Arthur has always been told he has an eye for art, though he never really understood the full meaning behind that compliment until he met Merlin.
With sharp cheekbones and full, pouty lips, eyes bright, but edged by darkness as though they hold the world's secrets in their depths, Merlin is a work of art, and Arthur would thank Merlin’s parents for creating such a masterpiece if either of them were still living.
He raps his knuckles against the bathroom door before pushing it open. "Are you ready?" he asks.
Merlin sighs, sets the comb down on the edge of the sink. "Do I look ready?" It's more of a sarcastic remark than a question, and Arthur can't help but smile at Merlin's obvious nervousness. "I haven't even got a shirt on."
Merlin breaks eye contact with his own reflection to glare over at Arthur.
There's a charge in the air around them, and Arthur has to bite back the urge to step closer, to crowd Merlin up against the sink and slip a hand up his bare thigh, hike the kilt up around Merlin's waist and grind into him.
He clears his throat, looks down at the tiles on the floor and takes a slow, steadying breath. When he glances back up, feeling more in control, Merlin has abandoned all attempts at calming his unruly hair. He's running his fingers through it, ruffling it slightly with a look of contempt on his face.
"Maybe we should forget this," he says on the edge of a sigh. "I'm not a very fit model. I'm sure there's someone else better suited for this purpose."
"Maybe you should forget it," Arthur says, taking another step into the bathroom and dropping his hand from the doorknob. "Ignore the camera and pretend it's just you and me."
"Easier said than done," Merlin replies, gripping the edge of the sink.
He had told Merlin to do what he feels comfortable with, be how he wants to be, and they'd decide later whether the photos will go into their private collection, or Arthur's professional portfolio.
Merlin is always a little bit shy when put on the spot, unsure of himself in an endearing sort of way, like he has no idea of the effect he has on Arthur, or anyone else for that matter.
There are times, though, when Arthur can distract him to the point of shedding his inhibitions, of letting go for just a little while, long enough to completely enjoy the moment they're in. Usually those times are accompanied by Arthur's breath on Merlin's inner thighs, chasing away tiny bites and licks as he's got two fingers buried deep inside him.
It's during those times that Merlin forgets to care about his own control, forgets to be shy, and instead just takes what he needs. His fingers twisted in the sheets or Arthur's hair, head tilted back and eyes closed as he pants out breathy demands of more and right there, Arthur, yes, please, god.
Arthur presses his thumb and forefinger against closed eyes and wills that image away before it causes him to forget about his intentions altogether.
He looks back up at Merlin who's sighing softly and looking pensive.
He really is so fucking beautiful, Arthur thinks, the way softly diffused shadows play off his cheekbones and the dusting of stubble on his jaw, the catchlight in his eyes when he looks up at Arthur.
"Wait here," Arthur tells him, before heading back into the bedroom where he's already set up his equipment.
He sits on the edge of the bed, shuffling through his camera bag and pulling out a different set of lenses than the ones he'd chosen initially. The bedroom, while big and open and comfortable, doesn't have the same lighting potential as the bathroom with its great fogged glass windows and pale tiled walls that bounce all the natural light.
It's usually easy for Arthur to shift into right brain, to see the world through the eyes of an artist, now that he's had so many years of experience. It's not quite clinical, but somewhere between instinct and professionalism. He's sure he can use that same level of thought in this situation today, focus on the beauty and the way the light paints Merlin's skin, rather than his own personal wants.
He shakes off the desire prickling under his skin, shifts his focus to replacing the lens on his camera with a 50 millimetre prime instead.
When Arthur returns to the bathroom, Merlin is still standing at the sink, tap pouring water into the basin and steam billowing up from the heat of it. He's got a razor in his hand and he's staring nervously into the mirror.
"Leave it," Arthur says, gesturing towards the razor. "It's a good look for you."
One corner of Merlin's mouth tugs up into a smile as he looks at Arthur's reflection. "Aren't you the one who's always complaining about stubble burns on your neck and thighs?"
Arthur shrugs, steps into the bathroom and sets his camera bag on the counter. He doesn't miss the way Merlin's gaze flicks over to it before returning to Arthur's reflection.
"Are we doing this in here?" Merlin asks.
"If that's all right," Arthur replies, pulling out his light meter and re-adjusting the settings on his camera accordingly.
Merlin exhales an exaggerated sigh, cracks his neck and rolls his shoulders before straightening up. "Where do you want me?" he asks.
"Right there for now." Arthur takes a couple steps back, lifting the camera and locking his focus on the curve of Merlin's waist. "Fold your arms behind your back and shift your weight to the left leg."
Merlin does so beautifully without further instruction, long fingers curling around his own forearms behind him. The shift in his stance causes a more exaggerated curve to his waistline, and Arthur reaches over to switch the overhead lights off, relishing in the new shadows created on Merlin's pale skin.
It's perfect, and he tells Merlin that as he adjusts his settings once more and fires off a few shots from that angle before stepping over to the side and refocusing.
Merlin's head is bowed, steam still rising up from the tap neither one of them bothered to shut off. It creates a halo of diffused light around Merlin's form that will look positively stunning in black and white.
Arthur takes a few more shots before instructing Merlin to turn and face him. Merlin's fingers are curled around the edge of the sink, head bowed again as if he's too nervous to look at Arthur, too unsure of himself to acknowledge the camera in his boyfriend's hands. His hair is almost flat now, probably from the steam, but even so, he still looks a little wrecked.
"Keep your chin down, but lift your eyes to look at the lens," Arthur instructs. Merlin, in all other aspects of their relationship, is never very good at following orders, so Arthur adds a whispered "please" to the end of his request.
Merlin leans back against the sink ledge, crosses one ankle over the other. His jaw is tense when he lifts his gaze, as is the line of his shoulders.
Arthur hones his senses to the sound of the shutter sliding closed and ignores the twisting want in his stomach.
Merlin's tongue peeks out to wet his bottom lip and Arthur captures another shot that makes his bare toes curl against the tiles.
"Get into the bath," Arthur says. "The lighting is perfect over there."
Merlin arches a brow in question. "Like this?" He makes a gesture that encompasses his entire body, from bare chest, to kilt, to the heavy boots that are laced and buckled halfway up his calves.
Arthur swallows and manages to nod. "Just like that," he says.
Merlin steps into the clawfoot tub, splaying a hand out against the tiles for balance. Every move he makes is so lithe and graceful that Arthur can't help but capture that image as well.
Merlin glances over his shoulder at Arthur, a smile dancing in the light of his eyes. "You're really enjoying this far too much," he says.
"Probably," Arthur agrees. "But what would life be without taking pleasure in your work?"
Merlin turns and slides down into the tub, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles again, one arm resting on the edge. His expression is back to one of defiance as he looks up at Arthur. "Now what?"
"Relax," Arthur says. "Be yourself."
"Well, to be fair, myself doesn't usually find me sitting half-clothed in a bathtub with my voyeur boyfriend watching me from the corner."
"Maybe we should incorporate that into our regular daily activities, then," Arthur suggests with a smirk.
Merlin sighs, shoulders slumping as he turns his gaze toward the window.
Arthur drops the camera down to his side, steps over to the tub and leans down. He cups Merlin's jaw in his free hand, tips his head back and presses his lips to Merlin's. It's a chaste kiss, meant to relax them both a little bit, but Merlin doesn't let it stop at that.
He curls a hand around the back of Arthur's neck, parts his lips and slicks his tongue into Arthur's mouth.
Arthur sets his camera down on the floor and forgets about it entirely as he kneels beside the tub. His fingertips trace the line of the tendon down the side of Merlin’s neck, skim softly over his collarbone, and continue a path down his chest.
Merlin tilts his head back as Arthur nips at his jaw, presses wet kisses to the column of his throat.
"Put a leg up over the edge of the tub," Arthur says between biting kisses.
"Um." Merlin's hand moves from the back of Arthur's neck to the kilt as he drags his knees up and parts his legs. "I sort of went the traditional route with this," he says, smiling up at Arthur.
Arthur feels his eyes widen. "Yeah?" He kisses the smile from Merlin's lips, presses his fingers to Merlin's unrestrained erection with just the layers of the kilt between and groans into his mouth. "Fuck," he breathes. "You're perfect. Have I told you that?"
"Not today," Merlin replies. He splays his hand out on Arthur's chest and pushes him back enough for them both to regain focus of the task at hand.
Arthur grabs his camera, runs a hand over the back of his own neck, and stands up again, backing away from Merlin. He needs the distance between them now more than ever. For artistic purposes, yes, but also to tamp down the desire to pull Merlin into the bedroom, spread him out and suck him off until Merlin is begging to be fucked.
Arthur changes his lens again, checks the settings on the camera, adjusts the ISO to take in less light. He knows what he wants, and if professionalism and pleasure collide, well, he'll just have to deal with the ramifications of that some other time.
"Touch yourself," Arthur instructs, adjusting the aperture to stop up just slightly. He envisions a more dramatic shot, Merlin's lips parted, head tossed back, softly blurred in the background of the image as Arthur sets his focus to Merlin's hand under his kilt, between parted thighs.
"You touch me," Merlin replies.
Arthur feels his whole face pulling into a wide smile. "Later," he says. "I promise."
"I'm sure I've heard that one before," Merlin replies, but there's no disbelief in his tone. Just a playfulness that Arthur finds particularly appealing.
Merlin throws a leg over the edge of the tub, spreading himself out, all shyness seeming to dissipate in the ambiance they've created with messy kisses and simple words.
He sneaks a hand down between his thighs, squeezes his hard cock through the fabric of the kilt and doesn't even bother to break eye contact with Arthur as he does so.
Arthur sets his focus to Merlin's hand, to the fat veins in his forearm, and Merlin’s grip tightens. Holding his breath to steady the camera, Arthur snaps several shots in rapid succession, the slide of the shutter sending a wave of anticipation humming through him.
"Like this?" Merlin asks, voice gritty and strained. "Or would you rather I..." His fingertip traces the hem of the kilt, pushing it up further and exposing just enough of what's underneath to make Arthur's breath stick in his throat.
Arthur sees it in the tick of Merlin's jaw, the glint in his eyes. He recognises the moment Merlin's inhibitions slip away and he becomes more concerned with Arthur than the camera that's between them.
His thumb and forefinger encircle the base of his cock, his other hand slipping down lower. He never takes his eyes off of Arthur as he presses a fingertip to his hole and rubs tight circles there. Arthur nearly forgets the camera altogether until Merlin's voice snaps him out of his trance.
"You won't be getting much more than this," he says. "I'm not dry fucking myself for artistic license."
Arthur swallows hard, raises the camera back up and takes a few more photographs. Or maybe a few hundred. He honestly has no idea, loses all sense of time as the shutter slide seems to sync up with Merlin's panting breath.
Arthur seems to gather enough coherence eventually to grab some lube from the medicine cabinet. He doesn't even know if Merlin will actually go along with it, but it's worth trying for.
He considers tossing it down in the tub, allowing Merlin to make the final decision for how far he's willing to go, but then desire overrules logic, and Arthur finds himself kneeling beside the tub again, warming the slick oil between his own fingers and mouthing at Merlin's jaw.
Fuck. He feels like a teenager. Like he can't control himself long enough to get a job done, but he also can't find it in him to care very much. Especially when Merlin breaks the kiss to rest his head back against the edge of the tub as Arthur pushes a fingertip into him.
Merlin has both hands between his legs, one gripping his cock, the other absently stroking his bollocks as Arthur slowly fingers him open.
It takes every ounce of self-restraint Arthur has ever been able to harness all at once to pull away from him. He wipes the remaining oil from his hand onto Merlin's inner thigh, leaving him moaning breathless little sounds as he backs away and lifts his camera again.
Merlin wastes no time in picking up where Arthur left off, slipping his fingers through the slick mess on his thigh and pressing two inside himself.
Private collection, then, Arthur thinks, unwilling to voice the thought for fear of killing the mood. He focuses on the soft light filtering through the windows, dancing across Merlin's skin and painting him in all the hues of sensual desire.
He stops down the aperture, catches a shot of Merlin arching his back as he fucks into himself, groaning and writhing, and it's just too much for Arthur to take.
Setting the camera down on the floor again, Arthur climbs into the tub sparing a passing thought of gratefulness that they chose a flat with such a roomy bath, and leans down to take Merlin's cock into his mouth.
It isn't the most comfortable position for either of them, he realises, but Merlin slips down the side of the tub a little further, allowing for more room between his thighs. He hooks a leg over Arthur’s shoulder and continues to fuck himself on his fingers as Arthur swallows him down.
Unable to resist, Arthur slides the tip of one finger in alongside Merlin's, matching his rhythm as he slowly pushes in. Merlin may not be able to reach that spot inside from the angle he's working with, but Arthur's finger goes deeper. He crooks it, drags it out slowly, pulling a breathless cry from Merlin's lips, then pushes back in.
Arthur tongues the thick vein at the underside of Merlin's cock, pulls the foreskin down to circle around the rim before sinking back down again, swallowing around Merlin's length. He only pulls back a little when he feels the pulse of come hit the back of his tongue. Groaning, Arthur licks every drop of it from his lips, and wonders absently if Merlin could be convinced next time to let Arthur set up the tripod and take photos of them together like this.
It isn't until they're in bed, Merlin sprawled out right in the middle, kilt bunched up to his hips and Arthur sliding into him, that Arthur wonders if either of them remembered to turn off the sink tap. Merlin is too tight, too hot and throbbing around him for Arthur's thoughts to linger on anything but the sensation of filling Merlin up, though. Everything else can wait.