gwyllion: Merlin-Forever (Merlin-Forever)
[personal profile] gwyllion
Title: Rise
Author: gwylliondream
Genre: Modern au
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin
Rating: NC-17
Words: 15K
A/N: Rise was written for the [profile] merlinreversebb. I had no intention of participating in the MRBB, except as a pinch hitter, until I saw [profile] merlocked18’s gorgeous pencil drawing of Merlin by the sea. I signed up right away and was fortunate enough to be matched with her art, my first and only choice. Her drawings for this fic are evocative and sensual, just like the landscape I was honoured to describe. Thanks to [profile] merlocked18 who was a joy to work with, to my fantastic Irish-picker [personal profile] camelittle, and to my wonderful beta [personal profile] lawgoddess.
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of BBC/Shine and their creators.
Comments: Comments are welcome anytime! Thanks so much for reading!



“I promise it’ll be a short drive today,” Arthur says from across the room.

Merlin wakes abruptly, surprised that he slept through until morning, the bin untouched.

“You must be getting tired of driving,” Merlin says.

“And your little bottom must be getting sore,” Arthur says with a grin.

“We should do more touring, anyway. We’re near the Cliffs of Moher,” Merlin says. This will be his last chance to see this part of Ireland for a long while, maybe forever, so he wants to enjoy one last look while he can.

“What? And do something besides drinking?” Arthur asks in disbelief. “What kind of Irishman are you?”

Merlin ducks when Arthur hurls a pillow from his bed. Instinctively, his arm shoots out, deflecting the pillow so it lands on the floor between the two beds. He laughs. “You can’t tell me that you’re not enjoying the pubs.”

“That’s true. How about stopping for the day in Galway?” Arthur asks.

Merlin rubs his eyes and when he opens them he notices Arthur has dug out the map from his bag.

“Galway’s not too much farther,” Merlin says, his voice gravelly from the alcohol he consumed the night before. “And we could stop in Limerick on the way. You should see the castle there.”

“Is it anything like Ferns Castle?” Arthur asks.

Merlin laughs. “It’s much more impressive than that, from what I remember,” he says.

“Well, if you feel like getting out of bed, we can go for breakfast,” Arthur says. “Or, if we’re stopping for the night in Galway, you can have a lie-in. It’s up to you.”

Merlin groans, his belly rumbling from last night’s escapades. He doesn’t feel hungry, but it wouldn’t hurt to eat a piece of toast with tea to settle his stomach.

“No, we should get moving. Do you want the shower first?” Merlin asks.

“I may as well,” Arthur says. “Besides, you look like you could use a bit more beauty sleep.”

“That bad?” Merlin asks with a frown.

He watches Arthur disappear into the loo without replying.

They drive to Limerick and eat breakfast in a small café. Merlin washes down some paracetamol for his headache with his tea. The buttered toast makes him feel right again. Across the table, Arthur slathers clotted cream over his scones and Merlin knows they’ll both be hungry for something more substantial by lunchtime.

They don’t linger long in Limerick, but Arthur slows the car so Merlin can photograph King John’s Castle as they pass it on their way to the M18.

Merlin dozes as Arthur drives, the morning sun streaming through the car windows, making Arthur’s hair shine like spun gold.

An hour passes before Arthur asks, “Fancy a stretch?”

Merlin opens his eyes to see that Arthur is following the signs that lead to the Cliffs of Moher.

“All the tourism experts say this is a must-see,” Merlin says with a nod.

They park the car and wander down the path to the viewpoint.

Merlin remembers the time, years ago, when Hunith shouted at him to not stand so close to the edge of the cliffs. He was only a child then, but he had never been back to the cliffs again, until now. The proximity of the site to his childhood home made it seem less exciting to visit than places like metropolitan London or exotic California.

And surely he would have remembered the gift shops that were half-buried in the ground like a Teletubbie shopping centre.

Merlin zips up his hoodie and gazes over the cliffs. The sea churns hundreds of feet below.



Arthur takes his mobile from his pocket and snaps pictures of Merlin as he stands above the cliffs, his hair ruffling in the wind.

Merlin wonders if Arthur took pictures of Mordred to remember him by. The night that they spent gallivanting all over Dublin has left a bad taste in Merlin’s mouth that no cuppa from the Cliffs of Moher snack shop can wash away.

~

In Galway, they park the car and roam the streets, visiting the numerous shops. The walking helps Merlin to clear his head. The scent of spicy kebabs and Nutella crepes fills the air. They pause to listen to the music as a street performer plays harmonica.

“Hostel tonight?” Arthur asks, tilting his head toward a building that looks like a castle.

Merlin does a double-take and sees the castle entrance has been painted a funky orange. A mural of huge multi-coloured tulips surrounds the doorway.

“Galway City Hostel,” Merlin reads. “Looks good.”

“I wasn’t coddin’ ye when I said we weren’t going far today,” Arthur says, playfully punching Merlin in the arm.

They pay for a double room and drop off their bags. Resuming their tour of the city, they wander from shop to shop, stopping when something catches their eye.

On the main road, Merlin notices a pair of girls who seem to be following him and Arthur.

“There they are again,” Merlin says, when the pair appears in the tobacco shop.

“They’re not following us,” Arthur says with a laugh. “Have you always been this suspicious?”

“They were right next to us in the gourmet shop. They followed us to the bakery and now they’re with us again,” Merlin whispers.

“You’re sure you’re not just imagining it?” Arthur asks.

“I’m not!” Merlin insists.

Before Merlin can stop him, Arthur calls to the girls. “Hey, you two! Are you following us?” he asks.

The girls giggle and head for the exit, but Arthur follows them outside. The crowd of tourists is as thick as chocolate pudding, so the girls don’t get very far.

Merlin joins them on the pavement.

“What’s the craic?” Arthur asks the girls, his head titled to the side, his smile bright.

“It’s not my idea,” the girl with the straight blonde hair says. “Gwen is trying to make her boyfriend jealous.”

“Stop it Elena,” Gwen, the girl with the dark ringlets, says. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“Her crush wouldn’t go shopping with her today, so she told him she’d find another bloke to go with,” Elena explains. “Only there really is no one, besides me.”

“So, we were wondering…” Gwen says. She bites her lip nervously.

“We were wondering if you’d have your picture taken with Gwen, so she can show it to Lance to make him jealous?” Elena says.

“What? And be a part of your nefarious plan?” Arthur asks, his head thrown back with laughter. “What do you take me for?”

The girls dissolve in a fit of giggles.

“That’s savage,” Merlin says.

“You’re the most handsome tourists we’ve seen all day,” Elena says. “Please say you’ll do it?”

“With two ladies as lovely as you, how can I refuse?” Arthur says, his arms open wide.

“Does this mean you’ll stop following him, so we can get on with touring?” Merlin asks.

“We promise, we will,” Elena says. She takes Merlin’s hand and leads him a few steps away from Arthur and Gwen.

“I can’t understand why this Lance wouldn’t want to spend the day with you,” Arthur says. He wraps an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and gently pulls her in for a hug.

“Okay, smile, you two,” Elena says, snapping pictures with her mobile.

When the photo-session ends, the girls thank Arthur and Merlin for being good sports. Merlin even manages to get a hug from the pair before they walk away. He watches Arthur’s eyes follow the girls down the block and into the crowd. Deep inside his heart, he aches for Arthur to flirt with him, instead of the pretty girls he encounters every day.

In Standun’s, Arthur tries on an Aran sweater. He poses in the mirror, inspecting the fit.

“Ireland agrees with you,” Merlin says, letting his fingers graze the front of the cabled knit, across Arthur’s chest. He doesn’t say the word mine but he wishes that he could convey it with his touch.

Arthur grins. “I’ll take it,” he says, taking his credit card out of his wallet.



As they browse the shop-lined streets, Merlin’s heart fills because of his fantasy. He imagines they are a couple on holliers like all the other couples he sees—maybe even a married couple, now that Ireland has legalised marriage equality. When their fingers brush as they walk beside each other, Merlin dreams that Arthur wants to hold his hand. But it’s only because of the narrowing of the passageway caused by tourists who crowd a storefront. They take up too much of the pavement, driving Merlin and Arthur closer, although not close enough for Merlin’s liking.

“Take a look at this,” Arthur says. He ushers Merlin toward a storefront window. “People have to be insane to pay that kind of price for a ring.”

Merlin looks into the window to see what Arthur is talking about. The shiny golden Claddagh rings do seem overpriced.

“That’s why our business courses were so important,” Arthur says, catching Merlin’s eye. “You have to know the cost of goods and the margin that will make you successful.”

“They wouldn’t be getting these prices anywhere but Galway,” Merlin says. “Obviously the tourists keep them in business when they don’t mind spending so much for the perfect souvenir.”

“Sometimes, it’s worth it. They’re paying for the experience of being here,” Arthur says.

“They’ll never be in Galway, in this place, or at this time,” Merlin says, acknowledging what Arthur seems to be getting at.

“Or with the person they want to be with,” Arthur says.

Merlin nods in silent agreement.

Later that night, Arthur pokes his head out from behind the curtain that blocks the light from his top bunk. “Let’s go camping tomorrow,” he says. “Connemara?”

Merlin peers out from his bunk and looks up at Arthur, swathed in bed-curtains fit for a king’s bedchamber in days of old. “I’d like that,” Merlin says.

He falls asleep to thoughts of sharing a tent with Arthur.

~

“Yes, father,” Arthur speaks into his mobile. “I can’t hear you very well. It’s windy here.”

Standing on a bluff above the sea, Merlin hears the sharp tone of Uther’s voice, despite the wind.

“Yes, on Friday,” Arthur says, walking around in a circle, hoping for a better signal on his mobile. “I’ll probably be getting in late.”

Merlin has never had much use for Uther Pendragon. The first time they met, Uther had the audacity to ask Merlin why he was studying such ridiculous subjects at uni.

Apparently the man saw no correlation between Merlin’s studies and a weekly appointment with his masseuse, nor from the promising pharmaceutical windfall he was poised to enjoy, thanks to herbal medicine going mainstream.

“Good luck finding a job,” Uther had said, adding a sarcastic, “you’ll need it, with those qualifications.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Arthur said, after Uther had left their flat. “You’re going to be a wonderful naturopath. Think of all the people you’re going to help.”

“I’m sorry your father has such a low opinion about those who try to improve people’s quality of life,” Merlin said.

“He’d think differently if he knew your Uncle Gaius owned Avalon Ranch,” Arthur said. “I wish you’d let me tell him.”

Merlin didn’t like to brag that his uncle owned a chain of prestigious spas with a half dozen locations worldwide. The centres for healing and relaxation were visited by celebrities from every genre of society’s upper class. Socialites, sports figures, billionaires, the Ranch had no ordinary clientele. Running the spa in the mountains of California would be a dream come true for a boy from Ealdor. Thanks to his uncle, Merlin welcomed the opportunity to practise what he had learned in uni.

“I’m sorry, he’s so exasperating,” Arthur says, pocketing his mobile. “Shall we head back to the tent?”

“He’s angry that you went away for the week?” Merlin asks as they make their way out of the wind.

“One of his top execs gave notice that he’s retiring. My father will get over it. He always does,” Arthur says.

They walk along the edge of the bluff. The mountains and moors on their right explode with every shade of green, the placid ocean swells gently on their left. Their small tent lies in a sheltered vale far enough from the water’s edge to avoid the rising tide. Hunith’s car sits in the car park, a half mile from where the rocky path leads to the water.

In their private hideaway, they eat the sandwiches that bought in town, washing it all down with the bottled ale that they carried down the hill to the tent.

At sunset, they watch the sky change from blue to golden red from their sleeping bags. The tent will keep the morning dew off their heads, but the night promises to be mild so they leave the door unzipped.

Merlin loves the feel of Arthur’s body stretched out beside his. Although they are swathed in their sleeping bags, Merlin memorizes the jut of Arthur’s hip, his scent, the way his hair changes colour in the setting sun. He never wants to forget his time with Arthur.

When the sky becomes a black canvas studded with twinkling stars, they sleep.

Merlin tries to forget that only one night remains of their time together. Instead, he reminds himself to savour each minute. He doubts that Mordred could ever crave Arthur as much as he does, even after their night together. He could never know Arthur the way that Merlin does. Mordred could never feel the ache that Merlin feels, knowing they will soon part forever, his love a secret as endless as the evening sky.

~

The next morning, they break camp and head toward Belfast. When they cross the border into Northern Ireland at Coshquin, Merlin feels the familiar sense of coming home, but it doesn’t warm him. There is no joy for him in the feeling that their trip is nearly over.

They could make it to Hunith’s by lunch if they tried. But Merlin wants to hug the coast, to make the day last longer. Besides, there’s a place he wants Arthur to see before he leaves the island. And if Merlin gets his wish, they’ll spend another night stretched out beside each other in the rough before they make it to Belfast.

A dozen tourists clamber over the rocks when Arthur pulls into the car park at Giant’s Causeway. The afternoon sun burns through the haze, but a light wind has made hoodies and jackets necessary. The squeals of children playing in the tidal pools carry over the rocky steps from the sea.

Shore birds squeak to one another as they dive for a dropped piece of popcorn or a peanut that escaped from someone’s bag of snacks. Eider ducks bob up and down at the water’s edge. Redshanks soar over the water, searching for a meal.

Merlin makes a game of stepping from one hexagon to another. The rocks are slippery and trainers aren’t the best footwear for roaming the rocks. Arthur catches him by the arm when he skids across a slick stone. Merlin glances at Arthur’s hand, warm even through his clothes, before meeting his eyes.

“Thanks,” Merlin says. The word is so quiet that the wind whisks it away.

Nearer to the water, the stones are covered with a layer of barnacles. Arthur lifts a hunk of wet green seaweed from the rocks and threatens to chase Merlin with it. Merlin laughs and ducks out of the way at the last moment before the slimy mess can touch his hair.

“I’ll stop,” Arthur says. “I need to remember that I’ll be sleeping beside you tonight.”



A tingle rushes through Merlin and makes his cock swell. He doesn’t question Arthur about whether they’ll get a B&B for their last night on the road. For the rest of the afternoon, he keeps his eyes open for an intimate place to camp instead, his wish fulfilled.

~

They settle on a secluded patch of grass just above the Port Moon Bothy. If they stand close to the edge of the cliff, they can see the shelter for kayakers a hundred feet below. The red roof stands out among the craggy shore and the lush green of the northern coast. Port Moon Bothy is only accessible by sea, but Merlin and Arthur have this clifftop above it all to themselves, except for an occasional shorebird.

Arthur tosses his travel bag into the tent. Their sleeping bags lie on Hunith’s old foam camping pads that provide some insulation from the cold ground.

Merlin takes one more look around to ensure their camp is well-hidden from anyone who might drive by on the road. He doubts many vehicles will make this winding journey after dark. Even the shelter below stands empty tonight. Merlin would have seen the paddlers coming ashore long before sunset if they had reservations.

The last vestiges of light begin to fade from the sky. The overcast of grey makes the night seem brighter. Merlin is glad for it. He wants to watch Arthur sleep for the last time. He wants to imprint the memory of this trip as deeply as he can on his heart.

He crawls into the tent beside Arthur and stretches out languidly on top of his sleeping bag. Quiet, he listens to the crash of the waves below.

“It’s been a long day,” Arthur says with a yawn.

“Our last night on the road,” Merlin says, although he needs no reminder. He has been dreading this final night that will mark an end to their journey.

Arthur rolls to his side and faces Merlin. “It’s gone by fast,” he says.

“We’ve seen a lot of things in a week,” Merlin says, and a part of him wishes he could relive the week—minus their first night when Arthur met Mordred. Perhaps if things had been different, if Merlin had been more forthcoming, their time together could have ended differently.

“What was your favourite thing?” Arthur asks, his voice soft.

“Hmmm?” Merlin asks, buying time to think, lest he give an answer he’ll regret.

“Your favourite part of the whole trip?” Arthur asks, his breath soft on Merlin’s face.

Merlin thinks of an acceptable answer. “The look on your face when you realized I really could play a bodhrán,” he says with a laugh.

Merlin feels Arthur’s smile, hears the amusement in the huff of his breath.

“How about you,” Merlin asks. “What was your favourite part?” He hopes Arthur enjoyed himself on their trip around his homeland, but he’s distracted by the brush of Arthur’s knuckles soft against his cheek.

“My favourite part,” Arthur says, his voice wavering, “is that I got to see it all with you.”

At first, Merlin thinks he is mistaken, but he has only to look into Arthur’s eyes as he lies beside him.

“Arthur?” he asks, his voice only a breath. He raises his hand and finds Arthur’s fingers where they touch his cheek. He almost can’t believe that Arthur is touching him, but his hand tells him the truth.

Merlin moans low and then he is gone, lost in the sensation of Arthur’s lips on his. He can’t breathe, but he needs to pull away, he needs to know that this is not some mistake. He turns his face, only to feel Arthur’s lips pressing against his jaw, leaving a trail of kisses down his neck. Merlin can hear the crash of the waves on the shore below.

“Arthur,” Merlin whispers a plea, but he is unsure whether it is a plea to continue or a plea to stop this agony of not knowing what this means between them.

“Kiss me,” Arthur breathes, his thumb caressing Merlin’s cheek, his fingers speared through his hair.

“I can’t,” Merlin says, his eyes falling closed. He knows he will regret pushing Arthur away, when this very act was what he craved so much, and for so long.

Arthur stills his hands. Merlin can feel the shift in the air as Arthur collects himself, crestfallen. It breaks Merlin’s heart to turn his affection away. He tries to explain, as if that will make their trip end with their friendship intact.

“I don’t…” Merlin says, and for a moment he is gripped with fear that Arthur thinks he doesn’t want him. He hurries to get his thoughts out. “I don’t want to be a one-night stand…”

Outside the ocean has quieted and the waves reach the shore in an almost soundless splash.

“I don’t want to be like Mordred,” Merlin whispers.

Merlin mourns the loss of Arthur’s kisses, but he is grateful that he spoke out. He wants to mean something to Arthur, something more than a random pull after a night of pubbing.

The silence is broken by Arthur’s laughter.

Merlin looks up at Arthur, their bodies still pressed tight in an embrace.

“It’s not funny,” Merlin says, his feelings crushed.

“Oh, Merlin,” Arthur says, “if you only knew.”

“Knew what?” Merlin asks, pushing away from Arthur’s warmth, his body shimmying across the sleeping bag toward the wall of the tent.

“You’ve no need to be jealous of Mordred,” Arthur says.

“I’m not jealous,” Merlin says, defiant.

“Yes, you are,” Arthur says, the laughter in his voice making Merlin want to fling himself off the cliff and onto the roof of the Port Moon Bothy.

“I’ve got nothing to be jealous about,” Merlin says.

Arthur gets to his knees and crawls to the bottom of the tent. Merlin can hear him find his bag and open two, maybe three of the zippered compartments as he hunts for something.

“No. You don’t,” Arthur says when he shifts back onto his sleeping bag.

Even with his tear-filled eyes, Merlin can see that Arthur clutches something in his hand.

“I paid Mordred good money,” Arthur says.

And for an instant Merlin tries to wrap his head around the idea of Arthur paying Mordred for sex.

“To make this for you,” Arthur says.

Arthur opens his hand to reveal a silver amulet with a beautiful triskelion carved into its surface.

“What is it?” Merlin asks, taking the pendant in his hand. The leather thong slips through Arthur’s hands.

“Mordred is a silversmith,” Arthur says. “He’s based in Dublin. I found him on Etsy and commissioned him to make this for you. I wanted it to be special.”

“Oh,” Merlin chokes out, examining the design. He knows it to be a symbol of mind, body, and spirit. “It’s beautiful.” He turns the amulet back and forth in his hands.

“He didn’t have it ready in time to ship it to uni, so I arranged to pick it up at his studio. That’s where I went when we left the pub together,” Arthur says.



Merlin can’t manage to speak. The thoughts he has had all week long about Arthur and Mordred flash through his mind. He’s more than a little embarrassed, but beyond that, he’s relieved.

“So, you’re not the slag I thought you were?” Merlin asks.

Arthur laughs. “I’ll let you be the judge of that,” Arthur says.

Merlin lets himself settle back toward the centre of his sleeping bag.

“I’m sorry,” Merlin says. “I really thought you… and Mordred…”

Arthur reaches across the tent and traces a finger along Merlin’s cheek.

“I should have told you,” Arthur says. “I had no idea that you thought Mordred and I had been together.”

“It’s my fault,” Merlin says. “I should have said something sooner.”

“If I knew you were jealous,” Arthur says. “I would have done something sooner to put you at ease.”

“Something?” Merlin asks slyly, hoping that it means what he thinks it means.

“Merlin, don’t you know what you do to me?” Arthur asks. He slides his hand down Merlin’s arm and lets it rest on Merlin’s hip.

“You didn’t know how much I’ve always wanted to make love to you?” Merlin asks. His heart is beating so loudly, he can no longer hear the waves below.

“Why did you never tell me?” Arthur asks.

It hurts Merlin’s heart to think that he has kept his secret for so long. He should have acted on it when they had a chance to spend more time together. But he resolves that he won’t have any more regrets.

“I’m telling you now,” Merlin says. He pushes himself up onto one elbow and leans closer to Arthur.

“We’re a fine pair, aren’t we?” Arthur asks with a laugh.

After first taking a deep breath to steady himself, Merlin presses his lips to Arthur’s, hoping that he will reciprocate. The amulet is still clutched in his palm, protecting him, giving him strength as Arthur undoubtedly intended.

Merlin is rewarded by a sweep of Arthur’s tongue against his lips. He opens his mouth, deepening the kiss as his hand roams across Arthur’s back, pulling him closer.

Arthur rolls over so he straddles Merlin, his head brushing the roof of the nylon tent. The amulet falls out of Merlin’s grasp. Arthur finds it in the rumpled sleeping bag and places it beside the spare hoodie Merlin uses as a pillow. Settling back on his heels, Arthur strips off his shirt and tosses it to the corner of the tent.

Merlin gasps when he feels Arthur’s cock pressed against him through his jeans. He smiles, pleased that Arthur’s cock is as hard as his own. He lets his fingers trace the lines of muscle on Arthur’s chest. His chest feels every bit as strong and toned as Merlin has dreamed it would be beneath his fingers.

Merlin gives a lascivious cant of his hips and Arthur falls aside, landing on his sleeping bag. He wraps Merlin in his arms and kisses him again, pressing his lips to Merlin’s neck, his chin, his cheeks. Merlin finds Arthur’s lips again and kisses him until he feels like he is floating.

Arthur moans when Merlin shoves his knee between his legs. Gently, Arthur slides his hand beneath the bottom hem of Merlin’s T-shirt.

Merlin feels Arthur’s hard cock that shows sign of getting even harder. Arthur’s fingers tickle when he finds the trail of dark wispy hairs that lead below Merlin’s waistband.

“Can I touch you?” Arthur asks.

Arthur’s hand on his belly drives Merlin insane with desire. He wishes so badly that he told Arthur how he felt about him earlier. He’ll never be able to recover the time they could have spent making love to each other. Four lost years… can it be enough that they spend this one night together? For Merlin, it will have to be enough.

“Yes,” Merlin says, not wanting to waste any more time, “please.”

Merlin reaches down to undo the button at his waist. Arthur fumbles with the zipper, each movement of Arthur’s fingers sending shocks of arousal to Merlin’s cock.

Merlin lifts his arse and wriggles out of his jeans, kicking them into a ball at the bottom of the tent. He gasps when Arthur touches him more intimately than he ever has before. Arthur’s hand is warm as he palms Merlin’s cock, although his boxers block the contact of skin on skin.

“Let’s get these out of the way,” Arthur says as he manoeuvers himself between Merlin’s legs.

Outside, the moon rises above the sea. It illuminates the stray clouds and makes the sky seem bright. Arthur is even more beautiful in this light, the pale moonlight making his features seem something out of Merlin’s best dreams.

Merlin holds his breath while Arthur slides his boxers down, freeing his cock. He can feel his heart pounding when Arthur settles between his legs. He trembles when Arthur takes a long lick of his cock’s length.

Arthur makes a humming sound as he tastes the fluid that beads from Merlin’s cock. His fingers stroke the insides of Merlin’s thighs, the touch to the pale smooth skin making Merlin moan with pleasure.

Merlin’s hips involuntarily hitch when Arthur takes his cock deep into his impossibly warm mouth. He presses his head down into the hoodie-pillow as hard as he can when Arthur’s thumbs smooth his balls and dip down to explore the cleft between his arse cheeks. A groan escapes him when Arthur finds his hole and teases the furl with a gentle press of tiny unrelenting circles.

Merlin digs his fingers into the sleeping bag to keep from coming so soon. But it’s too late. His body grows taut before he shakes with pleasure as Arthur’s glorious mouth milks the seed from him.

Arthur does his best to swallow all of Merlin that he can, but he loses some of his reward as it drips onto Merlin’s belly. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and crawls over Merlin’s limbs toward the door of the tent. His shuddering subsiding, Merlin tugs on Arthur’s arms, bringing him up to his level.

In the dim light, Arthur grins down at Merlin. Merlin can only sigh, any silly retort is lost in the salty ocean air.

“I’ve been waiting so long for that,” Arthur says. His cock is rock hard as it presses into Merlin’s thigh.

“Sorry,” Merlin mouths the word, knowing that Arthur can see his lips in the moonlight.

Merlin pulls Arthur down to him. Their lips brush together. Merlin thinks he has never felt such utter bliss before in his life. It’s better than the best massage, more freeing than crystal healing.

Arthur kisses Merlin hard, making him groan as he ruts against him. Sliding his hands over Arthur’s back and arse, Merlin urges Arthur to move faster and faster. Arthur’s cock slides through Merlin’s sticky come that Arthur couldn’t catch with his mouth.

Merlin’s fingers dig into Arthur’s hips as he meets him thrust for thrust, his spent and sensitive cock beginning to harden again. Merlin kisses Arthur as they moan together. He plunges his tongue into Arthur’s mouth, tasting what he has longed for every day for four long years. He opens his eyes, wanting to watch Arthur as he comes apart, although the tent is dim now and Merlin’s head swims with the echoes of their lust.

Arthur ruts harder and suddenly stills. His ragged breath groans into Merlin’s ear. Merlin feels him spend in the space between their heated bodies. Arthur collapses on top of Merlin and they lie there, simply breathing each other’s breath, until a dozen waves roll in to touch the shore below their camp.

Merlin’s heartbeat slowly returns to normal. He kisses the top of Arthur’s head. He cannot hide his smile, nor does he want to.

Arthur shifts to his side and reaches for his discarded shirt. The white long-sleeved one has always been one of Merlin’s favourites. Arthur uses it to gently wipe the sticky mess from Merlin’s belly.

Merlin pants with every stroke of Arthur’s shirt against his ticklish skin. When Arthur finishes, he casts the shirt aside. It lands somewhere in the heap of clothing they have shucked in the corner of the tent.

Merlin spreads his hand wide across the small of Arthur’s bare back and pulls him close. Arthur lies beside him, his face buried in Merlin’s neck. The scent of each other’s spunk swirls around the cramped tent’s interior. Merlin takes a breath, determined to savour the memory of sex and Arthur and sea for as long as he can. He rests his chin on Arthur’s head and lets himself be soothed by the embrace of Arthur’s strong arms.

Moments later, Merlin dozes, but not deeply enough to ignore when Arthur reaches behind his back to grasp an edge of a sleeping bag. Arthur shifts closer to Merlin and tucks the unzipped bag around them while they fall asleep.

~

“Hey, you!” a voice rings out, waking Merlin from his sleep. “You can’t camp there—it’s private property.”

The rays of morning sunshine break through the low clouds, illuminating the tent’s interior with a sunny glow. Arthur jolts awake from where he lies beside Merlin, still tangled in a knot of naked arms and legs.

“Sorry,” Merlin calls out, trying to stifle an embarrassed laugh. He scrambles to reach for a suitable piece of clothing from the articles that are strewn around the tent.

“We didn’t know,” Arthur adds. He pulls a face at Merlin who cannot contain his laughter.

Arthur grins as he finds his shirt, the same one that he used to wipe Merlin clean the night before.

“Oh my God,” Merlin says, laughing. “We’re in so much trouble.” He manages to find his jeans and he puts them on without bothering to locate his boxers.

“This isn’t a bloody caravan park,” the voice outside calls.

“We’ll be on our way,” Merlin says, unzipping the tent door. “Sorry to bother you, sir.”

When Merlin steps outside, he is greeted by a farmer carrying a pitchfork.

“Get off of my property before I call the police,” the farmer shouts.

“We’re leaving,” Merlin says. He grabs his shirt from inside the tent entrance and pulls it on.

The tent sways and the nylon walls bulge from Arthur’s struggle to dress himself.

“See that you do,” the farmer says, not moving from his position a dozen yards away.

Arthur pokes his head from the tent. “I wrapped up the sleeping bags,” he says as he drops them on the grass outside.

Merlin proceeds to unfasten the poles from the grommets that held the tent erect while Arthur tosses the rest of their belongings from the tent. When everything is wrapped up, they carry the whole lot across the high meadow to where Hunith’s car awaits them. The wet grass feels nice between Merlin’s toes. He can’t contain his laughter about the farmer threatening to call the police, about Arthur finally confessing his feelings to him, about the irony of Arthur’s flight back to London this evening.

They kiss outside of Hunith’s car after they fill the boot with their camping supplies. Merlin finds his trainers bursting from Arthur’s travel bag. He slips them onto his cold feet without tying them.

In the car, they can’t keep their hands off each other. Merlin reaches across the console to squeeze Arthur’s thigh. When the gear stick doesn’t require his attention, Arthur slips his hand beneath Merlin’s shirt and lets his fingers play with the soft skin where his love handles should be, if he had them.

Just down the road, in Armoy, they stop for tea in a small café. Arthur checks his voicemail to listen to his father’s distress about problems he’s having with the family business. He turns his phone off and stashes it in his pocket.

Merlin relishes being the centre of Arthur’s focus. People pass the café window, but Arthur and Merlin spend the rest of the morning simply looking at each other, exchanged words of endearment in hushed whispers.

Pure adoration shines in Arthur’s eyes. Merlin touches the amulet that hangs around his neck. He tries to enjoy these last hours. He knows he’ll be a sobbing mess when Arthur says goodbye.

“Don’t fill up on scones,” Merlin says. “My mum only works a half-day on Friday and she’s got her famous shepherd’s pie in the crock pot for us.”

“Sounds homey, but not exactly vegetarian,” Arthur says. He kicks Merlin foot beneath the table.

“It’s made with lentils, Clotpoll,” Merlin says. He kicks Arthur back and they both burst out with laughter.

They arrive in Belfast too soon for Merlin’s liking. He worries that his mum will be able to read the tales of sex and wanton lust on their faces. Merlin makes Arthur drive the length of the Falls Road so he can show him his favourite murals while he tries to get hold of himself. Merlin doesn’t know how he’s going to survive with Arthur gone, not now that they’ve admitted their love for each other. Time, his mother will say, just give it time.

By the time they pull into the driveway, Hunith has arrived home and set the table for the three of them.

Merlin hugs his mum and thanks her for letting Arthur drive her car for the week. He’ll be sorry to leave her when he starts his new job, but at least it will be easy for her to visit him and Uncle Gaius when she gets holidays off from work.

“Get upstairs, you,” Hunith says, turning her nose up at Merlin. “You smell positively manky.”

“We were camped by the sea these last two nights,” Arthur says. “We could both do with a wash.” He glances to Merlin, who nods in agreement.

“What’s this?” Hunith asks after she releases Merlin from her embrace. Her fingers find the amulet around Merlin’s neck. She turns it in her hand, examining the workmanship.

“Arthur gave it to me,” Merlin says proudly. “It’s sort of a going away present.”

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Hunith says, admiring the piece. “You have very good taste, Arthur.”

“Thanks, I think the amulet suits Merlin perfectly,” Arthur says.

Merlin tries to ignore the sadness in Arthur’s voice. If he thinks any more about how Arthur’s absence will affect him, he’ll break down and cry.

“You know him very well,” Hunith says with a smile.

Merlin wonders how much his mother can tell from the silent gazes that pass between Arthur and himself. They eat Hunith’s cooking and reminisce about their past together—the four year flatmate relationship and the weeklong friendship of the past seven days. Merlin leaves out the part about them becoming lovers the night before.

When they finish dinner, Arthur is a perfect gentleman. He won’t trouble Hunith for a ride to the airport. He calls for a taxi to George Best after stuffing his travel bag with his belongings and helping Merlin to sort the camping gear in Hunith’s garage.

“I’ll leave you two, then,” Hunith says when it becomes clear that Merlin wants to spend these last few minutes alone with Arthur. “Besides, I’ve got some knitting to catch up on.”

She takes Arthur in her arms and hugs him tight.

All at once, Merlin feels sad that Arthur never knew his own mother’s love. Merlin hadn’t known Arthur for very long before he discovered that his mother had died shortly after his birth. He can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up without his mum in his family.

Merlin knows he’ll have to rely on Hunith’s strength in the days that are to come. And Hunith will need comfort as she anticipates the loss of her only child as he prepares to leave for far-off California.

“May the road rise up to meet you, sweet summer child,” Hunith says.

“May the wind be always at your back,” Merlin says, thumping a hand on Arthur’s shoulder.

“May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your fields,” Hunith says wiping a tear, “and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

And then, Hunith slips back inside the house, leaving Arthur and Merlin together, with a taxi on the way.

“Hey,” Arthur says, wrapping Merlin in his arms. They stand between the garage and the hedge that blocks the neighbour’s view.

“You’re not going to say goodbye,” Merlin says, breathing into Arthur’s neck.

“Not unless you want me to,” Arthur says.

Merlin lets his hands roam from Arthur’s back to his face. He pulls him in for a kiss.

Arthur opens to him and Merlin plunges forward with his tongue against Arthur’s teeth. He breathes in, trying to memorize the taste of Arthur’s mouth, the scent of Arthur’s hair masked with Merlin’s shampoo, and the sounds that Arthur makes when their kissing makes his cock harden.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Merlin asks, whispering, when he pulls away for air..

“My father texted me while you were in the shower. It seems I’ve got a problem with a job offer,” Arthur says.

Merlin truly couldn’t care less about Arthur’s job prospects. He knows Arthur will succeed at whatever position he accepts. He’s too busy dreading the moment when Arthur’s taxi arrives. He winces at the sound of every car that turns onto his street or passes his driveway.

“You remember I told you that one of my father’s top execs plans to retire before the end of the year?” Arthur asks. His fingers stroke Merlin’s cheeks, waiting for a response.

Merlin sniffs, blinking back tears. “Yes… is that the job your father’s offering you?”

“My father isn’t sure what to do,” Arthur says. “He could send his untried son to manage the business overseas. And I could probably learn a lot from his top man before he retires. Plus, I’ve just graduated from uni, so it’s not like I’m completely unqualified.”

“It sounds great,” Merlin says, impatient to get on with the kissing. “Do you think you’ll accept it?”

Arthur purses his lips, his fingers still on Merlin’s face. “See, that’s the problem,” he says.

Merlin looks at him quizzically.

“I could accept it” Arthur says, “but it’s quite far from home.”

Merlin’s stomach drops. “How far?” he asks.

“Well,” Arthur says, leaning forward to touch his forehead to Merlin’s. “The LA office is about an hour from Avalon Ranch.”

Merlin’s brain freezes for a moment while he tries to remember where, exactly, LA is on a map.

“You’re joking!” Merlin screams. He leaps into Arthur’s arms and wraps his legs around his waist.

Arthur squeezes him tight and spins around in a circle. “I wasn’t sure what you would think,” he says. “I don’t want it to seem like I’m stalking you and following you to your new job.”

Merlin laughs and drops his legs so his feet touch the ground. “Of course I want you to follow me,” he says, pulling Arthur to him. “But only if you’re sure that you want to.”

“Idiot!” Arthur says. “I’ve travelled all the way around this island this week just to get to spend more time with you.”

Arthur’s taxi pulls to a stop in front of the house. Music blares from the radio as it plays some song from the 80s.

“I love you,” Arthur says, before cupping Merlin’s jaw in one hand and kissing him deeply.

The driver catches a glimpse of Arthur and Merlin “Are you ready, lads?” he shouts. “Meter’s running.”

“I didn’t know!” Merlin says.

“You know now,” Arthur says, touching Merlin’s amulet.

The taxi driver blows his horn. The sound penetrates the summer afternoon.

“I love you, too,” Merlin says.

Arthur shoulders his travel bag and kisses Merlin once more, softly on his lips. “I’ll see you in a few weeks then,” he says.

“Fuck that,” Merlin says. “I’m Skyping you tonight.”

Arthur climbs into the taxi and the driver pulls away, taking him to the airport, London, and beyond.

Merlin can still hear the beat of the taxi’s radio long after it leaves his street. He closes his eyes and lets the rhythm of the music thrum through him. The bass beat makes his belly feel hollow while his head swims with euphoria. He and Arthur are going to be together in California.

~ The end ~


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