Title: Geography of Scars
Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin, Arthur/Gwen
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gwen
Summary: Arthur needs salve. He finds out about the price of Merlin's devotion.
Word Count: 903
Author's Notes: Spoilers for S4. Let's say that this takes place a few months after the S4 finale. Established M/A, established A/G
Arthur needed massage oil to curb his aches. His lower back ached fiercely and so did his shoulders. His arms were stiff and he couldn't lift the left one above his shoulder. It wouldn’t do. It was slowing his movements in the training field, if not inhibiting them, and caused Sir Percival to send him sprawling during their mock combat sessions.
If it had been real combat he'd be dead.
When earlier this morning Arthur had expounded this theory to Guinevere she'd laughed.
They'd been in bed and Arthur had tried to rise, pushing the rich, red covers aside. He'd groaned at the tug coming from his lower back and Gwen had run her hands over the source of his discomfort, massaging his back while giggling. “Oh, my wounded bear,” she'd said.
“I'm the King of Camelot,” he'd drawn himself up. “I ought to be the strongest warrior in the land.” How was he meant to prove his strength otherwise?
Her peal of soft laughter hadn't abated. “Oh, Arthur,” she'd said cryptically, as if his name was more than an appellative and contained a deeper meaning. “Arthur.” She bit on her lower lip, put her chin on his bare shoulder, and grabbed him around the waist.
“Go to Merlin,” she said in his ear. Then in a lower, insinuating, innuendo-laden tone, she added, “I'm sure he'll cure you.”
Arthur had vaulted off the bed then, colour spreading on his cheeks, fairly sure he'd heard the words, 'out of your sulk.'
So he'd dressed, attended the council and then wended his way to Gaius' quarters, clattering into the workshop and, seeing it empty, up the steps and into Merlin's room.
He should have knocked. He should have made his presence known by more than burbling, stifled curses.
Merlin was undressing, lifting his tunic up above his head, standing half turned and perpendicularly to him. In the clear light of day Arthur saw what he'd never seen in the darkness of this very chamber: a geography of scars.
A round, puckered one stretched across his lower back. A thin, ridged one like a surgical cut trailed at his nape like the half of a garotte's mark. There were the traces of a faded burn on his chest and a myriad other healed cuts and scrapes peppered over his body.
A warrior would be just as scarred.
But Merlin was no warrior. Yet Arthur knew there and then that all those scars were the testimony of wounds Merlin had received in his own service.
Like a knight keeping his vigil on his knees, Merlin had offered up his sacrifice, just as he had on the day he'd almost died to save Arthur from the Dorocha. Arthur harboured no doubt as to that.
Even though he didn't know the specifics, he knew this truth to its core.
“Merlin,” he said, voice stiff. He stalked up to him and put his hand to Merlin's flank, fingers digging into the skin whitening around his pads.
He used the other to trace each pucker, jagged line or raised ridge of skin.
This was a language he understood better than any other. This was a service he understood better than any other. Like a knight on his knees kissing the cross guard of his sword, he kissed Merlin's neck and shoulders.
“Arthur,” Merlin hissed on an in-take of breath.
“I touched you but I never did,” Arthur said, pained by his own blindness. He was a man cursed to see only too late. “I took but I never saw. I...”
“Arthur,” said Merlin, meeting his eyes with his usual brave intent. “I never said 'no' to any of your touches.”
Arthur wanted to make his point, illustrate the nature of his perceived failings (one of the reasons, perhaps, why people left him behind), but Merlin took his mouth in a solid kiss.
His lips were soft and plump like the rest of him wasn't and Arthur for a moment nearly forgot everything in the thrill of it.
It had been like this before, Arthur finding this solace in Merlin, to the point his body responded like a giddy kid's, and he'd never lingered, never mastered the secrets Merlin hid from him. He didn't ask for them now. He didn't think his blindness should be rewarded.
He merely pulled Merlin closer to him, one of his arms tight around Merlin's middle, forcing Merlin to stand chest to chest with him, one of his hands went to his hair, fingers threading through the short spikes of it. He put his nose to Merlin's throat and breathed shudderingly in, closing his eyes and living this moment and this truth.
Of what Merlin was and what Merlin meant to him.
Later he might have stepped stiffly away as Merlin's amused eyes followed his jerky moves around the tiny room, a questioning, “Sire,” on his quirked up lips.
Later he might have squared his shoulder to the thought of the loss of this (because loss was everywhere, especially if you stood to lose something that made sense of your world).
But that was later, for now he breathed Merlin in and smiled stupidly at Merlin's strangled, “Arthur, you're cutting my air! Can't breathe.”
For now he could chuckle and tug Merlin even closer to him just to hear his laughing protests.