Merlin leans in, presses his chest against Arthur's back, and reaches around to clasp his lord's cloak. He's been holding his breath, anxious about his new job as the prince's manservant, anxious about getting everything right, and when he feels the clasp snick closed, he closes his eyes and allows himself a moment to relax. He’s finally getting the hang of all the tasks he needs to perform for Arthur.
The proximity to Arthur turns out to be a problem because with relaxation he starts breathing again properly and the scent that works its way through his nostrils to his brain is tantalizing. Warm leather, sandalwood, and a slight metallic tang that can never be properly washed off the skin weaken Merlin's knees. His hands, which had been hovering over Arthur's shoulders, now grip tightly.
"Merlin!" Arthur says with alarm in his voice. "Are you all right?"
Still a little woozy, Merlin nonetheless registers Arthur's concern. He realizes his grip is rather firm.
Merlin clears his throat. "Yes. Er, sorry, sire." He removes his hands, placing them at his side.
"Merlin, you aren't still affected by the poison, are you?" Arthur says as he turns.
And this is worse, because Arthur's breath wafts against his skin Damn it, I forgot to put my scarf on. Merlin represses an incipient shiver. Hold it together he thinks.
Clenching his teeth, Merlin just shakes his head. "No. I'm fine. Really. Now, it's time for the banquet. You'll be late if you don't leave now."
Arthur gives Merlin a hard look before turning towards the door. Merlin reaches down, adjusting his breeches which have gotten tight. He tries to swallow around the lump in his throat knowing he has to serve Arthur tonight and relief will be a long time in coming. Merlin steels himself for the evening ahead.
At first, Merlin thinks he's doing pretty well. He stands near the wall, not leaning up against it and is always at Arthur's hand when the prince beckons. There are enough other distractions, that he can't smell Arthur, so it's easy enough to tamp down the desire which had bubbled up in Arthur's chambers.
But the courses go on and on. The party heats up and so do the guests. The meat dishes had proved a good mask of Arthur's scent, but by the time the pudding is served, Arthur has removed his cloak and jacket and a wide V of skin is exposed at his neck. Arthur is used to drinking wine, lots of wine, and tonight has been no exception.
Merlin leans over, filling Arthur's cup dutifully, and that scent tickles his nose. It is floating over all the other smells in the room, as if on wings. He inhales and the effect is immediate -- a tingling in his groin and his breeches tighten. Arthur looks at him and Merlin immediately flushes, as if he's the one who's been drinking all night.
"Anything else, sire?"
"No, Merlin, that will be all." Arthur turns back to the guests, seemingly oblivious to Merlin's discomfort. Then he turns around. Arthur looks directly at him and Merlin's heart stops. Time slows.
"Oh, Merlin, since dinner is almost over, why don't you get my bed ready? It's been a long day and we have a long day ahead tomorrow. I'd like to be well rested."
"Of course, sire."
Merlin turns, relieved to have a reprieve from Arthur's intoxicating scent. The cold corridors cool his ardor and he tries not to think about the effect Arthur's smell has on him as he fans the fire and puts a warming pan on the bed.
Arthur's room, once warmed, turns out to smell quite a bit like Arthur. Especially the bed. Merlin is smoothing the covers down, again, when Arthur returns. He stands in the doorway, waiting.
Merlin looks at him. Arthur looks back expectantly.
"Oh, right. Sorry." Merlin had forgotten his place, again. He blushes and stumbles over. He faces Arthur and unhooks the clasp of Arthur's cloak, draping it on the nearby chair. Next, he helps Arthur out of the leather jacket with all the buttons.
Merlin fumbles the buttons and Arthur says in a low rumble, "Have you been at the wine tonight, Merlin?"
Merlin startles. "What? No!"
Arthur gestures grandly, "Well, then, get on with it."
"Of course." Merlin bends his head, trying to focus on getting the buttons undone, but Arthur's scent is working its magic. His mouth is dry now and his knees seem to have gone weak without him even noticing. He does the best he can with the buttons, trying not to react to Arthur's growing impatience.
Arthur huffs out a breath and now Merlin's knees do buckle.
"Merlin," Arthur grabs at his wrist, real concern in his voice. Merlin can't look at Arthur. He swallows and tries to steady himself.
"You have been drinking wine!"
"No, it's just, you smell nice, sire."
He’s been so careful, remembering to say “sire,” knowing how to dress Arthur, and even serve him properly, but in the prince’s chambers, Arthur’s scent has overwhelmed him.
Merlin is sure that Gaius would wallop him over the head if he could see him now, but he's overwhelmed with the aroma of Arthur, he can't stop himself. He lays a fingertip on Arthur's collarbone, just at the opening of the shirt and looks into Arthur's eyes. He knows this is wrong. He's a servant and Arthur's a prince, but he's wobbly with desire.
"Forgive me. I have spoken too rashly." Merlin voices comes out raggedly but he hopes his apology will not get him sacked, at the very least.
Arthur reaches down and raises Merlin's fingertip to his lips, gently sucking on it. Merlin had not been expecting this and he moans, unable to control himself, as though he were a teenager. Arthur reaches around Merlin, bringing their bodies together, still nibbling and suckling at Merlin's finger.
"Is my bed ready?"
Arthur looks over at it, stopping his ministrations of Merlin's finger.
"I don't think it's warm enough," he says in a low rumble. "You can't have your prince getting cold on a night like this."
"N-n-n-no," Merlin stammers.
Arthur smiles and gently presses his lips to Merlin's.