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Let me be your canvas

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The building’s an old, turn of the century red brick, tucked in a corner of a quiet London street. Merlin had been told it was a bit hard to find. He looks up and spots the wrought iron hook over the door and the small wooden sign with the cursive Arthur’s swinging in the wind. He would’ve passed it by without a second thought if he wasn’t clutching the directions in a crumpled paper.

He struggles with the door; it’s old and heavy. After a good shove with his shoulder, it swings open and Merlin’s falling into the shop, righting himself just before he face-plants.

Behind the counter is a man in a crisp black Oxford shirt and golden blond hair. His eyes are piercing blue as they stare back at Merlin.

"What can I do for you, kid?" It’s posh and half-mocking.

Merlin bristles and lifts his chin. "I’d like a tattoo," he says, hoping to God he hasn’t got the wrong place.

The man’s eyes travel Merlin’s face, then look him up and down. "No ID, no ink," he says and picks up a magazine from the counter and starts flipping the pages. Merlin steps back as if he’s been slapped.

"I’m eighteen." The man doesn’t look up, just flips another page. What kind of tattoo artist is this? Merlin can’t see any tatts, any piercings. The man (Arthur, Merlin assumes, because he certainly presents himself like he owns the place) looks like he could be lounging in a Gentlemen’s Club rather than a tattoo parlour. It’s not even a tattoo magazine. From the angle Merlin’s at he can’t tell, but it looks like sailboats.

"Of course you are."

Merlin fumbles for his wallet and his ID Card and sets it down on the picture of a yacht. "I’m eighteen."

The man’s eyebrows rise a bit and with one finger pressed to the centre of the card, he pushes it off the magazine. He flips another page. Merlin debates walking out but it took him two bus transfers and a ten minute walk in the slush to get here so he just grits his teeth and waits.

Article finished (or Merlin’s test of patience done – whichever was really happening) the magazine is finally shoved to the side.


Merlin blinks, feeling a bit like a deer caught in headlights with those eyes on him again.

"What kind of tatt are you looking for?"

"Oh." Merlin fidgets, looking around the shop’s stark walls for any sign of binders or sample folders. "I was thinking you’d have portfolios or something... this site I was on said--"

Arthur rolls his eyes and picks up the magazine again. "Go home, kid."

"But I want a tattoo." Merlin feels that flash of hot anger in his chest that always makes him babble and go all red. "I’ve been thinking about this for months. Look, my –" he stalls on what to call Gwaine, the neighbour who fixes their plumbing in exchange for Merlin’s mum’s cooking. "A friend told me to come here. That you were good."

At that, Arthur looks up and meets Merlin’s eyes. "I’m the best."


"Come back when you’ve figured out what you want and maybe I’ll do a pen trial on you," Arthur says, "if I like what you pick." He grabs his mag, turns and goes into the back room.

"Prat," Merlin says, low enough that Arthur couldn’t possibly hear, but it still feels like a victory.


Scarf wrapped tightly about his neck, Merlin gets off the bus and heads for the familiar path to his house. His boots are soaked through from the sloppy mess of last night’s snowfall, but his mind’s elsewhere. He should’ve been more prepared. Gwaine has said that the owner was a bit eccentric. Merlin assumed he meant Merlin could trust the needles were clean and he wouldn’t get ripped off but the owner had tattooed his face to look like a cat or something -- not that the owner was an utter berk who treated paying customers like something stuck to his shoe.

It’s not like Merlin hadn’t thought about it; he’s thought of little else for the last six months. He thought when he looked through the artist’s portfolio (all the sites said he would have one!) something would speak to him. Instead, he looked like an idiot. The annoyance in those bright blue eyes stung Merlin’s pride. The back of his neck still itches with embarrassment.

He's determined to go back though – prepared this time.

He finds his mother in the kitchen, washing up. He mutters about the study group running late and pops the plate set aside for him into the microwave.

"Got a test tomorrow. I'll need the computer for a bit, if that's all right?" He kisses her cheek, doesn't wait for a reply and dashes upstairs with his dinner.

Their computer is tucked in a small room, crowded with sewing supplies and boxes of Christmas decorations that will need to go up soon. He scarfs down his meal while the computer boots up.

He googles tattoos and winces. Then tries nice tattoos and more specifically beautiful tattoos, sexy tattoos, and while some aren't ugly, none of them inspire Merlin. The issue is, he knows what he wants. All too clearly.

He deletes his browser history (twice – just to be sure). His mum’s not the sort to forbid him from getting a tattoo, but it’s a decision that he’s not ready to share. So he’s careful to not leave a trail that will lead to questions.

Back in his room, he flops on his bed and picks up his sketch pad.

Merlin's not an artist, at least not one who has ever shown anyone his work. He just loves the feel of a pen in his hand, the flow of Indian Ink on a crisp new page and the way his mind blanks on everything but getting the image in his head to appear on the page.

At midnight, his mother knocks, telling him not to stay up too late.

It's four AM before he flips his light off, his fingers stained black with ink and his mind swimming with the images he's created.


The next day the sketchbook feels heavy in his rucksack. He carries it with him to class, afraid someone will notice it in his locker and want to see, as if Merlin's book were filled with comics and doodles. It isn't. Or they aren't the sort of doodles Will has in the corners of his notebooks: stick men art featuring Head Master Monmouth buggering most of the staff in various positions. No, Merlin's sketchbook has about a dozen pages on nothing but birds of prey. Sometimes just hands and forearms. Wrists. He loves wrists. The arch of the neck as a head is thrown back. Adam's apples and nicely formed jaws.

His book is filled with odd little unfinished sketches of body parts.

It’s mortifying to think of Will asking to see it, or Gwen's wide eyes as she flips through some of the racier etchings; reasons it’s never left his bedroom before.

But the pieces Merlin did last night – they’re worth the risk of sharing, even if the tatt artist is a prat. If he's that good and could somehow reproduce Merlin's art in a tattoo. Well.


Merlin's crossing the road just as a woman in a full length leather coat stops and smirks at the sign above the shop door. She's still standing there as Merlin approaches and he smiles. After another moment’s fight with the door, he holds it open and she walks through ahead of him.

In heels, she's as tall as he is, black hair and pale skin, with an air about her that screams privilege.

He ducks in after her and takes a seat in the corner of the tiny three-seat waiting room. She gives him an amused look over her shoulder, and flips through the magazine in front of her, rapping her manicured nails on the counter.

It only now occurs to Merlin that he should have made an appointment. He eyes the door and contemplates the forty-five minutes it will take to get home. He fidgets, debating his next move. He's pretty sure Arthur already thinks he's an idiot and ducking out the door right now would cement that opinion.

"Morgana." Arthur appears, and scowls at the woman. It's a bit reassuring that Merlin's not alone in receiving that look. "How lovely to see you."

His voice drips with sarcasm as he plucks the magazine out of Morgana's hand and tosses it behind the counter.

"I want a tattoo," she says.

"Fuck off," Arthur snaps, and Merlin honestly wonders how this man has any customers at all. "Shouldn't you be shopping for a new bridal crop or something?"

A broad smile spreads across Morgana's face and she says softly, "I've missed you."

"Yes, well." Arthur looks away.

"She's been dry-docked. Excalibur, of course." She holds up her hand as if she’s checking for a chipped nail, but the stricken look on Arthur’s face makes Merlin think she’s just avoiding eye contact. "I thought you should know."

"I heard." Arthur's tone is flat, thick with emotion. Merlin can see his white-knuckled grip on the counter. He knows he's making his eavesdropping more obvious by staring but he can't help it. "Tony at the marina called the day Father had her moved."

"He’s lost his mind since he married Katrina, Arthur, you must know that. And it’s only getting worse."

"If you’re trying to get me to come home, I won't," Arthur says. "I'm fine with the life I've made here."

Morgana reaches over the counter and snatches the magazine. "And that's why the only piece of reading material in this place is about sailing?"

Arthur's face flickers with emotion before it's schooled into a mask of indifference. "I can still enjoying reading about the sport even if I'm not able to participate in it any longer."

Morgana's hand lifts in a wordless truce. "I am serious about the tattoo, though." She smiles, full of teeth. "I want the Japanese symbols for challenge tattooed on my right wrist."


"I want Uther to see it every time I reach for my wine at Sunday dinner."

"That's… positively evil."

"He's a stubborn arse who refuses to listen to reason. Let him disown me next."

Morgana's eyes flicker over her shoulder, and Merlin, flustered at being caught blatantly staring, cricks his neck in his hurry to look away. He eyes a knot in the wooden floorboard that’s oddly shaped like a penis, and pretends he hasn’t heard every word of a very obviously private conversation.

"Do you know you have a kid in your waiting room?"

In his peripheral vision, he can see Arthur turn to him. His cheeks heat.

"Yeah. He wants a tattoo. I didn't think I'd be seeing him again to be honest."

"Be sure to check his ID."

"Do you think I'm an idiot?"

Merlin sneaks a quick look and sees Morgana's raised eyebrows, and he can't help the snort that escapes. They both turn to him fully and he focuses all his attention on his hand, tries to rub off the ink stains from last night.

"Well, I'll leave you to it. Book me for Friday next week. I'd like a couple days for it to heal before Sunday dinner with Father."

"You’re certifiable."

"Yes, but I’m on your side." A burst of cold air fills the room as Morgana pulls open the door. "We’ll figure this out, Arthur."

Arthur stares at the door long after Morgana’s gone through it. Merlin sits quiet, letting him have his moment of contemplation. Whatever it is that’s going on, it’s none of his business but he can respect that it’s somehow important to Arthur.

Running his hands through his hair, Arthur turns from the door. "Well? You're back," he says, as if he’s quite ready to forget his recent visitor.

Merlin stands, his rucksack tight in his grip. "I know what I want," Merlin says as he lifts his chin and meets Arthur's eye.

Arthur gives a curt nod at Merlin's confidence and it sends a thrill down Merlin's spine.

He hesitates just a moment before digging into his bag and pulling out his sketchbook. Heart in his throat, he sets it on the counter, grips the leather strip he uses as a page marker and opens the book.

He hasn't dared to look at the book since this morning, and the fresh look at the pages takes him by surprise. It's disorienting seeing the sketches again but it’s not the first time Merlin barely recognized his work once it was done.

There’s a couple dozen individual pieces, covering two facing pages. In the centre of the first is a dragon, detailed and huge. Around it are whimsical symbols – runes, one might say if they had any special meaning, but they’re really just scribbles that Merlin liked the look of. The focus of the opposite page is a falcon, its wings spread in flight and eyes keen as it looks below for prey. Tucked into every empty place is something: weapons and creatures, vines and thorns and symbols.

The moment draws out and still Arthur hasn't said anything. Merlin clears his throat, reaches for the book.

"It was just an idea."

"Is this your work?" Arthur's eyes are on Merlin's stained fingers. "It's… I don't know what to say."

Merlin’s face flames and prickly shame trickles down his neck as he curses himself for sharing something so intimate with this strange man who can’t even manage a pity comment.

Merlin pulls the book back. "This isn't going to work." His mind is already on the biting wind waiting for him outside; it’ll cool his cheeks and give an excuse for the wetness of his eyes.

But Arthur's hands hold the book firm by the cover and he doesn’t let go.

"Hey," he says, finally catching the panic in Merlin’s eyes. "Settle down, Christ."

Merlin looks away, biting his lips to stop the prickle of his eyes.

"Some of it’s alright," Arthur says. "The dragon... there’s so much detail there, I don’t recommend it for a first tattoo and it’s probably more than you can afford."

Merlin blushes, hiding the frayed hem of his coat in his fist.

"But these other pieces aren’t bad," Arthur says, his tone more appreciative than his words, and Merlin fights back a smile. "They could be done as tatts."

A mix of pride and disappointment wars inside Merlin’s chest. Arthur’s eyes haven’t left the images on the page and that says enough. On the other hand, Merlin had dreamt of that dragon covering his back.

Arthur tilts his head, taking in the various sketches on the pages. "I could do any of these smaller ones for under ₤100. The dragon would easily be twice that."

Merlin chokes.

"You’ve given it a lot of layers, all this stuff going on," Arthur explains. "Very hard to reproduce on skin. I don't want to get half through the dragon's face and you decide you can't take—"

"I won't."

"The answer is no, Merlin."

Merlin startles at the sound of his name. He's never given it, though he supposes it was on his ID Card. He's more surprised that Arthur cared to absorb that bit of info.

He holds Merlin's gaze and his undivided attention is unsettling. "If it means that much to you, you'll still want the dragon tattoo five years from now when you have a bit more pocket money.

"But the other pieces are perfect for tatts. It’s really just a matter of picking which one. If you’d like, for twenty pounds I'll pen a few designs right on your skin. Now that I have a sense of what inspires you, maybe I can come up with something you'll like."

"So you'll just…" --Merlin waggles his fingers-- "freehand draw on me?"

Arthur closes the book and Merlin reaches out to grab it but Arthur just tucks it under his arm. "Follow me."

The authority in Arthur’s voice slides like silk along Merlin's spine and down to his groin. It mixes with his adrenaline high and makes the whole moment feel surreal.

The backroom is brightly lit, with a tray of instruments, a couple chairs and a long cushioned table neatly placed. It’s all very clean and sterile looking. Merlin's glad it looks more like a doctor's office than anything seedier. Arthur's sharp jaw as he moves methodically about the room, smoothing a white sheet on the table and laying out a selection of pens, is doing little to calm his nerves or his dick's sudden interest.

"Where were you thinking of?"

"Um…" Merlin stammers, suddenly self conscious. "Lower back?"

Arthur's brows rise. "Tramp stamp?" Merlin can tell he's looking carefully at Merlin now, taking in the school uniform, buttoned collar and tie. God, he must look like a dork. A kid trying to play in the adult world for the first time.

"Can we just do this without the commentary?"

Arthur's eyes light up and Merlin's treated to his smile for the first time. The room goes hot.

"No," Arthur says, his smile morphing into a smirk. His voice low and calm, he adds, "Now strip to the waist and lay on your stomach."

Merlin exhales and turns his back. It feels less like a striptease that way. He hangs his coat on a hook he finds by the table, removes his boots. He can hear Arthur move around the room and it's reassuring that he’s not being watched. He doesn't know why his skin feels tight and his cock heavy in his trousers. It hadn’t even occurred to him before that having a tattoo artist's hands drawing on him would be in any way sexual. Then again he'd thought the artist would look more like Keith Richards than like … well, Arthur.

His button up shirt and tie are off, hanging on the hook by his coat -- neatly. He imagines the messy heap of clothes he usually manages would get a disapproving look that he'd rather avoid.

He's just hanging his t-shirt when he hears the telltale flip of a page. Whipping around, he gapes at Arthur sitting with his sketchbook on his lap. Looking through it.

"You –" Merlin's voice cracks. "You can't look through that!" The cold air on his naked chest makes him feel all the more exposed.

Arthur turns another page and looks up, the picture of casual indifference to Merlin's panic. "Can't I?"

Merlin squeaks in outrage as Arthur lifts and turns the book so Merlin can see the page he's on. There are a half-dozen sketches of the same cock, each in various states of arousal, nestled amongst thick curls. He drew very little of the man – part of his left thigh, and a hand, hovering just below his hipbone.


Merlin presses his eyes shut, arms wrapped tight across his chest. "No." Somehow admitting to using online porn for references doesn't sound very glamorous.

"Can you please…" Merlin buries his face in his hands. "They’re private."

"They're very good." Arthur shuts the book and catches Merlin's eye again, intense, like he wants to leave no question of his sincerity.

A small part of Merlin's humiliation recedes.

"Up on the table, please."

Arthur sets a timer on the instrument tray and clicks a button until it shows forty-five minutes. "I'll draw two or three options, depending on how it goes. You can go home, look in the mirror. Get used to the idea and come back with the option you want."

Merlin lies on his stomach, hands folded beneath his chin. "All right."

"Any restrictions – nothing visible when you are wearing a uniform?" Arthur asks, and Merlin nods. "What about under the collar? Back of the neck?"

Merlin thinks of a tattoo right there, under his collar, his tie pressing the stiff material flush against the tattoo. "Hmm, that might be cool."

Arthur examines the pens he’s laid out. To Merlin they look like fine tipped Sharpies. Arthur chooses one and pops the cap. "These will fade pretty quickly. Two to three days, usually."

Arthur moves to stand by Merlin’s torso. Merlin would have to crane his neck to still see him, so he props his chin up on his fist and tries to calm the furious beat of his heart while he waits for Arthur to begin.

"So you do this? Draw on people?" Merlin asks and curses himself for talking when he’s nervous.

"I usually draw freehand rather than use a stencil. People come in and tell me what they want. I'm an excellent mimic but I like adding my own flare to a design. It’s the best way to keep every tattoo one of kind. Sometimes they just explain a concept and I pen it, if they like it I'll make it permanent. It keeps the job interesting."

The first touch is a finger pressed to Merlin’s lower back. He breathes deeply, concentrating on keeping still and not squirming despite the sudden heat in his groin at the intimacy of the contact. The fine point of the pen is next, cool and slick, sliding over his skin in a delicate curve. The swipes are broad and confident. Eyes falling shut, Merlin tries to decipher the design but he can’t even form a guess. For all he knows, Arthur’s drawing stick-figure porn across his back.

He’s surprisingly fast. Merlin feels him move onto a different design at his shoulder blade. This time the marks are quick and jerky and make him shiver until Arthur’s finally satisfied with that one and moves on to long flowing tendrils down his side that have to be vines of some sort. Merlin doesn't dare look.

Forty minutes have passed on the timer when Arthur asks him to flip over. Assuming he’s done, Merlin sits up. There are three tattoos penned on his back at least and he’s anxious to have a good look at them.

But Arthur huffs. "I said flip over. Which means lay on your back, Merlin." The words are slow and over pronounced.

Merlin rolls his eyes, but complies anyway. His breath hitches when Arthur starts the next design - a dagger - below Merlin’s left nipple and he realises the advantage of lying on his stomach was that the bulge in his trousers was completely hidden.

The alarm goes off at some point, but Arthur just smacks the button at the top and goes back to detailing the handle.

"Stand up." Arthur looks at Merlin, tapping his finger to his lip. He's got a smear of ink on his face. He grabs a padded stool and kneels on it. When he starts drawing on Merlin's hip, his elbow grazes the fine hairs below Merlin’s navel and Merlin’s eyes cross.

He’s waiting for a comment about the clear outline his erection forms in his trouser just inches from Arthur’s face but Arthur’s either oblivious, too professional or so far in his artistic zone that he can't be bothered to take the mickey.

Arthur takes a break a bit later, stretching his back and cracking his knuckles. He wanders back to Merlin’s scrapbook and flips it open to the last page. He stares, pensive and quiet.

It's dark through the window and Merlin looks around the room and finds no clocks. His mobile’s tucked into the pocket of his jacket. "I know you said you were only going to do two or three… and I can really only afford twenty quid for this if the tatt will cost a hundred."

"Shut up, Merlin. I'm inspired," he says, and he pushes Merlin onto his back again, lifting his hand over his head and exposing his armpit.

At first Merlin’s not sure what Arthur has in mind, and instinctively panics at the manhandling. Arthur ignores the noise of protest that escapes Merlin’s throat. Arthur stares, tilting his head one way, then the other, focusing on the tender skin of the underside of Merlin’s bicep. Merlin shifts, embarrassed at the focus on what is pretty much his armpit. But Arthur seems oblivious to the intimacy of it; he moves the padded stool to kneel so he’s eye level with Merlin’s underarm and begins to draw on Merlin’s inner arm.

His breath’s excruciating, erotic and teasing as it tickles Merlin’s skin while he works. Merlin forgets how to breathe, eyes squeezed tight until Arthur gives a satisfied hum with the final swipe of his pen.

Arthur stands and rubs the soreness from his knees, and Merlin twists to see a version of the falcon Merlin had sketched now on his inner arm. His breath hitches.

"How about legs?" Arthur asks. "Below the belt off limits for tatts?"

Merlin’s parched, needs to swallow twice before he can answer. He’s been hard since Arthur’s pen touched his skin. Arthur’s politely ignored it, but Merlin’s skin is lit up like a torch, covered in ink and the memory of Arthur’s fingers. His hard-on’s not going anywhere and the bright purple briefs he has on under his school trousers aren’t going to hide a thing.

It has to be past nine now. His mother will be looking for a reason for him not calling. He looks at Arthur, vibrating with adrenaline, waiting for his answer and Merlin finds it hard to feel the guilt.

"If you’re uncomfortable... I just thought – " Arthur’s eyes travel to the book and Merlin laughs a bit hysterically because God, while drawing cocks doesn’t make him willing to drop trou, he can see why Arthur would think he wasn’t a prude.

"No. I –" Merlin rolls his eyes to ceiling. "Ah, Christ. Fuck it." He reaches for the button of his trousers.

"On your belly when you’re ready." Arthur steps away, giving Merlin some space and at least the illusion of being able to hide the tent in his briefs.

"Ready," he says once he’s settled on the sheet, face down, careful not to smudge the tattoos peppering his chest and arms. His cock’s pressed between the table and his stomach, nowhere near comfortable.

"I have a few ideas. Something a little different than a tramp stamp, and in my opinion more erotic," Arthur explains as he nudges Merlin’s legs apart. "Something right here."

Arthur’s fingers trail a path along Merlin’s inner thigh, the touch light and clinical; Merlin shivers anyway. The hard peak of his nipples brushes the crisp cotton of the sheet beneath him, and he needs to focus all his energy on remaining still.

He feels the pen press against his skin, sharp, swift movements that Merlin now knows Arthur prefers. It’s familiar. As is the gnawing curiosity to see what it looks like. He’s only seen a half dozen so far. The rest he’s itching to know. But there’s something about the trust he’s placing in Arthur – it’s freeing to give his body over, become a blank page and let Arthur find that zone that Merlin understands all too well.

"Last one," Arthur says, almost breathless. He lifts the bottom of Merlin’s briefs enough that his right arse cheek must be fully on display and Merlin clenches instinctively. Arthur’s fingers press down on his arse, just over the pulled taut elastic. "Don’t move, okay. Almost done."

Merlin buries his face in the crook of his arm, trying to forget just how exposed he is.

The last one must be tiny because it’s only a few strokes and it’s over. Arthur gives it a second for the ink to dry and pulls the briefs back into place.

Arthur steps away, Merlin can hear him exhale. And when Merlin dares look over, Arthur’s wiping his face with a towel. The grin on his face is contagious and Merlin lets out a laugh of relief that Arthur’s just as high, just as affected as he is.

Merlin catches Arthur staring at his body, eyes glazed, proud and hungry. "Do you have a favourite?"

Arthur flashes him a quick smile, then snaps his watch back onto his wrist. "Ten o’clock. Damn."

"Fuck." Merlin groans, sitting up and hoping to hell the buses he needs to get home are still running.

"Here," Arthur says, handing Merlin his clothes, averting his eyes from the bulge in Merlin’s briefs. Merlin slips on his shirt and stuffs his tie into his pocket.

"You alright to get home?"

"Er – yeah. I think so." He tries not to make it sound like a question.

Arthur frowns. "Bus?"


Arthur rolls his eyes like being eighteen and without access to a car is ridiculous. "Get your coat. I’ll drive you. I could just imagine the buzz in the morgue if your dead body came in covered with my work. "

Arthur’s car is a silver Audi with heated seats and a stereo that might be worth a year’s tuition at the unis Merlin’s just applied to. Merlin finds none of these facts surprising.

Merlin can’t think of anything much to say, and Arthur seems to have lost whatever it was that made him so relaxed back at the shop. Merlin gives directions, but otherwise they sit and listen to some eighties power ballad that doesn’t seem out of place in this very strange night.

His mother is furious when he walks in. He tells her his phone battery died and is grateful when she gives a tight smile but doesn’t ask for proof.

After an eternity of her guilt inducing stare, she deflates and says, "You’re eighteen. You don’t need to tell me everything, but a phone call would have saved me a few grey hairs." Then she heats him his dinner and pours him a glass of milk like he’s still thirteen.

The entire time Merlin’s acutely aware of the ink that is hidden by his clothes, just waiting for him to strip off and stand in front of a mirror.


Merlin sits on his bed and listens to his mother toddle about in the sewing room, then the water running in the loo as she brushes her teeth and prepares for bed. He sits and he waits for that final snick of her door and for the beam of light filtering into his room to go dark.

Jittery with anticipation, he sneaks into the bathroom and grabs the makeup mirror his mother keeps in the second drawer. Tiptoeing back to his room, enters and turns the lock. Only then does he turn on his light and walk to the full length mirror on his cupboard door.

He doesn’t look any different; a little rumpled perhaps. Head Master Monmoth wouldn’t be impressed with the wrinkles in his shirt but otherwise the secrets beneath remain hidden.

He strips slowly, his hand fumbling the buttons as he works his way down his chest. He slips it off his shoulders and the first tattoo catches his eye. It’s a Celtic knot winding up his wrist. The lines aren’t crisp – he’d have to be shaved for the actual tattoo, but he likes the look, like roped leather holding him secure. His eyes find the next: a flower, three pointed petals. It’s oddly sharp and masculine on his left bicep.

Impatient now, he peels off his t-shirt and as he lifts his arms he sees the falcon on the soft skin of his upper arm, a few inches above his armpit. He squints in the low light, but the detail is all there despite the crudeness of Arthur’s pen. It’s his falcon. The same falcon he’d drawn so many times before. His father’s falcon.

The likeness to Merlin’s sketch is shocking, only it’s in a style that’s not his own, a little something more that suits it perfectly. His heart races, understanding the skill it took to mimic another artist with so little effort.

He tosses his shirt to the side, nearly breathless now to see the rest. His trousers and pants are kicked across the room.

Seeing himself for the first time, naked and unrecognisable in the mirror, he gasps. He’s still pale and tall and too-skinny, but now his body tells a story. It’s covered in black ink – doodles, like the corner of a bored teenager’s notebook.

Some are surprisingly playful: the wizard's hat at his hip, or the tiny troll with massive tusks sitting on a dung heap. While others are stunning, like the dragon across his chest that’s rearing up and baring its teeth (That one’s Merlin’s too. A fair bit rougher on the details but an excellent copy nonetheless).

Some he doesn’t even understand – words and symbols from other languages that feel like they mean something significant.

With the help of the second mirror, he can see them all as he stands naked, trembling and overwhelmed at how he looks.

How right it feels to look like this.

His cock is heavy, swaying between his legs with the mark on his inner thigh just below. He needs to bend over double, to see clearly that it’s a sketch of Fortune’s Wheel.

A shiver runs down his spine.

Eyes closed, Merlin can still feel Arthur’s hand on him as he drew it, the gentle press of his fingers, the drag of the pen, the little pleased noise he’d make when he liked a particular design.

He can picture so clearly the way Arthur would bite his lower lip as he contemplated where next, or the sweat at his temple as he shook out the cramp in his hand before going right back to it. It was as though he couldn’t draw fast enough to keep up with the need to get the idea out.

He’d never forget the burning intensity in Arthur’s eyes as he stared at Merlin’s skin and used it, made it his own.

Wrapping his hand around his cock, Merlin moans and presses the palm of his free hand to the mirror for balance. He stares at himself, this foreign skin that barely feels like his own anymore. He strokes himself in long, slow pumps, biting his lips to stay quiet.

He spreads his legs wider, loving the tremble of his marked thigh, the way the black band on his wrist looks as his fist flies over his cock. He’s too close already. He’s been on the edge for hours and no matter how much he wants this to last, patience is impossible.

In his mind, Arthur’s behind him now, pride in his eyes and pen in hand as he surveys his work. Merlin imagines the pen on him again, furious strokes across his back, covering him. He fantasizes how it would feel for Arthur to flip the pen, run the blunt base along the knots of his spine, down, down until it slips between the cleft of his arse. Merlin’s hand ventures between his legs and circles the tight furl of muscle with his fingertip, before pressing in. His hand pumps furiously at his cock as he breaches himself, imagining Arthur’s pen pushing in, fucking him, and claiming him.

He shudders, barely stifling his gasp as his orgasm tears from him. His eyes snap open to catch the sight of himself, all pale skin and black ink blurred in the sticky white come splattering the mirror.

He sleeps naked that night. He doesn’t care what it would mean if his mother needed to talk to him before she left for work, or if there was a fire and he had to stand in all his naked, tattooed glory while his neighbours huddled around to watch his house burn. Arthur said the marks would only last three days at the most, and it’s an indulgence he can’t help but take.


The next morning, Merlin’s reluctant to take a shower. He makes it as short and efficient as he can but still mourns the fading of each mark as he towels off.

With his uniform on, he knows none of Arthur’s work is visible. Still, Gwen asks if he’s got a new haircut and Will asks if he’s gotten laid. At both, Merlin smirks and says nothing. He rubs his fingers under his arm where the Merlin falcon is hidden beneath the material. He’s accused of daydreaming in math, and Professor Gaius gives him a raised eyebrow when he’s unable to name the compound they are currently working on in chemistry. But by the end of the day he’s narrowed it to his three favourites.

When he arrives home, there’s a familiar Audi parked in his drive. It’s surreal enough that Merlin stops walking and shakes his head as if his eyes are playing trick on him. But Arthur’s real enough, leaning against the boot of his car, arms crossed over his chest hugging Merlin’s sketchbook.

"I thought you’d be missing this," Arthur says once Merlin’s close enough.

"I –" Merlin swallows, tries to calm his nerves. "I didn’t realise I’d left it."

He takes the book and flushes at the realisation that his book, his most private thoughts and fantasies have been in Arthur’s hands for the last twenty-four hours. He stares at the book, unable to meet Arthur’s eyes.

"Do I even need to ask if you looked?" Head still bowed, he looks up at Arthur through his lashes and winces at Arthur’s smirk.

"It was certainly ... enlightening."

"Oh God." Merlin crinkles his nose and Arthur barks out a laugh. It’s a booming, delighted sound that echoes over-loud on the quiet street.

Over Arthur’s shoulder Merlin sees Mrs Campbell from next door peek out her kitchen window and narrow her eyes. He waves.

"Um." Merlin nods towards his front door and pulls the keys from his pocket. "Mum works until six," he says, mind racing. Any sort of invitation inside sounds like it’s straight from a porno so he just holds the door for Arthur to go through.

Arthur hesitates, but presses a button on his keys that makes his headlights flash and enters.

"Thanks for returning this," Merlin says, heading up the stairs to his room. Maybe he should’ve gone into the kitchen but his half-eaten bowl of cereal is still on the table (always is when he gets home before his mum) and he needs to get his sketchbook back under his bed for him to breathe properly again.

Except once that task is done and he turns, Arthur is there, in his room. The uniform he wore last night is scattered where he threw it mid-wank.

Arthur’s looking around wide-eyed. "Look at this, Merlin." Opening the cupboard door, Arthur says, "A place for you to put things."

Merlin rolls his eyes and wishes Arthur’s condescending tone didn’t make his stomach go squirmy.

He kicks his briefs under his bed while Arthur has his back turned and tries to look innocent when Arthur looks over his shoulder.

Arthur clears his throat. "So, have you decided which tattoo you’d like?"

"Oh!" Merlin brightens immediately, awkwardness forgotten. "Yeah, I mean. No. Well, there are three. Well, more than three, really. But I think I can afford one now and maybe by the end of the summer another. I’m not sure what kind of summer job..." Merlin pressed his lips closed to stop the babbling.

Arthur’s watching him, wide eyed and amused.

"Sorry." Merlin runs his hands through his hair. "I’ve thought of little else all day."

"Tsk, tsk," Arthur chides, a grin pulling at his lips. "You shouldn't be neglecting your studies."

Merlin rolls his eyes and tries to pull up his sheets and straighten his bed.

"So? What’s caught your eye?"

Merlin pauses for a moment then reaches for his tie, because fuck it, Arthur doesn't seem the type to take issue with Merlin's shirt coming off. "It’s easier if I just show you."

A slow smirk creeps onto Arthur’s face, like he sees right through Merlin’s clumsy lack of modesty and doesn’t mind one bit.

Stripped to the waist, Merlin stands in front of the mirror again. When Arthur moves to stand behind him, memories of the night before’s fantasy come rushing back to him. He watches in the mirror as his neck goes red and blotchy with a blush.

"I like this one." Merlin lifts his arm to display the falcon.

Arthur hums in approval, running his fingers over the spot and Merlin shivers. "The tattoo or the location?"

"Both," Merlin says, suddenly breathless.

"It’s a nice spot." Arthur’s right at Merlin’s back, the leather of his coat cool on Merlin’s spine. "Look great like this." Arthur clasps Merlin's wrist and leans him forward so his arm’s above his head, head pressed to the door frame of his cupboard.

Reflecting in the mirror only inches away now, the black falcon is a stark contrast to the pale skin of Merlin’s arm.

Merlin sucks in a breath as Arthur’s chin grazes his nape as he looks over Merlin’s shoulder.

"Or like this." Arthur suddenly spins him so his back is pressed to the mirror, a shock of cold, and his arm’s trapped above his head, pinned by Arthur’s hold of his wrist. Arthur’s grip’s tight, his pupils blown wide as he holds Merlin's gaze. "Very versatile."

"Arthur." Merlin whines, fighting against the hold and loving when it doesn’t give.

He rolls his hips and moans as he comes in contact with Arthur's thigh. Arthur leans over and licks a strip across the inked falcon and Merlin’s head thuds against the wall like he might come just from that.

It’s already growing dark outside, the room a pale grey blue, and the shadows cast on Arthur’s face are breathtaking.

Leaning forward, Arthur bites at Merlin’s bottom lip, suckling it, before finally kissing properly. Arthur mouth is possessive, cocky -- like he’s taunting Merlin to fight for control if he wants it.

Arthur lets him go to push off his coat. He’s back in another second, but before Arthur can grab his wrist again, Merlin goes to his own belt buckle and says, "I’ll show you my other favourite if you show me a tattoo. You must have one."

Arthur eyes narrow at the challenge but he’s watching Merlin’s hold on his belt buckle intently, and Merlin knows he’s won.

"All right," Arthur says, and starts to unbutton his shirt. Merlin’s a little shocked at the simplicity when it appears, and tilts his head, inching closer for a better look. Over Arthur’s heart is written one word: Excalibur.

Merlin’s confused for a minute before remembering the snippet of conversation he’d overheard. "Your boat?"

"My yacht, Merlin," he chides, with an eye roll. "I won the Aegean Rally with her in 2010." There’s both pride and sadness in his voice.

Merlin doesn’t ask any more, just stares at the broad chest, with its spattering of hair and lowers his zip, palming his cock through his orange briefs.

Arthur watches his hand, but makes no move to touch. Merlin turns and lowers his trousers and briefs so that the design Arthur’s put on his arse last night is on display.

Arthur meets Merlin's gaze, eyes crinkled with mirth. "Like that one, do you?"

Merlin laughs. "A snake wrapped around an apple? On. My. Arse."

Arthur throws his head back in laughter and the sound is booming in Merlin’s tiny bedroom.


Arthur grins and kneels so he’s eye level with it. "Suits you perfectly, I think."

Before Merlin can think of a retort, Arthur's hands are on his arse and he presses a kiss to it.

"Christ, Arthur," Merlin breathes. He can’t believe this is actually happening and then...

"Hello? Merlin?" a voice calls from downstairs. "Are you home?"

"Fuck, fuck, fuck and FUCK." Merlin scrambles to get his trousers up. Arthur’s already across the room, coat on and throwing clothes at Merlin to put on.

"I’ll be down in a minute, Mum!" he yells back. "Fuck."

Arthur cracks a smile as Merlin grabs a random t-shirt from the floor and it gets caught on his ears as he yanks it on. "Please tell me you don’t want me to hide in your cupboard until your mum goes to sleep, because my car’s in the drive. It’s pretty obvious you’re not alone."

"Fuck." Not that Merlin has thought of a plan yet, but the cupboard thing isn’t sounding bad.

Then suddenly Arthur's out the door, making his way down the stairs. Merlin yelps and follows.

"Good evening," Arthur’s saying, cultured and posh. "I was just dropping off a book for Merlin. I hope my car isn't in your way."

His mother takes a second to catch herself after the surprise of seeing a stranger in her kitchen, but smiles. "Not at all. I found a spot on the street. I’ll just pull in after you go."

"I’m on my way now."

"And you are?"

"Arthur Pendragon," Arthur says while Merlin blurts out, "He’s the librarian!" from the bottom of the stairs.

Arthur ignores Merlin and presents his hand. "Lovely to meet you, Mrs Emrys." Merlin’s mum looks suitably impressed.

"Nice to see a friend of Merlin’s come around."

"Thanks for the book," Merlin says. He knows his eyes are wide and a bit crazed but he can’t seem to help it.

Arthur flashes a grin that’s worthy of a politician and slips out the door.

When Merlin turns, his mom pats his cheek and says, "Dinner will be at six thirty. Get some homework done."

He hides his sigh of relief, his pulse finally calming enough to breath normally.

"Oh, and dear," his mother adds as he starts back up the stairs, "your shirt’s inside out."

He misses the next step and jams his elbow into the railing, and curses under his breath.


That night Merlin spends a few hours at his computer seeing if google will tell him anything about ‘Arthur Pendragon’ and ‘Excalibur’. The first few hits make his eyes pop. The Pendragons are not a low profile family, not in the competitive yachting world at least.

The first link takes Merlin to a picture of Arthur at the Aegean Rally with a trophy raised above his head and a beaming smile. An older man stands proudly at his side, a sleek white sailboat docked behind them. The caption reads, Pendragon Dynasty Continues.

There are other pictures on google images: other regattas won; awards being presented. Merlin sees Morgana along the way, walking into a Marina opening somewhere in Greece, with Arthur on one side and their father on the other.

The most recent article he finds simply says Excalibur had been pulled from the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta by Uther Pendragon. It cites a legal battle over ownership of the boat as the reason. The article is paired with a picture of Uther and a stern-faced woman, standing with her hand possessively clutching Excalibur’s rail.

Merlin keeps searching, finding as many pictures as he can of Arthur’s boat.

It’s beautiful, and easy to see why Arthur is in love with her. Merlin grabs his sketchbook and lets himself be inspired.


Merlin takes a week to finally work up the nerve to make an appointment for his tattoo. The markings on his body have faded and he feels bereft without them. But the thought of seeing Arthur again forms a ball of nerves and lust in Merlin’s belly and dialling the number is suddenly a trial of courage.

Arthur’s polite on the phone. His tone is professional and impossible to read.

Merlin slips his sketchbook into his rucksack the next Saturday afternoon. Hope and doubt make him jittery as he tells his mother he'll be at the library until late studying for midterms, and he doesn’t quite meet her eye.

The walk from the bus stop to Arthur's shop door is just enough time for Merlin to get himself into a tizzy of indecision. It isn't about the tattoo – of that, Merlin is resolute – but the contents of his rucksack would've provided plenty of distraction for his thoughts, even if his mind hadn't been made up.

With a fortifying inhale, Merlin pushes at the heavy door until it gives. The shop is warm, the temperature change hits Merlin like a wall as he steps in. He unwinds his scarf and pulls at the buttons of his jacket to ease the sudden oppressive heat. He stuffs his gloves into his pocket only to find it already full. Frowning, he pulls out his school uniform tie and curses having forgotten it was still shoved in there.

Arthur's standing in the archway between the front and back rooms. He's in a dark blue tee that pulls tight across his broad shoulders. The heat in his eyes sends a shiver down Merlin's spine and hope springs in his chest. He's suddenly grateful for the last minute items he stuffed into his jeans’ pocket before heading out the door.

"I've got the afternoon blocked for this, so flip the lock," Arthur says, and then takes in Merlin's face which must be flushed and a bit unsure because he adds, "unless you're having second thoughts."

Merlin's quick to reply, knowing Arthur's watching him closely. He keeps his eyes focused and certain. "No second thoughts. I know exactly what I want."

Arthur's eyes light. "Good. We can head back, then." He turns to disappear into the backroom but he's still talking. "This spot – you said your inner arm, right? – the skin’s tender there, so this is going to hurt. Did you..."

"I took two paracetamols already and I've got a couple in my pack for after." Merlin’s done his research.

Arthur turns, looks into his eyes. "You’re not on anything else?"

"I don't…" Merlin waves his hand at the implication. "…whatever."

Arthur nods. "All right." He motions Merlin over to the padded table he had lain on when Arthur used him for a doodle pad. He feels a tingle already – just from the memory. He isn't going to get through this without being turned on as hell. His only hope is that the pain will be enough so that he won't come all over himself just from Arthur's hand on his arm.

"Did you bring the picture of the falcon?" Arthur says while Merlin hangs his coat. "I'll copy it with pen again and you can check it. Then I’ll go over that with needle and pigment. It'll be yours forever."

"Okay." Merlin's throat's dry as he reaches into his rucksack and pulls out his sketch book. With a deep breath he opens the book to the drawing he finished only the night before. When he hands it over his eyes are on the floor. No matter how curious he is to see Arthur's expression, he can't seem to lift them until a sharp intake of breath forces his gaze up.

Arthur's standing, mouth open, book held open. His expression is unreadable outside of surprised.

Merlin clears his throat, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I thought you might like it – um – if you want. You could … have it."

"Jesus." Arthur lets out the word like an exhale.

A smile tugs at Merlin's lips. He spent hours, hours, getting the details right. Google images had exactly seven pictures of Arthur's boat and Merlin had each of them ingrained into his head as he etched each mast, each sail, the curve of the hull.

"I can't –" Arthur chokes a laugh. "God, Merlin. I'm actually speechless."

"Speechless in a good way or in a wow, this is so offensive that I'm at a loss how to be polite right now speechless?"

Arthur carefully sets the book down, then in a single stride he’s toe to toe with Merlin, his hand buried in Merlin's hair and his mouth on Merlin's, pressing a slow, sweet kiss that makes Merlin wish he'd gone and had the art framed and wrapped, done it all properly. Pushing Merlin back to the table so his arse hits the edge, Arthur manoeuvres to stand between his legs, deepening the kiss.

"So you liked it, then?" Merlin pulls back, giddy with pride, relief and nervous energy.

Arthur shoots a looks over his shoulder to where the book’s still open. "It's her."

"Yeah. Good."

Arthur pulls off Merlin's shirt, pressing against him shoulder to groin as their mouths crash together again. It’s a long time before Merlin’s able to think, to get the words out:

"I still want a tattoo." He needs to say it because he really does and that's part of the high, knowing he's walking out of here today with a permanent mark on his body – by Arthur's hand.

"Fuck." Arthur takes a deep breath, eyes closed. He steps away and goes to a small bar fridge in the corner of the room and pulls out a bottle of water and takes a long sip. He adjusts himself inside his jeans. "Right. The tattoo."


Arthur shaves Merlin’s (nearly hairless, anyway) inner arm right to the top of Merlin's armpit. Then reluctantly he flips the sketch book away from Excalibur and finds the page with the falcon. He stares at the drawing, like he's committing it to memory, before picking a pen.

Merlin's on his back in jeans and socks, arm above his head. The pen's excruciating on his sensitive skin; the careful strokes both tickling and making Merlin's blood run south.

When he writhes, Arthur curses. "You need to be still."

"I'm trying."

"Try harder."

"I can't. I just… it's hard."

Arthur stands, flips up a metal bar at the head of the table, just above Merlin's hand. "Grip it."

The metal's cold under his fingers as he wraps his hand around it. It's better. Gives him focus.

"Do you need more?" Arthur's looking at his eyes, calculating. "It's going to hurt. Especially there. If you don't think you can hold still, you need to let me know."

"I don't know."

"All right." Arthur sighs, looking past Merlin to the wall behind where his coat is hung. "I have an idea." He stands and snatches the tie half hanging from Merlin's coat pocket. "If you trust me."

"Oh." Merlin flushes hot.

"Just the one hand, tied to the bar. It'll help. But you'll still need to focus on keeping still."

"Yeah, alright."

The silk is glorious on his skin – nothing like the choking conformity he feels when it's around his neck – this is freeing. Tight and bound and Merlin has to close his eyes at the feel of it.

"Fuck." Arthur shifts in his seat, cheeks pink. "You don't make this easy."

Merlin just smiles, relaxing a bit, knowing he’s not the only one affected.

Arthur takes another drink of water and gets back to penning the bird. He takes his time – Merlin can feel the difference in the amount of detail, the precision in the strokes, compared to the rough sketch from last week. When Arthur finally holds up a mirror to show him the completed bird, Merlin's breath hitches. It's identical to his original, but has an experienced flourish that Merlin's own strokes always lack. The combination of their styles is stunning.

"You approve?"

Merlin nods and swallows past the tightness in his throat. He can't imagine wanting anything more than this tattoo. He grips the bar, the tie tight around his wrist, holding him steady as Arthur begins. His eyes shut against the initial pain. It's a shock, a pinpoint of hot pain. In a flare of panic he wonders if this was a mistake, if maybe he can't do this and he's going to pass out before it's through.

He grits his teeth against the need to cry out.

"You're doing well," Arthur says. "Relax your jaw if you can. You'll end up with a nasty headache and I won't be able to fuck you blind after this is done."

Merlin gasps, the words filtering through the pain. His flagging erection takes interest again with the look in Arthur's eyes paired with the burning ache in Merlin's arm. He gives a grateful smile for the distraction. He tightens his grip on the bar and focuses on the smooth metal beneath his hand. Arthur continues.

He grows numb to it, drifting in and out of a daze, floating through it all. Arthur's silent, working with single-minded focus. Merlin concentrates on his breathing, on the hum of the needle and the squeak of Arthur's chair as he moves to change the angle he's working at, the soft swipe of the cloth every few seconds. He pictures the falcon on his arm taking shape and becoming part of him.

He also pictures Arthur fucking him, Merlin facing a mirror, the falcon beautiful in the reflection.

He's hard and aching when Arthur finally says, "It's done," steps back and wipes his brow.

Arthur takes a minute to look, appreciate his own work, before grabbing the mirror and showing Merlin. The details are incredible, the fine lines of the feathers, the piercing stare of the tiny black eyes. Merlin’s pulse thunders in his ears. His father would be proud, he thinks.

"I need to clean it up and bandage it now." He waits for Merlin to nod before wiping it with something that makes Merlin’s eyes water, then covering it with gauze and taping it secure.

Merlin cranes his neck as far as the position and the bindings will allow, trying to get a look at it.

Arthur kisses him. "I think I like you like this." His eyes flicker over Merlin's body, resting on the bulge in Merlin's jeans before travelling back up to meet Merlin's eyes. "Helpless."

"Yeah?" Merlin tugs at the tie and it holds tight. "A bit of a control freak, aren't you?"

Arthur hums, a sly grin on his face as he grazes Merlin's neck with a kiss, then down his chest, barely touching his skin. "All it’s missing is a gag."

"Christ." Merlin’s head thuds back on the table.

"So much unmarked skin, Merlin." Arthur's mouth closes just above his left nipple and Merlin gasps as he feels the sting of a bruise being sucked into his skin. Arthur does another, lower, beneath his ribs and one above his hip bone.

Merlin squirms, breathing through the torture. "You know your pen's a bit more artistic for marking."

Arthur looks over at his desk like he might consider scribbling all over Merlin again, but shakes his head. "I think my mouth will do just fine for today."

He climbs onto the table, kneeling between Merlin’s spread legs and licks a strip across Merlin's navel.

"Fuck." Merlin's hips buck up, his body lit and oversensitive already. "Please." He rolls his hips again, hoping to get the point across.

"What do want, Merlin?" Arthur wraps his hands around Merlin's waist. "Tell me."

"I – I want you to suck me off," Merlin stutters; Arthur smiles. "Then I want you to fuck me."

Arthur's face goes slack for a moment and suddenly he’s laughing. "I like a man who knows what he wants."

He strips Merlin's jeans, huffing impatiently as they catch on Merlin’s heels. Arthur’s hand hovers at the waistband of his highlighter-green briefs.

"Really, Merlin? Purple, orange and now green -- do you have a different colour for every day of the week?"

Merlin feels his cheeks heat but he laughs. "Yeah, I do." He almost leaves it at that but adds, "I wear a uniform everyday to school. It’s stupid, I know, but I just need something of me, you know? Even if it’s just lame coloured y-fronts."

Arthur nods, like Merlin’s underwear choices make some crazy kind of sense. He peels his own shirt off and sees Merlin's focus on the tattoo on his chest.

"That sketch, Merlin..." he says as he slips on to the table and kneels between Merlin's spread legs, kissing up his thigh. He licks a stripe up Merlin’s cock, and Merlin bucks, wanting inside. But Arthur teases, mouthing at the shaft then his balls. Then there’s a touch at his hole, a finger grazing the furled muscle, Merlin’s mind flashing to the pen and the wank fantasy that got him off so easily, and he starts to lose control. Arthur's mouth closes over the head of his cock and Merlin’s trembling, thrashing as his balls tighten. At the first lick, there’s no stopping the orgasm as it crashes over him. Arthur chokes in surprise, sputtering around the sudden mouthful, but he swallows, suckles as Merlin shudders through it.

The minute he pulls off, Arthur looks at him, eyes crinkled in barely restrained laughter.

"Not a word."

Arthur chuckles.

"My front pocket," Merlin says to shut him up and because he’ll be damned if this is going to end here.

Arthur finds a packet of lube and a condom. He looks at Merlin with a eyebrow raised, and Merlin says, "I was hopeful."

"Cheeky bugger."

Arthur strips off his pants and curses as he tries to climb back onto the table and get an appropriate position, only to find it too narrow.

"Fuck, there’s a reason why I've never done this here."

"First time for everything," Merlin says and he immediately regrets it because the words hit too close to home and his tone's all off. Arthur blinks, looking down at Merlin, eyes wide. Merlin shivers, the air around him suddenly cold as he lays naked and spent, still tied and more vulnerable than he’s ever been.

"Merlin?" Arthur’s tone is quiet. "Have you ever?"

Merlin bites his lip. "I know what I want, okay?" He holds Arthur’s gaze, even though he’s desperate to turn away, hide his face. "Please."

"Shit," Arthur says. "This is a work table in a tattoo parlour, Merlin. You're high from getting your first tatt. This isn’t right."

"So make my second time a bed of roses, you berk." Merlin's free hand grabs Arthur's wrist, afraid he's about to walk away. "But this is what I want for my first."

"Are you sure?"

Merlin nods. And Arthur presses his forehead to Merlin's chest and mutters, "I'm going to a special hell for this."

Merlin grins, and releases Arthur's wrist to tangle it into Arthur's hair. They kiss for a while, Merlin coaxing Arthur out of his doubt, and Arthur coaxing Merlin into relaxing. Arthur finds his hole again and Merlin's legs fall open. Their kiss turns sloppy-wet as Arthur's finger sinks deep, sliding into Merlin. They pant into each other's mouth as Merlin’s body slowly accepts the intrusion. He pushes in further and out again, in a tentative rhythm that makes Merlin’s legs tremble.

"Be right back," Arthur says, kissing the words into Merlin’s neck, and moves away. He strips the rest of his clothes, tossing the packets by Merlin’s hip. When he comes back, Merlin stretches his free hand above his head and holds onto the bar. His knees are bent and legs spread, waiting.

Arthur eyes him, half-lidded with need, and fumbles with the packet of lubrication Merlin stole after the school nurse's safe sex presentation.

Arthur’s fingers are slick, cool at Merlin’s entrance. Arthur bows his head, watching the two fingers sink in. Merlin's eyes flutter shut at the first stretch. Arthur’s taking it slow and Merlin's a mix of grateful and infuriated. The burn is less and yet so much more intense than that of his tattoo and his legs fall open, and he tilts his hips, needing Arthur to know that this is good. So fucking good that he needs more.

Before Merlin asks for it, Arthur's at three fingers. They're both panting and breathless. Merlin's so full he doesn't think he can manage anymore. His erection’s flagged again with the stretch. Eyes on the ceiling, he tries to catch his breath, breathe through it because – Fuck – there's no way he’s telling Arthur to stop because the bastard would.

"All right there?" Arthur says. "I can—"

Merlin grits his teeth and snaps, "Shut the fuck up and get inside me, you fucking tease."

Arthur pauses, looking a bit taken back by the way his jaw hangs open, but then his mouth twists into a smirk. His fingers twist deep and hook in just the right spot.

"Ah!" Merlin gasps, hips jumping with the white-hot pleasure shocking through him. He stares, wide eyed and Arthur does it again. "Fuck."

He grips the bar above his head and arches to meet each thrust of Arthur's fingers until it's a mindless blur, and pain is the furthest thing from what Merlin's feeling.

"Now you're ready." The fingers are gone and after a crinkle of wrapper, the table shakes as Arthur shifts up, the width of his thighs spreading Merlin wider.

At the pressure of Arthur's cock pushing in, Merlin's mind blanks on everything but, "Holy shit." Cold sweat prickles at his nape, a tight knot forming in his belly.

"Relax," Arthur breathes, peppering his chest with kisses until Merlin does. Then he pushes in another inch or three – Fuck – it's impossible to tell.

But it's good and tingly brilliant, and his body is ready and more impatient than panicked. So he shifts his hips and Arthur groans as he slides deeper.

So Merlin does it again.

"Fuck." Arthur's trembling above him, Merlin can tell his control's held by a thread; one good pull and it'll snap.

Merlin uses the bar for leverage, wrapping his legs around Arthur's waist and drags him inside.

"Bastard," Arthur says, his face contorting as he fights for control, his hands fly to Merlin's hips and he slams in with abandon, all restraint vanished.

Merlin grunts with each thrust, his fierce grip on the bar the only thing stopping his head from slamming into it. Arthur's pace is brutal, and Merlin feels himself come apart, shatter with the force as Arthur takes him.

Arthur lifts Merlin's hips, the muscles of his biceps straining as he takes Merlin's weight off the table and onto his lap, changing the angle.

On the next thrust forward, Merlin sees stars. He cries out, throat raw, but Arthur doesn't hesitate, doesn’t slow, rams in again, full force. Merlin's forgotten how to breathe – he's sucking in air only to let it out again in a stream of "ah – ah" sounds until finally his balls tighten, toes curl and his second orgasm tears through him. He chokes out a cry and spurts hot come on his stomach.

Arthur just stares, amazed, his rhythm faltering. Then with a pleased smile he shifts the angle again. Maybe to something more selfish – Merlin doesn't give a fuck, just lies there, limp, and lets Arthur use his body while the haze of pleasure sings through his veins.

Arthur’s fingers tighten, a bruising grip on Merlin's hips and, mouth open, sweat-damp hair, he slams in and holds. His hips stutter involuntarily and Merlin's free hand moves to hold him as he trembles through the aftershocks. He collapses, his arms giving out. Merlin's pinned and not caring because Arthur's mouthing wet, slopping kisses to everything he can reach.

They stay like that until Merlin's arm starts to cramp where it's still bound and his lungs protest the lack of oxygen.

"So are you going to untie me, or leave me here as your sex slave?"

Arthur looks up, sleepy-eyed and dozy. "Tempting."

"Somehow, I think it might impact your business."

"Yeah. I'd likely get more." Arthur waggles his eyebrows and lifts up with a groan. He slips out and Merlin winces, not wanting to think of the long bumpy bus ride home.

Once he’s untied, Merlin stretches, and finds he aches everywhere. He sits up and glares at the table, betrayed. "Seemed like such a good idea."

Arthur comes back from dealing with the condom and stands between Merlin’s knees. "I think you said something about a bed of roses next time?"

Merlin snorts, traces a finger over Arthur's sole tattoo like it's precious.

Arthur stares at him while he touches it, face unreadable. "She'll be mine again someday. Morgana and I … we have a plan." Arthur looks over at the desk, where there’s a picture of a dainty wrist with Japanese symbols tattooed.

Merlin just nods. Believes him. He looks over at the sketchbook, remembering every curve, every line. "She's yar," Merlin says because he heard it once in an old Cary Grant film and thought it every minute while he drew her.

Arthur barks a laugh and cuffs Merlin on the back of the head. "You have no idea what that even means."

Merlin just smiles up at him, until Arthur rolls his eyes and concedes, "She is yar."

Merlin leans forward and kisses the stylised E.

Arthur's hand curls at Merlin's nape. "I'll take you on her some day."

"Can we fuck in the Captain's cabin?"

Arthur hums, eyes far off. "I won't let you wear any clothes, and you'll lay on the deck and I'll use your body like a canvas."

Merlin presses his lips to Arthur’s again, a soft, chaste kiss full of promise. "I'd like that."