Harlequin's Slash Fic

The Man I Love

Title: The Man I Love
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Merlin/Gaius (and Arthur/Gwen)
Category, Word count: Story; 10,000 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: To quote the prompt: Merlin grew up raised by Gaius, not knowing he wasn’t his father, until the day his magic manifested and Gaius explained everything. Suddenly, those feelings Merlin’s been having aren’t quite so wrong…
Notes: Written for the Untold Legends 2014 challenge. With thanks to the awesome isisanubis for the lovely prompt and for the beta. ♥

 

 

The Man I Love

one

Merlin always walked home from the train station. It took him twenty or twenty–five minutes, and he was inevitably weighed down by bags full of books and laundry, but he enjoyed the slow rediscovery of Appledore. Part of him was always surprised to find that his memories hadn’t fooled him; the fields were as green and pleasant and the village as quaint as he’d wistfully imagined them during his too–lengthy absences. Part of him, though – the largest part – had always known that it would be so. Merlin smiled, and walked on, already adjusting from the fast–paced buzz of London to the gentle contentment of his home.

There were a few people about on this early–summer evening, pottering in their gardens or out for a stroll, the kids on pushbikes dashing off with a peal of laughter for a last adventure before supper. Everyone waved or called hello when he was recognised, and he waved back with a grin. No one stopped him for a lengthier welcome; no one asked him how he’d been, how his studies were going, whether he’d finally found his Special Someone yet… They all knew better than to delay him. For he was heading home to his beloved father, and neither of them could bear to wait a moment longer than necessary.

Eventually Merlin reached the last turn at the far end of the village, and he walked down that last stretch of road, his strides turning urgent again. There was his home, waiting for him as it always waited, so perfect with its thatched roof and whitewashed walls set amidst its soft lawn and bright flowers. Merlin lay his hand on the wooden gate in the low hedge that fronted the road, and he slid the catch back with that tricky little double–movement it required; his father had talked about having that mended or replaced last summer, and Merlin had protested that no, he couldn’t bear it if anything changed, anything at all. Which was met with an indulgently happy smile – though over breakfast the next day, Merlin had quit being so unreasonable, and said, “Of course you must have things the way you want them. Have the gate fixed! I was being ridiculous.”

“It must be catching,” was the response. “I love everything just the way it is, as well.”

And now Merlin couldn’t wait any longer. “Dad!” he cried as he jogged down the path –

And there was Gaius at the door, opening it wide to let him in, and there was just time enough to glimpse his beautiful smile and his blue eyes full of warm light, just enough time for Merlin to let all his bags slip off and fall to the floor, before they wrapped each other up in the most all–encompassing hug there ever was, and Merlin was babbling, “It’s so good, it’s so good, I’ve missed you, god, I’ve missed you so much!”

“Merlin…” Gaius murmured in response. “My darling boy.” He took a step back so that he could look more closely, and he didn’t seem to mind that Merlin couldn’t bear to be quite parted yet – Merlin slid his hands down Gaius’s arms and took his hands in his. “Well,” said Gaius, “obviously I can’t call you a boy any longer. You’re a man now, Merlin!”

Merlin rolled his eyes, but fondly. “I’m twenty, Dad! I’ve been a man for a while now, whichever way you measure it.”

Gaius lifted a hand to fondly shape itself to Merlin’s cheek. “And so you have.” And they dwelt there together in an affectionate moment, before at last Gaius broke away. “Settle yourself, my dear – your room’s ready for you – and then come through. I’ll have supper waiting.”

“Thank you, Father,” Merlin murmured, his heart so full that even the formal language wasn’t near enough to express what he felt. Gaius cast him a last warm glance, and then Merlin was free to collect up his bags and swiftly get himself sorted so that he could return to Gaius again. Because Gaius was and always would be Merlin’s home.

After they’d washed up the supper things, they took their cups of tea out to the back patio, and sat next to each other in the large swing chair to enjoy the last of the long evening’s light. A peaceful silence stretched between them, utterly comfortable even though Merlin knew they had so much to talk about. Still, there was plenty of time ahead of them for talking… weeks and weeks of just the two of them. Gaius had even organised for a locum to run the village surgery for a fortnight. Merlin sighed. “This is going to be the best summer.”

Gaius smiled at him, but asked, “Are you sure you’re not regretting Gwaine going to Australia without you? I suspect he would have enjoyed your company very much – and you his.”

Merlin cast a sharp glance at Gaius, who had probably worked out long ago that Gwaine’s friendship came with all the benefits that Merlin could handle, and then some. “Thanks,” said Merlin. “But I’d rather be here.”

“Appledore is so quiet, though! Especially when you’re more used to London these days.”

“You know I love it here, Dad.”

“I feel rather bad about monopolising you…”

“Gwaine understood,” Merlin insisted – and maybe that was actually even true. For someone who dubbed himself a ‘free–roaming radical’, Gwaine was always scarily attuned to his friends. Merlin cleared his throat. “Gwaine understood that I had to spend summer with The Man I Love.”

Gaius chuckled at such an extravagant epithet.

Rather more seriously, Merlin added, “Now, if you wanted to head to Australia for six weeks, I’d be happy to join you. We could go together. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? D’you wanna do something like that, maybe?”

“Oh, no, my dear… My travelling days are long past, I’m afraid.”

“Well, mine are yet to come. I’m happy here, Dad.”

“What about Arthur, then?” Gaius asked, as if determined to remind Merlin of all his alternatives. Such as they were.

“God, what about the great prat?” Merlin grumbled gracelessly.

“Last time I spoke with him, he said he was going to offer you a job for the summer.”

“He should have known I’d turn him down. Honestly, Dad, what would I even do there? I’m not even sure what his company does, other than make money – I just completely zone out when Arthur starts going on about it. And you know Uther hates me.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Gaius chided.

“Well,” said Merlin with a huff of a laugh, “at least that worked in Gwen’s favour. He might not have taken to her so quickly, if he didn’t see me as the alternative! Can you imagine him at the ceremony if I’d have said yes to Arthur…? The celebrant would go –” and Merlin intoned, “If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be joined – and Uther would jump to his feet, like, Anyone? I’m begging you! Anyone at all?

Gaius was laughing, though he said, “I think you’re being very hard on the man. He can change his mind, you know. He can – indeed, he has grown.”

Merlin just snorted.

A silence stretched, and the peace of the lovely evening returned as the sun finally started lowering, the light turning to pure gold, glowing on the softly rolling hills that rose just beyond their garden.

At last Gaius asked, hesitantly, as if he weren’t quite sure he wanted to know the answer, “Why didn’t you accept Arthur’s proposal? Was it because of Gwaine?”

Merlin pondered his father for long moments. Of course he couldn’t tell Gaius the truth. Not the whole truth. He wondered if Gaius had any inkling of it at all; but of course, even if he did, it must remain unspoken. Unacknowledged. So Merlin would tell Gaius another truth instead.

“Arthur… has this crazy notion in his head, that he and I are meant to… accomplish something together. Work together or something. He has no idea what, mind you. But that’s why he proposed. It wasn’t love.”

“Are you so sure?”

“He’s so much happier with Gwen, anyway. She puts up with him way better than I ever could.”

Gaius pondered some more. “What if he’s right, though? About the two of you working together?”

Merlin sighed, and remembered the summer he was seventeen. It seemed that time belonged to a different world. Uther had hired Merlin – probably thinking he was doing Gaius a favour – to catalogue the library at the Pendragon mansion. Merlin would cycle over there each morning and spend long lovely hours surrounded by books, and then Arthur would wander in unannounced during the afternoon, choose a book at random and read to him. Arthur had a beautiful voice. He would read and read until Merlin was lulled into pliancy, and then they would make out… Until one of them would spoil it, of course, with a biting remark or a sudden tenderness that couldn’t bear to be touched. They were fractious together… They couldn’t ever quite leave each other alone, throughout that long summer. Arthur had been all for formalising the arrangement; Merlin was smart enough to utterly refuse him. And yet somehow when autumn came they discovered that they were better friends than ever.

Another sigh, and Merlin asked, “But really, what could I do? I’ve already sorted out their library… and probably no one but the housekeeper has been in there since, and she only dusts! I can’t imagine what use a specialist in folklore would be to him. I mean, I get excited about narrative. And the Pendragon family business – I can’t even see that it makes anything, creates anything. Other than a profit! So what possible use could I be?”

“I don’t know,” Gaius quietly replied. “But I’m not entirely sure that Arthur is wrong.”

Merlin reached over to gently take Gaius’s hand in his. “I’m happy,” he said. “I’m happy right where I am.”

And Gaius’s smile turned warm, and warmer still, and he quietly replied, “Don’t mind me. I’m not complaining.”

Neither of them seemed quite able to settle that night, even once it was fully dark. Merlin wandered through the long–familiar rooms, restless, tired, but wondering what to do with himself. Until he found Gaius standing by the mantelpiece holding the framed photo of Hunith in both hands, staring down at it thoughtfully. Merlin wandered up beside him, and looked over his shoulder, and asked, “D’you still miss her?”

“Yes.” Gaius looked up at him. “Yes, every day. Hunith was… the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Merlin smiled, and slid his arm around Gaius’s waist, tucked himself in close.

“She’d have been so very proud of you, Merlin.”

“She’d have been proud of you, too, Dad, bringing me up all on your own.”

“Well, myself and half of Appledore to help me.” Gaius sighed. “I wish you’d known her. She loved you so much, Merlin. That first year, when we were all three together, she took such very good care of you.”

“Then I did know her, didn’t I? And I still know her. Anyway –” Merlin turned further in against Gaius to muffle his words in Gaius’s beautiful silver–white hair. “Anyone who’s wise enough to love you, is obviously all right by me.”

“Oh, Merlin,” Gaius chided, gently yet surely slipping out of Merlin’s embrace. He put the photo back on the mantelpiece, in its accustomed place.

Merlin sighed, watching Gaius as he polished some half–imaginary speck of dust off the frame, and then rested a fingertip on the glass where Hunith’s hands were cupped together in her lap. Gaius had never gone into much detail about their history, but Gaius and Hunith hadn’t married, and Merlin’s birth certificate bore only Hunith’s name. Merlin had formed the impression that the affair – if such it could be called – was a brief sweet interlude during an otherwise affectionate friendship. He thought that Gaius’s reticence was partly due to gentlemanly instincts, and partly because Hunith had been a lot younger than Gaius. In the photo, she looked a little careworn, a little older than she probably should have – but she also looked very happy. And Merlin couldn’t blame her for that. What did it matter if she wasn’t yet twenty–five, and Gaius at the time was already fifty? He’d always been a handsome man, and a good heart and a generous soul never aged; his wit and wisdom only improved.

Eventually Merlin lifted a hand, too, to honour Hunith, and perhaps to reclaim Gaius as well. “She and I have a lot in common, you know,” Merlin remarked. And when Gaius lifted a quizzical eyebrow at him, Merlin explained, “We both have you.”

two

The weirdness started the next morning. Merlin wasn’t even properly awake yet, but he had one hand wrapped around a mug of coffee, his nose figuratively stuck in a book, and he was reaching for a piece of toast with his other hand – when he discovered that he was already holding the toast. And when he looked over in confusion, he was still shy of the toast rack.

But Gaius was passing by, and had no doubt picked up the toast for him and put it in his hand – so Merlin murmured his thanks, and munched on the toast, without thinking any more about it.

Except that more weirdness happened a little later that morning while Merlin was hanging out his washing on the long clothesline in the back garden. He would start to reach for a peg, and find it already in his hand. He would go to smooth out a shirt, and find the fabric rippling as if shaking itself out, and there wasn’t even a breeze he could blame it on.

Merlin frowned, wondering what the hell was going on. If it had been one of the stories he studied, he’d have assumed an enchantment, whether blessing or curse. He wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But the things he happily accepted in fiction… Well, it just wasn’t like that in real life, was it?

All right. Then he’d disprove it. This was obviously nothing more than his imagination running away with him. He was probably still a bit giddy about being home again with Gaius. That was all.

Right. Merlin deliberately held out a hand towards the peg basket, and willed a peg to fly to it.

Which it did.

He actually saw it this time. Witnessed it.

Merlin staggered a little, feeling as if he were perfectly entitled to fall to the grass in shock. But he didn’t. That would be way too prattishly self-indulgent. And anyway… There was something about this… that somehow felt… right. Natural, even. As if it were a part of him, even though he’d never known it before. Even though he’d never known he was a peg magnet. A toast magnet.

He huffed a laugh, and picked up the next item from the washing basket – a rather prosaic pair of briefs – and held them up to the line. Slid one peg on in the usual way. And then he willed another peg to fly up to the line and slide onto the other end of the waistband all by itself.

Which it did.

Merlin took a moment to gape. And then, in fits and starts, he got the rest of the washing hung out, partly the old–fashioned way and partly the enchanted way. It was… the oddest thing ever. It was wonderful.

It was wonderful, that is, until he picked up the now–empty washing basket and turned to go inside – and saw Gaius standing there on the patio, staring at Merlin in utter shock.

“Oh, Dad… Dad,” Merlin murmured, jogging up to him, and putting the basket down. There was no point in asking how much he’d seen, for he had obviously seen more than enough. “Oh, I know that was weird. I didn’t mean to startle you. It just kind of began today! I have no idea what – But I’m sorry you found out like that –”

“Merlin –”

“I should have come and told you about it as soon as it started happening, I should have come and asked you –”

Asked me?” If anything, Gaius seemed even more shocked at such a thought. “Asked me?”

“Yes,” Merlin reassured him, rubbing a soothing hand back and forth on Gaius’s shoulder. “Yes, of course. Don’t you know I always come to you? You have all the answers I’ll ever need.”

“Oh, Merlin …” Gaius seemed almost distraught. “I have something to tell – But, no, give me a moment. Let me think for a moment.”

“Come and sit down,” Merlin said. “Do you want to sit down here outside? It’s such a nice day. Or shall we go in and I’ll make us a cuppa?”

“You probably always knew, didn’t you?” Gaius was saying. “You must have always known I was keeping something from you.”

“No,” Merlin soothed, far more worried about how pale Gaius was looking than anything else. “No, don’t fret. Come inside, my darling, and I’ll make you some tea.” He slid an arm around Gaius’s waist and got them moving. “I’ll make some tea, and then you can tell me whatever you want.”

Gaius let out a desperate little moan.

“No, don’t fret. Don’t fret. As long as you love me, Dad, I can bear anything.” He took a breath, knowing he was being way too needy, but by now quite unable to help himself. “You do love me, don’t you?”

A clear glance from those light blue eyes. “More than I could ever tell you,” Gaius said.

“It’s the same for me. It’s the same. Oh, so much more than I could ever say.”

And for a moment they looked at each other, into each other, and something powerful crackled between them –

But then Gaius turned his head away with another protesting little moan, and the moment passed.

Merlin got Gaius settled at the kitchen table, the heart of their home, and he went to put the kettle on. And they were quiet for long minutes, quiet and thoughtful – and both of them afraid. It felt as if – as if everything were about to change.

“There was a time,” Gaius finally began once they were sitting next to each other at the table, with tea poured into the old familiar cups and more steeping in the teapot. “This was before you were born, Merlin, when I was still living in the flat above the surgery, and your mother was working as my assistant and receptionist. We were finishing up after a long day, when we heard a knock at the door – at the back door, which no one ever came to. When we investigated, we found a man there who seemed –” Gaius took a moment to consider. “He seemed strong and enduring, and yet also desperate. He was quite badly hurt, but he had waited until all the other patients had left. I think he’d been there for hours.”

“Who was he?” Merlin asked.

“His name was John Balinor; he had recently come over from Ireland, and was living in the city with friends of friends. He’d found out, too late, that they were responsible for one of those awful bombings, and were about to set off another device. He’d tried to warn people, and that was how he was hurt; when the bomb went off, he was trying to get people to safety. By then, of course, he was too deeply implicated in the matter to want to go to the police, who were – understandably – ruthless in prosecuting anyone involved. And his friends – or acquaintances, I should say – considered him unreliable at best, and a traitor at worst. So, he simply walked away with nothing but what he had with him. He bought a train ticket for the furthest destination he could afford, and ended up here, in Appledore.”

“You helped him, then? You healed him?”

“Yes. He was with us for some weeks. Longer than he needed to be, really, but he had trouble tearing himself away.”

“I can understand that,” Merlin said brightly. But Gaius favoured him with a look full of misgivings, and Merlin’s heart sank. “Go on, then. You’d better tell me.”

“He stayed in the flat with me, and we kept his presence a secret. He asked us to protect him, and we agreed. Not without some discussion, I have to say, but we never doubted his – his sincerity. He was a good man, Merlin. Hunith would stay to help, and keep him company, and share our supper. She was with us at all hours. And people talked. Quite naturally. They assumed that she and I were – having an affair. And we were in no position to deny it.”

And Merlin knew. Of course he knew. He’d known where this was heading. But the truth loomed huge and dark and empty, and he clung to these last moments of not knowing as if his fingertips were rawly grasping a cliff edge.

After a moment, Gaius continued, “I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but there was something between them from the start. A connection, a recognition. They were both so calm on the surface, and yet below that there was – an intensity.” Gaius sighed.

“No,” said Merlin, hands grasping the table edge, and tears trembling in his eyes.

“Merlin –”

No. You are everything to me, Gaius.”

Gaius said firmly yet very gently, “John Balinor was your father, Merlin. Not me.”

“Oh,” he moaned, heartbroken. “This changes everything.”

“Hunith didn’t have the chance to tell him about you. Perhaps she didn’t even know herself. Or maybe she knew he couldn’t stay. One evening he talked about how grateful he was, and when I woke the next morning he was gone. I had no idea how to contact him when – when Hunith died. We never knew what happened to him, do you see? But one of the reasons I stayed here in Appledore was so he could find us again, if he wanted.”

Merlin huffed a protest. As if he cared. But obviously the man hadn’t wanted.

“Hunith was… content that everyone thought I was your father. She required my promise that I would raise you.” Gaius sighed. “There was no need for such a promise; I loved you as my own from the first moment I saw you, Merlin. From the first moment I heard your strong little heartbeat. But it mattered to me, of course, that it was her wish as well.”

He was silent. He was shattered. This had been the most significant relationship of his life, and now it felt as if this stranger – John Balinor – had come along and torn his heart out.

“Merlin?”

“No. Why – why are you telling me this?”

Gaius took a moment, as if he, too, had forgotten the original prompt. “Because of what you were doing this morning – or rather, how you were doing it. John Balinor had certain powers. It took a while before he trusted me enough to talk about them, and he didn’t know very much beyond his own experience, but I have since researched as much as I could. You know my collection of books I keep in the attic…?”

Merlin stared at him. “The stories about old magic and such?”

“I believe that some of them aren’t stories. I believe that some of them are describing real powers. Which you seem to have inherited.”

“But –”

“You have been everything to me, Merlin,” Gaius said quietly. “Do you see now? Even those interests, that people didn’t understand in a medical practitioner and a scientist – Even those interests were about you and what you might become. And when you took an interest in folklore, people talked about how impractical that was, but I encouraged you, because I thought it might help you to understand.”

“You knew, then? That this would happen to me?”

“No. But I was – intrigued. And it seemed best to be prepared.”

Merlin gusted a sigh, and sank lower in his chair. “This changes everything,” he muttered disconsolately.

Gaius nodded, and then sat forward to reach for the teapot and replenish their cups. “I know it’s a significant matter, to find you have abilities you knew nothing of, but let’s look upon it as… an adventure. I think that it’s a… good thing. Or it can be.”

Merlin turned to him, and leaned towards him imploringly. “No, Dad… Gaius… Dad. I mean you and me. This changes us. And you must know you’re the only thing I’ve ever really cared about –”

With horrible timing, Merlin’s phone went off, jolting them back into the mundanity of the everyday. To add insult to injury, it was Arthur’s ringtone. Merlin grappled the phone out of his pocket and jabbed at the button to end the call without taking it.

A moment of blessed silence. And then Gaius tentatively asked, “Do you blame me, then? Should I have told you before?”

“No! No…” He sighed. “You were protecting… him. You were doing the right thing by my mother. You were looking after me. And I’ve been happy – I’ve been so very happy, Gaius.”

The phone went off again. Merlin growled and picked it up. “Not a good time, Pendragon.”

Don’t be an idiot, Merlin –”

“I’m turning this off. Call me tomorrow if you really must.”

“No, wait, Merlin –”

Then the prat was gone, and Merlin pressed the power button until the phone started shutting down.

Merlin took a breath. “I’ve been so happy,” he continued, trying to re–gather his strands of thought. “I’ve loved you so much. No one ever had a better Dad than me; I always knew that.”

Gaius was listening carefully, if a little warily, his lowered head tilted towards Merlin as if unsure of what he would hear but more afraid of missing a single syllable.

“You’ve meant so much to me, Dad; really, you’ve been everything to me, and –” Which was when it finally started to dawn on him. “And – Gaius, I –” Merlin sat there reeling. Oh my god

“Merlin?” Gaius prompted after a moment.

His whole world had just shifted. Dizzily, he started babbling. “I’ve always been in love with you, do you know that? I never saw it as such an odd thing. Even Gwen once told me she proposed marriage to her father when she was five. Not that I told her I still felt that way at fifteen, but it just felt so natural. And I was always a bit… confused that other gay men weren’t the same, that their first love, their most abiding love wasn’t their fathers.”

“Stop,” said Gaius faintly.

“Gwaine pretty much hated his. Arthur – Well, that gets complicated, him and Uther. But I almost told him once. Arthur’s the only person I’ve come close to telling, because I thought a part of him might understand.”

“Merlin –”

“But this changes everything,” Merlin insisted. He shifted forward, and fell to his knees at Gaius’s side, took Gaius’s hands into his. “This changes what I’m allowed to dream of, doesn’t it? It changes what I’m allowed to want.”

“No,” said Gaius. “No.”

“I love you, Gaius. I love you with everything I am. Please tell me – No, I know you do! – Please tell me you feel the same way.”

Gaius just shook his head mutely.

“Please. It’s not forbidden any more. And now – my god!” Merlin cried. “Now I’m wondering why we ever even cared that it was in the first place.”

“Merlin, stop, please.” Gaius took a breath, and looked down at Merlin very soberly. “Today – today you discovered that you have magic. Isn’t that enough to be dealing with for now?”

“I don’t even care about that.”

Gaius scoffed a protest.

“All right, I do,” Merlin allowed. “But I care about you so very much more.”

“Oh, Merlin…” he chided. “Merlin…” he cried, so full of need.

Merlin bent his head and began pressing impassioned kisses to Gaius’s hands clasped in his own, and then Gaius was lifting his hands, and Merlin lifted with him – and then Merlin was pressing kisses to that beloved old face, Gaius’s skin soft against his lips, one of Merlin’s hands lifting to stroke his lovely long hair. Gaius chuckled under his breath in what sounded like surprise and delight – and Merlin knew, he knew he wasn’t wrong about this.

“Oh please,” Merlin whispered, his face pressed against Gaius’s, skin caressing skin, and they’d always been affectionate but this was deliciously intimate. “Please let me love you. Let yourself love me. That’s magic, too, you know.”

An incoherent murmur from Gaius – and then saltwater against Merlin’s lips, and he drew back a little to see that Gaius was weeping. Of course he was, of course he was, this was such a huge change for them both. Gaius was pale, and he seemed quite overwhelmed.

“My poor darling,” Merlin said, standing up and bringing Gaius with him. “I’m sorry, I’m pushing too hard, aren’t I?”

But then it was Gaius – it was Gaius who lifted a hand to cup the back of Merlin’s head, and encouraged him to lean down into a kiss – a kiss so sweet and wild that Merlin’s heart tripped into a dance, and for that one moment everything between them was known and perfect.

When the kiss broke, however, Gaius muttered, “No, we mustn’t, we mustn’t,” and then he was weeping again.

Merlin took the man into his arms, into what was no more or less than a comforting hug. “Have you felt this all along, just as I have?” Merlin asked in hushed tones.

“Don’t ask me,” Gaius implored.

Of course he had, Merlin concluded, and the poor man must have placed such an impassable barrier around his love. Of course he would struggle when Merlin tried to tear that barrier down. “Come with me,” Merlin murmured. And Gaius trustingly let himself be led by the hand, even as they climbed the stairs – though he baulked when they reached Gaius’s bedroom. “It’s all right,” Merlin soothed. “It’s all right, trust me.”

And he did. So Merlin got him lying on the bed, and arranged the spare blanket over him. Once he was sure that Gaius was comfortable, Merlin lay himself down on the other side of the bed, on top of the blanket, and snuggled in close against his beloved, an arm wrapped securely around his waist and his head tucked in on the same pillow. “There,” said Merlin. “Now, let’s just relax and maybe have a snooze together, and then we’ll see where we are when we wake up.”

Gaius looked at him, half appreciative and half not so much. “Coddling me,” he grumbled. “Managing me.” But then he sighed, and he closed his eyes. And he said, very clearly, just before he slipped away, “Yes, I have. I’ve felt it all along.”

Merlin grinned and fell into more happiness than he’d ever known existed.

Merlin must have dozed off for a little while, too. When he woke, he found Gaius contemplating him, his clear blue eyes peaceful now. “All right?” Merlin murmured.

“More so than ever before,” was the calm reply. “Though no one will forgive me for this. Not even my own conscience will forgive me.”

“I don’t care about anyone else, I only care about you. And I reckon you can tell your conscience that you’ve struggled long enough.”

Gaius’s smile was half–hearted, as if he didn’t quite agree. But he lifted a hand to tenderly caress Merlin’s cheek.

There was no question about anything any more, but Merlin asked, “May I kiss you now?” and Gaius answered, “Please.”

Merlin pushed forward and met Gaius’s mouth with his own, and the kiss was sweet and tentative at first, but soon it grew wild again, and Merlin turned on – he always turned on quickly, which Gwaine found delightful and Arthur used to find irresistible, but this was like… this was like basking in the beneficent sun when all he’d known before was a candle flame.

“Dad – Gaius – can we? Can we get naked? Or is that too much too soon? Can I get naked, anyway? Oh god, I want to get naked with you…”

“Yes, yes,” Gaius was saying, his hands fumbling at Merlin’s shirt, far clumsier than he ever normally was.

Impatient, Merlin scrambled up to his knees, shucked his shirt and t–shirt off over his head while Gaius – wonderfully! – had both hands at the waistband of Merlin’s jeans. Merlin groaned his appreciation, his encouragement – and then in a flurry Merlin was pushing his jeans and briefs down his thighs – tumbling back onto his rear so he could haul them off – on his knees again to scrabble the blanket away, only remembering at the last moment that he could have done it so much more efficiently with the magic. Then, even though Gaius had only managed to unbutton his own shirt, and his vest underneath was still tucked in, Merlin fell upon him, devouring him with kisses, thrusting his cock hard against Gaius’s hip, the fine trousers rough and hot against Merlin’s sensitivities – but that’s how he wanted it, this was what he wanted. The bliss of Gaius’s hands running down his back, Merlin arching up into it as Gaius found the sweet spot in the small of his back, before lowering himself again to kiss and kiss and revel in Gaius kissing him back just as voraciously.

Gaius’s right hand slipped carefully, boldly between them, and wrapped around Merlin’s cock – or tried to. He shifted his grasp, then made another attempt, as if trying to take himself in hand, before protesting, “You’re around the wrong way!”

Merlin chuckled – “So much for your knowledge of anatomy!” – even as he was turning to lie on his side with his back to Gaius. Then he took Gaius’s hand and brought it down to where it belonged. “Here. Try this, then.”

And that worked out perfectly. Gaius held him firmly, began a lovely deliberate stroke, not rushing but efficiently getting the job done. Gaius tucked his head in against Merlin’s, pressed a kiss to his throat, rumbled a groan into his ear.

“Is this how you do yourself?” Merlin was babbling. “Oh god, that’s fantastic. I always wanted to know. Now you can teach me how to touch you – Oh god oh god!” He was coming already, he couldn’t have lasted any longer for anything at all. He came, his seed pulsing across Gaius’s counterpane, and he couldn’t regret any of that for a moment. “I love you, I love you,” he murmured in the blissed–out warmth of the aftermath. “Oh god, I’ve been waiting for that for twenty years!”

Gaius chuckled happily against him so the vibrations prickled through Merlin’s flesh. “Such an exaggeration. Though I’m really not complaining.”

“It’s been the same for you; I know that now.”

“Merlin, don’t be ridiculous. You were a baby twenty years ago.”

“Ah, but that’s where it started, isn’t it? It wasn’t this yet, but we loved each other. The rest came later, but that’s where our story began.”

Gaius could live with that, perhaps. “Yes,” he said gently. “That’s where our story began.”

Merlin wriggled around within Gaius’s arms and kissed him for that. Though of course he deserved a far more thorough reward. “Now you,” said Merlin, his hands slipping under Gaius’s shirt to push it off his shoulders.

Between them they soon had Gaius undressed. The old man lay there, not trying to hide himself, but obviously a little nervous. “I’m very conscious that you will be comparing me to young men – to particularly beautiful young men – like Gwaine and Arthur, and who knows whom besides.”

Merlin was kneeling on the bed by him, taking in his fill. “I couldn’t be happier,” he replied quite simply. “Gaius, you’re The Man I Love. You always have been.”

Then he lay down beside Gaius and they embraced, and Merlin took Gaius into his hand and chased him to what sounded like overwhelming pleasure.

Afterwards, Merlin lay there quietly beside his beloved, content to simply watch Gaius be. Merlin had never once thought of Gaius as unhappy with his life; quite the opposite, actually. But then, neither had Merlin ever seen Gaius look so profoundly joyful before. The dear old man was radiating light and love. It was the most delicious thing that Merlin had ever witnessed…

And speaking of delicious… Merlin propped himself up on an elbow, and drew a lazy fingertip in whorls down Gaius’s chest to his belly, where Gaius’s seed still lay splattered. He scooped a little up, and lifted it to his tongue. He was aware of Gaius looking a bit shocked as Merlin tentatively tasted it…

“Gorgeous!” he pronounced a moment later. “Redolent of England’s green and pleasant land, with hints of spring awakening, and a lingering bouquet of briny virility.”

“Oh, Merlin, what nonsense you talk.”

He laughed, and snuggled back in against Gaius’s side. “There: you’re my first, for that at least. I’ve never tasted anyone else.”

Gaius turned his head to look at him with mingled concern and relief. “You’ve been safe, then?”

“How could I not be, with a doctor for a father?” Merlin offered the man a reassuring smile – and then let his mouth quirk with humour. “What about you, you wicked old thing? You’ve been safe?” He didn’t fear the answer for a moment. “That’s great. We won’t have to worry about any of that ever again.”

“Yes,” said Gaius in a rather odd voice. “Pure as the driven snow, that’s me. Or I was, until a few minutes ago.”

Merlin gaped as the meaning of this slowly sank in. “You mean you’ve never –”

“You’re my first,” said Gaius, “for everything.”

“Oh my god…” Merlin frowned in furious thought. “It never even occurred to me. I mean, I always knew you’d been with Hunith. And I kind of assumed – she wasn’t the only one.” He lifted a trembling hand to his beloved’s handsome face. “How could she be?”

“Well, before – the right person was never quite available in the right time and place. And then after – there was you, Merlin. You’ve been my whole life for twenty years.”

“Not quite,” said Merlin. “But I’ll be your whole life now!”

three

A harsh knocking at the front door broke in upon their reverie. Merlin tensed, as did Gaius; they remained quiet, caught up together there on the bed, listening but not moving. Whoever it was wouldn’t quit, though. There was more knocking. Authoritative. Demanding. Prattish. Merlin’s gut sank, knowing somehow who it was – and he was proved right a moment later when Arthur called out, “Merlin! Come on, I know you’re in there!” A moment passed before Arthur continued in somewhat more reasonable tones that nevertheless carried, “I’m sorry to disturb you, Gaius, but I really must speak to Merlin.”

A low voice, rather calmer, meant that Gwen was there, too, trying to talk sense into her husband.

“Merlin!” came the sharp cry, nevertheless.

Merlin sighed. If Gwen couldn’t dissuade the man, he’d have to go down and see what the prat wanted. “Sorry, Dad,” Merlin murmured. He pressed a distracted kiss to Gaius’s cheek before getting up and hauling on the bare minimum, just his jeans and t–shirt, not worrying about his briefs. Then he leant over where Gaius still lay in bed, and pressed another kiss to his mouth. “I’m sorry. I’ll get rid of him. Don’t go anywhere!”

Merlin!”

“All right, all right,” he grumbled loudly; maybe loudly enough for Arthur to hear. He padded down the stairs barefoot, and went to the front door – opening it wide enough to confront the intruder, but not so wide that he would appear to be welcoming them in.

“God, there you are at last,” Arthur complained.

“What the fuck, Arthur?” Merlin responded likewise. Though he added in rather more friendly tones, “Afternoon, Gwen.”

“Hello, Merlin. I’m sorry about this!”

“Not your fault, I’m sure.” Merlin glared at the guilty party. “This is about the worst possible time, Arthur. I only got home yesterday, for a start.”

“And I’m sure you have a full day of sleeping in, eating and napping planned –”

“What the –”

“– but I need to talk to you, all right?”

“No, it’s not all right. How about I call you when it is? Like, maybe next summer.”

“Merlin, don’t be more of an idiot than you need to be –” Arthur broke off and said, “Afternoon, Gaius,” over Merlin’s shoulder.

“Why don’t you come in, Arthur?” Gaius asked, all very civilised. “It’s lovely to see you, Gwen.”

A gobsmacked Merlin turned to find Gaius there, fully dressed and neatly combed as if he hadn’t just been ravished not half an hour before.

“Come through, won’t you?” Gaius was continuing, heading for the kitchen. “I’m afraid we’re rather late for lunch today, but perhaps you’ll join us.”

“Love to.” Arthur took advantage of the situation and pushed past Merlin, casting him a sardonic look on the way. Gwen followed with another murmured apology.

Merlin gave up – shrugged and closed the door, then followed them through to the kitchen. Gaius was already in the midst of preparing one of his famous salads, most of the vegetables home–grown. As Merlin wandered past, the two of them exchanged a warmly rueful glance, and Merlin felt entirely reassured by how very much affection he could spy in those light blue eyes. It gave him the strength to resign himself to the inevitable.

“All right,” Merlin said, settling himself at the table opposite where Arthur and Gwen sat. “What is it you want?”

Arthur just looked at him with the flat gaze that couldn’t quite disguise a genuine concern. “Merlin, what is with you? Here’s Gaius been looking forward to seeing you again for, like, ever – and you can’t seem to get your knickers unknotted.”

Merlin could feel a blush stain his cheeks, but he knew the prat would put it down to temper. “Not half an hour ago,” Merlin ground out, “I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life.” He was aware of Gaius in the periphery of his vision; he had always been aware of Gaius. They didn’t need to exchange a glance to acknowledge that Gaius felt just the same way. They both knew that now. Merlin finally continued, though in tones somewhat less harsh, “You’re being the boor here, Arthur, not me.”

The look turned disbelieving. “OK,” said Arthur. “Moving right along, then.”

Gaius brought over the salad, and then went to fetch a loaf of bread, the board and the bread knife. While he was cutting slices, Merlin belatedly got up to fetch crockery and cutlery, and then filled a jug with rainwater from the tank, and brought glasses. Soon they were all four tucking in, and Merlin felt ravenous, though he noticed that Gaius hardly ate a thing, but sat there looking sublimely happy…

The four of them chatted, or were silent, comfortable with each other as only old friends could be. Until at last, as Gaius was making the tea, Arthur turned to Merlin and said, “I want you to help me. I mean: I think we can help each other.”

Merlin eyed him for a moment, before admitting, “Well, at least that sounds better than how you usually put it.”

“How does he usually put it?” asked Gwen.

Anyway,” Arthur continued, not letting them derail the conversation. “I thought we should go for a walk.”

This was so unexpected that Merlin just stared at the man. Eventually he echoed, “A walk?”

Gwen said, “He’s been very restless these past couple of days.”

“The cave,” said Arthur. “Do you remember that cave in the hills we used to climb up to when we were kids?”

“Yes,” Merlin answered – though he was more aware of Gaius’s sudden interest than anything else. It was as if Gaius had just recognised something, or maybe finally put two and two together to make five. “What about it?” he asked, though he was watching Gaius rather than Arthur.

“I think we should go up there again. You know I always thought… I always felt that there was something up there waiting for me.”

“There is,” said Gaius, startling them all.

Arthur and Gwen turned to look at him. Arthur seemed galvanised by this announcement. But it was Gwen who asked, “Why do you say that, Gaius?”

“There are stories,” he explained. “Some of the stories are real,” Gaius went on, talking directly to Merlin now – not that Merlin had the first clue what he was really getting at. “You should go with him, Merlin. There’s something there for you, as well.”

“Well, all right,” Merlin agreed, probably sounding rather doubtful even now. “Will you come with us?”

“Oh, no, it’s too far for me now. And anyway, you don’t need me.”

“I always need you; you know that.”

Gaius chuckled, and stood, and began gathering together the remains of their lunch. “Go on, then, all of you. You’d better get started.”

“No, we’ll help you clean up first,” said Arthur –

But Gaius chased them out of there with a flick of the tea towel – and when Merlin saw that Gwen was coming as well, he smiled.

“Gwen’s always been part of this, too,” said Arthur.

And Merlin said, “I know,” because he did know, indeed. Gwen smiled right back at him.

four

The three of them reached the top of the first hill, and stopped as they’d always done, to turn and look across the valley to the more dramatic blue–shaded hills beyond. The river wound through the gently rolling fields and woodland groves, the gold–hued stone of the bridge arched above the water, the train tracks curved elegantly from east to west – and at the heart of it all was the village of Appledore. Merlin gazed down at his home. He could see the house and the garden, and a flicker of colour where his laundry was caressed by the afternoon breeze. He even thought he could see Gaius sitting on the patio contemplating one of his books on magic.

They were all silent for a while, until Gwen murmured, “This is so beautiful. I love this part of the country so much.”

Arthur took her hand in his, full of gratitude and affection for his wife.

“I don’t miss the city at all,” she said.

And Merlin blurted to his two friends, “I’ve just found out that – Gaius isn’t actually my father.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Merlin,” said Gwen with all the warmth in her heart. Even Arthur offered Merlin a troubled look.

“No, it’s fantastic!” Merlin declared with a grin. Though he didn’t dare tell them why. “Come on, then. Let’s get on.”

Arthur and Gwen looked a bit doubtful, but they all continued on their way. After a moment, Arthur could be heard to mutter, “I always knew you were a changeling child.”

They reached the cave a half–hour later – and they didn’t even pause at the entrance. The place was so familiar to them, especially to Merlin and Arthur. Quietly they walked in, following Arthur’s lead, and headed towards the back where the rock face curved up into a high vault. At the base of it – just about at waist height, as if it were an altar of some kind – was a ledge about a yard wide, with a shallow alcove behind it and then a tumble of rocks below. If it was created, it was roughly hewn at best, but it looked quite natural. It was to this that Arthur brought them.

“Here,” Arthur said, with a strange mix of confidence and uncertainty. “I’ve always felt that there’s something… waiting here.”

Gwen didn’t say anything, but Merlin could hear the slight echo of her in–caught breath, as if she, too, now recognised this place and its meaning. And then the two of them looked towards Merlin, as if he could be expected to know what to do.

And he supposed that he did know, actually. If – for once – he didn’t think too much but instead just let himself go with his instincts, let himself go with this knowledge he’d discovered within that was wiser than his conscious thought. “Right,” said Merlin.

He lifted his hand towards this strange place, and he willed it to reveal its secrets to them.

Nothing happened. And after another long moment, nothing happened some more.

Gwen looked doubtful. But Arthur, despite his brow knotting in puzzlement at Merlin standing there like an idiot – Arthur said, “Try again.”

Merlin closed his eyes, took a breath and let Arthur’s faith fall through him. Then he opened his eyes – opened himself – held out his hand, and commanded the secrets to be opened likewise.

The ground shook under his feet, there was an ominous grinding, and stone–dust fell about them. A sharp noise meant that something had splintered and cracked apart.

“Arthur –” said Gwen in worried tones.

“It’s all right,” he reassured her. “We’re safe. We’re meant to be here. We’re meant to do this.”

The rock had stilled again, the earth had quit shifting. Merlin looked to see that the surface layer of rock on the flat surface of the altar had split and broken into pieces. There was a hint of something lying hidden underneath.

“Merlin?” asked Arthur.

“No, you do it,” he said, hoarse as if he’d been shouting for hours. “It’s yours to do with what you will.”

Yet Arthur still stood there, considering Merlin with a calm respect, as if recognising a fellow warrior. “Where did this come from?” he asked, gesturing at Merlin to indicate the magic.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s been part of me all along.” Merlin shrugged, and huffed a laugh. “You know, I’ve spent so many years hiding from myself…” Hiding from his love. Hiding from his power.

Gwen said, “There’s no need to hide any more, Merlin. About anything.” Arthur nodded his agreement.

“You’re right, there isn’t,” Merlin agreed, though he couldn’t quite bring himself to ask whether they really did mean anything. Well, that was a topic for another day.

Arthur turned towards the altar, and he brushed aside some of the loose stone. He lifted something that shredded apart, as if the secrets had been wrapped in fabric long ago. Then he lifted something more substantial. Something that glinted gold despite being dulled by dust. It was a circlet, like an elegant crown.

Arthur lifted it carefully in both hands, and for a moment Merlin thought Arthur would put it on his own head. But, no – without even a pause, Arthur stepped towards Gwen, and said, “This is for you, I think.” And he placed it with reverence on Guinevere’s head, where it glinted amidst her lustrous dark curls.

She gasped a protest – and yet she stood taller and truer as well. It fitted her perfectly.

Then Arthur was lifting a chalice from the stone, and he marvelled at the precious thing for a moment but then he brought it over to Merlin. “And this is for you.”

Merlin took it, cradled it in both hands and gazed upon its simple beauty. The song it sang resonated in his very soul. Yet he had to ask, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“That’s for you to figure out,” Arthur replied tartly. But then he added, a little softer, “I’m sure Gaius can help you with that.”

Then Arthur turned back to the altar, and in one long clean move he lifted out a sword and held it aloft. The very air vibrated with energy, and the sword drew in and reflected back all the afternoon’s golden light. It was glorious. It was all Merlin could do not to fall to his knees.

Arthur,” Gwen cried in acknowledgement.

Merlin blinked and shook his head. It was all too much. It was all too much.

For a long moment that seemed to echo throughout the ages, they were a queen and a warrior and a sorcerer, powerful and wise all three.

And then in the next moment they were just three twenty–year–old kids, dusty and dishevelled in their jeans and sneakers, and maybe a little bit wonderful but only in a fairly ordinary kind of way.

“Arthur,” said Merlin. “That’s a fucking sword! What the hell are you going to do with it?”

Arthur cleared his throat. “I think… a little decorum is called for, thank you.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Merlin.”

“I will if you’ll quit being such a prat.” He gestured at Gwen. “Anyway, she’s the queen.”

Arthur frowned in thought. “It seemed better that way.”

“I’m not arguing about that, believe me!”

“Boys,” said Gwen, with a little of her new authority. “That’s enough. Let’s head back down to Appledore, and maybe Gaius will make us a cup of tea.”

Merlin sniffed a little, but nodded in agreement.

Arthur nodded, too, and went to slip his hand trustingly into Gwen’s. She took off the crown, and held it easily in her other hand, smiling up at him with a laugh in her bright dark eyes.

Merlin followed them to the mouth of the cave – where Arthur paused and turned to him and said, “This was meant to happen today, Merlin. However weird it is. It was meant to be.”

And he couldn’t argue with that, either.

five

Gaius was reassuring and matter–of–fact. He appreciated their newfound treasures, and he wondered at their story, yet he didn’t make too much of it all. He let them remain simply Merlin and Arthur and Gwen; enhanced perhaps, a little bit changed maybe, but not transformed beyond recognition.

Merlin was pleased, however, that Gaius inclined his head respectfully to Guinevere. Not to mention that he quietly glowed when he first held the chalice; he could hear its song as well, Merlin could tell. When Gaius put it down again, he stroked a hand back over Merlin’s hair and patted his shoulder as if no father could be prouder. Not that Merlin had done anything to earn the chalice, but Gaius didn’t seem to find any of them a mismatch or a poor choice.

“You’re the wisest person I know,” Merlin said to the man at his side as they stood at the front gate a while later, waving farewell to Gwen and Arthur. Gwen was driving, because Arthur couldn’t bear to let go of that blasted sword. Gaius had been able to read the runes on the sword as Take me up, Cast me away. Arthur had looked at him in wonder, and then confessed, “Think I’m gonna be stuck on the Take me up part of that for a while yet.”

“He will need your friendship, Merlin,” Gaius said now.

“What the hell kinda damage is the prat gonna do with a sword,” Merlin grumbled, as they turned and walked along the path into the house.

Though even Merlin could tell that the heat had gone out of his complaints, and Gaius just chuckled as if Arthur were trustworthy and clever enough to figure such matters out for himself, and then… and then Gaius offered a tentative caress, just his fingertips brushing across the back of Merlin’s hand, and other matters fled from Merlin’s mind.

“Let’s go cuddle on the sofa,” Merlin suggested. “Let’s get back to what we were doing before we were so rudely interrupted.”

Gaius’s chuckle became a happy laugh, and he let himself be led into the living room. Merlin sat Gaius down in his regular place on the sofa, and then folded up beside him, wriggling his arms around Gaius’s waist and tucking his head in against Gaius’s shoulder.

“Let’s get back to the really important stuff.”

Gaius curled towards him, and pressed a kiss to Merlin’s hair. He said, however, “You’ve hardly mentioned John Balinor this day, Merlin. I thought you’d want to try to find him.”

Merlin shrugged. “Yeah, sometime. That’s for later. For now I just want to be with you.”

“Oh, my darling man,” Gaius murmured in hushed tones.

“I am your darling,” Merlin affirmed, “and you’re my darling, too.”

Merlin pushed up for a kiss, and Gaius returned the kiss with such tenderness that Merlin ached with it. Gaius’s arms caught him up in a strong embrace, and then his hand settled unerringly into the sweet spot on Merlin’s lower back as if they had each been made exactly for the other. Soon Merlin was murmuring, “Please – Please can I –” with his hands at the fastenings of Gaius’s trousers.

“Yes, my dear. Yes. You needn’t ask.”

“Course I do,” he retorted, even as he was finding his way in. “Brought up proper, I was.”

Gaius laughed at that – and then gasped as Merlin slid past the obvious and instead cradled Gaius’s balls in the palm of his hand. Another gasp as Merlin rolled them gently between his fingers. Within moments Gaius seemed lost to the pleasure. Merlin watched him carefully, thrilled to his very core by seeing his beloved so open, so responsive. “So beautiful,” he whispered – and he tugged gently in the way that he himself liked –

Gaius moaned, and put his head back, and then with a cry of surprise he was coming and coming, and Merlin saw him through it, though he couldn’t help but gape in surprise and appreciation. “I’m impressed!” he said at last when Gaius had calmed again.

You’re impressed?” Gaius cast him a look that was half chiding and totally fond, as if he thought he was being teased.

“I’ve never known anyone come like that before. Or is it that… Well. D’you have a bit of a thing about your balls?”

Gaius huffed, and shook his head. “I hardly know.” After a moment he added, “I was attributing the results to your hands, your lovely hands.” Gaius cradled his own hand below Merlin’s where it still cupped his genitals. “Don’t you always get such a reaction?”

“No, I don’t.” Merlin looked at him with renewed wonder. “Oh, this is going to be incredible.”

“Is it, my dear? My dearest.” Gaius returned his gaze without a hint of restraint; it made all his previous expressiveness seem enigmatic. “Are you sure you want to do this? As you yourself said, it changes everything.”

“Yes,” Merlin insisted, his heart hammering. “Yes. I thought we’d already agreed. I thought everything had already changed.”

“I shouldn’t be the only person you –”

“But you already are. You always were!”

“And we’ll have to leave Appledore. I’ll have to retire. The village GP conducting a love affair with the young man he raised as his own son…? No one would let me get away with that, and probably neither should they.”

“I don’t care,” Merlin replied rather wildly, although until that moment he would have always said he couldn’t call anywhere else home. “As long as I’m with you, I don’t care about anything else.”

“My darling –”

“Will you come to London with me, then? When I go back to uni?”

“Of course I will.”

“You’d even live in London for me!”

“For you,” Gaius affirmed. “For you, my dear Merlin, anything.”

Merlin grinned at him, feeling so utterly secure. “This is going to be absolutely incredible.”

Gaius lifted a hand to Merlin’s face, and caressed his cheek, pushed fingers back through his hair. “Do you know, I really believe that it is.”

If it had been possible to die of joy, they might both have expired on the spot.

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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