Harlequin's Slash Fic

Sage

Title: Sage
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Merlin/Gaius
Category, Word count: Short story; 2262 words
Rating: mild PG13
Summary: With Merlin’s help, Gaius rediscovers Camelot’s overgrown old physic garden.
Notes: Set after Love in the Time of Dragons, an episode which clearly demonstrated why there is and will always be the need for fan fic (and indeed slash).
Warnings: If you don’t enjoy a significant age difference in your fictional romances, then you’ve probably already realised this fic isn’t going to be your thing!

Sage

♦ 

The solid old wooden gate to the walled garden was impossible to move. ‘There used to be a trick to it,’ Gaius said, trying to recreate the physical memory: a twist of the handle just so, then a heft, with the weight of his shoulder placed exactly there. Ah, well. He used to be a younger man.

‘It won’t budge,’ Merlin observed.

‘Now you see why I haven’t been in here for years.’ Gaius let fingertips run down the wood weathered grey. ‘And yet it was such a precious thing. A great resource! It should have remained so.’

‘Is it locked? Maybe we could find the key. I read this location spell the other day…’

‘No, it’s not locked. After I had such difficulty getting in last time, I hardly saw the point. I’d meant to come back the following day, but then Uther –’

Merlin was moving in closer, nudging Gaius aside, and now he placed both hands against the wood; tilted his head and closed his eyes as if listening. ‘It’s the hinges,’ he eventually said. ‘Iron, of course. And the latch. The whole thing’s rusted shut, and the wood’s warped out of true, as well.’

‘Yes.’ Gaius sighed. ‘And if Tom were still with us, then I might finally get around to asking him and Joseph to replace it all…’

‘I wish he were and I wish you could, but instead…’ Merlin twisted around to wink at him over his shoulder. ‘You’ve got me.’

‘What can you –?’ It was a silly question, of course.

Merlin leant in close to the gate again, his hands running over the surface, those long fingers gently whispering against the grain – and Gaius was torn between worry that Merlin would be snagged by a splinter, and a silly wistful thought that if he were then Gaius could spend an hour or more with his head bent over that lovely hand, tending to it, healing it, his eyes weren’t what they used to be, Come closer to the candlelight, my dear, come closer

But then Merlin was murmuring unmistakeable old cadences, and gold dust sifted over the surfaces, gathering to curl around the iron – and Gaius looked around, hoping that the kitchen gardens weren’t hiding any witnesses, shifting so that he might spoil the view of anyone happening to look towards them from the castle walls.

‘There,’ Merlin said a few moments later, and as if to punctuate that, he turned the handle and the latch opened with a satisfying clunk.

‘How did you do that?’

‘Gaius,’ said Merlin, as if confessing the most delicious secret, ‘I’m magic.’

He didn’t even bother looking droll in response. ‘But iron resists magic.’

‘Not mine,’ the young man asserted with a non–magical yet enchanting sparkle in his eyes.

Gaius considered him, and then simply, genuinely said, ‘Thank you.’

It was an honest moment, so it wasn’t unexpected that Merlin immediately asked yet again, ‘Why did you stay?’ He’d been slipping that into the conversation whenever he thought he might prompt a true response.

‘Huh,’ Gaius answered, and reached past him to push the gate open, to walk through – to walk through into the most marvellous madness… The scents in this enclosed space on a warm afternoon were intoxicating, and the plants themselves were… overwhelming. There were clear areas, or at least indications of such amidst the thickets; Gaius could see where the paths had led away from the gate – but the whole place was just…

‘I thought you said this was a garden!’ Merlin exclaimed in dismay.

‘It’s my physic garden. Well, Camelot’s, anyway.’

‘It’s not a garden – it’s a riot!’

Gaius chuckled. ‘Here’s your answer. This is why I didn’t leave.’

‘You’re mad.’

‘I needed a project to occupy my twilit years…’

‘Totally mad.’ Merlin crossed his arms, his shoulders hunching into defiance.

‘I don’t know why I assumed I’d be writing a book.’

‘That sounds like a great idea, actually, you writing books. Especially as it won’t involve me clearing this lot for you. I can, like, fetch books from the library for you instead, and get you more ink. Perfect!’

Gaius just laughed. The next few years were quietly easing into view, sunlit and alive and full of hope. ‘Come and help me find some sage.’

‘You’re kidding.’

‘No. I remember exactly where it was planted, and it’s not far from here. I’m sure we can make our way through…’

Merlin grumbled as he followed, but quietly, and once Gaius had pushed past a straggly olive tree in the sunniest sheltered corner and then an outbreak of lovage, their way wasn’t so difficult. Most of the plants hadn’t grown past waist height. ‘It’s a wilderness,’ Merlin muttered.

‘If we can set it to rights again, you won’t always be having to roam the forests and meadows searching for feverfew and comfrey.’

‘Ah…’ Merlin seemed to be weighing up the work involved either way. ‘No more grubbing about in hedgerows and riverbanks?’ Then they came upon a mass of deep blue irises, and even Merlin sighed with pleasure. ‘D’you use them?’

‘You can use everything in here for remedies of one kind and another. Well, the olive is a rogue – but otherwise, this garden is entirely practical. The one traditional indulgence of a physic garden is lily of the valley, though it’s beautiful enough to need no other excuse… Ah!’ Gaius had at last seen the soft purple–green of the sage; the plants looked healthy, if rather unkempt. And if he were right… ‘Yes. There’s a long wooden bench here along the wall, Merlin. Can you clear away the grasses? There’s no need to be careful; they’ll have to be weeded out.’

Merlin tore into the invading greenery with gusto, though was more careful when he found ivy binding itself around the far supports of the simple bench and whatever the lump beside it had been. ‘All right?’ he asked once it was clear.

‘Perfect.’ Gaius sat down with a sense of coming home.

‘Why d’you stay?’ asked Merlin.

‘How did you… heal the gate?’

Merlin cast him a wry look. ‘I just made them remember… remember who they were. The iron and the wood, I mean. They needed to remember their true selves.’

‘Ah…’ Gaius nodded, and looked out across the wild ocean of herbs. ‘I should never have let this go. But there was always something… And the forests here – we are lucky to live in such a fertile land. Not to mention the market stalls – so much is brought here in trade…’ He trailed off, as Merlin’s attention wandered. ‘You can save my poor old back, and pick me some sage.’

‘How much?’

There was plenty of it growing there; if anything, it needed thinning out. Gaius nodded to himself, content at this extravagance. ‘As much as you can carry! But try to take it from here and there; not all from one place.’

There had once been a path between the bench and the planting bed. Merlin found himself somewhere level to kneel, and bent to his task. Gaius watched for a while, until he thought perhaps he’d better not. Still, it was hard to drag his attention away with Merlin shifting and rocking and jiggling like that, his stance displaying unexpectedly elegant curves that were usually safely hidden by his tunics and formless old britches.

Gaius tried to distract himself. ‘Um… Sage is often referred to as “the Saviour”. It is meant to keep evil at bay – and is used in Four Thieves Vinegar, which is supposed to be able to ward off the plague itself. And… Oh, and there used to be a saying: “Why should man die when he has sage?” So, you see, it’s very useful, and I think that if we can – if we can rescue this place –’

He faltered and the words caught themselves in his suddenly dry mouth when he saw that Merlin had twisted around and discovered Gaius staring. Not that Merlin seemed to mind: he wriggled as if in delight, grinned cheekily, and then turned around and over, loose–limbed and clumsy and… and virile – turned over to sit there amidst herbs, wide–thighed, leaning back on his hands, and his grin only broadening the longer he returned Gaius’s gaze. ‘Why did you stay…?’ Merlin murmured, as if confident now of the answer.

‘Come up here,’ Gaius said, patting the bench beside him, and thinking that Merlin sitting beside him was a far more proper thing than him almost lying back before Gaius, his arms and legs wide and welcoming… ‘Come here, my dear.’

But of course Merlin never did the expected, Merlin was never proper… He stretched himself out along the bench, on his back, and insisted on resting his head in Gaius’s lap.

‘Merlin…’ Gaius protested in low tones, even while he turned a little towards the young man to allow him to settle more comfortably. ‘Merlin…’ he murmured, as he found himself stroking that thick dark hair, loving the breadth of Merlin’s shoulders pressed along his thigh. ‘Merlin…’

‘So, what happened – on that day when you didn’t come back here?’ Merlin asked.

‘Oh…’ Gaius tried to cast his mind into the past, which was near impossible when there was so much about the present to detain it. ‘Oh, I hardly remember. There was always something going on. But, you know,’ he added, clearing his throat, ‘there are more things that become the victims of war and trouble than the obvious casualties. There are… the precious things that don’t seem urgent, all the precious things that are put aside and neglected, and eventually forgotten, and it’s only much much later that you realise how important they were after all.’

Merlin asked, low, ‘Was it that the garden reminded you of her?’

‘Alice,’ said Gaius, refusing to have his old love reduced to a pronoun. ‘I suppose that was part of it. But I should never have let –’

‘I know,’ Merlin insisted. ‘I know –’

And Gaius was sure they were talking about two completely separate things, and yet they gazed at each other, gazed into each other with the most perfect understanding, and Gaius’s hand was gentle on Merlin’s head, while Merlin grasped Gaius’s other hand and brought it to press against his chest over his strong steady heartbeat, his blue eyes darkening deliciously…

The prince found them thus, wrapped up in each other though no doubt it would have seemed innocent enough to anyone who didn’t know them. ‘Gaius! I’m glad you found your way back in here.’ Arthur was deliberately looking around at the garden rather than at the two men. His arms were crossed, and his stiff–shouldered posture betrayed the fact that Arthur was trying to work out what he thought about something difficult.

Merlin hadn’t moved, but Gaius had sat up taller, trying to appear somewhat less involved. ‘Yes, sire. Thank you.’

‘I remember pestering you here when I was a child. Running up and down the pathways, destroying things as I went…’

‘I don’t recall that you ever harmed anything, Arthur.’

The prince cleared his throat, and glanced back at the two of them. ‘If you can spare Merlin, there’s something –’

There was always something. ‘Of course, sire.’

Merlin still hadn’t moved, though. He lay there watching Gaius, hanging onto Gaius’s hand, as if the prince wasn’t even there. But when Arthur observed to Gaius, ‘You’ll need some help clearing this,’ Merlin immediately responded, ‘I’ll help him.’

Gaius’s heart thumped in an unlooked–for joy.

‘Still. You’ll need some help, at least with the heavy labour. I’ll ask Leon to organise a few of the men. Use them how you will.’

‘Thank you, sire. That is very good of you.’

‘Nonsense. This is rather a treasure, isn’t it? Neglected for far too long. It could become a real treasure again – and the knights will appreciate all you do for them even more, when they realise how much work is involved, how much knowledge. After all, poultices don’t grow on trees…’ He looked around doubtfully. ‘Do they?’

‘No, sire.’ Gaius took a moment, but then he said, ‘Arthur, you will one day make a fine king, and if I can leave you with a physic garden even half as fine, then I’ll want for nothing more.’

Arthur lifted his chin in acknowledgement, but then gestured carelessly at Merlin. ‘Well, such a legacy will make up for foisting this one upon me… But if I can borrow him?’

‘Of course, sire.’ Gaius indulged himself for a moment with one last rub of his palm against Merlin’s breastbone, and then withdrew his hands. ‘Off you go, then.’

And Merlin indulged himself, too, with a cheeky smile beaming up at Gaius for a moment – and then with a stray brush of dry lips to Gaius’s forehead as Merlin clumsily unwound himself and lifted from the bench.

Then the two young men were working their way back through the rampant herbs, past the rogue tree – and apparently Arthur was bursting with curiosity, for while they were still within hearing distance, Arthur hissed in a whisper, ‘Merlin! When you said you’d fallen out with Gaius, was I supposed to know it was a lovers’ tiff?’

‘Oh, we’re not lovers,’ Merlin scoffed.

Gaius’s heart shrank, and even Arthur sounded oddly disappointed when he echoed, ‘You’re not?’

But then the sun came out again, and the herb garden swelled with vibrant scents, because Merlin laughed, and then declared with a wicked kick to his tone, ‘Not yet, anyway!’

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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12 responses to “Sage”

  1. avatar spidermoth says:

    Oh, how you make this implausible pairing work so well! I can hear and see them in just this way–Merlin all movement and ebullience, and Gauis staid and reserved and teacherly–Yin and Yang. It’s all quite lovely, with Merlin single-mindedly committed to Gauis, and Gauis a mass of doubt and want and hope and resignation. Delicious. I hope you keep writing these two. Rare-pairs in Merlin are few and far between, let alone well-written gems such as this. Thank you for taking a chance on such an unusual ship. :D

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      spidermoth – Thank you so much for your comment! I suppose I wouldn’t have written it if I felt them to be an implausible match, but on the other hand I can see why they are a rare pair in fandom. :-) I love all that you say here about how Merlin and Gaius relate to each other, especially how Merlin’s intent focus contrasts with Gaius’s more conflicted yearnings, so I am very happy to know that the fic worked that way for you. And your words about my writing are very kind! Thank you for your encouragement, hon. I do indeed want to write more Merlin/Gaius, so I will hope to do justice to them and to your faith in me.

      Thank you again. ♥

  2. avatar cinnatart says:

    Sometimes I believe us to be two of the only people on earth who can see this pairing! I’m glad that you continue to write it <3

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Hey there, cinnatart! Oops, I just almost called you tart for short… ;-) Would you have taken it amiss?

      Well, I have to say I’m very very glad that we’re not actually the only two XD – but oh it is such a real pleasure to share this pairing with you, my darling… Merlin/Gaius is a rare pair in at least two senses: (to quote from my dictionary) ‘not found very often’ and ‘unusually good’! ♥

      Thank you for commenting! I hope to have more fic for you in the near future. ♥♥♥

  3. avatar ensnarryed says:

    Merlin/Gaius!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!

  4. avatar gatepromise says:

    Oh this is so heavenly…I feel so loved and at peace, for both Merlin and Gaius in the Garden. There’s such a lovely aura about this fic. Thank you, dear, for delighting me so gently.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      gatepromise – Thank you so so much, hon! I am so happy that you enjoyed this one. It has a special place in my own heart, for it was one of those gifts from the Muse… It turned out so much better than I’d imagined it could ever be! ♥

  5. avatar MrsTilford says:

    May I add my encouragement to those above and say how very much I look forward for more stories of this pairing? ♥ ♥

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Ah, Mrs T! So nice to see you here, and ♥-ing at me. :-D ♥♥♥

      Thank you for the encouragement, which I really appreciate. I love this pairing, so very very much, and I am sure I can promise you more – and I’ll try to make sure my efforts live up to your hopes! ♥

  6. avatar mcicioni says:

    I will also tell you in person, but I’d like to leave some tangible (so to speak) appreciation of this story. It’s so . . . soft. Delicate. The anxieties and conflicts and awareness of twilight years are there, as is exual desire :-) – but the old, untended garden is a great metaphor for regrowth aided by love and tenderness.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      mcicioni – Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful response to this fic. Your reflection of it really delights me, as you make it clear that the fic works as I had hoped. Hurrah for the regrowth and the love and tenderness that Gaius and Merlin can find in each other! ♥

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