Wordcount: 3,500 words.
Summary: One winter, the sun stands still for 12 days. Then Merlin comes back.
Notes: Concrit totally welcome. I'm hurrying a bit to get this in under the wire.
the first night
"He revealed his cowardice by running," Uther said. "For his service to you, we might have shown him mercy."
Despite his many faults, Merlin had not seemed the type to run away. Now Arthur knew better.
"I'll go after him," Arthur said. "I'll find him wherever he's gone."
"No," Uther said, and he had a look on his face that Arthur could not decipher. "I will not have you risk your life. We have seen his power. I'll send knights after him but you must remain here in safety."
Arthur was furious but the king would not be moved.
"It's better this way," Morgana said to him after they had left the great hall.
"How?" He snapped.
"Could you really kill Merlin?" She asked.
Now he could identify that look. It was pity.
He felt something crack.
Arthur punched the wall, skinning his first, then swung around and left before he hurt anyone else.
There was no fire in his room. Merlin was the one who made it up every day.
He sat in his chair, but then he got up to pace. He couldn't stand the quiet. His hand pulsed in rhythm to his steps.
After a few minutes of this, he threw the chair into the wall. It broke into pieces impressively.
He would have to tell Merlin to fix--
the third night
The day after Merlin left there was no sun. It was the darkest day they had ever seen. But it was the solstice. They didn't think too much of it.
But the next day there was no sun again. The sky was clear of clouds, but it did not lighten at all. It was no warmer than it had been at night.
Gaius diagnosed the problem.
"The sun is standing still. It is a strange phenomenon that appears to happen in times of great disruption. It is a sign of unnatural events."
"It is an unnatural event," Uther said.
"Indeed. I'm not sure what has caused it. Though it may have something to do with... the boy."
"The sorcerer," Uther scowled fiercely. His knights had found no trace of Merlin.
"What can we do about it?" Arthur asked.
"Nothing," Gaius said. "That is, nothing that I have yet found points to a remedy. Perhaps... I will return to my books and try to find more information."
the sixth night
There was a quiet knock. He ignored it.
A moment later, he heard the door scrape open.
"Just leave whatever it is--" Arthur started to say.
"I've come to talk to you," Gwen interrupted.
Arthur turned from the window to look at her. She was almost swallowed up in a thick wool coat he remembered Morgana wearing last winter - it fell to Gwen's feet - and there was a blue silk scarf wrapped around her head.
"So? What is it?" He asked when she didn't say anything more.
"Aren't you cold?" Gwen asked.
He looked down at himself. He was wearing his normal clothes, his red jacket and so on. He supposed he was cold, but he couldn't really feel it. He crossed his arms.
Gwen bustled to the cold fireplace and started to gather kindling into a pile.
"Don't." Arthur said sharply. She stilled, and then rose to her feet. They stood facing each other.
"Arthur," Gwen said, "Are you okay?" She studied his face. "I know you're angry about--"
He turned away.
"But standing around in the cold brooding isn't going to help anything!"
Arthur spread his hands. "What would you have me do, Guinevere?"
She touched his arm, gently. He didn't look but he could feel her looking at his face.
"Come up to Morgana's room. There's a fire... food... We can talk there."
He didn't answer.
"Are you... punishing yourself?" Gwen asked hesitantly.
He laughed without smiling.
"No. I'm being punished."
"What do you mean?"
"I get it now."
"What do you get?"
"Why he left."
"Why did he?" Gwen asked.
"It was a test. I failed it."
Gwen was quiet for the space of several breaths. Then:
"That doesn't sound like Merlin."
Arthur turned away.
the ninth night
When the temperature dropped so far that spit turned to ice in the air, Arthur and Morgana took the knights and they rode out to the villages to make sure that the people would not freeze to death. Some of the older people were in terrible straits. To some they brought wood and food; others they took to stay with neighboring families.
Everywhere they were asked, "When will this end?"
On the way back, Arthur glanced over at Morgana. Tears had tracked down her face and frozen.
"It will end soon," Arthur said. "It has to."
Some servant had started a fire in his room. He took off his clothes with stiff fingers. He felt tired and hopeless and his body ached dully. He got into bed without calling for dinner.
He didn't rise again for three days.
the twelfth night
There was someone sitting next to him, and a hand on his cheek, Guinevere maybe - he opened his eyes. It was dark, but he thought he saw a slash of red and Merlin's dark eyes. Laughing eyes, but now they looked serious.
"Merlin." Though he knew it was only a fever dream, Arthur couldn't help but say his name.
"Arthur," dream-Merlin said. "It's okay. I'm back now."
He closed his eyes and turned his cheek into Merlin's cool hand. It felt lovely. He was so hot.
"You're not real," Arthur said fuzzily.
"Yes, I-- Look, Arthur. Can I make you better?"
"With magic?" Arthur asked slowly.
"Yes. I can do it, it's easy, really. It won't hurt or anything."
Arthur opened his eyes again. Merlin wavered like a candle someone had blown on. It was kind of funny.
"Not like I could stop you," Arthur said. If Merlin were really here, he'd do whatever he wanted anyway. He usually did.
"No, but I need your permission."
"Okay," Arthur said.
"Thank you," Merlin said softly and then there were some other words he couldn't make out and a strange feeling swept over his body, like a cool rush of wind, and he saw white crackles behind his eyelids. And then it was over, and he realized that the ache had gone out of his limbs, he wasn't burning up anymore, and his head felt clear again. And Merlin was actually here and he'd done magic - and made him better.
Merlin was standing next to the bed. He looked nervous.
"Damn you, Merlin," he said. Merlin winced. Arthur pushed himself up to sitting. He felt entirely better, returned to full strength. It was uncanny.
"I ought to be extremely angry with you and instead I have to thank you for saving my life again. Do you realize how frustrating that is?"
Merlin nodded, but there was a small smile brightening his face.
Arthur looked at him for a moment. He looked good - more sure of himself. Poised. The silence felt awkward, but Merlin didn't start babbling at him, he just stood there like he knew... something. No, like he knew that everything would be fine, even if he didn't know how. It was bizarre but Arthur, for some reason, was reassured by this. And Merlin was back.
"So, why did you come back?" Arthur asked.
Merlin gave him a puzzled look. "I was always coming back."
"Then, where did you go? We sent out men but they didn't find hide nor hair of you."
"It's a long story."
Arthur gave him a look. "I've only been waiting for twelve days. Surely it can't take that much longer."
"Fine. Well. The short story is that I went to Scotland. I had to find... some witches."
"Witches," Arthur repeated.
Merlin nodded. "Yes. They, well, they taught me a spell to break the night. To bring the sun back."
"Wait," Arthur said. "So you didn't cause this?"
"What? No, of course not! Why would I do that?"
"Because you were angry at me? Because you were driven out of the kingdom?"
"Pfft, I was hardly driven out."
"But I might have told my father! You might have been executed! Isn't that why you left? Because I didn't say I'd protect you?"
"Arthur," Merlin said, and suddenly he was closer. "I knew - well, I didn't know for sure - but I was pretty sure you wouldn't tell Uther."
"Then why did you leave?" Arthur said, and tried not to wince at the plaintive note he heard in his voice.
"Because... I needed some time. It's hard to explain but I needed to go away for a little while. I went to this place, down in Cornwall, I don't know why I went there but it seemed to call out to me. And there was this cave in the hill. I was there for days, in a kind of trance. I don't even remember now what I saw, but it important. Somehow. I'm sorry I'm not explaining this well."
"Of course," Arthur let his head fall into his palm. "The whole country is in uproar over the sun disappearing and Merlin is holed up in a cave without a clue. You absolute imbecile."
Merlin grinned. "Sorry. But I did figure out how to reverse it. I think."
"You haven't done it yet?"
"No. Not yet."
"Okay," Arthur said. "Not that I really encourage magic generally, but in this case, I'll make an exception. Why haven't you done the damn spell?"
"Well, the thing is - I need you to do it."
"I can't do magic," Arthur said blankly.
"No, I know that," Merlin said. "I do the magic, but you have to be there."
"Why?" Arthur asked, though he was somehow not surprised.
"I, uh, I'm not really sure. Maybe because you're the prince."
"That doesn't even make sense."
"Well, possibly because... well, you might have caused it?"
"Oh God," Arthur said. Because he thought that they'd done everything they could to make sure people didn't freeze to death but that was only in his kingdom, what about in the others? How many had died? And he had known - somehow he'd known - that it was his fault. He hadn't passed the test, he hadn't protected Merlin - the best friend he had ever had, who had saved his life time and again - he had just let him go off, run away, because he, Arthur, was too much of a coward to stand up to his father. And as usual, everyone else had paid the price.
"Arthur, Arthur," Merlin's voice came through his reverie of self-hatred. "It's not your fault. It's not anything you did."
"Then, what was it?" He asked. Merlin was right in front of him, that concerned line knitting his brows. His eyes had little flecks of gold in them that Arthur didn't think they'd had before.
"I don't know exactly but... look, it's kind of strange but the thing is I don't think we're supposed to be apart. And I knew I was coming back, but you didn't and so it made things go wonky."
Merlin's hand smoothed over his shoulder. Arthur felt like something was coming back together inside him. It hurt his chest a little.
"Wonky," Arthur laughed. His eyes were possibly a little misty, but it was all the dust in the room. Merlin would have to do some cleaning now that he was back.
"Yeah," Merlin nodded. "Wonky is definitely the word."
"Okay," Arthur said, clearing his throat. "So, what do we have to do? You do magic and I do what?"
A huge smile broke out on Merlin's face. "You mostly sit there I think."
"I can do that," Arthur said.
Merlin started fishing around in his satchel.
"I've got this stuff. It's important for the ritual or whatever."
He pulled a bunch of things out: a piece of charcoal, a small leather bag, a piece of bread, and a bottle of whisky. A few coins fell onto the table as well.
Arthur raised one eyebrow.
Merlin turned to him. "That makes you look like Gaius, you know." Arthur sighed.
"Okay, so you should sit down on the floor," Merlin said.
Arthur balked. "I'm not going to sit on the floor. It's cold."
Merlin grumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "princes."
Then, Arthur's bed skidded over into the middle of the floor. Arthur jumped, just a little.
"There, now sit on the bed," Merlin said.
Arthur sat. Merlin handed him the bag, bread and whisky.
"What's this?" Arthur asked, holding up the bag.
"Salt," Merlin said.
"Shut up, I'm doing magic," Merlin said. He took the charcoal and bent over.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked.
"Drawing a circle, shh."
Indeed, he was using the charcoal to draw a circle that went all around and enclosed the bed. Merlin made sure to stay on the inside of it.
"You're washing that up later," Arthur commented.
Merlin started murmuring some words and Arthur hastily quieted down. He didn't want this going wrong. Even if it wasn't his fault precisely, he still felt responsible.
The circle complete, Merlin loudly said something that sounded like "Eep arrgh!" The charcoal glowed momentarily and then disappeared.
"Don't go outside the circle," Merlin told him, climbing up next to him.
"I can't exactly see it anymore," Arthur murmured.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "So just stay on the bed, then."
"Was this all a ploy to get me in bed?" Arthur asked cheekily. He was quite enjoying getting to be the insolent one, for once. Also, it was very amusing the way Merlin's cheeks went red.
"Ha-ha. Okay, now be quiet, sire. I'm going to do the next part of the spell."
The words sounded a bit familiar but different, the sounds harder and longer, and Merlin sung-spoke them so that he had trouble making out where each word started or stopped. After a minute, Merlin stopped. His eyes hadn't turned gold, Arthur noticed.
"It didn't work, did it?" He said.
Merlin frowned. "No. I don' t know why not. I'm sure I said it just the way they taught me."
"Try it again," Arthur ordered.
Merlin did. Still nothing.
"What did the witches say?" Arthur asked.
"Not much. Mostly they cackled."
"What about this other stuff? Are we supposed to do something with it?"
"I don't know, they just said to give it to you. It's a symbolic thing. Maybe you should eat the bread."
Arthur looked at it. It was rather stale and one side had been chewed on.
"I got hungry," Merlin said sheepishly.
"We could drink the whisky," Arthur suggested.
"Sometimes this happens," Merlin said, leaning against Arthur's shoulder. Arthur was drunk enough by now to let him. "I try and try and try and the magic just won't cooperate."
"Wow. I had no idea it was so unreliable," Arthur said. He meant it as a joke but it came out a bit sharply. He patted Merlin's leg to show he didn't mean any harm.
Merlin sat up and turned to look straight into Arthur's eyes. "It's always worked when you've been in danger," he said earnestly.
"I know." Arthur resisted the urge to look away or glance down at Merlin's lips. "I figured it out while you were gone - that it must have been you all those times."
"So, you trust me? To protect you?"
Arthur snorted, then said, "Sorry, it's just, well, it's you. If anyone should be protecting anyone here, it's me should be protecting you."
"You do," Merlin argued. "You've saved my life almost as many times as I've saved yours."
Arthur cheered up a bit. "That's true. And I don't have any special powers like you."
"Exactly," Merlin said, taking another swig of whisky. He didn't even wince this time. On his first drink, he'd choked and coughed and made all kinds of fuss.
"Though," Merlin said a moment later, "I don't know what I'm going to do now. Uther will kill me if I stay here, but I can't have you going off and getting yourself eaten by something or seduced by the next pretty sorceress that comes along."
"That's never happened," Arthur said, frowning.
"Sophia? Remember her?"
"Oh." Arthur sighed. "Tally another one up for you then."
"Maybe I'll have to go live with the dragon. Except he's always saying mysterious things. It's very annoying. And what if I got dragon dung dropped on me? I'd probably die under the weight of it..."
"What-- ?" Arthur tried.
"Or maybe I could learn to go invisible. Oh, that would be great! Then I could sneak around and I wouldn't have to wear those silly hats of yours anymore."
"I think maybe you've had a bit too much," Arthur said, separating Merlin from the bottle.
"Anyway, stop worrying about it. I'll talk to my father and get him to let you stay."
"Do you really think that'll work?" Merlin said.
"Of course. Unless he wants me to leave with you next time."
Merlin looked up at him and there was such a look of hope on his face, that Arthur's heart clenched and jumped at the same time. He wondered if it was dangerous, but decided he wasn't going to consult Gaius about it.
"Perhaps we should go to sleep," Arthur said. "It must be late."
"It won't really matter if the sun doesn't come up tomorrow," Merlin said, forlorn.
"You can try the spell again in the morning -- or whatever it is," Arthur said.
Merlin started to get up, and then looked down at the floor. "Oh, I'll have to get rid of the circle."
"Why don't you stay here," Arthur said, not stopping to examine what prompted him to say it. "That way you won't have to put it up again. And your room must be freezing."
"Okay," Merlin said cautiously. "If you don't mind."
Arthur blew out the candles. Only the glow of the fire lit the room now.
They climbed under the covers without shedding their clothes. Arthur lay on his back, and tried not too breathe too fast. Merlin's shoulder was just touching his. He was suddenly wide-awake.
"Good night," Merlin said.
Arthur was almost asleep, when he heard Merlin say the words once more. They were quiet, soft, a whisper to the dark.
And then he was reaching for the boy next to him, the siren call that Merlin always exuded tuned up beyond any control he could exert over it, and Merlin felt it too, he was sure of it, because they were pulling together like two threads in a knot, inevitable, Merlin's mouth hot and wet and moving against his, his thigh between Arthur's, pressing together all the way down.
"What -- what was that?" Arthur gasped, without pulling back. Merlin's hands in his hair wouldn't let him.
"Magic," and they were rolling over, Merlin on top of him - it felt wonderful - and Merlin was biting at his neck. He ground up into him.
"Do you want this? I mean, when we're not being magicked?" Merlin asked, breathily, not letting go of him at all. Arthur thought he would probably have to fight Merlin off to get him to let go, and the thought sent a shiver of pleasure down his spine.
"Yes, yes, always," he said and Merlin's moan was enough to let him know that him too, yes.
They were grappling with clothes and then, like Merlin suddenly remembered he could do magic, they disappeared and there was so much skin, everywhere. Merlin was flushed, breathing hard, and then leaning over Arthur, hands on his shoulders as Merlin rubbed himself against him. It hurt a little, Merlin's sharp little hips, but then Arthur tugged him down, and spread his own legs and it was perfect, God, perfect.
It was strange, sort of, that the only sounds were their breaths and suppressed moans, their bodies rubbing against each other. Arthur felt like he should say something, but he was too entranced with watching Merlin, his pale chest and his arms flexing, the little grunts he made as he moved, and the fixed lust on his face, the way Merlin was drinking him in.
"God, Arthur," Merlin moaned, and Arthur pulled him down again.
Something slotted into place inside him and there was amazing heat, but it was inside him, in his belly and breast, washing through his arms and legs and everything seemed lit by a warm amber colour.
"You're part of me, and I'm part of you," Arthur said into Merlin's ear and he knew it was true before Merlin gasped, "Yes," and came. Arthur followed soon after, Merlin's hand working him slowly.
The first ray of the sun lit the wall then, and Arthur said, "look, Merlin," but he was already asleep.
P.S. I've nicked some ideas from Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave and Amanuensis' Harry/Draco fic Rituals and Traditions. Both are very good reads.