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When Merlin hears footsteps coming down into the cellar, he twists around and yells, "Can't find it, mate!"

The footsteps slow to a stop and Merlin starts wriggling out from under the shelf where he'd been searching for the bottle of gin he and Arthur nicked when they were about fifteen and hid away down here in a fit of drunken teenage guilt. That was years ago now, but halfway through tonight's graduation party Merlin had been possessed by an urgent need to know if the bottle was still there – if it had lain forgotten while they finished school and went off to uni.

Arthur had been much more interested in his lap-full of Sophia, and had waved Merlin off to the cellar with a 'go on then, if you must', kind of air. But no amount of rooting around under the shelves has turned up the half-full bottle, and Merlin sits up, intending to tell Arthur so.

Except it's not his stinking-drunk, lipstick-smeared best mate standing there. No. It's his best mate's dad, looking stone cold sober and vaguely amused at the sight of Merlin scrabbling around on the floor.

"Oh. Hi, Mr. Pendragon."

Merlin doesn't know where that came from. It's been ages since he called the other man anything but Uther. Maybe it's just because Merlin's older now, or maybe Uther's mellowed after all that unpleasant business with Morgana. Merlin remembers being bloody terrified of him at one point, though. Now he seems – well, he's pretty alright, really. He even lined up some summer work for Merlin with one of the charities he donates to in his late wife's name. Still, he's all smart and put-together, his clothes look really crisp, and to Merlin, who'd shucked his button-down shirt and trousers for a t-shirt and jeans as soon as humanly possible (and is admittedly maybe feeling that last beer a little) that's enough to make Uther a bit intimidating still.

"Hello, Merlin. Would I regret it if I asked what you were doing down here?"

Merlin scrambles to his feet and dusts off his clothes. "Probably," he admits. "I don't suppose you remember when me and Arthur were about fifteen, we nicked a bottle of your gin? We hid it down here and I was wondering if I could find it."

"Ah," Uther says slowly. "An old suspicion confirmed, thank you. The bottle of Nolet's Silver, wasn't it? Makes a very fine Martini."

Merlin rubs the back of his neck and says, "Um. Yeah. We drank it with Dr. Pepper, I think."

Uther rubs his brow and Merlin thinks maybe he's fighting a smile. "God help us," is all he says. "I dare say a cleaner found the bottle some time ago."

"Alright," Merlin says, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and shifting on his feet. "Well, there's beer upstairs anyway, so – I should head back."

"Of course," Uther says, and he moves aside, waving Merlin towards the stairs.

Merlin steps past Uther, with the weird idea that Uther's looking at him taking root in his head. Maybe he still has dust on his clothes, a cobweb in his hair, something like that. Just as he's about to start up the stairs, Uther asks him, "Did you lose a bet?"

Merlin's confused, and he half-turns to look over at Uther. "Er – sorry, what?"

"Your underwear," Uther says, and the world tilts around Merlin.

"My – oh, fuck – "

He should have realised. Scrambling around on the floor, wriggling like that to reach right under the shelf, it must have pulled his jeans down low enough on his hips to expose a strip of red lace. Bollocks, bollocks, and fuck. This is where self-indulgence gets him. There's no subtle way to check, not now, but Merlin does it anyway, hooks his thumbs in his belt loops and tugs his jeans up a little, pretending not to see Uther following the movement with his eyes.

"No," Merlin says, vaguely surprised by how steady his voice is. "Not a bet."

"Ah," Uther says, with a glance up the stairs. "For somebody's benefit, then?"

And that's fine. Merlin should leave it there, let Uther think he's playing kinky sex games with somebody at the party. They've all just graduated from university, they probably get a pass on things like that.

But he hears himself say, "For my benefit, really. Sometimes I just like to."

And now he's thinking of earlier, how it felt to cross the stage and collect his handshake from the Vice-Chancellor, knowing that under the stupid robes, and the obnoxious formal clothes, there was this scrap of silk and lace. It was a private thrill then, it's always been a private thrill, but now he's very aware that Uther was in the audience, an unknowing witness to his secret.

Except now Uther does know, and he is looking at Merlin, his eyes sharp and alert. This must be what he looks like when he's closing a deal that will make the front pages. (Merlin still remembers the weird sliding sensation he felt the first time he saw Uther in the newspaper – not even the business section, the actual newspaper – and the realisation of just how powerful the man was.)

"Have you ever shown anyone?" Uther asks.

Merlin swallows hard and shakes his head. The silence is oppressive, and for a second Merlin's weirdly disappointed by it. God, it is hard to meet Uther's eye for some reason, even though Merlin's been processing the whole 'I like to wear women's knickers' thing for long enough that he's barely embarrassed. About that, anyway.

"I imagine the red suits you very well," Uther says, and oh god, Merlin has no idea what to say to that.

"It's – they're my favourites," Merlin admits, getting tangled up in the words.

"I see. You have an extensive collection?"

Merlin's not totally sure where Uther's going with this, but it's making something – feels like anxiety, tastes like arousal – rip through Merlin's body and instead of running back to the party and getting obnoxiously drunk, he finds himself answering.

"Not – not extensive. I've a few – it's hard to find stuff that fits."

"There are websites," Uther says.

Fuck. Fucking fucking fuck. Because obviously, Merlin knows there are websites. He's looked often enough, spent more time than he's willing to admit to in a sort of daze, feverishly adding things to his online basket before admitting that if he spends two hundred and fifty quid of his student loan on knickers (and stockings, and garters, and fucking hell, corsets) he will end up living off Super Noodles and cheap white bread, and be forced to off himself just to forget the magnitude of his own stupidity. It's on his list, though. As soon as he gets a real job. Yeah. He is going to seriously indulge himself.

So websites? Not a problem or a shock or anything like that. But Uther – god, Arthur's dad knowing about them? Because Uther – well, there was the step mother, Catrina, not long after Arthur and Merlin first became friends, but she didn't last long. And beyond that, Merlin has no idea. Arthur's as open to talking about his dad's love life as any other kid, which is to say not at all, and Merlin's certainly never seen Uther with anybody, man or woman.

The idea of Uther going through some of those same websites, maybe even buying stuff for someone (someone like Merlin, fuck, the thought is there before he has a chance to stop it, and Merlin can feel a blush creeping over his cheeks) takes a bit more effort to get his head around.

In fact, he's still trying to come up with a reply when Uther says, "Show me."

It's not quite an order (because who is Uther to give him orders?) so Merlin supposes it must be a request. It sounds very certain though, the kind of request people make when they're already sure they're going to get what they want, and –

It takes Merlin that long to get past Uther's tone and actually process his words. Show me.

"Uh – I – now?"

Uther glances up at the stairs. "The door is shut," he says calmly, lifting his chin in a gesture Merlin's seen him use on Arthur once or twice, when he's caught his son in some transgression and is just daring him to make up a flimsy excuse.

"I – okay," Merlin says, some boldness descending on him from nowhere. Or no, that's a lie. The boldness comes from the fantasy: the older man who will buy Merlin pretty things and tell him what to wear and help him whisper silk and satin and decadent lace across his skin.

Out of some kind of loyalty to his best mate, Merlin has never let the fantasy be Uther, not directly. Because when you've been best friends with someone since school, you don't then go on to shag his dad. Outside of porn. And, all right, maybe Merlin watches quite a lot of that particular genre, or whatever it's called. But it's not like he's going to say, 'oh hey Arthur, I want to dress up in girly pants for your dad'.

Oh god. He wants to dress up in girly pants for Arthur's dad.

He'd feel ridiculous in just his black t-shirt and his skimpy underwear so Merlin shucks the shirt first. The cool air of the cellar is actually quite a pleasant counterpoint to the heat prickling over his skin. Uther leans back against the table a little, and Merlin kicks off his shoes as well, his mind full of images of getting tangled in them and falling flat on his face.

The button and zip fly on his jeans have never seemed like such a complex bit of engineering before now, and Merlin fumbles them open. He knows the parted vee of material exposes the trim of red lace, and probably the top of the two small black ruffles that run vertically down the front of the underwear.

"Stop," Uther says, his voice gone low. "Turn around first."

Merlin's breath catches for a second and then he turns his back on Uther and starts working his jeans down over his hips. He wonders if he should maybe be trying to be a bit more seductive about it, and is forced to admit he would have no idea how. He switches feet awkwardly to hop out of his jeans and then just stands there, his hands clenching loosely at his sides.

Merlin knows what this particular pair of knickers looks like from every conceivable angle. He's memorised the high curve of red against the pale shape of his arse, and the texture of the slightly scalloped edging against his skin. He just holds still though, letting Uther look him over. It goes on a long time, long enough for Merlin to start wondering about the odds of someone else coming downstairs, and how quickly he could get his clothes back on and oh god, he didn't shave his legs or anything, maybe Uther likes that? Maybe he doesn't like –

"Turn around," Uther says.

And Merlin does, his feet feeling a bit clumsy as the turns slowly. He has a ridiculous urge to cover himself, where his hardening dick is starting to distort the front of the underwear. He keeps his hands at his sides though, balling them into tighter fists. Like this, he can't fail to notice the way Uther's looking at him, the unashamed focus as he takes in every detail of the knickers, the way they cut straight across Merlin's hips. Merlin loves the way they look, but he's never seen another person react to them before, never felt the drag of someone's eyes across the lace and silk. He feels more exposed than he ever has completely naked, and curls his toes against the floor.

"Come here," Uther tells him and Merlin clears his throat awkwardly and takes a couple of steps forward.

"I have – " he says. "It came with a camisole."

Uther's tongue darts out and wets his lower lip and then – Merlin suppresses a shiver – he sets his hand on Merlin's waist. Uther's hand feels large against him, broad and blunt, the edge of his little finger overlapping the different textures of skin and lace.

"Tell me about it," Uther says.

"It, uh. It's red. Silky," Merlin says, and his fingers fidget over his stomach, a few inches above the lace waistband of the knickers. "Comes to about here, and it – the straps are thin and there's lace – lace and ruffles on the – on the – "

"The bust," Uther says, and his fingers squeeze at Merlin's waist, a greedy touch.

Merlin nods and swallows dryly. "That. I. Uh – Mr. Pendragon – "

Again, fuck, somehow it's just impossible to call the man Uther when Merlin feels all twisted up inside like this, when he can feel the beginnings of a damp spot on the soft red silk. Uther's eyes close for the space of a couple of heartbeats and when he opens them again, his lips have curved into a smile. The hand on Merlin's waist draws him in a little closer and Uther's pale eyes flicker over his face.

"This is how it looks best," Uther says, and then his other hand cups Merlin's cock through the silk and lace, handling him into full hardness, making the rosy head peep out above the lace, making Merlin feel the rough scratch of it.

Merlin's just – he can't think, can hardly breathe, just arches his hips so the head of his dick presses against Uther's palm and hooks his fingers into Uther's shirt, feeling a bit unsteady on his feet.

"Please," he says, and he has no idea what he's asking for.

Both of Uther's hands fall to his waist this time and he guides Merlin to take a couple of steps backwards. Uther folds his arms across his chest and inspects Merlin again. If Merlin thought he felt exposed before it's nothing compared to now, his arousal framed obscenely by the underwear, his nipples pebbled hard, and his teeth worrying his lower lip. As he shifts a little from foot to foot he becomes aware that it's making the lace and silk shift against his skin, making his cock sway and bob a little.

This time Uther walks around him, looking at him from behind, his hand grazing the small of Merlin's back, fingers dipping into the waistband of the knickers before they move over the lace instead, rubbing his fingertips over Merlin's cleft, pressing the lace against shadowed skin. Merlin whips his head around fast, looking over his shoulder at Uther.

Uther just smiles that calm little smile again and brings his other hand around to press flat against Merlin's stomach, drawing him back against the solidity and surprising firmness of Uther's body. Merlin swallows, imagining what Uther might look like under his clothes.

"Ideally, I'd have you in front of a mirror," Uther says, his voice like honey in Merlin's ear. "So you can watch."

Merlin shifts in the circle of Uther's arm. He's explored every inch of this house over the years, so he knows that Uther has a mirror in his bedroom which would serve the purpose well. For a minute, Merlin lets himself imagine it: Uther directing him to watch yourself, watch, Merlin, watch so you can see me take you, the way the thick carpet would feel under his toes, so different from the concrete of the cellar.

"Lean forward," Uther tells him. "Hands on the table."

Merlin does as he's told, and Uther stays pressed close behind him so that the act of bending forward pushes Merlin's arse directly into Uther's groin and oh god, he's hard. Actually hard from looking at Merlin, all wrapped in lace and on display for him.

"I don't think I've ever known you so quiet," Uther says, like he's determined to bring Merlin's fraying attention back to the bare facts of the situation, of where he is and who he's with.

God, Merlin thinks, it's not just that Arthur's upstairs, pretty much all of Merlin's mates are here tonight. As if on cue there's a whoop from somewhere above them, followed by laughter. It sounds like it's coming from miles away.

"I could talk," Merlin offers. "I mean, I can't promise to talk sense, but I can – "

"That's all right," Uther says. "Just an observation, not a complaint."

Merlin realises that could well be Uther's way of saying no, shut up, so Merlin keeps his mouth shut. It should probably be boring, just leaning against the table with Uther pressed up behind him, otherwise not touching him at all. But Merlin's breath is heavy and hot in his lungs and it's the same as that feeling from before, of being inspected by Uther in some way, of just waiting until Uther's looked his fill and decided to move on.

Move on, Merlin thinks with a pleasant shiver. What might that involve?

Uther takes half a step back and his fingers trace up the outside of Merlin's thigh. He tugs the left edge of the underwear and Merlin goes to his toes for a second, gasping, before he settles into the pressure it puts on his cock and balls.

"I'd fuck you like this," Uther tells him. "Just like this."

Merlin swallows, his throat thick. Lets himself imagine Uther fucking him, pulling Merlin's lacy knickers askew to get at his arse, thinks how it would feel to have the lace and silk constraining his cock and balls as Uther slams into him.

Uther's dry fingers rub over the private skin of Merlin's hole and Merlin says, "Oh. Oh."

"Just like this," Uther says again, and his fingers work their way lower, nudging the heat of Merlin's bollocks, more pressure than Merlin knows what to do with, rocking on the balls of his feet and breathing out a tangled sound that's meant to be a plea.

Uther slides his hand around to Merlin's cock, feeling the stretch of the material over his fevered skin. Uther's forefinger and thumb wrap around the couple of inches of Merlin's cock that's escaped, pinned to his stomach by the waistband of his knickers. It's a haze of sensation. Uther's breath on his neck, the smooth wood of the table under his palms, the lace pulled up high and tight between the cheeks of his arse, enough to make him rock forward on his toes when Uther tugs. And under it all, through everything, the confused rush of yes, yes, yes, I want.

"Maybe put you in a pair of heels," Uther says and that wanting feeling twists inside Merlin. Uther sounds almost dispassionate, but his voice is warm and low and nearly enough. Merlin makes a garbled string of sounds which Uther interprets correctly. He does something to the angle of Merlin's cock so that when he comes (with his head spinning and a sharp awareness of Uther's dick rocking against his arse) he does so all over the inside of his favourite red underwear.

"Fuck," Merlin says and he sags, dropping his face to his forearms. "Oh god, god – "

Uther sounds less composed this time when he says, "Stay there."

The sound of him undoing his zip, pushing material aside, seems loud and sudden. The fingers of Uther's other hand are careful as they smooth out Merlin's underwear, plucking it back into place. Merlin thinks it probably looks normal from the back still. The front is another story, already heading for awkwardly itchy.

For a second Merlin just gurgles into his arm when he feels Uther's bare cock slide up and down over his arse a couple of times. It feels thick and Merlin entertains a fleeting thought about getting to his knees and choking himself on it. Uther hooks a hand around Merlin's sharp hip, holding him still. Then there's the unmistakable sound of Uther spitting into his other hand, and an equally distinctive wet rhythm when he starts stroking himself.

Merlin's stomach flips over. Uther is holding him there, his arse presented as if for a fucking, under the bright overhead lights. Merlin can feel his cock getting sticky from his own come, can feel the slight pressure of Uther's fingernails against his hip. He's no fucking idea what to think of any of it but that doesn't stop him flexing his back, pushing his arse back further and turning to look over his shoulder at Uther.

He's too close for Merlin to see much, but he can see movement, gets the occasional peek at the blood-dark head of Uther's cock emerging from his fist. Uther holds Merlin hard and still, pushing him into the table, and Merlin feels hot, jerky splashes against his arse, mostly on the back of his knickers, but a dribble onto his skin makes him gasp.

Uther lets out a quiet final grunt and carefully unhooks his fingers from Merlin's hip. Merlin's legs are shaky as he turns around, grateful for the table behind him to lean against. Uther has already put his prick away and apart from a bit of a flush to his cheeks, he looks like nothing ever happened. Unfair, when Merlin looks like... Well. He plucks at the increasingly uncomfortable knickers.

"You ruined them," Merlin says, trying to muster up some tone of real disapproval. He obviously fails – or there's the distinct possibility that he succeeds and Uther isn't even slightly cowed – because Uther just says,

"You'd best remove them, then."

Gingerly, trying not to get more come on himself than he already has, Merlin does so. He looks around vaguely for tissues or something and he almost misses it when Uther tells him, "I'll send you some replacements."

Merlin's too busy to figure out if that means this will be happening again to even think about responding.

Uther's hand squeezes the back of Merlin's neck and says, "You should put your clothes on."

And then he's gone. Or going anyway. His footsteps are already halfway up the stairs when Merlin starts scrambling for his clothes. It's then that he realises the come-soaked underwear is nowhere to be seen.

Merlin lets out a shaky laugh as he hastily pulls on his jeans. Christ, he needs a drink.