Title: One Saved for the Shore
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Every night he dreams of luring Arthur to the sea, of opening his mouth and threading the hook with his sweetest lullaby. Every morning, he wakes, presses his lips to Arthur’s skin and tastes the salt, and tells himself: not yet.
Eventually. One day. Inevitably. But not yet.
Word Count: 741 words.
Prompt: 398 Desperation.
Author's Notes: Unexpected sequel to One Spared to the Sea.
The thirst is overwhelming.
Merlin aches with it. Even his daily excursions to the beach don’t help anymore, because he dares not venture out beyond the shallows or the rocks, dares not submerge his head lest he heed the ocean’s call. Bury him. Arthur’s song is caught in the net of his throat and thrashing like a desperate fish; he can feel the notes of it like scales wedged between his teeth. Drown him deep.
Instinct is not something Merlin has ever had much time for. It’s instinct that allows him to breathe when he’s on land, sucking air through his mouth instead of his gills. It’s instinct that keeps him upright and functioning, draws him back to the ocean despite her threats, and it’s instinct that turns him into a monster.
Loving Arthur is not an instinct—it’s a choice. Morning after morning he wakes up with the human at his side, his breathing soft, his eyes closed, the hair swept carelessly across his forehead like a sea-tossed shoal of sand. Merlin’s instinct says, kill him. Every night he dreams of luring Arthur to the sea, of opening his mouth and threading the hook with his sweetest lullaby. Every morning, he wakes, presses his lips to Arthur’s skin and tastes the salt, and tells himself: not yet.
Eventually. One day. Inevitably. But not yet.
Arthur notices, of course. He’s known from the beginning that Merlin does not, cannot speak, but this aching thirst is new and therefore noticeable. It’s there in Merlin’s chapped hands, his taut skin and thick, heavy tongue. Merlin has never been so spiritless before, and the longer he resists the urge to kill the more he will diminish and dry up, withered away beneath the sun of Arthur’s smile. He doesn’t care.
“You’re not well,” Arthur says finally, when they’re drifting towards the shore’s-edge of summer, the self-imposed boundary of their time together. He lays the back of his hand against Merlin’s forehead and frowns, though what this could tell him Merlin can only guess. “You’re burning up.”
Burning is a good word for it. Merlin feels feverish and weak, the need to open his mouth and sing almost overwhelming. The cost of holding back is seared into his bones.
“What can I do?” Arthur murmurs, stepping up close. Behind him, the wind whips in off the beach, bringing with it the ocean’s whisper: drown him drownhim drowndrowndrown—
Merlin gasps for breath. He wants to run away, but there’s nowhere to run. Down at the end of the garden is the beach, and down at the end of the beach is the sea. He opens his mouth, feeling the greedy bomboras break, and says wretchedly, “Arthur—”
Just the first note, ringing through Merlin’s body like a bell, the rest of it cresting in his throat like the swell before a storm.
Arthur kisses him. Presses him up against the wall by the garden gate, soothing the cracks and fissures of Merlin’s lips. His hands are newly cool against Merlin’s hectic skin, his eyes open, darker than the deepest places Merlin has ever been—and dangerous.
Merlin gasps for breath. This is a different kind of drowning: drowning on dry land, his lungs full of air and Arthur’s breath in his mouth. Consume or protect? The tide pulls him one way, but Arthur is a granite cliff-face, steady as a rock, and the impulse shatters against him. Drains out of Merlin’s feet and into the thirsty earth, taking the ocean with it.
“Arthur,” he rasps, and Arthur’s cheeks are damp with a clear moisture, fresh and clean. It’s raining, Merlin realises. When had it started raining?
“Someday you’re going to have to explain to me what you really are,” Arthur says, but not like he means it. Merlin traces the slow line of his pulse down to the hollow of his collarbone, biting gently in the way he knows Arthur likes. Arthur groans, and Merlin knows he will forget, for a while, about Merlin’s strangeness, focusing instead on all the ways their bodies have learned to move together. In the rain, he tastes not of salt but of the earth, of the coppery tang of blood and harsh metals, his fingers tangling soft but certain in the skein of Merlin’s hair. “But until then…stay with me.”
Merlin breathes. The tide goes out. Beneath his feet, he can feel a shift in the earth, settling.