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Edwin slowly crept forward on the branch, sliding along on his belly until he was in position to reach another apple. A lock of his messy black hair fell forward into his face as he reached for the next apple along the branch. He cursed softly and stopped to tuck his hair back behind one large ear before reaching forward again. The next apple along the branch was just out of his reach, barely an inch or two away from his stretched fingers. If he stretched a bit more, maybe he could reach it without falling off. He tightened his legs around the branch and grabbed onto one of the smaller off-shooting branches before reaching for it again, the upper half of his body dangling precariously in open air.

"Edwin!"

Granny Alrys's shrill shout made Edwin jump. He squawked in alarm as he lost his grip and ended up upside down, his gangly limbs clutched frantically at the branch to keep from falling. Apples fell from the tree like rain and bounced off the hard ground nearly a full story below.

The old woman toddled over to stand beneath the tree. "What on earth are you doing?"

Edwin looked down at the ground and then over at Granny. "I don't rightly know."

Her face wrinkled into a smile and she waved at him dismissively. "Boys," she said with a chuckle. "Well, when you're done there I need help with the washing up."

"Right." Carefully, Edwin unwound his legs from around the branch and lowered himself until he was hanging from his hands alone. Closing his eyes, he let himself drop. The impact was lighter than he'd expected. He landed softly on the ground below, slightly delayed from when he expected to. "Right, Granny, let me just..." His voice trailed off as he glanced over at the basket. It was fuller than he remembered it being and the apples that had been scattered along the ground seemed to have disappeared.

"Are you coming?" Granny waited a short distance down the trail, one hand on her hips.

Edwin glanced once again at the neatly piled apples before quickly fastening the cover over the basket and slinging the strap over his shoulder. "Coming."

He ran down the path, only glancing back a few times at the strangely bare tree.

*****

Prince Arthur burst into the throne room, heedless of the stares from the many supplicants waiting in line for an audience with the king. His attention focused solely on the pair of soldiers that now knelt in front of King Uther. Their clothes were stained with mud. Arthur remembered watching this pair ride out nearly a month ago. They were not the first pair that had left Camelot to search on his behalf.

His spirits fell as he noticed they returned alone. Still, he kindled a faint bit of hope in his heart as he marched forward. "Has there been any sign?"

One of the soldiers started to speak but a stern glance from Uther silenced him. Arthur matched his father's stare as he approached the throne, a million angry words bubbling in his throat, waiting for one wrong word from his father to set them free. His relationship with his father grew increasingly strained with each new month that passed without Merlin.

"You may speak," Uther commanded, his mouth a thin line of displeasure.

"Begging your lordships' pardon," the solider nodded at Arthur and Uther in turn, "but there's been no sign of the boy. He's vanished from the kingdom."

"Then we'll search beyond the kingdom," Arthur said, both posture and tone daring his father to argue with him.

Uther glanced at the peasants and soldiers gathered in the throne room. "Leave us."

At his command, the hall emptied. Arthur mumbled his thanks to the two soldiers as they bowed their way out. The wooden doors of the hall shut with an ominous thud.

"Arthur..." Uther let the name drawl out indulgently. "Enough of this foolishness. We can't spare soldiers every time a servant runs off."

Arthur felt his fists clench and was suddenly rather glad he'd wisely chosen to face his father unarmed. The urge to commit patricide would have been overwhelming otherwise.

"He's not just a servant, father. He's Merlin, and he's saved my life more times than I can count. He's..." Arthur shoved down the words that wanted to come out and replaced them with something that his father wouldn't immediately disapprove of. "...important." Uther arched an eyebrow at him. "To me," Arthur amended. "He wouldn't have run off." Not without telling him. Not when they spent most of their waking moments together, and all of their nights in the same bed. "It's not like him. Something happened to him and I'm going to rescue him."

Uther glanced down at the floor, as if the embroidered rug on which his throne sat was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.

"Arthur. Son. It's been six months. I've been..." Uther's mouth twisted into a frown of distaste. "...indulgent to your whims, but it ends here." Uther turned to meet Arthur's stare with one equally determined. "I can no longer allow you to monopolize the kingdom's resource in this fruitless search. The best, and only, thing you can do now is forget that that boy ever existed and continue on life without him."

Arthur's scathing retort was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.

"Did I not say that we were to be left alone?" Uther demanded as a scraggly, stooped old man pushed his way through the throne room doors.

Arthur frowned. There was something odd about this man, something that set him on unease. The hall beyond should have been bubbling with sound from the waiting peasants, but it was instead eerily silent. Also, where were the soldiers that should have been guarding the doors, keeping anyone from interrupting the King and Prince in their private conversation? Suddenly, facing Uther unarmed seemed like a stupidly naïve move, given the number of strange things that had been happening in Camelot since Merlin's disappearance. He'd rushed down as soon as he'd heard that the soldiers had returned, and he shouldn't have.

"Apologizes, Your Highnesses, but this shan't take but a moment. I offer my condolences on the loss of your... servant." The man glanced at Arthur in a way that suggested that he knew more about the true nature of the relationship between Arthur and Merlin than he was letting on. "I promise it won't be a concern for much longer."

Arthur only had a scant moment to think that perhaps he should be running as the man lifted his arm to point at Arthur, his palm facing the prince.

"Scaoil."

The man's eyes glowed red as a burst of unnaturally crimson flames shot from his palm. Arthur brought his arm up reflexively to cover his face but the gesture was unnecessary. As soon as the flames neared him, blue light sprang up, forming a shield in front of him that deflected the flames away. Where flame touched shield, the two energies seemed to mingle for a moment, turning both purple, and then blue as one type of magic overtook the other. Blue flame sped back into the man's hand. He screamed as the blue flame touched him, spreading out from his hand to completely engulf him.

In a puff of blue smoke, the man was gone, a charred mark on the floor the only proof he'd even been here.

Arthur and Uther both stared in silence at the burnt spot on the floor.

A thought came to Arthur's mind, but he didn't dare speak it out loud, not in front of the king. This was why he needed Merlin.

*****

Edwin screamed as he was abruptly forced out of his dreams into the waking world. His body, his whole body was glowing blue and it hurt. His head ached. His chest felt like it was being torn apart, and he couldn't stop screaming. Vaguely he registered Granny's presence at his bedside, her frantic words as she tried to calm him, but it was all distant, as if he was standing miles away. It felt like he was, like he shouldn't even be here.

His dream still stuck in his head, overlaying his vision of the waking world with something else. It was so familiar to him, a mirror of similar strange dreams he'd had, ever since Granny first found him lost in the woods. There was a castle, a throne room, a man with a crown, and another. A boy. A blonde boy, dressed regally but with parts amiss, like he'd donned his clothes in haste and some idiotic fool had actually let him leave the bedroom like that. The thought struck him as strange, along with the possessive pride that flashed through him with it.

There was a man on fire, surrounded with blue fire, much like the light that covered Edwin but it was killing this man, destroying him like he'd tried to destroy the blonde boy. There was a name that went with the boy but it hovered just outside of Edwin's consciousness, much like the apple had earlier.

He knew beyond all range of doubt that he was responsible. He killed that man in his dream. He killed him with that blue fire and he couldn't even understand how or why.

The light around him faded. Edwin slumped back against his bed and shuddered, suddenly freezing. Fire burst into life on the hearth, causing the old woman beside him to jump. She was calling him something, a name, a strange name that wasn't his... or was it?

"Edwin! Edwin, dear, are you alright?"

That was his name now, he remembered slowly, the name she had given him when he couldn't remember his own.

Slowly, he reached forward and put his hand over hers. Even that small effort was an enormous exertion.

"I..." His voice came out as a hoarse croak. "I'm fine. I don't know what happened, but I'm fine now."

"Good," she said slowly, a weak smile spreading across her face. It didn't reach her eyes. She was afraid, but he couldn't tell if it was of or for him. "Good. Can I get you something? Let me get you something. Water? Would you like some water?"

"No," he answered as his eyes started to drift shut. "No, I just need sleep."

He closed his eyes and his dreams took him back once more to that distant castle that seemed so familiar and the blonde boy that constantly haunted his.

*****

"Arthur."

The Prince halted as Sir Beryian's hand grasped his shoulder. He raised an eyebrow and waited patiently for the man to speak. His knights had been hesitant to approach him of late, wary, like most in the castle, of his frequent black moods. Beryian was one of his best knights, loyal and brave, almost to a fault.

"We wanted you to know that a few of us are going out in a few days. Homesick, you know. The king has already approved our absence." There was a wide smile on Beryian's face. "While we're out, we thought we might happen to see if our fathers or their lieges might be able to spare a few soldiers to look for Merlin."

Arthur felt his jaw drop open and he floundered, not quite sure what to say. "I... thank you. I mean..."

Beryian clapped him on the shoulder once more. "It's our honor, sire. After all, you're not the only one who recognizes his value." Arthur's blood froze in his veins momentarily. Beryian glanced quickly down either end of the deserted hallway before leaning forward to whisper in Arthur's ear. "And not the only one who understands that not all sorcerers are evil."

Before Arthur could say anything, Beryian stepped back and ran off with a quick salute.

Arthur stared after him, feeling hope spring up again for the first time in weeks.

*****

"Edwin! Edwin!"

It was far too early in the morning for Granny to wake him. He'd been dreaming again, and like always it left him feeling disconcerted. All of his life before he'd come here was a blank but he had a feeling that the things he saw, the things he dreamed, were somehow related to his lost memories. He was almost tempted to believe they were his memories, but he knew, no matter what he once was, he was not the sort to consort with princes and wield great magic. Strange occurrences aside, he was a normal boy, who must have led a normal, boring life.

The outer door pushed open, sending bright light spiking through the room. He'd slept far later than he should have.

Edwin sat up with a groan. His head was killing him. "What is it, Gran?"

She crossed the room in quick strides, obviously hurrying. "Get up," she hissed. "Get up, get dressed, and go hide in the woods."

He frowned. "What's wrong?"

Edwin stood slowly and pulled on his trousers. His eyes darted out the door to the open road, but there was no sound of disturbance from elsewhere in the village.

"Don't ask questions, boy, just go."

He'd never seen her look quite so scared, not even when he glowed blue in the aftereffect of his dreams.

"But..."

She shoved him towards the door, though she wasn't strong enough to really move him. He stumbled through the open doorway and stopped. On the road from the village center stood three horses. Two were common soldiers. He'd seen a few of them pass through the village now and then, though seeing two together was rather rare. Riding just ahead of them was an armored man in a dark green surcoat. His horse was barded in green and white, with a trio of leaves set prominently in the cloth.

Granny was hissing at him softly, telling him to run, but he couldn't move. There was something familiar about the leader of the trio that drew him forward. The rider seemed to have spot him as soon as he stepped out of the house. They met each other halfway.

Edwin squinted up at the rider. The afternoon sun was high in the sky behind the man, shadowing part of his features. He had brown hair, and a squarish face.

"I know you," Edwin said slowly.

"And I you, Merlin," the man responded. His voice was kind, and Edwin had the feeling he'd once called this man a friend.

Something clicked in Edwin's head and he gave the man a curious look. "Is that my name? Merlin?"

The rider frowned. "Yes." He seemed to regard Edwin... No, Merlin, closely. It would take him a while to get used to the new name, his original name. "Yes, Merlin, that's your name. Merlin Emrys, apprentice to the court physician at Camelot."

He couldn't remember any of it, but it felt right. More pieces clicked into place, filled in from visions in his dreams. "I work in the castle, then? Do I know the prince?"

The rider nodded. "You're his servant. Do you not remember?"

Merlin shook his head. He wondered how much of his dreams were true and how much were fantasies. In his dreams, he served the prince in other ways – on his knees, worshiping with lips and tongue, on his back with legs raised high, or bent over, spread wide while the prince, the beautiful blonde prince shoved inside of him.

"Prince Arthur's been looking for you for months. He sent me, sent us – all of his knights – out to find you."

Arthur. The name filled him with a glow of warmth. It was good to finally have a name to put to the man in his dreams.

"He did all that for me?" Merlin could feel a blush creeping across his face.

The rider grinned down at him, and Merlin had a feeling that the man knew what Merlin dreamed. Maybe it was more than a fantasy.

"I'm here to take you back with me," the rider said.

Merlin nodded slowly. "I want to go. Just..." He glanced back at Granny. Her fear seemed to have abated somewhat but she was watching their conversation with obvious nerves. "Just let me say goodbye."

"What did they say to you?" Granny whispered as he walked back to her.

He wrapped his arms around her, squeezing lightly. "They said my name is Merlin. They've come to take me home."

Her hand caught his shirt as he started to pull away. "Edwin... Merlin, be careful. That man... He serves in Camelot." She glanced nervously at the rider before looking at Merlin again. Her voice dropped even lower as she spoke again. "They kill your kind there."

Merlin felt his face twist into a frown. "What?"

A warm palm settled against the side of his face. "I've seen it," she whispered, barely loud enough to hear. "Your magic. The king of Camelot is mad against it. He's outlawed sorcery. If you're caught there, you'll be killed."

He didn't know quite what to say in response. Slowly, Merlin disengaged her hand from his shirt. "I have to go, Granny. There's... there's someone waiting for me there. I'll write you, or come visit, if I can. But I have to go. I have to see him again."

It was obvious that she wanted to argue with him. Her lips parted, but no sound emerged. Her eyes searched his face pleadingly before she relented. "Alright." She framed his face with her hands and brought his head down so that she could kiss his temple. "Be safe. Be well."

"I'll try."

He hugged her once more, then turned away. He had nothing to collect from the house. When he'd been found, unconscious in the woods, he'd had nothing beyond the clothes on his back. His pockets had been empty, and he hadn't been dressed for travelling. Granny had commented on that, more than once, saying how strange it was that he'd been so far from the village with next to nothing.

The rider hadn't moved. As Merlin neared, he held down his hand. "We'll have to ride double until we can find a village with a horse to spare. My name is Beryian, by the way. Sir Beryian of Karman Rhie."

"Thank you." Strong arms pulled him up behind Sir Beryian. He couldn't wait to go home.

*****

Arthur was waiting at the gates when Merlin's party arrived. The urge to ride out and meet them was almost overpowering, and if it weren't from the small crowd of curious peasants gathered behind him, he would have. Years of instruction on stately deportment kept his face a blank mask, his hands clasped to keep from fidgeting, his body still. He'd have time later to do all the things he wanted to, to hold Merlin in his arms and make sure he was safe, alive. Relief was making him giddy. Morgana stood next to him, Gaius on his other side. Gwen hung slightly behind them, but kept bobbing up nervously to peer over the gathering crowd.

Beryian's horse was in the lead, followed by Merlin on a worn looking mare and flanked by a guardsman, the second of the pair on loan from Beryian's father. The other guardsman was currently resting in the castle barracks. Arthur had appreciated the advanced notice of their arrival, and had instructed the servants to treat the man well. The party approached at a fast pace, moving steadily toward the castle gates.

He could see Merlin's eyes studying them as they reached the outer wall, taking everything in with a faint look of wonder, much like the gawking country yokel he'd been when he'd been new to the city. His eyes settled on Arthur the longest. Arthur supposed everything must look fresh and new to Merlin considering how long he'd been gone.

"Merlin," Arthur whispered the name softly as the horses drew close. He held up his arms to help Merlin off of his horse. Merlin hesitated for a moment before accepting, a strange look on his face. As soon as Merlin's feet hit the ground, Arthur pulled him into a tight hug. "I missed you," he said into Merlin's hair.

He could tell something was wrong when Merlin hesitated before hugging him back.

"Arthur, we should go inside." Beryian's hand landed lightly on his shoulder. There was a warning in his eyes, confirming what Arthur's gut already told him.

Morgana pulled Merlin into a hug as soon as Arthur stepped back.

"It's good to see you again." She was smiling in that way that meant she was close to tears. He couldn't fault her, this once, for being a complete girl. With Merlin, a little emotion was justified.

Merlin seemed even more awkward when he hugged her. "You too, Gwen."

Surprise registered on every face but Beryian's.

"We need to go inside," Sir Beryian said urgently, speaking low in Arthur's ear.

"Of course." He smiled reassuringly at the girls and placed a hand on the small of Merlin's back. "Why don't we adjourn to the castle?" Arthur spoke loud enough that the onlookers could happen to overhear, playing as if nothing were wrong. "I'm sure you'd all like some refreshments after your long journey."

Merlin's eyes sought Beryian's, a look of worry spreading across his face. "I got it wrong, didn't I?" He turned towards Morgana. "I'm sorry. I didn't... I mean, I can't remember and..."

Ice filled Arthur's veins and he shifted closer to Merlin, protectively. "It's alright. Don't worry about it." Gently, he steered Merlin along the road to the castle.

"But..." Now those pleading eyes turned to him and Arthur wished with all he was that he could do something to make things better. But there was nothing he could do, not until he knew what had happened. At least now he understood why Merlin had never tried to find them.

"Shh," he soothed, and ran his thumb discreetly over the small of Merlin's back as soon as the castle doors shut beside them, affording him a small measure of privacy. "It'll be okay."

As a group, they moved to Gaius's workshop. The curiosity in Merlin's gaze was more obvious now. He stared at the tapestries on the wall, at the rich decorations, and at each new person they passed.

"What happened?" Arthur asked as soon as the door closed, sealing them all inside.

Beryian shook his head and took a seat at one end of the large table that dominated Gaius's workroom, helping himself to a cup of water from a nearby jug. "We don't know. He has no memories of what happened to him, or anything from before he disappeared."

Arthur helped Merlin onto the bench, though Merlin didn't seem to need his assistance. His hopes of a warm reunion were firmly dashed. "Nothing?"

Fingers curled into his sleeve before he could move away to a more respectable distance. Merlin was staring up at him with the kind of look that made Arthur want to move mountains to fulfill his every whim. He dropped bonelessly onto the bench next to Merlin.

"I dream, sometimes," Merlin said softly. "I saw you. Sometimes there are others, but always you."

Merlin's hand slid down his arm and for a brief second Arthur hoped things could go back the way they were. Their fingers entwined under the table, fitting together with the ease of practice.

"I told him some things," Beryian said after a moment of silence. "Stories about the people here, his friends, some of the things that have happened."

Gaius moved slowly to stand behind the pair of them. His hands settled on Merlin's skull. He started to brush Merlin's unruly hair aside, obviously checking for any injuries, though Arthur doubted any would still be evident after nearly a year since the incident. "Did your head hurt, when you woke up? Were you injured anywhere?"

"No." Merlin waited patiently while Gaius examined him. "I was fine. I get headaches, though, sometimes. And..." He cut himself off with a glance to Beryian.

"He glows blue," Beryian filled in.

"Oh, dear," Gaius said, echoing all their thoughts.

Merlin glanced again at Beryian before looking around at the group. "They all know?" His voice trembled uncertainly.

Arthur squeezed his hand and brought their joined hands onto the table, out into full view of the group. "We all know. About the magic, and..."

Something clicked in Merlin's eyes. He was watching Arthur intently, hope shining in his eyes. "Were we..." A blush stained Merlin's face, bringing a wide smile to Arthur's own. He could remember a number of times he'd made Merlin blush like that.

"Together? Yeah." He glanced at the others in the room. Gaius was flipping through one of his books, Beryian was studying his cup like the answers to the universe were hidden at the bottom, and the girls were smiling at each other and very carefully not looking at Arthur and Merlin. He dropped his voice lower, slightly embarrassed at having an audience for this. "I want you to know, though, that I don't expect..." The words stuck in his throat. "I mean, I still... but..."

"I know." Merlin's voice had dropped to match Arthur's. "I didn't even know if what I'd dreamed was real until we got here, but... I'm glad, and if you still... if you still want me, then... I'd like to try, maybe."

Arthur pressed a chaste kiss to Merlin's cheek, ignoring the muffled titters that came from the girls.

Gaius's cough interrupted them. "I think I may have something."

They looked up as Gaius dropped a thick, old-looking tome on the table in front of them.

"Read this." Gaius pointed to a line in a foreign language.

"Cad e caillite fill."

Blue light surged over him, lighting even the far corners of the room. Merlin's eyes closed for a brief moment and then the light slowly started to fade. Hope welled in Arthur even as the more practical side of him doubted that the solution would be so easy. Merlin's eyes opened. He was frowning.

"I'm sorry."

Gaius sighed and took the book back. "It was a long shot."

"What do we do about the glowing?" Gwen asked, echoing the thought that was prominent in Arthur's mind. Much of the palace staff already knew or suspected, but if word got back to the king, Arthur wasn't sure even he could protect Merlin. He'd die trying, but it was a situation he'd rather avoid.

A look of uncertainty crossed Gaius's face. "I think we may have to start back at the beginning of his training and keep him as much out of the king's eye as possible."

"We'll make up some excuse," Arthur added. "That he's ill or feverish, and must be kept under Gaius's supervision."

Gaius nodded in agreement. He directed a stern look at Merlin. "Until we figure this out, you are confined to these quarters."

Merlin nodded obediently, still looking rather bewildered. "Yes, Sir." It reminded Arthur that the Merlin he used to know was no longer there.

*****

A faint knock woke Arthur from deep slumber. He stared vaguely in the direction of the door as he tried to figure out if the sound had been real or part of a dream. The sound repeated itself and he pulled himself out of bed with a groan.

"What?" He asked, somewhat surly, as he opened the door.

Merlin stood on the other side, his mouth gaping open and looking more than a little bit startled.

"Get in here," Arthur hissed before Merlin could say anything. He grabbed the other boy by the arm and yanked hard, pulling him into the room and almost slamming the door shut behind them. "Didn't Gaius tell you not to leave your quarters? It's dangerous."

Arthur's temper immediately softened as Merlin's lips started to quiver. He'd inadvertently scared Merlin without meaning to.

"I... I... I just..."

He gave in with a sigh and pulled Merlin into his arms. "Shh. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled."

Merlin's hands twisted in the front of Arthur's nightshirt and it reminded him so much of what they used to share that he leaned down by reflex. His mind caught up when his lips where a fraction of a breath away from Merlin's. He straightened.

"Sorry."

When Merlin looked up at him, his eyes were wide and sparkling with emotion. "You... I mean, I don't mind if you..." Merlin glanced down at his hands and then back up, his face stiffening with resolve. "I want to. Before, we were lovers, right?"

Arthur's body was quick to remind him just how long it'd been since he'd had company in his bed. He'd grown used to it. Arthur swallowed around the lump of anticipation in his throat and forced himself to think through this. He let his hands frame Merlin's shoulder and rub along his arms, trying to soothe him.

"Merlin... I love you. I've loved you for a very long time, but I don't want you to think..." Arthur cut himself off. He had to handle this delicately. "I don't want you to think there's any pressure. Just because we were intimate, doesn't mean I expect us to be now."

Fingers twisted in his shirt, playing with the ties over his chest. "If... I mean, if you're not attracted to me anymore... if you've found someone else... I'll understand, and-"

Arthur's lips sealed over Merlin's, cutting off whatever he was about to say. He didn't want to hear any of it. A small sound of pleasure slipped from Merlin's mouth as Arthur pulled him closer and wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist. It had been a long time, but he still remembered all the little things that made Merlin squirm. He was heartened to see that they still worked.

He pulled away enough to catch Merlin's lower lip between his teeth and bite lightly. One of his hands moved lower to cup Merlin's ass, fingers brushing teasingly against the seam in Merlin's pants. His other hand moved up to twist in the hair at the base of Merlin's neck and pull lightly. All of it combined had Merlin gasping and writhing against him in seconds.

"Merlin," he whispered low in Merlin's ear, nibbling slightly on his lobe and smiling as Merlin twitched helplessly in his arms. "I will never stop loving you or wanting you." He let his lips trail kisses down Merlin's neck, ending with a soft bite on Merlin's shoulder.

"Please," Merlin gasped between needy moans. "Please, Arthur. I've been dreaming about this for so long..."

He couldn't help the smug smile that crept on his face. "You've been having naughty dreams about me? I approve."

The scarlet flush that spread across Merlin's was quite becoming.

"Arthur..." Suddenly it was just like they used to be, with Arthur teasing Merlin until he started to whine with need.

He was trying not to push, but it was obvious that Merlin wanted the same things he wanted. Still, he forced himself to put a little distance between them. "Bed?" He asked, watching Merlin's face carefully for any trace of reluctance.

"Gods, yes." Merlin bridged the small gap between them and leaned up to catch Arthur's lips in a kiss.

They stumbled towards the bed, and unruly jumble of limbs and fabric twisting together. Arthur shoved Merlin's pants down, then immediately had to catch Merlin as he tripped over his pants. Somehow they rescued Merlin from the treacherous clutches of his own clothing and got him flat on the bed, naked. Arthur took a moment to appreciate the view before letting his own pants fall to the floor.

He kept a jar of salve in the cupboard by his bed, though it hadn't seen use in a long time. Merlin watched him intently as he generously slicked his fingers, setting the jar, capped, on the bed as he stepped between Merlin's spread thighs. He pressed his fingers against Merlin's entrance, sliding one in slowly to judge how tight Merlin was. A thin hiss of pain escaped Merlin's lips, though he tried to hide it.

"Shh," Arthur soothed.

Leaning forward, he placed a wet kiss over Merlin's stomach, trailing down towards the burgeoning erection that was pressing against Arthur's stomach. It had the desired effect of loosening Merlin up enough to slip another finger inside, then another. He teased Merlin, kissing around his erection, biting softly at his thighs, but never giving him the kind of contact he wanted. Apparently it hadn't been long enough to make Merlin too tight.

"I love you," he whispered, and pressed a final kiss to the inside of Merlin's left thigh before pulling back.

He lifted Merlin's legs from where they hung off the edge of the bed and hooked his knees over Arthur's shoulders. His hands kept Merlin distracted as he pushed his way inside.

"Arthur!" If Merlin felt any pain, he didn't show it. His arms reached up to twine around Arthur's shoulders and pull him down into a kiss. Merlin's legs slipped down to hang around Arthur's waist, ankles crossed behind Arthur's back. "Please. Please. Please. I need..."

Arthur's fingers twisted around the base of Merlin's erection, causing him to cry out and arch against the covers. Enough waiting. He grabbed Merlin by the hips and thrust forward, reveling in the soft cry that burst from Merlin's lips. It encouraged him to repeat the action again, pausing for a few minutes until he repeated the action. Slowly, they built up a rhythm. Shove, stop, slow slide out, shove, stop. It was driving Merlin mad. Arthur could see it in his eyes. Gold flecks appeared, the first warning before suddenly Merlin glowed blue.

Whatever Merlin did with his magic, Arthur doubted it would end well. He dropped the slow rhythm for something faster, harder. Briefly, he worried that he was hurting Merlin, but there was no sign of pain on his face, just ecstasy mixed with awe. Words tumbled from Merlin's lips, some normal, some garbled, some sounding like that strange language Merlin used when he cast spells. Arthur's name was chief among the words, peppering them like a curse word.

"Come on," Arthur whispered frantically. He wrapped his hand around Merlin's erection and pumped, trying to get Merlin to completion as fast as possible. "Come for me, Merlin. Let go."

It didn't take much to get Merlin there, but he could feel the magic swirling around them, building with each passing second. He slammed into Merlin hard and that was enough. Merlin came, muffling a scream in Arthur's shoulder as he wrapped himself tight around Arthur. The magic swirled a final time and then popped, much like a soap bubble. Arthur froze for a brief moment, but nothing seemed to have changed.

"Arthur..." Merlin groaned beneath him and then hitched his hips, reminding Arthur that he was still rock hard and buried inside of his lover. "Please, Arthur, fuck me. I've missed you. So long. Please."

Merlin's nails ran down his back in a gesture so eerily familiar, it made Arthur's heart soar.

"I remember, Arthur."

One hand cupped his face and he smiled at the recognition on Merlin's face. Slowly, he started to move again, rolling his hips in an increasing build until he was pounding into Merlin once more. Merlin's hands fisted in the sheets. They both held on tight as Arthur slammed home once more before coming inside of Merlin.

Arthur dropped to the sheets, exhausted. Merlin's arms wrapped around him, but that seemed to be the extent that he was willing to move.

"Are you sure?" Arthur asked when he could breathe once more. "Do you remember how it happened?"

Fingers played against Arthur's back. "It's still vague, but it's all there, I think. There was a wizard... I think he's the one that attacked you in the throne room. He knew he had to get me out of the way first."

"That didn't seem to help." It had been a comfort then, to know that no matter where he was, Merlin was still protecting him from magic.

"At least now we know that my magic will still protect you, no matter how far away."

Arthur pulled out slowly and rolled them under the covers. "I hope we never have to worry about it again." He wrapped Arthur tight in his arms. "Don't leave me again, Merlin."

"I won't." Merlin's head settled on his chest, and Arthur could tell he was close to sleep. "I promise."

Arthur drifted to sleep with a smile on his face.