Title: My Own Heart's Blood
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, past Arthur/Gwen
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: That spring, the poppies came out, and with them the memories.
Warnings: Canonical Character Death. Angst with a Happy Ending.
Word Count: 1500w. Sorry!
Prompt: 299 Heartbreak Month #1 (Missed Chances)
Author's Notes: This is a (slightly early) birthday gift for the lovely merlocked18, based on this gorgeous piece of art: A Poppy for my BF. Merls, I seem to remember you doing a drawing inspired by one of my fics once, so it seemed fitting that I should return the favour in reverse. Hope you enjoy it, and have a wonderful birthday!
That spring, the poppies came out, and with them the memories. Arthur Pendragon knew little about the language of flowers, but he knew a great deal about the language of Merlin, and his boyfriend—so strange that there was a word for them now—was moping. His shoulders were stiff as he stared grimly at the skyline, his back turned to Arthur and the spray of bright poppies that filled the surrounding fields. He had been stand-offish all day, seeming uninterested in their little excursion despite having been the one to suggest it the night before. Whenever Arthur tried to engage him in the tour—the ruined castle, the grounds, the flora and fauna—he would find some excuse to wander off, face cloudier than a winter sky, and go and brood somewhere by himself. It was becoming annoying.
“What are you scowling about now?” Arthur demanded finally, halting in the middle of the poppy field and putting his hands on his hips. He had been certain the bright flowers would cheer Merlin up, or at least get him to stop sulking, but so far he’d had no such luck.
“I hate poppies,” Merlin muttered, kicking at the stalks. The scarlet heads trembled as if berating him for this callousness, and Arthur raised his eyebrows.
“What on earth for?” he asked. “They’re only flowers.”
“I don’t like the colour,” Merlin said shortly, striding away from him like leaving Arthur behind would put an end to the conversation. Arthur followed after him, something he recalled doing rather more often than was seemly for a king back in Camelot. The more things changed, it seemed, the more they stayed the same.
“I suppose they are quite…vibrant,” he said, watching Merlin’s shoulders twitch a little as he realised he hadn’t managed to shake Arthur off. “They make me think of that story you told me—the one with the woman who pricked her finger.”
“No, the other one. With the snow, and the dwarves.”
“That one. I always liked that story.”
“You’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago,” Merlin objected, but Arthur just shrugged.
“It seems familiar somehow,” he said, grinning slightly. He touched Merlin’s cheek, then his hair. “Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, lips as red as—”
Merlin jerked away before Arthur could kiss him. “I’m not a fairytale princess, Arthur,” he snapped. Arthur stared at him, nonplussed.
“No, you’re acting more like an ogre at this point,” he said, folding his arms. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing,” Merlin insisted. “Can we go back now?”
“Not until you tell me what’s bothering you.” Arthur planted his feet, fully prepared to stand in a field full of poppies forever if that was what it took. “Usually I can’t get you to stop talking, but today it’s like getting blood out of a stone. Are you getting bored with me, Merlin? Is that it?”
“I wish I had the chance to get bored,” Merlin grumbled. He seemed to realise Arthur wasn’t going to let the matter drop, however, because he added mulishly, “You wouldn’t understand.”
That stung. There were a lot of things about this new century that Arthur didn’t understand, though he was trying his best to get caught up. Usually Merlin was more than happy to help. “Enlighten me.”
Merlin sighed. “Fine,” he said. “I just—all of this history, all of these stories.” He pursed his lips, glancing away again, and Arthur had to resist the temptation to reach over and shake the truth out of him. “I don’t know. Sometimes it makes me feel so…insignificant.”
“Unimportant. Like…” He stole a glance at Arthur, who took this to mean they were finally getting to the heart of the matter. “All these years, and it’s still the story of Arthur and Guinevere, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Percival and the Grail Quest. I lived through it all, and yet I’m mostly just a background character in everyone else’s lives. And even when they do talk about me, they think I was some wise old man, not your—” He cut himself off. “Like I said, it’s nothing.”
Arthur made a humming noise behind his teeth, suddenly understanding where Merlin’s unhappiness was coming from. Their guide had waxed lyrical about the castle’s past that morning, droning on about the days of knights and chivalry. Arthur had mostly tuned it all out, not being interested in revisiting some romanticised vision of the past, and had amused himself by reconstructing the castle in his head, mentally testing out its fortifications. It had felt good to think like a king again, even if only for an hour or two, but perhaps Merlin had not enjoyed remembering his life as a servant.
“Listen very carefully, Merlin, because I’m only going to say this once,” Arthur said, catching Merlin by the belt and reeling him in. “You are very important. In fact,” he drew Merlin even closer, leaning forward so that he was whispering in his ear, “I think maybe you’re the most important.”
He heard Merlin’s breathing hitch. “Why?” he asked, sounding wary. “Because I’m the only one left?”
“No.” This time, when Arthur kissed him, Merlin didn’t pull away. Arthur caught his chin with one hand, holding Merlin steady while he explored his mouth. Even after all this time, Merlin still kissed the same way he always had, fervent and desperate and somehow startled, as if he couldn’t quite believe Arthur was real. “Because you waited.”
“Arthur.” There were tears tangled in Merlin’s lashes. Arthur brushed them away with his thumb. “It wasn’t as if I had any choice.”
“You could have walked away,” Arthur pointed out. “You could have told destiny to go screw itself.”
Merlin gave a hiccuping little laugh, and Arthur smiled. Merlin always found it funny when he used modern slang.
“It was the only chance I had to make things right,” Merlin said. “Of course I wasn’t going to walk away.”
“There you are, then.” Arthur nuzzled into Merlin’s neck, mouthing gently at the salty skin. Sometimes he missed Merlin’s neckerchiefs, if only because they brought out the colour of Merlin’s eyes and the blush on his cheeks, but at times like this he found he appreciated the unfettered access to Merlin’s throat so much more. “You waited for me.”
“For you, is it.” Merlin made a fond sound, half way between a laugh and a scoff. “Not for the Once and Future King—not for the rebirth of Albion?”
“For me,” Arthur repeated smugly. When Arthur pushed at him, Merlin allowed himself to be shoved back gently onto the rising hillside, and Arthur straddled him amidst a cloud of poppies, looking down at the familiar, beloved face. “And now you’ve got me. So perhaps you could start actually appreciating that fact, instead of venting your insecurities on unsuspecting plant life.”
Merlin flushed, glancing at the nodding heads of the flowers that were now all around them. “Do you want to know the real reason I hate poppies?” he asked quietly, biting his lip as though afraid that they might hear. He looked up at Arthur through his lashes. “You gave me one once. The first time you told me you loved me.”
“And that’s a bad memory?” Arthur frowned at him. “Why is that a bad memory?”
“Not a bad memory.” Merlin cupped Arthur’s cheeks with both hands, dropping a kiss on his forehead and then to the tip of his nose. “Just a sad one. It was a few weeks before you got married to Gwen.”
“Oh.” Arthur was silent for a while. “I’m sorry.”
“Your timing could certainly have been better,” Merlin said, smiling wryly. “But I understand—I understood. You had a kingdom to protect, and you did what needed to be done.”
“It didn’t do much good in the end, though, did it?” Arthur thought back to his battle plans on the crenellations earlier, and wondered how much might have changed, how much bloodshed might have been prevented if he’d acted with his heart instead of his head. “If I could go back, knowing what I do now…”
“You’d do the same thing,” Merlin said, brushing a hand through Arthur’s hair. “It was the right choice, Arthur.”
Was it, really? Arthur didn’t think so, somehow, but talking about it wouldn’t change the past, or the way things had ended between them, another lifetime ago. He shook his head, dislodging a butterfly that Merlin, of course, had conjured with his touch, and shifted to pin Merlin to the grass with his knees, one hand at either wrist. Merlin didn’t struggle.
“Let’s see if we can make this a happier memory, then, shall we?” Arthur said, and Merlin arched under him in agreement, half smiling, the smell of crushed stalks warm at his back, the bow of his mouth summer-sweet as Arthur leaned close to press his promise there.