Arthur enjoys fighting. Always has. Ever since he was encouraged to pick up a stick and poke at other small boys with it, Arthur has enjoyed pitting himself against someone or something.
He likes a challenge.
He likes the physicality of it, the stretch and burn and bruise.
He also likes being made to work for something, for once.
Since Lancelot joined the knights, sparring has become more of all of those things, and battles have become something of a competition for them, who can strike the fastest, the hardest, the most strategically.
It's not the only time they compete towards a mutual goal, either.
Today the foe is a yale, a fairly harmless creature but a magical one, whose head Uther desires for the wall of the audience chamber. It hardly required a squad - Arthur chose only Lancelot to go with him - but they've gathered an audience nonetheless.
Arthur wipes his blade off on the flank of the yale and catches Lancelot's eye. Both of them are breathing hard, and the low-grade arousal that always goes with fighting, and adrenaline, kicks in hard when Lancelot's gaze dips to Arthur's mouth and throat.
But now is not the time, and both of them know it. For one thing, there are people around, and for another, the main ingredient is missing.
Lancelot knuckles his helmet off and shakes out his hair, moving closer to Arthur, nonchalant and graceful.
'I'll have Merlin summoned to my rooms when we get back,' Arthur murmurs, pulling off his own helm. 'Join me for a drink later?' he says louder, more comradely.
'I'd be honoured,' Lancelot says. He slaps Arthur on the back and leans in to whisper in his ear. 'I'll see we're supplied,' he says, and Arthur feels a thrum of heat go through him and settle low.
Yes. This is going to be a good evening.
'No,' Merlin groans, his already bad posture worsening as all the stiffness melts out of his spine. 'I've been lugging laundry around all day. You two can see to each other if you're so keen, but leave me out of it.' By which he means he's more than happy to watch, not that he wants to leave, of course. He doesn't like being left out.
Arthur is having none of this laziness. He raises an eyebrow, but Lancelot, apparently, is going for the more sympathetic approach. Arthur lets him have at it - Merlin's more receptive to Lancelot's kid-gloves approach when he's like this, and it's nice to watch them, Lancelot stalking Merlin like he's a doe in a clearing, wary and beautiful and ripe for the taking. He's still got his eyes fixed on Arthur as Lancelot moves closer. Stupid twit never keeps his wits about him, but Arthur can't bring himself to complain this time.
Lancelot slips behind Merlin, runs his hand over his shoulder, pauses, his mouth close to Merlin's ear, just breathing, before saying 'Please?' Just that. Just please, and Merlin's eyes flutter half-closed, and he takes a breath no doubt deeper than he'd intended.
'No,' he says again, but his resolve is weakening. Arthur beckons to Lancelot.
'Fine,' he says, yanking Lancelot closer and running a possessive hand down his back to his arse. 'Off you go then, Merlin. I'm sure Gaius has plenty of things for you to get on with if you've decided you're not willing to ... service me tonight.' He bites Lancelot's neck, feels Lancelot grin against his shoulder as he moans theatrically.
Merlin's eyes widen, then narrow, scowling. He knows what Arthur's about just as Arthur knows that while Merlin is quite happy for this arrangement to continue, he's possessive as hell over Arthur and hates it if they muck around while he's not even in the room.
'I'm tired,' he says again, but he's moving forward, something dangerous in his eyes. Jealousy, thick and green-eyed, that's what it is.
Arthur loves knowing he's won. Lancelot twists in his arms and holds out a hand to Merlin.
'Fine,' Merlin huffs. 'But you two are doing all the work here,' he adds, before taking Lancelot's hand.
'Don't we always?' Arthur says, letting Lancelot kiss Merlin. He plucks at their clothes as they move against each other, little touches, little adjustments. He likes watching almost as much as he likes participating. He likes knowing they both know he's there.
He sometimes wonders if he has control issues, but then remembers that he's the prince, if he's not in control then something's wrong.
Also there's something incredibly arousing about being able to take Lancelot's unresisting hand and guide it to Merlin's hips, to tuck his fingers into Merlin's waistband, or to run his own hands up under Lancelot's shirt and undo it from behind, leave both of them shirtless and skin-to-skin, savour the difference in hue and tone between them. Arthur learnt this from Lancelot - not the only thing he's learnt from his quiet second-in-command, but probably the thing he appreciates the most.
Merlin's moaning already, despite his protestations of disinterest in tonight's festivities, and Arthur decides that they're absorbed in each other enough and it's time to get back in on this assault. He wraps his arms around Merlin, gently pushing Lancelot back, and jerks his head towards the bed. Lancelot nods, fire in his eyes, and between them they walk Merlin in the right direction.
He struggles a bit, but Arthur silences him with a nip to the earlobe and says 'You wanted us to do the work. We're doing it.' Merlin subsides.
They've been doing this months now, and just a look tells Arthur that he and Lancelot are on entirely the same wavelength tonight. They grin at each other. Merlin looks from one to the other, puzzled. He is tired, Arthur can tell, but that makes this all the more delicious. He's warm and pliant as Arthur settles him against the pillows on the bed, and he wraps his arms around Arthur's shoulders, and they kiss, gentle and wet, while Lancelot fumbles something entirely necessary out of one of the more discreet drawers in Arthur's bureau.
'Sssh,' Arthur says to Merlin as Lancelot settles next to him, pulling him half into his lap. 'Don't worry about it.' He strokes a hand down Merlin's flank and slides further down the bed, nuzzling at Merlin's breeches and fumbling to pull them down, making sure to contact everywhere soft and hard and sensitive he can.
Merlin gasps. Arthur doesn't need to look up - Lancelot will be paying close attention to those parts of Merlin that Arthur can't reach. Together they'll beseige him until he welcomes invasion and surrender. Carefully, Arthur shapes his hands to Merlin's hips - gentle is the way when he's tired - and fits his mouth to Merlin's skin, hipbones, the crease of his thigh. He reaches down and strokes Merlin's calf, willing him to plant his feet flat and wide on the sheets and make access easier to all the soft and secret places Arthur wishes to go.
Merlin's defenses are always undone by gentleness. It was a lesson Arthur took too long to learn, really. He licks and suckles his way into Merlin, employing fingers only when he knows they're wanted, winkling the necessary jar from Lancelot and putting the contents to lavish, soothing use.
Eventually Merlin is trembling in Arthur's hands, and he does look up then, to see Lancelot's eyes closed in bliss, his hands tracing Merlin's face and neck, their mouths pushed hard and breathless against each other. Merlin has one hand haphazardly in Lancelot's lap but unmoving, too strung out to do much.
Arthur sits up, still cradling Merlin's hips, and the movement is enough to alert Lancelot to the next phase of the plan.
'Merlin,' the knight whispers, stroking his hands through Merlin's already sweat-tousled hair. 'Come on, my friend. Come on,' and between the two of them they maneouvre Merlin fully into Lancelot's lap, his arms lying supine over Lancelot's shoulders. Arthur slips behind Merlin, stroking his shoulders.
'Slow,' Arthur hisses, wanting to see as Merlin lowers himself onto Lancelot. He sees, all right, God, he sees it all, and again he lets Lancelot hold Merlin, hold his body and hold his attention while Arthur makes things how they should be, Lancelot's hands firm and brown on Merlin's milky hips, Merlin holding the bedstead, knuckles white.
He kisses the lip that Merlin is biting, soothes it, sucks it, waits for that tiny flutter, that easing of tension between Merlin's brows before he tells them to move.
They are glorious to watch. Arthur is overcome with a wave of possessiveness the like of which he has never known before, and he slicks a hand over himself in anticipation. But that's premature, and he knows it. Instead he moves in close, touching, caressing Merlin where he's open and tender, feeling the join between them, easing it with the moisture still on his fingers.
Merlin rolls his head back and cracks an eye open at Arthur. He smiles lazily. 'Go on then,' he says. 'It's not like you haven't been planning it since you walked in.'
Arthur's fingers make things tight - both Merlin and Lancelot groan - but when he finally kneels up and brings Merlin down, all stretched and ready, onto both of them, that is tighter still, squeezed and held and hot, and it is almost too much for Lancelot, who has been holding himself in so well, so very well so far. Arthur feels for him, feels proud of him, his beautiful knight-errant, all stamina and grace and duty.
He leans forward past Merlin, careful and slow, and kisses Lancelot on the forehead, a benediction, then on the mouth, a gift, a tax, a promise, a present, a request, feels him open up, feels the slickness of him, the burning need. Arthur pushes just that little harder, whispers 'it's okay,' in Lancelot's ear and feels him twitch, push, pulse, tighter and hotter and wetter.
When Lancelot withdraws, he coaxes Merlin to his hands and knees over him, holds him up for Arthur to take his pleasure, to finally go at speed and feel Merlin react perfectly, pushing back, slender like the finest of willow-wands and supple as well. From the way he's moaning, Lancelot must have his hands on Merlin, urging him on.
Suddenly Merlin is done, he stiffens and tightens, drawing Arthur up and in and that's enough, that little flex is all it takes. Arthur's world goes white, heat blurs in front of his eyes and he has to hold so hard-
'Come on,' Merlin is whispering from below him, and 'Sire,' Lancelot murmurs in the worshipful way he has, like Arthur does him more honour than he knew existed simply by sharing this with him, and that's it, that's what Arthur needs.
Merlin sleeps first, sprawled, his head pillowed on Arthur's chest, Lancelot's hands protective round his waist. Arthur kisses Lancelot slowly, lazily while Merlin drifts off, and wonders what tomorrow's tactics will be.