Pairing(s)/Character(s): Arthur/Merlin; Gwen, Morgana
Warnings: None, except for total lack of historic accuracy, maybe?
Spoilers: Nothing too specific; mild references to 2x02.
Word Count: +16500 aprox.
Summary: In the middle of the summer, the worst snowstorm ever falls over Camelot and, considering climate change being a rather modern concept, people in town, and in court, just freak out.
Author's Note: With many, many, many thanks to my beta Z, smart, adorable, and magnificently picky with English grammar. And of course, to the recipient of this fic, lefcadio, I hope you enjoy yourself! J
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction – none of this ever happened. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is made from this work. Please observe your local laws with regards to the age-limit and content of this work.
So life behaves as usual: impatient and thoughtless, allied with time to punish humans for the slowness of their thoughts and reactions, the vulnerability of their souls at certain moments, to certain things, and to certain people.
For instance, it doesn’t matter if Merlin is not ready to tell Arthur what he is, all that he is. The moment has arrived, here, this right instant, no destiny or any other far-way-sounding word to save him this time. It turns out, that life is made of nows and that’s one thing he can’t really escape. Not telling him, not finally pouring his soul into those words that had lingered way too long in his throat, tastes like the ultimate and worst crime in Merlin’s suddenly dry mouth, as Arthur’s lips brush softly over his own, adoringly.
There are even screams of joy when the news are announced. In this beautiful, summer day, sunlight breaking through the window’s stained glass of the hall, casting bright and colourful shadows over Camelot’s knights, all dressed up and noisy, the battle that just has been signed up seems remote and unreal. A precious adventure, a harmless risk, that will necessarily end in epic poems sung by bards. So now men clasp their hands with pride and excitement; tragedy and suffering completely out of the perspective.
It has to be Morgana, indignant and terribly beautiful, the one that reminds them the truth about life and war.
"My lords, this is a battle where you are going to, not a bacchanal!" she blurts out in a furious reproach and Uther exclaims "Morgana, dear!" taken aback. The hall falls silent, and Arthur has to bite a smile down as not to stand out in the middle of the sudden tension. He runs his eyes over the crowd, looking for Merlin because, inappropriate and silly as he is, surely will share his amusement.
Only that when he meets his eyes, there he only finds concern and fright.
The nature of the dispute is so absurd, that Arthur can’t believe they are actually having it, again.
They argued just after the participation of Camelot in the war of Mercia against their enemies of Bernicia was announced, and at least ten times more in the following three weeks, while all kind of preparations were taking place, and Arthur found himself spending more time arguing with Merlin about him absolutely not coming to the battle than training his skills for the battle itself. The biggest of the arguments had taken place just two days ago, when Uther and half of the army had left for Mercia in advanced. So it’s not very surprising that on the eve before Arthur and the rest of the army follow their path, Merlin strikes back with all his intensity and gesticulations.
It’s curious how although the words and the angry retorts are more or less the same, the passion with which they’re shouted doesn’t decay one bit.
"For the very last time, Merlin: you are not coming! Not now, not ever, to any battle. As in, never."
"Because, in case it has escaped to your tiny brain, you’re not a soldier, Merlin!"
"Gaius isn’t either and he left with your father."
"Gaius is the court physician, Merlin. He needs to be there in case something happens to the King."
"Well, I could be there helping him!"
"The dangers that we’ll be facing aren’t something you can handle."
"How you know that?"
"Well, now that you ask, you have no reflexes, no instinct, no coordination, no battlefield knowledge…"
"I have instinct!"
"And your clumsiness is capable of putting the whole realm in danger."
"You’re not coming. How is it that difficult for you to understand?"
"Merlin, that’s enough."
Merlin stares at him furiously; shadows of something like madness making his eyes bright and even scary. He’s trembling and Arthur doesn’t know in what moment exactly he put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, but he feels the shaking all over Merlin’s body and it’s like holding a melting candle. It’s a balmy night, and he’s hot under Arthur’s grip.
"You can’t come," he repeats in a whisper. Merlin raises his chin, defiant and insolent as only he can get.
"Then I’m not saying goodbye or anything." he replies all coolly and offended and Arthur huffs a laugh in disbelief.
"Fine, then," he says as shakes him off, annoyed. "As if I care!"
"No, as if I care!" echoes Merlin and twirls in his own heels to leave de room by leaps and bounds, so indignant that it would seem he’s actually right. He slams the door as loud as he can manage and Arthur throws his hands in the air in disbelief, because what is wrong with this kid? He lets himself drop onto the bed, grunting in despair.
Then, Merlin is back. Arthur straightens up and stares.
"The laundress told me to pick your dirty clothes up. If you have any, I mean." His forehead and neck are still pale, but his cheeks are all flushed and silly, and Arthur has this feeling that he only gets to shape up when Merlin is around and catches him with his guard low, and affection tickles his neck and fingertips, and the stupidest happiness burns in his throat, dries his mouth, and makes him hesitate as a prince is not allowed to do.
Merlin folds his arms, rolls his eyes, and starts tapping impatiently the floor with his foot, everything at once, and that’s all Arthur needs.
He takes his shirt off and hands it over to Merlin and says: "This is dirty", but when the boy reaches out and takes it, Arthur tugs it back, smirking.
"Arthur," Merlin says in a warning tone, pulling the jacket on his direction and Arthur tugs it again, and again, and it doesn’t take too much until it becomes the most absurd struggle in the world, with Merlin trying to keep his very best aggravated face but with his lips betraying him, twitching involuntary, while he yells "Let it go! Let it go or I’ll…!" and Arthur replies "What? What would you do?" defiant, and amused, and somehow he ends up with his arms around Merlin’s waist, nose bumping to the bony shoulders, Merlin’s laughter short of breath due to his effort to keep Arthur’s shirt in his hands.
And suddenly Arthur has this thought of loneliness and pain, and of getting old too fast, and he sees himself in the battlefield looking lost, tired and sad, no one else around to be fool with, to be young with. No Merlin at all, because he’s absolutely not coming, and shit he’s going to miss him so much. So much that he’s tightening his embrace around the boy’s body, and he feels dizzy and hot and then he’s saying silly things, things he would only say now, with the moment of losing him so awfully close, he’s saying "You look lovely when you’re upset" and he’s saying it for real, and then kissing Merlin’s neck, brushing his lips softly against the pale skin, mildly flushed from the fight, and sweaty and delicious on Arthur’s tongue.
There’s like a moment of hesitance in Merlin’s movements, probably due to the circumstances more than to the actions. This has happened before, the being too close, and also the kissing. Innocent, completely innocent, it’s what Arthur thought after the first time he caught Merlin’s lower lip for a kiss. It seemed just the right thing to do after winning that tournament the last winter, one of the funniest and most exciting in Arthur’s life, and all his people had chorused his name and then Merlin was all you okay, you alright? in the tent, instead of being euphoric and happy as Arthur was. So he said yes, Merlin, I’m alright, I’m alright, damnit, laughter still on his lips when they were on Merlin’s. And he wasn’t pulling away, but laughing as well, cheeks flushed in furious red, hands wrapped around Arthur’s forearms, his mouth kind and sweet.
It had been an innocent, completely innocent thing, though.
(And Arthur kept reminding that to himself, whenever doubt came across, like when he found himself with this feeling of awkwardness in Gwen’s proximity. She had been lovely. And dazing. But… But.)
But this is different, this is Merlin, and Merlin reacting exactly like Arthur had hope somewhere deep and secret within his soul, perhaps a second later than expected, because there’s so much more in this, this feels so much bigger, and important. This is Merlin’s fingers curling around Arthur’s neck like urged on to hold him there, to hold him closer, his mouth sucking in shamelessly Arthur’s lips, and his skin flushing with passion and heat instead of shyness, and none of it feels like goodbye. It’s more like a beginning.
There’s a brief break to breath some air. Arthur feels dizzy and content as after drinking the best of the wines. He even licks his swollen lips, to remember the taste.
"Isn’t that laundress waiting for you?"
"Yeah… like two hours ago."
They join their mouths again, and Arthur tries to lift Merlin up, fooled by his thin body, only to find out long and scrawny can mean heavy, and makes them lose balance and nearly fall off the bed. And Merlin is laughing again, all insolent- weren’t you so strong? Is this how you’re marching to the battle?- and Arthur tries to ignore the hurtful pang in his chest that apparently wants to spoil this, reminding him how the day after at that very same time, he’ll be far away from doing this again, from doing this again all the time.
But then Merlin is surrounding Arthur’s waist with his legs, and brushing a smile on his forehead, and the depressing perspective is left out again.
They kiss now long and with no hurry.
"You want this", says Merlin at some point between one flick of tongues and the next. Arthur bites softly his jaw, licks the neck open-mouthed.
"You throwing that in my face?" he breathes, amused and Merlin makes this needy sound as Arthur runs his nails over his tight and that could be a quite good answer. But apparently he has more to say:
"No, I’m making a point." He whispers into Arthur’s ear, a note of petulance still present despite the situation.
"Right. About what exactly?"
"About being you who started this."
"It’s not like you’re complaining or anything" Arthur whispers nuzzling his cheek.
"Yeah, but you’re capable of accusing me of seducing you to get my way into the battle. You know… once we’re there," Arthur kisses him on the mouth, and then kisses him some more, and then stops. He strokes softly his thin eyebrow with his thumb, hating him in the right measure for ruining the moment with such an impunity.
He sighs and he puts his fingertip on Merlin’s nose, a gesture halfway menacing, but fond at the same time.
"Merlin." He says voice low and sweet.
"First of all, do not refer at this as you seducing me ever again. And second, let’s see if we can get this into that dense head of yours: You-are-not-coming." And the but is there before the sentence is finished and he’s getting up, but Arthur presses him flat against the bed firmly with a hand spread on his chest. "Merlin, I know this is very hard for you. Practically all you do in this life centers around my armour, and my clothes, and my chambers... And tomorrow I will be gone, and what on earth are you going to do with all this spare time? And let’s not talk about how much you’ll miss me as myself."
"Don’t be so sure about that," Merlin says in that low tone of exasperation he uses when Arthur makes especial effort in teasing him.
"Oh, yes I am. In fact, you’re going to die of boredom and despair, my boy."
"You’re such a prat," Arthur lets go an honest, tender laughter.
"C’mon, Merlin. You’re not being fair, you know? Don’t you think my knights would like to take their wives or girlfriends with them?"
"But I’m not your wife, nor your girlfriend!"
"It’s funny you say that, love, considering your current position…"
"Oh, you know what I mean, Arthur." Merlin blurts out, exasperated, "It’s not the same case, I’m not asking this just because… because, well… You know."
"I know, Merlin. I know. Then why are you asking?"
"Because… I can help you in the battle."
Arthur sighs and drops his head, resting it on Merlin’s chest, wondering what amount of stubbornness can a person hold in his body before it’s absolutely necessary to chain them to the dungeon’s walls.
"Merlin. How? How can you help me in the battle? You’re just a child!"
In perspective, Arthur will realise how speaking seems to become more and more difficult for Merlin. Now he just thinks the boy is angry, and scared of losing control over the most important things in his life –Gaius and, apparently, Arthur as well-, and he desperately seeks for this silver lining to hold on. Now, Arthur thinks he knows this fear, he knows Merlin. And how easy it is, just taking some things for granted.
"I can’t protect you. From anything," Merlin says.
"Really? How so?"
Merlin hesitates and is short of breath, and pale, and his hands rub restlessly up and down Arthur’s arms, warming them up almost to the point of bother, maybe expressing something Arthur doesn’t understands yet. Silence has to get thick and uncomfortable to Arthur to realise that this conversation maybe isn’t entirely about Merlin’s obstinacy
Then Merlin swallows. And speaks.
"Magic," Merlin repeats, and Arthur says "I heard you, I just don’t know why…", Merlin interrupts him with a rushed mumble "I can… I can, Arthur, it’s a long story, I wanted to tell you so many times", Arthur gets up, getting away from the boy spread on his bed, nearly tripping, head and heart setting off this race that has no clear destination in sight. Merlin lifts up as well, shaking and teary eyed, and now, now he looks scared, as Arthur hasn’t ever seen him. Ever.
Who are you?
"Merlin, if you’re saying this just because you… you are an idiot, I’m going to get quite angry."
"Arthur, I’m sorry. I’ve always been like this."
"I… I can do magic."
"What? What are you talking about?"
He won’t be able to remember much else about all the matter. He’ll recall the sight of his own feet pacing the floor agitatedly, and some fragments of Merlin’s anxious speech in the background, some things about being four and blowing up a well, and Ealdor, and his mother, and a dragon – a dragon? -, and especially he’ll be able to remember all his Whats?, not because they were his, but because it was the only thing he can really understand at this point: this massive- and utterly painful- confusion.
At some point, he’s capable of looking at Merlin again. The boy is so flushed and frantic he could be about to evaporate. He might think Arthur has been listening and comprehending all the torrent of words that he has let out of his mouth in less than five minutes, because he’s back again in the battle topic, saying something about a protective shield and if Arthur it’s not okay with that kind of techniques, it’s okay, because he knows this potion that makes wounds close faster.
And then Arthur thinks, enough.
"Get out," and for a moment he’s not sure if he has really enunciated the order or if voice has failed him, but then Merlin’s face winces in pain.
"Haven’t you been listening to me? I… I didn’t ask for this! And I only use it for good! I only use it for you!"
If Arthur would be able to, he’d explain to Merlin that the thing is as simple as this: that he doesn’t know how to deal with this right now, that of all the knowledge and preparation he’s received in his path to become a warrior, and then a prince, and then a king, he cannot find a single resort that helps him overcome this huge gap that has just cracked up between them. The problem is, he’s also out of words.
"Leave, Merlin, really. We’ll talk about this in the morning."
"But Arthur," Merlin looks in the verge of tears and the sight is making Arthur’s eyes itch, "you are leaving in the…"
"Merlin," Arthur cuts him off, "Go. Now."
He doesn’t leave immediately, though. He stares at Arthur for a moment, suddenly oddly calm and sober, blinking away some tears in a manner that plays them down. Then he whispers something, something Arthur can’t hear and he doesn’t ask for a repetition, and so it just dissolves in the air.
Arthur doesn’t think anything especial in the time that follows. Neither how to punish Merlin, nor how to forgive him. He just sits on his bed, sheets still crumpled from having Merlin under him, still warm. After a while of having nothing better to do with himself than to look at his hands and see this odd yellow and purple light that blurs the sight when tiredness leads to dizziness. He falls into a uneasy sleep, anger growing inside of him unconsciously, and dangerously, like the innocent flame that turns into the greatest fire when guard is let down.
Merlin walks tensely and quickly; he has this sensation of being observed, and besides, he feels bad. Especially, he feels bad, so bad he could cry out and wake up the entire castle. He goes around the corridors feeling like he’s taking the wrong steps, as if his feet weren’t touching the ground enough. He bumps into Gwen, who seems busy and is carrying some blankets and asks him aren’t you cold? And then are you alright? And Merlin believes he answers Yeah, fine, but he’s not that sure, with Arthur’s voice still loud and horribly angry in his head, he barely hears anything else. So when he finds himself at the door of Gaius’ rooms, he blinks, uncertain, his hand lingering on the knob for a moment. It is cold as hell, and Merlin himself is trembling all over, like he had just emerged from the coldest waters.
There’s something just weird floating in the air, and it has nothing to do neither with Merlin nor with Arthur killing him when he’s get his breath back.
Merlin runs down the stairs, retracing his own steps, bracing himself tightly, noticing his skin roughening up because of the cold through the clothes. The courtyard looks as if the thickest cloud had come down from the sky to rest in it. The shapes of the castle are barely visible and Merlin thinks What…? And then …the hell? As mist just goes puff! and disappears completely out of sight.
He looks around him, almost spinning, puzzled, and then something cold and wet falls over his head. He looks up, reaching out and spreading his hand, allowing another perfect and thick snowflake land on his palm quietly.
The bed is in vertical position, but despite that Arthur is not falling nor feeling particularly scared about finding himself perpendicular to the floor. He’s bothered by the attitude of the sheets, though, all distant. And the more Arthur tries to reach them more they fall. Arthur runs after them, crawling, and every time he manages to touch the ends, they sneak away from his fingers.
"Hey," Arthur complains, "Hey, I’m cold, you know. Hey, listen, I’m cold. Come back here, I’m cold", and a familiar voice answers in irony and affection:
"Well, of course you are, Arthur, it’s snowing!"
"I’m… I’m… cold, so very… What?"
"Arthur, wake up, dear. It’s snowing," Arthur’s bed gets in horizontal position again, but sheets are still at his feet and they seem just so far away.
"What?" he repeats out of inertia, not really in situation.
"Well, let it snow!"
"We’re in the middle of the summer, you’re going for a battle tomorrow in the morning and it’s snowing, Arthur"
And Arthur opens his eyes, now for real. He fins himself with his not so rebellious sheets wrapped tightly around his body, and that it’s not nearly enough, because they’re light and made of linen, perfect for the summer, but not for this icy cold that is turning Morgana’s breath into white steam. Arthur stares at her, completely at a loss, and then he blinks at the sight of his bare feet, completely out of the little protection the sheets could offer: apparently he’s been pulling with so great an effort he’s left them uncovered. He looks at Morgana again, who is holding a candle close to his face and her skin is so pale under the light of the flame.
"What, what is it, Morgana?"
"Arthur, it’s snowing"
"Wait, what?! It’s snowing?"
"Gwen, bring the cube with water, please."
"But, "Arthur gets out of the bed clumsily, tripping with the bedclothes and with his own feet. The coolness of the floor makes him gasp and he stumbles towards the window, and with his sleeve he wipes out the mist on the glass, "what?"
It is, indeed, snowing. And how. Flakes fall thick and giving no quarter, quietly but at the same time with some sort of contained anger. Arthur gapes at it, mind completely blank as Camelot becomes completely white in front of his eyes.
Arthur turns round to Morgana, who has taken advantage of his absence in the bed to cover herself and a shaky Gwen with the sheets.
"But, this isn’t normal, it’s… it’s summer! Summer!" Arthur exclaims, as though the two women were actually arguing that this unknown cold in the middle of July was somehow perfectly fine with them.
"It’s been like that for a while now," Guinevere says in a trembling voice as Morgana rubs her arms to give her heat, "the low town is already covered with two feet of snow. Our roofs won’t resist that much, Sire."
"How, how in heaven’s name…?" starts Arthur, confused, and even indignant and then, the answer comes to his head, all skinny, shifty and guilty. His bewildered expression suddenly darkens, his hands become a tight fist, "Wait here," he mutters under his breath, as he heads to the doors.
"Where are you going?"
"Where are you going barefoot?"
Arthur ignores them. He makes his way as he is following a straight and perfect line, not minding the turns, the obstacles, the stairs, or the people, blurry in the shadows of the night, shrinking when he passes by them as quick as a flash, full of anger.
Merlin’s room is empty and freezing, and the window wide open, and for a moment everything Arthur can think is He’s gone, he’s gone! as he heads towards the overture with a strange feeling of terror taking over his body. He sticks his head out of the window, and then a foot kicks him right in the eye.
"Ouch!" he screams, pained and dizzy. Through his vision clouded by tears, he distinguishes the slim and ungainly body shaped at the other side of the windowsill, "Merlin! What the hell are you doing?" Merlin’s legs jump into the room, followed by the rest of him, all covered with snow, his hair damp and sticking to his forehead.
"It’s snowing!" He exclaims breathless.
"Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed!" Arthur grasps him by his collar shirt and smashes him hard against the wall, pitiless. Merlin lets go a scream of pain and tries to shake him off, but Arthur holds him still with furious strength, almost in a challenging attitude. C’mon, c’mon, fight me. Aren’t you that powerful?
"Is this your doing, Merlin?" he hisses, voice dangerous and hoarse.
"No! Not at all!" Merlin bellows.
"Yeah, right. Why should I believe you, anyway? You, you lied to me" now, now words where coming finally to his mouth, in unstoppable and hurtful torrent, "all this time, thinking that you were just…You just lied to me! You are a liar!"
"Then why are you asking me? If you already know, why don’t you put me and jail and get it done?"
Arthur tights even more his grip on Merlin’s shirt, holding him closer, his black and wet eyelashes just an inch away.
"Don’t act as if you were the victim here. You, you fucked everything up. Everything." Merlin swallows, eyes watered and lips parted in a soundless apology. And just a couple of hours before it had been so easy, so brilliant having him this close, and he had been so warm against Arthur’s body… "Everything," he repeats, and lets him go, hands trembling with cold and rage.
Merlin is still looking him straight in the eye, and he’s one shattered vision of a person.
"I’m sorry, Arthur. I’m so very sorry," he mumbles. "I expected, I, I, I knew, I mean, of course you are mad at me… And you don’t have to believe me, but… Really. I’m not doing this," he shakes his head, looking both serious and honestly bewildered, "I climbed to the higher tower to see if there was any sign of attack or something like that, but… It looks like… It’s just snowing."
A thick silence settles between the two of them but not entirely in the room. There’s the sound of their grinding teeth, their already blocked noses, wind slamming the window flaps against the walls, and then Merlin hurrying to close them. Arthur observes this by the corner of the eye, absently. When Merlin turns to him, pale and rubbing his hands furiously, Arthur asks:
Merlin gives a shy shrug and lowers his head.
"Now I’m bringing you your boots," and it’s not like he’s asking permission, because he’s already out before Arthur gets the chance to look at his feet turning into a not very healthy shade of blue. Arthur sighs and scratches his head, suddenly feeling exhausted.
When Merlin gets back, he’s not alone. He’s followed by an inquisitive Morgana, Gwen with a "what are you doing here?" question in her eyes that Arthur avoids quickly by looking at sir Leon, also present, and at Geoffrey of Monmouth, who is holding a piece of parchment and proclaiming that never in the story of Camelot such a storm had taken place out of time.
"What…?" Arthur asks as Merlin hands him his boots and his jacket.
"They asked me where you were" says the boy a bit regretful.
"And now you just couldn’t lie." Arthur lets out, bitter and Merlin looks away, keenly taking a secondary position in the scene.
So it ends up that at least fourteen people get together there, all of them having their own important and extremely urgent contribution to the cause. In no less than five minutes the situation becomes utterly ridiculous, with Arthur’s knights and some courtiers asking politely but persistently for his permission to speak, Merlin shaking compulsively in a corner, Gwen all worried about him and looking for candles and blankets, and Morgana shouting about the low town being all flooded and Arthur being the one who has to solve it.
"Okay, okay," Arthur lifts his palms, trying to calm them down. "Okay, just everybody calm down. Morgana, please?"
"Arthur, people are freezing!"
"I know, I…"
"My Lord, the army can’t march towards battle tomorrow like this."
"They’re going to die if we don’t do something!"
"Yeah, please, let me…"
"Aren’t there more blankets in this bloody castle?"
Arthur glares at her and with that he at least achieves to shut everybody else up. Even she goes silent, in the end, after proposing smashing to smithereens half of the castle doors to provide some firewood.
"If you’d let me talk, please?" mutters Arthur through clenched teeth. She clicks her tongue, eyeing him sceptically, "Thanks. Alright, first of all, I need someone to explain, as calmly as possible, please, the state of the situation right now." For a second it looks like the fuss is going to kick up again, but Morgana roars let Gwen talk, she lives in town! And for heaven’s sake, this woman can be scary sometimes. Guinevere, in that moment putting a huge blanket over Merlin’s shoulders, lets it go, surprised, and the cloth falls to Merlin’s feet, who picks it up immediately.
The girl stares at Arthur with wide eyes, puzzled.
"Er…" she looks at the floor, eyes moving nervously, breath hitching; Arthur knows that expression of her, that true discomfort caused by being everyone’s centre of attention. Arthur doesn’t know, nor ever will, anyone as humble as she is. So he says, trying to encourage her:
"Gwen, it’s okay. Relax. You’ve already told me roofs are starting to crack, right?"
"Ah, yes. Yes," she nods fervently, "and the chimneys collapsed because of the snow. It’s impossible to light up even the smallest fire. And at least two families can’t leave their homes ‘cause the doors are barred. And that’s only in my street."
Arthur turns to Leon and Geraint, who nod in agreement.
"Snow is taking over the place, Sire." Leon says, "It’s unbelievable."
"It’s sorcery!" exclaims suddenly sir Esteban, one of Uther’s oldest councillors and it seems like he’s expressing a thought shared by all the people there, because a determined murmur of conformity fills the place. And Arthur really, really doesn’t feel like looking at Merlin, but their eyes meet anyway, in a silent and odd complicity. "It’s sorcery, my Lord, what else can it be? This is one of the warmest summers of our lives and look what it happening!"
The other courtiers chorus his words, sounding indignant. No one of them seems to be aware of Morgana looking daggers at them. Geraint and Leon remain silent, just as Gwen. And aside of them, Arthur can feel Merlin’s tension growing every second.
Arthur closes his eyes for a moment, massaging his eyelids with his thumbs,
"Well." He speaks at last, aiming for a calm tone, but also an imperative one. "It’s quite clear that we face a situation of extraordinary nature. However… I… I don’t know what is going on here. We don’t know. We don’t know if this is sorcery, or a strange joke from the Gods or… anything else that I can’t really think about right now. So let’s just work with what we do know, shall we? It’s snowing, it’s summer and our people wasn’t ready for it and therefore they need to be rescued." He turns to Leon and Geraint, who are staring at him expectantly. "And that applies to everything. Obviously, the army can’t get out of Camelot in the morning if it keeps snowing this way, so you two go and tell the knights to form in the hall and wait there for my instructions. We have to remove people from the low town."
"Er, yes, but…" Sir Esteban raises again his hand. Arthur sighs.
"Yes, Sir Esteban?"
"We are we putting them, Sire?"
Arthur looks at Morgana, who shrugs in a Where else is going to be? kind of way. Arthur tilts his head, not really liking the perspective of telling one of the most snob members in court that they are putting the people of Camelot …
"…in the castle. We’ll accommodate them in the hall and anywhere else where we can keep them calm and warm. And that’s a lot of things to do, so everyone just please get into it. Leon, Geraint, you know what to do" both knights bow at Arthur and leave the rooms promptly. "And for the rest of you," he adds, talking to the old courtesans, whose uneasiness is quite evident and something that Arthur doesn’t have neither time, nor patience, to deal with, "you may either help my knights and me to rescue people or you may to go to your rooms freely, and well. Try to keep you warm." Sir Esteban and the others look particularly troubled, and their expressions are still unreadable when they bow and leave the room as well, with a quiet perplexity than Arthur appreciates: probably they will choose the second option and that will keep the sorcery accusations down for a while, "Morgana?"
"Gather the laundresses. And all our servants. They probably know better than anyone where we keep the… blankets, and the linen, and the curtains and anything else useful to… You know. To cover people up." Morgana flashes him a brilliant smile.
"It’s going to be like camping."
"Try not to enjoy this too much, please." She lets out a short guffaw and then says: "Gwen?" and reaches out. Guinevere takes her hand and she looks at Arthur right in the eye for a moment before letting herself go by Morgana’s determined walking. Arthur blinks several times, stretching the sides of his jacket, tightening the wrap around his body.
He turns to Merlin, who looks like he’s more blanket than flesh, and is staring through the window, a deep frown in his face.
"It’s getting worse," he announces, and his breath is fast and nervous; Arthur can barely see his features through all the white smoke of his exhalations. Arthur walks towards him, and he makes this strange gesture with his hand, like he was going to put it on Merlin’s shoulder, and had seconds thoughts. In the end he just stares at the window too; the film of steam has been erased momentarily by Merlin’s hands- he can see the fingers marked there. But it’s getting opaque once more and like a second after Merlin has to run his hand over it again. Arthur catches it in the air, reflexes failing this time.
Merlin’s hand is cold and wet, and curls hesitant within Arthur’s. And something breaks inside Arthur, and he feels dizzy, and stupidly glad Merlin’s all cold and vulnerable. Just like Arthur’s been feeling since the word magic had come out from the mouth he had been kissing so lovingly just a moment ago.
"Arthur…" Merlin calls him, doubt and sweetness in his shaky voice, and then Arthur cuts him again.
"I… don’t really know how to deal with all this right now." He says, determined and only capable of looking at their clasped hands. "With you, and the snow, and the fact that I’m letting my father and half of our army alone because, clearly, we cannot march like this in the morning. So let’s call for a truce right now, between you and me, until the situation calms down, okay?"
"What do you mean, a truce?" Merlin looks at him, confused in the shadows.
"What I mean is that I… need you. I need you to help me, to Camelot, as you always do. And… although I can’t just forget the fact that… That. Well, that." Arthur squeezes Merlin’s hand maybe a bit too hard, and the boy winces a little, letting go a soft: Oooouch. "This is very common in war, you know. The friend and the foe thing. When it’s necessary, agreements are convenient even between enemies."
A single tear slides along Merlin’s cheek, and it could be from coldness, from sadness or even for anger, Arthur can’t tell.
"I’m not your enemy, Arthur." Merlin says, voice husky and unsteady.
"Right. Er… Put some more clothes on. You’ll need them if you want to help us to get people out of their houses. And then come fetch me to my chambers, and we’ll meet the rest of the men."
"Arthur?" Merlin sounds incredulous and Arthur just strokes his pale cheek somehow sloppily, lets Merlin’s hand slip away an gets out of the room, his walk unsteady, his mind again falling into blankness, no coherent thoughts at all coming into it.
Merlin doesn’t fully react for quite a while, because he really doesn’t know what he is supposed to react to. Arthur has called for a truce between them. He can do that, it seems. Calling for a truce. Arthur can call for a truce and Merlin doesn’t even know what that means, and he doesn’t find out until, already wearing four of his best shirts, two robes, and Gaius best woollen cloak, he knocks on the door of Arthur’s chambers. He’s had to come across the courtyard, and the storm hasn’t forgiven him –even one of Camelot knights had to help him with the last part, because Merlin’s leg had got stuck on the layer of snow- and so on, now he’s all dripping and shaking all over again, and when Arthur opens the door and lets out this surprised exclamation of concern, Merlin wonders if he’s having hallucinations, clearly caused by icy wind sinking into his skin like sharp knifes.
"Look at you!" he says, and drags Merlin by the hand to the fireplace, setting him just in front of it, "You’re going to die from the cold this way! You cannot wear these clothes, they get soaked fast." Now he’s rubbing Merlin’s arms eagerly, and it’s not that is not welcome, but it’s definitely unnerving. "Don’t you have any leather?"
Merlin’s jaw drops.
"Don’t worry, I’ll lend you some. It will be too big for you, but you just can’t go out there with these shabby clothes." Arthur states pragmatically. "Go to the wardrobe and pick something up."
Merlin just gapes at him.
"Go on, Merlin. It’s okay, it’s not like I’m going to get snobby right now." And there’s only one thing Merlin can articulate:
"Er… Fine." Arthur nods solemnly.
"Good. Now hurry up," he says and then he’s kissing him, kissing him harsh and almost painfully, biting Merlin’s lower lip too much, until it hurts and Merlin breaks away, head spinning, his breath coming out in little puffs of air.
"Okay… What is going on here?"
"I’m just trying reviving you, Merlin. You look terrible and yes, the situation in which we find ourselves is very difficult, but it’s in moments like this when a man shows his truly courage, what his soul is made of."
"Er, Arthur? Like a second ago it looked like if you wanted to strangle me!"
"Merlin, pointing out the passed offences during a truce is quite a rude gesture."
"Don’t worry, I forgive you," Arthur kisses him again, as roughly and desperate as before, and then he just turns round, all energy and good disposition. "C’mon! Let’s save my people!" He says, making this little jump before getting out of the room. "Merlin! C’mon! We haven’t all day! Get your coat and come here!"
But Merlin is incapable of doing any king of movement right now. He leans on the wall, legs quivering, a hand on his forehead, trying to make some sense of what just happened. And finally he sees it: the truth is that this is it. After so many times of Arthur complaining about how Merlin’s utter incompetence, and Merlin’s clumsiness, and stupidity, and Merlin in general, were going to drive him nuts, those predictions have finally become true.
Because the truce means that Arthur is completely out of his mind, and it’s all Merlin’s fault. This is a mess, this is a mess it’s the only thing he can think about and this is a bloody mess!
"C’mon, Merlin!" Arthur calls him again from the outside.
Merlin takes a heavy breath, and puts his hand over his heart, trying to settle it down.
Most people from the low town have already come up to the citadel asking for help and that raises the general hope of getting all of them safe into the castle. Morgana and Gwen, along with all the other servant girls, are leading them in, handing them blankets and cloaks and doing their best to look calm and in control of the situation. Someone has to, Merlin thinks, because people are so very frightened. Most of them are still wearing summer clothes, and cannot stop gaping at the falling snow, completely shocked. And for now, despite the rush to get into the warmer rooms of the castle, everything carries out quite fluently, but Merlin believes that if the smallest incident takes place, all the hell will break loose.
Talking to his knights, Arthur seems to behave normal again – he’s all formality and serious gestures, and that’s such a contrast with the delusional look in his eyes when he and Merlin were at his chambers, that the boy almost fears the moment they are alone again. He’s waiting, along with the other male servants in the castle, for the prince’s instructions to rescue the people remaining in the low town. All the men around him are nervous and worried: most of them live there and have members of their family trapped in the snow.
Merlin’s head is spinning. He’s going over all the spells he knows by heart and none of them seem to apply to weather anomalies. He’s not even sure that it’s actually the weather what he has to fight against, because he can sense it, he senses the intention of the snow. It’s and odd thought and he’d like to have Gaius around to raise his eyebrow and ask for an explanation, making him think.
Think, Merlin, think.
And Merlin would rack his brains and wander around for a while until finally saying yes, this snow has intention. It’s like every furious snowflake has a right spot to fall on, agreed in anticipation. It’s not a natural snowstorm, that’s for sure. He can’t sense evilness though. Obviously, if someone is trying to flood Camelot with ice, their purpose is not very good. However, Merlin has no bad feelings, not unnerving shivers. From this he just gets confusion and shivers but because of this unknown coldness running through his spine.
Agony is the only word to describe what Merlin feels while he’s trying to cross the courtyard, along with the knights of Camelot and the other male servants of the castle, all leaded by Arthur. The mantle of snow settled over Camelot’s grounds is growing thicker and thicker, and it comes up to their knees and the situation gets really dramatic when children and older people have to be dragged out of their unstable homes, just right in the moment when the storm decides to increase its levels of ferocity.
There’s a moment when Merlin feels true panic. He has a trembling lad in his arms, whose parents had already been driven away by a knight, and he sees nothing but white. He doesn’t know where to go, he doesn’t know how to go, his legs nearly buried in snow. And he decides he’s had enough.
He looks up to the sky, words already in his mouth, covering the boy’s ears…
"What are you doing?" two big familiar hands grab him by his waist, push him forward. "Walk, c’mon! The only way we have of getting out of here is to keep moving!" Arthur yells into his ear.
"Arthur, this is impossible! We can’t see anything!" Merlin yells back.
"Sire, sire, are you there?" Leon’s voice comes out of nowhere. Merlin glimpses just dark forms moving in the whiteness, but nothing else. He’s starting to feel as anxious as the child burying his little face in his chest. Arthur keeps pushing them, but it’s impossible to fight wind and the snow nearly burying them at the same time.
Merlin grabs his gloved hand, hols him still.
"Arthur" he pants, feeling nauseous. "Let… let me help. Let me help… with… with my magic"
Arthur is totally out of breath, and his jaw is trembling uncontrollably but he shakes his head eagerly several times, his grip so tight on Merlin’s waist that it actually hurts.
"Not a chance in hell."
"Arthur, please. Please. We’re all dying here, this isn’t stopping!"
"Don’t do anything!"
"Sire! Sire, where are you?"
"I can’t make it stop, but I think I can form a shield above us. People won’t be able to see it, nor the snow falling over it! They’ll think it has just stopped!"
"You, you…" Arthur’s head falls over his shoulder, his jaw clenched. It seems like words are killing him when he finally says: "Do… You… Do it. Anything." And just like that, his arms surround Merlin’s thin waist completely and his face buries even more in the curve of his neck.
Merlin closes his eyes and lifts up his hand. Words leave his mouth, determined, and tasting of power, while he feels Arthur’s hot tears running over his shoulders.
The spell lasts long enough to get everyone into the castle at last, and once the last little girl and mother have entered into the hall, Arthur orders to shut the doors. There’s quite a row indoors, with everyone trying to find their respective families. The mother of the lad Merlin was carrying covers his face in sloppy kisses.
"Okay, okay, Madame, it’s fine, don’t worry, I’m sure you would have done the same", he says mildly embarrassed as he tries to get rid of her. Lucky for him, the little boy was so scared that he probably didn’t notice anything unusual. Everyone else was surprised and relieved at the storm’s sudden stop, but no one would make a fuss of it: trying to recover from the fright is the priority.
A soft and warm blanket comes over Merlin’s shoulders and a second later Morgana’s hands are cupping his face carefully.
"Are you alright, Merlin?"
"Er… No, I feel terrible actually, but this is the greatest blanket that has ever been laid on me" she lets out a lively laugh, and Merlin feels better. "Come here, I have something for you" she says, looking around them somewhat suspiciously, as she leads him to one of the corners of the crowded hall.
"What is it?" Merlin asks, frowning, when she turns to face the wall and oh, she’s taking something out of her dress? and he stupidly looks away, not able to get flushed due to the amount of coldness running trough his veins. It turns out, that what Morgana is hiding in the layers of her dress it’s a bottle of,
"Wine. The finest wine in Camelot’s cellar, although it’s been altered, I must tell you. Hannah, the cook, knows how to brew a good drink, my dear!" Morgana explains.
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Are you kidding me? Take a sip. Take two! In fact, keep the bottle! We need to get some colour on those cheeks. You are too pale, it’s like your face is made of wax."
"Now, thanks." Morgana laughs again, and now that he has all the information, Merlin can identify where the odd spark in here eyes is coming from. "You have had a few sips, haven’t you?"
Morgana beams and pats him on the shoulder.
"Just don’t tell Arthur. He won’t approve of me getting half of the castle drunk." And then, fixing her eyes on some point in the mass of people, she yells "Hannah! We need more of you-know-what!" and she disappears into the multitude.
Merlin stares at the bottle for an instant before opening it with his teeth and taking a long, long- and truly welcome- sip.
He spits out the liquor still lingering in his mouth, and drops the bottle, which Arthur catches in the air. Merlin looks at him with wide eyes.
"Not mine!" he yells.
Arthur rolls his eyes and grabs him by the arm, muttering Shut up, Merlin.
He takes them to the second floor, away from the unexpected inquilines of the castle’s walls. They don’t speak all the way up, but it seems a mere question of procedure, because just as he closes the door of a small room full of brooms and similar things, Arthur is already pointing at Merlin menacingly:
"This cannot happen again." Merlin snorts.
"C’mon, Arthur, I can hold my liquor. In fact, even if I couldn’t, the situation calls for it. You should take a sip as well, I’m feeling warmer already."
"I’m not talking about the stupid wine, Merlin. I’m talking about you disobeying me." Merlin frowns, completely at loss.
"I told you not to do anything, and you did, yet again, as you pleased."
Merlin has to stay in silence for a bit, recreate the words in his head for a moment just to be sure he’s heard right.
"Arthur. You told me to do it. Do it. Anything, it’s what you said. How I am I supposed to take that?"
"Oh, you would have done it anyway, you know that!" Merlin lets out a gasp, incredulous. Then he takes an step forward and seizes the bottle from Arthur’s hand, and it’s seems a rather pointless thing to do right now but Merlin feels more comfortable now, knowing that the object in the room susceptible of being smashed on somebody’s head is in his power.
"Arthur. Don’t get too offended by this, but I think you’re going nuts!"
"How dare you…"
"One moment, you seem about to kill me, and the next you’re all chummy, letting me borrow your clothes," Merlin palms Arthur’s jacket frenetically, at least two sizes big on his shoulders, "and after that you tell me to go ahead, and use my magic, and now here you are, telling me off because apparently Do it in Arthur Pendragon’s world means don’t even think about it."
"I’m not going nuts, I just act according the situation, Merlin."
"You… what? What is that even supposed to mean?"
"I explained to you earlier. That’s the thing about truces: you give up a bit, momentarily, to prevent a major evil, and then, when the situation calms down, everything comes back to normal."
"But you can’t do that!" Merlin says, utterly outraged "If you want to be mad at me, fine, be mad at me, but you just can’t choose what you’re feeling according to if it’s convenient or not!
"Yes I can." Arthur snaps back, eyes burning dangerously. "I am warrior, I have to control my emotions and my actions."
"You can’t control them that much when you told me you needed me!"
"Yes, as in needing you, Merlin, my friend, not Merlin the secret warlock of whom I don’t know anything about."
"Arthur, I’m exactly the same!" Merlin cries out, frantic. "You have to understand that, or else we’re done here! Since the very first day we’ve been together I had powers, and yes, yes, I hid loads of things from you, and I’m sorry and I want to tell you everything, but you’ll have to listen to me. I am a problem, okay! Then, solve me!"
"You… You know what? Now it’s not a really good time to discuss this. I have more urgent… "
"No! It’s a perfect time, actually, because it was thanks to Merlin, the secret and evil warlock that you could bring your people to the castle safely! And if you just don’t want to deal with it, Arthur, I don’t know what the hell I can do!"
He storms out of the room, cutting off Arthur’s chance to reply by slamming the door with all this strength.