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Where Nothing Remains

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"You are still my king," Merlin whispered in the close, private space against the hollow of Arthur's throat, where he smelled like soap and skin.

Arthur pulled away, his gaze shuttering. Merlin pressed his lips to Arthur's shoulder, hating that he could heal his king's wounds and bind his flesh, but he was helpless to take this pain from him. Not even Merlin's magic was strong enough to create something where nothing remained.

Arthur rolled onto his side, putting his back to Merlin. Merlin stared at the lines of it, the harsh set of his shoulders. His lips thinned. He caught Arthur's arm and pushed him onto his back.

Arthur only tensed for a moment, then relented. Merlin shut his eyes and drew an unsteady breath. It was wrong. Arthur should have been fighting him, should have clawed tooth and nail against Merlin's manhandling. Merlin never should have been able to make him do anything he didn't care to.

When Merlin opened his eyes, Arthur's gaze was bleak and distant. Merlin traced down his arm, following tendons and the lines of muscles until he threaded his fingers through Arthur's and clasped their hands together. "I want you to touch me," he said. Only sheer determination kept his voice steady.

Arthur pulled against his grip. His mouth twisted, wry. "I can't do that if you won't let go."

Merlin notched his chin up. "Yes, you can."

For the briefest flash, he saw the past in Arthur's eyes. The same hallowed look Merlin had seen before, when he'd fought his way through the battlefield to find Arthur, a mess of blood and gore, one hand hacked to ribbons. Merlin had dropped to his knees beside him and tipped one of Gaius's potions down his throat. The pain had receded to a distant, dazed stare, but the grief had remained. He'd turned his face away in shame and muttered, "Who will want me for a king now?"

"I would," Merlin had said without hesitation, then corrected himself. "I will. I do."

Now, Arthur lay beneath him, his fingers clenching around Merlin's and his face turned away just as before, tight with shame.

"Touch me," Merlin said, gripping Arthur's hand until his fingers hurt.

Haltingly, Arthur brought up his other arm, the one that ended at a stump and had only white, twisted scars where his hand should have been. He touched it lightly to Merlin's cheek, but wouldn't look at him. Color washed his cheeks, and his breath came in sharp gasps.

Merlin nuzzled against Arthur's wrist, then laid a deliberate kiss on it. He let his tongue trace the scars, watching Arthur through heavy-lidded eyes.

Arthur's breath hitched. Heat and something else, something hard to identify, flooded his gaze in the instant before he wrapped his arm around Merlin's back and pulled him in hard.

Merlin sank into the kiss, reveling in Arthur's hunger and ferocity. It was so rare, these days. But when Arthur kept his arm wrapped about Merlin's waist, its end buried in the folds of his shirt, Merlin grabbed double fistfuls of his hair and growled, "More," against his mouth.

It was an awkward process, stripping down to their skin, but that had more to do with the way Merlin always got his long limbs tangled in his clothes than any lack of Arthur's. He'd adapted quickly to life with only one hand, even as he'd resented it.

Once they were both naked, Merlin pushed Arthur beneath him again. He straddled Arthur's hips, braced Arthur's hand against the bed, and gave him a pointed look.

Arthur touched him gingerly at first. He grazed the back of his wrist down Merlin's chest and across his stomach. But when Merlin shivered and his cock began to fill, Arthur's gaze heated. He set aside his self-consciousness and reared up to bite at Merlin's shoulder.

Merlin moaned at the contrast of coarse hairs and rippled scars grazing along his cock. "More," he breathed, then bit back a cry when Arthur slid his stump between Merlin's legs, back between his cheeks.

When he couldn't bear the teasing another moment, Merlin pushed Arthur's arm away. He rose up and lowered himself onto Arthur's cock, rode him through his own orgasm until Arthur cried out and shook apart inside him.

Afterwards, when they were both sated and sluggish, Merlin stretched out atop Arthur and whispered into that secret space at the base of his throat, "You will always be my king."