It’s not the wedding that starts Merlin thinking about his own lonely situation.
Gwen and Lance have been circling each other for what feels like months, with one thing and another, and Morgana, and Arthur’s confused feelings muddying the waters for everyone.
That, at least, seems to resolve itself and Arthur withdraws from the field of play (so to speak) leaving it clear for Gwen and Lance to gaze at each other without worrying about hurting anyone else.
The wedding is inevitable, and if Gwen is already swelling a little bit, well, the more practical women of Camelot tell each other, better a child early than late or not at all.
Everyone wishes them well, and the week-long feast that Arthur throws for his first knight and his lady will go down in the history books.
Merlin is nothing but happy for Gwen and Lance; he can’t think of two people more suited to be together. He tumbles into his own too-small, too-cold bed just before dawn breaks over the horizon, grateful for a rare fit of generosity from Arthur, who’d given him the morning off.
Gwen and Lance seem to be a catalyst and all of a sudden, all around him, Merlin sees couples pairing off - Elyan finally gets up the courage to talk to the pretty barmaid at the tavern; even Gwaine’s attention is caught by the sharp-tongued, clever daughter of a visiting nobleman, a match everyone encourages - she’s more than equal to Gwaine’s wit and wandering eye, and her father commands 1000 bowmen, as many horsemen and owns a stronghold near the border of Mercia. Gwaine’s courting of his daughter strengthens the man’s bond with Camelot and Arthur, making the new-made king feel a little more secure on his throne.
The women of Camelot agree that the match is ideal, before there are too many dark-haired, dark-eyed babies who look nothing like their supposed fathers.
But it’s Arthur and Leon that make Merlin finally face up to his own cold and lonely bed.
He finds out by accident.
There’s a storm, the night before, a bad one; all thunder and lightning and heavy rain. Merlin’s magic twists and shimmers under his skin, in response to it, to the earth almost singing under all that weather happening all at once and Merlin can’t sleep.
He rises early instead, stumbling into his clothes with the vague notion of going to Arthur’s chambers and setting the fire early so the room will be somewhat warm when His Royal Clothhead deigns to grace the world with his presence.
(Merlin doesn’t do well with early mornings. And how many pairs of boots does one person need?)
That aside, he tiptoes quietly past where Gaius is sleeping and heads down to Arthur’s room, so intent on his task that at first he doesn’t notice exactly what’s different about Arthur’s room.
There seems to be rather more clothes thrown about on the floor than usual, which makes Merlin mutter under his breath and there’s … a second cape draped over one of the chairs and there’s … Merlin turns toward the bed as all of the little hints lock into place in his mind.
There’s … Arthur’s bed. And. There’s Arthur, the covers pushed down, exposing his naked back to Merlin who stares for a moment at the curve of Arthur’s spine and the shift of solid muscles as he moves in his sleep, shifting closer to … oh.
Arthur and Leon, Merlin thinks, a little wildly. I didn’t see that coming.
He’s frozen to the spot.
Arthur shifts, muttering under his breath throwing an arm around Leon’s waist.
Merlin doesn’t think his eyes can get any bigger as Leon pushes back, muttering something and oh gods Leon’s awake. Merlin’s eyes are fixed to Arthur’s shoulders as they shake with the small laugh that escapes and suddenly Merlin feels like the worst kind of voyeur.
“Um. Erm. Arthur …”
Arthur turns then, moving lighting-fast, pulling the bed covers up at the same time but not before supplying Merlin’s future nights with the image of powerful thighs and a thick, hard …
“What the bloody hell are you doing Merlin? The sun isn’t even up!”
“I, uh, I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d come and get your fire going and I had no idea and I’m sorry and - “
“Merlin,” Leon’s voice is calm and quiet as he turns and sits up, placing a hand on Arthur’s shoulder as he’s about to surge up from the bed, his face flushed a deep red.
Merlin bites down on his bottom lip and takes a deep breath.
“Why don’t you set the fire, Merlin. It’s cold after the storm.” Merlin smiles gratefully at Leon and darts a quick look at Arthur, who’s eyes are still hard, but the set of his shoulders has relaxed a bit and Merlin takes another breath. All right.
They’re … all right.
He sets about his morning duties, setting the fire, cleaning up Arthur’s room, even handing Leon his breeches and shirt from where they’re rumpled on the floor. Leon smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
Merlin hands Arthur his breeches and backs away from the bed quickly as though Arthur is a venomous snake about to strike. Arthur merely rolls his eyes.
“Make yourself useful for once, and go and get some breakfast. Enough for two.”
“Enough for three,” Leon says as he pulls on his breeches and makes his way to the table. “Merlin’s here now, he might as well eat with us.”
All in all, it’s one of the stranger mornings Merlin’s had in Camelot, which, given everything that’s happened to him since, is really saying something.
He goes about his day like always, deliberately setting what he’d seen in Arthur’s room to the back of his mind. He has no objection to the idea of Arthur and Leon - if he’s honest with himself, he’s pleased that Arthur has someone, it’s just … Merlin twists on his bed that night, staring out his window as the clear , star-filled sky.
It’s just. Somehow, seeing Arthur and Leon together - comfortable, bantering and affectionate - makes Merlin’s days and nights feel even longer and colder than ever.
He sighs, turns away from the window and shuts his eyes, determined to put it behind him. If it’s not meant to be for him, then … it’s not meant to be and there’s nothing he can do except try and help Arthur fulfill his destiny and possibly marry his right hand.
He slips his hand under his worn breeches, giving his cock a half-hearted tug. It perks up a bit and Merlin sighs, half closing his eyes and mentally flipping through images in his head until he finds one that makes his cock twitch and start to fill under his strokes.
The knights training is always a good one, and in his mind’s eye Percival and Elyan are soon duelling, shirts off and muscles gleaming with sweat.
It’s perfunctory and ultimately unsatisfying. He comes, biting down on his bottom lip to keep himself quiet, but it does nothing to still the restlessness and only serves to make him feel lonely on a new, bone-deep level.
Wel at least he’ll be able to devote all of his days to the King and to Albion …. Merlin has to bite his lip again, blinking his eyes rapidly.
Not that he minds his destiny being so closely knit with Arthur’s of course not.
It’s just … it would be nice if Merlin could have something just for himself.
Percival is something of a watcher. He likes to sit back, when he can, and observe the people around him. Because of his size, people tend to think of him as slow-witted, but the truth is just that Percival doesn’t believe in saying anything when there’s nothing that needs to be said.
He’s engaged with Gwaine on the training ground; simple parries and thrusts; an easy exchange to warm and wake up and stretch tired muscles. He’s aware when Merlin slips out of the armory and settles on a bench at the side of the ground. He’s aware of it in the same way he’s aware of his own breath, his own pulse, the way he feels drawn to wherever Merlin happens to be at any given time.
Percival jumps when Gwaine pokes him gently in the stomach with the point of his practise sword.
“Sorry,” he says quietly, letting his eyes dart back over to Merlin just once, before focusing on Gwaine and letting himself sink into the sheer physicality of swordplay.
He lingers, after Arthur and the other knights have headed back to the castle, ready to let the fellowship from training bleed over into an extended dinner. Percival makes a vague excuse to Gwaine who just smirks at him and slaps him on the back before following Arthur out the door.
Merlin’s still there, his head bent over a practice sword that he’s polishing and inspecting for dents before hanging it up on the wall with the others.
Percival stands for a moment and just … watches. Merlin’s unruly hair falls over his ears and forehead in spills of dark curls. The torches in their brackets flicker and gutter with a cold draft, which casts shadows over Merlin’s face, throwing his cheekbones and mouth into prominence and everything else into near darkness.
Percival swallows, suddenly nervous, but he can’t spend the rest of his life just looking.
He feels too big for the space, suddenly and his mouth twists up in a rueful grin. He always feels too big for the space he’s occupying.
Merlin becomes aware suddenly that he’s not alone and turns around as he’s about to carefully hang the sword on the wall, blinking in surprise.
“Percival? I thought you’d gone with the others. Is something wrong?”
Percival smiles at that and moves so he’s standing just behind Merlin. He takes the sword from Merlin’s hands and hangs it up on the wall behind him before stepping back.
He tells himself it’s a trick of the flickering light, but he swears he can see Merlin’s adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallows.
“No, nothing’s wrong. I just …” Percival catches his bottom lip in his teeth and feels his nerves curling around the base of his spine, and he knows that if he doesn’t make some kind of a move now, the moment will be lost.
He steps forward, carefully measuring his stride out of habit, so he’s just inside Merlin’s personal space. Then he leans forward and presses a small, chaste kiss to the corner of Merlin’s mouth. Merlin starts and steps back, his head inches from the stone wall behind him.
Percival doesn’t move, feeling like he’s holding his breath. He bites his lip again, stopping the flood of words that wants to pour out: how he’s been … aware of Merlin since coming to Camelot; how he held back at first because he thought there was something between Merlin and the prince; how he can’t stand the look on Merlin’s face lately; the downturn of his mouth, the distant lonely look in his eyes … these are confessions with weight; with meaning and possibly with more of a burden than Merlin may be willing to bear.
Percival stands still and he waits, the moment stretching into something eternal, until Merlin moves forward. He’s tall but even he has to stretch up, hesitant fingers, cold from the steel he’s been cleaning, stroking at Percival’s neck.
The next kiss is better. Warmer, less tentative and full of promise. Percival nudges Merlin back against the wall, one hand tangled in the soft black hair at the nape of his neck, the other on his hip. Merlin’s mouth opens easily under the insistent strokes of Percival’s tongue and everything narrows to wet and heat faster than Percival thought possible.
He draws back to take a breath and his eyes fix on the line of Merlin’s neck, pale and warm in the glow of the torchlight.
He wants to mark it; to leave his impression on that pale, long expanse of skin, to feel Merlin arch under his touch, to pull low groans out of his throat …
Merlin’s eyes are wide and shadowed in the silent armory, his mouth red and his breath is coming out in rapid little pants, making Percival want to press him against the wall and discover exactly what noises Merlin makes when he comes.
He licks his own bottom lip instead, and smiles. Holds out his hand for Merlin, who winds their fingers together. Percival gives a gentle tug of Merlin’s hand until their bodies are flush and he can see the heat blooming on Merlin’s cheeks. He strokes over one sharp cheekbone with his thumb and says “I have … a lot that I want to tell you.”
Merlin raises his eyebrows and laughs, a soft sound that nevertheless echoes in the stone room.
He leans up again, nipping at Percival’s bottom lip. “So,” he says, as they leave the armory. “Tell me.”