Title: Who Then Devised The Torment; Love?
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin.
Summary: We only live, only suspire, consumed by either fire or fire.
Warnings: Breathplay and angst.
Word Count: 796
Prompt: #88 Breathless
Author's Notes: Title (though slightly fiddled) and summary taken from 'Little Gidding' by T.S Eliot. Special thanks to ms_bekahrose for the additional inspiration <3
Arthur looked up at Merlin with wide but trusting eyes. In the morning they’d start walking to Camlann. No, in the morning he’d start walking to Camlann. Merlin wouldn’t be coming. Arthur pushed the thought down; he could do it without Merlin. He could fight and he would win, he’d make sure he came back. For him. To ask him if he got his precious fucking herbs. To look upon him and know that even though he hadn’t been with him, spending every second under his watchful eye, he was safe.
Arthur bit the inside of his lip, taking a deep breath ready. He wouldn’t admit to any of it. No more than he’d admit to the feeling of drowning when Merlin told him he wouldn’t be coming. He’d always taken it for granted that he’d always have him there, even if he had to order it of him. He’d never had to imagine a scenario where he wouldn’t just... be there.
“Ready?” Merlin asked him and Arthur’s breath caught in his throat, butterflies rising.
He was nowhere near ready. Not really. Not to face death without him. How did he fight knowing Merlin was safe? What would drive him? Everything else, Camelot, Guinevere, Morgana, The Knights, everything else would rise and fall without him, like breathing, even if his own was stopped.
But when Arthur held his breath and nodded, Merlin held his breath with him.
He needed that. He needed it like air, which was funny because as long fingers wrapped around his throat, Merlin’s long fingers, he ran out of air. He could see it then, his life in Merlin’s hands. The trust, that enough was enough and that they’d both know when it was enough. They’d both be able to feel it.
The pressure mounted, swelling inside him like pleasure, pushing him to the brink of something else entirely. It was best done of a morning, in the light of dawn, right before they raised their swords and made their speeches. It was best done when the thought of facing death had become almost unbearable, eating away at courage and fortitude and leaving nothing to fuel, to drive, the heart into battle. It was best done when death was almost upon them already.
Merlin flickered for a second, blurring along the edges, consumed by dark, burning spots. It burned, everything burned. Should this battle be his last, it would consume him, this fire he felt, in the end, burn him to nothing. But it wouldn’t be so bad; he would be dead after all. He wouldn’t feel it like he felt this. And he felt it, finally.
He raised his hands in surrender and Merlin did the same, angry red marks denoting the exact place his thumbs had been crossed together at the base of his throat, like a kiss. He felt it. Alive. He’d followed Merlin to death and Merlin had followed him back, his eyes glistening as the candle flickered, as he let go of his held breath, harsh and ragged and almost like he’d been choked in Arthur’s place.
“Sire,” Merlin said, a reassuring smile barely there on his lips as he took the slightest step back, unsure what to do with himself.
Usually, he’d have armour to put on. A battle to fight. But not tonight. Tomorrow he would have to face the dawn alone. He’d have to leave without him. He’d have somebody else dress him for battle. He’d lack the comfort of Merlin’s unwavering loyalty, trust and blind belief that he would prevail, he would do the right thing. But not tonight.
“Wait.” He caught Merlin’s wrist as he turned, the silence between them so heavy that Merlin must have thought it a dismissal.
It was understandable; it wasn’t exactly something one usually asked of a manservant, to halt the King’s breath until it nearly left him entirely, just so he could feel the thrill of breathing again. Was it that much more to ask one more thing of him?
Arthur looked up and found Merlin waiting, eyes wide and trusting again like they had been at the start. He realised he still had hold of Merlin’s wrist, his fingers stroking over the skin of their own accord, too intimately by far to be safe. He held his breath by himself this time, feeling Merlin’s heart beating furiously under his fingertips as they pressed tighter, hard enough to leave angry red marks.
He needed him like air, which was funny because as his fingers wrapped around Merlin’s wrist, he found the air had deserted him, leaving only Merlin. But Merlin knew. Merlin always knew when they both had to surrender.
“Do you want me to stay?” he asked and Arthur nodded, breathing again. Feeling it again.