"Oh." Merlin runs a shaking hand through his hair, looking like someone whose entire world has fallen apart. "I didn't--I didn't know."
Arthur leans his head against the footboard, because that's so fucking true. "I rather thought so," he says, so impossibly tired, but the fear on Merlin's face makes him continue. "It's--it's not often, that you do that," he says quickly, even though in some ways, that's a lie, but a lie only here. When he knew what to look for, it flared unexpectedly in perfect baths and perfect fires and impossibly clean, pressed clothing without a crease. Arthur had been careful, removing duties that Merlin would never notice the lack of, opening his days enough so the temptation to use magic casually would never be present, at least where others might see. "You've been careful." And when he's not, Arthur's careful for him.
Merlin shakes that off like it doesn't matter. "You didn't say anything."
"You didn't want me to know." The ache of that is old, a habitual, simmering hurt, long forgiven, backed with perfect comprehension of all the reasons the crown prince of Camelot and Uther's son could never, never know. That he understands, always has, even from the first.
Merlin's lover, however…that's the question he'll never been sure enough to ask, and the answer is one he may not be able to hear.
Arthur shivers, thin shirt not proof against the chill of the room, and Merlin motions toward the hearth so casually, so instinctively he must have done this a thousand times and Arthur never noticed. The fire flares up, and he can feel the room warm around him.
There are a thousand ways Merlin's changed his life, but it's these things that he values most, ridiculously small and endearingly kind, the way that Arthur's never been or ever wanted to be and wonders if he can ever learn.
"You should have told me," Merlin says finally, and Arthur looks at him, has to, and Merlin's expression changes, unwilling smile cracking through, bleeding regret. "Yes, I know."
"I thought about it," every day, every time he touched Merlin, kissed him and wanted him so desperately and wondered why this was so damned hard. Like saying that one thing, "I know what you are" and "I want to see what else you can do" would break open the dam on everything else, ripping the rest from him like a bandage from a suppurating wound with nothing left to protect him. Which had in fact worked brilliantly, he thinks bitterly. "I didn't know how."
"Neither did I. Especially…" Merlin trails off. "I practiced it, you know," he says, all in a rush. "I did. But it always--I'd see you and you'd smile at me and I couldn't give that up yet. I just--I wanted more time. Just a little." Merlin blows out a breath. "Which worked out well, I think. The only time you'd even look at me was when…."
Arthur flushes and fixes his eyes on the fire, unbearably grateful when Merlin breaks off into hideously uncomfortable quiet that stretches to every wall and fills the room until the air itself feels too heavy to breathe.
"Is it still raining?" Arthur says uneasily. They have to get out of here or this silence will be all they have left; they'll never be able to break it, no matter how many words are spoken or shouted between them.
He can feel the force of Merlin's stare. "Yes. Surprisingly. As it has for weeks. Why?"
Well, he's being sarcastic again, which is something. "So is there a spell to move a sea serpent? I didn't see one."
"…read my book," Merlin says, somehow having become so much better on a horse than Arthur had expected and close enough for Arthur to hear every hissed word.
"Why are you upset about that? You hide it with bloody Cicero. Which," he admits, "is rather well done. No one reads him if they don't have to."
Merlin pauses, giving him a look from beneath the hood of the cloak he snatched from Arthur's closet with a stare that dared Arthur to say something about it. "You went into my room and stole--"
"I never took it from the room." It was always so comfortable there, and he could read and pretend, at least for a little while, that Merlin knew and approved; it was almost like being told willingly, almost like being part of Merlin's life and not just an accessory to it.
"Read my book, in my room, and you just--all this time," Merlin says in shock, stopping short to marvel the entire thing all over again like it's some kind of bloody miracle. Arthur hadn't thought contrition would last long, but moving on to insulting surprise isn't an improvement. "And you never said anything."
"I can keep a secret." God knows, he has enough of them, piling up in the corners of his mind in neatly delineated spaces named Uther and Morgana and Merlin and Myself, cross-referenced and annotated and avoided for the latter, because if it’s a secret from himself, he's sure he doesn't want to know about it. "Watch that branch."
Merlin ducks, falling back for a blissful few seconds before coming up beside him again, and Arthur thinks whoever made this particular barely-used forest path wide enough for two horses was a fucking bastard.
Merlin doesn't say anything, however, which somehow turns out to be so much worse, and even though Arthur doesn't look, he can feel the quicksilver glances, measuring and thoughtful. Merlin's far smarter than he acts and doesn’t necessarily need anything so mundane as facts to come to the correct conclusion.
"So you think you can move this sea serpent?" he says quickly.
"I--think so." Merlin hesitates. "Though, I don't--it attacked you. That's not normal sea serpent behavior."
"Perhaps in revenge for the unicorn," Arthur offers, not rubbing his arm with the flare of remembered pain. "Perhaps they all talk amongst themselves."
Merlin doesn't dignify that with a response, but Arthur's not so sure it's not possible. Uther's not endeared himself to magical creatures and now his son has a reputation for slaughtering them with crossbows, and if he were one, he'd be spread this sort of information as far as it would go. If he was a magical creature with an ability to communicate with other magical creatures, that is.
That train of thought occupies him for a good distance, considering the type of warning system he'd set in place for such a thing--a few scattered key creatures who could appear as normal, ready and waiting for intrusions, an alarm of some sort. Perhaps one stationed in Camelot itself. He's debating dog versus horse when he turns to look at Merlin and sees something that makes him very much wish for a much, much harder rain.
"About Gwen and Lady Morgana," he starts, and Arthur loosens the reins to avoid the temptation to send his horse off at a gallop, "I didn't tell them. They--well, saw me. It was an accident--rather like in your room, but oddly, they didn't seduce me afterward."
Arthur smiles, showing his teeth. "How fortunate for them."
Merlin's eyes widen and he looks away, the hood of the cloak shadowing his face. That seems to silence him, but Arthur has a hundred questions he'd like to ask and still can't find the words to frame. Eventually, Merlin might stumble over one and answer it on his own.
"But I was hiding it from everyone, not just you," Merlin presses on after a few minutes of welcome silence, "and I meant to tell you. I did. And I--" Merlin's voice drops, and in a fair world, the rain would drown it out, but maybe it's magic, he can hear every fucking word. "I just had so much to lose."
"I know," Arthur bites off. His home and his employment and his life and his mother's as well, though Arthur had planned for that, and Hunith and Merlin and Gaius will be long out of the kingdom if that day ever comes while Uther still continues his purge and finds out the truth. Arthur too, if he can manage it; he can't see why he couldn't.
They ride on blessed silence for a while, and Arthur thinks of sea serpent and moving it and even for a second, contemplates a moat he could keep it in, safe and comfortable and fed all the fish it can stomach, far away from the possible dangers of the ocean--why the hell else would a sea serpent come this far inland? Push people into it, too, starting with Merlin, who is looking at him again and like he just might want to talk.
"So I--I suppose I'm sacked?" he says finally. "I know why you didn't before--"
That would be interesting news to Arthur; Merlin's face is hidden by the hood of the cloak, so there's no way to look a question.
"I suppose the rest," he says, with an appallingly explicit hand gesture, "you don't have any objection to, though Gaius will be happy if I apprentice permanently instead of just when you don't need me," he goes on, apparently ready with a new life plan and sounding highly unenthusiastic about it. Arthur looks up at the trees that are blocking a great deal of rain and hates them with a passion.
"You're not sacked," he manages finally. "Your duties remain the same, and yes, the other thing--" and it only take a second for Arthur to parse that sentence when Merlin looks at him with huge, shocked eyes and adds, "for the love of God, I'm not paying you for that! For the things that aren't that! The other things!"
"What other things? You keep getting other people to do my duties!" Merlin shouts, turning surprisingly red. "First the field, then bringing meals, and I have to sneak around to get to your armour and don't think I didn't notice your sudden attachment to the armoury and then the laundry…."
"You don't tell me your schedule! I don't know how to tell if you have too much to do and may be tempted to use magic! I had to guess from what I could gather from Gwen, who was under the impression I was trying to seduce her through the entire hideously awkward conversation, thank you for that," Arthur yells back, because this is getting ridiculous. "I don't know what you do or how much time it takes and believe it or not, people get very nervous when I ask to observe them perform their duties or assume--"
"Oh," Merlin says, but Arthur's not close to done.
"--or assume I want to know if they have time for more intimate services, and I don't know if you've noticed, I'm a prince and somewhere along the line the chambermaids have picked up the odd idea that noblesse oblige means they can lift their skirts when they bring me dinner and I'll be--"
"--I'll be so overcome with uncontrollable lust that I'll forget I am tired and hungry and their underthings are blocking my dinner." Somewhere in his mind, Arthur's aware that this has gone on well past anything resembling a reasonable explanation, but it's been months and months of having to guess and he's heartily sick of all of it.
Arthur stares at the back of his horse's head, hearing himself in Merlin's voice. That can't end well. "I don't remember." When really, the question is, which one didn't. That would be Gwen.
"You didn't," Merlin starts, and Arthur nearly loses his grip on the reins trying to think of what to say to get whatever that is in his voice to go away. Forever, preferably.
Reviewing the last few minutes, Arthur wonders if Merlin knows a spell that can rewind time, just a bit, just back to say, before he lost his mind and actually answered a question.
"So," Merlin says slowly, sounding uncomfortable, "not Bedwyr, then."
Arthur stops his horse short. "Of course not! Where would you get the idea--" Tavern, last night. Straw. Always knows where he is, except for recently, apparently. "Did Bedwyr get his cold from nature?" Arthur asks suspiciously. He hadn't seen that in the book. Maybe he hadn't read far enough. Merlin stares straight ahead, and Arthur grabs for the reins, just in case Merlin is suddenly violently interested in the sea serpent again. "You didn't."
Merlin lifts his chin. "I'm sure he would have gotten it anyway, standing in the rain like that," Merlin says, looking defiant and guilty both. "Drinking and--eating. The food at that tavern is terrible. You could pick up anything from there."
"Christ." Letting go, Arthur sits back. Unable to think of anything to do, so knees his horse gently to keep going. Merlin eventually catches up, though not beside him, which isn't comforting.
Arthur thinks about it for several paces. Maybe, possibly, but. "Not really," he admits finally, feeling he's losing something in moral high ground but not sure he ever had it to begin with. "Just don't do it again."
"All right." After a few seconds, Merlin's horse catches up, and they have to be close to that fucking serpent already. How long have they been riding? It feels like years. Long, horrible years filled with talking and feelings. "You could have asked. About my schedule."
"You think it's an imposition to close the window when it's raining," Arthur says flatly.
"Telling me to stand up and walk seconds after you've been fucking me, yes," Merlin says heatedly, though Arthur can almost see the blush through the hood, "yes, that is an imposition! I can't even remember my own name and you want me to find a bloody window?"
Arthur wonders if he's flushing as hotly as his face feels. "Fine." God, where is that fucking river?
"Arthur," Merlin says just as Arthur realizes they've reached the river and he has every reason in the world to gallop ahead. Riding up, Arthur looks at the swollen edge, feet beyond the natural banks and rushing dark and rapid and endlessly deep.
Merlin reaches him as he's dismounting, looking at it with wide eyes. "You were in that," he says, voice rising toward a pitch Arthur hadn't realized he could achieve. That anyone could achieve. "You walked into that?"
Looking at it now, Arthur thinks he must have been very tired. "Yes," he says, kicking at the dirt and watching, appalled, as it crumbles into the rushing water. "It wasn't this bad, I'm sure."
Tying his horse to the tree farthest from the water, Arthur goes to the edge, looking down at the rush of the currents that carried houses away before his eyes. Yes, it had been this bad.
"You--" Merlin comes up beside him, damp cloak shaking and radiating anger. "I don't believe it. I let you go without me because you said it was just a patrol--"
"A patrol," Merlin says, sounding like he's spitting out the word, pushing back the hood impatiently, wet hair ruffled into something that shouldn't be possible to achieve without the assistance of say, lightning. "Two days. You were out here for two days. What did you do?"
"Checked the villages," Arthur says, watching Merlin's face, tight lipped and pale. "They reported the outliers who hadn't been seen. So--"
"You had to ride to save them."
"I had to recover their bodies for their families."
Merlin looks up at him, face startlingly white. "Why?"
"Who else was there to do it?" Arthur looks at the water. "They deserve to know, not to wonder. To have something at the end and a way to say goodbye."
"And only you can do it."
Arthur looks up, unable to stop the smile. "I'm the crown prince of Camelot. Where I lead, others will follow."
Merlin looks at him as if he's never seen him before. "You--can't just give an order."
Arthur shrugs, looking at the fast-moving water spinning by them. "What I do," he says finally, putting the years this lesson took for him to understand into every word; it took so much longer than it should have, to learn this, to live it, "is more important than anything I could say. When I tell them to fight, they have to see I will be the first to lead the charge and the last to retreat. And when I tell them their duty is to help the people they will one day rule, they have to see, to know, that I live that every day. Men follow me because I was born a prince. They have to--"
Arthur jerks his gaze to Merlin, kneeling with fingers brushing the surface of the water.
"You are such a prat," Merlin breathes, looking up with eyes flickering gold. "When I met you, I couldn't imagine what on earth the dragon was talking about--" Dragon, Arthur thinks, bewildered. Dragon. A dragon? "Right, that's next. When we're done here. He said you would be a great king. I thought he'd gone mad."
"Dragon?" Arthur says blankly.
"I told you, in a minute, I’m trying to tell you something and you're bollocking it up." Arthur closes his mouth, because really, this is Merlin. Of course he talks to dragons; the wonder would be that he didn't. "See, I thought he'd gone mad from being under the castle--"
"That dragon? The dragon under the castle? You talk to the dragon under the castle--"
"God," Merlin says, with a pained look. "Forget the dragon. You have a great destiny. Can we start from there? You don't listen at all, do you? You never have. People don't make sense at all to you, and I didn't understand why. And it was this--it was this all along, wasn't it? You don't believe what they say when it's not what they do." Merlin shakes his head slowly, like he's discovering something new and not the mundanity of Arthur's life to date. "Doesn't that drive you mad? No one--."
"You do," Arthur answers, knee-jerk. "Morgana. Gwen." He looks away, feeling more naked than the first time he'd taken off his clothing before Merlin's eyes. "Others--they can be--irritating."
"Yes, I'd say that is an understatement," Merlin says softly, looking down at the water. "I thought you were a prat and you are, honestly. Men are never going to follow you because you're crown prince, and you have to know that. They don't now. They follow you, and fight mythical monsters for you, and walk into fucking rivers for you, and try to die for you because you're you. They can't imagine doing anything else." Merlin flickers his hand in the water, looking rueful. "I know the feeling."
The water begins to glow, a spread of summer light reaching across the river, and Merlin smiles, odd and shy, the water growing as clear as glass. Arthur watches, breathless, as something shadowed and huge blocks the light, then pushes toward the surface, breaking with a splash of water like liquid sunlight, curving high above their heads, black and green, a living myth emerging huge and dazzling from dusty books and so, so much bigger than Arthur could ever have imagined.
A sea serpent. He's looking at a sea serpent.
"That's a sea serpent," Arthur says faintly, neck aching and not much caring as the head, as large as three horses and possibly a small but well-made cottage, breaks through branches, sprinkling them with a rain of twigs and leaves. Grabbing Merlin's arm, Arthur jerks them from the path of a falling branch.
"Yes, it is," Merlin says, sounding equally shocked. "Quite--big, isn't it?"
"I'd say," Arthur says, watching the head disappear above the trees before it coils downward again, slipping smoothly beneath the water. How can the river have something that damned big? "Thought it would be--not quite that big."
"Something in a possible size, yes, I was thinking that, too." Merlin's hand closes over his, cold and wet, and Arthur slides his fingers through Merlin's, pulling him back from the bank and moving a little ahead, blocking Merlin with one shoulder. "Are you--what, are you trying to protect me?"
"Someone has to go back and tell everyone how I died," Arthur says as its head finally comes down far enough to be visible without severe neck pain. It stares at him from glossy black eyes, head tilting slightly like it's trying to remember how he tastes. "When you tell the story, I'd prefer a heroic death."
"You're not going to die, you idiot!" Merlin pushes forward, fingers tightening around his. "If anyone's going to die--"
"It'll be me and not my manservant. Who would tell that story around the fire at night?" Arthur snaps. "Get back or everyone will know you cried like a girl, you prick."
Merlin stares at him, mouth open. "You wouldn't."
"Into my cloak you stole, yes, I would, and to every person I see. Get back--"
Merlin gasps, eyes wide and filled with gold. Arthur catches him when his knees crumple, sword already in his hand, easing Merlin to the wet ground. This isn't how he thought he'd die, though he supposes there are far worse ways than defending someone he loves. Slowly and painfully by the claws of a questing beast while everyone watches helplessly--no one should have to see that. "What did you do?" he says to the sea serpent, like the fucking thing can understand--
"Ah, that would be me," Merlin says suddenly, leaning against his shoulder and looking surprised. "Huh. So the spell worked."
Arthur looks down at Merlin, pale and shaky, one hand reaching across and grabbing his sword arm, tugging at it. "Really," he says breathlessly, "it was a spell to--to talk to it--"
"Why would you want to talk to it?" It's a bloody sea serpent, what, Merlin wants to know its favorite food? Fish or prince?
Merlin's mouth tightens. "It hurt you. I wanted to make sure--"
"That it wanted to go home?"
"It hurt you!" Merlin yells, a badly-fisted hand connecting with Arthur's shoulder. "I'm not sending something that tried to kill you back to the ocean, you idiot, I'm getting rid of it so it can't ever do it again!" Then he winces, grabbing his head, and Arthur makes an executive decision that something that big with scales like fucking armour isn't going to be all that threatened by a sword, and his knife will do better away. Dropping the sword, he pulls Merlin up against him, blood vivid beneath his nose. Merlin breathes out in what sounds like annoyance, shaking his head slightly. "I--okay, quieter, please. That hurts."
"It's talking--" Merlin winces, and Arthur reaches with one gloved hand to wipe at the new streak of blood. Merlin swats weakly at him, fingers curling around his wrist. "That's--that's better. Just a moment, Arthur. I need to concentrate."
Merlin opens his eyes long enough to scowl, then closes them again, leaning trustingly into his shoulder, and Arthur looks between the extremely large head hovering just above them and Merlin and gathers him up, fairly sure he can throw Merlin clear if the thing attacks.
This will never be a song anyone will ever want to sing anywhere, ever. Hovering sea serpent, half-conscious sorcerer, and a prince on the muddy ground with icy water soaking into his trousers: this is not the stuff of ballads, but it is the stuff of Arthur's life now, filled with surprises and unexpected light, never boring, never disappointing, and he can't help but smile, pulling Merlin into his lap and off the wet ground and gathering the cloak around him more carefully.
Merlin stirs, eyes half-opening, before he looks up over Arthur's shoulder, mouth curving up in a brilliant smile. "Thank you," he says, voice thick and filled with something vast, like the stretch of space between the stars. "I do owe you. Collect whenever you like; I'll be here, assuming I don't kill him myself. Hold on, I'll send you and the others back now. Thank you. Thank you so much." The golden eyes glow bright, words flowing over Arthur's skin and trailing down his spine like warm water, and for a second, Arthur feels something scaly and rough brush the top of his head, almost gently.
When he looks up, the serpent is gone and Merlin's shivering, burrowing against him, hands climbing up his tunic and to his shoulders until both arms are around his neck and he's not sure he can breathe. Then again, he's not sure he really cares.
"You are so stupid; why would you be that stupid?" Merlin mutters against his ear, voice shaking, pulling back to stare at him, eyes huge and blue and oddly wet. "You--you can't go anywhere without me again. Ever. In your fucking life, you utter ass."
They overbalance; Arthur tries to catch himself, but both arms are occupied with Merlin and that damnable cloak, and freezing water soaks into his coat and works patiently into his tunic and shirt while Merlin braces both hands on the muddy ground and glares at him.
"Two days," he says through his teeth, "two days of patrol, you fucking liar, you wandered out into the river a dozen times and that last time, that last time, you were so tired, didn't you know how strong the current was? It watched you and it followed you for two days while you kept going beyond what any sane man would, and after your knights had the good sense to stop, but they couldn't stop you. No, not the fucking crown prince of Camelot being a fucking example and all, and it saw you were going to fall and it came for you--it stopped you, it stopped the river around you so you could get back to shore and it sliced your arm because maybe if you couldn't use that arm, you might stop." Merlin plants a muddy hand on his shoulder, pushing him back before he can try and sit up. "And it watched you help to build that last pyre and thought you were actually going to go out again, but your knights realized you'd gone mad and made you leave. Did they tie you on your horse?"
Arthur stares up at him. "I--no. Well, yes, they said they would, but there was no spare rope--"
"Yes, of course, no rope, they know better now," Merlin says, sitting up, shifting his weight like Arthur had taught him to pin an opponent and usually used in much more enjoyable ways. "It followed you to Camelot. It watched you until it was sure you were safe, because it knew I was there and I'd--that I'd--" Merlin rubs a shaking hand across his face, leaving a streak of mud behind. "That of course I knew you were out there, I'm a sorcerer. And by the way, it thinks I'm pretty incompetent that I didn't know what my king was up to wandering about the countryside on his own, so there goes my reputation--"
"I'm not a king," Arthur starts and Merlin reaches down and shakes him, fingers tight on his shoulders. Arthur can honestly say no one has ever done that to him before, but Merlin's been first for so many things, so it's not precisely a surprise. He can feel mud caking in his hair; Merlin's helping with his bath tonight, no question.
"You can't do that. You can't. You're going to change the world and you can't do that if you're dead in a river."
"I'm not--dead in the river," Arthur says warily, balancing throwing Merlin off into the mud against the fact it's cold and wet and at least one of them should stay somewhat dry and free of fever and it's probably not going to be him with water accumulating in his boots and soaking his collar. "Merlin--"
"You scared the sea serpents, Arthur. You scared the sea serpents dragging yourself around like some kind of lackwitted hero from a incredibly stupid ballad…."
"Why would a sea serpent care--"
"You're his bloody king, that's why! They've been waiting for you, we've all been waiting for you, don't you understand, you can't do this, you're--"
Arthur wonders if connecting with the mind of sea serpents causes some kind of short term insanity. "Merlin--"
"You could have died and--I didn't know." Merlin jerks back, going white and swaying, shaking like he's going to fall apart. Arthur reaches for him and gets his hands slapped away for his trouble. "I didn't know. You came back and came to bed and you didn't say you could have died in a damned river. You may never leave Camelot without me again. I can't sit and wait like a particularly dense princess in a story. This isn't a story, this is everything, this is my life. What would I do if you were gone?"
Arthur squints up at him. "Find someone else to irritate? Merlin, I am lying in water and it's rather cold--"
"I'd probably die too, that's what, did you think of that? If I hadn't said I wouldn't do that anymore, I would give you the worst cold in the history of the world," Merlin says viciously, and then kisses him. It probably says so much about them both that it doesn't seem that odd at all. Arthur kisses him back, the only warm thing in the entire world and maybe, just maybe, the only thing he wants anyway. When Merlin pulls back, Arthur licks his lips, trying to identify the odd, salty taste lingering on his tongue.
"Were you--" Arthur reaches up, careful of his muddy fingers, though honesty, Merlin's smeared himself pretty thoroughly. Red-rimmed eyes glare back. "Merlin?"
"Shut up," Merlin says miserably, rubbing his eyes with one narrow wrist. "It's not like this is a surprise, I know you. You'll do these things because that's who you are and that's why I'm in love with you, but that's why you have to, have to let me help you."
Arthur forgets that it's raining and the mud currently taking up residence in his trousers; he wonders why he ever cared to begin with. "Merlin."
"I knew it wouldn’t be easy." Merlin says bitterly. "Should have fallen in love with a nice, safe chambermaid or a page or someone who doesn't think the best fun in the world is to try to drown in rivers. Someone who--"
"I'm not sure I'd take that well at all," Arthur says, pushing himself up, hand skidding on the muddy ground, feeling mud working itself into his gloves. "Could you--" He tilts Merlin's face up, struggling against the habit of silence; he can do this. "That spell, with the drying--"
"It starts things on fire," Merlin mutters, muddy hand wrapping around his wrist and pressing his cheeks against the palm in absent affection. Arthur shivers, breathless. "Morgana found a hole in her cloak."
"And straw. But only a little, I'm sure it will eventually work--"
Merlin shakes his head angrily, free hand fisting in his coat. "You--the thing is, you have to promise me--"
Merlin frowns, hesitating. "I--didn't actually finish telling you what to promise me."
"I know," Arthur says, grinning up at him. "Make a list and I'll say yes. To all of them. Any of them. Even the ones you don't think you can ask, I'll make them to you. And I'll keep them all."
Merlin's eyes go wide. "Arthur--"
For a second, he's not sure Merlin understands, then blue eyes flare incandescent gold and incredibly bright with all the potential of a new day and a new, brilliant life, glittering with promise, and so the fuck what if he's back on the ground in the rain by a riverbank, covered in mud and feeling like he'll never be dry again. Merlin's mouth is soft and sweet and so happy, and he's so warm he may never remember how it felt to be cold.