Summary: Prince Arthur and journalist Merlin are deeply in love and just got engaged, but have managed to keep their relationship a secret. Right before their separate Christmas celebrations, they spend one night and one hurried morning together.
Warnings: No warnings. Content tags include; Modern royal AU, Christmas fluff, secret relationship, opposites attract, romance, domestic bliss.
Word Count: 2.8K
Author's Notes: Dear aeris444, thank you for the inspiring prompts. I hope you enjoy reading this. A very merry Christmas to you!
A big thank you to the mods for continuing to organize this charming fest, and also to my wonderful cheerleader and beta, Gwyllion.
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.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
When Merlin awoke, it was still dark outside. Sunrise came late at Christmas-time.
Remaining for a moment on the edge of sleep, he basked in the warmth, the pleasant feeling of the soft, subtly-scented sheets against his skin, and the sound of Arthur's even breathing. Merlin smiled happily into the darkness. He had rarely felt so well and so rested, despite having had very few hours of sleep. They had made other, and better, use of Arthur's canopied bed. The many previous royal personages who had slept there would surely have been scandalized.
Merlin grinned and rolled over, pressing his body to Arthur's and nuzzling his neck.
Arthur grunted contentedly and pulled Merlin even closer. "Is it morning already?" he yawned.
Arthur wriggled into a more comfortable position against Merlin's body. Tilting Merlin's face up, he started kissing his way from his forehead down across his cheek.
Merlin moved his head just so, and their lips met. Their kisses in the warm secrecy of the sumptuous bed were slow and wet, mellow and loving. Merlin's heart sang. Soon, he'd have this every night.
"I'm so happy we could manage one more night before Christmas," Arthur murmured. "Last night was just...."
"Magical?" Merlin suggested, his lips forming a small grin against Arthur's skin.
Arthur snorted and kissed him some more. Merlin squirmed in delight. He raised his hand from under the magnificent bedcover - in royal purple, no less! - and let it roam proprietarily across Arthur's broad chest.
One of Arthur's well-muscled thighs slid between Merlin's, pushing his legs apart, skin rubbing skin. "Ah. Someone's up already, raring to go, hmmm? Good morning, you."
"You're insatiable," Merlin laughed. "I love it. Do we have time?"
Arthur sighed and pulled back. "We really don't."
Merlin drew a deep breath, dispelling his disappointment. "I suppose I need to leave."
"Not quite yet." Reaching out, Arthur flicked the switch of his bedside lamp - another priceless antique. The majestic bed was bathed in soft light, which lost itself before it even reached the heavy red draperies covering every window. "I'll not send you out into the cold without getting a proper breakfast inside you first."
"But that's not what you'd most like to get inside me."
Arthur chuckled and leaned in for a kiss. "Lame joke. You can do so much better. Seriously, though, you need to eat well and build strength for what lies ahead. Next year will be one long, exhausting rollercoaster."
"But first we'll have a lonely Christmas. I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too. Every minute of every day. But it's just for a week and a half." Arthur looked into Merlin's eyes. "Remember that this is your last Christmas as a commoner. Use it to bask in the freedom of being unknown and going unnoticed. Do everything you'd like to do, enjoy every moment of it."
"I might get wasted down at the Horse and Crown with my mate Will back in Ealdor, start railing against the monarchy."
"Knock yourself out, by all means. But before you do anything too wild, just make sure no one there has a smartphone."
Merlin grumbled and sat up, leaning back against the carved headboard. "I don't think I shall ever get used to this royal opulence. Your bedroom could house several families. Such decadence!"
Arthur smiled. "There is still time for you to back out, you know. Go start a revolution. Get the guillotine out."
Merlin shook his head. "No. It's too late for me, Arthur. I'm a lost cause now. I'll be one of the ruling class."
Arthur opened his mouth to speak, when there was a discreet knock on the door. "Your Royal Highness? Breakfast is ready." It was George's voice. Given the distance from the bed to the door, the poor man was probably shouting to be heard.
"Thank you, George," Arthur replied. "Leave it there, we'll see to it ourselves."
He pushed off towards the edge of the huge bed and stood up. Donning a monogrammed robe and giving Merlin a tantalizing (and all too brief) glimpse of his royal backside in the process, Arthur padded soundlessly across the thick carpet and pulled the drapes open.
Even if it was the darkest time of year, by now the murk outside had taken on the softer quality of darkness yielding to daybreak. There were clouds and a drizzle of rain. Christmas in London would come without snow this year. But there were twinkling lights adorning many of the stately trees in the park.
For a brief moment, as Arthur turned towards the door and their waiting breakfast, his entire shape was backlit by the lights shimmering through the window. The brightness surrounding his head of golden hair looked vaguely like a halo, as if Arthur himself was glowing. Merlin's heart skipped a beat.
In a matter of minutes, Arthur had transformed the side table by the window into a tempting breakfast spread. Tea and toast, juice, fresh fruit, honey, warm scones, even clotted cream. Merlin loved clotted cream. It reminded him of happy childhood Sundays and tea with his mum in their small cottage.
Pouring the tea, Arthur handed Merlin a steaming cup. Precious china, probably used by Queen Victoria herself back in the day, Merlin mused. He sipped the hot beverage with relish.
"I wasn't joking, Merlin. It's still not too late for you to reconsider," Arthur said earnestly, his eyes meeting Merlin's. "I know I'm asking a lot. Once we go public as a couple, your life will change profoundly. You'll be living the rest of your life in a goldfish bowl."
"A glorious, gilded bowl."
"Certainly. There are perks. But your life will not be your own, and you know it. There will be rules and traditions, bodyguards and security, ceremonies, schedules, social media nastiness, certain snooty family members, public scrutiny, and the press—"
"Oh yes, the press," Merlin grinned, wanting to lighten the mood. "Tell me what you really think of us horrible journos."
"Obviously there are exceptions to any rule."
At Arthur's words, Merlin's mind flashed back to their first meeting. Prince Arthur had been on a goodwill tour of India, and Merlin was a freelance journalist, working on a series of articles about living conditions and recent developments in Kolkata. The editor of a prestigious magazine had gotten him an invite to one of the royal meet-and-greets, and asked him to write a piece with reflections on the prince's visit. Merlin had not been enthusiastic about the assignment. He was no royalist, and did not want to kowtow to an entitled prat who surely travelled the world with an entourage of sycophants. He'd gone to the consulate intending to write a scathing article about the hollowness of Prince Arthur's position in the light of past colonialism.
Everything had changed as soon as he was introduced to Arthur. Their eyes met, and it was as if lightning struck. They fell in love there and then. Merlin's world changed.
That was two years ago. It hadn't been an easy relationship. Their meetings were infrequent. They couldn't go out for a meal or a pint, couldn't take an evening off to watch a movie or a play. Arthur was too often busy with official duties or travelling on his father's behalf. When they did manage to meet up, there was security and secrecy to juggle. Merlin had had to keep his friends in the dark, and it bothered him.
Their very different lives created friction, too. Arthur was not unaffected by the riches, privileges, and respect he had grown up with and by now took for granted. Despite his best intentions, he was a bit of an exasperating snob sometimes. He also had been taught to always keep his views strictly private, which made him difficult to read. In many ways, Arthur's and Merlin's lives and experiences were opposites. Growing up with his single mother in a small village in Wales, Merlin had learned to make do with little. He was used to speaking his mind, and voiced his opinions freely about the class system and social justice.
Nevertheless, his and Arthur's love had deepened from month to month. They smoothed each other's rough edges, found common ground, and laughed a lot. And the sex was bloody fantastic.
Five months ago, Arthur came out publicly. It had been a big sensation, but had largely been positively received. This was the twenty-first century, after all.
And then, last month, they secretly got engaged. It was a big, decisive step for the both of them. Merlin had felt like the happiest man on earth. He still did.
There were no regrets, only joyful anticipation.
"No, I am not backing out," he told Arthur with firm conviction. "Not now, not ever. I know it will be hard, but we belong together. You are my soon-to-be husband, and you hold my heart. It's too late now to scare me away, Arthur. I love you."
In the weak morning light, Arthur's expression turned soft and sweet, melting Merlin's heart. "I love you too."
The prince leaned across the small table, very nearly upsetting the teapot, and stole some tender tea-flavoured kisses.
Sitting back, Arthur observed Merlin with a fond smile. "Next year, all the world will know that you're mine. We will celebrate Christmas together and enjoy every moment."
"We will." Merlin seized Arthur's hand and squeezed it. They remained in silence for a moment.
"Right," Merlin said briskly, "I know you have duties and plans. I should be going soon."
Arthur consulted his phone and sighed. "Yes, I think you really must. There are a number of audiences before noon, and father wants me present. The train leaves for Sandringham immediately after lunch. It's quite the public affair, shaking hands and so forth. There will be speeches, and a children's choir singing carols to wish us Godspeed."
"You'd think you were leaving for a solitary trek, barefoot to the South Pole."
"I think I'd rather, actually. I'm travelling with Morgana and Gwaine."
"Gwaine! A duke's son and prince's cousin, playboy, usually half drunk— if he wasn't rich and titled, he'd probably be on the streets."
"Gwaine is on our side, you know. We need allies. His family is atrocious though, you should be prepared for full-on homophobic drama when you meet them. They think they are subtle, poor souls. His sister, in particular. But you do like Gwaine, Merlin. Don't pretend otherwise."
"I suppose I do. He's very charming."
Arthur smiled and bit into a buttered scone. "We'll make a decent royal of you yet, Mr. Emrys," he said.
Merlin grinned and saluted Arthur with a piece of toast.
Checking the time, Arthur grimaced. He gestured apologetically between Merlin and the ensuite bathroom.
Merlin could be efficient when he needed to. He had showered and dressed in no time, taking secret pleasure in the fact that the groaning castle plumbing clearly was ancient and on its last legs. He dearly wished there could have been time for slow and delicious shower sex. Now, there was a Christmas tradition he planned to introduce!
With that happy thought, Merlin was ready to face the day and the long journey back home to the small village of Ealdor and Christmas with his mum.
Arthur was on his feet and waiting for him. "I'm sorry, but it can't be helped. I need to make ready."
Merlin drew a deep breath. "Promise me we'll Skype tonight?"
"Tonight and every night. I'll call you when I can. Make sure you and your mum watch my father's Christmas speech on the telly. It may cheer you up. I think the theme is love and acceptance in a changing world."
"Arthur! Did you contribute to it?"
"Me, write his Majesty's speech?" Arthur said, feigning shock. "Not telling. Well, I just might have had a say, you never know. And if you also watch our horrific Boxing Day ordeal, the royal walk to church, you will see your future husband on the telly. Look out when the cameras are on me. I'll blow you a kiss."
"I'll watch it religiously." Merlin laughed. "That should get all the gossip going. Who is the Prince romancing long-distance? Get your ten pages of wild speculation and a solid mile of blog opinions while they're fresh!"
"Come here, you." Taking Merlin's hand, Arthur pulled him close. "I love you. I love you, Merlin. Never doubt that. And never change."
Merlin smiled. "Before I go, I want to give you my Christmas present." Fumbling in the pocket of his jacket, he presented Arthur with a small, square parcel, wrapped in red and gold, the colours of the House of Pendragon.
"Promise me that you won't open it until Christmas Day. Please let it be a surprise."
"I promise. Cross my heart. Anything for you, Emrys."
It hadn't been easy, finding something special for the man who truly has it all— the very world at his fingertips. Merlin's little gift box contained a few pressed and dried apple blossoms, the deed to a small plot near Hunith's cottage, and the written promise to make Arthur a lovely country garden there. What do you give the man who has everything? A pleasant, peaceful spot, far from the beaten track, to get away from it all.
Arthur placed the parcel reverently on the table, and cleared his throat. "I have something for you, too. Actually, I have two somethings."
"Two? That's very posh of you."
"Well, the one isn't really a Christmas gift. It's a symbol of our future. And I want to give it to you now."
Producing a small velvet box from behind his chair, Arthur held it out to Merlin. "Open it."
The box held a gold ring with an enamelled disc, set in a swivelling bezel. Merlin held the ring between thumb and forefinger and slowly turned the disc. On the one side was Arthur's coat of arms, the rearing golden dragon on a red background. On the other side was the red dragon of Wales, with a falcon soaring above.
Merlin studied Arthur's golden gift, gently rotating the enamelled dragons. He didn't say a word.
"Is it— don't you like it?" Arthur asked nervously.
Merlin bit his lip, fighting back his emotions. "Like it? I love it. Arthur, it's perfect!"
"I've come to realize that we're two sides of the same coin, you and I. You complete me. This symbolises that union. Our union."
"I honestly don't know what to say. Thank you."
Arthur leaned in for a gentle kiss. "Wear it when you're celebrating Christmas back home in Wales, and think of me."
"It's far too fancy for Ealdor, but soon enough I'll be in an immensely elevated position where it'll fit right in." Merlin grinned, though he had to blink back a tear. "I'll do it nevertheless. I'll wear it every day. And long for you, and smile, and imagine our future."
Arthur cleared his throat. "My proper Christmas gift has been sent off to Ealdor already and is waiting for you there. It's rather big."
"Oh. Oh no! Arthur, you'll soon have a wedding to pay for. I hope you haven't completely beggared yourself."
"Are you joking? I was hoping this would be a tender moment," Arthur laughed.
"I'm just trying to lighten the mood to keep any treacherous tears at bay."
"I know. But we should allow ourselves to be emotional in private. Especially if those are tears of joy."
"I'll show you joy, Cariad. Come here."
Throwing his arms around Arthur, Merlin pulled him close. Their eyes met for a moment, exchanging a wordless vow. Merlin found Arthur's warm lips with his own, and kissed him. With a small groan of pleasure, Arthur held Merlin tight, one strong hand sliding up Merlin's back and into his hair. Neither wanted to break their goodbye kiss or let the other go.
Once more, there was a knock on the door. "Your Royal Highness, the audiences begin in an hour," George said.
"I'm leaving!" Merlin yelped, stepping back and wiping his mouth. "Till after Christmas, then."
"I'll miss you. Stay safe. Tell your mum Merry Christmas from me."
His hand on the doorknob, Merlin nodded. "I will. I love you."
"I love you. We belong together," Arthur replied, a smile lighting up his face. "And come January, we'll tell the world."