Merlin has taken over Arthur’s thoughts since he came to Camelot. He’s stubborn and insubordinate and disrespectful and the worst manservant Arthur has ever had—and he’s a sorcerer and genuinely seems to think that Arthur hasn’t figured this out yet, which means he insults the royal intelligence every time he pretends that the latest thing he did was pure coincidence and not him risking his own life to save Arthur’s—and he’s stupidly brave and charming and kind and rather attractive in his own odd way. Arthur is thoroughly sick of the way that he thinks about Merlin all the time. Merlin is, after all, an entirely unsuitable person to be taking up so much of his attention.
(Arthur is always too keenly aware of Merlin’s hands when Merlin dresses or undresses him: their shape, their heat, the length of the fingers, and he wants those hands to touch him, him and not his clothes, deliberately. The best days—the worst days—are the days when Merlin’s hands slip and brush across his skin, and Arthur snaps something about clumsiness to distract Merlin from the way he shivers.
He memorizes the way it feels and when he’s desperate tries to recreate it himself when he’s alone, his own hands too rough from handling weapons, his own fingers just a little too short and broad. It’s really not at all what he should be doing. A manservant is supposed to be useful and nothing more. Arthur has never known anyone else who had to go through supply lists in his head to keep from getting hard every time he changed his clothing, for gods’ sakes. It really has to stop.)
So here he is, alone in the best brothel in Camelot, handing over coins to the madam and trying not to notice how the boy—man, really, around Arthur’s own age but delicate-looking—he’s chosen looks like Merlin, dark messy hair and a lush mouth. He’s trying not to notice the fact that the boy’s eyes, lined with cosmetic to look wide and innocent, are too dark: deep brown, not storm-blue.
“What’s your name?” Arthur asks abruptly as they ascend the stairs. He can’t go on thinking of this person as “not-Merlin”—it’s far too close to “Merlin” for what he’s trying to do. He just—he just needs to have sex, good sex, with someone else, and then he’ll be able to be around Merlin without his heart doing that ridiculous fluttery thing; he’ll be able to go through the daily functions of life without having to fight down inappropriate erections.
“Bran, sire—sir,” says the boy, and it takes Arthur a moment to remember he’d asked him what his name was. And that he hadn’t introduced himself as the prince. Well, he’d known they were discreet; Bran apparently combines discretion with respect, which Merlin really needs to—
No. He’s not thinking about Merlin.
The best room in the brothel isn’t anywhere near as luxurious as Arthur’s chambers, but it’s clean and tidy and the bed is soft, with linens that get changed often enough that they always at least seem clean.
“What do you want, sir?” Bran asks.
It actually takes effort for Arthur not to say I don’t know. He thinks about fucking Bran but it would just take so much work: the time it would take to stretch him open (he doesn’t think, at all, about making Merlin writhe and gasp and sob with pleasure on his fingers, beg for his cock), the effort of motion. Instead he sits on the edge of the bed, because he might as well be comfortable, and says, “Your mouth.”
Bran’s hands are quick and competent on the laces of his breeches, on his smallclothes, gentler on his cock. (Too soft: the hands of someone who’s never scrubbed or polished or carried anything heavy.)
He sits there as Bran kneels between his legs and sucks him to hardness, sits while Bran takes his cock deep and swallows around it—his eyelashes are the wrong shape, the way they fan across his rather forgettable cheekbones, and Arthur can’t believe he’s noticing this—and it feels good, it feels better than his own hand, but there’s something wrong about it. He paid a sizable sum of money for this, for a good man from a superb brothel, and it ought to be something much better than better than his own hand.
Arthur closes his eyes but that doesn’t make it easier. Without the distraction of sight, without the rest of the room and the soft darkness of Bran’s hair, Arthur can’t help but notice that Bran smells like perfume, not like herbs and dust and a hint of the air after lightning that Arthur thinks might be the scent of magic.
This isn’t working, it isn’t getting Merlin out of his head—if anything it’s making the entire situation worse—and Arthur doesn’t think he’s ever felt less satisfied when he comes. It’s like an afterthought, a reflex, and his body feels good but his mind is shouting MerlinMerlinMerlin like a plea, a wish, a prayer.
Obviously, something is going to have to be done about the situation.
It’s as he’s headed back to the castle that he thinks, really, Merlin drank poison for him—and he’d do the same for Merlin because he can’t imagine life without Merlin anymore—and maybe that means Merlin feels the same way as he does; maybe there’s a simpler way.