Title: Fall From The Earth
a/n: huuuge thanks to janne_d for keeping track of Arthur's hands and teaching me how not to light a fire.
lillian78 asked for 'Merlin/Arthur where Arthur actually adapts quite well to Merlin's magic disclosure'. The ridiculous huddling for warmth cliche is totally down to me though.
ETA (20/01/10): thanks to aolla this fic is now available in Russian here. Which is very cool!
Fall Off The Earth
They're a two-day walk from Camelot, making their way back around the edges of the barren, wintery forest of Sherweald when a snowstorm hits, shocking in its suddenness.
"Shit," Arthur snaps, raising his voice to be heard above the howl of the wind. "Merlin?"
"Here," Merlin says, appearing at Arthur's elbow. There's snow in his hair and collecting in the folds of his clothes; the tip of his nose is red from cold. Arthur grabs Merlin's wrist with one hand, not prepared to lose him in the swirling whiteness.
"There are caves this way," Arthur says, tugging Merlin forward deeper into the treeline.
Merlin digs his heels in. "No," he says, "This way." He points back over his shoulder, opposite to the way Arthur is sure they need to go.
It's getting rapidly colder and Arthur doesn't have time to stand around in a blizzard arguing with his servant – who shouldn't be arguing with him in the first place.
"Merlin," he says, considering putting his free hand on his hip but deciding it's happier in the warmth of his pocket. "Come on."
Merlin shakes his head. "It's really not that way."
"Oh for heaven's sake," Arthur snaps, letting go of Merlin and spinning on his heel and stalking forward, planning to prove to Merlin that he's being an idiot. He takes three steps through the snow, attempts to take a fourth and the earth disappears out from under him.
Arthur hears Merlin yell his name, feels the wind rushing through his ears as he falls head over heels down – what? Oh fuck – the river bank, Arthur realises as his shoulder hits ice and he plunges through into shockingly cold water.
Arthur has time to take one gasped-in breath before his head submerges; the current grabs him, he swings around in the water, his head hits something solid and darkness rushes in.
Arthur is retching before he can drag his eyes open, allowing hands to roll him onto his side and coughing foul-tasting water down onto the gritty ground below his head.
"Easy," Merlin's voice says and Arthur realises that it's probably Merlin's hands on him.
Arthur coughs again, finding it hard to draw a full breath.
Merlin's hands splay across his back. "Just breathe," he soothes and Arthur doesn't have the energy to do anything but obey.
"Okay?" Merlin asks eventually, when Arthur's taken ten sweet breaths in and no longer wishes to expel his lungs.
"Fine," Arthur begins to say, except he makes the mistake of simultaneously attempting to sit up. His head swims and darkness flashes behind his eyes. "Oh," he groans, bracing himself on the ground.
"Arthur?" Merlin asks. His fingers comb through Arthur's hair and then he curses. For a village boy, Merlin hardly ever swears and it's enough to worry Arthur.
"What?" he asks cautiously.
"You hit your head," Merlin tells him, taking his hand out of Arthur's hair and presenting bloody fingers for Arthur's inspection.
"I did not," Arthur argues, except it's more from habit than anything, because obviously he did. He closes his eyes against the dizziness that's building up inside him.
"If only you weren't so damn stubborn," Merlin snaps, "I told you the caves weren't that way."
Arthur doesn't open his eyes. "I think you'll find they were-," he starts but Merlin snorts.
"No. The caves are right here. You're in one." A pause. "Sire."
Arthur cracks one eye open cautiously and finds that yes, he's in a cave. He's dripping wet, freezing cold, potentially bleeding from his brain, and in a cave. He has no idea how Merlin managed to drag him from the river and in here.
He's just opening his mouth to ask when something cool and soothing slaps – none too gently – against the back of his head. "Ow," he says automatically. "Merlin?"
"It's a poultice," Merlin says. He still sounds angry, but somewhere under his headache Arthur wonders blearily if maybe Merlin was scared.
"You brought herbs for a poultice on a trading visit?" Arthur asks. Merlin isn't normally that prescient.
Merlin's hands still against Arthur's head for a second then he makes the sound that normally accompanies a roll of his eyes. "I'm not completely stupid," he says, "You were bound to injure yourself in some way."
"I was not," Arthur says, but his head really hurts and he doesn't actually want to get into an argument.
They stay silent for a few minutes, while Merlin tends to Arthur's head wound and Arthur concentrates on not passing out or throwing up. Arthur wouldn't have said Merlin was an especially good student to Gaius but, under Merlin's hands, Arthur's headache and dizziness definitely ease a little.
"You should try not to sleep," Merlin says eventually. "In case you've got a bruise on your brain."
"I know, Merlin," Arthur says but it's easier said than done. His eyes want to close. "Help me sit up."
"Are you sure you should?" Merlin asks, but Arthur's already attempting it on his own so he just sighs and helps him. The pain returns with such strength when Arthur's upright that he doesn't think he's in any danger of falling asleep anymore.
Merlin props Arthur up against the wall of the tiny cave and busies himself piling together what has to be the most meagre collection of twigs that Arthur's ever seen.
"What exactly is that supposed to be?" Arthur asks, folding his arms atop his knees and propping his chin on them.
"It's a fire," Merlin says from between his teeth. "Neither of us is particularly dry if you haven't noticed."
Arthur blinks. He's noticed that he's soaked down to his skin but it's only now that he realises that Merlin's in a similar state. It makes his cheeks heat with embarrassment to think that scrawny Merlin had to pull Arthur him out of the water.
"I, um." He clears his throat. Declarations of gratitude are not his forte.
Merlin glances over his shoulder at Arthur, sighs and smiles. "Yeah, you're welcome," he says, sparing the need for Arthur to put his thanks into words.
Arthur forces himself to huff. "For me to be truly grateful, Merlin, there would need to be a fire blazing and my undergarments would not be freezing to my skin." He bites his lip; he didn't mean to say exactly that.
This time, Arthur can see Merlin rolling his eyes. "Give me a minute," he says. He's rubbing together two of the slightly more substantial twigs and at least one of them looks in danger of snapping. He keeps glancing up at Arthur rather than down at what he's doing, probably checking that Arthur hasn't fallen asleep.
Arthur focuses on Merlin in an effort to stay awake, switching his attention between Merlin's hands and face. He watches him for a good five minutes but nothing happens and eventually Merlin sighs and slams the twigs down.
"Can't you do it?" Arthur asks. He's surprised; Merlin is usually excellent at getting a roaring fire going on their hunting trips. "You don't normally have any problems."
"No, um, the wood's wet." Merlin trips over the words. Arthur doesn't understand what he said that's making Merlin nervous but he finds, strangely, that he doesn't like it.
"Merlin," he says, flailing clumsily toward Merlin until he can pat a hand to his chest. "Is everything all right?"
Merlin covers Arthur's hand with his own, holding it still. He looks like he's thinking. "How do you feel?" he asks Arthur abruptly.
"I'm fine," Arthur says, trying to draw his shoulders back and his chin up. He sways into Merlin's chest, head landing on Merlin's shoulder. It's comfortable there, warm. He shivers once then again, embarrassingly unable to control the spasms of his muscles as they try to soak up Merlin's heat.
"Arthur?" Merlin asks.
"Mm," Arthur says, except he means to say yes which is much more dignified and what comes out sounds more like a moan. He's fine, he really is; he doesn't know why he finds it so much harder to be Camelot's Prince around Merlin.
"Right, okay." Merlin squeezes Arthur's hand before letting him go. He rolls up onto his knees in front of Arthur and looks him in the eye. "You're not all right and I'm really very cold. So." He squeezes Arthur's shoulder this time. "You have to promise not to remember any of this, okay?"
Arthur has been taught not to promise anything before he knows the parameters of the agreement but this is Merlin, Arthur trusts Merlin. "Okay," he agrees.
Merlin smiles at Arthur but it looks sad, like he doesn't quite believe him. "Metadh," Merlin says under his breath or something that sounds like that. Arthur frowns, about to ask him to repeat himself, when the sad pile of damp sticks in the middle of the room sparks alight, blooming into a large, bright fire. A large, bright, illogical fire.
"Um," Arthur says, wondering if he is in fact much more injured than he feels.
"You have to forget," Merlin says against his ear. "You promised."
Arthur turns his head, looking for an explanation and at Merlin by default, and stops, blinking. Merlin's eyes are gold.
"Am I hallucinating?" he asks. He can feel the warmth from the fire starting to thaw his ice cold feet. If this is a hallucination, he'd rather like to remain inside it.
There's a pause and then, "Yes?" Merlin says. Merlin is a terrible liar. Merlin also – Arthur squints at him – Merlin looks scared. Arthur is not all right with that.
Arthur clears his throat. "Blankets?" he asks.
Merlin's expression doesn't exactly clear and his eyes stay locked with Arthur's while he nods. He pulls off his neckerchief, lays it out on the ground and mumbles something else foreign-sounding under his breath. Incants a spell, Arthur tries to make himself use the proper terminology but his mind balks from it. This is all really quite unexpected.
It turns out that Merlin's neckerchiefs make excellent blankets after the application of a little magic (magic, he repeats inside his head, but the fear doesn't come) and, ten minutes later, Arthur is thankfully out of his soaked clothes, wrapped in a soft blanket and warming his hands and feet by the fire. His head still aches but he feels miles more human now that he's warm. Human and clear-headed.
"Merlin," he starts.
Merlin shakes his head quickly. He's around the other side of the fire, similarly bundled in blankets. His hair is drying at odd angles and fluffing up ridiculously around his ears. He hardly looks like a dangerous sorcerer. "You're not allowed to execute me until after I get us home," he says, watching the flames rather than Arthur. "I'm still not sure you haven't broken your brain in some way."
Arthur rolls his eyes. "No one's going to execute you," he scoffs and it isn't until the words are out of his mouth that he realises just how true they are. "Merlin. No one is going to execute you."
Merlin smiles faintly but doesn't look up. "Okay," he says. He doesn't sound like he's treating Arthur's words with the gravity he should.
Carefully, Arthur gathers his blanket around himself and crawls around the fire to join Merlin. "Merlin," he says, bumping his shoulder against Merlin's. "You do believe me, don't you?"
Merlin does that ridiculous thing he sometimes does where he ducks his head and looks up at Arthur from under his eyelashes and makes Arthur forget his own name. "No," he says, lips turned up like it doesn't really matter. Arthur doesn't believe for one second that Merlin is truly so blasé about the possibility of his own execution.
"Merlin," Arthur says, freeing one arm so he can squeeze Merlin's shoulder. "You-," have to trust me, he starts to say but it sounds too much like an order. Arthur doesn't have a lot of experience with having friends, but he knows it's not often advisable to order them to trust you. He takes a breath and forces himself to say, "Please trust me."
Merlin looks up at that, startled. "Did you just say 'please'?" he asks, obviously trying for cocky and failing. Bastard. "I didn't know you knew the word."
"What was that?" Arthur asks, tipping his head in exaggeration, "I didn't quite catch that. Was that 'thank you, sire, I am eternally grateful'?"
Merlin makes a sound that's almost a laugh and Arthur awards himself a point.
"I think it was 'prat'," Merlin tells him, still looking at him curiously.
Arthur sighs. Sometimes Merlin is impossible. Suddenly, Arthur doesn't want to play any more. "I won't ever let anything happen to you," he says, hating the sincerity he can hear in his voice but not regretting it.
It takes seven endless seconds before Merlin swallows – Arthur can see his adam's apple bob. "Okay," he breathes. "Okay, I believe you."
"Good," Arthur says and wonders if this should be an end to it. His hand is still on Merlin's shoulder so he squeezes again. He'll let go in a minute. Return to his side of the fire. Consider the fact that Merlin is a sorcerer and work out the best ways to keep him safe.
The blanket shifts under Arthur's hand and slides down Merlin's arm, revealing one narrow, pale shoulder, slim enough to be almost feminine if not for the toned line of muscle indicating that Merlin does, sometimes, do some hard work.
Arthur wonders if he should move his hand, but doesn't. He rubs his thumb across Merlin's prominent collarbone and listens for Merlin's startled inhale. He isn't disappointed.
"Arthur?" Merlin asks. He sounds as uncertain as he did a minute earlier, with the threat of execution hanging over his head.
"I'm not going to let anybody hurt you," Arthur reiterates. He can't look away from the splay of his thumb, callused and red, against Merlin's unmarked skin.
Merlin nods. "I know." He sounds more certain, now. Less like he's humouring Arthur.
"Good," Arthur says, and kisses him. It happens as quickly as that – Arthur would love to say as unexpectedly as that, but he isn't in the habit of lying to himself.
Merlin goes utterly still under Arthur's mouth and the hand Arthur still has on his skin, but Arthur finds that for once he can be patient. He kisses Merlin's bottom lip slowly then one corner of Merlin's mouth and then the other. Merlin is shivering hard under Arthur's two hands now so Arthur shifts his attention down to kiss the exposed skin of Merlin's throat.
"Oh God," Merlin says and falls backwards down onto the – oh. There's something soft and unreal underneath them, a mattress perhaps or the softest straw. Merlin is kissing Arthur now and Arthur can't bring himself to turn his head to see what he's lying on.
"Arthur, Arthur, Arthur," Merlin is saying, his voice broken, as Arthur unwraps them both from their blankets, spreading Merlin's out below them and Arthur's over them so they're cocooned in warmth. (Arthur's mind flashes back to the first night in Hunith's village, getting up in the middle of the night to use to facilities and overhearing Will, Will, Will in Merlin's hushed voice, drunk and giggly, but he doesn't think about that. Besides, there's nothing hushed about Merlin now.)
Their skin presses together, warm and slick from chest to knees and Arthur lets free a groan, wrapping his arms around Merlin's back and crushing them together as closely as they can get. Merlin feels skinny, insubstantial in Arthur's arms but Arthur is sure he can feel the power rolling off him now, power that has nothing to do with brute strength and everything to do with the magic that Arthur is finding it hard to believe he missed for so long.
Arthur can feel Merlin's cock hot between their bellies and something sparks through him when he rolls his hips.
"Here," Merlin says, licking his palm and pushing his hand down between their bodies. Arthur would be embarrassed at the sounds he makes when Merlin's spit-slick hand wraps around both their cocks, pressing them together, rolling the heads against his palm, but Arthur doesn't have any thoughts spare for embarrassment. He's never done this before, not with a man, and the way the two of them feel in Merlin's hand takes his breath away.
"Shh," Merlin whispers, mouth open against Arthur's cheek, "Shh," but Arthur doesn't think Merlin actually wants him to be quiet.
"When I'm king," Arthur tries to say, breath hitching against Merlin's skin. Merlin squeezes his fingers together and Arthur groans. He tries again. "When I'm king-."
He wants to tell Merlin that he's going to shine when Arthur's king, that Arthur will give him whatever he needs to use his magic however he wants, that everyone in the kingdom will know how powerful he is and no one will be afraid of him, but Merlin doesn't let him get the words out. "When you're king," Merlin agrees and licks his way into Arthur's mouth, stopping any more words that Arthur tries to form. "But right now, you're just Arthur, okay?"
Arthur nods. That doesn't sound too bad. "Okay," he agrees and he's still watching Merlin's smile when Merlin makes him come.
Merlin's orgasm follows so quickly that Arthur misses it, which is disappointing but not insurmountable. They'll just have to do this again. And then again.
After, Arthur pulls the blankets down around them and pillows his head on his arm beside Merlin's. He feels exhausted, body weighed down with sex and the day they've had. He doesn't really want to sleep though. "What else can you do?" he asks.
Merlin rolls his head, blinking at Arthur through blurry, sleepy eyes. "Everything," he says around a yawn. Then he smiles and shakes his head. "Well, not really," but Arthur has a feeling that the first answer may have been the most accurate.
"Can you get us home?" he asks.
Merlin seems to fold in on himself, just a little. "Yes," he says. His eyes start to shimmer towards gold but Arthur stops him with a hand against his cheek.
"Not now," Arthur says. "Tomorrow. Late tomorrow. I'm really quite comfortable here."
Merlin turns his face into Arthur's hand. "Yeah?" he asks.
"Yes." Arthur closes the gap between them and kisses him. "Trust me, remember?"
Merlin smiles and rolls onto his back. He stretches his arms up over his head, yawning, before settling back down under Arthur to blink up at him sleepily. "I shouldn't," he says, "You're stubborn and arrogant and very annoying."
Arthur flicks Merlin's chin then kisses it better. He feels confident. "You do though," he says.
"I do," Merlin says wonderingly and grins.