Title: The world will end in fire
Rating: R (Series rating: R)
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gaius and the knights, Balinor, Morgana.
Summary: Merlin struggles to come down from his magic high. Somehow, he ends up in Arthur's bed.
Warnings: None (Series warnings: Angst, issues of rape, violence)
Word Count: 3 130
Prompt: #45 "Love" and #46 "Fire"
Author's Notes: I like to think of this chapter (which by the way gave me so much grief, hence being a week late), as a kind of "end of part 1". The title is from Robert Frosts "Fire and Ice", which I thought appropriate since the story began with ice, and now we have come to fire.
You can find the rest of this series on AO3, or here at Camelot Drabble.
The world is full of magic. It runs beneath the ground like a massive current, gushing up through the trunks of trees and into the veins of the leaves. It thrives in the wings of birds and in the breath of beasts, and pools like drops of pure gold in the hearts of men and women.
Even the shapes of snowflakes are made complex and unique by magic.
But while anyone can feel wonder at the sharpness of an eagle’s eye, or the vibrancy of a flower, most people will never actually see the magic thrumming at the core of these miracles. Merlin is not most people, and he has thrown wide the door and taken the magic of the world into himself. Like a young tree he has let the current flow through his limbs, granting him unlimited power.
Through the current, he can become part of anything. Part of the wind that he commands to rise up like a storm, to obscure him from the riders in a whirl of snow. Part of the history of the world, that he may know the language spoken of old, and speak it now, to unlock a magic he has never mastered. Healing.
Because Merlin is part of Arthur, and yearns to end his King’s pain. He commands Arthur’s torn flesh to knit itself back together, and the breaks in his bones to seal themselves shut. A single fire burns within them both, and now that Merlin has thrown wide the door, it ravages him.
Riding away is one of the hardest things Merlin has ever done.
Problem is, now that he has let the current in, Merlin can’t seem to shut it out again.
He finds the secret tunnel into the citadel, commands the horse to go home, and all the while snow whirls around him on a wind that refuses to die. His path his obscured by it, and it blasts his face like a myriad of tiny blades. He can feel the earth breathing beneath his feet, rising and falling with the deep, even breaths of the sleeping.
Merlin grips the rusted, but solid bars of the grate at the entrance to the tunnel, leans his burning forehead against them and tries to just breathe, but the world is screaming at him, and from far away comes the sound of galloping horses. They are coming closer and closer, coming for Arthur. The horses of destiny are foaming at the mouth, their eyes are rolled back in their skulls, and they are hungry for the King’s life. Merlin reaches out blindly behind him, but the current is too strong in him now; he can’t hold on and he can’t command it any longer.
The grate crumbles to dust in his hands, clearing his way. Merlin’s huge, shapeless cape trails after him, dragging snow, as he careens helplessly into the tunnel. The air in here is dry and frigid, scraping Merlin’s throat and nostrils, and he tries to use the sensation to centre himself, but reality eludes him under the onslaught of visions.
Long dead lords sleep here, their tombs forgotten, their stone effigies losing their features to the teeth of time. There is a willow tit hiding in the tunnel wall, in a corner by the head of one of the tombs. It trills loudly as Merlin comes closer, agitated by his presence, or by the power that fills him, pressing outwards and threatening to burst his chest or set him on fire.
Merlin stops. Summer comes, green shoots spring up from the dirt floor, and Morgana kneels down next to the hole in the wall, cupping her hands and retrieving the willow tit from its nest.
It chirps fearfully and beats its good wing helplessly. There is blood in its white belly-feathers.
“Don’t hurt it,” Merlin says to Morgana.
She looks up at him curiously. “I’m not going to hurt it.”
“Can’t you save it?”
Morgana shakes her head. “It has to die.”
Merlin looks at the little bird, which squirms helplessly in Morgana’s hands. “How did it get hurt?”
Morgana shrugs. “It wasn’t my fault. It was supposed to happen. We all have a destiny.”
The tit is chirping loudly, and the song sounds desperate, and beautiful.
“It isn’t fair. Can’t you save it?” Merlin asks again.
Morgana rises and comes to him. Gently, she tips the bird into Merlin’s hands. “Why don’t you save him?”
Merlin looks down at the willow tit, looks into its black, terrified eyes. “I can’t. He is going to kill Arthur.”
Morgana smiles. “Don’t worry, Merlin, that won’t be your fault either. It’s supposed to happen. It is destiny.”
Merlin shakes his head. “No.” He lets the willow tit tumble from his hands.
He blinks and it is gone: the grass, Morgana, all of it. Far down the corridor he can hear the flown bird chirping.
“Great,” he mutters. “I'm hallucinating.” He clears his throat, stamps his feet and pulls his cloak closer about him, but it's all for show; it is only his skin that is cold. Inside he is high summer.
He forces himself forward, step by step, down the tunnel and up several flights of stairs, until the stones and pillars begin to look familiar. Thankfully, he retains the presence of mind to stash the cloak in an empty room. It is actually the jacket from his stolen, blue ensemble, transformed by a hasty spell into something huge and shapeless, but it served its purpose, hiding him, boots and all.
As he makes his way to Gaius' chambers, people seem to appear out of thin air and melt out of the walls. They are insubstantial, glowing, golden ghosts, life but not form. Some of them speak to him, but he can't hear them over the heartbeat pounding in his head like a drum. Arthur's heart, strong and healthy. Arthur is close. Merlin wants to go to him. There are hounds barking in Arthur's dreams. Merlin wants to silence them.
That is his father's voice. Merlin stops and looks around, and suddenly there are hands on his arms, pulling him back against a strong frame. He lets his head fall back against his father's shoulder, and closes his eyes.
“The hounds are barking.”
“You have taken on too much, my son. You have to shut the door before you lose yourself.”
Balinor lowers them both to the ground, and holds Merlin in his arms. Merlin looks up into his father's kind face.
“How are you here?”
“I am always with you, Merlin.”
Merlin reaches up and brushes his father's cheek with his fingertips. “I am so lost, Father. I have done a terrible thing. And still the horses come closer.”
Balinor nods. “I know. It takes power beyond mortal man to halt the approach of those beasts.”
Tears spill from Merlin’s eyes, but his father brushes them away. “Don't give up, Merlin. There is a power greater still than destiny, and you possess it.”
“It hurts,” Merlin says, because it does. The fire he shares with Arthur burns him.
Balinor smiles. “It does.”
The current rushes through him, makes him arch and clench his teeth lest it drag him out of himself. “It's so hot,” Merlin moans. He pulls at his neckerchief. “I can’t breathe. It’s battering me.”
“You must shut the door, Merlin.”
“I don't know how!”
“Close your eyes, and find yourself again. What is it that grounds you?”
Merlin closes his eyes. Thinks of Arthur, but finds himself soaring. Arthur inspires him to move mountains, makes the current rise and rush.
“Mum,” Merlin mumbles. He thinks his mother in her little house in Ealdor, braiding her hair in the morning. He feels her steadying kiss on his forehead.
The door shuts.
“Well done, Merlin. Sleep now, my son.”
The current slows to a trickle, and then pools, still at last.
Merlin drifts. His bones ache. He thinks he hears a final, whispered “sleep”. He obeys.
Voices invade his dream. Deep, murmuring.
“We found him in the south wing, asleep on the floor.”
“He's running a fever.”
“I wish I could say I was surprised. These last few weeks have been hard on him. Can you take him to my chambers? He needs rest more than anything.”
Merlin is so tired. He can't seem to surface. His body is so heavy he can’t move. He is being held, he thinks, in someone’s arms.
“Wait, Elyan, I have a better idea.”
“Why not? The bed is huge, Gaius can look after them both, and Merlin will sleep like a baby.”
“Hmm ... Sir Gwaine has a point, and don’t look at me like that, he is no more a fool than the rest of you. Just put him on the left side, and don’t let him put any pressure on Arthur’s ribs.”
Merlin is lowered onto something soft enough to drown in. There is silk against his cheek. Someone tugs at his boots, slips them off. Thick, calloused fingers pull at the knot on his neckerchief. Merlin moans uselessly, struggling to wake up. He manages to open his eyes, but everything is hazy.
“Hey, Merlin,” Elyan’s voice says soothingly. “You're sick, buddy, but you're safe.”
An arm behind his shoulders raises him up enough to put a glass of water to his lips. Cool liquid runs into his mouth, and he manages to swallow some of it.
“Ops, spilled a bit there. He’s completely out of it.” That’s Gwaine. Good old Gwaine.
Someone pulls his trousers off. Merlin would protest, but he can’t.
“Alright, under the covers now. Gonna try not to disturb the princess.”
Soft warmth covers him. There is someone else there, someone warm, someone who smells like home. Merlin forces his eyes open, struggles to focus even as exhaustion makes his eyes cross. Then he recognises Arthur's golden hair and the sweeping lines of his lips and eyelashes. Merlin makes a small, wounded sound and burrows closer to feel Arthur's living warmth, noses at Arthur's shoulder and breathes in the scent of him.
'Oh let this be my reward. I will endure anything if I can only be with him.'
“Told you,” Gwaine says quietly.
Merlin closes his eyes, and is immediately swept back under.
Morgana lifts the bird from the ground. It is no longer summer in the dream, but autumn. “Fine. If you don’t want him, I’ll take him.”
“No, please! Why must this happen?” Merlin cries.
Morgana takes the willow tit in her mouth and swallows it. Then she speaks in the voice of the Great Dragon. “None of us can choose our destiny, Merlin. And none of us can escape it.”
“I am the most powerful man in Albion! Arthur will live! I will make it so!”
Morgana laughs. “What you are is too late.”
Merlin turns around, and there stands Arthur, his chain mail pierced through the side.
“Merlin, wake up.”
Merlin’s eyes blink open to find Arthur hovering over him. He doesn’t even think, just lunges forward and presses his lips against Arthur’s. It lasts for one long, glorious second before Arthur shoves him back down into the mattress. The mattress on Arthur's bed.
Merlin’s chest heaves. He pulls at Arthur’s neck and shoulder, fighting against the hands that pin him cruelly to the sheets.
“Need you, need you, need you, please!”
With a growl, Arthur grabs Merlin’s wrists and pins all of him down by pressing the captured hands to Merlin’s chest. “Are you still asleep?” he asks roughly. “What is wrong with you?”
Merlin squirms, rubbing his face into the pillow. Being surrounded by Arthur’s scent and Arthur’s body is driving him crazy with want, as if he is still asleep and some wild thing is awake in his place.
“Come on, kiss me,” he pleads, arching. “I know you want to kiss me.”
“No, Merlin, come to your senses.” Arthur looks horrified.
Merlin sobers for the sake of Arthur’s frightened tone, forces himself to lie still, though he still pants for breath. “Arthur, you never hurt me. You never did.”
Arthur searches Merlin’s face with his eyes, uncomprehending. “Do not say that,” he whispers. “You will not pretend, you will not try to smooth over what I did.”
“You did nothing.”
“Yes! I did nothing. Nothing to stop Ragnor.”
“What could you have done?” Merlin’s stomach turns at the thought of everything he himself could have done, but he denies the thought vehemently; Arthur was willing, which means he and Merlin can take the moment back, make it all about them, and forget the people who watched.
Arthur hangs his head in shame. “I could have offered them my own body, but I said nothing, and in the end, I ... I used you.”
“Used me?” Merlin laughs, an angry bark of a sound. “My lord, I was your willing accomplice. I have wanted you for years. I thought you saw it in my eyes that night. I was sure that you had seen.” It seems easy now, to give voice to his humiliating mistake, his insecurity. It matters so little in comparison to losing Arthur without ever having had another kiss.
Arthur eyes are blue and uncomprehending. “... I saw only your loyalty to me.”
“But there was more there,” Merlin insists. “I was willing. Despite the audience, it was so good. You were so good.”
“It doesn’t matter, Merlin.” Arthur sounds dazed, but his eyes grow sharp as he tightens his grip on Merlin’s wrists, making the bones grind together. “I did what I did without that knowledge.”
“What choice did you have?” Merlin argues, voice rising. “Do you think I don’t know what they would have done to me if you had refused?”
“That is not an excuse!” Arthur shouts back. “I am a tyrant and a bully, and I raped you!”
Merlin growls. “Then start begging!”
Arthur’s eyes widen in surprise.
Merlin screws up his mouth and glares. “You’re a tyrant and bully, and I demand you apologise.”
Arthur’s mouth falls open. Merlin wants to get his tongue in there, but restrains himself.
“Well?” he says instead. “Beg for my forgiveness.”
“Merlin ...” Arthur swallows, and licks his lips. “I acted like a beast, base and selfish. I thought I had grown to be better than the man I was before ... before you came along, but in Ismere I understood differently. I am still that man. I don’t deserve your loyalty, or your forgiveness.”
“Let go of me,” Merlin says.
Arthur quickly lets go. After a moment, he flinches in pain and eases himself down on the mattress, relieving his no doubt aching body of its own weight.
Merlin rolls over to face him. He cups Arthur’s face in his hand. “If you know me at all, Arthur Pendragon, you should know that the moment you prove yourself unworthy of my loyalty, I will take it back.” He holds Arthur’s gaze ruthlessly, leans in and lowers his voice. “But I did not spend myself in my trousers in front of bandits and knights and all the stars because I am loyal to you.”
Arthur shudders, his knuckles white where he grips the covers.
Merlin leans in closer, until their lips are almost brushing, and he can feel Arthur’s breath against his skin. “Do you really not know that I love you? That I have loved you all our years together?”
Something breaks in Arthur, Merlin can see the it in his eyes when it happens.
“You did not love me when we met,” Arthur whispers.
Merlin smiles. “That’s because you were being a prat,” he whispers back, and kisses Arthur again. Though it is no more than a chaste press of lips, the kiss zings through Merlin like a new kind of fire. Arthur is holding himself still, neither rejecting nor participating, but he parts his lips when Merlin pushes harder. The taste of Arthur’s mouth has thickened with sleep. Merlin marvels that only moments ago, he did not know this smooth taste, this flavour so essential to Arthur. From this moment on, the world is brand new.
Arthur moans suddenly, wildly, and finally moves, digging a hand into Merlin’s hair and tilting his head to get deeper into the kiss. He pushes his tongue into Merlin’s willing mouth, and Merlin sucks on it eagerly.
Merlin had no idea that such a simple touch could feel so good, could make him feel good all over. His spine tingles with pleasure when Arthur puts an arm around him and drags him across the final inch, until they are chest to chest and thigh to thigh.
Merlin breaks the kiss with a gasp, struggles for air and pushes his hot face against Arthur’s chest. “Oh God, I can feel you. You’re hard for me.”
Arthur’s breath stutters in surprise. “Merlin,” he says, embarrassed. Merlin mouths at the lapel of Arthur’s nightshirt, bites at the dry wool and tries to calm himself down.
Arthur strokes his back with his big, wonderful hands. “You- You are too. H-hard.”
Merlin rolls his hips, makes the circle smaller and smaller until he is grinding their clothed cocks together.
“Merlin. Merlin!” Suddenly, Arthur is pushing him back again.
Merlin is all set to shout his frustration at him, but the vulnerability in Arthur’s expression stops him.
Arthur swallows. “God, you are ...” He exhales shakily. “You are everything to me.”
Merlin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath against his own need.
“I am sorry,” Arthur says. When Merlin looks, the King has that hurt, littleboy look on his face, and he is directing it at their mutual “problem”, of all things.
“My Prince,” Merlin says, and eases his way back into Arthur’s arms. He strokes Arthur’s hair and kisses him chastely. “I can wait for you.”
Arthur smiles, tremulously. Suddenly, he groans in pain. “It’s probably for the best; Gaius will be angry enough we exerted ourselves at all.” He shifts to take the weight off his bruised side.
Merlin helps him settle down, and keeps his arms around Arthur afterwards. “Sleep now, my Prince. Heal.”
Arthur nods. “You too. From what I’ve been told, you’ve gone and made yourself sick with missing me.” He winks smugly.
In retaliation, Merlin pokes the King’s bruised side, making him yelp. “Say that again, I dare you.”
They make themselves sleepy with good-natured bickering. Arthur drifts off first. Merlin lies awake, listening to Arthur breathe. He watches the fire dancing in the hearth, and it accompanies him into his dreams.