The day Merlin discovered he was different was the day Ulric the haymaker decided to pull out his prick in broad daylight.
He was short and stocky, with too much hair on his face and not enough on his head, and the arc his piss made was an impressive one, but Merlin was arrested by the sight of his cock: fat and ugly and as thickly veined as the meaty hand that gripped it. It had a small mushroom head but a broad shaft and an even bigger bulge of flesh around the base, looking wrinkled and surly, and Merlin gaped with the unabashed curiosity of a six year old, and more than a little disgust.
“What’re you staring at,” Ulric sputtered when he cottoned on to his audience, and stuffed his prick back in his trousers without bothering to shake it off, gone purple in the face. “Go on,” he shouted, “go on, get!” and waved his arms in Merlin’s direction, cursed viciously when he stepped in the puddle of his own piss. “Bloody—“
Merlin ran all the way home, little feet kicking up clouds of dust. It was late morning, and the streets were deserted; Ulric would get away with pissing on his neighbour’s doorstep if he didn’t track wet footprints back to his, and Merlin had the house to himself for a while yet.
His mother found him an hour later with his pants bunched around his ankles, looking grimly at his prick.
“Merlin,” she said, somewhere between startled and confused, “what are you doing?”
Merlin looked at her, then at his lap, and said, “Mum, am I wrong?”
“What? Wrong—what’s this all about?” Her brow furrowed. “Who said that to you?”
“Will has a bump here,” Merlin said, because his mother didn’t like to be reminded of Ulric’s existence. His friend had the same wrinkly swell as the haymaker, though it was much smaller in size. Merlin supposed that’s why he’d never paid it much attention before, never thought it odd. But he frowned now, and poked at the base of his oddly shaped prick, all even and smooth. “Everyone does.”
“Oh,” said his mother, and, “Merlin,” like a sigh. She walked over and pulled him to his feet, tugged his pants back on despite his protests of “but look, Mum—“ and sat him on her lap, chin propped on the crown of his head the way she did when she was sad.
“You’re not wrong,” she said firmly, “just—different.”
Merlin squirmed and turned until he could look at her. “Different like magic?”
“Yes,” she said, and gave him a small smile. “And like magic, it’s not something we talk to people about. Not even Will. Understand?”
Merlin nodded and tucked himself back under her chin. He didn’t enjoy being held like this anymore, too big to be caged in his mother’s arms, but today he felt small. He liked his magic, but he wasn’t sure he liked this. “Mum?”
“Different is good, right?”
She didn’t answer for a long time, and when she did, it was with a sigh.
“Yes, darling. Different is good.”
Different didn’t stay good for very long.
A river ran through the southern fields of Ealdor. It was shallow and crooked and cold, and in the spring, after Merlin had exhausted himself chasing crows away from the fields, he would gather Will and bring him there to play.
The bank of the river was gravelly and harsh on their tender feet, but smooth, slippery stones lined its bed, and they would brave the chilly water more often than not, slipping out of their clothes and laughing through the chatter of their teeth. They would splash each other, wrestle and fight until they’d gone numb from the cold, and for a while—a long while—there was nothing Merlin looked forward to more.
Then came the spring of his twelfth year.
“We won’t be able to do this for much longer, you know.”
Merlin looked up to find Will struggling with his tunic. “Do what?”
“Come here. Mum says they’ll need me at the smithy soon.”
Merlin snorted. Will might have been taller, and a bit broader around the shoulders, but his arms were as stick thin as Merlin’s, and no more capable of hefting the smith’s hammer. He said as much, and Will scowled.
“I’ll run errands, stupid. It’ll be better than yelling at those blasted birds, anyway.”
“You’re stupid,” Merlin shot back, fumbling with his own clothes “They’ll make you fetch things and clean muck. And you’ll sweat like a pig, that’s how hot it is in there.” He balled up his trousers in a hand and threw them at Will, crowing when they landed on his head. “You’ll miss those birds something fierce, mark my—“
Merlin stuttered to a halt. “—Will?” he said, tentative, “What are you doing?” because it couldn’t be what it looked like he was doing, holding Merlin’s trousers against his face and taking quick, short breaths, sniffing at the crotch like a dog. “Will!”
When he looked up, Will’s eyes were glazed. “It smells—funny.”
The tips of Merlin’s ears burned, sudden and violent, and he leapt forward and yanked the trousers out of Will’s hands, flushed with embarrassment. “F-Fuck off,” he stammered, the curse unfamiliar and dirty on his tongue. “You didn’t have to—“
“Not bad, stupid,” Will said, and his face was red too, splotches of colour high on his cheeks. His hands twitched a little in Merlin’s direction. “Just, I dunno. Funny.”
Merlin swallowed and clutched the trousers to his chest, uncomfortable with how bare he was, how cold. “It’s something from the fields, then. You pushed me into that bush—“
But Will was shaking his head, and coming closer. Merlin took a step back, sharp little stones digging into his heels, but not quickly enough; Will stepped right up into him, so close Merlin could feel the hot wash of breath against his face, and dropped his head into the curve of Merlin’s neck and pressed the cold point of his nose against his pulse, took in a deep breath.
“It’s you,” he mumbled, triumphant, dazed, and sweat broke out over the back of Merlin’s neck, gooseflesh rising on every bare inch of flesh, and he shoved Will away with a force he didn’t know he possessed, sent him toppling back on the ground.
Blood pounded at Merlin’s temples, behind his eyes, the way it did when he was ill enough to vomit, feverish and miserable. He jerked on his trousers while Will lay there on his back, mouth open and eyes wide from shock, jammed his feet into his boots and grabbed his tunic before taking off at a run, feet pounding against the riverbank, heart in his throat.
“Merlin!” he heard Will shout, “Merlin, wait!” but he didn’t wait, didn’t slow, didn’t even look back—just ran until his chest burned and he hit home, threw his shoulder against the door and stumbled inside.
His mother shot up from the cot and grabbed him by the arms, said, “Merlin,” and “Merlin, what happened,” and it took the panic in her eyes to make him realize that he still held his crumpled tunic in his fist. He was breathing too hard to speak and she shook him when he didn’t, nails digging into his arms, so he forced out, “nothing, nothing,” and pulled himself away.
“What happened,” she said again, hands clenching convulsively into fists. “Where’s Will?”
“Nothing happened,” he said, because nothing had, and he turned away from her, feeling foolish and awful and still like he couldn’t breathe.
“I don’t know!” he yelled, and pulled his stupid shirt over his head, headed for the door and shrugged off her hand when she tried to stop him, said, “leave me alone, Mum!” and stomped outside, ignoring her frustrated calls. There were still hours till dark and he had nothing to do but stew and try to slow the frantic, foolish beat of his heart—so he walked, bits of gravel in his boots pinching his feet with every step he took, and made it to the well before he spotted Will, coming over the hill on a dead run.
Merlin stayed where he was and Will came to a stop a ways away, like he wasn’t sure whether coming any closer would mean Merlin would bolt again. His face was a sweaty brick red, and he looked as unhappy as Merlin felt.
“I told you to wait,” he said to Merlin’s feet. “We could’ve come back together.”
It wasn’t anything close to a sorry, but it was all Merlin would get. The sick twist of his stomach had settled into something milder and less ashamed, so he walked up and brushed their shoulders together; said, “You’re too slow,” and let it turn back into what it had been, easy the way only best friends could be.
But they never did go back to the river.
The smith called for Merlin instead of Will.
“I’d been looking for an apprentice,” he said, clean of soot where he stood outside their home, beard trimmed and eyes bright. “The lad would be a great help to me in the forge.”
Doing what? Merlin wanted to ask. He’d shot up like a weed over the summer, stood shoulder to shoulder with his mother now, but he was still just skin and long, slender bones; graceless and prone to distraction, and not the sort anyone would want wielding a hot poker. But the blacksmith’s eyes didn’t see his thin shoulders and shuffling feet—if they flittered, it was to perch on Merlin’s mouth, his neck, the delicate span of his collarbone.
Merlin stepped behind his mother, and the smith tore his gaze away and coughed. “Well? What say you, Hunith?”
“Merlin is ill,” his mother said thinly. “He’s not fit for any sort of work right now.”
“He looks fit enough to me,” the smith said, and his eyes ran over Merlin like a sticky hand. Then he laughed, and wiped absently at his mouth. “I won’t work him too hard, Hunith, don’t worry about that.”
His mother’s mouth pinched at the corners, but she still managed a smile. “I’m afraid the fumes would just aggravate his condition.”
“Well,” said the smith, shifting, nodding, “when he’s gotten better, then. It’s a fine profession, you know. Do him good to start learning now, while he’s still—young.”
He laughed again, thickly, almost uncomfortable, and left with one last long look in Merlin’s direction.
His mother yanked the door shut hard enough to rattle.
When he’d been younger, Merlin had fallen out of a tree and broken his arm. By the time his mother had found him, magic had stitched the bones together—she couldn’t find the break, and didn’t understand his frightened tears. For a while after, Merlin had wondered if his magic wouldn’t fix whatever else was wrong with him; if, as he grew, a knot wouldn’t just appear.
He’d thought that if he wanted it enough, it would happen. But the years swept past, and he grew with the other boys but not like them, tall and thin and different enough to make people stare: boys with wonder and men with hunger, and the women with uneasy confusion.
When he’d been chased from crofts before, yelled at for letting loose the chickens and wandering away with the hogs, for being clumsy and lazy and forgetful, his company became sought after now: men called him to them for stupid, silly things, listened to his babble with glazed eyes and open mouths, and touched him like they couldn’t help themselves, his arms and hands and hair, an all right there, Merlin? punctuated by the brush of a hand against his lower back.
Their nostrils flared whenever he came too close, and sweat began to bead on their foreheads; Merlin spent an entire year ignoring his mother’s tired, angry face and let it happen, tested the waters and then troubled them, just to see how big the ripples would be.
He kissed a girl and liked it; kissed a boy, and liked it more. Kissed a man and frightened himself, came home trembling, all stinging mouth and bruised hip, panic cloying at the back of his throat and magic buzzing under his skin. Down the street people had begun to shout; it was the dead of winter, but the miller’s longhouse had caught on fire.
His mother looked at him, and looked away.
That night, she wrote a letter.
Merlin pulled himself off the normal way, the way he knew other boys did: one hand wrapped around his cock and the other cradling his balls, tug and twist and squeeze, thumb against that bundle of nerves under the head, playing with the sensitive folds of skin that hid it, digging a little into his slit. Sometimes he played with the base of his cock, right above where wiry hairs had started to grow, paid it attention like there was something to pay attention to. He spit in his palm and got the mess all over his cock, made the slide easy—too easy, so all it took was a few minutes for him to spill, hot, thin streaks of come all over himself.
He didn’t touch himself anywhere else—not the fine skin of his throat, the ladder of his ribs, the sensitive, aching peaks of his nipples. He never lifted his hand from his cock, never slid it back behind his balls where he’d gone all slick and wanting and wrong; never, ever put his fingers inside.
Merlin did it the normal way, and never the way he wanted.
And then he read the letters his mother penned when she thought he was asleep, candles worn down to nubs, windows thrown open to keep the stench of tallow at bay—the ones she hadn’t sent because of a shaky hand and nervous smudges of ink; the ones where she said please, and help us.
They were addressed to a Gaius, a dear Gaius in Camelot, and she used the word wrong.
Merlin left them littered all over the table when he walked out the door, didn’t care if she saw, if she worried. He headed for the river; the air still carried a chill left over from winter, but his blood was warm and anger had turned his body into one big pulse, made magic crackle furiously under his skin. His cock didn’t want to rise, stubborn and shamed, but he tugged it into submission, used vicious twists of his wrist until it was dripping, leaking plaintively—then caught the precome on his fingers and reached up under his tunic to draw it over his nipples.
He had to bite back a cry at the feeling, gone tense from that one touch. He kept it to light, soft strokes with the pad of his finger, but even that was enough to make them throb with the terrified beat of his heart, go hot and achy and wanting more. Merlin didn’t know how long he laid there and touched himself, squeezed-shut eyes and bold, shaky hands, but he didn’t slow until he started to hurt from how hard he was, and didn’t stop until he was dripping, damp all the way to his knees.
The wind gave him gooseflesh and the grass pricked where it found bare skin, sensation enough to topple everything into too much. Merlin’s heart beat somewhere in his throat when he drew his knees up, and he thought he tasted blood before he realized it was just the metallic bite of his own want, the wild flavour of taking something he’d been denying himself for so long.
Pressing his knuckles to the stretch of skin behind his balls made him twitch, made them wet, but it was nothing near how filthy he was inside, how hot and slick. One finger went in easy, and the feel of it made him scramble for two, then three, right up to the knuckle. His wrist ached and he’d forgotten how to breathe, lungs burning, frantic for air, but he kept pumping his fingers, opening up and clinging when they tried to recede—couldn’t stop, didn’t want to, not until he hit something inside that made him seize up and yell and come, harder than he ever had, than he’d ever thought he could.
By the time his cock had stopped twitching, there were tear tracks on his face and dirt under his fingernails. He lifted the hand that wasn’t messy with his slick and come and wiped at his eyes, took in a wet, shaky breath through his mouth, and stared up at the blue spring sky.
He went home to write a letter of his own, a question worth a lifetime penned in under a minute.
Is there a place for me in Camelot?
The reply, when it came, was a single word.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Merlin said.
Will watched him make wispy shapes out of the smoke from their fire: a bird, a boy, a cage.
“You won’t last a day,” he said, and walked away.
The boy caught the bird, and turned the cage into a castle.
Merlin closed his eyes, dropped his head back, and listened to the smoke sing.
The map he’d been sent was an old one, hastily made. All he really understood from it was that he was to go over the ridge and through the forest, but even then his mother had to turn him in the right direction, her mouth thin and worried. She felt frail in his arms, like she would snap if stretched any further, lighter than the pack on his back. She brushed the hair from his forehead like he was still a child, and kissed him there, tentative, like she half expected him to squeal and pull away.
He didn’t know what to say, throat gone all tight and sullen, so he said nothing; just turned, and started walking. He knew she would stand there until he disappeared through the tree line, and hours after, until nightfall chilled her. A part of him wanted to look back—run back, like he’d done so many times before—but he wasn’t a little boy anymore, and there was nothing left for him in Ealdor but the greedy eyes of men and the charred remains of his assent.
The day passed reluctantly and by sunset the solitude had tired him. Merlin set up his bedroll near a small fire he’d sparked to life, and had turned to ask Will if there was anything to eat before he realized he’d left him behind, their only goodbye a quick glance and angry footfalls. There was bread and cheese in his pack, a handful of dried berries and a peach he’d squashed, but it all tasted the same with no one to share it with, and he wallowed in his misery for a good while; curled up into himself and stared at the fire and wondered if a place for him would be a place he’d like.
But sleep evaded him, and whinging wasn’t nearly as satisfying if he had to do it in his head, so he got up and gathered his things and began to walk again: a fool’s journey, in the dead of night and on the unforgiving terrain of Ascetir, but he had a spark to guide him—then two, then three, curling up out of his palm and floating ahead to gamely lead the way.
The forest wasn’t as sinister as he’d thought it’d be—just alive and excitable, the way few things were this time of night. Something skittered just outside the edge of his vision and twigs snapped under his feet; there was the rustle of leaves and scratch of claws and the low, moody hoots from owls above him. Merlin found himself trying to look at everything at once, sending his sparks flickering left and right and running headlong into trees; turning in slow circles as he walked, mouth open, eyes wide.
Then he stumbled into a clearing and nearly got himself killed.
His shock made the sparks scatter and extinguish, and he caught his foot in a root as he scrambled back, scraping his skin raw. He huddled close to the ground in his fear, heart in his throat and face pressed against mulch, fingers digging into the cold dirt. The tree he’d hidden behind was a thin one, crooked and young, and Merlin straightened carefully, pressing back against rough bark and catching his breath before daring to take another look.
There was a crowd of them, lying about a bonfire that was close to death. The glow from the embers wasn’t enough to show him how many there were, but it lit up the two men nearest to him, their sleeping faces and the swords at their belts. Merlin’s throat clicked as he swallowed, and thought, bandits, a whole horde of them, curled up like babies and snoring loud enough to wake the dead.
They didn’t look anything like what he’d expected; cleaner, for one, and not nearly as wicked. Their horses weren’t monstrous, and where was the loot? Merlin inched closer, leaving his tree in favour of crawling to another that let him see a little more clearly—and when he did, he saw a crest, stitched onto the saddlecloth of the nearest horse. A crest he recognized.
He fumbled to pull out the map from his pocket, eased out a spark to light it for him, and found the same dragon and shield stamped in the corner.
“Camelot,” he whispered, and went weightless with relief. Not bandits, then, but guards—a border patrol. He’d crossed into the kingdom when he’d stepped foot in the forest, and the thought made Merlin a little giddy; somewhere along the way lonesomeness had morphed into anticipation, and Merlin’s nerves tingled with it now, at the thought of a clean slate, a new mould from which to shape himself. These men would know him as he chose to be, and he could choose to be—anything.
He leaned back against the tree and willed their fire to sputter back to life, watched them roll instinctively toward the warmth.
They slept, and Merlin dreamed.
He followed them come morning. Stealth had never been his strong suit, but his mother’s attempts to tame his curiosity had just spurred him into wanting more, and he was in Camelot now; he wasn’t about to deny himself anything.
Besides, the men knew these woods better than he: they led him straight to a stream, one with a sandy bank and clean, clear water. Merlin’s throat went dry, but he kept to the shelter of the trees, crouched behind a thicket, ears pricked in their direction. The men didn’t talk much, or if they did it was with their eyes—there was one man they all looked to for direction, and he guided them with the set of his shoulders, the wave of a hand. Something about him made Merlin twitch inside, go a little restless, something about the way he stood and walked and frowned; there was a command in everything he did, an effortless dictate that made Merlin want to rebel.
His voice, when he spoke, was low and distracted.
“All right,” he said, “but we’ll have to be quick,” and then he grinned, startlingly boyish, and began to disrobe. The men whooped and followed suit, taking off their breeches and tugging tunics over their heads, and Merlin leaned in on instinct, pricked himself on the thicket, slender thorns scratching up his arms, and didn’t care, because the men had kicked their smalls aside, gone suddenly bare.
Merlin’s face began to burn, hot and fierce. He hadn’t ever seen a man so unclothed before, pale arse and big feet, the sweaty dip at the small of a back. The men of Merlin’s village came in all shapes and sizes: men with barrel chests and a belly that boasted their love of ale; thin men and their rough, leathery skin, veined forearms, dirty nails; men who had massive, bulky shoulders and short, stocky legs; men who were soft and fleshy and heavy enough to smother—but Merlin had never encountered a man anything like the visions in front of him, hadn’t seen him even in his dreams.
They seemed impossibly tall, despite being half in the water now, the long, sturdy line of them making Merlin feel little, not enough to even fill their shadow. Their backs bunched as they moved, meaty and thick, and divested of their clothes Merlin could make out the cut of every muscle, every pull and strain. He went dizzy trying to see it all, hands clutching at the thicket to keep from crawling closer, and closer, until he could see clearly the hairs on their legs, the bend of their knees and the slit of each shy, vulnerable cockhead hidden by folds of skin. There was a knot at the base of every cock that Merlin could see, some thicker, some rounder, some small enough they were barely there at all, and he shook a little with envy even as he went liquid inside. He hadn’t expected any different, or maybe he had, a foolish thought he’d carried with him into Camelot, that he would find someone like him.
These men were nothing even close, set apart by the bristles on their faces and thick mats of hair on their chests; their broad shoulders and corded arms; the tough, silvery scars littered all over their bodies. Their cocks, cupped so casually, hefted in a palm, and the heavy, full hang of their balls—Merlin’s own twitched at the sight, trapped in his trousers and filled by an eager rush of blood, and he slid a hand to it almost absentmindedly, rubbed like it might do something to relieve the ache.
But all that did was make it worse, made him throb like the mad end of a pulse, and Merlin struggled to shove a hand inside, or pull himself out. He couldn’t find purchase crouched as he was, but wasn’t patient enough to sort himself; he wobbled when he finally got a hand around his demanding cock and toppled completely when he gave it a hard little squeeze; fell back against the ground with a shocked, breathy sound, an oh drowned out by the rustle of the bush he’d just kicked.
There were eyes on him by the time he’d righted himself.
Merlin’s breath caught. He was behind the thicket still, had possessed sense enough to remain on his knees, and there was no way he could be seen—but he was fixed with such a gaze, such narrow-eyed intent, that he froze like a doe who’d sighted a bow, heart afraid even to beat. It was him—their leader with the golden hair and pretty, sullen mouth—holding Merlin’s eyes through the swarm of thorns and leaves like there was nothing between them but air, and Merlin felt himself go wet for the first time in his life, a single, vicious cramp of sensation that left him gasping, shaken and vulnerable.
Instinct told him to move, back away deeper into the forest and away from the man’s perusal, but he couldn’t stop looking, arrested by the furrow of his brow and lines of his shoulders; the whorls of hair around his tight, peaked nipples, a shade darker and wilder than the hair on his head—matched by the thatch at the base of his cock, and oh—his cock, lovely like Merlin had never thought one could be. It hung soft and coy and flushed between thick, tense thighs, and it made Merlin’s hole tighten in reaction, made him shove his hand in deeper between his legs.
Between his trousers and the eager thrust of his cock he didn’t manage to get much more than just the lightest pressure, just the tips of two slim fingers in his hole, so insignificant that every rhythmic clench of his body pushed them out, dripping wet. He was so hot there, like the touch of a brand, and his cheeks were so flushed they had to be red, red, red—as red as the man’s mouth, as red as the tender head of Merlin’s cock.
It was a madness worse than anything he’d played with before: worse than touching Will after he’d gotten him ruined on ale, curious hands seeking the base of his cock; worse than planting himself on the blacksmith’s lap and feeling the give of his soft, fleshy thighs; worse than letting the miller’s greedy son trap him against the wall—worse than all of that and more because Merlin had never felt this want before, never this violent and unrelenting, the kind that pushed all sense from his head and filled it with the pound of blood.
He didn’t know how long it had been, a moment or two or many, many more, but the man had gone quiet and watchful and stayed that way, motionless but for the rush of water and lazy twitch of fingers against his thighs. Merlin rubbed his cock off against his wrist and fucked himself with his fingertips, just a little push pull and catch against the rim, and he wouldn’t have stopped if the man hadn’t moved.
But he did, head tilted back and nose in the air like a hound, like he was—scenting him, and when his eyes landed back on Merlin it was with a certainty, a frightening intent. Someone spoke, an indistinct mumble from far away, and the man took a step forward, then another, water receding as he came out of the stream—towards Merlin.
It was what Merlin needed to yank his slick, filthy hand from between his legs, scramble upright, and start to run.
Time stretched, lethargic, and Merlin slowed to a walk when he realized no one was chasing him, feet falling silently on packed earth and forest debris.
His hand was still sticky, smelling thickly of his own juices when he brought it up to his face, and he could feel how wet he was with every step he took. His cock had softened in the midst of all the panic, docile in a way the rest of his body just wasn’t: sweat had begun to bead on his temples and the back of his neck, prickling under his arms and in the already damp space between his legs; he felt flushed, the way he did when he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t have, his mother’s disapproving eyes making him go hot and ashamed; his knees were weak, steps wobbly, and his hands kept fluttering back to his crotch, like he couldn’t keep himself from rubbing his cock, pressing at his drenched hole through the fabric of his trousers.
He followed the stream, because he couldn’t make head or tail of the map anymore, gone suddenly dizzy, his vision blurry around the edges. There was no breeze under the thick cover of trees, and the sun was high and bright in the sky; Merlin sweated through his tunic before he ventured out onto the bank, kicked off his boots and stepped into the cold water.
The swirl of it around his ankles reminded him of how it had looked cradling the man, the way it slid between his thighs, a splash away from his balls, and he felt the flush claw its way down his neck, hot enough to squeeze the breath out of him.
He stumbled, and thought it better to sit down before he fell down. Somewhere, somehow, his cock had gone hard again, hard enough to throb and leak, plaintive—and the wet sand had soaked through his trousers, so really, there was nothing to do but take them off. He laid back and squirmed out of them, because that was easier than lifting himself off the ground, and his pants—what use were they, besides clinging to his sweat and slick and making him more uncomfortable than he already was?
They came off with a twist of his hips, and were thrown somewhere off to the side. His tunic was next, because it was stupid to wear one when you were bare from the waist down, lying on the sand and playing with yourself. Camelot was over-warm, Merlin thought, its late spring afternoon like midsummer in Ealdor, and he had to close his eyes against the sunlight as he slid a finger inside himself, up to the knuckle and not deep enough.
The stream lapped at him in unsteady pulses, and Merlin turned his head away from the roll of water, gasping. His mouth was open, gulping in shaky breaths, but it felt as if there wasn’t air enough to breathe in, his lungs burning and chest gone painfully tight. He kept fingering that spot inside him, rubbing quick and hard, but it just seemed to make everything worse, more achy and hungry and wild.
He found himself twisting, heels seeking purchase against sand and finding none, digging grooves instead in the shape of his need. Something like panic began to close his throat; he was making sounds, he realized, belated and muzzy, needy little animal sounds that begged and called and said come find me to the vision of the man in his head, to the image of his firmed, frowning mouth behind Merlin’s eyes, come, come, come, please.
And then, on the heel of Merlin’s whine, as if by magic, he did.
Merlin smelled him before he saw him, a heady musk that made him take in deep, gulping breaths before he opened his eyes. The man stood a ways away for how thickly his scent was filling Merlin’s nose, face ruddy and nostrils flared, his tunic rumpled and unlaced, sword at his belt and cock tenting his breeches—
“Oh,” he said, “you little wretch,” and Merlin’s legs dropped open, spread wide.
The man made a sound somewhere between a laugh and snarl, and ate up the distance between them in four long strides. The first touch had Merlin throwing his head back: a big, rough hand around his wrist that pulled his hand from between his legs with a filthy squelch, and then the man was lifting him up by his arms, until they were eye to narrowed eye.
“I knew our spy had to be bold,” he said darkly, “but I didn’t expect to find a stupid little boy.” His lip curled up to reveal the gleam of teeth. “Don’t you know what men do to tarts like you?”
“I’m not—“ Merlin started to protest, but found himself arrested by the man’s eyes, a rowdy blue, and the crinkle of hair that the open v of his shirt revealed; felt like a tart, all of a sudden, and revelled in it, leaning forward to rub his nose against the bare, lightly furred skin of the man’s chest, breathe him in.
That got him a startled grunt and the dig of fingernails in his arms. Opening his mouth and tonguing the skin in front of him made the man curse and push him back, face flushed, eyes glittering.
“They’d pass you around like a flask of wine, get drunk off of you,” he said, “and they wouldn’t stop—“ and it fell on Merlin’s ears like a promise, made him struggle to lean in again, to hide his sweaty, burning face against the man’s throat, but it was like trying to push against a wall, frustrating and ineffectual. The man kept him a hair’s breadth away, and looked at him with an intensity that had Merlin squirming, gone thoroughly wet, until his grip loosened and Merlin fell forward to catch his mouth in a clumsy kiss.
It lasted for a heartbeat, enough for Merlin to get a taste and know he wanted more, before the man pulled back, caught him around the waist, and—
—threw him into the stream.
Merlin came up sputtering, drenched, and yelling, “F—uh—fuck!”
The stream was deep enough here to come up to his chest, cold enough to make every bare inch of skin break out into gooseflesh, and the water stung his eyes, made his nipples pucker up so hard they hurt. The mossy streambed was slippery under his feet, and the man stood on the bank and watched Merlin struggle to find footing, arms crossed over his chest and eyes narrowed.
“Cooled you off, didn’t it?” he said, imperious, and Merlin snapped his mouth shut so hard his teeth clicked; shook his head no despite the clarity returning to him, feeling mutinous, and made a show of putting a hand on his cock. It had gone only a little soft from the cold, and it took barely three strokes to have it primed again, sensitive little head going blood flushed and hot even under the water.
The man bared his teeth and gritted out, “For fuck’s sake, where’s the fool who got you so worked up?”
Merlin fisted his cock and stared at him pointedly, saw the exact moment the man understood, splotches of colour appearing high on his cheeks, hands clenching into fists. He cursed, turned away, and Merlin’s insides went tight and miserable with longing until the man pulled his tunic off his head, back a long, sinuous curve.
He was scowling as he kicked off his breeches and waded into the stream, but Merlin’s attention was held entirely by his cock, so hard that it bobbed under its own weight as the man walked. Arousal had turned it a deep, wanton colour, made the skin stretch tight over the knot, and Merlin’s mouth flooded with saliva, teeth tingling and thighs tensing with the urge to have it inside him, anywhere, everywhere.
He watched the man shiver as the water engulfed his balls, lapped at his cock; watched him smile meanly when he noticed the path of Merlin’s eyes, and say, “You’ve no idea what you’re doing, do you, boy?”
Merlin swallowed down the wet pooled in his mouth, and said, “My name is Merlin.”
The man snorted, moving closer, close enough to smell. “Absurd,” he said, and then, as if a sly afterthought: “It suits you.”
Merlin took in a breath through his mouth, and his knees wobbled even as his mouth pinched, stung. “What’s yours, then?”
The man’s eyes went dark, held secrets. “Arthur.”
“At least mine means something,” Merlin said, but his voice had gone low and needy, lacking all bite. By the look on the man—Arthur’s—face, he knew it, too; he stepped so close Merlin thought he could taste his sweat on the air, salty-sweet.
“So does mine, little bird,” Arthur said, cupping the back of his neck, and Merlin tipped his head back and went soft, wanting. Blood beat at his temples and throat and cock and his eyes burned so viciously it made everything feel like a fever dream. Arthur seemed to be waiting for something, some sort of sign, so Merlin let himself whine, questioning, and ask, “What? What does it mean?”
Arthur’s grip tightened on his nape, and he leaned in to growl, “King,” and, “beast,” before catching Merlin’s mouth in a kiss, all spit and tongue and teeth.
Merlin surged up into him, hands finding his shoulders, digging in, and Arthur’s hand on his waist gave him the leverage to lift and wrap his legs around his hips, bringing their cocks together in a kiss of their own. Arthur hissed at the feel and bit at his mouth, hands sliding down Merlin’s body to cup his arse and heft him higher, press them tighter together. The muscles in his arms went taut with the strain and Merlin couldn’t stop touching, curious hands petting everywhere they could reach.
He was held low enough to let them rut against each other, the slip of cock on cock under the water, and that meant Merlin had to stretch to get his kisses but Arthur’s chest was almost level with his mouth; he pulled away to nuzzle at it, the way he’d been denied before, nosing at the cut of muscle, the tickle of hairs, the hard pink peak of a nipple. He took it into his mouth, curious, and suckled it like a babe, watching Arthur’s face from beneath the sweep of lashes. He looked warm, cheeks still red, and amused enough to make Merlin pull away with a wet pop and say, “What?” feeling both waspish and shy.
“Nothing,” Arthur said, and shifted Merlin in his arms, made him yelp a little with the bounce. “I just thought you’d rather I do that to you,” and Merlin went hot all over at the thought, the idea of it, dizzy and bold. He arched his back and tugged on Arthur’s hair, dragged his smirking face down to latch onto his nipple with a sharp, sweet suck.
Merlin felt it all the way down to his toes, felt them curl. His cock blurted precome and arse clenched down on nothing and he cried out as Arthur—nursed on him, with deep, steady pulls of his mouth. Merlin was babbling; he knew it, distantly, in the back of his mind, as one would know the time of day or year, but he couldn’t begin to know what he was saying, if he was saying anything at all.
He could feel Arthur’s cock against his thigh, the bump of his knot, and had to touch it, squirm a hand between them and grip. Arthur cursed against his chest when he did, hips driving forward, and nearly dropped Merlin back into the water. Merlin squeezed his thick, full knot, and Arthur looked up with dark eyes; said,
“Is that what you want?”
Merlin bit the inside of his cheek and closed his eyes, hand tight around that pretty cock, sloshing water everywhere as he tugged on it. Arthur drew him in close, arm like an iron band behind his back, and spread the cheeks of his arse with one hand, tucked two fingers inside him just like that, driving cold into the sloppy, searing centre of him.
“Yeah,” he said, “you want it all right,” and Merlin burned, clutched at those fingers, screwed down tight. Arthur panted against the side of his neck, cock twitching in Merlin’s grip, and said, “Can you take me? Can you—“ and Merlin cried yes, yes.
He fed his cock into Merlin with a slow, unrelenting slide, opened him up around the fat girth of it until he squirmed and bore down in an effort to ease the ache. It hurt, but went in so easy, tucked up into him up until the knot, deep and full. Merlin didn’t know he was coming until he had, until Arthur groaned and took his pulsing cock in hand, held him through the aftershocks even as he fucked him, with short, quick rolls of his hips.
Everything felt fuzzy, indistinct and far away. Merlin let his head fall back and let himself be fucked, insides tender and sore. There was a scent in the air, something potent and pungent and sweet, and Merlin wouldn’t have known it was him if Arthur hadn’t been snuffling at his neck, his hair, the damp sweaty clutch under his arm. This, then, this—was what drove men mad, multiplied tenfold by the flood of his release, and Merlin opened his mouth to let the air catch his tongue, sighed at the taste.
Arthur’s knot nudged up against Merlin’s rim every time he fucked in, and some instinct made Merlin go hot and loose, let it in before it swelled too large. It ached, worse than anything, but Merlin welcomed the burn and the pleased, secret throb as it popped inside and tied them together; moaned at the feel, loud and long.
“Gods, you’re so—” Arthur hissed, trembling as he came, damp face held against Merlin’s neck. “Do you know—there are men in the city who would keep you—like a pet, a knot-whore.”
Merlin opened his eyes and looked at him through the blur that his vision had become. “Is that what you call them,” he said, voice hoarse, “boys like m-me?”
“The boys who get wet for it?” Arthur shifted him in his arms, and Merlin whined when the knot pulled at his rim. “No,” Arthur murmured, beginning to take careful steps, “that’s only for the needy ones, the ones who get drenched—the way you did.”
“And the rest of them?” Merlin asked as they came upon the bank, water sloshing away, leaving them behind. Arthur lowered them both to the ground, kneeling first, then laying, hovering over Merlin and dripping sweet, cool water.
“Omegas,” he said, finally, nudging Merlin’s nose with his, "we call them omegas," and Merlin tucked the word into that lonesome, distressed corner of his mind, and felt found.
Being tied made it difficult to sleep, the sharp sting every time either of them moved their hips the wrong way making them jolt back into awareness. Merlin didn’t have any sense to pay attention to the passage of the sun, and didn’t know how long they laid there, Arthur’s knot swollen and locked inside.
He had rolled over flat on his back so Merlin could ease out the cramps forming in his legs -- a side-effect of knotting face-to-face, Arthur told him -- so Merlin sat on his cock and drowsed, kneaded a little at the firm muscles of Arthur's chest, scritch-scratching his nails through the sparse hair. Arthur’s hands stayed on his hips, thumbs tucked into the grooves, and sometime into the quiet, watching Arthur’s chest hitch on every other rise and fall, Merlin realized he was coming, cock blurting hot ropes of come inside him, his fat knot trapping it all in.
The thought made him shiver, and dig his nails in a little deeper. Arthur grunted in reaction, eyes opening to slits.
“You—“ he started, nostrils flaring as he took in a quick breath. “Fuck. You still smell like—“
Merlin squirmed, the back of his neck warming, familiar. “Like what?”
“Like you’re ripe,” Arthur said slowly, “like you need a cock in you.”
“I’ve already got one,” Merlin said, but as he lifted up to feel the catch, Arthur’s knot slipped out instead, a soft squelch to match his soft, spent cock. “Oh,” Merlin said, arse sore and wet and beginning to leak a slow trickle of Arthur’s come.
“Wasn’t enough, was it,” Arthur said, low, and Merlin climbed off of him, biting at the corner of his mouth and feeling empty, mournful. He watched as Arthur stood, tracked his long, lazy stretch before he began gathering his clothes, and wondered whether he had to go back right away. There had been enough men with him, after all, and surely they could last one more hour without him—one, or two, or a few.
Merlin opened his mouth to ask, feeling thoroughly greedy and uncaring of the fact, but Arthur cut him off by saying, “Where are you from?”
Merlin stared up at him from where he was sprawled in the sand, cheek pillowed on an arm. “A village.”
“I gathered that much, country boy. Which village?”
Merlin looked away, uneasy. “What do you care?”
Arthur slipped the tunic over his head, and laced it up. “I don’t,” he said, but there was a frown playing the corners of his mouth, something speculative in his eyes. “But you’d best head back to wherever it is. You’re sure to lure some fool, smelling as filthy as you do—“ Merlin huffed, and Arthur ignored him, “—and I’ll bet he won’t be as kind as I’ve been.”
“I’ll bet he won’t throw me in the water,” Merlin shot back, and Arthur laughed.
“He won’t fuck you in it, either. Just bend you over wherever he catches you, no matter if it’s on dirt or rocks or horse shit.”
“As long as he fucks me better,” Merlin said, triumphant, and felt a thrill race down his spine at the way Arthur’s eyes went dark, the sudden hard clench of his jaw.
“Stick around to find out, then,” he said, voice devoid of teasing now, scowl on his face. He looked—young, Merlin thought, gone sullen over something silly, and it made his heart beat quicker, chest tight. He caught Arthur’s booted foot as he made to walk past, stopped him with a little noise low in his throat.
Arthur looked at him, and Merlin went tongue-tied. “I—it was. Enough,” he said, inanely, unsure if he’d even be understood, but the furrow in Arthur’s brow cleared, and the corner of his mouth twitched.
He tugged his boot out of Merlin’s grip, and said, soft: “Find some other forest to play in, little bird.”
“Or what?” Merlin challenged, even as he flushed at the name.
“Or you might run into me again,” he said, like threat and promise both, and walked away, left Merlin looking after him with hungry eyes. He disappeared into the trees and Merlin let himself slump back, feeling hazy around the edges, achy and sore and brilliant, like he’d unlocked some new, delightful part of himself; like could laugh and laugh and mean it.
He let himself grin instead, and cupped sand in his palm, let it run through his fingers. Camelot, he thought, and Camelot’s guard, and hummed,
“Might run into you sooner than that.”