Fic: Through the waterfall

They rode back through the waterfall.  The horses accepted it again – Merlin supposed Arthur’s horse was ensorcelled, and Merlin’s horse must have trusted Arthur’s horse an awful lot.  Neither of them flinched like Merlin did, passing into that obliterating, hammering force of water.

After a few long seconds he was through, and drenched, and half-laughing, half-choking.  And Arthur was waiting for him, half-laughing himself.

They waded the horses back to shore, cheerfully enough.  Everything was the same, but different.

They didn’t talk – Merlin was conscious of the futility of most of what he had said today, in any case.  They were outside of what had happened for now – it was heavy, but they were light, like children giddy outside a fair tent.  Merlin thought Arthur did have the slightly foolish smile of a small boy whose mother had sent him off somewhere exciting – he looked at the water, at the mane of his horse, at his own gauntlet, as if he had never seen them before.

When they got to shore, Arthur dismounted to help lead Merlin’s horse out of the water, and even leant Merlin his shoulder to help him get down.

“We’d better dry these off or we’ll rust,” Arthur said.  He knocked on his gardbrace.

“You will, you mean,” Merlin said.  “Might shut you up.”  But his tone came out soft, as if they were whispering in the dark.

“If I were rusted solid, I’d have nothing to do all day but find even more things for you to do,” Arthur replied.

“Luckily, I don’t think that’s possible.”  Merlin threw off his own bedraggled shirt and boots to start with – that was easily enough done, he wasn’t trussed up like Arthur.

Then he set about sorting Arthur out.

Arthur let Merlin kneel and take his boots off, but then, abruptly, he sat down on a mound of grass.  That was alright, but he’d have to shift in a minute to let Merlin get his surcoat and mail off – he was sitting on the hem.  Merlin sat down beside him.  He pulled Arthur’s head into his lap to get at his neck fastenings.

Arthur, who had just met his mother for the first, only and last time, took a great shaking breath and began to weep.

It was a terrible sound, like a rusted gate being torn open, like an animal being throttled.  It was the sound of someone who had perhaps not allowed himself to cry since he was a small boy, and who did not entirely understand what was happening to his body.

Merlin wished more than anything not to startle, or shame, or annoy Arthur.   Grace remained with him: he realised the best thing to do was to say nothing, and simply let Arthur weep in his lap.

Inevitably, as he held Arthur, Merlin began to think of his own father, and what it would have meant to meet his father’s shade, and how Merlin was not important enough that anyone would stage a whole public challenge and mysterious quest thing just to give him what he desired more than anything.

Still, it was not really possible to be bitter with Arthur quaking against his knee like this.

Merlin looked away across the clearing.  There was a hawthorn in bloom, and a willow trailing in the water.  A thrush was piping a little song, paying no mind to Arthur.

Arthur’s mother had told him he was handsome, and she loved him, before she was carried away into the wind and the darkness.  What a thing.

Eventually Arthur stopped sounding like he was choking – he sat up a bit, and went on to have a more normal, moderate sort of a cry, now on Merlin’s shoulder.  It was a bit futile to pat someone wearing chain mail, but Merlin persisted.

Finally Arthur started to shiver – Merlin hadn’t progressed very far in getting him out of his wet things.  He went back to working on Arthur’s neck lacings.

That seemed to wake Arthur up.

All at once, the tide receded.  Arthur sat up properly.  He was bright-eyed, his face pink and swollen.  He looked at Merlin and said, in a voice like water raking through sand, “Why are you crying?”

“I dunno,” Merlin said.  “Seemed like the thing to do.”  His own voice was nasal.

They smiled at each other, with the foolishness of earlier.

“Come on, you’ll freeze to death,” Merlin said.

It seemed not too risky, after all, to say a little spell into Arthur’s hair, to get the sodden lacings undone.  Merlin covered Arthur’s neck with his hand so the hard little knots on the ends didn’t strike Arthur’s skin.  “Hmm?” Arthur asked.

But Merlin said, “Nothing.  Just mumbling.”

Arthur replied, “Mmm.”

Merlin helped Arthur out of his metal carapace.  His bare skin, when he was down to it, had little pink marks where hard bits had poked into him while he was damp and vulnerable.  Merlin rubbed the marks gently.  Arthur leaned his forehead on Merlin’s shoulder, as if he wanted to sleep.

Merlin had such a yearning to tell Arthur the truth, it was almost physically unbearable.

In Merlin’s fantasy, he simply put his mouth against Arthur’s temple and said, “Arthur?”  And Arthur said sleepily, Mmm? And Merlin said, “I’m a sorcerer.”

They pulled back to look at each other.  Arthur smiled at him beatifically, and said, “Are you?”

Then the fantasy got a bit raggedy around the edges.  The fantasy didn’t want to go through how Merlin would have to re-explain the course of practically every day they’d known each other and confess every single lie he’d told, and how maybe Arthur would be frightened, or angry, or betrayed.  And how Merlin would futilely try to explain how every time he told another lie now, it felt like he was dying, but he just had to keep racking them up, day after day.  And every time he thought he couldn’t stand it, he had to do it again.

The fantasy didn’t care about that.  The fantasy just wanted to get onto the next thing, which was that they lay down and did some of the things that they had recently started doing in Arthur’s bed in the evenings, when Merlin would get in for a little while, before he put the candle out.

That was how Merlin knew he was definitely being silly.  All his fantasies seemed to end that way these days.  He wasn’t sure what was wrong with him.

They laid out the clothes and armour to dry.

“Right, I’m going to blow my nose, the farmer’s way,” Arthur snuffled.  “You coming?”

They waded out knee-deep into the lake, and bent over to blow their noses into the water.  Then Arthur threatened Merlin with his snot, of which there was a lot, and Merlin was forced to splash him to defend himself.  And then rather a lot of splashing went on.  They got quite wet again, and eventually cold.

They went back to sit on the grassy mound.  Now Arthur was rubbing Merlin’s back to warm him up, which was nice.  Arthur’s skin smelled sweet, even through the lake water.

Then Arthur said, “Lie down.”

Merlin did not understand right away.

But then he did, and he was instantly, embarrassingly stiff.  He lay down and Arthur ran his fingertips over him, teasing.

Arthur was making the little hmm sound that meant he was mocking Merlin for liking to lie down for him so much, but liking it as well.  And Merlin was trying to kiss Arthur, and Arthur wouldn’t let him right away, and oh, Arthur was terrible – no, now he was wonderful, now they were kissing and kissing.

Then Arthur made Merlin turn over, and oh, they were really going to do it here, where anyone could come along and see Merlin bending over and letting Arthur.  Merlin’s ears could have heated a hall in winter.  He could feel the cold, public air all over him.

But at the same time, he was frantic for Arthur to do it.  Every time they were together now, Merlin seemed to get more frantic.

Oh hell, it took forever when there was no ointment or anything, Arthur had to keep stopping and licking his fingers to make Merlin wetter.  And he liked to play around with his licked fingers, and not get back to business for ages.

And then suddenly he would, and shove it in and fill Merlin’s entire body, sharp as a sword-thrust.

“The noises you make, Merlin,” Arthur said, trying to mock him again.

“You try it, and see what noises you make,” Merlin choked out.

“Maybe I will,” Arthur laughed, and then Merlin was fairly sure he’d ruptured something.

*

“Right, that’s that, then.”  Arthur was pulling on his armour – snap, thwack and clack.

Grace had deserted Merlin again.  He dropped a piece of Arthur’s plate in a dry patch of dirt, and had to dust it off on his own trousers.  Then he took an inordinate amount of time to get a tangle out of Arthur’s bootlace, while Arthur breathed audibly through his nose.

It was a long way home through the forest.   As they got further away from the lake, the hawthorns were no longer in bloom.  Tall oaks closed their fingers above the path and cast the way into shadow, and the heat faded out of the sun for the day.  It was cold and uncomfortable to be riding in not-quite-dry clothes.  Intermittently Arthur would urge his horse into a trot, and Merlin’s horse would follow, which made Merlin bounce around like a sack of potatoes on a wagon.

Still, Merlin kept drifting off and imagining ridiculous things, like how any minute now he would tell Arthur the truth, and how now that Arthur understood everything that had gone on with his parents, he would have no more doubts about sorcery, and would think Merlin was wonderful, and appoint him some sort of Royal Counsellor.  And everyone would have to talk nicely to him and fetch his dinners and his bath water.  And Merlin could magic up presents for Arthur, and find things for him that had been hopelessly lost, and make illusions in smoke for him.  And Merlin and Arthur would have to get adjoining chambers, for ease of taking counsel.

At night, Merlin would magic Arthur’s clothes off.   Then Merlin would take Arthur up on his earlier offer for hours at a time.

All these thoughts might have been why he did not notice how quiet Arthur was.

As they broke out of the trees, in the last of the daylight, towards Camelot, the portcullis was already coming down.   “Halt, there!” Arthur shouted, and they scraped in under the iron teeth of it, ducking to miss the points of the spikes.

In the street, Merlin came up abreast with Arthur, and only then did he notice how rigid Arthur had become on his horse.  If even Merlin could see it then it bordered on a poor seat, which was shocking for Arthur.

The thing was, none of Merlin’s fantasies had featured Arthur’s father – Uther wasn’t there, but there was no mention of how that had come to be.

It wasn’t until Arthur drew his sword on the steps of the keep that Merlin began to realise exactly how silly he had been.  There was nothing Merlin could ever wish for that would involve Arthur stalking into the throne room with a drawn sword.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Eyebrow of Doom November 25th, 2009 2:54 am
  2. Michelle December 17th, 2011 10:22 am

    You must be getting the feeling that I’m stalking you. But well, when I find an author whose stories I’ll like I tend to catch up with all the fandoms and pairings that interest me:) And Arthur and his own personal sorcerer do interest me.

    This was excellent, as everything I’ve read of yours so far. I since I can never resist crying men (especially when they’re the sort who doesn’t cry, ever) this was right up my alley!

  3. Eyebrow of Doom January 3rd, 2012 4:37 pm

    I wholly approve of this kind of stalker! 🙂 Thanks once again.

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