Someone is giggling, Arthur thought blearily as his brain struggled out of the fog of sleep. Multiple someones actually. What the fuck.
“Fuck, too loud, shut up and go away,” a muffled voice next to him hissed.
Arthur’s next thought was: I’m naked and this isn’t my bed.
Scratch that, he was horrified to realise as he cracked his eyes open, he was naked and in Merlin Emrys’ bed and Merlin’s very, very naked leg was thrown over his thigh underneath the duvet. And there were— faeries? Were those tiny glimmering bloody faeries flying around their heads, giggling at them?
Shitting buggering fuck.
“I’m hallucinating,” Arthur said slowly. “Someone tainted the barrels of cider the Druids were serving last night with some hallucinogen and this is all a giant trip.”
Merlin shot up in bed next to him at the sound of his voice and yelped, gaping at Arthur in shock. “Holy fuck.”
“Quite.” Arthur stared back and endless seconds ticked by while neither of them moved or seemed to know what to do. The duvet had fallen down into Merlin’s lap when he sat up and Arthur blinked at the dark trail of hair there that led down below his naval and shivered as he remembered kissing down just that trail the night before, giddy and high after that wild, mad festival, utterly unlike anything he’d ever seen. Christ.
The faeries giggled again, little tinkling peels of laughter from where they floated above their heads, and both of them turned to stare at them instead.
“May your soul bond be strong and fruitful and may you enjoy the rest of your days together,” one of them intoned and then with another flourish, a bow and a giggle, they all vanished.
Merlin paled out of the corner of his eye. Arthur stared at the ceiling for a few heavy seconds before speaking. “Soul bond?” he asked, enunciating both words with feeling.
“Erm, yes, exactly what it sounds like actually,” Merlin said nervously. “They, uh, took our souls and bonded them together. It’s a legal form of marriage, in fact.” He laughed then, hiccuped a bit, and it had more than a slightly hysterical edge to it.
Arthur breathed in and out very slowly. "Well undo it," he gritted out through his teeth.
"Undo it?” Merlin squawked, arms flailing. “Soul bonds are the most sacred bonds in the world, it's not like getting a divorce! They can only be performed by the Fae on Samhain. They literally threaded our spirits together; there's no fucking undo button that can reverse that."
"What?! I don't even have magic! This is ludicrous,” Arthur shouted, finally turning to face Merlin, and then felt all the blood drain out of his face. "My dad is going to have kittens. Litters and litters of them, and then die from a rage-induced heart attack and haunt me for the rest of eternity."
"My mum always told me not to go to Druid festivals," Merlin moaned into his hands. “I’m too susceptible to wild magic.”
Arthur groaned, "I can't believe I let my sister talk me into going. It'll be a laugh, she said. Just a bit of magic, she said. You scared Daddy will find out, she said. And now there are fucking faeries appearing out of nowhere and I'm soulbonded to the idiot in my political theory lecture, who is also the worst barista Caffè Nero has ever had the misfortune of employing. This is not a bit of magic."
"I'm the idiot? You're the bloody over-privileged wanker who constantly talks out of his ignorant toff arse. I'm only doing everyone else a favour by pointing out the inadequacies in your perspective."
"INADEQUACIES,” Arthur bellowed, and that was just— No, fuck no, that was the final straw, he thought as he growled low in his throat and pounced on Merlin, wrestling him down to the bed. “I’ll show you inadequate.”
As he shoved Merlin’s squirming body into the bed — bloody hell, Merlin was a slippery fucker — Arthur had the belated realisation that he had probably not properly thought this through. Had he mentioned the naked?
Utterly, completely bare-arsed naked — and his cock definitely hadn’t forgotten that fact. And he could feel the exact second Merlin realised his cock hadn’t forgotten either; they both froze, eyes locked.
Merlin did have very pretty blue eyes, and a dark fan of lashes against his pale skin. Arthur swallowed, felt Merlin shift underneath him, could feel the way the friction sparked up Merlin’s prick where it was rubbing against Arthur’s belly. Shit.
“Oh fuck,” Merlin gasped, back arched.
“That’s— I can feel—” Arthur grunted and then fisted his hands in Merlin’s hair and leant down to kiss him, every sensation doubling back on itself as it reverberated through both their bodies where they were grinding against each other.
Merlin moaned out against his lips, “I know.”
He could feel each flare of Merlin’s arousal throbbing in his own cock as he manhandled Merlin into position, knew exactly how much Merlin loved it when he hooked his palms under Merlin’s knees and pushed them back into Merlin’s chest. Merlin’s shiver when Arthur’s cock rubbed against his own and then slipped back and further down, where he was still slick with lube and come, went up Arthur’s spine.
“Fuck,” Arthur panted and rutted forward helplessly, had to close his eyes. “Condoms— We didn’t— Condoms, fuck, we should…”
If possible, Merlin spread his legs even wider and wriggled back against Arthur and they both groaned. “Magical…” Merlin huffed and bit his lip on a whine. “Magical protection. No need. Just fuck me already.”
And Arthur really couldn’t argue with that, every cell in his body screaming at him to get the fuck in there already, so he did, pulled back and nearly shuddered out of his own skin as his cock caught on Merlin’s rim, felt the way Merlin opened around him, soft and slick, how full Merlin was as he pushed in, the sharp keen that shot through Merlin’s body as their sensations became jumbled up inside each other.
It was too much, could never last, not like this, and they both came on a scream, orgasm ricocheting through them at the same time.
Arthur rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, catching his breath, and admired the way every muscle in his body had loosened into a blissful sprawl.
"This doesn't prove anything,” Arthur said at last, mostly to himself if he were honest, and shoved himself out of bed and started putting on his clothes.
Merlin snorted and muttered, "Other than that you're the one who wants to shag the so-called idiot?"
"And what did you call me? The over-privileged wanker? I didn’t exactly see you complaining about the shagging."
Merlin smiled at him from the bed with fake sweetness. "Don't worry, dear, I'm only interested in your arse and that pretty hair of yours. Your ignorant brain — and what comes out of it — is best ignored."
Arthur glared as he stuffed his shoes on his feet and tried to hustle out of there as quickly as possible. “You are going to find a way to fix this, Merlin,” he hissed and made his escape, absolutely not running away with his tail between his legs.
(Morgana cackled when Arthur told her over tea later that day, rather too much like the Mad Hatter with her giant hat and mismatched tea set for Arthur’s comfort. What on earth did the Druids put in their bloody drinks that made everyone go absolutely mental was what Arthur wanted to know. He glanced at his tea cup suspiciously.
“Merlin? Merlin Emrys? Tall, lanky, with dark hair and glasses? That Merlin?” she asked with a glint in her eye.
“Yes, that Merlin,” he snapped.
“Well, he is exactly your type, I really shouldn’t be surprised,” Morgana said primly as she poured out a second cup, but Arthur knew better: Morgana was still shaking with glee on the inside at Arthur’s misfortune, he just knew it.
Arthur scowled. “He’s an idiot who can’t even make a cup of tea without fucking it up, and don’t get me started on his ridiculous political theories that are forced upon my ears without my consent during our lectures.”
Morgana threw her head back and laughed even harder than before. “Ooooh, you have such a crush, Arthur, I’ve never seen you this bad. I can’t wait to pry all the dirty details from Merlin about all of this.” She clapped her hands together in excitement. Fucking witch. And she was a witch, too, incidentally, which was how he ended up in this whole sodding mess in the first place.
“This isn’t funny, Morgana,” Arthur hissed. “I woke up soulbonded, or is there something about that you don’t understand? Dad is going to skin me alive and eat my bones for breakfast, not to mention I don’t want to be soulbonded! To anyone! How is this even fucking possible?”
Morgana stopped laughing and looked at him thoughtfully, although he could still see the hints of mirth in the creases around her eyes. “Do you have any idea who Merlin is? Any at all?”
Arthur shrugged. “He’s a uni student, works at Caffè Nero, has some magic and is involved in a bunch of magical rights activist groups. What else is there to know?”
Morgana leant forward. “Some magic? Christ, Arthur, I know you can be thick sometimes, but this really takes the cake. Merlin’s father was the fucking Faerie King! Merlin is only half-human. And he’s the only half-blooded Fae currently alive and is probably the most powerful magic user in Britain, if not the world. The Fae can only come into the human world a few nights a year and they almost never sire children with humans. Especially their king.”
Arthur went very still and opened and closed his mouth a number of times. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
“Jesus fucking Christ indeed,” Morgana said, nodding. “Soul bonds can’t even be performed on almost anyone, you know. Only people with very deep magic, and it has to be performed by the Fae themselves. It’s an honour, really. And they never do it unless the souls are truly compatible.” Morgana peered at him more closely, scrutinising. “You must have more latent magic than I’d realised, for them to have something to bind you with.”
Arthur banged his head on the table and growled out, “How the fuck did this happen to me?”
"What, Daddy never told you not to sleep with a Fae at Samhain?" Morgana smirked.
"Daddy never told me shit about magic — and how the bleeding fuck was I supposed to know he was fae anyway?!")
Merlin ignored the tiny ache in his chest that told him Arthur was having a shite day and plastered a smile on his face. Arthur had been having a lot of shite days recently, Merlin had noticed. He had too for that matter.
Nothing like bonding your soul to a practical stranger during what should have been a one-night stand to do that he supposed. And he wasn't thinking about the sex again. He wasn't. No matter how mind-blowingly good it had been, or how well Arthur knew how to use his body. Arthur was an arse of the highest order and it was absolutely never going to happen again, so no point daydreaming about it. (Or his arse, for fuck's sake.)
He still cringed when he thought about the way his mum had shrieked over the phone when he'd told her. He just had to… put it all behind him until Gaius figured something out — or he could go all the way to Faerie himself at midwinter and beg.
"And here's your medium latte," he said with false cheer to an impatient middle-aged woman who merely huffed and snatched the drink out of his hand. Sometimes he really wanted to yell at people that he was Fae royalty, damn it. Bastard royalty, but still.
He was his mother's child at the end of the day though, and he'd long since come to prefer it that way, if he were honest. He'd met a few of his cousins once — he shuddered at the memory.
Faerie wasn’t a place for halflings, so the human world it was, in all its human glory and problems — like work, he grumbled to himself morosely as he made change for the next customer. He couldn’t wait until he graduated from uni and became a certified practitioner. Son of the Faerie King or not, everyone had to pass their examinations first before they were allowed to practice magic for work.
It was all bollocks if Merlin were asked. Not that anyone was going to ask the bloke at the espresso machine.
One mocha, two americanos, and an espresso macchiato later and Merlin got a sharp pain in his chest and rubbed at it in concern, which was when Arthur Pendragon strode through the door, of course, jaw set and looking strangely ruffled, his hair in disarray. Then he saw Morgana and Leon through the window over Arthur’s shoulder and Morgana waved merrily at him with a cat-that-got-the-cream smile and gave him a thumbs up.
Morgana really needed to socialise with people other than the witches in the pharmacology department; she was becoming increasingly odd even for the magically inclined. Leon gave Merlin a put-upon look that seemed to say ‘please tell me you’re still sane, that I’m not the only one left’, and Merlin smiled at him sympathetically.
And then Arthur was directly in front of him, fingers drumming on the counter as he looked around, clearly lost for words, and Merlin completely forgot about the rest of the world for a few moments. It really wasn’t fair for him to be so— so shiny, with all that hair and skin and just. Ugh. And he needed to stop looking so unsure of himself, like that was a brand new experience for him, because it was kind of adorable, and that just wasn’t on.
“What would you like?” Merlin asked in his best and brightest customer service voice.
Arthur side-eyed the machines behind Merlin with a grimace. “Trust me, I’m not here for your coffee, Merlin. I don’t hate myself.”
“That was one time! I was really tired and having a bad day and got my drinks all mixed up. I apologised even!” Merlin could feel his voice going loud and shrill at the end and bit his tongue to stop himself from saying more. If only he could use his magic to make drinks; he could make amazing coffee even when he was 9/10ths asleep and in an exam-induced stress coma. He would know.
“Yes, well, I still have nightmares about the taste, so.” Arthur eyed him skeptically, but when Merlin opened his mouth to retort — because honestly fuck Arthur, what did he know, he’d probably never had to work a day in his life — he held his hands up in surrender. “Sorry, that’s really not what I’m here for. We should… talk,” Arthur drawled out with a look like he was sucking on a lemon.
“Talk,” Merlin said dubiously.
“Yes. Talk.” Arthur scratched at the back of his neck and flicked his eyes around everywhere but at Merlin. “We’re grownups, so we can talk about this.”
Well that explained Leon and Morgana then. Merlin wondered what they had threatened Arthur with.
“I get off in an hour, we can meet then.”
“O-kay,” Arthur said and nodded like some sort of brainless bobble head and then suddenly blurted out, “Alcohol!”
Merlin blinked at him in confusion.
“We should talk over drinks, it’ll be more comfortable.”
Merlin agreed readily enough. God only knew they could both use a drink.
Drinks probably hadn’t been the smartest idea, Merlin thought muzzily as he moaned into one of Arthur’s pillows. Or, well, the row of shots they’d decided to share after the world’s most stilted conversation hadn’t been anyway.
Although Merlin was finding it increasingly difficult to argue with the results as Arthur used his thumbs to spread Merlin’s arse wider, body weight firmly pinning Merlin’s hips to the bed, Merlin’s legs splayed wide.
“Fuck,” Arthur groaned. “You’re flexible. Look so good like this, all spread out for me.”
Merlin's entire body burned at the gruff praise from Arthur’s lips, a full body flush that had Arthur moaning because he could feel how much Merlin loved it when he talked like that and Arthur loved doing it. It was like having all of Merlin’s deepest fantasies laid out in excruciating detail for Arthur to see, and every single one pushing the both of them higher and higher as Arthur eagerly fulfilled each.
“So gorgeous,” he moaned in between deep sucking kisses to Merlin’s rim that pulled his back taught and had him whimpering into the pillow. “Can’t wait to fuck your arse.” He started flicking his tongue delicately against Merlin, both of them shivering. “So tight for me. Open up for me, darling, come on,” Arthur bit into Merlin’s skin and then started tonguing him harder and harder, slick and unrelenting and fucking perfect, until Merlin thought he might actually cry.
Merlin stared at the wall and contemplated his life choices. “Okay, no more drinking until we get this sorted. Our bodies clearly can’t be trusted.”
Arthur whimpered in agreement from his side of the bed and Merlin winced sympathetically at the distant throbbing in his head he could feel through their bond.
He was so fucked.
When Arthur found himself in Merlin’s flat a few days later, he supposed he really shouldn’t have been surprised.
But, honestly, he had felt Merlin wanking from all the way across town.
“Were you thinking about me, earlier, wishing it was my cock up your arse and not your fingers?” Arthur growled out on a hard thrust that had his eyes rolling back as he felt the air punch out of Merlin’s lungs.
“Yes,” Merlin groaned in a low whine. “Oh god, fuck, Arthur.”
“You have to fix this,” Arthur said. “We can’t even have a bloody wank without each other knowing about it. I’m going to go absolutely barmy if it doesn’t end soon."
Merlin nodded next to him in silent agreement. “I’ll call Uncle Gaius again tomorrow.”
Arthur had tried begging Morgana for help again earlier, not that she’d done anything actually useful, of course. "I read my tea leaves this morning. Everything is as it should be, not to worry," she’d said and patted his hand. "It'll all work out."
Everything is as it should be his royal arse. Arthur could actually feel Merlin’s dick twitching awake in interest next to him. (And deeper hints of uncertainty and confusion and sometimes even something fluttery when Arthur grinned, but Arthur very determinedly didn’t think about those, at all.)
Merlin was peeking at him bashfully from overtop the duvet, like he knew Arthur could feel his cock stirring and was kind of sorry about it, but also kind of horny, and Arthur just kind of had to roll on top of him for that, because Merlin might be an idiot, but he was a pretty, strangely endearing idiot with a very nice smile that Arthur had found himself thinking of rather too much recently.
One more round certainly couldn’t hurt.
The problem with one more round was that it was never just one more round, and this much sex inevitably lead to things like finding someone’s bed head adorable and still being turned on despite their morning breath.
Or, even worse, seeing how their eyes lit up when they magicked something without thinking, the slight embarrassed flush as they realised they'd had breakfast cooked from the bedroom before they'd even properly woken up, or the little trail of kindness that always seemed to fall in their wake — a sweet here, a magical butterfly there, to brighten someone's day.
Not that Arthur had been following Merlin, watching him through windows and while he was at work. He just couldn't seem to get away, his feet always taking him past without him asking.
In short, it was awful and excruciating and somehow Arthur still couldn’t bring himself to stop, send Merlin away when he showed up on his doorstep, like he should. He needed to stop this, and yet he still ended up stretching Merlin out on his bed. It wasn't even really a choice when Merlin looked so lovely panting up at him with his wrists pinned above his head, and Arthur shivered at how he could feel just how much Merlin loved being held down.
Merlin had only come to give him an update on Gaius’ progress, but Arthur was starting to think that it didn’t matter what road they went down, it would have always lead them here.
Merlin didn't even say anything in the morning, just slunk out of Arthur's flat in the early dawn light. Arthur supposed they'd both long since run out of rationalisations.
But when he finally got up to face the day, there was hot coffee waiting for him, a trace of magic in the air that Arthur was starting to recognise, and he smiled ruefully. It was actually really good coffee.
When Arthur followed Merlin out after their next lecture, Merlin sighed and hitched his bag higher over his shoulder. “I promise I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything from Gaius, I swear.”
Arthur scratched his brow a bit and looked all cutely befuddled, and good god, Merlin really hoped Arthur couldn’t feel the way Merlin’s heart went all stupidly affectionate at that. Merlin and his heart seriously needed to have a conversation, the traitor.
Arthur coughed. “No, look, I was wondering if you wanted to talk more about what you were saying today. I know it might not seem like it to you, but I do want to understand magical rights better, and what that's like for the people who actually have to live it.”
And oh Jesus bloody fuck, who gave him the right to look so earnest, with big blue puppy eyes. Or to care. No, no no no, he needed to go right back to being an ignorant berk; this wasn't good for Merlin's health, or sanity.
“Yeah, alright,” Merlin said and swallowed when Arthur beamed at him.
“How did we manage to turn an esoteric discussion of political theory into foreplay? For fuck’s sake.”
The sex had been amazing, as always, and this was long past the point of being a problem. His self-preservation instincts really needed to kick the fuck in, because at this rate Merlin was going to be utterly ruined by the time this whole ordeal was over. And if Arthur tying his hands to the headboard and then sucking him off with three fingers up his arse wasn't bad enough, waking up the other day with Arthur curled around him like a big, warm, fuzzy blanket was even worse. Merlin had run away, and told himself to keep running, but damn if he wasn't terrible at listening to his own advice.
Arthur just laughed at him from where he was watching the street out of the window, the sun catching golden on his mussed hair and bare chest, and all Merlin felt thrumming between them in that moment was quiet simple contentment and his heart constricted.
Merlin turned away. This would all end soon enough and Arthur would be able to go back to his normal, non-magical life and eventually find some nice boy to settle down with and there was no sense in getting more attached than he already was.
Merlin whimpered pitifully as he struggled to open the door through the haze gripping his entire body. “Arthur?” he sniffled out.
“Christ, Merlin, you look like death,” Arthur said, his mouth a thin line, looking faintly ill himself as he herded Merlin back into his bed and set about fussing over him.
Merlin moaned, “I’m so sorry, Arthur. I forgot this would affect you too.”
Arthur just sighed and shook his head, but Merlin grabbed his arm. “You don’t need to be here, taking care of me. I’ll be okay, it’s just the flu.”
“Shut up. Idiot,” Arthur scoffed, and started wiping him down with a blissfully cool flannel.
Merlin thought he was going to burn up from the inside out and he stared forlornly at Arthur’s grim face through the shudders wracking his body. Fuzzily he whimpered, “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. You must hate me, hate my magic.” He coughed, great hacking breaths that left him utterly drained.
Arthur paused and looked away briefly, before sighing at Merlin. “I don’t hate you and I don’t hate your magic, or any magic for that matter," he murmured quietly, stroking Merlin’s hair back off his forehead. "I love my sister more than anything and she’s as magical as they come. That’d be like hating her. Or you. And I don't blame you either; I know you didn't ask for this any more than I did."
As Merlin drifted off, he smiled softly into Arthur’s thigh and felt safe and warm, and it wasn’t because of his fever.
Merlin’s cheeks were still flushed the next morning, but there was a gleam in his eye again and he was no longer coughing like he was desperately determined to heave his lungs out of his body. Arthur pursed his lips as he pressed his hand to Merlin’s forehead, then grinned. “Looks like your fever’s broken.”
Merlin sniffled and rubbed at his face. “Feel a lot better. Thank you."
He looked unfairly good, despite the snot and everything else, with his pink nose and soft dark curls and bright eyes. He looked… happy. And sweet, eyelashes fluttering when he pushed his glasses back up his nose bashfully.
Arthur leant forward and kissed him, briefly, little more than a chaste press of lips, nothing like their other kisses had been but somehow so much more.
"What was that for?" Merlin said and licked his lips, blinking owlishly at Arthur.
"That was… because I wanted to. Because you're beautiful, and I like to kiss pretty boys.” Arthur shrugged helplessly and laughed at Merlin’s blush, the giddiness he could feel through their bond. Arthur found he felt giddy too. Dangerous. Like there was a cliff in front of him and he wanted nothing more than to throw himself off of it, trusting the world that he would land safely.
“What about the soul bond? Your father?” Merlin asked, searching his face, as if he already knew what was going through Arthur's head and Arthur supposed he did in a way, but for the first time that thought settled something pleased and warm in his belly.
“My father is a classist prick. Although apparently you're descended from royalty, and I would kind of love to see what shade of red he turns when he discovers that little tidbit." Arthur snorted. "And the rest… we’ll figure out as we go along. If you want to, anyway. So what do you say, Merlin Emrys? Would you care to go on a date?”
Merlin beamed up at him, happiness and joy twisting through them and around each other, and this was so much better than the sex, this doubled, echoed elation. Merlin pulled him down for another kiss.
“I’d love to.”