syllic: ([merlin] sea)
[personal profile] syllic








SUMMER

It doesn’t take Merlin long to conclude that being in love is not as carefree an experience as bards would have you believe.

He supposes the circumstances aren’t ideal: they’re hardly village sweethearts, courting without a worry in the world except for household concerns or the outcome of the harvest from a small parcel of land. All of the kingdom’s cares together are Arthur’s, something that becomes increasingly clearer as August approaches and Arthur takes up more and more of his usual duties.

There’ll be a period after the wedding when everything will be complicated, Merlin supposes, as places are found for new additions to the court and as Arthur settles into a husband’s responsibilities. Arthur seems set on completing all the preparation for Camelot’s harvests before the hectic month leading up to the wedding arrives, before the Lady Elise comes to court at the beginning of August for what everyone will pretend is a natural, straightforward courtship. Merlin rides out with him every day in July to record the progress of crops around the kingdom. They make note of the villages that have been fortunate so that those whose crops have failed can benefit from redistribution in the long queues that form outside the castle’s granaries every year.

The two of them linger in the empty fields on their way back to Camelot, reluctant to return too quickly. Sometimes, as the dusk falls, they dismount and splay out on dry fields, staring up at the clouds as dust settles in the back of their throats with each hot breath. If a careful look reveals that no-one is around, sometimes Merlin kisses Arthur, and Arthur lets him, holding him by the hips and murmuring Merlin against Merlin’s mouth.

They’re not village sweethearts, and if cares and responsibilities rest even on Merlin’s shoulders, there is no counting what that means for the man he has been appointed to serve. Merlin, once so eager for city life that he had walked towards Camelot for days and days with nothing but the clothes on his back, feels now that he would gladly give up Camelot’s luxuries and excitements in an instant if it would buy him one truly uncomplicated month with Arthur in one of the kingdom’s sleepier hamlets. But he understands that he can feel that only because he has never truly been part of royal life—he has only ever made his place with Arthur, and not truly with the prince. When he looks at Arthur’s eyes as he discusses peasants’ concerns with them, though, he sees in his gaze the ownership and love of the land that would make it impossible for Arthur to ever want to escape. His people and his birth and his loyalty tie Arthur to the complex life that Merlin has come to resent as fiercely as Merlin’s devotion tethers him to Arthur’s side. Merlin wishes they could make time for themselves alone, and yet cannot help but love Arthur all the more for his commitment to his kingdom.

They are hardly village sweethearts.









“I know you’re not overly fond of monitoring the progress of wheat maturing in the fields, Merlin, but if you insist on looking as if I’m riding you towards a funeral every time, you might as well stay home.”

They’re both tired and cranky from riding all day, and Merlin’s thighs ache from gripping the saddle since dawn, but Merlin merely shuffles parchment into his saddlebag and doesn’t rise to the bait.

Arthur is angry because they’ve just been to three villages where bandits took away most of the planting grain at the beginning of the season, and where the villagers will now struggle to make ends meet as a result. It is very unlikely that anything could have been done about it, since the villagers themselves hadn’t reported it—patrols rotate through the different populations, and both good developments and misfortunes are missed every year; it’s impossible to be everywhere at once. Arthur always feels, senselessly, as if he could have done something to prevent suffering, and this year the recriminations he’s raining down on everyone, from himself to the villages’ fitter men, are much worse than usual.

“There’s plenty of surplus grain in the storehouses, Arthur,” Merlin says calmly, “And they’ve got more than enough people to fetch it if they need it.”

Arthur squints up at the sun and says nothing. He doesn’t like having the wind taken out of his sails when he’s complaining, but lately he’s been better about letting Merlin speak sense without petulantly accusing him of idiocy. They’re both … milder towards each other, now, and both are finding it easier to acknowledge their familiarity with the other. This has cut back significantly on arguments where they simply kept going for stubbornness’ or appearances’ sake.

“Let’s not go home tonight,” says Merlin, impulsively, and he tells himself that no part of him wants to test whether Arthur will put him above other things.

Arthur looks at him oddly, but says, “Fine?”

“We could go swimming in the waterfall east of here, in the forest where you, uh, killed that stag last year.”

“You mean the forest where a spear that I’d thrown extremely poorly suddenly seemed to redirect to exactly where I wanted it to go in midair?” asks Arthur, placidly.

“There were very strong winds that day, Arthur, as I said then,” says Merlin, shrugging and fighting a smile, “And sometimes a man just gets lucky.”

“Lucky to be saddled with you? Yes—lucky like an arrow to the thigh, maybe,” says Arthur, but he’s muttering, low, distracted, and indistinct, and he’s turning his horse towards the forest already, looking at Merlin hotly.

“We could race there,” says Merlin when he catches sight of Arthur’s gaze, trying not to think about how tired both their horses are.

“Let’s,” says Arthur, but when the horses understandably refuse to canter for more than a few metres, he settles for heading towards the trees at a slow trot, bumping his leg against Merlin’s as often as he can.

The sun is creeping towards the horizon by the time they pull themselves out of the water, but the day stays hot enough for them to dry while sprawled on a warm rock, and they put their clothes back on reticently. Merlin oversees the lacing of Arthur’s breeches, kissing the skin behind his knee and then his belly as Arthur tugs the cloth over his legs, and they eat the bread and cheese and fruit that they have left while sitting next to the water, squinting against the glare of the sun’s reflection.

Merlin watches the sun sink beyond the trees, tries not to think of the duties waiting for Arthur back at the castle. He fidgets slightly, torn between wanting to stay here, clutching wet earth under his fingertips and watching the light play on Arthur’s face, and between suggesting they head back, as he knows they probably ought to.

“Merlin,” says Arthur, quietly, and Merlin turns to look at him straight away.

If Arthur says he thinks they should go back, Merlin will ride next to him as dusk falls, and brush their fingers together, and count them lucky for the few hours they’ve already spent away. He eats quietly, and after a moment Arthur says,

“There’s nothing that won’t keep.”

Merlin says nothing, but he smiles, and he can feel his muscles uncoiling. He wonders if Arthur saw him tensing, how he knew what Merlin was thinking. The thought that he’d understood exactly what it was makes Merlin feel warm.

Merlin sends a flurry of leaves and petals skating over the water with a look as they finish their meal; they swing upwards in a spiral before he lets them scatter into the wind. The foliage falls gently onto the water, floating for a few minutes before sinking, and Arthur says, quietly,

“I see this forest’s unusually strong wind has decided to make a re-appearance.”

“Maybe the wind is content,” says Merlin, and though he can see Arthur’s lips quiver with the urge to laugh at him, he refrains from doing so and simply says,

“Maybe.”

His eyes are soft.

They sleep tangled under a low-hanging branch, and though the night is unusually warm, that doesn’t stop Merlin from curling into Arthur’s chest, nose against Arthur’s neck as Arthur’s hand strokes idly down his back. In the morning, they have to make haste to return to Camelot before they’re due to depart for the next village, but not even the sight of men carrying in new draperies for the Lady Elise’s rooms is enough to wipe the smile from Merlin’s face.









Merlin doesn’t know how the notion gets into his head, but he knows what leads him to dismiss it.

He thinks, looking back on it, that it was probably the well-honed instinct for avoiding disaster that he and Arthur have developed over the years that started it. So much of Merlin’s first year in the city had consisted of them jumping from the griddle into the fire and back again that the two of them had begun to look for danger even where there hadn’t been any. Arthur had stopped travelling without knives strapped to his boot, and Merlin had spent more time learning spells in his cramped bedroom than he had spent sleeping.

The prosperous years since, in which assassins and petty criminals alike seem to have lost heart with each of Arthur’s unlikely survivals, have made Merlin complacent. The promise of a better life under Arthur’s rule has spread, whispered guiltily but urgently, and the attacks on a man that had previously been seen only as Uther’s firstborn have dwindled into nothing. But Merlin thinks it’s the lessons learned in those days that make him take notice now, that make him look across the room at Arthur one day and think, Unless you do something, this has no way to end but badly.

He thinks that he wedding bells will leave something broken behind them when they stop pealing (then scoffs at himself for making it sound as if the two of them are protagonists in a miserable bard’s ballad). He knows better than to think that anything will prevent the heavy pain of it, but he does think that perhaps there are ways to decrease the damage.

When Arthur tries to talk to him about it one night, no doubt trying to set down lines as justly and kindly as he knows how, Merlin barely listens, already thinking of what he can do to make it easier on himself, on both of them.

“Merlin,” Arthur begins, and Merlin gives an interested mmh from where he’s polishing Arthur’s chainmail.

“Merlin, I wanted to say— I wanted to ask,” Arthur continues, and Merlin looks up at the odd sound of uncertainty in Arthur’s voice and focuses his attention on him completely.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking. About—the end of August,” and Merlin is suddenly sure he knows what Arthur is about to say, because he’s once again taken up every single one of his patrols, and he’s settling happily back into a rigid routine that had once seemed completely familiar to Merlin, and now feels foreign and unwelcome. He seems to be tying up loose ends, and Merlin knows that Arthur would not want to hurt him, and probably wants him to be prepared.

“Yes, well,” says Merlin, trying to keep his voice light, “Obviously everything will have to go back to—will have to be as it once was. I know that better than anyone, Arthur; don’t worry.”

Arthur face looks slightly confused—his eyebrows are pulled together in a little knot of surprise—and Merlin’s happy to have given the impression that he is more ready for what’s coming than Arthur evidently expected him to be.

Arthur looks at him for a long moment, opens his mouth almost as if he wants to say something else. After an instant he snaps it shut and nods.

“Yes—yes, of course. I’m glad, Merlin.”

It’s that short conversation that does it, probably, that makes Merlin think—truly think, keeping his focus on the thought for a period of time—about everything that is coming, and makes him conclude that he must do what he can to avoid circumstances catching him completely unawares.

Whereas before he’d made an effort to finish his other tasks as quickly as he could to be free for whatever Arthur had planned, in the next few days Merlin lingers over his duties, drawing his time with other people out. He helps Gwen direct merchants who have come in to take orders for cloth for Morgana’s new winter dresses. When he smiles at the kitchen maids and makes an effort to laugh at the stableboys’ teasing conversation, trying hard to keep himself from wondering what Arthur is doing, he tells himself that he’s doing exactly what needs to be done.

He catches Arthur looking at him once or twice, assessingly, but Arthur says nothing. When Merlin comes to him in the evenings he seems pleased when Merlin tells him what he’s been doing all day, almost as if he understands what Merlin is trying to do.

When Darlene, who is now being groomed to become Hilda’s replacement, asks him to help her bring in a bolt of cloth that has been recently delivered, Merlin says yes immediately, thankful to have something to do. She’s surprisingly pleasant when she’s not too busy blushing to speak, and Merlin has made an effort to chat with her in the corridors when they have met over the past few months.

The two of them struggle with the tall roll of velvet, not too heavy but extremely unwieldy, and Merlin laughs as she precedes him up the stairs and almost falls over as she walks backwards away from him.

“Very skilful, Darlene,” he says teasingly, and she blushes high in her cheeks but does not stammer when she replies,

“Yes, thank you,” chuckling through her words.

They stumble their way down the corridor and to the tailor’s rooms, and Merlin smiles when Darlene thanks him, brushing her sweaty hair away from her face with one hand.

Merlin turns to leave, but Darlene calls him back. She asks him how preparations for the wedding are going. Merlin tries not to let his face harden at the mention of it, but he doesn’t think he’s successful—Darlene simply changes the subject swiftly, though, telling him about Froille’s latest exploits; the tailor is supposed to be fitting all the knights for new livery, and it’s apparently not going well at all.

She does not mention August again.

They’re laughing together, leaning against a wall in the corner of the workshop, and Merlin feels light with the knowledge that he’s actually enjoying this, that he’s happy here, laughing with someone else without his mind immediately turning to Arthur. Darlene reveals that she can impersonate Froille, and when Merlin finally convinces her to show him, she turns out to be so uncannily good at it, hand gestures and all, that Merlin ends up bent double, laughing so hard he has to clutch his stomach.

She’s leaning into him, chortling so much between words that she can barely speak, and when she places a gentle hand on his forearm to steady herself Merlin smiles at her affectionately.

“Merlin,” he hears from the doorway.

When he turns, he finds Arthur decked out in his sparring armour, a helmet tucked under his arm where he’s leaning against the door.

“Sorry, sire,” he says, composing himself. “Do you need me for something?”

When Arthur nods Merlin shoots an apologetic glance at Darlene, waving quickly as he ducks out the door and follows Arthur to his chambers.

When Merlin walks in Arthur is already unbuckling his vambraces, looking out the window.

He’s surprised when Arthur turns sharply from depositing them on the table, a small scowl drawing his lips downwards.

“Arthur?” Merlin asks, and Arthur sighs once before looking at him directly.

“Merlin,” he begins reluctantly, and Merlin’s chest clenches with the thought of what he may be about to say.

He doesn’t dare say anything himself.

“I know,” Arthur continues— “I know there are certain things I cannot ask you. That I would not like to ask you, that is,” he corrects himself.

“Arthur?” Merlin repeats, uncertain.

“But. I would be thankful if you would wait. It— It would mean something to me, if you would wait for September.”

Merlin nods. He doesn’t understand what Arthur means, but Arthur seems to be looking to him for reassurance, for confirmation.

“I know that things are bound to change, Merlin, that we have an understanding only for— No. What I mean to say is: I know that you want to give me something, for this year. That you’ve wanted to help. And I know that I cannot ask you to extend what— what you have offered, but I would be grateful if you would wait. Until the wedding.”

Merlin scrambles to think what Arthur could be referring to. They’d spent the night before tangled in Arthur’s bed, and they had not seen each other in the morning until Arthur had walked into the tailor’s rooms where Merlin had been talking with Darlene—

“Oh,” says Merlin, understanding what Arthur means, now. He thinks of what it might have looked like, he and Darlene leaning into each other and laughing, her face flushed.

Wait, Arthur is saying. Allow me to have this until September.

And though Merlin had had a plan—a vague one, but a plan nonetheless—to wean himself off Arthur as carefully as he could in the lead-up to his bride’s arrival, there is no question that if Arthur asks this of him, if he asks Merlin not to do what he’d intended in order protect himself, Merlin will do it happily.

“Of course, Arthur,” he says. “And—I don’t. That wasn’t what it may have looked like.”

This is Arthur, after all, who dislikes change intensely and probably wants nothing about this year to shift until it has to.

“Of course,” he repeats. “I want you to be happy, Arthur. Whatever you want.”

At the sound of that Arthur’s lips turn down for a moment, but then he nods and says,

“Thank you.” Then, “Help me get this chainmail off, will you?”









“Have you ever continued to do something that you weren’t sure about, even though you knew it couldn’t end well?” Merlin asks Gaius when the two of them are gathering herbs at dawn a few days later.

Gaius stops, thinking for a long moment. He never gives advice without mulling it over first, and Merlin feels an intense rush of affection for him as they stand there under the lightening sky.

He misses him, abruptly, even though he’s standing right there. They haven’t seen anywhere near as much of each other as they usually do, in the past few months. Gaius has had an apprentice for over a year now—a true apprentice, someone with a skill for healing that Uther found himself—and recently Merlin has been scampering to keep up with Arthur, first with his exploits and then with, well, theirs. Merlin’s hardly spent a night in his old room in months, though Gaius, like everyone else, seems unsurprised that Merlin has finally begun sleeping where he’s supposed to, where he can attend to whatever Arthur needs in the night. Even the dour-faced Lucan, who has slept on a hard pallet with a scratchy woollen blanket at the corner of Uther’s rooms for as long as Merlin has been in Camelot, had smiled approvingly at Merlin when he’d learned that Merlin had begun to spend his nights in Arthur’s rooms.

“Yes,” says Gaius finally, the sound of his voice wrenching Merlin’s attention back to the clearing where they’re working.

His eyes have shadows in them—dragons and births and deaths, Merlin knows—but he smiles at Merlin, amusement making his face crinkle.

“Doubts again, Merlin?” he asks teasingly.

The two of them have hatched a million future plans, and talked destiny to the ground so often, that Merlin’s uncertainties are almost a private joke between them, now.

Merlin thinks of Arthur’s face, of the deep grooves on the sides of his face when he laughs, of his flyaway hair and unexpectedly endearing voice in the early hours of the morning.

“No, I suppose not,” he says, smiling, and Gaius smiles gently back.









In mid-July a rider comes in from the Mercian border, dusty and mud-spattered, and though his voice is steady when he asks to see the king at once, Merlin can hear the urgency in his voice. He drops the brush that he’s holding and pats Arthur’s horse’s flank once before saying,

“Follow me.”

He leads the man to Uther’s chambers, and after a few minutes Uther calls him in.

“Merlin,” he says, and Merlin starts a little at the use of his name. Uther always manages to make it sound threatening. “Fetch Morgana and Arthur at once.”

Merlin heads straight for Arthur’s rooms; when he sees Gwen milling about at the castle’s entrance, he whistles softly to catch her attention and mouths, Uther wants Morgana when she looks up. She nods, and the two of them hurry down different hallways.

Merlin intends to stay and listen—whether through careful eavesdropping or outright artifice, he doesn’t care—but Arthur asks him to prepare his horse, and Merlin doesn’t want Arthur to emerge from the room in a few minutes only to find Merlin crouched in the corridor with the horse still unsaddled, so he goes reluctantly.

“What do you think is going on?” he asks Gwen as the two of them head back towards the courtyard, and she replies,

“I don’t know. Morgana says it looks like Sir Cormorant has decided to split his lands again, despite agreeing not to earlier this year. I can’t think Uther is pleased, if he’s gone ahead and done it without at least informing him.”

Merlin wonders what it would mean, if that were truly what has happened.

He saddles the horse and lays out Arthur’s cloak in his rooms, but as he’s heading back towards Uther’s chambers he’s intercepted by a pageboy who tells him Arthur won’t be riding out after all, and asks that Merlin unsaddle his horse straight away.

Merlin rushes to the stables and does it as quickly as possible, but then Balen has a question about Arthur’s armour, and when Merlin is finished at the armoury, he runs into Sir Anselm and Gawain. They want to know roughly how many sacks of grain will have to be prepared for distribution, based on what Merlin and Arthur observed in their trips around the countryside, and Merlin has to hunt for the parchment on which he and Arthur scribbled it down.

By the time he heads back to Arthur’s rooms from the council chamber the sun is sinking out of view, and he fetches food for the two of them and waits for Arthur to come back, certain he’ll catch nothing of the conversation in Uther’s rooms even if he hurries there now.

When Arthur comes home his face is tight and worried, and when Merlin asks what it is, Arthur hesitates before answering.

“Cormorant has divided his lands,” he begins.

He looks at Merlin for a moment and then looks around the room, almost as if he’s unsure of what to say next. Merlin nods encouragingly, but Arthur’s attention seems to be elsewhere.

“There’s been a problem with his sons,” he continues, finally. “Piculet wasn’t happy with the distribution of the lands. There’s unrest; my father isn’t happy.”

Merlin nods.

What will happen now? he wants to ask, but when he looks at Arthur, he looks so deeply unhappy that Merlin dare not say anything that might make it worse.

He steps towards him, uncertain whether Arthur wants him near—he is affectionate in private, and much more tactile than Merlin would have expected, but he still resents any attempt at comfort.

Arthur’s hand reaches out, though, and Merlin presses close, one leg tucked between both of Arthur’s.

“Arthur,” he says, but before he can say, It’ll be all right, Arthur grabs clumsily at the back of his tunic and brings him forward, their teeth and lips colliding painfully as Arthur angles him for a kiss.

“Mmph,” Merlin mutters against Arthur’s mouth.

Arthur’s tongue is parting his lips and the hand that isn’t pulling Merlin in is scrabbling at the bottom of his tunic, so Merlin reaches down to pull his tunic up and off, and Arthur barely waits until Merlin has wriggled free before he’s walking him back towards the bed.

Arthur is barely treading the line between hungry and desperate, his fingernails scratching against Merlin’s back, and Merlin shifts his hips to get his breeches off and gets to work on Arthur’s clothes, unlacing and tearing a few stitches at the hem as he tries to match Arthur’s haste.

He kisses Arthur’s mouth, then his jaw, but when he moves to kiss Arthur’s chest and then his belly, Arthur tucks his hands under Merlin’s arms and pulls up, saying simply,

“No. Here.”

Merlin kisses him, and it’s sloppy and uncoordinated, Arthur’s tongue catching the corner of his mouth and slipping out to wet Merlin’s cheek. Merlin surges up towards him and moans, feeling hot and frantic and scared all at the same time.

Arthur presses him down onto the mattress—he twists roughly at Merlin’s nipple, palms his hip, mouths his cock and then moves back up to kiss him as if he can’t decide what he’d rather do. Merlin tries to gentle him, but the speed and force of it are exhilarating, and a few seconds in he gives up, going limp against Arthur’s arms and moulding himself to the way Arthur is moving against him.

Merlin goes to turn over, but Arthur grips his hips and keeps him as he is, hooking his elbows under Merlin’s knees and pushing him up further onto the bed. He bends his head and Merlin tenses in pleasure, almost as if Arthur’s mouth is already on him. When Arthur licks a stripe down his cock and nuzzles at Merlin’s balls before curling his tongue over Merlin’s skin and into him, Merlin gives a little wail and arches up off the bed.

Arthur,” he says urgently, because though it’s Arthur that’s choosing what to do, it’s clear that he’s somehow taking his cues from Merlin, doing everything Merlin wants before Merlin can even think to ask for it.

Arthur’s hand scrabbles against the sheets and Merlin stretches to reach the bottle of oil, pressing it into Arthur’s palm. A second later two of Arthur’s fingers join his tongue, and Merlin twists down, moaning; Arthur does the same, his lips trembling against Merlin’s skin.

Arthur curls his fingers upward and then moves away, and Merlin pants desperately, eyes unfocussed as he looks up at the beams of Arthur’s ceiling.

Arthur is shuffling, shifting awkwardly against Merlin, and Merlin cants his hips and mutters, “Now, now, Arthur, now,” trailing into incoherence when Arthur runs an oil-slick hand up and down Merlin’s cock, gripping tightly and just right.

When Arthur shifts upwards for a kiss Merlin gives it, impatiently, and when Arthur reaches down, he thinks Finally, unable at first to understand what Arthur is doing when Arthur grips the base of Merlin’s cock and scrambles upwards on the bed, one knee on either side of Merlin’s hips.

Merlin thinks, Breathe, breathe, doesn’t realise he’s said it out loud until Arthur chuckles lowly, throwing his head back as he lowers himself onto Merlin’s cock, grunting softly as they slide together.

Merlin doesn’t know where to look: at the sweat beading on Arthur’s forehead, at the soft, pink o of his mouth, at the pull of muscles across his stomach as he moves up and down, at the place where he and Merlin are joined together, sliding slickly against each other with a wet, wonderful sound.

“I can’t. I can’t—” Merlin pants.

Arthur moves more quickly, one hand reaching for his cock until Merlin bats it away and does his best to touch Arthur with limbs that feel completely unconnected from his body, sparking pleasure making him feel as if he’s forgotten how to make use of his joints.

“I can’t,” he repeats—I can’t wait; I can’t think; I can’t leave you—and Arthur twists his body downwards, laughs, says, almost as if Merlin has asked if it’s okay to fall apart under his hands,

“That’s exactly what I want.”







Onwards to Summer, Part II.
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