It was glorious, a sweet summer's day, and Merlin had a rare few hours off – well, would have had if Arthur hadn't insisted on coming along and swimming in said lake. Even now, creating waves of dazzling gold and blue as he cut a line across the water's surface, Arthur was looking back toward Merlin, was motioning for him to join in the fun.
It gave Merlin pause every time Arthur set foot in that damn lake. It was summer-gilded now, but in his mind's eye, in that cold spring, he could still see Arthur sinking below the water, could still remember the utter panic of diving in again and again, heart-stoppingly desperate to find Arthur before it was too late.
That the clotpoll had absolutely no idea of Merlin's fears was a given. In the aftermath, Arthur swallowed the lie of Merlin hitting him with a block of wood and of Sophia's departure with some grumbling – and relief about the girl – but since then, every time Merlin refused to swim, Arthur mocked him for it.
So it was with no surprise that in the brief time Merlin hadn't been paying attention, had instead been fighting off too-distressing memories, Arthur found his way up the shore. That he was naked and the sun was dappling across all that golden skin of Arthur's didn't help. A gilt-edged nest of curls at Arthur's groin was teasing him, too, and as Arthur towered over him, that tantalizing cock dangled so near to Merlin's mouth.
If he didn't know better, Merlin would swear that Arthur was egging him on, was challenging him with all that golden perfection.
"Like what you see, Merlin?" Arthur was smiling down at him, that grin of his full bright with provocation.
Well, two could play at that game.
Merlin leaned back, sent a scowl upward. "What, an arse who wouldn't let me have the day off?"
For a moment, Merlin could have sworn there was hurt in Arthur's eyes, then the git leaned down and shook his head, spraying cold water everywhere but mostly on Merlin. "You can barely keep up with chores that a child could finish in half the time." When Merlin sputtered a bit, Arthur said, "But since I am a generous man and known throughout the Five Kingdoms as having a charitable disposition, I've overlooked your many faults." As Arthur reached past him to grab a towel, he smirked. "You should be thanking me for it."
"Thank you, sire." Merlin put every bit of sarcasm he could muster into those few words while trying not to gaze at Arthur's still naked body. At least Arthur's hair, bird's-nest messy, was a distraction.
Arthur sat down next to him. He didn't even bother to put the towel across himself. "You should go for a swim. It will do you some good – although I might have to rescue you. With you so skinny, you'd likely drop like a stone."
Growing increasingly difficult not to gaze at Arthur's dangling bits, Merlin said, "Well, it doesn't surprise me that you float so well. Fat rises to the surface after all."
It was an old joke but it still worked. Arthur rolled over onto his side, mock-glaring at Merlin. "I am fighting fit."
Gods above, he was. But Merlin couldn't let him know just how fit he truly was. Arthur already had a head the size of the North Tower. "Could have fooled me. I'll need to tell Cook to lay off baking those pies you like so much. With all that fat, it's a wonder you can wield a sword as well as you do."
"And I despair of you ever learning to use a sword."
Merlin sent him a frown, then shook his head. It sounded too much like innuendo. Arthur couldn't be flirting, could he? "I know how to use a sword, Arthur."
"Do you?" If that didn't sound like an invitation, nothing would. Even Arthur's voice had dropped and he was looking at Merlin with interest in his eyes. His gaze dropped to Merlin's mouth and then back again and with that, Merlin's pulse began to race. It would seem that things were looking up. "You sharpen my sword often enough but using it to its fullest extent is something else again."
With that, Arthur did pull the towel across his hips but not before Merlin saw the first stirrings of desire. Well, well. Perhaps Arthur was interested after all.
Never one to let an opportunity pass, especially not one he'd dreamed of for years, Merlin twisted up, then reached across Arthur's chest to pat at the sword lying next to the blanket. His arm brushed against all that golden skin, not accidentally against one nipple, and Arthur gave a throaty grunt, the towel twitching again, before Merlin drew back a little. Then he gave Arthur a slow smile, defiant, challenging. "I'm a quick learner. How about now?"
For a moment, Merlin thought Arthur was going to kiss him. Eyes dilated, his nipples peaking – although that could have been the breeze, his voice deep and low, he said, "Merlin, have you not noticed that I'm not exactly dressed for it as the moment?"
Merlin reached out, touched Arthur's arm, then let his hand drop down, fingertips skimming across the hair on Arthur's chest. "I think you are dressed perfectly for it, my lord."
Arthur sat there, throat working, looking like he couldn't decide whether to ignore the game they were playing or call Merlin's bluff.
But Merlin wasn't bluffing. And he was done playing.
Shoving himself forward, Merlin reached up, fingers tangling in that golden hair, and pulled him closer. Arthur didn't resist, seemed to want it, too. "Tell me you don't want this. Tell me this is just about swords and not sometime else and I'll stop." Merlin's lips ghosted over Arthur's, said, "But I'd rather not."
Smile growing on Arthur's face, he didn't say anything, just dove in, kissing Merlin with a battle-fierce hunger, taking and taking, groaning as he did so.
Giving as good as he got, devouring Arthur with all the fierce savagery of a man starving for the love he'd denied for so long, he knew that they'd crossed the line, that they couldn't go back but he didn't care. He'd been devoted to Arthur for an eternity, and if that devotion included glorious sex, then who was Merlin to complain?
But as they both tore into each other, spiralling up toward climax, ignoring whatever would come after, Merlin realized that it didn't matter.
He loved Arthur, and no matter destiny and coins and golden futures, he'd have this one moment.
And that was enough for him.