Word Count: 2,500 words.
Notes: Merlin/Arthur, shameless fluff/angst-like episode tag to 4.06.
Summary: He would have remembered it ‘til the day he died, if he could. He would have added it to his mental collection of the times Arthur has looked at him like he’s the only person in the world.
He doesn’t believe Gwaine when he talks about a hug. It doesn’t sound right. Not like something from reality. Daydreams and fantasies and private thoughts in the dead of night. But not real life.
“Arthur? Our Arthur? The king? He hugged me?”
“You know he did. You were there. You may have been doing a fine job of impersonating a muddy little weasel, blobby bog monster, and gooey limpet all in one, but you couldn’t forget that. I mean, it was more of a snuggle than a hug. I started to think I should leave the two of you alone.”
Merlin fakes a grin, but he can feel it cracking at the edges. It seems the cruellest of fates that he should finally, after years of waiting, get the contact from Arthur that he’s been craving --- and he can’t remember it. Can’t visualise the look of joy on Arthur’s face at their reunion. Can’t draw to mind the sense memory of Arthur’s arms around him; the heat, the comfort. Can’t sense where Arthur’s skin met his own. He only has Gwaine’s word that it happened, and whilst Gwaine wouldn’t lie about it, he also wouldn’t see the sense in recounting every beat of every second.
Arthur has gone out of his way to save his life before, will likely do it again before the season is through, has carried Merlin twice; once wittingly, once as a make-shift piggy. But he hasn’t drawn him close, enveloped him. It’s always been a gauntleted clasp on his shoulder, an overly-boisterous hair ruffle, a shoulder-nudge, a shove, a sockless foot in his face. The one time he’s allowed himself this vulnerability, Merlin’s been addled and unable to appreciate the finer points in this sign of… of adoration.
He would have remembered it ‘til the day he died, if he could. He would have added it to his mental collection of the times Arthur has looked at him like he’s the only person in the world.
But he can’t, so he won’t, and he knows the opportunity will probably not come up again, not readily, so he’s forever to be haunted by what he never had. Merlin goes about his chores, trying his hardest not to sigh, but his limbs feel weighted with the burden of what he’s lost.
He tries several spells and a crystal, but nothing works. All he gets is grey fuzz. It’s as if it were a different person entirely who walked in his skin, and judging by Gaius and Gwen’s descriptions, it most decidedly was.
Somehow, even though he knows it’s wrong, he doesn’t care about that as much as he does about this. It seems so senseless, like such a waste. It aches, deep in his bones.
He idly wonders if that version of him enjoyed the hug as much as he was sure to have, or whether it could truly only concentrate on killing his best friend. The best friend he perhaps cares for more than he should.
“Merlin, what’s wrong?” Arthur asks in the tone he uses when he wants to make it abundantly clear he’s humouring him by asking the question and doesn’t truly care for the answer. He’s picking at his evening meal and looking a compelling combination of amused, harried and discomfited.
“Nothing, Sire,” Merlin replies, wishing it were true, wishing he could get over this, but every time he looks at Arthur he doesn’t think about how fortunate he is that when possessed he was magic-less and therefore a shockingly terrible assassin, but about how unlucky he is that all moments he was under the spell are blank to him.
“Don’t lie to me, not when you know you’re the only one I trust. It doesn’t befit you.” Arthur slides into a temper. Merlin immediately thinks of Uther at his most manic, wondering what could provoke such a reaction, when Arthur continues, absurdly earnest. “Look, if this is about the kiss, I apologise. I was caught in an adrenaline rush. It was highly inappropriate and I promise it will never, ever happen again. You have my word.”
Kiss? Arthur kissed him while he was Merlin the Murderer? His life could conceivably get worse, but it could never feel this bad.
Merlin’s so filled with shock and regret that he doesn’t think to say, ‘no, I liked it. Let’s do it again!’ or ‘I could never be upset about you kissing me’, and Arthur stands up and stalks away from his chambers, gait unnaturally stiff. Merlin stares after him, forehead creased and hands bunched into fists.
A kiss. It must have been on the lips, otherwise why would Arthur think Merlin would be angry about it? Merlin wonders if it was long and lingering, or quick, a peck, something that could be shared amongst brothers, but wildly unbecoming for a master and his servant. But, no. Arthur knows Merlin doesn’t care about their respective stations, and Arthur doesn’t care as much as he should either, everyone tells them that. So it must have been long enough that it was obviously not a simple act of friendship, short enough that Arthur could dismiss it as an excess of hormones and nothing more.
And Arthur will never, ever let it happen again. He gave his word. So now, not only does Merlin have the shadow of an embrace, he has the shadow of warm lips pressed against his own, friction and affection and unthinking need.
Merlin goes to the tavern and drowns his sorrows in a tankard of mead, reckoning he may as well live up to his reputation. Gwaine makes faces at him as he gets more and more despondent.
“Is it really so bad?” Gwaine asks, blasé as usual about something that doesn’t directly concern him, but considerate enough to acknowledge it concerns Merlin.
“You don’t even know what I’m trying to forget,” Merlin responds, waspishly. Of course, he’s not drinking to forget, he’s drinking to remember.
“I know. But it can’t be that terrible, can it? You’re alive. You have friends who are happy you’re alive. You’re in my incredibly charming and good-looking company. These are all good things.”
Merlin nods, preoccupied. He’s been wondering when, exactly, Arthur could have found the time to kiss him. Gwaine would have teased him about that, wouldn’t he? He decided to test this theory and reveal some of the truth that had been nagging away at him for three days.
“When I came out of that bog I must’ve knocked my head on a branch. I don’t remember any of what happened next.”
“So your surprise at Arthur’s hug was genuine? You haven’t been sitting here completely traumatised that Arthur displayed a side that wasn’t stuck up and superior?”
Merlin levels Gwaine with a close stare. “I’m not traumatised, I’m just confused. Could you describe to me what happened?”
“Of course I can. Arthur and I went to the forest to save your skinny arse, there were no mercenaries to save it from. You climbed out of a muddy hole, and laughed in joy at seeing me and my marvellous hair. Arthur stuck his sword in the ground, went over and, in a shocking display of humanity, gave you a hug. You then pulled apart, both now covered in disgusting brown slop, leaving me thankfully immaculate. And we journeyed back to Camelot, with you being remiss about not allowing tree branches to slap in everyone’s faces. You really don’t remember?”
“No. You didn’t leave me and Arthur alone for a few minutes?
“There was no need. What has queenie been saying to you?”
“Nothing. Just. Huh.” Merlin finishes his mead and gives Gwaine his first genuine smile of the day. “Thanks, Gwaine. You’re a true friend.”
“If that’s so, could you buy me another tankard? This one’s looking awfully lonely.”
Merlin pays the tavern wench for two more tankards full and leaves, purpose thrumming through every nerve in his body. He feels loose-limbed and confident. No better time than to confront the king.
Arthur is pretending to be asleep when Merlin enters his chambers, but Merlin knows he can’t really be asleep, because he’s wearing a shirt, and Arthur never sleeps in his shirt, and anyway, who could sleep after a day like today? Merlin bars the door and walks further into the room, annoyed by the pronounced ridges in the stone floor that conspire to trip him up. He grabs hold of the nearest object, which just so happens to be the bedpost, and drags himself upright.
Arthur’s eyes open slowly. For a moment he gazes at Merlin with confused, but obviously pleased wonder.
“What’re you doing?” he asks, and maybe he wasn’t pretending, because his voice is sleep-thick and rich in the best way ever. It makes Merlin want to chuckle, so he does, but it comes out higher pitched than he was expecting.
“You’re drunk,” Arthur accuses, sitting upright against the headboard. “I’m beginning to think we need to do something drastic to counteract your rampant alcoholism. Cover you in leeches and ban you from every inn in the land. This simply will not do.”
“I’m not drunk,” Merlin slurs. He shakes his head. “I may be a little topsy. Tapsy. That thing. That thing you get after a tankard of mead.”
“I assure you it takes considerably more than a single tankard of mead to make me tipsy, Merlin. What has got into you?”
“You have,” Merlin says, and he thinks perhaps that wasn’t the best way to phrase things, but hell, he’s here now, he may as well be honest about this, he can’t always be as honest as he wants to be, and he’s sick and tired of this being a barrier between them.
Arthur looks and sounds wary. “I’ve already apologised for kissing you…”
“Yeah, but the funny thing is, you blamed it on adrenaline. How much adrenaline could you have had after a three hour ride to Camelot?” Merlin’s tired, so he flops against the bedpost. He wants, quite desperately, to flop against Arthur.
Arthur slides out of bed. “You didn’t question it before.”
“I don’t remember,” Merlin laments. “I don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember your armour pressing into my chest, your head tucked against my neck, your tongue teasing at my lips, seeking entrance. I don’t remember a thing like that.”
“That’s what drinking for two days straight will do to a man.”
“I want to remember, Arthur. I want to so much.”
“You’re not thinking straight.”
“True, but I wasn’t before, either, and you didn’t care then. C’mon, you kissed me before, you can do it again. You want to, don’t you?”
“Whether I want to or not is irrelevant, Merlin. Firstly, you’re my servant, and second, you’re what the knights might call completely bladdered. If me kissing you before was inappropriate, now it would be downright wrong.”
“First, I have a simple solution. I quit as your servant. You can have George for the night. In name rather than action, because tonight you’re all mine. Second, if that’s true, then I’ll just have to kiss you, won’t I?”
Before Arthur can protest, Merlin lunges. He lunges efficiently and effectively. He’s never before performed a more artful lunge. Arthur crumples into the bed with a startled ‘oomph’ noise and really doesn’t struggle very hard against Merlin pressing him against the covers and searching for his mouth.
The kiss is simultaneously nothing and everything like he imagined. Arthur is warm and pliant and so, so sweet. Merlin paws at the material of his shirt and Arthur holds onto his shoulders, and every time he licks against his teeth, there’s this needy little noise that reverberates around the chambers. It takes Merlin an age to realise they’re both making those noises, Arthur low-voiced and Merlin high. Arthur is decidedly kissing him back. He never acts as an aggressor, but he isn’t meek and unresponsive either. He pushes into his movements and tilts his head to widen their access to one another, and seems to have accepted his fate. Merlin’s aware he could have been flipped over moments before, told to leave and never come back, but Arthur wants this. Arthur wants him.
Merlin kisses Arthur until he’s exhausted. He doesn’t know how long that is, but it feels like a good, long while. He rolls to the side and then the world is a blissful black.
His head pounds. He feels like it’s been trampled. He feels like his whole body’s been trampled. He’s nauseated. This is the worst.
Merlin opens bleary eyes to the horror of sunshine and almost hisses as he tries to pull a pillow back over his head.
And then he remembers where he is, who he’s lying next to, and what he did the night before. For a short, all too lucid moment, Merlin is filled with deep, abiding shame at his audacity and impropriety.
But it’s fleeting, oh so fleeting, because he remembers. He remembers the firm, reassuring heat of having Arthur’s hand resting on his lower back, how Arthur smelled as he buried his nose against the juncture between his neck and shoulder, what Arthur’s tongue feels like against his own. He remembers how Arthur embraced and kissed him and did everything but spurn him.
He grins, happier than he’s been in years.
“You look altogether too pleased with yourself,” Arthur’s voice rumbles.
Merlin looks up at him. The sunlight is blinding as it glints off golden hair.
“I’m recounting happy memories,” Merlin replies, grin growing wider.
“Well, don’t let me deprive you. Thankfully for the both of us, this is something you can do whilst acquiring my breakfast.”
“What about George?”
“I seem to recall that you only quit for the night. And neither of us told George. And therefore you’re still, or rather, again, my manservant. Lucky us.”
“Yes,” Merlin says, starting to stand, even though the backs of his eyes are still aching and his stomach roils. “Lucky us. I’ll just go get you something to eat then, shall I?”
“Merlin?” Arthur calls when he makes it to the doorway. “You won’t be needing liquid courage anymore, will you?” Merlin swivels to gaze at him. Arthur’s expression is mischievous but affectionate. “Because next time I’d very much like you to remember that you’re in the middle of kissing me, and not leave me high and dry.”
Merlin revels in those two simple words, ‘next time’. He can’t even think of a snappy retort. He will recount this to himself ‘til the day he dies. He’ll add it to his mental collection of the times Arthur has looked at him like he’s the only person in the world. And he will replay every stroke of Arthur’s fingers, every pulse of his heartbeat, every nuzzle against his neck, until the next time he gets to feel them --- which he’s fairly sure will be as soon as he can get back from the kitchens.