It didn't matter that Arthur was now King Regent of Camelot, in some ways he was still just as much of an immature prat as the first day Merlin had met him, laughing it up with his fellow knights as he taunted his manservant with physical danger. Poor Morris had never deserved such rough treatment, and Merlin was well-aware that he didn't deserve it either. Which didn't explain why he put up with it anyway. He supposed love made people do stupid things.
Putting up with Arthur's nonsense and generally humoring him wasn't all bad, of course. Sometimes even Arthur's stupidest ideas had a certain merit. But this one seemed particularly foolish. Having reclaimed Camelot from Morgana, Arthur had declared the need to strengthen its defenses and that every knight and guard would be given additional training and combat practice to improve their skills. Merlin had pointed out that it would have hardly mattered if the knights knew a few extra moves when they had been up against an immortal army and a powerful sorcerer. In hindsight, he really should have kept his mouth shut.
And that was how Merlin ended up face down in a field with Leon's knee in his back and his arms nearly pulled out of their sockets.
"I surrender!" Merlin pleaded, through clenched teeth. Coarse blades of grass poked into his mouth and he spat them out.
"Pathetic," Arthur declared, rolling his eyes. But he gave the signal anyway.
Leon let go and gave Merlin's arms an apologetic rub, as if that would make up for them being nearly wrenched away from the rest of him. "Sorry, Merlin."
"Yeah," Merlin grunted, and grumpily ignored Leon's proffered hand to push himself to his feet. He glared at Arthur and started to walk back to the equipment rack, assuming Arthur was done tormenting and humiliating him for the time being.
But Arthur wasn't done.
"I didn't say you could leave," Arthur said, imperiously. Being almost-King had obviously made his head even fatter than usual. "Elyan, you're up next."
"Arthur," Merlin whined, giving Arthur an exasperated yet doe-eyed look. He didn't like to use their relationship for his own gain, but if some pouting was enough to make Arthur remember that he wasn't actually a punching dummy...
But Arthur was unmoved. "Merlin," he said, flatly, and crossed his arms.
Merlin sighed. Obviously there was no reasoning with him. "Fine," he grouched, and joined Elyan in the field. Apparently Arthur wanted him to have bruises from all of his favorite knights. If Arthur thought he was going to have any sex for the next month, he was bloody kidding himself. "Let's get this over with." He braced himself to hold his ground, for all the good it would do him.
"Sorry, Merlin," Elyan said, and at Arthur's signal he lunged.
"Oww," Merlin moaned. "Don't come any closer."
"Don't be such a child," Gwen said, ignoring him as she climbed into bed with him. "Let me see."
It didn't matter how big and soft their bed was. Every dip and jostle grated on Merlin's abused nerves and muscles and made him tense up even more.
Gwen looked him over and then planted a quick kiss to one of the few unbruised spots on his shoulder. "You should have gone to Gaius. I'm sure he has something that will help."
"I don't want anything," Merlin pouted. He would have turned away from her and onto his side but that hurt even worse. His mood was as bruised as the rest of him after being soundly beaten six times over in the name of 'training.' Even Arthur had had a go at him. He hadn't felt this sore since Arthur gave up on making him spar with him in full armor. At least his ears weren't ringing.
Gwen sighed. "You know he's only trying to help. He wants to keep you safe."
"I can keep myself safe," Merlin said, but didn't protest as Gwen began to plant light kisses on his bruises. They were still coming into their full flower, but he could feel every one of them.
Gwen gave him a chiding look, but thankfully she had the wisdom to forego their usual argument. She and Arthur knew about his magic, knew he was powerful enough to protect himself and everyone else in Camelot for that matter. Yet they insisted that magic wasn't enough. Which led to Arthur dragging him into training, which led to him being so sore he could barely lift his arm, much less fight. The whole thing was a pointless, painful cycle and nothing good could ever come of it.
It didn't matter if he couldn't always use his magic without putting himself in greater danger, that Arthur couldn't change the laws until Uther formally gave up the crown or died. He had survived this far and he still had his head, which was evidence enough that everything was fine just as it was. Being underestimated protected him better than any combat skills ever could.
"My poor Merlin," Gwen cooed. She lay down beside him and wrapped her arm around him, her touch gentle. "Arthur can be quite beastly at times. I'll talk to him."
"Then I'll talk to Elyan and Lancelot. If I tell them to go easy on you..."
"They will. And that'll only make it worse." Merlin shifted, then winced. "He'll give up eventually. Something will distract him. Always does."
Gwen gave a hum of assent. "Well then. If you're going to let Arthur treat you badly, you're going to let me make up for it."
"You don't have to--" Merlin was stopped by Gwen's finger on his lips. He swallowed as she rose up and straddled him, the skirt of her dress spreading over his stomach and legs. She wriggled teasingly against his groin -- which by some miracle remained unbruised -- and Merlin's bad mood was instantly forgotten.
Gwen was still a servant just as he was, but ever since Uther's regression into madness, she had felt braver about her relationship with Arthur. Among other things, she had begun wearing prettier dresses with embroidery and lace and buttons. This particular dress had buttons along the front, and Gwen slowly opened them to give Merlin a rather glorious view of her cleavage. She gave him a warm and knowing smile as she rubbed against the growing bulge in his trousers.
Merlin mustered the strength to slide his hands below her skirt and up her thighs. The layers of her skirt trapped the air, and their combined body heat was soothing on his aching hands. Gwen gave a pleased sound as he found her bare skin and the crease of her thigh. But when he tried to sit up, he groaned in pain and slumped flat.
"Sorry, I can't," he gasped.
"I'm taking care of you," she reminded him, and shifted backwards to straddle his legs. She leant forward and nuzzled his groin, then opened the laces of his trousers. Merlin bit his lip as he felt her tug the fabric aside and expose him to the air. He was already half-hard from her rubbing, and when she gripped his shaft, whatever blood his body could spare rushed to meet her.
"That's better," Gwen purred, and kissed the head of his cock just as delicately as she had his bruises, though this was the far more exquisite torment. Her familiar, practiced touch soon had him fully hard and aching, writhing limply on the bed as she used her lips and tongue and fingers to drag him towards climax. She took the head of his cock fully into her mouth and let it rub against the soft roof of her mouth as she sucked and sucked until he was nearly at his peak.
"I see you started without me," Arthur said. Merlin startled, his climax unceremoniously halted, and he turned to see Arthur walking into their bedchamber, cleaned up from practice and changed into trousers, shirt, and vest. He had probably been at a council meeting. Merlin had been too busy being beaten to a pulp to check his schedule for the day.
Gwen lifted off Merlin's cock with a wet suck and swallowed primly. "Arthur. Merlin tells me you've been rather cruel to him again."
"Has he now?" Arthur quickened his pace, that gleam in his eyes that always meant trouble.
Merlin was having none of it. As Arthur approached the bed, Merlin used his magic to send a pillow flying right into his face. Arthur caught it, but he didn't catch the second pillow that smacked him on the back of his head.
"Merlin!" Arthur threw the pillows back at Merlin, only to have them rebound. Arthur jumped out of the way and they skittered across the floor.
"Keep them," Merlin said, as firmly as he could when he was aching to come. "You're going to need them when you're sleeping on the floor tonight."
"You can't be serious." Arthur looked to Gwen to back him up, but Gwen shook her head.
"Arthur, look at him," she pointed out. "He can barely move. I know you want to help, but this isn't the way."
Arthur huffed, hands on his hips to make his exasperation perfectly clear. Merlin was oddly reminded of Arthur's arguments with his father. But if a cold night on the floor was enough to make Arthur see sense, Merlin was all for giving it to him. He drew on his magic again and flung the pillows out of the bedchamber door.
Arthur glared at him, but it quickly turned into a thoughtful glare. And then he seemed to come to a decision. Merlin hoped it was a sensible one, but when was Arthur Pendragon ever sensible?
Never, that's when.
"I'll leave you to him," Arthur said, turned on his heel and strode out the door. There was the sound of the outer door slamming, and Gwen rolled her eyes.
"Now where were we?" she said. She shrugged off her dress and tossed it aside, then knelt above him naked and beautiful. Her breasts swayed as she leaned forward to strip him of his clothes. When she slid onto his cock, Merlin finally relaxed again. Then he stopped relaxing as Gwen clenched around him, hot and slick and tight.
"I need--" Merlin gasped, thrusting weakly up. He was still so close.
"When I'm ready," Gwen said, and clenched again, cradling him inside her as he slid his fingers into the damp curls of her cunt. His thumb found the nub of her clit and she gave a happy sound. She brought one hand over his and urged him on, fully in control. Gwen might still only be a servant, but she was his queen as surely as Arthur was his king.
And Merlin did live to serve.
He must have slept deeply that night, as Gwen and Arthur were both gone when he awoke. The sun was climbing high and he took the lack of interruptions to mean that he was excused from the day's training, and with luck tomorrow's and the next day's. Perhaps Gwen had convinced Gaius to intervene on his behalf.
There was a phial of willow bark extract on the bedside table, and he drank it in one long swallow. Every inch of him was sore and stiff and he welcomed the remedy. As loathe as he was to move, it wasn't long before his body's needs compelled him upright. He washed and dressed with painful slowness, moving as minimally as possible. Despite everything, he felt vaguely famished, and wondered if he could make it all the way down to the kitchens without falling and breaking his neck.
He decided to risk it. He hobbled towards the door, but just as he reached it there was a knock. Curious as to who it might be, he opened it.
"Merlin," greeted Elyan. "Gwen said you might be awake by now." He held up a tray of food. "I wanted to bring you breakfast as an apology."
"That's really not necessary," Merlin said. It was hardly Elyan's fault when it was Arthur giving the orders. But he stepped aside, and when Elyan set the tray down, Merlin dug in eagerly. Only once he'd managed to scarf down half the plate did he realize he was being rude, as Elyan was still standing and waiting politely.
"Sit, sit," Merlin said, through his mouthful. He gestured towards the chair and then the tray.
Elyan sat. He plucked off a branch of grapes and sucked a berry off the stem. Merlin was briefly distracted by the purse of his lips around the fruit; Elyan's lips were just a touch thicker than Gwen's but their eyes were the same. He felt the stirring of another kind of hunger, but chided himself to have some restraint.
Stomach sated, Merlin finally had the capacity to notice there was something else on the tray. "What's this?" he asked, picking up the bottle. There was some kind of oil inside.
"Massage oil," Elyan explained. "I know how stubborn Arthur can be. I was going to offer some one-to-one training, but Gwen said you were in no condition for it."
"That's very kind of you," Merlin said, feeling rather touched. When he wasn't running after Arthur and tending to his every whim, he often found himself acting as a manservant to the rest of the knights. He didn't mind, really. He liked looking after the people he cared about. But it was nice to be the one taken care of for a change. "Can I take you up on the training later?"
"I'd like that," Elyan said, with a warm smile.
Merlin felt a twinge of self-consciousness as he stripped and lay face-down on the bed. It wasn't as though they'd never seen each other naked before. There wasn't much room for modesty on their quests. But after being so soundly defeated yesterday, he felt less than all the knights, as if Arthur had forced them to humiliate him to show him his place.
As if he didn't already know exactly where that was. Whatever privileges he had as Arthur's lover, he was still just a manservant to the rest of the world. He didn't like to think how the others might react if they knew he was a sorcerer. Arthur and Gwen had accepted the truth, but it had made things bumpy for a time. Gwen thought he should tell them, but Merlin didn't want to upset things just when Arthur was settling into his position, and if there was any chance that Uther might still recover from his madness...
"Oww," Merlin moaned, as Elyan kneaded a particularly tender bruise on his back.
"Don't be such a child," Elyan said, in just the same tolerant tone that Gwen used. "You'll thank me for it later."
Merlin was more concerned with now. "You sound like Arthur."
"He's right once in a while."
"Do you want me to stop?" Elyan asked, his hands stilling.
Merlin admitted to himself that he was starting to feel a bit better. "Don't stop," he said, rubbing his cheek against the sheets. He grunted as Elyan resumed kneading the bruise, but he swallowed his complaints. He and Arthur used to massage each other like this when one of them had a particularly hard day, but Arthur had been so busy lately, and as strong as Gwen was, she didn't have the pure weight and muscle of Arthur or the knights. Sometimes Merlin just needed to be pressed down and pounded flat by a big, strong man who regularly killed things with his bare hands.
Elyan worked his way down Merlin's back, wringing the tension out of his arms and his back, his calves and his thighs. The whole thing left Merlin feeling warm and loose and slippery. He found himself blushing as rough hands cupped and kneaded the join of his thighs and his arse, and then farther up, but he'd landed on his arse enough times yesterday to have bruises there, too. And if Elyan's thumbs slipped along his cleft, they didn't dip inside it.
"Time to turn over," Elyan said, his soft tone still enough to startle Merlin from his daze.
Merlin hesitated. All the touching had stirred his cock, and willing his arousal away never worked very well. But it wasn't as if he hadn't seen the others soft, or with some morning wood as they washed in a river. He felt his face heat as he turned over, looking determinately away from the man above him. When Elyan resumed the massage without comment, Merlin relaxed again.
"You're very good at this," Merlin murmured.
"So I've been told," Elyan said, and when Merlin looked up he saw his knowing smile. "Feeling better?"
"Much." He met Elyan's eyes, embarrassment finally subsiding even if his erection hadn't. "Thank you."
"Gwen was right," Elyan continued, and touched Merlin's cheek with slippery, calloused fingers. "You need taking care of."
There was something about the way he said it that made Merlin wonder. And then he didn't wonder at all as Elyan leaned down and kissed him. He gave a small noise of surprise, but it was a very nice kiss, and Elyan's lips were soft and eager.
"Um," Merlin said, when the kiss broke.
"Do you want me to stop?" Elyan asked.
Before his relationship with Gwen and Arthur, Merlin had lived a life of self-denial, of fear of himself and of intimacy with others. The two of them had gradually dragged him out of that life, forcing him to accept that he deserved to be loved and cared for and known. It wasn't always easy to let go of the tight control he held over himself, but he could do it when it meant giving over that control to them. He could surrender himself the people he loved and trusted and know that he would be safe.
He felt safe with Elyan.
"Don't stop," Merlin said, as his stomach gave a sudden flutter.
Elyan kissed him again, again, while his hands quested Merlin's body with a different kind of curative intent. And then Elyan was above him, still fully clothed over Merlin's nakedness, the bulge in his trousers a solid force against Merlin's hip. He wondered how long Elyan had been hard. How long he'd wanted him.
"Gwen told me what you like," Elyan murmured, his voice low and promising. It made Merlin shiver.
"Yeah?" Merlin breathed. He felt like he was drowning in Elyan's dark eyes.
"I'm her brother. She tells me a lot of things." Elyan sucked at Merlin's neck, just where Gwen liked to suck. Merlin's hips thrust of their own accord, rutting his aching cock against Elyan's thigh.
"I didn't realize -- " Merlin gasped as Elyan's hand wrapped around his cock -- "you were so close."
"We talk," Elyan said, holding Merlin's gaze as firmly as he held his body. "We share. There's a lot of time to make up for."
Merlin understood that, the urgency of trying to grab every scrap after a long starvation. The fear that the feast will be taken away again. That had its own pain.
Elyan must have seen the knowledge in Merlin's eyes, because he gentled further, kissing Merlin sweetly on the forehead and then on the mouth again, his tongue delving and sliding deep as he flattened himself against Merlin's body and covered him, held him. The weight of him felt good, and eased the ache in Merlin's heart.
"That's better," Elyan said, pressing heavier, trapping Merlin and pinning him as he had on the field. "You like that. You always like it."
With Elyan above him, commanding, Merlin realized just how alike he and Gwen were, both sweet and gentle over hardened steel, the cores of them fired in the same forge. They were different from Arthur, whose rough iron guarded a tender heart.
Merlin whimpered. "Please," he breathed, tight with need. He did like it. Even when the rest of him was in pain, there was part of him that loved it, that needed it. To be beaten, to be made to surrender. To be ruled.
Whatever hesitation Elyan had, it was abandoned as he took what Merlin was freely giving. He rose up, imposing, then took Merlin bodily and flipped him onto his belly. Elyan's knee pressed between Merlin's thighs and pressed exquisitely against his balls, making him writhe and claw at the bed. Where before Elyan had used his strength to wring the suffering from Merlin's body, now he used it to apply suffering in pleasurable ways. He pinched and slapped, teased and nipped until every sensation blurred and bled into heat and need.
"Please," Merlin begged, needing to come so badly. His cock was painfully full and making a mess on the sheets.
"You'll come when I tell you," Elyan said, and that only made Merlin wilder. Merlin rutted, trying to give himself enough to push over the edge, and that earned him a few sharp smacks on his arse. He stilled.
"Naughty," Elyan chided, and finally, finally opened his trousers. His cock was finely shaped, full and dark and Merlin wanted it inside him. Just because he wasn't letting Arthur near his arse didn't mean he had to deprive himself.
Elyan slicked his fingers and began to open Merlin up, spreading his cleft wide and pressing his thumbs against the rim. Merlin clenched against the entry even as he welcomed it, making Elyan pull him apart.
But as long as Elyan had taken in caring for the rest of him, he wasted no time here. In less than a minute, those broad thumbs were replaced, and Merlin groaned low and long as Elyan pushed his way inside, forcing through Merlin's slickened tightness. At every inch of progress, he pulled back and then thrust again, slow and strong, until all of him was there, tucked away and filling Merlin to the brim.
"So sweet," Elyan murmured, nuzzling against Merlin's back. "You're so hot inside."
Merlin whimpered and tried to clench; he couldn't manage much when he was already forced wide, but Elyan gave an appreciative rumble. A hand slid beneath his belly and pressed there, broad and possessive. Another hand stroked his side, soothing him as he would a restless horse. He felt ridden, owned, known.
When Elyan was ready, he began to fuck Merlin with long, hard thrusts, beating him over and over like glowing iron on an anvil. Merlin idly thought that there was more blacksmith in Elyan than he liked to admit. And then he thought about nothing but the jolts of pleasure rippling through him as Elyan moved inside him over and over, making him writhe and plead and beg for release, even though he didn't want to have it until Elyan wanted him to have it.
"So good for me," Elyan cooed, his voice finally breaking as his own arousal climbed. "So good. Come on. Come for me. My Merlin. Come."
One more stroke, two, and Merlin let go, his whole body tensing as his cock throbbed and pulsed against the sheets. He came down shaking, eyes and nose wet, as Elyan pressed full inside him and finished there, heat pulsing deep.
Elyan rested over him, inside him, as they both softened and cooled. Elyan gave one last thrust against him and then let his cock slip free, leaving Merlin feeling open and gaping to the warm summer air. Elyan's broad thumb toyed at his rim and then urged it closed.
"How do you feel now?" Elyan asked, genuine with only a hint of smugness.
"Much better," Merlin said, but now he couldn't keep his eyes open. "Think I need a nap."
Elyan gave him a kiss on his shoulder. "Then sleep. I'll clean up."
Merlin gave a sleepy smile and shifted away from the wet spot on the bed. He felt Elyan leave and heard him walk across the room. He came back with a damp cloth and brushed it along Merlin's back. The gentle touch was lulling, and Merlin let his eyes shut.