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Yet The Man Would At Once Run Away With Your Heart

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Uther's second wife, the Lady Catrina, was vain, conceited, moneyhungry, and incredibly opinionated and Arthur could not abide the sight of her. The entire ton had been agog when his father had married Catrina three months before he had passed, and Arthur hadn't entirely written off the scandalous gossip that had been bandied about claiming that perhaps she had drugged him and faked the marriage certificate.

It was preposterous of course, but knowing what a frightful witch Catrina was, there was also an air of plausibility to it.

Arthur was not, therefore, terribly impressed when she turned up on his doorstep with an entire retinue, demanding he make room for her, her servants and her nephew Mordred.

"Mordred just graduated, you know," she said over tea and cake in the drawing room, "first class honours from Cambridge. I felt he deserved some time to relax and recuperate before The Season."

"Yes." Arthur looked down at his tea and schooled himself into the most pleasant smile he could manage. "I'm sure there are many suitable halls for you and Mordred to find respite in, Catrina. Perhaps —"

"But none so charming as this one," Catrina interjected. "I'm afraid we are quite decided. Unless you do not have room, Arthur? Perhaps you would prefer that we stayed in a hotel somewhere. With strangers?"

What Arthur really wanted to say was "Actually, I don't care where you stay as long as I don't have to look on your horrid, duplicitous face. In a barn somewhere, perhaps?" but unfortunately, he was raised better than that, so he found himself saying, "There is plenty of room, Catrina. Please stay as long as you must."

"Thank you, Arthur," Mordred said, as they shook hands. "I appreciate your hospitality."

Arthur breathed deep, trying to control the anger that was building in his chest. He had no problem with Mordred. He seemed a nice enough young man, it wasn't his fault that he was related to someone as toxic and hideous as Catrina. But this disruption was more than an inconvenience. It was an insult, and the worst of it all was that Arthur had to be polite to everyone involved, his horrible stepmother included.

"You needn't have brought servants, Catrina," he said. "We do quite well around here with the few we have, you know."

Catrina huffed. "I am sure they are very fine specimens, Arthur. However, I prefer my servants to be a little more, shall we say, respectful?"

Then, as if by clockwork, Merlin came crashing through the front door and bellowed with all the grace of a wounded dairy cow, "Arthur, would you mind telling me who it was that trampled my yellow roses? I mean, bloody hell, I know you're clumsy when you've had too much wine, but you could have at least cared about something that took me months to get right. And —"

He stopped when he got as far as the drawing room.

"Oh."

Arthur closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples in an effort to quell the headache that was threatening to split his skull apart.

He took a deep breath and looked up. Merlin was covered in dirt and holding his gardening gloves in one hand, and Arthur did not feel his heart grow three sizes just by looking at him, not at all.

Arthur also did not think about how long Merlin's fingers were wrapped around those gloves and how they would feel if Arthur raised them to his mouth and kissed them. That would be very wrong and besides, he shouldn't be entertaining fanciful thoughts when he was really not very happy with Merlin in the slightest.

"Yes, Merlin. Oh," Arthur said, remembering to scowl. "Firstly, you are trampling mud on my very expensive Persian rug, the cleaning of which will be your financial responsibility. Secondly, I am entertaining company, so if you don't mind."

He waved him away, deliberately not looking at him for a moment longer than necessary.

"Uh. Yes." Merlin turned around and walked away, muttering to himself about roses and aristocrats and Arthur was fairly certain that he heard his name and the word 'clotpole'.

"Forgive my gardener," he said. "He was dropped on his head at birth."

"Oi, I heard that!" Merlin yelled from out in the hallway.

"That will be all, Merlin!" He turned back to Catrina. "I'm so sorry, where were we?"

"You allow him to speak to you like that?" She pursed her lips. "I see what your father meant when he said you allow your staff far too many liberties. If he were my boy, he would be out on the street."

Arthur felt his stomach twist at the mere thought of it and he bit back what he wanted to say to her about Merlin not being anyone's boy but his, thank you very much. It bothered him a great deal that his father had mentioned his thoughts regarding the subject of Merlin in Catrina's presence. The last thing he needed was Catrina with ammunition to undermine him before she'd barely even stepped in the door.

"I assure you, Catrina, Merlin is not usually so — vociferous in his manner." That was a bare-faced lie. Merlin was always exactly like that and Arthur would not have it any other way.

"I think it's refreshing," Mordred said. "Most servants are terribly boring. Yours seems — I don't know, intriguing."

Arthur smiled and fought the desire to throw his tea in Mordred's face.

***

Mordred was, Arthur had discovered, as horrible as his aunt.

While Catrina was out riding, Arthur had taken the opportunity to go for a walk around the grounds to clear his head. It always helped, being out in the fresh air, and the gardens always looked exceptionally pretty. Merlin was very good at his job, lack of tact and deference notwithstanding.

It was by the chestnut tree that he saw them: Mordred and Merlin. They were walking slowly and Merlin was pointing out the various flowerbeds. Arthur's chest tightened. It was ridiculous really, a perfectly innocent wander around his gardens. It shouldn't bother him and yet —

The sound of Merlin's laughter rang in the air and Arthur couldn't help himself, stomping over to where they were both standing, admiring the snowbells.

"Merlin, I have no doubt that there is a very good explanation for why you are bothering our guest with your presence and not trimming my hedges?"

"Oh, Arthur," Mordred began. "I'm sorry, I did ask Merlin if he'd mind showing me some of your delightful gardens. I do apologise for holding him up from his duties."

He bowed slightly when he said it, but he was smiling and Arthur wanted to kick him.

"You seemed," Arthur said, turning to Merlin, "to be laughing. I find myself in need of a giggle. Please do share."

Merlin flinched at Arthur's tone and Arthur immediately felt like he was the worst person who had ever lived.

"Just a joke," Merlin said, his head bowed. "If you'll excuse me, I'll return to my work."

Merlin never laughed at anyone's jokes aside from Arthur's. He always said that the anecdotes of the aristocracy weren't actually funny and the only reason that he laughed at Arthur's jokes was that he felt sorry for him. Arthur's jaw clenched and he found himself saying, "Good," rather than apologising for acting like an absolute cad, which is what he should have been doing.

"I don't understand," he complained to Gwaine when he arrived a couple of days later for a brief visit. "Merlin doesn't like the upper class and he doesn't laugh at jokes."

"Except for yours," Gwaine said, an eyebrow raised.

"Exactly!" Arthur took a large swig of his brandy. "I was absolutely dreadful to him. You should have seen his face."

"Like a wounded puppy?" Gwaine asked, and Arthur nodded.

"Arthur," Gwaine said, puffing on his cigar. "When are you actually going to come out and say what we've all been waiting for you to say for years?"

Arthur just looked at him blankly.

"Oh, for pity's sake, man. You're in love with him, anyone can see it."

Arthur choked on a mouthful of his drink. "Are you insane? I'm not in love with Merlin. That's the most preposterous thing I've ever heard."

"Arthur," Gwaine looked at him with derision. "You're jealous of him laughing at another man's jokes. That's insane."

If he was being honest with Gwaine he would say that he'd felt this way for years. That the mere thought of Merlin made him feel giddy. That he wanted to kiss him senseless, that he went to sleep at night thinking the most scandalous thoughts about Merlin that he could never share in a million years. But he couldn't say it, because it could never happen and knowing that made Arthur ache all over.

It was past midnight when Gwaine left and Arthur was so intoxicated that he fell asleep on the settee, trying desperately not to think of how Merlin looked, head thrown back and eyes crinkled, laughing with someone that wasn't him.

***

After Catrina had imposed herself on him for four weeks, she announced that she was leaving for London and Mordred would follow in a few days time once she had Pendragon Hall prepared. Arthur was relieved that his mental torture would soon be coming to an end, but he couldn't be completely happy, not with Mordred still under his roof and imposing himself on Merlin's company nearly every minute of the day that he could.

Merlin had barely spoken to him after the incident in the garden. Arthur couldn't really blame him. After all, Arthur still had not managed to find the right words to apologise for his appalling behaviour. How could he when the reason for that behaviour could never be explained? Merlin clearly did not feel the same way in his heart that Arthur did and it was too great a risk to Arthur's name, reputation and life to bare himself to Merlin unless it were absolutely certain that Merlin really did return his feelings.

The night before Mordred left, Arthur hosted a dinner and invited his neighbour, Lord Percival. Percival and Mordred had become somewhat acquainted during Mordred's visit, due in part to the fact they were both graduates of Cambridge. Percy was always great company and Arthur was glad that he didn't have to spend the entire time trying to be pleasant to Mordred when really all he wanted to do was deposit him on the nearest kerb, bags in hand, and leave him there to whatever fate deemed necessary.

Arthur was shocked when, ten minutes after Percy had arrived, the doorbell rang again and moments later Merlin was standing in his hallway, wearing a charcoal suit that brought out the deep blue in his eyes.

"Mordred asked if I would join him for dinner," Merlin said, "I thought that he would have told you."

"Well, he didn't." Arthur pursed his lips. "But it's fine, obviously. I've been meaning to tell you —"

"Merlin," Mordred interrupted them and Arthur mentally counted to ten to try and prevent him losing his temper and bashing Mordred over the head with Great Aunt Margaret's priceless Greek vase. "So glad you came. Oh gracious, Arthur, I completely forgot to mention it, didn't I?"

"Yes," Arthur said, smiling through gritted teeth. "But bear it no mind. Merlin is always welcome, of course."

Arthur tried not to glare when Mordred put a hand in the small of Merlin's back and walked with him to the dining room. The mere fact that Mordred felt it appropriate to put his hands on Merlin at all made Arthur wild with anger. Arthur had known Merlin for years and yet he would never have touched him in such a manner. What gave Mordred any kind of right to do so?

"So, Mordred," Percival asked as they polished off their bread and butter pudding and cream, "have you enjoyed your time in our neck of the woods?"

"It's been wonderful," Mordred said, and he turned around and smiled sweetly at Merlin when he said it. Arthur wondered if any jury in the world would convict him if he reached across the table and suffocated Mordred. "More wine, Merlin?"

"Merlin's had quite enough wine," Arthur said. "He has a very weak constitution."

Merlin rolled his eyes, "Thank you, Arthur. I'm sure it wasn't completely embarrassing for me to have you announce that particular piece of information.."

Mordred laughed, "Don't worry, Merlin, I doubt any one of us will judge you for it. Besides, maybe Arthur doesn't know you quite as well as he thinks he does."

Arthur snorted. "I think after more than 4 years, I know him a great deal better than you do."

Mordred's face turned ashen and Arthur suddenly felt a great deal cheerier.

Merlin coughed. "I'm still actually here, Arthur, in the room, in front of you." He waved, furiously as if to catch Arthur's attention. "Also? I think I can manage to decide for myself whether I can have another glass of wine or not. I'm not one of your debutantes in London, you know."

Arthur struggled not to think of Merlin on a fainting couch, pliant and giggly from too much wine, with Arthur on bended knee in front of him. It was, quite frankly, a very distracting image.

"Fair enough, too," Mordred said, placing his hand on Merlin's shoulder and squeezing it.

Arthur was quite certain that if he were any drunker than he was, Mordred would most assuredly find himself with broken fingers. He wasn't a violent man, but for some reason, Mordred seemed to bring out the insanely jealous and very masculine side of him. Arthur did not like it one bit, the familiar way that Mordred was with Merlin, the way he was always touching him and most importantly, the way Merlin let him.

Percival left around 10pm, after cigars and brandy in the library, and shortly after, Merlin said goodnight, too. Mordred walked him to the door and Arthur stood watching in the hallway, his blood boiling at the sight of Mordred embracing Merlin as they said goodbye and the way Mordred's hand lingered on Merlin's back, just resting there. When Merlin left, wandering back to his quarters, Arthur followed close behind.

"You didn't say goodnight to me."

Merlin turned around and if Arthur were to pinpoint his expression it would be exasperation.

"Arthur, what do you want? It seems lately that everything I do or don't do upsets you and I don't know what I've done wrong."

"I —" Arthur wanted to tell him everything. That he couldn't stand watching him with Mordred and that every part of him ached for Merlin. He wanted to tell him that he would give up everything if it meant Merlin felt the same way. But he could not form the words; they all seemed to stick in his throat and he found himself stiffening his posture and saying, "Nothing, you have done nothing wrong. Goodnight, Merlin."

He returned to the house without looking back to see if Merlin were watching him. It was safer not to know.

Arthur barely got any sleep that night, he tossed and turned and lay there awake thinking about Merlin and his smile and the fact that he had not seen it directed at him for several weeks now. It was wrong, and he knew that if anyone was going to fix it, it would have to be him.

***

Mordred left early the next morning and Arthur said goodbye with a stiff handshake and a promise to visit him the next time he was in London. He had no intention of visiting of course, but it was only polite, given the fact that he'd spent the last few weeks plotting Mordred's very violent death.

He found Merlin in the greenhouse, repotting a shrub.

"Hello," he said, awkwardly.

Merlin looked up. He was covered in dirt and perspiration was dripping down from his forehead onto his nose. He looked surprised, which was completely understandable as Arthur very rarely entered the greenhouse. He found it too hot and too filthy and Merlin always teased him for being a lady, unwilling to get his hands dirty.

"What are you doing here, Arthur?" he asked, wiping his brow with his forearm before he went back to his repotting.

"Mordred's gone." Arthur walked over to the bench and stood next to Merlin.

"I know," Merlin said, putting his trowel down on the bench. "You'll be pleased, I suppose. You didn't seem to like him very much."

Arthur sighed. "I was indifferent. You on the other hand — you seemed to like him quite a lot."

"He was nice," Merlin said. "Much nicer than you've been lately, Lord Broody Breeches."

"Exactly how nice was he?" Arthur asked, and bit the inside of his cheek.

Merlin turned around, his mouth wide open. "Oh my god! Is that why you've been moping around with a face like a slapped bottom? You're jealous?"

Arthur sniffed and tilted his head up. "I don't know what you're talking about, Merlin."

"Arthur." Merlin looked at him, shaking his head. "You really are an incredibly repressed idiot sometimes, aren't you?"

"I still have no idea what you're prattling on about, Merlin."

"Be honest." Merlin placed his hand on top of Arthur's, resting on the bench. "You felt left out."

Arthur opened his mouth to try and deny it, but he was tired of it. Tired of holding everything in and tired of lying and dammit, he was tired of seeing Merlin laughing and joking and spending his time with someone else who wasn't him.

"I didn't like watching you with him," Arthur said softly. "Nor did I like the way that he touched you."

"Oh, Arthur."

He grabbed Merlin then, snaked his arm around his back and pulled him in close. It was impulsive and risky and Arthur didn't care a whit. "You mean the world to me, Merlin. But tell me to walk away and I will. I wouldn't mean to presume —"

Merlin placed his hands on Arthur's cheeks, framing his face. "You are, in a word, ridiculous. I've been waiting to hear you say that for years, Arthur. Years."

Arthur kissed him, once, just a peck and Merlin groaned and opened his lips, letting Arthur kiss him deeper and fuller. His mouth tasted sweet, so much sweeter than Arthur had ever imagined, in the times that he had allowed himself to dream of what it would be like to hold Merlin down, to kiss him until he begged Arthur for more.

He kissed down to Merlin's throat, tasting the sweet skin tinged with perspiration and Merlin made the most needy sound, a bit-off whimper. He backed up against the wall, pulling Arthur with him.

"I want —" Merlin said, whimpering as Arthur's teeth scraped across his collarbone. "I want you to — have me"

Arthur's stomach filled with liquid heat. "Oh, but you're a shameless hussy," he said, putting his hands on Merlin's face, his thumbs stroking at his cheekbones. "I knew you would be. You want me to take you here, like a harlot? Like I don't have a perfectly serviceable bedroom in the house?"

"Yes," Merlin said, moving his hand down and stroking over the hardness in Arthur's trousers. He unbuttoned them and shoved his hand inside Arthur's underpants and started to stroke him. Arthur was hard as rock and Merlin seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Arthur didn't want to think about that at all, didn't want to envision Merlin doing this with anyone else.

"No," Arthur said, his voice catching. "When I ravish you, I intend to be in full control of all my faculties and not in some filthy greenhouse surrounded by plants and soil." He unbuttoned Merlin's trousers and found his cock. It felt heavenly in his hand, the weight and shape of it. He began to stroke, marvelling at the way Merlin's face changed, the look of absolute ecstasy on it, the way he moaned Arthur's name like some sort of benediction.

He leaned forward, pushing his forehead against Merlin's, the two of them stroking in tandem and it felt so intimate, so close and warm and Arthur knew that he wanted to do this to Merlin every day for the rest of his life, wanted Merlin to touch him just like this too.

It felt so glorious, having the steady stroke of Merlin's hand on his cock, his long fingers bringing Arthur so quickly towards his release. Knowing that he was causing Merlin to feel the same way was intoxicating. He kissed Merlin then, a wet, open kiss and Merlin met him, stroking his tongue over Arthur's and swallowing Arthur's groans.

"Arthur," Merlin warned between kisses. "I'm going to —"

"Yes," Arthur breathed, "come on, Merlin. I want to hear you, want to feel you when you —"

"Oh," Merlin groaned, "oh Arthur. Yes. You too. Please."

The pleading was the final straw and Arthur felt his release building and building, like waves about to crash against the rocks. The delicious sounds that Merlin was making: the breathy moans and the way he whimpered Arthur's name over and over. It was too much and when Merlin tensed and Arthur felt wetness spreading against his hand, Arthur bit his lip and came too, whispering, "MerlinMerlinMerlin" under his breath.

"I'm a wreck," Merlin said, finally, after long minutes of nothing except the laboured sound of the two of them breathing in tandem.

"Yes, you are," Arthur said, smiling.

A beautiful, gorgeous, perfect wreck made just for me.

"Does this mean I get a raise?" Merlin asked, blank expression on his face.

"Given that you are already hideously overpaid for the trouble you cause me, Merlin, do you really think you deserve one?"

"You took advantage of me in a greenhouse," Merlin says, eyebrow raised. "I think I deserve that and a whole lot more, actually."

"I cannot offer you a raise, Merlin," he said, low and serious. "Not for this. It would make you a prostitute."

"I suppose that's fair," Merlin said, grinning.

Arthur reached out and touched Merlin's cheek. "But if you want me, you may have me. And there's very little I wouldn't grant you in all the world."

"You ridiculous, wonderful man," Merlin said with wonder. "Of course I want you. I've never wanted anything else."

Arthur kissed him tenderly, and said, "Neither have I, Merlin, Neither have I."