Arthur strode into his chambers, in a foul mood after training with the knights; the weather had been terrible, and all he was now was exhausted and muddy, with prospect of another damn feast that night hanging over him.
“Merlin!” he thundered, tearing at his gloves with his teeth, and glaring around for his manservant. There was a shuffling sound coming from his bed, and the Prince frowned, before walking over, to find a small lump beneath his covers, “Merlin?” his voice was softer, as he prodded uncertainly at the mound. A little squeak emitted from it and, a second later, Merlin’s head appeared, his hair tousled, and his eyes half closed.
“Arthur,” he gasped, flailing for a moment, before toppling out of the bed.
“Were you sleeping?” Arthur asked, not moving to help the boy, who blinked up at him.
“I was cold,” Merlin told him, before struggling to his feet.
Arthur stared at him for a moment, before letting out a put upon sigh,
“Come here then,” he said, pulling Merlin to him, “Gods, you are cold,” he gasped, when Merlin’s fingers sought out the gap in Arthur’s armour, at his neck.
“I told you!” Merlin grumbled, but he was soon back on the bed, and content, with Arthur wrapping him up in the covers, and kissing his hands where they had scraped against the floor.
“You are utterly ridiculous,” Arthur told him, fondly, before lying down beside him, not even caring when the blankets got covered with mud.
Merlin would be clearing it up, anyway.
Arthur had everything he wanted, well… almost everything. But then again, not even the King of Camelot can have everything his way, right?
At 28, he was crowned king of Camelot, married to a woman of honour and luxury. Princess Mithian was tall and pale-skinned, slender with sharp bones that stuck out at awkward places. Nevertheless, the woman was gorgeous in a way that seemed all too familiar to Arthur. Her breathtaking beauty was matched by her selfless attitude and elegance on the throne.
However, the engagement was not done for love, but rather for convenience. And suddenly, the cold voice of a certain man echoed in his head, reverberating through his thick skull, making his gut wrench in awful distaste. Arthur desperately pushed the voice away, having done so far too many times in the past for the king to count. With a sharp breath, the young man forced himself to focus on the upcoming hunting trip instead, hoping that it would be enough to distract him from unwanted thoughts.
Arthur stared dumbfounded at the piece of jewellery sitting in his palm, glinting in the midmorning sun. Scrutinizing, the king noticed it bore no signs of damage, no scratch seen by the naked eye. The more he examined it, the more familiar it became to him, and once he realised whose it was, his heart stopped for a mere second, body stiff and unwilling to move. The knot in his stomach grew more uncomfortable, consistent with the thickness of the lump that dried his throat. His eyes began to sting, unwilling as he was to close them and lose sight of the circular metal that had once meant his happiness.
With the sudden realisation came heavy memories, and Arthur’s head ached with all the images that played in his mind, colorless but more vivid than they’d ever been.
It seemed as if it was not three years ago but yesterday that he’d given Merlin the silver ring as a precious token of their relationship.
“Merlin,” Arthur whispered, holding his manservant’s wrist with his left hand while gently placing a ring to Merlin’s palm with his right. It was silver, contrasted by a thick golden line in the middle. “Take it.”
“Arthur…” Merlin called, low but warm. “I can’t.” His eyes showed a glint of joy but was overshadowed by something undetectable. Doubt? Fear? Arthur wasn’t certain. What he was certain of, though, was that he had never loved anyone else in his life more than he did Merlin.
“It would mean the world to me,” Arthur confessed, eyes never leaving Merlin’s, which were more gray than blue in the low light. “You mean the world to me.”
Merlin’s smile, no matter how goofy, was very sincere and genuine. It was quite disarming at the same time, and Arthur wondered how this was possible. Well, with Merlin, nothing seemed impossible. Merlin’s grin was kind as he tentatively took ring and Arthur couldn’t help but plaster an idiotic smile upon his face.
Kissing Merlin, hard and wet, was all Arthur could do from floating away from utter happiness.
Though once they had pulled apart, Merlin’s expression was quite unreadable. Arthur thought he saw guilt overtake Merlin’s face, but it left as soon as it came.
And Arthur was back in the forest with a confused Mithian standing beside him, forming gentle circles on Arthur’s back. The breeze that had picked up cooled his tears and stung his eyes, and for a moment, Arthur hated the fact that Merlin could still get to him, could still incite emotions that he had thought long buried.
Finally tearing his eyes off of the ring, Arthur’s stare flitted towards his queen, and her brows furrowed. He could see that she was worried, but knew at the same time that he could never explain what this meant to him.
He looked back at the memento, and it burned on his palm like a wild fire. And once again, Arthur found his brain screeching with unwanted memories.
Just two days after Arthur presented the ring, Merlin told Arthur something he had not been expecting.
“I think it’s only right that I tell you,” Merlin said quietly, tugging at ends of his woollen shirt. Arthur knew that Merlin only did this when he felt nervous, and for Merlin to feel nervous, this had to be something big. “You did give me this ring after all. Though I’m still not sure what it signifies…”
“What do you mean?” Arthur asked, eyeing Merlin with such scrutiny that it made the young man feel extremely small.
“Well, does it mean we’re engaged? Or that I’m forever yours? Or what?” Arthur stared blankly at Merlin and as he was about to speak, Merlin interrupted him. “But that’s not what I came here for…”
Merlin’s voice sounded eerily quiet, and Arthur knew something was wrong. “Well what did you come here for, love?” Merlin looked uneasy; a pink tint smeared his cheeks and Merlin was standing quite still. Too still.
With what seemed like an hour, which was in fact a minute, Merlin whispered lowly to himself in a language that Arthur couldn’t quite comprehend.
His eyes glowed gold, lighting up the whole room. And then Arthur noticed that it wasn’t his eyes but the flame dancing on Merlin’s palm that made the room bright.
The night was a blur of arguments that Arthur couldn’t remember, or more like tried not to remember. However, there were three things that he would never be able to forget from that cursed evening.
One, Merlin’s secret made Arthur feel more worthless than a worm, writhing and buried under forgotten soil, as if he didn’t deserve to know the truth— but then again, Merlin was probably afraid because Arthur was brought up to be prejudiced against magic and doing so came to him naturally, as easy as breathing. Unfortunately, this thought did not cross Arthur’s mind until after he made the most horrible decision of his entire life.
Two, the feeling of complete betrayal was blinding, as was the clench of utter disappointment. However, he didn’t know that the pain of regret that later hammered his broken heart was much more powerful. And if he knew that, he probably wouldn’t have done what he did.
Three, the expression that darkened Merlin’s face that night was the most heartbreaking thing he’d ever seen.
“What the fuck, Arthur?!” Merlin bellowed, arms locked by guards on each side.
With an unsteady breath and a shaky voice, Arthur mustered up an “Imprison him.”
As the men pulled Merlin away, Arthur couldn’t help but look. After doing so, he wished he hadn’t. His heart clenched tightly against his hollow chest and it threatened to break the king apart.
And broke the king it did as Arthur saw a sliver of Merlin’s face, a look that haunted his every night. One that the king had tried so fucking hard to forget, but never being able to.
It was a face of complete disbelief mixed with pain and guilt and brokenness and what seemed like desperation.
The next thing Arthur knew, he was back at his room, feeling exhausted from all the hunting. Though he was probably tired for a different reason.
Looking at his surroundings, he remembered how he locked himself here for hours right after Merlin’s imprisonment. It was here where Arthur cleared his head. It was here where Arthur made his decision.
It was here where Arthur realised that loving someone did not mean liking them for just the good things.
It was here that he became aware that loving someone meant adoring every part of Merlin, even things that he didn’t like. It meant that he had to accept all of Merlin, despite all of his imperfections. Quite frankly, Merlin was the only person Arthur thought was close to perfection. And if Merlin was a warlock, then Merlin would be his warlock.
Arthur remembered how he recited his apology to himself, many times in fact. He decided that if he needed to beg and kneel in front of Merlin, then that was what he would do to win his lover’s forgiveness.
However, none came to good use when a late Arthur was standing heartbroken, eyes watery, body rigid in front of an empty prison cell.
His gigantic room felt colder than usual and the king felt more alone than ever. The chill in his room made the man shiver, and Arthur found himself next to the window, looking out at the afternoon sun.
Subconsciously, he started twisting the ring in his fingers, feeling the harsh coldness press against his skin. It felt cool. It felt hard. It felt of Merlin.
He’d forgotten how he smells like. He’d forgotten the map of Merlin body, the lumps on Merlin’s back that he used to know like the back of his hands. He’d forgotten the joy that Merlin provided him. He’d forgotten Merlin’s touch, one that he used to crave every morning.
And he missed it. He missed it all.
And it was his fault. His fault that his barely beating heart felt constricted inside his seemingly brittle ribs. His fault that his skin felt chilly without Merlin’s warmth grazing against it. His fault that the dusty chair where Merlin routinely sat on every morning as Arthur woke up was empty.
His fault that Merlin left, and Merlin left for good.
Arthur stared blankly at the ring, reading an engraved forever on the inside of the circular metal.
And he sobbed silently, tears chilly against his cheeks. His throat burned harshly, nose clogged, making it painful to breathe.
That was how it was without Merlin. It felt like there was no air.
And he gripped the ring softly, closing it in his hand with care, unwilling to let go of Merlin. He brought his other hand towards his wet lashes, trying to make noises of any kind to ease the pain. But he couldn’t speak. And the pain did not ease. Not at all.
He cried and cried, wishing desperately that shedding tears would bring back the man he loved most.
But it didn’t.
And he cried some more.
This absolutely amazing accompanying fic was written by Ron. Thank you so so much! <3
Merlin’s arms are stretched wide, an amused grin making crinkles of laughter in the delicate features of his face.
Arthur stops in mid-step, able to etch in his mind the teasing stance of his manservant without having to take a single glance behind him, and decides he’s having none of it. He whirls around, marching toward Merlin, who lets out a yelp of surprise.
“Arthur—ow! Hey, you big prat!” Merlin feigns annoyance as Arthur pulls him into a headlock, squeezing tight. “Let go! Ow!”
And Arthur does.
Only to shove Merlin against the wall, and kiss him, hard.
“Mmph,” says Merlin, clutching his fingers around the fabric of Arthur’s white shirt.
Arthur bites at Merlin’s bottom lip, slinking his hands under Merlin’s shirt as he shudders, tracing his fingers along the white-warmth of his skin. “You drive me absolutely mad, you know,” is his voice, low, hot like fire, “I’ve a good mind to teach you a lesson.”
Merlin chuckles breathily. “You never answered my question,” because he always wants the last word.
“Forget about the bloody hug.” And Arthur tugs Merlin to the bed.
And for a while, Merlin does forget, because Arthur Pendragon’s tongue roaming around freely on one’s body can be distracting indeed.
But after it all, in the still of the early evening, Arthur’s arms are wrapped loosely around Merlin as he sleeps, his tired bones and the pumping of his veins whispering safety and comfort and I love you.
Merlin runs his fingers gently along the warmth of Arthur’s arm, and thinks how his many questions (hidden in one) have been answered.
He says, “I love you, too,” and though Arthur doesn’t reply, Merlin thinks he can feel his King hold onto him just a little bit tighter.
okay I have a giant rec list on my tumblr here but here are my top 5 as of this moment: