted flatly. Merlin's mouth snapped shut.
"Oh," he said softly. They didn't talk about Uther much, but Arthur knew Merlin understood how much the cloak meant to him. Arthur's hands fisted in the fabric. Uther had been so proud the day he'd knighted Arthur, affection shining in his steely eyes brighter than Arthur could ever remember. Arthur had gone through several cloaks since then, but he'd never been able to bring himself to get rid of his first.
"I'm sorry," Merlin murmured, rubbing his hand gently up and down Arthur's arm. "I didn't—"
"It's fine," Arthur interrupted, letting the fabric fall back into Merlin's grip. "Don't worry about it. Just get my spare cloak," he ordered, a little harsher than he'd intended. "The seamstress can make me a new one tomorrow."
He turned away, busying himself with getting dressed, not seeing the thoughtful look on Merlin's face as he frowned down at the torn cloak.
Several months later, Arthur stared up at the canopy of his bed. The castle had long been quiet, but Merlin was nowhere to be found. Where usually he would clamber under the covers with Arthur, tonight he had slipped out of the king's room as soon as he'd completed his duties, calling a hurried, "I'll be right back, just need to check on something" over his shoulder. Arthur tried very hard to ignore how much Merlin's absence bothered him. Instead, he forced himself to think of battle plans, running through strategies and maps until the soft creaking of the door caught his attention.
"Arthur?" Merlin's whisper cut through the silence like a whip crack. "Are you awake?"
Arthur frowned at the odd, almost nervous tone of Merlin's voice. "Yes."
A pause, and then, "Can I come in?"
Arthur rolled over to stare at the shadow he knew to be Merlin. "Since when do you have to ask?"
Merlin made a soft sound that could have been a laugh. Arthur heard the familiar padding of his boots as he walked towards the bed, stripping off his shirt as he went. And then he was scrambling in beside Arthur, plastering himself to Arthur's side and tucking his cold feet between Arthur's, as always. Arthur relaxed into the familiar position, wrapping a secure arm around Merlin's waist.
"Where have you been?" he asked, carefully keeping the whine out of his voice.
"Gaius'," Merlin answered, fingers playing with the tie of Arthur sleep-shirt.
"What were you doing there?"
"Working," Merlin said vaguely. He swooped forward to steal a kiss, lingering for the briefest of moments before pulling back with a playful smile. "I have something for you."
Arthur crooked an eyebrow at him. "Do you?"
Merlin hummed his assent, fingers playing with Arthur's shirt again.
"What's it for?"
"Just…something I wanted to do," Merlin mumbled. "To, you know. Celebrate."
Arthur shifted to look at Merlin better. "Celebrate what?"
He was surprised when Merlin blushed, not looking Arthur in the eye. "Two years. Of, er…this?" He gestured nervously between the two of them, and the bed, and Arthur understood. Merlin flinched, probably expecting Arthur to laugh, or call him a girl for getting him an anniversary present, of all things, but Arthur didn't want to do either. He reached up and grasped Merlin's face gently in his hands, drawing him in for a kiss, long and sweet.
"Thank you," he said warmly, and was rewarded with another blush.
"You haven't even opened it yet."
"That's because you haven't given it to me yet," Arthur pointed out with boyish excitement, and Merlin rolled his eyes.
"Bloody spoiled prat," he grumbled, but rolled over to retrieve the parcel he'd deposited on the cabinet earlier, anyway. He returned a moment later and pressed it into Arthur's hands, studiously not meeting his gaze.
Arthur accepted it greedily, sitting up to tear open the cloth wrapped crudely around…whatever it was. The wrapping fell away, and Arthur lifted a cloak, identical to the ones his knights wore, except for the bottom. There, Merlin had added a gold hem, striking even in the thin light of the room. Just above that was a design of swirling lines, also in gold, twisting and turning in a graceful pattern that even Arthur, who knew very little about embroidery, knew to be beautiful.
"I saw how upset you were when your cloak tore," Merlin offered softly when Arthur said nothing. "I couldn't just repair it, so I had to add the hem. It should be long enough for you now." He shifted, Arthur's continued silence clearly unnerving him. "I hope you don't mind."
His old cloak. Arthur ran his hand over the old fabric, touched that Merlin would even think to do that for him.
"Merlin," he began, "I—did you sew this yourself?"
Blushing furiously, Merlin nodded.
"I'm sorry it took me so long. I had to work on it when you weren't around, and there were a lot of holes to mend."
"It's incredible," Arthur remarked, running a finger over one of the lines, awed at Merlin's talent in spite of himself. Merlin peeked up at him from beneath his lashes.
"You think so?"
"I do," Arthur insisted, firmly, and Merlin finally flashed him a shy smile.
"Gwen taught me how to embroider," he explained, letting his own finger trace his work. "She said I was a natural."
"I never thought I'd say this, but I think we've finally found something that you're actually good at," Arthur retorted automatically.
Merlin snorted, as if he couldn't help it. "I seem to recall you being rather impressed with some of my other talents," he said, raising his eyebrow pointedly.
Arthur laughed, leaning forward to press a kiss against Merlin's lips. Merlin tilted his head for a better angle, threading his fingers through Arthur's hair to anchor their lips together. After two years of this, Arthur knew he could draw a gasp from him if he sucked Merlin's lip between his teeth, or if he moved his lips from his mouth to his jaw. He knew Merlin would giggle if he brushed his fingers against the nape of his neck, and that soft kisses behind the shell of his ears would send a shudder down his spine. But for now, he was content to just breathe against Merlin's mouth, their lips moving together in a familiar way. They pulled apart a few moments later, and Arthur buried his face in Merlin's neck, smiling as Merlin's fingers trailed through his hair.
"I love you," he sighed contentedly, permitting himself to lean into Merlin's touch. He didn't often allow himself to bend so much as to admit it, but it was true. Merlin had stolen his heart, totally and completely, and Arthur found that he didn't much care. He couldn't remember being happier than he'd been in the past two years, and he owed it all to Merlin.
He planted a kiss against Merlin's neck, and the other man melted, hands gently guiding Arthur's face to meet his in a quick, playful kiss.
"I love you, too. Prat."
Arthur chuckled. "I think you're missing the point of the endearment," he tutted fondly. Merlin smiled at him, eyes crinkling.
"Someone has to keep your ego in check."
They both laughed quietly, breath mingling together in their close proximity, and they were still smiling when Arthur pulled them back onto the pillows, setting his gift carefully aside and raining kisses down on his Merlin's laughing face.