Arthur hasn’t bedded Merlin since before his birthday. As Merlin had dressed him that morning, they’d conversed in a not-very-subtle manner about just what they might get up to that evening once the festivities were over, but those plans had gone the way of the rest of Arthur’s plans—obliterated somewhere between stumbling, too-drunk, into his father’s chambers, and watching Uther’s last agonised breath.
It’s not like those plans could ever be fulfilled they way they’d imagined them, now. Arthur’s a different man. And Merlin is just as attuned to that as ever—in the time since they interred Arthur’s father, Merlin’s been more subdued than Arthur’s ever known him. And more attentive, in the days after, when the duties pounded at Arthur like a relentless battering ram; so much to be seen to in preparation for coronation. All with Merlin standing by silently, appeasing Arthur’s whims. Ordinarily, Arthur would find Merlin’s subservience annoying, but he hasn’t the heart for bickering of late.
Even once it’s all over, on the first night as soon as Arthur’s head hit his pillow he slept deeper than he has for days; waking early, he’d found Merlin propped awkwardly in Arthur’s chair, dragged over to sit by as if it’s Arthur’s sick bed. Arthur had let him sleep, dressed himself and not mentioned it, but the next night he makes sure to leave Merlin in no doubt just where he ought to be resting his head.
“It was utterly ridiculous for you to be at the tavern, Merlin,” Arthur begins, the old teasing tone feeling odd and creaky, like muscles unused during a long illness being stretched out again. “But there was nothing you could have done.” He’s told Merlin this—the blame lies with Arthur, solely; Merlin is always trying to take on responsibility like he’s far more important than he actually is—but if Merlin is still red-eyed and quiet, perhaps he hadn’t taken it to heart the first time.
“It’s not—” Merlin says, sombre-mouthed and wide-eyed as he stops in the middle of shaking out Arthur’s shed clothes. “I— you—”
“As much as I’m riveted by this scintillating conversation,” Arthur says—not cruelly, but putting Merlin out of his inarticulate misery nonetheless— “I’m tired. Get into bed.”
Arthur clambers up and in without waiting for Merlin’s response, and when he settles down and looks back over, Merlin’s still standing there, clutching Arthur’s trousers with an expression on his face that approaches dismay. Or perhaps not dismay, but an anguish that’s more worn and wearied.
“What is it,” Arthur says, gentler; he’s always less acerbic when he’s got his clothes off, and Merlin has an expression like that: like he’s so wide open that even a playful assault could wound him. “You’re too good for a tumble with a king?”
Merlin gives a choked laugh. “Of course not.”
He undresses with his back to Arthur, but that doesn’t stop Arthur from watching. Merlin removes every piece of clothing like it hurts to move, but like he’s pretending it doesn’t; if Arthur didn’t know how Merlin could make undressing look like an exercise in carelessness (or, at other times, a completely unselfconscious performance), he’d not take much note of it. As it is, Merlin doesn’t even meet Arthur’s eyes as he finally climbs into bed, shirt still on and draping low down to the tops of his dark-haired thighs.
Merlin settles down on his belly, well on the other side of the bed to Arthur. His face is mostly hidden in the pillows, arms folded beneath his chest. When Arthur skims a touch along the jut of Merlin’s shoulder blade, Merlin hides a flinch, badly.
Arthur’s tongue aches in his mouth, his eyes feel hot and jaw tight. “It’s not a royal decree,” he says, but he’s unable to take his hand away—his skin has the hint of Merlin’s warmth against it now, and just wants to cleave to more. “We don’t have to.”
Merlin shakes his head, but instead of speaking, just presses his face into the pillows more fully. Arthur takes that for what it is, and is withdrawing when Merlin unfolds an arm from under him to snatch Arthur’s hand up in his own.
“It’s not that,” Merlin says, muffled and stilted. His grasp on Arthur’s hand is fierce, for all that his fingers press points of coldness into Arthur’s skin. Arthur adjusts his grip to fold them into the heat of his palm. “It’s not that I don’t want—”
Arthur’s a little horrified to see Merlin’s eyes are damp when Merlin lifts his face from the pillow, and he drags Merlin’s hand closer in to wrap his other hand around it as well. “Oh, for God’s sake Merlin, I’m not a bloody beast,” he says, exasperated and a bit devastated.
Merlin chuckles, and it sounds a bit wet. He sniffs before he flops his face sideways on the pillow, staring at Arthur with dark, desperate eyes. “You are,” he retorts, mouth pursing in half-hearted humour.
Arthur hadn’t even wanted the sort of beastly, athletic tumbling they both enjoyed; just thought a bit of quiet, mutual rutting might be a bit of a balm to both of them. But perhaps not, with the way Merlin’s looking at him, like he’d collapse in on himself if Arthur touched him with intent. Arthur kisses his fingers. “Go to sleep, then.”
“Arthur,” Merlin says, pushing his free arm up under him, levering himself up a little to look at Arthur properly. “I want to—”
“Merlin,” Arthur cuts him off. “Shut up, and go to sleep.” He settles onto his back, tucking Merlin’s hand in his underarm to warm the last of the chilled fingers, and closes his eyes with a beatific sigh.
He doesn’t hear any movement for a few moments—Merlin still propped up and watching him—but after a little while there’s the sound and movement of Merlin settling down again. “Beast,” Merlin mutters. “I would—”
Arthur wants to reach out and feel the shape of Merlin’s face when he says that—so soft and vulnerable of late, tender from his sleeplessness and concern—but instead he pretends to be asleep and says, “Later, Merlin. Go to sleep.” And proceeds to lead by example.
When Arthur wakes, it’s from a dream that he’s already forgotten—except that it wasn’t about the chill of his father’s skin beneath his lips, or the scalding terror of his father’s blood against his hands. It must have been something else entirely, because Arthur’s cock is hot against his thigh, thick and halfway to fullness when he fumbles down to hold it in his sleepy hand.
He feels half-feverish, body overly warm and mind overly active; he’s moved closer to Merlin while he’s been asleep and while they’re still not touching, Merlin’s body radiates heat and scent; his sleepy breathing the loudest thing in the quiet dark of the room. They might have only been asleep for a few hours, or it may be nearly dawn; all Arthur knows is he’s abruptly wide awake and feeling like he’s about to fidget right out of his own skin.
Merlin’s still sleeping on his belly, arms that were tucked under his chest now folded below his head. The banked fire and faint moonlight casts enough light on him for Arthur to see the fringed shadows of his eyelashes, the short-cropped tufts of his hair, the dark swell of his lips as he breathes through his open mouth.
Arthur’s drunk on proximity, his resolve loosened by sleep and his forgotten dream. He touches Merlin, a hand to the middle of Merlin’s back, and Merlin’s body rises and falls with his steady breathing, his skin enticingly warm below his shirt. Arthur strokes his hand down to the swell of Merlin’s arse then immediately fumbles below the slack hem of the shirt, getting his hand under it and repeating the gesture, stroking from the top of Merlin’s back down to his arse, but this time against skin.
The skin of Merlin’s back is so warm and smooth, alive under Arthur’s touch and he can’t stop touching, stroking up and down, mapping out the hard path of Merlin’s spine, the taut planes of muscle on either side, the tender dell of his lower back. And the perfect rise of his arse; Arthur pushes down the blankets to skate his palm over the curve of Merlin’s buttock, and down to the top of his thigh, faintly dusted with hair. Merlin’s legs are pressed together, and Arthur slides his hand around to dip between them at the apex, where it’s hot, so hot; fingers brushing lightly against the loose skin of Merlin’s balls.
Arthur sucks in a deep breath, heat rushing through his body, filling his chest and making the frame of his ribcage tremble with deep want; he pushes closer to Merlin, mouthing the round of Merlin’s shoulder, brushing his eager cock against Merlin’s hip.
I want to, Merlin had said, I would— and Arthur clings to that. He feels desperate with lust all of a sudden, Merlin’s torpid body affecting him like a potion designed to make him to lose control with drugged, heady helplessness. “Merlin,” he murmurs, “Merlin.”
He drags his touch up again—up over the lovely, compact swell of Merlin’s arse, this time with his middle fingers stroking up through the hot cleft, the pad of his finger dragging against the bunched skin of Merlin’s hole. He can’t help but linger there, rub against it, and when Merlin shifts with the first sign of wakefulness—heaving a deep sigh and arching his body a little—Arthur moves his touch away, guiltily, to stroke up Merlin’s back again. “Merlin.”
Merlin heaves another sigh. “Mmph.”
Arthur bites his shoulder lightly, rocking forward to put some more pressure against his own cock, rubbing it against Merlin’s side. His hand strokes inexorably down again, back down between Merlin’s buttocks, again seeking out the hot little clasp of Merlin’s body. He circles the delicate furl with the pad of his finger, over and over, pressing firm and rubbing the wrinkled skin, feeling the tight muscle beneath. “Merlin.”
Merlin whines with all the abandon of the mostly-asleep, and his hips jerk, pushing up thrillingly into Arthur’s touch, then down again; Merlin shudders. He mumbles something that might be Arthur’s name, and Arthur leaves Merlin’s arsehole alone long enough to shove Merlin’s shirt up his back, baring it properly for Arthur to lick and bite messy kisses on to.
Merlin moans, then gasps when Arthur’s hand returns between his legs and grips, fingers pressed firm to his perineum and the heel of Arthur’s palm and thumb spreading his buttocks apart; Arthur strokes the grip loose and returns to rubbing, rubbing, rubbing against Merlin’s hole. He throws a leg over the backs of Merlin’s thighs, bucks into Merlin’s hip. “Merlin,” he groans. “Can I, I want to—”
Merlin’s breathing is picking up now—into a more wakeful tempo and beyond, but Arthur can’t stop touching and rutting, pressing his face to the hot skin of Merlin’s back. Arthur feels it reverberate through Merlin’s chest when Merlin laughs, hoarse and sleepy; and suddenly the anxiety that was knotted tight with the coiling desire in Arthur’s chest loosens with the speed of a whip-crack. It leaves Arthur trembling with eagerness, and he presses his finger in—
“Oh,” Merlin says breathlessly, and— “Wait—”
But Arthur’s already stuttering, “Sorry, hang on—” and sticking fingers in his mouth, and kicking blankets away, and finding Merlin’s hole again and listening to Merlin’s inward hiss of breath as Arthur swirls his fingers wetly against it before pushing inside. The muscles of Merlin’s arse are strong and fickle, and they flutter around Arthur’s invasion then clench tight, resisting as he pushes in as far as he can before twisting his wrist around and curling his fingers.
Merlin huffs into his folded arms and hunches his hips against the bed; when he goes to part his legs Arthur tightens the hold of his own leg over Merlin’s, holding them together. Merlin’s arse clamps down tightly, and Arthur can barely move. “Can I,” Arthur pants, “can I—”
“Go on,” Merlin says on an exhale. “Anything, Arthur, oh—” He presses his forehead down, arches his hips up and pushes back against Arthur’s fingers; Arthur can see sweat springing up along Merlin’s back now, can feel Merlin’s thighs trembling under his own. Arthur splays his fingers, curls them, pumps them in and out of Merlin’s tight, hot body. Merlin turns his head to the side, panting. “Anything you want.”
Arthur surges up to kiss him; Merlin’s face is flushed hot like a feverish child, his mouth a little stale with sleep, and the angle is terrible; but Arthur’s exhilarated with lust and permission. He spreads his fingers to drag them slowly out of Merlin’s body, then press close to piston sleekly in again, and Merlin’s lashes flutter against Arthur’s cheek. Arthur does it again, over and over, keeping his face close enough to scrutinise Merlin’s reactions in the close darkness: Merlin’s hot, stuttered breath; Merlin’s lip caught between his teeth. Merlin’s face is aflame, and Arthur kisses it all over, until Merlin turns it into the fold of his arms again.
So Arthur climbs astride Merlin’s thighs instead, holding Merlin’s long legs pressed together with a seat befitting a racehorse. Arthur grips Merlin’s arse in his hands, spreads it open, thumbs at the damp, grasping hole between. The oil Arthur pours on him goes everywhere, so Arthur just rubs it into his buttocks, his thighs; feeding it into Merlin’s arse with the press of his thumb.
Merlin hitches his hips against the bed without rhythm, making choked-off noises and half-moans; Arthur can’t stop stroking the hot, smooth channel of his arse, hooking his fingers to feel the the powerful ring of muscle when he pulls out every time.
Eventually, his cock gets in the way, knocking against his wrist as his own hips rock to an urgent, covetous beat, eager to thrust and impale. He braces the heel of his hand in the small of Merlin’s back to still him; but apparently holding him down there makes Arthur’s blood pound like war drums in his head, so instead of letting up once Merlin’s stopped moving Arthur just shuffles forward, keeping Merlin’s legs pinned as well as he guides his cock with the other hand.
He slips it between Merlin’s buttocks, strokes the tip up and down the cleft, seeking out Merlin’s hole by touch alone. He can’t help but shudder at the slippery drag, Merlin’s skin hot and slick with the oil; Arthur’s thigh and back muscles are solid with tension as he holds back the urge to just thrust and thrust.
At last, he notches the tip against the dip of Merlin’s hole and presses forward. Merlin pants and resists him, writhing against the heavy weight of Arthur’s hand pinning his back. Finally, he yields: the head of Arthur’s cock sinks in and is immediately clasped tight; Arthur laughs breathlessly at the fierce joy of it and lets go of his hold on Merlin’s back.
“Arthur, oh, oh,” Merlin is saying, breathless and half-broken, Arthur’s lovely, sleepy boy; and Arthur lowers himself onto Merlin until he’s stretched out along the length of Merlin’s back, biting softly at the back of Merlin’s neck, working his cock into Merlin’s arse with tiny little thrusts like playful kisses. He can’t get much depth; Merlin’s legs still pressed together between the bracket of Arthur’s, but that’s all right, that’s somehow exactly what Arthur wants.
Merlin’s head is still buried in his arms until Arthur reaches for his wrists, stretches his arms out straight above him and holds them there. Then Merlin turns his head to the side again, so Arthur licks the shell of his ear, bright red, nips the curl of it and tongues the lobe. Merlin’s breath is strained beneath Arthur’s weight, hitching on every little push of Arthur’s hips; he can’t seem to get air enough to make any more proper noise. His eyes are closed, brow knotted, and Arthur kisses all down the side of his face.
“Is this—” Arthur can’t seem to get much breath himself; the air feels aflame, heaving in and out of his lungs like bellows. “This… Yes?”
Merlin groans, manages to free his wrists from Arthur’s grip and tucks his arms under himself; he braces himself on his elbows and pushes back for the first time, arching up into Arthur’s chest. Arthur pins him instinctively with a sharper thrust of his hips, and Merlin’s jaw drops open. “Yes,” he manages to get out, hardly any voice but still clearly irritable. “You’re the… the very king of beasts…”
Arthur laughs and gives him a few hard, driving thrusts in reward; Merlin gasps and his head hangs loosely. His shirt is bunched up under his arms, stopping Arthur from biting his shoulders properly, so instead he noses at the damp hair at Merlin’s nape and nips at the taut cords of his neck. He feels like a beast, and Merlin is his prey, trembling and helpless below him. Arthur bares his teeth in a grin and his next bite is harder, growl muffled against Merlin’s sweaty skin, and Merlin gives a gasping laugh, his arse squeezing so tight around Arthur’s cock that Arthur’s vision goes black for a moment.
Desperation takes over from playfulness, then; Arthur hasn’t had time to even think about sex since his birthday, but apparently his cock has been thinking about nothing but. With his arms braced on either side of Merlin’s shoulders and his knees outside Merlin’s thighs Arthur has leverage enough to set a pounding rhythm. Even with Merlin’s hips canted up, with his legs still pressed together Arthur has to force each thrust, but that just pushes him closer to the edge quicker. He grasps Merlin’s hair in his fist and tugs firm enough to stretch Merlin’s neck out below him and then the view is perfect as well; Arthur sets his teeth into the pale length of flesh and lashes his tongue against the thick, frantic pulse below.
Merlin makes urgent, bitten-off noises below him, like he’s just as desperate as Arthur, and it sends something hot and primal straight down Arthur’s spine and into his cock. He’s giddy with it, but he doesn’t come until Merlin manages to free his arm and flail behind him, digging fingers into the meat of Arthur’s arse and urging him to thrust harder, harder. Arthur does, a few more times, before jerking and grinding close close close, as his climax jolts through him from the top of his spine to the bottom. He yanks on Merlin’s hair, forces an acute arch into Merlin’s spine with the fierce push of his hips that Arthur holds as he trips over the edge. The punch of coming empties his head of control and his lungs of air, and he spills deep, his whole body constricting as fiercely tight as Merlin’s holding him.
Merlin squirms and whines below him at the contortions, making Arthur shudder before he pulls out, away from the spasming grasp of Merlin around him. He slumps forward, forehead resting against Merlin’s back. Even feeling dizzy from his release—his body urging him quickly back to the darkness of sleep—he fumbles down Merlin’s sweaty back, stuffing his fingers back into Merlin’s arse to feel the slippery seed filling him; he strokes it out to smear soothingly on the used ring of Merlin’s hole.
Merlin is still heaving under him, bucking against Arthur’s fingers and struggling under his weight, arching against Arthur’s hold in his hair. Arthur loosens the stiff clasp of his fist, strokes his hand to the back of Merlin’s neck and presses down, shushing him.
Lassitude pulls at Arthur, suggesting he just bury his face in the sweaty fragrance of Merlin’s hot neck and let sleep take him again, but he fights it off. He concedes dismounting Merlin’s thighs, rolling back onto his side; when he takes his hand from Merlin’s neck Merlin turns his head to face him again, eyes screwed shut and mouth gaping, his lips bitten dark, cheeks stained red. His eyes flutter open to dark slits when Arthur slides his hand back down between Merlin’s legs; the hot little nook slick with spilled oil. Merlin nudges his chin forward, but he’s not very good for kissing; panting into Arthur’s mouth and biting distractedly at Arthur’s lips. Arthur angles his knee to push Merlin’s legs apart at last, reaching up to grasp Merlin’s cock and draw it down between his legs; Merlin gives a wobbly cry of relief.
The flesh in Arthur’s hand feels almost painfully stiff; hot skin slipping smoothly over a core of steel. Merlin tries to buck into the bed when Arthur squeezes, but stills again before Arthur can even tease him about it—though stills is too strong a word; Merlin’s entire body is a shaky, sweaty mess.
“Come on, Merlin,” Arthur goads under his breath, his own voice low and throaty. He rubs the tip of Merlin’s prick, angling the edge of his thumb into the slit and pressing back and forth, then, before Merlin can do more than jerk and gasp at the sensation, gloves the shaft in his fist and gives him a few tight, twisting pulls.
Merlin writhes, and shoves his face into Arthur’s neck, burying his cries right up against Arthur’s skin as if he can’t bear for Arthur to hear them—and his cock jumps in Arthur’s hand and he’s coming, like it’s a matter of Arthur’s will alone as Arthur milks it out of him.
Afterwards, Merlin shakes and shakes, even after his breath has slowed again. It’s how Arthur knows he’s not gone back to sleep, and he fights off his own drowsiness—usually selfishness is the order of the day at this point, but he feels unwilling to abandon Merlin to this moment, as appealing as sleep is—not to mention the dry side of the bed.
“Trust you to leave such an enormous wet spot, Merlin,” Arthur murmurs at length, needing something to break past this wallowing, even if it’s provoking Merlin out of the afterglow and into irritation.
It seems to work. “You wake me up with hands in suggestive places and then complain about the mess that results?” Merlin’s voice sounds stuffy and wet, but the tone is all Arthur hoped for. Merlin finally flops onto his side, starting to shove at Arthur with hands and knees. “Move over.”
Arthur tips him onto his back and surges over him, struck abruptly with an incongruous rush of joy. “Are you ordering the king about in his own bed?” he asks, matter-of-factly, and when Merlin shoots a scowl up at him, Arthur kisses it into oblivion, Merlin’s mouth slick and faintly salty.