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A Bunch of Ways Arthur Doesn't Die (or dies and comes back, whatever)

Chapter Text

And then Arthur coughs up a piece of apple that was choking him and all the seven dwarves loyal knights of the round table looked shocked and then glare at Gwaine accusingly, and he's like, "What? It's not my fault! How was I to know the princess can't eat an apple unless it's been peeled and sliced and fed to him by his pretty manservant? He said he was hungry and I shared my lunch with him, what's wrong with that?"

And Mordred's all indignant and shouts, "Dude, why do you have apples and I only have stinky cheese that smells like your socks, how is this fair? I hate you!"

But Arthur (still coughing weakly) says, "Stop hazing the newbie, we're supposed to be all equal here," and gives Mordred his half-eaten apple, and Mordred is so touched that he cries.

And then they lived happily and created Albion, and we cut to the modern era utopia the future becomes.

Chapter Text

For the first few days after he returns from the lake, Merlin wakes up in the morning and hurries to Arthur's chambers as usual in a dazed fog to wake Arthur and help him get ready for the day.

But the bed is already made, and there's no one there. Just an empty room, with no grumpy king to tease and jolly and forcefully push out of bed if necessary. Merlin stares, and remembers, and leaves the room, buries himself into helping Gwen and Gaius, attending council meetings to deal with the passing of the reins of power to Gwen and work out how to deal with their losses, the dead, the destroyed farms, everything, until he throws himself in bed again at the end of the day, exhausted, only to wake and lose Arthur all over again.

On the fourth day he breaks. He stumbles blindly to Arthur's cupboard and flings it open, stares at all the clothes still hanging there, that no one has sorted out yet. They should. Arthur was never one for extravagant dress, preferring his chainmail or a plain tunic to formal wear, and he had less finery as king than he had as prince. Arthur would expect them to — give the old things away, make sure his people were dressed and warm. But Merlin's shoved in one or two shirts without washing them if Arthur was rushing him more than usual and they weren't too dirty, and the cupboard still smells a little like Arthur.

That's just how it starts. Merlin leans forward and breathes in the smell, puts his hand on the threadbare white shirt that Arthur refuses to give up because it is so amazingly soft and comfortable, and clenches his fist in it, and stands there until the clanking steps of a passing guard brings him back to the damp cloth his shaking fingers have pulled out of shape.

He blinks, and lets go, and forces himself to step away and close the wardrobe door. He smoothes the covers of the bed one more time, the last, he tells himself, and carries on with some minor errands for Gaius, and then goes back to his room to study, he says, and Gaius gives him a shrewd, understanding look, and nods.

Then Merlin flops down on his bed, with his spellbook and his little carved wooden dragon, and lies there staring at the unlit candle by his bed, because it's still day, and he lies there, staring, until he falls asleep.

He wakes lying on his side, with a warm body spooned around him, and feels loved and protected, and rests his hand on the arm around his waist. Gwaine, he thinks, muzzy with sleep, trying to comfort him with his wordless hugs and silent support. Merlin smiles, feeling too lazy to turn around, not ready to talk. A cold nose presses behind his ear, nuzzling and seeking warmth at the same time, and he starts to wake a little, ready to scold Gwaine for the liberty. But he takes a breath, and it smells like...

The hand around his middle moves, stroking his stomach with a sure, certain touch. Merlin tenses, and it slides down boldly, pulling off his belt and then back north, rucking up his tunic to reach bare skin, pinch his nipple to make him gasp with familiarity and surprise.

He's dreaming, then. He should... he should wake himself, stop this before he has to go through everything only to lose Arthur again, but Arthur is licking his neck, and rutting into his back, heedless of the fact they are both fully dressed and Merlin will have to clean their clothes up later, and that errant hand simply abandons his chest and shoves its way into his trousers to milk him confidently.

Merlin gasps and fucks Arthur's fist, clutching the bedsheets and Arthur's other wrapped over his waist, and spills into his trousers with a cry, and the sense of Arthur fades while Arthur's voice says into his ear, reproachful, "You left me behind..."

It doesn't happen again. Not... not quite the same way.

Merlin wakes with sticky trousers, and spends the next day running around, doing whatever he can find to do, trying to make himself forget. He stays away from Arthur's room, the armory, the training field — all the places where Arthur's memory is strongest, and when he falls into bed exhausted that night, he finds his thighs pinned tightly apart by a phantom weight while Arthur's unseen, but unforgettable mouth sucks at him greedily, the rushed, crude way he goes at Merlin's cock when they have been apart for a while and he's feeling particularly lustful — no consideration or skill, only demanding and possessive. And then, "You left me..."

And the night after that Arthur is kinder, as though sorry for the way Merlin has drifted through the castle like a ghost himself trying not to think of following Arthur into the lake, and he holds Merlin close, lying on top of him and kissing him slowly as he fucks himself with long, delicious strokes on Merlin's cock. "You left..."

And the next night as well, when Merlin goes to confront him in his chambers and they end up lying face to face in Arthur's bed, Merlin rutting in the tight space between Arthur's legs while Arthur drives his hard cock between their stomachs. "You..."

Merlin starts looking for exorcism spells, spells to lay a lost soul to rest, spells to find out if he has been cursed by Morgana or some other evil magic, and then Arthur is somehow in his chair, under him and his trousers are around his ankles, and Arthur is fucking him so he can't do anything but pant and clutch at his open spellbook with his eyes squeezed shut, and he feels the parchment shredding beneath his clawed hands, and Arthur says: "BRING ME BACK."

Chapter Text

Arthur found himself wading through waist-deep water, in the dead of winter, with no clear notion where he was or how he got there, but since he didn't really have a choice about it, he simply gritted his teeth and kept moving, hoping the dark smudge on the distant horizon was land.

The water became shallower, his limbs heavier, and by the time he found solid, rocky ground under his feet, he had long since forgotten everything but putting one foot in front of the next, and returned to himself with a slow shock, taking in the lake shore and a derelict-looking sort of shack that seemed to have materialised before him.

Good, he needed to, he. Had to get his sodden things off, shed the chainmail that felt like an anvil dragging him down, and — he needed somewhere to just stop. Lie down, with a roof over his head.

He squelched in, started to take off his boots, and stopped.

Merlin.

Merlin, the idiot, who had not foresight enough to raise a nice warm cottage by the lake, just a shabby little hut with a small firepit that was barely big enough to warm a pot of tea, and of course the damned pot was empty, because that's the kind of shit manservant he was.

Arthur was too tired and cold to kick Merlin out of his bedroll, that's what it was, not the dark smudges under Merlin's eyes or his hollowed-out face — just it was easier and faster to just put a couple of fresh logs on the dying coals and poke them until they caught, and struggle out of his useless wet armour and clothes himself, and fuck it was even colder once he shed the sodden things, even with the resuscitated fire sputtering at his feet, the heat barely reached his legs and his teeth were starting to chatter in earnest, what the hell was Merlin thinking, camping here like this? They were both going to freeze.

So it was just the reasonable and obvious thing to do, lifting up the blanket and slipping in behind Merlin, folding him into his body like a giant warming stone. He pushed his icy hands up under Merlin's shirt, soaked in the warmth bleeding from Merlin's thin back into his chest and belly and thighs, and when Merlin stirred and whispered his name with a sobbing breath, he pressed his cold lips to Merlin's cheek and told him, "Sleep, it's all right. I'm back now, and I'll still be here in the morning."