Summary: Merlin’s first winter in Camelot caught him by surprise. Between Gaius, the dragon, and Arthur (mostly Arthur), he’d been running himself so ragged that he just assumed that the increasing cold was yet another symptom of his constant exhaustion. Then one morning he dragged himself out the doors to clean the stable on Arthur’s orders and found the courtyard covered in snow.
Word Count: 2165
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays!
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Merlin’s first winter in Camelot caught him by surprise. Between Gaius, the dragon, and Arthur (mostly Arthur), he’d been running himself so ragged that he just assumed that the increasing cold was yet another symptom of his constant exhaustion. Then one morning he dragged himself out the doors to clean the stable on Arthur’s orders and found the courtyard covered in snow.
They’d gotten snow enough in Ealdor over the years, but for some reason Merlin hadn’t expected it in Camelot. Somehow he’d thought the harsh spires and white walls would keep the weather at bay, hold back the snow and ice and keep the castle sheltered. It was a stupid idea to have had, given the powerful sorcery that would be required to achieve that and Camelot’s opinion on magic, and he would’ve known better if he’d actually thought about it.
But he hadn’t thought about it, because he hadn’t been thinking about winter at all, so the first thing that crossed his mind when he stepped out and saw the thick blanket of white covering the ground was, That’s not supposed to happen, is it?
Judging by the knights tromping around as normal, with the exception of heavier-than-usual capes, apparently it was supposed to happen. Which led to his next thought, which was that he was severely underdressed for the cold. Worse, he didn’t have any warmer clothes or coats to wear without begging from Arthur—Ha!—or Gaius, whose clothes smelled like stale herbs and ancient fungus no matter how many times Merlin washed them for him.
He’d rather sneak some magic to warm himself in the privacy of Arthur’s horse stalls, and at least the cold should keep down the stench of manure.
The stables weren’t overly smelly, but neither were they private; every stableboy, squire, and other miserable soul who could in any way be coerced into mucking had chosen to do it at the same time as Merlin, probably hoping to take advantage of the cold to make the job less miserable. The company meant that he couldn’t risk using his magic, and also that he kept getting a hard time for not dressing more warmly.
Not that any of the prats offered to help him out with a sweater or a coat. Of course not.
By the time he finished and made his way back across the snow to the main building, he couldn’t control his shivering. Or feel his fingers or his ears. The halls leading to Arthur’s chamber were slightly warmer than the outside, but not enough to shake off the chill, so he was still shaking as he let himself into the room.
Arthur looked up from writing something at the desk and frowned at him, an unfortunately familiar combination of amusement and disapproval warring across his face.
“Merlin. Your entire face is blue.”
His concern was almost sweet, except for the part where there was absolutely no concern behind it and instead quite a lot of mockery. He wasn’t laughing, but it was a very near thing.
“It’s snowing,” Merlin gritted out, not quite able to stop his teeth from chattering. “Sire.”
Arthur glanced out the window, exaggerating the arch of his eyebrows, then turned his smirk back to Merlin. “No, really?”
Merlin tried to glare, but the effect was somewhat ruined by a shudder of cold that ran through his body. “Really.”
Standing with a decisive suddenness that startled Merlin, Arthur said, “The first snow of the season. Do you know what that means?”
“Uh, no?” Merlin edged closer to the fire.
“It means I have a vitally important errand to run,” Arthur declared. He donned a thick blue jacket, then wrapped a heavy winter cloak in Pendragon red over that, all while Merlin crept closer and closer to the fireplace.
“Right,” said Merlin. “Have fun with that. I’ll, you know, tidy up in here.” He gestured around the room. Well, at part of the room: the part that contained the fire, which he was finally near enough to feel washing its heat over him.
Arthur scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re coming with me, of course.”
Merlin couldn’t help the disbelieving laugh that bubbled up from his chest. “I’m not.”
Arthur wrapped an arm around his still cold-damp shoulders and half shoved, half dragged him away from the beautiful warmth of the hearth and back out into the snow.
Merlin’s shivers, never really gone, set in again as soon as they reached the doors. The castle corridors may not have glowed with fire, but at least they provided some shelter from the bitterest of the cold outside; back out in the elements, the temperature dropped and the frigid air hit Merlin with the force of a blizzard. By the time they’d made it down the stairs, Merlin felt as frozen as the icicles hanging down from the eaves.
Arthur paused and looked Merlin over, his cheer giving way to a thoughtful frown. It was only brief, masked by another smug grin as soon as he realized his expression had fallen into something, and he made a show of rolling his eyes.
“It’s not even that cold, Merlin,” he said with a sigh. “Don’t they have winter out in the country?”
But even as he mocked, Arthur slipped the cloak from around his neck and draped it over Merlin’s shoulders. The warmth of Arthur’s body still clung to the heavy fabric as it settled around Merlin like an embrace, easing the worse of the frozen numbness in his chest with a quickness that seemed impossible without magic being involved. Thick wool shielded him from the gusts cold, especially when Arthur tugged the sides of it closed around Merlin’s front. A ruff of dense grey fur pillowed the neckline, an added buffer of warmth all the way up his throat.
Arthur’s fingers might have lingered in clasping the cloak firmly shut over Merlin’s chest, or that might have been wishful thinking. Either way, he straightened and turned with another dismissive noise.
“There, at least now you’ll stop complaining,” said Arthur, even though Merlin had very pointedly not complained. Unless Arthur counted his initial protest, but that was really more of a refusal than a complaint, and it hadn’t worked anyway.
Merlin couldn’t be mad at Arthur for defaming him, though, not when he was finally warming up. Not when Arthur’s snugness had a softness to it and he kept glancing over when he thought Merlin didn’t notice, eyes tracing the fall of dark Pendragon red down Merlin’s body. Maybe he just wanted to make sure Merlin didn’t mess it up—that’s surely what he would have said had Merlin called him on it—but maybe the flush on his cheeks wasn’t entirely due to the cold.
Arthur wasn't the only one looking. Merlin was used to Arthur attracting attention everywhere he went, whether by being a loud and obnoxious prat or just by virtue of his royalty and handsome charm. But now it was Merlin drawing stares. Or, more specifically, the cloak he was wearing.
All the knights had one like it, but Merlin was no knight. Coupled with the fact that Arthur wore only a jacket, he supposed it must be obvious that the prince had given up his cloak to his manservant. It was significant. And Arthur—Oh. Arthur preened every time someone noticed. Arthur liked people seeing Merlin in his cloak, and Merlin doubted it had anything to do with showing off his benevolence. Arthur wasn't one for displays of selflessness. He seemed to take pride in being a selfish, arrogant prat—right up until the time it mattered, at which point he would nearly always do the right thing, and not brag about it to anyone but Merlin.
That thought, and what it might mean, occupied Merlin for the rest of their walk.
Arthur led him into the market then through, past stalls and shops, their feet crunching in the snow with each step. The streets were less crowded than usual, but only slightly, reaffirming for Merlin that the weather was nothing unusual. Here and there, children played in the snow, building up figures of knights and dragons or flinging handfuls at each other in mock wars as he had done with Will when they were young.
Even with Arthur’s cloak, Merlin was starting to feel the cold again by the time Arthur brought them to a halt at the very outskirts of the marketplace, where a covered wagon had been set up like a storefront. A section of its canvas had been rolled up to make a window into the inside, from whence billowed clouds of steam and good smells. Above that, a crooked wooden sign proclaimed, “Hot Beverages.”
A crowd gathered around the wagon, but they parted deferentially when the man inside saw Arthur and waved cheerfully, greeting, “Your Highness!”
“Charles.” Arthur waved back. “Good to see you again.” To Merlin, he said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Go get my drink.”
“This was the important errand that you needed me to trek through the snow for?” Merlin demanded, incredulous and upset at himself for being so. He ought’ve known better, but still he'd let himself get his hopes up, reading far too much into Arthur's actions. The cloak really hadn't meant anything, except maybe that he hadn't wanted to have to break in another new manservant. “I’m freezing my balls off because you can’t fetch your own damned drink.”
He stalked over to the window before Arthur could respond. Charlie beamed at him, and Merlin tried to return the smile. It wasn’t Charlie’s fault he was suddenly in a foul mood. No, that's all to do with Arthur.
It only took a moment for the man to return with a large, misshapenly lopsided cup filled with a creamy liquid. Steam rose from it in twists, and despite his annoyance, Merlin couldn’t help a little moan of pleasure as his fingers wrapped around the warmth-radiating ceramic.
Charlie winked at him. “Enjoy.”
“Ah, no,” Merlin said with sincere regret, because the drink smelled amazing and the heat seeping into his hands would feel fantastic warming his chest from the inside. “It’s for the royal ass over there.”
But when Merlin returned to Arthur and tried to pass the cup to him, the prince kept his hands to himself and circled around to the other side of the wagon. Following him, Merlin found a bench set under an awning, which kept the drape of warm blankets over it clear of snow. Arthur settled himself onto one side, wrapping the blankets up over his shoulders, then raised his arm, blankets and all, over the empty part of the bench.
It looked like an invitation, but Merlin wasn’t going to fall for his own false hopes again. He held out the mug, his jaw set.
Arthur rolled his eyes as if Merlin were being deliberately obtuse and ordered, “Sit.”
Merlin obeyed warily, but Arthur only draped his blanket-covered arm across Merlin’s shoulders, wrapping him in warmth. It was cozy and intimate and entirely unexpected, though not at all unwanted. Not knowing how to respond, Merlin sat unmoving, staring out at the falling snow as it gathered in the deepening drifts.
Despite the popularity of the wagon, it was quiet around the back. They went undisturbed for several minutes and Merlin started to relax until Arthur broke the quiet by saying his name softly.
“Drink,” Arthur urged when Merlin looked over, so Merlin did.
It tasted just as marvellous as it smelled, all hot, rich cream and sweet honey and delicate spices. The taste lingered in his mouth even after he swallowed and the milk warmed him all the way down. He let out a groan of appreciation that may have been more of a whimper and closed his eyes to savor another sip.
He opened them when Arthur again said, “Merlin.”
This time when he turned, Arthur meet him in the middle. Arthur’s lips were cold and dry, at first pressing against Merlin’s just lightly, but when he tried to pull back Merlin whined and followed. That was apparently all the permission Arthur needed, because their next kiss was deep and claiming, Arthur’s tongue searching out the heat and sweetness of Merlin’s mouth as he chased the last traces of the hot drink.
Pulling away just enough to speak, just enough that Merlin could feel his breath across his lips, Arthur whispered, “Drink.”
Every mouthful of hot milk was followed by a kiss, Arthur’s lips losing their chill as Merlin shared the heat of the drink with him.
“Worth the trek through the snow?” Arthur asked smugly once they’d finished.
“I don’t know,” Merlin answered, still a bit breathless. “We still have to walk back, and it’s still snowing.”
Arthur kissed him again, then stood and offered his hand to help Merlin up. “I think I can warm you up again when we get back to my room,” he promised.