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Bird With A Broken Wing

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After surviving poisoned wine, evil sorcerers, magical creatures, and so many assassins he didn't like to think about it, it was a simple stair that was Merlin's undoing. He had his arms full of supplies for Arthur's journey, and his head full of the countless chores that needed to be done before they left for Mercia the next morning. It was important that everything go perfectly, that Arthur's ceremonial clothes be impeccably clean, that his crown bear not a single smudge, because the treaty with King Bayard was still tenuous even after a year of peace. And after the disaster that was Mercia's envoy to Camelot (poisoned manservant, prince disobeying his king to save the life of said manservant, near outbreak of war), Camelot's envoy to Mercia would have to be faultless.

Which is why, after running up and down the same stairs dozens of times over the course of the day, Merlin didn't bother to count the number of steps under his breath as he usually did. He put all his weight forward, fully expecting the turn of the landing between the two flights, and instead there was air. If his arms had been free, if he hadn't been holding a heavy pile of ceremonial clothes that he had just spent half the day preparing, he might have been fine, or at least dropped what he was carrying in time to keep himself from a nasty tumble. Instead he landed with an awkward jolt, turned his ankle, and the next thing he knew he was lying halfway down the second flight, braced crookedly against the wall with the stone steps digging into his side and an awful flaring pain in his right arm.

There was the sound of hurried footsteps, and then some shouting. It was very loud. Merlin tried to cover his ear, but trying to move his arm made his vision fade and spot. By the time the roaring faded from his head, someone was shouting loudly again, but this time it was Arthur.

"...can you hear me? Merlin, can you hear me? Tell me what hurts."

Merlin tried to respond, but there was a pain in his head that was growing fast, and the throbbing made it hard to think, much less talk. He felt hands patting him down, feeling for broken bones, and almost sent himself tumbling down the rest of the flight when Arthur reached his arm.

"Easy!" Arthur caught him as his body writhed, held him still until he slumped back down, breathing hard and fast. "Don't move. Your arm's broken. I have to get you off the stairs." Arthur shouted at someone to alert Gaius, and before Merlin could even think about trying to stand up on his own, the world spun dizzyingly around him, followed by a series of jolts as Arthur carried him down the steps.

"'m not..." Merlin tried, as Arthur carried him across the courtyard. Merlin's cheek was pressed to Arthur's shoulder, but he could just make out the tight clench of Arthur's jaw.

"Not what?" Arthur asked, grimly.

"Damsel," Merlin slurred. "'n distress."

Arthur snorted, but when he spoke again he sounded slightly less worried. "What have I said about you being a girl?"

More steps, then, and Merlin's world faded again. Who thought it was a good idea to build a castle this tall, and put everybody in towers? Too many bloody steps, and he knew he was in bad shape when the thought made him giggle because he'd just made them even bloodier.

Gaius was leaning over him, frowning deeply with concern. Arthur's face had a pale, haunted look, and there was blood smudging his cheek. And his shirt. He was always getting dirt and blood all over his clothes, just to make Merlin have to clean them. Merlin immediately thought of the ceremonial robes and the crown and tried to sit up, only to be pushed back down and held flat against the wooden table.

"His arm is definitely broken," said Arthur. "I didn't feel anything in his legs or ribs."

"His ankle is swelling," said Gaius, and there were fingers probing Merlin's ankle. "Could be just a sprain."

"What about his head?"

"I'm not sure. Let me clean him up. Head wounds are often less serious than they appear. The scalp bleeds easily."

"Hear that, Merlin? I knew your thick skull would prove itself of use eventually."

Gaius gave a dry, strained chuckle. "It is certainly that."

Merlin thought he ought to be offended by that. Before he could think of a retort, the pain in his head flared. Arthur's hands, unmistakable even now, were heavy on him, one steadying his head and the other on his chest, as Gaius cleaned the wound on his scalp.

"That's better," Gaius said, sounding slightly less somber. "Looks like he gave himself a nasty scrape, Sire. There's some swelling but the bone is intact."

"What about his arm?"

The hands shifted on him. "We'll have to set it. The break feels clean. I'm afraid he'll be in no condition to accompany you to Mercia."

"Sorry," Merlin slurred, feeling wretched. He was afraid that Arthur would be angry with him. The memory of Cedric and nearly being replaced was still fresh, even though Arthur later admitted that he'd only been trying to teach Merlin a lesson. If Merlin wasn't by his side, how could he protect Arthur? What about the trip? If Bayard tried something, or another assassin came after Arthur, and Merlin wasn't there because of some stupid stairs...

Arthur's hand covered Merlin's, the one that wasn't attached to a broken arm. Arthur squeezed, and Merlin tried to smile. Then Gaius pressed a leather strap between Merlin's teeth and told him to bite down.

When Merlin woke up again, his mouth tasted of glue and some foul aftermath of Gaius' potions. He was tucked tightly into bed, and the sun was in a different position. He tried to sit up and discovered that his arm and ankle were well-bound, and there was a bandage on his head. He reached for a cup of water that had been left on his nightstand, and knocked it to the floor. It shattered impressively, and Merlin despaired of himself. He felt his magic rise to put the cup back together and un-spill the water, but it was sluggish and as clumsy as the rest of him.

"Awake properly this time, I see." Gaius walked in, with another potion and a fresh cup of water.

"What time is it?"

"You were in and out all night. It's almost lunchtime, but I thought it best to let you sleep."

Lunchtime? "Arthur's already left," Merlin moaned.

"He came to say goodbye this morning," Gaius offered, and fed him the potion.

Merlin made a face. "Ugh, water please." Gaius obliged, not letting him hold the cup, which was just as well because he'd probably drop this one, too. "Why didn't you wake me? I could have gone."

Gaius gave him the eyebrow. "He'll be back in two weeks. I'm sure he can stay out of trouble that long without you hovering. Besides, weren't you worried about facing Bayard again, after making a spectacle of yourself last time?"

"I don't care about Bayard," Merlin said, mulishly. "I care about Arthur."

Gaius just made a neutral sound and went about checking Merlin's injuries. He changed the dressing on the head wound and replaced the pillow under Merlin's foot, which had been knocked askew.

"Arthur will be back in two weeks," Gaius said, with the firm tone he used on recalcitrant patients. "He left instruction that until he returns, your only duty is to rest and to heal. Think of it as a respite. You'll be up and about in a few days, but no riding and no magic."

"No magic!"

"Not for a week. That was a nasty fall, and might have been a lot worse. You need to give yourself time to heal. Save your energy." He gave Merlin an avuncular pat on the shoulder. "Gwen said she'd stop by this afternoon. I'm sure Morgana won't mind if Gwen spends time with you to keep you out of trouble."

"I'm being punished for something. I know it." Merlin slumped back down onto the bed.

Gaius tried not to smile. "Certainly not," he lied. "Let me bring you some food. Would you like something to read? I'm sure I can pry something nonessential out of Geoffrey, as long as I don't mention it's for you."

 

 

§

The first week went by more easily than Merlin expected. Once he was deemed fit enough to hobble about on his own again, he spent much of his days outside, basking in the early summer sun. He joined Gwen and Morgana for picnics every day. Things were surprisingly quiet with Arthur gone, which confirmed Merlin's personal theory that Arthur was the trouble magnet of the two of them, and that Merlin was the long-suffering one. That did little to ease his mind about Arthur being on his own in Mercia (never mind the diplomatic retinue and the servants and the dozen knights), but Gaius, Gwen, and even Morgana continued to reassure him that Arthur would be back soon, and that nothing would go wrong. Merlin wasn't sure what they saw on his face that made them feel the need to reassure him, but he tried to stop visibly fretting.

He even found himself enjoying some of the books that Gaius smuggled out of the library for him. The medical books were dull, but he was surprisingly captivated by the histories. Having grown up in Ealdor, he knew little of Camelot's past prior to the Great Purge, and even less about Albion history in general. There was an awful lot about the Romans, who thought a tremendous amount of themselves and how they'd civilized the world. Merlin's opinion of them was mixed. On the one hand, the Roman histories showed little regard for the native peoples of Albion, calling them barbarians and brutes. On the other hand (and this helped explain Uther), a genealogy chart showed the Pendragon family was of Roman descent, with native Albion blood mixed in over time. And on the third hand, there was the magic.

The accounts of the Romans were full of magic. Sometimes they couched it in unfamiliar terms or explained it as the acts of their gods, but the truth was obvious to Merlin. It staggered him to think of Arthur's ancestors freely practicing magic, holding court with sorcerers, breeding magical beasts. He had known, of course, that Uther was once on quite friendly terms with magic, but Nimueh was only one part of a much, much longer story. There was even mention of Cornelius Sigan, who indeed had built the castle with his magic (and probably insisted on all of the stairs), and whose might towered over the Five Kingdoms. It was even implied that a curse of his was what doomed the Fallen Kings.

Merlin tried to imagine what it must have been like to have magic so accepted, so completely a part of everyday life and noble court alike. He shivered at the memory of Sigan's power lust, which he had felt as he forced Sigan out of him with the dragon's spell.

Not that he wanted to think about the dragon. He didn't care what it wanted, not after it nearly let his mum die. He wasn't going to let it out, not if he could help it, even if he had made a promise. It was a very sneaky creature. Who knew what it was capable of?

Perhaps it was the mentions of Sigan that put him off of histories, but by the start of the next week he was tired of reading. He was barely limping now, his head was healed, and even if his arm was useless, he was tired of sitting around. Besides, although he wasn't cleared to ride, Gaius had relented about his magic. It felt as restless as the rest of him, and he needed to let off some steam. After his usual lunch with Morgana and Gwen, he struck out into the forest for somewhere private.

He found a quiet spot away from any patrols or paths, a stony nook cut out of a hillside, surrounded by a wall of trees and vines. No one would stumble across him, unless they could see through solid rock or the impenetrable wall of greenery. He sat down, his ankle bothering him again after the long walk, and held out his left hand. Fortunately, he didn't have to be ambidextrous to use his magic.

He shaped a dragon in the air, then frowned and dissolved it. He didn't want to think of dragons.

He hadn't thought to bring his grimoire. He'd been in a hurry to escape the castle, and it wasn't as if he needed spells to do magic. But now that he was here, he found himself craving structure. Having nothing to do all day was boring. He had spent more than a year going nonstop for Gaius and Arthur and destiny, and he seemed to have forgotten what to do with himself for more than an hour at a time.

He dug through his pack to see what he had brought, besides the bread and cheese he'd shoved into it before he left. There were so many emergencies and sudden trips in his life that he kept it stocked with a variety of useful items. He never knew when he was going to need a bit of rope or a small knife. There was a thin blanket shoved down at the bottom, and he pulled it out and laid it out on the softest bit of ground, and sat on it. He poked through the bag, thinking structure, structure.

He missed Arthur.

Perhaps Arthur's love of structure was contagious. He smiled to himself at the thought that if he needed something to do, Arthur would find more than enough chores for him to complete. Not that Merlin could do any of them right now. He used his right hand for everything: polishing, sharpening, washing, cooking... and other things.

He hadn't wanked in ages.

He usually used his right hand for his cock and his left... His left he liked to press inside himself, with one or two fingers, slick with pilfered oil from Gaius' supplies. He wondered if he could adjust his sling and sort of angle his arm enough... Maybe at least get a grip on himself...

Ow. That wouldn't work.

He scrunched up his mouth and considered his options. He could just pull on his cock, which was fine enough despite it being weird with his left hand. Or he could just use his fingers, but that wasn't usually enough on its own.

His mouth spread into a private, naughty smile. Or he could use his magic.

Not that he'd never used it for that, of course, but he hadn't had enough control over it before Gaius helped him to do anything creative. And he couldn't exactly experiment with Gaius just outside the door all night, since Merlin did tend to be loud when he really got going. Even when he was just having a quick wank, he would bite down on a rag to muffle himself, just in case. He had needs, but he did not want Gaius opening the door on him while he was in the middle of fulfilling them.

Dear gods, no.

He shook the image off and rummaged through his pack again, this time with intent. He gave a triumphant sound as his fingers closed on the little glass phial of pilfered oil. Definitely an essential supply in case of emergencies. He shoved off his trousers and lay awkwardly on his left hand, and started working the oil into himself with a finger.

He tugged on his magic, trying to shape it into a hand. His own right hand, at first, then thought better of it. He wanted someone else’s hand. Wanted to know what it felt like.

He’d never been with anyone. It wasn’t on purpose, he’d just never had the chance to sort things out. There weren’t exactly any opportunities in Ealdor, what with everyone in the little town hating him except for Will, and Will was resolutely not interested in him that way. He’d barely set foot in Camelot before his entire life had been hijacked for destiny. If he didn’t even have a spare hour to himself, he hardly had time for romance. He’d thought about going to the lower town and purchasing a friendly hand, but he didn’t want his first time to be so sordid. He wanted romance, wanted someone handsome and strong. Someone like Arthur.

He blushed at the thought. Not that Arthur would be any more interested in him that way than Will was. He had a tough enough time figuring out where he stood with Arthur at the best of times. Sometimes Arthur treated him as nothing but a nuisance, as the inept manservant that he so plainly was. Sometimes Arthur would torment him, tease him relentlessly, tackle Merlin to the ground and wrestle him until he begged. Sometimes Arthur turned to him as a friend, as much as a prince could have friends, and talked to him about things that mattered deeply, and relied on his advice, even if he pretended later that he hadn’t. And sometimes...

But no. They didn’t mean anything, all the times that Merlin caught him staring. Watching Merlin with an indecipherable look in his eyes. He didn’t know which Arthur was behind those eyes, in those moments, except that it was a quiet one.

He shook himself from his thoughts again, and focused on the hand. He tried to make it less like his own, and more generic. His own fingers were narrow, so he made the phantom fingers broader, and a little shorter. His were rough with callouses from work, so he tried a softer hand, but that didn’t feel right so he made it rougher. He tried an experimental stroke, and his cock liked it, so he set up a familiar rhythm. Then it was too familiar, so he tried changing the tempo, adding a bit of a squeeze at the end. It felt almost like someone else, and he abandoned himself to the pretense, shifting to work a second finger inside himself. He turned a little on his side, and closed his eyes.

He pictured himself alone on a journey, maybe the one he took between Ealdor and Camelot. Pictured meeting a stranger, his features generic but handsome, maybe with dark hair, no, red hair. He would have magic, too, and Merlin wouldn’t have to tell him, he would just know, but he would be a friendly sorcerer. And they wouldn’t use the magic yet. They would take each other’s hands and walk off the trail into the woods, and the stranger would press him against a tree and kiss him.

A kiss. His lips tingled at the thought, and he let a ripple of magic cross his lips, mouthed against it. He wanted to be kissed so badly. He’d kissed Will once and it had been comically bad in every possible way, and Merlin had been so embarrassed that he had hid from Will for days afterwards, until Will caught him, punched him on the shoulder, and told him to quit being such an arse. It wasn’t a sexy thought, so Merlin went back to the fantasy of the red-haired stranger.

The stranger would kiss him, proper kisses, deep and wanting. His hand would cup Merlin’s groin, feel his erection. Would press and rub until Merlin was desperate for him, and then he would slide his hand inside Merlin’s trousers and grip him. Merlin tightened the grip of the phantom hand, and thrust against it, moaning loudly, openly. He moved his left hand more eagerly, trying to find the right rhythm between his fingers, his hips, and the phantom hand.

Merlin would slide his hands under the stranger’s shirt and feel his muscles flexing. He would try to push off the stranger’s shirt but the stranger wouldn’t let him, would take Merlin’s hands and pin them above his head. And then the stranger would thrust against him, rubbing their cocks together through their clothes, and murmur filthy promises to him, about all the dirty, wonderful things he would do to Merlin now that he’d found him. That he would fuck him, that he would fuck--

Merlin came with a choked cry, his teeth clacking together as he bit down expecting the rag to be between his teeth. He bit his tongue, and pulled his hand out abruptly, wincing as the pain cut into his afterglow.

He flopped loosely on the ground. It wasn’t the most elegant of finishes, but it was definitely a start.

 

 

§

The next few days were a revelation.

Merlin never had so much time and privacy to explore his body. The limitation of his broken arm became an inspiration for him. He learned different positions he could prop himself up with using his magic. He tried switching to his left hand for his cock and the phantom hand for his arse. He even made a phantom cock, but almost hurt himself with it by making it too big at first.

Then he went hands-free, and used magic for both ends, and phantom hands on his body, and phantom lips against his own, and dear gods it was amazing.

He rushed through his picnic lunches, earning curious looks from Morgana and Gwen, and hurried to his private spot and stayed there all day, experimenting. He washed in a stream before he went home at dusk, gloriously sore, his head a fog of afterglow and lust. He was sure that Gaius was going to notice that he was running low on oil, or ask why Merlin was coming home every day so exhausted, but Merlin was greatly relieved when he did neither.

The only problem with it... well, it wasn’t exactly a problem. Yet.

It was Arthur.

Merlin had tried, he really had. He’d done his level best to keep the strangers in his fantasies strangers. He didn’t want them to be anyone he knew, anyone he might have to actually face afterwards. But even on the first day, the red or black or brown hair began to slide to blond. The muscular builds took on a painfully familiar shape, borne of countless hours of training and fighting and riding. Strong, muscular thighs, dusted with golden hair. A perfect back leading down to a perfect, firm arse. That nearly hairless chest that Merlin so often touched as he dressed Arthur in the morning and undressed him at night.

The eyes always changed to blue. The lips would pinken and become slightly sensuous. The nose would have that hint of Roman nobility to it. The jawline would be firm and Merlin could always feel it, phantom against his mouth.

He was doomed. Utterly doomed. He was never going to be able to face Arthur again. It would be so much worse than it ever was with Will. He would just have to die before Arthur got back. It was the only answer.

He would kill himself tomorrow, so he could have one more day of Arthur’s perfect, phantom body.

 

 

§

The next morning, a messenger arrived, and Merlin forgot all about killing himself. Arthur was staying in Mercia for an additional week, at King Bayard’s request. The letter said something about negotiations for crops in case of drought, issues with disputed territories, but Merlin didn’t believe a word of it. He was certain it meant Arthur was in danger, and he had to do something about it. He was already halfway down the corridor, headed directly for the stables, when Gaius caught up with him and pulled him aside.

“Merlin,” Gaius said, warningly. “I know what you’re thinking, and I absolutely forbid it.”

Merlin wished he could cross his arms properly. He pouted much better when he could cross his arms.

“Magic or no magic,” Gaius continued, in a low voice, “you are in no fit shape to be riding anywhere, and certainly not on your own. Even if you did somehow make it to the border in one piece, what do you think would happen then? Bayard would hardly appreciate you making more unfounded accusations.”

“That’s not fair,” Merlin said, angrily. The chalice had been poisoned. It wasn’t his fault that Nimueh had been the one to poison it, and manipulate him into the public accusation.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. But you have no evidence that anything is wrong. If there was trouble, Arthur would have said so in his message.”

“He could hardly have written it down,” Merlin protested.

“There are protocols for such things,” Gaius said, gentler now. “Codes, special phrases. If there was trouble we would know about it. In all likelihood it’s a simple matter of diplomatic necessity. Arthur may even be back sooner than he expects.”

Merlin nodded, but he hated this. He hated being apart from Arthur, hated not being sure he was safe. He slumped against the wall.

“Try not to worry,” Gaius said, patting his left arm. “He’ll be back before you know it.”

Merlin nodded, but didn’t believe it.

He didn’t want to go back to his hidden spot after that. He wanted Arthur to be back. He missed Arthur, missed everything about him, even his insults and the way he threw things at Merlin’s head. He missed Arthur’s smiles, the smug ones and the laughing ones and the soft, unexpectedly sweet ones. He cursed his broken arm, cursed his feet for missing the stairs, cursed the stairs for existing in the first place. He daydreamed of flattening the entire castle down to one level.

He sulked through lunch with Gwen and Morgana, even though they gave him sympathetic looks and plied him with sweets to cheer him up. He tried to smile for them but there were knots in his stomach and in his chest, and he kept imagining what might be happening in Mercia. Imagined assassins sneaking up on Arthur unawares, and plunging knives or swords or poisoned arrows into him. Imagined Arthur’s food had been poisoned, or his wine again, and this time Merlin wasn’t there to take it for him. Imagined him pale and ill, his lips blue, his chest barely moving. Imagined that Arthur might already be dead, and it was all a trick by Bayard, maybe even revenge for Merlin humiliating him about the poisoned chalice. It could even be all his fault. He should have gone with Arthur, and sod his broken arm!

Merlin felt on the verge of tears all day long. He picked at his food. He couldn’t focus on anything. He sulked in his room, sulked around Gaius until Gaius shooed him off, sulked in the halls like he was haunting them. He didn’t want to, but he just felt so helpless. He hated feeling helpless. He hated not knowing and being stuck in Camelot and wished he was at all decent at healing magic so he could just fix his stupid useless arm and go save Arthur.

Finally, he found himself in Arthur’s chambers. He barely remembered walking there, or letting himself in with his key. He was just there, surrounded by Arthur’s things, in Arthur’s space, and it was too much. He needed to feel Arthur, to smell him, to know he was safe. He kicked off his boots and crawled into Arthur’s bed, and sobbed as he realized he’d never changed the sheets, and Arthur hadn’t told someone else to do it before he left. The bed still smelled of him. Merlin pressed his face against the pillow and cried a little, his tears leaving wet spots on the soft fabric. He burrowed himself down under the blankets and pressed his face against the bed and breathed in, trying to fill himself with Arthur’s scent, trapping it around him with the blankets.

Somehow, he must have drifted asleep, because when he woke up it was dark, and his stomach hurt from hunger and tears and wonky sleep. He rubbed the sand from his eyes and tried to orient himself, tried to clear his head. His head thumped down onto the pillow, which was blissfully cool against his heated cheek. His arm ached from being leaned on while he slept.

Arthur,” he whispered, his voice trembling and bereft.

He had to pull himself together. He had to believe that Gaius was right, that Arthur was safe. He had to believe it or he would break into a hundred pieces and never recover. The thought of Arthur was a great weight in his chest, making it hard to breathe. He realized all at once that he was in love with Arthur. He didn’t know it happened, just that it had. And he didn’t care about anything but having Arthur back.

He thought of Arthur’s soft smile, and his rough hands, and the way he was always so warm and lazy in the morning. Imagined Arthur beside him, looking back at him, and touching his cheek so softly. And Merlin gasped as he felt the phantom fingers do just that. A gentle caress, just the pads of his fingers on Merlin’s cheek. It made his heart ache.

It was wrong. It was so wrong. He shouldn’t do this, it would only make things so much worse. But what could be worse than this? What could be worse than maybe never seeing Arthur alive ever again?

He opened his eyes, and just for a moment, he saw Arthur in front of him. Saw him, just for an instant, and then he was gone. Merlin gasped and flailed frantically backwards until he landed on his back on the floor, legs tangled in the blankets and his arm painfully jarred. He lay quite still until the pain dulled down to a throb, and then eased himself to his feet.

Of course Arthur wasn’t really there. It was just his magic, giving him the illusion of what he wanted. It had felt so real, but that was only because he wanted it to be real. And it couldn’t be, not ever, and he was going to drive himself mad if he stayed in the room any longer. He hurried out as if chased, and locked the door behind him, swearing to himself that that would be the end of it.

"Without Him" by @consulting-mutt

Chapter Text

The shock of the morning seemed to finally dull Merlin’s panic enough for him to attempt to get things back to normal. Gaius woke up to find him attempting to grind herbs one-handed, and doing a predictably poor job at it.

“I just want to keep busy,” he explained, when Gaius pried the pestle from his hand.

“I’m sure you can find something to do that isn’t so destructive,” Gaius said, tolerantly.

“Like what?” Merlin asked, frustrated. “Everything needs both hands.”

“I could persuade Geoffrey to let you use the library.”

“I’m tired of reading. I’m tired of sitting down.” Merlin knew he was working himself into a state again and he didn’t care. “I hate feeling useless!”

“Then perhaps you will be more careful in the future,” Gaius said, his own frustrations finally coming to the fore. “I did not enjoy seeing you carried in here, bloodied and broken. You must risk your life to protect Arthur, that is your duty. But you are careless with yourself, and you show little regard for how your own death might affect those around you.”

Merlin stilled. “Gaius, are you still mad about Nimueh?”

“I suppose I am.” Gaius sighed. He sat down beside him, and lay a hand on his good arm. “And Sigan. It is not easy to watch you throw yourself so bodily into every problem, even when that may be the only solution.”

“I’m sorry,” Merlin said.

Gaius patted his arm. “I know, my boy. But you do try an old man’s heart.” He offered a tentative smile by way of apology, and Merlin did the same. “I’m sure we can find something to keep you busy for the next week. And then Arthur will be back, and you can glue yourself to his side again.”

Merlin blushed. “I’m not that bad, am I?”

Gaius gave him the eyebrow.

§

“I should have thought of this weeks ago,” Morgana said, with a breezy smile.

“Absolutely,” agreed Gwen.

Merlin shrugged, feeling bashful at being lent out to Morgana until Arthur returned. It was rather intimate, being in her chambers, even with Gwen there. He held up one corner of the bedsheet and helped Gwen fold it together.

“Between the two of you, you’ll have three good arms,” Morgana said, confidently. “And no more moping about.”

“That’s right,” Gwen said, and patted Merlin’s hand as he let go of the sheet. “Best thing for heartache is to keep busy.”

Merlin tried not to squeak. “I didn’t-- I mean--”

Gwen smiled indulgently. “Don’t worry. It’s our little secret.”

“I think it’s adorable, the way you’ve been pining after him,” announced Morgana. She leant down and smelled a flower from her latest bouquet. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell him. It would do terrible things to his ego.”

Merlin moaned and leant his head against the bedpost. “Kill me now.”

§

Deep and unending embarrassment aside, it actually helped a lot to spend the day with Morgana and Gwen. They were a perfect distraction from his life, and kept him far too busy to fret himself into a panic while he was with them. Gwen insisted that he help her with everything, and Morgana had plenty of suggestions for him and only teased him a little about his apparently glaringly obvious infatuation.

He wondered who else had figured it out. Gaius? Maybe, given his comment about Merlin gluing himself to Arthur’s side. At least the knights he knew from helping Arthur with training were all with him in Mercia. Possibly the other servants, though he hadn’t spent much time around them since Arthur left. Dear gods, what if Uther found out? He really would end up dead, and possibly have his remains scattered for the wild dogs to eat. It would be just his luck if he kept his magic secret only to end up hung, drawn, and quartered for defiling the prince’s bed.

The thought of defiling Arthur’s bed was not a helpful one. He glared at his cock and tried once again to shut off his thoughts for the night and get to sleep. He tossed and turned and tossed and turned, and finally gave up in a huff. He just couldn’t get comfortable.

He thought of Arthur’s soft bed, and soft pillows. So much nicer than his narrow bed, which had hardly any straw in its stuffing. Sometimes he thought it would be more comfortable to sleep on the ground outside.

If he locked the door, no one would catch him sleeping there. Arthur wouldn’t mind if he didn’t find out. And Merlin needed to change the bedclothes anyway, and he could do that the morning Arthur was due back, if Gwen helped him. It was a perfect plan.

He felt entirely confident until he had the door locked behind him and turned to see the bedclothes all crumpled and awry, the way he’d left them in his panic in the morning. He pulled them back into place and patted them as smooth as he could manage, and that felt better. He sat on the bed and fell back against the blankets, and breathed in and out, letting the general Arthurness of the room pervade him.

He woke up curled on the bed, chilled from having slept above the blankets. He rubbed at his legs to warm them. A cold wind had come in during the night, and he shivered as he cracked open the window to get the feel of the day. There would be no picnicking today.

He paused before he left, and went to Arthur’s wardrobe. He touched the warm shirts hanging there, and before he could stop himself he lifted an arm and pressed it to his cheek. It was soft and a little scratchy, and imagined it around him like a long hug. Imagined Arthur inside it, holding him, and his heart twanged. He bit his lip and walked away.

§

He went back again the next night. He didn’t even pretend he wasn’t going to, just waited until Gaius went to bed after dinner and went directly to Arthur’s room, locking the door behind him. Six more days until Arthur returned. He had six more days, and he wanted to treasure every moment of them. He didn’t care anymore about what everyone thought of him, if it was a stupid infatuation, if he would be able to look Arthur in the eye when he came back. Merlin just wanted, and he wanted whatever he could get, even if it wasn’t real.

He went to Arthur’s wardrobe and picked out one of his favorites of Arthur’s shirts. It was one of Arthur’s favorites, too, worn over and over until it was soft as a kitten. Merlin stripped down and pulled it on, and then tucked himself into bed. He sighed and snuggled in, feeling safe and held. Feeling as if Arthur was there, at least in spirit. That everything would be all right.

That night, he dreamed of Arthur. Dreamed of Arthur crawling in beside him, and turning him onto his back. Of Arthur’s blue, blue eyes, and the way his fringe would fall across his forehead. Dreamed of Arthur’s hands pushing up his shirt, the warm metal of his ring scratching Merlin’s side. Dreamed of their bodies pressed together, Merlin wrapping his legs around Arthur’s. Nothing urgent, nothing hurried. Arousal was constant but never immediate, in his dream.

He woke up with a painfully hard erection, and arousal was very, very immediate. He cursed and reached down with his left hand, then stopped. Rolled onto his back, pushing away the blankets, pulling up his shirt. He closed his eyes and pulled on his magic, and felt Arthur’s hand close around his cock. He moaned, loudly, and stopped again, very much aware that he needed to be quiet or this could end very badly. He stumbled off the bed and grabbed a leather glove from Arthur’s desk, and hurried back onto the bed. He gripped the glove between his teeth and gave a testing moan, and decided it would do.

The taste of sword polish and leather and Arthur made his cock jump. He moaned and writhed on the bed, and brought back Arthur’s hand. Groaned into the glove, even the interruption of retrieving it not enough to dent his arousal. He barely lasted a dozen strokes before he came, jaw clenched tight, almost arching off the bed from the force of his climax.

He spat out the glove, panting hard, reeling from the best orgasm of his life. “Bloody buggering fuck,” he said, with distant amazement.

Also, he was going to have to find Arthur a new pair of gloves.

§

Five more days.

He was restless all day again, and knew that everyone was noticing it, but he could not help himself at all. He just couldn’t wait to be done helping Gwen, couldn’t wait to be done with the few tasks that Gaius gave him, couldn’t wait for dinner to be done and Gaius to toddle off to bed. He outright ran to Arthur’s room, almost slipping on the stairs again -- the bloody stairs! -- and went immediately for the shirt and the glove.

He was ruined for life. Absolutely ruined. This was worse than falling in love with Arthur. He’d developed some kind of twisted Arthur fetish, and become absolutely obsessed by it.

He oiled his left hand and lay on the bed, glove between his teeth, the blankets down around his knees, and Arthur’s phantom hand dragging itself on his cock, slow and perfect. He fucked himself with his fingers, adding in a third and feeling the burn of it, because he’d seen Arthur’s cock many times and even soft it was thicker than two of his fingers -- maybe even three, since his fingers were slim. He’d never seen it erect, though, and absolutely writhed at the thought of it.

He had to make the phantom hand squeeze him painfully just so he wouldn’t come too soon, because he desperately needed this to last. He was already destroyed, done in, gone for good, and he was going to need every fragment of memory of this week to survive the rest of his life alone. And feeling like that, he threw caution to the wind, and imagined Arthur above him, thought it and thought it until Merlin saw the ghost of him, transparent but real as life. Arthur crouched over him, his arm moving in time with the drag on Merlin’s cock, and Merlin begged Arthur’s name into the glove over and over and over until he came, almost crying from how good it was.

He did cry, then, tears of frustration at the predicament he’d put himself into. If only he’d never slipped on the stairs. He would have gone to Mercia with Arthur and never realized he was in love. He would have lived in blissful ignorance, and then got himself killed saving Arthur’s life in some spectacular way, and died in his arms. Was that too much ask for? Couldn’t he just have that?

Maybe some magical creature would attack Camelot tomorrow, and Merlin could sneak out and try to fight it alone and die in the night, taking his shame with him.

§

Four days left.

He went to Arthur’s chamber that night with trepidation. He felt time closing in on him like a noose, yet he walked toward the gallows, step by step. There was a lie he was telling himself: that if he could just steal enough of Arthur in these last few days, save it all up inside his head and his heart, he would be able to sustain himself on it for as long as he had to. He knew it was a lie, but it was a comforting lie, and it was all he had. He couldn’t stop himself from loving Arthur, couldn’t stop his traitorous cock from swelling at the thought of him, the smell of him, the memory of his voice, the stroke of his hand. He was spiralling out of control, and there was no net, nothing to catch him. He was falling, and it wouldn’t be pretty when he hit the ground.

He gave himself the illusion of Arthur, and this time he didn’t hold back.

Arthur was as good as real. Merlin knew every inch of him, and poured every memory into the construct. In Arthur’s shirt, in Arthur’s bed, the glove clenched between his teeth, he let the false Arthur surround him, kiss his face and his neck. Let him stroke Merlin’s aching cock, and cradle his balls. Let him push his legs up and bend him in half, and press oiled fingers into his arse. The only thing he couldn’t do was let the false Arthur fuck him, because he’d never seen Arthur’s erection and it would be a lie. He couldn’t live with his memory of Arthur fucking him being based on a lie.

He laughed, wrenched and desperate, because it was all lies anyway. All lies.

He still came so hard he nearly broke.

He gripped the ruined glove in his left hand and curled miserably under the blankets, and fell asleep in come-stained sheets, his heart aching like his broken arm.

§

When Merlin woke up, he was vaguely aware that there was something different about the room. His brow furrowed, and he rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, having held on to the glove all through the night. He turned his head and saw Arthur, the morning sun silhouetting him and gleaming in his hair. Merlin smiled dopily at the phantom, and snuggled deeper into the bed, happy to bask in the illusion for a little while longer.

And then he realized that Arthur was wearing his travelling clothes. And he was staring at Merlin in open shock.

Merlin’s heart actually skipped a beat, he was certain of it. His body seized with terror and he couldn’t breathe. He made some kind of incoherent choking sound and his brain went absolutely blank and all he could think of was that he was in Arthur’s bed wearing Arthur’s shirt holding his glove smelling of come oh gods oh gods oh gods.

The last shreds of self-preservation left in him dragged the blankets back over his head, and he pulled them around himself in a desperate huddle.

Merlin?” Arthur asked, with a choked, high voice.

Things could not possibly get any worse.

“Sire, Morgana wanted to let you know--” Gwen’s voice began, and then stopped. “What are you-- Is that-- oh. Oh! Oh my!”

Things got worse.

“Guinevere, could you close the door, please?” Arthur asked, unusually polite.

“Perhaps I should stay?” Gwen suggested.

“Um. Yes. Do you know--” Arthur made a frustrated sound. “What happened while I was away?! Merlin--!”

Arthur was probably pointing at him. It was the sort of thing he would do. Merlin was not going to stick his head out of the blankets to find out if it was true.

“Sire, if I could have a word? Outside?”

Please,” Arthur said, exasperated. They walked out of the room, and closed the door behind them.

This was it. Arthur was going to come back in with a sword, and run him through for being a perverse defiler. At least it would be quick. A quick death was really the best of his options right now.

He heard tense arguing through the door, too hushed to make out any words. And then Morgana’s voice joined in -- of course, because his life couldn’t get any more publicly awful -- and there was more arguing, and then the door opened and someone came in.

“Merlin?” It was Morgana. “Merlin, sweetie, you have to come out.”

“Can’t,” said Merlin.

“Yes you can, now come on. No more sulking.”

“I am not sulking,” Merlin said, into the mattress. “I am half naked.”

“Oh, is that all? Nothing I haven’t seen.” She sighed. “How about just your head?”

Merlin reluctantly (very reluctantly) drew back enough of the blanket to peer out from under it. Morgana was sitting there, looking lovely as usual, and was not holding a sword. That was a bit disappointing, because it meant he would have to wait until Arthur came back and he would probably end up bleeding all over her nice dress when he was decapitated.

Morgana laughed behind her hand. “Oh, Merlin.”

Merlin pulled the blanket back down.

“Now, now, none of that.” Morgana tugged at the blanket, and pulled it away. Merlin lost his grip on it and struggled frantically back, trying to tug down Arthur’s shirt to cover his nakedness while retreating, which was not an effective strategy with only one working arm. He ended up on the floor again, and landed directly on his stupid broken arm, just to make the morning complete. He lay still in defeat, eyes watering with pain.

He allowed Morgana to pull him into a sit, and she draped something around his shoulders. It was Arthur’s long brown coat, and it was another of Merlin’s favorites because it made Arthur look so dashing and handsome. She pulled it around him, guiding his good arm into the sleeve and crossing the flaps over, covering him up. It was huge on his lanky frame, even though he and Arthur were of the same height. She pulled him to his feet and tied it closed with a belt, then sat him down on a chair.

“How long has this been going on?” she asked, always one for the direct route.

Merlin didn’t think he was capable of blushing at this point, but he was wrong. He felt like his whole face was on fire. “Just the last few days,” he said, tightly. “I, um.”

Morgana gave him a long look, a dangerously thoughtful one. “Merlin, did you... how long have you been in love with Arthur?”

Merlin swallowed. “I don’t know. I only realized, um. A week?” Now his ears were on fire as well as his face.

He finally looked up at her face, and it was so full of sympathy that it cracked him. A heavy knowledge filled him, and all the fight went out of him at once. “I am so, so sorry, my Lady. I... If Arthur...” He swallowed again. He was not going to cry. “I’m sorry.” He tried to push himself to his feet, but his arm decided that was the moment to remind him that he’d landed on it, and that the stone floor was very hard. He grasped at it through the coat, teeth clenched against the pain.

He was vaguely aware of Morgana moving around, and then she was holding out his trousers. “Let’s get you dressed and down to Gaius,” she said, and he could only obey.

§

Gaius gave him the eyebrow. Repeatedly. He also tutted over Merlin’s arm, and told him he was lucky he hadn’t broken it again.

“Sorry, Gaius,” Merlin said, when Gaius finished with him.

He felt utterly miserable. He didn’t think there was enough sorry in the world for the amount of apologizing he would need to do. Not that any amount would fix this. He was never going to be able to keep Arthur safe now. He’d ruined everything with his stupid cock and his stupid heart and his selfishness. Forget worrying if he would be able to look Arthur in the eye. Arthur was never going to be able to look at him ever again. Maybe Arthur wouldn’t have him executed, out of misplaced pity, but he would certainly be sacked for good now. Cornelius Sigan was probably laughing from his eternal prison underneath the castle. Cedric’s ghost was probably rolling on the floor in paroxysms.

Gaius just sighed. “You should rest.”

Merlin nodded dully. His arm throbbed, and his heart hurt, and all he could think about was that Arthur was going to die because of him. Because he wouldn’t be around to save Arthur from whatever was out there waiting for him next. He wiped his eyes and went back to his room. He stripped off Arthur’s clothes and his trousers and changed into something clean, and curled up on his bed.

§

There was a soft knock on the door, and then it opened before Merlin could respond one way or the other. It was Gwen, looking a bit wide-eyed. But when she saw him, she immediately turned all mother-hen. She didn’t say anything, for which he was grateful. She just sat beside him and stroked his hair and kept him company.

He decided that the only option was to leave. He would go tonight, pack up his things and head back to Ealdor. From there... from there he would have to find some way to come back. He couldn’t fail in his destiny, not even now. Arthur didn’t deserve to die. He was supposed to be king one day, and it was up to Merlin to keep him alive long enough for that to happen.

There were animal transformation spells in the grimoire. He could try one. Maybe he could come back as a bird, so he could watch over Arthur from above. Not a big hawk, but a little one, so he could stay out of sight. He’d have to wait until his arm was healed, or he wouldn’t be able to fly. What if Arthur died before he healed up and figured out the spell and came back?

Maybe he could talk to the dragon. Explain what had happened. But even the idea of it made him ill. The dragon would either mock him or rage at him for being so stupid, like he did after Merlin let Uther use Arthur’s sword to stop the black knight. No, the dragon wouldn’t help. All it cared about was being freed.

All Merlin wanted to do was stay. The door to his cage was open, but he didn’t want to leave it.

When Gwen left, she took Arthur's shirt and coat away with her.

§

Arthur sent for him the next morning. Merlin trudged to his inevitable fate, resigned to whatever awaited him. He gave the nefarious step a baleful eye, and kicked it, but the only result was a hurt toe on top of his other pains. “All your fault,” he muttered and stomped up the rest of the stairs.

When he reached Arthur’s chambers, the door was already open. Arthur probably didn’t want to be alone with Merlin. The open door was probably for safety. He walked in.

Arthur was standing by the window. The room was in perfect order, the bed freshly changed. If Merlin didn’t know better, it would be easy to pretend yesterday had never happened. Maybe that’s what Arthur wanted, to just pretend and ignore until the whole incident went away. Merlin wouldn’t mind that option either, right now. He stood at attention, his eyes on the floor, and waited.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a smudge of black. The glove, oh gods, the glove. The one with his teethmarks in it, that he’d gnawed at like an animal as he touched himself in Arthur’s bed. The memories all came back to him at once, the force of it slamming into him. He actually whimpered, a choked sound that he only just managed to swallow back.

Arthur turned from the window and walked towards him. “Merlin--” he began.

He didn’t get a chance to finish because suddenly Merlin couldn’t stop himself from blurting out: “You left without me!”

Arthur stared at him. “What?”

“I’m supposed to be at your side. You shouldn't have left without me.”

“Merlin, you came this close to breaking your neck,” Arthur said, patiently. “You still aren’t well enough to travel, much less to Mercia and back.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Merlin said, stubbornly. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me. You have to be safe.”

Arthur tilted his head. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” Merlin said, meeting his eyes at last. It was the only thing he was certain about. No matter what happened, Arthur had to be safe. Even if it meant offering up his own life. Even if it meant killing for Arthur. Even if it meant throwing himself bodily at every threat that came near. He would drink the poison from any cup, rather than let it touch Arthur’s lips. The sight of Arthur falling upon the rocks by the sea still haunted him. It didn’t matter that it had been a test for Arthur; every day was a test for Merlin, and on that day he had failed.

He realized, of course, that his determination came across as utterly mad, if the whole destiny thing wasn’t taken into account. But Arthur must already think he’d lost his mind, so...

“Morgana says you’re in love with me.”

Merlin started, and blushed despite himself. “Yes,” he said, quietly.

“That you’ve been in love with me for a week.”

“Erm, sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“I don’t really know,” Merlin admitted. “Does it matter?”

“It might. Were you in love with me before I left?”

“Probably,” Merlin sighed, thinking of Gaius accusing him of hovering. Merlin supposed he had become something of a hoverer. But it wasn’t as if he didn’t have good cause. He would have been fine with hovering forever. “Yes.”

Arthur stepped forward. “What about... when we were at the labyrinth? When you wanted to drink the poison for me?”

“Then too,” Merlin said, admitting it to himself as much as to Arthur.

“And when Bayard came to Camelot?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

Another step. “What about when you saved me from the witch?”

Merlin smiled at that. “Not then. I thought you were a prat.”

“But not anymore?”

“You’re still a prat,” Merlin said, and his smile faded. “But..." He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

"Just part of my charm, is it?" Arthur asked, with a hint of a smile.

Merlin tried to summon some witty retort. To take refuge in the bantering that so defined their interactions, and kept them safely within some invisible pen. But his emotions swelled up in his chest and he couldn't stop them from spilling out all over his face.

"Merlin," Arthur said softly.

Merlin was afraid to meet Arthur's eyes again, certain he would see pity there, and he didn't want pity. But he forced himself to look up again, and saw... He saw...

It was Arthur. Not the roughhouser, not the friend, not the prince. The quiet Arthur, who stared at Merlin with an indecipherable look in his eyes. That Arthur was staring at him now, and Merlin didn't dare try to decipher him.

They stared at each other for what seemed like forever. And then Arthur... And then Arthur...

Arthur kissed him. A soft kiss, almost chaste. And then Arthur held there, breathing, barely apart from him, as if he was waiting for something. Waiting for Merlin, for some sort of sign.

Merlin leaned that tiny bit forward, and kissed him back. His heart was beating so fast he felt it might break free of his chest.

When Arthur pulled away, Merlin was certain it was over. His life was over, and he could feel the foundations of it cracking and sliding into the sea. When Arthur stepped past him and towards the door, desperation seized him. He couldn't let Arthur go, couldn't let it end like this.

"Arthur, wait!" he called, turning and reaching for him.

And stopped, as Arthur closed the door and locked it, the turn of the key a painfully welcome sound. Arthur walked back to him, his body strong with intent, and then his hands were on Merlin: one arm around his waist, the other on his neck, almost cradling it, and then--

Merlin was gone. Destroyed completely as Arthur kissed him, deep and wanting. Merlin whimpered, high and needy, and kissed back with everything he had, his left hand gripping Arthur's arm like a lifeline. A sob wrenched itself out of him, and he kissed through it, unwilling to stop for anything. The whole world could end right now and he wouldn't stop kissing Arthur.

“We shouldn’t,” breathed Arthur.

“I don’t care,” rasped Merlin, wishing he had both arms again so he could grab Arthur and hold him close. Even having his arm curled between them in its sling was a nuisance, getting in the way of feeling all of Arthur against him.

“I can’t... take advantage...” Arthur said, as Merlin tried to kiss him hard enough to shut him up.

“I don’t care,” Merlin repeated, breathing hard. “I don’t care if I die. I don’t care if everyone knows. I don’t care if the guards can hear me scream your name when you fuck me.”

Arthur made a choking sound, and his eyes darkened with lust. “Is that what you did?” he asked, voice almost a growl of want. “In my bed, night after night? Screamed my name when you came?”

Merlin practically came right then and there. He gulped for air, tried to regain some level of control over himself, even though control was the last thing he wanted anymore. “Yes,” he rasped, tearing the word out of himself. “Your hands. Your mouth. Your fingers.”

Arthur’s arms shifted around him, his hands pawed at Merlin’s body. He groaned as he kissed Merlin again, his tongue slick and hot in Merlin’s mouth. His kisses were nothing like the phantom kisses that Merlin conjured for himself. Nothing at all, and Merlin wanted more.

“Your fingers inside me,” Merlin moaned, into Arthur’s mouth. He pressed his thigh between Arthur’s legs, and felt the hard heat of his erection. Merlin let go of Arthur’s arm and slid his hand down, and cupped the bulge of it, and Arthur made a wonderful, wonderful sound. He stroked it, feeling the shape of it through the fabric, wanting desperately to claim this last hidden part of Arthur for himself.

Filthy,” Arthur groaned, and thrust against his hand. He brought his hands down to Merlin’s arse and squeezed, pulled Merlin forward against him, so their erections pressed together against Merlin’s hand.

Arthur,” Merlin moaned, pleading. He was so close, so close. His senses were overfull, his skin sensitized to every caress and press of Arthur against him. His whole self was poised on the edge.

“Let me hear it,” Arthur whispered, harshly. He slid his hand between them and cupped Merlin’s cock and rubbed and squeezed. “Come for me. Come for me, Merlin.”

Merlin came. It was better and worse than even what his phantom Arthur had given him, like his heart was being dragged out though his cock. He screamed Arthur’s name, impossibly loud after being so used to his own muffled cries. His legs gave out and he was shaking, shaking, his hand pulling at Arthur as he slumped to his knees. He pressed his cheek against Arthur’s hip, reeling.

Neither of them moved. Merlin focused on breathing as his world slowly re-formed. He felt Arthur’s hand resting in his hair. He felt... gods. He felt.

He raised his hand, still trembling from the intensity of his climax, and pressed it over Arthur’s cock. His mouth watered, and lust broke through his lethargy and pulled roughly at Arthur’s trousers until they were halfway down his hips. Arthur didn’t stop him, but his hand tightened in Merlin’s hair, and his breathing turned shallow and quick.

Arthur’s cock, thick and swollen and proud. It was beautiful. Merlin leaned closer, smelling the dark musk of Arthur’s groin, and swallowed. He touched it, tracing his fingers lightly along the shaft, the dark veins on the underside.

He looked up at Arthur, and Arthur looked wrecked. His eyes were almost black with want, his mouth swollen from kisses, his cheeks flushed and his forehead creased. Emotions flickered across his face, too quickly to be identified.

The grip in Merlin’s hair turned into a push, guiding Merlin in, and Merlin licked his lips, swallowed. He’d never done this before, hadn’t properly fantasized about it. He wanted it anyway. He brushed his lips against the head, red and already slick, and kissed it. Arthur’s stomach tightened, and Merlin did it again, and trailed adoring kisses all over it. His lips smeared the clear pre-come, and he lapped experimentally at it, curious about this new part of Arthur, until now unimagined.

Arthur’s other hand reached down, and took his left, and guided it to wrap around the shaft. Merlin squeezed, and Arthur thrust against their hands, giving an appreciative moan.

“Just like that,” Arthur told him, hoarsely. “Squeeze and stroke. Like... like you would yourself. And your mouth...” He trailed off, struggling to collect himself, his hand working at Merlin’s hair as if he had to restrain himself from taking control of Merlin’s head as he had his hand. “Open your mouth.”

With Arthur’s hand guiding his as they stroked Arthur’s shaft, Merlin lowered his mouth around the head and gave a tentative suck, lapped sloppily at it. The taste was bitter, but it was Arthur's and that was enough to make Merlin’s mouth drip. He lost himself to it, to the swollen, hot skin of the head against his tongue, to the feel of his hand trapped between Arthur’s cock and his hand, to Arthur’s hand kneading in his hair. Lost himself and felt found.

He was drawn from his lovely haze by Arthur’s hand, suddenly tugging sharply at his hair and making his eyes water. Merlin resisted, then followed. Arthur threw his head back with a snarl and his hand almost crushed Merlin’s own around the shaft as he came, hissing out harsh breaths between his clenched teeth. His come streaked across Merlin’s neck, the trails of it catching his mouth and startling him. Merlin met Arthur’s eyes and slowly, deliberately, licked the come from his mouth, and swallowed.

“Absolutely filthy,” Arthur croaked, and smiled.

§

Merlin snuggled up around Arthur as best he could with only three working limbs, and sighed in utter contentment.

“I love your bed,” Merlin said.

“Should I be jealous?” Arthur replied, archly. “Was this your true goal all along?”

“Absolutely,” Merlin replied. He dropped a kiss to Arthur’s chest and then lay his head back down on it. “I pledge my life to your bed. We have a great and powerful destiny together.”

Arthur chuckled, and ruffled Merlin’s hair. Merlin didn’t mind.

“Do you want to know when you fell in love with me?” Arthur asked, casually.

Merlin frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“I remember it,” Arthur continued. “The first time you gave me that look.”

Merlin wondered if it was possible to frown at himself. “What look?”

“The Merlin look. You know. The one where you look at me as if I've hung the moon and the stars.”

Merlin blushed. “I do not,” he said, trying not to be secretly pleased.

“You came storming into my room, forgetting to knock as usual, and shoved an ugly snake head onto my table in the middle of my dinner. You proceeded to ramble on, making absolutely no sense. And then you looked me in the eye, and for some reason I said I believed you. That was when you fell in love with me.”

“Morgana was right,” Merlin said, fighting a smile. “She said I would ruin your ego.”

Arthur laughed. “And my sheets. And my wardrobe. Honestly, Merlin, only you could have weeks to clean up my chambers and actually make them worse.”

“Have I been terrible?” Merlin asked, pushing himself up to face Arthur. He swung one leg over and straddled him, and rubbed his arse against Arthur’s cock. “The worst manservant you’ve ever had?”

“Atrocious,” Arthur said, reaching up to stroke Merlin’s sides and his stomach, ignoring Merlin’s already half-hard erection. “Utterly useless. I’ll have to sack you at once.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Merlin said, and kissed him.

§


Merlin falls in love
From "Valiant": the 'Merlin look'