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On a Snowy Evening (the Paint the Forest With Colour Remix)

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from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~

It’s beautiful in the forest as the shortest day of the year ages into evening.

The sun’s glare stays ripe orange for the few hours a day it graces the land, warming the shroud of white stretching as far as the eye can see. Shadows lengthen between the trees, deep and mysterious as night comes on, darkening the still undergrowth into eerie shapes. There aren’t many storms here. When snow falls, it settles in thick swathes and stays put for the life of the season.

Not sleety and grey like in Camelot, the winters this far north of Albion seem to snap with an honest chill, the snow so white that it's violet in shadow. It builds so thickly here, like a kind of sound-proofing, making it quiet and close.

To Arthur, it has always felt like Leammi is insulated from the rest of the world. It’s ever peaceful, and he has missed it fiercely.

The snow is deep but manageable; he’s able to keep his waterproof trousers dry as he goes walking in the woods, the legs of them tucked into high winter boots. No such thing as cold weather, they say up here, only bad clothing.

He needs little more than this to steal a few hours of perfect contentment; he has his wits and survival training, a pocketful of energy bars, a hip flask, his compass, his phone. Leon is back at the village, doing his best to afford Arthur an illusion of freedom while monitoring his position through the bug set into Arthur's watch, which they both pretend not to know about. He has the forest he loves and the stars to guide him. It’s breathtaking, immense and full of mystery. Arthur's eyes are wide with wonder; he has been away too long.

The boy in him smiles big and free, even as the grown man, the Crown Prince, turns an indulgent blind eye to the flurries of soft snow he kicks up as he walks. He breathes in moist, visible puffs, watching them dissipate in the dying sunlight. It’s very still, the breeze remaining up high near the treetops, his exaggerated steps in heavy, snow-laden boots the only interruption to the calm.

He pulls idly at a branch of a snow-covered spruce as he passes, then lets it flick out from his hand with a swoosh, sending a burst of white fluff up into the air. It’s satisfying in an elemental, simple sort of way that nothing else in his life is able to be.

Arthur has become a connoisseur of the little things.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, chimes his brain, the words echoing around his head in his mother’s voice, gilt-framed by the fall of her hair, the way it would drape like a gold curtain around him as he curled in her lap. It seems a hundred years ago but here, in her maternal homeland where she herself had been brought up, he might as well have lived it yesterday for the way it comes home to him and nestles tight between his ribs.

He can feel her in the spirit of this place, sense both their ghosts playing among the trees when he looks around: his fair-haired, smiling mother and the boy he once was. They are Du Bois, of the wood, and she’s more present for him here among the frozen spruce and willow than in all the ornately framed portraits hanging on stone Pendragon walls.

There are times Arthur feels the dichotomy of his make-up keenly.

Hunching down into his collar, Arthur buries his face into the padded flannel lining. He had friends here too, once. He walks on through the soft woodland, memories of two small boys nipping at the edge of his mind, remembering how the cool but intense northern summer would filter through the trees to sprinkle their faces with freckles, redden their fingers and mouths with berries. Just as the sun never truly rises in winter, it never truly sets in summer; their days had seemed endless.

Merlin, he thinks, the name settling like a warm blanket on his thoughts, raising a smile. He lets the memories come, then, because if not here and now then maybe never, lets them flood him like a dam’s broken upriver. They’d been inseparable once. He wishes he could recall his face exactly, but all he has is the echo of a toothy grin as big as his whole world, and bird's nest hair constantly pushed from bright eyes, and Merlin’s hands- nimble, capable, doing hands, skinny fingers browned from picking the skins off slippery jacks. The rich, earthy scent of sliced and strung-up mushrooms is one he’ll never forget. Arthur smiles into his collar.

He thinks he could live here, he’s that fond of it. He circles the thought as pink-bellied grosbeaks circle the treetops above, though he won't ever experience the hands-on autonomy of moving house. Camelot will always be his home.

He wonders whatever happened to Merlin. How many times he’s moved. Where he is now.

Watching the shadows of evening gentle their way into the forest, his heart clenches with sudden fondness for those days long ago, and for Merlin, and for being ten and thinking that there were certainties in life, things you could make happen through sheer, earnest wanting.

He suddenly recalls a conversation that went something like, 'when we grow up can I marry him, Mother,' and Ygraine explaining that they were too young to think of such things and who knew what life had in store for them. Patient words for an impatient child. They’d made his whole body cold. It was the first time Arthur had considered the alien concept that he and Merlin might not always have each other. It has no right to sting after all these years. It’s absurd, and yet, there it is.

Wherever Merlin is now, wherever life has led him, Arthur imagines him happy. He imagines Merlin smiling and fulfilled, with another’s hand to hold onto and a life lived in a place where he is cherished.

Arthur's insides twist into a horrible, unhappy knot.

This place . . . something about it brings these thoughts on, the familiar wet scent of fresh snow, perhaps, or long nights, well-suited to dreaming. Arthur doesn’t know what it is, but he’s hit by nostalgia that creeps on, relentless like a headrush when he eats ice-cream with his teeth, the shock of it inexorable. His mother loved this country—it’s where she brought him, just the two of them spending time away from the court—and only now does he understand how lucky he was to have had even that. If it wasn’t for her insistence that he have a taste of the simple life, he might never have come here as a child, never had a chance to make memories like those aching under his ribs now. Arthur swallows the bittersweet tang at how seldom his father came too, sees the spread of his own future stretched thin on the same roads of duty.

Arthur’s footsteps land too hard, sink too deep. He stops, clenching his gloved hands. Breathes. Some days it’s hard to see the privilege for the duty.

He shakes it all off for the kind of sentimentality he’d not suffer except under the influence of ghosts. A few days back in Camelot will nix this. He’ll be busy, there’ll be drills and training with his squad, court business to attend to, more work than he knows what to do with on-base, and coffee, lots of thermos coffee when they’re on manoeuvres. There won’t be time for this sort of nonsense.

It’s not quite night yet, but it’s creeping on as Arthur leaves the beaten track and walks into the thick of the forest.

“Better make the most of it,” he says to the trees, and the unfathomable sky.


~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~


He walks for hours, guided by the stars, checking in once with Leon via text, but otherwise uninterrupted.

Complete darkness creeps in until it’s suddenly not nascent anymore but well and truly there and he’s surrounded by it.

He climbs a tree and perches in its branches, watching the last of the bruised purple bleed out into the horizon. He clears the fallen snow off a raised outcrop and lies on the frozen ground, watching the endless sky turn. The Milky Way spills across the firmament like a handful of glitter thrown by an errant child; it makes Arthur feel so small, so insignificant. Like he can do no harm, like he couldn't possibly be important enough to cause any harm in all this vastness. He brushes at something on his face and the glove comes away wet.


He doesn’t venture deep, not really, the village isn’t far and he’s skirting its edges, barely notching into the wild. But, it’s more than he expected and all he could wish for: the immeasurable peace and vast contentment this small interlude has afforded him. Hours of unhurried trekking have left his legs pleasantly stretched and his lungs open and breathing free like they haven’t in ages. His mind feels clear. Incredibly, wonderfully clear.

Once upon a time, he ran among these trees at full pelt, knowing them all, each one a friend. Snow crunches beneath his boots. He loves it, has always loved that sound, the feeling of it compacting under his soles. His nose is freezing but his hands are toasty warm in his lined gloves. Trees dominate the landscape as far as the eye can see. There are deer and moose in the woods, and wolves. Even bears, slumbering deep in their burrows. There is pulsing life here even in the harshest season.

Arthur walks and walks, the puff of his breath and the crunching underfoot his only companions, eerie calm settling like a blanket over the forest, which seems to be opening up into a clearing. He’s almost there when there's a sudden flash of light up ahead and for a fleeting moment he thinks it's lightning, but no, because there is colour and it doesn’t stop, isn’t followed by the distant roll of thunder.

The trees seem lit up from beyond, and Arthur thinks maybe Northern Lights, but it’s not the sky that glows—the solid blue above remaining undiluted—it’s the trees, and he knows of the Beiwe celebrations in the village yesterday but maybe he’s stumbled into a private one in the woods where there will be animal sacrifices like in ancient times.

Maybe they’ve decorated the trees with lights or something, but just as soon as he thinks it, he knows that's not it; there’s no power out here and he can’t hear any kind of generator.

Even so, if someone worked out a way around the how, then there’s the why, and even then it wouldn’t be bright enough to illuminate half the forest deep in the heart of a northern winter's night like this.

Then Arthur realises it can't be stationary lights on a tree, no, because whatever it is isn’t confined, it weaves between the trees like coloured lightbulbs dragged along on a string, low, low along the ground, then up higher and higher, serpentine and fluid and everywhere. Arthur's heart thuds like a drum in his chest, the air suddenly thin and too sparse.

He might have seen something like this before, but it’s so much brighter and bigger, and more than his memory credits.

He’s glad for a solid tree nearby, and when his knees threaten to fold he slumps against it, snaking his arms around its trunk as he waits, wanting to be sure of what he’s seeing, though it is, it has to be, surely it has to, echoes in his head.

Arthur blinks and blinks to clear his eyes of sudden moisture, while in the clearing, mists of colourful sparks begin to form into shapes. Vague constellations thrown in gold across the glade turn into animals which hop and prance among the spruce, and Arthur’s mesmerised by their ethereal beauty. He can barely believe what he’s seeing, that it’s real, and that his memories are real and not something he’d dreamed up when he was small. A great dragon rises from the clearing to circle above it with a mighty thwap, thwap of wings, its enormous body seemingly made of sparklers.

He recalls Merlin’s upraised hand and glowing eyes and the smell of ozone in the air when he did impossible things, and though not quite on the scale of this shockingly beautiful light show, witnessing Merlin's magic had made Arthur’s hair stand on end and laughter bubble out of him like lemonade fizz: glowing orbs in the palm of Merlin’s hand to help them see inside their blanket fort, and out-of-reach sweets eased helpfully down into their waiting hands. Arthur’s throat floods with thick emotions.

He watches for a long time, no idea how long he’s there in the dark, awestruck by the unearthly display. It’s not so different from when he was little after all; his hair still stands on end, and the thrill’s felt all up and down his arms, pebbling his skin and making him breathe too fast like he’s about to plunge underwater and needs to fill his lungs.

His legs have stiffened in the freezing cold and in trying to get more comfortable against the tree, his customary composure fails him. He misplaces his feet and steps on a rotting pine cone, the resulting crackle loud enough to reverberate through the clearing.

Abruptly, everything stops, sounds and vision sucked clean out of the air.

The silence rings louder than a clap of thunder in his ears. He’s blinded, blinking at the shocking darkness. Everything about his training screams at him to get down, to secure his position, but if he’s right about the lights . . .

Against better judgement, Arthur straightens up. He clears his throat, the night air sharp and mint fresh on his palate.


There is no response. Arthur’s voice sinks into the snow, disappearing without a trace. Above him, the trees begin to whisper, stirred by a light breeze.

He tries again. “Hello? Are you—Merlin, is it you?”

A quiet gasp reaches him from the far edge of the clearing.

Arthur trains his eyes, looking for something other than trees, but the black forest gives him nothing. The snowy blanket glows blue under the starlight and he blinks, night vision adjusting.

A flicker of light—no more than the spark of a flint being struck—bursts into life far on the other edge of the clearing, a familiar glow materialising in the distance. Arthur stares, helpless against the smile curling at the corners of his mouth.

The spark intensifies and grows until it’s a thread, then a thick rope of gold, sinuous and sentient, nosing along the ground. Arthur sets his teeth in his bottom lip as it tilts its flickering round head towards him, his body on high alert. There’s no doubt now whom he has found and who's found him in return and he can’t wait, the seconds taking too long, taking an eternity.


It’s quiet and full of wonder and not at all the voice he expected. Arthur’s heart pounds. It’s a grown-up voice. A man’s voice, husky. And it’s not that he’d thought to hear a child’s voice, of course not, he and Merlin are of an age, just months between them. He still has a tiny, yellowed photo of their mothers, side by side and pregnant, Arthur’s mother huge with him, and her friend, Hunith, not even showing yet. They were born exactly six months apart, Arthur on the eve of summer solstice and Merlin its polar opposite and—

oh Gods, is it? It must be. It’s Merlin’s birthday. Arthur fumbles at the wrist cuff of his puffy parka sleeve, peeling back his glove to check his watch to confirm, staring at its backlit face while the realisation hits him like a ram.

In just a few minutes Merlin will turn twenty one, and Arthur didn’t think of it, didn’t realise, hadn’t made the connection until this second, but it’s obvious now. It’s all connected, and how could he have been so obtuse?

All that he’s been feeling lately, all the little things are adding up, clicking into place. Arthur can see the whole panorama now: the sudden urge to see his mother’s lands again, the heart of his childhood, though he’s not been here for years, nor thought to be. The inexplicable need to come now and risk missing Yule with family, with his father. He’d been desperate, suddenly driven to come here. He tilts his face up to the cold, starry sky, remembering lying in a field of summer wildflowers, shielding his eyes with an arm thrown across his face. He feels the phantom warmth of another hand in his and of a body beside him, a friend to lie in the dirt with, both of them browning in the bright, bright sun, skinned knuckles and dirt in the whorls on their fingertips and snorting peals of laughter like nothing else mattered. He'd thought never to find that again.

Arthur’s hands clench into fists as he watches the slow progress of flickering gold light weave its way through the snow, setting everything aglow as it moves towards him.

Should have realised, he thinks, breath coming fast now. Should have felt the pull and recognised it for what it was, but the call, when it came for him, had made sense, a natural progression of something he’d been feeling himself for ages. Something he had been meaning to do, to touch on a bit of his own history, to go back, go home, to see—

He’d forgotten that this day might come. Arthur doesn’t understand how, but he had, like a lot of people do, he supposes. Not everyone will feel the call of a bond in their lifetime, and it’s common knowledge that magic is weakening, bonds becoming more rare now than ever. He’d forgotten to wonder if he would ever find his bondmate, if he even had one out there somewhere. He’d thought he was content enough in other aspects of his life to ignore the strange ache he felt sometimes. An unscratchable itch.

And now it seems the bond—activated by Merlin’s coming of age—has called him here, called them both here, and it’s all he can do not to burst into a bout of hysterical laughter, overwhelmed and shocked, and prickly hot all over.

“Merlin,” he whispers. And of course it is. Of course he was always meant for Merlin, and Merlin was meant for him. All this time. How could it be anyone else? Merlin. Arthur’s whole body thrums the name.

Footfalls thud through the thick snow towards him and a silhouette cuts from the blackness beyond, popped into being from between the trees. Arthur can’t tell what his face is doing and there’s no time to do anything about looking collected because then there's Merlin, Merlin, all grown up, and tall and running straight for Arthur like it’s not the middle of the night. Tall and slim and gods, Arthur’s mouth is dry and his heart’s trying to squeeze out through the gaps in his ribs, while Merlin's long legs eat up the distance like it’s evenly laid tarmac and not the obstacle course of roots and pine cones and slippery deadwood.

He runs to Arthur the way he always did when they were ten, when anything was possible and they lived in every moment together. How he doesn’t fall and break his neck, Arthur will never know, for Merlin doesn’t seem to be minding his feet at all. Arthur’s chest tightens as he takes in the familiar swing of arms, Merlin’s gait still the same after all these years.

Merlin slows to an abrupt halt just a few feet away and Arthur suffers a stab of panic at the sheer intensity of the moment, its vastness and what it means for them both. It almost kicks the knees out from under him. It’s unexpected and sudden and he hasn’t planned for this, hasn’t factored it in the way he must with all things. He hasn’t the room to breathe for himself let alone bond to another, and he needs to sit down and think about this, if he could just take a moment, take some time to—

But there is no time. None at all, because here’s Merlin, teleported straight from a childhood memory and back into Arthur’s life as though a sheet of time and space decided to fold in half to slap them back together.

He’s so—gods, he’s so tall, Arthur can’t get past it. He’s a man, a hint of stubble dark along his jaw, eyes restless and intelligent and all over Arthur the same way Arthur’s scan him, fast and dirty, impatient to get it all, catch all the details, all the ways he’s changed, and even more so all the ways he hasn’t and how could he have thought to forget this weird, beloved face, he’ll never know.

Merlin’s magic swirls in eddies around them both, Arthur’s skin is tingling with it under his clothes. He turns his hands up, and just like it did then, the magic—stronger, more tangible—worms in between his gloves and the cuffs of his sleeves to settle warm and dry in his hands, pooling solid there until it feels like he’s holding something. Until it feels like he’s holding someone’s hands. Arthur’s eyes feel prickly.

He’d thought he dreamed it up. He’d thought he was maybe a very lonely child and imagined this, but it was real. It is real. It really happened then and it’s really happening now, and where a moment ago he was terrified of losing himself, now his thoughts are more about how the bond will feel, how it will change him.

He looks up from his warm and tingling hands and finds Merlin staring back at him with wide, unblinking eyes. His mouth is slack. He looks awed. Arthur wants to touch him, maybe just to put a hand on his shoulder and ground himself. He feels like they should be touching, somehow.

“Is this—do you want it to stop?” Merlin says quietly. They both wince at the idea, and the magic reacts with a painful throb Arthur feels down to his toes. It’s moving and intense and he understands what's happening, but he’s a man who’s been taught to carefully weigh his options, and who thinks in facts: they haven’t touched yet.

They’ve not connected, so it’s not impossible to stop it, though inside, the narrowing of Arthur’s world continues, down to the speck that’s Merlin and he in the middle of the universe.

Technically, he could still walk away. A thought flits through about his father's expectations and those of the nation when it comes to Arthur's consort, but it doesn't catch - logically he knows this will be accepted as a legitimate bonding and that nothing can trump it.

If he were to walk away, it would ache for the rest of his life, he can tell now, having had a taste. The incomplete bond would always reach out, always look for the other half of itself. It would hurt them both. A lifetime of an actual hole in the fabric of his makeup, and in Merlin’s too. Arthur feels like the worst kind of coward for even thinking it. Merlin's magic flares in glee, sensing the direction of his thoughts.

Merlin must notice his pause, his eyes are wary, and Arthur blinks the confusion clear because he can’t have that. Suddenly he has complete clarity between what’s important and what’s not, and the worry he’d not identified until now—that he is about to lose something of himself—becomes the absolute certainty that this is a leap of faith and that he has already jumped and it’s good. It’s wonderful.

Instead of a reply, he tugs off his gloves and lowers his hands, golden tendrils of light following the movement where they’re tucked into his sleeves, like ribbons. Gently he tugs off Merlin’s thick mittens and takes Merlin’s hands in his own.

Everything around them moves at the touch.

Just a beat, a hazy shift to the left while he and Merlin stand rooted to the earth, entwined in the bright vines of magic. They’re simply staring at each other, following the strokes of moonlight over the shapes life has made of their faces. 

“I can’t believe you're here,” Arthur says, the first thing that comes to mind with any kind of coherence.

“I didn’t know what would happen, if you would feel it. If you would come,” Merlin says, reeling it out fast and breathless. His eyes are roaming all over, and Arthur wants so much to know what they’re seeing. What Merlin’s thinking.

“Did you know it would be me?”

"No,” Merlin says quietly, eyes coming to rest on Arthur’s mouth a moment before flicking up again. “I just, there was this familiar sort of energy, it’s all I’ve felt for the past few weeks, this build up, and I hoped, but I . . . I really didn’t know.” Merlin squeezes Arthur’s hands as he babbles away, the emotions flitting over his face. “Because Arthur, it’s been years and you’re, well. You’re the. Uh.”

“I know who I am,” Arthur says evenly.

Merlin’s eyes soften. He tugs Arthur in by the hands and they lean into each other, winding their arms around. Merlin’s breath scuffs over Arthur’s neck, the tip of his frozen nose shoved right in behind his ear, and he's laughing, they're both laughing like maniacs, like children, and Arthur didn't realise until this moment just how vastly unoccupied his heart had been until now, how much room there was in it, waiting for someone to fill it with themselves. The thought stuns him.

“Hoped so much it would be you,” Merlin whispers, “I missed you every day.”

Arthur sucks a breath in, tries to steady himself, wondering what the hell he's been doing all this time, how he'd survived without this.

Merlin’s magic is a wild and happy presence all around as Arthur noses at thick black hair that's escaped the confines of a knitted beanie. It should feel strange that they're so familiar, holding each other like lovers, but it's not, it's perfect and right. Seeing Merlin here, having him in his arms is wonderful. Reaching back just a few minutes ago Arthur can’t remember what it felt like to doubt this. To be on the verge of rejecting it.

"You smell nice," Merlin mutters, lips moving in an approximation of a kiss at the hollow beneath Arthur's ear. Arthur's body shudders as his insides spark, suddenly understanding why he had spent the last few years feeling a little lost, knowing that Merlin probably felt it too.

"I thought I imagined it, the way your magic used to—" Arthur whispers. He loosens one hand from the folds of Merlin's winter parka and spreads his fingers, the way he did as a child. Merlin's magic weaves between them just as it wove between the trees, playful and zapping at him with contented, golden energy. He sighs in wonder at the beauty of it, at the way it makes his hand glow gold.

When he closes his hand around it, it allows itself to be held in his palm. Arthur laughs, absolutely delighted.

“Arthur, you still have a few minutes, if you don't—” Merlin mumbles into his neck. Arthur shivers when lips connect with skin, momentarily lost in the sensation before the words register.

“What?” He pulls back a little, just enough to see Merlin’s serious eyes glinting at him in the darkness. Moonlight kisses his face, his red-cold cheeks, the elegant slope of his nose. He’s beautiful and a stranger-but-not, eyes set wide and earnest where they flick over Arthur’s face with a hopeful sort of wariness, and Arthur knows what he’s saying but nothing can interfere with this sacred rite now. He would fight anything that tried.

Large, round ears poke out from under Merlin’s beanie where it’s ridden up, and his throat dips like he's working through something delicate. He’s so captivating it hurts Arthur’s insides to look at him. Merlin blinks and straightens his back like he’s bracing himself for something.  Arthur realises he has taken too long to respond.

“I want this,” Merlin says decisively, nodding like he’s come to a decision, eyes heavy with intent on the contours of Arthur’s face. They hold unnaturally still, arms tucked around each other, Merlin's hand gathered in the folds of parka at Arthur’s waist, watching him with an unreadable expression on his face. Arthur’s heart clenches.

”I want this,” he repeats quietly, like maybe Arthur didn’t hear. “But if you don’t, you still have—”


“—few minutes. If you go now, I can stop it. Probably. Maybe. I mean—”


“—napalm the forest, but I might be able to—”

Arthur takes Merlin’s face between his hands, gently shakes him until Merlin’s eyes focus and lose the slightly manic glint. “No.”


Merlin’s heart is pounding. Arthur doesn’t have to feel it with his hand. He knows. The bond has already begun to gather. He can feel the connection seeping in through the layers he’s wrapped in, of clothes, and skin and muscle, until it’s deep inside him, a throb like a pulse. Their hearts have already found their beat.

“No,” he repeats, tilting his face to hold Merlin’s eyes, making sure they’re connected, that he has Merlin’s attention. “I want it. I want you,” Arthur whispers, a deep thrill shocking his spine.

Merlin closes his eyes, slumps into Arthur and he’s—he’s shaking, pulling right into Arthur’s space and dragging black lashes down Arthur’s cheek.

Arthur turns just enough to nose along Merlin’s face, over his cheek where it’s rough with stubble growing in. He rubs the tip of his nose alongside Merlin’s. They’re so close in their circle made of arms and trapped, shared heat, the delicious anticipation raising all the fine hair on Arthur's nape. He looks down at lips so dark they’re almost black, set in a pale, pale face. They’re both humming with the bond even with layers of clothing between them, with but a little space between their faces, skirting the edges of a real kiss while the air thickens with tension.

“Arthur,” Merlin whispers, and it’s dark, dark like chocolate. The first meeting of their lips is a slow, dry press, a shared inhale.

Merlin’s magic goes nuts, goes absolutely mental, sparking like live fuses and Arthur's existence contracts down to the glorious press and dry drag of lips on each other, edging closer together until there’s no space at all between them but the tiny snatch of breath being sucked back and forth between their mouths.

Arthur nudges Merlin’s lip with the tip of his tongue, pauses, draws back just enough so there’s nothing chaste about the deliberate touch of tongues that follows, hot breath and the clutch of hands in folds of each other’s coats to hold on, the bottom of Arthur’s stomach dropping out like a trapdoor. He wants to draw it out forever and wants it right now, and wants to wait and make it last, and needs to take it now and take and take.

Merlin nips at his mouth, velvety soft, tongue chasing the tip of Arthur’s, licking around the tip and in until they’re sliding wet and languid into each other’s mouths, finally properly kissing until it’s not at all tentative and completely, absolutely hungry, voracious kissing like they’re being poured, smelted together into something new and precious.

Merlin’s hands fist and claw in Arthur’s coat, holding him close and Arthur’s find their way into Merlin’s hair, pushing the beanie from his head with an impatient slide of hands. When they break for breath, Arthur’s panting, stunned. It’s taken all their lives to get to this point but he can’t remember what was so important about his life before, can’t remember a bloody thing.

The air between them’s steamy with their breath, Merlin’s lips plump from kissing.

Arthur can’t decide whether he wants to soothe them or fuck them up even more and then the thought catches up with him. His mind skips over and over the same needy scratch that’s Merlin and fucking, a deeply seated pull of lust flooding his belly. It’s warm, he realises. They should be freezing but the place where they're standing is a literal hotspot. It seems that Merlin’s magic has walled them up in a safe and warm cocoon, creating a barrier that’ll keep the heat in as well as keep the cold out.

Holding Merlin's gaze, he slides his fingers in between snap closures of his coat, popping them slowly one by one. Opening the placket, he slowly tugs down the zip, gentling his fingers beneath Merlin’s thick sweater, shoving it up, rewarded with a sliver of Merlin's pale stomach. It tenses beneath his fingers.

Merlin’s panting, eyes overbright and hands just as busy trying to peel Arthur out of his winter layers. Arthur becomes impatient, desperate to get Merlin's clothing out of the way, needing to get at Merlin inside his warm wrapper. He can’t lay off his mouth, mouthing and lipping at it, trading wet lapping kisses that make his spine tingle.

It’s insane, absolute madness, but he can’t recall a time where he wasn’t touching Merlin, his bondmate, his intended. He must have him, must be had in turn, the feeling welling up thickly in his throat like he might scream if he can’t get Merlin out of these clothes and into his hands right this second.

There is no way back unless they fight it, force themselves away from each other like newly taken saplings torn out by the roots. Arthur feels ill at the thought of it, absolutely unable to imagine leaving the perfect circle they’ve made of themselves.

The bonding has begun.

“Happy Birthday,” Arthur mutters, mouth busy on the lobe of Merlin’s ear, hands roaming over bunched and creased clothing, everything half wrenched off and undone.

Merlin laughs, breathless. “Best ever.”

Arthur finds himself laughing too, delighted and nervous and so terribly, unexpectedly in love.

There are lingering traces of shyness in Merlin's eyes, a little like the boy Arthur remembers, but now in this tall, lean body he can’t and doesn’t want to and won’t ever stop touching. Between them, the very air is humming an electric song they can’t ignore.

He knows what the bond’s supposed to feel like, has read accounts of it that make it sound like ascension, but all he feels is the firm and solid anchor that is Merlin tethering him down, stopping him from floating away. It’s Merlin’s magic though, it’s the sheer power Merlin’s hands wield which shocks him, the same hands which are toying with the half open fly of his trousers. Merlin's eyes flash gold, and with a grin he gently presses his knuckles over the firming swell of Arthur's cock.

Arthur groans, tightening his grip on Merlin's waist.

"You always did love my magic," Merlin says quietly, watching him.

“I can't believe I never tried to make you use it for nefarious purposes,” Arthur quips, throat working at the obstacle of inadequate words, big feelings he can’t seem to express. Between them, swirls of magic turn darker and richer, weaving expectant, undulating paths around them, burnishing their skin to otherworldly bronze.

"This is pretty nefarious," Merlin says with a grin, making the zipper finally peel open tooth by tooth, spread fingers hovering over Arthur's groin.

"Definitely more fun than I remember, and that's saying something," Arthur says tightly. "More powerful, too."

“Oh yes,” Merlin whispers, voice full of wonder, eyes following a sparkling path up to where a tendril of his magic plays among the trees. “I test myself sometimes. I test for my limits.”

“And have you found them?”

“Not yet,” Merlin says. Arthur’s skin breaks out in goose bumps.

The simmer between them is treacle thick, anticipation making Arthur feel heady and reckless. He'd love to just dive into it, give in, but there's so much he needs to know, so much of Merlin's life that's a complete mystery to him.

They're about to be bonded for life. Arthur closes his eyes and catches his breath, in awe that a concept he'd not even seriously considered before has become the focus point of his entire life. He breathes deep through his nose, mustering up some calmness, before asking, “So you're studying?”

“Yeah, I love it.”

“Here, in Finland?”

“No, Albion. We moved a few years back.”

Arthur feels his brows knitting together. “And you never—”

“I wanted to. I didn’t really think you’d remember. Um. Me.” Merlin blinks, looks away. His eyes pick up the moon with an iridescent sheen.

Arthur leaves the ridiculousness of the underlying concept for another day, trying to concentrate on the conversation instead of Merlin's warm palm cupping his dick. “So where are you, then?”

Merlin ducks his head, and his lashes cast a dark shadow over skin that might be blushing, coming up dark blue in the moonlight. “RASA.”

“Royal Academy for Supernatural Arts? Oh my god, Merlin, that’s like, the best school, how can you afford—” Arthur swallows dryly, wishes he could eat the words out of the air. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to imply—”

“Oh, it’s fine, don’t worry about it, you’re right, really. Scholarship.”

“Merlin, that’s fantastic,” Arthur says, eyes doing a circuit from shoulder, to collar and the gorgeous shell of Merlin's ear, then back again.

Merlin hums on a nod. “In my sixth year now.”

Sixth?” Arthur pulls back, scans Merlin’s face looking for confirmation, because wow, that would mean Merlin entered Albion’s best tertiary institution at fourteen, which would mean he’d been headhunted straight out of high school by the school’s talent scouts, which would mean that—

“Just how powerful are you?”

“I don’t . . . I don’t really know. We haven’t found an accurate way to measure it. Gaius thinks I’m different to people who have some talent and then learn to use it and show an aptitude for a specific type of magic. Mine’s more like . . . well, me. It’s always been me, I mean, you remember, right? It was always so easy to just do things. And I think it’s because I am—yeah. I am magic, and it’s more about learning to understand—What?”

Arthur shuts his mouth with a click.

Merlin watches him for a moment, then his eyes sheen with a look that’s slightly dark around the edges. There’s a sense of invincibility about him that’s downright sexy. Arthur has never felt desire like this. Merlin’s quiet command of an immeasurable force ought to scare him, maybe. He gets ramrod stiff instead.

“It’s rolling off you.” Arthur says, throat thick with it, amazed at the power contained within the slim body he holds in his arms.

“I can feel how pleased it is that you’re here.” Merlin says in a low voice, then hoods his eyes until he’s gazing at Arthur with a curious sort of frankness. “I can feel how it wants you.”

“It’s—I’ve never felt anything like it, its—”

“It loves you,” Merlin says quietly, his eyes suddenly yellow, enormous and bright and a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. He watches Arthur’s face for a moment, then drops his eyes with an inevitable dip of lashes and a press together of lips, biting down on a thought that Arthur would pay a fortune to hear.

He looks at Arthur’s body in frank appraisal, gaze touching him all over through the roughed up, pushed aside clothes and Arthur feels every single one of his drills in the drag of those eyes over him, every burning sit-up and measured lap around the barracks. He looks good, he thinks, his body in great shape with how hard the army works him. He wants Merlin to be pleased by what he sees, wants to stand straighter, be better, be more. All around them, magic crackles and zaps with ancient knowledge, preening and happy at this turn of events. It comes on in waves, sparkling cool fire as it climbs their bodies.

Arthur laughs, tickled, and throws his head back, welcoming the caress of threads of gold on his chest, playing at his throat. He feels them, not just where they touch him, but from the inside as well, senses how they’re coasting on his skin, how warm they find him. For a startled moment he stops, tries to rationalise his way through it like a problem or a maze, but just as soon he realises that no, it’s fine, it’s okay, this is just the way it’s supposed to be - it’s claiming him as the bond should, and in return, he owns it too.

He is blissed and floating and everywhere, while at the same time whole and grounded and right here in Merlin’s arms. Nothing could have prepared him for the immense need he feels. It’s like nothing else: Merlin is his, and he is Merlin’s and there is nothing, nothing at all more important, more immediate in all the universe than the touch of his hand, the crease of his dimple when he smiles, being allowed to feel it against his mouth.

Magic dances between their bodies, warm and prodding like a curious puppy, touching them both, nudging at them all over. Inside them, the bond strengthens and Arthur feels invincible, bigger than his skin, feels Merlin's heart swelling with the same emotions.

He wants to pull Merlin down to the ground and looks around, desperate for a safe, dry place, but they’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no way. Merlin catches on, smiles with eyes that turn golden once more and the hotspot Arthur sensed earlier is revealed as a shimmering bubble the magic’s woven around them, a shield against the snow below. It pulses with colour, the same intense neon Arthur witnessed in the clearing.

Merlin smiles, pleased with himself, studying Arthur’s face, open in shocked delight.

“Come here, you,” Arthur murmurs, grabbing at him, bringing him close, nuzzling in. “Still a showoff, then.”

“Mmhm, too late to change now. Set in my ways, me.”

“I don’t want you to change,” Arthur says, licking a path around the shell of Merlin’s ear, lipping at the lobe, basking in the harsh breaths. “I want you to always be you.”

Merlin shivers violently in his arms, clings to him for a moment in a boneless slump. Arthur holds him up, brings him in, flits touches on his elbow, the ridge of a rib, his clavicle, spreads his hands over Merlin’s flat belly, fingertips hesitant and dragging on warm skin.

"Take off your clothes."

Merlin huffs a nervous laugh, running a trembling hand through his hair, but when he looks up, his eyes are dark, his chin cocked in quiet challenge. He's so sexy, Arthur can't breathe for a moment.

They peel each other out of the remains of their clothes with an awed reverence that feels exactly like ritual. It’s clumsy and unpracticed but they manage to navigate it all somehow, the eagerness of hands and accidental touches, testing brushes of knuckles and shaking fingers skating all over. Arthur watches Merlin’s hands on him, shucking the shirt from his shoulders, hooking into the waistband of his thermals, dextrous and strong, dipping between fabric and skin. He loves those capable hands.

“Gods, look at you,” Merlin whispers with such quiet awe, Arthur can’t help but straighten for him, stand strong and preen a little, wanting Merlin to be pleased with him. Merlin’s fingertips, then knuckles, then both palms graze his chest, smoothing over and over, following the grain of Arthur’s hair and making his nipples tighten and peak as they circle.

In turn, he unzips and unbuttons Merlin from his clothing, greedy for snatches of skin until Merlin’s body is exposed too, long and lean, a network of veins visible under pale skin. His legs are hairy from mid-thigh down. There’s hair in a black, furry diamond at the center of his chest and a generous thatch of it at the root of his cock. It hides, still nestled within its hood but begins to thicken even as Arthur watches. Merlin’s lovely and white in the moonlight, almost blue, he’s so pale, but when his cock plumps up and the foreskin slowly rolls back, its head is dark and fat like a ripe plum.

Arthur’s tongue darts out to wet his lip, imagining it glistening with his spit. Fuck.

Heat crawls up his spine and trickles slowly to pool in his gut, making the hair on his arms stand on end as he reaches a tentative hand to Merlin’s chest, pets the wild little sprout of hair at the middle, letting his fingers follow it down and down till they’re skimming round his groin. Not coarse at all, he thinks, scratching through it, avoiding Merlin’s erection, teasing, testing. Merlin’s shivery little breaths are so satisfying, Arthur’s dick pulses, stiff against his belly. He’s so aroused he can hardly think.

He pauses for a moment, closes his eyes and gathers himself for what they’re about to do, and when he opens them, Merlin’s looking at him, smiling just a little but it’s loaded. Cautious. His voice is a low murmur. “How am I?”

“You’ll do,” Arthur says, thinking perfect, fascinating, and wondering how to please this body, how to touch it just right.

Merlin snuffs an incredulous little laugh. “OK in your eyes, then.”

Merlin’s expression has sobered and Arthur realises they’re not back yet, not to the place where they knew each other’s thoughts and secrets as well as their own. He treads lightly.

"In the eyes of anyone with eyes.” He takes a moment to look from bony knees, eyes dragged up over the stretch of lean muscle, narrow waist, shoulders broad and strong. “You’re lovely.”

Merlin just smiles, small and private and tinged pink after Arthur’s inspection. He’s still searching for the tease in the words but Arthur has never backed away from a challenge in his life, and he senses one in Merlin's vulnerability.

"Not for anyone else's eyes though, are you."

Merlin shakes his head, eyes hooded, drinking it in. Arthur loves having his complete attention. Merlin’s fingers dig into his shoulders and he loves the painful pleasure of it, of those long fingers pressing into his flesh. Arthur grunts his approval into Merlin’s neck, protective and needy, powerful and vulnerable, with nowhere near the presence of mind to name anything he’s feeling except that he needs.

"No. Only for mine." Arthur passes light knuckles over Merlin's belly, dragging his hand down to his groin, collecting a loose fistful of hair and cock, weighing Merlin’s balls in a cage of fingers. "Mine."

He gives the sac a loving little tug and Merlin groans, lashes scuffing his cheekbones as his head drops back. Arthur leans in, nips at the tendon from clavicle to ear, whispers, “Don’t ever tell me about anyone else who’s had you, Merlin, never tell me.” He’s overwhelmed, doesn’t know where this feeling, this depth of absolute need is coming from, what’s making him behave this way, but it’s beyond him, bigger than him and his human capacity for the size of these emotions. “I don't think I could stand it—”

Merlin noses into his hair and Arthur can feel a smile, then a low laugh into his temple, “Oh my god, you’re a caveman. What will the people of Albion think,” but he's a clinging, hot mess nestled right into Arthur's body, breathing like the air’s too rare to suck in properly, fingers sunk into the meat of Arthur’s back. Oh, he liked that, Arthur notes and stores it for later. He winds his arms around Merlin’s slim waist, clasps their bodies together until they’re both moaning at the rasp of hair on nipples, the primal slide of their erections against each other.

“Wanna see my cave?” he rumbles, loving Merlin’s breathless little laugh when Arthur loosely fists a handful of his hair for effect, tightening his arms around Merlin's shoulders.

“Yes, god, oh,” Merlin babbles and he wants to laugh but this is really happening, it’s really real. Arthur kicks at their clothes, toeing the heavy snowboots out of the way to lay Merlin down right there on a bed of their coats over a thick sheet of snow, in a meadow among the trees, with the sky over them like a blanket and stars looking on.

Merlin’s magic trills, announcing its happiness to the whole forest, bathing it in colour. The bond wants them close, wants them tight, and Arthur sighs with relief when their bodies find each other's grooves.

They sprawl over their coats on the cold white sheet, laying messy, rambling kisses wherever they land. They move with something like muscle memory to a point where their bodies slot, skin zapping with the sensation of a force outside of themselves approving of this, validating their union.

Arthur aches, full and heavy between his legs, desperate for skin when he presses Merlin down, crosses from one small nipple to the other with sucking, wet kisses.

He nudges Merlin’s legs apart with his hips and makes room for his body, kisses the inside of an elbow then noses up and into Merlin’s armpit, a deep clench in his gut at the heady scent there. He holds Merlin’s wrists up above his head and pushes them into the snow they can’t feel for the magical barrier. He breathes the warmth right off Merlin’s skin, the scent resonating deep inside him, his body thrumming with desire.

He becomes aware of an intense glow between their bodies, then Merlin’s eyes snap open on a gasp. “Arthur, can you feel it?”

Arthur leans in and kisses him, crushes him in his arms, and hell yes he can feel it, he can feel everything, from the tease at Merlin’s entrance as though the magic is an extension of Arthur now, as though he’s the one passing trembling fingers over the secret skin between Merlin’s legs.

He touches with his hand, lightly chasing the magic over Merlin's balls, gently tugging and rolling, the skin beyond being softened and probed for him, little by little. Arthur’s heart swells with wild, possessive joy.

“Touch me,” he murmurs, not clear if he’s asking Merlin or his magic, but both respond, Merlin with a hand wrestled free from his grip to caress his face, and the magic with a clinging invisible sheath settling over his cock and balls, suction gentle but insistent. It’s alien but so wonderful, so lovely, he can only groan, imagining what it’ll be like to be suckled inside warm flesh.

Arthur’s heart pounds a bewildered beat while around them the glow of magic throws gold all over their bodies, the strange sensation of a phantom, sentient sheath on his cock flexing and pulling at him. He can see it manipulating him, watches his own foreskin glide back and forth over the glans, made wet with something the magic is laving over his skin.

He looks down to where there’s magic gathering, tendrils testing the give of skin and caressing around Merlin’s opening. He senses it teasing there, gently tapping like an inquisitive fingertip before it slowly slips in, winding itself in on a sinuous screw. Merlin makes such a picture, eyes hooded and kiss-swollen mouth slack, sliding his knees apart to make more room for the magic which collects in loving swirls between his legs.

It’s all connected, the way Arthur's cock is being pulled in time with how it’s gently pushing at Merlin’s entrance. It’s a circuit, both of them feeling it, feeling each other. Arthur can’t breathe as their eyes lock, dark and hot and full of wrecked want.

Merlin threads clever fingers through his hair, directing Arthur’s head down and down, and that’s just perfect, he wants that, wants Merlin to show him how he likes it, whether he likes a bit of hold-me-down rough or if he wants it snug in Arthur’s arms and breathing each other’s air. Whatever he wants, Arthur will give it, he realises with an elated thrill, the coarse trail of hair at Merlin’s belly rasping against his cheek.

He licks at the head of Merlin’s cock, sucks it into his mouth, gathers enough spit to slide over it in a slick, easy slide, gratified by Merlin’s shivery, broken moan. He wants to catalogue every inch of this body, wants to learn all the ways it can be made to feel good.

Merlin’s fingers claw at his hair, his yellow eyes exotic and immense.

He’s Arthur’s and in love, in love with Arthur, just as full of emotion as Arthur is himself as the bond works Merlin’s magic to prepare them for their coupling. In a few moments, the circle will be complete. Arthur’s whole body clenches with want.

He slides down and burrows between Merlin’s thighs, down until the springy hair at Merlin’s groin rubs and catches in his stubble. He must, absolutely must push his face right in to where the ancient magic begins to stretch Merlin’s hole, where he writhes like he’s already impaled on Arthur’s cock. He lifts Merlin’s leg over his shoulder so he can see better, have Merlin exposed—

Fuck, it’s so fucking hot and intimate, Arthur can’t deal with it, feels like the top of his head’s about to explode. He groans and bites into the meat of Merlin’s thigh, can’t help himself, has to mouth at the stretch of skin around the golden glow, lick at it, tongue kiss the fuck out of it where it's slowly beginning to pump into Merlin's body.

Under his hand, Merlin’s taut belly quivers, the swollen head of his cock rubbing a slick path up Arthur’s wrist, so he takes it in his palm, swivels his hand over it, spreading slick all over the head.

Arthur lips at the magic- it tingles, tastes like the forest and snow and fresh air, the frozen soil below. Stretched around it, taint flushed and glistening, Merlin tastes of salt and musk that punches out the bottom of Arthur’s stomach and he pushes his tongue in alongside the sparking wedge of magic, moaning, needing, needing to get inside. It’s wet- he can detect the texture of a tasteless slick the magic’s laving all over Merlin’s opening, priming him with it inside. For Arthur. Preparing him for Arthur’s cock. Sweat pools in the dip of his spine and he could come, he thinks, just from this. Just imagining this.

The magic tightens in a gentle but firm band around the base of his cock like it knows.

Merlin is his and he is Merlin’s and he can have this, must have it, needs it, and the absolute thrill of it hits him then: moaning, panting Merlin shouting his pleasure to the treetops needs it too, writhing, pressing down into the tease at his hole, and Arthur, wedged between Merlin’s thighs, watches his balls draw up and tighten as the blunt tip of an iridescent magic vine eases Merlin wide apart and slips effortlessly in and out of his body. Arthur's fingers press dents into the spread of Merlin's thighs, holding him open, watching the magic fuck him.

He sucks and licks at Merlin’s hole with a vehement hunger he had no idea he was capable of and can’t imagine ever stopping. He wants to live with his face buried between Merlin’s legs, eat him out all day and night, suck him and lick his pink little hole, make him come like that. The phantom sheath over his cock pulses in agreement even as the glowing tentacle buried in Merlin’s hole thickens, Merlin grunting, bearing down, sucking it into his body. Arthur squeezes his eyes shut, sweat breaking out on his temples trying to hold himself together, feeling it massage inside, sensing when it applies gentle pressure inside, in a precise tap that has Merlin shouting, blurting precome onto his belly. Arthur licks it up, smoothing down the hair on Merlin's belly with long sweeps of his tongue.

Merlin gasps a breath up into the trees as the magic presses at him inside, a bitten off moan to accompany Arthur’s awed, “Oh my god.” He has never been so hard in his entire life. Quickly, he shucks the weight of Merlin’s long leg, crawls up his narrow, moonlit body, dragging his mouth over hip and ribs and throat. “Merlin, can I—”

“—Arthur, yes, yeah, yes—” Merlin's body begins undulating, rocking back and forth in absolute hunger for Arthur’s fuck. He looks at Arthur with heavy-lidded eyes, gold glowing from slits between rows of black lashes.

“You want it?” Arthur bites out, wanting to fuck his way into that tight, close heat so much it’s blinding. He tucks in and stills, cockhead caressing Merlin’s hole. He presses in just a little. Just the tip, letting them both feel the weight of the moment. Silently, he shakes with the effort of holding back, the magic wanting him in there, needing him to push inside Merlin's lovingly prepared body. “If you want it, take it.”

Merlin’s frustrated huff and the slightly evil grin that accompanies it is perfect, it’s like a pool of hot want in Arthur's gut, and it’s like he knows, Merlin knows what he wants, what he’s fantasised about all these years when he’s let himself remember.

“I want it, and I’m gonna take it, Arthur, gonna take it right now,” Merlin says, and literally a graceful flick of his hand is all it takes for Arthur to be laid out on his back like a prize.

The wet suck of magic is still there, ever present on Arthur’s cock, keeping him in a constant state of edged arousal, but now there are invisible bands of it forming over Arthur’s wrists, dragging them out and away from his body, gentle pressure holding him down. He tests its grip, swallows a rough, “Holy fuck,” when it gives not at all, not one bit.

He closes his eyes and shivers, overwhelmed. Yes. GODS. YES, thinking back to being about eight years old and looking at Merlin who'd climbed up into a tree, scooting up its branches like a wild thing, higher and higher, shouting about the nest he’d found, the eggs still inside it.

Wanting to see, Arthur had climbed too. The spindly high branches didn’t support him nearly so well and when one cracked under him, he’d only had time to think, mother will kill me for wrecking these jeans before he found himself in a serious disagreement with gravity.

And then, just as he thought to scream, he'd found himself hovering just a few feet off the ground, Merlin’s shocked, dirty face peering down at him from the tree.

Suspended in the grip of Merlin’s magic, he’d hung motionless for long moments while they both got their breathing under control. He’d been too young to realise the meaning of his thudding heart, the strange, thrilled itch under his skin.

He understands it now.

“Like that?” Merlin asks, eyes overbright and cautious. All along their bond, Arthur feels the thrum of reassurance and love and Merlin’s absolute need to please him, to give Arthur whatever he needs, to be his everything.

It stabs him deeply then, how much he trusts. How much he believes in this man, his bondmate. He’s held down, trussed in unbreakable bonds and delivered for Merlin’s pleasure, and something settles into its rightful place inside him. Merlin would rather cut off his own arm than frighten or hurt him.

“Yeah, take it,” he whispers, overcome with emotion. “Take me.”

And then Merlin does, hands like starfish spread wide over his chest, lining Arthur up with a delicious pull of the magic which envelops him, easing himself down onto Arthur’s cock in small, round movements until suddenly he pauses, and their eyes meet. Arthur gasps at the discernible pop of his cockhead easing in past the rim.

Merlin’s shivering above him, mouth lax and eyes glazed until it looks like he’s not there at all, absent in some astral plane of sensation. The pressure on Arthur’s wrists eases. Panting, he brings his hands to Merlin’s slim hips.

Resisting the urge to thrust up into the glorious heat, he holds very still, thumbing at Merlin’s belly, tracing the ridges of his hips. He fans his fingers and stares in wonder at how big they look there, spread over Merlin’s narrow body.

“You’re perfect,” he tells him with a bewildered stutter, suddenly winded by it, struggling with the enormity of what he feels.

Merlin’s eyes are dark, and he’s concentrating, a furrow between his brows and a sheen of sweat on his lip catching moonlight. Arthur can’t take his eyes off him.

When Merlin lifts a hand to Arthur’s face, sliding two tentative fingers over his lips, he catches at them with his tongue, sucks them into his mouth. He watches Merlin’s face, lids heavy and mouth a surprised little pout, still watching those lips, thinking about how they’ll open for him, not this time, but soon, how he’ll feed himself between them slow and hot. He moans around the fingers in his mouth, breathing around them, licking between them, sucking on Merlin's fingers the way he'll suck his cock.

Merlin looks wrecked, groans, drops his head back and grinds down where he’s seated, fucking down tight and deep, balls settling in a nest of Arthur’s curls. He swivels his hips and grinds down and Arthur has to close his eyes, can’t look at him, can’t look at the lean stretch of his torso, chest out, heaving for breath as he takes Arthur's fuck, back arched like a cat.

“It’s good you don’t—ah, yeah, god,” Merlin says, biting his own lip, sliding wet fingers in and out of Arthur’s mouth in rhythm with the clench of thighs as he rides, “—don’t want to know.”

Arthur’s hands find the flesh of his arse, clawing in warning, holding Merlin’s hips still as he fucks up once, twice, driving up and up into the slick clench of his body. Merlin moans a long, “Yeah, yeah,” and it sounds like a question, strung out and shocked with pleasure.

His fingers slide wetly over Arthur’s chin as he falls forward, braces himself on an elbow beside Arthur’s face, letting Arthur fuck him, manhandle him by the hips, pulling him down onto his cock. Merlin’s knuckles scuff their bellies as he pumps his dick and Arthur has to see that, has to touch, licks his palm and pushes in, displacing Merlin’s hand so he can feel him fuck that nice, fat cockhead through the channel of his fist. It’s so good, so fucking good he can’t stand it, can’t even glance sideways at the idea that’s anyone else has—that Merlin has—

“—Because, oh, oh, fuck, yes,” Merlin mumbles, and yeah, Arthur can feel it too, the warmth of magic licking gently around the swollen stretch where they’re joined, sucking kisses at the base of Arthur's cock and pressing behind Merlin's balls. It’s purring at them, edging them, massaging Merlin inside, melting its heat in a rolling sweep over Arthur’s balls and fuck, he’s close, so fucking close

He mutters darkly into Merlin’s neck, presses, mine, mine, into his hair, splays a hand down low on Merlin’s back to keep him in place, to keep him tethered nice and tight as Arthur braces his feet and lets him have it as deep as he can, punching sounds out of him that make Arthur’s spine tingle with the onset of orgasm.

“—'Cause you’re the first,” Merlin says, breath hot and fast, beginning to spurt come on Arthur’s chest.

“Oh my god,” he manages, the bond inside them, the magic, all of it converging, gathering like a storm, and he half expects the sky to be rent by thunder as he pulls Merlin’s shaking body to him, tumbles them over so he can haul Merlin’s thigh up, spread him wide and watch himself fuck up balls deep into the delicious, clinging heat, his cock looking so fat pressed into Merlin's tight, snug hole, all his, only his—

He shouts into the sky and empties himself, a sudden burst of light inside him that feels like he’s being rearranged, made anew.

Above, the sky is calm, an unending clear lake of stars, pin sharp and bright through the pristine air.


~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~



“Tempted to make up all sorts of sordid nonsense to hear you grunt like that again.”

Arthur laughs, rubbing his hand over his face. “Too much?”

Tucked into Arthur’s side, thoroughly mussed and red-faced, Merlin sighs happily. His body radiates contentment and the heat in Arthur's chest gives a pleased pulse. The bond is thriving within them.

Dipping his fingers into the dark blond bush at the apex of Arthur’s thighs, he absentmindedly pets and pushes his fingers through it with a distracting tug and release that has Arthur humming.

"Seriously though, are you okay?"



Merlin grins, nuzzling into Arthur's ribs. “Said Argh, dragging his club and collecting low-lying branches with his forehead.”

Arthur’s shoulders shake with laughter. He's covered in sweat and come, and his face hurts from smiling.

Above them, a cloud of tiny sparks gathers into a dense aurora, bathing the forest with waves of bright colour, and the bond sings in Arthur’s blood as Merlin draws his fingers back and forth. 

In his mind's eye, he can already see Merlin in all the parts of his life that had seemed so empty of meaning. He imagines how the morning light suffusing his suite will set Merlin's cheekbones into dramatic relief. It's easy to see him curled on the cushions of the bay window, lost in a book, bare feet dangling off the edge. Arthur's heart swells.

They're clammy, clinging to each other, feeling the stirring of renewed arousal. This is how it will be for a while, their bodies going after what they need again and again while the bond strengthens and thickens in their blood. 

He warms, knowing Merlin is feeling it too, the pull deep inside, forever embedded there now, solidifying them as each other’s true north.

Each other’s home. 


~ ❄ ~ ✩ ~ Fin ~ ✩ ~ ❄ ~