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The More You Get, the More You Want

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At twenty-four, and just out of a three-year relationship, Merlin finds himself in a sex club for the first time.

Avalon is one of those members-only, underground sorts of places that only get talked about in hushed tones and the only way someone finds out about it is because their friend has a friend who has a friend who once went and got them this handy week-only complimentary pass.

But Merlin is trying to broaden his horizons, and he has to admit, he's always been intrigued by the idea of what goes on in these clubs.

He'd let one of his partners tie him up once and while they didn't seem to see the point in it, Merlin loved it: that feeling of focus, of everything coming down to that moment, no baggage in the way and permission to just feel. It'd been exquisite.

It's about as close as Merlin's gotten to the whole submission thing, but he's been watching a lot of porn lately, and he'd be lying if he said that he didn't think about how it would feel to be the one on his knees, the one who isn't allowed to speak while he's being brought to the edge and back over and over until he—

He wants that very much.

He's an hour into his first night there when he sees him. The eyes are the first thing he notices: steel-blue and beautifully shaped. Then the mouth, which is lush and full with an arrogant twist to it. This bloke knows how good-looking he is, and his clothes are black, expensive, and well-tailored.

Merlin watches him from his position at the bar, and sees the way every patron there is fixated on him. It's what makes him go back. He wants to know more. Wants to see just what it is, besides the obvious, why there's an entire army of men and women dying to throw themselves down at his feet and beg this Dom to allow them to serve him.

So Merlin watches, week after week. He pays for a membership for the sole reason of watching this obscenely beautiful man roleplaying at being a King and being served by whichever sub is lucky enough to be picked that evening. Watches as the tall, muscular bloke with the impossibly shiny hair or the pretty petite brunette with the huge, sad eyes and the ring through her lip kneel in front of the red velvet throne, waiting for instruction. And all right, the ego on this bloke is the size of a large nation. A throne? Seriously? But there's something about him that makes Merlin's stomach twist with want, and he can't help wishing that he was the one in front of him, serving him.

Merlin spends every week for a month just watching, nursing a Jack and coke and trying not to come in his trousers from watching him; lounging there, looking aloof and exquisitely gorgeous and almost bored as he has his cock sucked or his boots licked, or whatever manner of task he decides that the man or woman he's picked is to perform.

The guy is an utter tosser, definitely not someone he'd usually be interested in at all. Unfortunately, his cock doesn't share that opinion, which is what keeps him coming back. He's obsessed. The arrogance seems to make it worse, and the more superior he seems, the more Merlin wants him.

It takes him six weeks to summon up the nerve to leave the bar, and stand amongst the men and women who wait, patiently, for any sign that he might be interested in someone approaching him.

"He's spectacular, isn't he?" The voice belongs to a gorgeous blonde dressed in an intricate boned corset and tartan mini skirt, spike-heel boots framing her calves beautifully.

Merlin shrugs, "He's gorgeous, sure. Knows it though don't he? Bit of a prat if you ask me."

"But no-one did."

Merlin is stunned to realise that the voice belongs to the very man he's been watching obsessively for weeks now, and those steel-blue eyes that Merlin fantasizes about when he wraps his hand around his cock, or slides his own fingers into himself, are fixed right on him.

"Oh," Merlin blushes, heat staining his cheeks, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Uh. Wow. I'm really buggering this up, aren't I?"

The blond beckons him over and Merlin wants to kick himself or bang his head against the wall several times. This bloke is the most sought-after Dom in the entire club, and he's hardly likely to waste time with someone who just insulted him and then proceeded to stammer like a complete idiot.

Merlin centres himself, breathing sharply through his nose. He bows his head and stands still in front of him.

"Is there something wrong with your knees?" The Dom has one eyebrow cocked and if Merlin didn't know any better, he'd say he looked amused.

"Oh God. Sorry!" Merlin says, louder than he intended to, and adds "I'm sort of new to this. I usually just watch, you see and I wasn't thinking, and I'm a bit nervous if you really want to know the truth, and—"

"My God, you do like to prattle on, don't you?" The Dom drums his fingers on the arm of his chair as his eyes travel over Merlin's entire body and Merlin's face heats up. "On your knees. I won't ask twice."

Merlin nods, drops to his knees in front of him. His heart is pounding like it's going to jump out of his chest but it finally hits him that he is kneeling in front of this man and maybe, just maybe he's been watching Merlin like Merlin has been watching him.

"What's your name?" he asks, and Merlin can't help but notice the way he hasn't stopped looking at Merlin, not even for a second.

"Merlin," he says, almost breathlessly. "What do I call you?"

"You can't address me like that," he says, eyes sparkling and mouth curled. "You don't ask me anything, Merlin, and you certainly don't speak to me unless I direct you to."

"Uh, okay?" he says, and he wishes he'd bit his tongue instead.

"Jesus. You are really going to be terrible at this, aren't you?"

Merlin swallows, and it's like his throat is full of dust. He wants to speak up, tell this man that he won't be, may not know what he's doing yet, but he's always been a fast learner and he wants him, wants to be good, wants to be perfect.

He wonders if that shows in his face, because the Dom takes an almost imperceptible breath in, the smirk on his face shifting into a smile, open and not at all condescending for a few seconds, before the mask goes back in place.

"But I'll let it slide, just this once." He sits down, finger on his lip, like he's measuring Merlin. "You will address me as Your Majesty, or My Lord. Now, come here."

Merlin closes the distance on his knees, and tries to concentrate on anything but the pounding in his chest. The floor's a little rough through the slightly worn knees of his jeans, and he lets himself feel that, focus on that, before he reaches him.

There are fingers in his hair, at first gentle, then rough, as they pull sharply, forcing his head up to meet the man's gaze.

"My name," he says, low and harsh, "is Arthur. I just wanted you to know that before I send you home."

Arthur. Merlin rolls it around on his tongue, before he clicks as to what Arthur has just said, and blurts out, "But—"

Arthur places a finger on Merlin's lips, and it's all Merlin can do to not let his tongue flick out and taste it. He closes his eyes for a minute, and that's better, he can focus much better when he can't see him. Arthur lifts his chin up, and Merlin opens his eyes as fingers stroke down the side of his face, almost reverently.

"Oh, you really are quite lovely," Arthur says, so softly that Merlin almost doesn't hear it. "I am so looking forward to this."

He traces a thumb around the outline of Merlin's mouth, and Merlin can't help it, lets his mouth fall open and sucks Arthur's thumb into his mouth. The hissed inhale he hears is a bonus.

Arthur pushes him back, and Merlin falls on his arse. "Go home," he says, "and I want to see you here next week. On the dot of nine, Merlin. Don't be late."

Merlin waits until he gets home before getting his hand inside his boxers and bringing himself off to the sound of Arthur's voice in his ear, the remembered feel of his fingers on Merlin's skin.

***

Merlin doesn't know how he's going to get through the week without going completely insane. He isn't sleeping properly, and when he does sleep his dreams are always of Arthur, his sex-thick, smug voice telling Merlin all the things he's going to do to him, and his hands touching him everywhere. Merlin hasn't wanked with as much regularity since he was a teenager, and he's paranoid that everyone who sees him knows.

"You look awful, Merlin," Percy says on Thursday when he comes in to pick up the file for the McCann case. "Have you been sleeping?"

Percy is adorable. He also has biceps that are bigger than Merlin's entire head, and pecs that Merlin could lose himself in for days. He's huge and sweet and he could hold Merlin down with absolutely no effort at all. If it wasn't for Arthur, Merlin is sure he'd be asking Percy out quicker than he could blink. But what Arthur lacks in size compared to Percy, he makes up for in sheer fucking charisma, and Merlin cannot stop thinking about him; the way his fingers felt on Merlin's face, the completely haughty way he spoke to Merlin which made him weak in the knees, and the promise of so much more.

Merlin's never wanted to let someone have complete control of him before, he's been skirting around the edge of it for a while now, but he's never really felt like giving in, giving everything up to someone else. Until Arthur.

"Merlin?"

It takes him several minutes to realise that Percy's waiting for an answer, and Merlin's just been drifting off, thinking of Arthur's hands and mouth and if he doesn't stop that train of thought right now, he's going to come in his trousers, and he'll never be able to look Percy in the face again.

"Bit of insomnia," Merlin says, handing the file over. "Nothing a bit of caffeine can't fix."

"Well, you should take care. No sense making yourself ill with lack of sleep, Merlin." He pats Merlin's shoulder affectionately and walks away, arse beautifully framed in his snug work trousers.

Merlin sighs happily, and goes back to his emails. There's one from Gwen talking about this new guy she's met who is too precious for words and Merlin just about swallows his tongue when he sees the picture of him. Talk about a fucking God.

So many gorgeous men. Of course Lance—Gwen’s new boy—is straight. Merlin's quite thankful for that; the last thing he needs is another completely inappropriate crush. It's enough that he's spending every waking hour thinking about Arthur's hands on him, interspersed with brief thoughts of Percy shagging him over the files on Merlin's desk. And then there's Gwaine, the new addition to the entertainment law team who is basically five foot eleven of hot sex on a stick.

Merlin needs another man to obsess over like he needs a hole in the head. He doesn't think he's ever been so obsessed with sex in his life, and he's pretty sure that it's all Arthur's fault.

He closes his eyes and he can almost feel the pressure of Arthur's fingers on his mouth, the way he seduced him so easily, so completely effortlessly.

Merlin doesn't have any idea how he's going to last until Saturday without dying of unrequited lust.

***

Saturday is a nightmare. He wakes up far too early, and spends the entire day watching the clock. It's torture, this anticipation. Around four o'clock he goes for a run, and comes back sore and sweaty and on edge in a really good way. The burn in his thighs and calves is perfect, it keeps him grounded. It's almost exquisite, and when he stands in the shower, hot water beating over him, he isn't surprised to realise that he's hard.

He doesn't touch himself though, it's perverse in a way, but he wants to delay the gratification until he's in Arthur's presence. He's waited too long for this to not hold out just a little bit longer.

He thinks Arthur would probably appreciate that.

Merlin dresses simply, dark jeans, simple black t-shirt and trainers. He'll probably look out of place among the sea of leather and PVC, but he doesn't care. So much of the fashion in the clubs is just that: fashion. Doesn't make that person more or less worthy of serving or being served than if they were wearing what he is wearing. At the end of the day? They all look the same when the clothes come off.

He gets to the club at 8.30. There are already a few people in the queue before him, and the waiting makes him even more nervous than he already is. He feels like he's charged with electricity, everything tingly and his chest feels tight from the thudthudthud of his heart.

Finally, fucking finally he gets in, giving a nervous smile to the girl on the door as she checks his membership card. She smiles back, but it doesn't do anything to calm him. Merlin doesn't think that anything, short of valium could calm him right now. If he's honest, he quite likes the on-edge, tense feeling, actually.

He sees Arthur, sitting on his red-velvet 'throne' with a petite, pretty girl with curly honey-blonde hair, straddling his hips. He has his hand up her skirt, and he's whispering something into her ear. His face is the picture of calm detachment and it's so ridiculously hot, seeing that while the girl on his lap is squirming and writhing, her face contorted in utter pleasure. Merlin has to look away; his lungs feel like they can't take in air, he's flushed all over and impossibly hard.

It isn't a good idea for him to be drunk, so he orders a lime and soda and stands by the bar, trying to breathe and will his heart rate to slow down. If he could just calm down a little before Arthur sees him, that's all he wants.

"Well," a smoky, female voice says from next to him, "aren't you pretty? And sitting here all alone, too. How lucky for me."

He turns around to see a gorgeous blond woman dressed in blood-red leather trousers and a black bustier. Her boots are spike-heeled and look very expensive, and she's looking at him like he's her next meal.

"My name," she says, her voice honey-thick, "is Morgause."

"Merlin," he manages to get out, his mouth dry as sand.

"Merrrrliin." She drawls his name. "Tell me what you like, Merlin. I'm sure we can have quite a lot of fun, you and me."

"I…uh…" he stammers. He should walk away, should tell her that he isn't interested, that he has his eye on someone else, but he feels somewhat hypnotised by the sheer unashamed sexuality of her.

"Have you ever been fisted?" she asks, her tongue flicking out and tracing the shell of his ear. "I think you'd really like it."

Merlin has never met someone who both scares and intrigues him quite so much. Mostly scares, though.

"And I think you can run away and play with someone else, Morgause."

Merlin almost jumps when he hears Arthur's voice from behind him, and he really does jump when he feels Arthur's hand on his hipbone. "Relax," he whispers in Merlin's ear.

Merlin does.

"Always ruining my fun, Princess," she mock-pouts, her eyes hard and fixed on Arthur. "I don't see a collar on him."

"Not yet," Arthur says, words clipped and tense and it makes Merlin's belly flood with heat. "I mean it. Morgause, go away."

She reaches out and touches Merlin's lower lip with her fingernail, digging it in a little, and smiling when he hisses from the slight twinge of pain, before blowing him a kiss and strutting off in search of her next prey.

"Next time," Arthur breathes into Merlin's ear, "I want you to tell her, or anyone for that matter, that you're already taken. I've been thinking about this all week, Merlin, and I really don't feel like sharing you. If that's all right with you that is?"

"Uh. Yes."

Merlin feels stupid, his tongue thick and useless in his throat, and he can't help the whimper that comes out when Arthur rocks his hips forward and his cock presses into Merlin's arse from behind.

"Finish your drink," he says. "Then meet me here. The room's out the back. Ten minutes, Merlin. Don't be late." He slaps a room key into Merlin's hand, which has a red 3 on it.

Merlin's heart hammers in his chest like the beat of the music that's thumping in the background, and his legs feel like they are going to give out on him.

***

It's the longest ten minutes of Merlin's life in between Arthur leaving him and Merlin arriving at the room and unlocking the door. The rooms are downstairs and there's six on either side: red and black. Merlin's been gripping the key so tight since Arthur gave it to him that there's an imprint of it in his palm, the skin raised and red. His hand shakes when he finally gets it in the lock and turns the doorhandle.

The room is much larger than he imagined. There's a flogging horse, a toy cabinet and all manner of sofas, chairs and benches. Over on the right-hand side of the room there's a curtained-off area. He can see the dim outline of a bed through the gap in the net curtains.

Arthur is waiting for him directly opposite the door, in a chair that's an exact copy of the one in the main room. He's shirtless, barefoot and the black trousers he's wearing fit low on slender hips. His body is magnificent: muscled but not too much so and his skin looks golden. Merlin swallows hard and lets his eyes skim the wall on either side of him. There's all manner of restraints in a clear glass case: collars and cuffs, both stainless steel and leather, and Merlin's eyes go wide.

"Interesting," Arthur comments, his fingers steepled, resting on his mouth. "Do you like to be restrained, Merlin?"

"I—I think so." Merlin looks down, not quite ready to meet Arthur's gaze yet. "I've only ever been— once. But it wasn't really— he wasn't very good."

Arthur nods, his lips quirking into a half-smile.

"I'd like you to come here," he says, pointing to the floor beneath his legs, "so we can talk."

Merlin's finding it very difficult to move his legs all of a sudden, like they're made of treacle, and his feet seem to want to stick to the carpet. He finally gets to Arthur, close enough for Merlin to sink to his knees in front of him. He's aware that he's positioned between Arthur's thighs, and he imagines if he reached out and touched him that he'd feel the shift of hard muscle under his fingers.

"First things first," Arthur says, a deeply thoughtful expression on his face. Good lord, his eyes are so blue that Merlin could lose himself in them.

"Yes, sire?" Merlin asks, pleased that he managed to remember to call him by the right title.

Arthur snorts. "Merlin, I don't think for one minute that you're going to be like all the rest of the subs out there. You're far too insubordinate for that, and if I were going to punish you for every bloody transgression you're bound to make, your arse'd be black and blue seven days a week."

Merlin fights the desire to say Please. Yes. Please let me see what that would be like. and just drops his eyes in as much deference as he can manage.

Arthur reaches out and traces the shell of Merlin's ear with his index finger.

"There's something about you, Merlin," he says, "anyone else would have been thrown out already, but you. You intrigue me."

"You intrigue me too," Merlin admits. He gasps a little when Arthur's knuckles skim down the line of his cheekbone, and it leaves sparks in its wake, makes Merlin's skin feel like it's fucking alive.

"What did she say to you?" Arthur asks, getting his hand on Merlin's chin and pulling him closer, pulling him in so close that Merlin can feel Arthur's warm breath on his face.

"Who?" Merlin manages, closing his eyes.

"Morgause," Arthur replies. "I saw her harassing you, and, well, if you can't handle me, you certainly couldn't handle her.

"I never said I couldn't handle you, did I?" Merlin bristles and open his eyes to see Arthur smirking.

"Oh, Merlin," he almost purrs, "you know you can't. If I thought you could, you'd be laid out in that sling over there with your legs spread and my tongue in your arse for hours while you begged me to let you come."

Merlin tries not to whimper, he really does, but it's too much hearing Arthur say that in his terribly posh, educated voice and he feels like his skin's on fire.

"Oh," Arthur says, and he sounds so smug that if Merlin wasn't so turned on he'd probably want to hit him. "You like that idea, do you? Well, I think we'll work up to that."

He leans in and brushes his lips against Merlin's, almost chaste, and pulls back before Merlin can open his mouth and deepen it.

"I don't like having to repeat myself," Arthur says, something on his face that Merlin can't read - it's not anger, it's something just as intense. "What. Did. She say to you?"

"She— she asked if I'd ever been fisted," Merlin stammers, flushing with heat on his neck and face. "Said I'd enjoy it."

Arthur grins. "Yes. I imagine you would. All right, enough talking. I can't imagine you're going to need it tonight, but soon maybe. What's your safeword?"

"Oh." Merlin hadn't even given it any thought. The mere thought of a safeword makes him shiver, it makes it feel more serious. More dangerous. "Emrys."

"Emrys. Okay then."

Arthur sits back in his throne and tilts his head to one side as if he's thinking very carefully about what he wants to do. It makes Merlin's cock twitch.

"Stand up," he orders, and Merlin gets to his feet. His knees ache from all that time on them, and he shakes them out, trying to get the blood flowing back into his legs.

"Bit achy," Merlin explains.

"Merlin—" Arthur's voice is as sharp as a whip, "I don't want mindless chatter. In fact, I don't want you to speak at all unless it's to utter that safeword. Do you think you can manage that for five minutes?"

Merlin opens his mouth and inhales audibly. Then shuts it again, and nods his head.

"Very good." Arthur is so condescending that it makes Merlin grit his teeth. But what did he expect, really? It's not like this isn't what he's here for. "Now. I'm going to sit here and watch you undress. Slowly, please."

Merlin nods and lifts the hem of his t-shirt up, peels it off as slow as he can, the cotton scraping against his skin which feels completely sensitised and flushed as he draws the t-shirt up and off. When he's pulled it over his head, he looks down at Arthur. He is staring at Merlin's hips, the hollows which are exposed from Merlin stretching his arms above his head, making his jeans slip down.

The way Arthur is staring at him, so completely intently, it makes Merlin feel utterly vulnerable. Like he's on display. His cock is starting to push against the zip on his jeans. He's painfully, uncomfortably hard and as he thumbs open the button and eases the zip down, he feels slightly ashamed. Arthur's seen so many men and women like this, and Merlin's nothing special: skinny and pale, and not exactly the kind of body anyone would choose to see naked.

He kicks off his trainers, pulls his jeans down over his hips, and when Arthur says "slower", raspy and half-whispered, he breathes deep and tries to forget about how embarrassed he is. The only thing that's left is his underwear and when he moves to take them off, Arthur shakes his head.

"Not yet," Arthur whispers, "I want to see you touch yourself first."

Merlin closes his eyes for a brief second as he starts to stroke. There's a damp patch of precome on his underwear, soaking it through, and when he opens his eyes he can see Arthur staring at the movement of his hand.

"Lovely," Arthur says. He leans back in his chair and spreads his legs wider. Merlin can see the outline of his cock and his mouth waters just thinking about getting down on his knees and tasting it.

Merlin hisses when he strokes over the head with his thumb. He wants— needs to touch himself properly, no barrier between his hand and his aching cock. Arthur grips the arms of his chair so hard that his fingers are white, but his expression is still one of intense, calm focus.

"Take them off, Merlin," he says, as if he can read Merlin's mind. "Show me how you make yourself come."

Merlin moans before he can stop himself, a hitched, bitten-off sound and when Arthur raises a hand to his mouth and rubs his thumb over his lips as he watches him, Merlin can't wait any longer. He pulls his underwear off in one quick movement and wraps his hand around his cock.

He can't look at Arthur now, it's too much. He's never done this before: been on display, completely naked and touched himself while someone else just watched. His cheeks burn and he drops his head so he can't see Arthur's eyes on him. His gaze is still on Merlin though, and it feels like a lead weight on him.

"Merlin." Arthur's voice is strained. Merlin wonders if this is affecting him too, though Arthur's obviously not new to this. "Don't you dare drop your gaze. Look at me."

Arthur sounds deadly serious, and Merlin looks up. He has to.

It's completely overwhelming the way Arthur is looking at him; his eyes so dark with lust, pupils dilated. God, Merlin struggles to breathe air into his lungs. It makes him special, having Arthur like this, completely focused on Merlin and no-one else— nothing else.

It hits him then though, as his stomach surges with pride, that he should be ashamed of what he's doing, still. The fact that he is relishing in it, Arthur's attention, while he's standing there, wantonly stroking himself should make him feel embarrassed, but he can't really bring himself to care. Not when Arthur is sitting there, so beautiful, so completely intent on watching him.

It's like Arthur has given him permission to not judge himself for it, and it makes him feel utterly free.

"I've thought about you all week," Arthur says, his voice thick with sex and it makes Merlin almost swoon. "Couldn't stop thinking about how you were probably doing this, lying in bed and thinking about me."

Merlin is close. He's so close, and he can't hold on like this, with Arthur's eyes on him, Arthur's voice making his stomach coil in on itself. He starts to turn away and Arthur shakes his head.

"If you look away again? I will bind your wrists and walk out of here and leave you, Merlin. Leave you desperate and wrung out and not able to come."

Merlin shakes his head, and Arthur smiles.

"Good." he says. "Then come. I want to see you do it. Now."

Merlin manages two more strokes and he comes. As soon as he does Arthur is up and out of his seat and holding Merlin's chin still as he kisses him. Properly this time, wet and filthy, like he's claiming his mouth, and Merlin's knees start to buckle because it's too much, too good and he's keening into Arthur's mouth as he crumples to the floor.

Arthur pushes him back, straddles his hips and doesn't even let him breathe before he's unzipping his own trousers, stroking himself hard and rough and coming on Merlin, hitting his belly and chest and throat with it.

He cleans him afterwards, slow and thorough and with more care than Merlin could have ever expected.

"Beautiful," Arthur breathes into Merlin's skin, "I knew you would be."

***

Merlin's never really enjoyed being a law clerk. It isn't what he was ever supposed to be doing for a career, but dropping out of medical school didn't leave him with many options and so when Gwen mentioned there was a temp job going at her firm, he decided it was a) better paid and b) a much more pleasant type of menial work than putting tins of tomatoes and such into plastic bags at Tescos.

Nevertheless, it's generally boring as fuck on a good day, let alone the Monday after the club and Arthur. Merlin's lucky if he manages to get through an hour without thinking of him, and if he closes his eyes he can remember exactly what it felt like: Arthur's hands on him, the way his fingers felt soothing Merlin afterwards.

The sense memory makes his skin prickle and his cock swell and none of it is at all conducive to keeping his mind on work. Merlin loses count of the number of times he has to read and reread the same paragraph of a document because he’s thinking of Arthur and his hands and his perfect arse.

And his mouth. Oh sweet jesus, his mouth.

"I'm sorry?" Percy blinks at Merlin, his brow furrowed in what Merlin assumes is utter confusion. It's really quite adorable.

"I— really didn't mean to say that out loud. Sorry."

"Say what?" Percy hands a stack of files to Merlin and leans in, his grin widening. "You really are quite peculiar, Merlin."

Percy's smile is blinding and Merlin's knees turn to liquid.

"I'll uh, get these back to you this afternoon," he says. "Got a busy morning ahead."

Merlin's busy morning consists of a brief and two phone calls to clients. More importantly though is the several hours of clockwatching he has planned coupled with daydreaming about Arthur's cock. It's just as well Gaius is away in Blackpool with his grandchildren or Merlin would've been fired by now.

"This afternoon's fine," Percy says, his fingers resting on one of the files, just a few millimetres away from Merlin's. He wonders what Percy would think of him if he ever found out about Merlin's extra-curricular activities, whether he'd be mortified or not.

Merlin can't help but wonder what it would feel like being under Percy, his strong hands holding him down. He wonders if he'd leave bruises.

Christ. He's never been so obsessed with sex as he is now, it makes it almost impossible to behave normally and pretty soon someone's bound to notice.

"So are you, uh, going to drinks this Friday? Apparently they've stocked more than just Pilsener this time." Percy pulls back, standing upright and straightening his tie, and he looks so damn hopeful.

Merlin's stomach churns. This is exactly what he was hoping wouldn't happen. There's always been this kind of sweet, innocent flirtation between the two of them. Harmless. And Percy is gorgeous and charming and sweet and perfect in every way. But he isn't the one that Merlin is thinking about every minute of the day and he doesn't make Merlin feel like he's on fire.

Merlin doesn't want harmless. He wants Arthur. Wants to be turned inside out and stripped raw before he's put back together. Percy's too nice, too sweet, not enough edge in him to even come close to what Merlin needs.

Percy'd make the perfect boyfriend if that's what Merlin was looking for, and Merlin can't help but wish that his needs weren't so—specific.

He sighs. "I don't think I can make it. See I have this friend I haven't seen in ages and we have plans. Sorry, Perce."

It isn't a lie, either. Will had called a week ago to organise a "lads' night out," just the two of them. Which, given that Merlin is not in any way a 'lad' means that it'll theoretically be Will and Merlin's night out: one lad and one gay bloke who has no interest whatsoever in being a lad. But Will seemed so excited, and Merlin thought it best not to hurt his feelings by getting too precious about it.

Percy shrugs, says, "No need to apologise. It'll probably be really boring anyway." He smiles, but his eyes are a lot less bright and his face a lot less open than before.

Merlin pretty much wants to kick himself for making Percy unhappy, so he says, "Raincheck though? It's just bad timing, that's all. Next time, I'm there."

"Great," Percy says, the smile back in full force. "I'll save you a seat. Thanks for the files, I'll pick them up this afternoon, then?"

Merlin smiles. "Sure thing. See you later on."

He waits till Percy has gone before he reaches into his wallet and pulls out his Avalon membership card. He runs his thumb over the embossed numbers on the front. Merlin wonders what Arthur might be doing now, what kind of career he has: he's clearly well-educated, probably Oxbridge or somewhere like that. A doctor maybe? God, knowing his luck he's probably some entitled barrister who looks down his nose at law clerks and thinks they're responsible for fetching him his coffee and dry-cleaning and what have you.

Basically though, Merlin doesn't really care about how much of a wanker Arthur is. He's the hottest man Merlin has ever seen and it's not like he or Merlin will ever know each other outside of the sanctuary of the club. Even if they did, even if Merlin did know Arthur and he was the biggest arsehole who walked the earth, Merlin's sure he wouldn't care. What's happened between them already is so fucking intense and they haven't even shagged yet. He's sure he could excuse just about anything if it means mind-blowing sex with Arthur.

He puts the card away and tries to clear his mind long enough to do some actual work. It's going to be a really long week otherwise.

***

Will being Will, the night starts off at his flat, drinking cheap wine and watching The X Factor. Merlin despises reality shows, and Will knows it. It's pretty much the epitome of their relationship really, Will making Merlin do things he doesn't really want to do - it has been since they were kids.

"I mean, she's got a really great voice." Will says around a mouthful of Beef Vindaloo. "Like, people really underestimate her because she's—"

Merlin rolls his eyes. "She doesn't have a great voice, Will, she has big knockers. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. But in her case—"

Will glares. "I will not hear a bad word said about my future wife, thank you very much. She is everything to me."

"Sure." Merlin drains the last of his glass. "Can we please go now? I was promised a lads' night out and so far both the lads part and the out part are sorely lacking."

Will slaps his own thighs, hard. Clearly some rousing himself technique, but Merlin can't help but wonder whether it hurt just a little. He tries very hard not to imagine his own skin, warm and red from someone else's hands on him and shivers a little when he conjures up an image of Arthur bending him over his knee and spanking him.

"Well?" Will is standing over him. "For someone who was nagging me seconds ago, you seem to be rather immobile."

Merlin takes a deep breath, wills the thoughts under control and stands up. "See? Up now. Ready and raring to go."

"You could at least try and sound a little more enthusiastic, Merlin. After all, who knows, you might pick yourself up some nice, huge-cocked young man to take you home and shag you rotten. And then who will you be thanking, hmmm?"

Merlin picks at a fraying thread at his sleeve. The last thing he really needs is a third man. Having Arthur to obsess over and Percy to flirt with is quite enough of a complication. Though maybe a good, no-fuss fuck is exactly what he needs. The chances of getting it in one of Will's bars is somewhat next to none, however.

Merlin sighs. "Lead the way then," he says, and gestures to the door.

As he predicted, the bar they end up in is Breeder Central. Will wastes no time whatsoever and within ten minutes he's eyeballing the ginger in the white microdress and stilettos and whispering in Merlin's ear, "Have fun! Hope you find a bloke and all" and disappearing into the heaving crowd of bodies on the dancefloor.

Merlin shakes his head. It's not like he hadn't envisioned that this was exactly the way the night would unfold. He finds a seat at the bar and orders a shot of tequila and a pint to wash it down.

He watches Will get turned down flat and he can't help the satisfied grin that spreads across his face. Will glares at him on his way back to the bar.

"You don't have to look so bloody happy about it you know," Will says, his lips drawn into a truly epic pout, worthy of a Maxim cover girl. "More tequila?"

"Please." In another ten minutes Will'll be chasing after someone new, so he'd better make the most of any rounds that Will's offering to pay for. "Two each?"

"Excellent, Merlin." Will holds up a hand to catch the barman's eye. "Nice to see you getting into the spirit of it all. Maybe next time we can go to your favourite bar or whatever?"

Merlin nearly chokes on his beer. He'd rather not think about Will having any idea that Avalon even exists, let alone stepping foot in it. It's a disturbing thought, and one that has him swigging the rest of his beer and wiping his mouth with his hand.

"Come on, then." Will passes him two shots, a lime wedge, and a salt shaker. Merlin licks his hand and sprinkles the wet strip with salt. "Ready?"

Merlin nods and licks the salty patch of skin, downs both of his shots and sucks on the lime. It goes straight to his head, warmth travelling through his body and settling in his chest. Will slaps him on the back and spins around on his barstool in the direction of the opposite end of the bar.

This time the woman he eyeballs is a blonde: tall, with a small waist and huge tits. He turns back to Merlin and raises his eyebrows.

"Go on then," Merlin says, gesturing to the barman. "Let's see how long this rejection takes."

"Your faith in me is overwhelming." Will gets up and walks over to the woman who doesn't actually look like she's going to turn him down, miraculously. She taps the empty stool next to her and Will sits down. He looks incredibly smug, which is probably fair given Merlin's lack of faith in his pulling ability.

Twenty minutes and another shot later, Will texts Merlin.

her name's Anoushka. she's an air hostess. talk to you tomorrow.

Merlin types she must be horribly drunk and have fun and downs a huge glass of water before standing up.

He walks towards the exit on legs that are very unsteady. His head's okay though, tequila usually gives him that wide-awake drunk rather than the completely exhausted, need to lie down drunk that beer or other spirits seem to make him. He should go home and sleep it off, but he isn't at all tired.

It's possibly one of the worst ideas he's ever had, but Merlin hails a taxi and heads to Avalon anyway. It makes sense really, he isn't ready to go home to bed and at least there he can have another drink with a much more attractive view than the one back at The Limelight Lounge. It's not like he's going there for any other reason.

***

It doesn't matter how many times Merlin's been there now, the door staff always make him inexplicably nervous. Maybe it's because they're always statuesque women in PVC who look like supermodels and he's— him. He always feels like a huge fake turning up there, like any second now he's bound to be discovered as someone who doesn't really belong there.

It never lasts though and as soon as he's inside, the anxious thump-thump leaves his throat and settles, slow and heavy in his chest. He's much more relaxed in the dark club which feels less like the outside world and more of a sanctuary from it.

He settles down at the bar. There's a couple of stools in the corner that've just been vacated and he grabs one of them, flicking through the cocktail list before deciding on a Maple Bacon Old Fashioned.

"Not many things better in the world than combining bacon and maple syrup, I must say," Merlin says as the bartender passes it over.

"Depends on who you ask, I suppose."

It's unmistakable, that voice. Rich tone and perfectly posh and Merlin has to close his eyes for a second and just breathe it in.

"I didn't know if you'd be here," he says, finally looking up. Arthur's hair looks soft and messy, like someone has been running their fingers through it. He's wearing a plain black pullover with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and his left wrist framed by the sleek, silver watch he wears. The ring on his left index finger looks so smooth that Merlin can't help but imagine what it would feel like on his tongue: cool and metallic.

"May I sit?"

It's very strange, Arthur standing there with a drink in his hand, asking Merlin's permission for something. It doesn't feel quite right, but Merlin says, "Of course," and gestures for Arthur to sit.

He takes a huge sip from his glass for fortitude and turns around to face Arthur.

"What are you doing here, Merlin?" Arthur asks. He stirs the cloudy liquid in his glass with a cocktail stick and takes a dignified sip. Everything about Arthur is dignified.

"Having a drink?"

Arthur raises an eyebrow. "You sound like you're halfway drunk already, which means you've obviously been elsewhere." He leans in. "So don't try and tell me you came in here just for a drink, sweetheart. I don't believe you."

God, he's so fucking hot. Merlin thinks he could probably listen to Arthur call him sweetheart for the rest of his life.

"Well? I'm waiting."

Merlin tilts his head. "Perhaps you need to make your mind up, Your Highness. I mean, didn't you just ask me if you could sit down? So— I don't think I need to explain myself."

His pulse races in his throat. Arthur's eyes narrow, but he laughs. "You know, Merlin, you're very lucky we're both drinking. Because if we weren't, I'd be dragging you behind that curtain right now and making you very sorry for being such a little upstart."

Merlin lowers his head and runs his finger through the moisture on Arthur's glass. His fingers are so close to Arthur's, but he doesn't dare touch. "Why don't you?"

Arthur hisses in a breath and pulls his fingers away. "You are a little tease, aren't you? I won't play with anyone who's been drinking. No, Merlin, not even you."

Merlin tries to think about what Arthur might mean by that. But his head's too fuzzy to manage it, so he just says, "That's a pity," under his breath.

"It is." Arthur's voice sounds raspy and he takes a large gulp of his drink. "Very much." He reaches out and strokes a thumb over Merlin's bottom lip, and inhales sharply when Merlin flicks the tip of it with his tongue.

He sucks down to the first knuckle and Arthur's fingers scratch lightly down and up his cheek before Arthur pulls his thumb free of Merlin's mouth.

"Sorry," Merlin says. "It's been— I've been thinking about this all week."

Arthur smirks. "Well that's lovely to hear." He grabs Merlin by the collar and pulls him in close and whispers, "Be here tomorrow night. The same time. I'll show you what happens to teases, Merlin."

Merlin closes his eyes and bites his lip, hard. When he opens them again, Arthur's gone.

***

Merlin wakes on Saturday morning with his head pounding and his mouth dry. His breath reeks of too much fucking tequila and beer and god knows what else he consumed the night before. He rolls over and looks at his messages. There's one from Will prodding him for information and oversharing, as always, about Anoushka's athleticism and something about a tongue piercing which Merlin immediately blocks out of his mind completely.

When Will asks him if he had any luck, Merlin thinks back to Arthur's voice, seductively curling around Merlin's ears.

"Be here tomorrow night. The same time. I'll show you what happens to teases, Merlin."

Just thinking about it makes Merlin's skin tight and his cock hard and he finds himself shoving his hand inside his pyjamas and wrapping his hand around himself. He fists himself roughly, imagining what Arthur will be like: how he will punish him and make him beg, the filthy words he'll utter in that cut-glass voice of his.

God, he wants so much for Arthur just to take control of him, to make him let go. He wants to be on his knees with Arthur using his mouth, his arse, he doesn't even care. The anticipation of it is driving him fucking crazy. Merlin throws his head back and slows his strokes down, wanting to last. He thumbs the head, wet and slick, and groans when he strokes his other hand over his chest, fingers sliding over his nipples. He's so sensitive everywhere, so on edge and sex-obsessed that everywhere he touches is erogenous and likely to tip him over the edge.

He closes his eyes and he can see Arthur's thumb on his mouth, his fingers scratching down Merlin's cheek. Strong, elegant fingers with perfectly manicured nails that felt so perfect on his skin. All Merlin can think of is how they'll feel inside him, pushing into him and getting him ready for Arthur's cock.

Merlin comes with his teeth biting into his lower lip and his free hand clutching at his hair so hard it hurts.

***

It's eight o'clock and Merlin's just gotten out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist and his hair still dripping wet when his phone rings.

"Merlin?" Gwen's voice is shaky and she doesn't even really sound like her.

"Are you okay?" he asks, and it's such a stupid question he wants to fucking kick himself.

"No." She sniffles and Merlin just wants to reach through the phone and hug her. "I just got back from the vet. It's Maximus. We had to put him to sleep."

"Oh babes." Maximus was the fattest cat Merlin had ever laid eyes on. He waddled when he walked and it had always been a great source of amusement for everyone in their circle of friends. But Gwen loved him dearly, and Merlin can't even imagine how much it must be hurting.

"I didn't expect it to be this hard, you know." She sighs, and Merlin can hear just how hard it is. He wishes he could just take her pain away. "I know he was a funny old thing, Merlin, but he was my funny old thing. And Lance is away and I just feel so horribly sad."

"Oh, Gwen. I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

"Would you— I don't want to be alone, Merlin. Do you have plans?"

She's crying now, really crying and it's possibly the worst timing ever, but Merlin can't deny his friend comfort. Not tonight.

"Nothing important. Let me get dressed, okay? I'll be right over."

Arthur will just have to wait.

Merlin turns up at Gwen's with a bottle of Pinot Noir, Pitch Perfect on Blu Ray and a king size bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk and cuddles on the couch with her until she falls asleep on his shoulder.

***

It's a miracle that Merlin manages to get through the week with his sanity intact. It's been two weeks since Arthur touched him, really touched him and if anyone asks him to explain the feeling he doesn't know if he'd be able to, something like his skin being a size too small for him and being aware of just how uncomfortable he is every hour of the day.

He needs. He's aware that the intensity of how much he wants Arthur is eclipsing everything else and it's horrifically unhealthy. He didn't go into this thing to become obsessed with one person at all, he just wanted to— experiment, or whatever. But apparently that all went out the window as soon as he laid eyes on Arthur, and Saturday can't roll around fast enough.

He's been biting his nails with alarming regularity again, like he always does when he's on edge. Merlin has no idea how Arthur is feeling. Whether he's angry at Merlin for not turning up when he was supposed to, or whether he didn't even notice. Merlin can't decide which is worse.

Merlin showers and dresses. He's wearing his best black jeans and a navy shirt with his best trainers. He looks himself up and down in the mirror and he's happy with what he sees. It's simple, but smart.

He arrives at the club just after ten. He's jumpy, twitchy, and his palms are sweaty. He rubs them on his jeans before he hands his membership card to the bloke at the door. He's fucking gorgeous, all six foot god knows what of him and he smiles at Merlin as he tells him to "have fun."

When Merlin steps inside, he's struck by just how busy it is. Must be something in the water, because Avalon is more full than usual: incredibly hot men and women in various states of undress as far as the eye can see. The music's pumping, dirty progressive house with its sex-tinged basslines and it's almost like a second heartbeat.

He wanders through the club, past the sweating, heaving bodies on the dancefloor and crosses to the booths on the opposite side, away from the bass bins. They're all curtained off with some of the curtains flung wide open for those with more voyeuristic tendencies. The middle booth is wide open like this and that's where he sees him.

Arthur is facing Merlin, his thighs spread and his arms draped over velvet cushioning and he's staring right at him. The hard set of his mouth, the cold steel-blue of his eyes, all focused on Merlin; Merlin wants to step forward, apologise with his body.

There's another man with him, a boy really, maybe 18 or 19 and he's sitting at Arthur's feet, his hands sliding up Arthur's thighs.

"May I serve you, your majesty?" Merlin hears him say.

Arthur doesn't look at him, just looks straight at Merlin when he says, "You may, Mordred."

Merlin just stands there, partially stunned as Mordred unzips Arthur's trousers with his teeth and pulls out his cock. It's fucking beautiful, and Merlin's mouth waters at the sight of it, thick and perfect before Mordred goes down on Arthur, taking him completely in.

Arthur bites his lip, all the while gazing at Merlin. It's torture almost, seeing him like this. Merlin's chest burns, his jaw clenched. He's alternately uncomfortable and so fucking hard it almost hurts. It should be him there on his knees and instead he has to watch Arthur with someone else.

"Good," Arthur says, his voice raw, "such a good servant for your king, aren't you, Mordred?" His mouth is upturned at the corners and he looks like he's enjoying doing this to Merlin, which makes Merlin want to just walk the hell away, because whatever game Arthur's playing it isn't what he signed up for. He can't though, he's rooted to the floor and his eyes are fixed on Arthur's every move, the way he's breathing, the way his fingers are clenched around the edge of the seat and the way that he's looking at Merlin, fixed and intense.

Merlin swallows hard as Arthur gets his hands in Mordred's hair and fucks his mouth, his hips so fluid and graceful as he drives his cock in deeper and deeper. It's too much and Merlin can't help himself anymore, unzips his jeans and shoves his hand inside, jerking hard and fast.

"Yes," Arthur says, and Merlin can't tell who he's talking to now, even though he hasn't dropped eye contact with Merlin, not once. "Do it. So fucking perfect, aren't you?"

When Arthur comes he doesn't even close his eyes, just keeps watching Merlin. Arthur pulls Mordred into his lap and kisses him deep and open-mouthed so Merlin can see everything. And when Mordred comes, Arthur's hand stroking him, Merlin does too.

Merlin doesn't wait around, just heads to the gents to clean up. He wipes himself off and splashes his flushed face with cold water. When he finally comes back out, the booth is empty.

***

"I mean, what the fuck kind of name is Mordred anyway?"

Gwen pats his hand with her own. "This bloke sounds more trouble than he's worth."

Merlin laughs. "That's possibly the biggest understatement I've ever heard."

The problem is that Merlin doesn't believe it. Yes, Arthur's trouble, but Merlin's pretty sure that he's well worth it. Unfortunately, Arthur's unlikely to feel the same way about Merlin. The display three weeks ago shouldn't have gotten to him so much, but it really did. His chest was tight and his cheeks were flushed for reasons other than the hotness of the scene in front of him. Merlin can't help but think that he's gotten far too hooked too quickly and it needs to stop before it escalates even further.

It's concerning that this whole conversation started because Gwen asked him if he was seeing anyone and he didn't say no. Arthur isn't his boyfriend and the sooner Merlin stops obsessing over how it would be to be touched by him, the better.

There are other men in the world quite capable of dominating him, and women too for that matter, if he feels the inclination.

He doesn't need to focus on one person, just because he happens to be the hottest man Merlin's ever had the opportunity to see in real life.

"I don't think I'm going to see him anymore," he says, and it's maybe for his own benefit just as much as it's for Gwen's.

"You know what you need, Merlin?"

A good hard spanking would be a nice start.

"Well I don't know, Gwen, but you're obviously wanting to tell me," he says, shovelling another toffee into his mouth.

"Morgana's having a little dinner party on Saturday. She asked me to ask you to come."

Merlin groans.

"What? I thought you liked Morgana." Gwen glares at him.

"I do, but she's— she's super-posh and there'll probably be three forks and I won't know which one's which and— oh stop looking at me like that for fuck's sake."

Gwen blinks at him. "Like what?"

"Don't pull that I'm so wide-eyed and innocent routine, Guinevere, I know you too well."

She hugs him. "Come on, it'll be fun. I mean I'm not posh and I'll be there."

"Okay, well, who else is going to be there?"

"Bunch of people from work, I think." She bites her lip and tilts her head like she always does when she's trying to think. "She did tell me but I can't remember. She said she wouldn't take no for an answer. She says she never sees you now she's transferred to entertainment law and, well, you know what Morgana's like when she gets an idea in her head. "

"Oh for the love of— okay then, I'll go." Gwen alone is an unstoppable force, let alone when she gets together with Morgana who is, in a word, driven. "This had better not be another one of your set-ups though."

"Oh come on, Merlin. What do you take us for?"

***

It's a fucking set-up. Merlin should have known something was wrong when Morgana emailed him to ask him for Percy's phone number because she couldn't find it in the staff directory, but he was busy trying to get his case files done and completely forgot about it.

So when Percy answers the door to Morgana's massive house in Belgravia, which is about the size of a small block of flats, Merlin just shakes his head.

"I don't suppose they told you I was coming either?"

"No."

"And she asked you to answer the door, didn't she?" Merlin asks.

Percy just shakes his head and laughs. "Ah, straight people. So helpful."

"Yeah." Merlin takes a moment to look at him. Percy looks even taller out of work clothes if it's at all possible, and Merlin can't help but notice the way the green polo shirt he's wearing is pulled tight across his insanely built chest. Perhaps he doesn't hate Morgana and Gwen quite so much after all.

"Merlin, how lovely to see you." Morgana strides forward and hugs him tight. "Come in and have a drink, won't you?"

"I suppose."

"Oh don't be grouchy with me." She kisses him on the cheek and whispers, "Everyone at work tells me you and Percy would make an adorable couple, so I thought it my duty to throw you together, as it were."

Of course Morgana would see it as her duty. That's what people like her do. It's all very Jane Austen.

Her house, of course, is amazing. Gwen told Merlin that when her father died he had left her a revolting amount of money, which, even after discovering that he was not in fact her biological father several years before, she was the sole beneficiary of. Loaded and gorgeous. Some people are just too blessed. It's a shame he actually likes her and can't hate her guts.

"So when Gwen said people from work, what she meant was me and Perce, wasn't it?" Merlin shakes his head. "You two need to be separated."

Gwen hugs him. "I'm sorry, Merlin, it was all Morgana's idea, I swear."

Morgana hands him a glass of champagne. It tastes expensive.

"Well, it wasn't all me. Don't listen to her, Merlin. I think you know she isn't as innocent as she likes to pretend she is. Oh go and sit down, will you? There's plenty of room on the settee."

Merlin rolls his eyes and walks into the living room. The settee is, of course, occupied by Percy.

"So this is really awkward," Percy says, his eyes downcast and his cheeks pink. He really is far too adorable for words.

"Yeah. Still, at least we know each other. It could be one of those hideous blind dates. Believe me, Gwen's sent me on more than a few of those since I broke up with Andrew."

"At least they mean well?"

Merlin laughs. "Yeah, can't really accuse them of not meaning well."

He can see Gwen and Morgana staring from the kitchen and Merlin wonders what they expect, whether they think he'll just climb into Percy's lap and have at it right there in Morgana's living room.

Percy leans in a little closer, says, "Can't say as I'm particularly sorry, Merlin." He really is gorgeous: long eyelashes and perfect jawline. His thighs look strong. All of him does. Merlin wonders if he'd be averse to said lap climbing.

Merlin smiles. "Good to know."

Percy could never dominate Merlin the way he wants to be. He's too sweet, too soft around the edges, but that doesn't mean Merlin would definitely say no to whatever he's offering.

The doorbell rings then, and Merlin starts. He puts his hand on Percy's forearm to steady himself, it's warm and perfectly muscled. He should pull it away, but he doesn't, it's nice under his fingers and it's been too long.

"Sorry, bit jumpy." He exhales long and slow. "But that is one loud doorbell."

"Well I hadn't planned on a visit, dear brother," he hears from the kitchen, "but since you're here you may as well stay. There's plenty of food."

"I didn't know Morgana had a brother, did you?" Percy asks.

Merlin shrugs his shoulders. She'd never mentioned a brother to him, but then again, he's never asked. Morgana's always played her cards close to her chest regarding her family history, at least with him.

"Such a gracious invitation, Morgana, how can I resist?" The voice sounds familiar, and Merlin's scalp prickles.

"Well come and meet my friends then."

Merlin decides that he really does have the worst timing in the world, because right at that moment he chooses to take a large gulp of his champagne and promptly chokes on it when he sees Morgana's brother.

Arthur. Standing in Morgana's living room, looking as gorgeous and unattainable as ever.

He's a much better actor than Merlin, because after a second or two of visible tension in his body, he seems to relax and schools his expression back into mild indifference. Merlin can't help but notice the way Arthur's eyes flick down to where Merlin's fingers are, still resting on Percy's forearm, and stay there for a few seconds.

Merlin is still choking and when Percy asks if he's all right, Merlin doesn't say anything. He's too busy gaping at Arthur.

"Merlin, Percy, this is my idiot brother, Arthur."

"Technically half-brother." He bends down to shake Percy's hand and then Merlin's, without so much as any indication that he and Merlin have ever met. God, he's a good actor. "You work with Morgana?" he asks.

"We do," Percy says, standing up and shaking his legs out. "Anyone care for a drink? Morgana? Merlin?"

"Yes," Merlin says. "Definitely yes."

"I'll come and help," Morgana says, "Martinis all round?"

"Perfect." The way Arthur rolls the r in perfect makes Merlin want to jump out the nearest window.

Arthur watches Morgana and Percival head for the kitchen before he whispers, "You could look a little more suspicious, Merlin. Not obvious at all the way you just went catatonic."

"Clearly I'm not as good at lying to people as you are, your majesty." Merlin looks around to make sure no-one's coming and says, "Does she know?"

Arthur throws Merlin the most irritatingly condescending look imaginable.

Merlin gares. "Well okay, maybe that was a stupid question."

"Maybe? Merlin, in the history of stupid questions I doubt there'd be any competition for yours."

Merlin opens his mouth to retort, but Morgana, Percy and Gwen are walking in carrying martinis.

"Gwen." Arthur kisses her cheek. She blushes and giggles. Merlin thinks about how satisfying it would be to punch Arthur in his smug, perfect face. "I must say you're looking as gorgeous as ever. It's been far too long."

"It's been ages," Gwen says, taking a sip of her martini. "What made you decide to come back?"

"Oh you know, I'd had enough. I was bored."

"For fuck's sake, Arthur. Only you could get bored in Manhattan." Morgana takes a sip from her martini glass.

"Well I did miss you terribly, dear sister."

Morgana snorts and takes a larger sip this time. "Do sit down, all of you. You're making the place look cluttered."

Merlin sits back down on the couch, next to Percy. Arthur sinks into the red velvet armchair opposite them and Merlin tries very hard not to focus on the fact that it looks almost exactly like the throne he uses at Avalon. He shifts in his seat, and when he looks up, Arthur is watching him.

"So what is it you do, Arthur?" Percy asks, sitting back down on the couch.

"As little as possible," Morgana says, smirking at him.

"Very funny." Arthur leans back further, sprawled in his chair, his thighs falling apart. He looks so different in the bright light of Morgana's home, as opposed to the darkness of the club and Merlin's never noticed before just how elegant he is: fine-boned, a product of good breeding. "Actually, I'm a PR manager."

Merlin laughs out loud before he can stop himself.

"Merlin, is it?" Arthur's eyebrows are raised, and his mouth has that arrogant tilt to it that has Merlin teetering between being annoyed and turned on. "Something you'd care to share?"

"No thanks," Merlin says, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Sorry. Didn't mean to offend you. I guess I just wasn't surprised. You seem like the type is all."

Arthur laughs, his head thrown back. "I don't know whether to be insulted or honoured. But as we've just met—" he throws a pointed look at Merlin, "I'll assume you're not meaning to insult me."

"Oh no," Morgana says, "he's absolutely meaning to insult you. Merlin hates the upper class."

"I do not," he says, "I just have— issues."

"Yes," Arthur says, "I imagine you do."

Merlin finishes off his martini in three gulps and wonders just how on earth it's possible to have luck as appallingly bad as his.

"Another, Merlin?" Morgana asks, and he nods.

"Whereabouts is your bathroom?" he asks, "I think one of my contacts is sitting a bit strangely."

"I'll show him," Arthur says, and it's all Merlin can do not to swear out loud.

"Thanks." Merlin grits his teeth and follows Arthur out of the living room and up the stairs.

As soon as they're upstairs, Arthur pushes Merlin into the bathroom and shuts and locks the door behind them.

"Uh, what are you doing?" Merlin asks. Arthur stands with his arms crossed, leaning against the back of the door.

"What are you doing, Merlin?" Arthur's gaze is focused, intense. "Aside from just about screaming to the world that we've met before, that is."

Merlin's face reddens and he turns away from Arthur, holding onto the edge of the sink. "Sorry. I guess I'm not as good at pretending as you are."

Arthur laughs, it sounds hollow. "I would say you're very good at pretense." His tone is cold, biting.

"You don't know anything about me," Merlin says, his jaw clenched. "Nothing at all."

"That's where you're wrong," Arthur says. He moves in closer, leans on the sink next to Merlin. "It's my job to read people."

"Bollocks. PR isn't about reading people."

"My other job," Arthur says, his tone slow and careful.

"Ah." Merlin looks ahead at himself in the mirror. He can see Arthur out of the corner of his eye. He's so fucking gorgeous in this light and it's very distracting. "So what do you think you know?"

"Look at me."

"No." Merlin stays looking straight ahead. "We're not at Avalon, Arthur. You don't get to order me to do anything."

"You're so fucking scared aren't you, Merlin?" Arthur asks, his voice tightly controlled. "Just can't let go, no matter how much you want to."

Merlin spins around. "It's not about that. You just— you didn't give me a fucking chance."

"I gave you a chance, Merlin. You piked because it got too much for you to handle."

"Oh for the— fuck you," he whispers, his throat tight. "I didn't pike at all, you complete tosser." Merlin is much closer to him now, close enough to feel Arthur's breath on his face. "I stayed with Gwen that night because she'd just had her cat put to sleep and she needed me, and fuck you for assuming I couldn't handle it. And while we're at it, fuck you for making me watch you and that skinny twink, too."

It happens too fast for Merlin to even realise it, but one minute he's staring at himself in the mirror and the next he spins around, grabs Arthur and kisses him. His heart is thumping so hard it feels like it's going to leap out of his throat and Arthur looks almost shocked for a minute, maybe as shocked as Merlin is that this is happening, but as soon as he recovers, he grabs Merlin and slams him against the back of the door.

"Is he your boyfriend?" Arthur asks, his teeth scraping along the line of Merlin's jaw.

"No. No he's just—" Arthur's hands are on him, unzipping his trousers and Merlin goes from half-hard to completely straining in seconds.

"He wants you," Arthur whispers, his tongue tracing the shell of Merlin's ear. "But he can't have you, can he?"

Merlin wants to resist, wants to tell Arthur this isn't healthy, that he needs to find someone else that doesn't turn his head inside out, but instead he finds himself saying, "No," His head thrown back and eyes closed as Arthur reaches into his boxers and strokes him rough and relentless.

"Good," Arthur says, and he sounds as breathless as Merlin feels. "God, you look so good like this, Merlin. I'm going to give you everything you need if you'll let me."

"Yes. Anything." He bites his lip and Arthur fists his cock one more time, agonisingly slow, then pulls away.

Merlin nearly falls over, his legs liquid and weak. "What. But."

"You said anything." Arthur grips Merlin's jaw with his hand and holds him there while he licks, slow and lewd between his lips. He pushes his tongue deep into Merlin's mouth, swallows his moans. Merlin's never been kissed like this in his life; it's deep and thorough, claiming, like Arthur's fucking his mouth. When Arthur pulls back, Merlin tries to follow him, but Arthur just nips Merlin's lower lip with his teeth and pushes him back against the door, a hand against his chest.

Merlin runs a shaky hand through his hair. When he looks at Arthur, he looks so calm and composed, so different to how Merlin must look, his mouth red and used, his aching cock pushing against the material of his boxers.

"This is what you're going to do," Arthur says in that clipped, posh tone that Merlin can't get enough of. "You're going to go back downstairs and have another drink. Then we'll all have a nice dinner and then you're going to go home and tomorrow night you'll come to the club and see me. You understand?"

Merlin's struggling to even breathe, let alone speak, but he nods.

"Oh and Merlin?" Arthur zips up Merlin's trousers and walks him over to the mirror so he can put himself together again. "No touching till then. And I'll know."

Arthur kisses him one more time, whispers, "You don't even know what it is you want. Not yet. But that's all right, because I'm going to show you."

Before Merlin can even react to what he's said, Arthur unlocks the bathroom door and opens it slowly. He walks through it and spins back around to look at Merlin one last time. Arthur's eyes are so fixed on Merlin, so intense that it makes Merlin shift on his feet a little, makes him look away for a moment. When Merlin looks back up, Arthur is just standing there with his arms folded across his chest and that sly half-smile on his face before he shuts the door.

Merlin runs his hands through his hair again and turns back to stare at himself in the mirror. It's all he can do to just stand there and breathe, unable to quite grasp what just happened.

***

When Merlin comes back downstairs, Arthur is sitting on the settee next to Percy, which is more than a little worrying to Merlin. The two of them are turned into each other, talking intently about something he can't quite make out. It can't possibly be anything bad but Merlin still wonders if anyone would notice if he polished off the half-empty bottle of gin sitting on the breakfast bar by himself.

He takes a moment, inhales deeply and checks himself to ensure that all his clothing's in order.

"Merlin," Morgana says, breezing through the kitchen and collecting him, one hand on his arm. "I thought we'd lost you. Arthur said you dropped your lens on the bathroom floor and couldn't find it, you poor thing."

Arthur turns and the look on his face makes Merlin's cock pulse. "Yes, he was on his knees with his arse in the air. Quite a sight." Arthur wets his lips and Merlin has to look away.

Percy stands up. "Why don't you sit here, Merlin? You look bloody exhausted."

On the sofa. Next to Arthur. That won't be uncomfortable at all.

"Yes, Merlin, do sit." Arthur pats the empty seat next to him, a wide grin plastered on his face. "I don't bite."

It takes all of Merlin's strength not to fall on the floor laughing. Arthur is a fucking predator and they both know it. He crosses in front of Arthur, deliberately not looking at him and deposits himself on the sofa.

"Percy and I have discovered we have an awful lot in common," Arthur says.

Merlin bites back a whimper. "Oh?"

"We went to the same school," Percy says, perched on the arm of the sofa and Merlin looks up at him to distract himself from Arthur's smug fucking face for a few minutes.

"Yes. And our dads played rugby together." Arthur twirls the olives in his martini.

"Fascinating," Morgana says, "isn't it Gwen? Such riveting conversation. Can I get anyone a drink?"

"I'll get them," Percy says. So polite, so helpful and so damn good. Such a stark contrast to the bane of Merlin's life, seated on the settee next to him.

"I'll help." Gwen hops up from her seat and follows Percy out to the kitchen.

"See?" Morgana shakes her finger at Arthur, "not everyone cares for your classism, Arthur Pendragon. I'm sure Merlin would rather gouge his own eyes out than listen to you prattle on about rugby and bloody Harrow."

"Merlin and I," says Arthur, "have bonded, actually." He pulls the two olives off of the cocktail stick with his teeth and chews them slowly, more than a little suggestively.

"Really." Morgana's eyebrow is raised and she looks like she doesn't believe Arthur for one minute.

"Yes, really." Arthur moves closer to Merlin and puts a hand on his leg. It's almost too much: the weight of it, the warmth, and Merlin stares at it. "Isn't that right, Merlin?"

"Uh. Yeah. Well sort of."

Morgana laughs. "I wouldn't say bonded and barely tolerated are the same thing, but thank you for being so polite, Merlin." She looks at her watch. "We may as well go through for dinner now, cook told me half-past seven."

"Wonderful," says Arthur, and his eyes travel slowly down Merlin's body and up again. "I really am rather famished."

They all stand, and Arthur puts an arm around Merlin's shoulder and draws him in close as they walk through to the dining room. "What a pretty red mark I've left there on your collarbone, Merlin. That's going to leave a lovely bruise."

Merlin strokes over the length of his collarbone, absently. "I fucking hate you, you know," he says, "You did that on purpose, you bloody sadist."

They sit down at the table, and of course Arthur deliberately chooses the empty seat next to Merlin's.

"You think this is me being sadistic?" Arthur hisses in his ear, "Oh, Merlin, I'm barely getting started. Believe me, when I'm being sadistic you'll know."

Merlin's so turned on that he doesn't fancy his chances of getting through the night without coming in his trousers. He wonders if it would look too obvious if he hid under the table. He's relieved when Percy delivers his martini. Alcohol will at the very least help to mute things a bit, stop him feeling so on edge, hopefully make him stop thinking about Arthur's mouth and hands for more than five seconds and how he can't wait until Arthur's touching him again.

"Cheers," Morgana says and they all raise their glasses. Percy sits opposite Merlin and Arthur, with Gwen on his left and Morgana on his right.

"Well this is nice," Arthur says.

"What is? The fact that you've managed to not act like an utter pillock for, oh, five minutes?" Morgana smirks and Merlin can see much more of a family resemblance now. He wonders if Uther Pendragon smirks like that too.

Arthur just laughs and takes a sip of his cocktail. His tongue darts across his lip and Merlin tracks the movement. Arthur's mouth is horribly distracting, the arrogant curve of it, the sulky lips and if Merlin were to close his eyes he knows he'd be able to feel those lips on his still, the wet heat of Arthur's mouth on his skin. Merlin's so fucking hard it's uncomfortable, his trousers stretched tight over his cock and he shifts in his seat. It's too much to hope that Arthur didn't notice, Arthur seems to notice everything.

"So, Gwen, how did you and Merlin meet?" Arthur doesn't even seem to be looking at Merlin, so maybe he did miss it after all. Merlin inhales through his nose and relaxes his shoulders, takes another sip of his drink.

"At college, actually," Gwen says, "I was being harassed by my ex and he stepped in. Got a broken nose for the privilege, poor thing."

"Worth it," Merlin says, blowing Gwen a kiss.

Arthur smiles and leans his chin on his hand, looking at Merlin like he's a mystery waiting to be solved.

The soup course arrives shortly after: broccoli and blue cheese with crusty ciabatta, and Merlin has to look away when Arthur slathers butter all over his hunk of bread and sucks the remnants of melted butter from his fingers. It doesn't take much imagination to see Arthur sucking Merlin's cock the way he's sucking on his own digits, or pushing him over the table and licking him open Merlin's heart races and he grips the edge of the table, tries to centre himself.

The soup is delicious, warming and rich, and Merlin hadn't realised just how hungry he was. Pretty soon it's all he can think of and he blocks out everything else, including Arthur, in favour of enjoying the steaming spoonfuls of broth.

Merlin's halfway through his bowl when he chokes and very nearly drops his soup spoon into the bowl in horror. Arthur's arm is resting on the back of Merlin's chair, his fingers on Merlin's neck. Merlin looks up, but nobody else seems to have noticed, they're so involved in their conversation about work and who's fucking whom in the entertainment law team. When Merlin flinches, Arthur leans in and whispers, "Careful, Merlin, wouldn't want to draw undue attention to the state of your trousers, would we?"

Arthur scrapes his fingernails slowly down the back of Merlin's neck and up again, and Merlin hisses when Arthur twists ruthless fingers in his hair. Merlin feels completely fucking sensitised, the sharp edge of Arthur's nails on his skin and his aching cock strains in his trousers. His eyes drift closed for a minute and he bites his lip hard, to stop himself from moaning.

When Merlin opens his eyes, all he can focus on is the shocking absence of Arthur's touch. His skin feels too tight, too small for him and he wants Arthur's hands back on him so badly it hurts.

"See, Merlin?" Arthur says under his breath, "I can be a tease too."

Merlin turns around slowly and watches as Arthur wipes his mouth on his napkin and stares back, eyes dark and full of promise.

***

Merlin doesn't sleep well that night. It's hot, but he doesn't do what he normally would on a night like this: strip off and sleep naked under the over-sheet, just skin and thin cotton and nothing else. Mostly, he thinks if there were any kind of friction against his cock right now, it would finish him off and he is not enduring hours of fucking torture at Arthur's hands only to give in at the eleventh hour, as much as he wants to.

Arthur had been an absolute wanker through the rest of the evening: finding excuses to touch Merlin casually in ways that none of the others would have ever picked up on. Merlin can still feel Arthur's fingers on him, the rough edge of one slightly rough fingernail dragging against his skin, the weight of him when he pushed up against Merlin to whisper in his ear that he'd see him at Avalon at 7.30pm.

"Don't be late, Merlin," he'd said, his breath warm and sinful, his teeth grazing the shell of Merlin's ear. "Or there will be consequences."

Merlin had barely held back a whimper.

But more than that, Merlin can still feel the pressure of Arthur's hand on his cock before he cruelly took it away, the perfect rough strokes and the deep, claiming kisses. And it really is taking every ounce of willpower he has not to drop his hand and fist himself, but Arthur told him he couldn't.

Merlin may not be the best sub in the world, but if there's one thing he wants it's to not disappoint Arthur again. He knows what it's like to have those hands on his body, that mouth marking him and he wants so much more of all of it.

It's a miracle that he actually makes it through till the morning, dozing fitfully until his phone buzzes with a message from Will. Merlin rolls out of bed and stretches, making his way to the shower. It's a lot cooler in the flat during the day, but he's still not sure about how much hot water he can handle, so he settles on moderately warm. The cold shower thing is overrated and Merlin's pretty sure that it won't work anyway, anyone who thinks cold water works for abandoning lustful thoughts and unfortunately timed erections hasn't met Arthur bloody Pendragon.

He steps under the stream of water and hisses when it hits him, an odd mix of refreshing and shocking against his over-sensitised skin. He'd always thought people were exaggerating when they referred to orgasm denial as being painful, but it is: the most exquisite kind of agony really. An awareness that doesn't go away, tension thrumming under his skin like something is struggling to escape and the almost uncontrollable urge to just get off—just rut against anything.

Merlin's never been so desperate for anything in his life and he thinks he might actually be slightly masochistic, because while it's hard and frustrating and he can't wait for it to be over, he also almost doesn't want it to end. Almost.

He washes himself carefully, avoiding his cock as he soaps between his thighs. The water still hits it when he rinses off though, and he feels it all the way from his scalp to his toes, like an electric current of want. He runs a finger between his buttocks and lingers there, his finger ghosting over his hole like a promise of what might happen. Merlin isn't an idiot, he doesn't presume anything now. Arthur's behaviour is impossible to pinpoint and his mind is a fucking mystery, but Merlin dares himself to hope that maybe, just maybe Arthur will fuck him tonight.

You don't even know what it is you want. Not yet. But that's all right, because I'm going to show you.

Merlin digs his fingernails into his palms to try and centre himself, take his mind off the expectation of what might happen and the fact that he's achingly hard and wanting. It doesn't work and he stands under the shower until the water runs completely cold.

He chucks on an old Ramones t-shirt he finds in the cupboard and a pair of grey jogging bottoms over his most comfortable pair of briefs, nothing tight or constricting, before padding barefoot out to the kitchen. Merlin doesn't bother to dry his hair, just pats at it with the towel while he boils the kettle for his first cup of Irish Breakfast.

It's a miracle really, that he manages to get through the day without having a nervous breakdown or committing some kind of crime and being arrested. He checks his emails, most of which are spam, and has a long conversation with his Mum on Skype. They talk every week on a Sunday, but usually in the evening, and the last thing he needs to be thinking about prior to heading off for Avalon is talking to his mother about the state of her veggie garden and whether Great-Aunt Agatha's shingles are curable.

By the time Merlin's hung up, it's 11.30 and he still has seven hours until he has to leave.

Merlin tries everything to get his mind off the time. He logs onto his work email, but when he reads Arraignment Proceedings as Arthur Pendragon he decides that being anywhere near the firm's email account is just a really terrible idea.

Three cups of tea later, it's 1.30 and time for lunch. For Merlin, it's like someone stepped on time and it's dragging itself slowly from one minute to the next, because there is no possible way that only two hours have passed.

A nap is out of the question, he's too wired, too tightly coiled so he ends up watching old Torchwood reruns on BBC One. It's a good time-waster, and he doesn't even notice that he's been sitting for almost three hours, watching episode after episode of silly aliens and John Barrowman chewing the scenery whilst being sex-on-a-stick.

When the Jack/Ianto kiss happens in episode three of season two, Merlin finds himself swearing and reaching for the remote. It's too late though, and the image of Jack kissing like a fucking porn star is burned onto his retinas. It's far too easy to spend the next hour fantasising about Arthur as Captain Jack Harkness and Merlin as his faithful assistant being bent over Jack's desk and soundly fucked into the mountains of papers.

Merlin changes the channel to a documentary about flower arranging to kill the last hour, which is mind-numbingly boring, but at least it won't make him come in his trousers. Ten minutes into it, he's twitching, his scalp tingling and if his mother was there she'd have something to say about the constant knee-jiggling.

He gives up and heads to the bedroom to get ready. Eases his jogging bottoms very carefully down so as not to cause undue friction and pulls his jeans on extra carefully, hissing a little when he zips them up. He opts for a black t-shirt and his black Converse trainers. Merlin stares at himself in the mirror, runs a hand through his hair. The black clothes make his skin look even paler and the mark that Arthur's left on his collarbone stands out in stark contrast, too. He rubs at it and it throbs, aches. Merlin can feel his cock pushing against the zip in his jeans.

Merlin hopes that Arthur leaves more marks on him, leaves him with tangible reminders of their time together.

He must stand there for longer than he realises, because when he looks at his watch it's time to go.

***

Avalon on a Sunday is no different to Avalon on a Friday or Saturday. It's almost as full for a start and Merlin wonders what kind of person one would have to be to regularly attend a sex club on a Sunday night.

Though of course, he knows he's not in any position to judge.

Merlin is half an hour early, but better that than being late. He really doesn't want to experience whatever "consequences" Arthur mentioned, not tonight anyway. Merlin doesn't see him when he walks in, but that isn't a surprise. He's probably elsewhere, making some other man or woman completely crazy. The thought of it makes his chest burn.

He orders a coke and takes a seat at the bar, keeping a very close eye on both his watch and what's happening on the stage. Merlin hasn't really paid much attention to the demonstrations before, but his stomach flutters when he sees two men up there; the larger of the two, a blond with Celtic tattoos is tied to an X Cross, his wrists and ankles restrained. Merlin takes a sip of his drink, it's cool on his tongue and he concentrates on that because shortly after, the smaller bloke has his hands all over the blond. He's running his hands slowly over the blond's back before he takes a leather flogger and starts long, slow strokes, connecting with the blond's arse, lower and middle back. The blond's face is turned slightly towards Merlin and he can see how contorted in pleasure it is. He feels like he's intruding.

Merlin shifts in his seat and seconds later he feels gloved fingers in his hair and his head being pulled back, almost gently, but with an edge of pain.

"You're early." Arthur's voice alone is almost enough to make Merlin lose control right then and there.

"Wanted to—" He struggles to even get the words out. It's too much, Arthur's clever fingers grabbing him, his voice curling round Merlin's ears. "I—"

"Already lost for words, Merlin, that's unlike you. I haven't even started yet." He lets go. "Come on. Unless you'd rather watch that boy getting flogged. I can guarantee it won't be as much fun as what I have planned for you, darling."

Arthur's voice seems to be directly connected to his cock, and Merlin bites his lip to stop himself from moaning. He turns around. Arthur is wearing a red open-necked shirt and tailored black trousers. The gloves he's wearing are black, leather, and look very expensive. Everything about Arthur is expensive and unattainable and so fucking sexy.

Arthur raises an eyebrow. "Well?"

Merlin breathes deep and nods, following Arthur through the dancefloor and down the corridor to the private rooms. It seems like months since they were last here and Merlin's heart is racing so hard it thrums in his chest like the bass from the dirty dubstep track the DJ is playing.

Arthur unlocks the door and opens it, standing aside for Merlin to walk through. His legs are so shaky he doesn't actually know how he's still standing. He hears the click of the door behind him and Arthur is standing there, his eyes travelling slowly down Merlin's body from his face down to his groin and back again.

"So, did you sleep well?" Arthur looks completely fucking smug, and Merlin wants to say something, wants to hurl insults and him, things like ”You know I didn't you fucking arsehole and this is all your fault.", but he doesn't even get a chance to because Arthur is grabbing him by the arms and pushing him up against the door.

"Fuck," Merlin says under his breath and tries to search out Arthur's mouth with his, tries to kiss him, but Arthur just pulls back even further, holds him back even tighter.

"No," Arthur says, "not tonight, Merlin. Not until I say so."

The disappointment must show on Merlin's face because Arthur strokes his cheek with his gloved hand, says, "You need to trust me, Merlin. No more teasing, no more games. If that isn't what you want, you can leave now."

"No," Merlin says. "I won't be leaving."

"Good." Arthur runs his fingers over Merlin's lips, "I was hoping you'd say that."

Merlin exhales, and Arthur loosens his grip a little, steps back. He looks down at Merlin's crotch, says, "Did you do as I asked?"

The authority delivered in that cut-glass voice is just about enough to make Merlin fall to the floor and beg for anything Arthur wants to give him. "Yes," he says, his face flaming hot.

Arthur leans in and cups him, firmly. "Yes, I rather think you did. I'd like you to take off your clothes and kneel down."

Merlin nods and Arthur backs away.

"Oh and Merlin? I don't want to hear anything out of your mouth unless I address you specifically. Is that clear?"

"Uh—" Merlin stops when Arthur glares at him and just nods.

"That's better." Arthur walks over to one of the cabinets, and Merlin's stomach curls in on itself.

He pulls his t-shirt off and unzips his jeans, toes his shoes off and pulls jeans and boxers and socks off. He can't help but feel self-conscious when he looks down at his pale skin, at the sharp lines of his hips and his skinny legs. He knows it's ridiculous; he's not a prude and it's not the first time he's been like this in front of Arthur, but everything's different now, more intense.

He doesn't even notice at first, so caught up in his head, but Arthur is pressed up against his back, one gloved hand on his left hip and Merlin can feel how hard he is, his clothed cock pressing insistently into Merlin from behind. Merlin can't help it, he rolls his hips back.

Arthur must be happy to allow it, because he doesn't tell Merlin no and he doesn't move away. He pushes in harder, rubs himself up and down the cleft of Merlin's arse.

"Been thinking about you," he says, warm breath against Merlin's neck, "thinking about all the things I want to do to you. You've been so good doing what I asked, Merlin. But you'll need to wait just a little longer."

Arthur fists Merlin's cock, a slow pump up and down with his now ungloved hand. Merlin groans in disappointment when Arthur pulls his hand away, but he's back seconds later and Merlin doesn't even have time to react as Arthur snaps something tight and cool around the base of his cock. A cockring. Fuck.

"No," he says under his breath, but it's enough to get Arthur grabbing him by the neck and pushing him down to the floor.

"If you can't shut up, I will shut you up." Arthur sounds angry, anger mixed with something else that Merlin can't place.

Merlin closes his eyes for a minute, and when he looks up Arthur is standing in front of him, holding a length of thick rope, pulled taut between his hands. Merlin's nipples tighten and his cock pulses.

"Oh you want this." Arthur walks around and kneels behind Merlin, binding his wrists tight. "Wanted this all along, haven't you?"

Merlin can hear Arthur's footsteps going towards the cabinet again.

"Tell me, Merlin," he says, "how did you feel when you saw me with Mordred? When you stood there and watched while he sucked my cock?"

Merlin grits his teeth. "Didn't like it much."

Arthur laughs and it sounds hollow. "Come on, I know you're more verbose than that." He crosses back to Merlin and stands in front of him. Arthur's taken his shoes and socks off as well as his shirt and Merlin can't help but stare at the long, lean torso and the smattering of hair on Arthur's chest and nipples.

"I wanted it to be me," he admits. "Wanted to walk in there and push him away and suck you."

"You have no idea," Arthur says, moving closer, "how you looked standing there, watching me. How much I fucking wanted you."

Arthur unbuttons his trousers and pulls his cock out of his briefs. It's long and thick and absolutely gorgeous. Merlin licks his lips and Arthur moves in so close that Merlin could almost reach out with his tongue and lap away at the precome beading at the slit. But he doesn't, because if there's anything he knows it's that he isn't the one in control here, and Arthur grabs him by the hair with one hand and with the other, holds himself as he rubs his cock, slow and steady over Merlin's bottom lip.

"Your mouth," Arthur says, his voice nowhere near the deep, controlled tone that Merlin is used to, "needs to be fucked, Merlin. Do you want me to fuck your mouth? Wear out your jaw on my cock?"

"Please," Merlin says, Arthur still rubbing his cock back and forth over Merlin's lower lip. "I want it."

"Yeah, fucking beg me for it." Arthur pulls him back by the hair, "God, you have no idea how good you look right now. Open for me."

Arthur lets go and Merlin opens his mouth, lips covering his teeth and with no warning, Arthur pushes in deep. Merlin chokes a little, tries not to gag, because Arthur is big and he isn't starting off slow, just pushing in as far as he can go, relentless. Merlin's nose is pushed up against Arthur's belly and Arthur waits for a minute, lets him adjust and pulls nearly all the way off. Merlin's ready for him the next time, and it's easy to forget about how much it aches being so full of Arthur's cock, because this is heady, this feeling. Merlin knows now that he was wrong: he may be the one on his knees with his wrists bound, but he's the one with the power here and he lets his tongue trace along the vein on the underside of Arthur's cock when Arthur pulls almost all the way out.

He moans like he's hungry for it, and something flashes across Arthur's face that Merlin's never seen before: sheer, uncontrolled pleasure.

"Knew you'd be perfect at this," Arthur says, his voice shaky and his eyes closed. "So fucking good, Christ."

It's intoxicating, because Merlin knows it's him that's making Arthur like this, nobody else. He never wants it to end. Arthur pushes back in and Merlin's jaw is aching from it, the force of Arthur's cock pushing deeper and deeper each time. He can feel how close Arthur is, his fingers clutching tighter in Merlin's hair, his thrusts getting more and more erratic. He groans, low and guttural, and Merlin knows it's almost over.

Arthur pulls out then, pumps his cock with his fist. Merlin closes his eyes, he knows what's coming and he tilts his head up, lets his mouth fall open. Arthur swears under his breath before he paints Merlin's face and mouth and throat with his come.

Merlin swipes his tongue slowly over his lips. It makes Arthur lurch forward; he pulls Merlin up and kisses him, his mouth claiming and biting. He unties Merlin's wrists and kisses him deeper, his hands at the back of Merlin's head, cradling him.

"Fucking look at you. Letting me come on your face like that. Loved it, didn't you?"

Arthur is breathing hard and there's a moment when Merlin thinks maybe this is the real Arthur, the one who isn't playing a role, who isn't emotionally unavailable and always in control.

But it doesn't last, and when Arthur pulls back, something flashes in his eyes and the mask is firmly back in place, a sardonic tilt to his mouth.

"On your back," he says, “want to see you."

Merlin gets down on the floor and lies back, waiting. He bites back a moan when Arthur walks away and he thinks that maybe, for a moment, Arthur's going to leave him there. When he comes back, Merlin huffs out a laugh, tension leaving his body.

"Something funny, Merlin?"

Merlin shakes his head. It's then that he notices Arthur has a bottle of lube in his hand, and just thinking about it makes him want to roll over and beg. He plants his feet on the floor and lets his legs fall open.

Arthur laughs. "Look at you. Can't even wait." He gets down between Merlin's legs and rubs his come into Merlin's skin, "lying there with my come all over you and spreading yourself wide for me. So desperate."

Listening to Arthur, his cultured, posh voice spouting such filth and not being allowed to speak is unbearable. Merlin bites down on his tongue, tries to concentrate on the pain to distract himself from how close he is to giving in and just running his mouth like he wants to.

Arthur uncaps the lube and smears it on his fingers. "Only getting my fingers tonight, Merlin, how does that make you feel? Answer me."

"I can't—" Merlin says as Arthur rubs two lubed fingers over his hole. His voice sounds scraped raw, and his throat hurts. He loves it, doesn't want it to end. Wants to feel used by Arthur till the day he fucking dies.

"Can't what?" Arthur asks, his voice as calm and controlled as ever. Bastard.

"I need you, need you in me," he says, not even knowing what he's saying now, running his mouth and not thinking about a damn thing. "Please."

"Oh, Merlin," Arthur says, his voice soothing as he pushes his fingers inside Merlin, slow and deep. "You have no idea how good it is to hear you beg."

He leans forward, his fingers pushing in deeper and his mouth on the inside of Merlin's thigh, laying sharp, biting kisses all the way up. His mouth is so close to Merlin's cock now that Merlin can feel hot breath and he shudders.

"But you're going to wait for my cock, because you can." Arthur thrusts in deep, his fingers rubbing against Merlin's prostate. Merlin throws his head back and almost sobs. It's all too much, he’s so overstimulated and all he wants to do is come, he doesn't care anymore, he can't even think about anything else, his skin burning with it, the need.

"How many times have you done this, hmmm? Lying in bed at night, thinking of me doing this to you? Did it feel good? Or did it just make you feel empty?"

"Arthur, please."

"Tell me," he says, "how. Did. It. Feel?"

"Never enough," Merlin says, "never ever enough."

Arthur pulls out completely and drags Merlin up so he's kneeling again, barely managing to hold himself there, his thighs and knees aching. Arthur stands and disappears from sight and Merlin can't believe it, this is too cruel, even for Arthur. He feels Arthur against him seconds later, pressed up behind him, and he relaxes a little. Arthur doesn't waste any time, just manhandles Merlin, and hauls him into his lap. He unfastens the cock ring and Merlin wants to cry with relief. Arthur kisses him then, open-mouthed and wet, obscene and Merlin can feel it all the way down to his bones.

Arthur gets his hand on Merlin's cock, strips it fast and rough. It only takes a few strokes and Merlin's coming, moaning into Arthur's mouth.

It feels like he comes forever, and when it's over he's dizzy with it, so raw and broken and Arthur kisses him gently, his hand on Merlin's chin just holding him in place.

***

Merlin's used to seeing Arthur in places where he's actually not, thanks to his overactive imagination. So when he walks into Gwen's office to pick her up for Wednesday Pad Thai and finds Arthur sitting on the corner of her desk, head thrown back and laughing, he thinks for a minute that he's probably either going completely mad, or that his worrying sexual fantasies have evolved to include Gwen.

He's mostly relieved that neither are true, but that also means the object of his obsession and the blight on his very existence is there. If Merlin actually believed in god, he'd have to say that the fucker is probably even more sadistic than the man in front of him right now.

Arthur looks ridiculously fucking fit in his corporate wardrobe: the red tie which contrasts so perfectly with his hair, the collared white shirt and the exquisitely-tailored charcoal trousers and waistcoat. Merlin wouldn't have thought it possible for Arthur to look any more fuckable, but seeing him like this, in the middle of the day, he's infinitely more real and gorgeous and golden and Merlin's chest constricts at the sight of him.

When there isn't the distraction of Arthur's hands and mouth and cock, it's easier to focus on just how devastating beautiful he is.

There's a lull in the conversation and Arthur looks up. His face and his body language read indifference, but there's more behind it if one were to look closely. The way he widens his eyes slightly, the hint of tongue wetting his lips. And just like that Merlin's throat seizes up and he can't swallow.

"Merlin." Arthur stares straight at him and Merlin tries to remember that he isn't the heroine in some regency novel and that swooning is probably not a good look in any way, shape or form.

"Arthur. What brings you to our neck of the woods?" Merlin folds his arms across his chest. "There's no Cristal at our lunch place, I'm afraid. Just noodles and tom yum soup. No twelve course degustations, either."

Merlin doesn't know why the cheek and insults seem to fall out so easily when he's around Arthur like this. Maybe it's the only way he knows he can actually communicate through the thick wall of sexual tension between the two of them, or maybe it's like poking at a vicious animal with a stick. But the most surprising thing that Merlin notices is the fact that Arthur seems to enjoy his insults, he looks almost charmed by them.

"Now Merlin," Arthur says, drawling his words in a way that does not make Merlin's skin tingle at all. "I actually came to ask Gwen here whether she liked my idea for Morgana's birthday present. But I'd love to join you for lunch, thank you so much for asking."

Arthur looks so fucking amused that Merlin contemplates pushing him off the desk onto the floor.

Instead, he mumbles, "Anytime," and avoids his gaze. It isn't that he doesn't want to see Arthur. Of course he does, he wants to see him all the fucking time, but this Arthur is possibly even more dangerous than the one he sees on the weekends. This Arthur is completely unpredictable, with rules and boundaries only he understands. Merlin has no fucking idea what to expect.

Hell, he'll probably find a way to finger Merlin under the table while they're eating their chicken satay entree, or something.

And that is completely the wrong bloody thing to even entertain for a second. Merlin's face is flushed and his tongue is thick in his mouth and he's trying very hard to think about anything other than Arthur: his mother's flower garden, Will farting, anything that's completely unsexy. Anything that'll manage to combat the erection that's currently making his trousers very uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, as soon as Merlin tries to think of unsexy things, his brain decides to throw up the image of Arthur bending him over Gwen's desk with a hand on the back of his neck.

Gwen doesn't seem to notice anything's wrong, deep in conversation with Arthur about Morgana's new favourite designer, but Arthur seems to read everything on Merlin's face. Not only that, his eyes follow down the line of Merlin's body, from face to neck to torso and settle on his crotch, one eyebrow raised.

"Shall we go then?" Gwen asks, "If we don't get there by one they'll run out of satay, and then Merlin will sulk."

Merlin rolls his eyes. "Not as much as you sulk when there's no sticky rice pudding left, thank you very much."

"Fine," Gwen says, laughter in her voice. "I'll get our jackets, Merlin, hang on."

Arthur stands and gestures towards the door, and grabs Merlin by the arm as Gwen walks over to the coatrack to grab the jackets. He breathes, "Good to see you," against Merlin's neck and Arthur's breath is warm and inviting and sets his teeth on edge.

"I thought you said no more games," Merlin says, half under his breath, jaw tight, watching Gwen carefully.

"Oh I did say that, didn't I?" Arthur grins, lips resting against Merlin's ear. "Changed my mind when I saw you there, looking all indignant and delicious. Would you rather I didn't?"

He sounds deathly serious when he asks the question and Merlin looks down at his feet for a minute, then looks Arthur straight in the eye and says, "No. No I wouldn't."

"Good," Arthur says, "because I haven't stopped thinking about you all week."

Merlin’s hands shake as Gwen passes him his jacket.

"Shall we?" Arthur says, loud and cheery. He gestures towards the door and exits after Gwen. Merlin tries very hard not to notice the way his expensive trousers perfectly frame his arse, which is, quite frankly, stupendous.

It's going to be a very long, very uncomfortable lunch.

The walk to Doytao is uneventful, which is probably just as well. Also just as well is the fact that they end up at a four-person table with a comfortable distance between Merlin and Arthur. Though Merlin is opposite the horrible distraction which is Arthur's face, so he isn't sure which is worse, really.

He can remember Arthur's hands on him; the weight of them, how smooth they are. How his fingers felt as they pushed inside. Yes, sitting far, far away from him is a much better option for Merlin's sanity. Arthur knows it too, and he mostly ignores Merlin, giving his utmost attention to Gwen who just sits there staring at him like he's a masterpiece painting. Every now and then though, he throws Merlin a look which makes Merlin nearly whimper out loud.

Nothing about Arthur Pendragon is in any way fair.

Over tea and chicken satay, Arthur probes Gwen for details on her still-sickeningly-wonderful romance with Lance.

"Well, he's just lovely," Gwen says, munching on the plump cubes of chicken drenched in rich, fragrant peanut sauce, "we'll be moving in together once we find the right place."

"I think it's lovely that you've found someone." Arthur takes a sip of his tea, "Office romances very rarely work out, isn't that right, Merlin? How is Percy, anyway?"

Merlin chokes on his mouthful of tea. "Uh. Fine, I think?"

Arthur's obsession with Percy is very odd, and if Merlin didn't know any better he'd think that Arthur was actually jealous.

"Why do you ask?" Merlin says, his gaze fixed on Arthur.

Arthur's eyes sparkle with something Merlin can't read. "Gwen was telling me all about she and my sister trying to set the two of you up. How adorable. Really."

Merlin shivers at the intensity in Arthur's gaze.

"Well, we had to do something," Gwen says, patting Merlin on the arm. "I mean, after all the pining he was doing for—"

"Oh look, our mains are here!" Merlin tries very hard not to glare at Gwen as he starts tucking into his prawn pad thai, it isn't her fault that the very man he complained to her about is the same one sitting at the table.

Unfortunately, true to form, Arthur doesn't miss a beat.

"Tell me more, Gwen." Arthur takes a bite of his basil stir fry and chews slowly, deliberately. "Who is young Merlin pining for?"

"Young Merlin is not pining for anybody, thank you very much." Merlin shovels noodles into his mouth rather more aggressively than he meant to and ends up with a few of them hanging out of his mouth. After chewing excessively, he finally manages to swallow the last one with a big gulp. "And even if he was, I don't see how it's any of your business. We've only just met, after all."

Fortunately, Gwen's mobile chooses that particular moment to ring and she leaves the table to answer it.

"Pining over me, Merlin?"

"Not in the slightest," Merlin says, waving his chopstick at Arthur. "Don't get all smug and smarmy. You're just a decent shag is all."

Arthur just smiles and goes back to his curry without saying another word. Arse.

Gwen comes back to the table, her mouth downturned. "I'm sorry, I have to go back. The Nicholson case has blown up."

She kisses them both goodbye and says, "Merlin, you stay. I'll let Gaius know you're finishing your lunch."

He watches her go and takes another sip of tea. It's almost cold.

"Alone at last," Arthur says, dabbing at his mouth with his serviette.

"Great." Merlin sighs, loudly.

Arthur laughs. "Come on, Merlin. What are you afraid of?"

"In a word? You." Merlin puts his head in his hands. "Look, Arthur, this is — weird, okay?"

"Well, yes." Arthur pushes his bowl away. "It is a unique situation, granted."

Merlin groans. "Look, it's like— you're not supposed to be a person." When Arthur snorts, Merlin adds, "Oh you know what I mean. It used to be about roleplaying and now you're— here. It just makes everything really confusing, and I don't know how you expect me to react."

"I don't know how you expect me to react, either." Arthur folds his arms across his chest. "Unfortunately, I threw out my copy of what to do when your sub is a complete pain in your arse who also happens to be friends with your sister. "

Merlin's skin tingles when Arthur calls him 'his'. It's ridiculous, but it's the first time he's explicitly said it, and Merlin hates that he's that easy, to forget about everything else and just want to drop to his knees and beg Arthur to take him. But he does, he really, really does.

The waitress comes and clears their plates and Arthur asks for the bill.

"So what do we do?" Merlin asks, hating the desperate tinge in his voice. He bounces his knee up and down and inhales sharply when Arthur's hand comes down hard on it.

"Stop. Fidgeting."

Merlin closes his eyes for a minute and when he looks up Arthur is just staring at him, eyes dark and pupils wide.

Arthur hands his credit card to the waitress when she brings the credit card machine over, and doesn't stop staring at Merlin the whole time.

"You know, I've been watching you for a while now," he says, casually punching his pin number in. He waits until she's gone and adds, "You're just — different. Much more exciting than anyone else at the club. Maybe the fact that nothing about this situation is in any way the norm is a good thing."

"More exciting than Mordred?" Merlin wants to bash his head against the table as soon as the words are out of his mouth.

Arthur just rolls his eyes and doesn't even dignify it with an answer. "That reminds me." He pulls out his phone and hits a few buttons. "What's your number?"

Merlin narrows his eyes. "What do you want my number for?"

"Really, Merlin." Arthur has that look on his face, the one that says you have got to be kidding me, you ridiculous, big-eared git "Do you not trust me? I mean, you have had my fingers in your arse so I'd think a phone number wouldn't be completely pushing the boundaries of propriety, would you?"

"S'pose not." Merlin shrugs.

"You don't have to, of course." Arthur looks sideways, it's almost as if he's unsure. Merlin can't imagine Arthur being unsure about anything, ever.

"Of course. I mean I want to." Merlin takes a breath to stop himself from stammering. Just thinking about the fact that Arthur wants him to have his number makes him a little giddy. It feels like it's something he's daydreamed about, Arthur being more accessible and him being more accessible to Arthur, but it makes Merlin's palms start to sweat just thinking about it. He rattles off the number, trying to keep his voice even as he does.

"Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" Arthur is back to his snarky self again and Merlin almost wonders if he imagined the moment of vulnerability. "I'll text you my number. Then if you're ever late or someone else's horrendously enormous cat needs to be put to sleep—"

Merlin smiles. "That sounds like a good idea."

"All my ideas are good."

Something in Arthur's tone makes Merlin's stomach roll over with lust. "Yes," he says, "yes they are."

"Merlin, I need you to know that you have power here. You can choose to walk away any time you like."

"Yeah," Merlin says, and dares to look deep into Arthur's eyes, "I know I can. But I don't want to."

"Good," Arthur says and walks around to the seat that Gwen's vacated. The two of them are pressed close now, knee against knee and Merlin shivers. "Because I'd really like to see you tonight. If that's all right with you"

Arthur scratches up and down the length of Merlin's thigh with his nails. The proximity's so close that nobody else would even notice.

"Yes." Merlin says, his eyes drifting closed. "More than all right, actually."

"Have you been thinking about me, Merlin? About the other night?"

Merlin laughs hysterically. "Uh, yes. Like only every other minute." He bites his lip when Arthur's fingers come very close to his cock, just millimetres away and Merlin tries very hard not to move, just concentrates on his breathing for a minute to try and compose himself.

Arthur's mouth is on his ear, his tongue tracing the shell. "How badly do you want me to fuck you?" He gets the heel of his hand on Merlin's cock and just rubs once, slow and hard, up and down.

"I don't think I could want you to more." Merlin hisses as Arthur rubs at him again. "Please, Arthur."

"God, you're so pretty when you beg." Arthur pulls at his tie, adjusts it, and Merlin can't help but feel a little bit smug that he's making Arthur uncomfortable for a change.

Merlin wants to make the most of the moment while it lasts, so as he's getting up to leave he leans in and says, "Tonight then, your majesty. 7.30. Don't be late." He leans in and brushes his lips over Arthur's ear and deliberately doesn't wait to see his reaction.

After Merlin's been back at the office ten minutes, his phone buzzes.

you're going to pay for that.

Merlin grins and texts back, good.

***

Wednesday nights are definitely a much more low-key affair at Avalon. The place isn't packed like it is on the weekends. It's still busy of course, but not wall-to-wall bodies and sweat and the DJ isn't playing bass-heavy, dark techno or progressive house. It's mellower, sexy still but not so much with the tribal beats.

Merlin's early as always. Part of it's fear of something going wrong on the way there, the train being late or some accident holding him up to the degree that he ends up being late again. But he has Arthur's number now, and Merlin tries not to think about that too much, because that way lies madness, but at least it means that if something were to go wrong, he'd be okay.

Well, that part's debatable. Merlin can only imagine the sort of punishment Arthur would have already picked out if Merlin were late to one of their appointments. It makes Merlin shiver just to entertain the thought.

He walks past the bar and stands on the side of the dancefloor, watching the various couples and groups, the way they grind together. After a couple of tracks his eyes settle on the two women in the ridiculous shoes and the skintight dresses. One blonde, one brunette. The blonde is small and waifish and the brunette looks like she should be on Geordie Shore, though much, much prettier, with big hair and even bigger tits. She has one hand wrapped around the blonde's neck, her mouth resting on her ear, probably whispering filth from the way the blonde is reacting. Her other hand is on the blonde's right breast, her thumb circling the nipple.

Merlin swallows. The blonde's head is tipped back now, her eyes closed and lips parted and Merlin can only imagine how it feels to be her. His cock hardens in his jeans, imagining what it would be like to be owned like that, in front of a crowd of people with a hand on his throat, gently squeezing and Arthur's (because at the end of the day it's always Arthur) voice in his ear, telling him what he's going to do to him.

The brunette's hand slides down slowly and her fingers inch under the hemline of the blonde’s dress. Merlin should look away, but he can't. He's transfixed, thinking about how she must be feeling, so transfixed that he's startled when Arthur sidles up next to him and speaks, loud enough to be heard over the music.

"Gorgeous, isn't it?"

"Jesus, you gave me a fright." Merlin turns to say something else, something smart and bitey, but his words dry up in his throat. Arthur is wearing a snug black t-shirt, stretched across his chest like a second skin, his hair's a little messy and Merlin wants to run his fingers through it. The sleeves of his t-shirt cling to his biceps, and the trousers he's wearing cling perfectly to his arse. He looks so markedly different to how he looked a few hours ago, dressed all in black and sex-ready instead of coiffed and pristine and Merlin is, as always, reminded of what a dichotomy this man is.

"I'm so sorry, Merlin. Perhaps there should be some sort of announcement next time? It is, after all, 7.30." Arthur presses up behind him, his arm around Merlin's waist, mirroring the pose of the two women in front of them, Arthur is a lot less gentle though and he pulls Merlin back against him. "You like watching those two? Turns you on, doesn't it?"

"It's not un—unattractive." Merlin opens his mouth to tell Arthur that looking at wallpaper these days is possibly enough to turn him on, but when Arthur's lips brush at his throat, breathing is kind of difficult really, and he just closes his eyes and relaxes, lets Arthur move him any way he wants to.

"You'd like that, would you?" Arthur breathes into his ear, warm and inviting. "Have people seeing you like this, getting all hot and bothered watching you writhing and wanting and begging me to touch you. Look at how much she's loving it. She's hot, but I'd lay bets you'd be even hotter."

"Fuck." Merlin's eyes roll back in his head when Arthur pushes forward and Merlin can feel the hard line of Arthur's cock pressing into his arse.

"Yeah, I can see it now," Arthur's thumb presses into the base of Merlin's throat and Merlin groans. "Hm. Interesting, Merlin. You're so full of surprises, aren't you?"

"Do it," Merlin says, almost hissing. "Please."

"I don't think so," Arthur says, his voice taking on that amused tone that it so often does. "My game tonight, my rules."

"Isn't it always? I mean, it's not like I ever manage to get you all hot and bothered. Oh. Hang on. There was that time at lunch today."

“You would do well, Merlin, to remember your place." Arthur bites him then, a sharp nip on his ear. "And I told you once that I'd show you what happens to teases, didn't I?"

"Yes, and so far I'm yet to see it." Merlin's voice is shaky, which is unfortunate, but he'd challenge anyone to be able to sound calm and in control with Arthur's hands on them and the hot throb of his cock pressing into their arse. "Perhaps your reputation is unwarranted."

He's taunting him, and it's probably very unwise, but he can't seem to stop. Merlin can imagine the look on Arthur's face, that mixture of amused and turned-on as well as the edge that Merlin's been dying to see since lunch. Arthur is just ridiculously sexy and Merlin wants to push and push and see what happens. See whether Arthur is in any way as affected by any of this as Merlin is.

"I know what you're trying to do, darling," Arthur whispers. His lips brush against Merlin's neck, a hot brand against his skin, "and I can assure you, you're not ready for what happens when you provoke me."

Merlin grinds his hips back so he's practically riding Arthur, arse rubbing at his crotch. When Arthur hisses, there's at least a little victory there.

"You want me to fuck you right here, do you?" Arthur drops his other hand down and rubs at Merlin's cock through his jeans. "Come right here where everyone's watching?"

"I'd like you to do what you promised at lunch, sire."

"You'll be lucky if you get anything, the rate you're going, boy." Arthur spins him around and Merlin's so dizzy with it his knees start to buckle. Arthur must see it because he puts an arm around Merlin's waist and holds him up, his hips flush against Merlin's.

"I don't even know where to start with you." Arthur sounds very serious, looks almost tense for a moment. He glances away for a minute and when he turns back, he's Arthur again, arrogant and in control and enjoying himself. He presses the room key into Merlin's hand and licks a slow line up the column of Merlin's neck until he reaches his ear. He licks the outline of it and whispers, "go and wait for me. Take off your clothes and wait, face down on the horse."

"Okay."

Merlin moves to walk away and Arthur pulls him back, bites at his earlobe, hard. "Okay won't cut it tonight, Merlin, just so you know."

Arthur's eyes are dark when he lets Merlin go and Merlin almost shivers at the intensity in them. He lowers his head and looks up at Arthur from under his eyelashes, mouth upturned, says, "Whatever you say, my lord."

Merlin pulls away from Arthur, and walks away across the dancefloor, down the long corridor to the playroom. It's almost like he can feel Arthur's eyes burning into the back of his head and his stomach does a little thrilled flip when Merlin thinks about Arthur watching him, thinking about what he's going to do to him.

***

It isn't that Merlin means to be the worst sub in the world. It's just a bit of a struggle sometimes between his inherent nature and his want and need to be dominated. His mother always told him that his need to be contrary would get him into trouble, and Merlin thinks it's probably not the best time to be thinking about his mother when he's in an empty playroom, bare arse naked and trying desperately to think about anything except how badly his knees hurt and how fucking cold he is.

He shifts again, tries to get comfortable, but really the comfort is probably not going to happen tonight.

He looks at his watch. It's been ten minutes since Arthur sent him to the room and well, he can't really say he didn't deserve this punishment or whatever it is. It's probably supposed to be character building or whatever, but right now all he can think about is how much he wished he'd just acted like the rest of them, the subs that Arthur plays with: obedient and perfect and never contrary or cheeky. Maybe if he'd been more like them, he wouldn't be freezing cold on his hands and knees, waiting for someone who is probably getting his thrills from leaving Merlin to suffer like this.

Just when Merlin's about to give up and put his clothes back on and tell Arthur to go fuck himself, or someone other than Merlin because he's had quite enough of this little session thank you very much, the door opens, and Arthur walks in.

"Glaring isn't going to help, you know." Arthur sounds so casual, like he'd just walked into a cafe or something and had someone waiting for him at the table. He locks the door behind him and Merlin sighs, concentrates on his breathing and lets his shoulders relax. "Bit cold in here, I'll turn up the heat."

"So glad you noticed," Merlin says, under his breath.

"Merlin, do shut up."

Arthur sounds more amused than angry, but Merlin thinks it'll probably go better for all involved if he actually follows Arthur's instructions. After all, he does want to be good. The last thing he wants is for Arthur to give up on him, to walk out and go find someone like Mordred, someone who'd never speak back to him or complain or—

"I can see you thinking from here," Arthur says, and Merlin turns back to face away from him, bows his head and waits. "You don't have to think about anything, Merlin. Just do as I say. Do you think you can manage that? You may answer."

"Yes."

"Yes what?" Arthur is behind him now, a hand in his hair, clutching and pulling Merlin so he's kneeling up on the horse.

"Yes, your majesty."

"Good." Arthur bites his ear. "Do you remember your safeword?"

"I do. But I won't need it," Merlin says and he hears Arthur exhale behind him. Arthur pushes him back down, quick and rough. Pulls Merlin so he's spread out, his arms stretched forward and Arthur leans down, buckles the restraints around Merlin's wrists.

"Do you really trust me that much, Merlin?" He sounds impressed, maybe a little in awe, if that's possible.

Merlin's tongue is thick in his mouth and he doesn't know if it's okay for him to be talking, but Arthur hasn't said he can't, so he nods and says, "Yes, your majesty. I do."

"You shouldn't assume you won't need it," Arthur says, and his tongue is wet and hot, licking up Merlin's spine until he reaches the juncture of neck and shoulder. He scrapes his teeth there and whispers against Merlin's skin, "God, you really, really shouldn't."

Merlin is aware of his pulse, beating hard in this throat and when Arthur pulls away from him, he tries to move back, but his arms are quite tightly restrained so he doesn't get far, he exhales sharply.

"Yes," Arthur says, the sound of his voice fading as he walks away, Merlin assumes to the toy cabinet when he hears a door creaking. "I'm afraid you're bound quite tight, Merlin. You can struggle but you won't be able to move very much."

He comes back, the sound of his shoes tap-tapping across the floor.

"You've taken," Arthur says, slowly, carefully almost, "rather too many liberties lately. Pushing me, seeing how far you can take things. Teasing, Merlin, and the best way I know to deal with a tease is to tie them down and soundly spank them."

Merlin can't help himself and the noise he makes is one he'll be really embarrassed about later.

"You have such a lovely mouth," Arthur says, "but I don't want to hear anything out of it until I say so. No words, no noise, unless it's to utter that safeword."

Merlin shakes his head vigorously.

"Well, we'll see won't we?" Arthur crosses in front of the horse and pulls Merlin up by the hair. He leans in and kisses him, deep and rough, fucking Merlin with his tongue and Merlin feels it all the way down to his toes. The kiss is so relentless it's hard to catch his breath, but Arthur finally lets him go and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, walking around to the back again and laying his hand on Merlin's lower back, sweeping over the swell of his arse.

The first stroke when it comes is a shock, and it knocks Merlin forward. It stuns him and it takes all of Merlin's determination not to cry out. Arthur is using a wooden paddle and it makes Merlin's skin burn hot. He's never felt anything like it before and it takes him a minute to recover. When the shock of it has worn off, Merlin can still feel his arse burning and tingling and his teeth ache.

Merlin anticipates the second, but it doesn't make it any easier when the paddle connects with his left buttock. It hurts, god it hurts, and it's so hard not to make noise that it's all he can think of.

His chest is tight, lungs burning and he's so light-headed with it all. When the third stroke comes, he can't help it, he lets the tiniest of whimpers escape. He bites his lip as soon as it happens and Arthur is behind him, his lips on Merlin's ear, whispering, "Shhhh. You're doing so well, Merlin, you have no idea how gorgeous you look right now. Not much longer, okay?"

Merlin nods and Arthur pulls away again. Merlin readies himself, but instead of the next stroke what he gets is Arthur's hands on his arse, rubbing his thumbs into the flesh and muscle that the paddle's connected with. The pain before was nothing compared to this, it's not sharp and short, it's deep and it aches and Merlin has to bite his tongue to stop himself from sobbing. It's exquisite and horrible and Merlin hates and loves it both. Wants it over and never, ever wants it to end.

The next stroke of the paddle drives him forward, and his cock slides against the soft leather. His arse is on fire now, throbbing and burning and his cock is aching to be touched, wet at the tip. Merlin's struggling to breathe, and not even being able to whimper like he wants to, it's too much, too hard, he can't do this.

"One more," Arthur says, and Merlin shakes his head. "Come on, you can do this. Just one more, Merlin."

Arthur's hands are on him now, skating down his back and over the swell of his arse and Merlin shivers. His nerve endings are raw and sensitised and he wants to scream that he can't do this, not even one more. He imagines saying Emrys out loud and ending this, but it feels like quitting and he's lasted this long.

He nods, and he hears Arthur say behind him, "Good. You're so good at this, you know, Merlin. You're amazing."

And with that, Arthur draws back and hits him one more time, paddle slamming right on the swell of his left buttock. Before Merlin can even work out what's happening, there's a clatter of the paddle hitting the floor and Arthur drops to his knees behind him and gets his thumbs on Merlin's arse, spreads him open and licks once, a slow stripe along the cleft and back.

Merlin groans then, low and hungry. Arthur licks deeper and deeper, his tongue actually pushing inside now, his stubble rubbing against the sensitive skin of Merlin's arse and his hands cool against Merlin's overheated skin, Merlin can't stop himself, it feels so fucking good and his cock is rubbing against the leather and his whole body aches. His arms are taut and burning from the restraints, his thighs and knees throb from kneeling for so long and his arse is still stinging and hot from the paddle.

It's all too much, this assault on his senses coupled with the push of Arthur's tongue, wet and insistent and Merlin's cock dragging back and forth over the soft leather. Merlin comes, moaning fuckfuckfuckArthurplease and making such a mess of the buttery leather as he shoots all over it and Arthur reaches up, unbuckles the restraints and shoves his fingers inside Merlin's mouth for Merlin to moan around and suck deep as if they were Arthur's cock.

"You have no idea how hot you are," Arthur says, his breath hitched and voice a little broken as he pulls Merlin back and cradles him against his chest on the floor. Merlin winces when his arse comes into contact with the hard surface and Arthur's hands are all over him, skimming down his throat and over his chest, nails scratching over his nipples, fingers rubbing at his hipbones and dipping between Merlin's thighs, brushing so close to his arse.

"Please," Merlin says, begs, and Arthur kisses him then: different to before, a hand on his chin and his mouth so gentle and soft, suckling on Merlin's tongue and lips. It's like Arthur is kissing him for the first time - intimate and questioning and when Arthur's fingers brush against his hole, Merlin finds himself rolling his hips forward, trying to urge Arthur on, to get them inside him.

"Shh. Relax," Arthur says, "I'll take care of you now. Come on."

They stand and Arthur walks Merlin over to the bed. Merlin's legs shake, but he makes it and Arthur says, "On your stomach, go on."

The bedding is soft and warm, and Merlin melts into it like it's marshmallow. He huffs out a sigh and stretches his arms out in front of him, clenching and unclenching his fingers.
Arthur's hands are on his arse, gently cupping and checking, Merlin supposes. He flinches when Arthur skims across a particularly sore spot,

"Bit too sore?" Arthur asks, and Merlin murmurs his assent. "You can actually speak now Merlin, I know you're probably dying to."

"Actually," Merlin says, yawning, "I wasn't. But since you mention it, can I just say ow?"

Arthur laughs, softer than Merlin's used to. "I was a bit hard on you, wasn't I?"

"Eh," Merlin turns his head as far as he can, he's had enough of not seeing Arthur's face for one night. "I can handle it."

"Yes," Arthur says, mouth upturned, "I have no doubt you can. Wait here a moment, I'll be back."

Merlin huffs out a laugh. "Not really capable of going anywhere, but sure, whatever you say, you're the boss, right?"

He slumps back down on the pillow, almost drifting off. The cool touch of Arthur's fingers brings him back. The lotion on Arthur's hands is cold and Merlin jerks away instinctively, but Arthur just whispers, "Come on, relax," and Merlin does, concentrating on the way the coolness of the lotion feels against his hot, abused arse.

Arthur spends long minutes rubbing the lotion in gently and Merlin thinks he could probably just fall asleep then and there.

"We don't have to do anything else, you know," Arthur says, his lips brushing against the small of Merlin's back.

"Excuse me?" Merlin raises an eyebrow, "I'll have you know I've been waiting for you to fuck me for weeks, you're not backing out now."

"Is that so?" Arthur sounds utterly amused now. "And you're in charge now, are you?"

Merlin turns over, trying to ignore the fact that he can feel the firm mattress through the soft bedclothes and it's just too much against his arse. "Yes?"

Arthur rolls his eyes. "Merlin, you're an idiot. Just— at least put a pillow under you, would you?"

"Yes, your— whateverness."

Arthur leans in and kisses him, murmurs, "Shut up," into his mouth and pulls his t-shirt off.

Merlin reaches out to touch him, says, "May I?"

Arthur laughs. "Of course. After all, you are in charge now." He grins then, wide and insanely pretty and Merlin can't believe that someone who is already so fucking beautiful becomes so much more so when he smiles like that. It shouldn't be possible. Shouldn't be allowed, either.

Merlin knows he's no more in charge than Prince Harry is likely to settle down with a wife and three ginger-haired babies, but Arthur is finally allowing Merlin to touch him, without anything in the way of it, so he isn't going to second-guess or wait for Arthur to change his mind.

He touches, tentatively at first, the heel of his hand running over Arthur's abdominals, and when Arthur doesn't make any move to stop him, he gets his other hand on Arthur's chest, strokes gently over hard muscle, his thumb circling one of Arthur's nipples.

Just when Merlin thinks he could quite happily do this forever, Arthur grabs hold of Merlin and flips the two of them over, so Merlin's on top.

"Want to watch you," Arthur says, unbuttoning his trousers. He reaches for the lube, which he must've brought back when he grabbed the lotion, slicks his fingers up and pushes two slowly inside Merlin.

"Fuck."

"Yeah," Arthur says, his voice raspier than before, "Going to ride my fingers, Merlin? Show me how much you love it?"

Jesus. Arthur's mouth should be illegal, and he gets another finger inside Merlin. It's so tight, Arthur's fingers pushing in so deep and Merlin realises he's grinding his hips, his body trying to get them even deeper.

"God, you look so good." Arthur reaches out and traces Merlin's mouth with his fingers, "have to—" He pulls his fingers out and Merlin groans in disappointment.

Arthur looks almost desperate, shoving his trousers and briefs down one handed and ripping the condom packet open. "Put it on me." Arthur sounds fucking hungry and Merlin bites his lip to try and center himself a little. His own cock is desperate for attention, precome beading at the tip, but he ignores it and concentrates on getting his own hands to stop shaking long enough.

Arthur's cock is as gorgeous as Merlin remembers; thick and hot, and he can remember the weight of it on his tongue, the taste of it.

"Stop thinking, Merlin," Arthur says, his eyes dark and focused on Merlin's hands as they roll the condom on. "There's no need. Just— just let me—"

Merlin nods. He isn't surprised when Arthur grabs his hips and flips the two of them over, laying Merlin down over the pillow. Arthur pushes in slowly. It's been a long time since Merlin's been fucked, months, and it burns. God, he's missed this so much, being filled so much it hurts and he hisses when Arthur's cock drags back and forth along his prostate.

"You're so tight." Arthur’s breath sounds hitched. He pulls out almost all the way and grabs Merlin's thigh, pushing it up so he can get deeper inside him. "Wanted to watch you ride me, Merlin, but I couldn't— needed to just fucking slide into you and— he pushes in so deep that Merlin gasps.

"Too much?" Arthur asks, still for a moment.

"No." Merlin shakes his head. "God, no. Just—"

Arthur's face clouds over for a minute and he looks like he's going to say something, but instead he gets one hand on Merlin's shoulder for leverage and the other on his cock and whispers, "Fuck my hand, then, show me how much you love this."

Merlin' lungs are burning as he tries to breathe. It's so intense, Arthur's cock so deep inside him, owning him like this, and his fist wrapped tight around Merlin's cock. His skin's on fire and his heart is racing and it's like he just can't handle anything else, this assault on his senses is flaying him raw and he shakes his head, whimpers, "I can't."

"Do you want me to stop?" Arthur asks. Merlin shakes his head again and Arthur leans in and kisses him, whispers warm against his mouth, "then you can do it. Because I say you can."

Merlin doesn't know how he manages it, but he thrusts his hips forward, driving his cock into Arthur's hand at the same time as Arthur is driving his own cock inside Merlin. Arthur's hand is smooth and his ring is cool against the heat of Merlin's cock; all it takes is three or four strokes before Merlin is gasping for breath, waves of pleasure hitting him. His fingers twist hard in the bed sheets and he throws his head back, muscles clenching tight and his cock pulsing hot, white streams on his stomach and chest.

"Oh fuck," Arthur says under his breath, "the way you feel. Jesus Christ." And with that he pushes in deep one last time and Merlin is still riding the aftershocks of his own orgasm when Arthur comes deep inside him.

Arthur doesn't move for a few minutes, just rubs his thumb in tiny circles on Merlin's hipbone. It's frighteningly intimate and Merlin can't help the way his chest tightens.

"Thinking again, aren't you?" Arthur says as he pulls out. It isn't a question that Merlin even knows how to answer and he's struck immediately with just how unbearably empty he feels.

Arthur walks to the other side of the room, disposing of the condom and bringing back a flannel and a bowl of warm water. He wipes Merlin clean, a cool, wet flannel soft on Merlin's face and throat and cock.

"You can stay as long as you need to," Arthur says, and he brushes a kiss over Merlin's temple.

"Do you need to go?" he asks, and he hates the slightly desperate tone in his voice.

"No. I don't have anywhere to be," Arthur says, and he runs his fingers through Merlin's hair as Merlin shuts his eyes against the barrage of thoughts running through his head.

He can't help but wonder, as he gives into his body's compulsion and drifts off to sleep, how anything is ever going to be the same again.

***

When Merlin wakes up, his eyes blurry and his pillow damp, it takes him a few disoriented minutes to work out where he is. He knows instantly this isn't his bed at home: too comfortable for a start, and the linen's a far cry from his cheap, cotton sheets. It doesn't take long for him to work out who is with him, though. Arthur is pressed up behind him, shaking him gently and murmuring into his skin that it's probably time to go home. He looks at his watch, it's just past 3.

It's funny, Merlin hadn't even really thought of Arthur having a home, his own space, but now that he thinks about it, he can't get it out of his mind. He wonders how big it is, where it is, probably somewhere like Knightsbridge or Belgravia. Some bachelor's place with a huge bed and his own playroom, perhaps? Or maybe he likes to keep his house separate from his extra-curricular activities.

"Do you need a lift?" Arthur asks, pressing a kiss to Merlin's shoulder and when Merlin turns over, still waking up, Arthur's already heading to the other side of the room, picking up his clothes as he goes. The sight of Arthur's arse, as he walks away, is a hell of a way to wake up. Unfortunately, Arthur pulls his boxers and trousers back on and the arse of the century is now, regrettably, covered.

Merlin blinks. "Uh— what was the question again?"

Arthur looks different now: more rigid, formal. Clothed he's all sharp lines and elegance. His face seems a lot less open, and when he runs a hand through his ruffled hair, patting it down, it's like Merlin can see the moment where the Arthur who fell asleep with him disappears.

Arthur raises an eyebrow, pulling his t-shirt over his head. "It wasn't a particularly taxing question, Merlin. Do. You. Need. A. Lift?"

"Thanks. Because the condescension was completely necessary, Arthur. I'm still half asleep, for the record." Merlin forces himself to throw the covers off and get up. He's moving sluggishly, boneless almost and he pulls his clothes on slowly. He hasn't really recovered and he can't believe it was hours ago now, everything feels so raw still, so fresh.

Merlin looks down at his own wrinkled clothes, so unlike Arthur's polished perfection and wonders just how it's possible for someone to switch their brain off the way Arthur clearly has: one minute he's smiling and open and tender in the afterglow and the next he's like some high-performing aristocratic super-Dom.

Not to mention the simple fact that Merlin can't even get his limbs to work properly - his brain is completely out of the question.

"You still haven't answered me," Arthur says, arms folded.

Merlin sighs. "Yes, you bloody prat. A lift would be lovely, thank you. It's probably out of your way though."

"It's fine. Shall we?"

Arthur drives a blue Aston Martin and Merlin wonders if there's anything about him that isn't a complete rich boy cliché. He's very quiet the whole way to Merlin's, keeping his eyes fixed on the road. Every so often he looks over at Merlin though, like there's something he wants to say.

"What?" Merlin finally says.

"Nothing." Arthur smiles, but it's a guarded little smile, and it doesn't reach his eyes, not like the one earlier, before they fell asleep.

When they get to Merlin's flat, Arthur pulls him in, one hand clutched in Merlin's hair and kisses him slow and thorough.

"Sleep well," he says, and pulls away from Merlin almost instantly.

"Yeah, goodnight." It's weird, the sudden change, it's like he's been dismissed and his stomach folds in on itself as he unbuckles his seatbelt and exits the car, slamming the door behind him. "But what did you expect, you idiot?" he says to himself as he watches Arthur drive away.

It's not like he expected them to cuddle or profess undying love for each other, but a little more basking in the afterglow might have been nice.

Merlin calls into work sick. It's pathetic, really, but he's achy and tired and all he wants to do is sleep. He gets a text from Gwen asking if he's okay and when he texts back to say he was out till 3am in the morning she replies with,

utter slag! Morgana wants to know if you're up for dinner again this Saturday, her friend Leon's going to man the barbeque and there'll be tequila

is her brother going?

He feels like an idiot for even asking, and an even bigger idiot for feeling conflicted about seeing Arthur. After all, he did kiss him that morning, it's not like Merlin has any reason to think something's actually wrong, but nevertheless something twists in his gut when he thinks about the kiss and more precisely, what happened afterwards.

maybe? Gwen texts back. why, what happened?

nothing, just interested :)

Merlin wonders if he should just tell her. But he isn't looking forward to that conversation in any way, shape or form. He doesn't know how to tell her a half truth, and leave either Arthur or the whole BDSM aspect out of it and it's not going to make any sense to her anyway. Maybe just neglecting to tell her anything is the way to go.

sure, I'd love to come

He should text Arthur, see if they have plans, but given how Arthur was when he dropped him home, perhaps waiting is a better option.

One thing's for sure, he needs sleep and lots of it. He takes a couple of paracetamol and drifts off to sleep, remembering the way Arthur's hands felt on his skin.

When Merlin wakes around 9pm, he sees he's missed a call from Arthur. It's pathetic really, but he feels lighter, happier just in the knowledge that Arthur's bothering to check up on him.

He doesn't call him back straight away, though. Merlin's waking up still, his eyes blurry and unfocused. Arthur probably doesn't want to talk to him when he's like this: easily distracted and preoccupied, so he showers instead. The hot water hitting his aching muscles is such sweet relief and he stands under it till it starts to run cold. He towels his hair dry and throws on a pair of jogging bottoms and a t-shirt and checks his work email on his laptop. By the time he's gotten through countless emails from Gaius and one from Will that has a subject line of: "Urgent - she wants me to meet her parents - Emergency Emergency!" it's 11pm. He's left it too late to call. Arthur could very well be awake, but he could also be sleeping and Merlin really doesn't want to be the one to disturb him on the offchance that he is. If Arthur's anywhere near as shattered as Merlin is, he'll need all the rest he can get.

When he calls, he gets Arthur's voicemail.

"Hello, AP here, afraid I can't take your call so please do leave me your details and I'll respond whenever possible."

Merlin is actually stunned. It's the most repressed, terribly British greeting he thinks he's ever heard.

"Wow," he says, "I was going to say sorry for not calling back before now, but I'm hoping in the time it took you might've removed the giant stick from your arse, AP." He pauses, "Anyway, sorry we missed each other. I— I guess I'll talk to you soon, then?"

Merlin hopes that the tone in his voice sounds less desperate to Arthur than it does to him.

***

Gwen picks Merlin up at 3 o'clock on Saturday and they drive out to Morgana's. She's excited, babbling away about work and Lance and the beauty of long-distance relationships and halfway through the conversation, Merlin is looking out the window and Gwen just stops the car by the side of the road and says, "All right. Out with it."

Merlin's still trying to process the fact that the car isn't moving and also that they very narrowly escaped a collision with the very scary looking man in the truck ahead of them when Gwen whacks him on the shoulder and says, "Well?"

"Well what?" Merlin scowls at her, "And ow, by the way."

Gwen strokes his shoulder. "Sorry. That was a little heavy-handed of me, wasn't it?"

He nods. "A little, yes. What are you on about?"

"Merlin you're all— preoccupied again. Like when you were seeing that bloke, the one who shagged around on you with that Mordred fellow."

Gwen's memory is far too good and while sometimes it's very helpful, usually when Merlin's forgotten things like birthdays and things like that, right now he wishes her memory was more like his.

He shrugs his shoulders and Gwen gasps. "Oh my god, you're seeing him again, aren't you? Merlin, have you no shame?"

"Not really, no," he says. "Shame's probably the one thing I don't have a lot of right now, Gwen."

"But Merlin," Gwen puts her hand on his knee and she sounds so concerned that Merlin's torn between wanting to hug her and wanting to just get the hell out of there. "He cheated on you, how could you go back to him?"

"It isn't that simple," he says, and when she snorts, he puts his hand on top of hers and says, "really. It isn't. There's things about me you don't—"

"Okay," she says, and she sounds concerned but resigned nonetheless. "As long as you're happy, Merlin. But are you happy? You don't seem happy."

"Can I get back to you on that?" he asks, and he's relieved when she nods and starts the car again.

When they pull in to Morgana's driveway, Gwen pauses for a minute, biting her lip.

"What?"

"Oh, bugger it. This time it really was all Morgana, all right? She said you seemed a bit down so she thought that she'd—"

It all becomes clear when Merlin sees Percy's silver Audi in the driveway.

"Oh, she didn't. Gwen."

"I'm sorry. She's just a bit —fixated."

But Percy's isn't the only visitor's car in the driveway. Merlin's heart sinks when they walk past Morgana's car and Arthur's vehicle is parked next to it.

"Oh bloody great," he says under his breath.

Gwen frowns. "I thought you liked Arthur now."

"It changes from minute to minute," he says, as they walk up to the door, his heart thumping in his chest. "He's just a bit— hard to read, really."

Gwen laughs. "Takes one to know one, doesn't it? Oh well, hopefully he'll be on his best behaviour tonight."

"Yeah. And maybe British Airways will start flying to the moon," Merlin says as he rings the doorbell.

Of course it's Arthur who answers the door, why wouldn't it be? It'd be too much for Merlin just to have a minute to gather his thoughts before getting them knocked out of his head by Arthur's mere presence, after all.

It's been nearly three days since he's seen him which isn't long at all, but until Merlin had found himself standing there, face-to-face with Arthur, it had almost felt like there'd been enough distance for Merlin to feel in control and not feeling such bone-deep need that made him unable to think of anything else. Seeing him standing there though, it brings everything rushing back, Arthur's mouth on his, his hands on Merlin's body and it's like being punched in the chest so hard that he's winded by it.

Arthur barely reacts at all, in fact he barely even acknowledges Merlin. His gaze is fixed on Gwen when he says, "Oh good, everyone's here, now can we drink?"

"Didn't have to wait for us," Merlin says, shrugging.

"It'd hardly be polite." Arthur flashes him a quick look. There's nothing behind his eyes, no glint of mischief, no appraising glances. It's almost as if they're strangers.

"You're never polite, Arthur," Merlin says, his voice shaking a little. "Why start now?"

Arthur smiles, but there's no warmth in it at all.

Merlin's throat is dry and when he swallows it tastes bitter.

Arthur stands aside to let Gwen walk past and as soon as she's walked through the doorway he moves in close enough for only Merlin to hear, and whispers, "We need to talk. Later."

Merlin tries to ignore the weight of Arthur's hand on his shoulder, the warm breath hitting his ear when Arthur speaks. Tries to ignore the fact that the tone of Arthur's voice makes Merlin feel slightly ill. He nods.

"Gwen, darling," Arthur says, kissing her on the cheek. "What can I get you? Everyone's outside if you want to head out there. Merlin can help me with the drinks."

"Oh I can, can I?" Merlin says, before he can stop himself, "Is there anything else your highness might require?"

Arthur bristles.

"Oh, Merlin," Gwen shakes her head. "Ignore him, Arthur, he's in a foul mood."

"It's all right, Gwen," Arthur says, his voice bright and utterly hollow, "I think I can handle Merlin." Arthur stares at him until Merlin has to look away.

As soon as Gwen walks away, Arthur hisses in Merlin's ear, "Do you think you could try to be a little less obvious, Merlin? Perhaps there are people in Australia that don't know we've been fucking that you'd like to subtly inform of the fact."

Merlin turns around and just stares at Arthur. His jaw is set and he looks exhausted. There's no hint of the Arthur he's known for months now, no hint of playfulness, just cool detachment.

"What is wrong with you?" Merlin asks, "One minute you're kissing me and the next you're— like this. I can't keep up with your moods, Arthur, they're making my head spin."

"Not now. Later."

"Fine. Get your own bloody drinks then." Merlin walks away from him and makes for the outdoor barbeque area where Gwen, Morgana, Leon and Percy are all seated.

"Hey everyone," Merlin says, pouring as much fake cheer as he can into it. His stomach is clenched tight and when Arthur comes back out with drinks for Gwen and Merlin, it's all Merlin can do to just take it from him and not look.

It's so different to the last time he was here, the two of them stealing furtive glances and playing with each other, Arthur teasing him to the point of utter frustration and Merlin wants it back. Wants that Arthur back, because this one is a complete mystery.

"How are you, Merlin?" Percy asks, and Merlin turns around to look at him. He's as lovely as ever, smiling and friendly and flirting and just for a minute, Merlin manages to forget about Arthur's shocking mood and whatever it is he wants to talk about.

It doesn't last though, and as soon as he looks away from Percy, Arthur is staring at him. Focused and intense as always, but it's different now and Merlin wishes he could just walk out and leave him to whatever the hell it is he's playing at.

They sit outside with the Citronella candles burning, drinking Mojitos and eating the steaks that Leon barbecues for them. Morgana's made salad and Gwen dessert for later, but Merlin barely touches his food.

He's upstairs, washing his hands after dinner, when Arthur opens the bathroom door.

"Thought I'd find you here." He closes and locks the door behind him.

Merlin dries his hands on the maroon hand towel and says, "Okay then, Arthur. What the hell's going on?" He crosses his arms in front of his chest, mirroring Arthur's pose, which is more closed-off than Merlin's ever seen him.

"I need to take a break," Arthur says.

Merlin frowns. "A break from what?"

"You." That's it. Simple as that. Like it's a fucking business transaction.

Merlin laughs, a muffled snort.

"Something funny?" Arthur asks. He's brittle and icy-cold, Merlin feels like he could wither just from looking at him.

"No. I'd say it's pretty much the opposite of funny." Merlin's jaw is clenched and his hands tighten at his sides, the nails digging into his palms. "Can I just ask what the heck happened? I mean, three nights ago you were," he lowers his voice to a hiss, "fucking me and telling me how good I was and now you want a break?"

"You're too attached, Merlin." Arthur sighs. He sounds exhausted. "And I can't work with someone who—"

"Someone who what?" Merlin runs his hands through his hair, "What did I do wrong? Arthur, I did everything you asked. Everything. You asked me if I wanted to walk away from this, you asked me."

"I know." Arthur's voice is completely even, cool, and Merlin wishes he could be like him, because right now his blood is boiling and he doesn't know how to keep a lid on it, stop himself from completely fucking losing it. "I thought you could handle it, Merlin, but you're too involved. I can't work with someone who is, it's not what I do."

"Work."

He says it out loud as if repeating what Arthur said will make any kind of sense, but it doesn't sound right, doesn't feel right on his tongue. It's like dust in his mouth. More than that it's like a really fucking hard backhand across his face and Merlin steps back and steadies himself with a hand on the edge of the sink, his cheeks burning.

"You know what?" Merlin grips the sink tight, his fingers white with tension. "You're a fucking liar, Arthur Pendragon. Was it work when you told me how you liked me because I was different to all the others? When you said you just had to slide inside me, that you couldn't wait? God, you're so fucking good at playing games you can't even work out when it's one and when it's not, can you?"

"I'm not your boyfriend, Merlin," Arthur says. "I'm not going to kiss you goodnight and tell you sweet things to get you into bed. You want a boyfriend? Go find that sweet, vanilla lawyer downstairs and take him home with you. Let him tell you everything you want to hear."

"Fuck you, Arthur." Merlin's chest burns and he needs to get out of there. Everything in this room reminds him of them: the way Arthur slammed him up against the door and kissed him back, his teeth on Merlin's neck, the way his hands moulded to Merlin's hips. "Get out of my way."

Arthur just stands aside and Merlin doesn't look back at him, just unlocks the door and shuts it behind him.

He runs into Percy's chest.

"Merlin?"

"Perce. Could you just—" He stops. Breathes. "I really need to get out of here, would you give me a lift somewhere? I don't want to ask Gwen and—"

"Of course." Percy puts a hand on his shoulder. "Did you want to say goodbye to everyone first?"

Merlin doesn't want to say anything to anyone, he just wants to go. He shakes his head. "I'll um. I'll explain it later. Just get me out of here."

He doesn't wait for Percy, just heads down the stairs and out the front door and waits for him in the driveway, leaning on the bonnet of Percy's car and trying desperately to just slow his heart down, slow the adrenaline in his blood.

Of all the scenarios he had running through his head, none of them ended like this.

"I grabbed some pudding for you," Percy says, when he comes outside, and hands Merlin a plastic container full of Gwen's baked cheesecake. "Told the others you had a headache."

"Thanks." Merlin's stomach is still in knots, but the thought of just getting away from there, from Arthur, eases it a little.

"So I'm taking you home?" Percy asks.

Merlin nods. "My place or yours. Whatever. I don't care. As long as there's tea and cheesecake and booze. I just don't want to be alone right now. Oh god, it's Saturday. You probably have plans?"

"Not now. Come on." Percy tilts his head in the direction of the car.

Merlin hesitates for a moment. It's unfair, doing this to Percy, using him like some kind of rebound boy to try and forget about Arthur. But there's no indication that Percy is anything other than a really nice bloke. It's not like Merlin's going to fall into bed with him over tea and cheesecake and booze.

"I don't know what I'm doing, Perce." He hates how young he sounds when he says it.

Merlin looks down at his shoes and it hits him then, just how unbearably hollow he is, how much everything aches. The rub of it all is that Arthur's right.

***

The drive to Percy's is thankfully silent and Merlin spends most of it just staring at the stain on his jeans, at the knee. He'd spilled some HP sauce on it back at Morgana's and he'd meant to clean it when he went to the bathroom but then, of course, he'd been a little distracted. He rubs it with his finger, it's dry and flaky now so he uses his thumbnail to scrape it off. Not that the stain will miraculously disappear or anything, but it looks a little less fresh.

Percy parks the car and Merlin just sits there, not moving. He can't seem to get his brain and body to work in tandem, which is horribly inconvenient. Percy probably thinks he's gone completely mad, and he wouldn't be far wrong.

Merlin's mind briefly flits to Arthur. Everything that happened back at Morgana's was like a whirlwind and Merlin's still not sure it actually did happen, maybe it was just a fevered dream brought on by weeks of too much sex.

But then Merlin remembers the steel in Arthur's glare and it all comes rushing back. It's too soon to think about it, so he digs his fingernails into his thighs to try and distract himself.

After a few minutes, Percy clears his throat and says, softly, "This is us, Merlin. Did you want to come up? Or—"

Merlin turns to face him. "I don't know that I'm the best company, actually. Maybe that's a sign that I should be alone."

Percy smiles. "I dunno, Merlin, You said you didn't want to be alone, back there. I think that's probably the precise reason you shouldn't be. Come on, you can get shitfaced and sleep in the spare room. You don't even have to talk about it if you don't want to."

And Merlin really, really doesn't want to be alone, so he just nods. He unbuckles his seatbelt and runs his hands through his hair. Takes a deep breath and opens his door, follows Percy to the front doorstep.

Percy lives on the top floor of a loft conversion in Shoreditch, just minutes away from Hoxton Square. It's much grander than Merlin would've expected, though Gwen had once hinted that Percy's parents had made quite a lot of money when his dad sold his construction business a few years ago.

"It's big," Merlin says, as he wanders from room to room. "Though I guess you probably take up a little more room than most."

When Percy grins, it's really kind of blinding and warm, such a nice change from Arthur's ice-cold glare that Merlin doesn't want to look away.

"So what d'you want to drink?" Percy asks, "I've got beer, a dodgy old bottle of red, and, well, probably every spirit imaginable."

Merlin slumps down on Percy's very large, very inviting settee. "Whatever," he says, rubbing his eyes. "Maybe Gin? You got tonic and lemons?"

Percy arches an eyebrow. "Merlin, I'm a lawyer. You've known enough of us to know our primary talent isn't litigation."

"Well, yeah. True." Merlin toes his trainers off and picks up the book on Percy's coffee table. It's full of glossy colour plates of male models who, in all honesty, don't look half as good as Percy. He's so perfectly shaped, his huge biceps and torso, tapering down to a waist that looks almost delicate, feminine. Add to that his rugby player look and dazzling smile and Merlin wouldn't be surprised if he paid his way through law school modelling for books like this. Perhaps if Merlin looked as good as Percy does he wouldn't have ended up having to quit Med School in the first place.

"So, G ‘n T?" Percy asks, and when Merlin nods, he walks away to make the drinks. Merlin absently rubs his wrist with his thumb. There's a spot that's slightly chafed and he hadn't even noticed until now, but it must have been from twisting inside the restraints the last time he was with Arthur.

And just like that he's aching again. It's almost as if Arthur's cut him open, dug his fingers into all those places that no-one can see and squeezed.

"There you go," Percy says, and sits down next to him. "Looks like you need it."

Merlin tries to smile, but all that happens is a slight quirk of his lips.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Percy is angled in towards him. He looks so concerned, so open and sincere and Merlin kinda really wants to, but he thinks he'd probably cry if he tried to talk about Arthur right now, and he isn't ready for that.

He just shakes his head, points to the large bookcase full of DVDs. "Maybe we could watch something? If you wanted?"

"Sounds great," Percy says. "Are you hungry? I mean, I know we ate at Morgana's, but I could always eat more. Pizza place down the road is pretty damn good."

Merlin laughs. It feels good to laugh. Of course Percy is always hungry, why wouldn't he be? The man is larger than most blocks of flats. And Merlin is famished. It'd been so difficult to actually stomach any food at Morgana's, given how cramped with nerves he'd been and now that Percy's mentioned it it's all Merlin can think about: hot, dripping cheese, tomato sauce and juicy peppers.

"PIzza sounds great," he says, taking a hearty sip of his drink.

"Okay. You go pick a film out then and I'll order." Percy stands up and stretches. His polo shirt rides up and Merlin gets just the barest hint of skin and hipbones. He looks away and takes another drink, before standing and walking over to the bookshelf. Merlin takes his glass with him so he can drink while he browses; Percy has a lot of films to choose from.

Merlin's about two thirds through his drink now and it's warming him through nicely. He starts to rifle through the DVDs and it's almost like there's too much choice to actually make a decision. He crouches down to save his back from bending and Percy stands in the background on the phone, talking to the pizza delivery place. He yells out, "Do you like anchovies?" and Merlin nods his head furiously.

He decides on Skyfall, because Daniel Craig is scorching hot as Bond and immersive and fun is what Merlin needs right now. He finishes his drink at the same time, crunching the slivers of ice still unthawed in the bottom of the glass.

When Percy gets off the phone, Merlin walks over to him waving the DVD cover in one hand and his empty glass in the other.

" 'nother one?" Percy asks, taking the glass out of Merlin's hand.

"Please." Merlin pops the DVD in the player and walks back to the settee, shoving a cushion behind himself before he settles in.

"Pizza'll be 45 or so," Percy says, as he hands Merlin his drink. Merlin watches as Percy sits down, his thighs flexing.

Merlin takes a sip from the tumbler and puts it down on the coffee table, his fingers slipping in condensation on the outside of the glass. He touches one of his fingers to his mouth, wets his bottom lip with the cool droplet.

Percy is watching him intently, and Merlin doesn't know why he does it really, maybe it's Arthur's words still ringing in his ear, maybe it's just that he needs to get out of there. Or maybe it's because Percy's voice is gentle, and his hands look firm. All Merlin can think about is Arthur's hands on him and his brittle voice and his ice-blue eyes and he doesn't want to think about any of that, not now, so he grabs Percy, pulls him in and kisses him once, just a soft brush against his lips.

"What are you doing?" Percy asks, when Merlin pulls back a little.

"I— kissing you?" Merlin's voice shakes a little.

"Yeah," Percy says, his brow furrowed, "that's what I thought."

Merlin leans in again and this time Percy holds him at bay with a hand on Merlin's chest.

"Merlin, no." Percy sighs, and he smiles a little, but looks ever so slightly sad. "Look, I really like you and you're fucking fit and I've thought about kissing you for months now, but—"

"But what?" Merlin chews his lip. This is not at all what he'd expected to happen if he threw himself at Percy; he's not blind after all, he sees the way Percy stares and the way he smiles and it seemed so inevitable really. Merlin's cheeks flame as he nods for Percy to continue.

"But I can't be your rebound bloke." Percy sounds pained and he puts a hand out and strokes Merlin's cheek. "I can't be your substitute for Arthur."

Merlin flinches away from Percy's hand. It's a lot like he just got thumped in the chest with a huge mallet and he feels like maybe he should ask Percy to repeat himself because there's no way he said what Merlin just heard him say. He folds in on himself for a minute and tries to catch his breath, his hands shaking, and his voice weak when he says, "I have no idea what the bloody hell you're on about, Perce. I— Arthur? Are you mad?"

Percy shakes his head. "Mate, it's just as well you're not a lawyer. You're the worst liar I've ever met."

And that's the truth. Merlin's always been an epically bad liar. It's a shame, really, perhaps things would have gone down a lot differently with Arthur if he'd been better at lying.

Merlin picks his glass up and downs the whole lot, slams the glass back down on the table. He scrunches his eyes tight, winces from the taste. "You'd better bring the whole bottle."

***

To his credit, Percy doesn't push and it isn't till Merlin's lost count of the number of gin and tonics that've passed his lips and all that's left of the pizza is crumbs in a cardboard box that Merlin finally manages to look Percy in the face and ask what he's been dying to know all night.

"So okay. How did you know? Do you have, like, special powers? I mean, I guess you're built like a superhero, so it wouldn't be that much of a stretch and— wow, I'm babbling, aren't I? I'm a babbling drunk."

He pulls his knees up and leans on them, hiding his face.

"Arthur told me I prattled on, you know. When we first met."

He looks up. The room is starting to spin a little, and Percy must see it, because he takes off for the kitchen and comes back with a huge glass of water.

"Drink this," Percy says, "you'll thank me tomorrow."

"Oh aren't you sweet?" Merlin takes a huge gulp. "Are you sure you don't want to snog me? I could suck you off, you know. I've been told I'm quite good at it and everything." He laughs then, a high-pitched nervous giggle and he just wants to grab a pillow and smother himself with it.

Percy just looks at Merlin sympathetically, and that's probably even worse, being rejected sympathetically. Percy's just too fucking chivalrous, really, what kind of grown man turns down a no-strings-attached blowjob, anyway?

"God, I'm such a fucking mess." Merlin runs a hand through his hair and looks up at Percy. "I'm so sorry."

"So am I," Percy says, squeezing his shoulder, and Merlin wishes for a moment that things had been different, that he was different. "And in answer to your question, I know you probably think you and Arthur were being terribly subtle. You weren't. Not from where I was sitting anyway."

Merlin's head is reeling, which could be the copious amounts of alcohol, but he's still not sure he's over the shock of this Percy knows about me and Arthur thing. It's just weird to think about. Of course, Merlin knows he isn't exactly the most naturally secretive person in the world, and Arthur makes him completely fucking crazy and unable to function, so maybe it isn't that weird at all.

"You really do have hidden depths, Perce," Merlin says, taking another big sip of water. "You just sit back and observe, don't you?"

"I just like to take it all in," he says, and ducks his head down, grinning.

Merlin can't help but grin back at him. "I think people underestimate you quite a bit."

Percy shrugs. "Maybe. I think they just look at me and see this big dumb bloke who probably got through law school with his dad's connections and money and— I dunno, I don't mind it so much, flying underneath the radar."

"I've never once looked at you and thought that," Merlin says, and smiles. "I mean, I have wondered what it would be like to kiss you a few times, since we're sharing."

Percy laughs. "Thanks. And, well, obviously likewise."

"It's just, well—"

"I'm not Arthur Pendragon," Percy says, and he doesn't sound sad or hurt, just resigned. "I pretty much gave up on anything remotely resembling an us as soon as I saw you two together, you know."

"I'm sorry, Perce."

"Merlin, it's fine." He pats Merlin's knee gently. "I don't think you realise just how— fixated you are when you're in a room with him. If you did, maybe you wouldn't have been shocked that I guessed you two were—"

Merlin sighs. "Were fucking, Perce. You can say it."

"You don't have to tell me anything, mate." Percy says, "You don't owe me anything."

"I know," Merlin says, "but I kind of want to, if that's okay. I just— I need to tell someone or I'll go fucking crazy. Crazier." He finishes his water and puts the glass back on the coffee table.

Percy nods and Merlin hugs his knees in tight against his chest and takes a deep breath. It's remarkably easy, once he starts, for everything to come pouring out. And he doesn't tell Percy everything: doesn't go into details and make the poor boy blush too much, but it's enough, and if Merlin's voice breaks a little when he tells Percy about the conversation in the bathroom, Percy is kind enough not to react.

"I hate him," Merlin says, mumbling into his knees again. "Why did he have to turn everything upside down?"

"Oh, Merlin." Percy pulls him in for a hug, and Merlin just stays there, face pushed into Percy's extremely manly chest and breathes.

He sleeps in the spare room, in an old pair of Percy's brother's pyjamas. The bed is a bit too soft for Merlin's liking, but he manages to fall asleep as his head hits the pillow.

He dreams that Arthur is there, in bed with him, and he puts a finger over Merlin's mouth and whispers, "Don't wake him, okay?" He draws pictures on Merlin's bare skin with his fingers and kisses the small of his back.

When Merlin wakes, he pats the empty space next to him just to be sure, but it's cold.

***

Merlin's having dinner with Gwen a month later, and in between the starters being taken away and the main course arriving, Gwen takes a sip of her wine and says, "So, what's actually going on with you and Percy?"

Merlin shakes his head in a double take. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Percy," she says, "come on, Merlin. You left Morgana's with 'a headache' and Percy took you home and you haven't said a word about it since."

Merlin clenches his jaw. "There's absolutely nothing to tell." And there isn't. Merlin's spent two weeks trying to forget about that Saturday at Morgana's. It's when he thinks about it too hard that things start to get out of control and just breathing feels like the most difficult thing in the world.

"You used to tell me everything." She sounds sad, and Merlin feels something twist inside him. She's right too. Everything just feels too big, too complicated to share with anyone else, let alone someone who's known him nearly his whole life. It's different with Percy, easier.

"I'm sorry," he says, and he looks up at her from under his too-long fringe. He makes a mental note to get it cut this week or next. "But honestly, Gwen, Percy and I are just friends. That's as exciting as it gets. Nothing is going to happen, so you can tell Morgana—"

"Oh, it's not Morgana I'm thinking about," says Gwen, "I just wanted to know, that's all. I'd like to know if someone's making you happy. You deserve to be happy, Merlin."

"Thanks, love." Merlin reaches out and squeezes her hand. "But really, it's all very boring. Promise I'll tell you if anything changes."

"Well, good." She squeezes back. "And y'know, Morgana's got a little bit more on her mind than you and dear Percy at the moment, Merlin."

Merlin squints. "Why? What's happened?" He pulls his hand away and takes a sip of his wine. It's a bit too sweet, too overly fruity, and it makes him shudder.

"Her Dad," Gwen says. "He— he passed away."

"Her dad?" There's a lead weight in his stomach and Merlin leans in, pulse racing. "You mean the real one?"

"Yeah, Uther." Gwen polishes off her wine and waves Merlin away when he offers to pour her another. "He's been really ill for ages, apparently. I know they weren't close, but it's still hit her hard, y'know?"

And Merlin thinks he must be a terrible human being because he isn't really thinking about Morgana at all. "I had no idea," he says, and his hands are starting to shake, so he grips his thighs tight under the table. "That's horrible, babe."

"Yeah." Gwen sounds shaky. She nods a thank you to the waitress as she places their plates in front of them. Merlin's chicken curry is pungent and spicy and on a normal night he'd be wanting to stick his face in it and scoff the lot, but right now it's turning his stomach.

"And Arthur?" Merlin hates the way his voice cracks, hates it so much that he tries to cover it up by clearing his throat. "How's—uh— he doing?"

"Not so good, I don't think," she says, cutting into her steak, "but you know Arthur, stiff upper lip and all that."

"Stick up his arse, more like." Merlin sips his wine and tries to ignore the panic rising in his chest.

"Merlin—"

"I know, I know. Not the time," Merlin says, and adds, "When did it happen?"

"A couple of days ago. The funeral's next Thursday."

"Are you going to go?"

Gwen nods. "I thought it would be nice for Morgana. She's invited both of us and I was hoping you might come. If it's not too hard for you, that is?"

Merlin's own father had passed away a year ago. The funeral had been small, definitely not on the scale this one is sure to be, but Merlin had been so grateful for Gwen's presence. It seems like it'd be wrong to say no - regardless of how uncomfortable it'll be for him to see Arthur.

Oh God, seeing Arthur though. It isn't something he envisioned happening for at least long enough for Merlin to try to fucking get over him. His throat dries up at the thought, but he doesn't hesitate, just says, "Of course I'll come."

He polishes the bottle of wine off and Gwen drives him home with his chicken curry in a takeaway box.

He doesn't know what possesses him to do it. Maybe it's the wine, maybe it's the fact that he knows what it's like to lose a parent, or maybe it's the fact that Merlin really fucking misses him. Whatever the reason, he finds himself picking up his phone.

Arthur's number is still in there, and if Merlin thinks too hard about why he hasn't deleted it, it'll drive him crazy.

I heard about your dad. I'm sorry, Arthur.

Merlin's not at all surprised when he doesn't get a reply.

***

Merlin didn't know what he expected of Uther Pendragon's funeral. Obviously, the former Professor of Law at Queen Mary and Conservative member of the House of Lords was never going to have a low-key affair, but a huge funeral at St Paul's seems a little excessive.

"The mysteries of the upper class, I suppose," he says to Gwen when she tells him a few days before the funeral. He wonders just how this has become his life - attending a funeral that'll have actual press coverage. His mother will have a bloody field day when he tells her.

When they arrive at the cathedral, they're ushered in by a severe looking woman, hair pulled back tight in a bun, wearing a black wrap dress and shoes that look more expensive than Merlin's monthly rent.

"And you are?" she asks, tapping her manicured nails against a clipboard.

"I'm Merlin Emrys," Merlin says. It's awkward being checked against a list and judged, and it's almost like being back at Avalon again. Actually, this woman would probably give Morgause a run for her money. He stifles a laugh.

Gwen kicks him. "And I'm Gwen Smith. Both friends of Ms LeFay's."

"Yes, yes, I see you here." She looks disappointed and Merlin smiles, wide. That just makes her purse her lips even more and her eyes narrow. "Left-hand side, the usher will show you where you're to sit."

"It's all so bloody sterile," Merlin whispers.

Gwen glares at him. "Merlin, do you think you could perhaps let go of your reverse classism for, oh, I don't know, an hour or so? We're here for our friends, remember?"

Merlin sighs and nods. The usher shows them to their seat, six rows back.

"Sorry," he says, as they sit down in the middle of the pew. "I just feel awkward."

Gwen pats his knee. "Me too, Merlin. Me too."

Merlin fusses with his tie. His collar's too tight and it's starting to rub unpleasantly. But before he can try and adjust it, everyone starts to stand up and the procession of mourners begins.

Arthur is a pallbearer, of course, and a jolt courses through Merlin as Arthur walks past, his black suit, sharp and elegant and his face, unsurprisingly, more lined and tired than the last time Merlin saw him. It's been easier to cope, not having to see Arthur, instead having to rely on memories of how he looked.

Seeing Arthur like this: stoic, though clearly grieving, weighted down with the burden of his father's coffin on his shoulder, it's clear to Merlin that his feelings haven't changed one bit in the last month.

Arthur is still under his skin, and Merlin doesn't know how the hell he's supposed to get him out.

Merlin spends the entire service trying not to watch Arthur and failing miserably. He sits on the right-hand side in the front row along with Morgana, just looking straight ahead, composed and his face a picture of neutrality.

At one point, just before the second reading, Arthur turns around and sees him looking. Merlin instantly looks away.

When Arthur delivers the eulogy, Merlin keeps an eye out for any kind of cracks in the surface, any sign of vulnerability. There are none. Arthur is so composed, so unemotional, that it makes Merlin's chest constrict.

Gwen whispers, "Morgana says he hasn't cried. At least not in front of her."

"He won't," Merlin says, shaking his head.

When Gwen looks at him confused, Merlin just shrugs. "I know guys like him."

Merlin doesn't go to the wake afterwards; he's had enough of lying for one day. So he makes his excuses to Gwen and offers his condolences to Morgana. Arthur is too busy talking to the Archbishop to even notice him leave, and it's much easier that way.

He catches the tube home, strips off the expensive dark suit and shoes and showers until he feels clean. Merlin towel dries his hair and slips into fresh boxers, black jeans and a fitted t-shirt and his purple Chuck Taylors.

It's been six weeks since he's been anywhere near there, but Merlin figures it's safe. There's no way Arthur is going to be there, and he needs— something. It's been far too long.

Merlin finds the one he wants on the dancefloor: slender, muscled, kind of the same build as Percy, but not quite as tall. Merlin takes him into a booth and goes to his knees, his scalp tingling and the back of his neck hot.

"I've seen you around. I thought you were Arthur's," the guy says.

Merlin just shakes his head, says, "No, I'm— no. You gonna fuck my mouth, or what?"

"Yeah— yeah, okay."

He isn't gentle and he twists his fingers in Merlin's hair, much harder than is comfortable. But Merlin doesn't care, it's what he wants after all, it's what he came here for. It's easy, this. Easy to forget about blue eyes and a perfect face that show nothing to anyone. Easy to shut his own eyes and just take it till his jaw aches and his knees hurt and he has the bitter taste of someone else in his mouth.

***

Merlin is struggling to stay awake, reading through deposition transcripts for Gaius, when an envelope drops onto his keyboard. He looks up and there's Morgana, arms crossed and eyebrows raised.

"What's this?" he asks, waving the envelope in the air.

"And hello to you too, Merlin." Morgana leans on the desk, "Though it's been so bloody long since I've seen or heard from you, I'm surprised I can actually remember your name."

"Sorry. I've been a bit swamped." Merlin bites the inside of his lip. It's been a month since Uther's funeral and she's right. He wishes he could just come out and tell her the reason, but that's a whole conversation he'll never be ready for.

"Swamped? Wow, Merlin, you must've been run off your feet for the last month then." She purses her lips.

"I really am sorry." He looks up at her, and she seems to soften a little, her face becoming warmer, less harsh.

"You'd better be. And I know just how you can make it up to me." She smiles, and she looks ever so slightly evil. "Open it."

Like brother, like sister.

It's an invitation: gold lettering embossed on white card.

"A charity ball, Morgana? Are you serious?"

"Deadly." She taps her fingernails on his desk. "It's for father's charity, and I think you owe me for disappearing on me for weeks on end, don't you?"

"But a ball? You do realise what you're asking, don't you?" Merlin leans on his elbows and looks up at her, trying for his most sincere face. "Black tie, Morgana. Spending money on a ticket and wearing rich people's clothes. You're a cruel woman."

And then of course, there's what he can't verbalise. But he can't avoid Arthur forever, as much as he'd like to. Morgana is his friend, and he can't just give that up because of the leaden weight in his gut that appears every time he thinks about Arthur.

"You should bring Percy," she says, cheerfully.

"Morgana—"

"As friends of course." She taps her nose and winks. "You'd better come, or else!"

"Or else what?" But she's already gone.

When Percy pops in to see if Merlin wants to grab a drink after work, the first thing Merlin says to him is, "I'll bet you'd look great in a tux, do you own one?" and then thrusts the invitation at him.

"It could be worse," Percy says, sitting on the corner of Merlin's desk.

"How? How could it be worse?" Merlin covers his face with his hands. "I've never been to a ball, Percy, the mere idea of it makes my teeth ache and worse it's at bloody Pendragon Manor, so I'll be surrounded by ponces who look down their noses at me, and—"

"And Arthur will most likely be there."

Merlin nods. "Yeah. I really am that bloody obvious, aren't I?"

Percy pats him on the shoulder. "Only to people with heads. You are going to have to face him sooner or later, you know."

"I know," Merlin says, "I think I was just hoping it would be later. You know, the kind of later that never comes?"

It's been a month since Merlin saw Arthur last, and some days are better than others, but it still burns. Merlin's tried everything to pull him out by the roots, but nothing works; he's wondering if anything ever will.

"Do you still—"

"Yeah. I do still." Merlin inhales sharply through his nose and exhales long and slow through his mouth.

"I'll be your date," Percy says, "but I'm not putting out."

Merlin rolls his eyes. "Whatever, you don't know what you're missing out on."

"I think my boyfriend might beg to differ," Percy says, mouth upturned.

"Yeah, yeah," Merlin says, "rub it in my face, go on. Tell me how tall and ripped and handsome he is and how big his cock is some more. It's not at all depressing."

"So we'll go tux shopping this weekend?" Percy asks.

Merlin nods. "Now go away and let me wallow in peace, will you?"

When Percy is gone, Merlin just sits there for ages, staring at the invitation and trying not to think too hard about Arthur in black tie and how flawless he'll be when he looks through Merlin like he isn't even there.

***

Percy looks perfect in his tux of course. His chest and biceps are huge, but the way his waist tapers down means that clothes hang rather beautifully on him. Merlin, on the other hand, feels incredibly awkward in his clothes and even though Percy reassures him that he actually looks very attractive, he's pretty sure Percy's more than a little bit biased.

"Relax," Percy says to him as they walk through the door, "just remember why you're here."

"Yes, because relaxing is such an easy option right now," Merlin says, scowling.

The house is incredible of course, seven bedrooms, and Merlin has to wonder what a man with two grown-up children, neither of whom live at home, and no wife would have needed with a seven bedroom house. But then again, Merlin isn't an aristocrat, so no amount of logic can be applied here. And even Merlin can admit that this is a gorgeous house, no matter how excessive. Uther Pendragon was clearly a man who appreciated art: the array of paintings and sculptures is mind-blowing.

There are maybe sixty or seventy people milling around already: men in black tie and women in cocktail dresses, and a few more standing around on the stairs leading up to a second-floor balcony. There are waiters circulating with trays of canapes: fluffy blinis with smoked salmon and cream cheese, flaky, buttery mini goats’ cheese tarts with caramelised onion and golden-brown crostinis with rare roast beef and Spanish onion. More importantly are the cocktail waiters offering glasses of champagne. Merlin takes one and has a hearty sip, the bubbles tickling his tongue.

"Better?" asks Percy, and Merlin nods.

It's a little crowded so Percy leads Merlin into the ballroom with a hand on his back.

Morgana is holding court in the ballroom and sees them instantly, beckoning them over to her. She's wearing a green sheath dress with her hair half piled on top of her head and the rest spilling down her neck.

"You look smashing," Merlin says, and kisses her on the cheek.

"And me, Merlin? How do I look?" Merlin's whole body tenses up at the sound of Arthur's voice. He's standing close to Morgana, champagne glass in one hand and his arm around a pretty blonde in a black cocktail dress.

"You look just fine, Arthur." Merlin manages to keep his voice even, which is a miracle really, considering how fast his heart is pounding and how thick and useless his tongue feels.

Arthur doesn't look fine, he looks incredible.

"Merlin, Percy, this is Vivian," Morgana says, no warmth in her tone whatsoever.

"Charmed," Vivian says, nodding to them both, but making no effort to engage in conversation. She looks decidedly unimpressed with meeting either of them and Merlin is relieved that she's unfriendly, it means he can hate her without any crisis of conscience.

Percy's hand is still on Merlin's back, just resting there, and Arthur flicks his eyes down the line of Percy's arm and back up again, looking Merlin dead straight in the eyes.

"And how are you, Percy?" Arthur asks, turning his gaze from Merlin entirely. "It's been some time."

Percy nods. "Yes, I suppose it has. I was very sorry to hear about Uther. My father sends his condolences."

Arthur clears his throat. "Yes, well, thank you." His face is impassive, and Merlin wishes he could see the inside of Arthur's head. It's probably the only way he'll ever find out what the heck is going on in it.

Morgana puts a hand on Percy's arm. "I'm glad you could come, Percy, it's hard to catch up at work these days."

"Well, you will keep taking on ridiculous caseloads," Merlin says. He can feel Arthur's eyes on him and it makes him feel exposed. He doesn't know which is easier: having none of Arthur's attention, or having too much of it. Merlin's palms are clammy and he wipes them on his trousers.

Arthur clucks his tongue. "Well, as cosy as this is, I need another drink. If you'll excuse me—"

Arthur walks away with Vivian trotting along after him on six-inch heels.

"I think I need a drink too," Merlin says, "Anyone?"

"I'm sure someone'll swing by shortly," Morgana says. "No need to go in search of drinks, Merlin."

"Yeah, I know. Just want to stretch my legs." He smiles at Percy, who is looking at him, concerned. "I'm okay," he says pointedly.

"You want me to come with you?" Percy asks, looking intently at Merlin, like he's expecting to see something written on his face.

Merlin shakes his head. "Don't worry about me, I'll be back." He smiles at Percy, squeezing his shoulder. “Thank you though."

He just needs some space to breathe, and he can't do it with Percy and Morgana there. Thank god Gwen is visiting her dad in Bath, it's enough to have to deal with Arthur and pretend everything is perfectly fine when there's only Morgana to lie to.

Merlin wanders out into the entrance hall, but it's far too crowded with people networking and mingling. He grabs a champagne glass from a passing waiter and heads up the staircase to the second level. There are a few people wandering around, but they disappear once Morgana's voice starts booming over the microphone.

"The children's wing was a subject so dear to my father's heart and I'd like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for joining us tonight and giving so generously for a cause that meant so much to him. I know he'd be so grateful."

Merlin wanders along the balcony until he reaches the end, it's dark up there, but he can see the ballroom and watch at a distance as the orchestra starts playing and couples swarm the dancefloor for the waltz.

"Mind numbingly boring, isn't it?"

Merlin bristles, his nerve endings sparking at the sound of Arthur's aloof, disinterested tone behind him. He doesn't turn around, just leans on the balcony and watches the crowd below.

"Where's your date?" Merlin asks. There's a lump in his throat and it takes effort to swallow.

"Don't know. Don't really care." Arthur laughs and Merlin turns around to face him.

It's hard just to look at him. He's so fucking beautiful, and Merlin can easily forget when he looks at him, just how much he's been hurt by Arthur. It's too easy to remember the good things: how his hands felt on Merlin's skin and the way he looked when he came inside Merlin for the first, the only time.

"Where's yours?" Arthur's jaw flexes, and Merlin can see the tension there. "You looked so cosy down there, I'm surprised to see you separated."

"Why are you even here, Arthur?" Merlin takes a sip from his champagne glass and concentrates on the warmth of the alcohol.

"Well, it's rather expected, don't you think? I mean, he was my father." Arthur has a drink too: amber liquid in a glass, probably whisky, and he isn't close enough for Merlin to smell, but he'd bet that if Arthur was close enough he'd reek of alcohol. He looks so much looser than usual, and the fact that Arthur's even speaking to him is a good sign he's probably drunk.

"No," Merlin says, and finishes his champagne glass, popping the empty on the floor nearby. "I mean what are you doing here, talking to me? You haven't talked to me in months."

Arthur swallows and Merlin's cock twitches at the sight of Arthur's long, pale throat constricting. "This is my father's house." He stops, corrects himself. "Was my father's house. I can go wherever I like."

Merlin shakes his head. "My god, you should be a politician, Arthur. Your ability to deflect is really quite remarkable."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Bullshit. You know exactly what I mean." Merlin's cheeks flame and he's tense all over, adrenaline pumping through his bloodstream, like his body's gearing up for a fight.

Arthur snorts. "You think you know me, don't you, Merlin?" He moves in a little closer, and Merlin moves back, so he's pressed up against the balcony. "Think you know exactly what I'm thinking?"

"No," Merlin says, his jaw clenched, "I have no fucking idea. I just know you're a bloody liar."

Arthur's mouth quirks and he takes a long, leisurely sip from his tumbler. "So sure of so many things. Do you know what I'm sure of?"

Arthur steps forward and Merlin's pulse quickens and flutters in his throat. He shoves his hands into his pockets because he doesn't know what to do with them. Arthur's close enough now that there's warm breath hitting Merlin's cheek and Merlin was right, he can smell whisky and sweat and Arthur and it's almost instinctive when Arthur's this close for his cock to swell in his trousers.

"What do you think you're sure of?" Merlin's voice is shaky, and he fucking hates himself for it because even drunk, Arthur is too astute to not have noticed that.

"I'm sure," Arthur says, leaning in so his face is barely centimetres away from Merlin's, "that you still think about me every night and if I shoved you up against this balcony right now you'd beg me to fuck you."

Merlin digs his fingernails into his palms. "You don't know me at all, then, Arthur." He pushes Arthur back with a hand on his chest and tries not to notice how warm he is under Merlin's fingers. "I just want you to go away."

"I know you, Merlin, I know you better than you know yourself." Arthur bats his hand away and moves in close again, so close that Merlin can feel Arthur's cock pressing into his thigh. It's a rush, knowing that no matter what Arthur says, his body can't lie. "Do you think he knows you like I do?"

"Yes," Merlin says, "Actually I do."

Arthur grabs him then, pushes him up against the balcony so their hips are flush together. "Have you sucked him, Merlin? Got down on your knees and let him fuck that gorgeous mouth of yours?" His voice is tense, his mouth a cruel, hard line.

"That's none of your business."

"You're not convincing me," Arthur hisses, and he traces the outline of Merlin's ear with the tip of his tongue. "Does he know how much you love being held down, being made to take it? The way you fucking beg for it?"

"Shut up, Arthur." Merlin says, voice thick with tension. "You don't get to do this."

"Really." Arthur's eyes are dark. "I saw you, you know. At the club, after my father's funeral."

"You were there?"

"I was." Arthur twirls his glass and drains it. He bends down and places the glass next to Merlin's, against the wall. "I watched you on your knees, taking it. Did it make you feel better, Merlin?"

Jesus Christ.

Merlin doesn't say anything, he's too busy processing the fact that Arthur went to fucking Avalon that night after burying his father.

"Did you pretend it was me? Close your eyes and think about how much better it would have been if it was me coming on your face?"

It's clearly possible, given how obsessed with Merlin's sex life he is, for Arthur to feel jealous. Something inside Merlin snaps.

"You know what?" Merlin says, crossing his arms, "I didn't think of you at all. Not when I was picking out who I wanted, not when I was on my knees. And I especially didn't think of you later that night when Percy bent me over the arm of his couch and fingered me until I was begging for it, then fucked me with that beautiful, big cock of his."

Arthur actually reels back and it gives Merlin a minute of elation before he regains his composure and steps forward again. He moves in so close that his lips are practically on Merlin's skin and whispers, "Now who's the liar, Merlin?"

"Who's lying?" Merlin says, adrenaline amping him up. He's punchy, high with it. "You asked."

Arthur grabs him, his hands in Merlin's hair, backs him up hard against the railing. He kisses him deep and claiming, his tongue shoving in and his mouth swallowing Merlin's moans. He's rough, his teeth biting at Merlin's lips and there's nothing tender about this at all and it's exactly what Merlin wants. He just gives in completely and kisses Arthur back, hard, his hands on Arthur's arse pulling him in, rubbing his crotch against Arthur's.

"Knew this was what you wanted," Arthur says, "soon as I saw you I knew I had to— made me so fucking hard, Merlin."

"So do it then," he says, "stop the dominant monologuing and fuck me."

"Turn around."

Merlin does, and Arthur's hand is on his throat as he hisses, "They can't see you up here. But what if they could? My sister, Gwen, all those friends of yours, they think they know you. Nice, sweet, Merlin. I wonder what they'd say if they could see you as you really are. See all the things you've let me do to you."

"And what," Merlin says, "do you think they'd say about you?"

Arthur is close behind him and he unbuckles Merlin's trousers, pulls his boxers down with them. Merlin groans.

"Bend over," he says, and Merlin does, braces his hands on the metal and shivers when he feels Arthur's fingers cool and slick, pressing against his hole. Merlin can hear the sound of a zip and Arthur is withdrawing his fingers and shoving deep inside him, fingers digging into Merlin's hips so hard they're bound to bruise. It hurts, it's not anywhere near enough prep, but it's so good and Merlin just grips the balcony tight and uses the leverage to shove himself back on Arthur's cock.

"Fucking hated it, seeing his hands on you. Just wanted to bend you over right there and—"

"We haven't— nothing happened." And he doesn't even know why he's saying it, he doesn't owe Arthur anything, but Merlin can't help himself, can't control his tongue under the onslaught of Arthur's perfect thrusts and his voice, dirty in Merlin's ear.

Arthur doesn't last long, and he whispers, "Go on, touch yourself," and Merlin does, brings himself off rough and fast. Arthur pushes in one last time and comes, breathing hard. Merlin is almost there, and Arthur covers Merlin's hand with his own and says, "that's it, that's it, come on," and Merlin bites his lip hard and comes.

It takes him a few minutes to get himself sorted, to zip himself back up and pull his jacket back down so that he can go and clean up in the gents. When he turns around, Arthur is dressed, his trousers in a much better state than Merlin's. He runs a hand through his hair and he looks pale.

"I'm sorry," Arthur says, "that shouldn't have happened."

"Happened?" Merlin shakes his head. "Arthur, it didn't just happen, you made it happen."

"I know," Arthur says, and he doesn't sound at all like the polished, aloof man Merlin knows him to be. "And I shouldn't have."

"Why?" Merlin's teeth are clenched and he struggles to keep his voice low. "Just what the hell are you afraid of, you fucking emotional cripple?"

"This conversation is over." Arthur adjusts his tie and just like that his face is composed again, his mask in place. He walks away and doesn't look back.

***

When Merlin arrives at work the following Wednesday, Morgana is sitting in his chair, her legs crossed and an expression on her face which makes Merlin afraid for his life.

"So," Morgana says, her mouth pursed as if she's holding everything in, "we've reached the point, Merlin, where, if you have any self-preservation instinct at all you'll tell me just what the bloody hell is going on with you?"

"Uh." Merlin shifts from foot to foot, his messenger bag is heavy and he really wants to put it down but he wonders if it's very wise coming within five feet of her. He can guess exactly what she's so angry about.

After the disastrous episode that Merlin's been calling "Drunk, angry, hot sex on balcony with emotionally unavailable arsehole" he'd texted Percy to meet him outside and told him he was going home and to make excuses for him. He hasn't seen her since then and Merlin's been screening Morgana's calls and ignoring her emails. It's been surprisingly easy to avoid her. Until now.

"Uh? You'll have to do better than that, darling."

It's actually frightening just how much she sounds like her brother sometimes.

"Look, Morgana, I had—"

"A headache. Yes, Merlin. Another one. Poor Percy tried to tell me that and I told him to bugger off and find some new material. I'm unconvinced by your headaches."

"They're really quite terrible, you know. Debilitating."

"Are they as terrible as your lies?" she asks, "Because they are really quite appalling."

Merlin grimaces. "Well. See the thing is—" He tries to think up another lie, something convincing, something to get her off his back for at least a month while he tries once and for all to get Arthur out of his system entirely. But he can't actually think of one. His mind's completely blank.

She drums her nails on the desk and Merlin just gives up entirely.

"Oh fuck it. It's Arthur, all right? It's not you, it's Arthur."

"And you're avoiding Arthur because—?"

Merlin shrugs and smiles, crookedly.

She slumps back in Merlin's chair, eyes wide and mouth dropped open. He comes closer, tentatively perches on the corner of his desk. "Oh Merlin," she says, "you didn't— you haven't— not with Arthur."

Merlin nods.

"Well, fuck." Morgana looks pale and a bit shell-shocked.

"Yeah. Your brother's a complete wanker, by the way." He has a horrible thought and pauses, his heart thumping in his chest. "Oh shit, you did know he liked boys, didn't you?"

Morgana tilts her head and gives him the most unimpressed expression he's ever seen. "I'm not completely fucking blind, you know. He has actually dated men before. There's even been a boyfriend or two.”

"Boyfriends. Arthur?" Merlin dangles his leg over the edge of the desk and watches it swing back and forth.

"Not for a while," she says and stares at him as if she's waiting for him to give something away.

"I see." Merlin can't help but feel extraordinarily bitter about it, the idea of Arthur having an actual relationship with someone who isn't him.

It must show on his face, because Morgana looks at him with pity in her eyes and shakes her head. "Oh, Merlin. You're in love with him."

He nods. "Yeah. Unfortunately." It's the first time he's really admitted it, even to himself. He's been skating around it for so long, but it's getting more and more impossible to pretend.

"It all makes so much sense now." She exhales. "Fucking Arthur."

Merlin's jaw flexes. "Yeah well, speaking of that. We had sex. At the ball."

"And let me guess, he acted like a complete arsehole and pushed you away?"

"It's like you know him." He looks away for a minute, caught up in the memory of Arthur inside him. His body still aches from the cold metal and if he pressed those areas, he thinks he'd find bruises. Arthur's good at leaving bruises, after all.

It's too much, remembering it with his whole body like this in front of anyone else, let alone Morgana, so he closes his eyes for a minute and tries to think about anything other than sex and balconies and Arthur, the way he smells and the feel of his fingers on Merlin's skin. It takes a minute of trying to remember the latest email the law library sent to him before he manages to focus on anything other than his growing arousal.

Morgana is staring intently at him when he finally looks back up. "You should talk to him, you know."

"Sure," Merlin says, "because that's always gone so well every other time I've tried."

"I know he's difficult," she says.

"Difficult's one word."

"You didn't know Uther," she says. "He's not always like this, Merlin. I mean he's always an idiot, I won't lie to you, but just because he's pushing you away, it doesn't mean— Oh god, I feel like such an idiot for trying to push you and Percy together."

Merlin ducks his head and grins. "Don't be. You didn't know."

"Oh but now I'm wondering why I didn't notice sooner. The way Arthur looks at you— I had no idea there was actually anything behind it."

Merlin wants to ask what way she's talking about: the one that makes Merlin think there might actually be something there or the one that's completely aloof, disdainful.

"He doesn't do this, you know. He isn't normally very interested in anyone, not outside— well, you probably know all about that." Merlin's mouth drops open.

"Oh I know he thinks I'm completely fucking clueless, but he'd be wrong." She sounds so proud of herself.

"Um, okay," Merlin says. "So about that—"

He opens his mouth to say more, but Morgana claps her hands over her ears and shrieks, "For god's sake don't actually tell me anything, I don't want to know!"

Merlin laughs. "I wasn't exactly going to tell you the sordid details, Morgana. I do have my dignity, you know."

"Fine." She rolls her eyes. "But anyway, my point is that if Arthur's slept with you away from— the things he likes to do, then it probably means something, don't you think?"

She stands up, smooths her skirt and walks over to Merlin, clasps his hands in hers. "Look whatever you decide, Merlin, don't forget I was here long before Arthur was. I miss my friend."

She doesn't wait for any kind of answer, just kisses him on the cheek and leaves his office in a flurry of high heels and flared, A-Line skirt.

Merlin works until 8 o'clock, helping Gaius close off old files that need to go to archiving. It's mundane and boring and exactly what he needs. When he gets home he orders Indian, checks his emails and turns on the telly.

He watches Law and Order: UK and plays Bejewelled on his laptop, but it's not enough to deny the pull. The thing is, Merlin's seen it more than once, a glimpse of something under the facade. It never lasts long, and afterwards Arthur's colder than ever, but he's seen it. And as sick to death of Arthur's games as he is, there's that.

***

It's been over a month since the last time he was there, but nothing changes about Avalon. It's almost like the place stays completely preserved in time. Some of the faces are different, but everything else is exactly the same: the sweaty mass of people on the dancefloor, the red curtains, the dirty, primal beat of the music and the scenes playing out on stage or in the alcoves.

Merlin has a moment where he wonders if Arthur'll even be there. It's a risk, trying to predict the behaviour of someone who's completely unpredictable.

But Arthur is there, sitting on the corner barstool, his head bent towards the girl who's sitting beside him: she's wearing a black corset and short black skirt and her fishnetted legs are crossed at the ankles.

Merlin's fists clench at his sides. Just seeing Arthur's face after the last time forces him to stand for a minute, breathe deep and tamp down on everything that wants to come rushing out just from looking at him. He thinks about how controlled he can be when he puts his mind to it, and maybe Arthur's taught him that or maybe it was there all along.

Arthur's so deep in conversation that he hasn't even looked up, so Merlin taps the girl on the shoulder and when she looks up, says, "Hi. I don't mean to be rude, but could you take a hike, please?"

She just raises an eyebrow looks at Arthur, amused. "Ahhh, how about no?"

Arthur looks at Merlin, his eyes narrowed and jaw set.

Merlin's ready for Arthur to tell him to fuck off, but instead he says, "Give us a minute, would you?" and nods in her direction. She walks away, obviously pissed off and he wonders if she'll even come back. Arthur takes a sip of his drink and says, "What do you want, Merlin?"

"Drinking again?" Merlin asks and sits down in the empty seat, crosses his arms and looks at Arthur expectantly.

"I'm sorry, Merlin, did you become my keeper while I wasn't looking?" Arthur's face is impassive and impossible to read, but Merlin just stares back at him, watching for any signs of change.

"Someone has to be. You're doing a really great job of falling apart while on your own, aren't you?"

Arthur snorts. "So this is why you're here? To stage a one man intervention?"

"You were a fucking prick the other night," he says, which is not what he meant to say at all, but now that it's out he's somewhat relieved.

"Noted." Arthur tilts his head and he looks scarily like Morgana. "Now could you please kindly fuck off, Merlin?"

"Nope." Merlin leans in. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Then I am," Arthur stands up and guzzles the rest of his drink, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "If you'll excuse me, I have someone waiting for me."

"Thought you didn't play while you were drinking?"

"Who said anything about playing? Maybe I just want a decent shag. It's been quite some time since I've had one after all."

This is just what Arthur does, and Merlin doesn't even flinch. He's proud of himself for that. He takes a breath and stands, arms clenched at his sides. "You know what, Arthur? You're not fooling anyone with this bullshit act of yours. You're fucking transparent with your taunts and your ice princess routine."

"What makes you think it's bullshit?" Arthur asks, his eyebrows raised.

"Because I fucking remember," Merlin says, his body buzzing with adrenaline. "And I'm not going anywhere. Did it frighten you? Waking up next to me? Did it scare you touching another human being without them wanting anything in return?"

Merlin can see the tension in Arthur's face. He tries to walk away but Merlin steps into his space and when he tries to move the other way, Merlin mirrors his movement, gets in his way again.

"Get out of my way, Merlin. Or I will have you thrown out."

Merlin shrugs. "Go on then. Do it."

"You won't be allowed back in," Arthur says, "do you really want that?"

"Don't care," Merlin says, "There are dozens of clubs. I could go anywhere, have anyone tie me down and fuck me if I wanted to. But I don't. Nothing is more important than you."

Arthur turns to walk away and Merlin yells, "Have me kicked out, Arthur. It won't stop you thinking about Percy with his hands all over me every time you close your eyes, will it? Oh but I'm too involved. Me."

Arthur spins around and grabs him, his hand on Merlin's forearm. "Shut up. Just shut the fuck up."

"Arthur." A tall, broad-shouldered man with cropped black hair has his hand on Arthur's shoulder. Merlin didn't even see where he came from, he was so focused on Arthur's tightly reined control snapping that he hadn't even noticed anyone else around them. "I think you need to walk away now."

"He was bothering me," Arthur says, his jaw clenched tight.

"And you know the rules." The bloke drops his hand from Arthur's shoulder. "Given what's happened lately, maybe it's best you take some time for yourself, yeah? This isn't like you, mate."

Arthur huffs out a laugh. "Spare me the psychoanalysis," Arthur says. "I'm going."

He walks away and Merlin waits, watches. When Arthur's several paces ahead of him, he follows him up the stairs and onto the street. Now that he's out in the night with the cool bite of the air hitting his skin, everything feels much more real, less safe than it did in the club. Part of him wants to give up; just walk away and forget about all of this, but he knows he can't. He's come too far and he pushes through the fear in his gut and keeps walking.

When Arthur reaches the alleyway nearest the club he stops and turns around to face Merlin.

"Go away, Merlin. I'm warning you—"

"What? What will you do, Arthur?"

Arthur grabs him then and drags him into the alley, shoves him against the wall.

"What is it going to take for you to leave me the hell alone?"

Merlin just smiles and shakes his head. "Not happening. See I know you, you think you have it all figured out. So good at being this closed-off, sardonic Dom who never ever has to let anyone in. Easier, isn't it? Playing a role?"

"You don't know anything about me, Merlin." Arthur practically spits his words at him. "Nothing."

Arthur's face is so close that Merlin can feel warm breath hitting his cheeks.

"I know enough. Know that you're fucking jealous of Percy, always have been ever since you met him. And I know you want me, Arthur. I've felt it. You can pretend all you like but it doesn't stop it being true."

Merlin sees the moment that Arthur snaps. He presses Merlin up against the wall, his hands on Merlin's arms, holding him there. "Fuck you, Merlin. Why did you have to come into my life and wreck everything?"

Arthur's eyes are so blue and his mouth is right there and Merlin just breathes for a minute.

The kiss, when it comes is frantic, desperate. Arthur's lips are so warm and soft and Merlin wraps his leg around Arthur's and pulls him in closer. It's almost like he's drowning and Arthur's grip on his arms is so tight and it's overwhelming, euphoric.

Arthur pulls back a little, lets go of Merlin's arms. "Christ. Don't you ever fucking give up, Merlin?" His words come out breathy, laboured.

Merlin grins. "Clearly not. Because I'm still here, chasing after the most arrogant, unobtainable arsehole in the whole of London."

Arthur smiles. A small quirk of his lips, but a smile nonetheless and this is— new. He isn't withdrawing, putting things back into place like he has every other time Merlin's come remotely close to knocking down his walls.

He runs a hand through his hair and says, "I'm sorry if I hurt you, Merlin." The smile's gone, and he just looks so tired.

Merlin shakes his head. "It's all right. They're just arms."

"Not what I meant," Arthur says, and he shoves his hands into his pockets, looks down at the ground."

"I know." Merlin pushes himself off the wall.

Arthur doesn't say anything, he just stares at Merlin. It's uncomfortable being under the weight of that gaze when there's so much he can read in Arthur's face and Merlin has to look away for a minute.

"What do we do now?" Arthur sounds so lost: no biting tone, no smirk in place and Merlin's still looking away, focusing on the dirt on the hem of his jeans.

"Take me home," he says, softly, and Arthur doesn't speak for a minute which feels more like ten.

"Okay," he says, "yeah. Okay."

***

It's a fifteen minute cab drive from Soho to Kensington and Merlin's grateful that the cabbie doesn't make any attempt to converse with either of them on the way there; he's not sure that he'd be capable of maintaining polite conversation, even if he was forced to.

Arthur sits with his shoulder pressed into the opposite door, his head turned away, but every so often he turns and catches Merlin's eye, before turning to stare out the window again. The space between them feels like miles and after pushing at him until he snapped, Merlin still has no idea what Arthur is thinking. Though he hasn't stopped the taxi and told Merlin to get out yet, so that's something at least.

"Just around the bend thanks," Arthur says, and Merlin jumps a little at the break in the silence. The cabbie pulls in, parks at the side of the road and it isn't until Arthur says, "Coming, Merlin? Or have you changed your mind about coming in?" that he realises Arthur's already paid the cabbie and is waiting for him.

"Sorry," he says, and exits through Arthur's door.

"Something wrong with your side of the cab, Merlin?"

"I just like to be difficult." He grins, wide.

I'm shocked." Arthur stares at Merlin's mouth, his gaze intense and he swallows, his throat constricting. A shiver runs up the back of Merlin's neck. "Shall we?" He points to the gate, and Merlin nods and follows him. Arthur punches the code in and the security gates swing open.

"Very subtle digs, Arthur," Merlin says, "not ostentatious at all."

Arthur just ignores him and walks up the pathway to the door. Merlin follows, quickening his pace to catch up with Arthur's long strides.

Even in the dark Merlin can see that the house is huge. There's a garden that they have to walk around to reach the steps up to the front door. In daylight it probably looks impressive, at night it just looks crowded.

"So this is home," Arthur says. He unlocks the door and stands back, gestures for Merlin to come in. His face doesn't give anything away but he seems just like he had been in the cab: quiet, contemplative and Merlin tries not to focus on what his brain is telling him: that he pushed too hard and Arthur's about to change his mind. Again.

Arthur flicks the switch and light floods throughout the kitchen area. It's massive and decked out with Smeg appliances and everything is pristine white and shiny stainless steel.

"This entire room is bigger than my flat," he says. "I mean, what do you need with a kitchen this size? Do you even cook?"

"I'm full of surprises, Merlin." Arthur is leaned against the wall, watching him. "You should know that by now."

"Full of something," he says, softly, but loud enough for Arthur to hear him and Arthur snorts as he walks out of the kitchen. Merlin follows him up the stairs to the mezzanine. It's basically one huge living room with a couple of settees and armchairs, a huge television and a fireplace.

Arthur's house is just like Arthur: sleek, clean lines. Sharp. Nothing out of place.

Arthur sits down on one of the settees and pats the cushion next to him.

Merlin sits and watches him. Arthur's turned in towards Merlin, watching intently, his fingers resting on his lips, not turned away like he was on the drive there. Arthur's lips look redder than usual, and it makes Merlin shift a little in his seat: remembering the way they felt, pressed against his own just a short time ago.

"We need to have a chat," Arthur says, and his voice is so neutral, so poised that it makes Merlin's hair stand on end. "I can't—

Merlin stands up, his chest burning. "You know," he says, "It might have been easier for you to pike out back at the club. Then at least I could have just gone straight to Gwen's to drink myself into a coma."

Arthur also stands and moves towards him, but Merlin backs away. "What makes you think I'm piking out?"

"You're not?"

"Not remotely." Arthur's arms are crossed and he's looking past Merlin, not meeting his eyes. "Morgana always said it amazed her I was in the PR business, because I was never very good with people. But I'm trying, Merlin. "

"I know you are," Merlin says.

"And I'm glad you're here." He closes his eyes for a moment and runs his hand through his hair. "Even if you insulted my cooking. Which, I must add, is spectacular."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Merlin says, "probably had someone cooking every meal for you your whole life. Posh git."

"Do you ever shut up, Merlin?"

"Well, there was this one time." He blushes and looks across at Arthur, who is staring at him now, mouth slightly upturned.

"I remember," Arthur says. "And about that. I can't be what you need. Not tonight, anyway. Simon was right to ask me to leave. I mean, I've been breaking my own rules since— well— and I'm in no fit state to take care of anyone when I'm like this."

He holds Merlin's gaze and his eyes look even bluer than usual. Deeper. "If you did want to leave, I'd understand."

"Oh my god, you think I actually care about that?" Merlin would laugh, it's such a ridiculous notion, but the look on Arthur's face stops him dead. "Jesus Christ. That isn't why I'm here. Please tell me you get that."

And Arthur doesn't get it. Not yet. So Merlin walks towards him, leans in close and kisses him, his lips brushing softly against Arthur's. There's a slight flinch, but Arthur doesn’t pull away.

"I want you, you idiot," Merlin says, and kisses him again. "I mean I want— the rest, too, but I suppose I can settle for you if I have to."

"Yeah, you will, won't you?" Arthur grabs him and pulls him in, one arm wrapped tight around his waist. "Cheeky little shit."

Arthur's hips are flush against his and Merlin can feel the hard press of Arthur's cock, not fully hard, but definitely getting there.

Arthur grazes Merlin's jaw with his teeth and Merlin groans, liquid heat pooling in his groin. They're so close now that Arthur's cock is pressed against Merlin's. They're both hard and Merlin's hit with the memory of Arthur's cock in his mouth, the weight of it, the taste. He's dying to taste it again, for his jaw to ache and burn.

Arthur manoeuvres them to the settee, pushes Merlin back onto it and climbs onto his lap.

"You have no idea how hot you are," Arthur says, his mouth soft and wet on Merlin's throat and Merlin throws his head back when Arthur starts moving, his hips pressing forward, rubbing himself against Merlin's cock, slow and deliberate.

It's almost like a dream. Being in Arthur's apartment, under him, is something that doesn't feel real. Yet the press of his mouth, the warmth of his skin and the strength of his hands - they're all tangible things that Merlin remembers, things that he knows are real.

He can't imagine ever giving this up now that he knows what it's like to feel Arthur, the real Arthur, against him like this.

Merlin wants so much, doesn't know where to start and he fists his hands in Arthur's hair and holds him still for a moment, licks into his mouth and kisses him slow and deep. Arthur's mouth is so hot and Merlin just takes his time, sucking on Arthur's tongue and swallowing his moans. Arthur's so hard that Merlin can feel him, writhing desperately on Merlin's lap.

"You like it, don't you?" Arthur says, panting in Merlin's ear. "Taking control for a change?"

He drops his hand between Merlin's legs and grinds the heel of it into Merlin's crotch, rubbing slow and hard.

"It's—not bad." Merlin manages to say, he's not sure how he's actually managing to speak when Arthur is touching him like that, his hot mouth just resting on Merlin's ear.

"What would you do if I asked you to fuck me?" Arthur says, the tip of his tongue tracing the shell, "Would you like that? Because I'd really like it."

It's not something Merlin ever envisaged happening and his head's reeling as he tries to process it. It's been such a crazy night. Morgana's words echo in his ear, he's unsure when it'll be a good time to tell Arthur about their conversation. Certainly not now when Arthur is straddling him, asking him to— "Christ."

"Yeah." Arthur pulls Merlin's hands out of his hair and brings them to his arse. "Will you do it, Merlin? I want to feel you."

Merlin grabs hold of Arthur's arse and squeezes. It's firm and round and the thought of him inside Arthur, which is completely unexpected and ridiculously hot, it's almost too much. "Okay, you need to get off me, Arthur. Or I won't be coming in anything except my jeans."

Arthur smirks, and Merlin realises just how long it's been since he's been on the receiving end of that look. He swallows hard and Arthur moves off him, pulls him up off the settee.

"Come on then, Merlin." Arthur kisses him, a rough quick kiss and walks backwards, dragging Merlin forward with one finger hooked into his waistband. He looks around as they walk and Arthur stops suddenly, one eyebrow cocked. "Would you prefer a tour?"

"Uh. No. Think I'm good thanks." He grins and Arthur turns and walks up the set of stairs leading to the floor above.

When Merlin gets to the top of the stairs, he doesn't even have time to breathe before Arthur pulls him, drags him into the bedroom and pushes him up against the wall, unzipping Merlin's jeans and getting his hand inside.

"So hard," he whispers, wrapping his hand around Merlin's cock, "going to fuck me like a good boy, aren't you?"

Merlin laughs, "Why do I feel like I'm still being topped?"

"Maybe because you are." Arthur unbuttons his shirt slowly, and pulls it off, watching Merlin's face. They both undress, Merlin kicking his trainers off and pulling his jeans off along with his boxers. He pulls his t-shirt off over his head and when it's clear of his face, he can see that Arthur is naked.

The last time they were like this, naked in front of each other, it was very, very different. In Arthur's bedroom, surrounded by all of his stuff, Merlin can't help but notice how much softer things are in here: muted tones and fabric so unlike the hard, cold stainless steel lines of the rest of the house. Maybe this is like the Arthur he's slowly uncovering minute by minute, the real one who isn't all precision and perfection.

"You look like you went somewhere," Arthur says, and he pulls Merlin in for a kiss, his hand on Merlin's jaw. "Stop thinking and get on the bed."

Merlin nods and walks over to it. It's big and soft and if this were his bed, he'd probably never get up and go to work, ever. Arthur fumbles around in the drawers next to the bed and walks around to the other side, throws condom and lube in Merlin's direction and lies down, elbows behind his head.

"You're such a romantic," Merlin says, "don't you want to cuddle first?"

Arthur has that look on his face, the one that Merlin's sure could strike him down dead if he stared at it for long enough.

"Get. A move on." Arthur's intensity, the threat inherent in his voice makes Merlin flush all over.

"What will you do if I don't?"

Arthur growls and Merlin crawls between his legs and just takes in the sight in front of him.

Arthur's so beautiful like this, miles and miles of golden skin which Merlin wants to spend hours licking and biting. Later. He trails his fingers up the inside of Arthur's thighs and pushes his legs open. Arthur's thighs are so strong, perfectly muscled under Merlin's hands and covered with a dusting of fine, blond hair.

Merlin spends long minutes just touching them, before he slicks his fingers and brings them to Arthur’ arse. He rubs at Arthur's hole, just gently back and forth, not pushing in just yet.

"Merlin," Arthur says, warning.

"I'm sorry," Merlin says, "you gave up being in charge, remember? So just shut up and let me enjoy this."

He leans forward and licks up the length of Arthur's cock. Arthur hisses. "I am going to fucking kill you, Merlin. You'd better be ready, because there are going to be — uh— consequences."

The thought of what those consequences might be makes Merlin whimper just a little, before he obeys, pushing his finger gently in.

Arthur is so hot and tight inside that Merlin gasps a little. It's overwhelming. It's been a long time since he's fucked anyone and Arthur isn't just anyone after all. Merlin adds a second finger almost straight away and Arthur groans. Merlin pushes in deep, watching Arthur's face the whole time, the way it twists in pleasure, teeth biting his lower lip.

"God, you're so fucking perfect," Merlin says, "ready for another?"

Arthur opens his eyes, and the look in them is so burning hot that it goes straight to Merlin's cock. "Don't need another. Just fuck me. Please."

It's the please that undoes him and Merlin doesn't want to deny Arthur anything. He tears the condom packet open, his hands shaking so much he barely manages to roll the condom on. He's so sensitive too that the brush of his fingers against his cock is almost enough to send him right over the edge - but finally, it feels like minutes later, he's ready. Merlin slides his hand over his cock: wet and slippery with lube, before placing Arthur's legs over his shoulders and pushing in.

It's almost unbearable, the tightness and heat, and the only thing more unbearable than that is Arthur's face. It makes Merlin want to look away, having all that intensity focused on him and he waits for Arthur to adjust before pushing in even deeper.

"Tell me if it's too much," Merlin says, "I don't want to hurt you."

"Just do it."

There are no words for how amazing it feels, pushing in as deep as he can go and hearing the sounds of pleasure as he grazes Arthur's prostate. Merlin still can't believe Arthur is giving him this, letting him take him, leaving himself as open and raw as Merlin's ever seen him. And Merlin knows it then, that Arthur will never ever say the things other people would, it's in his actions that he shows everything.

"I can't— I won't last very long, Arthur."

"Shut up, Merlin," Arthur says. "Just fuck me. Make it hurt, I want you to."

"No." Merlin's hands are on Arthur's skin and he feels so good, looks so amazing, head thrown back and eyes closed and his hands grasping anything they can, the bedclothes, Merlin's hair, anything.

He sounds so desperate, gorgeous little bitten off moans and it almost hurts to watch him like this: so frantic with lust, grinding his hips forward every time Merlin pushes inside him and pulls almost all the way out only to shove back in.

Merlin doesn't last long, he can't, not with Arthur underneath him, so beautiful and honest. He pushes in deep one last time, and it's over. He can feel Arthur clenching around him, and it's too much, that intense heat. Merlin comes, his face pressed against Arthur's chest, sliding in sweat and losing himself in wave after wave of pleasure as he almost sobs with how good it feels.

He pulls out slow and careful and doesn't waste any time. He sucks Arthur's cock into his mouth, loses himself in the heady scent and how good it tastes - sucks him relentlessly until Arthur grips his hair painfully tight and fucks his mouth, his hips driving his cock deeper and deeper.

"Going to come down your throat, Merlin. You want that?"

Merlin hums his agreement around Arthur's cock and Arthur shoves in deep and comes.

Arthur touches his mouth and Merlin tongues at his fingers, sucks them into his mouth. Arthur whispers, "Whore," but there's no bite in it, no heat. Instead, Arthur sounds fond.

After Merlin has cleaned up, they fall asleep together, blankets thrown off the bed and Arthur's arm thrown across Merlin's chest.

***

The sun streaming in through Arthur's cobalt curtains, hitting his neck and face, is what makes Merlin stir. He'd been having a very odd and convoluted dream about zombies attacking the firm and eating the management while he and Percy and Morgana hid under the desk in Gaius's office. He recalls something about a lawnmower and a lot of gore, and when his hand goes to his hair, just to check there isn't any blood or bone entwined in it, he's instantly aware of the ache in his neck and shoulders. He realises he's been twisted in a very uncomfortable position, possibly one of the pitfalls of fighting zombies in his sleep.

He stretches and rolls over and finds space where there should be Arthur. It makes him blink and open his eyes. When he does, he realises Arthur's side of the bed is cold. Merlin's heart starts pounding, his pulse beating rapidly in his throat.

He looks down at his watch then: it's actually Thursday morning and given it's 10am, he should have been at work at least an hour ago.

He rolls out of bed, his feet cushioned by soft carpet. Merlin pulls his jeans back on, and when he bends down to pick his t-shirt up, he hears Arthur behind him, clearing his throat.

"Oh," Merlin says, "You are still here? I thought maybe you might've—"

"Left you? It is my house, Merlin. Be a bit difficult to explain away, wouldn't it?" Arthur is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. He's wearing a pair of joggers and nothing else. Merlin wants to lick his hipbones.

"Right. Yeah. Well, I'd better go. I mean, crap, I didn't even think about work, did I? Idiot. I don't suppose I could take a shower, or—"

Arthur strides towards him and kisses him hard on the mouth, making Merlin's knees turn liquid.

"What part of work don't you understand? Oh yes, I know you don't even have to work, independently wealthy and all, but— why are you grinning? Do you hate me?"

"Do shut up, Merlin." Arthur says, his lips brushing over Merlin's jaw. "I've spoken to Morgana, she's given your apologies to Gaius. Very important emergency, you see."

Merlin steps back, because Arthur's mouth on his skin at this time of the morning is extremely distracting. Not that it would be better any other time, of course.

"You spoke to Morgana?"

"Mmm." Arthur walks over to the bed and sits on it. His broad chest and shoulders looks so golden in the sunlight: so smooth and perfectly proportioned. If Arthur catches Merlin looking, he doesn't react. "We had a very interesting conversation, actually. Can you imagine what about?"

"Ah." Merlin looks down at his feet.

"Yes, ah. You were going to tell me, when?"

Merlin looks over at Arthur, his head ducked. "Well, I thought possibly in the middle of sex wasn't a good time to talk about your sister."

Arthur laughs. "Noted."

"Sorry."

"Like I needed Morgana to have something to hold over me," Arthur says, "she's enough of a nightmare as it is."

Arthur pauses; the air between them feels heavy. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, says, "Merlin, I can't promise it's going to be easy."

"Who, Morgana?" Merlin walks over to Arthur and drops to his knees. "Eh, I can handle Morgana."

Arthur opens his eyes and looks down at Merlin, reaches out and tentatively strokes across his cheekbone. "You know that's not what I meant."

"I know." Merlin parts his lips and laps at the tip of Arthur's thumb. "So neither of us are working today, I'm guessing?"

"I'm working from home." Arthur trails his fingers down Merlin's throat and smiles when Merlin shivers. "I'm very busy and important you know."

Merlin whimpers when Arthur brushes a thumb across his nipple. "Um, yes. I imagine you have many important things to do."

Arthur kisses him then, a savage, biting kiss and hisses into his mouth. "On the bed, now."

Arthur pushes himself up the bed, leaning back against the pillows and Merlin follows, straddles him with one knee on either side of Arthur's hips.

"Take them off," he says, unbuttoning Merlin's jeans and pulling the zip down. "Please."

Merlin nods and gets out of his jeans and boxers again.

"Better," Arthur says, and runs his hands all over Merlin's chest, his belly, so close to his cock but not touching it. "What do you want, Merlin? Tell me."

"Want to ride you," Merlin says, and Arthur's eyes go dark and hot. He reaches over and grabs the lube, smearing it on his fingers. Merlin hisses as Arthur's fingers trace the curve of his arse, trailing down between his buttocks, just ghosting over his hole. "Fuck. Come on, Arthur. Just do it."

"You've become awfully bossy," Arthur says, and he shoves two fingers in deep, before withdrawing almost all the way, the tips of his fingers moving so slowly, almost imperceptibly inside Merlin. "I like it."

Merlin grinds his hips down, tries to get Arthur's fingers deeper inside, and Arthur relents, thrusting them back in. Merlin's so full already and when Arthur adds another, he closes his eyes and concentrates on nothing but the hard press of Arthur's long, elegant fingers inside him.

"What else do you want?" Arthur asks, his voice low and harsh.

Merlin gets his hand on his cock and fists himself: slow, rough, just how he likes it. His eyes drift closed and he whispers, "When you're ready, when the time's right, I want to serve you."

"Jesus Christ." Arthur threads his fingers in Merlin's hair and pulls. "How would you serve me?"

Merlin grinds his hips down hard, his fingernails digging into Arthur's chest and Arthur hisses, pulls tighter. "Tell me."

"You'd sit in that chair"—Merlin points to the large red chair in the corner, so like the one he first saw Arthur on when he first visited Avalon—"and you'd be wearing all your clothes. I'd be like I am now, and I'd crawl to you, my knees burning from the carpet, crawl really slowly until I was in between your legs."

Arthur groans and shoves his fingers in so deep it almost hurts, but it's so good and Merlin's hips are rolling now, fluid movement up and down, fucking himself on them. He grabs Arthur's other hand, his finger tracing the outside of Arthur's cool, silver ring. "I'd kiss this, and then I'd let you do whatever you wanted to me," he says, "because that's what you do for your lord, isn't it? Submit completely."

"Oh you fucking—" Merlin has no time to react when Arthur pulls his fingers out and flips the two of them over, so Merlin's underneath him. Arthur's eyes are lust-dark, his mouth's parted, and he grabs at Merlin frantically. He doesn't break eye contact as he gets a condom from the bedside table, tears it open and rolls it on, pushes Merlin's legs up and slides right in.

"Fuck." It almost burns and Merlin loves it. Arthur doesn't even give him time to adjust before he sets up a punishing rhythm, his hands grasping Merlin's hips tight. Merlin hopes they bruise him, hopes that he can go into the gents at work tomorrow and lock himself in a toilet cubicle, pull down his trousers and dig his fingers into those Arthur-shaped bruises and fuck his hand till he comes.

"I'm going to fuck you in every room, on every surface." Arthur leans forward and kisses him, desperate, rough kisses that swallow his moans. "Fuck you all day long and when I pull out you'll be so empty, Merlin, you'll beg me just to fill you again."

"Yes," Merlin says, "fucking need it. Need you."

Arthur hisses. "You drive me crazy, you know that?" It isn't even a question, not really, but Merlin nods anyway. "Make me want too much, Merlin. You've fucking ruined me."

"God, Arthur. You too." Merlin throws his head back and drops his hand to his cock.

"Go on," Arthur says, "touch yourself. Let me see."

Merlin's cock is wet at the tip and his thumb slides in slickness as he smears it slowly, carefully over the head. It feels so exquisite and he watches Arthur, his face gone with pleasure as he fills Merlin again and again. When Merlin finally wraps his hand around himself and starts to stroke it's so fucking good that he can't be careful anymore. He fists himself with long, maddening strokes, his hand a tight channel for him to fuck into and he bites his lip, hard. Tries to concentrate on anything other than the ache.

"I want to fuck you bare," says Arthur, and Merlin wants to sob with what that does to him. "Slide into you, feel you without anything in the way. You'd be so— fucking— hot inside. Come in you so deep, you'd be dripping with it. Do you want that?"

It's the hottest thing anyone has ever said to him and Merlin can't find his voice he's so scraped raw. He just nods, hopes that his face says everything Arthur is wanting to hear.

"Then show me, darling." Arthur leans in and fucks his tongue into Merlin's mouth, filthy and rough. He pulls nearly all the way out and teases Merlin, leaving him nearly empty and when Merlin whimpers, Arthur slams back in hard, growls, "show me exactly how much you want it."

Merlin doesn't know how he's meant to do anything except expire from lust. Arthur's cock is so deep inside him that he's aching with it and that filthy-hot voice curling around his ears is enough to actually drive him insane. It's too good, all of it, the perfect roughness of his own hand and the burn of being filled over and over and he knows he's close.

His stomach drops, the pleasure building, sparking in his groin and he bites his lip but Arthur's shaking his head, thumbing his mouth open, saying, "Let me hear you, Merlin, go on."

Merlin groans when he comes, his eyes closed, his head thrown back and it feels so good he wants it to go on forever. He feels absolutely done for: his throat abraded, his skin slick with sweat and his thighs shaking with the force of it, but he doesn't want it to end.

Arthur fucks him through his orgasm and when Merlin's finally still, struggling for breath, he pulls out, strips off the condom and fists himself till he comes, jets of it hitting Merlin's stomach and thighs and throat.

"So beautiful when you're like this, you have no idea." Arthur trails his fingers in the mess on Merlin's belly and brings them to Merlin's mouth. Arthur watches as Merlin sucks his fingers clean, swearing under his breath.

He rolls off of Merlin and lies back against the pillows, his fingers tracing patterns on Merlin's torso. Merlin's skin's so fucking sensitised that he shivers all over, and Arthur smiles, wide.

Merlin just lies there for a moment, concentrates on the rise and fall of his chest as he gets his breathing back under control, his heart rate back to a normal pace. He rolls over so he's facing Arthur and presses a kiss to his shoulder.

"You know, I like this working from home lark," Merlin says. "I think I need a new career."

Arthur leers at him. "I'd agree with that. I know exactly what you should be doing all day." He ducks his head when Merlin throws a pillow at him.

They shower together in Arthur's massive bathroom; Arthur washes Merlin's hair, attentive and gentle, before dropping to his knees and sucking Merlin until he comes down Arthur's throat.

***

Epilogue:

They don't go to Avalon anymore. Not after the night Arthur turned up late to find Valiant towering over Merlin, telling him that he'd heard Pendragon had gone soft and did Merlin need Valiant to sort him out. Arthur had actually growled like a rabid dog and tipped a jug of water over Valiant's head telling him he needed to cool off and stop trying to "steal other people's boyfriends".

It was the first time Arthur had said the B word out loud, and Merlin was so happy he took Arthur home and let Arthur edge him whilst wearing his leather gloves for an entire hour.

Arthur sets up a playroom on the third floor of the house and Merlin doesn't miss Avalon one bit.

It isn't always easy. They're so different in so many ways and when Arthur asks Merlin to move in with him, it takes Merlin a week to say yes and by then, Arthur tells Merlin he's changed his mind anyway. They don't speak for a week until Merlin turns up on his doorstep and threatens to kick the door off its hinges if Arthur doesn't "grow the hell up and stop being a fucking robot."

The next day, Arthur sends flowers to his work and the card says

Forgive me? Robots get scared too. AP.

 

the end