Title: Salted Fish Rating: PG for kisses Word count: ~1000 Pairings: Arthur/Merlin, Arthur/OFC, Merlin/OFCx2, Merlin/OMCx3 Warnings: Just kissing. See pairings. Disclaimer: I do not own this version of Merlin, nor am I making any profit from it. Prompt: This was written for Merlinadvent 2009 Day 4, using the prompt: Sometimes things get lost. Sometimes people get lost. It's in the finding and the saving and sometimes even the rescuing. What gets lost is up to you.
I have never heard of a game quite like this, but it's only a slightly spicy version of 'Sardines' after all. Totally mediaevalesque-ish.
As the storm rages outside the castle, the older folk seem to have taken the opportunity to stay in their rooms, rugged up and cosy at the fireside. Only the servants and the young folk meet for the midday meal in the large hall. Probably that is why Lady Emily's suggestion is not immediately frowned out of the realms of possibility. Instead it is taken up eagerly by the rowdy group of squires and young knights at her table. One or two of the younger ladies are drawn away from the group by stern handmaidens but by the time Merlin arrives, late from taking Gaius his meal, the group is just breaking up and heading out of the hall in ones and twos.
"Are you playing, Merlin?" Sir Kay's youngest squire, Bartholomew, asks.
Merlin looks around at the laughing young people dispersing in all directions. "I just got here. What's happening?"
"We're playing Salted Fish!" Bartholomew grins. "Agravaine's 'it'." Another squire calls him and he bounces off, leaving Merlin none the wiser. Some sort of game, apparently. A hiding or chasing game by the sound of it.
Arthur is not happy that he is late, but fortunately he is distracted by hearing of the game. He doesn't seem sure whether to be unhappy because he was not included or because he should probably have stopped it. Merlin refrains from pointing out that this might be why he was not included.
"So what's wrong with it, anyway?" he asks.
"Oh, it's just a type of hide-and-seek," Arthur says scanning the hall to see who is left. "One person hides and then each new person who finds him has to squash up and hide next to him, like fish packed in a barrel."
Merlin doesn't think that sounds too bad.
"And every new person has to add a little 'salt' in the form of a kiss to the previous person."
"Oh!" Well, that is... rather risque. No wonder it's popular among the younger set. You could end up next to anybody...
Arthur looks at him consideringly. "You want to play, don't you?" he says, amused.
Merlin bites his lip. Anybody. You could end up next to spotty Egbert or flirty Lady Emily, shy Will or pretty Anna with the huge...
"Yes?" he says hopefully, and it looks as if that was the right answer. Arthur grins and Merlin can practically see him throwing caution to the winds.
"Come on," he says, "Agravaine likes the stables best. I bet he's hidden there."
* * *
The daylight hours are too short when they're spent running all over the castle, laughing and squishing up warm and close with Arthur and what seems like at least half of the castle's unmarried population, nobility and servants all mixed in together. Night finds Merlin counting his kisses, all tucked up in his bed. He's had more kisses in this one day than in the entire of his life beforehand, his Mum excepted.
Hylda had kissed his cheek. Merlin didn't hold her onion-breath against her; she was a nice girl. Shy Will was not too shy to plant one gently on his lips and blush. His best mate Adstan had given Merlin a hostile look for that, but it wasn't Merlin's fault.
Bartholomew had put on a show of kissing him with loud sucky noises as Merlin giggled under his mouth until Arthur finally said "Get a room!" and pushed Bartholomew's head into Oswald's armpit, thereby sparking a three-way tussle which made the girls squeal in a most satisfactory way.
Lady Susan had kissed his dimple with quiet reserve and Agravaine his hand, looking up at him with slight puzzlement, as if unsure where he had come from.
And Arthur - Merlin had kissed Arthur every time, because all day they had scrambled around the castle together and whenever they found 'it' Arthur would squeeze in first and kiss his neighbour, then wait for Merlin to fall in beside him and kiss him again. And again. And again.
The first time Merlin had kissed his hand, as an inferior kisses the hand of his liege lord. Something had glinted in Arthur's eyes, something that liked that kiss.
The second time Merlin had kissed his cheek, emboldened by the many, many kisses he had seen already. Arthur had grinned at him and raised a sardonic eyebrow. It looked like a dare.
So the third time he took Arthur's chin and grinned boldly at him before planting a brash, firm kiss on those smug lips. Arthur had laughed like a four-year-old, light and free. Merlin had the feeling that he had been played.
The fourth time Arthur had just kissed Lady Emily with what Merlin considered to be entirely unwarranted enthusiasm. Merlin wasn't going there. He kissed Arthur's hand again, cool as a courtier, and the corners of Arthur's mouth twitched in what looked like amusement.
The last time, he'd kissed Arthur's lips again, suddenly afraid of missing out on the treat through his own ridiculousness. This time he had lingered long enough to taste them. They tasted good. Merlin couldn't describe the taste, but he liked it a lot.
And then the bell had rung for dinner and the game was over. Will and Adstan had eaten at either end of the table, silent and twitchy, but everyone else was in a good mood - although the cold still drove everyone out of the hall and to their beds far earlier than usual.
Ten kisses, and half of them with Arthur. Merlin drifts off to sleep with a smile on his face, and if he shivers under his blankets he has the memories of a truly amazing day to keep him warm.
_________________________________ The fifth ficlet in the marzipan series is here