Codes: Arthur/other, Arthur/Merlin
Spoilers: season two in general (not specific)
Summary: "A mere man cannot match us," she says, drawing a fingernail down his cheek. "But you are no mere man, are you?"
Warning: see here for warnings (minor spoilers)
Author Notes: shinetheway and transtempts for pre-reading and encouragement. This is more a fusion of several versions of the myth than a pure source.
Faintly, Arthur can hear the exultant shouts of his knights as they chase the boar that had eluded the party all the day. Hesitating, Arthur glances back; the trail of the stag is clear enough, but it's closing on evening, and Arthur has no desire to navigate the forest after nightfall to round up his men.
The unusual late fall heat hasn't lessened; pulling at his collar, Arthur glances at the green-gold canopy of trees that block the worst of the afternoon sun. Too fine a day after the weeks of rain to resist; the knights had been restless, trapped behind the damp stone of the castle walls and reduced to dicing between limited drills in the indoor salle and hunting among the serving folk for willing partners for the long, damp nights. Arthur admits, if only to himself, that his temper hadn't been any improvement on the promiscuity of his knights; Merlin had bourn the brunt of his temper long enough that even Arthur began to suspect either Merlin was indeed as lackwitted as he'd always called him or plotting something that Arthur has no doubt he'll regret and be forced to make Merlin regret even more.
Better he stay here; the knights like Merlin well enough, and he'd shown no interest in accompanying Arthur after the stag. Nor did Arthur insist; the distance will do them both good.
Turning back to the trail, Arthur's startled by the sight of the stag only feet away; despite how close it came, Arthur hadn't heard it approach. Frowning, Arthur holds himself still, watching the brown eyes dart among the trees. After a moment, Arthur moves slowly, reaching for an arrow for his crossbow, the air seeming to still around them in expectation.
The stag's head turns abruptly, eyes meeting Arthur's, and something bright and intelligent looks back. The restless movements of its legs cease, so still it could be a well-carved statue of green-stained sunlight and pale wood but for those vivid eyes that flicker amber and brown by turn.
Arthur's fingers numb, dropping the arrow back into the quiver.
"Wise choice, child of man," a voice murmurs close to his ear, and yet not; startled Arthur watches as a man--little more than a boy himself--emerges from behind (within?) an ivy-thick tree, heavy green limbs drooping over his head like a canopy. Lowering his arm, Arthur watches one long fingered hand reach for the stag, palm resting briefly on its head before he turns to look at Arthur with gold-sheened eyes.
Arthur licks his lips as the man flickers his fingers at the stag with a small, secret smile curving a mouth cherry-dark. The stag hesitates, and there's a moment Arthur thinks it seems reluctant. The man roll his eyes, pushing at the muzzle playfully, despite the huge horns arching over them both; an animal with so little fear of man would be a danger to the common folk that hunt from these woods. "Never you mind, little one. I mean him no harm."
The stag's head swings almost reluctantly before spinning on its heels, it sprints farther into the forest, vanishing into the undergrowth between one tree and the next in impossible silence. The man's gaze follows the stag curiously until it's gone, then he turns to Arthur searchingly.
"You would have taken its life for a trophy, yet it worried to leave you alone with me," the man says, so softly that even the lightest wind should have stolen his voice away. Hand clenched on the crossbow, Arthur watches him cross the spread of browning grass and brush between them as smoothly as a man crossing a plain stone floor. The fine-featured face is as pretty as a girl's, wide mouth the red of wild cherries, thick black lashes dark against snow-pale skin. The tunic and trousers are as fine as any lord's, but when Arthur looks down, the narrow feet are smooth and bare, unscratched and clean despite exposure to the rough ground.
The man comes to a stop close enough to touch; he's taller than Arthur had thought. Tipping his head back slightly, Arthur finds he's not quite able to look away from the amused golden eyes. "Tell me your name, child," the man murmurs in a voice as rich as wine pouring over Arthur's skin, reaching one slim hand to brush his thumb slowly up Arthur's jaw, leaving a trail of liquid heat behind.
"Arthur Pendragon," Arthur answers breathlessly; the crossbow falls from numb fingers. The man's mouth curves in a mocking smile as he leans forward, and Arthur closes his eyes at the brush of lips against his, reaching for the man helplessly, thick dark hair curling between his fingers like silk, tasting thick wine and wild berries on the man's lips, feeling suddenly drunk from the touch.
Abruptly, he feels the rough scrape of bark against his back, the man as close as his own skin, thigh pressed to his cock; Arthur's harder than he can ever remember being in his life. The man licks into his mouth, one hand pushing up beneath Arthur's tunic to scratch sharp nails against the small of his back and pushing down into his trousers. Arthur arches into the touch; he wants this, whatever this man wishes to do with him, to him.
Gasping a breath on a sudden wind that tastes of wildflowers and clear running streams, fresh grass and spring breezes, Arthur tilts his head back for the mouth that explores his throat, pushing the collar of his shirt aside and settling low on his shoulder. Surprisingly sharp teeth cut into his skin; Arthur jerks at the sharp pain, breath locked in his throat, cock rubbing almost painfully into the man's thigh, curling his fingers over the impossibly smooth, warm skin at the back of his neck to hold him in place.
Abruptly, the man jerks back; Arthur watches, shocked by his own lust as the man licks away his blood from the corner of his mouth. One hand cups his face; the golden eyes are filled with surprise. "You are not what you seem, are you?"
Arthur swallows, trying to capture the swollen smear of the man's red mouth again, wanting it as desperately as water on an impossibly hot day. "I don't--please--"
Grinning, the man kisses him again, then backs away a step, then another. Helplessly, Arthur pushes himself off the tree, following mindlessly across green grass as smooth as carpet. From somewhere Arthur hears a girl's high, delighted laughter as the trees seem to dip closer, leaves all the shades of spring green.
"Arthur!" Faintly, Arthur identifies the voice as Merlin's. "Sire, your knights are ready to return…."
The voice vanishes.
As he passes the ivy-covered tree the man had emerged from behind, he finds himself in a perfect green meadow like nowhere in Camelot, dotted with clumps of unfamiliar flowers every color of the rainbow. Frowning, Arthur takes a step back. "What is this?"
The man grins, waving a hand casually, and there are small, soft hands on his shoulders as a pretty girl appears before him, grinning up at him with the same soft, wine-red mouth as the man. "Be at your ease," she murmurs in a voice like running water, easing his coat from his shoulders and arms. Another girl takes his hand, loose brown hair falling nearly to her soft bare feet beneath a loose crown of woven ivy, and pulls him toward a fire he doesn't remember seeing before. When he looks back, the shadows are so deep he can no longer see beyond the nearest tree.
Another girl captures his free hand when he stops again, bronze-skinned and golden-eyed, pink tongue touching her lower lip before she smiles. "Come now," she says, soft little fingers turning his head, breath sweet against his lips. "Come break bread with us."
More hands press on his shoulders, easing him to grass as soft as his bedclothes, a wooden goblet and plate thrust into his hand as she sits beside him; for the first time, Arthur sees her skirt is the untanned skin of a faun, so fresh he can see black crusts of dried blood curling up the rough seams and staining the edges. The plate on his lap holds a haunch of meat still bleeding, edges ragged and torn
Across the fire, Arthur captures glimpses of more bodies surrounding the fallen corpse of a newly killed stag, tearing still-steaming meat from the haunches and chest. Mouth dry, Arthur puts the goblet down, hands shaking so badly the cup spills, staining the grass.
The girl's hand captures his chin, pulling him to look into bottomless golden eyes. "Drink," she whispers, placing her cup against his lips with black-crusted nails; the wine is thicker than anything he's ever had at court, rich and heavy against his tongue. Surprised, he pulls back, licking his lips to capture more of the taste; when he looks at the girl, her pink mouth is stained red. "More?"
This time, he takes the goblet she offers, draining it dry and wanting more. Grinning, the girl pushes the plate aside and straddles his lap, first feeding him wine from between her lips, then strips of bloody meat, fingernails digging crescents into the back of his neck. She's warm in his lap, soft curves beneath his hands, skin hot and slick with sweat and smelling of a long night's hunt.
"We hunted him for hours," she whispers against his cheek. "I ran him to earth against the sea, and I brought him down before he could find his feet in the sand. I cut his throat in the name of my lord and was first to taste his blood. He ran well. But not so well as I."
"Do you hunt?" another voice asks, close to his ear; feeling drugged, Arthur turns enough to see another girl, almond shaped eyes reflecting the rising flames of the fire.
The girl on his lap slips to her feet, holding out her hand. "We only took one tonight before he called us back. Would you come and watch us hunt?"
Arthur licks his lips, restlessness filling him as he looks between them. "I do not want to watch."
"A mere man cannot match us," she says, drawing a fingernail down his cheek. "But you are no mere man, are you?"
Arthur opens his mouth to answer, but she skips back with a laugh, shaking her head. "No matter, Arthur of Pendragon. Come with us. We shall teach you how we hunt for our meat."
Slowly, Arthur takes her hand; with surprising strength, she draws him to his feet, pressing for a heady second against her body, the fresh skins not hiding the shape of her breasts and hips from his hands. Arms coiled around his neck, she kisses him slow and rich like a mouthful of wine, then pulls away with a sharp bite, licking her blood from his lip as she and the other girl turn, running toward the shadows.
His hunting boots are too stiff; they slow for him, mocking when he stumbles, leather chafing against his ankles. The third time, they grin, pushing him back against the warm wood of a tree, ivy curling against his cheek as they strip away the leather, tossing it into the brush.
It's easier after that. The rough ground smooths beneath his feet without crude covering blocking his skin from the earth. They're impossibly fast, vanishing in a flare of skirts before returning, urging him on in low, breathless voices husky from the run, laughing as he tries to match them.
"Faster," is breathed in his ear, and then he is, the ground almost blurring beneath him.
Some are barehanded, leather-hilted knives tucked into the waist of their skirts, the metal gleaming, edge sharp enough to cut air; others carry long staffs like those the knights practice with, wreathed in ivy. They playfully vanish into the darkness between the trees at first, but somehow, it becomes easier to see them as they go deeper into the forest despite the moonless night.
Then they stop, and Arthur with them, turning at the sight of a young stag in his prime. "There," someone breathes.
The stag stares at them for a moment, potential motion in an endless check, then turns, rushing into the trees. Almost instantly, they follow.
This time, it's effortless to match them, smelling the stag's fear and desperation at their presence at its heels. Trees seem to move from their path, underbrush pulling from the hard pound of their feet, and the girls laugh, high and wild as they make chase. Arthur sees the bronze-skinned girl who gave him wine leap onto a stone and throw herself bodily at it, arms wrapped around the thick neck as she brings him to earth.
Pushing ahead of the slowing girls gathering around the stag, Arthur watches as she pins it with her delicate hands and tears out its throat with her teeth, hot blood gushing over her lips.
Arthur hesitates: what are you doing? The darker edges of the forest slice at him for a moment, and he shivers, feeling the chill of the night cutting through to his skin like a sharpened blade. Go. Go now. Go before you can't.
She raises her head, mouth stained crimson, eyes gone wild. "Take it," she says, getting to her feet. The girls move forward in a swarm, and Arthur watches as they lift the animal, four vanishing into the darkness.
Arthur starts to say something--what, he doesn't know--but forgets it; he finds himself turning, looking into the darkness of the forest, finding a wild boar rooting the ground for truffles, too far away to smell them.
"There," he murmurs as the girl comes up beside him, and then they're running again, as fresh as if they hadn't traveled the length of the forest. The boar doesn't expect them and will scent them too late; Arthur pulls out his hunting knife, tasting copper in the back of his mouth. The small clearing opens around him, the boar raising his head; he's bigger than any Arthur has ever hunted, tusks gleaming white, tiny eyes looking into Arthur's for a moment before he brings it down, knife buried in its flank.
The girl kneels beside him, one hand flattened on the heaving side, helping him hold it in place as he pulls the knife back, preparing to slash its throat.
"You need a knife?"
Arthur hesitates. The golden eyes stare back, challenging.
She pulls the knife from his hand with bloodstained fingers that burn his skin at a touch. "Kill it."
No man could hold a wild boar to ground without the help of half a dozen knights; Arthur does it with one hand, pushing up the jaw to expose the vulnerable neck. Leaning forward, he rips out the throat, tasting blood so thick and hot it's like wine, and he's drunk on it, laughing as she pulls him back, pushing him down beside the animal as it dies beside them.
Leaning over, she licks the blood from his mouth, and he catches her hair, pulling her into a kiss, biting to taste her, too, grinning up at her as she pulls back, lip bloody and swelling before his eyes.
"I am called Ino," she breathes, staring down at him as the other girls gather around them, small bloody fingers touching him, pushing beneath his shirt and over his chest, easing him up so they can touch him more. "We will keep you."
Two more corpses join them; Arthur tears the meat from bones with his bare hands, uncaring what animal is beneath his fingers, licking away the fat and blood from his fingers with them only to return for more. Ino pulls him away and toward the fire, pushing him down on the grass to pull his trousers away, his shirt long lost when they painted him with each kill they made. Skins so fresh they still bleed are pushed aside, legs striped brown and red as she straddles him, sitting on his cock with a sigh.
(He's been hard for hours, days, years, forever, since the boar, running through the forest chasing the smell of their prey, clumsy and strangely awkward as it turned from a tree nearly ready to fall, staring at them before its mouth opened to scream. Stumbling through the brush on leather-covered feet; it could not hope to get away. None of them could.)
"Yes, this," Ino breathes, back arching, breasts gleaming with sweat, nipples red-brown and hard against his palms. Bracing her hands on the ground above his shoulder, she rides him like she ran tonight, wild and careless and free, licking into his mouth to chase the flavor of the wine they drank that flowed endlessly between their lips.
She's tight as a virgin girl, squeezing him tight with each lift of her hips. He scratches down the length of her back, biting at the join of throat and shoulder, arching as she comes around him with a scream like laughter as he takes his pleasure after her, still hard even when he's thinks he should be done.
She drops to the ground beside him, panting, softly as she pushes herself up on both palms, eyes glazed. "Could you service all of us?" she asks in a voice gone scratchy and sore. "Or do you tire as mortal men do?"
Sitting up, Arthur reaches for her chin, jerking her close enough to breathe, "All of you twice tonight. If it should please me."
She smiles, lashes dark against her cheek as the golden eyes fall shut. "Prove it, Arturius Rex."
They come in twos and threes, soft and slick with sweat, still hot from the hunt. He lets them ride him to their satiation; others he pushes into the grass, watching the fire play over skin that still gleams with new sweat and drying blood, fingers clenching in the grass as he spreads their legs, the new skins warm against his thighs and balls as he thrusts inside them.
He taste them too, dark and rich, slipping his tongue inside their warmth to feel them melt in his hands, breathing his name like a prayer that he answers with fingers and tongue until they shudder, begging for whatever more he would give them, and taking them while they lie helpless and breathless beneath him.
As the last collapses, ecstatic and exhausted from his touch, Ino kneels beside him again, taking his cock in her hand. It's as if no one had touched him before that moment; he can hardly breathe for wanting her.
She giggles, pulling away as she stumbles to her feet. "Come with me," she says, dark hair tangled around her face, mouth swollen from his kisses and bared skin bruised from his teeth. Arthur follows the sway of her hips across the clearing, starting at the sight of the man that had brought him here.
"Artos, Arturius, Rex, Eternus," the man murmurs, drinking from a cup banded in gold before extending it. "Drink."
Kneeling before him, Arthur takes the cup, hands shaking; the desire for Ino is nothing to the flood of lust for the man before him. Finishing it, he stares at him, wanting to touch him so much he aches with it.
"Would you know my name?" the man says, taking the cup and drinking from it as if it had never been empty. "Your father's father worshipped me, and his father before him. You are very far from the land of your fathers, Arturius. Would you worship as you were meant to?"
Arthur licks his lips. "I would know your name."
"But would you worship?" Getting to his feet in a single sinuous movement, like a snake uncoiling from a sun-warmed rock, the man crosses to him, looking down at Arthur kneeling at his feet. "My name is Bacchus."
Arthur nods, staring at the wide golden eyes as Bacchus kneels, mouth curving in a slow smile before it presses against Arthur's. It's like he neither drank nor ate all this day; Arthur opens for the warm, wine-slick tongue, letting himself be pushed back into the thick grass, parting his thighs as Bacchus kneels between them, trousers vanished like a mist at the first touch of the sun.
"You ran with my maenads tonight and hunted whatever would cross your path," Bacchus breathes, teeth sharp on the line of his jaw, tongue scraping roughly against the bruised skin. "You taste of their blood and smell of their bodies from when you took them still dressed in the blood of your prey. No mere man could do this, and yet the flesh you wear is mortal."
Arthur catches his breath at the nudge of a cock against his thigh, huge and heavy, scalding everywhere it would touch. Spreading wider, he feels it press against him, and somewhere in his mind, he wonders that he would do this, would want it so badly he aches for it. Arching his hips, he thinks he can hear himself beg, Please, I beg you, but Bacchus kisses the words away and thrusts inside him with a flare of pain that Arthur wants more than he ever wanted the pleasure of the maenads' bodies.
Surprisingly gentle fingers stroke back his hair, lips pressed against his cheeks; Arthur opens his eyes dazedly as Bacchus thrusts again, smiling down at Arthur like a favored pet. "I would keep you, Arthur," Bacchus breathes. "Should you like that?"
Arthur wonders if that's a question; he can't imagine wanting anything more than that.
"It's been so long since I have taken someone new, and longer still since a man," Bacchus breathes, breath smelling of wine and fresh blood, cheeks flushing more with every thrust into Arthur's body. "Only worship me, pledge to me all that you are, and I will give you an eternity in pleasure."
Of course; is there a question? Arthur opens his mouth, the words curling richly on his tongue, begging to be spoken. What could be greater than this?
"Arturius," Bacchus says, fingers tight on his chin. "Give yourself to me."
He wants to; there's nothing he can imagine ever wanting more than this. And still, the words hesitate, growing sour as Arthur stares up at the night sky, bare of moon and stars, and thinks of--.
Blinking the sweat from his eyes, Arthur sees a faint, unreal shape beyond Bacchus' shoulder; slowly, too slowly, it begins to solidify, a tall thin body in ill-fitting, terribly hideous clothes and wide, terrified golden eyes. "Oh, you are kidding me. It couldn't be like, dragons or something easy? How do you find these things?"
"Merlin?" Arthur breathes in surprise, trying to find the meaning of the word fading in his memory even as he seeks it. But that name he knows; he may forget his own before he forgets his, even if he doesn't know why. "What are you doing here?"
Merlin licks his lips, looking at Bacchus and flushing to the roots of his hair as he seems to realize what he interrupted. "We need--the knights. We need to get back to Camelot."
Camelot--somewhere far from here, long ago, a place, a people, a town, a castle, faded like the colors of ancient murals in rotting villas abandoned when Rome was driven from their shores. It doesn't mean anything, not yet, but Arthur thinks it should. It has to.
"Who?" Bacchus breathes, as if he can't see Merlin standing right there, holy God, watching this. "There is no meaning in that word."
Arthur pushes his fingers into the dirt harder, skin tearing and growing sticky. Oddly enough, it helps. "I do not think--."
Bacchus laughs softly, stroking his hair with gentle fingers, each touch like the feel of air during a storm with lightning high overhead and everything charged and waiting. Bacchus voice is the thunder that shakes the ground. "There is no one here but us. You cling to your mortality as does a child afraid to leave his mother's skirts. I could tell you what that mortal life means for you, Arturius. You would not like it. It is disappointment, and death, and you will always, always be alone."
Arthur tries to speak, but there are no words, and his fingers are numb in the ground. Over Bacchus shoulder, the familiar form is fading, mouth moving desperately, before Bacchus sits up, Arthur straddling his lap, a gold-edged cup in one blood-flecked hand.
Arthur stares at it for a moment and thinks of a crowded room, a glass, and slim fingers that snatched it away before the first sip. The cup feels hot in his hands, against the tips of raw fingers, and Arthur looks at the wine and thinks that maybe he's doing this wrong.
"Is it poisoned?"
Bacchus blinks, staring at him in bewilderment, hips stilling. Arthur looks at the faded figure and finds the name again, written in brilliant gold like the sun at the height of summer. "Merlin," he says, staring at the cup that had meant death in a place he can't quite remember but perhaps he will, if he wants to. Holding it out, he hears the faint sound of worn boots on dew-wet grass.
A different hand takes the cup: nails bitten to the quick, stained with dirt, calluses from cleaning swords and armour, and Arthur hadn't known he'd known him that well, known the shape of his knuckles, the length of his fingers, the narrow wrists, the thin arms. But he does.
"You will never be alone, sire," Merlin says, turning the cup and dumping the wine on the ground with vicious satisfaction.
Abruptly, Arthur's sprawled on the grass, and Bacchus is on his feet, naked with a red-smeared cock, staring at Merlin. Arthur can't quite be embarrassed, but he thinks he will find the feeling very soon. "You dare--"
Merlin's mouth tightens. "You come to our land without invitation, hunt upon our creatures without permission, slaughter our people like animals, and abduct our king. You have no power in this land that is not ours to give, and we give you nothing. You will leave."
Arthur finds his trousers by touch, jerking them on right, humiliation, there we go, the memories of the night pouring clear and cold through his head. You slaughter our people like animals….
"You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do," Bacchus answers flatly. "Not when the king of the land kneels at my feet and gives to me his will. I will do as I like in this land until I grow bored, and take him with me when I leave."
Merlin takes a deep breath, eyes flickering to Arthur. "Sire--"
"Did you tell him what you were? The chain that will hold him to this path no matter what he would will? Or do you tell him you merely serve?" Bacchus gives Merlin a long look. "In this form, you have little other use, I suppose."
Merlin hesitates, looking away, the gold fading into blue. "You don't know--"
"I do." Bacchus advances a step, forcing Merlin to retreat. He seems smaller, frail, like when the new knights bully him before they learn better. "Lie to him and tell him there is no truth in what I say, Merlin Emrys. You always have, and in this life you would make him live, you always will."
Merlin looks away. Triumphant, Bacchus turns away. "That is the name you wish to forget, Arthur Pendragon."
"They dreamed of you."
Arthur feels Merlin's eyes fix on him; unable to stop himself, he meets them.
"A thousand years before your birth, they dreamed of you." Merlin takes a step toward him. "We did, I mean. It was all we had for so long that all has passed out of memory but this; to watch, and to wait, and to hope."
"This is truth," Merlin snaps, not looking at Bacchus. "He didn't lie, but that isn't all you are. I don't--remember it, not now. But I remember that we felt your birth and we felt your death and there was so much more in between than you can imagine."
Arthur pushes himself to his feet, Bacchus forgotten. "Merlin--"
"That's--I chose this, you know. All of it." Merlin takes a deep breath. "You. The man you will become that will change the world, and the man you are." Merlin's nose scrunches. "Though at this second, I am trying not to--there's blood in your ears, Arthur. You hate that."
Arthur snorts, surprising himself; Merlin's mouth twitches in a faint smile.
"Destiny isn't a chain; you can choose," Merlin says softly, coming closer. "I did, you know."
Arthur stares at him. "You chose to be a lackwitted peasant with a penchant for the stocks?"
"I chose to be the one that would never leave your side," Merlin says, smile fading into something else entirely. "I never will, you know. There's nowhere you would go that I won't find you."
"For the king you dreamed of?"
Merlin hesitates, surprise flickering across his face. "No, of course not. I--knew I'd serve the king when he was born. But I never--" Merlin breaks off, looking helpless. "There were a lot of ways we could have met, Arthur. They dreamed them all but one, and that was the one I chose; to be your friend, to share your life, to stand at your side for all of my life and yours as well, and all the time that comes after. I didn't know what it would mean then; now I do. I would choose it again, to know you like this; not because you are my king, but because you're Arthur, and you could be a peasant or a knight or a--a blacksmith and it wouldn't matter. I'd still be with you."
Arthur swallows. "What would a blacksmith need with a sorcerer?" His voice is scratchy like someone who breathed too much smoke.
"To keep the forge hot?" Merlin's hand rests tentatively on his shoulder. "Make some magical swords and sell them to heroes. Alchemy? How am I supposed to know?"
Arthur raises an eyebrow. "That's pathetic."
"And you're terrible at chemistry." Merlin's grin widens. "Good thing you're a prince, yeah?"
"You'll still die." Abruptly, Arthur realizes Bacchus is still there and wonders how on earth he could have forgotten. His expression is ugly with rage, golden eyes edged in red as he stares at them. "Everything you do will fall to ashes and be forgotten."
There's so much to do until that time, though, and Arthur thinks it may not be that high a price to pay for the life Merlin offers.
"All right," Arthur answers slowly, holding Bacchus' eyes. "So like all mortal men, then. That's not so terrible."
Merlin's fingers tighten on his shoulder, and he doesn't have to look at him to see him smile.
"You will leave," Arthur says, and his voice changes, becoming someone else's, stronger, sure. "I'm also my mother's son, and she never worshipped you."
Bacchus scowls. "You have no power over me."
Beneath their feet, Arthur felt the faintest vibration of the earth; Bacchus hesitates, eyes widening before he turns to stare blankly at the ivy covered tree, the vines pulling back. Merlin's hand tightens on his shoulder, mouth against his ear.
"We have to leave. Now. I didn't--really get a specific answer when I asked for help?"
"But--" Arthur thinks he sees a figure forming--a woman, or a man, or both at once. There's an impression of something huge and terrible and yet-- "You just--what, forgot to ask for details?"
"I was kind of in a rush!" Merlin says, plastered against his side, voice frantic and rather insane in his ear. "I don't remember nearly as much as I will later. Come on, we really--I don't think we're allowed to see this."
Arthur resists the pull; he wants to know….
Arthur. It's not a voice; it's home, and the tenderness startles him, a caress like a mother's touch, sweet like ripe fruit. Go now. You've done well. This is not your fight.
Aching, he thinks of the hunt, nausea rising in the back of his throat, What I've done tonight--
For a moment, there's nothing but light, and that tenderness, cradling him like he imagines the mother who died as he drew his first breath. All will be well, Arthur. Now go, and take Merlin from this place; you are safe, but Merlin is not.
Arthur opens his eyes, reaching blindly for Merlin's arm. Bacchus is wild-eyed, his anger almost palpable; Merlin may be powerful and a sorcerer, but he can't face this, not yet. "Come on," Arthur hisses at Merlin's bewildered frown; now suddenly he wants to hang about? "For the love of--" One of the shadows is edged in light, and that's the one Arthur goes to, slipping into an impossible darkness for a moment before emerging into the forest, late afternoon light slanting through the trees like it hasn't been hours, years since he was last here.
Taking a breath, Arthur looks at the autumn gold trees, the browning grass, the very mundane forest, and leans against a tree with a strangled laugh. He can't smell blood or death, and breathing fresh air, he wonders how he stood it.
"Sire? Arthur?" Instantly, Merlin's beside him, grabbing at his arm. "The wine--it can cause madness, or so I've heard, but--"
"No, no, not that." Sucking in a shaking breath, Arthur controls himself. "I won't remember this. Neither of us will." That he knows; it was in her voice. Not now, anyway. Later, perhaps, when they've both grown into the men that so many dreamed they would be.
Merlin hesitates, blue eyes flickering away. "I--I would have told you. I wanted to. About--about being a sorcerer. I just--"
Arthur blinks, staring at him. "Oh. Yes. Right, you--" Stopping, Arthur stares at him, reaching to cup the fragile jaw. Merlin licks his lips nervously. "No. I mean, yes, you should, but that's--" Arthur stops himself; he's babbling. Pulling Merlin closer, Arthur kisses him, feeling Merlin's shock as he stiffens then softens, lips parting. Merlin doesn't taste of wine as thick as blood, of hunting, of an eternal night that's nothing but death and rutting. He tastes like home.
Pulling back, Arthur catches his breath, leaning his forehead against Merlin's. "Keep this one thing to remember; I would never go anywhere that you can't follow. There is nowhere I wish to go that you would not."
Merlin swallows; Arthur can feel him shaking. "I love you. No one dreamed about that. That was just me."
Arthur pulls back, clutching memory for a few more seconds to kiss him again, slow and deep; remember this, not now, but soon. Let me keep this one thing, let me have him. I want this.
"You will," Merlin breathes with a smile that could light the world. "We will."
Merlin nods, backing away; the night is already starting to fade. "Yes. Get your crossbow, Arthur. It's--"
"Right." Pushing off the tree, Arthur paces to the crossbow, picking it up; it's almost gone. Turning, Arthur looks at Merlin. It's almost over, and he wants to tell him-- "Merlin."
Merlin grins suddenly. "You won't be forgotten, you know. That, I can still remember."
Arthur waves that away in irritation; like he cares. "That's not what I--"
"I know." The gold fades from Merlin's eyes, leaving a very ordinary peasant who isn't ordinary at all. "Tell me later."
"Arthur!" Faintly, Arthur identifies the voice as Merlin's. "Sire, your knights are ready to return. Should I tell them to wait?"
Arthur finds himself staring into an empty clearing before Merlin appears, looking at him with a confused expression.
Blinking, Arthur takes a step toward him, stumbling at the wave of dizziness. "Arthur! Sire," Merlin corrects himself, jogging toward him before stopping with a frown. "I didn't see you there."
"Your powers of observation are as one with legend," he manages acidly, shifting the crossbow to his back. "We'd best get back before they come looking for us."
It's several feet before Merlin catches up with him; Arthur can see his curious looks from the corner of his eye and speeds up enough that Merlin has to watch where he's going or risk falling over an errant root. "My--sire, are you alright?" Merlin huffs, not nearly as breathless as he was when he came into Arthur's service. "You seem--"
"Save your breath; you puff like an overworked bellows at a forge," Arthur answers shortly, then pauses; for some insane reason, he thinks of magical swords. "Pray don't trip over a root and twist your ankle again; I won't carry you back to the horses. You'll have to follow me on foot back to Camelot, and it's not an easy walk."
"Yes, sire," Merlin drones in mock obedience with a distinct lack of fear and more than a trace of boredom. "I'd follow you anywhere, sire."
Arthur hesitates; the crunch behind him stops. When Arthur turns around, Merlin's staring at him, blinking slowly. Surprising himself, Arthur reaches for him, grabbing one thin arm and pulling him as he starts toward the knights again. "Come along; I'm certainly not going without you. Who would clean my sword?"
Merlin ducks his head obediently to hide his smile. Arthur doesn't let him go until they reach the waiting knights.
Warning: implied cannibalism