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Spirit of the Game

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*** \o/ ***

Despite working summers at one of Albion's oldest grounds, Merlin gave exactly zero fucks about cricket or cricketers until the day one of the visiting 1st XI, striding past in his whites, paused and crouched down to adjust his shoelaces. As he did so, a bolt of sunshine pierced the grey scum of clouds overhead, bathing him in golden light. Tousled mop of fair hair; bare neck, slightly tanned; broad shoulders; curved back and sturdy thighs, power temporarily held in check; generous rounds of arse muscle straining the seat of his trousers – for a moment all seemed to actually glow.

In Merlin's head, choirs sang. Wee angels wept. Time slowed to the pace of a single drop of sweat, beaded along the man's hairline, breaking free and sliding across his skin.

He didn't know if it was a divine revelation or because he'd skipped breakfast again, but Merlin had a sudden, reckless desire to taste that skin, to know how it felt under his tongue, his fingers. To slowly peel off that blinding wrapper, go down on his knees between those thighs and worship all that lay between, box and all, until the man was so desperate for release he'd let Merlin put his mouth and hands anywhere he –

Fuck. Oh bloody fuck.

Merlin watched in mute horror as the tray he'd been balancing teetered, slipped from his inattentive grasp and flipped end up, launching a small fleet of empty glassware into the air. Gravity and the pavilion terrace finished things off with a terrific smash – all save for one champagne flute that arced onto the surrounding grass, rolled down the small slope and came to rest against the man's right heel.

The man started, glancing back, then down at the flute. He plucked it up by the stem and, rising, changed course, coming up towards Merlin with his other hand shading his eyes.

"Y'alright, mate? Think you missed…" He trailed off as he reached the edge of the terrace, a grin splitting his face. "Emrys?! Is that you?"

And before Merlin could wrap his head around the fact that the very thighs and nether region he'd been contemplating spelunking in a moment before belonged to none other than his mum's former employer's son, Arthur Pendragon – childhood frenemy and first hopeless crush – the last flute hit the flagstones with a tinkling crunch and he found himself wrapped up in a sweaty, glorious bear hug.

Cardiff. Boston. Oakland. Montréal. Melbourne. Ahmedabad. A blur of cities slipped off Arthur's tongue, all the places he'd been since they'd last seen one another, and all Merlin could think about was how brilliant it had felt to be in his arms. Shocking, but brilliant.

He was of a height with Merlin now, but much…bigger. More solid. More real. Smelling of citrus and grass and delicious, sharp sweat. The stubborn cherub face morphed into something off a hoarding for aftershave, bright eyes following Merlin's every nod and fidget and awkward, "Yeah? Wow. Nice."

"And you, you're…?"

"Here." He didn't mean it as a joke – it was simply all his brain could come up with – but Arthur took it as such, chuckling and clapping Merlin on the shoulder. Merlin felt the warmth of it down to his very toes, pooling along the way in his belly and between his legs.

A rising hubbub behind him, members filtering back out from lunch, recalled him to his duty. He flashed Arthur a quick smile. "But not for much longer if I don't get this cleared up."

The interval was nearly over, but Arthur insisted on helping, gathering the larger shards of glass onto the tray and keeping curious members back from the crime scene while Merlin fetched a dustpan and whiskbroom.

When he returned, he was greeted with a round of tipsy applause, which he answered with an embarrassed wave before bending to the task. Arthur crouched beside him, gently wresting the dustpan from his hand and bracing it at a better angle.

"Here, let me."

Merlin had to remind himself to breathe. When he thought he had things under control, he dared a sneaky peek sideways. It was strange seeing a proper stubble shadow on that stubborn jaw. He'd spent many a lesson watching the way the light caught the wisps of hair curling over Arthur's ears and the peach fuzz on his cheeks, wondering why the thought of touching it made him go all flushed and squirmy when half the time he longed to tackle Arthur to the ground and pummel his stupid, smirking face.

"What's got into you, then?" he said. "Don't remember you being so bloody nice last time I broke something."

There was a moment's pause, then Arthur's eyes lit up. He grinned. "Ha! That horrid knock-off in the conservatory. Oh my god."

"Knock-off? You told me it was worth a thousand quid."

"Nah. Just trying to wind you up." Arthur nudged Merlin's shoulder with his own.

"And now?"

They stood almost as one. Arthur tipped the dustbin onto the tray beside the other broken glass and handed it back to Merlin with a batsman's flourish. His grin softened into something Merlin couldn’t quite interpret.

"Spirit of the game, Emrys."

"What?"

"Spirit of the game." Arthur started backing away, arms spread wide, head cocked, still wearing that funny little smile. "Ealdor Park. We're standing on sacred ground, mate."

"Sorry, I don't – "

"Must dash or I risk being timed out. Will I see you at tea?"

Merlin nodded, because his body was a traitor like that, and told himself that he'd only imagined that Arthur had waited for his response before turning around with a skip-hop and jogging off towards the pitch.

*** \o/ ***

The sun came out in full force. Men removed their jackets and women their wraps. As the champagne, ale, and Pimm's flowed freely, the mood grew increasingly convivial despite – or perhaps in keeping with, Merlin hadn't a clue – whatever was happening in the match.

He, however, thought he might be in a personal hell, at least one of its outer circles. He'd never felt so keenly the agonising slowness of each post-lunch minute. He served drinks and bussed tables in a fog of lust and nerves, fortifying himself during his trips to the kitchen on uneaten sandwich ends and cloying champagne dregs.

"Smile!" Gwen urged him whenever he returned to the terrace bar. Then, after he'd apparently got lost in a mental replay of his encounter with Arthur, "Oh my god, not like that. You look high. What is with you today?"

In an attempt to deflect, Merlin tilted his head towards the pitch. "How's he doing anyway?"

It was hard to tell the two batsmen apart with their helmets on, but once they started scurrying back and forth he fancied he recognised Arthur's arse. If he'd thought it looked good crouching, it looked even better in motion – doing its job, as it were. Or at least one of them. When it came to arses, Merlin was a big fan of multitasking.

"What? He who?"

Merlin refocused on Gwen. She was now staring at him like he'd been speaking in tongues.

"How are we doing, I mean. The, ah, you know…us. Ealdor. The local lads. What's the score again?"

Gwen continued to stare. She popped the cork on a fresh bottle, tipped it up and began pouring it down a line of waiting flutes. "Finished the first innings two-forty all out but Camelot's one-sixty for three and we can't seem to tie them down. Shock or stock, makes no difference. Haven't seen us get milked like this since the Southron tour passed through…and you have absolutely no idea what any of that means, do you?"

Merlin gave her what he liked to think was his most winning smile as he loaded the glasses onto his tray – mostly without spilling. "We're winning, but…also not?"

She snorted, but Merlin caught her budding smile. "Away with you, peasant! But I'm serious – if you need a break from the sun or something, swap with Gilli. You've smashed enough profits for one day."

"Gilli?" He returned the smile, genuinely this time. "Excellent idea! Will do. Cheers."

With that he hoisted his tray and fled towards the pavilion, looking neither right nor left, deftly ignoring the various members lolling out of their deck chairs, trying to signal him for more champagne.

Gilli mostly worked in the kitchen, but he also helped George serve in the club dining room, where players from both teams took their luncheon and celebrated, or not, at the end of the day. And, most significantly, at the tea interval – when some bizarre, unfathomable tradition dictated that opposing teams take refreshment in their respective changing rooms – Gilli was in charge of serving the visitors.

Merlin sang out Gilli's name as he entered the kitchen, and not even the sight of his quarry scraping plates could put a damper on his enthusiasm. "It's your lucky day."

"It is?"

Merlin nodded, ignoring George side-eyeing him from over by the sandwich press. Carefully, he set down the loaded tray and gestured for Gilli to hand over his spatula. "Gwen wants you on the terrace. Sun's come out, place is hopping with pissed Sloanie wannabes – you know how useless I am under those conditions. Go, charm their pearls off. Show 'em your magic tricks. I'll take over here."

Gilli didn’t need to be told twice. As soon as he was gone, Merlin snapped on a pair of gloves and began scraping plates at a furious pace. He heard George's disapproving sniff, felt the man's eyes boring into the back of his head. A peek at the wall clock told him he had another hour to go, at minimum.

Taking a deep breath – reminding himself that the course of true love never did run smooth, and that throughout history all the hottest hook-ups required some sort of sacrifice – he paused, looked over his shoulder and said, "I know it may not seem like it to you, but I have an enormous amount of respect for this club."

George regarded him sceptically. "You do?"

"Mmm. Ealdor Park – sacred ground, right? It's just, never had anyone to teach me the ins and outs growing up, and after I landed the job here… Well, too embarrassed to ask before, but…will you?"

George blinked. "Will I what?"

Wincing internally, Merlin said, "Explain cricket. All the…you know, the calls and strategies and stuff. Club traditions. And this so-called 'spirit of the game.' What's that about? If I'm to serve the opposition, I want to do it right."

George beamed at him. Actually fucking beamed.

Merlin turned back to his plate-scraping, fully intending to give listening a go, but within minutes he was lost in his worries and fantasies, wondering if he dared confess how much he had missed Arthur when he'd gone away, if the warmth and intensity of Arthur's attentions were simply adult Arthur being adult Arthur, or if they'd meant something more – something specific to Merlin himself.

"Fuck it," he whispered miserably, scraping at a crusted on bit of sauce, only belatedly realising that George was, at the very moment, expounding on the importance of appropriate demeanour, morals and language.

He was doomed. Fucking doomed. Language aside, Merlin was fairly certain that even contemplating chatting up a visiting player – shamelessly fantasising about wrecking his kit in order to get at his cock, and to worship his beautiful arse – was decidedly, as George would put it, "not cricket."

*** \o/ ***

Merlin knocked thrice on the changing room door – one slow, two quick – as instructed. He called out, "Gentlemen, the men of Ealdor wish to pay their compliments," also as instructed. If he added an eye roll while he did so, well, no one saw.

There were cheers from within, a rousing cry of, "Enter, Ealdor!"

Merlin rolled his eyes again as he turned the knob and wedged his hip against the door, thinking it would have been nice if tradition dictated, for bloody once, that someone open the door for the working man with his hands full. But no. So, with as much dignity as he could muster, Merlin pushed his way in arse-first, lugging the heavily laden tea trolley.

The Camelot players crowded around even as he was moving, grabbing at sandwiches and fruit, liberating the tea urn and platters of cakes. Merlin felt like a seal surrounded by a bunch of sharks, all muscles and gleaming teeth, reeking of Deep Heat and antiperspirant. He bashed his heel at the stubborn foot-brake, searching the seething throng of white-clad limbs for a glimpse of Arthur.

Just then someone cleared his throat, loud enough to be heard over the hubbub. "Better watch where you park that thing, Emrys."

Straightening, Merlin whirled round to find Arthur directly behind him, perched on the padded bench seat, his gaze sliding up from where Merlin's arse had been only a moment before. His face was flushed pink, his expression keen, amused…expectant. It sent Merlin reeling right back to the schoolyard and his time at Pendragon Manor, to the constant goading and banter, neither of them able to completely let the other be.

"I'd park it on your face for easier access," he said hotly, "but I wouldn't want to spoil your lovely figure."

Arthur brows shot up. "What?"

The chatter around them abruptly died, replaced by snorts and strangled-sounding laughter. It was at this point that Merlin noticed that Arthur's trousers were pulled down to his knees. That he was, in fact, at this very moment, engaged in unstrapping his thigh pads and – and this was what made Merlin's heart pound and mouth water, and his collar feel far too tight – that he was a traditional lad where it counted.

None of those new-fangled compression shorts with pockets for all the necessary for Arthur Pendragon; no sir, his box was tucked inside a good old-fashioned jockstrap, a glorious bulge of ribbed white cotton nestled between pale, sturdy – and now perfectly bare – thighs.

"I – " Merlin began, but had to stop to swallow. He groped behind him, grabbing the first thing that felt vaguely edible and passing it under his nose before holding it out. "Lovely pickle, I mean. And cheese. Best eat before it spoils, yeah?"

Arthur's eyes flicked towards the sandwich, then fixed back on Merlin, narrowing in a way that made his breath catch and his balls tighten, snagged on that delicious edge between fear and anticipation.

Arthur flung his pads aside and stood, pulling up his trousers. Amidst the catcalls of his teammates, he stepped into Merlin's personal space, grasping his outstretched wrist in one hand and his tie in the other.

"That's enough, boys," he said. His tone was all warmth and jovial charm, but his eyes remained fixed on Merlin's, glinting, dangerous. "Pipe down and carry on with your tea. I'm just going to have a chat with this one – " Here he edged Merlin away from the cart and began walking him backwards. " – about his manners."

It felt like some strange parody of ballroom dancing – the intense eye contact and relentless drive across the floor – except there was no music, nary a sequin or ruffle in sight, and Merlin still had half a cheese and pickle dangling from his right hand. He laughed, from sheer nerves as much as anything else.

"Arthur, what are – "

"Mind your step."

"What? Oh." Glancing down, Merlin adjusted his gait in time to avoid stumbling over a raised threshold. He realised by the tiles underfoot that Arthur had manoeuvred him into the shower room. "Arthur? Arth– ngh." Merlin exhaled heavily as his back met the wall.

Before he could blink, Arthur had his wrist pinned beside his head and was leaning in, solid and warm, one thigh wedged between Merlin's, heaving belly to hip, lips grazing his cheek, his ear.

"Forgot what a mouthy shit you could be."

Merlin shivered at the words as much as the feel of Arthur's breath on his skin. There was just something about well-enunciated filth that got him hard every time – hard enough now that Arthur must be able to feel it. He tensed, waiting for Arthur to pull away.

He didn't. If anything it felt like he leaned in, giving Merlin more of his weight.

"It's a pretty mouth, I'll grant you," Arthur went on, releasing Merlin's tie and sliding his hand up until his fingertips were just brushing Merlin's lower lip. "But so very rude. Positively filthy. I've half a mind to wash it out with soap."

"What, ah, happened to the 'spirit of the game'?" Merlin said, closing his eyes.

Arthur chuckled, and Merlin could feel the vibrations of it all down his front, a teasing hint of friction. The fingers slid higher, tracing Merlin's lips, pushing in at the seam.

"Seriously? Spirit of the game would have been, 'Apologies, didn’t see you there, Pendragon. Congratulations on your half-century. Fancy a pint at the end of the day?' Or perhaps offering a friendly smile, along with a spot of tea and cake."

He bit off the last word crisply, right in Merlin's ear, and pushed a finger into his mouth, past the loose cage of his teeth, stroking his tongue.

"Or even, if you were feeling especially bold, asked if I was in need of a rubdown or any special…nourishment. Glass of milk, perhaps. Protein shake."

Merlin couldn't help himself. He was practically drooling by now, and desperate for a distraction from the throbbing ache in his trousers. He curled his tongue around Arthur's finger and sucked, one hard pull at first to swallow the excess spit, then more gently, laving the calloused skin.

Arthur bucked against him, sucking in a harsh breath and releasing it with a, "Good god you little… That's it." He mashed his face against Merlin's ear, nuzzling him, briefly catching the lobe between his teeth. "We're well into street rules now, Emrys, which means I'm within my rights to…"

"Nng-hn," Merlin moaned, trying to signal his willingness to take whatever Arthur was offering without breaking his rhythm. He expected to be pushed to his knees, or maybe to have a hand shoved into Arthur's trousers, wrenching box and jock pouch aside. He could almost taste it on the tip of his tongue, feel the heft of it in his hand…

Fifteen. Fifteen they'd been when Merlin had last caught a glimpse of him changing in the Pendragon's pool house, Arthur in one of his stretch-limbed phases, frame temporarily outstripping his muscles. But still he'd had hair in all the places that mattered, a high, round bottom and a tidy bundle tucked between his legs, all pink and proportionate, looking like something that belonged in a painting.

And oh how bothered Merlin had been! Confusing jealousy and desire, mistaking who he wanted for what he wanted to be, always keeping Arthur at an arm's length because of it, never sharing that last, painful secret. Never admitting who he dreamt of when he woke with sticky sheets; never once saying, "I'll miss you" or "Keep in touch, please."

Merlin moaned again, sucking with more fervour to keep the memories at bay. No one, he told himself, liked an angsty hook-up.

It was with considerable shock, then, that Merlin registered Arthur's low, urgent, "What is it with you, hm? Never could leave well enough alone. Always pushing, always seeing me, seeing things in me that I... No, don't stop. Just let me… fuck."

Finger surging in Merlin's mouth, out and in, soon joined by one of its fellows. Thigh pressing in, rubbing up and down the length of his erection. A moment later, he felt a warm flutter of tongue on his wrist, a lingering kiss on his palm. Then Arthur was hungrily – quite literally – exploring the contours of his hand, nibbling at the corners of the sandwich, lapping crumbs from between his fingers, sucking grease off the base of his thumb, making the odd appreciative noise in the back of his throat.

It was so unexpected, so…tender, if a bit weird. Merlin couldn't help but smile around his mouthful. He captured Arthur's wrist with his free hand and eased the probing fingers out, just enough so he could speak.

"Keeping you from your tea, am I? Not that I'm not enjoying the lesso– ungh."

Merlin's head fell back against the wall as Arthur hitched his knee up, putting firm, sweet pressure just below Merlin's balls.

Then, suddenly, the leg was gone – as was Arthur's warm weight and the remainder of the sandwich, snatched from Merlin's hand. Arthur polished it off in three bites, chewing vigorously and swallowing while Merlin blinked at him and tried to avoid doing an impression of a codfish.

"Hm. Pickle's not as good as your mum's," Arthur said. "But no worries. I fully intend to take my refreshment before the interval's over." He licked his fingertips one by one, ending with a perfectly obscene pull on his thumb as his eyes raked down Merlin's body.

Before Merlin could sort out whether he was being toyed with or jilted outright, Arthur jammed his un-licked hand down the front of his own trousers. "Here, hang onto this for me," he said, fumbling something into Merlin's hands as he sank to his knees and reached for Merlin's belt buckle. "And watch the hair. No pulling, yeah?"

"No…right. Of course. Oh, shit, Arthur I – "

Merlin gasped as his cock was bared, pulled free of pants and trousers in one deft move. Then there was nothing more to say, not a single useful word left in the world because Merlin was holding Arthur's box, watching Arthur's mouth close over the head of his cock, feeling Arthur suck

Merlin didn’t believe in "best" blowjobs. As far as he was concerned, they were all bloody "best" while they were happening. For Arthur, however, he decided he might have to make an exception. There was nothing novel about his technique, really, no deep-throating or tricky swirls of his tongue, but the sounds he made, the way he went at it all in, expression smoothed out into something truly divine – there was no faking that kind of bliss. Clearly, he loved this.

And fuck if watching Arthur doing something he loved wasn't the hottest thing ever, better than porn or any hormone-fuelled fantasy, which meant Merlin might actually have to start paying attention to the cricket from now on, as it was clear he loved that, too, and oh… fuck.

Now he was doing some sort of tricksy, fluttery, skin-flicking thing with his tongue. And massaging Merlin's balls. And squeezing himself through his trousers.

Merlin clapped the pear-shaped cup over his nose and mouth, breathing in the ripe funk of Arthur's sweat and musk, biting down hard on the edge as he began to come.

*** \o/ ***

Merlin wasn't honestly certain he'd survive the rest of the afternoon. Sure, there was leftover cake to be eaten on the back stairs in a post-coital daze, then fresh kegs that needed fetching up from the cellar. Endless loading and unloading of the glass washer, wiping down the kitchen surfaces, rubbish hauling, and slicing fruit for the bar.

Yet it wasn't enough to keep his mind off what had occurred in the changing room showers, and the fact that George, with the zealotry of those who think they've found a willing convert – or at least a captive audience – insisted on conducting a running monologue on the tactical brilliance of Camelot's current skipper didn't help one bit.

Because of course, even in a charity match, Arthur Pendragon would somehow wind up as captain, and of course he'd be brilliant at it, and of bloody course there wasn't a nook or cranny of Ealdor Park that didn't have some sort of screen so members could follow the play and staff could anticipate when the next phase of service would be required.

"Forgive me mate, but aren't you supporting Ealdor?" Merlin finally said after a – to be perfectly frank – vaguely pornographic outburst about slip cordons and sliding stops.

"Of course!" George sniffed, pausing in his urn-buffing to glare over at Merlin.

"Then why all the fuss over…?" Merlin gestured towards the kitchen telly. And damn fate's eyes if it wasn't showing, at that very moment, a close up of Arthur at full stretch, arse bouncing as he hit the grass, rolled over and came up with the ball.

"Because they… because he – " George crumpled the cloth he'd been using to polish the tea urns in one fist and clutched it to his breast. " – is besting us so marvellously."

Merlin bit his tongue, shook his head and went back to his lemon slicing. But as George babbled on, he couldn't help risking his fingertips for the occasional peek. Not because of anything George had said, and not that Arthur had miraculously cock-sucked this so-called spirit of the game into him. But. Merlin was prepared to admit that perhaps those Pimm's-swilling groupies had the right idea.

There was something quirkily appealing about a handsome man striding about in cricket whites, the so-very-proper Englishness of it belied by the popped collar and damp pits, the odd grass or ball stain leading to thoughts of how else he might be marked – rumpled, used; the loose fit in contrast to most other sports uniforms these days, only giving up the details of the body below when in action. Squatting. Running. Leaping or diving for a catch.

And Arthur in action was more than handsome, more than a striking profile and virile form. He was, in one word – no, two – fucking dazzling. A fascinating blend of grace and power, of new-yet-not and new-yet-known. Not as biblically as Merlin would have liked – Arthur, citing some idiotic Camelot superstition, hadn't let him reciprocate – but he already felt as if Arthur's scent was seared into his brain; his touch branded onto Merlin's skin.

He caught a close-up of Arthur grinning and clapping a teammate on the back and remembered the feel of that mouth on his cock; saw him casually adjusting himself in the field and – mouth watering, cheeks burning – recalled the heady scent of his box. All more than enough to distract a bloke from slicing lemons, but it was Arthur's parting words, and the memory of that fucking kiss, that were truly driving him mad.

So soft – too soft – for what they'd been doing, nor where they'd been doing it. No urgency or brute force, no teeth clacking or tongue trying to choke him on the taste of his own come. Arthur's kiss had been breathless, yes, but demure. A single firm, sweet-sour press of lips, then he'd buried his face against Merlin's neck, catching his breath, nuzzling him there.

"Always thought it a shame," he'd murmured, "that by the time I finally worked out what all those looks meant, all those fights – and what I really wanted to do about it – you were half a world away."

And what had Merlin done, apart from mentally throw a fucking Viking funeral for every unworthy crush and disappointing hook-up between Arthur and today? Why, he'd only clung to Arthur like he might suddenly vanish – stroked his neck and kneaded his shoulders; run palms down that beautiful expanse of back and arse – and whispered, "Better make up for lost time, then, Pendragon. After the match, we can…really want you to fuck me, alright? Or I can do you, whatever you like, just say you'll meet – "

Arthur had cut him off with a low chuckle, another chaste kiss. "Filthy-mouthed and difficult," he'd said. "But alright then, Emrys, your grounds, your rules. After the match it is. Until then."

He'd bent to retrieve his box from where Merlin had dropped it, then backed out of the shower room, flushed, hot-eyed, and half-smiling, leaving Merlin hyperventilating against the tiles.

*** \o/ ***

As the daylight waned, Merlin's agony eased somewhat in the face of mounting expectation. There were also practical preparations to consider. The relative privacy of the equipment shed or the relative comfort of the old sofa down in the cellar? Was the food-grade lubricant they used on the kitchen equipment condom compatible? And speaking of condoms…

Using the promise of future shift coverage and neck rubs, he bribed Gwen for the necessary – grateful, if scandalised, to learn that the ladies' loo in the members' bar was stocked with a variety of exotic condoms, since the gents' had none.

"But that's…" Merlin protested, goggling at the colourful pile of packets Gwen had dumped into his waiting hands. "Isn't that sexist?"

"Cricket," she replied, shrugging. Then, with a blush and a rather telling glance at their new sommelier, she said, "And for heaven's sake put those away before someone sees and thinks we're…you know."

"Le shagging?" Merlin waggled his eyebrows.

"Not taking our jobs seriously," she mouthed, pulling her schoolmarm face.

"Heaven forfend!" Merlin muttered, shoving the condoms into his apron pocket and pulling out the note he'd prepared for Arthur. He did take his job seriously; he took all his jobs seriously, insofar as they were what paid the bills, allowing him to do fun things like not starve and have a roof over his head, as well as help look after those he loved.

"Speaking of which, is there anything in our employee code of conduct about fraternizing with… No, no, never mind. You didn't hear me say that." Merlin began to edge away as Gwen's brows rose, then remembered the note. Blushing, he held it out, urging her to take it. "Also, would you mind – and this is totally unrelated – passing this to Camelot's skipper when they come back in? Cheers."

"You mean to…to Arthur Pendragon?" Gwen's brows rose even higher. "Merlin, what – "

"I've no idea!" Merlin blurted. Then, thinking quickly, he added, "Think he has a message waiting from…um, one of the charity execs. Probably wants photos or something. With the kids. Just make sure he gets it before he changes out of his kit."

With that Merlin fled, not wanting to find out whether or not it was possible for Gwen's eyebrows to pop right off her face.

As a concession to professionalism, however, he waited until his shift was up and changed out of his waiter get-up into his street clothes – jeans and a slim fit hoodie – before staking out the back stairs.

*** \o/ ***

Merlin's palms were sweaty, his mouth on Altoids fire and yes, he did know he was supposed to slowly suck the little devils rather than chew them but he had to do something while waiting. He figured it was better than picking at his cuticles or the rip in his jeans, plus it limbered up the jaw. Just in case he finally got to reciprocate. Not that Arthur would necessarily enjoy peppermint mouth on his dick, but they could wear the sting out of it with kissing before –

There was a rap on the landing door.

Merlin sprang up from the step he'd been sitting on, nearly tripping in his eagerness. He wiped his palms on his jeans and arranged himself against the opposite wall in what he hoped was a casual, sexy lean.

When the door didn’t immediately open, Merlin had a moment of panic. He straightened, squinting at the head-and-hand shadow trying to peer through the rippled glass. It looked sufficiently Arthurish, so why…

Then it occurred to him. The door was marked "PRIVATE! STAFF ONLY," which normally stopped exactly no one from popping a head in, but Arthur – Arthur who'd insisted that socks were sided and that you could win at snow-angel making; Arthur who'd been raised in a house with more rules than the bloody palace – was just the sort to pay it mind.

Merlin grinned down at his shoes. "Come through," he said. It came out far more bemused than the cool, confident tone he'd been going for.

The knob turned; the door was pushed open. "Hello?" Arthur said, poking his head in, "I'm looking for – Merlin!"

Merlin's heart did a little flip at the way Arthur's expression brightened, that perfect mouth easing into a broad grin. "Right in one," he said, stepping forward to grasp Arthur's collar. "Now get your arse in here before someone sees you breaking the rules, Captain Courageous."

Arthur shook his head, eyes widening as he allowed himself to be hauled onto the landing proper. "You shouldn't… That's not… Oh hell."

This kiss was neither gentle nor chaste; Merlin wouldn’t allow it. Whenever Arthur tried to pause – for activities Merlin deemed wholly unnecessary in the moment, like speaking and breathing – Merlin surged forward, plying him with a fresh, eager press of lips, then parting them, offering the whole of his mouth. He released Arthur's collar in favour of clutching his head, stroking all that soft, sweat-damp hair and sun-warmed skin, delighting in the hard planes of his jaw and rough end-of-day stubble.

Just when Arthur finally started to go with it – fully claiming his mouth, gathering a fistful of hoodie and using it plus the weight of his body to drive Merlin back against the wall – he wrenched his head from Merlin's grasp and reared back, eyes roving over his face.

"Lovely surprise, this, but I'm meant to be meeting one of the sponsors."

"No you're not." Merlin shook his head for emphasis and tried grabbing Arthur's collar again, but Arthur caught his wrists.

"Yes, I am. I was specifically summoned – "

"By me," Merlin cut in, struggling just enough to see if Arthur would firm his grip – which he did, which did lovely, quivery things to Merlin's insides. He breathed deep and lowered his gaze, noticing the fresh grass stains on the now-rumpled white shirt, the sharp jut of Adam's apple, the vee of tanned skin where his collar gaped open. Only the third and final button was fastened; there were a few bold chest hairs poking up above it, surging with Arthur's every breath. Merlin focussed on them for courage as he continued.

"I sent that note. Wanted you in your kit, didn't I? Want you to…to do me while you're all triumphant and sweaty. Nice hard victory fuck, endorphins and all that."

"Now?"

Merlin glanced up to find Arthur quirking a brow, looking adorably confused. "We said after…?"

"We did indeed. But that's – "

"Well c'mon then." Impatience won out over nerves as Merlin jerked his head towards the stairs. "Quit gawping and looking like a bloody model for English manhood and follow me. Cellar's just down here. Plenty of barrels to bend me over."

Arthur stared at Merlin in disbelief, which seemed a bit rich from someone who'd been perfectly willing to give head in the showers earlier with his entire team a mere stone's throw away.

But just so he wouldn't get the wrong idea, Merlin added, "Look, I don’t normally do this, wouldn't… I mean, you're not just another notch in my wicket, or whatever it is cricket groupies call it, and I'd love to have you back to mine, but it's quite a ways away and I know you've got a bus to catch. I was only kidding about the barrels. Well, mostly kidding, but there's also a perfectly nice sofa, if you'd – "

"Whoa, slow down, mate." Arthur had relaxed his grip on Merlin's wrists as he babbled, but hadn't let go. Now he gave him a gentle shake. "What's all this about a bus?"

"The team coach. Back to Camelot?"

Arthur studied him a moment longer, the queer expression on his face shifting, giving way to a bemused grin. He began to chuckle. "Oh, that's… You thought… You don't follow cricket at all, do you?"

Merlin wanted to protest that he'd spent the entire afternoon listening to George, which had certainly felt like a lifetime's education, but Arthur suddenly dropped his hands to Merlin's hips, spun him round and, still chuckling, urged him towards the stairs. "Alright then, Emrys. I'm game. Let's see this sofa of yours."

"What's so bloody funny?" Merlin said as he bounded down the steps.

"Tell you later," Arthur murmured, crowding close behind him once they'd reached the bottom. He slid his hands up to Merlin's shoulders and gave a squeeze. "You mean it, what you said about wanting that hard, sweaty fuck?"

"Ooh, yes." Merlin shivered as he felt Arthur's lips graze his ear.

"Yes what, Emrys? Kindly demonstrate you've found some manners since I saw you last or I'm going to bend you over those casks and…and suck your hole until you're begging, then make you wait for my cock just like that, with your arse in the air, while I go take a shower."

Merlin nearly choked on his next breath, cheeks on fire as much from the words themselves as the fact that it was Arthur saying them. Who would've thought... But it made a sick, perfect sense, didn't it? That even after all these years, Arthur would be able to see right through him, would know just how to drive him wild.

Merlin exhaled, arching his spine so his arse pressed back against Arthur's groin. He fancied he could feel something firming up, not fuck-hard yet, but there enough to grind against and make his muscles clench with want.

"No," Merlin said. "I mean, no shower, so… Yes, please. Please, Arthur, yes, I want…"

Arthur shushed him then, murmuring, "That's better," as they moved in tandem down the aisle between assorted barrels, stacked kegs, crates and racks of wine.

At the far end of the cellar was the nook that served as the unofficial staff break room, featuring a faded maroon sofa and handful of old lawn chairs clustered around a couple of upturned barrels. Arthur steered Merlin towards one end of the sofa, spun him round for a snog – during which he made quick work of Merlin's button and zip – then manhandled him back around, starting to push his jeans down, along with his pants.

Merlin gasped as the cool air hit his bare skin. He scrabbled for his pockets. "Condoms," he explained over his shoulder when Arthur tried to knock his hands away.

"Very nice, but…" Arthur stilled Merlin's hands and nudged his ankles farther apart with a foot. He stepped on the backs of Merlin's shoes so he could slip them off. Then Merlin felt a sharp, sudden tug on his jeans and realised Arthur was trying a similar tactic there, lifting his knee and jamming the toe of his trainer into the seat and crotch of Merlin's pants, trying to work them down and off. Which was really rude and fucking hot and –

"…still going to eat you out first, so long as you've no objection?" Arthur was saying, rubbing his face along the back of Merlin's neck. He was breathing hard now, hot and open-mouthed, and Merlin could feel the pounding of his heart. Could smell the day wafting off him in the dank air – the funk of grass, clay and ripe sweat trapped in cotton and polyblend giving way to fresh sweat and the heady musk of arousal.

"None," Merlin groaned, hastening to help with the debagging process. Once he'd stepped out of his crumpled jeans and pants, he let himself be half nuzzled, half pushed down, bent over the end of the sofa until he could brace his upper body against the cushions, arranged so his cock dangled over the armrest. "Nil. Not a fucking one."

Cardiff. Boston. Oakland. Some places starting with "M." Idly Merlin wondered in which of these cities Arthur had learned to eat arse like it was some trendy delicacy about to disappear off the menu.

He wondered if he felt jealous, decided – with arsecheeks spread wide by calloused hands and Arthur lapping at the rim of his hole – that he didn’t much care. That there weren't really grounds for jealousy over past training methods when the end result was Merlin in hot-faced ecstasy, drooling open-mouthed onto his own forearm and making thoroughly undignified noises.

He wondered if Arthur remembered that time he'd twisted Merlin's arm behind his back, all the times he'd wrestled Merlin down and sat on him until he gave up the location of the flag, the ball, his mum's biscuit tin.

"Do you yield? Do you?"

That's what Arthur had said back then. And sometimes Merlin had, but mostly he hadn't, and oh but if yielding now wasn't the absolute fucking best version of "karma's a bitch" that Merlin could have ever imagined.

So when Arthur smacked his thigh and rasped, "Keep still," he kept still – save for the involuntary jerks whenever Arthur spat on his hole or slipped a questing fingertip inside – and was rewarded with more lovely tongue, more spit, more thick fingers working him open and hot words murmured into his over-sensitised flesh.

He didn't need to understand them, couldn't, half the time, muffled as they were; it was enough that it was Arthur saying them and saying them there, pressing them into his most secret skin like a brand.

"Please," he begged when he couldn’t take it anymore. But Arthur kept on stretching him, eating him out, tonguing him full of spit until it was running down his taint and the backs of his balls.

Merlin lost track of time, had no idea if it had been five minutes or fifteen before he finally heard the soft crinkle of a condom packet, then warm hands on his lower back. They pressed down, massaging the tense muscles there as something thick slid between his cheeks.

"You comfortable?"

Merlin lifted his head, wiping his mouth on the back of his wrist before nodding and reaching back. Arthur caught his fumbling hand between his own, gave his palm a brisk rub before letting go.

"Stretch them up some," he said. "Yes, like that. Grab the edge of the cushion. Now – " He gripped Merlin's hip and started pressing his cockhead in, guiding it with his other hand, the girth of his fist mashed between Merlin's cheeks making it feel like something impossibly huge was waiting to breach him.

When Merlin clenched, Arthur paused, stroking his hip with his thumb. When he relaxed, remembering how to breathe, Arthur pushed the rest of the way inside, inch by slow inch, until there were no more inches left and they were locked tightly together, bum to balls.

Arthur hummed. He gave an experimental hip-wriggle that had Merlin panting and arching his back for more.

"Now," Arthur repeated, drawing back and thrusting in again, achingly slow, "I think it's the perfect time for…hm…for…damn, you're still so tight. Do you need more – "

"No," Merlin blurted. "No, please, just…ohgodArthurpleasefuckme. Hard. Fuck me hard. Want to feel – " He bit his lip to keep from saying the rest, that he wanted to feel Arthur all the way home and into tomorrow, that he wouldn't mind the inevitable ache and a few fingerprint bruises if it meant having a solid reminder that this was real.

Arthur clucked his tongue. Slid partway out. "Very well. But first…show me the signal for a boundary six."

"What?!" Merlin did his best to glare over his shoulder, but despite being named after a bird, his neck really wasn't built that way. Plus Arthur chose that moment to thrust back in with a satisfying, hip-juddering wet smack that felt like heaven on Merlin's prostate. He moaned.

"A six, Emrys. Go on, get those hands up."

"I'm not going to umpire your fuck– ungh."

"No?" Smack. "Then how will I know how I'm doing? Or when you're ready to come? Without rules – " Smack. " – and someone to keep order, the whole game breaks down. I could just keep doing this – " Smack. " – all night."

"Please," Merlin panted. "Be my guest."

But his prostate and prick were not so stubborn as his pride. All too soon, he felt his climax building, everything between his belly and balls gone taut and shivery, his mind half outside itself, a leering, sweaty-palmed voyeur egging on his own release. He closed his eyes and, grinning, released the cushion and stretched his arms up parallel over his head, flinging his hands in the air.

"There he is," Arthur crowed. "What a – " Smack. " – beauty. Well fucking done." He reached round to give Merlin's cock a tender squeeze, then adjusted his stance and picked up the pace, the fierce movement of his hips sending Merlin's cockhead skidding in and out of the damp heat of his palm.

Any one of these things – the blinding pressure on his prostate; the too-much-but-not-enough friction on his glans; the combination of discipline and sweet, silly praise – would have been more than enough to get Merlin off. Combined, they wrecked him, body and mind. He bit down on the cracked leather sofa cushion and came, so sharp and sudden he could hardly breathe, spilling into Arthur's hand.

He felt Arthur pull out – still hard – then heard him swear as he shucked off the condom. Everything went fuzzy and grey round the edges, and for a moment terribly cold. Then Arthur hauled him up and shuffled him round, pulling him down beside him on the sofa, snugging him close and warm along his side as he began fisting his own cock.

Merlin blinked at the sight as he came back to himself. It was everything he'd imagined. Bigger now, of course, but still perfectly sized to Arthur's frame, pink and stout. Still boyishly rude, poking out from beneath the hem of his shirt, shoved off-centre by the wad of his jockstrap pouch, which he'd simply yanked aside.

Merlin reached for it, realising even as he licked his lips that it was also very wet – wet with his own come because Arthur had been jacking off using Merlin's spunk for lube.

It gave him pause, but the shock was more of pleasure than disgust. It satisfied some childish, primal instinct - gross boys being gross, as Arthur's older sister used to say. Gross boys now become grown men who wanted to own some part of one another, who – thank god – couldn’t stop reaching out with grubby hands. And mouths.

"Arthur," Merlin said, the name as thick on his tongue as the musk he chased along the curve of an exposed thigh. It was strongest in the flattened mat of curls framing the base of Arthur's cock. He took a healthy whiff there, trying to tease out their different scents.

Arthur acknowledged him with a grunt and a shoulder squeeze, but kept tugging himself at a frantic pace. Merlin looked up, waiting until Arthur opened his eyes to deliberately raise a hand and wrap it around Arthur's.

"Ah!" Arthur gasped, eyes widening as Merlin added a bit of twisting pressure and adjusted the angle – just enough so he could help, aiming the tip towards his open mouth, letting it bump against his tongue. Sloppy and loose at first, then harder, sucking when Arthur let him have a bit more until he was coming in thick pulses on Merlin's tongue and lips, wholly overpowering Merlin's scent with his own.

In his head, choirs sang. Wee angels wept. Time slowed to the pace of a single drop of come, beaded at the corner of his mouth, breaking free and sliding down his chin.

*** \o/ ***

They dressed in silence, Merlin sated but already feeling a tad foolish, loneliness and regrets looming at the back of his mind like shadows. Arthur seemed content, though. Smug, even, with the way he hunted down a bottle of Moët and bashed the neck clean off after rearranging his jock and pulling up his trousers. He let it spray and pulse over the ground, then tipped it up over his mouth, gargling and spitting before guzzling a few mouthfuls and offering it to Merlin.

"Oh, don’t give me that face, gorgeous. You know I'm good for it."

"It's not… I know," Merlin mumbled, thrown by the casual endearment.

"What then?" Arthur didn't remove his hand after Merlin had accepted the bottle, crowding in to help pour him a mouthful without touching the broken glass to his lips.

Merlin closed his eyes as he swallowed the cool crisp fizz. Yes, he'd got what he'd wanted and more, but he wasn't at all sure that he could keep up this level of casual for much longer if Arthur was going to go all white knight on him.

"Nothing. Just. Don't really fancy it, is all. Champagne."

"No? And what do you fancy, Merlin?" Arthur's voice was warm and very near.

"Cider," Merlin said, his voice cracking. "Nice flat, lukewarm pint of Dragonbow."

Arthur chuckled. "That's revolting."

Merlin cleared his throat, dared a peek to find Arthur gazing at him with such open, almost arrogant, fondness he quite forgot how to breathe.

"Nevertheless," he managed after a beat, releasing the bottle and taking a step back.

Arthur shrugged. "Well, in that case…" He tossed back another swallow of champagne and plonked the bottle down on one of the upended barrels, then held out his arm, crooking it at the elbow.

"May I buy you a revolting pint of lukewarm swill that I wouldn't dare foist on my worst enemy? Not here, of course, as I can hardly be seen buying drinks for the staff, but I happen to know of a charming inn in the village, run, so I hear, by a very charming woman. My former housekeeper, in fact…though I believe you call her 'Mum'?"

Merlin goggled at him, said, "But… How did you? I thought…" He closed his mouth, shook his head, then tried again. Just because Arthur had got chatting to Gwen or done a bit of research on his phone since they'd run into one another was no reason to lose his head. "Don't you have to get back?"

"Ah, yes. Time to further your education." With this non-sequitur, Arthur stepped forward, eyes sparkling. Merlin edged back. Arthur made up the distance, lunging for Merlin's hand, tucking it over his arm and peering earnestly into his face. "This tournament, as I assumed you knew, is being played by first-class rules, which – also assuming here, given you work at Test class cricket grounds – doesn’t mean limited overs."

"Oh," Merlin said, trying the old nod and smile. "Okay."

Arthur saw right through him. "Two innings apiece, you great ninny, played over three or more days."

"Three?" Merlin swallowed. "Hold on. Wait. So…"

"So," Arthur said, leaning in until their foreheads were touching, "technically, the match isn’t over yet – hence my surprise to find you waiting for me – and you're stuck with me for another two days…at the very least."

"Isn't over," Merlin repeated faintly. He felt six shades of idiot, probably more.

"No," Arthur affirmed, smiling. "Isn't."

"Stuck with you…"

"Yes. Very much so, if I've got anything to say about it." Arthur surged in, giving Merlin a solid, champagne-soaked kiss. "But perhaps we might go for that drink now? You know, an actual date, just to confirm we're not jumping into anything based solely on filthy hot sex and childhood stalking." He pulled back, smirking, and tugged Merlin towards the stairs.

"What?! I never…"

"Come on, Merlin. To paraphrase – quit gawping and looking like a bloody model for the village idiot and follow me. You can have the valet bring my car round while I have a shower and say goodnight to the boys."

"Your car?"

"Custom Boxster in Pendragon red." Arthur looked over, raising an eyebrow. "What, you didn't actually think we all arrived on a bus, did you? That… Well, it simply wouldn't be cricket."

Merlin rolled his eyes, but let himself be led to the stairs. This time, though, he made certain Arthur went in front. For reasons.

*** \o/ ***