Down by the river that flows by the coal yards
Stand wooden houses with shutters torn down
The wind blew softly, ruffling a young blonde's air as he half-ran down the rocky path towards the river bridge. He heard voices coming his way and cursed silently, pulling up his hood and ducking his head so as not to be caught. If his father discovered his whereabouts, he was a dead man. A couple appeared from around the path's bend, walking hand-in-hand. They laughed freely, paying him no mind as he slipped past them. The young man watched them with a slight smile as he thought of his destination.
The man let out a soft sigh of relief as he reached the bridge, allowing his shoulders to relax. He stood taller then, stalking across the bridge with a spring in his step. A young maid waved at him in recognition, and he offered her a grin in return. After a brief greeting, she raised a knowing eyebrow at him and reached into her basket, handing him a wildflower from her own bouquet. He kissed her cheek in thanks and continued down the path.
There lives a girl there everybody calls Patches
Patches, my darling, of old shanty town
The young man paused briefly as he came across a small house near the edge of the river across the bridge. He went to knock on the door, but seemed to think better of himself as the sun shown in his eyes. He walked around the side of the house, coming across a small garden in the back.
There was crouched a young man with dark raven hair that lay stark against his pale skin. He was crouched in the garden, dirt coating the palms of his hands as he pulled at the weeds. He was humming as the blonde man stalked slowly up behind him.
The blonde bent low, blowing in the other mans ear. With a yelp of surprise, the raven haired man fell over, nearly crushing the sapling he’d been tending to. He looked up, ready to scold his attacker, only to lose his words the moment his eyes landed on the blonde.
“Arthur,” he breathed softly.
Arthur smiled, helping the other man stand. He stepped closer to his lover and raised the wildflower between their noses. “For you, my Merlin.”
We planned to marry when June brought the summer
I couldn’t wait to make Patches my bride
Arthur rolled over, letting out a content sigh as he felt Merlin curl up at his side. The smaller man pressed lazy kisses to his chest. Arthur closed his eyes and repressed a moan.
“This is not what I had in mind.”
Merlin hummed, pausing in his explorations to look up at the blonde. “No?”
“So you walked all the way here in bright daylight, with no forewarning I might add, and you weren’t planning to fall into bed with me?”
Arthur had a ready retort. He was sure he did. But the moment he opened his eyes and saw the other man’s teasing smirk his mind went blank. He shifted suddenly, rolling them over to lie on top of his lover. He leaned in, parting Merlin’s soft lips with his and entwining their tongues. Merlin melted, arms wrapping slightly around his waist to pull him closer.
Nearly an hour later, Arthur pulled back, panting heavily. “No. Stop, shut up.”
Merlin frowned at him. “I’m quite certain I wasn’t saying anything.”
Arthur pressed a quick kiss to the frown. “Idiot, let me speak.” He leaned his forehead on Merlin’s, gazing into the deep blue of his eyes. “I just. . . marry me.”
The young man beneath him stilled his hand where it had been tracing soothing circles on his shoulder. He blinked for a moment before rising, shoving Arthur off of him in the process. “Don’t say things like that.”
The blonde reached out for him, yearning for the return of contact. “Like what?”
“Like that! Like you want to,” Merlin searched for the words, but couldn’t seem to find any. “Like this is lasting.”
Arthur felt his stomach twist. He grabbed Merlin’s wrist, pulling the young man gently back to his chest. “Lasting?” He let out a soft laugh, pressing his lips to raven hair. “Merlin. Darling, silly Merlin,” he whispered the name like a prayer against his lovers ear, “We aren’t lasting. We’re eternal.”
He sensed the other man’s hesitance and felt his heart beat faster. He coaxed the younger man to turn and meet his eyes. “Merlin. . . I am yours. Forever. I give you my life to do with what you will. If I’m speaking like we’re lasting it’s because we are. To me, we are.” Arthur dropped his hand from the other man’s cheek. “Unless it’s not the same for you?”
His chest ached impossibly worse when he saw the tears pooling in his lovers eyes. “No. I mean, yes, it is! I mean—” Merlin huffed, squeezing his eyes shut in embarrassment and taking in a breath. “I love you.”
He felt his lips steal the room from his cheeks. “Then marry me.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure that was a question, you prat.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Peals of laughter were cut short as he once more met his lovers lips.
Now I don’t see how that ever can happen
My folks say no and my heart breaks inside
Patches, oh what can I do?
I swear I’ll always love you
But a girl from that place
Would just bring me disgrace
So my folks won’t let me love you
“What do you mean, you aren’t seeing him anymore?” Morgana asked him slowly, tensely, her words dripping with fury.
Arthur groaned. He didn’t want to argue with Morgana, he’d already been fighting with his father that day. “My father is. . . against it.”
Morgana let out an enraged cry, smacking her palm against his chest. “So, what, you just give up on him? What was he, your plaything? Just another silly little fling from the other side of the bridge for you to fuck and throw away at your leisure?”
Arthur’s eyes widened in horror. “No! God, no, Morgana! Not him. Never him.” He fell back against the wall at her accusations. If this is what she thought, she who’d never even met his lover, then what must Merlin think?
This time it was her fists that met his chest. He didn’t bother to try and block her. The physical pain only helped to distract him from the already unbearable ache in his chest. “Really? Because that’s exactly how it seems to me! You go down a few times a week, usually at sunset or well after, and spend the night shut up in his bedroom only to leave him wanting the next morning? Treating him like some common whore!”
Arthur shushed her, looking around to make sure none of his father’s ears were around before pulling her into an alcove. “Would I propose to a common whore?”
Her glare didn’t waver. “You might, if you were looking for thorough satiation.”
He dropped his chin to his chest, all of the fight leaving his body. “I love him, Morgana. I will always love him. But my father is old fashioned, he believes someone from the river town would only tarnish our reputation. He’s got me on lockdown here, I can’t sneak out to meet Merlin. I can’t fight, Morgana, I’m in no position to. I just have to take my time, come up with a way.” He looked back up at her, silently begging her to understand.
Morgana shook her head, taking a step towards the door. “I hope you’re right, Arthur. But Merlin won’t wait forever. He deserves better.”
She left then, not bothering with a goodbye. He knew he didn’t deserve one.
Each night I cry as I think of that Shanty
And pretty Patches there watching the door
She doesn’t know that I can’t come to see her
Patches must think that I love her no more
He didn’t find a solution.
It had been weeks. Weeks screaming his throat raw, of slammed doors, of locked windows. Weeks of crying himself dry every night and lying there, empty and sleepless, as he dreamed of pale limbs and bright smiles and Merlin.
He couldn’t go see him. He couldn’t even get word to his lover to explain himself. Each messenger had been intercepted, each letter torn apart by his father. Arthur heaved into a bucket near his bed, sick with thoughts of what his Merlin must be thinking.
That he didn’t love him? That he was just another fuck? Arthur had run out of tears a fortnight ago, but his eyes continued to burn with grief and strain. He prayed to gods he’d see Merlin again, that he’d be given the chance to fall to his knees before his lover and beg forgiveness. That Merlin would take him into his arms. That he would understand, the way he always had.
I heard a neighbor telling my father
He says a girl name of Patches was found
“No. No. You’re lying!” Arthur screamed with a voice he’d forgotten he had, chucking the glass in his hand at the messenger’s head.
“He’s not lying, Arthur.”
Arthur turned to the source of the voice, his rage evident as he was met with his fathers stare. “There was no mistake, his friend, the girl with the flowers, identified him.”
Arthur stood, shaking, as he stared at the man before him. The man who’d raised him. The man who’d given him everything.
The man who’d ripped everything away from him.
Floating facedown in that dirty old river
That flows by the coal yards in old shanty town
He’d thought his heart had been broken before. He was wrong.
This was what broken felt like.
It wasn’t empty. It wasn’t tearless. It was raw and primal and excruciating and he never wanted it to end. If it ended, it would mean forgetting. And Arthur never wanted to forget.
He wanted to remember every glance, every kiss, every fight, every touch. The good and the bad and the glorious all tucked safely in the sanctuary of his memories. He wanted to remember the way Merlin’s light seemed to blind him, even in the cover of night. He wanted to remember Merlin’s laughter when he tickled that one certain spot. He wanted to remember how Merlin’s cheeks flushed after a long day of work, and how he’d curl up by the fire with that stupid wool blanket and sing songs of lost lovers well into the early hours of the morning.
He never wanted to forget.
Even if it meant remembering the bad. The pain he inflicted by leaving his lover behind. The betrayal in Guinevere’s eyes when she realized why she’d had to identify the floating body of her best friend. The bruising of his fathers grip on his arm at the funeral he’d pleaded to attend.
No, he didn’t want to forget.
He didn’t deserve to.
He wanted to remember.
More than that, he wanted Merlin back.
He wrote the note that night. It wasn’t for his father. It wasn’t for Morgana. It was for Merlin.
“I swear I’ll always love you.”
Patches, oh what can I do?
I swear I’ll always love you
It may not be right
But I’ll join you tonight
Patches, I’m coming to you.
It hurt. And then it didn’t.
And then there were pale arms around him, and soft lips at his temple.
And his tears flowed freely once more.