“Remind me,” Merlin growled. “Just why we’re hiding in a stable?”
“Your friend Will can’t keep his big mouth shut,” Arthur grumbled. It was Will’s fault, no question. Not Arthur’s.
“Hmm…” Merlin didn’t sound convinced. “Nothing to do with you not ever mentioning the small, irrelevant fact that you’re the Prince of fucking Wales?”
“It’s not my fault you didn’t recognise me,” Arthur told him haughtily.
Merlin’s gaze strayed up to Arthur’s dyed brown hair. It had been a great disguise… until the roots started to show through and Merlin’s annoying friend Will noticed.
Since Arthur had come out, four months earlier, the harassment he’d received from the world’s media had been unbearable. Eventually he’d had enough, disguised himself and vanished from the world’s gaze. He’d travelled for hours, eventually stopping at a small holding on the edge of a tiny Welsh village in the middle of nowhere, attracted by the brightly painted sign advertising fresh strawberries.
Merlin had sold him a punnet of strawberries, given him tea and sandwiches for free, and within an hour had employed him for the summer in exchange for bed and board and a tiny wage. Merlin didn’t own a TV, had no access to the internet, and didn’t have time to sit around reading the papers.
It was hard, back breaking work from dawn till dusk and it was perfect. Mostly, if Arthur was honest, Merlin was perfect.
Merlin was sweet and kind and funny, and Arthur never, ever wanted to leave his side. At first he’d wondered if Merlin might be straight, because he seemed far too friendly with Gwen from the village. But then she’d turned up with her ridiculously handsome boyfriend to help with the apple harvest. Merlin had caught Arthur’s eye as Lance bent over to pick up a few windfalls.
“Forget it, he’s straight. Tragedy, I know, but we’ll get over it.”
Arthur had smiled for the rest of the day. And in the evening Gwen and Lance had gone home, and there was just Arthur and Merlin.
“I’ll give some of these to my mum,” Merlin told him, putting a few apples to one side. “She makes the best apple pie. And you wait till you taste my cider!”
Arthur picked up the reddest, shiniest apple.
“Don’t eat the profits!” Merlin complained when Arthur bit into sweet white flesh. The juice ran down his chin, he’d never tasted apples like those. They would be wasted on cider and pie. Merlin’s fruit-growing skills were quite magical.
“Just the one,” Arthur pleaded. “We could… share.” He put a certain emphasis on the last word.
Merlin had looked at him for a moment, probably considering what Arthur might mean. And then he’d leaned in and kissed Arthur, his tongue exploring, chasing the sweetness of the fruit.
“Tastes good,” Merlin murmured. “Better on you.”
Arthur held out the apple, his gaze never leaving Merlin’s eyes. “Let’s see.”
Merlin took a bite, Arthur still holding the apple. Merlin’s tongue licked a little stray juice from Arthur’s fingers before he moved to kiss Arthur again.
“It’s better on you,” Arthur breathed a moment later. “Sweeter.”
And it was. It had been. Five glorious weeks of sun, and hard work, and nights rolling together in Merlin’s rickety old bed. Arthur had never been so happy.
Then Will had turned up back from uni. He’d recognised Arthur, snapped a picture, and stuck it on Twitter.
It had taken less than an hour for the first journalist to reach Ealdor. If Lance hadn’t sent them to the wrong place while Gwen raced over to warn Arthur and Merlin, pictures of them together would already be on the news websites.
Instead Gwen had hidden them in an outhouse behind her father’s pub. It hadn’t been used as a stable for years, but Arthur was sure he could still smell horse muck in there.
“They’ll get bored soon and go, right?” Merlin asked, peering through a crack in the door. He had no idea.
“They’ll be here for days. Right now they’ll be all over your place, poking their noses into anything they can find. Some of them will be in that pub, trying to get interviews from anyone who’s seen me here.”
“The chickens need feeding,” Merlin whined. “I can’t stay in here all day.”
He could. He had to.
“Those chickens are so fat they can hardly walk, and they’ve got the run of your place. They’re not going to starve.”
“The first lot of cider’s fermenting. I need to check on it.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“You know that? Made a lot of cider in the palace, did you?”
Arthur had drunk a lot of it. He sighed, then slid his arms around his boyfriend, pressing his lips to Merlin’s neck. “You can’t go out there. Besides, there’s certain advantages to being locked in here.”
“I’m not shagging you in a stable,” Merlin grumbled, but Arthur knew it was a token protest. It was the same as when he’d insisted ‘I’m not shagging you in a greenhouse’ and ‘I’m not shagging you while the chickens are watching’ and ‘I’m not shagging you in the orchard’. The orchard had even got repeat performances.
Arthur drew Merlin in close, kissing his neck, his throat, his mouth. He tasted of salt and faintly of the cider he’d spent the morning brewing. Delicious. “You’re sweeter than any apple,” Arthur breathed, hands wandering down to undo Merlin’s jeans. “So perfect.”
Merlin might grumble and protest, but he was lifting his hips to help Arthur tug the jeans down, and then lying back on the floor, wriggling out of his clothes. His cock sprang up proudly erect as soon as it was freed.
“If someone finds us…” Merlin warned.
“They won’t,” Arthur trailed kisses down Merlin’s chest and groin. “But you need to be quiet.”
Merlin gave a little sigh as Arthur took him in his mouth and began to suck him off. Arthur could feel Merlin’s hands stroking his hair, urging him on.
“So good, Arthur…” he sighed. “Don’t stop… Oh god, yes… yes…”
Arthur broke off for a moment to shush him, but Merlin just whined at the loss and Arthur went back to his ministrations. A few minutes later Merlin’s hips bucked and thrusted, Arthur swallowing him all down.
Merlin lay back, totally wrecked.
“Just give me a moment,” he sighed. “Then it’s your turn.”
The day was turning out pretty well after all.
They’d been in the stable for three hours.
“So what do we do now?” Merlin sighed. His hair was ruffled and although he’d made a half-hearted attempt to pull some of his clothes back together he still looked far too tempting.
“I can think of a few things,” Arthur grinned, his hand straying up Merlin’s bare chest. Merlin rolled his eyes, but Arthur could feel his heart beating faster. They had time, after all. Gwen would feed the chickens. She’d probably look after everything if he offered to make her a duchess or something when he was king. He could take Merlin back to the palace, marry him, keep him forever.
“You’re plotting something,” Merlin noted suspiciously.
Arthur shrugged, then pressed a kiss to Merlin’s lips. “Nothing. Just thinking you’re going to look great on the stamps.”
“On the what?” Merlin shrieked far, far too loudly.
Outside, there was the sound of footsteps running, voices talking excitedly. Arthur and Merlin only had a moment to stare at each other in horror before the stable door was wrenched open and the camera flashes began.
Forty years later, those first pictures of the king and his consort were still in circulation.