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The Sacred Band

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It didn't matter that Arthur was now King Regent of Camelot, in some ways he was still just as much of an immature prat as the first day Merlin had met him, laughing it up with his fellow knights as he taunted his manservant with physical danger. Poor Morris had never deserved such rough treatment, and Merlin was well-aware that he didn't deserve it either. Which didn't explain why he put up with it anyway. He supposed love made people do stupid things.

Putting up with Arthur's nonsense and generally humoring him wasn't all bad, of course. Sometimes even Arthur's stupidest ideas had a certain merit. But this one seemed particularly foolish. Having reclaimed Camelot from Morgana, Arthur had declared the need to strengthen its defenses and that every knight and guard would be given additional training and combat practice to improve their skills. Merlin had pointed out that it would have hardly mattered if the knights knew a few extra moves when they had been up against an immortal army and a powerful sorcerer. In hindsight, he really should have kept his mouth shut.

And that was how Merlin ended up face down in a field with Leon's knee in his back and his arms nearly pulled out of their sockets.

"I surrender!" Merlin pleaded, through clenched teeth. Coarse blades of grass poked into his mouth and he spat them out.

"Pathetic," Arthur declared, rolling his eyes. But he gave the signal anyway.

Leon let go and gave Merlin's arms an apologetic rub, as if that would make up for them being nearly wrenched away from the rest of him. "Sorry, Merlin."

"Yeah," Merlin grunted, and grumpily ignored Leon's proffered hand to push himself to his feet. He glared at Arthur and started to walk back to the equipment rack, assuming Arthur was done tormenting and humiliating him for the time being.

But Arthur wasn't done.

"I didn't say you could leave," Arthur said, imperiously. Being almost-King had obviously made his head even fatter than usual. "Elyan, you're up next."

"Arthur," Merlin whined, giving Arthur an exasperated yet doe-eyed look. He didn't like to use their relationship for his own gain, but if some pouting was enough to make Arthur remember that he wasn't actually a punching dummy...

But Arthur was unmoved. "Merlin," he said, flatly, and crossed his arms.

Merlin sighed. Obviously there was no reasoning with him. "Fine," he grouched, and joined Elyan in the field. Apparently Arthur wanted him to have bruises from all of his favorite knights. If Arthur thought he was going to have any sex for the next month, he was bloody kidding himself. "Let's get this over with." He braced himself to hold his ground, for all the good it would do him.

"Sorry, Merlin," Elyan said, and at Arthur's signal he lunged.

§

"Oww," Merlin moaned. "Don't come any closer."

"Don't be such a child," Gwen said, ignoring him as she climbed into bed with him. "Let me see."

It didn't matter how big and soft their bed was. Every dip and jostle grated on Merlin's abused nerves and muscles and made him tense up even more.

Gwen looked him over and then planted a quick kiss to one of the few unbruised spots on his shoulder. "You should have gone to Gaius. I'm sure he has something that will help."

"I don't want anything," Merlin pouted. He would have turned away from her and onto his side but that hurt even worse. His mood was as bruised as the rest of him after being soundly beaten six times over in the name of 'training.' Even Arthur had had a go at him. He hadn't felt this sore since Arthur gave up on making him spar with him in full armor. At least his ears weren't ringing.

Gwen sighed. "You know he's only trying to help. He wants to keep you safe."

"I can keep myself safe," Merlin said, but didn't protest as Gwen began to plant light kisses on his bruises. They were still coming into their full flower, but he could feel every one of them.

Gwen gave him a chiding look, but thankfully she had the wisdom to forego their usual argument. She and Arthur knew about his magic, knew he was powerful enough to protect himself and everyone else in Camelot for that matter. Yet they insisted that magic wasn't enough. Which led to Arthur dragging him into training, which led to him being so sore he could barely lift his arm, much less fight. The whole thing was a pointless, painful cycle and nothing good could ever come of it.

It didn't matter if he couldn't always use his magic without putting himself in greater danger, that Arthur couldn't change the laws until Uther formally gave up the crown or died. He had survived this far and he still had his head, which was evidence enough that everything was fine just as it was. Being underestimated protected him better than any combat skills ever could.

"My poor Merlin," Gwen cooed. She lay down beside him and wrapped her arm around him, her touch gentle. "Arthur can be quite beastly at times. I'll talk to him."

"No, don't."

"Then I'll talk to Elyan and Lancelot. If I tell them to go easy on you..."

"They will. And that'll only make it worse." Merlin shifted, then winced. "He'll give up eventually. Something will distract him. Always does."

Gwen gave a hum of assent. "Well then. If you're going to let Arthur treat you badly, you're going to let me make up for it."

"You don't have to--" Merlin was stopped by Gwen's finger on his lips. He swallowed as she rose up and straddled him, the skirt of her dress spreading over his stomach and legs. She wriggled teasingly against his groin -- which by some miracle remained unbruised -- and Merlin's bad mood was instantly forgotten.

Gwen was still a servant just as he was, but ever since Uther's regression into madness, she had felt braver about her relationship with Arthur. Among other things, she had begun wearing prettier dresses with embroidery and lace and buttons. This particular dress had buttons along the front, and Gwen slowly opened them to give Merlin a rather glorious view of her cleavage. She gave him a warm and knowing smile as she rubbed against the growing bulge in his trousers.

Merlin mustered the strength to slide his hands below her skirt and up her thighs. The layers of her skirt trapped the air, and their combined body heat was soothing on his aching hands. Gwen gave a pleased sound as he found her bare skin and the crease of her thigh. But when he tried to sit up, he groaned in pain and slumped flat.

"Sorry, I can't," he gasped.

"I'm taking care of you," she reminded him, and shifted backwards to straddle his legs. She leant forward and nuzzled his groin, then opened the laces of his trousers. Merlin bit his lip as he felt her tug the fabric aside and expose him to the air. He was already half-hard from her rubbing, and when she gripped his shaft, whatever blood his body could spare rushed to meet her.

"That's better," Gwen purred, and kissed the head of his cock just as delicately as she had his bruises, though this was the far more exquisite torment. Her familiar, practiced touch soon had him fully hard and aching, writhing limply on the bed as she used her lips and tongue and fingers to drag him towards climax. She took the head of his cock fully into her mouth and let it rub against the soft roof of her mouth as she sucked and sucked until he was nearly at his peak.

"I see you started without me," Arthur said. Merlin startled, his climax unceremoniously halted, and he turned to see Arthur walking into their bedchamber, cleaned up from practice and changed into trousers, shirt, and vest. He had probably been at a council meeting. Merlin had been too busy being beaten to a pulp to check his schedule for the day.

Gwen lifted off Merlin's cock with a wet suck and swallowed primly. "Arthur. Merlin tells me you've been rather cruel to him again."

"Has he now?" Arthur quickened his pace, that gleam in his eyes that always meant trouble.

Merlin was having none of it. As Arthur approached the bed, Merlin used his magic to send a pillow flying right into his face. Arthur caught it, but he didn't catch the second pillow that smacked him on the back of his head.

"Merlin!" Arthur threw the pillows back at Merlin, only to have them rebound. Arthur jumped out of the way and they skittered across the floor.

"Keep them," Merlin said, as firmly as he could when he was aching to come. "You're going to need them when you're sleeping on the floor tonight."

"You can't be serious." Arthur looked to Gwen to back him up, but Gwen shook her head.

"Arthur, look at him," she pointed out. "He can barely move. I know you want to help, but this isn't the way."

Arthur huffed, hands on his hips to make his exasperation perfectly clear. Merlin was oddly reminded of Arthur's arguments with his father. But if a cold night on the floor was enough to make Arthur see sense, Merlin was all for giving it to him. He drew on his magic again and flung the pillows out of the bedchamber door.

Arthur glared at him, but it quickly turned into a thoughtful glare. And then he seemed to come to a decision. Merlin hoped it was a sensible one, but when was Arthur Pendragon ever sensible?

Never, that's when.

"I'll leave you to him," Arthur said, turned on his heel and strode out the door. There was the sound of the outer door slamming, and Gwen rolled her eyes.

"Now where were we?" she said. She shrugged off her dress and tossed it aside, then knelt above him naked and beautiful. Her breasts swayed as she leaned forward to strip him of his clothes. When she slid onto his cock, Merlin finally relaxed again. Then he stopped relaxing as Gwen clenched around him, hot and slick and tight.

"I need--" Merlin gasped, thrusting weakly up. He was still so close.

"When I'm ready," Gwen said, and clenched again, cradling him inside her as he slid his fingers into the damp curls of her cunt. His thumb found the nub of her clit and she gave a happy sound. She brought one hand over his and urged him on, fully in control. Gwen might still only be a servant, but she was his queen as surely as Arthur was his king.

And Merlin did live to serve.

§

He must have slept deeply that night, as Gwen and Arthur were both gone when he awoke. The sun was climbing high and he took the lack of interruptions to mean that he was excused from the day's training, and with luck tomorrow's and the next day's. Perhaps Gwen had convinced Gaius to intervene on his behalf.

There was a phial of willow bark extract on the bedside table, and he drank it in one long swallow. Every inch of him was sore and stiff and he welcomed the remedy. As loathe as he was to move, it wasn't long before his body's needs compelled him upright. He washed and dressed with painful slowness, moving as minimally as possible. Despite everything, he felt vaguely famished, and wondered if he could make it all the way down to the kitchens without falling and breaking his neck.

He decided to risk it. He hobbled towards the door, but just as he reached it there was a knock. Curious as to who it might be, he opened it.

"Merlin," greeted Elyan. "Gwen said you might be awake by now." He held up a tray of food. "I wanted to bring you breakfast as an apology."

"That's really not necessary," Merlin said. It was hardly Elyan's fault when it was Arthur giving the orders. But he stepped aside, and when Elyan set the tray down, Merlin dug in eagerly. Only once he'd managed to scarf down half the plate did he realize he was being rude, as Elyan was still standing and waiting politely.

"Sit, sit," Merlin said, through his mouthful. He gestured towards the chair and then the tray.

Elyan sat. He plucked off a branch of grapes and sucked a berry off the stem. Merlin was briefly distracted by the purse of his lips around the fruit; Elyan's lips were just a touch thicker than Gwen's but their eyes were the same. He felt the stirring of another kind of hunger, but chided himself to have some restraint.

Stomach sated, Merlin finally had the capacity to notice there was something else on the tray. "What's this?" he asked, picking up the bottle. There was some kind of oil inside.

"Massage oil," Elyan explained. "I know how stubborn Arthur can be. I was going to offer some one-to-one training, but Gwen said you were in no condition for it."

"That's very kind of you," Merlin said, feeling rather touched. When he wasn't running after Arthur and tending to his every whim, he often found himself acting as a manservant to the rest of the knights. He didn't mind, really. He liked looking after the people he cared about. But it was nice to be the one taken care of for a change. "Can I take you up on the training later?"

"I'd like that," Elyan said, with a warm smile.

Merlin felt a twinge of self-consciousness as he stripped and lay face-down on the bed. It wasn't as though they'd never seen each other naked before. There wasn't much room for modesty on their quests. But after being so soundly defeated yesterday, he felt less than all the knights, as if Arthur had forced them to humiliate him to show him his place.

As if he didn't already know exactly where that was. Whatever privileges he had as Arthur's lover, he was still just a manservant to the rest of the world. He didn't like to think how the others might react if they knew he was a sorcerer. Arthur and Gwen had accepted the truth, but it had made things bumpy for a time. Gwen thought he should tell them, but Merlin didn't want to upset things just when Arthur was settling into his position, and if there was any chance that Uther might still recover from his madness...

"Oww," Merlin moaned, as Elyan kneaded a particularly tender bruise on his back.

"Don't be such a child," Elyan said, in just the same tolerant tone that Gwen used. "You'll thank me for it later."

Merlin was more concerned with now. "You sound like Arthur."

"He's right once in a while."

Merlin snorted.

"Do you want me to stop?" Elyan asked, his hands stilling.

Merlin admitted to himself that he was starting to feel a bit better. "Don't stop," he said, rubbing his cheek against the sheets. He grunted as Elyan resumed kneading the bruise, but he swallowed his complaints. He and Arthur used to massage each other like this when one of them had a particularly hard day, but Arthur had been so busy lately, and as strong as Gwen was, she didn't have the pure weight and muscle of Arthur or the knights. Sometimes Merlin just needed to be pressed down and pounded flat by a big, strong man who regularly killed things with his bare hands.

Elyan worked his way down Merlin's back, wringing the tension out of his arms and his back, his calves and his thighs. The whole thing left Merlin feeling warm and loose and slippery. He found himself blushing as rough hands cupped and kneaded the join of his thighs and his arse, and then farther up, but he'd landed on his arse enough times yesterday to have bruises there, too. And if Elyan's thumbs slipped along his cleft, they didn't dip inside it.

"Time to turn over," Elyan said, his soft tone still enough to startle Merlin from his daze.

Merlin hesitated. All the touching had stirred his cock, and willing his arousal away never worked very well. But it wasn't as if he hadn't seen the others soft, or with some morning wood as they washed in a river. He felt his face heat as he turned over, looking determinately away from the man above him. When Elyan resumed the massage without comment, Merlin relaxed again.

"You're very good at this," Merlin murmured.

"So I've been told," Elyan said, and when Merlin looked up he saw his knowing smile. "Feeling better?"

"Much." He met Elyan's eyes, embarrassment finally subsiding even if his erection hadn't. "Thank you."

"Gwen was right," Elyan continued, and touched Merlin's cheek with slippery, calloused fingers. "You need taking care of."

There was something about the way he said it that made Merlin wonder. And then he didn't wonder at all as Elyan leaned down and kissed him. He gave a small noise of surprise, but it was a very nice kiss, and Elyan's lips were soft and eager.

"Um," Merlin said, when the kiss broke.

"Do you want me to stop?" Elyan asked.

Before his relationship with Gwen and Arthur, Merlin had lived a life of self-denial, of fear of himself and of intimacy with others. The two of them had gradually dragged him out of that life, forcing him to accept that he deserved to be loved and cared for and known. It wasn't always easy to let go of the tight control he held over himself, but he could do it when it meant giving over that control to them. He could surrender himself the people he loved and trusted and know that he would be safe.

He felt safe with Elyan.

"Don't stop," Merlin said, as his stomach gave a sudden flutter.

Elyan kissed him again, again, while his hands quested Merlin's body with a different kind of curative intent. And then Elyan was above him, still fully clothed over Merlin's nakedness, the bulge in his trousers a solid force against Merlin's hip. He wondered how long Elyan had been hard. How long he'd wanted him.

"Gwen told me what you like," Elyan murmured, his voice low and promising. It made Merlin shiver.

"Yeah?" Merlin breathed. He felt like he was drowning in Elyan's dark eyes.

"I'm her brother. She tells me a lot of things." Elyan sucked at Merlin's neck, just where Gwen liked to suck. Merlin's hips thrust of their own accord, rutting his aching cock against Elyan's thigh.

"I didn't realize -- " Merlin gasped as Elyan's hand wrapped around his cock -- "you were so close."

"We talk," Elyan said, holding Merlin's gaze as firmly as he held his body. "We share. There's a lot of time to make up for."

Merlin understood that, the urgency of trying to grab every scrap after a long starvation. The fear that the feast will be taken away again. That had its own pain.

Elyan must have seen the knowledge in Merlin's eyes, because he gentled further, kissing Merlin sweetly on the forehead and then on the mouth again, his tongue delving and sliding deep as he flattened himself against Merlin's body and covered him, held him. The weight of him felt good, and eased the ache in Merlin's heart.

"That's better," Elyan said, pressing heavier, trapping Merlin and pinning him as he had on the field. "You like that. You always like it."

With Elyan above him, commanding, Merlin realized just how alike he and Gwen were, both sweet and gentle over hardened steel, the cores of them fired in the same forge. They were different from Arthur, whose rough iron guarded a tender heart.

Merlin whimpered. "Please," he breathed, tight with need. He did like it. Even when the rest of him was in pain, there was part of him that loved it, that needed it. To be beaten, to be made to surrender. To be ruled.

Whatever hesitation Elyan had, it was abandoned as he took what Merlin was freely giving. He rose up, imposing, then took Merlin bodily and flipped him onto his belly. Elyan's knee pressed between Merlin's thighs and pressed exquisitely against his balls, making him writhe and claw at the bed. Where before Elyan had used his strength to wring the suffering from Merlin's body, now he used it to apply suffering in pleasurable ways. He pinched and slapped, teased and nipped until every sensation blurred and bled into heat and need.

"Please," Merlin begged, needing to come so badly. His cock was painfully full and making a mess on the sheets.

"You'll come when I tell you," Elyan said, and that only made Merlin wilder. Merlin rutted, trying to give himself enough to push over the edge, and that earned him a few sharp smacks on his arse. He stilled.

"Naughty," Elyan chided, and finally, finally opened his trousers. His cock was finely shaped, full and dark and Merlin wanted it inside him. Just because he wasn't letting Arthur near his arse didn't mean he had to deprive himself.

Elyan slicked his fingers and began to open Merlin up, spreading his cleft wide and pressing his thumbs against the rim. Merlin clenched against the entry even as he welcomed it, making Elyan pull him apart.

But as long as Elyan had taken in caring for the rest of him, he wasted no time here. In less than a minute, those broad thumbs were replaced, and Merlin groaned low and long as Elyan pushed his way inside, forcing through Merlin's slickened tightness. At every inch of progress, he pulled back and then thrust again, slow and strong, until all of him was there, tucked away and filling Merlin to the brim.

"So sweet," Elyan murmured, nuzzling against Merlin's back. "You're so hot inside."

Merlin whimpered and tried to clench; he couldn't manage much when he was already forced wide, but Elyan gave an appreciative rumble. A hand slid beneath his belly and pressed there, broad and possessive. Another hand stroked his side, soothing him as he would a restless horse. He felt ridden, owned, known.

When Elyan was ready, he began to fuck Merlin with long, hard thrusts, beating him over and over like glowing iron on an anvil. Merlin idly thought that there was more blacksmith in Elyan than he liked to admit. And then he thought about nothing but the jolts of pleasure rippling through him as Elyan moved inside him over and over, making him writhe and plead and beg for release, even though he didn't want to have it until Elyan wanted him to have it.

"So good for me," Elyan cooed, his voice finally breaking as his own arousal climbed. "So good. Come on. Come for me. My Merlin. Come."

One more stroke, two, and Merlin let go, his whole body tensing as his cock throbbed and pulsed against the sheets. He came down shaking, eyes and nose wet, as Elyan pressed full inside him and finished there, heat pulsing deep.

Elyan rested over him, inside him, as they both softened and cooled. Elyan gave one last thrust against him and then let his cock slip free, leaving Merlin feeling open and gaping to the warm summer air. Elyan's broad thumb toyed at his rim and then urged it closed.

"How do you feel now?" Elyan asked, genuine with only a hint of smugness.

"Much better," Merlin said, but now he couldn't keep his eyes open. "Think I need a nap."

Elyan gave him a kiss on his shoulder. "Then sleep. I'll clean up."

Merlin gave a sleepy smile and shifted away from the wet spot on the bed. He felt Elyan leave and heard him walk across the room. He came back with a damp cloth and brushed it along Merlin's back. The gentle touch was lulling, and Merlin let his eyes shut.

Chapter Text

Merlin woke alone. He didn't think he'd been asleep for long, just a catnap, but it had been enough time for Elyan to clean up and go. He'd somehow managed to change the sheets on the bed with Merlin in it, which was impressive. Elyan would be a Lord someday, but he still knew how to make a bed. Compared to Arthur, that was rather refreshing.

Merlin sat up, feeling sore but good. The massage had loosened him up, but so had the fucking. He'd also gained a collection of red marks to go along with his bruises, though he expected they would fade in a day or two. For all the force Elyan had used, he had been quite careful about it, and it gave Merlin a warm feeling to be so cared for.

He was also going to have quite a talk with Gwen about all this. Immediately.

Elyan had left behind the plate with the remains of his breakfast. Merlin ate as he dressed, having worked up his appetite again, and then headed out of the royal chambers feeling only slightly wobbly.

Gwen's duties were rather different than his these days. With Morgana gone for good, Arthur had given her a new position. Rather than just another serving role, he made her his steward, so she had responsibilities all over the castle. Merlin was certain that it was Arthur's way of helping her prepare for her future responsibilities as Queen, and the result was that she was just as busy as Arthur. Merlin typically did whatever he could do help the both of them on top of his normal duties, but if they were giving him a day off, he was going to take it.

He walked around the castle, but he couldn't find Gwen anywhere. He tried the laundry, the kitchens, the council chambers, the stables, even Gaius' chambers. He also couldn't find Arthur or any of the knights. As a last resort he went to the knights' private quarters, and there at last he found Lancelot.

At least all the walking helped to clear his head. The morning felt more like a vivid dream than anything else, and he might even believe that it was one if not for the pleasant soreness that had nothing to do with being slammed to the ground and twisted into a knot.

"Merlin," Lancelot greeted. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Have you seen Gwen? I need to talk to her about something."

"I just spoke with her."

Merlin paused. "You did? What did she say? If you don't mind my asking."

"We were talking about you, actually." Lancelot gave him a steady, meaningful look. But then he was always giving people steady, meaningful looks. That was just how Lancelot was built. "She was worried about what happened yesterday."

Merlin made a face. "She's trying to protect me. I don't need protecting. Why doesn't anyone understand that?"

"I understand," Lancelot said, clapping Merlin on the shoulder with a touch too much force. Merlin swallowed back a wince. "But I admit I have also been concerned with Arthur's behavior. I trust you'd tell me if anything was wrong?"

"Arthur's just being a prat, as usual," Merlin said, dismissively. "He's upset about something else and he has to take it out on me."

Lancelot frowned. "It's not right for him to do that. He isn't still angry about your...?"

"No, we worked that out. I think." While things were far better now than they had been when Merlin had finally worked up the courage to tell his lovers about his magic, sometimes Merlin worried that his confession had itself somehow prevented Arthur from removing the ban against magic. There was no telling how long Uther would live, and Arthur got moody if Merlin pressed him about the situation. But Arthur would have to take the throne eventually. And then... Well. And then he would make Camelot a fair and just place for everyone.

Sometimes Merlin wished that Morgana had simply killed Uther outright. But he would never say that aloud.

"You seem troubled, my friend." Lancelot gestured for him to sit beside him on the bed. Lancelot set aside the armor he had been polishing.

Merlin sat down with a huff. "Today's just been, uh, unexpected." He looked sideways at Lancelot. "Can I tell you something? You have to keep it a secret."

"I swear on my life." Lancelot did always tend towards the dramatic. But he'd kept the secret of Merlin's magic better than even Merlin himself. And he had been the picture of discretion about other things.

"Elyan came to see me this morning. And um, well..."

Lancelot waited, then gave a patient blink. "Yes?"

"He sort of... seducedme." The last he muttered, the words running together. "And I think... I think Gwen sent him." Merlin finally dared to look up. "Did she say anything to you?"

Lancelot was quiet for a long moment. When he finally spoke, his eyes were somber and tender. "You already know my feelings for you, and for Gwen and Arthur." He reached over and rested his hand over Merlin's. "There is nothing I would not do for you all."

Merlin ducked his head; Lancelot's devotion was always a little unsettling in its intensity. Arthur had taken to it like a duck to water with his natural arrogance, and Gwen said he was the first person to ever make her feel like a queen, long before Arthur got his head out of his arse about his feelings for her. But Lancelot was right. After all, Gwen hardly needed to tell him to seduce Merlin when they were already lovers.

It wasn't an every day thing. It was something of a special occasion when they came together. Though for all that he enjoyed Lancelot's attentions, Arthur sometimes preferred to watch the three of them together, standing outside of the tangle of bodies and denying himself, except when he didn't. When he took a mouth or a hand or a body to finish himself off with.

"Tell me what he did to you," Lancelot said. He said it so honorably, as if wasn't asking for the salacious details.

"He was very sweet about it," Merlin began, privately relieved he could talk to someone who understood. "He gave me this fantastic massage, and then he kissed me, and then..." He swallowed, shifting as he felt a twinge of fresh arousal at the memory. When he spoke again, his voice was rough. "He held me down. Hurt me. It felt... His hands were... And then he fucked me."

"He hurt you?" Lancelot asked, concerned. He raised his hand and brushed aside Merlin's kerchief, tugged down his collar, revealing reddened skin, scratches, even a bite mark.

"It wasn't anything I didn't want," Merlin protested.

"Let me see," Lancelot said, and pushed up Merlin's shirt. He brushed his fingers over every bruise and mark, as if cataloging them. "Some of these were mine," he said, regretful.

"I'm not made of glass," Merlin grumbled. It was his job to protect everyone else. He didn't need to be coddled. He'd suffered far worse than a few bumps and scratches and he'd always bounced right back up again. More or less.

"No, you are far more precious than glass." If anyone else said that, Merlin wouldn't be able to take them seriously. But when Lancelot said something, it was because he meant it. And he had a way of melting Merlin's defenses with that honesty.

"Lancelot," Merlin sighed, thinking of their times together. The two of them sharing Gwen, inside her together as she shuddered between them. He and Gwen teaming up against Lancelot, Merlin's cock in his arse while Gwen crouched over his mouth. Or the two of them teaming up against him, filling Merlin up and taking him in, and then Arthur slipping gloved fingers into Merlin's mouth, Arthur's blue eyes gone dark and burning...

"May I?" Lancelot breathed, and Merlin nodded, accepting. Things had been so busy lately, even though they saw each other nearly every day, there had been little time to spare for this. For gentleness, for an adoring kiss.

Lancelot pressed him down onto his back, and it was nothing like how it was with Elyan, but it was good all the same. The lack of force in Lancelot's considerate touch meant Merlin had to take what he wanted, to pull Lancelot to him and grind their bodies together. And it made Lancelot push back to stop him. It was almost strange to have it be just the two of them again. But it was nice, too, to not have to deal with the logistics of so many limbs and everyone's pleasure.

Having had so much attention lavished on himself already, Merlin decided to take the initiative. He slipped off the bed and knelt between Lancelot's legs. He pushed up Lancelot's shirt and mouthed at his chest, his tight nipples, as he caressed that smooth, strong back. He tasted his way down the trail of his abdomen to the bulge of his cock through his trousers.

"Merlin," Lancelot moaned. His fingers curled in Merlin's hair, urging him on as Merlin opened his trousers. Lancelot's cock was pretty, rose-flushed and arching, and Merlin wasted no time in taking it into his mouth. It was hot and firm against his tongue, and he sucked and licked at it eagerly, suddenly impatient for Lancelot's release, for the taste of him flooding his mouth and throat.

But Lancelot wasn't in such a hurry. He tightened his grip on Merlin's hair and pulled him back, making him bare his neck submissively. Merlin swallowed, his throat bobbing as he was held still, as Lancelot considered him. And then Lancelot released his hair, only to pull Merlin's shirt up, over and back, trapping Merlin's arms behind him. Merlin's breath caught.

"Yes, that's better," Lancelot said, pleased. He took Merlin by his hips and guided him to stand, then to fall back onto the bed, further trapping his arms. Lancelot stared into his eyes. "What are you today, my friend? Servant or sorcerer? Ruler or ruled?"

It was a question that Merlin often asked himself, and he rarely had a clean answer. He let his magic rise, and his eyes glowed as the table moved across the floor and blocked the door. Lancelot didn't look away, and the gold in Merlin's eyes made Lancelot's darken. But however it aroused him, that was nothing compared to what it did to Merlin to be so clearly seen. Lancelot had known about his magic longer than any of them, and he had never been afraid of it. What Lancelot gave him now was without conditions, without fear. It was pure.

"Sorcerer," Merlin breathed. He had made Lancelot a knight twice over, elevated him to Arthur's right hand. But in many ways, Merlin knew that Lancelot's loyalty was strongest towards him. Camelot's favored knight would bow to a sorcerer before a king.

"Then let me see you," Lancelot said, climbing onto the bed and straddling him, trapping his thighs together. "Show me what I've captured."

Merlin stared, caught in Lancelot's grip and his gaze, and let his magic rise again, holding it at the ready as he did when braced for a fight. But instead of releasing that energy into a spell, he trapped it, fed it, until it was strong enough to crackle like lightning through his nerves, skittering through his skin and swirling in his eyes. The air around them grew sharp, like the scent of an oncoming storm.

"Show me more," Lancelot commanded, tightening his hold on Merlin's body. "Let me feel you."

Merlin breathed out, then in, and when he exhaled again, let his magic go, let it flow out of him and into the body above him. Lancelot gasped, his muscles straining as he felt Merlin's magic moving into him, filling his senses, letting him see the world as Merlin saw it: vivid, bursting with life and power and magic. And through that magic he saw Merlin, and there was no pretense, no artifice between them.

"Beautiful," Lancelot breathed, in awe. "So beautiful." He leaned down and kissed Merlin, magic sparking between them as they connected. It jumped back into Merlin, then, sealing the connection so the magic flowed freely between them.

When Lancelot pulled back, his eyes glowed with Merlin's power. He sat back, pulling off his shirt in one smooth motion. He touched himself, feeling the power in him, and then touched his cock, stroking it slowly. He released his grip on Merlin's thighs, yanked off his trousers and then grabbed his bare thighs. He pushed them forward, forward, until Merlin was folded over, his muscles straining and his breathing short.

"Elyan left you wet," Lancelot said, as he nuzzled the cleft of Merlin's arse, spread wide by his position. His tongue dipped inside. "I can taste him in you. I can feel how he opened your body."

"Yes," Merlin groaned. He wanted Lancelot to see everything, to pull him apart until there were no secrets left. To strip him bare and know every inch of him.

Lancelot kept licking, his tongue delving and teasing at his rim. He nosed at Merlin's balls, swollen and tender from Elyan's rough treatment. Magic sparked from Lancelot's mouth and into Merlin's most sensitive places, making his cock and balls and arse twitch and tighten. Using his own magic against him, upon him, channeling and directing it.

Merlin fed him more, and Lancelot's eyes flared with magic and strength. He released Merlin's legs, letting him uncurl, and then rose up on his knees. He pulled Merlin up by his shoulders, his arms still trapped, and brought him up to suck on his balls, his cock, to lavish them until his lips were pink and tender. But still he was gentle, cradling Merlin's head with his hands, letting Merlin wear himself out until his stomach muscles could no longer hold him up.

Merlin fell back against the bed, panting from the strain. He wanted to suck Lancelot's cock again, to bring it deep into his throat, but Lancelot had other plans. Merlin's thighs were raised and spread again, and he moaned as Lancelot pushed inside him, the way made slick and easy by Elyan before him. Merlin was soft and open inside and his body clenched around Lancelot's cock in welcome. The contact sent a shock of pleasure through him as his own magic was given back to him from within, striking his nerves and making his cock twitch against his belly.

"My sorcerer," Lancelot moaned, smiling down in adoration and lust. "Use me. Give me all that you are."

Merlin obeyed. He trusted Lancelot with his magic, trusted him with his heart and his body, and opened himself wide. And then all his senses narrowed to the joining of their bodies, to the points of contact between them: the sweaty grip of Lancelot's hand against his thigh, the press of their bodies against each other as Lancelot's cock filled him again and again, each thrust forcing them both towards climax.

They came together, selves blurred by the circle of magic between them. The magic flared with its own pleasure as Lancelot poured himself deep inside of Merlin's body, as white streaks painted Merlin's front. Lancelot collapsed against him, smearing them.

Merlin let his magic return, let it spool and curl back into his core. Lancelot's eyes faded back to brown, and Merlin once again only knew his own senses, the limits of his body. Lancelot brushed the sweat from Merlin's eyes and kissed him gently.

"Thank you," he said, and withdrew, leaving Merlin wet and open inside, the come of both knights mingling inside him. Merlin liked it, liked what it meant, that they had left pieces of themselves in him, safe and deep. Lancelot lay down beside him and held him, kissed him and gentled him.

Lancelot was the only one Merlin had ever shared his magic with that way. He wanted to share it with Arthur, but how could he? How could he know that Arthur would accept it? He was afraid that Arthur would reject it, reject him as he had when things had been so bad. Merlin couldn't bear that a second time. He couldn't.

"Shh," Lancelot said, and wiped the tears from Merlin's eyes. Merlin shook his head and buried his face against Lancelot's shoulder, hiding once again.

Chapter Text

Merlin left Lancelot's chambers feeling worse and better than he had when he'd went in. Sharing his magic with Lancelot, opening himself up like, it had stirred up feelings that Merlin had worked hard to keep buried. He needed to get out of the castle and clear his head so he could sort himself out.

He also needed a wash.

The day was pleasantly warm, and there was a stream-fed pond that was perfect for a private dip. He and Arthur liked to frequent it in the summer months, but he didn't know where Arthur had got to. He didn't care. He could feel his sour mood creeping back up on him and he quickened his pace.

He reached the pond and found it blissfully empty. He left his things on the shore, stripped and slipped into the water and sighed, immediately feeling a hundred times better. He washed himself out, fingering his tender hole, regretting the loss of what Elyan and Lancelot had left behind. But it felt good to be clean, too, and the cool water soothed his tender flesh.

Besides, he knew that what they had given him went far deeper than anything physical. Today had broken down barriers he'd barely been aware of, but that had been standing between them. Elyan had taken care of him, had understood him and given him what he needed, making their friendship much more than it was before. Lancelot had as well, and the trust they shared had allowed Merlin to share his magic more deeply than he had with anyone. Not that there was much competition in that. With magic still illegal, Merlin had little chance to be with other sorcerers, or even the Druids. He had told himself that didn't matter, but maybe it did. But he didn't know how he was going to tell that to Arthur.

He supposed Gwen knew what she was doing after all in sending Elyan to him, and he suspected she had a hand in his dalliance with Lancelot as well. She never ceased to surprise him. There was a lot he wanted to share with her, too, but he couldn't do that until he was ready to share it with Arthur. Their relationship might be open, but it still had rules, and while he loved them each separately, they would be King and Queen of Camelot one day. They had a vital partnership and Merlin respected that.

Where exactly he would fit into that brave new world he didn't know. On some level he knew that he couldn't be Arthur's manservant forever. Things would have to change. But as to how... it all felt beyond him.

Though his ears were underwater as he floated in the sunlight, a noise disturbed him enough that he raised his head and straightened upright, treading slowly as he looked around. He didn't see anything unusual as he scanned the shoreline, and was about to write it off as just his imagination when he realized that something was missing: his clothes and pack.

Alarmed, he lowered himself in the water, looking around again with sharper eyes, keeping still to listen for any hint of the culprit. It was unlikely that there would be bandits this close to the castle, and there wasn't anything particularly valuable among his belongings -- though he knew what it was like to be poor enough for anything to be worth taking. But he had a feeling that the thief or thieves were of a more devious mind than that.

There, the sound came again, and this time Merlin was certain. He pushed himself to shore and climbed out, cupping himself for a semblance of dignity, and marched towards the nearest thicket.

"Oh shit," snickered Gwaine, as he popped out and ran away, Merlin's pack in hand. Merlin took after him, chasing him around the pond as Gwaine waved his pack at him and laughed. They were halfway around when Merlin saw the other culprits: Percival and Leon standing on the opposite shore, holding up his shirt and trousers and waving them as bait. Merlin stopped running and glared at them. The three of them were still dressed for armored practice, but given the hour they had probably been sent out to patrol together.

"Give them back," he warned, refusing to be amused. The knights had taken to playing all manner of pranks on him, and Arthur had only encouraged their ridiculousness. Merlin usually took it all with good humor and a few eye-rolls, but not today.

"You looked so cute and defenseless floating there," Gwaine said, hefting the pack over his shoulder. "Like a little bunny."

"I am not little," Merlin protested, feeling his chest and face flushing from anger and embarrassment. He certainly wasn't defenseless, but he couldn't say that aloud. "And rabbits don't swim."

Gwaine was the ringleader when it came to the pranks. Percival was rather courteous without his influence, and Leon used to be the most serious of the knights having been at it the longest. Now it seemed that the three of them spent more time plotting ways to torment him than actually fighting. Not that Merlin minded that Camelot was so calm, having had more than his fill of death and battle after Morgana's coup. But if Arthur wasn't going to put a stop to it, he would have to do it himself.

"Right," Merlin said, and marched towards Gwaine with fresh determination. Gwaine gave an expression of exaggerated alarm and started the chase again, grinning and laughing the more serious Merlin became. Then Gwaine made an unexpected dart away from the shore, and Merlin bolted after him. They chased each other through the trees, but just as Merlin closed in, Gwaine tossed the pack over his head to Leon, who caught it and held it up in triumph as Merlin rounded on him. The same thing happened again as Merlin caught up with Leon only to have his belongings flung past him to Percival, who took them out of the forest and back towards the lake. Merlin took after him, his patience running sorely thin -- only to find that Percival had hooked his pack on a high branch, far out of reach. He could see a sleeve from his shirt and one trouser leg hanging out from where they had been hurriedly shoved into the pack.

"You bastards," Merlin growled, deeply tempted to magically whack the lot of them with a tree branch. Or maybe a whole tree.

"Aww, come on. It's just a bit of fun." Gwaine slowed as he approached, his arms and smile wide. Their victory complete, the three of them closed in on him, surrounding him. Merlin straightened his back and raised his head, refusing to be intimidated.

"Looks like you've been having fun without us," Percival said, pointing at the reddened marks that Elyan and Lancelot had left behind.

Merlin put his free hand over the suck- and bite-marks on his neck. The two knights had been rather enthusiastic there. "None of your business."

"I thought Arthur was still in the doghouse," Leon said, openly staring at Merlin's arse, or possibly just the fading slap-marks and scratches.

"That doesn't look like Gwen's handiwork to me," Gwaine declared.

Merlin flushed deeper. Obviously the knights knew about his relationship with Arthur and Gwen. They could hardly keep it a secret even if they wanted to, and Arthur didn't care for secrets much these days. They knew about Lancelot as well, despite Merlin's attempts to keep things reasonably discreet. Perhaps another war wouldn't be such a bad thing if it meant less of a fascination with his sex life.

Gwaine stepped closer, and the others did in turn, so that they were each close enough to reach up and touch him. And then Gwaine did just that, touching his gloved fingers to one of Merlin's still-tender nipples, swollen from being sucked and bitten. Merlin tried to pull away, only to back into sun-warmed mail. And then he was caught as Percival and Leon each took hold of an arm, pulling them away and baring him fully to Gwaine's inspection.

"Definitely not Gwen's," Gwaine said. He pulled off his gloves and ran his hands down Merlin's body, surveying the now-colorful bruises with the same consideration as the more recent marks. He lingered over the swollen heat of Merlin's arse before giving it a smack himself, and smirked as Merlin squirmed. He leaned close. "You have been a naughty boy," he murmured, then brushed his thumb along Merlin's swollen, bitten lips. "Lancelot?"

"Yeah," Merlin admitted, taking the easy explanation. But Gwaine was looking right into his eyes, and knew him well enough to tell when he was lying by omission.

"This is from more than Lancelot," Gwaine said, amusement fading into lustful interest. "He's not rough enough for that."

Merlin felt that his cheeks must be apple-red from embarrassment. He'd had no idea that Gwaine was paying such close attention. That he knew the marks of love on Merlin's body well enough to read them like a hunter tracking prey. Whatever this moment was, it was about more than a bit of roughhousing. He could feel Percival and Leon's eyes on him, as keen with interest as Gwaine's.

It wasn't a total surprise. There had always been a fair amount of mutual appreciation among the knights when they bathed together. Merlin had found it both intimidating and appealing when it was directed at him, and he certainly appreciated them in return. But he'd never expected anything to come of it. Not without Arthur's permission.

Gwen had sent Elyan, spoken with Lancelot. Had she...? Had Arthur...?

They must have. Gwaine might enjoy giving Arthur a hard time, but he wouldn't go that far. He wouldn't cross that line. He knew who Merlin belonged to. They all did.

Merlin swallowed. "Arthur..."

To Merlin's relief, Gwaine simply nodded, his posture calm and open. "He said to take care of you. Give you what you needed. Want to tell us what that is?"

Merlin struggled to think. What could he ask of them? What could he say? It was all so much, so sudden.

Gwaine sobered, concerned by Merlin's silence. "Do you want us to stop?" The grips on his arms eased, though they didn't release him.

Merlin shook his head.

"Good," Gwaine said, relief restoring the sparkle in his eyes. He cupped Merlin's cheek with his hand, gentle and soothing. It reminded Merlin of how Elyan had calmed him, gentling him as he fucked him, as if Merlin was a skittish horse. As if he was there to be used and ridden and stabled and groomed. The image quickened his pulse.

"Now look at that," Gwaine remarked, lengthening his stroke to Merlin's neck and chest. "I think he likes this."

"Yeah," Leon said, his voice lower, rougher. Without losing hold of Merlin's arm, he reached up and stroked from the back of Merlin's head, down his neck and along his spine. Merlin shivered and bit back a breathy moan. Percival quickly followed suit, his broad hand resting on Merlin's side and brushing his hip, his flank.

Arthur wanted this to happen. He wanted to give Merlin to them, and them to Merlin. And there was no doubt that they wanted him, and he them. All he had to do was let it happen. To let go and give himself over. To open up and let them in.

"What else do you like, hmm?" Gwaine murmured, soft but eager. "Did you dream about us? Wake up stiff with need? Beg your king to fuck you while you thought of his knights?"

Merlin whimpered, his cock stirring despite its previous use. Had he ever admitted those fantasies to Arthur? He must have done, drunk one night or in the heat of passion. The thought of Arthur telling them, exposing him that way because Merlin was his to expose... it was almost too much to bear.

"You have to tell us, Merlin," Gwaine said, whispering into his ear. "You have to say the words. If you don't..."

And then just like that, the stroking stopped. They all pulled away, letting go and stepping back, and the sudden absence of them nearly made him fall to his knees. "Yes," he rasped, the words finally forced out of him. "Please. I want this, I do..."

And just like that they were back, and Merlin slumped in relief as they caught him, held him. Their gazes felt warmer now, their affection for him matching their lust. It made him feel huge and small, embarrassed and endlessly grateful. For all of them to care so much for him: not just Gwaine and Percival and Leon, but Lancelot and Elyan and Gwaine and Arthur... He couldn't imagine how he deserved so much love.

"Hey now," Gwaine soothed, seeing his distress. He touched Merlin's cheek again, and Merlin leaned against his hand, closing his eyes as he rubbed against the warm, callous palm. He opened them again as Gwaine tilted his head up and leaned close, so much love in his eyes. Merlin couldn't help but close that distance and kiss him. Gwaine's rough beard scratched at his lips, the sensation grounding him even as Gwaine kissed him back, first soft and then ferocious with need.

When it stopped, they were both breathing hard, and Merlin understood. He had always known that Gwaine cared for him, but his perpetually casual demeanor had hidden the true depths of that caring. Having Merlin so close to him and yet so far away... perhaps that explained the constant teasing. Merlin only wished Gwaine had been honest with him sooner, but he recognized the hypocrisy in that thought.

"In the water," Merlin rasped. "That's where it starts." A hot day like this, sweating from patrols or a long hike. They'd shed their armor and clothes and stride into the water, hard bodies flushed and glistening, soft cocks nestled at the joins of their thighs. They'd dive deep and then surface, gasping, their hair and bodies slick.

Heat flared in Gwaine's eyes. He stepped back and pulled off his mail and surcoat and shirt in one long move, his muscles flexing as he tossed them away. "Let's go, boys," he said, and took Merlin's hand, pulling him back towards the pond as the others undressed.

At the water's edge, Gwaine stopped. He held Merlin's gaze as he removed his belt, unlaced his trousers. And then he was naked, proudly erect, and looked as if he wanted nothing more than to devour Merlin whole. Instead, he walked Merlin backwards into the shallows, and then shoved him off his feet.

Merlin landed in the water with a sputtering flail. "Gwaine!" he pouted.

Gwaine just laughed. They all laughed, and then Merlin laughed, too. He swam backwards until he reached deep water and dove, letting the cooler depths clear his head. When he came up again, he was met with a splash from Percival, and then Gwaine splashed Percival, and Leon came at Merlin from behind, and it was all-out war. But it didn't take long for the three of them to gang up against him, coming at him from all sides until he was trapped once again.

"I surrender!" Merlin gasped, face and mouth full of water as they did their best to drown him. When the torrents subsided, he wiped his eyes clear, then splashed them all with one long swoop. Gwaine leapt and tackled him, shoving him under and then dragging him up again, and Merlin wriggled and kicked in vain. Leon and Percival moved in, grabbing his legs and pinning them. He kept fighting, refusing to give up as he wriggled in their grasp, his excitement building the harder they worked to keep him still.

"He's a lively one," Leon laughed, though with less amusement than intent. "Maybe we should tie him up."

"He did surrender," Percival added. "That makes him our prisoner."

"And a fresh catch," Gwaine said, pinning Merlin's arms with bruising force. He was no gentler here than he had been on the field, but Merlin didn't mind it now. He wriggled harder as they started carrying him to shore.

"The King will know what to do with him," Leon said, improvising.

"Wait, please," Merlin begged, knowing this was part of the game. He had to tell them what he wanted, guide them even as he gave himself up to their control. What did he want? What had he wanted when he watched them in the water, when he watched them train and fight and defend? He wanted that strength turned on him. He feared it and longed for it. "Please don't. I'll make it worth your while."

Gwaine loomed over him. "Are you asking us to betray our king and the oaths we swore for a pretty piece of arse?"

Percival gave him a hard smack on said arse, and Merlin yelped. He smacked it again, again, barely holding back at all. Merlin's arse throbbed, and he had no doubt that he was going to end up with more than a sore arse by the end of this.

"Please, good knights," Merlin begged, eyes watering even as his cock ached. "I'm at your mercy."

"Yes, you are," Gwaine said, and he nodded at the others. They carried him to shore and pushed him down into the grass. Leon pulled back his arms and planted his knee in Merlin's back while the others moved out of view. There was no mercy in it, just as there had been no mercy when Leon conquered him on the training field, though neither was done with cruelty. Merlin welcomed the pain this time, not wanting them to hold back. It felt better this way, truer. His heart raced at the thought of his suffering.

The others soon returned with rope and blankets. Merlin realized that they must have been patrolling on horseback before they stopped to have their way with him at Arthur's command. He imagined them chasing after him, their swift mounts inescapable, and then surrounding him, their swords sharp and shining as they were pointed at the sorcerer's throat--

His arms were bound behind him with rough rope, and then his feet were bound at the ankles. He was hauled up onto his knees, his head pulled back, his throat bared. The sun silhouetted the knights, making their eyes difficult to read. It was almost too real, too much like Merlin's darkest nightmares and darkest fantasies.

"Perhaps we should spare him," said Gwaine, his softening tone perhaps in response to the genuineness in Merlin's distress. "His arse is rather pretty. And his mouth." He brushed his thumb along Merlin's lips, then slipped it between them, forcing it past his teeth. Merlin let himself be opened, and when Gwaine's thumb pressed against his tongue, he licked it, sucked it, hollowing his cheeks.

"He may not be a spy," Leon conceded. "The king will be pleased if we resolve the matter without troubling him."

"As long as we are paid for our troubles," Percival said. He reached down and gripped Merlin's cock, giving it a few pleasurable strokes and then a painful squeeze. Merlin moaned around Gwaine's thumb.

"I think we will be well-compensated," Gwaine said, drawing out his thumb and slicking Merlin's lips with his own spit. "We might even keep him. We're in need of a good servant." He stroked a hand through Merlin's hair, soothing with one hand while the other still pulled painfully tight. "Do you want to serve us? Prove your worth?"

"Yes," Merlin breathed. "Take me. Make me yours. I'll do anything, I swear..."

All three men responded to his promise, and Merlin knew that this was it. This was what he wanted. To know that he was so undeniably theirs that he didn't have to be afraid. That the laws didn't matter, that his magic didn't matter. They would never reject him, never let him go. He only had to give them everything.

It wasn't sensible, wasn't rational. He knew that. But even if it was only a fantasy, right now it was what he needed.

"Let's see what he can do before we burden ourselves with him," said Leon. He took Gwaine's place at his head and brought Merlin's mouth to his crotch. Merlin mouthed the root of his cock, tasting water and sweat and skin. He felt himself calm as he focused on Leon's pleasure, on being outside of himself, beyond his worries and cares. Leon's touch gentled as Merlin sucked his cock deep, lips flush to the root even though Leon's cock was as large as the rest of him. Out of the corner of his eye, Merlin saw Percival stroking himself, and swallowed hard around Leon's shaft at the thought of that cock inside him.

Leon pulled out before Merlin could finish him off, and pushed Merlin back when he tried to follow. "He's eager," Leon said, approving.

"My turn," said Percival, bringing the blunt head of his cock to Merlin's lips. Merlin opened wide, welcoming him. Where Leon was content to let Merlin do all the work, Percival took control, holding Merlin's head still as he slowly fucked his mouth, his throat. Gods, he was huge, almost too thick to swallow. Merlin focused on his breathing, catching the moments when Percival drew back, his cockhead pausing on Merlin's tongue.

And again Merlin was denied the fruits of his labors. Percival pulled out and handed Merlin's mouth to Gwaine, in no hurry for his own release. Gwaine held Merlin's face and gazed upon it, at the wet gape of his mouth and his swollen lips. Then he knelt down and kissed him, open-mouthed, his tongue delving nearly as deep as a cock. He kept going, forcing Merlin to lean back so far that he would have toppled over, except that Gwaine held him up. And then he finished, eyes dark and breathing ragged, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Take him," Gwaine rasped, and handed Merlin off, stepping back to watch.

Percival and Leon surrounded him, then, the two men joining forces against him. They bent him forward, baring his arse and leaving him helpless in Leon's hold, unable to hold himself up with his arms bound. Percival's broad fingers pressed inside him, probing his tender hole. There was still some slickness in him, for both Elyan and Lancelot had driven themselves deep when they came. But Percival added more, using his spit to wet him further.

"Together?" Percival asked.

"I'll take his mouth," Leon said.

"Wait. I want to warm him up first." Percival landed a sharp smack on Merlin's arse, just where he had hit before. It knocked the air out of him. "He should be punished for fighting back. Trying to escape."

"Do it," Leon said, tightening his hold on Merlin's arms.

The two of them braced him, and then Percival delivered his 'punishment'. Blow after blow, some softer, most hard, one after another until Merlin could barely stand it. He sobbed, his eyes and nose wet, the fight knocked out of him with tender cruelty until he was utterly limp in their hands, all control stripped away. Only then did it stop. His arse was burning, hot and red. He didn't think he'd be able to sit down for days. At least it was all Arthur's fault, so he would have to have mercy on him.

Perhaps worried they'd gone too far, Leon and Percival touched him gently, then, trying to soothe him. But Merlin shook his head. He needed them to finish, to take him all the way to the end. They seemed to understand.

If Percival had felt huge in his throat, that was nothing compared to how he felt as he pushed up inside, skewering Merlin like a lance through a target. His sore, throbbing arse magnified everything, made Merlin feel beaten open inside by Percival's thrusts. It was good, so good, and it was better when Leon join in, filling his mouth and his throat, and Merlin felt speared through.

They used him, then, as he needed to be used. He was too weak to fight them, too bound and wrung out, and they were already so much bigger and stronger than him. He began to feel almost insubstantial, apart from himself as they pierced him, took him. And then they finished in him, pushing deep and pouring out, the heat of them in his throat and chest and belly. They let him down gently, removing his bindings and massaging the marks the rope left where it bit into his flesh. They had not made it too tight, but he had struggled hard against it, as he had struggled against them.

They carried him back into the water, to cool and wash him, and there Gwaine met them and took him. Merlin clung to him as Gwaine kissed his brow, stroked him and gentled him. Waited patiently as Merlin came back to himself and left the fantasy behind.

"Guess I needed that," Merlin rasped, weakly.

Gwaine laughed, but his voice was strained. Merlin regretted the indulgence, realizing that Gwaine had probably needed something else today. That his feelings ran too deep for games.

"I'm sorry," Merlin whispered.

"No," Gwaine said, with quiet sternness. "Don't ever be sorry. Not for that. You think you're the only one who's ever needed a good hiding?"

Merlin cracked a smile. "Suppose not." He could barely imagine what kind of hidings Gwaine might have sought out. It was true that he'd always gone in search of trouble. He still did.

"I'm sorry I couldn't give it," Gwaine said, genuinely regretful.

"No, it's all right. I had plenty."

Gwaine smiled then, and touched Merlin's arse gently. Merlin still hissed. "Yes you did." He turned and winked at Percival, who gave him an amused salute from the shore. Leon had laid himself out in the sun to bask and dry. Merlin relaxed, seeing that there really had been no harm done.

When Gwaine kissed him, it was soft and sweet and nothing like their game. It was love, and that changed things. Elyan and Leon and Percival were his friends -- more than friends after today -- but Lancelot and Gwaine were his lovers. Merlin expected Arthur to take the addition of Gwaine to their complicated tangle of relationships rather less easily than he did Lancelot. But they would work it out.

Gwaine guided Merlin back to shore, but apart from the others. "Are you up for more?" Gwaine asked, hesitant.

Merlin smiled. "Thought you'd never ask."

Gwaine chuckled and helped Merlin up onto the grass. They lay down together, dappled sunlight warming them as they dried. They twined as one, kissing, unhurried, each drawing their other back to arousal with his hands. Though he hadn't come from Leon and Percival, Merlin felt almost as if he had, filled with a languid afterglow. Having come twice already today, he felt little urgency, except to give Gwaine the pleasure he deserved.

When Gwaine's fingers dipped inside him, Merlin hissed, but urged him on.

"You're so wet inside," Gwaine murmured, pleased. "All soft and open for me. I like that."

"Do you?" Merlin asked, looking up shyly through his lashes.

"I'm not a jealous man," Gwaine said, stating the obvious. "Some of us enjoy sharing. And some enjoy being shared."

Merlin was long past embarrassment, but he felt it all the same. "Yeah. It's just..." He couldn't find the words. It was just something he needed.

"Yeah," said Gwaine, and Merlin knew he understood.

It hurt as Gwaine's cock pushed inside him, but it was a good hurt, an earned ache. Merlin spread his thighs and hooked his legs around Gwaine's waist, the better to give Gwaine all of himself, to let him in as deep as he could. Despite how long Gwaine must have been waiting for this moment, he took his time, relishing Merlin's body, cherishing his heart. On dry land, Merlin floated in his embrace, the thrusts moving him like waves, carrying him along.

"They're watching us," Gwaine murmured, his voice warm and content. Merlin turned his head and saw that Leon and Percival were both watching with their hands on their cocks, almost matching Gwaine's steady pace. Merlin shivered and clenched, still feeling the shape of them inside him, battering him. He turned back to Gwaine, locking eyes with him again, giving him his full attention and devotion.

Gwaine made him come first, bringing him off and then pausing to lick the come from Merlin's body. When they kissed, Merlin tasted himself on Gwaine's tongue, and it spurred him to return the favor. Despite his lethargy, he turned them over and raised himself up, riding Gwaine and clenching around him, giving him and the others a show. Letting them see what they'd won today, what they'd taken and shared and would share again: their friend, their willing servant, their secret protector, and more.

"Merlin," Gwaine gasped, hands hard on Merlin's hips as he thrust up and came. Merlin took Gwaine's hands and pressed them to his belly, held them there, cradled against him as he cradled Gwaine inside him. He wished he had the strength to give more, but he was wrung dry. He lowered himself down, resting his head against Gwaine's chest, over his heart, and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever.

Chapter Text

Merlin dozed again. He knew he wasn't alone, knew that the knights were with him, guarding him and tending to him. He knew that they would keep him safe. He felt Gwaine holding his hand, trailing kisses along his knuckles, on the back of his hand, on his wrist and his palm.

When he woke they were gone. He was clean and dry, wrapped in a blanket, and Arthur was sitting beside him. He was dressed simply, with a loose white shirt that hung wide at the collar, the fabric so thin that the afternoon sun made it nearly transparent. He was holding Merlin's hand -- the one Gwaine had been holding -- and idly stroking it.

"Lazybones," Arthur said, lips quirking to show that he was teasing. "Lying about all day, neglecting your duties."

Merlin cleared his throat. "Hardly," he rasped. He licked his lips; his mouth was dry. "Here I thought this was my day off."

Arthur pressed his free hand to Merlin's forehead. "Hm, no fever. Gaius will figure out why you're talking gibberish."

Merlin rolled his eyes. "You could have warned me, you know."

"No, I don't think I could."

Merlin untangled himself from the blanket and sat up slowly. He winced as he put his weight on his arse.

"Is your little bottom sore?" Arthur teased.

"Yes, but you won't be getting near it to find out."

Arthur scoffed. "You're not still upset about yesterday."

"Arthur, what part of your scheme today made you think I wouldn't be?" He shifted again, but it was impossible to get comfortable. It was going to be a long walk back to the castle, and even if there was a horse waiting for him he didn't think he could ride it.

"Stop wriggling about and lie down," Arthur said, and when Merlin didn't, he took firm but careful hold and the next thing Merlin knew he was on his side, his head on Arthur's lap. He tried to get up again but Arthur held him down with one hand, then stroked his hair with the other until Merlin relaxed and gave in. "There. Isn't that better?"

Merlin grumbled, not giving an inch even if it was much better, because telling Arthur he was right only fed his enormous ego. And besides, flattered though he was by the knights' attentions, Merlin still wasn't entirely sure why Arthur and Gwen had arranged all of this. Arthur never decided anything without gnawing over it from every angle.

But Arthur didn't press, and Merlin found himself content to simply rest and be lulled by Arthur's hands, steady and warm against his neck and in his hair. How long had it been since it was just the two of them this way, at peace together away from the pressures of Camelot? It felt like years. Eons.

"I'm sorry," Arthur said, his voice soft. "I thought..."

Merlin tilted his head towards Arthur, though he couldn't quite see him. Maybe it would be easier for them to finally talk if they didn't have to face each other.

"I can protect myself," Merlin said, for the thousandth time.

"No, you can't."

Merlin glared daggers at the rolling meadow, warm and buzzing in the sun. "Just because I'm not a knight, that doesn't make me weak. You know how many times I've saved you and the knights and everyone in Camelot."

Arthur's hands stilled. "I know, and it's not about that. As I've been telling you, if you would use those big ears for once and actually listen to me." Merlin said nothing, which Arthur took as permission to continue. He took a deep breath and let it out. "You know how upset I was when you told me about your magic."

Merlin was hardly likely to forget. "Yeah," he said flatly, not enjoying the reminder. Arthur's rejection had hurt, still hurt even though they'd healed and moved past it.

"I wasn't angry about you having magic. Not really. And it wasn't because you'd kept it secret. I understood that. It was because..." Arthur paused, struggling for the right words. "Finding out everything you'd done. All your victories. What was left for me?" He gave a bitter laugh. "What kind of king is too weak to fight his own battles? That he has to be coddled like a child?"

"It wasn't like that," Merlin protested. He'd never tried to win Arthur's battles for him. He'd always held out as long as he could, tried every way possible to avoid putting Arthur into that position. But in the end, sometimes that was exactly what he did.

"I know," Arthur said, and his hand resumed stroking Merlin's hair. "And I accepted that, eventually. You were only trying to protect me. As I'm trying to protect you."

Merlin didn't understand. "Then why?"

"Because I was wrong, then. And you're wrong now. Being driven out of Camelot, my father's illness... The speech you gave me when we were holed up in that cave. I realized how selfish it was of me to believe I stood alone. My father lived his life that way, refusing to ever need anyone. And now he can't even..." Emotion tightened his voice, but his hands were steady. After a moment he continued. "Camelot needs us. All of us. And I need you."

"Arthur," Merlin breathed, not knowing what to say.

"I can't do this without you. But you keep trying to throw your life away for me as if it doesn't matter."

"That's why you're angry?"

"Yes."

Merlin didn't know whether to be relieved or furious. "You are such a prat. Do have any idea what that did to me?" Every slight, every silence, every time Arthur had tersely dismissed him... They weren't balanced out by Arthur's better moods or Gwen's assurances. They had only piled up inside him like embers, slowly hollowing him out, making him feel ashamed and unwanted.

"Well, you're an idiot," Arthur said, without heat. "And you're my idiot. And if you won't learn to protect yourself properly, then I won't have you running off on your own."

"I don't have a choice," Merlin reminded him. "The king's manservant can't be seen practicing magic." He hated having to bring it up again. He didn't want to burden Arthur when he already had so much to deal with. But if he was seen and arrested, if Arthur had no choice but to put him on trial for breaking the laws of Camelot... Merlin couldn't imagine a greater disaster.

"Lancelot knows," Arthur reminded him.

"That just leaves the other several hundred thousand citizens of Camelot," Merlin said, not budging. He'd watched too many people die at Uther's command. For a few, he himself had been the executioner, killing sorcerers who came seeking the justice that they were denied. Merlin could bear the guilt of that if it was worth it in the end. But he feared that it was all for nothing, that magic would never be allowed because Arthur would never truly accept it.

"Things will change. They're already changing. But I had to find some way to keep you alive until you don't have to hide anymore."

"And that's why you gave me to your knights?"

"They're your knights, too," Arthur said, gently chiding. "They already loved you. But this way... now I know they love you as much as I do. That no matter what, they'll care for you just as I would. So when we tell them about your magic--"

Merlin bolted upright, too shocked to care about any soreness. "You want to tell them?"

"They'll be the first," Arthur said. "Gaius and Geoffrey have been drafting the new laws. I can't make magic legal all at once without causing a revolt. But if we change things slowly, ease out the old guard from the council, appoint the first royal sorcerer since the Great Purge..."

Merlin was overcome. It was happening. It was really happening. "Arthur," he breathed, his eyes damp. "I thought... Your father..."

"Is no longer fit to rule," Arthur said, regretful but accepting. "And even if he does recover... Camelot has suffered for long enough. And so have you."

Merlin was beside himself. "Arthur, you... you absolute cabbagehead!" He flung his arms around Arthur and buried his face against his neck. He couldn't stop his eyes from crying even though he was grinning so wide it hurt. "Why didn't you tell me?!"

"I just did," Arthur said, holding him and rubbing his back.

"I hate you," Merlin mumbled, feeling a thousand things at once and not knowing what to do with any of it.

"I love you too," Arthur said, amused.

Merlin groaned in frustration, then drew back and kissed Arthur soundly. The salt of his tears mingled with taste of Arthur's lips. "I really, really hate you."

"Well, that is a shame," Arthur murmured, between kisses.

Merlin pawed at Arthur's shirt, grabbing and kneading it. "I missed you," he confessed.

"I'm sorry," Arthur said, pressing their foreheads together. "I needed to work it out on my own. I didn't want to tell you until I was certain."

"All right," Merlin said, figuring that in some ways Arthur was right to do that. To reach that victory purely on his own terms. It balanced the scales. "I forgive you. But don't you ever do that to me again. Don't you dare."

"I won't," Arthur promised, remorse edging into his voice. "I never meant to hurt you." He gave a wry grimace. "If it helps, I punished myself today, watching you with them. Seeing all the parts of you that I was missing."

Merlin gaped. "You were there?"

"For all of it."

Merlin didn't quite know what to do with that, except that it was mildly disturbing and incredibly hot. "Elyan? Lancelot?"

"I came back while Elyan was massaging you. I watched through the door. Didn't want to interrupt."

"Lancelot was alone."

"Gwen and I were both there when you arrived. We hid in the wardrobe. Keeping quiet was... difficult."

"You are completely ridiculous," Merlin said, shaking his head in astonishment.

"After that, I had to see it through," Arthur continued. "They took care of you the way I should have. The way you opened up for them, gave yourself over so completely..." Need flared in his eyes, and sorrow. "I was a fool to push you away."

"It's not too late to take me back," Merlin teased, but he meant it. All the parts of him that he had given to the knights, he wanted Arthur to have them, too. They were always meant for him, because all of Merlin was meant for him. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

But Arthur shook his head. "Perhaps in a few days, when you're feeling better."

"I don't care," Merlin said, mulishly. Arthur gave him a gentle prod between his thighs and Merlin had to swallow back a whimper.

"I do," Arthur said, sternly. "I'm going to have enough trouble getting you back to the castle in one piece."

Merlin wanted to cry with frustration. He needed Arthur as much as Arthur needed him, and he wasn't going to let something as mundane as a sore arse get in the way of that. Then he realized: if magic was going to be legal soon, he really ought to get in some practice.

"Help me to the water," he said, shedding the blanket as he struggled to his feet.

Arthur immediately rose to help him, half-carrying him to the pond. They paused at the shore so Arthur could shed his clothes and boots, and then together they waded in until Merlin could float with his arms around Arthur's neck.

"Not that I mind a swim," Arthur began, "but how exactly will this help?"

"Water has healing properties," Merlin said. "I've helped Gaius use it in his potions. It's strongest from rivers, but there's fresh water from the stream here..."

"Water is magical?"

"No, but water spirits are," Merlin corrected. "Now hush."

Arthur's eyebrows crept up in alarm, but he kept quiet as Merlin concentrated. Merlin's own healing abilities range from ineffective to mediocre, but if he offered up a small sacrifice of magic to the water spirits, they might be willing to heal him. He closed his eyes and reached down into the water with his magic, searching for the source and the flowing water that fed the pond.

Please, take this offering, he prayed, calling out silently with his thoughts. It was one of the few skills the Druids had shared with him, and it let him communicate with the spirits of the land. I offer my magic freely and beg for your indulgence that my body might be healed.

He felt them before he heard them, the current of the water changing and swirling up around him. Merlin lowered himself into their embrace, leaving only his head out of the water as he held on to Arthur's waist. White light shimmered through the water and then clung to him, wrapping him in a gentle light that reflected in Arthur's awed eyes.

My sisters and I have no need of payment, said a voice, feminine and liquid. It is our honor to bless you, Emrys, so that you and your king may guard and heal our land.

Merlin gasped as his blood moved in sympathy with the current, as the spirits moved through him, cool and soothing, drawing out the heat and pain. And then with a shiver they left him, their light fading as the water around him stilled.

"Merlin," Arthur breathed. "What just happened?"

Merlin opened his eyes and smiled. "The water spirits healed me. And I think they like you."

Arthur shook his head. "You are unbelievable." He guided them back to the shallows so he could see for himself, and ran his hands over Merlin's body in astonishment. The swelling was gone, the bruises faded, everything had healed as if a whole week had passed. All that was left was a pleasant, low ache and some faded marks.

"We're definitely going to have to tell the knights now," Merlin realized. "I think they'll notice this."

"I'd worry if they didn't," Arthur said, and kissed a faded yellow shadow that had once been a vivid bruise. "Tomorrow. If you're ready."

"Yeah." Merlin wondered how they would react. There was a chance that some of them might already have their suspicions. Gwen might have shared more than just her own secrets with Elyan, and Gwaine was clearly attentive enough to notice Merlin's subterfuge. And there had been that whole 'Courage, Strength, and Magic' business when they'd gone to the Perilous Lands.

But they would deal with that tomorrow. Together. Merlin sighed and cupped Arthur's cheek. "You are the most infuriating, wonderful man in all of Albion."

"That's why you love me," Arthur murmured, leaning in for a kiss.

"And you're a thick-headed prat," Merlin added, because he was.

Instead of kissing him, Arthur nipped him on the lip. Merlin nipped him back. Arthur gave a delighted laugh and kissed him properly, his strong arms pulling Merlin's body to his. "Thick enough for you?" he murmured, rubbing his half-hard cock against Merlin's hip.

"You realize how much competition you've given yourself," Merlin pointed out. "By the way, I'm keeping Gwaine."

"Is that so?"

"He loves me," Merlin said, half-serious and half-teasing, because Gwaine deserved to be defended and Arthur deserved to be teased. "If you ever do that again, I might just run away with him." Merlin paused for thought. "And Gwen and Lancelot."

Arthur gave a confident laugh. "They wouldn't be able to keep up with you. Not even with all three of them."

Merlin pouted. "Are you saying I'm needy?"

Arthur's hand slipped down to his arse and gave a strong squeeze, making Merlin squirm. "Absolutely insatiable."

Merlin sputtered in protest, but he knew Arthur was right. He loved the others, but Arthur was the other half of his soul, just as he was the other half of Arthur's. Two halves of a whole, each incomplete without the other. They could never have enough of each other, and when they were apart for too long it drove them both a bit mad.

Arthur's hand slipped further down, rubbing at the crease of Merlin's thigh, behind his balls. "Now if you're feeling better..." When Merlin didn't protest, his hand moved up, fingers tracing their way to Merlin's hole and finding it still loose and slick. One fingertip pressed inside, and Merlin gave a soft moan.

Merlin stared into Arthur's eyes and saw the heat and need he felt reflected there. Arthur had watched as each and every knight had their way with him, as he begged and writhed and moaned in their arms, as they fucked him deep and marked him as theirs. Merlin had watched Arthur and Gwen together, and Arthur and Lancelot, and never felt jealous. But for all that Merlin needed, Arthur needed too, and in his own way. As Prince, as King, Arthur had to spent most of his life giving to others, spreading himself thin as he bore the burden of the entire kingdom. But with Merlin, he could focus on him and him alone, and take his fill without restraint.

Arthur's gaze sharpened, darkened with a lust and dominance that Merlin could not help but respond to. Merlin's body began to surrender even before he made the conscious decision, supplicating himself as he dared Arthur to take what was his.

"Tell me," Merlin said, his quiet voice sounding loud between them.

Another finger joined the one inside him, and they hooked him, holding him like a fish on a line. "I wasn't jealous," Arthur said, though Merlin suspected that wasn't entirely the truth. "They're mine, just as you are." Vulnerability flashed in his eyes, though he quickly blinked it away. "I sent my knights before me to conquer. And now I have my prize."

"Is that what I am? Your spoils?"

"You're spoiled, all right," Arthur warned, and pushed his fingers deeper, spreading and then rubbing, sending shivers of pleasure up Merlin's spine. "You've been holding back. Hiding away. That ends now."

There was enough real feeling in Arthur's play that Merlin knew that was the crux of it. Arthur wasn't jealous so much as hurt -- hurt that Merlin hadn't trusted him, hadn't shared. That after showing Arthur a peek into his secrets, Merlin had closed them off again, had withdrawn the open faith that Arthur relied on. It was time they fixed that.

"Then end it," Merlin said, open and unguarded.

Merlin felt the rumble of Arthur's growl through his chest, and then Arthur's arms were tight around him again, holding him high as Arthur pushed them both out of the water. Merlin clung to him, feeling the tense and flex of his muscles as Arthur carried him back to the blanket. Arthur lowered them down, releasing Merlin and then spreading him out. The grass tickled Merlin's wrists and ankles as Arthur crouched over him and pinned him down.

"Show me your magic," Arthur said, low and commanding.

It was a simple request, but so much was bound up in it. All the years of holding back, hiding away, forcing himself into the shadows as he pushed Arthur into the light. A whole life bound up by fear. He had trusted so very few with his magic over his entire life, and tomorrow they would double the number. Merlin could admit to himself that he was slightly terrified of that, but he also knew that Arthur wouldn't take that risk if he wasn't ready for it. If he didn't believe it was the right thing to do, and that he could protect Merlin from its consequences, keep him safe.

It was hard to escape that fear, but Merlin had to let it go. He wanted to live in the new world that Arthur was creating. He wanted to breathe free. To be accepted for who he really was. Arthur couldn't take that fear from him, but Merlin could give it up. He could let all his shields fall and let Arthur be his protection, his castle, his King.

As he had with Lancelot, he let his magic rise, felt the tingle of power in his skin and in his eyes. When Merlin had first shown Arthur his magic, there had been fear and shock and pain in Arthur's eyes, but now all of that was gone. They had been stripped away, revealing the love and awe and tenderness that had been hiding behind them all along.

"There you are," Arthur breathed, warm and unafraid. "Your magic... it's beautiful." He stared deeply into Merlin's eyes, so intensely that it made Merlin dizzy. But Merlin forced himself to hold his gaze, to look into Arthur's eyes just as deeply. To see pure, open blue, guileless and joyful.

"It's for you," Merlin said, as he had said when he first confessed his magic. "All of it. Everything I am."

"Yes," Arthur said, with all the arrogance of a king and a lover. "All of you." And then a flare of passion, darkening the blue. "It's time you give me what's mine."

Merlin knew what he wanted. Arthur had watched Merlin and Lancelot together. He had seen Merlin share his magic with another while he himself had been denied it. If Merlin's words meant anything, if his devotion was true, then there was only one way he could fix that. He could not merely share his magic with Arthur. He had to surrender it entirely.

"Yes," Merlin said, accepting, willing. Giving his magic to Arthur was an act of utter trust, of absolute faith. It would make him vulnerable as he had never been before. But this was what they both needed. He had been born for Arthur, destined to serve him until the day he died. He only had to lay himself into Arthur's waiting hands.

He drew on his magic again, gathering it up and up. He couldn't truly give his magic away, no more than he could give away his beating heart. But Arthur's soul was his soul, and through that bond he could move the locus of his power and hold it there.

"Freá'wine," he breathed. My beloved lord. "Álíefe þone onweald." To you I yield dominion.

The spell swelled and surged, like a wave that started slow and then crashed upon the shore with inexorable force. Merlin gasped as the tight ball of power was carried out of him, washed away and into Arthur. Arthur stiffened, whimpered as the magic poured into him, filling him and changing him. His eyes flared golden as Merlin's faded.

Merlin reeled from the entirety of his surrender. He had not lost his magic, but it was no longer his to command. It was Arthur's, and he could feel it within his King, the rush of it through his veins and under his skin. As long as the spell held, Arthur could use it as he pleased, and Merlin could do nothing to stop him.

"By all the gods," Arthur breathed, eyes wide with awe, the blue now edged with gold as the magic filled him to bursting. He released Merlin and sat back on his heels, staring around them in open wonder. He was seeing the world as it truly was for the first time, the sheer life and beauty of it, the pulse of the world beating strong and steady. Merlin had never known life without it, and envied Arthur the discovery.

And then those blue-gold eyes were turned on him, and Merlin's breath caught under its sway. He had never felt more known, more naked, as Arthur saw him, truly saw him for the very first time. For a single moment, Merlin was afraid -- of judgement, revulsion, rejection -- but all that fear was swept away as his own magic reached back to him, now imbued with Arthur's love for him. His chest tightened with emotion and he wiped at his eyes, overcome by the blunt truth of it, unfiltered by the interpretations and expectations of the everyday.

He wondered how Arthur could possibly love him so much. But before he could summon the will to ask, he felt the answer: that Arthur had asked himself the same question when faced with Merlin's love, so absolute and unconditional. That they were two sides of the same coin, two halves of a whole soul.

"Arthur," Merlin breathed, at once shaken and soothed.

He could feel Arthur adjusting to the magic, taking to it with surprising ease. But he was a king, Merlin's King, and he was accustomed to many kinds of power. Besides, Merlin's magic wanted to obey him as much as the rest of Merlin did. Arthur would not have to struggle to tame it as if it was raw and wild, not when it came to him bridled and docile, ready to be ridden.

"How do I use it?" Arthur asked, eagerly.

"It's..." Merlin began, and then halted. Magic to him was as natural as breathing. And if Arthur's commands were being translated through Merlin's will, there should be no need for spells for anything Merlin could do instinctively. "You can command it with your thoughts. Just think what you want to happen."

Arthur considered this. His brow furrowed with concentration, and then an invisible force grabbed Merlin's wrists and pinned his arms over his head. Even half-expecting it, Merlin started in surprise. He wriggled but the magic's grip was strong as iron.

"I'm going to enjoy this," Arthur said, giving a pleased, smug smile. "You were always holding back. But now..." A flash of gold, and Merlin was pressed down into the blanket, his arms and legs spread out in the grass and pinned, while Arthur knelt above him, hands flexing at his sides. Another flash, and Merlin found himself tumbled over, forced onto his hands and knees, his thighs spread. And then a touchless hand between his legs, caressing his balls and cock, squeezing them gently and then roughly, forcing out a whimper.

"Does that hurt?" Arthur asked, sweet as honey on the edge of a knife. "Does it feel good?"

"Yes," Merlin gasped, answering both.

"You're mine," Arthur said, imperious and absolute. "My servant, my sorcerer. Even when I send my knights to you, their hands are my hands. There is nothing that you give to them that you do not give to me."

More invisible hands touched Merlin's body, gripping his arms and his legs, stroking through his hair and down his back and belly. Five magical pairs of hands, one for each knight, all soothing and holding him while the sixth -- Arthur's -- gently tormented his cock and his balls. An image came to Merlin, so clear he wasn't entirely sure it was his own: all of them together as they had been on the field, except now it was for a different kind of lesson. Again and again he would be brought down and taken, and together they would leave him bruised and sore with pleasure as they took their fill of him and wrung him dry.

The hands eased, leaving him one by one until only the first pair remained. And then those hands were joined by Arthur's real hands, and all four touched him gently.

"It was my fault," Arthur said, his voice as kind as his touch. "You told me what you needed, but I didn't listen. I had to see to understand."

The hands changed, fingers curling to scratch lightly along Merlin's belly and thighs, making him shiver. And then all four pinched the sensitized skin, making him wince. Merlin tried to get away, but his own magic trapped him, teased him as it bent to Arthur's will. His full cock bounced against his abdomen as he squirmed.

"I'm going to take care of you now," Arthur said, bending close to his ear, his voice warm and low. "You're going to beg for me, and I'll..." He chuckled darkly. "I'll give you what you deserve."

Gods, yes. "Please," Merlin begged, unashamed and grateful. It was all he wanted, all he needed: to be given what he deserved, to suffer and be soothed in turn. The pleasure-pain of love made flesh.

And then Arthur was in front of him, and the iron grip was gone. Merlin sagged, then strengthened. He looked up and saw Arthur sovereign, the summer sun a crown of light in his golden hair. He was so beautiful that it was hard to look at him, and so Merlin closed his eyes and bowed his head, offering up his submission. He was a sorcerer powerful enough to make the world bend to his will, but instead he bent his will to Arthur's. And all he asked in return was that Arthur would keep him and care for him.

Arthur's hands returned to him, stroking his hair and his face and neck, soothing and guiding. Hard, hot flesh pressed at his lips, and he opened for it, sighing as it slotted onto his tongue. He suckled, his eyes barely slitting open as he nursed on Arthur's cock, petted and stroked to show how good he was, how loved he was, and how his obedience was loved, too. Arthur used no force, letting Merlin give freely, and Merlin gave. He loved Arthur's cock, loved the weight and length of it as he slowly speared himself with it, lavishing the head and the shaft and then taking them into his throat. Letting the girth of it steal his air and louden the pulse of his blood in his ears until he had to let himself breathe again. He loved the burn in his chest and his throat, the silken steel against his tongue and lips, rough curls crinkling against his mouth as he took every last inch and held there.

"So good," Arthur groaned, grip tightening in Merlin's hair as his pleasure rose high. Merlin held there, groaned and swallowed and nuzzled against Arthur's groin as if to take him even deeper. And then he pulled back until only the head rested on his tongue, breathed out and in, and took it all deep again, sheathing Arthur inside him and keening his devotion. He did it again, again, until finally he pushed Arthur over the edge. Arthur's cock throbbed and pulsed in his mouth, and come clogged his throat, thick and plentiful. He nursed again, sucking it dry and swallowing down every drop.

Arthur pulled free, breathing hard, and finally Merlin looked up. Arthur's cheeks were flushed, his lips dark from exertion, his sun-shadowed eyes lidded and heavy with lust. Arthur held his upturned face and pressed a thumb into Merlin's mouth, and Merlin suckled it with equal fervor. Sometimes Merlin starved for him, so much that it hurt that Arthur wasn't inside him. He would take anything, everything that Arthur would give, and still be greedy for more.

Finally, Arthur pulled free of his mouth and gripped his hair, urging him up onto his knees. "Glutton," Arthur murmured, and then kissed him deeply, just as gluttonous himself in how his tongue delved into Merlin's mouth, tasting the traces of his own seed.

Nor could Merlin resist touching Arthur, hands free at last to caress every inch of skin, to squeeze against every hard muscle, to hold over each scar as if to take them away and leave Arthur unscathed. In his heart, Merlin wanted nothing more than to shield Arthur from the world, but that was the one thing that he couldn't do. Merlin's lingering frustration faded as he realized how they were each as bad as the other, trying to wrap their love in cotton wool through silence and distance.

They kissed and touched their fill, even as Arthur took the lead again and guided Merlin back down onto the blanket. Merlin's cock, hard and ignored, was pressed between their bodies as Arthur covered him. Merlin moaned as Arthur drew on his magic again, sending waves of sensation along his skin, invisible caresses that shimmered and skittered on his nerves. He parted his thighs as Arthur shifted between them, his still-soft cock thrusting lazily at Merlin's groin. Arthur rubbed it against the underside of Merlin's erection, against his heavy, swollen balls, and against the furl of his hole. And then a push, and the shape of Arthur's cock was pushing into him -- except Arthur was still above him as it pushed deeper.

Merlin writhed, penetrated by his own magic. At first Arthur used it like his own cock, mimicking, but his interest quickly shifted. Magic gripped Merlin again, restraining him and flipping him over, but instead of pressing him into the blanket, it held him aloft, floating above the ground as Arthur positioned him, arse open and high as the false cock continued to fuck him. And then Arthur's hands gripped him, spreading his arse wide as the magic stretched him from within, opening him up to Arthur's gaze. Calloused, thick fingers toyed at his rim, rubbing and tugging, making Merlin gasp and writhe in his magic's grip.

"Arthur," he moaned, not certain what he was asking for, except more. For all the intensity it still wasn't enough, especially as Arthur's irregular rhythm keeping his arousal from building high.

"One of these days, I'll teach you patience," Arthur said. The magical hold tightened, stilling Merlin further, and then Arthur's hands left him only to return with a smack. Merlin yelped as Arthur spanked him with sharp, unmerciful strokes, each hard enough to leave Merlin with a throbbing arse. He writhed, clenching around the false cock as its thrusts were met by Arthur's slaps, each collision making him gasp and sob, until finally Arthur relented, satisfied that he'd had enough.

Punishment completed, Arthur's hands grew bolder. The magical cock retreated, only to be replaced as three thick fingers pressed inside.

"Yes," Merlin groaned aloud as Arthur delved into him, stretching him with the roughness that Merlin craved. The throbbing, sharp-dull ache from his spanking only made it better.

"Knew you'd like that," Arthur said, and before Merlin could answer he added a fourth, plunging his hand in to the knuckles. Despite the burn of the stretch, they moved easily, slicked by the knights' come. And then a fresh wetness surged in him, viscous and familiar, and Merlin realized that Arthur had slicked him with oil. He glanced down and saw a phial lying empty on the grass. Arthur did always like to be prepared -- except Merlin was already open and wet enough to not need anything more.

The world spun as Merlin was flipped over again, this time with Arthur's hand still halfway inside him. His cock bobbed in the air, and Merlin bit at his lip as Arthur gave it a single, long squeeze before abandoning it again. The magic pushed up Merlin's thighs as Arthur shifted position. One hand gripped his hip, and that was all the warning Merlin had before Arthur resumed his push inside.

Merlin gave an incoherent sound as Arthur's hand stretched him wide, forcing itself way deep as his knuckles sank past the rim, and then the jut of his thumb where it was folded into his palm made Merlin's eyes tear. He could feel his pulse around Arthur's hand as it eased its way fully inside, only stopping once his rim was stretched around Arthur's forearm.

"Look at you," Arthur said, voice rich with satisfaction. He shifted his fingers, caressing Merlin from within, fingers brushing deeper than any cock, even Percival's. And then they seemed to lengthen, and Merlin realized that Arthur was extending his reach with magic. The pressure of it moved aimlessly, dipping in to reach impossibly deep before widening the space around Arthur's hand, allowing him the freedom to move and touch directly as Merlin shivered and gaped and flushed.

"No wonder they couldn't resist you," Arthur continued. "The way you looked at them, begging to submit. They couldn't wait to have you, take you. I watched everything. Saw how you let them deep, let them mark you and leave you wet and full. Such a good servant. But that's all you ever wanted to be. That's what you need, for us to take you, use you, make you ours."

"Yes!" Merlin gasped.

"You are mine, and theirs, and anyone's if I want it," Arthur said, a darker need edging his voice. "But none of them ever took you like this, and they never will."

Arthur strengthened his grip even further. Merlin's body was held tight by his own magic as Arthur opened him up, impossibly deep and wide inside him. He floated in the air, grounded only by Arthur's hands within and without him, broad and strong. It was shattering and exquisite and nearly too much to bear.

And then Arthur gentled, his possessiveness sated for now, and the wide push inside Merlin eased. There was only Arthur's hand now, and Merlin's body closed around it and clung to it. The magic binding him didn't ease, but Arthur's other hand began to stroke his side and hip, then his belly, and then finally his cock. Arthur held it as he leaned down and took the head of it into his mouth, sucking hungrily. Merlin keened as he was gently tortured, Arthur's hands and mouth teasing him with soft pleasure and an iron grip. His arse throbbed in time with his aching cock and he begged incoherently for mercy.

Arthur could be cruel as well as kind, but he was nothing if not merciful. He moved his hand until his fingers pressed sharp spikes of pleasure through Merlin's body, and he sucked eagerly at Merlin's cock until Merlin had no choice but to come. His climax was wrung out of him from both sides as Arthur swallowed his release. It was so strong that it was nearly painful, and he was left mewling, eyes and nose wet and body trembling with aftershocks as it clenched around Arthur's hand.

The magical hold eased from around his body, and the ground came up to meet him as he was lain upon the blanket. Arthur rubbed him with soothing circles with his free hand, gentling and calming. He waited until Merlin was ready, and then he drew out his hand, stretching Merlin wide before sliding free, leaving him beaten open and gaping.

Arthur wiped himself clean with the edge of the blanket, then lay down alongside Merlin and held him. He wiped his face dry and kissed him softly, apologetically.

"'m all right," Merlin slurred, not wanting Arthur to worry. Some of that had been unexpected, but it had been what he needed. He was grateful for it all.

"I know," Arthur said, but there was still concern in his eyes. "Should I carry you back to the water?"

Merlin shook his head. He didn't think the water spirits would appreciate it if he bothered them every time he was a bit sore. Anyway, he just needed to catch his breath.

"All right," Arthur said, softly, and he looked at Merlin as if he was the most important thing in all the world. Merlin had to kiss him for that, because Arthur was the most important thing in all of his world, so he roused himself enough to do just that.

They twined together on the blanket, lazy after the intensity of their exertions, and soon Arthur was full and hard against Merlin's thigh. Merlin had already come four times that day, and his poor, sore cock was soft with exhaustion. But Arthur had given him so much, Merlin had to give something back.

If he'd had his magic, he could have drawn from it to bolster himself. But it was still Arthur's, and he didn't want to take it back yet. So he gathered up the strength of his body and pushed himself up. He crawled over Arthur and straddled him, and then sank slowly down, spearing himself on Arthur's cock with a groan and a sigh.

"Merlin," Arthur said, half-moan and half-protest.

But Merlin insisted. He clenched around Arthur's cock and settled down, nestling it inside him where it belonged. The push of Arthur's cock inside him made his cock stir at last, and Arthur saw it and gripped it, stroking it to encourage it to fill. Merlin clenched and squirmed on his lap, cock and arse and everywhere sore and oversensitive. But he wanted it all, wanted to be sore walking back and sore for days. He wanted to feel Arthur inside him even when he wasn't there. More than that, he needed it. It was too easy to forget, for his old fears to creep back in. The only one who could truly drive them away was Arthur.

He rode Arthur slow and easy, half-led by Arthur's hand on his cock. Neither of them felt in any hurry to finish. The warm afternoon air wrapped around them, the gentle breeze stirring the leaves and dappling them with sunlight. It stirred again, and something fell around them with a waft of fragrance. Merlin blinked, confused, and picked up one of the small white flowers.

"Apple blossoms?" He sniffed and confirmed that it was indeed a apple blossom. Which was odd, as it was definitely not the season for apple blossoms. Small, soft petals landed in his hair and scattered over Arthur and the blanket and the grass around them, and Merlin couldn't help but smile. "Very romantic."

"I thought so," Arthur said, obviously pleased with himself. "I could get used to being all-powerful."

"Well, don't," Merlin said, attempting to look stern and failing spectacularly. Though to be fair it was difficult to be stern when he was covered in flowers and had a lovely cock inside him. He clenched again, this time making Arthur squirm.

"Oh?" Arthur challenged. "And what if I make it an order?"

Merlin met his eyes. "Then I would give it to you. But you won't."

Arthur stared back, then relented. "True." He rubbed his hands along Merlin's thighs, then grabbed him by the hips and rolled them over. Once he had Merlin beneath him again, he kissed him, then gave him a nip. "That's for being insubordinate."

Merlin nipped him back. "That's for being... supercilious."

"Go on, then," Arthur said. "Take it back."

"You sure?"

Arthur nodded. "You'll make a terrible royal sorcerer if you don't have any magic."

Merlin had barely caught Arthur saying that the first time, but it only properly registered with him now. He struggled for a response, but for once in his life he was left speechless. He had never truly dared to imagine a future where he could serve openly at Arthur's side, where he would be accepted and honored. He didn't think he deserved it.

But Arthur had. Arthur did.

Merlin closed his eyes and reached out to the magic he had given to Arthur. As he touched it, he released the spell he had been holding inside him, allowing the magic to return. It greeted him eagerly, but the last tendrils of it lingered, reluctant to leave Arthur completely. Merlin sympathized, because of course he was his magic, and his magic was him. And all of him was terribly, terribly attached to his King.

Arthur sighed at the loss, his world returning to normal, his perceptions once again limited to flesh and bone. He sank against Merlin and wrapped around him, holding him close, and Merlin was glad that Arthur had insisted on this first. Even if Merlin was no longer a part of Arthur directly, he still had a part of Arthur inside him.

They rocked together, holding each other so that Arthur could only pull back a little before he thrust in again, and Merlin met him each time, eager to hold him. And those last few tendrils stubbornly refused to let go. It wasn't enough for Arthur to share his magic, but now it had a different effect, bringing them together as their arousal built.

"Merlin," Arthur sighed, caressing and kissing him. "I can feel you. Why can I still...?"

"Come with me," Merlin breathed, as he realized that the tendrils were more than that. That they had always been there, invisible threads linking them together, and by sharing his magic with Arthur he had merely strengthened them. If they were joined now, it was because they had always been joined. Which meant that no matter what happened, no matter how things changed, they could never truly be apart.

Arthur came, pulling Merlin along with him, and in that moment they were one. And when the moment passed, still joined in body and soul, Merlin smiled wide as Arthur kissed away his tears.