He rhymed her over life and death,
"For once, for all, for love," he said…
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Merlin poured the rich wine into Arthur's goblet, imagining ribbons of scarlet blood flowing between his fingers like the deep, dark liquid. He could feel the heat of the fire warming the back of his neck pleasantly, making him drowsy. Merlin did not look forward to his return to the cold, stiff bed awaiting him in Gaius's rooms. Arthur looked so comfortable, lounged on the furs in his chair beside the dancing flames, and Merlin envied him.
Merlin sat the jug down carefully and stepped away from the table, taking up the goblet and offering it to Arthur.
"Sire," He said, handing the drink to Arthur. The King looked up at him and smiled one of his rare, illuminating smiles which left Merlin's knees weak and stole his breath from him, all in one punishing twitch of those pink lips.
"Thank you," Arthur said softly as he turned away. Merlin stepped slowly backwards, edging closer to the door to Arthur's chambers.
"Will there be anything else?" He said hopefully. He could almost taste sleep.
Arthur turned back to him and fixed him with his calculating gaze. "Yes," Merlin's heart sank. The King gestured lazily to him, beckoning him closer. "Drink with me." He said plaintively. Merlin frowned.
"Join me. I don't like to drink alone, and you're doing rather well at not being your usual irritating self for once."
Merlin skewed his mouth at the mangled compliment. "Alright," he replied, wandering back over, bringing the jug from the table and sitting on the floor at Arthur's feet when directed. Arthur's hand came to rest heavily on Merlin's shoulder, squeezing lightly before slipping away to lean on the arm of the chair.
"You did well today." He said after a while. Merlin looked up awkwardly at him, Arthur's deep voice jolting him out of drowsiness.
"Doing what?" Merlin asked uncertainly, stretching out on the fur rug comfortably, the fire toasting his tired feet. Arthur made a disbelieving noise in the back of his throat and his foot brushed Merlin's thigh as he shifted in his seat.
"When you were helping Gaius with the wounded men; he trained you well." Arthur continued after a moment. "You'll make a good physician one day."
"I don't really want to be a physician." Merlin had said before realising that Arthur had just said something genuinely congratulatory and he had missed his chance to acknowledge it. He looked up in time to see Arthur raise a sceptical eyebrow.
"Oh? And what do you want to do then? Don't tell me you have delusions of grandeur Merlin." Arthur scoffed. Merlin sighed and arched his back, groaning appreciatively as it cracked satisfyingly.
"I don't know. I rather like being your manservant." Arthur sniffed and passed his goblet down for Merlin to refill. Merlin poured the wine carefully, but still managed to spill a dribble of the deep red liquid on his hand. He passed the goblet back to Arthur, lifting his hand to his lips and lapping the droplet of wine with the tip of his tongue. Arthur watched him momentarily before turning back to the fire.
"Help yourself." He said absently. Merlin eyed the jug. "Just drink." Arthur said irritably. Merlin shrugged and lifted the jug to his lips, taking an ungainly swig of the rich wine. Arthur sipped his drink, watching Merlin thoughtfully.
"Do you have a girl, Merlin?" Arthur asked, his fingertips brushing the top of Merlin's head.
"What?" Merlin turned and looked at Arthur, who was watching him with a small smile gracing his charming mouth.
"I don't imagine you do. What girl could put up with you for so long?" Arthur laughed at his own joke, and Merlin scowled.
"You've put up with me." He pointed out in a huff. Arthur's smile faded slightly.
"That's different." He said airily, and Merlin tried very hard to ignore the way Arthur's fingertips were making slow circles on his scalp, running through his dark hair indulgently.
Merlin swallowed thickly and raised the jug to his lips shakily. It felt as though he was an animal being petted. It was strangely soothing.
"Are you comfortable?" Arthur asked.
"Yes," Merlin replied, surprised at how husky his voice sounded. There was a short pause, and then Arthur slid gracelessly off of the chair and onto the floor beside him.
"Don't bring yourself down to my level, Sire." Merlin said with a grin. Arthur laughed, soft and throaty. It was the laugh of a much older man. There were times when Merlin still glimpsed parts of Arthur's young unruly self. It was a welcome insight into the character which had developed over the years they had known each other. Merlin still could not decide if it was a change that he was entirely comfortable with. It was enough for now to accept that they had both grown up a great deal with one another. They had shared so much, and were closer now than they had ever been.
Arthur was silent for some time, lost in the flickering orange flames. "We lost some good men today." He said at last, still fixated on the fire. Merlin nodded slowly.
"Good men," Arthur repeated, as though Merlin had not spoken. "Honest men."
"It wasn't your fault, Arthur." Merlin said gently, resting his hand on Arthur's arm. The King said nothing.
"I hate this." Arthur murmured, turning his head to look at Merlin sadly. Merlin's lips twitched into a small smile. "Every day people come to me with their problems, they trust me to make it all better. They think I can change everything."
"You've changed much in Camelot, but change takes time." Merlin replied, studying Arthur's clear blue eyes simmering with the reflected golden flames. In this light Arthur could almost have been a sorcerer himself. The thought brought an unexpected swell of warmth to Merlin's chest.
Arthur sighed and turned away. "Sometimes I wish I could leave it all behind and not be the king, just for a moment." He confessed quietly.
"You don't have to be the king around me, I've known you since you were a prince and I still think you're a prat." Merlin said cheekily. Arthur laughed uncharacteristically at the jibe and looked at him fondly. Merlin had never felt such a strong sense of belonging in his life.
Arthur gave a little huff of amusement and continued to stare at Merlin. Merlin swallowed thickly and Arthur blinked at him. The wine was going to his head, making everything fuzzy and confused. The fire was so warm, and Arthur beside him was like a burning sun all of his own, radiating a soft, human heat which made Merlin list towards him giddily.
"Arthur," Merlin found himself whispering.
"Yes?" Arthur breathed, their noses brushing gently as Arthur leaned in and touched their lips very carefully. Their kiss was slow and deliberate, and Merlin stretched backwards a little from their uncomfortable angle, his hand falling to Arthur's hip naturally. Arthur made a small satisfied noise in the back of his throat and his arm wound around Merlin's waist, drawing him closer.
Merlin had never given this prospect much thought. There had been a time, long ago, where he had been sure that there was something between the two of them. He had grown to accept that nothing could ever come of his infatuation with the Crowned Prince of Camelot, and gradually the feelings dulled like an unpolished blade; tarnished, but which still had the potential to do harm. When Arthur kissed him, all those unbidden emotions rushed back, washing over him in a great heady sweep of pleasure. He clutched at Arthur's tunic, groaning very softly as the King ran his tongue roughly over his bottom lip and wrapped him tighter in his arms.
They parted for breath, and Arthur gazed at Merlin with an expression akin to wonder. His fingers stroked the nape of Merlin's neck repetitively. Merlin braced his hands on Arthur's chest, running them searchingly across his torso, skimming over his heart and coming to rest on Arthur's broad shoulders. Arthur smiled at him slowly.
"You're a good man, Arthur. I've always thought so." Merlin managed to croak, draping his arms around Arthur's neck. Arthur licked his lips, enjoying the sensation Merlin's lips had left tingling on his. It was a simple line, a simple gesture. And Merlin was tipping his head back to be kissed again, Arthur's two-day golden stubble rasping against his cheek, pulse thrumming beneath his fingertips as Merlin moved to cradle his jaw.
The strong, acrid warmth of the wine burned his throat, but on Arthur's tongue it tasted sweeter, and Merlin curled his own around Arthur's familiar mouth, sweeping the delicate tang of berries from his palette. It was like sunlight and earth and rain and summer, a wonderful mix of all that was bright and honest and good. Arthur was all of this and more; sweet and kind and fierce and brave. He was everything and all.
Merlin treasured every aspect of that broken man. He had loved and lost, fought and won, he was the loyal and the betrayed, he was Camelot embodied in flesh. He was the King which governed every heart, not least that of the sorcerer he held in his arms.
Merlin allowed himself to be pulled into Arthur's lap, aching with love for him. Arthur nuzzled Merlin's cheek with his nose. Merlin had not known they could need this so badly, to be with one another as more than friends and exchange kisses in the other's arms. Arthur gave him some space, kissing his lips very gently in quick, soft touches and nudging his nose again, rubbing up against Merlin's sharp cheekbones. Merlin grunted as Arthur moved to his neck and pulled at his red neckerchief to expose the pale skin beneath, sucking on the small freckle below Merlin's ear. Merlin laughed breathlessly at Arthur's blonde hair tickling his jaw, and his hands scrabbled at the back of Arthur's neck, kneading the muscle in his pleasure. Arthur murmured against his skin and mouthed the sensitive pulse point which made Merlin's breath come in short, excited pants.
From then on everything happened so naturally that when Merlin found himself laying naked beneath Arthur's warm, solid body, he felt as though everything in his life had been leading up to that moment. To be with Arthur, here, stretched out on the furs before the smouldering hearth, knowing that there was no place either of them would rather be, was one of the single happiest moments of his existence. Destiny be damned; giddy with emotion and totally in awe of the moment, Merlin struggled to accept that Arthur could love such a one as him. Merlin knew nothing beyond the single and all consuming fact that he had never loved another as unconditionally as he loved the man smiling down at him.
They moved slowly, and the world stopped turning, they kissed, and a thousand stars ignited. Arthur was seated fully inside him, his face flushed and his lips parted, and everything stood still. Arthur cried his name as he succumbed, and Merlin was lost.
They lay together, wrapped around each other, the furs draped over their legs. The fire had died long ago, and in its place the coals smouldered, giving off a gentle, pleasant heat which warmed them to the core. Merlin sighed contentedly, the heat settling in the pit of his belly nothing to do with the fire and more to do with the man curled against his side.
Arthur ran his fingers down Merlin's arm and found his hand, lacing their fingers together. Merlin smiled and rested his head against Arthur's.
"I never thought this would happen." Merlin murmured, nuzzling Arthur's jaw and kissing his cheek softly. Arthur smiled, closing his eyes.
"It took us long enough, that's for sure." Arthur laughed. Merlin snorted and sighed happily as Arthur held him tighter.
"Not to mention a full pitcher of wine," he added. Arthur hummed and stroked a hand over Merlin's arse appreciatively and gave a squeeze. Merlin squeaked.
"Oh come on, I've wanted to do that for years." Arthur mumbled against his shoulder. Merlin burrowed into Arthur's arms and curled his leg over Arthur's hip. "God Merlin, those times when I just wanted to grab you and take you right there,"
"Arthur!" Merlin said in surprise.
"You've thought it too, about me, at some point." Arthur shrugged.
"...true." They laughed and Arthur kissed Merlin's forehead affectionately. There was a light rap on the door and Arthur lifted his head slightly.
"Go away," he called. Merlin frowned at him.
"Arthur," he warned.
"Go away...please." Arthur tried. Merlin grinned and settled back against Arthur's side as tentative footsteps echoed down the hallway.
"Have you always been...like this?"
"I don't understand."
Arthur slipped his leg between Merlin's thighs and rolled carefully on top of him, moving his leg slowly against Merlin's crotch and pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. Merlin moaned very softly and kissed him back. "I mean, have you always liked this." Arthur murmured, closing his eyes.
"No," Merlin breathed, his hand running up and down Arthur's side tentatively. "It's always just been you, Arthur."
Arthur stopped kissing him momentarily and pressed his forehead against Merlin's. "I didn't know," he replied quietly.
"No, I don't suppose you did." Merlin said, nuzzling his cheek and stroking Arthur's hair lovingly.
"I didn't know you felt it too." Arthur clarified with a kiss.
"Oh," Merlin whispered, and he grinned stupidly.
"Come on," Arthur said, sitting up. "I have to meet with the knights later, I need you with me."
Merlin sat up too and glared at the man beside him. "Duty waits for no man," Arthur said, seeing his expression. Arthur put a hand on Merlin's neck and stroked his jaw. "And if you draw me a bath you can join me..." he murmured, leaning in for a kiss.
A few minutes later Arthur was sat in the warm water with his lap full of a very eager Merlin. Merlin shifted against him, his hips moving instinctively against Arthur's as they kissed again. Arthur met each roll of Merlin's hips with a gentle thrust, the slide of their bodies drawing soft grunts of pleasure from deep in his throat. Merlin had his arms draped around Arthur's neck, and Arthur's fingers were buried in Merlin's dark hair.
It took them an hour to wash, and by the time they emerged from Arthur's room, both had damp skin and hair and were grinning like newlyweds.
Merlin reflected that this right here, walking through a united Camelot with King Arthur by his side, finally felt like his destiny. And it was the first time Merlin knew he was utterly, irrevocably, helplessly in love. This was alright, because as long as Arthur continued to smile at him and tease him and hold him in his arms, Merlin was pretty sure that he felt it too.
A/N: Thank you for reading! If you liked it, or if you didn't, and if you have the time, please review!