“—and if his temperature rises above 40 degrees I want you to call your Uncle Guy,” Merlin’s mother demanded for what must have been the thousandth time that morning, wringing her hands and darting anxious glances over his shoulder toward the house all the while—as if she could hear the fever-weakened voice of her eldest son calling for her and it was taking every ounce of her self-control to refrain from racing back inside to comfort her baby boy. Merlin looked at her fondly and tried very hard not to smile. Helen McLeod, world-renowned historian and Arthurian expert, may have been rather flighty outside the scholastic realm (certainly she was absent-minded enough not to realize that naming her three children after characters from legend would inevitably result in a great deal of teasing and ridicule from schoolmates; though, to be fair, destiny might have had a hand in that bit of irony), but no one could deny that she loved her family. They were lucky to have her—even if that did mean putting up with insane amounts of fussing. “Make sure he drinks plenty of fluids,” she insisted. “And by fluids, I don’t mean soda.”
“Yes, Mum,” Merlin nodded obediently—nearly losing his composure when he noticed his father had finished packing up the car and was now rolling his eyes to the sky and making an exaggerated show of exasperation where Mother couldn’t see. Little Morgie—Morganna—had her face scrunched up in an adorable little pout and actually glared at him when he caught her eye. He flushed and met his mother’s searching gaze.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go with your father and sister, dear?” she asked. “I could stay with your brother. I don’t mind.”
“No,” he said firmly, rising on his tip-toes to press a kiss to her cheek. “You’ve been looking forward to getting away for months. You need this vacation a lot more than I do. Go and have fun. I’ll take care of everything here.”
“But…” She bit her lip, clearly torn.
“We’ll be fine, I promise. Arthur can’t be half as sick as he claims to be.” No, really: he couldn’t. No one could be that sick and still be alive. He’d nearly had a heart-attack when he woke up that morning to the gurgling yawl that sounded very much like someone was butchering a cat in the room next door. “You know he’s just a bad patient. He’ll spend the next day or two bossing me around and milking his misery for all its worth. I’ll take good care of him.”
“If you’re sure…”
“Oh, leave the boy alone, Helen,” his father laughed, sweeping in at last to take her hand and escort her to the car. “He’s sixteen, now. I’m sure we can trust him not to poison Arthur or burn down the kitchen or what have you while we’re gone. Besides, he hardly wants to be wasting his time with his parents in the country, now does he? I’ll bet he’ll invite dear Gwendolyn over and have a marvelous time without us.”
“Da…” Merlin whinged. “It’s not like that at all!”
He recieved a wink in return and he was sure his answering flush of mortification was truly a sight to behold—because if they only knew. And wasn’t that a terrifying thought? He glanced nervously at Morgie, whose narrowed eyes were inspiring him to whole new levels of stomach-roiling paranoia: I’m on to you, she seemed to be saying, and there was something infinitely creepy about seeing such a darkly knowing expression on the face of a seven-year-old. Did she know? Could she know? They had been so careful… Were the dreams starting to manifest themselves again? She was still so young.
He breathed deep and forced a carefree smile.
Five minutes later, after suffering through another recitation from some butchered passage of The Mother’s Guide to the Care and Keeping of Children and one precarious moment when Mother nearly decided she ought to stay home after all when Merlin forgot where the ice packs were kept (“Er… The freezer?”—“No, they’re in the medicine cupboard, with the bandages!”), Merlin was heaving a sigh of relief and waving at the rear of the car as it disappeared in the distance. Tension he hadn’t even known was building drained from him as he made his way back up the front walk and it was as if an enormous weight had lifted off his shoulders, though guilt still nagged at the edges of his senses. “God, I hate lying,” he muttered under his breath when he stepped back into the house, falling against the door with an audible groan. One would think after more than a thousand years and more than a hundred lifetimes he would be a little more adept with deceptions.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.
Merlin knocked his head backward against the door in frustration, embracing the dull throb of pain that followed. Why did everything have to be so complicated? “Because fate’s a bitch and I’m her whipping boy.” Fate’s name, he mused balefully, was probably Nimueh.
Heaving forward he made his way to the kitchen to fetch a tray of juice and toast, arranging sliced bananas, red grapes, and a selection of orange marmalade, apple butter, and—as an afterthought—peanut butter on the side. Arthur had already choked down the breakfast of lukewarm oatmeal their fussing mother had forced upon him while Merlin had been in the shower that morning, but his appetite could generally be expected to be exceptionally greedy and something resembling real food would no doubt be welcomed. A hearty array of eggs, bacon, sausage, and other animal products would probably be especially appreciated, but the mere thought of that much fat and grease so early in the day made Merlin vaguely queasy. Arthur’s love affair with dead animals was well beyond his comprehension.
Balancing the tray carefully, he walked up the stairs, down the hall, and toed open the door to his brother’s room, cautious not to slosh the juice. The bundle of blankets in the center of the bed shifted as the door creaked open and the elder boy let out a hair-curling moan that wouldn’t have been out of place in a zombie movie. Merlin snorted and rolled his eyes. “Can it, drama queen,” he said cheerily. He set the tray on the bedside table, noting with pleasure that he’d somehow managed not to spill anything for once, and perched on the edge of the bed. He poked the bundle and beamed when Arthur’s face emerged, skin flushed with heat and hair damp and mussed with sweat and sleep. “Good morning, sunshine!”
“How you can be so annoying this early in the morning,” Arthur grumbled, voice raspy, “is anybody’s guess.”
Merlin glanced at the clock, amused. “It’s after eight. You get up much earlier than this for school.”
“Yes,” Arthur said slowly, “because I have to.”
Merlin shrugged and grinned. “Well, I’m wide awake, so you’re just going to have to resign yourself to getting your lazy carcass out of bed.”
Arthur coughed and moaned again. “But I’m sick, you heartless bastard. Have mercy on your poor brother. I may die tomorrow.”
“You are such a dork,” Merlin laughed, punching his brother lightly in the shoulder. Arthur grinned, red-faced and happy. Merlin inspected the unusual discoloration and pressed his hand to his brother’s overheated forehead with a frown. “Hey,” he said softly. “You’re not really sick, are you?”
“No,” Arthur snorted, swatting his hand away. “It’s just that I had to take measures to raise my temperature, or Mum would have been suspicious.” He shrugged cheekily.
“Measures…” Merlin repeated, mind racing with the possibilities until he noticed that only one of Arthur’s hands was above the blankets. “Oh my God!” he cried, aghast. “Don’t tell me you’re wanking under there!”
Arthur’s jaw dropped. “What? No! Are you insane? Just… No!” He twisted creatively until the blankets were untangled and threw them back to reveal the source of that morning’s success in spite of some very bad acting: every hot water bottle in the house plus two heating pads on at full strength (Merlin hadn’t even known they’d possessed two heating pads) were pressed along the expanse of Arthur torso—an excellent means of raising one’s core temperature in imitation fever, actually. Merlin was impressed—and embarrassed. “Do you really think I could wank in Mum’s presence? Geez, Merlin, that’s just twisted.” He met Arthur’s glare with a sheepish grin. Arthur’s glare softened to something like smugness. “You just can’t help thinking of sex in my presence, can you? That’s okay, I forgive you. My sexiness brings out the inner pervert in everyone.”
“You’re so magnanimous, my lord,” Merlin said wryly, “and modest too.”
Arthur smirked. “I am, aren’t I?” He reached out, grasping Merlin’s wrist and pulling him against his broad chest. Merlin breathed in, inhaling the familiar scent of him, and sighed contentedly when Arthur pressed a long trial of kisses up the curved column of his throat. “I’ve missed you,” Arthur whispered against his skin. “I’ve missed holding you like this. It’s so hard, seeing you every day, wanting you, and not being able to have you.”
“I know,” Merlin said. He did know. How many times had he struggled not to reach out and touch Arthur when they sat in front of the TV together, so close and yet so distant? How many times had he paused outside Arthur’s bedroom door on his way to bed, wishing he was still the guileless five-year-old who could crawl into his big brother’s bed in the middle of the night without question? How many times had he been forced to bite his tongue in the face of his father’s sly innuendo’s and his mother’s gentle coaxing to ask sweet Gwendolyn out on a date, because he couldn’t very well explain that he already belonged wholly and unequivocally to his big brother—that he’d belonged to Arthur long before they’d been born and would continue to belong to him until the last star fell from the heavens and earth was nothing but a distant memory? It was agony, waiting for these stolen moments, when they could be alone without fear. They’d been forced to hide their relationship in previous incarnations, when the taboo of homosexuality had hung heavy and foreboding over their lives, but the burdens of incest were new and unsettling—and had very nearly kept them apart.
Merlin fisted his fingers in Arthur’s grungy undershirt and cringed at the memory. Arthur had remembered their previous lives first, this time. At sixteen, remembering loving and lusting for countless incarnations of his scrawny and wide-eyed fourteen-year-old brother had been incredibly traumatic. Arthur had avoided him, then—gone out of his way to enroll in every club and sport he feasibly could to excuse long absences from home. Merlin had missed his brother wretchedly. He’d been so used to having him around, always there to help him or tease him or play video games with him, that it had knocked his world off-kilter when Arthur had so suddenly been out of his reach. Then Arthur had come home with a girlfriend for the first time—and everything had become terribly, horribly clear.
Convincing Arthur that it was okay to love him, no matter their blood, had been a battle. But he’d won.
Sarah Burns hadn’t been good enough for Arthur. Not even close.
“Do you ever regret being with me?” Merlin mumbled.
Arthur bit his neck and sucked punishingly, pulling back only at Merlin’s helpless whimper. “No,” he said. “Never. Someday we’ll be able to stop hiding like this. We’ll move somewhere far away, where no one knows us, and when I introduce you to people, I’ll say ‘This is Mr. Merlin McLeod, my partner in all things, the light of my life’ and no one will ever whisper behind our backs about ‘those strange McLeod brothers who are too close for their own good’. And we’ll be happy.”
“I’m always happy with you,” Merlin said, “even when people say awful things. I don’t care, as long as I have you.”
Eyes a swirling blue, Arthur parted from Merlin’s neck (and Arthur wondered why Merlin was so fond of those ‘artsy’ neckscarves!) and leaned in to catch his lips. Merlin tilted his head to meet him, eyes slitting shut until he remembered—
“What?” Arthur said in muffled annoyance when he found himself kissing Merlin’s fingers instead of his mouth.
“I put up with quite a lot of your bad habits, brother dear,” Merlin stated matter-of-factly, wrinkling his nose, “but I draw the line at tasting your morning breath.” Arthur blinked owlishly. Merlin dropped his hand, swiped a grape off the forgotten tray, and pressed it to Arthur’s lips, who accepted the offering obediently. “Enjoy your breakfast, clean up a bit—” he dropped his voice seductively, letting his eyes flash gold, which he knew never failed to arouse his lover, “—and then—” he flicked his tongue over the corner of Arthur’s mouth, where a bit of juice had collected, “—I’ll let you enjoy me.”
Merlin grinned impishly and turned to the task of dislodging the hot water bottles and heating pads from the bed and returning them back to their rightful places. The last thing they needed was awkward questions. When he returned, Arthur’s pillows were plumped behind him and he was layering his peanut butter-smeared toast with banana slices. Merlin shuddered.
“You should talk,” Arthur said lightly, indicating a slice of toast smeared with orange marmalade waiting for him, “that stuff is disgusting. The only good marmalade is Lady Marmalade.”
“Voulez vous coucher avec moi?” Merlin quipped, snatching the toast off the tray and biting down with an enthusiastic moan. Arthur watched him, eyes dilated, and emitted a soft moan of his own.
It was going to be a fantastic week.
After breakfast, Arthur allowed himself to be ushered off to the bathroom to freshen up—alone—and when he returned he was seduction personified: shaggy hair falling around his face in haphazard tendrils, chest bare and slick with lotion, and jeans hanging low enough that Merlin knew there was nothing beneath those jeans but warm, hard flesh. Merlin’s mouth salivated.
Still, Arthur was the one who broke first—though Merlin had to give him points for self restraint. Merlin was perhaps being a bit cruel, teasing Arthur with images straight out of a confessed fantasy. All’s fair in love and war, as the proverb goes.
“God, Merlin,” Arthur hissed, jeans tenting noticeably. “Do you have any idea what you look like?”
Oh, yes. Merlin had a vague idea. In fact, he’d approached the situation with a great deal of foresight: stripped to the skin but for Arthur’s favorite football jersey, baggy on Merlin’s slim body and still pleasantly fragrant with Arthur’s unique musk from when Arthur had worn it a few days ago, splayed on his back against the pillows, legs splayed decadently wide as Merlin lazily stroked himself with one lube-slick hand while the other teased farther back, pressing into his exposed opening with careful fingers. It was like scene out of a porn film (not that Merlin would know much about such things) and Merlin had felt more than a little silly while preparing for his Big Scene, but it was hard to feel silly when Arthur’s eyes were hot on him like that. Instead, he felt powerful, the rush running through his veins very much like magic in its all-consuming ecstasy.
He wet his lips, a thrill tingling up his spine when Arthur followed the motion, hungry and intent. “Aren’t you going to touch me?”
Arthur stalked forward with a low growl and suddenly they were chest to chest and Arthur’s tongue was down his throat (or maybe Merlin’s tongue was down Arthur’s throat?) and they were clinging to each other like their lives depended on it. Pressing his hand between them, over Arthur’s heart, he fancied he could feel the wild beat of it match his own.
“Sometimes,” Merlin whispered, “I wish I could crawl up inside of you, so deep that no one could ever part us again.” A strange thing to say, but the blue eyes gazing into his own were soft with understanding. “I like that we’re brothers. I like that we share something no one can take away from us.”
“We share more than blood,” Arthur said. “No one will ever part us.”
Merlin leaned up and kissed Arthur again, chaste and sweet this time, and Arthur let him pull him done to cover him, the weight of him a welcome burden. They stilled, content to just hold each other for a moment. Were they ordinary teenagers, they might not have been able to contain themselves, but they were who they were and this was about more than rutting. This tender nearness was something that they would never tire of.
“I’m always afraid I’m going to crush you,” Arthur mumbled into his hair, tracing mindless circles down sensitive sides, making the smaller boy chuckle and squirm. It was true: at just 5 feet and 120 pounds, Merlin was small for his age—smaller than many of the girls in his year, which had been a source of some angst until he’d remembered his past and the fact that he’d been a late bloomer every damn time.
“Better enjoy it,” Merlin replied, “I’ll be hitting my growth spurt soon. Then I’ll be bigger than you.”
Arthur snorted. “Taller, maybe. But I’ll always be bigger than you.”
“That sounds like a challenge. Maybe I should eat more fast food. Get fat.”
“You hate fast food,” Arthur pointed out, amused. “You get tears in your eyes when you think about those poor, dumb cows.”
“You are, of course, welcome to try for obesity. I wouldn’t mind if you put a little more meat on your bones. More of you to love,” Arthur wiggled his eyebrows, “or, rather, something to hold onto while you fuck me into next Tuesday.”
Merlin sputtered, feeling his cheeks heat. Then, hesitantly: “Actually, I want you in me this time.”
Arthur jerked back with wide eyes, bracing himself on his forearms. Merlin looked up calmly. He’d expected a similar reaction. “But you hate it when I do that.” That wasn’t exactly true—or it hadn’t always been.
He and Arthur had once enjoyed each other in every way imaginable. Their last incarnation had changed that. As the son of an English ambassador and a young Polish woman, Merlin had borne the misfortune of being a homosexual in Europe during the Third Reich. The Nazi camps had not been kind to him—though he’d been luckier than most. He’d caught the attention of someone fairly high up in the ranks early on. Being a personal whore had been better than being raffled off to satisfy the sadistic whims of the guards—or being mauled, raped, and slaughter in quick succession as had been the misfortunate case of more than a few of his friends—but he’d been left damaged nonetheless. When Arthur, then a British officer, and his company had stormed into the camp he’d been little more than a ghost of his former self. He had loved Arthur, even then, but it had been years before he’d been able to appreciate even small intimacies again and he’d never been able to tolerate penetration. Arthur had never pushed for more than he could offer.
Unfortunately, while the memories were distant enough in this life not to trouble him overmuch, the nervousness about penetration remained. The one time they’d tried it, Merlin had froze up and burst into hysterical tears before either of them reached completion. But that had been so soon after his awakening...
For all that this life’s experiences were limited to a handful of fumbling encounters, he felt more comfortable with the concept of sex now. And he wanted—everything. Merlin wanted to give Arthur all he had and he wanted to take Arthur in so deep he couldn’t tell where he ended and Arthur began. He refused to allow the past to continue to cast a shadow over his happiness.
“I need this,” Merlin said, praying that Arthur would understand and knowing he would. “Please.” He quirked his lips tentatively. “You’ll be eighteen before the month is out. Consider it a birthday present.”
“That’s some birthday present,” Arthur said, expression shuttered—but he hadn’t said no. After a few moments Arthur stated his terms: “You have to promise me this is what you really want.”
“And you’ll tell me if you feel uncomfortable? You’ll tell me to stop if you need me to?” Arthur frowned. “I won’t hurt you. Not even if you ask me to.”
Merlin nodded. Arthur wouldn’t be the man he loved if he were willing to intentionally inflict pain on another. He was still an arrogant prat at times, but he would never really hurt anyone if he could help it, much less his little brother. “I will.”
“Alright, then.” Arthur nodded and set to work on a slow, easy seduction.
By the time Arthur actually deigned to touch him back there, Merlin was already purring in kittenish satisfaction, boneless and relaxed in the aftermath of his first startling orgasm, coaxed from him with an eager mouth and too-clever tongue. Possibly Arthur had hoped that distracting him with an eye-crossing, toe-curling, spine-tingling blow job (Arthur often gloated that he was the more skilled in the fine art of cock-sucking, a claim with which Merlin silently agreed, but would forever deny simply because it amused him to see his lover sulk over something so absurd) would suffice to detour Merlin from his personal mission. It didn’t.
Merlin swirled one finger in the evidence of his pleasure splattered over the fabric stretched over his belly and brought it up to his mouth, tasting himself with half-slit eyes. Arthur’s breath hitched in his throat.
“I want you in me. Now.”
Nodding jerkily, Arthur dribbled lube over his fingers, slipped between Merlin’s legs and eased one finger into him—soon followed by a second and third when he found meager resistance. “You’re so—” Arthur licked his lips. “—loose.” Unsaid was the insinuation that Merlin could not have opened his body up like that with the shallow strokes from his earlier seduction.
Merlin stretched, languid and wicked, and pushed into the probing touch. “I wouldn’t have asked you for this if I wasn’t sure I could handle it.” He jerked and gasped when Arthur’s fingers found his prostate, sending sparks straight to his quickly hardening arousal (that was the nice thing about being young—spectacular recovery time!). “I’ve been—ah!—practicing. For you. With a—tagh!—toy.”
“D-dildo,” Merlin nodded. “Had it— Had it with me in the shower this morning. Was ima—gah!—imagining it was you. Wishing it was you. God, Arthur stop teasing me and fuck me!” His voice was broke off in a choking sob and he wanted he needed now now now!
“No,” Arthur growled, low with promise, “I’m going to make love to you, little brother.”
Arthur’s hands shook as he tore at the condom foil he pulled out of the nightstand (“You can’t tell me Mum hasn’t noticed those there.”—“Idiot. Who do you think put them there?”—“Oh. God.”—“Just wait until it’s your turn.”) and Merlin had to help him roll it on, careful not to snap the rubber or pinch sensitive flesh.
His brother’s eyes never strayed from his face as he breeched him, considerate and wary of any signs of discomfort. “Look at me,” Arthur said, over and over. “I’m here. I love you. I’m here. Look at me, Merlin. See me. See only me.”
And what could Merlin do but obey?
The tears that streamed down his face when he came were not of fear or pain but of joyous relief. “Arthur,” he chanted, again and again until his throat was raw, “Arthur.” The heavens crashed down around him.
Heaven felt a lot like Arthur.
“Your spunk is all over my jersey,” Arthur groused.
“Shut up, Arthur, you prat,” Merlin said—only his tongue was a treacherous snake and the words sounded suspiciously like “I love you.”
“Do you think Morgie knows something?” Merlin asked later that day, when they’d finally managed to extricate themselves from the bed to enjoy a quiet afternoon of movies and video games (“No, we can’t go to the skate park.”—“Why not? I thought you liked watching me in motion!”—“Because, you fool, you’re supposed to be on death’s door, remember? You don’t think Mum will be calling?”) and indulge in an outrageous amount of necking. The thought had been nagging at him and the more he tried to ignore it, the more persistent it had became. If Morgie’d had a vision…
He blushed and prayed that whatever deity that presided over seers had the good sense and the decency to censor certain intimate activities that small children shouldn’t even know about much less witness. And then he started working himself into a frenzy, because if she knew and she didn’t remember before and she said something…
“Know something?” Arthur blinked with a small frown. “About what?”
“About us.” Merlin raked his fingers through his hair with a small sigh. What a nightmare. “She was glaring at me this morning like she knew. And when I went to give her a hug goodbye she shrugged me off—like she was disgusted or something.” Pathetically, he buried his face in the arm of the couch.
Arthur burst out laughing.
It was Merlin’s turn to look confused.
“Morgie doesn’t know shit,” Arthur snickered, “though she’d like to think otherwise, the obnoxious brat. You were just misinterpreting things and freaking out over nothing, as usual.”
“Well, then, sire,” replied Merlin irritably, “why don’t you bestow your great wisdom upon me and clue me in to the facts? Because from my angle things don’t look all that funny.”
Arthur snorted. “While you were in the shower pleasuring yourself,” he explained with an accompanying leer, “Morgie was out here throwing a tantrum and making all our ears bleed because she didn’t want to leave without you. She was just pouting and taking her displeasure out on you like the pint-sized princess she is.”
“Oh.” That made—quite a lot of sense actually.
“Yes, oh. And stop looking so guilty. She’ll have herself a good sulk and then Mum and Da will spoil her rotten and bend to her every whim just to please her. She’ll have a perfectly wonderful time without us.” Unyielding fingers clutched Merlin’s shoulders and suddenly he was being manhandled into his brother’s lap and arranged to suit a whim. Arthur buried his face in Merlin’s neck and nipped possessively.
“Mine,” Arthur said.
Merlin grinned, nudging him playfully. “Didn’t Mum ever teach you to share?”
“I’ll share everything but you,” was Arthur’s solemn response.
Merlin was okay with that. He would never share Arthur either.