Merlin had only ever done it in fantasy, had only ever pondered it, contemplated it, craved, wished, hoped for it. Read about it, fearfully, nervously, in odd, reclusive books tucked away together somewhere deep in the guts of the shambled and confused library shelves. The words were never indulgent. Never anything like “ecstasy”, or “moan” or “breathless”. Nothing visceral like “cock” or “fuck” or “‘Oh Gods!’”. There was nothing- not even the diagrams, laid out flatly in black ink, more like maps than human bodies- to conjure images of pliant limbs and sinew and spit. No. There was only room for tepid verbs like “insert”, for unalluring nouns like “buttock” and “pudenda”. Pleasure was mentioned only scarcely. And taste was not spoken of at all.
And so Merlin was left frustrated, struggling, baffled as to how to translate lessons in anatomy into all those wordless things his body begged him to do. How to go about using all that dry, cold, dusty knowledge, as something that would make Arthur- who was finally, inexplicably, miraculously, standing before him in nothing but a nervous, twitching smile- writhe and hiss and cry out “MERLIN!”
And so Merlin simply prayed, and hoped that intuition would lead the way.
But that was to be expected. At least as far as Arthur was concerned.
What was less obvious, less sensical, less safe to assume, was that Arthur, beloved of his people, handsome, brave, eligible, singularly, remarkably adept at the art of catching eyes and turning heads, was just as baffled, just as terrified, as Merlin was.
It would not do, decided Arthur, to make it common knowledge that everything he knew had come from things whispered between knights in the armoury. That most of what he understood, or tried to, had been passed to him, unintentionally, by loose-lipped drunks in taverns and that their harsh, grating, lurid words, and the all too vivid pictures they painted, had made him stammer and blush and choke on his mead.
It would certainly not do to have it known that anything he knew for certain had come from his painfully timid, almost fearful experiments on his own body.
But if truth were told, if he was honest with himself, Arthur was at a loss as to how to sort tall tales and drunken half-truths from sound advice. How to reconcile all the pomp and embellishment and boasting with this frank vulnerability. This quiet, honest intimacy.
And so Arthur puffed out his chest, and tried to dismiss his trembling as a symptom of a draughty old castle in mid-winter. Tried to ignore the fact that his knees were knocking together at the sight of Merlin’s bare shoulders, his toes, the sharp angles in his hips, his neck, his collar bones, all white and perfect. Tried to pretend that he could not not breathe at the thought of touching Merlin in all those wonderful, terrifying, intimidating places that he uselessly tried to keep his gaze from lingering too long on.
And so Arthur fought his instinct to turn away, or hide what he could with his hands, or throw himself into Merlin’s arms and plead for mercy. This, after all, was only another kind of battle. So, mindful of his pride, Arthur stood, back straight, arms akimbo, and tried to smile.
But that was to be expected. At least as far as Merlin was concerned. This precious, intoxicating, beautiful prat was far too arrogant to admit to any inexperience. And by the looks of it, far too overwhelmed to barrel on regardless.
And so, as usual, Merlin would have to be the one to screw his courage to the sticking place and take matters into his own hands.
Only this time there were no beasts or sorcerers to vanquish, no goblins or bandits. This time his thundering heart was pushing blood into places that mortified him. And his head was spinning at the knowledge that Arthur’s heart was doing the same. And this time Merlin’s magic could not save him.
This time it was as simple and as vastly complicated as reaching out and, finally, lovingly, touching Arthur.
And so he did.
The first touch was barely a touch. Long fingers sliding like phantoms over broad shoulders and down strong arms. Each surprised that it had happened. Neither really able to draw breath.
Then lips were pressed, gently, lightly at first, against lips. This, at least, was more familiar- if only just. And suddenly the tips of Arthur’s fingers were trailing down Merlin’s bare back, leaving goose bumps in their wake. And then there was only hesitation and Arthur’s quaking hands were lingering over Merlin’s backside, his eyes full of fear, uncertainty, questions.
And so Merlin closed the hand’s width between them and pressed his body into Arthur’s, took his lips again, captured his tongue, ground against him. Wrapped all that golden strength in his lithe arms. And Arthur’s eyelids fell shut as he whimpered, helplessly, at the wave of contact that seemed to wind him like a blow, his hands coming to rest on their goal.
Later, Arthur would try to deny that he had gone to pieces when Merlin’s tongue had mapped out his body, or that he had begged for more when Merlin’s slicked fingers were inside him, carefully stretching him open. And Arthur would die before (admitting) he crumbled and broke and was a helpless, ecstatic mess when Merlin pushed, slowly, kindly, coaxingly, into him and started to move.
And as for the way he had softly wept when Merlin had held him as the sweat dried on their tangled limbs and crooned I love you into Arthur’s ear over and over and over, that was slander and nothing more.
But Merlin merely laughed at all his flustered, red-faced indignation and pulled him closer.
And suddenly Arthur was going to pieces all over again.