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I'll Drink To That

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After Merlin drinks poison in his stead, Arthur keeps the chalice he drank from. It's free of any taint now; Gaius has seen to that. Arthur likes to bring it out from time to time, to hold it in his hands as a reminder of what he and Merlin are willing to do for one another. He's never quite forgotten the sudden, pained look on Merlin's face as the poison began to burn through his body. It's not an expression he ever wants to see again. Somehow, Merlin has worked his way under Arthur's skin and the last thing he wants is for him to come to any harm.

Merlin isn't supposed to know that Arthur has the chalice. It's not that he's ashamed of the impulse that made him hold onto it, but it might lead to questions Arthur's not sure he's ready to answer yet. He's usually careful only to take it out when Merlin's duties keep him away from his chambers. Then Camelot falls under the curse brought about by the unicorn's death and Arthur makes his own impetuous gesture, drinking from what he believes to be a poisoned goblet in order to pass Anhora's test. After that, he's a little less cautious about pulling it from its hiding place. Of course, if Merlin ever learned to knock before entering the room it wouldn't be a problem. He hasn't, though, so naturally he bursts in while Arthur is sitting at his table with the chalice in his hands.

"Oh," Merlin says as he walks across the room towards him. "Is that...?"

Arthur cradles the chalice protectively. "What have I told you about knocking, Merlin?"

Merlin casts a quick glance over his shoulder at the door, but then he shrugs and turns his attention back to Arthur. "Sorry, I didn't think it would matter. Seriously, though, is that what it looks like? I never knew what happened to it."

Waving Merlin into the seat opposite him, Arthur carefully pushes the chalice across the table to him. Merlin's long fingers curve around the stem cautiously, but he makes no move to pick it up.

"Yes, it is," Arthur says, watching as Merlin studies it curiously.

"Why?" Merlin asks finally, looking back at Arthur. "I mean, have you really had it all this time?"

"Yes, Merlin, I've had it ever since..." Arthur waves a hand to encompass Merlin's actions and his own mad dash to find the mortaeus flower.

"Oh, that's..." Merlin frowns. "Don't you think that's kind of morbid?"

"The poison is long gone and you're very much alive. I don't see what's morbid about it," Arthur replies. He lets his gaze linger on Merlin's hand where it remains curled around the chalice. "I prefer to think of it as a symbol of our friendship."

It wasn't what he'd intended to say and Merlin seems startled by the words too, staring at him wide-eyed.

"Really?" he says.

"We do seem to have a habit of saving each other's lives," Arthur says with a wry smile. "I'd like to think that says something about our relationship."

"Ohhh..." Merlin swallows and Arthur follows the movement of his throat.

If they're ever to explore the potential between them, now seems to be the time to do so. An idea occurs to Arthur and he gestures in the direction of the vessel still cradled in Merlin's fingers.

"Would you care to raise a toast to that?" he asks.

Merlin smiles and it's part shy, part teasing. "Gaius swears I can't hold my drink. Do you think that's wise?"

Arthur's heard the same rumours. He's never seen Merlin drunk, though, so he's inclined to disregard them. Still, it doesn't hurt to be sure before he lets this continue. "Just this once I think we'll risk it... If that's what you want, Merlin."

There's a moment in which Merlin simply looks at him, measuring, then he nods his head. "It's what I want."

"That's good, then," Arthur says, and finds himself at a loss as to what to do next.

Merlin seems to know, though. There's a pitcher of ale from Arthur's meal earlier still on the table. Merlin gets up and lifts it, tilting it towards the chalice in his other hand. "Shall I?"

"It seems fitting," Arthur agrees and Merlin pours the ale.

He brings it round to Arthur's side of the table and holds the brimming cup out to him. Arthur takes it carefully, not wanting to spill any of the liquid. His fingers brush against Merlin's as it passes from hand to hand. Arthur raises it to his lips and drinks. A slight tremor shivers through him as he thinks of what happened at Gedref, but he swallows once, twice, before offering the chalice back to Merlin. Merlin's hands cover his so that they're both holding the vessel before he bends his head and takes a sip. Arthur wonders what Merlin is thinking as he drinks from it for the second time, wonders if he's remembering being poisoned. Even if he is, Merlin doesn't hesitate. He drinks deeply before stepping back, his tongue swiping briefly across his lips to lick away a few stray drops of ale.

They watch one another, then. Neither of them seems quite sure what comes next, but as Merlin took the initiative last time, Arthur feels that he ought to now. He sets the chalice aside and holds a hand out to Merlin. After a moment Merlin takes it and Arthur tugs him closer.

"Come here, Merlin," he says and his voice sounds rough and odd to his own ears.

He pulls until Merlin tumbles into his lap. He seems startled, but doesn't try to draw away. He's all long limbs and bony hips, but Arthur eventually manages to get him seated comfortably enough across his thighs. After a slight hesitation, Merlin slides an arm around his shoulders for balance.

"Is this...?" Merlin begins, but Arthur shushes him before he can say any more.

Reaching up, Arthur curves a hand around the back of Merlin's neck and tilts his head down. Then he leans forward and presses their mouths together. Merlin's lips are soft and taste of ale. They part on a gasp of surprise and Arthur takes advantage, sliding his tongue between them. Merlin seems to like that and he shifts on Arthur's lap until he's turned towards him more and pressed closer. Arthur can feel the movement of his chest with each breath that Merlin takes. He's warm and alive and eager under Arthur's hands and, as he curls his fingers into the soft hair at Merlin's nape, he wonders why they waited so long to get to this point. Just how long the possibility has existed for is brought home to him as the light glinting off the chalice catches his eye.

He's pulled out of his distraction when Merlin's hands start to tug at his tunic's laces and Arthur returns his full attention to him. Merlin's moved again and now he's straddling his lap, kissing him back with considerable enthusiasm. Arthur runs his hand slowly down the length of Merlin's spine, making him arch against his body. He ends by cupping his palm around the slight swell of Merlin's arse and he bucks into the touch. They're both hard. Arthur can feel the thick ridge of Merlin's cock as he presses forward.

When they finally pull apart they're both panting and Merlin's lips are red and swollen from kissing. He grinds down onto Arthur's cock, something Arthur does nothing to discourage.

"Tell me you're not going to take this back tomorrow," Merlin says as he reaches into the front of Arthur's tunic, blunt nails scraping across his nipples.

"I'm not..." Arthur gasps and thrusts his hips up, into the perfect pressure of Merlin's body riding him. "...going to take this back. I promise."

Just a few moments later, Merlin throws his head back. The movement bares the pale, vulnerable stretch of his throat and he comes on a long, shuddering moan. Arthur spares a second to think that this could have been even better if they'd managed to shed their clothes, but then he's too busy losing himself in the pleasure of his own orgasm. Merlin has slumped until he's a limp, heavy blanket covering him and Arthur ruts against the pliant weight of him until he's wrung every last aftershock from his body. Merlin clings to him and shivers periodically when his touch finds a particularly sensitive spot.

"Next time..." Arthur slurs when he eventually stills. His face is buried against Merlin's shoulder.

"What?" Merlin asks, sounding just as tired.

"Next time," Arthur repeats. He straightens up so the words come out a little more clearly. "This. Bed. No clothes." It's as much coherence as he's capable of mustering.

"Oh, yes!" Merlin's whole face lights up as he flashes Arthur a warm, intimate smile. "Definitely. Next time."

Arthur smiles back at him and thinks he must have done something right if this is his reward: Merlin, sated and sleepy, curled close in his lap.