For you my most beloved,
I would eat the world raw.
I would slay entire armies in your name.
Would you, my most handsome love,
He who puts the stars in the sky for me,
Do the same for me? Doth thou love run just as deep?
If so then do not bid me goodnight,
For it would kill me to part with you until tomorrow.
Arthur moves over Zeldris, their mouths working together in a rhythm that has him melting into the king's bed. His hands hold lightly on Arthur's waist, keeping his body still. Their chests are pressed together, Arthur braced against his forearms on either side of his head.
Zeldris wants more. He wants to feel them skin to skin, to taste more than just his mouth and tongue, to know what Arthur's tongue feels like trailing along his stomach. He wants to watch as Arthur's clothes are peeled away, to see if he is as strong as he feels, to count his scars, to gaze at the cock that is stiff and tenting in his trousers. He wants to feel Arthur's hand and mouth and body surrounding his own, wants to know how they would fit together, if it would feel—if he would feel. He wants to hear Arthur's heart pound in his chest and know the sounds he makes as he shudders at his touch.
Instead, they kiss slowly, the king's tent quiet except for their breathing. This is at least the tenth kiss they have shared, maybe fifteenth—Zeldris lost count since their first two weeks prior. Each time he swears it is the last, just a bit too much wine or a bit too much sleep, or perhaps not enough. This can't be how it really feels, because he is already in love, and she is waiting for him in Paradise.
Because of this, all they have done is kiss. The king is as bold as he is sweet, and he tastes of honey, and the sun, and the freshness of spring even in the cold rains that have stalled their progress. Even when the air is frigid enough to see one's breath, Arthur is electric, his palms heated as they caress his face or slide along his arms, warm and wonderful. The king has tried to touch him, pushing up Zeldris' shirt or pulling their hips flush together, but the demon always pulls away.
It all seems so impossible, but the more this continues—each time he says not again, until the sound of his name on Arthur's lips makes that once more a foolish idea—the more he wants him. So this time, when Arthur wedges one of his legs between Zeldris' thighs, he shifts to allow him. It's just a little thing, he argues in his mind; but his own thoughts are soon dulled as the king's thigh, strong and muscular, presses upwards and against his own throbbing erection.
The pressure is unexpected, but welcome, and without thinking Zeldris grinds against him. There are layers of fabric between them but that does not stop the heat that rises through his body, and when Arthur gives a groan it flares into a heat in his core. Slowly Zeldris rocks his hips, dragging the very hard part of him up and down the muscled limb. He feels the king's body shift when he rocks as well in response.
Zeldris freezes as Arthur chuckles against his lips. "It's okay," the human whispers. "You feel good." To punctuate this, he rubs against him.
The demon takes a stuttered breath. "We should—we should stop—"
"Why?" Arthur's question is a whisper on his skin as his lips ghost over Zeldris' jaw.
Arthur is grinding on him slowly, gently, nuzzling Zeldris' neck. Zeldris swallows his excuse as his fingers clench against the king's trousers, wanting to pull him down and tighter against him and to push him away at the same time.
"If someone came in—"
"No one is disturbing us." Arthur's mouth suctions against his neck. Zeldris' eyes roll a bit as his lids close, fighting back a moan as he feels the king sucking gently on his skin. His teeth and tongue are like sparks that shoot through his veins, the demon's pants going uncomfortably tight as his length is squeezed against the fabric. Before Zeldris realizes it, his head falls back, his chin lifting to offer him more, and Arthur kisses his rapidly beating pulse.
The king grazes him with his teeth. "Your skin tastes so good," he murmurs. His mouth begins to trail across his throat. "I want to taste every inch of you."
In response Zeldris hooks one of his legs around Arthur, pulling him closer; now their midsections are flushed against one another, and Zeldris can clearly feel the outline of the king's rigid cock through his pants as it scrapes against his own. The demon's sex jerks in response, his arms moving slowly to his back to encircle him.
Arthur's mouth returns to him and they kiss fiercely; his tongue is insistent, possessive, the feel of him growing hotter and hotter as he tastes Zeldris at his leisure. Zeldris's mind spins at the pleasure of it all, craving the feel of the hard body covering his, when he feels Arthur's palm slide underneath his shirt.
The melting returns, Arthur's tongue like hot butter on his, the fingers gliding along his torso leaving tracks of spiking need. It makes no sense, Zeldris isn't supposed to want, he gave that up for power and only Gelda has the power to unlock that part of him. Isn't that how this works? Elizabeth had given Meliodas a heart; the king loves no other. Gelda allowed him to feel desire and emotion, so he had assumed that she would be the only. But now this boy who is not a boy, who is a man with a power and body to match his, who is carved and beautiful and golden like the sun with violet eyes just like her—
"Zeldris, you feel so good," Arthur groans, breaking him from the cycle of confusion.
It's terribly flattering, but makes all of this that much more complicated. The demon is supposed to be there to kill him. It's been two weeks and he has not returned to the Underworld; his absence will soon be noted, and if Zeldris does not decide soon whether to take this human's life as instructed or to defy the god of the sun then he will risk his own king becoming involved. He opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling of the tent, flapping a bit in the bustling winds outside. But inside is warm, here underneath the king and the covers of his bed.
The sweetness of the moment turns sour. "Why are you doing this?" asks Zeldris, trying another tactic.
The king pauses, his breath ghosting against the demon's cheek. Then he presses up on his arms, looking down at him with a frown. "Do you want to stop?"
Zeldris grits his teeth in annoyance at having the moment turned back onto him. "Just answer the question."
Arthur sighs as he cards his fingers through the god's hair. "Why do we do anything?" he whispers. "It feels right. This feels right to me. Don't you agree?"
Yes, he wants to say, but Zeldris closes his eyes and turns his face away. The king presses his forehead to his neck for a moment. Then his lips move to the demon's throat, and Arthur says against his skin, "Just feel, Zeldris. I want you to just feel."
Zeldris swallows nervously as the king's mouth continues downward. But that is the entire issue, isn't it? He can't feel, not pleasure or pain or desire or emotion. Only with Gelda. It is only with her that the god of death comes alive.
And yet the human's mouth moves downward as his hands trace along the ridges of his chest and stomach, and something is happening. His heart begins beating faster as Arthur moves between his legs, the protest dying in his mouth when he feels the fabric of his pants pulled down his hips. The need for more sharpens, going almost painful; Arthur plants a kiss on his pelvis, making Zeldris' eyes and mouth open wide.
The king gives a little noise in the back of his throat, which Zeldris has come to know almost as his trademark, the sound meaning that Arthur is hungry for more. Zeldris does not know what to expect next, his hands clenching into the fabric of the mattress beneath him so tightly his arms tremble. So when he feels the flat of Arthur's tongue—the tongue that had been so expertly weaving with his own moments before—Zeldris chokes back a gasp, his head pressing back into the pillow as his chin lifts.
Arthur drives him wild with need, first with his tongue: teasing, bathing him, unlike anything Zeldris had experienced. His time with Gelda had been so agonizingly brief, he can feel a swell of emotion as he wants more, wants it all from the man now pressing his thighs apart so he can settle between his legs and swallow his cock.
The abandon with which Arthur pleasures him drives him mad. Zeldris hits the back of his throat with a strangled noise of his own. Wet suction overwhelms his senses, the tongue and lips working painstakingly to pull him into his hot, wet, inviting mouth. The rush of sensation wars with the confusion Zeldris feels in this moment. How? How is this happening again? What does it mean?
Then Arthur moans around him, and Zeldris is nearly in a trance. All that exists is the sweet suction, the thick waves of hair that slide through the demon's fingers, the thick liquid that slips down his length for a moment before it is quickly cleaned away. Don't stop, don't stop, the refrain replays in his mind over and over—or is he saying it aloud? Is that his cry, or Arthur's? He melts as Arthur's hands roam his hips, grabbing him and yanking him forward. Every pass of his mouth is another jolt of pleasure, giving him what he wanted, what he aches for until finally, finally, he loses control.
Zeldris swells upwards with a gasp, the urgency to be inside Arthur's mouth demanding and undeniable. He comes with long, thick surges into his throat, every muscle twitching as Arthur rocks with him; gods he is swallowing around him, the very word losing meaning as it goes on and on until he collapses back with a hand pressing tightly to his eyes.
Zeldris barely registers when Arthur releases his cock, sliding back up his body to nuzzle into his neck. "You tasted amazing," the king whispers. His hand massages on the demon's thigh reassuringly. "Thank you."
A laugh escapes him, a mixture of leftover emotion and a sliver of embarrassment, and Zeldris turns his face towards him. Arthur smiles at him, his face and lips flushed but lighting up the dark tent with his loveliness. He weaves his fingers through the hand pressing his thigh before capturing Arthur in another kiss, and in that moment Zeldris knows his decision is made.
Arthur studies the lord across from the table. Rou is one of the most powerful landholders in Britannia, and his army will go a long way to securing their victory against Escanor. He does not need the man's support, but it will make all of this business easier, and hopefully much less deadly. Furthermore, he is sure there are several like Rou who are waiting in the wings, ready to try to snatch the throne once Arthur is done the business of relieving it from Escanor. If he can get ahead of the biggest contender now, all the better.
Rou seems agreeable at least. He welcomed their men onto their land, the army setting up camp at the base of a hill two miles from the small castle as the king and a dozen escorts headed to dine with the lord. Rou had greeted them himself, bowing respectfully to Arthur and arranging for a banquet for both sides featuring their finest meats and wines.
Now the lord speaks animatedly about the duties owed to Escanor, and how he wishes to escape from underneath his heavy thumb. "Independent Britannia is what is best for all," he says, raising his cup to the king.
"United," Gawain corrects him. His friend shifts next to him. "A united Britannia, under a true king."
Arthur catches the very miniscule twitch on the side of Rou's eye at being spoken to; however it is gone in a blink as the man snatches up his own glass. "To a united Britannia!" he calls, and everyone raises their own drinks in a toast.
He nods to Rou before sipping his drink, and then turns his head slightly to look over the room. His men are engaged in talks with their hosts, some polite, some enthusiastic. There is only one without a companion, which Arthur does not find surprising in the least. He chuckles to himself as he briefly catches Zeldris' eye. His dark gaze is as narrow and distrustful as ever. Does Zeldris ever enjoy?
His musings over the man are interrupted when Rou leans in closer. "Let us leave our men to their drink," he says. "We have much to discuss."
Arthur does not entirely trust his smile; but what could he do, with his men here, his army at the door? The king nods and waves off Gawain, who insists on coming, following Rou from the room. He can almost feel Zeldris' eyes following him, and gives the briefest of glances over his shoulder as they head into the next room. Yet Zeldris is no longer at his seat; Arthur frowns as they exit, wondering where he could have gone.
"There we are," Rou says cheerily. "Now we can have some quiet for our negotiation."
Arthur's mouth forms a thin line. "I wasn't aware there was anything to negotiate."
"Oh come now, there's always room for talk." Rou waves him to sit on one of the overstuffed chairs. A bearskin lays on the stone floor, the two sitting across from one another in front of the roaring fire in the hearth.
Rou offers him a glass of whiskey, which he declines. "Your negotiation," Arthur prompts.
Nodding, the man takes a sip of his own drink before answering, "You are asking for my men and my army. Surely I am due for some reward."
"Your land and your army belong to Britannia, which is mine by birthright," replies the king. "For your efforts you will be allowed to keep them and pass them to your heirs."
"That seems hardly fair," Rou laughs. "I put out effort for you, my men die for you, and in return I get what I already have?"
Arthur looks at him sharply, watching as the drink is once more lifted to his lips. "Make no mistake, I will be king of Britannia," he warns. "And when I am on the throne, I will remember my friends."
The man regards him closely. "You'll need a wife," he says. "I have three daughters, you can have your choosing."
"Agreed," replies Arthur. "Anything else?"
Rou tilts back his head and laughs. "Didn't even stop to think about it!" he cries. "What sort of man does that? For all you know, they could be pock-marked and dull."
"I'll take my chances," he replies smoothly.
Once more Rou snorts a laugh before finishing off his drink. "No taxes once you are king."
"Impossible," says Arthur. "But I pledge they will be fair. I'm not interested in riches."
He notices Rou's brow jerk in surprise. Leaning forward, the man's eyes go up and down, observing him closely, and Arthur can smell the alcohol on his breath. "You are a strange one," he says quietly. "Most young princes want fortune and blood and a tight young pussy to ram at the end of the day."
"I am not a prince," says Arthur. "I am a king."
They stare at one another for a long moment. Something pricks the back of his neck—danger?—but no, that's impossible.
He turns his face towards the door anyway, listening, as Rou says, "You aren't king yet."
Arthur is up at once, the knife in Rou's hand flashing as it cuts into the leather of the chair where he was sitting. But the alcohol as proved his undoing, the man stumbling over when he fails to reach his target. Arthur kicks him in the back to send him sprawling on the rug, then stomps on his hand to release the knife, Rou crying out as several bones break. "You fool," he hisses, pushing him to his back with the toe of his boot.
Rou holds his hand, cursing as he presses it against his chest. "No more than you," he spits back at the king. "You want to defy the gods themselves for your own pride!"
"What are you talking about?" he hisses.
The door bangs open, and Arthur looks up sharply, drawing his sword. But it is Zeldris, who stands glowering in the open doorway at the man still clutching his broken hand tightly. "There is treachery here," he announces.
"Yes, I know," Arthur laughs, but Zeldris shakes his head.
"The others are dead."
"What!" Without thinking, he runs from the room, nearly stumbling back into the dining hall.
Just as Zeldris had said, all of his men are dead, their faces frozen, their bodies slumped over the table. Panic grips his heart as he rushes to Gawain, his hands shaking as he pushes back his friend's hair. Gawain's eyes stare blankly ahead, his lips purple and his skin waxy; Arthur swallows thickly against the sick that wallows up in his throat, closing Gawain's eyes before looking away.
His hand covers his face, and Arthur fights off the urge to scream. There could still be more of the enemy… but his eyes go wide as he takes in the rest.
Rou's men are dead as well, each one on the ground, the same red streak on each chest, blood pooling beneath each corpse. It is obvious they had been dispatched of quickly and succinctly; the wounds are all exact and precise. Yet his own men are still at the table, as if they had been eating. If not them, then who?
Footsteps sound behind him, and Arthur turns to see Zeldris entering the room. "They were poisoned," he says in answer to his unasked question. "Probably the ale."
"Did you do this?" he hisses, his eyes wide with fear. "Did you kill the rest of them?"
Zeldris only gazes back, his eyes dark and unforgiving. Yet they hold no lie, and Arthur nods, swallowing thickly. "I need to deal with Rou."
"There's no need," Zeldris says.
Arthur bristles, striding across the room and poking him in the chest. "You have no right!" he shouts. "You had no right! You think you can kill whoever you want?"
"He was a traitor," he answers darkly. "He tried to kill you." His chin jerks over the king's shoulder. "He killed the rest. He deserved to die."
Heat prickles the inside of Arthur's throat, making his eyes and his cheeks sting. "How can you be so cold?" he whispers. "How can you see this death and act as if… as if it doesn't bother you at all?"
Zeldris looks taken aback for a moment before his eyes fall away. Arthur lowers his head, his body betraying him as a few tears slip down his nose. For the first time since he began his campaign, the first time since he first held the grip of Excalibur in his palm, Arthur does not know what to do. The weight of this failure—of Gawain's death—hangs on him like a shroud, and he fears he will fall apart into pieces.
Two strong arms wrap around him, and their strength allows him to do just that. Arthur clings to Zeldris as he cries, mourning his friends, knowing this is only the first test of many. Yet despair does not enter while the body against his is warm and steady. Zeldris' embrace comforts him until his cries cease and they stand holding one another, their heartbeats in sync.