It was supposed to be a quiet, fun night. Dinner out, in their favourite restaurant, and maybe a film afterwards, if they felt like it. But if there’s something Merlin and Arthur have learnt is that things never really turn out the way you expect them to.
Life is unpredictable, and more importantly, life is fragile. That’s how Arthur finds himself pressing his hands to the hole in Merlin’s stomach, and wills the blood to stop flowing, but it doesn’t. It comes out of Merlin, his Merlin’s body, tainting the white of the snow, and it’s all Arthur can see—red everywhere, Merlin’s life escaping through his fingers.
“Come on, Merlin, come on,” he says a litany of desperate pleas, “Stay with me, hang in there, don’t let go, love, don’t let go, I got you, please, Merlin…”
The snow on which he’s kneeling has soaked through his jeans, and the cold is burning his skin, making his bones ache, but Arthur can’t notice any of this. He can only see Merlin, he can only feel the blood in his hands as it cools down, and it hurts, it pains him as if he were the one dying on the pavement, in the middle of a cold street.
Merlin makes a noise with his throat that sounds a bit like “Art-,” and Arthur shakes his head.
“No, don’t speak, don’t push yourself.”
Merlin’s pale, so pale, and his eyes are the bluest Arthur’s ever seen them. He realises that if Merlin closes his eyes, it’ll probably be in a permanent sort of way, and the thought of not seeing that blue ever again makes his own eyes sting and his vision blurry.
“I love you,” he whispers, “Please, stay with me, Merlin, don’t let go...”
Merlin gasps, as if he has trouble breathing, and Arthur grows even more desperate. He doesn’t know what to do, he never really learnt first aid for gunshot wounds, for god’s sake, and Merlin’s just there, shaking and panting and pale as the snow he’s lying on, and Arthur’s never been surer that he’d give his life for Merlin’s. He’d willingly die, right there, in that moment, if it means that Merlin will heal and go on living.
Merlin has to go on living...
Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees the lights of the police car and the ambulance, but he doesn’t register what happens until someone puts a hand on his shoulder and forces him to stand up.
“Sir,” a young man tells him, “please step aside, we’ll take it from here.”
Arthur finds the strength to stand up, and steps aside, as several strangers kneel beside Merlin blocking his view. Arthur palms his jeans for his mobile phone, and then remembers that the bastard who shot Merlin took him, and someone else must have called the police, who was it, the woman? There was a woman across the street when it all happened, wasn’t there?
“Sir?” someone puts a hand on his arm, tries to call his attention.
He turns to look at a woman, but it’s not the same who was when Merlin and Arthur were robbed. Arthur ignores her, he has to look for the other one, he has to find her and thank her, and maybe ask to borrow her mobile.
“Sir? Are you all right?” the woman asks, her tone slightly harsher.
Arthur finally acknowledges her.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he says, hurriedly.
The paramedics have raised Merlin in a stretcher, and are currently wheeling him towards the ambulance.
“Hey!” he calls, and runs to reach the vehicle, “I’m coming with you.”
A girl who looks ten years younger than Arthur shakes her head, and says, “No, sir, please step aside.”
“He’s my husband, for god’s sake!” Arthur snaps, “I oughta go with him!”
“We’ll take him to the Camelot City Hospital,” she says, “You can meet us there...”
“Sir!” says the woman again, the one who has been trying to get Arthur’s attention for a while. She grabs him by the arm of his jacket and shoves him aside, forcefully.
“What?!” he snaps.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Donovan,” she says, showing him a warrant card, “I can take you to the hospital.”
The doors of the ambulance close, and it quickly drives away. Arthur watches it for a moment, takes a deep breath, and forces himself to stay calm. He turns to look at Sergeant Donovan.
“I’m Arthur Pendragon,” he says, “Where’s your car?”
Arthur waits, and waits, and waits.
It’s been an hour since he arrived to the hospital. Once he had inquired after Merlin, Sergeant Donovan took his statement and let him borrow his phone to call someone. Aside from Merlin’s, Morgana’s number is the only one Arthur could remember.
Donovan has left, supposedly to catch the guy who has Merlin battling between life and death, and Arthur’s just sitting there in the waiting room, feeling as if bits of his life slipped away with every breath. He hears the distinct click of high heels and turns to find Morgana approaching him. She’s wearing a party dress.
Arthur stands up to greet her, feels a bit less like the world’s coming to an end when she presses her red lips to his cheek.
“What happened?” she asks, eyeing him with concern.
“Merlin got shot,” Arthur says, and they taste bitterer in his mouth every time he says them.
“I know, but how?” asks Morgana, her hand soothing circles in his back like she used to do when they were kids and Uther missed yet another birthday for being away on a business trip.
He leans in to her touch, rests his head on her shoulder. She smells of alcohol and expensive perfume, and her cold, long earrings brush against his forehead. The cool is distracting.
“We got mugged. We gave everything to the bastard, everything we had on us... and he still shot Merlin,” Arthur clenches his jaw, anger coiling at the pit of his stomach.
“Did they catch him?” Morgana asks.
“And how is Merlin?”
“They’re operating him at the moment,” Arthur says, “But they won’t tell what are his survival chances, they won’t tell me anything...” he trails off, suddenly feeling very exhausted.
Morgana puts her arm around his shoulder.
“They probably don’t know anything yet,” she says, “We need to wait.”
Arthur nods. He’s already washed his hands, but there’s a minuscule drop of Merlin’s blood dry at the corner of his thumb’s nail. Athur’s dark blue shirt is stained and it makes him uncomfortable, but he can’t leave the hospital to change, he needs to be there and wait for whatever news the doctors and nurses can tell him.
“Have you called Merlin’s parents?” Morgana asks, suddenly.
“No, I’ve only called you. The bastard took my phone.”
Morgana sighs and moves away from Arthur, reaches inside her purse for her mobile.
“I think I’ve got their number here...” she says, scrolling down to her contact list. “Here!”
Morgana hands him the phone.
“It’s past 1AM,” he objects. He dreads the moment he has to tell Hunith about this. The more people know, the more real it feels.
“You need to call them now, Arthur,” Morgana says with a sigh.
Arthur nods and presses the bottom to call. The phone rings once, twice, and Arthur feels a wave of nausea hitting him. How do you call someone to let them know their son got shot under your noses? Morgana puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes, reassuringly, and in that moment someone picks up.
It’s Hunith, and she sounds sleepy. Fuck.
“Hello? Hunith? This is Arthur.”
“Oh? Arthur! What a surprise!” she says, and sounds cheerful for a second, before adding, hurriedly, “Is everything okay?”
Arthur swallows hard, swallows down his nervousness and dread.
“I’m afraid not, Hunith. Merlin got shot.”
“WHAT? When? Where? Is he all right?” she asks, alarmed.
“He’s currently in the operating room, I...” he sighs, “I’m waiting at the hospital. It happened just a while ago, we got mugged, and the mugger shot him in the stomach.”
“Oh my god!” Hunith says, and she sounds as out of breath as Arthur feels. “And are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Balinor’s asleep, but I’ll wake him up and we’ll take the next train to Camelot. I think there’s one before 3AM. We should be there in the morning...” she says, her voice shaky.
“Okay. Do you have Morgana’s number? ...Call her to let me know when you’re leaving. I’ll pick you up at the station.”
“Thank you, Arthur,” Hunith says, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this...” she whispers. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Goodbye,” Arthur says. Hunith hangs up.
Arthur hands the phone back to Morgana.
“You need a change of clothes,” she says.
Arthur shakes his head. She sighs.
“Come on, Arthur...”
Arthur takes a deep breath and leans forward. He rests his elbows on his knees and borrows his head in his hands. He stays there for a moment, concentrating on breathing. After a moment, he straightens his back and says, “He’s going to be all right.”
“I know,” Morgana answers.
“He’s going to be fine. He’s going to get well, and we’ll celebrate his birthday next week, and Christmas together,” Arthur says. “He might not be out of the hospital yet, but I’ll make sure he has fun... I’ll... He’s going to get better. He’s going to make it, Morgana.”
Morgana nods, and hugs him. Arthur breaks. He chokes out a sob, and sheds his tears on her shoulder. She pats him on the back but remains silent.
Arthur hasn’t cried in ages. Arthur doesn’t cry, certainly not in front of people, let alone Morgana. He hasn’t done that since they were much, much younger. It’s a testament of how much pain he’s going through right now that he can forget his pride and break down in front of her.
It pains Morgana deeply. She loves Merlin too; he’s a loyal friend and the light of her brother’s eyes. She doesn’t even want to think of what will become of Arthur, of her, and all their friends, if Merlin dies.
Arthur is halfway through his third cup of coffee, when the doctor comes to find him.
“Merlin Emrys?” the doctor asks. It’s a bit pointless, considering that Arthur and Morgana are the only ones in the waiting room, but Arthur doesn’t hold it against him.
“I’m his husband,” Arthur says, automatically standing up, “How is he?”
The doctor nods, and says, “He’s out of surgery right now. He’s stable; we removed the bullet and performed a damage control operation. Right now, we’ve moved him into the Intensive Care Unit. He’s still in danger, but stable. The bullet did hit him in the stomach, on the left, lower side, but it didn’t touch any other organs.”
Arthur lets out a sigh, and asks, “Is he going to be all right.”
The doctor presses his lips together in a tight line.
“We can’t tell for sure now, not until we see how he recovers in the next few days,” he says.
“But has he responded well to the treatment so far?”
“The operation was successful, yes,” the doctor says, “but he still has a long way to go.”
Arthur lets out a sigh.
“Can I see him now?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“What?” Arthur snaps, “But I’m his husband! Just a moment, please?”
The doctor shakes his head, and says, “I can’t let you in. It’s the ICU, we’ve got strict visiting hours. Right now the patient needs to rest, and besides, you can’t go in there like this,” he points to Arthur’s clothes.
Arthur opens his mouth to protest, but Morgana speaks first, “That’s all right, we understand,” she says.
Arthur glares at her.
“What time can we visit the patient?” she asks.
“Visiting hours and 12PM to 1PM, and 6PM to 7PM,” the doctor says. “Only family members allowed.”
“Thank you, doctor,” she says, smiling at him.
“You’re welcome. You can go home now, we’ll keep you informed of any new developments.”
And with that, the doctor turns away and leaves.
Arthur drops down at a chair.
“I want to see him,” he says, miserably.
“I know, but there’s nothing we can do now,” Morgana says. “You need to take a shower and a nap. We’ll be back to see him later...”
Arthur shakes his head, and says, “I want to stay.”
She sits down next to him.
“Come on, Arthur, let’s go,” she says, “There’s nothing you can do here.”
“I can wait.”
“You can very well wait in your flat,” she objects.
Arthur doesn’t have the energy to argue any more.
Arthur dreads the moment he sets foot on their empty flat. Morgana’s gone to her own place, to change, and she’ll be back later, so they can go pick up Balinor and Hunith from the train station. The flat is too quiet, too cold. Arthur tries not to think about it, he just strips off his dirty clothes, and steps into the shower.
The water is too hot, but it distracts him. He tries not to think of anything, tries not to remember the feeling of Merlin’s blood in his hands, the paleness of Merlin’s face, the fact that Merlin’s alone, in a hospital room, fighting for his life, and Arthur can do nothing about it.
He stays under the spray of the water until hot turns into lukewarm. He dresses mechanically, finding a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a wool sweater. Arthur sits at the edge of the bed, exhausted, cold water dripping down into his collar and the back of his neck. He doesn’t think he’d be able to sleep, no matter how tired he feels.
A voice in the back of his head, that sounds a lot like Morgana, tells him to rest a bit, to at least lie down. So he does. The bed is just too big without his husband. Arthur pulls out Merlin’s pillow and buries his face in it, inhaling deeply. It smells like Merlin’s shampoo, and the scent is comforting for him.
He only realises he’s fallen asleep when the sound of the doorbell wakes him up. He stands up too fast and gets a bit dizzy, but he rushes to the door nevertheless, fighting his drowsiness. He’s never been a morning person.
Morgana is on the other side, with several cups of coffee in a tray and a bag of takeaway food. Hunith and Balinor are behind her.
“What? I thought we were going to pick them up...” Arthur says, surprised, and moves aside to let them in.
“That’s all right, I figured I could let you sleep a couple of hours,” Morgana says, shrugging.
Hunith and Balinor look like they were run over by a truck. Hunith has dark circles under her eyes, her face pale and tired, and Balinor just stares at Arthur, his eyebrows drawn together in a gesture of tiredness and displeasure.
“Hunith,” Arthur whispers, and hugs her tight, “I’m so sorry...”
“It’s not your fault, Arthur,” she says, soothingly.
When Arthur pulls away, there are tears in Hunith’s eyes, but she smiles at him sadly, and pats him in the face.
“Morgana filled us up with the doctor’s report,” she says.
Arthur nods. He reaches out to shake Balinor’s hand, feeling a bit self-conscious in spite of the gravity of the situation. Balinor has never really liked Arthur much, but he squeezes his hand nevertheless.
Hunith gets a mixture of emotions as she enters Merlin’s room in the ICU. On one side, she feels happy to be able to see her son, happy that he’s alive and fighting. On the other, she’s terrified that she’ll lose him, and devastated that this has happened to him.
“My boy,” she says, softly, not fighting back the tears that cloud her vision.
She sits down next to him, and pulls the chair as close to Merlin’s bed as possible. Merlin’s breathing slowly, pale as the white sheets of the hospital, surrounded by tubes and devices. Hunith presses her fingertips, covered in a latex glove as they are, to Merlin’s face, to the space of his cheek that’s not covered by tubes or masks. There’s stubble there.
“Oh Merlin...” she says, and sniffles.
Merlin remains silent, asleep.
“You need to get well soon, son,” she says, “Your father and I are terribly worried. And Arthur, he’s...” Hunith sighs, “Merlin, you mean the world to him. To us. We love you. Please come back to us.”
Her twenty minutes are over way too soon.
“I know you’re a brave man, son,” Balinor says to Merlin, even though he’s still sleeping.
Balinor’s sitting, like Hunith was a few minutes ago, as close as possible to Merlin.
“And I know you’re fighting for your life,” Balinor continues, “So I’m just here to tell you that I love you, and that we’re all here for you.”
Merlin hasn’t woken up by the time it’s Arthur’s turn to see him. It’s the last 20 minutes of the hour visitors are allowed. Arthur rushes to Merlin side, desperate to see him. Merlin’s still, except for his chest going slowly up and down as he breathes, and the sound of the machine connected to his heart is both the most glorious and terrible thing Arthur’s ever heard.
Arthur sits down next to the bed, and immediately reaches out to hold Merlin’s hand between his own. Even though he can’t touch Merlin’s skin, the contact is reassuring.
“I love you,” Arthur whispers, “I don’t think I say it enough, every day. So I’m gonna say it now. I love you in the morning, when you’re ridiculously cheerful, and you open the curtains and let the sunshine in, and won’t ever let me oversleep. I love how your desk is a warzone, so messy that an outsider wouldn’t be able to find a pen on it, but you still make an effort to keep our room and the rest of the flat in order.
“I love you in the night, when you sleep close to me, even if you snore. I love you when we go out to eat and you steal my cherry tomatoes from my plate. I love you when we fight, Merlin, when you don’t take my shit and you tell me I’m being a prat. I love you when you apologise, and I love you when you leave your bloody socks on the floor and never in the laundry basket, and I love you when you remember to do the dishes, and I love you when you kiss me, and I love you when you’re not around, and when you go away for conferences, and when you come back. I love you, every day, every moment of my life, it’s there, just like breathing, Merlin, I love you...”
Arthur chokes out a sob, takes a deep breath to steady his voice.
“You’re my best friend, my partner. I can’t bear to lose you.”
He squeezes Merlin’s hand.
“Please try, love. I know you can make it. We’re gonna make it, together. Don’t let go.”
Merlin’s 28th birthday is, by far, the worst of his life. He spends most of it sedated, and he doesn’t even realise it’s his birthday until his mother pays him a visit, in the middle of the day.
“Happy birthday, baby,” she says, and caresses his forehead. Merlin’s not fond of latex gloves.
In the past few days, they’ve developed a method to communicate, since Merlin’s still wearing a mask and can’t talk. Hunith puts a small notebook under his hand and gives him a pen. Merlin tries his best to write a clear ‘tnx’ on it.
Hunith smiles at him, fondly.
“The doctor says you’re responding well to the treatment, and they might move you into a normal room tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Is there anything you’d like me to bring for you? Maybe a book?”
Merlin writes, ‘kindle’.
“Kindle? What do I kindle?”
Merlin would laugh, if it didn’t cause him so much pain. He smiles, though.
“You look terrible, mate,” says Gwaine, as soon as he enters the room.
It’s December 23, two days after Merlin’s birthday. He was moved to a private room yesterday.
Merlin smiles tiredly from the bed, and says, “Why thanks, Gwaine. I’m happy that you’re alive, too.”
Gwen enters right behind Gwaine, rolling her eyes.
“Pay him no mind, Merlin,” she says, smiling at him, “It’s all a defence mechanism not to show you how worried he’s been.”
Lancelot is right behind her, carrying small bouquet of yellow roses in a vase.
“These are for you,” he says, “We thought they might bring some cheer into your room.”
“Thank you, Merlin says, and tells Lancelot to put them on the bedside table.
“How are you feeling?” Gwen asks, her hand on Merlin’s shoulder as she looks at him tenderly.
“A bit better?” Merlin says, hesitantly.
“Oh Merlin...” she whispers, smiling sadly at him.
“You’re gonna get well,” Gwaine says, “And in a couple of weeks we’ll have some beers!”
“And here I was thinking you were worried about me, when you’re only afraid your lose you drinking pal,” says Merlin, grinning.
“Hey, somebody has to stay sober to get me home, and since the time I got us into a fight, Lancelot doesn’t want to go out with me anymore,” Gwaine complains, pouting at Lancelot.
“How very selfish of you, Lance,” says Merlin, “You only got your ass kick by half of a rugby team!”
“What?” Gwen snaps at Lancelot, “You said it was only a couple of guys!”
“Er,” Lancelot gulps, “Well, it wasn’t exactly half a rugby team, just... er...”
Gwen shakes her head.
“Seriously, you guys are like kids...”
“Don’t be mad at him, Gwen,” Merlin says, “Lancelot’s too good to get into a fight, so it was obviously Gwaine’s fault. As long as Lance stays away from him, it’ll be all right.”
“Hey!” said Gwaine, “I’m right here!”
Merlin chuckles, and immediately winces in pain.
“Fuck...” he hisses.
The mood goes sombre.
“Are you doing anything for Christmas?” Gwaine asks, out of the blue.
“Other than being in this bed? Nah,” says Merlin.
“Really? Maybe we could bring you a small Christmas tree, a little Holiday cheer?” Gwaine offers.
“No, thanks. I just... want to rest, I guess, and get better,” he says.
“Oh!” Gwen says, looking mortified, “I’m sorry, Merlin, maybe we should leave you to rest?”
“Eh? No, not now!” Merlin says, smiling, “I’ve missed you, guys. Besides, Arthur’s the one who needs a bit resting.”
Arthur left a couple of minutes before they arrived, after much convincing from Merlin that he’d be fine on his own.
“How is he doing?” Lancelot asks.
“I’m worried about him,” Merlin says, “He’s still working every morning, and tending to the flat, and yesterday he was here all day, and even stayed the night...”
“I’m sure he just wants to take care of you,” Gwen says.
“I know, and I appreciate it and... I want to be close to him too,” Merlin says, “But how is he going to take care of me if he passes out with exhaustion?”
He lets out a sigh.
“I’ll talk to him,” Lancelot says, “Now that you’re in a room, we can take turns to look after you, so your parents and Arthur can take it easy.”
“It’s all right, guys, I’m sure I’ll be fine by myself a couple of hours,” Merlin says.
“Nonsense!” Gwaine snaps, “Do you think we’re gonna leave you alone when you have a bloody bullet hole in your stomach?”
“We’re your friends, Merlin,” Lancelot says, “We want to help.”
“Besides,” says Gwen, “You’d do the same for any of us.”
Merlin smiles at them, a warm, pleasant emotion filling his chest.
“Thank you,” he says.
The first thing Merlin notices after he wakes up, it’s the morning light filtering through the white, thin curtains of his hospital room. The second thing he notices is that it’s Christmas morning.
Arthur is still asleep in the chair, awkwardly covered with a small blanket. Merlin remains silent, waiting for him to wake up.
A few minutes later, a nurse enters to check on him, and wakes Arthur.
“Merry Christmas,” she says, heading directly for Merlin’s IV, “How are you feeling today?”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Merlin says, “I’m fine. Only a bit cold.”
“Oh, I’ll bring you another blanket, then.”
Arthur stirs and rubs his eyes tiredly.
The nurse rearranges Merlin’s bed and helps him into a half-sitting position, brings him another blanket, and after some minutes of fumbling with the IV and writing on his chart, she finally leaves them alone.
“Merry Christmas,” Merlin says, turning his head to the side to smile at Arthur.
Arthur smiles at him, and there’s so much love and kindness in his eyes that, in spite of the hole in his stomach, Merlin can’t help but feel he’s the luckiest man in the world. And because it’s Christmas, and he’s cheerful and not in pain, and thus in a good mood, he tells Arthur so.
Arthur moves to the plastic chair next to Merlin’s bed. He grabs Merlin’s hand and presses a soft kiss against its back.
“I think I might be the lucky one,” Arthur says, “Because you’re still here, with me.”
After five weeks, the longest five weeks of their lives, Merlin is finally well enough to go home. Arthur almost wants to throw a party, but he’s pretty much aware that Merlin can’t handle a party yet, so he settles for cleaning the flat until it’s impeccable.
Morgana waits with Merlin until Arthur can come and pick him up, and after dealing with the hospital bureaucracy for a couple of hours, Merlin’s free to go. As they drive to the city, Merlin is ecstatic to finally see something other than hospital walls and corridors. He asks Arthur to take the long way home.
With Arthur’s help, Merlin’s able to walk from the street to the lift, and from the lift to their flat. He gets tired, but at least the analgesics are still strong in his system and keeping the pain at bay. Hunith’s waiting at the flat, and between the three of them, they manage to settle Merlin comfortable in his bed.
“It’s so good to have you home, honey,” Hunith says, “Your father wants you to call him as soon as possible. He left you this,” she says, pointing to a small, wooden statute of a dragon that’s sitting on Merlin’s bedside table.
Balinor is a cabinetmaker, the kind of man who likes manual work and can’t sit still for too long. During the long waits, he occupied himself as much as possible, and when he ran out of things to do in the flat, he carved a wood dragon for Merlin. He had to go back to Ealdor weeks ago, to work, but he still comes to visit every weekend. Hunith was able to stay in Camelot, though, sleeping in the flat’s guest room.
It’s Hunith who brings Merlin dinner, later in the evening. It consists only of chicken soup and strawberry jell-o, but Merlin, who literally didn’t eat anything for weeks and only started eating again a few days ago, appreciates the taste of food in his mouth. It’s Arthur, though, who helps Merlin change his clothes and prepare for bed.
Once Merlin’s in his most comfortable pyjamas (and he suspects he’ll be spending quite a long time in them, too), and nestled comfortably in their bed, Arthur grabs his own pyjamas from under his pillow and wishes him goodnight.
“Where are you going?” Merlin asks, frowning, confused.
“I’m going to sleep in the sofa,” Arthur explains.
“Why?” Merlin says, raising an eyebrow.
“You’re not well yet, I don’t wanna end up kicking you in my sleep,” Arthur says.
“I miss you,” Merlin says, “I want you to sleep in our bed. It’s all right, you won’t kick me.”
Arthur hesitates for a moment, but in the end he nods. He changes his clothes, and carefully slips under the covers next to Merlin. He turns off the light then.
“Hug me,” Merlin says.
Arthur turns to rest on his side, his head close to Merlin’s shoulder, and throws his arm carefully across Merlin’s chest. Merlin raises his own hand, and rests it on top of Arthur’s.
“You know,” Merlin says, quietly, “for a moment I really thought I was going to die.”
Arthur gulps. He doesn’t want to remember that night. He wants to forget the red, the white, the pain, and the panic, and Merlin’s eyes, so devastatingly beautiful and full of fear, as his life abandoned him. But Merlin hasn’t talked about that night, not really, and it might be good for them to do it now.
“When I was lying in the snow, for a moment, I thought, ‘this is it. I’m going to die’,” Merlin goes on, “but then... You were there, all the time. You kept me here, you made me hold on to my connection to this land, and I... I couldn’t slip away. Thank you.”
Arthur lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, and presses a kiss to Merlin’s shoulder.
“It’s me who should be thankful,” Arthur says.
“Well, yes,” says Merlin, “Who else would wake you up on time to go to work if I wasn’t around?”
“Yeah, because alarm clocks haven’t been invented...”
They stay there, close together in silence. Arthur’s starting to relax, to melt into Merlin’s touch, and his heart aches as he realises how much he’s missed to be like this, Merlin in their bed, Merlin in his arms.
“Promise me we’ll grow old together,” Arthur says.
“I can’t promise you that, love,” Merlin answers, “I wish I could tell you I won’t die any time soon, but we don’t know for sure. It’s the same for everyone, Arthur, we’re all going to die some day, we just don’t know when.”
“I know,” Arthur says, “I know that very well. But I was so scared. I thought I was going to lose you...”
“You’re never going to lose me,” Merlin says, softly, “And you shouldn’t think about those things, Arthur. We’ll be all right, and then we’ll die. We might as well enjoy the time we have.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, simply, “I enjoy it. You know it, right?”
“Well, I had my suspicions that you liked my company, but I couldn’t tell for sure,” Merlin says.
“Don’t get cocky, Merlin, I can always buy an alarm clock,” Arthur says.
They keep quiet for a few moments more, but before Arthur can feel Merlin dozing off, he says, “But you do know it, right? You make me so happy... I’m happy to be your husband until the day I die.”
“I know,” Merlin says, “and so am I.”
For his 29th birthday, Merlin throws the greatest party he’s ever done. Uther and Ygraine let him borrow their big, fancy house, and even Will and Freya come from Ealdor to celebrate with him.
There’s a feast, and alcohol flows like rivers through the guests, but Merlin can only have one beer, the first beer he’s had in over a year. Gwaine gets smashed, and so does Gwen, but is Morgana who drinks them all under the table and still leaves the party, in the wee hours of the morning, walking perfectly straight on her high heels.
Leon challenges Percival to an armwrestle tournament, and half of the guests join in. Surprisingly, Elyan comes out the winner, defeating Lancelot in the last round.
Uther and Balinor spend the night drinking together, and discover that, for all their differences, they have something in common—they both want grandchildren.
As for Merlin, he’s happy to be around his friends and family. He’s happy to have Arthur by his side the whole night long, and they celebrate, truly from the heart, the fact that he’s stayed alive for another year.
* * *
The Christmas morning of Merlin’s 29th year finds him in bed with Arthur. The room is dark, for Arthur refuses to get out of it, let alone to draw the curtains.
He’s raining kisses on Merlin’s stomach, and his hand traces paths up and down Merlin’s inner tight, through his pyjama bottoms. Merlin lies there, panting slightly and revelling in Arthur’s attentions, waiting for the moment to return the favour.
Arthur gets to Merlin’s scar on the left side of his belly, and presses his tongue against it. Merlin’s body stiffens, and Arthur immediately senses it.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, pushing himself up on his elbows, at either side of Merlin.
“I hate the scars,” Merlin says.
“Why?” Arthur asks, genuinely puzzled.
“They don’t exactly bring back fond memories,” Merlin says, bitterly.
“I like them,” Arthur says, “They do remind me of how close I was to lose you, but also that every moment I spend with you is a blessing.”
Merlin draws in a sharp breath, and doesn’t say anything else.
After a moment, Arthur leans down to kiss Merlin’s solar plexus, tentatively.
“Merry Christmas, love,” he mutters against his skin.
Merlin shivers with pleasure, tugs slightly at Arthur’s hair. “It’s about to get merrier,” he replies, grinning.