“Is my armor polished yet?” Arthur asks.
Merlin doesn’t look up from the bottles he’s labeling.
“Because I specifically asked that it be ready by—”
“Tomorrow,” Merlin mutters.
This is, technically, true. But Arthur hadn’t had anything else in particular to do that afternoon—for once—and it never hurt to make sure one’s manservant was being useful. Someone had to keep an eye on Merlin, after all. “It isn’t going to polish itself, Merlin,” Arthur says, and Merlin spins around to reply and knocks one of the bottles off the table with his elbow.
It smashes on the floor in a sparkling burst of broken glass and some sort of pale red dust. Merlin blanches, and Arthur looks from his face to the red stuff all over his boots and breeches and Merlin’s arm. There’s some on his fingertips, and he lifts his hand to his face curiously just as Merlin says “Don’t—!”
Arthur stops before he actually sniffs the dust. “Merlin,” he says carefully, “what is this?”
“Um.” Merlin has gone from white to scarlet. His ears look like they’re about to burst into flame, and he can’t actually meet Arthur’s eyes. “It’s. It increases desire. Rather a lot.”
“Well, we didn’t…eat any of it.” Arthur finds himself staring at Merlin’s mouth, which, admittedly, he has noticed before—he isn’t blind—but which has certainly never held his attention in such a way. It would be completely unsuitable.
“You don’t have to,” Merlin says, dragging his eyes up to Arthur’s face, and they’re dark, the pupils blown too wide for the afternoon sunlight, and Arthur feels their focus like a caress. “It’s touching it that does it.”
Arthur’s breath catches. “I don’t suppose there’s an antidote in one of those other bottles?”
Merlin shakes his head.
There don’t seem to be any other alternatives here. The substance seems to have a very rapid effect, and he can hardly go rushing out to a brothel in the middle of the day—the gossip would be appalling. Obviously he and Merlin are going to have to take care of this themselves. His brain shies away from the thought—he’s not afraid, of course, just understandably reluctant to actually have sex with his incompetent—with Merlin—to finally untie that bloody neckerchief and touch Merlin all over and…well. Yes.
Merlin stands, not looking away from Arthur. Arthur rather thinks Merlin is looking at his mouth, actually, which—the room is uncomfortably warm. This dust is remarkably inconvenient.
“You know we’re going to have to—” Merlin starts, stepping around the broken glass, and it’s like something inside Arthur breaks open and he lunges forward, kissing the rest of the sentence out of Merlin’s mouth. Merlin’s hands come up and curve hard around the back of his neck, holding him there, and Merlin kisses him back, recklessly, fearlessly, hot and open and generous.
When Arthur gets the neckerchief off—flinging it across the room—he ends up just staring for a few seconds at Merlin’s neck, all long clean lines and a fluttering pulse cradled by tendon and bone, and then he can’t resist licking from Merlin’s jaw down his throat, gently biting kisses along his collarbone, and Merlin shudders and clutches at him. They’re only a few steps from the wall and Merlin lets himself be pushed back against it, grips Arthur’s shoulders and pulls him closer, and when Arthur looks up to make sure it’s still all right—as all right as it can get—Merlin kisses him again, dragging his lips along Arthur’s cheek to his mouth, and Arthur absolutely does not shiver, or if he does it’s only because the air is cold against the place where Merlin’s mouth was.
“This is all your fault,” Arthur gasps, trying not to notice that Merlin’s skin is almost astonishingly soft, that he smells clean and sharp like herbs, that he’s arching away from the wall to give Arthur more room to slide his hands under Merlin’s shirt, because it’s not like he was never curious but he should never have known. And then he notices—he has to notice—because their hips press together and Merlin’s hard, as hard as he is, and it feels so good that he—well, he doesn’t whimper, because Pendragons don’t whimper—but Merlin makes a little noise that could possibly be a laugh when Arthur does and this is just not acceptable.
He slides down Merlin’s body and ends up on his knees and for a second that’s enough to jar him out of the dust’s effect, enough to make him remember Merlin isn’t a noble widow or a knight or—and then Merlin stops breathing, his fingers resting against Arthur’s cheek so light they’re hardly there, and when Arthur looks up Merlin is biting his lip and staring at him with his eyes nearly black and the same wonder and trust that are in them every time he looks at Arthur—and Arthur wants again, enough that he starts unfastening Merlin’s trousers instead of standing up and finding some other way. His hands are shaky and he wonders if he can blame that on the dust, too, and not on the way Merlin’s gone back to breathing, shuddery little gasps every time Arthur’s hand slips and brushes against the bulge of his cock through his trousers.
There’s a wet spot where the tip of Merlin’s cock presses against his smallclothes, and Arthur isn’t glad to see that Merlin’s actually leaking, even before Arthur’s touched him, because that would mean he cared, that would mean he wanted this to be incredible for Merlin as if he’d thought about it, really thought about it instead of just having it cross his mind a few times; it would mean he wanted Merlin to want it. It’s just—it’s good to know that he hasn’t completely lost his skill what with a lack of recent practice, Arthur decides, and eases Merlin’s cock out through the slit in his smallclothes and slides his mouth down over it.
Merlin moans, head dropping back against the wall, and the sound runs hotly down Arthur’s spine. Arthur flicks his tongue across the head of Merlin’s cock, getting another moan for the effort, and then pulls off. “Why—” Merlin says, a little too coherent, and Arthur licks the flat of his hand and wraps it around Merlin’s cock, stroking spit and precome down the length so it’s slick and easy. He lowers his mouth again, testing, rubbing his tongue over the sweet spot just under the head, and Merlin cries out, hips jerking forward a little way until Arthur’s hand stops him.
“Sorry,” Merlin gasps, and this isn’t exactly dignified but it’s all right, Arthur is completely in control of the situation and everything is going as planned, so Arthur uses his free hand to make the all’s well signal and Merlin snorts out a laugh so—clearly—Arthur’s only option is to take Merlin a little deeper and suck, hard enough that the laugh turns into a moan.
If Arthur had ever thought about it, which he obviously hasn’t, he would have guessed Merlin would be noisy, but he would have expected more words and more acting like he knew better than Arthur and less unashamed pleasure. Arthur’s own cock is painfully hard, has been since he started unfastening Merlin’s trousers, and of course normally it wouldn’t bother him—he’s a man, not a boy, he can be patient—but this isn’t normal, and he gives up and presses his hand against his breeches, rocking a little into it with the rhythm he’s using on Merlin.
Merlin runs his fingers along Arthur’s jaw, tilting his head up just a little—still so gently, softly, as if Arthur were something to be protected instead of served, and it’s strange—and Merlin’s eyes are wild and wanting above his bitten-scarlet mouth and Arthur feels fragile and powerful all at once. It’s uncomfortable and he’s not sure he likes it but he needs it, he’s burning with the way Merlin makes him feel, and he can’t quite look away. He’s rubbing his own cock harder now, moving his hand as well as his hips, only half-aware of what he’s doing, knowing it’s ridiculous but he needs, right now he needs some relief more than he needs to pretend he’s completely unaffected by what he’s doing, as if there were anyone in Camelot who wouldn’t be affected.
“Arthur,” Merlin whispers, and then there’s bitterness, hot and thick, and Arthur swallows it without even hesitating and—Merlin said his name—
Arthur feels everything tighten and pulls back, come smearing across his mouth as Merlin’s cock slips free, and comes harder than he has in a long time before he can even get his hand to the laces of his breeches. He’s sitting on his heels with wet heat spreading at his groin and he feels fifteen again, overwhelmed and amazed and out of control.
Right. It’s not his fault.
Merlin looks like he wants to say something but has figured out that this isn’t the time, which is unprecedented. Instead he tucks himself back into his smallclothes and trousers and says, “I’ll, um. There are—if you wanted to take off your…”
Apparently they are talking about this.
Arthur thinks about pretending he has no idea what Merlin is talking about, and then he thinks about walking all the way back to his own chambers with a mess cooling in his breeches, possibly staining the leather, and shudders. “Thank you.”
He strips off his breeches (miraculously still dry) and smallclothes in Merlin’s room and decides to be generous and leave the smallclothes sort of folded. When he comes out, breeches coarse against his bare skin, Merlin has found a broom and is sweeping up the dust and the shards of glass, looking almost normal except for the flush to his skin and the glitter in his eyes and the fact that he hasn’t put the neckerchief back on. Arthur wonders where it went and then tells himself not to wonder.
The door opens and Gaius enters, carrying a basket full of herbs. Arthur silently thanks whatever benevolent god kept him from returning a few minutes earlier.
“There was a bit of an accident,” Merlin says.
Gaius looks at the floor. “So I see,” he says, shaking his head. “Of course, it could have been worse.”
There’s a long silence.
“Worse?” Merlin asks finally.
“It was just the St. John’s wort,” Gaius says, putting the basket down by the window. When he turns back Arthur and—presumably—Merlin are both staring at him. “Common, you know, and harmless, and powdering it doesn’t take too much time. Some of the things there are quite dangerous or rare.”
“It wasn’t,” Merlin says. His voice sounds strange, or maybe that’s just Arthur’s heartbeat—inexplicably loud in his ears—distorting it. “It was the—you said it was the love-in-idleness you’d brought from—”
“No, the love-in-idleness is the jar there of purple and white petals. Merlin, you really must—is something wrong?”
Merlin is staring at Arthur, speechless, eyes huge—how do they fit in his face?—and it’s Arthur who manages to say, “Nothing.” Once the first word is out, the rest are easier. “I’m afraid I have to run—Merlin, will I see you after dinner?”
Merlin blinks. Nods.
Gaius inclines his head, and Arthur makes a strategic and temporary retreat.