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Virtue

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Arthur had been king for a week the first time he folded Merlin into his arms and kissed him, a deliberate, slow kiss that made Merlin gasp softly as his skin turned a rosy pink. "Arthur," he said, as Arthur pinned him to the wall, nosing down the smooth stretch of his neck. "What is this?"

"I'm king now," Arthur said, the only answer he knew how to give, and all it implied made Merlin shiver in his arms. Arthur would have turned the world over to have Merlin; he would have taken his kingdom to war for what he had denied himself all those years. Merlin's cheek was hot against his, and his name was urgent on Merlin's lips.

For that moment, there was just Merlin's hands in his hair, Merlin's body arched against him; the taste of Merlin's mouth was so addictive, Arthur could never have enough of it.

When finally Merlin pressed the palms of his hands to Arthur's shoulders and created an inch of distance between them, Arthur noted the fine trembling in his fingers where they rested on Arthur's skin. "The feast," Merlin said.

"Can wait," Arthur answered, sneaking back for one more kiss.

It would have been easier to take Merlin to bed then, to remove all tension and doubt, but Arthur had learned to value the anticipation of such things. So he watched Merlin across the throne room, at feasts, as he carried armor on the practice field -- watched, and tried to conceal his smile whenever Merlin caught him watching, and inevitably lost all concentration for his duties.

"Someone will see us," Merlin protested, when Arthur caught him alone in the corridor and tugged him into an alcove.

"Let them look, then," Arthur answered, his attention focused on the taste of plums on Merlin's lips, and the way his hands grasped at Arthur's tunic to pull him closer, even as his gaze darted toward the empty hallway.

He found Merlin in the armory one evening, whistling tunelessly as he scrubbed Arthur's hauberk, and gathered him up in a flurry of flailing arms, grinning all the while. Merlin's lips were plush and warm, and they seemed to vibrate with music when Arthur pressed his mouth to them. When they parted for his kiss and Arthur delved deeper, he swallowed Merlin's small sounds of desire. "Not yet," he whispered. "Soon."

It had been three weeks, three weeks of endless duties punctuated by stolen kisses, when Merlin knelt by the fire and beckoned Arthur close. Together they sank down on the furs there, so warm in the golden light.

"You could have anyone," Merlin said, tracing Arthur's collarbone as if painting a line on parchment.

"Everything that is mine is also Camelot's," Arthur said, "except this."

"I have always been yours; all I am has been for you," Merlin said, his face turned into the curve of Arthur's neck as if to hide his words. But it was a truth Arthur had always known, just as he had known he could not steal what Merlin freely gave.

"You do have your uses," Arthur said. He laughed softly at the outraged spark in Merlin's eyes, and drew Merlin close, closer, until they were twined so closely none could separate them.

This time, when he kissed Merlin, sharing breath and body, he tasted the shape of Merlin's smile.