A banging on the chamber door wakes Merlin from his slumber. Arthur silently but vehemently managed to indicate that he wanted to sleep in the servant room, and Merlin let him; they took a risk yesterday, and with things as bad as they are they really shouldn’t be taking any more risks.
He stumbles out of bed, pulling on some clothes in a way that he hopes is at least slightly correct, and goes to pull the door open.
“You have a visitor, your majesty-” a servant informs him, but can’t get further because he’s pushed aside and Morgana comes striding into the room, looking resplendent in a dark velvet gown. She looks particularly terrifying this morning, chin raised to a haughty angle, an expression of disdain on her face. Gwen follows her, offering Merlin a quick smile.
“You can leave,” Morgana informs the servant, and the man obediently does so, bowing and closing the door. The minute they’re alone, Morgana turns to Merlin, eyes flashing with something like anger. “Where is he?” she demands.
Merlin can’t find his voice for a moment, but he finally he manages to point at the door to Arthur’s room and stammer: “In there.”
Morgana nods and sweeps across to go and wake Arthur without another word. Merlin turns to Gwen.
“I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life,” he admits, throwing his arms around her. If Gwen is at all surprised by this, she doesn’t show it, hugging him back and laughing.
“I told you this was a bad idea,” she says.
“It was a bad idea,” Merlin agrees, clinging to her like a drowning man. He’s aware that this lacks dignity, but he’s slightly afraid that if he lets go Gwen will disappear and leave him alone. “It was a very bad idea and I should have listened to you.”
Morgana reappears, half-dragging a sleepy and grumpy Arthur with her. Merlin quickly lets go of Gwen, pulling back his shoulders to try and stand straight because the look on Morgana’s face is really scary.
“You are both stupid little boys,” she informs them. “What did you think you were doing?”
Arthur apparently doesn’t like being called a stupid little boy. “What are you doing here?” he asks, ignoring Morgana’s question. “And what exactly do you think is happening?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Arthur,” Morgana replies tightly. She is magnificent, Merlin reflects in a detached sort of way; magnificent and utterly terrifying. “I know all about your little plan, to make Merlin pretend to be you so you wouldn’t have to get married.”
Arthur’s mouth drops open, and even Merlin feels a little stunned. “How?” Arthur demands.
“Gwen got a letter three days ago from Merlin,” Morgana replies. Merlin suddenly remembers the panic-stricken note he sent Gwen, and is so glad, now, that he did. “She realised that your ridiculous little game was going to get out of hand and told me. We were out of the castle within two hours of the letter’s arrival.”
Arthur turns to stare at Merlin. “You told Gwen?” He looks furious, but Merlin has finally seen a way out and is therefore not going to back down.
“Of course I told Gwen,” he replies.
Arthur seems momentarily lost for words, anger still tight on his face.
“I’m just glad one of you has a modicum of sense,” Morgana cuts in. “I don’t know what you thought this game was going to achieve, but almost the moment I arrived I heard that Prince Arthur is practically on the point of being betrothed to Princess Helena. I assume that wasn’t your intention?”
“He’s the stupid idiot who let her kiss him,” Arthur mutters, pointing accusingly at Merlin. “This is all his fault.”
Gwen turns to Merlin, eyes wide, but her mouth is curling into a smile as though she is trying to hold in a laugh. Morgana’s facial expression of despairing fury doesn’t flicker.
“His majesty,” Merlin replies, a bite to his voice, “Wanted me to insult Helena every time I went near her.”
Morgana looks between the two of them. “I honestly don’t know which of you I despise more right now,” she says. Merlin thinks that this is a little unfair, but he doesn’t mention it; it’s not his place. “And you had better hope that I can sort this mess out. Or I’m telling your father.”
Arthur pales a little. Merlin looks at the floor.
“I will be back,” Morgana informs them. “And you had best pray that Helena will listen to me, or else you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
She sweeps out. Gwen glances at Arthur’s facial expression, murmurs a hasty see you later, and practically runs out, abandoning Merlin to his fate.
“You told Gwen.” Arthur layers those three words with more anger than anything Merlin’s heard from him before.
“I tell her everything,” Merlin replies. “I thought you knew that. The rest of the court certainly does.”
“You tell my secrets to others,” Arthur says flatly. “You really were the worse servant I ever had. I should have you hanged.”
Merlin sighs. “Fine. Have me hanged. I really don’t care any more.”
“You don’t care if I have you killed?” Arthur repeats incredulously.
“I’m tired,” Merlin replies. “I didn’t want to do any of this anyway, and you should really be grateful I told Gwen because I don’t see any other way out of this stupid tangle, do you?”
Arthur scowls, and then opens his mouth to say something.
“I’m not your servant any more,” Merlin replies, “I don’t have to listen to you while you choose whether you want me executed or not. Just think it over and let me know when you’ve decided.”
He’s heading towards the adjoining chamber; he needs some quiet so he can try and work out exactly what’s going on right now, when Arthur calls: “Merlin.”
He whirls around. “If you’re about to tell me that I’m an idiot, or a clot, or a moron, I already know. You’ve told me often enough.”
Arthur sighs; suddenly he looks small and tired and ever so slightly penitent. Merlin frowns, unsure exactly what’s happening now. “I am a prince,” Arthur says quietly.
“Yes,” Merlin agrees, not able to work out what he’s getting at.
“I am a prince,” Arthur repeats.
“I am a prince.” Arthur looks uncomfortable now. “I cannot apologise. I cannot admit to being wrong. I cannot back down. Do you understand?”
Merlin sighs heavily. “Am I still being hanged?”
“No.” Arthur’s expression is hard to read; there are too many emotions tangled up in it.
“I suppose it’s a start.” Merlin walks over to the table, pulls out a chair, and sits down.
“Am I forgiven?” Arthur asks carefully after a minute or two of strained hush. Merlin realises that somehow he has become the one with the power again, but really isn’t sure quite how he managed it.
Arthur tips his head to one side. “But you are willing to stay in the same room as me.”
Arthur smiles slightly, sitting down on the other side of the table. “That will suffice.”
This, Merlin decides, is very possibly what being insane feels like.
“Oh good,” he murmurs, and lets silence fall again. But it’s an easier silence this time, and Merlin wonders how it is they’ve managed to let the last day of muted fury and resentment just… cease to matter. He’s about to ask, and then realises that perhaps he doesn’t want to know.
Morgana still thinks they’re stupid morons, and says that she has half a mind to tell Uther anyway when they get back to Camelot, but Merlin knows that she’s just tormenting Arthur because she enjoys it. She’s considerably less angry with them now, and more amused about the whole thing. She and Gwen beg as much of the story as they’re willing to tell out of Arthur and Merlin; they laugh far too much and Gwen actually drops her head into her hands when Arthur repeats Merlin’s rather pathetic you have mud on your dress.
“It’s no wonder Helena gave you up without a fight when I told her I’d decided to accept your proposal,” Morgana remarks.
“I’ll have you know, most of the court seems to be in love with me,” Merlin replies, raising his chin haughtily.
Gwen giggles, and even Arthur smirks. “It’s the crown they’re in love with,” he corrects.
“Damn,” Merlin smiles.
“Helena believes we’re betrothed,” Morgana reminds Merlin. “So you had better be very nice to me tonight.”
There is a large celebration feast tonight; they’re all going home tomorrow, mercifully, and even if the marriage has failed miserably apparently the court has had a lot of fun from this visit anyway.
“I’m sure I can pretend to be charming for an evening,” Merlin says dryly. “If I try very hard.”
“You are not allowed to be charming to anyone ever again,” Arthur informs him.
“Ordering me about again?” Merlin asks quietly. “You made it very clear we’re going our separate ways.”
Arthur’s cheeks flush, just a little, and Gwen stares at Merlin with wide, amused eyes. Morgana’s expression has suddenly become very serious.
“Am I going to have to say it?” Arthur practically whispers.
Merlin has been very good about letting go of the majority of hurtful things he and Arthur have done to each other over the last week, so he thinks he’s probably allowed one reward.
“Yes,” he says firmly, not letting Arthur off the hook.
Arthur glances at Morgana and Gwen. “Am I going to have to say it in front of them?”
Morgana stands, gathering her skirts around her, and Gwen gets up too.
“I should be preparing for tonight,” Morgana says, with a hint of a softened smile. She fixes Merlin with a firm stare. “You had better be able to dance.”
Merlin reflects that if Arthur doesn’t want him executed for betraying his secrets to Gwen, then Morgana is going to want him executed for having two left feet. Still, he’ll worry about that later.
“My lady,” he demurs, inclining his head in a gesture that could mean anything. Gwen sniggers at him, but he ignores her.
When the door has shut, Merlin turns to gaze at Arthur, trying not to look too expectant.
“I would like you to be my manservant again,” Arthur says, stilted but clearly, staring down at his hands.
Merlin thinks about pushing for a ‘please’, but he knows how sensitive Arthur’s pride is and decides not to wound it today.
“There,” he says instead, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Arthur’s lips curl slightly. “Prat.”
“I thought that was my nickname for you,” Merlin replies.
“We’ll just have to share it then, won’t we?” Arthur smirks at him. Then he’s all business. “You should be dressing for the feast.”
Merlin sighs, but since he won’t have to do this again, he obediently walks across to the cupboard. “What am I wearing?” he asks.
“The purple one,” Arthur replies, crossing the room to sit beside the fire with his back firmly to Merlin.
The purple shirt is a lovely deep colour that Merlin likes instantly; he suspects it will look better on him than it ever could on Arthur, but he doesn’t mention it. He does become aware that the back and sleeves lace up with golden laces; eye-catching and attractive, certainly, but impossible to get into on your own. He supposes that this is why he’s never seen Arthur wearing it; Arthur will not let Merlin dress him, for whatever reason.
“I’m going to need some help,” he says.
Arthur does not turn around. “What?”
“I haven’t made you be my manservant at any point over the last week,” Merlin reminds him. “This can be your chance to have a go before we go back home again.”
Arthur sighs in a long-suffering way, getting up and turning around. His eyes flick over Merlin, still naked to the waist, and then rise to fix on his face, determined not to look down. If Merlin didn’t know better, he’d say the prince was embarrassed.
“Let’s get this over with,” Arthur murmurs, and Merlin pulls the shirt over his head as best he can. He cannot wear an undershirt beneath the purple velvet, and he can feel Arthur’s fingers brushing his skin as he threads the laces through each arm, holding the sleeves together from shoulder to wrist. Arthur’s lower lip is caught between his teeth as he works, lowered eyelashes casting dark shadows down his cheeks. Merlin tries to think of something to say, but he can’t come up with anything. His mouth is dry, his throat closing in on itself, his pulse fluttering wildly.
Arthur’s fingertips brush against Merlin’s spine as he laces up the back of the shirt; at first, Merlin thinks it’s an accident, but each touch is a little too long, as though Arthur is deliberately prolonging it. Merlin suspects that he is meant to be feeling uncomfortable right now, but he isn’t. The stroke of Arthur’s fingertips against his back is too intimate but doesn’t feel entirely abnormal. And for a moment, Merlin wonders how he got here, standing in an unfamiliar kingdom with a prince dressing him. It’s the sort of thing that isn’t supposed to happen to people.
Arthur knots the threads tight but his fingers stay, pressed just slightly to Merlin’s lower back. And Merlin almost gasps as things he ignored, things he dismissed, things he wouldn’t allow himself to think about, all come together. And he knows he has a choice; after all he can step away and pretend that this isn’t happening, and he knows Arthur would follow suit to avoid humiliation.
Instead, he turns around. Arthur pulls his hands away but they’re still standing too close. Arthur’s eyes are downcast, as though still focused on his previous task, but he slowly raises them to Merlin’s face. Merlin gazes back, desperately trying to find words to say, anything at all to say to prove that this isn’t all some figment of his imagination, occurring as a result of he and Arthur spending altogether too much time together. But words won’t come and Arthur appears to reach some kind of decision because he leans forward and presses his mouth against Merlin’s.
There’s sort of a moment of complete stillness, Arthur’s lips closed against his, and Merlin imagines that if he says ‘no’ now Arthur will actually probably have him executed. Then it occurs to him that he doesn’t want to refuse; he doesn’t want this to stop. It’s an interesting discovery and a liberating one, and he opens his lips slightly against Arthur’s.
After that it all gets a little untidy, Arthur’s hands returning to grip Merlin’s waist and Merlin can’t resist snaking his fingers into Arthur’s blonde hair, just to see if it’s as soft as he always suspected it would be. It is, he’s pleased to find. And Arthur might be surprised at just how enthusiastically Merlin is responding but he hides it well, although he makes a muffled sound of either shock or amusement when Merlin is the first to slide his tongue against Arthur’s. It sort of feels as though this is the sort of thing they’ve always done; their arguments could be read as verbal jousting but he suspects they could also be read as verbal sex, and he is going to mention this to Arthur at some inappropriate point.
Arthur’s teeth are tugging his lower lip and Merlin is breathing raggedly when he suddenly remembers why Arthur was dressing him in the first place. And Morgana will probably kill him in some frightening female way if he does not at least put in an appearance tonight.
“I have to attend the feast,” he says, reluctantly letting go of Arthur and hurrying away, picking the crown up from the table as he passes.
Arthur remains silent and does not make a move to follow him.
Morgana seems to decide that she rather likes Merlin; at least once he manages a dance with her without trampling her feet and making her look a fool. He’s not entirely sure how he manages it, if he’s honest with himself, but at least it makes Morgana start smiling at him more genuinely. Helena starts off the evening glaring at him, but once she’s had some wine and danced with the admittedly very handsome knight from the other evening, Merlin decides that it’s probably all going to work out fine in the long run.
“I don’t see Arthur,” Morgana observes quietly in Merlin’s ear.
“I don’t know where he is,” Merlin replies. “I think he still might be angry with me about telling Gwen.”
It’s a lie, but with shreds of truth in it. Merlin suspects that Arthur is still angry with him for telling Gwen, although he probably won’t get the full telling-off until they’re back in Camelot.
Morgana is giving him a shrewd look. “Come for a walk with me, Arthur?” she asks.
Merlin agrees, and they walk out into a hall. The walls are thick with tapestries and there’s no one else around. Morgana sighs, and fixes Merlin with one of her impenetrable stares.
“You’re not in love with Gwen,” she says.
“No,” Merlin agrees.
“I believed you were,” Morgana says. “I think even you and Gwen believed it, for a few days at least.”
This is somewhat true. Merlin remains quiet, frowning, wondering where Morgana is going with this.
“You and Gwen know you’re not in love,” Morgana says. “And I know you’re not, and despite court rumours, most people do know that you’re just friends.”
“I’m sorry,” Merlin says, “But I really don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
“Arthur still believes that you’re in love with her,” Morgana says firmly, and Merlin feels all the air leave his chest.
“But I’ve told him I’m not!” he protests. “I’ve told him I’m not more than once!”
“Arthur can be a little stubborn at times,” Morgana agrees. “But he still thinks you’re in love with Gwen, and that’s why he’s angry.”
Merlin frowns. He thinks of Arthur, upstairs; Arthur who kissed him and can’t strip naked in front of him and who won’t even look at him some of the time. And he begins to realise that this is all a little more serious than he thought it was.
“He’s jealous.” Morgana voices aloud the thought forming in Merlin’s head. Her gaze intensifies. “Do you understand?”
Merlin nods, his fingers coming up to involuntarily touch his lips. He must look a little too stunned, because Morgana suddenly looks angry.
“Arthur is dear to me,” she says sharply, “If you tell him I will have you killed, but he is very dear to me and if you use this information to hurt him in any way then I promise that you will regret it.”
“All right,” Merlin says, and admires himself for the way his voice doesn’t crack.
“Good.” Morgana gives him a bright smile, and takes his arm. “Shall we return to the celebration?”
The room is full of firelight when Merlin finally returns. Arthur is nowhere to be seen, and Merlin becomes aware that his heart is shuddering in his chest and he has a knot of anxiety in his stomach. These things didn’t happen earlier, but now he’s nervous.
“Arthur?” Merlin pushes the door of the adjoining chamber open, and finds Arthur in there. He’s still dressed in Merlin’s clothes – including his favourite red shirt – and is staring out of the window, his back to Merlin. “You’re here.” It’s a stupid thing to say, he knows it, but he can’t think of anything clever to come out with.
“Where else would I be?” Arthur’s tone is perfect, just disdainful and patronising enough, but Merlin can see the tightness in his shoulders.
He doesn’t want them to be nervous and awkward because earlier it all made perfect sense and felt natural and normal and now it’s nothing like that. He decides not to dance around the subject.
“Talk to me.”
Arthur gives a soft choke of laughter. “I have nothing to say.”
Merlin sighs, but he’s not giving in. Not on something this important. He takes another step forward. “Talk to me.”
There’s a long, heavy silence, and then Arthur murmurs: “You have bewitched me.”
Merlin gets a horrible feeling in his stomach; has Arthur found the book? Has Merlin performed some magic without noticing it? But Arthur turns around and he looks tired and anxious and not at all like he’s about to accuse Merlin of witchcraft.
“You have bewitched me,” Arthur repeats, harder.
“I don’t see…” Merlin trails off. “How?”
“I can think of no one but you,” Arthur says, and he sounds angry about it. “Whatever I do, it is you.”
Merlin risks another step. “And that’s a bad thing?”
Arthur scowls. “Of course,” he says.
“Well,” Merlin sighs, “You certainly know how to flatter someone. You should do that next time your father tries to marry you off to someone.”
“You’re mocking me?” Arthur asks, eyes flashing. “Even now, you’re mocking me?”
“I’m not,” Merlin replies quickly. “Tell me, what bothers you most about me? That I’m a servant? That I’m a man? That I’m incapable of being subservient as I ought to be? All three, perhaps?”
Arthur sighs, the anger flowing off his face. “Don’t,” he says quietly. “Just don’t.” He turns away again.
“We can’t leave it like this,” Merlin informs him. “We can’t just agree that nothing happened!”
“Don’t torment me.” It comes through Arthur’s teeth, and Merlin can barely make it out.
“Who’s tormenting anyone?” he demands. “You kissed me, and I enjoyed it, and you enjoyed it; at least, I thought you did. So why are we suddenly having to pretend that it didn’t happen?”
Arthur remains silent, head bowed. Merlin walks over to him, catches his shoulder and forces him to turn around so they can face each other.
“Stop it,” Arthur insists.
Merlin decides that it’s about time someone took charge here, and since he doesn’t think Arthur would take too kindly to him getting Morgana in again, he reaches for the prince.
“What are you doing.”
“Sire?” Merlin smirks, cupping Arthur’s face in his hands. “Shut up.”
Arthur’s mouth opens anyway, and Merlin covers it with his own, twining his fingers up into Arthur’s hair and holding on until Arthur relaxes enough to kiss him back. Then any semblance of control between them slips, Arthur’s fingers clenching in the back of Merlin’s shirt, sliding down to hold his hips, the kiss full of tongues and teeth and sharp, harsh gasps of breath. If they had done this months ago – if they had done this to begin with – then perhaps things would never got so bad between them. But Merlin can’t bring himself to linger on thoughts of what could and should have happened; at least, not now. Not with Arthur apparently trying to eat him alive, pressed warm and certain and hard against Merlin. He might be a prince, but he-
Merlin becomes aware that he’s still wearing the crown. He pulls away so abruptly that Arthur nearly stumbles.
“What-” the prince begins. His mouth is swollen and red and wet and Merlin is bemused that he’s the one responsible for it.
“I can’t be wearing this,” Merlin explains, taking the heavy golden band off and holding it between his palms.
“No.” Arthur smiles slightly. “I suppose you can’t.”
Their voices sound ragged and shake as they attempt to speak normally. Merlin desperately wants to laugh, but at the same time he desperately wants to stay calm and rational because his heart is thundering and his breathing is shivering and everything seems too bright and too dangerous and right in the middle of it is Arthur. And he doesn’t even look smug about getting what he wanted; maybe he really isn’t the annoying prat who tried to beat Merlin to pieces any more.
Arthur takes the crown from Merlin, walking past him back into the main chamber. Merlin follows, and watches as Arthur lays it carefully on the table. But when he turns back to Merlin his eyes are alight; he catches Merlin’s wrist and pulls him close again, their lips connecting without a hint of hesitance. Merlin reflects that, like everything else to do with Arthur, this gets easier with repetition and practise. It may never become truly simple; but it might stop being quite so difficult.
It takes a joint effort to get Merlin’s ridiculous shirt off – “I suggest you burn it, I’m not ever helping you put it on” – and he realises how strange all this is when he tugs his own shirt over Arthur’s head and watches it fall in a crush of red to the floor. This last week has been too much and they’ve been trapped in a foreign kingdom with nothing but each other; no wonder everything has changed and broken. Merlin wonders if perhaps, just for this one night, while he wears the clothes of a prince and strips the clothes of a servant from his master, they’re both in some unusual middle ground. One thing is for certain; whatever happens when they return home, it will never be like this again.
Arthur trails his mouth down Merlin’s throat, palm hot against his bare ribcage. They’ve never touched even slightly like this before; not with so much deliberate emphasis on contact, not locked together skin against skin. Merlin thinks he knew that Arthur had scars from practise fights and tournaments and jousting, but he’s never seen them; now his fingertips trail over raised marks on Arthur’s shoulders and back, and maybe one day he’ll ask for the stories. Right now, he just likes that Arthur is something other than a prince; he’s a human being, and in spite of that admittedly beautiful face, he has as many marks and imperfections as anyone else.
It’s a relief; and it’s terrifying.
There doesn’t seem to be anywhere they’re not touching, Arthur’s thigh firm between Merlin’s and their hands mapping out skin. Any moment this could descend into violence, Merlin feels; the tension between them has been rising and falling since they arrived here and if they don’t break all of it somehow then things will not end well.
“Tell me to stop,” Arthur murmurs against Merlin’s mouth. “This is your one chance. After now I’m not sure I’ll be able to.”
Arthur’s hands seem to have been designed for the sole purpose of holding Merlin’s hips; his pelvis fits perfectly against Arthur’s palms and Merlin laughs softly, breath shivering.
“If you stop now I will murder you in your sleep and run off to find a new master who won’t force me to swap places with him on a whim and who will actually appreciate me.”
“You won’t find one,” Arthur murmurs, shifting his hips so there’s a blinding moment of friction, their cocks separated by two layers of material that Merlin momentarily wants to destroy. “You are insolent,” – another shift – “And disobedient,” – his teeth catch Merlin’s lip – “And impossible.”
“Flattery won’t get you anywhere,” Merlin warns him, grinding back and catching the prince’s lips in another kiss.
“Boots,” Arthur manages eventually. It seems entirely nonsensical for a moment, and then Merlin realises what the prince is getting at. If he doesn’t disentangle himself from his clothing now then they’ll both lose patience and this will end up happening half-dressed and tangled up and awkward and although Merlin is perfectly willing to try that he can’t help thinking that if this is somehow going to end up being their destiny – seriously, if the Dragon is responsible for this then Merlin is actually going to slaughter it himself, Last One or not – they should try to do it with a semblance of dignity.
Or whatever passes for dignity between them, all things considered.
They pull apart, and Merlin obediently tugs at his boots – well, Arthur’s boots, because they’re considerably better made – sending them clattering across the floor, tugs irritably at the laces of his trousers which are strained tight across his cock, and kicks the lot off. He doesn’t spare time for blushing, instead choosing to watch Arthur struggle out of Merlin’s more threadbare trousers, and trying not to smile at Arthur’s obvious annoyance. Really, Merlin has never thought that there was anything wrong with his clothing; though apparently his master would beg to differ.
“Looking forward to getting your own clothes back?” he asks wickedly, backing up until the bed hits the back of his knees and he sits down, pretending that he doesn’t feel a single trace of uncertainty.
“You have no idea,” Arthur replies, reddened lips curving into a smirk. “I’ve got half a mind to buy you new clothing when we return home.”
Merlin reaches out, fingers closing around Arthur’s arms and pulling him to him. Arthur bends to kiss him, pushing determinedly until they’re both laid flat, cocks brushing tantalisingly together and legs entwining. It would have been nice, Merlin decides, if everything with Arthur could have been this simple; but then he remembers how he got here and reflects that this is only his reward for six days of suppressed anger and unwise words.
There’s strength coiled in Arthur’s shoulders and back; Merlin vaguely registers that Arthur could probably snap him into bits if he wanted to, magic notwithstanding. His lips brush over a jagged but worn scar on Arthur’s shoulder, the muscle hard under his mouth. He could feel self-conscious, his wiry strength contrasting so obviously with Arthur’s sheer physical power, but Arthur lets out a broken little sound when Merlin’s knee skids against the side of his hip, and somehow Merlin decides that makes them about even. After all, he’s always been able to keep up with Arthur, which is possibly the only reason Arthur hasn’t tired of him the way he seems to have tired of everyone else.
But he doesn’t want to think about that now. He doesn’t want to think that Arthur will get bored of him; and he bites into his shoulder, teeth digging into the skin. Arthur groans raggedly and his hips lurch; Merlin clenches a hand in Arthur’s hair and pushes back, the two of them fighting each other for a rhythm, and he wonders if he’ll ever be able to have another argument with Arthur without thinking of them as they are right now.
Arthur laughs a little breathlessly and rolls them so Merlin is on top, staring down at the prince’s flushed cheeks and bruised mouth. He can’t help the grin that spreads across his own lips, genuine and slightly hysterical. Arthur grins back, eyes too blue and his is temptation in all of its forms; pure and impure. They have driven each other insane and this is the result; Merlin supposes that it could really have been worse, although he isn’t entirely certain that they should be doing this in a foreign kingdom in a room that belongs to neither of them.
“I want,” Arthur murmurs, and Merlin’s mouth stills at the hollow of this throat. Arthur is used to being indulged and always getting what he wants and there was a point at which Merlin wanted to stop letting him always have his own way; but he thinks that perhaps this is the only time when it’s really fine by him for Arthur to get exactly what he desires. “God, Merlin, I want…”
Words seem to be failing them both; Merlin covers Arthur’s mouth in messy kisses, shifting his hips urgently against the thigh caught between his own.
“You make it impossible to think,” Arthur breathes, sounding both pleased and frustrated about this. Merlin laughs softly, propped on an elbow over his prince, trailing fingertips over the sharp planes of his face. Arthur tips his head, opening his lips against Merlin’s fingers. He sucks two of them in, slow and hard, and so thoroughly that Merlin understands exactly what the prince wants. His breath catches, but it’s not quite his first time; the first time was awkward and really uncomfortable and possibly contributed in part to why he wanted to get out of his village in the first place. But this is Arthur, and while he feels many things towards the prince Merlin has never been afraid of him and never will be.
Arthur releases his fingers and then closes his teeth on the soft curve of skin where Merlin’s neck meets his shoulder; Merlin lets out a soft sound between his teeth as he slips his wet fingers down their bodies, finally guiding them between his legs. Arthur’s eyes widen, and his hand reaches down to grip Merlin’s wrist almost too tight. They stare at each other a moment, passion forgotten in favour of mild confusion, and then Arthur tugs Merlin’s hand with a shred of hesitance and slides it carefully between his own thighs.
Merlin wants to bite his tongue out a second later, but he’s so surprised that he doesn’t think, and says blankly: “Sire, are you sure?”
Arthur’s face snaps closed. Merlin hadn’t realised how relaxed and at ease Arthur was until now, when he sees that haughty and tight expression Arthur so likes return.
“Get the hell off me,” Arthur snarls between his teeth. He pushes Merlin and Merlin falls onto his back, winded, while Arthur curls up tight onto his side.
Arthur is so very careful about who he wears his vulnerabilities in front of, and while Merlin doesn’t entirely understand he knows a lot more now about how being a prince makes everything you do calculated; you must appear certain and strong all the time, in front of everyone, and he wonders what it cost Arthur to open himself up here and now.
He stretches out a hand, long fingers closing over the hard angle of Arthur’s hip.
“Don’t touch me.”
Merlin ignores him, running the still-wet fingers of his other hand down a scar on Arthur’s back.
“I promise never to call you ‘sire’ ever again, all right?” he suggests lightly.
Arthur makes a semi-choking sound. “If you are doing this out of obligation-”
Merlin suddenly realises what all this is about and finally smiles. “Obligation?” he repeats incredulously. “Bloody hell, Arthur, after what I’ve been through the last week I’d say you owe me one.”
That gets Arthur rolling onto his back, fixing Merlin with a bemused stare. “I don’t owe you anything,” he corrects him.
Merlin grins, open and easy. “Well, you definitely will if you leave me like this all night.”
Arthur smiles back, the vulnerability returning to his eyes, and Merlin knows that the prince thinks he’s taking a risk on him. He hopes he can be enough to force those doubts away eventually, though right now he’s got slightly more pressing concerns. He gets up from the bed, going to search in a carved mahogany chest for the small vial of oil ordinarily used when Arthur has sustained a muscle injury and needs someone to massage it back into working order again. Or something like that, anyway, since it really isn’t Merlin’s domain.
He crosses back to the bed, and Arthur is still on his back, legs open, staring up at the canopy. Merlin takes a breath to reassure himself, reminds himself that the very worst that could happen would be Arthur ordering his execution and that’s reasonably unlikely, and the best is that he gets to keep doing this, and coats his fingers. The oil smells vaguely of some kind of herb and he sincerely hopes it doesn’t have a narcotic effect as he kneels back over Arthur.
“Merlin,” Arthur grits between his teeth with a trace of annoyance, and Merlin flashes a grin at him. He prays they never lose this; once upon a time he would have given anything not to have to deal with Arthur ever again, but he’s come to realise now that this is a part of his life that he can’t do without. Won’t do without. He smiles almost helplessly, stroking the tip of one finger over Arthur’s entrance and then pushing slowly inside.
Arthur’s head tips back into the pillow and his breath eases out between his teeth. Merlin wonders mildly if anyone has ever had the prince in such a position of defencelessness, and then pushes that thought from his mind completely, sliding the finger deeper and hearing Arthur make a desperate noise that slides out on a gasp of air. Merlin adds another finger, scissoring them apart, and keeps pushing until the tip of his finger grazes over something that makes Arthur’s hips buck, cheeks flushing and a groan rolling off his lips. Merlin does it again, deliberately, just to watch the way Arthur’s cock twitches against his stomach in response. He torments Arthur another moment, until Arthur is beginning to spit abuse between his teeth, and finally pushes the third finger in. Arthur is pushing back against him, fingers curling in the sheets, and the bed is going to be a mess in the morning; Merlin almost pities the servant whose problem this is going to be.
“For God’s sake, Merlin,” Arthur breathes, splayed open beneath his servant and yet somehow still in charge, “Get on with it.”
Merlin laughs softly, and then removes his fingers, noting the whine Arthur can’t help letting out. He coats his cock with the oil, noting that his hands are trembling just slightly, and then lies himself between Arthur’s legs. It’s a slightly terrifying position to be in; Arthur’s thighs are strong and muscular and Merlin can’t help feeling he could be cracked to pieces. He pushes that thought from his mind as Arthur’s hips roll up, legs curling around Merlin’s waist, the prince’s mouth opening in a silent plea. Merlin indulges him as he inevitably indulges him in everything, against his better intentions, and carefully pushes forward.
Arthur is tight, so tight around him, and Merlin’s eyes clench tight. Arthur’s breathing is ragged and shallow, hand curled around Merlin's upper arm in a way that’s going to leave really obvious bruises, but Merlin forces himself to stay calm and steady until he’s buried entirely in Arthur. He leaves it a moment for them both to get used to the sensation, staring down at Arthur’s face: his eyes are squeezed shut and his hair is sticking in sweat-damp strands to his forehead; imperfect and undignified and utterly beautiful.
And Merlin thinks he discovers a few things about destiny. He will not mention most of them to the Dragon.
It’s messy and both of them seem to want to choose a rhythm, so it takes a while to get the hang of it, but soon enough Merlin is slamming hard into Arthur and Arthur is pushing right back, little grunts sliding between his gritted teeth, half-torn oaths spilling out and Merlin thinks he catches his name once but he isn’t sure because he’s gasping uncontrollably, tangled up with his prince and he’s still not entirely sure how they got here but doesn’t ever want to know.
Arthur comes first, on a groan that isn’t anyone’s name, and Merlin is fine with that because there are only so many barriers Arthur can drop in one night, and he carries on thrusting, Arthur’s teeth against his shoulder, warm stickiness coating his stomach, until he feels an overwhelming heat beginning low inside him, building into something that burns almost white, and he has enough time to gather this magic and hold it tight inside himself so it doesn’t explode into the room and cause untold damage before he’s coming, swearing softly between his teeth. When he finally opens his eyes, the room is still whole, and Arthur is staring at him in a mixture of fondness and amusement.
“Next time,” Merlin says, “Shall we just skip straight to that and not argue for about a thousand hours first?”
Arthur laughs, which breaks in the middle when Merlin eases out of him. “Do you think we can achieve anything without arguing?”
Merlin collapses in a small heap on the sheets, and wonders what the hell they’re going to do when they get back to Camelot. On the other hand, that’s still a three day journey away.
“Probably not,” he agrees. “Which is strange. You’d think we’d be able to agree on something.”
“I’m sure we’ll find something we have in common,” Arthur offers a little sleepily. His fingers slid into Merlin’s hair at some point; if he didn’t know Prince Arthur Pendragon had dignity Merlin would say that there was some definite stroking going on there.
The silence is almost too cosy, too domestic, too damn natural.
“You still owe me one,” Merlin reminds him firmly a moment later.
“I don’t think this week has been a total waste of time,” Arthur tells him, smirking almost smugly. “I’m not getting married, which is the important part. And next time-”
Merlin knocks Arthur’s hand out of his hair when he sits up abruptly. “Next time?” he asks, voice breaking a little. Arthur bursts out laughing. “Next time,” Merlin says, “I will remember this, and I will say ‘no’.”
Arthur fixes him with that beautiful blue stare. “No you won’t,” he shrugs.
Merlin lies down on his side, ignoring Arthur. “Prat,” he mutters.
“Idiot,” Arthur responds, crawling across the bed and curling himself sinuously against Merlin’s spine. He’s improbably warm and firm and someone is going to have to wake up early and pack and Merlin knows it’s going to be him. He’s the servant and the prince for one more morning, although at least Arthur has stopped being ambiguous.
It’s probably not ever going to get better than this. And Merlin realises that he genuinely doesn’t mind.