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Maybe This Time (The Hunters And The Hunted Remix)

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One thing’s for certain; Merlin’s never going to touch strong drink again. Absolutely not.

For, who knows what might happen? That one time, back at Beltane, when he’d allowed himself to drop his inhibitions, he’d woken up in Arthur’s bed, which had given him the most enormous fright, especially as he couldn’t remember the slightest thing about how he had got there. Thankfully, both he and Arthur were fully clothed, but it really was all Merlin could do to keep his composure as he rolled over and pulled on his boots, ready to start his duties.

Because, well, all right, so Merlin might have occasionally indulged in some heavy sighing, and the casting of longing looks, over the years, towards the bed and its comfortable-looking blankets, not to mention its irascible occupant, but the reality was nothing like the fantasy. The fantasy contained vivid images of Arthur expressing, through the medium of sex, his undying gratitude for all Merlin’s difficult choices and tasks. The more mundane reality involved a crippling headache, a vague sense of humiliation, and loaded looks from Arthur that made him wonder what he’d actually done.

He hadn’t inadvertently used magic, had he? The very thought made him feel hot and cold, by turns.

In the months since then, he’s been careful not to touch a drop of anything other than heavily watered-down wine. At feasts, he can still feel the pressure of Arthur’s expectant eyes upon him, as if he’s willing Merlin to lose his inhibitions again.  For the life of him, Merlin can’t work out why. It’s as if Arthur’s hoping that he’ll start breaking into song, and twirl round the room like a sozzled seamstress, or whatever else it was that he’d managed to do on Beltane that was so very, very fascinating.

Take tonight, for example. The court is celebrating the visit of Lord Cadeyrn of Gwynedd. A group of travelling entertainers--mummers--have surpassed themselves with a raunchy performance that has even Uther all pink-cheeked and cheery-faced for once. But Arthur’s features remain stern, focused, lips pressed together as they are when he is scrutinising a petitioner in court, and his wine has not needed topping up at all. It’s as if he’s waiting for something to happen, something to do with Merlin, because whenever Merlin looks up he’s pinned by Arthur’s heavy-lidded, accusing gaze.

So, no, Merlin’s not going to make an idiot of himself again by drinking that spiced wine.

It’s bad enough that when Arthur looks at him like that, all sorts of inappropriate ideas assail Merlin. Ideas involving acts that servants and crown princes just don’t do - not together, at any rate. Of late, his dreams, and even some of his waking hours, have become increasingly plagued by such thoughts. On occasion, to spare himself extreme embarrassment, he’s even had to leave the room, take himself in hand and relieve the problem with a few vigorous strokes.

So, no. There’s no need to go around making the problem worse by loosening his inhibitions with alcohol.

And so it is that he and Arthur are probably the only sober people in the room when one of the mummers brings out a “baby deer” hat, complete with burgeoning antlers and perky deer-ears, and suggests that the entire court should indulge in a game of Hunters and Hunted. King Uther seems to think that this suggestion is absolutely hilarious, and of course, guess who ends up being the Hunted?

“Me?” says Merlin, gulping, and shaking so hard that the flagon of wine he’s carrying slops onto the floor in a great ruby-red puddle, which he then proceeds to step in, splashing his breeches. “But, Sire, I don’t know where… I mean, I’m only allowed in some parts of the castle, and…”

“Father,” says Arthur, frowning. “Merlin has a terrible mental affliction. He will be far too easy to find. Can I suggest someone with a bit more cunning, for example I would be very willing to…”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur,” says Uther, with a fond yet exasperated smile. “We can’t have the Crown Prince running around pretending to be a baby deer. It’s clearly the role of a servant. We’ll give the boy a prize if he manages to remain hidden.”

“Merlin will be perfect!” says Morgana, clapping. “We will give you a five minute head start, Merlin. I love this game!”

“Prince Arthur,” slurs the ruddy-faced and white-whiskered Lord Cadeyrn, “What say you to a little wager? The first hunter to find your manservant will receive…”

It’s clear that Merlin himself has no say in the matter, so he stands dumbly awaiting his fate while the royal members of the court and their visitors wrangle and haggle over their bets.

Meanwhile, the mummers are draping the ridiculous floppy-antlered headpiece over Merlin’s head, and gods help him if it doesn’t have bells on it. When one of them attaches a short tail, also adorned with a tiny silver bell that tinkles merrily every time he moves, his humiliation is complete. He rolls his eyes, and rubs at his neck, feeling suddenly hot.

“Well I have to admit,” says Arthur, smirking at him, “he does make a very… sweet-looking baby deer. Look at his pwetty widdle antlers! Hear how he jingles! Awww!”

The court erupts into raucous laughter.

Cheeks burning, Merlin’s so busy glaring daggers at Arthur that he hardly notices that he’s being pushed out of the room.

oo8O8O8oo

After a few minutes he can kid himself into thinking that this isn’t actually all that bad. He  presses himself into a cool, quiet alcove in a little-used part of the castle near Arthur’s chambers. No-one has discovered him yet, and he feels a frisson of excitement every time some giggling courtier stumbles past him without looking his way. He’s grinning faintly to himself when finally the inevitable occurs.

Because of course Arthur has to be the first to find him.

“Got you!” Arthur, triumphant, pounces on him like a cat, thrusting him back against the cold stone wall, so quickly that it makes his heart jump.  

“How on earth did a colossal prat like you manage to find me first?” whispers Merlin, grinning back at him.

“I’ll have you know that I’m the best hunter in all Camelot,” says Arthur, in an undertone, looking far too pleased with himself. “And you’re the clumsiest manservant, which means that I just had to follow the red wine stains on the floor, they led me here in a trice. Now let’s see how long we can go without that whiskery old goat Cadeyrn getting wind of your whereabouts.”

He peeps gingerly out round the corner of the alcove, one hand steady on Merlin’s chest, and ducks back, chuckling, behind the tapestry that partly conceals it.  

At that moment, there’s a faint, faraway echo of raucous laughter, and footsteps sound out around a distant corner. Merlin feels Arthur’s warm, battle-hardened body press him more firmly against the rough stonemasonry. A sword-calloused hand covers his mouth.

“Shhh!” says Arthur, softly, eyes huge and black in the flickering half-light from a torch in the passageway outside the alcove.

And that’s it. That’s all it takes. Merlin feels his eyes widen in shock, because he’s been here before, and all at once, he remembers. He remembers the alcove, the faint aroma of leather and sweat, the distant, uncaring footsteps, Arthur’s hand jammed hard up against Merlin’s mouth, salty against his flickering tongue... And Arthur, Arthur with bitten-pink lips and rumpled hair.

He feels his cock begin to thicken and swell at the memory and his face burns in mortification, because now he realises why he’s been the subject of Arthur’s close scrutiny for all these months.

The footsteps fade away and Arthur releases his mouth.

“I kissed you, didn’t I?” Merlin blurts out. “On Beltane Eve.” Merlin’s cheeks are on fire.

Because he hadn’t just kissed Arthur on Beltane Eve, oh no. He’d molested Arthur - practically thrown himself at him, probably slobbered all over him. A vivid flashback involving tongues, and Merlin’s legs gripping Arthur’s waist in wanton abandonment, has him hiding his head in his hands. Because the more he remembers, the more mortified - and aroused - he becomes.

An overwhelming memory of the sweet taste of spiced wine on Arthur's lips loosens something tightly coiled, deep in his belly.

“Do you mean to say it’s finally come back to you?” A gust of Arthur’s breath lingers on the drying sweat on Merlin’s throat, and combines with the predatory note in Arthur’s voice to make Merlin start to tremble.

“By all the gods, Arthur, why… why didn’t you say anything?” He’s not sure whether he wants to laugh or sob, because Arthur’s warm, firm body is still jammed hard up against his, and there’s no way that Arthur can possibly avoid noticing how Merlin’s treacherous cock is reacting to the proceedings.

And yet Arthur does not move away. Instead he gently pries Merlin’s hands away from where they’re hiding his face.

“It would have been wrong to…to react to your actions that night...” There’s a catch in Arthur’s voice and his eyes look strangely vulnerable. He ducks his head, mouth turned down at the ends as if caught doing something he shouldn’t. “You were drunk, Merlin, and in no fit state...” Arthur’s shaking his head and beginning to step back, and that will not do at all.

“You kissed me back, though.” With, as Merlin recalls, characteristic intensity and thoroughness. On an impulse, Merlin grabs Arthur's collar, and drags him closer, allowing his mouth to ghost across Arthur’s lips. When Arthur doesn’t pull away, but instead lets out a breathless moan, closing his eyes, Merlin feels a heady exhilaration which makes his heart pound.

“I’m sober now,” Merlin says softly, letting his legs part gently so that Arthur’s steely thigh can work its way into the gap.

In reply, Arthur’s hand cups the back of his neck and pulls him in for another, more lengthy kiss. The sensation of stubble against Merlin’s chin, the insistent way that Arthur claims his mouth with lips, tongue and teeth, fills Merlin with a sense of longing that makes him groan, voice muffled. Distantly, he notices the headpiece fall, jangling, to the ground, and Arthur’s hands are steady and strong against his scalp.

The best thing about it, if he thinks about it, not that he can, not when he’s giddy with lust like this, not with Arthur’s musty scent in his nostrils and each tiny catch of Arthur’s breath loud in his ear, but still… the best thing about it is the closeness. He’s been close to Arthur before, gods only know, but never so close that every urgent breath Arthur takes makes goosebumps rise on his neck.

Or has he?

More memories of Beltane Eve are gradually returning, among them vague recollections of being carried, of being manhandled onto soft bedcoverings, warm skin pressing firmly against his back and buttocks.

These imaginings, these dreams, these warped ideas he has been having, these disturbances in the night - maybe they’re not the product of his infatuation at all. Maybe they’re based on the facts of what happened on Beltane Eve, all those weeks ago.

He should ask Arthur. But he can’t, not now, not when the evidence that Arthur returns his affections is rubbing obscenely against him, stoking the greedy fire that burns deep in his belly, making him hum with pleasure.

Bending his head, Arthur tilts Merlin’s chin and nuzzles beneath his neckerchief, sucking a deep bruise there that makes Merlin’s skin tingle from the roots of his hair to the tips of his toenails.  

“Merlin, Merlin.” Breathing his name over and over, Arthur cants his hips, arching into Merlin so there can be no more doubts.

And Merlin remembers it, remembers everything, and gods! The haze of lust that dusts his eyes is so powerful he’s blinded by it, incapable of resisting.

At first it’s almost as if it’s another man’s hand that’s searching for the knot that secures Arthur’s breeches, another man’s fingers that loosens the ties and slides in, between skin and fine-woven cloth. But the scorching heat of Arthur’s smooth belly-skin, the inviting weight of his jutting cock, and the rough hair at its root jolt him back to reality. Gasping at the sensation of heat, Merlin adopts a sturdy grip, and lets his wayward hand give an experimental tug, which makes Arthur whimper and curse in rumbling tones that vibrate deep in Merlin’s chest.

And it really is Arthur’s hand that reciprocates, insinuating itself beneath Merlin’s small-clothes and tugging them down until Merlin’s cock breaks free, a perfect dewdrop forming at its tip. Merlin moans at the sudden feeling of cool exposure, the perfect firmness of Arthur’s fist, strong and skilful from years of grasping the hilt of a sword.

The languor with which they start to stroke one another, forehead to forehead, exchanging breathless groans, is in marked contrast to their extreme haste a second later, when a shout echoes round the corner of the corridor, together with the pitter pat of approaching footsteps.

They’ve been found.

Hurriedly, they scramble to reassemble their clothing. Groaning in frustration, Merlin, struggling to thrust his uncooperative erection back down into his breeches, desperately tries to tamp it down by visualising some of the more unappealing skin disorders that Gaius occasionally has to treat.  Finally, and not a moment too soon by the sound of things, their breeches are back in place, albeit tenting slightly.

“We’ll come back to this later,” says Arthur quietly, his hand firm on Merlin’s shoulder for a second. “Right?”

Relieved, Merlin flashes him a joyful grin. “Right you are!” he says.

Arthur looks serious for a second. “Merlin, there’s something I should tell you first… About Beltane Eve, I mean. I…” his voice trails off and he swallows.

But Merlin doesn’t have time to wonder what’s bothering him, because the others are nearly upon them.

“Merlin? Where is that tom-fool of a manservant! Arthur?” Uther’s voice is impossibly close, and the moment is lost.

Merlin scrabbles to replace the stupid antler hat, and the bells tinkle forlornly. One of the ears seems to have become rather soggy. As for his tail - well, it’s rubbed right off, snagged on a loose piece of masonry while he and Arthur were… well. He peers at it suspiciously and then tucks it into a pocket in his breeches, shrugging at a frowning Arthur.  

“Sire,” and this time it’s Gaius’s voice, “Sire, as I recall there’s a small chamber over to the side here. Shall I take a look in there?”

Merlin loves Gaius like a father, but at this very moment he could quite happily rain curses down upon him. Instead, he smoothes Arthur’s dishevelled-looking hair as best he can before shooing him out into the corridor to meet the approaching crowds.

“I found him!” Arthur says, tugging at Merlin’s wrist so that he, too, emerges from the alcove.

Blinking, Merlin smiles bashfully, and bows with exaggerated formality to the King and his honoured guests, which has the fortunate consequence of disguising the way that his breeches are bulging outwards. At the same time it dislodges his hat, which falls with a jingling noise onto the rough stone flags. The assembled courtiers guffaw at his clumsiness, and, relieved, he plasters on his most innocent expression, trying to look as if he hasn’t just spent the last twenty minutes being ravished most deliciously by the conquering Prince.

Arthur raises Merlin’s hand triumphantly. “I win! Lord Cadeyrn I believe you owe me ten silver coins...”

Cadeyrn’s face grows, if anything, even more red, bathed as it is in the soft orange glow of the torchlight. “Uther! Surely you won’t let your son get away with this travesty! Clearly he has colluded with his manservant…”

“Sire,” Arthur protests, “Lord Cadeyrn is clearly just trying to wriggle out of his commitments. May I suggest an additional wager to…”

Luckily, everyone is still deep in their cups and the argument over the wager forms a highly amusing distraction.

Merlin’s just beginning to think he’s got away with it, and is starting to edge away from the crowd when Gaius catches his eye, glances at his exposed neck where Arthur suckled at it moments before, and lifts a meaningful eyebrow.

“I’d cover that up, if I was you,” Gaius says softly, walking away with a chuckle.

Blushing, Merlin hastily rearranges his neckerchief to cover the spot.

ooO8O ~ The End ~ O8Ooo