Actions

Work Header

Within Reach

Work Text:

Merlin stomps up to his new room, fuming.

That idiot in the marketplace was the biggest arse he's ever met in his entire life. How was he supposed to know it was the Prince? He's only been in Camelot for a day! Merlin closes his door gently so as not to disturb Gaius, but he really, really feels like slamming it.

He can't get that prat out of his head. His words run through Merlin's head over and over on a loop.

Do you know how to walk on your knees?

If it weren't for the circumstances, he would almost call it a come-on. If the tone was just a little different, less saturated with condescension.

I could take you apart with just one blow.

He imagines that Prince whatever his name, licking his stupid pink lips and eyeing Merlin up like a challenge, and he wants to punch his stupid smug face. He wants to show him how easily he really could have taken him, with just a flick of his hand he could have had him pinned to a wall and…

He should probably stop thinking about it.

He does not stop thinking about it.

Merlin sits on his creaky bed and fumes silently. He can see it clear as day, in his head; what might have happened, if the Prince had pitched his voice a little lower, a little more suggestively.

The Prince carries him off to kill him or beat him or whatever Princes do to innocent villagers. Merlin lets himself be dragged along into a dark alcove where no one can see, and then he lashes out, magic wrapping heavy rope around the Prince's ankles. The Prince glances around in terrified bemusement, followed by dawning realization.

"Less than a blow," Merlin says, grinning slyly.

With a flick of the wrist, the ropes go taut and the Prince falls to the ground, looking up with hate in his eyes.

"A sorcerer. I'll see you beheaded, when I'm through with you." He stands and shoves Merlin gracelessly into the wall.

"Like to- see you- try," Merlin grunts, and sends a magical pulse through his body, knocking him backward. Pain pierces his face as the Prince lands a blow, and they are both falling to the ground. Merlin lands on top of him, and they pant in unison, bruised and exhilarated, wearing matching expressions of hatred. Merlin moves to strike again, but the Prince's hand on his wrist stops him.

Something hard presses into his hip, and his eyes flicker downward. The Prince is hard. He's getting off on this, because of course he is. He probably bullies people like this all the time, just to get his rocks off.

"You going to take care of that for me?" taunts the Prince, and Merlin manages to look away from his crotch, embarrassed at being caught looking.

The Prince is looking too, directly at Merlin's lips. Merlin knows he's not exactly pretty in the face, but he has nice lips. And a wiry, smoothly muscled torso, from doing farm work for his mother and the neighbors. According to Will, anyway.

Merlin yanks his hand free and sends a surge of magic to drag the Prince up the wall again. He leans in for a kiss, their mouths sliding slick and hot together as Merlin parts the Prince's legs, bringing them to wrap around his hips.

The Prince is still wearing trousers. Merlin's magic has ideas about that, and tosses them aside, giving Merlin immediate, glorious access to the Prince's bare skin.

He spits on his fingertips and rubs roughly against the Princes rim, pressing in and scissoring him open.

"Could you possibly go any slower," the Prince is being annoying yet again and Merlin hates how it turns him on, because he hates him.

"Shut up," Merlin mutters.

"That's your only comeback? They mustn't have taught even basic language skills in Ealdor," The Prince mocks, and then pauses, as Merlin realizes this is unrealistic. He had never told the Prince where he was from. The Prince shakes his head and continues. "Hurry up with it."

"Maybe I'll stop right now and leave you here," he snaps, not meaning it at all. .

"I am such a prat," the Prince moans. "You are a perfectly decent person, who did not deserve to sit in a dungeon over my pratishness."

"You're right. Thanks," says Merlin. "I hate you."

"You should, I deserve it," the Prince moans again, sounding a lot like Will, because- look, Merlin doesn't have a lot of material to go off of in terms of building a fantasy, as he's only ever had a few fucks in the woods in Ealdor, and-

"Merlin!" calls Gaius from the other room.

Merlin shakes off his thoughts, hurriedly covering himself in case Gaius should decide to enter the room. He isn't supposed to be wanking right now, he has things to do.

"Yes?" Merlin calls back, hoping his voice sounds normal.

"I'm headed out on my rounds. Could you help an old man out, and clean the leech tank while I'm gone?"

"Of course," he chokes out, still palming himself helplessly. He'll get right on it, but he's so close to coming, and he doesn't want to clean the leech tank with a hard-on. The Prince's horrible, spoiled face flashes through his head once more. He should stop thinking about this. After all, it's not like he's likely to see the Prince again. The rest of his time here will be spent learning to control his magic, and meeting new, kind people, and seeing the city.

Merlin comes into his fist, and then goes to clean the leech tank, confident that things will get better.

_______________

And then he's suddenly got a job, and he's around the Prince every single day. The man can't get enough of ordering Merlin around, and as much as Merlin resents him- destiny be damned- Merlin is a young adult, and a handsome man telling him to kneel and do his bidding all the time … well, as much as it irritates him, it also winds him up. And he thinks about it. All the time. When he's kneeling to unlace his boots and trousers, or to scrub the floor, or when he's in the stocks for failing to be compliant.

He thinks about it now as he puts away Prince Arthur's laundry, glaring at the wall. Thinks of how annoying he was earlier, making Merlin do inane chores for no reason.

Merlin has determined to be as contrary as possible during his employment here. But that doesn't mean he can't ponder obedience, in the privacy of his mind. Like if Prince Arthur told him to get on his-

"On your knees."

Merlin obeys, knees hitting the floor with a crack, and Arthur looks on from his seat, opening his legs and glancing down in silent demand.

Merlin undoes Arthur's trousers, hands trembling faintly in his eagerness as he fishes out Arthur's cock. Arthur presses hot against Merlin's lips, smearing them with warm precome, as if Merlin were a woman putting on gloss. Merlin licks his lips.

Arthur feeds him the tip to suck on, and then the rest. He doesn't move, only holds the girth there to warm it, swallowing occasionally when spit accumulates or he feels near choking. Then he's shoving the entire length against the back of Merlin's throat at once, because he's a bastard. Merlin gags, and Arthur makes an approving sound as Merlin's throat contracts around him and adjusts to the thickness.

Arthur grabs his hair roughly and thrusts hard again as tears prick the corners of Merlin's eyes. The sensation of fullness in his throat is a strange one that he has felt only a few times before, but never quite like this, kneeled at the feet of a Prince and awaiting instruction.

"Suck," Arthur orders, and Merlin does as he's bade, moving back and forth, throat working gently around the red, swollen cock. He manages several inches before it's uncomfortable, his jaw protesting the girth and his throat still sore from Arthur's earlier roughness.

Arthur pulls him off by the hair, and his cock bounces enticingly, shiny and red as a cherry, a string of spit still connecting Merlin's lips and the dripping slit. Merlin wants to take it back in his mouth immediately.

But Arthur has other ideas.

He motions to his lap, and Merlin scrambles up eagerly, knees protesting, to clamber into Arthur's chair. Arthur grips the backs of his thighs and parts them, reaching up to grasp handfuls of Merlin's milky-white bottom. He kneads the chubby mounds, and Merlin jerks in surprise as Arthur trails a finger between them to pass over his entrance.

Arthur spreads oil across his fingers generously, and wastes no time pressing two fingers into Merlin's hole. Merlin yelps at the sudden penetration, and squirms at the sting of taking two thick, bony fingers to the knuckle without any preparation.

Arthur smacks his bottom and he clenches up involuntarily, making the fingers press deeper as he whimpers against Arthur's neck, desperately spreading his legs further to make room for a third.

All at once Arthur's fingers slip free with a squelch.

"Sit down."

He's fairly sure he's not prepared enough, Arthur barely opened him up, but Arthur is still fully clothed while Merlin is entirely nude, which for some reason is a turn on beyond belief, and he looks damn good like this, so Merlin determines to manage either way.

He positions himself over Arthur's cock and Arthur pumps himself twice before gripping Merlin's hips in his big hands and shoving him down on his cock. The cockhead pierces the tight opening and stops only centimeters inside, as the ring of muscle contracts too tightly to move deeper. Merlin breathes deeply, bearing down as he makes tiny thrusts to take in the slick shaft little by little.

"You're so tight," grunts Arthur, fucking deeper with each thrust. Merlin's rim clenches greedily, stretched so taut around the length that the pleasure borders on painful. Arthur has the fattest cock he's ever taken, not that he would say so, lest Arthur's ego irreparably inflate.

His forehead shimmers with effort as Arthur spears into him with force, buried base deep in one thrust. Merlin gasps at the sudden fullness, and there's no time to adjust before Arthur is lifting him by the hips and slamming him down again, only the slap of flesh on flesh to be heard as Arthur fucks hard and deep-

"How long can it possibly take to put away three shirts?" Arthur says, and Merlin's head snaps up guiltily.

Arthur looks on in annoyance, arms crossed over his chest, with that 'you are the worst servant I have ever had' look. Merlin resents that, nevermind how true it is.

Merlin is grateful for the shirts covering his lap. Admittedly, the Prince Arthur of his thoughts is wildly mischaracterized. If Arthur saw his, er, issue, it wouldn't lead to anything like what happens in Merlin's head. More likely he would be sacked on the spot, because the great Prince would be disgusted at being objectified by a mere peasant. Arthur would probably bully him over it before sacking him, because he's a complete prick, no matter what destiny has to say. Merlin rolls his eyes just thinking about it.

"I saw that," Arthur narrows his eyes. "Muck the stables."

"But I have to-"

"-Do whatever I say or I'll sack you? That's right." Prince Arthur turns on his heel and walks out the door. "Have it done before dinner, I need you to attend me. And wear the hat."

The Merlin of his fantasy was mischaracterized as well, as the real Merlin will under no circumstances obey that command.

Merlin hates him so very much.

_______________

Merlin would like to hear a 'thank you' once in a while. Naturally, he won't hear one for his routine of 'kill the beast for Arthur and pretend Arthur did it himself', unless it's in the form of a pyre in exactly his size. Still, something to show for this would be nice. He stands over the dead thing, still pulsing with Merlin's magic, and Arthur lies unconscious in the leaves.

Merlin crouches by Arthur's head, gingerly turning his neck to examine him. It's good that he's asleep for this. Arthur is always weird about it when Merlin touches him, because Merlin is a lowly servant and obviously not allowed too close to the royal figure, or whatever tripe.

Arthur glistens with sweat, skin pale and fragile under Merlin's hand. Merlin presses at him clinically, finding only a bruise on the back of his head. Arthur stirs with a low, pained noise when he presses on it.

"Merlin?" Arthur says groggily, blinking up at him. "What happened?"

"You killed it."

"Head hurts," he groans, trying to sit up. Merlin places a hand on his chest, a halfhearted attempt to stop him from exerting himself before Merlin can properly examine him. To his surprise, it works; Arthur lies back down, looking at his hand as if it's a foreign thing. Merlin snatches it away.

"Does anything else hurt?"

"No," he says unconvincingly, obviously trying to get out of being looked at, and still eyeing Merlin's hand like it's going to sneak back and tarnish his skin.

Merlin is tired, and shaken up, and frankly at the end of his rope because this day has been awful.

"Stop treating me like I'm dirt," he grits out. "I know you think I'm some... stupid country boy, but I'm a physicians assistant, and if you have another injury I need to know. Otherwise you'll collapse on our way back, and as irritating as you are I don't want that on my hands," he's started yelling at some point. Arthur looks at him like he's insane. "Or, you can make your own way back. See if I care."

"No one talks to me that way."

"No one is me," he says dryly, though the fight has gone out of him. Shame creeps up. He really just screamed at a man with a head injury. What would Gaius say?

Still, he deserved it. He’s always acting like Merlin is less than him. No one else thinks they're too good to touch Merlin and hang around him. Morgana does. The Knights do. No one but Arthur is so conceited that he won't even accept help or a simple touch from the likes of Merlin. And it's all the worse, because there are times when they’re sort of getting along, and Arthur will do something incredibly brave or kind for him, and he’ll think they’re friends. But then he does this and Merlin feels the gap between them all over again.

"I took a hit to the stomach." Arthur closes his eyes. He looks almost peaceful like this, despite the sickly pallor.

"Should've just said so," he grumbles, and sets about removing Arthur's armor. “I’m going to have to look at it.”

Arthur is strangely tolerant of being jostled, and that worries Merlin more than anything. When he's down to bare skin, a plate sized bruise is starkly visible on Arthur's belly and hip. Possibly dangerous, if he has massive internal bleeding, but he’ll leave that determination to Gaius. He trails a hand over it and Arthur flinches back.

"Sorry," they both say at once.

"I don't think you're dirt," says Arthur quietly. Merlin shrugs. He isn't in the mood to hear Arthur talk. He wants to go home.

Merlin helps him to the horse. They are silent on the way back, Merlin's stomach roiling, sick with the anxiety of today and himself and everything. He tries his best to put it aside and think of other things.

The expanse of Arthurs stomach and his hairy chest and- What if Arthur is really hurt?

Merlin sighs, twisting to check on Arthur and make sure he hasn't fallen off his own horse. Arthur stares blankly into the middle distance, hands still gripping the reins loosely.

“Alright back there?”

“I’m fine,” he snaps.

Reassured by his prissy tone, reminiscent of his normal self, Merlin allows himself to go back to his thoughts.

Spreading poultice over Arthurs belly, his hands accidentally glide past their target and across his nipple. Arthur twitches, chasing the contact. Merlin's fingers come down again deliberately, and when Arthur doesn’t protest, he thumbs at the little nub in slow circles. It stirs, going hard and rosy. Merlin wishes he could tell Arthur how lovely he is. But even in his own head, he can’t imagine it going well. Not with Arthur. And if the Arthur in his head isn’t like the real one, what’s the point?

He massages around the bruise gently, mindful of the darker areas, and presses his thumbs into Arthurs hips as if to make bruises of his own. He wonders if Arthur would like being marked that way. Others like it, certainly, in his experience. Sir Leon and Gwen both liked it when he’d fooled around with them, that once. But Arthur is always different.

Upon their arrival into the castle, a servant meets them at the gate.

“The King has requested your immediate presence, sire,” says Sofia, bowing low.

Merlin scoffs at Uther's audacity. The two of them look like wrecks, Arthur's armor half undone and his face still that horrible pale color, flecks of blood spattered over him. But of course, Uther wouldn’t care about their wellbeing.

“Arthurs presence? Why, so he can scream at an injured man for sneaking out to save peoples lives? Bugger off.”

Arthur pipes up. "Tell him I will arrive shortly."

“No you won’t,” Merlin commands. Arthur glares, and he glares back, hands on his hips. Sofia shifts uncomfortably at the display, and clears her throat.

“My orders are to bring-”

"Tell the King that Arthur is getting medical assistance, and the physician's assistant sent you away. He’ll understand.”

He won’t. He will be irritated. But this way Merlin is far more likely to be punished over it than Sofia the messenger, and perhaps Uthers ire at Arthur will have a chance to cool before Arthur sees him. Before Sofia can reply, Merlin has dragged Arthur away toward Gaius’ chambers.

"I should go see him. He'll be angry if I don't."

"Excuse my treason, but fuck Uther. You're hurt, and the last thing you need right now is him publicly humiliating you. It's bad enough that no one seems to have a problem with it happening on a regular basis."

"He's only trying to discipline me to-"

"Save it," he says, aware for the millionth time today that he's being overly short with someone who has a head injury, moreover someone with the means and motive to put him in the stocks for the next month. He can't bring himself to care. "Look, we're here.

He deposits him there and makes him go toward his room and sleep for a few hours.

"Merlin,” Arthur croaks. Merlin turns back. “Thank you for your help today. Really." He reaches out to clasp Merlin's shoulder. Merlin nods, at a loss for words, and he shuffles to his room, locking it with a charm.

Merlin's shoulder tingles.

He had better not think about this too hard. He had better not.

And then he does, all day long and well into the night.

_______________

Nobody touches Arthur.

He realizes it slowly, and when he does realize, he wants to kick himself for not seeing sooner.

Of course, he knew Uther wouldn't. Naturally, since the man is about as compassionate as a metal pot.

But Morgana, too, keeps her distance. The royals don't touch one another. He had always dismissed it as some rich people decorum thing that Camelot had and Ealdor didn't.

The longer he's around, the more he notices. Arthur doesn't touch anybody, all day long. He trains with the Knights for hours, but he never shares in their friendly bumps and handshakes.

He asks Gwaine and Leon about it one day at training, sitting by the watering bucket.

"Princess doesn't like it, and he gets weird about it if you do, so we try and leave it alone. He doesn't touch anybody else either." Gwaine glances over. "Except you, of course."

"What do you mean 'of course?'"

Gwaine only laughs, and smacks Merlin on the back. Merlin blinks, and turns his attention back to the training field, where Arthur is looking at him with a pinched expression. Probably wanting some water, and expecting Merlin to somehow intuit that without asking.

"It's inappropriate," says Leon. Merlin turns, having momentarily forgotten he was there.

"But you all… hug, and wrestle, and all."

"He's the Crown Prince. People only get close enough to touch when they're currying favor or trying to kill him. People aren't meant to get close to him like that."

"He's a person, too," Merlin says defensively. Everybody needs to be touched. He hugs all his friends frequently, besides Arthur who only allows it on rare occasions. Still, better than nothing at all. "You can't deny him touch."

Leon nods. "I don't disagree. You two have always been different."

Merlin waits for him to elaborate.

Leon sighs. "Watch this. We're both going to get up and give Arthur a friendly pat on the shoulder."

They make their way to Arthur, who stands gathering arrows.

"Nice of you to join us," Arthur says, plucking another arrow from the target. "This is actually your job, you know."

"I was doing my job standing vigilant over the water," says Merlin. "What if someone had come along and done something weird to it when you weren't looking?"

"Spare me," Arthur says, face contorting as he fails to hold in a smile. Merlin sticks out his tongue and Arthur laughs, glancing at Leon. "Sir Leon," he nods.

"Arthur," Leon grins.

Leon raises his hand as if to give a friendly pat, and Arthur takes a polite but immediate step back. Leons eyes meet Merlin's meaningfully.

"Looks like Gwaine needs a sparring partner." Leon walks off, sparing only a pointed look over his shoulder. Arthur turns back to Merlin

Merlin holds out the cup of water in offering, and Arthur takes it with a grateful smile. After a moment's hesitation, Merlin knocks their shoulders together, and lingers there a second too long. Arthur doesn't move away as he drinks the cup empty.

And Merlin doesn't move. How long can he stand here, flush to Arthur's side, before Arthur snaps at him? How long until he figures out Merlin's game? Merlin chances it, shifting just so, that his arm is behind Arthur. He could try what Leon had tried.

Merlin leans away, retracting into himself. As much as he loves winding Arthur up, this doesn't seem an appropriate thing to do without permission.

He could do a lot with Arthur, without even touching.

Sitting at the foot of the bed while Arthur is at the head. Watching him fuck into his fist, precome dripping over his fingers. Merlin wants to see his face when he comes, slack with pleasure; too rare an expression on Arthur.

Arthur slings an arm casually over Merlin's shoulder. Merlin carefully doesn't react as Arthur walks him all the way back to the water bucket with an arm around his shoulder.

While ignoring the Knights collective raised brows, Merlin takes a moment to feel rather special.

_______________

He nearly tells Arthur about the magic on many, many occasions. And on these occasions, he always convinces himself to hold his tongue and stop being an overly optimistic fool.

Arthur is upset over the betrayal, telling Merlin he must be out of Camelot by nightfall or his men will be after him with dogs. He would come see Arthur once more, before he runs. They could fuck over the table, splayed out, Arthur's goodbyes spoken low against Merlin's ear.

As much as he trusts Arthur, he also knows him. Merlin and Arthur may share a destiny, but Arthur doesn't know that. And he may claim Merlin as his own, his friend, but Merlin is painfully aware that Uthers blood runs far thicker than Merlin's, to Arthur. To choose between his friend and his father… Merlin knows there is no choice to be made.

Merlin with his hands tied behind his back, shoulders held by guards. Standing centimeters from Arthur's face as they lock eyes in mutual betrayal. Summoning the courage to close the gap, Merlin surges forward and sinks his teeth into Arthurs plush lower lip. Just the once, before he’s dragged away to the pyre.

Perhaps Merlin would be killed for his magic, killed for his lies, perhaps Arthur would take pity, he doesn't know. The only thing Arthur definitely wouldn't do is let him stay at his side, if he knew Merlin had been keeping secrets all along.

This is his most unrealistic fantasy, and his most coveted. He thinks of it only in his darkest nights. Those nights he spends curled on the corner of the bed, sweating in pain from injuries inflicted while protecting Arthur. Wounds no one will ever see besides himself and Gaius. It’s moments like these that he’s acutely aware of how alone he is in all this, and destiny feels further away than ever, less real each day as he keeps hurting and nothing seems to get better, and nothing seems to change no matter how hard he tries.

He can hardly touch himself anymore, the sight of his own scarred body making his gut roil in disgust and guilt. But he still has the dreams.

Arthur brushing Merlin's hair from his face, examining his split lip. They’re older in this one. Arthur's face is creased deep with the lines of age, and his hair is long, and they’ve just won a battle. Merlin with magic and Arthur with sword, together as equals.

Arthur leans in easily, as in this world he’s done it a thousand times, to kiss the corner of Merlin's mouth. His hand runs up under Merlin's shirt, over the bumps of his scarred torso, stroking over the skin without a hint of disgust. In this world, Merlin has told him everything, and he didn't mind, because he loves Merlin more than anyone else and he wants to touch him and keep him.

In this world he even wants to have sex with Merlin. Even despite the huge round scar on Merlin's clavicle, and the horrific purple gash from ages ago, and the claw mark that healed funny, leaving a chunk of his left nipple entirely gone. Arthur is attracted to him, because it’s Merlin's head and in his head anything he wants can be real.

Merlin bursts into tears, and Arthur pulls him close, shushing him like a baby.

“I love you,” says Arthur. “You’re okay now.”

It’s only a stupid dream. He doesn't tell Arthur about the magic. But he thinks about it, many, many times.

_______________

"And she had magic fingers," a very drunk Gwaine burps and glances at Arthur reassuringly. "Don't mean liter'lly, no sorcery, just… that was a woman who knew 'er way aroun' a prostate!"

All the Knights listen intently, their various levels of drunkenness allowing for more colorful conversation than they would normally abide.

"A what?" says Arthur, squinting in confusion. Merlin knows he's been drinking, because he would never admit to not knowing something if he had all his wits about him. His pride wouldn't allow it.

That pride is nowhere to be seen now, as he clings to Merlin's side by the fire, leaning his full weight like he believes Merlin's wiry frame can support all of that. He's like a big dog that wants to be small enough to fit in a lap, Merlin thinks, concealing a smile.

"A prostate," Gwaine slurs gleefully. "Don't tell me Princess doesn' know how to…" he trails off, distracted from his train of thought as someone passes the bottle around again.

"I don't know anything'" Arthur says imploringly, staring right into Merlin's eyes, face all open and vulnerable in a way Arthur never is in daily life. "It's not like I ever," he gestures wildly.

"Ever...? Oh. Oh."

Merlin rubs Arthur's back gently and tries not to let his surprise show on his face. Arthur is going to be so embarrassed about this tomorrow. He's going to be a nightmare to deal with.

He probably shouldn't be letting him cuddle up like this, with that in mind. But every time he starts to move away, Arthur makes grabby hands at him, which is actually an extremely convincing tactic which has Merlin letting him lay his head on Merlin's chest, so Merlin can access his hair. He wishes Arthur would let him do this all the time. Normally he refuses even a handshake, but here he is with his face smushed into Merlin's chest in front of all their friends. He's so confusing.

And he's a virgin, which Merlin hadn't expected, but supposes he should have known. Merlin has had his share of sex since arriving in Camelot- these days, he only does it in the dark, wearing a shirt- but only because he occasionally skips work to do whatever he likes. It’s not like Arthur will sack him, and once you save a man's life as any times and Merlin has, you’re entitled to a certain amount of slacking off.

But Arthur never has time for slacking. People are always watching him. He just goes to meetings and then trains to exhaustion in his free time, only to be told by Uther that he’s not doing enough, which means he never stops.. From what Merlin has gathered, it's always been that way, so of course he never stopped to do anything fun. Never, apparently, read any of Gaius’ anatomy textbooks. Merlin privately believes that must have been intentional on Uther's party, to keep any heirs from springing up out of wedlock, or perhaps simply to keep Arthur under his thumb.

He wonders about Uther and Arthur. He's never actually seen him strike Arthur, but he has… wondered. And he has seen him not strike Arthur, seen him never touch Arthur at all unless he's dangling affection to get him to do something Uther wants. On a related note, Merlin hates Uther.

He wonders if Arthur has ever had a proper kiss. Merlin could help him out with that.

With Arthur beside him it's easy for his mind to wander.

He could take him to the tent now. He wouldn't do anything untoward, not with Arthur so out of sorts. But he could cover him in blankets and press feather light kisses to his cheeks until he fell asleep, and go to sleep with him right there, nasty drunk breath clogging up the tent.

In the morning he wakes up hungover and cranky and Merlin kisses him right on his frowny face.

"You are to forget anything I allegedly did or said last night," Arthur says.

"I could show you what a prostate is for," he blurts.

"Don't mock me."

"I'm not,” he breathes.

"Ah,” Arthur says, voice confident even as his eyes betray his uncertainty.

"Do you want to-?"

Arthur nods enthusiastically and Merlin kisses his cheek one more time and scoots down his body to his chest.

"This," he says, licking a thumbs and rubbing gentle circles over him, "is your nipple."

"I bloody well know that," he snaps, undermined by the whimper when he leaves over it with his tongue, leaving it shiny with spit. He moves on, trailing down until he’s seated between Arthurs legs, perfect arse in full view.

"How should I know what you do and don't know? I'm going to leave an anatomy book in your room. Gaius has several, he won't miss it for a few weeks."

Merlin parts Arthur's cheeks and presses a finger to the tight bud of his entrance, spreading oil over it in gentle circles with his fingertip to ease it open. It unfurls and Merlin manages to fit a fingertip just inside the rim.

"You have to relax for this part."

He tries to be careful, but Arthur is terrible at relaxing, so it's still a tight fit even as he scissors two fingers at a glacially slow speed.

"Relax, I said."

He uses his unoccupied hand to reach around and hold Arthur's cock in his hand, stroking in rhythm with the curling of his fingers, as they probe just inside Arthur's entrance. Arthur melts into the touch, and Merlin lets Arthurs cock go only so he can spread his cheeks wide again, planting his face between them to lap at the opening. Arthur squirms again, velvet opening tightening around Merlin's tongue. He bears down and forces it deeper as he fucks himself backward onto Merlin's face.

Merlin removes his tongue and licks a stripe up his crack to be annoying.

"At least we know there's something useful your mouth can do," Arthur mutters, his legs spreading invitingly wider.

"Greedy," Merlin says fondly. He dives back in eagerly, spearing his tongue deep. When he's satisfied at the stretch, he leans back to slide three fingers in. They enter easily, gliding into the slickness from his tongues ministrations, and he curls them into the tender flesh, searching for-

Arthur's entire body spasms and he makes the most adorable whimper.

"There you are." He presses it again, and again, unable to contain his sappy smile at the way Arthur presses back into the touch with soft grunts of pleasure. He likes him all sweaty and open like this, he thinks, leaning over to press a kiss to his back. He likes it very much.

"Merlin?" The real Arthur sniffles adorably, snapping Merlin out of his thoughts. "Bed."

His brain shuts off. "What?"

"Tired. Carry me." He does the grabby hands again, and Merlin knows he can't carry him; he's going to have to lighten him with magic or not do it at all. Not doing it is the wiser option, but Arthur is looking at him with that pathetic "no one carried me as a child" look, so he can't exactly refuse, can he?

"Or what?" he asks, though he knows full well he will do it.

"Or stocks," Arthur says.

"Oh, whatever. Like you'll even remember this tomorrow. Look, what's that?" He points into the darkness, and Arthur whips his head over so fast Merlin is surprised he isn't sick.

While Arthur is distracted, he spells him lighter and scoops him up effortlessly, draping the idiot across his shoulder. He hates to carry him when Arthur so hates to be touched, but he's absolutely clingy at the moment, and there's no way he can walk back by himself in his state.

"Goodnight," he calls out to the Knights, who chorus their goodnights back, snickering over the sight of Camelot's Crown Prince clinging to Merlin, hair flopped across his face unashamedly.

"Merlin'so strong," Arthur says, and promptly falls asleep on him. Merlin lays him down in the tent, as gently as Arthurs floppy limbs allow. Arthur manages somehow to sit up and mumble something insistently.

Merlin sighs. He only wants to sleep, and here Arthur is, probably wanting some silly thing he’ll forget he asked for, come morning.

“What’s that you said?”

“Don’ go away,” Arthur slurs. “I don' want to sleep.” He clutches Merlin's shirt weakly, trying to lift it. "Let me pet you."

Merlin doesn't know what that is supposed to mean, but he removes Arthur's hands and swallows down the blind panic that strikes through him any time someone comes close to seeing his body.

“Go to sleep.”

“No,” he says, even as he falls back onto the bedroll.

“Arthur Pendragon,” Merlin says sternly, trying to recall how his mother once made him go to sleep, “If you’re a good boy you’ll go to sleep right now.”

Arthur goes red in the ears, and abruptly stops flopping around. “I’m a good boy,” he whispers.

Merlin yawns. “An excellent boy.”

Arthur's blush goes impossibly deeper and that's when Merlin realizes. He's not just embarrassed. He likes it.

Today is a great day. Merlin's imagination is going to have a field day with this. He settles into his own bedroll, and goes to sleep, dreaming interesting dreams.

_______________

It's tense, when they return to Camelot from yet another unsuccessful wild sorcerer-hunt. Merlin's wrist aches where the sorcerer managed to burn him. He doesn't mention it, because Arthur seems thoroughly angry already, for some reason.

"Alright, what is it?" he asks when they reach Arthur's chambers.

"You know what," Arthur whirls on him and snarls. "How could you do that?"

"What, save your life?" Merlin's hands clench at his sides. "Only you could make this something to yell at me over."

"Because it was boneheaded."

"Seriously, everything I do is wrong to you! I bring you meals and clean everything and come with you everywhere, without a chance to even sit down all day, and I'm tired all the time," he hates how his eyes water. "And I save your arse and it's still not enough for you!"

Arthur's jaw works angrily and he collapses into a chair, facing away from Merlin like he can't bear to look at him.

"You are dismissed."

"Arthur, wait-"

"Dismissed," he hisses, lifting a hand. He doesn’t even look at him.

Merlin sulks all the way back to his room. He should be so angry. But all he can feel is hurt, because he didn't do anything wrong and Arthur is still angry with him, the bastard, and he’s in there upset and Merlin should be there with him. It’s not fair. Nothing with him is ever easy.

Merlin especially hates himself for his outburst. All of it was true, but it's hardly Arthur's fault that Merlin is exhausted. He doesn't know Merlin has an entire second workload, to him, Merlin's only activity outside work is slacking off in the tavern. He was just taking out his frustrations, and it isn't Arthur he's angry with, just his life.

Merlin begins his nightly routine. He strips to change into bedclothes, carefully keeping his eyes to the ceiling so he doesn't have to see himself. Gaius used to keep a mirror in here. His magic smashed the thing to pieces ages ago, but it doesn't matter.

He knows them all by heart, the huge round one and the sting, and the claw mark that means he wears long sleeves now, and- he will have a new one, from today. Merlin tugs his nightshirt on and blows out the candle.

He sits on his bed, knees drawn to his chest.

A half hour later, a harsh knock sounds on his door, and Arthur doesn't even wait for an answer before striding in.

Merlin's hackles raise. "What? Here to argue some more even though I didn’t-”

“Shut up. I don’t want to argue.” Arthur clears his throat. “I wanted to tell you to bring plums tomorrow for breakfast.”

A warmth blooms in Merlin's chest. “Of course.”

“Wipe that look off your face.”

“Got it.” The look remains unwiped.

“Got it, sire,” Arthur snaps, crossing the room to stand over the bed. “You are my subordinate, I am your Prince. Address me with respect.”

Arthurs hands clench by his sides. Merlin can only make out the edges of him, can’t see his face. Candlelight flickers from outside the doorway, haloing Arthur in silhouette. Merlin's breath catches in his throat.

“I respect you,” he says quietly, the words falling raw in the darkness of the room. “You’re my Prince, my only loyalty is to you.”

Arthur looks away, and for a moment, his eyes flicker gold in the candlelight, tugging at something deep in Merlin's chest. And his face. His jaw doesn’t twitch in anger, as Merlin had expected. He just looks broken.

Merlin wants to hold him. Anything.

"I'm going to hold your hand, if that's-"

"Yes," Arthur says immediately.

Merlin reaches out, nearly, and his hands brush over cloth. Arthur reaches up at the same time and their hands tangle clumsily, unable to find each other properly in the dark. Merlin could hold him, if he didnt know it would land him in the stocks. He could do a lot of things.

Arthur's hand moves, grazing Merlin's injured wrist painfully. He hisses, and Arthur stills.

"You're hurt," he says. "Bring it out into the light, I'll look at it."

"It's nothing, I had Gaius look at it already." It's half true. He's grateful for the darkness of the room. If Arthur saw his bare arm, he would ask questions Merlin isn't ready to answer.

"Take the day off tomorrow."

"And deny you your plums and my sparkling company?" He feigns offense. "I must decline." Merlin has worked with far worse injuries than this, he's simply never been caught. He can handle this easily.

Arthur stays still as if entranced, and they stay there, holding hands, Merlin not daring to move closer, nor to pull away.

“You can say it,” Arthur says at last.

“Say-?” His heart stutters. Arthur can’t know.

“Say you told me so. I shouldn't have blamed you. It was my fault, today.”

Uther must have been at him again, Merlin thinks, scowling freely as Arthur cant see his face.

“It was no one's fault."

"Why did you get in front of me? You didnt even have a weapon, you could- that was so stupid," Arthur hisses, voice quivering.

“You know how I feel about you,” he’s acutely aware of the heat between their hands. “I respect you.”

“If you had any respect you would call me by my title, and follow simple directions.”

"If I don't?”

“I’ll… stocks, for you.” Arthur brushes deliberately against Merlin's wrist, careful not to press the injured area again.

Arthur removes his hand from Merlin's grip, and walks slowly to the door, dragging his feet like he would rather stay than leave.

“Plums,” Arthur calls through the doorway. “Don't forget.”

"Plums,” he agrees. The door closes and the room is as dark as it can be.

That night he dreams again.

Telling Arthur to stay there, of clinging to Arthur in his lumpy little bed, carding hands through his hair. Telling him, a thousand times, that everything would be alright. Letting him know that he doesn't always have to be the protector, because there's someone who is protecting him and loves him very much, and they could sleep in just so Merlin could hold him as long as he could. Things would be alright.

He wakes at the crack of dawn to bring his highness a stupid plate of plums.

"They're the wrong kind," Arthur says as soon as he sets them down.

"You didn't even try them!"

"I know they're wrong. I can tell."

Merlin runs a hand down his face, wishing he were an evil sorcerer so he could turn Arthur into a pumpkin or something without feeling awful about it later. It is too early for this.

Arthur pushes his plate away. "You eat them. I refuse to eat plums of such low quality."

Merlin shrugs and makes to pick up the plate. Arthur holds it in place on the table.

"May as well sit down if you're going to eat," Arthur coughs. "It's only polite."

Merlin sits, and they have breakfast together, Arthur passing bread over from his plate to supplement the plums. Merlin hardly says a word as he practically inhales the food. He never has time to eat a real breakfast. The closest breakfast he gets is snatching food from Arthur's plate. It's nice, even though his body aches with a deep tiredness. He reaches for another plum and winces as his wrist hits the table.

"Let me see your wrist," says Arthur, placing a piece of cheese on Merlin's plate.

"No," he blurts. "Er, I'm not supposed to unwrap it. Gaius' orders." He yawns.

Arthur's plate is near empty, so he'd better get on with his duties. He stands and begins gathering the dishes. It's awkward with one hand, but he's used to that sort of thing.

"Don't do that," says Arthur.

"Aren't you finished?"

"I'll get someone else to do it." Merlin frowns at that. He may not love doing dishes but it's his job, no one elses to steal. "Your only duty for today is to go rest." Arthur pauses and looks into the middle distance contemplatively. "And to bring plums with you at dinnertime. I trust they will be the right type, this time."

Merlin nods, stupidly grateful. Arthur isn't just basically giving him a day off, he's being nice, too.

Setting the dishes back on the table, he leans down close to Arthur.

"Can I?" He doesn't specify what, but Arthur nods, and Merlin pulls him into a hug, Arthur's head resting against Merlin's stomach. Arthur doesn't push him away, but heaves a sigh and brings his arms around Merlin's middle to hug him back.

When they pull apart, Arthur gives a jerky nod and Merlin beams, before taking off to his room to sleep the day away until dinnertime.

It is only in the evening that he realizes Arthur never specified what kind of plum he wanted.

_______________

Merlin is preparing to give Arthur a bath, or as Arthur calls it, being 'allowed the honor of assisting the Prince in washing his back.'

Merlin undresses him slowly, savoring the view. Arthur really is quite beautiful. He wishes he could say so.

It's so easy to make Arthur lash out, or draw into himself. Merlin knows. He wonders if Arthur even knows how much he is loved.

Merlin gives him only what he can, hands touching a moment too long on his hips before he pulls up Arthur's shirt, 'accidentally' catching it on Arthurs pretty head, just to hear him make an irritated noise in the back of his pretty throat. Little enough to avoid suspicion. Merlin removes the shirt and moves on to the trousers and boots and socks.

The bath is simple, kept warm with magic. Warm enough, too, to avoid suspicion. Merlin must limit the magic. He lathers his hands in soap and hovers over Arthur's shoulders, waiting for permission to touch.

"Why do you always do that?" Arthur says. Merlin nearly jumps out of his skin at the sudden noise.

"What?"

"You always ask, or wait for permission, before you-" Arthur's hand waves in a gesture that could mean anything. "You never ask before you do anything else. You do whatever you want and don't give a damn what I say about it, so why this?" He stops abruptly, going as calm and unreadable as he is at the table with diplomats, but Merlin sees how his shoulders tense. "If you hate it that much there's no need to humor me. I thought we were past that."

"Arthur, I’m not going to just start touching you without permission.”

“Why not?”

“You'd sack me for thinking about it." He should be fired a thousand times over, for thinking. It's a weak excuse, but he can't come out and say he's noticed Arthur's sensitivity.

“Like you’ve ever cared about that.”

“I care about this,” he says, leaning closer, hands still hovering so close that the heat radiating from Arthurs skin threatens to burn him. But not touching. They don't talk about this. “You.”

He doesn’t touch. He can’t scare Arthur off, not now, with his eyes dark and nervous like he thinks he’s about to be hurt. Merlin hadn’t meant to make him think he didn’t want to be near. If anything, his craving seems incredibly obvious to anyone who looks.

Arthur is laid bare, damp and flushed pink in the tub, it would be easy to tilt his chin up into a kiss, but Merlin won’t cross that line. Not unless Arthur asks.

Arthur swallows, eyes still piercing Merlin like he’s trying to tell him something, but Merlin doesn't know what it could be.

"You are so confusing," says Arthur. "I never know what you want from me, when you do that."

And Arthur shifts up just so, so that Merlin's hands touch his shoulders. He twists his head to face him.

“Just," Arthur takes Merlin's hand and guides up to rest against his wet cheek, simulating a caress, and his eyes flutter shut as he presses a kiss to Merlin's hand. “For a moment. I won’t ask you any more than that,” he says as if embarrassed at the asking. Merlin stares, stunned, both at the searing touch of Arthurs cheek and his lips on his hand and the implication that he would mind more than a moment.

Arthur must see his expression, because he jerks back, and Merlin can see the moment his walls go back up. Arthur shoves Merlin's hand away as if burned.

“I apologize, that was a one time lapse in propriety-”

“How long?” Merlin asks, though he wants to scream, because Arthur is in the bath and he wants to be touched, by Merlin, and Merlin is right here.

Arthurs head is down, shoulders hunched.

“Since always,” he mumbles.

“Always, always? Since we met?” his head whirls. "When I humiliated-"

“Yes, since that day you humiliated me in front of my friends in the marketplace,” he snaps.

"You were so mean, though!"

"I was trying to impress you. It doesn't- forget I mentioned it.”

“Absolutely not.” The stool squeaks against the floor as Merlin stands. "If I knew before, I'd have been touching you all the time."

He steps around and climbs into the tub, gingerly positioning himself across Arthurs chest so he can look at him up close, and touch all of him at the same time.

“Your clothes are getting wet,” Arthur says like a prat. He’s right. Merlin can’t bring himself to care, because Arthur is underneath him and has a hand on his hip to steady him. Arthur's naked, has Merlin mentioned that? It’s pretty fantastic.

Merlin brings his hand back to Arthurs cheek where it rested moments before, and brings the other hand to thumb across his lips and caress his eyelids.

“If you wanted this, all you had to do was ask,” Merlin breathes. "Ask me."

“Let's kiss,” Arthur blurts awkwardly.

Merlin is unbelievably happy to oblige, bringing Arthur forward into a soft kiss, and another as Arthurs tongue moves slow and slick against Merlin's. The water heats, and Merlin tries unsuccessfully to convince it to cool back down. He takes a break from worrying Arthurs lower lip and leans back to inspect his work. Arthurs lips are red and swollen and he looks vaguely awestruck.

Merlin licks his lips, “I'd like to suck your cock, or... make love, or something. Thoroughly. In the bed, not here- because of ," he waves a hand "logistics.

“‘Make love?’” Arthur scoffs even as a smile fights its way onto his face, “You make it sound so tacky.”

“I am tacky,” Merlin says matter-of-factly. He backpedals. “Unless you’re not ready for-”

“I am, dolt. Don't patronize me.”

“I would never, love," Merlin says, each word punctuated by a kiss to Arthurs neck. He can feel Arthur melt as he uses the endearment, and decides to use it again as soon as possible. "I just dont want you to think I'm doing this for sex, or..." It sounds silly when he says it, as if there's a world where he's anything but In love with Arthur. But Arthur is insecure sometimes and needs to hear things said aloud.

"You wouldn't," Arthur says quietly, as if telling it to himself. "I trust you."

Arthurs hands find the edge of Merlin's shirt and tug at it. Merlin tenses. This was not part of the plan.

“I’d better keep this on,” he says casually, prying Arthurs hands off and placing them on his hips again.

Arthur's face scrunches up, which would be cute if Merlin's heart were not hammering away at the thought of Arthur seeing his bare chest. He curses himself for believing he could do this without Arthur seeing. A thousand scenarios run through his head, and he is prepared for none of them.

“Why?”

“It’s-” the lie stops before it leaves his tongue. He doesn’t have the strength to lie to Arthur right now. “I wish I could tell you.”

“You can tell me anything,” Arthur says, too earnestly. The way his eyes hold steady with Merlin's gives the statement a loaded quality, like Arthur is waiting for something specific that Merlin isn’t giving, as if everything they never talk about is touching at once.

"You won't like what you see,” he says, hating how his voice cracks.

"I'll be the judge of that."

“Alright,” he relents. “Just, don’t... “ Merlin trails off. He’s not even sure what he was going to say. Arthur is laid bare and it’s only fair that he is too, regardless of whatever comes next.

Merlin tugs his shirt over his head and lays it beside the tub. The spatter of the sopping fabric hitting the floor echoes around the room. He sits back, giving Arthur full view of his ruined body.

Arthur takes it in with wide eyes and his grip on Merlin's hips tightens painfully.

“You’re hurting me,” Merlin says and Arthur loosens his grip but doesn’t remove his hands.

“Who did this to-”

“We can discuss it later,” he interrupts. It’s enough already that he’s doing this, right now. He doesn’t think he could handle speaking about it, seeing the love fade from Arthur's eyes when he’s only just found that Arthur feels the same. Arthur doesn't move, doesn't say a word, and Merlin swallows around a lump in his throat. “Do you want me to go?”

“No,” Arthur says fiercely. “God, no, but- I’ve never seen- you never told me about any of this." He thumbs over a recent one, still pink from healing. "Fuck, Merlin, did you work while these healed? You never-” he rasps. “Did you think I wouldn’t care?”

“There’s a lot of things I can’t tell you yet,” he says carefully. “You have to trust me.”

“No, you have to trust me. I'm such an idiot, I knew something was going on but this… whatever it is, I’ll help you. Are these chain marks? And these are from an animal," he trails over the ones on Merlin's arms, horror warping his face.

“I can’t tell you yet."

“It’s for me, isn’t it? Whatever it is, it was for me.”

Merlin hesitates, and nods, and Arthur exhales a trembling breath.

They are silent for a long moment, Arthur just looking at him like he’s grieving, and Merlin shifts in discomfort, a question weighing heavily on his tongue. His heart beat won't settle. Arthur has seen his body.

"I've ruined the mood, haven't I? " he says lightly. He'll just go to bed, and tomorrow he'll pretend this never happened, and never let anyone see him without several layers of clothing on ever again. “Are we...done here?”

He can’t bear to look down at himself. He’s surprised Arthur can, the evidence of treason, countless lies and failures etched permanently across his body. His back is even worse off, but hopefully he can get his shirt on before he leaves and Arthur will never have to see it.

"Only if you're tired. This changes nothing.” Arthur says it with such conviction. Merlin releases a heavy breath. “You must not understand, I want you."

"You don't have to," Merlin says. "I know it's bad." Arthur hums in disapproval.

"As usual, you're wrong and I'm right. Do you know how many wet dreams I've had about you this week alone?"

"That was before you saw the-"

"Seriously, one would think you've never looked in a mirror," Arthur plows on as if Merlin hadn't spoken. "Take off your damned trousers and come here."

Merlin stands, tugging down his trousers and smallclothes. He sits back down, and panics for a brief moment because he's naked and in the tub and this is real,and Arthur pulls him into another sloppy kiss. His cock presses against Merlin's stomach, and it's strangely reassuring that he has stayed hard throughout their entire conversation.

Arthur runs his hands up Merlin's sides, over the ridged scars on Merlin's ribs, and the soft look on his face makes the lump in Merlin's throat threaten to choke him.

"You'll tell me the truth, eventually?" Merlin nods. Arthur breathes in sharply. "Then let's go to bed," he says, the end turning up like a question.

They race to the bed, soaking the floor with bathwater along the way. Merlin lingers back and magics a container of oil when Arthur isn't looking. Arthur sits on the bed, bouncing his leg.

"How do we do it? One of us just puts in the others-?"

"I was thinking," Merlin cuts in, "we should take it a bit slower than all that."

Arthur stays still as Merlin climbs to lie beside him, like he's waiting for Merlin to initiate. That won't do at all.

"What do you want to do?" Merlin asks.

"I don't know. I haven't done this."

"Well, you have to start somewhere."

"I don't know."

"If there's something specific, we could do that. And if you don't know, then we can start small, or-"

“Merlin,” Arthur says, blessedly amused instead of nervous, now, “Shut up.”

“Only when you act reasonable. You have to ask for what you want or I’m giving you nothing.”

“Fine, you insufferable nag, maybe I want another kiss.”

Merlin gives him seven or eight. Arthur's face twists into faux-irritation as Merlin peppers doting kisses across his face. Arthur loves the attention, he can tell, and he’s asked, a greater feat and a more wonderful gift than Merlin had ever expected of him.

“...Another,” Arthur requests imperiously.

Merlin complies immediately. "Do they have to be on your face?"

Arthur balks as if he hadn't even considered that, and shakes his head. Merlin bites back a smile and ducks down.

He nips at Arthur's belly, muscle rippling under winter chub. Merlin likes it. It means Arthur is getting time to relax. And it makes him soft to hug, when Merlin has the opportunity.

"Do you like that, love?"

Arthur whines, hips jerking even as he looks mortified at his own reaction. Oh, Merlin is going to eat him alive.

He moves fractionally lower. Arthurs cock is flushed red, thick and radiating heat. He's seen it many times, but never this way. He meets Arthur's eyes and waits. When Arthur nods, Merlin swallows him down, the clean taste pleasant against his tongue. He swirls his tongue against the tip and swallows to get a sense for the weight in his throat, looking up to gauge Arthur's reaction.

Arthur meets his eye and comes immediately, giving no warning before he spasms into Merlin's mouth, flooding it with bitter, salty liquid. Merlin swallows through it as Arthur's thighs lock tight around his head.

When Arthur finishes, he lies still, beet red and refusing to meet Merlin's eye.

"That was brilliant," Merlin says.

"I told you not to patronize me," Arthur scoffs, ripe with humiliation. Merlin can't blame him for coming so quickly. It's actually doing wonders for Merlin's ego.

"It felt good, didn't it? That's the goal."

Arthur nods and purses his lips. "I'd like to try it with you, now."

"If you like."

Merlin sits leaning against the headboard as Arthur positions himself awkwardly between his thighs and looks at Merlin's body hungrily. Merlin shifts, uncomfortable.

"I'll close my eyes if it makes you feel better," says Arthur. "For the record, I really don't mind. Plenty of people have scars, it only means you fought for something and won."

"You don't even know what I did."

"I don't have to." Arthur wraps a hand around him and ghosts hot breath over the tip. He looks up and narrows his eyes, the face he makes when he's bracing himself to argue. "And I don't care what you say, you're objectively gorgeous. It's a widely discussed topic in this rumor mill we call a castle, so don't bother fighting me on this."

Privately, he thinks only Arthur would say so. But Arthur is the one in bed with him, and Arthur the only person who's approval he really wants. He wonders if people actually talk about him like that, and blushes, a little flattered despite himself.

"You don't have to close your eyes," he decides. "You can look."

Arthur smiles and it's blinding.

Arthur does look. He makes eye contact as he licks experimentally at the tip of Merlins cock, and as he attempts to swallow the entire length in one go. He chokes, and Merlin tugs him off gently by the hair.

"Slowly," he instructs, and guides Arthur to bob his head, taking manageable mouthfuls.

It's toothy and entirely too messy, and Arthur can't seem to work out what to do with his hands. But the sight of him alone makes it the best head Merlin has ever gotten. Arthur's muscles ripple and he focuses intently on Merlin's reactions, like he's worried he's doing it wrong. As far as Merlin is concerned, there's nothing he could do that would be wrong.

He's a fast learner. When he takes it to the base a second time, he's able to hold it there and swallow around it, throat tight and searing hot.

Arthur reaches a hand up to trace the uneven skin of his hip, grazing the sensitive area with his fingertips. Merlin never touches himself there. His sensitive nerves flare intensely, Arthur's hands still warm from the bath where they run up his sides.

Merlin encourages him, endearments falling easily from his lips with Arthur's nose pressed into his stomach and his perfect mouth tight around his cock. Drool and precome drip from Arthur's mouth, making a mess over both Merlin and the sheets. He's regal, even like this, and Merlin is in love with him.

"Arthur, I'm about to come," he manages before his vision whites out.

Every one of the candles flares to life at once.

Merlin sits up and the room is bright. The hazy fog of his orgasm falls away abruptly and he curses. He knew his magic reacted to Arthur, he should have known better than this. Everything he's done tonight has been stupid. In the glow of the room, he can see Arthur's face clearly.

Arthur glances around, going still for a long moment. Merlin braces himself.

Arthur rolls his eyes, wiping come off his chin and flopping down beside Merlin.

"I can explain," Merlin stutters, "That was-"

"Don't." He holds up a hand. "You said you would tell me eventually; I'll hear it when it's time."

Merlin laughs manically, running a hand through his hair, and feels like crying. Arthur rests a hand on the twisted flesh of his chest, right over his heart, and Merlin suppresses the instinct to jerk away.

"I need you," says Arthur quietly. Merlin knows. They don't talk about it, just like the many other things they don't talk about. But they're touching, and Merlin is naked, and the candles burn around the room. Maybe things are different now.

"No one polishes armour like me, eh?"

"More like no one else could do it as poorly without losing their job."

Merlin laughs and rolls over onto Arthur to mouth at his neck. He fumbles for Arthur's hand, and finds it tacky where he wiped it from his mouth. Merlin magics the mess away and continues his ministries. Arthur pulls back, opens his mouth and closes it.

"Tomorrow, let's do this again."

"Yes, my liege," Merlin says seriously, and Arthur smacks him on the arm.

"Don't call me that," he mutters.

Merlin gives him a little kiss, and then he touches him again and again, because he can.

"Put out the candles," Arthur murmurs. Merlin moves to get up and Arthur holds him in place. "Merlin. Put them out."

Oh.

Merlin waves a hand, and the room is dark. Arthur hums in approval and snuffles against Merlin's neck.

He wraps his arms around Arthur and sleeps, dreaming good dreams of the morning.