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A Lot Like Life

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*~*~*~*

Merlin was a cock-blocking pricktease, no two ways about it.

A man could only take so much, even a prince who possessed, in his own opinion, appropriately larger than life fortitude and patience. Most of that patience had been cultivated, nurtured, and encouraged in response to the appallingly bad service of Arthur's 'manservant,' and Arthur used that term loosely. Arthur had felt a distinct lack of service of any kind since acquiring Merlin as his shadow.

He had for some time suspected, though it had never been confirmed in so many words, that Merlin had said or done something to put the castle maids off Arthur's scent. The timing was fishy, that was all. Arthur, pre-Merlin, had received a perfectly acceptable amount of attention from Camelot's female populace. Arthur, post-Merlin...not so much.

By necessity Arthur had become intimately reacquainted with his sword hand, so much so that he seemed to have strengthened the muscles and improved his dexterity. His knights had even commented on Arthur's improvement--not that there had been much room for it to begin with--but Arthur found that he just couldn't appreciate the reason for it. He'd almost rather get laid.

Arthur had never been one to be abuse his position of power to get a woman into bed, ever-mindful of that fine line between willing for the sake of pleasure and willing for the sake of one's livelihood and continued employment. Morgana had given Arthur a narrow-eyed lecture at the tender age of fourteen on just such a subject, which he had never forgotten, both because it had been mortifying and because it enlightened him at an early age to the fact that female minds worked in mysterious and terrifying ways, and if Arthur was going to make it to adulthood and sit on Uther's throne and go on and father his own sons then by God he would remember that. Those were more or less Morgana's words.

So as far as the castle maids went, Arthur didn't push. He'd frankly never needed to, but he lived in a sort of vague mortal terror of Morgana's vengeance should he cross a line inadvertently.

Men were so much easier to deal with, all things considered, but beyond a couple of ill-thought-out dalliances in Arthur's youth there hadn't been much of that either, given the potential for utter ruin should his father find out. Arthur was of the understanding, gleaned from some pointed yet veiled comments from the king over the years, that Uther would rather have to deal with Arthur's bastard children running about the castle than no children at all because his son the prince might or might not prefer a tumble in a haystack with the stable boy to one with the dairy maid. The phrase 'deny you the crown and live forever' still rang in Arthur's ears many years later.

But since Merlin had come to Camelot, insufferable Merlin with his insufferable insubordination and his insufferable inefficiency and his insufferable ears, there seemed to be no ports for Arthur to harbor in a storm anymore. Any subtle hints, any tactful suggestions or vague seductions aimed at serving maids or even (shudder) that last resort, the noblewomen, were met with suspiciously oblivious looks, hasty excuses, or mild fear. Even Arthur's one attempt at snagging the aforementioned stable boy, Pieter, for a re-visitation of youthful exploits in a convenient haystack ended in near disaster and frustration. The young man had been so startled by Arthur's proposition that he'd fallen out of the hayloft into a pile of muck, barely avoiding serious injury to life and limb.

Arthur couldn't have said exactly why the young man had reacted that way, save that he didn't think it was fear of the king's disapproval that had caused it. Merlin had been entirely too cheerful that day after Arthur had related to him the (totally innocent) story of the unfortunate Pieter and his fear of heights. Merlin had even offered, with a cheeky grin, to help with stable duties until Pieter was fully recovered.

Very suspicious.

But it wasn't until the midsummer feast that Arthur really figured it out. He liked to think of himself as an observant person and a good judge of character, which was necessary in a future king, but he had to admit that he had been rather blindsided by the force of nature that was Merlin.

The great hall had been decked out like Arthur imagined a faerie court would look, or at least as much as it could look that way without any real hint of supernatural beings or magic. Camelot, as ever, walked a slim line. Fat candles had been placed on each table covered with precious glass globes, throwing everything into a soft yellow glow and shadow. The rushes on the floor had been strewn with green leaves fresh plucked from the trees. The scent of cinnamon and apples and beeswax floated in the air. Inventive servants had hung the rafters with ivy vines and attached candied fruit to hang just within reach of the tallest men, who could then offer the delectable treasures to the ladies in attendance.

It was brilliantly done, Arthur thought. Everyone was in high spirits, dancing and laughing, skirts spinning and feet stamping to the sound of the court minstrels and their merry tunes. Even Uther was seen smiling indulgently, turning a blind eye to the occasional inappropriately grasping hand or flash of ankle and calf. The wine was strong and the girls were willing.

In short, Arthur felt sure that if he couldn't get laid tonight, he could never get laid at all.

Arthur spent the first few hours mingling casually and picking at the little delights from the food tables, sampling the salty and the sweet alike as he hoped to be sampling something else entirely later that night. He wanted to enjoy the anticipation of knowing that finally, after a long drought, tonight he wouldn't have to sleep alone. He'd even had Merlin make up his bed with the good silk sheets in Pendragon red instead of his usual white linen. That Merlin had done so grumpily and with rather inefficient tossing about of the sheets first barely registered to Arthur. Merlin was usually cross about his chores, especially when Arthur added on extra ones to his daily list, and Merlin had after all just finished setting fresh candles in all the sconces (for ambiance), and gathering summer wildflowers for the table (because what girl could resist flowers?).

There were many girls in attendance, both noble and servant, and at that point Arthur really couldn't have cared less which kind he took to bed, but in the end it was a pretty kitchen maid with green eyes that caught his fancy. She had a demure but honest countenance, so Arthur felt sure he could easily read a 'yes' there without misinterpretation. She had already been smiling openly at Sir Bors and Sir Percival in turns, so Arthur felt confident in his chances, being far and away more handsome and charming than either of them.

Morgana appeared at his side, a haughty vision in blue and black, her beauty like a sharp blade through Arthur's pleasant thoughts as he surveyed the room. "You're totally transparent, Arthur," she remarked loftily. "It's rather pathetic, you ought to know."

Arthur was reminded why Morgana was the only woman in the room--the only person of either sex--whom Arthur would never, ever stoop to sleep with. He would never be that desperate. "Thank you so much for your support," Arthur gritted out without deigning to look at her.

"I live to serve," Morgana replied with a throaty chuckle, sweeping away into the crowd, and Arthur wondered why she of all people was the only one who said that to him anymore, even in jest. He grabbed a goblet of wine from the nearest table and finished it off, resolving not to let Morgana bring him down.

In a rare show of gaiety that was more a means to an end, Arthur joined the dancers long enough to whisk past his chosen girl where she hovered at the edge of the floor with a jug of wine, and swept her up into the dance in one smooth motion. She gasped fetchingly and her eyes lit up as Arthur spun her through the melee, and though she clutched her jug tightly and sought not to spill the wine, she was laughing.

Arthur angled her twirling steps right off into a corner of the feast hall, half hidden behind a potted tree that had been brought in to help simulate a forest. When he brought her to a quick stop with his hands on her waist she staggered into him a bit, cheeks flushing becomingly, and her flying hair carried the scent of fruit. When she looked up into his face her eyes widened, and Arthur realized that until that moment she hadn't known who had brought her into the dance.

"Eadgitha," Arthur murmured. "Is that right?"

She nodded jerkily, coloring even more. "Yes, my lord. I'm flattered, my lord."

"Why?" Arthur asked, tucking a strand of hair the color of golden peaches behind her small, perfect ear.

"That you would know my name, sire," she explained in a hushed voice, her eyes downcast demurely as any good servant had been taught to do since birth. Arthur thought briefly of Merlin and pushed the annoyance aside like a gnat.

"I make it a point to learn all the names of the servants in my household," Arthur replied magnanimously, and then with a wink and a grin, "especially such a beautiful one."

Eadgitha smiled tentatively, slowly warming to him. Inside Arthur already felt triumph beginning to swell in his chest and other lower regions. He reached up and plucked a marzipan peach from the vine above his head.

"Have you sampled these little bits of artistry yet, Eadgitha?" he asked politely, but with a hint of naughtiness in his eyes.

"Oh no, my lord! Cook said we mustn't, that they were only for the nobles. If there were any left at the end of the feast she said we might share them amongst the servants," she said, eager to declare her innocence but eyeing the little sugar confection in his fingers with an expression of naked hunger.

"Well," said Arthur, shifting a bit closer, "I won't tell Cook if you won't." With a daring twitch of his eyebrow he held the little fruit to her lips. "A peach for a peach?"

And just like that she was his, opening her lips and leaving glittering sugar crystals there as she bit down carefully with small white teeth that did some very promising things to Arthur's imagination and anatomy. She made a little moaning sound in pleasure as she chewed slowly, and Arthur could have crowed when she took the other half of the peach from his fingers and held it up for him to bite.

Arthur took it from her offering hand, nipping her work-roughened fingertips as he did, and her pupils dilated in her darkening green eyes. She exhaled sugar and almonds into the air between them, and this was so in the bag now--there was no way Arthur could misinterpret the expression on her face as anything but lustful--

And as he leaned down to lick the sugar from her lips and share the taste of marzipan, the look in her eyes abruptly changed. What had been warm and inviting suddenly became--guilty as hell.

Arthur whipped his head around to see what had caught her attention, thinking it could only have been the king, and Eadgitha fearful of her place, but it was Merlin of all people, standing beside the potted tree and gnawing brazenly on a marzipan pear. Merlin's eyes were hot and by a trick of the light, strangely golden, and Arthur honestly couldn't read his expression for a long moment. Finally he deciphered it to be a mixture of daring, jealousy, and desire, which made no sense at all since it wasn't Eadgitha he was looking so intently at but...Arthur...

Eadgitha ducked her head, covering her mouth with her hand and surreptitiously wiping away the sugar crystals, and Arthur groaned inwardly for his lost opportunity.

"Yes, what?" he snapped at Merlin, who seemed inexplicably pleased with what he saw.

Merlin held up the wine jug he had lazily tucked under his arm and gave a crooked grin. "More wine?"

Arthur narrowed his eyes at his manservant, imagining Merlin far away, perhaps in another kingdom, serving a much more tolerant prince than he. Sadly, Merlin did not disappear, instead continued to stand there with a suddenly guileless expression on his face that belied his canny eyes.

"No, I find I am well served by Eadgitha at this time, Merlin," he replied through clenched teeth, moving to lay one hand on Eadgitha's slim shoulder.

Eadgitha, however, was sliding just out of his reach with a pained look and a white-knuckled grip on her own forgotten wine jug. "Actually, my lord, I have just remembered myself. Cook sent for me ages ago for help, and--and I promised Sir Percival a refill of his cup, so I should--" and then she was darting away like a startled deer, and Arthur was almost certain he heard her whisper, "sorry," to Merlin as she passed him.

Merlin rocked back on his heels and hefted the wine jug in offering with a fucking wink, and Arthur suddenly found his insolence to be too much to handle. Without really thinking he snaked a hand out and yanked Merlin by the back of the neck behind the potted tree. Merlin squeaked in surprise and wine spilled out of the jug, soaking the front of Arthur's tunic with the sharp scent of grapes. Arthur snarled and shoved Merlin's back up against the tree, which wobbled under the force.

"Not a fucking word, Merlin," Arthur warned, then grabbed the jug, which was now nearly empty, and drained it straight from the spout. If he wasn't going to get laid then Arthur was determined to get fucking drunk, and if Merlin was so eager to serve him then he could bloody well wait on Arthur hand and foot. First, though...

"Now," Arthur said slowly, in his best impression of Uther, "I want to know exactly what you think you've been playing at, Merlin."

Merlin blinked. "I have no idea what you mean, sire," he murmured, the picture of deference.

Arthur didn't buy it for a second. He tightened his hand on the back of Merlin's neck and shook him a little, and Merlin went as limp as a cat caught by the scruff. "Trust me when I say this, Merlin. You don't want to make me any angrier than I already am."

Merlin's breath was coming faster, but there was no fear in his eyes. "If I've displeased you--"

"No one has pleased me, Merlin, not in ages now, and I'm starting to think you are somehow responsible for that."

He shook his head, a little movement that was hindered by Arthur's hold on his neck. "I really have no idea what you're talking about."

Arthur hissed and dropped the empty jug at their feet, where it broke with a muffled ceramic tinkle that was lost in the din of the minstrels. He grabbed Merlin's jaw with his other hand, holding his face still and unable to look away. "Why did she say 'sorry' to you then, Merlin? What was she sorry for? Wanting to sleep with me? Why would that matter one whit to you?"

Merlin made a helpless sound and his hands grasped at Arthur's wine-soaked tunic. He stared without speaking for a long moment at Arthur's mouth, and Arthur realized they were close enough to kiss, should he choose. Merlin's gaze was hot and devouring, his hands like vise grips on Arthur, and he could have easily pushed Arthur away in that moment, so stunned was Arthur to suddenly see so many small moments falling into context: Merlin's hands lingering just a bit too long while dressing Arthur, a glance across the tourney field full of heat and pride when Arthur felled a skilled knight. Merlin, always watching him, always touching. Always jealous.

"Oh my god," Arthur breathed, and Merlin shut his eyes briefly in embarrassment, face coloring.

"I didn't say anything to them, I swear," Merlin muttered, and Arthur relaxed his hand on Merlin's jaw to let him speak, but didn't remove it entirely. "I didn't have to, they somehow got the idea we were--and then I couldn't think about anything else, you were everywhere I looked, and I just--let them think it was true." He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing against Arthur's hand. "The maids all like me. Gwen said they didn't want to hurt me."

Arthur tilted his head thoughtfully. "And would it hurt you? If I took Eadgitha to bed? Or Pieter?" he asked, testing a theory.

Merlin's eyes did that funny thing again where they seemed to reflect the bright candlelight for a moment. He didn't answer, but then, he didn't have to.

That feeling Arthur had had earlier when he'd thought Eadgitha was a sure thing, that surge of triumph and lust, he felt it now again, but so much stronger than before. It burned in his belly like the unwatered wine that was even now making his head swim a little, making things go slightly furry around the edges and making Merlin's skin seem softer than it could possibly be beneath Arthur's hands.

"Why?" Arthur asked again, letting the word hang hot in the air between their mouths as he leaned down in a way that he hoped was both menacing and seductive.

Merlin shuddered against him, their bodies coming flush together with his little stumble. "Why would you go somewhere else when I've been here in front of you the whole time?"

Arthur tugged sharply on Merlin's neck and leaned forward to growl in his ear. "Fine. If you want to serve me so badly, then I'll teach you what that means."

Merlin groaned low in his throat, totally pliant in Arthur's hands. "Right here?"

"God," Arthur whispered in awe. "You would, wouldn't you? If I ordered you to." The look of submission, finally, on Merlin's face was both ironic and humbling. Arthur got a hold of himself before he shoved Merlin to his knees right there behind a potted tree with the king and all his courtiers on the other side. "Be a good servant and go ready my room. I'll be up in ten minutes. If you're very lucky, I'll come alone."

Merlin's eyes snapped open, desire and a renewed jealousy flaring there. Arthur gave him a look that said Merlin would take what he gave and like it, and then shoved him away. Arthur turned on his heel and stalked the other direction without waiting to see whether or not Merlin left the hall. He was, not for the first time, very grateful for the long length of his tunic over his tight trousers.

Arthur made his excuses to his father--too much wine, a headache--and made his way toward the door. Predictably, Morgana stood in his way like a harpy at the gates of paradise.

"Arthur," she said warningly. "I know what you're like when you get like this. Please, make sure she's really--"

"He's willing," he growled, swinging wide around her without stopping, fierce satisfaction in his belly at the look of wide-eyed surprise on Morgana's face as he passed.

Arthur took the stairs two at a time, glad that no one else was about in the halls. Below him he could still hear the strains of music from the great hall, the echoes of laughter and singing that vibrated the walls beneath his steadying fingertips. The feast was still in full swing and would likely continue another few hours. More importantly, no one would be around to hear the racket he was planning on making.

Outside his door Arthur paused, one hand on the latch and the other on his cock, squeezing hard in an attempt at self control. He'd waited long enough for this, he'd earned the right to take his sweet time getting there. After a moment he pushed open the door hard enough to make it rebound against the wall and come swinging back. Arthur caught it with one hand and located Merlin with a glance. He was standing by the table, clothed but already barefoot, flowers in hand where he had evidently been arranging them nervously in their bowl.

Arthur strode into the room, slamming the door shut and locking it swiftly. Merlin stepped backwards perhaps involuntarily, trailing flowers in his wake and then dropping them altogether. The scent of crushed heather rose in the room from under Arthur's boot heels as he stalked Merlin around the table and toward the fireplace. A small fire was already set there, more for light than warmth, and Arthur wanted to watch this.

"Stop," he ordered, and Merlin froze in mid step. "Get on your knees."

Merlin dropped to his knees on the bearskin rug that lay before the hearth and sat back on his heels, hands spread on his own thighs. Arthur could hear Merlin's throat clicking when he swallowed.

"I require your services," Arthur said, and his voice came out much softer than he'd intended, more plea than command. Merlin's eyes were golden again in the firelight as Arthur stepped forward between his knees, pressing the hard length of his cock against Merlin's cheek through his trousers. Just the heat of Merlin's skin against his groin was enough to make Arthur lock his knees in order to prevent wobbling.

"Yes, sire," Merlin replied, his voice so agreeable, so subservient, that Arthur looked down in surprise. But it really was Merlin there, smiling up at him like he was about to get his own cock sucked, not suck Arthur's.

Merlin's deft hands unlaced Arthur's trousers like they had done hundreds of times before, and his efficiency Arthur knew was a result of repetition rather than natural grace. There was nothing clumsy, however, in the way Merlin took hold of Arthur's cock with one hand, lifted his balls free of his trousers with the other, and licked a stripe up the veined underside of Arthur's cock with a wet and agile tongue. They both groaned together at that, and Merlin began to jack him slowly as he took him in his mouth a mere inch by inch at a time, sweet suction and friction and heat becoming Arthur's whole world. Merlin's eyes had fluttered shut, and the look on his face was of total concentration and shameless pleasure.

Arthur wanted to throw his head back and scream with it, the ecstasy of realization that Merlin had been so willing, all along, and the agony of admitting that he had pushed Merlin away on purpose, afraid on some primal level of what he must have seen in Merlin's eyes, felt in his touches. It made such perfect sense and at the same time was an absolute contradiction, that all Arthur had needed to do was give Merlin the right orders. Not 'go polish my boots,' but 'take me in your mouth and make me feel desired and loved and worthy of your attentions, and don't ever stop.'

Semantics, really.

He threaded his fingers through Merlin's hair and tried not to hold him too hard. Merlin's tongue was as skilled on Arthur's cock as it was at spouting irreverent insubordination, and Arthur would have been surprised to find it any other way. Merlin seemed content to stay on his knees all night, and while that image sent another surge through Arthur's blood he wasn't nearly finished with his lessons on how to be the perfect manservant to a prince. With a tug on Merlin's hair that was perhaps sharper than necessary, but which Merlin nevertheless seemed to enjoy, Arthur pulled him off his cock. Merlin's mouth was red and slick and open, panting.

Arthur held his jaw as he had done earlier, though much more gently this time, and slid his thumb across Merlin's lower lip and into his mouth, pressing that agile tongue, slipping in the mix of saliva and precome there. Merlin moaned and began to suck again, and Arthur jerked his hand away. "Up," he said, and Merlin stood before him on shaky legs.

"You want me," Arthur said, not a question, and Merlin nodded once, eyes bright.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't," Merlin promised with a hint of a grin, an old familiar challenge.

Arthur suddenly got what Merlin had been trying to tell him without words for so long, with his subtle and more or less inadvertent cock-blocking. He was beginning to understand the difference between taking Eadgitha or Pieter or anyone else to bed versus taking Merlin: with Merlin he didn't need to be wary of abusing his power or crossing any lines. He knew Merlin, and Merlin knew him, and despite their (technical) master and servant relationship, Arthur knew that if he did something Merlin didn't like, Merlin would have no qualms about telling him so to his face, or simply walking out on him. It was an odd balance of power between them, easily tipped, but then it had been from the beginning.

Although from where Arthur stood now, it didn't appear that there was anything Arthur could do that Merlin wouldn't like.

"Tell me, Merlin," Arthur inquired politely, circling slowly around behind him, watching the pulse beat in Merlin's throat. "That first day, when I did this," and here he twisted Merlin's arm up behind his back, forcing him to bend slightly forward, applying pressure just this side of too much, "did it make you hard for me?" He pressed his cock, jutting through the open vee of his trousers, against the roughspun cloth of Merlin's pants.

Merlin's answer was a rasping "yes" forced out on a rough breath.

"Did you want me to bend you over the nearest hay bale and fuck you senseless right there?"

Merlin jerked convulsively in his arms, and Arthur ran his free hand soothingly down Merlin's hip to follow the curve of his ass.

"Why didn't you?" Merlin whispered.

Arthur froze. "Too many complications," he said evasively.

"And now?" Merlin twisted his head to catch a glimpse of Arthur's face.

"Now, Merlin, this seems to be the only way to uncomplicate the mess you've made of my life." He punctuated it with a jerk of Merlin's arm and a quick rub of his hips against Merlin's ass, perversely enjoying the rough weave against his oversensitized skin and the way his cock left wet trails on the fabric for Merlin to find later.

"Do you want to fuck me now?" Merlin asked, breathless.

"Impatient much?" Arthur admonished, then, "Yes."

Merlin nodded jerkily. "Thank god."

"No need to be so grand. You can call me 'sire,' or 'your highness.'" Arthur dipped his head to taste the junction of Merlin's neck and shoulder, salty and warm.

"Arthur," he moaned contrarily and with feeling, and Arthur bit down hard with his teeth.

"Take your clothes off," Arthur ordered, releasing Merlin's arm and letting him stagger as he stepped away. He walked over to lean on the nearest bedpost, arms crossed, watching.

Merlin fisted a hand in his collar and stripped his shirt over his head, leaving his black hair in wild disarray. There was a red spot on his neck where Arthur had set his teeth, and Arthur felt a rush of pride that he would still be able to see that mark tomorrow, afterwards. Merlin yanked the strings on his trousers and they slipped from his narrow hips to puddle around his feet. Arthur had himself a leisurely look at Merlin, naked and pale in the firelight. His hips were a little bony, as were his elbows, and his chest had no spare meat to speak of, but despite all that he didn't look the least bit breakable. His nipples were hard pebbles and his cock was long and narrow like the rest of him, demonstrating a wiry strength that shone on Merlin's tense face.

"Now mine," Arthur said, and Merlin came forward into his space, shivering although the room was warm, and pulled the tunic over Arthur's head. His gaze flickered once in acknowledgment of the wine stains he'd no doubt be scrubbing out tomorrow, and Arthur felt an urge to snort his amusement that was immediately overpowered by a strange sense of tenderness. Merlin's fingers made quick work of Arthur's boots and trousers and then they were naked together, on equal footing for just a moment in nothing but their skins and scars.

Arthur smoothed his hand over Merlin's untidy hair and Merlin leaned his head into the touch. "Have you done this before?" Arthur murmured.

"Yeah," Merlin confessed, ducking his head a little. "Once. A long time ago."

"Will?" Arthur guessed.

Merlin nodded.

"Was it good?"

Merlin shrugged one bony shoulder. "Kind of. Not really."

Arthur leaned his forehead against Merlin's. "Then why do you think it will be any better with me?"

"I think...I think I'd want to with you even if it wasn't."

"You must have a lot of faith in me."

"Arthur, you have no idea."

Arthur swallowed hard against the tightness in his throat. He guessed that the downside to having sex with someone you were already this close to was that you had to talk a bit about feelings now and then. On the upside, sex. Sex with trust, and no need to hold back.

"Okay then. Up you go," Arthur said with a shooing gesture toward the bed.

"Can I kiss you first?"

And Arthur realized with a shock that they hadn't done that yet. He felt a like a bit of a clod as he said, "You may," and his heart hammered harder than it had before he'd pushed open the door of his room to find Merlin waiting for him.

Merlin reached up and touched Arthur's face gently, mapping the planes of his cheekbones with subtle fingers, as though he might sculpt them from clay someday when he was older and his eyesight had failed and left him alone with his memories. Arthur closed his eyes against what he saw in Merlin's face and felt soft lips against his, warm and blood-full, conforming to his own and then pushing them apart for Merlin's tongue. Merlin tasted like a strange alchemy of bitter precome and traces of sweet almond from the stolen marzipan, and Arthur chased that flavor with his own tongue until he found its greater richness in Merlin's mouth. Merlin sucked gently on Arthur's tongue and then pulled back to nibble Arthur's bottom lip, and whatever Arthur had anticipated kissing Merlin might have been like, it wasn't this soft dueling conversation of tongue and lips and teeth, not at all like arguing.

He pushed his hands into Merlin's hair and held on tight, letting Merlin take a brief moment of control with his questing kiss, allowing himself to be explored--and if he was honest--loved. He felt how much Merlin loved him, and it humbled him in ways that all his father's tirades never had, because for the life of him Arthur didn't know why he was loved.

Determined to make this good for Merlin as a reward for all his trust, and wondering briefly where all his earlier anger had gone to, he angled Merlin onto the bed and pushed him down with firm hands. Merlin lay back for a moment, panting, dazed eyes watching Arthur as he grabbed a bottle of oil from the bedside table and opened it. He climbed up on the bed beside Merlin and settled back on the pillows, arranging Merlin's pliant limbs over his own until Merlin was straddling his thighs, their cocks brushing together like they might start a duel of their own.

"Hold out your hands," Arthur said, and Merlin did, catching the oil on his fingertips as Arthur poured. "Open yourself for me," he commanded softly, watching the flare of Merlin's eyes, black and gold and blue all at once, and Arthur was glad of all the dozens of candles Merlin had lit earlier because this was by far the hottest thing he'd ever seen.

Merlin took a shuddering breath and reached behind, pressing his fingers inside himself as Arthur watched the play of emotion and reaction on his face. Little beads of sweat formed on Merlin's upper lip and Arthur wanted to lick them off. Merlin's mouth opened in a little 'oh' of breath and sound, and Arthur could hear the slick sounds of oil slipping on skin. Arthur rubbed some oil on his own fingers and reached around, tugging Merlin forward and joining his finger with Merlin's in a slow slide and stretch, bearing Merlin's slight weight while he keened softly in Arthur's ear, and Arthur had never felt more powerful than he did at that moment, trusted as he was.

They slipped their fingers out together and Merlin heaved a breath. "Have you done this before? Pieter?"

Arthur nodded, unashamed. "Once. A long time ago," he answered, echoing Merlin, and he found he liked the return of jealousy in Merlin's eyes, liked it so much that he nudged Merlin forward and slid the head of his cock inside before Merlin had a chance to notice what was happening and tense up.

They both cried out and Merlin rocked downward in a little hitching motion, taking Arthur inside with a swiftness that was completely unnecessary, and once it was done Arthur had to have a moment to collect himself.

"Does it hurt?" Arthur gasped, hands curling around Merlin's shoulders and hanging on for his life.

Merlin shook his head, nodded it, and then shook it again. He sought Arthur's mouth again, a little desperately, and Arthur kissed him until Merlin sighed and relaxed around him.

"Go slow," Arthur an order and an allowance, moving his hands to Merlin's slim hips, and Merlin began to move. Arthur thought inexplicably of the little waves that lapped at a riverbank during the low dry seasons, relentlessly gentle. After several minutes in which Arthur learned how to breathe again when the air tasted like Merlin, he felt Merlin begin to speed up, rising and falling on his cock with surer motions, a little deeper each time. Merlin flung his head back and Arthur followed the tight line of his throat with his mouth, pressing his teeth in just to feel Merlin shiver around him.

"Arthur," Merlin called out, a plaintive request with furrowed brow and haunted eyes, and Arthur rolled him over as smoothly as he was capable of, avoiding the sharp spikes of Merlin's elbows. He lifted Merlin's knees over his shoulders and Merlin made a complicated noise at the stretch of muscle and invasion at a new angle, and then Merlin's hand sort of flopped around in a gesture that Arthur really hoped was an invitation for more, because seeing Merlin spread out like a feast beneath him, surrounding him and holding him tight, was more than Arthur had the fortitude to deny himself.

Arthur laid his palm over Merlin's sternum, feeling his heartbeat in a hard staccato against his skin, then slid his hand down to take Merlin's cock in a tight fist. Merlin's eyes rolled back in his head and he bucked his hips upward, hard, and then Arthur was driving into him in a punishing rhythm that might easily have been too much, but Merlin was pulling him closer not pushing him away, and Arthur let himself go. Merlin suddenly clenched around him like a vise and he wailed out Arthur's name, and a second later Arthur's fist was coated and slick with come, and he continued to stroke Merlin through the aftershocks even as he spilled himself inside Merlin's body.

What amazed Arthur as he panted and tried not to fall with all his weight on Merlin, was that his own orgasm--which he had felt so entitled to after such a long dry spell--had seemed almost secondary to Merlin's, and yet he somehow still felt like he'd touched the moon. That had never, ever happened before.

Merlin was lax and boneless beneath him, barely stirring except to moan when Arthur slipped out of him and rolled to the side. Merlin was a wax doll left too close to the fire, liquid around the edges, glowing and golden in the light. He reached for Arthur with one aimless hand, and Arthur let him hold on with gradually returning strength to Arthur's arm and didn't even say anything about the cuddling when Merlin eventually rolled into him gracelessly to press his face against Arthur's shoulder. Arthur grabbed a corner of the sheet and wiped them both off when it became obvious that Merlin had retired from his position for the night.

Merlin eventually took a deep breath and looked up at Arthur, who stared down at him bemusedly, trying to decide what to do with his manservant now. Normally he thanked the girls and sent them off with a kiss and a pat on the rear and that had seemed to suffice, but Merlin didn't seem to be inclined to hop out of bed any time soon and anyway it just seemed somehow...rude, now.

"Arthur," Merlin said, his voice hoarse from crying out, and the sound did things to Arthur's belly and made him entertain notions of letting Merlin stay for a while, maybe even until morning.

Arthur furrowed his brow at him. "Merlin?"

Merlin grinned and showed him a lazy blush that even reached his absolutely ridiculous ears. "So, I know you want me. That's pretty obvious," he said, voice rich and rough now. "So why did you wait so long? I've been right here. And don't say 'complications,' because I won't believe you."

Arthur narrowed his eyes. "You know, you're awfully saucy for someone who just got buggered by a prince."

"Yeah," Merlin replied, shooting Arthur a hooded glance that said he was remembering every second of the buggering and perhaps even wondering how soon he might volunteer for the privilege again.

Arthur shivered and crossed his arms over his chest. "I meant what I said about too many complications. I knew that sex with you couldn't possibly ever be easy or without strings attached. Nothing with you ever is. It didn't seem worth it."

"Arthur," Merlin chided, stretching his arms over his head and arching his back, treating Arthur to a lovely view of pale skin and taut muscles that almost distracted Arthur from the insolence. "What on earth gave you the idea that sex had to be uncomplicated to be worth having?"

Arthur frowned for a long while, unable to come up with an answer he thought Merlin might find satisfactory.

Merlin sighed happily. "Anyway, 'a peach for a peach?' Does that line ever actually work?"

Arthur thumped him in the center of the chest but it lacked heat. "Shut up. For your information, you poor excuse for a manservant, it had already worked perfectly well. Then you showed up."

"Well, you'd never have had as good a time with Eadgitha anyway, so I spared you the trouble."

Arthur peered down at him. "How do you know? Is she no good in the sack? Has she got the pox? What?"

Merlin grinned smugly up at him. "No, I hear she's actually a pretty good tumble, if you like, you know, girls. I just mean you wouldn't have been able to be yourself with her, and that's worth the complication of sex with me, don't you think?"

And so it was that Arthur was rendered speechless for the second time in five minutes, so he just grumped at Merlin and let him arrange his bony limbs over Arthur's until he was comfortable. Kicking him out just felt like too much trouble at this point, and anyway there was always the possibility of early morning sex, which Arthur had actually never had the occasion to try. And then Merlin would already be there to help him bathe and dress...and it just seemed somehow less complicated after all, this way.

"You'll be cleaning these sheets tomorrow," he informed Merlin just as he was beginning to snore lightly against Arthur's neck. "You've made a right mess of them, you know."

Merlin snuffled sleepily. "Don't be a prat. You helped."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. If you can't get the stains out properly I suppose you should use whatever salvageable parts there might be and make yourself a new tunic. Your clothes are abominably rough." He liked to think he was just being charitable, but the thought of seeing Merlin wearing something made from the same bedsheets he'd been debauched on, well. Arthur was only human, after all, and not without a sense of humor.

Merlin opened his eyes at stared at Arthur a little cross-eyed, his face just inches from Arthur's. "You want me to make a new tunic for myself from your silk bedsheets? What do I look like, a seamstress?"

"Well since you asked, yes, but you might be able to get Gwen to stitch it for you. She's very handy with a needle. And the silk is Pendragon red, so it will perfectly match that feathered hat you like so much."

Arthur let Merlin get away with digging his elbow into Arthur's ribs and pinned him down easily to kiss him instead. Complicated sex wasn't totally awful, he decided.

 

~Epilogue~

Morgana was entirely too chipper the morning after the midsummer feast, especially since Arthur had noticed her consuming more than her fair share of strong wine the night before. He watched her humming to herself as she dropped little lumps of sugar into her tea with a delicate spoon and narrowed his eyes in annoyance.

"What?" she asked finally, a paragon of startled politeness.

"Why are you so happy?"

Her eyes widened. "Why would it be so bad if I was?"

Arthur made a face and waved his hand in dismissal. "Never mind. Just...be chipper over there. Away from me."

"Arthur dear, did you have too much wine?" Her voice was rich with amusement.

"No, I hardly drank anything," he replied without thinking, poking at his breakfast of bread and cheese. Around him, servants bustled about cleaning up the feast decorations, a bit less efficiently than usual after their own celebrations below-stairs. He noticed Eadgitha casting him some wistful looks, but he was curiously unmoved. "I'm exhausted, that's all."

Morgana made a suppressed noise and Arthur looked up suspiciously. She blinked at him solicitously. "Ahem. Perhaps you should go back to bed for a while. Surely Uther can spare you for a few hours."

Torn between supreme irritation at her behavior and a sneaking appreciation of the idea, he darted an involuntary glance over to where Merlin leaned in the corner talking to Gwen. Merlin looked up and caught his eye, his expression relaxed and warm, and Arthur suddenly thought it was an excellent idea after all. "Yeah, maybe," he replied, distracted, trying to ignore Morgana who was nearly vibrating with some kind of inappropriate humor or delight.

"You know, Arthur, there's a saying you might have heard. It goes something like, 'master in the light of day, servant betwixt the sheets.'"

Arthur dropped his cheese and leveled her with a look he had been practicing in his mirror, one he had adopted from Uther's foulest moods. Apparently it needed more work, because Morgana just laughed, tossing her black hair over her shoulder in glee. And she was so wrong, because that didn't describe him and Merlin at all, not even a little bit, except Merlin had obviously heard her comment because she hadn't even bothered to keep her voice down, and he was grinning like an absolute idiot at Arthur and nodding.

"Shut up. Drink your tea," he growled at Morgana, who sipped gingerly from her cup and spilled a little in her mirth. Merlin was jerking his head toward the stairs and Arthur, obediently, got up and followed him.

*~*~*~*

end

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