“Arthur! Help me!”
The name was little more than a whisper, but it sounded loud in the otherwise silent chamber. Arthur sat up, pressing his fingers to his eyes and willing away the last fading images of Merlin consumed by flames. He took a few slow, deep breaths until his heartbeat resumed its normal cadence, and then swung his legs over the edge of his bed. He’d learned that there was little point in attempting to go back to sleep.
The nightmare was always the same. Laying the wood, lighting the pyre – his own hands responsible for the fire that claims Merlin’s life. Sometimes he can’t wake himself; sometimes he sees it to its gruesome end. Sometimes he’s holding the axe that falls on the slender neck. Every face of every execution he’d witnessed morphing into that of his servant.
Servant? Bane of his existence, Arthur thought with a frown as his feet touched the cold stone floor and he made his way over to the jug of mulled wine on his table, pouring a glass.
He doesn’t remember when the nightmares began. It was some point, when his subconscious had figured out what his conscious mind continued to deny. There had always been too many coincidences, too many near misses, too many hesitant explanations. Arthur sometimes wondered if he hadn’t always known, deep down inside, from the moment he’d met Merlin.
He swallowed back the wine and poured a second glass. Sometimes, it was still a little difficult to accept. Merlin was the most incompetent, insolent and… well, ridiculous individual Arthur had ever met. He was also the most courageous, loyal, and kind-hearted person he’d ever known. And apparently, he knew magic. All of those things combined to make him both complicated and baffling to Arthur. He’d spent more time trying to figure Merlin out than was acceptable.
The sky was just beginning to go grey with the light of dawn when the door to Arthur’s room pushed open, and Merlin stepped quietly inside. Arthur was sitting in the chair beside the fireplace, though the fire had gone out long ago, gaze swiveling toward Merlin with his entrance. It was no longer surprising to him that Merlin’s mere presence was enough to calm him. It was something Arthur had come to accept.
“This is a surprise.” Merlin practically dropped the bucket he was carrying onto the table. Water sloshed over the sides and onto the floor and Arthur just sighed. “Thought you’d sleep until at least midday after last night’s feast.”
“I would have,” Arthur stretched his legs out in front of him. “Had my servant built a fire capable of lasting through the night.”
Merlin stared at Arthur a moment, glanced toward the fire, and then back to Arthur again. “Perhaps your servant thought you perfectly capable of keeping a fire going all by yourself… Apparently, he was wrong.”
“Apparently,” Arthur replied, attempting to swallow his amusement and failing miserably.
He watched as Merlin walked over to the fireplace, glared at Arthur’s legs that were purposely in the way, and carefully stepped over them to kneel at the hearth. He muttered something about nobility, but Arthur didn’t feel much like finding out what the insult actually entailed. Merlin picked up the flints lying beside the neatly stacked wood and began striking them together. Frowning a little, Arthur wondered if Merlin used magic instead to light the fire when he wasn’t there. He found himself wanting to ask, wanting to make the request that Merlin show him, but he quickly bit back the impulse.
The truth of Merlin’s magic had yet to be spoken between them. It was Merlin’s own way of protecting Arthur; if he never admitted to it, then Arthur would never be forced to deny it. Of course, that was completely wrong-thinking in Arthur’s head but he knew the argument would be pointless so he didn’t bother bringing it up.
When Merlin stood, the fire now crackling at his feet, his neckerchief shifted slightly, drawing Arthur’s attention to the slightly yellowed marks still visible on his neck. Frowning, he stood and moved over to Merlin, reaching out for the edge of the cloth, stopping only when his servant noticeably flinched in reaction.
Arthur drew in a breath, pulling his hand back quickly.
The softly spoken words brought his gaze to Merlin’s.
“I’m sorry.” Merlin was apologizing and that made absolutely no sense. “I didn’t mean… It’s okay.”
But, it wasn’t okay. It hadn’t been okay from the moment Arthur had laid his hands on Merlin, had hurt him. Arthur has always tried not to lose control. He’d spent years watching his father react out of anger, and regretting those actions later. He’s tried very hard not to be the same. He hasn’t always been successful; not when things like pride, honor, and duty were involved. And apparently not when Merlin was involved, either. All he remembered was that he’d allowed his fears to take over – fear for Camelot, fear for Merlin – and he owed Merlin so much more than that.
“I lose my temper sometimes, too.” Said as if he could read Arthur’s mind.
“You?” Arthur was purposely dubious.
“Yes.” That flicker appeared in Merlin’s eyes, the one that Arthur has never been able to interpret. The one that has always kept him guessing. “I do. And sometimes I think… sometimes I’m afraid…” He seemed to be struggling with what needed to be said.
Arthur quickly came to his mercy. “You didn’t lose it with me.”
Merlin met his gaze. “No. I didn’t.”
“King Cadeyrn has claimed two villages near the border.”
Arthur frowned at the news. “But, that’s an act of war.”
“Yes. It is.” His father didn’t look up from the map spread on the table before him. He pointed just south of Cadeyrn’s kingdom. “Brymor and Gimm, here. Word arrived an hour ago. If I’m not mistaken, he will try to claim Killibury next.”
“And I will be there waiting for him.”
Uther glanced up; smiled at his son. “Yes.” He laid a hand against Arthur’s shoulder. “Yes, you will.”
“I want to go with you.”
“No. A battlefield is no place for you.”
“Stop behaving as if I’m helpless.” The annoyance in Merlin’s tone was unmistakable.
Sighing, Arthur gave the cinch on his saddle a last tug before looping it into a knot. He turned to face Merlin. “I know you’re not helpless,” he said softly. “But that doesn’t mean I’d willingly and knowingly drag you into battle.”
Merlin wasn’t giving in. “What if you need me?”
He laughed, though not unkindly. “I survived just fine before you came to Camelot.”
The expression flashed in his direction told Arthur just what Merlin thought of that statement. “I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not. Merlin, if I have to slap you into the stocks, I will.”
All of his life, the only person Arthur had ever had to contest against in a battle of wills had been his father. But now, there was Merlin, and oh, how he tested Arthur every chance he got. It was moments like this that Arthur found himself just waiting for Merlin to turn him into a toad or something.
They continued to stare at one another as the seconds ticked by, before Merlin’s shoulders slumped slightly in resignation and he looked away. Pleased by his servant’s unusual acquiescence, Arthur nodded and turned back to continue preparing his horse.
“Here. Let me.” Merlin pressed Arthur out of the way with his shoulder, his fingers working deftly to secure the last few fastenings on the saddle bags.
Leaning against the post beside the stall, Arthur watched as Merlin worked, noting the jerkiness of each movement, the whiteness of his knuckles, all indications that he was still less than pleased by Arthur’s decision. It still surprised Arthur on occasion, this odd need that he and Merlin shared to protect one another at any cost. At first, Arthur had believed his reaction was simply out of duty and honor; Merlin had saved his life, it was only right that he do the same. As the months continued on, he began to realize it was something else entirely, and the knowledge of Merlin’s secret only heightened that need to keep him safe. It wasn’t so much that Arthur wanted to protect Merlin, but that he could no longer imagine not having Merlin in his life. The recent self-revelation, since that ridiculous kiss in the forest, that he found himself wanting Merlin as more than just a companion only added to that need.
He wasn’t going to fight it. Fighting against whatever it was that Merlin was to him made about as much sense as fighting the need to breathe.
“There.” Merlin stepped back from the horse, refusing to look at Arthur, his silent way of expressing that he was less than happy.
Pushing away from the post, Arthur moved up beside Merlin, waiting patiently until his servant finally decided to look at him. Arthur considered saying thank you, but there was no point to it when Merlin had simply been doing his job. Then he thought about teasing him, but the moment for that seemed to pass quickly, and to do so then would have sounded too harsh. So, Arthur did the only thing that seemed appropriate. He placed his hand to Merlin’s cheek and pulled him in for a kiss.
It wasn’t like the first time. There was no bumping of noses, and while Merlin seemed slow to respond, Arthur was suddenly very, very certain he wanted this. He lingered over Merlin’s lips until he felt fingers curl against his surcoat, and Merlin’s mouth was pressing more firmly to his. He thought briefly that if he’d known it would be like this he would have kissed Merlin much sooner, and then he was deepening the kiss, pressing his tongue past Merlin’s lips as they parted at his touch. The warmth inside made Arthur wish he needn’t leave so soon, and when Merlin moaned “Arthur…” into his mouth, Arthur silently cursed himself for waiting this long.
Before losing total control, Arthur ended the kiss, pressing their foreheads together as he waited for Merlin’s eyes to flicker open, and their gazes held. He smirked at Merlin, pleased at the desire he saw lingering there, and then pulled back to slip on his gloves. In doing so, Arthur completely missed the look of frustrated disbelief that appeared on Merlin’s face.
“In what possible existence, in that very thick head of yours, could now possibly be the right time to kiss me?”
“Because I’m about to ride off to battle,” Arthur said with a shrug, frowning when he recognized the insult. “And I do not have a thick head!”
Merlin apparently chose to ignore the denial. “Right. Off to battle. Which you may or may not come back from. So -- what? Am I supposed to be some damsel in distress, just waiting for you to ride back from battle, the memory of your kiss forever painted on my lips?”
Arthur laughed. “Merlin, you’ve found your calling! You’re a far better scop than servant.”
“You’re not only a prat, you’re the biggest prat in the kingdom,” Merlin muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. “And probably a few others, as well.”
“Admit it. You like it.”
He swung up onto his warhorse before Merlin could respond. Honestly, there were times Arthur was certain Merlin was a far better fishwife than warlock. It was one thing to show concern for his prince; it was quite another to practically demand that Arthur cling to Merlin like some scared child. Glancing down at his servant, Arthur couldn’t help but quirk a smile at the stubborn set of his shoulders; the determined glint in his gaze as if he had every intention of somehow sitting on Arthur to keep him there.
“You’ll look after things while I’m gone?” Arthur asked, pleased as a more serious expression slid over Merlin’s face at the question. “You’ll be… careful?”
“If you promise the same.”
Silently urging his mount forward, Arthur reached out, ruffling the top of Merlin’s hair as he rode past him, saying nothing. He could feel Merlin’s frown of disapproval against his back, and he smiled.
“Fowles in the frith,
The fishes in the flood,
And I must go mad
Much sorrow I walk with
For best of bone and blood!”
“That was the worst singing ever!” Nudd called out toward Drudwyn when he finished what Arthur could only describe as ‘belting’ his song for all the countryside to hear.
“And I suppose you could do better?” the knight asked.
“A dying cow could do better.”
Arthur chuckled, quickly stifling his laughter when Drudwyn glanced over his shoulder at him. Swallowing his amusement, Arthur said seriously, “Very well, Nudd. Perhaps you should treat us to your talents next?”
“It would be my pleasure, sire.” Nudd offered him a slight bow from his saddle, cleared his throat and began:
“Bird on a briar, bird on a briar,
Mankind is come of love, love thus craves.
Blissful bird, have pity on me,
Or dig, love, dig thou for me my grave.”
Arthur was not alone in his groaning at the ridiculous love song. Someone from behind them threw an apple core at Nudd’s head.
“Hey!” He twisted in his saddle, looking for the culprit.
“Are you purposely trying to make Camelot look pathetic?” Arthur asked with an arched brow and a quirk of his lips as he glanced at the knight riding alongside him.
“I happen to like that song,” Nudd muttered. “My mother used to sing it to me in the cradle.”
His knights were in high spirits, which usually happened when they were headed for battle. There was an energy that flowed between the men, a camaraderie that couldn’t be ignored in knowing that very soon they would be engaged in combat, fighting for their own and one another’s lives. It was something that people like Merlin would never quite understand, and for that, Arthur was grateful.
He sighed as he realized his thoughts had once more circled back to his servant. It was a common occurrence of late. Either he was worrying over how to protect the sorcerer in his midst or he was imagining Merlin’s lips wrapped around his cock. He groaned inwardly. The two thoughts didn’t exactly reconcile with one another. In the same way he alternately wished Merlin was there now, and was glad that he wasn’t.
At first, Arthur had tried to blame his feelings toward Merlin on having a real friend in his life. He’d never experienced such a luxury before; there had been few people who ever entered his life that weren’t there for something they hoped to gain or because they were forced to be there. Morgana was the closest to his equal, and even their relationship had always been strained, caught somewhere in the confusion of siblings, rivals and potential lovers.
Merlin was something different. Merlin had stood up to him from the first, treated him like an equal, which was honestly ridiculous on first thought, and yet made sense now that he knew Merlin’s secret. Arthur was a future king by birth; but at any point, through a stupid mistake on his part or to the victor of a battle, his title could be taken from him. Merlin was… well, Merlin was special. And that was something that could never be taken from him, even under the threat of execution. No wonder he treated Arthur no differently from anyone else.
Of course, that still didn’t explain why Arthur let him behave as he did from the very first, except that maybe there had always been something there between them. Something that Arthur still found himself chafing at and fighting against. It was entirely acceptable for a prince to make use of his servant as needed; wanting a servant this badly was something else.
“Sire!” Yvain called out from behind. “Looks like it’s your turn to regale us with song!”
“Here, here,” Gawain agreed, grinning at Arthur.
“I’d rather not scare nature.”
Unfortunately, his knights weren’t about to let him get out of it that easily. Arthur sighed, pleased in that moment that Merlin actually wasn’t there. He’d never let him live this down. There were some things a prince just didn’t do in front of an impertinent servant; singing was one of those. Feeling a grape hit him in the back of his neck, Arthur gave in:
“Women, women, love of women,
Make bare purse with some men,
Some be nice as a nun’s hen,
Yet all they be not so.
Some be lewd,
Some all be shrewd;
Go shrews where they go.
Some can part with-out hire,
And some bait men in every shire,
And some check mate with our Sire,
Yet all they be not so.
Some be lewd,
And some be shrewd,
Go where they go.”
Arthur broke off into laughter as the men around him hooted at the bawdy song. He shook his head as Gawain picked up the verse, and soon he was surrounded by the horrid crooning of his knights.
It was late, and Arthur was finally nearing the edges of sleep when he heard two sets of footsteps approaching. “Sire, I’m sorry to wake you…”
He sat up quickly, reaching for his sword to go after the trouble he was certain he was being alerted to, only to find Drudwyn standing a few feet away, fingers curled in the neck of Merlin’s jacket, which unfortunately contained Merlin. Well, trouble it most certainly was. Arthur sighed and wondered at what point he had given up being surprised at anything Merlin did.
Springing to his feet, Arthur stalked toward him, three steps, and for once, Merlin looked a little unsure of himself. Well, it was something, at least.
“I found him skulking about just outside camp,” Drudwyn told him, amusement evident in his tone. “What would you like me to do with him?”
Arthur considered over a dozen various methods of torture before responding, “I’ll deal with him.”
Drudwyn nodded, releasing Merlin and dropping the pack he held in his other hand to the ground, before he turned and slipped back into the darkness.
Arthur counted to ten, and then, “I thought I told you to stay in Camelot.”
“Said as if you actually thought I would.”
Arthur clenched his jaw, his anger swift. It took every ounce of control he had not to start yelling. “Right now, at this very moment, I am so close to killing you that the best possible thing you could do for both of us is to remain silent.”
Merlin opened his mouth to speak, of course. Arthur pointed a finger at him and he quickly closed it. Not that he actually needed to say anything. Arthur could read a whole lot in Merlin’s gaze at that moment, and just about every word would have been considered treason from anyone else. But then, this was Merlin, and any ounce of annoyance he caused Arthur always seemed to be somehow worth it.
Turning, and expecting Merlin to follow, Arthur made his way back to his bedroll, sitting and waiting for his servant to join him. Merlin sat quietly beside him, closest to the fire, facing him, and clutching his pack to his chest as if it might somehow keep all of the words that were obviously rising up from spilling forth. Arthur frowned at him, silently daring him to say something, anything, before he finally laid back. There was a long silence, and then Merlin was stretching out beside him, blanket tossed haphazardly over his body.
“I should have you flogged for this,” he said after a few minutes. It was an empty threat.
When Merlin didn’t respond, Arthur continued quietly, “I can’t imagine how this looks. My servant chasing after me, swearing some ridiculous need to protect me. What kind of leader does that make me appear?”
Merlin rolled over, knee poking Arthur slightly in the arm. “It’s not like that… Tell your knights I wanted to make certain your socks were clean.”
Arthur tried not to think. Certainly not about how he was supposed to concentrate on battle when he would need to protect Merlin. He frowned again.
“The light… that guided me out of the caves. It was you, wasn’t it?” Funny how these things would occur to Arthur at random. Bits and pieces over the last year, and only now does he put the pieces together.
A pause and then, “Yes.”
Arthur sighed, tucking his arms behind his head. “So, all this time, when I’ve thought I’ve accomplished great things… it’s been you.”
“No.” Merlin sat up on his elbows, eyes desperate and honest in the firelight. “No, Arthur. It’s always been you. I just… help, when you need me.”
Arthur rolled over, facing the forest. “Get some sleep. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover tomorrow.”
Arthur rode up beside Merlin. “You’re the most amazingly disobedient servant I’ve ever had the misfortune of being subjected to.”
“That may be true,” Merlin said, giving him an impertinent smile. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not glad I’m here.”
Arthur shook his head, and nudged his horse to greater speed. “I still might have you flogged,” he remarked before pulling up ahead of the column.
It was raining later night when they finally stopped to make camp. Arthur glanced over at Merlin, shivering on his horse beside him, looking entirely too fragile and pale and thinly dressed to be out in this weather. He found himself wondering if his servant might have the power to make the rain simply go away, and then quickly made himself stop wondering at all.
He glanced over at Gawain as he rode up beside him. “Get a tent up.”
Arthur dropped from the saddle, splashing into the mud at his feet. “Once the tent is up, I want you to stay in it,” he told Merlin, watching as he slid from atop his own horse.
“I’m not a girl.” Merlin looked incredibly annoyed at the suggestion, which really wasn’t a suggestion at all.
“No, you’re my servant, which means you’ll do as I say.” Arthur snatched the reins from Merlin’s hands, fingers brushing over them long enough to know that they were freezing. “I’m not your nursemaid, Merlin. It’s bad enough that you’re here. I won’t have you riding into battle with a fever.”
“You sound like a nursemaid.” Merlin was still glaring, still looking incredibly annoyed, though the effect was lost a little when he wrapped his arms tightly around his chest, teeth chattering.
Arthur felt a smile tug at his lips. “You look like a drowned rat. Go sit under that tree over there until the tent is ready.”
“You’re no prize yourself,” Merlin muttered, but for once he wandered off to do as he was told.
Arthur entered the tent to find Merlin shaking, arms still wrapped around his chest. “You didn’t bring a change of clothing with you, did you?”
“I was worried you would get too far ahead of me.”
“Idiot.” Arthur shook his head, grabbing a blanket from his pack and tossing it to Merlin. “Get out of those clothes.”
Merlin looked ready to protest but wisely held his tongue, for once, and hopped around a moment as he tugged off his boots. He peeled off his jacket, teeth chattering as he tossed it into the corner and his fingers reached up to work at his neckerchief. His gaze shot up to meet Arthur’s for a brief moment, looking much like a trapped rabbit gauging his predator before his fingers returned to fumbling with the wet cloth.
Shaking his head at Merlin’s utter uselessness, Arthur moved up to him, reaching out to untie the material for him, the knot near impossible to slip loose. Merlin didn’t flinch, even when Arthur purposely allowed his fingers to trail over the cool skin, the marks barely visible but still there. Arthur supposed he would always see them, even years from now. The neckerchief curled between his fingers as he considered what he’d done, what Merlin had almost allowed him to do. The moment was broken when Merlin tugged the wet cloth away from him. Shrugging slightly, Arthur moved to help him with his shirt.
Merlin smacked his hands away. “I can do it myself. I’m not nobility, you know.”
Arthur stepped back, looking on in amusement as Merlin tugged his shirt over his head and tossed it to the ground. “What’s got you in such a mood?”
“Don’t do that.”
“Say my name like that.”
“Merlin,” he imitated, putting a special emphasis on the “er” and softening his tone just slightly. “You… purr.”
Arthur’s brow rose. “I… what?”
“Purr. You know, like a cat. You do it whenever you want to get your way, which admittedly is all of the time, but when you say my name like that… Well, sometimes it actually makes me want to listen to you.”
Arthur didn’t bother to hide his smile. He’d come to simply accept the fact that he had absolutely no control over Merlin whatsoever. Discovering that it was actually a case of Merlin fighting for control was something else entirely, and undeniably heady. He realized then that the look Merlin was giving him, the steady unflinching gaze with eyes dark like coal, was not the look of a trapped rabbit, but familiar all the same. It reminded him of a falcon; patient and calculating, waiting for the perfect prey, the right moment to strike. The realization sent his heart racing; his breathing deepened.
What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted?
“Merlin,” Arthur began, smiling just a little as Merlin’s brow shot up in challenge. “Come here.”
It was Merlin’s turn to smile, shaking his head in obvious disbelief at his prince. “You say that as if you actually expect it to work now that I’ve told you.”
“Maybe.” Arthur shrugged. “… Merlin.”
“I don’t think there’s a word that truly captures your arrogance.” Merlin sat down on the ground, pulling his knees up to his chest. He might as well have thrown down a gauntlet.
Arthur lowered himself to his knees holding Merlin’s gaze, which flickered once more with that mysterious look that he’d give anything to understand. He didn’t have far to go; just stretched across the ground that separated them, a hand on either side of Merlin’s legs. It was Merlin who closed the last bit of distance between them, pressing his lips to Arthur’s, kissing him with far more skill and determination than that night in the forest. Of course, that had been meant as a distraction. Arthur hoped that Merlin was a bit more serious about it this time around.
Merlin’s hands cupped Arthur’s face, fingertips cold against his cheeks as Arthur leaned in closer, slowly pressing Merlin down against the blanket beneath him. His hand strayed to Merlin’s waist, palm sliding over the chilled skin of his belly.
“You’re cold,” he murmured.
Merlin’s lips curled against his. “No. Not anymore.”
Returning the smile, Arthur pulled back momentarily, long enough to tug his own shirt over his head before covering Merlin once more. Their torsos met in a delicious heat as Merlin's hand slid from Arthur's neck to his shoulder, lingering against the vivid pink scar left by the Questing Beast. His fingers slid over it and he lifted his head, pressing his lips against it.
“I almost lost you,” he whispered into Arthur’s skin.
Smiling as realization once more swept over him, Arthur pressed Merlin back and held his gaze. “It was you, wasn’t it? Not some tincture concocted by Gaius, but you… you saved my life. Again.” When Merlin said nothing, Arthur pressed, “How?”
“Does it matter?”
Merlin’s fingers curled around Arthur’s neck and pulled him down for another deep kiss. Thoughts of Questing Beasts and dying were quickly consumed by the need between them. As Merlin’s tongue met his, sweeping with abandon through his mouth, Arthur realized it didn’t really matter at all. Nothing mattered but this, and when it had come to that, he didn’t know.
Arthur let it go, no longer questioning what existed between them as his hands slowly drifted over the body beneath his; learning it's shape, the too-thin frame, as he pulled away from Merlin’s mouth, bending to nip and kiss his neck. One leg slid between Merlin's, erection pressing against his thigh. The friction against his trousers as he moved caused Arthur's heartbeat to race.
“Do soft breezes regularly knock you over?” Arthur asked, fingers sliding over Merlin’s ribs as his tongue traced a line along his collarbone.
“You can’t let an opportunity go by without insulting me, can you?” Merlin’s hands brushed against Arthur’s stomach, causing him to tremble slightly beneath his touch.
“Do you consider this an insult?” Arthur growled softly as he ground their hips together.
Merlin made a noise beneath him that caused Arthur to graze his teeth against his shoulder. “Only if you stop there.”
Arthur had no intention of stopping. He’d been raised to take what he wanted, and right then, what he wanted was trapped beneath him, responding to his touches, kissing him with equal fervor. He moaned low in his throat, hips thrusting with need against Merlin's, his fingers sliding between them, drifting against the soft stomach. His mouth once more returned to Merlin's as he leaned up slightly, bringing their hips together with more force. They suddenly seemed of like mind, both reaching for the laces on the other’s trousers, tugging at them a little too hurriedly, pressing the material away just enough for contact, and everything else seemed to be forgotten. Arthur felt Merlin shudder beneath him as the length of their cocks slid against one another, the proof of Merlin’s arousal leaving a trail along Arthur’s skin.
The rough pads of Merlin’s fingers closed one at a time around Arthur's cock until his fist circled him. Slowly he pressed them to the very base, closing his eyes as Arthur moaned, and then slipping back to the tip. He squeezed gently, his thumb sliding over it before meeting his fingers. His fist dipped back to Arthur's base and repeated the movement ever so slowly, his fingers pumping in time as Arthur rocked forward. It wasn’t the best hand job ever – that honor went to the baker’s daughter – but it was Merlin, and at that moment, Arthur wanted nothing else.
“It’s a spell, isn’t it?” Arthur tugged Merlin’s lower lip between his teeth. “You’ve put a spell on me. A curse.”
Merlin’s hand tightened around his cock, paused. “If I had, this would have happened much sooner.” He chuckled, his lips currently pressed to Arthur's throat sending the vibrations straight through him.
Growing impatient, he batted Merlin’s hand away, taking over, wrapping his fingers around them both, stroking roughly. Merlin thrust up beneath him, hands pressing into Arthur’s sides, pulling him closer. Arthur covered Merlin's mouth with his, tongue thrusting past his lips in rhythm to the strokes. He felt Merlin’s fingers twist into his hair, tugging; there was momentary tingle, an odd sensation moving over his scalp like tiny little pinpricks. And then Merlin’s hands were moving over his shoulders, down his back, each brush of his fingers sending tiny shocks through Arthur’s body.
Arthur pulled away from his mouth, leaned up, grinding their cocks together with increased urgency. He watched as Merlin’s eyes flashed open to meet his, golden and mysterious, and Merlin spoke his name, “Arthur –” with need and want and ownership and Arthur knew that ‘sire’ would never be enough again.
Feeling the welcome tingle move down his spine, the pressure pooling in his belly, Arthur’s hand tightened around them both and he bit down hard on his lip as he came. He dropped his forehead to Merlin's shoulder, breathing deep. Beneath him, Merlin continued to move into his fist, cocks sliding against one another so easily now, until he stiffened, shuddering, seed spilling between Arthur’s fingers.
Arthur closed his eyes, breathed through his nose; he didn’t want to move for anything. But all too soon, Merlin’s hands were pressing against his chest in a persistent manner.
“You’re heavy. Move.”
Arthur lifted his head enough to let Merlin see his expression of annoyance. He shifted to the side, reached out for Merlin’s discarded shirt to wipe his first his hand, and then his stomach. Merlin’s elbow pressed into his chest hard, and Arthur decided to pretend it wasn’t on purpose.
“You could use your own shirt.”
“Now why would I do that?” Arthur handed the shirt to Merlin before stretching beside him, tucking his arm beneath his cheek and closing his eyes.
“Admit it,” Merlin said after a few blessed minutes silence. “I’m not such a bad servant, after all.”
“Passable, I suppose.”
Arthur opened his eyes, seeing Merlin’s smile. He leaned up, catching it quickly in another kiss and then pressed their foreheads together, staring into the dark blue eyes beneath him. Their heartbeats drummed steadily against one another as they lay there, and Arthur tried to pretend that nothing had changed.
Arthur had wanted to spend the night wrapped around Merlin, but there were appearances to keep up, and the moment his servant’s breathing had settled, he’d slipped out of the tent with his bedroll to sleep beside his knights. Most nobility slept in tents, brought with them as many creature comforts of home as they could carry. Arthur had as well when on long campaigns with his father, but on his own, he felt that what was good enough for his knights was certainly good enough for him. Even if the ground was hard, and Merlin’s body had been warm.
Unfortunately, sleep was difficult. The nightmare returned, and Arthur lay awake for hours, staring at the canopy of stars above.
Sunrise had yet to touch the edge of the horizon when he and his knights rose to prepare for the final leg of their journey. Arthur didn’t see Merlin until he was suddenly standing beside him with food. He took it without a word, his attention focused on the map spread over the ground before him, thoughtful as he considered the best position for their approach.
“Get my horse ready,” he said after a moment.
Glancing up, Arthur looked at Merlin for the first time that morning. The brief flash of a blinding smile would be imprinted on his memory for days to come.
Arthur hoped his knights couldn’t see what that smile did to him.
They stopped about an hour outside of Killibury to make preparations for battle. It didn’t take long for Merlin to voice his protest when Arthur told him he would not be going any further.
“I didn’t follow you out here to stay behind,” Merlin whispered angrily.
“You shouldn’t have followed me out here in the first place,” Arthur reminded him, turning away from the sharpening of his sword to look at Merlin pointedly. “But now that you are here, you’re going to stay out of the way. Is that understood?”
“What is the point?” Merlin reached out for the sharpening stone and sword, tugging them away from Arthur to take over the work. “I’m supposed to be at your side, aren’t I?”
“Yes… to clean my boots.” Arthur tried to remain very serious as Merlin gave him one of his increasingly familiar annoyed expressions. He held his servant’s gaze for a moment before sighing. “Do you want to know why you can’t be out there?”
Merlin arched his brow, waiting.
“Because I need to concentrate on the battle,” Arthur admitted quietly. “And I can’t do that when I’m focused on protecting you.”
Merlin swallowed and dropped his gaze. He went back to sharpening Arthur’s sword, brow furrowed as he seemed to think. Finally, he said without looking up, “I don’t need your protection, you know. You don’t know how powerful I am…”
Those simple words sent something sharp through Arthur’s heart. Images from his nightmares returned. He reached out for Merlin’s shoulder with a sudden need to touch him. Their gazes met and held.
“No, I don’t,” Arthur said softly, harshly. “And I won’t as long as magic is outlawed. Is that understood?”
It was odd, finally speaking of it aloud to one another. Merlin’s eyes glittered for a moment and then he nodded. “Yes, Arthur.”
“Good.” Arthur squeezed his shoulder, holding his gaze a few seconds longer before moving off to gather his knights and prepare for battle.
Not that the conversation eased Arthur’s concern. He ended up tying Merlin to a tree amidst his protests, and took his horse with them as they rode out.
Killibury was nestled in a low-lying valley, protected by a copse of trees to the south, and wide sloping hills the north. It was in the trees that Arthur and his knights waited after the scout reported back an hour earlier that Cadeyrn’s men were approaching. They watched quietly as the villagers steadily evacuated their homes, disappearing across the river, east toward an encampment Arthur had prepared for them. He felt it would be safest to keep them out of harms way until the battle was over. Though there were a few protests at first, the people finally agreed and grabbed a few belongings between them before heading out.
Hengroen pranced restlessly beneath him, withers twitching against the saddle, obviously feeling Arthur’s own mounting excitement. He wasn’t worried about Cadeyrn’s men; he’d faced them before and found them to be an undisciplined lot who weren’t loyal so much as paid well. Most were bloodthirsty, dishonorable men, easy to best as long as one kept their focus. Glancing down the line of knights standing with him, Arthur had no doubt that at the end of the day, Camelot would be victorious.
“Sire.” Gawain nodded toward the hills beyond Killibury.
Arthur followed his gaze, nodding as he spotted Cadeyrn's banners. He slid his sword from its scabbard and held it high. “For Camelot!”
Arthur pressed his boot against the thigh of the man currently impaled on his sword and pushed, sliding the blade neatly out of him as the body collapsed into the mud at his feet. He took only a moment to catch his breath, blinking through the mixture of sweat and mud that fell into his eyes from his hair. He had no idea where his helm had gone; having been knocked from his head what seemed like hours ago. It could be hours. The sun was hanging lower in the sky.
He swung quickly at the warning, catching his attacker just as he moved up behind him, staggering only slightly under the knight’s weight as he came at him. The man was bulkier than Arthur, and each hit reverberated through his already tired muscles; he was slow, though, and Arthur quickly gained the advantage, sweeping down to cut the man’s legs out from under him and dodging back as he fell. He waited to see if the knight had any plans on attempting to get back up; when the man simply laid there and moaned, Arthur stepped over him, moving to help Baldulf who was fighting off two attackers on his own.
“They’re coming back!” Nudd called out from somewhere behind him.
A half dozen of the knights had fled not long ago; they jumped to their horses and rode away as only befitted cowards. Arthur thought they might return, if not for the battle then for further plunder of Killibury, but apparently they’d taken a rest first. Dispensing of Baldulf’s second attacker, he spun around to face the knights as they rode up, spinning his sword with his wrist as he settled back into a battle stance.
One broke off from the group, riding straight toward him. Arthur held his ground, swinging at the last moment at the stallion as it bore down on him. His foot got lodged into the mud beneath him, trapping him. He freed himself with barely enough time before getting trampled, the horse’s shoulders plowing into him, knocking him back off of his feet, his sword flying out of his hand. Arthur struggled to sit up, glancing in the direction of his attacker to see the knight pull his horse up quickly, spinning to race back to him. Rolling over, he searched the muddied ground for his sword, spying it a few feet away. The pounding of hooves drew ever nearer as he slipped, unable to grab purchase on the ground beneath him. He wasn’t going to get to his weapon on time.
Suddenly, the sword came to him. Slid right through the mud, hilt landing perfectly into the clutch of his hand and Arthur twisted, striking up as the horse reached him, shoving the sword into the animal’s chest. It reared above him and he rolled quickly out of the way as hooves flailed and the big body came crashing down where he had been only a moment before. Pushing to his feet, he moved over to the knight who lay trapped beneath the dying animal and pressed the tip of his sword to his throat.
“Do you submit?”
The knight appeared less than agreeable, his fingers still clutched to his own sword as he struggled to release himself.
Arthur flicked his wrist slightly, a drop of blood appearing on the man’s throat. “Do you submit?” he asked again, his tone indicating that it would be the last time.
Opening his hand, the knight allowed the sword to fall from his hand. Arthur picked it up, tossing it far out of his reach, and then turned away, eyes scanning the horizon. He wasn’t surprised to see Merlin standing at the edge of the trees, an expectant look on his face as if he actually thought Arthur would call out ‘thank you’ or something. Arthur just glared at him as the sounds of battle began to diminish. He played with the hilt of his sword in his hand, vaguely wondering if Merlin would learn his lesson if he were missing an ear as he watched his servant cross the battlefield toward him, tripping occasionally over bodies he didn’t seem to notice.
“Gawain,” he called out, noticing the knight out of the corner of his eye but not looking away from Merlin as he continued toward him.
Arthur turned to his knight, ignoring Merlin just as he reached his side. “Check on our wounded. Let them tend to theirs. I want to be ready to ride within the hour so that we may… escort them back across the border.”
Gawain nodded, gaze flickering for a brief moment toward Merlin before moving off to do as ordered.
“Looks like Camelot won.”
Merlin was smiling when Arthur turned to him. It caught him off-guard; he’d been ready to yell, to threaten bodily harm for obviously using magic, both to get free from his bindings and just now on the battlefield. But in the midst of the blood and carnage around them, with Arthur’s body feeling as though it wanted to do nothing but collapse into a soft, warm bed and stay there for days, Merlin was standing there smiling at him. Blindingly, even. Like Arthur had just taken down an enormous dragon all by himself and saved a dozen damsels-in-distress in his spare moments.
Snorting softly, Arthur found himself returning the smile. “I give up, Merlin. I positively give up.” He turned, scanning the ground surrounding him. “Make yourself useful. Help me find my shield and helm.”
“I told you. You do it all yourself,” Merlin was saying behind him, the sound of his feet sloshing through the mud indicating he was following Arthur. “I just… give a little nudge when it’s needed.”
“Yes, well, if that little nudge had been seen…”
“But, it wasn’t. I was careful… And you’re welcome.”
Arthur’s smile broadened, not that he would let Merlin see it, as he bent down to retrieve his shield, half-hidden beneath the mud and one of Cadeyrn’s fallen knights. He had to work at it a moment to nudge it loose. It just began to slip, pulling up into his fingers, when he felt a whisper of wind blow across his back, and the distinct sound of an arrow sinking into flesh.
“Sire!” Someone shouted to his left; he thought it was Drudwyn, and he spun in time to see his knight decapitate the man who’d been trapped beneath his horse.
He knew before he turned. He knew because the flesh hadn’t been his own, and the whisper of Merlin’s voice had been wrong. Very wrong. And still, it took a moment to react. Arthur stared at Merlin, and Merlin stared back at him, eyes wide with shock, and there was this arrow between them.
Arthur caught him as he fell forward. “Merlin!” he gasped, sliding to his knees as he cradled his servant carefully in his arms. “Damn you, Merlin!” He was angry and terrified all at once, gaze focused on the right side of Merlin’s stomach where the arrow protruded from his jacket.
“I’m sorry.” Merlin was staring up at him, looking entirely too calm about all of this. Calm and remorseful, which was probably the first time Arthur had ever seen him look remorseful about anything.
“Shut up,” he muttered, not unkindly, his fingers moving over the edges of the wound gently. Merlin whimpered slightly and he stopped, staring hard at the face of the young man lying against him. “You’re going to be all right,” he told him after a moment. “I give you my word.”
Merlin stared at him for a moment, then, “I trust you, Arthur.”
Hearing footsteps approach, Arthur didn’t glance up as shadows fell over them. Merlin trusted him, and for a moment, he simply held on to those words. He carefully laid Merlin back against the ground, grasping the edge of the arrow closest to Merlin’s skin with his left hand, holding it steady as he wrapped his fingers around the rest and snapped it quickly so that there was less protrusion. Merlin cried out as the arrow shifted slightly inside of him.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur mumbled, the sound of Merlin’s cry causing his heart to lurch. He glanced up at Gawain. “Get Cadeyrn's men across the border. I’ll rejoin you as soon as I can.”
“Your Highness – ”
Arthur slid his arms under Merlin, lifting him into his arms as he lurched to his feet, his tired muscles now flowing with adrenaline. Gawain was following him as he hurried toward his horse.
“What are you – ”
“I need to get him back to Camelot. Gaius can help him.”
Gawain was the only one of the knights who regularly spoke his mind to Arthur when he seemed to feel his prince needed to hear it. “But sire, he’s just a ser– ”
Arthur whirled to face him. “Don’t.” When his knight appeared to deflate beneath his steely gaze, Arthur pressed Merlin into his arms. “Help me.”
Once Gawain had hold of Merlin, Arthur quickly mounted Hengroen and reached out, taking Merlin’s shoulders as Gawain assisted in lifting him up into the front of the saddle. Arthur held him gently, shifting him so that nothing would accidentally press against the arrow. He tried to ignore Merlin’s whimpers of pain.
“I’ll catch up to you soon,” he told Gawain before spinning the stallion around and galloping toward the trees.
Arthur didn’t hear the first plea; just a whisper in the wind rushing past his ears as he urged Hengroen through the countryside. It wasn’t until there was a slight tug on his surcoat that Arthur realized Merlin was trying to get his attention. He bent his head, ear closer to Merlin’s mouth.
“Please stop… ”
“Merlin, there’s no time – ”
He leaned back in the saddle, and Hengroen slowed and finally stopped. The stallion was breathing hard beneath him, sides thrusting out against Arthur’s legs with each puff. He hated pushing his horse like this, and he hated the pain that flashed through Merlin’s eyes as he looked up at him.
“It hurts,” Merlin gasped softly, pressing his hands to Arthur’s chest. “The arrow… take it out. It – ”
“I can’t. You may bleed to death,” Arthur told him. “I paid enough attention to Gaius to know that much.” He paused. “Is there something you can do? Some magic – “
Merlin was already shaking his head. “Nothing that I… the book might have something but… I don’t know.”
“There’s a book?” Arthur thought he’d have to take up the idea of leaving incriminating evidence like magic books sitting around when the practice was outlawed. He’d save that for later, though. “Lot of good this magic of yours is doing for you now.”
“I don’t generally plan on getting shot with an arrow, sire.”
Arthur smiled. The annoyance in Merlin’s tone gave him hope.
Merlin’s eyes closed and he shuddered slightly. “I can’t do this…”
“Yes. You can do this.” Arthur pressed his mouth against Merlin’s forehead, resting there for a long moment. “You’re one of the bravest souls I’ve ever met, Merlin. Just hang on a little longer for me, all right? I don’t want to have to make that an order.”
“…I wouldn’t listen anyway.”
Arthur smiled, kissed the warm skin beneath his lips. “For me, then. Do it for me.”
Merlin was limp in his arms when he stopped a few hours later to let Hengroen drink from the river. He gently shifted Merlin’s full weight against his chest before twisting slightly to dig for the flask behind the cantle of his saddle. Pulling it free, he was relieved to discover it still contained some wine. He took a quick sip for himself before holding the opening to Merlin’s lips.
“Merlin.” He squeezed his shoulders lightly, not wanting to move him too much. “Merlin, wake up. Drink. It may help with the pain.”
Merlin’s eyes fluttered open and he drank as he was told.
“So, is this the only way I can get you to obey to me?” Arthur smiled as he watched him, a little less worried when Merlin’s brow knitted into a frown.
“I only drank because I was thirsty,” Merlin whispered.
Shaking his head, Arthur rested his cheek against the mop of dark hair, closing his eyes to rest for just a moment as Hengroen continued to lap at the water. The forest around them was dark, alive with the sounds of night creatures. Against him, Merlin’s breathing was ragged, his heartbeat… off. Arthur was just grateful not to have glimpsed any blood on his lips. He thought: only a few more hours now; they would reach the keep by dawn’s first light if he was guessing correctly.
Arthur opened his eyes, lifted his head, and pressed a kiss to Merlin’s crown. “You’re such an idiot,” he murmured against his hair. “Once you recover, I think I might have you flogged, after all.”
“Hey.” Merlin moved just an inch in his arms, enough to tuck his face against Arthur’s neck. “I saved your life.”
“And now I have to save yours,” Arthur replied. “It’s becoming a little redundant, Merlin.”
The sun was rising in the east when Arthur raced into Camelot, Hengroen’s shoes clacking loudly against the cobblestones of the courtyard. Those who were up and about paused to stare as the prince staggered down from his horse, legs shaking slightly from the near fourteen-hour ride and the battle before. Merlin had passed out hours before, and Arthur was mildly grateful for that simple respite as he pulled him down from the saddle and into his arms. He took a breath as Merlin’s head lolled against his shoulder, then rushed forward, up the stairs and into the keep toward Gaius’ chambers.
“Gaius!” he called out, kicking the door open with his foot and hurrying inside.
Luckily, the old man appeared to already be up and about. “Sire?” His gaze shifted from Arthur to the body in his arms and fear instantly flashed across his face. “What happened?”
“The idiot – ” Arthur moved over to the table that Gaius quickly cleared and gently laid Merlin against it. “He got in the way of an arrow. I didn’t remove it – I didn’t need him bleeding to death on me.”
Gaius was already prodding at the flesh around the arrow where cloth had sealed itself to skin. “No, that was the correct thing to do, Your Highness.” He reached for a knife on the shelf behind him and began tearing at Merlin’s jacket and shirt.
Arthur leaned his weight against the table for a moment, gazing down at Merlin’s too-pale face. “You are… he’s going to be all right, isn’t he, Gaius?”
He thought his question was being ignored, and just when he felt his ire grow, Gaius responded, “It doesn’t appear to have done any major damage, sire. Once I am able to remove it, I will know more.”
Nodding, Arthur closed his eyes for a brief moment, heart pounding with exhaustion or worry, he didn’t know. When he opened his eyes again, he pressed back from the table, bringing Gaius’ gaze to his. “Make him better, Gaius. Whatever it takes.”
“Sire – ”
“Whatever it takes, Gaius,” Arthur said quietly, forcefully. Unlike Merlin, he wasn’t an idiot. He’s suspected long ago that Gaius had once been a magic user, and that there was some unspoken reason as to why his father had spared him. “Do you understand?”
Gaius seemed thoughtful, watching him for far too long before finally nodding in response.
Arthur nodded, shoulders relaxing slightly. “I need to return to my men.” He stepped forward, laid his hand against Merlin’s head as he continued to watch him.
“Sire, if you don’t mind me saying, but you don’t look in any condition to be going anywhere.”
He knew he probably looked bad. The mud from the battlefield was caked to his skin. Blood marred his surcoat, the emblazoned dragon barely visible. He probably smelled even worse.
“I’m fine,” he lied, fingers curling into Merlin’s hair for a moment. Bending, he whispered into his ear, “Hang in there, Merlin. I don’t think I have the wherewithal to break in another servant.”
He straightened; ignored the look he was receiving from the man across the table. “Take care of him, Gaius.”
He turned and made his way out before the physician could respond.
It was four days later that Arthur rode back into Camelot with his knights. He had pushed himself harder than perhaps he should have, taking the time to stop and sleep only twice, and that had been at the behest of his knights; Gawain in particular, who had threatened to club him over the head. What had been left of Cadeyrn's knights hadn’t given them much trouble; Cadeyrn himself had wisely not been in residence when they arrived at his keep. Treaties and declarations of war were best left to the king, and Arthur felt comfortable leaving with little more than a warning for Cadeyrn to his knights – if he didn’t want to forfeit his kingdom entirely, he’d best not trespass into Camelot again.
There were squires to meet them as they rode up to the keep, though Arthur was already searching the courtyard for Merlin. Not that he expected his servant to be up and about yet, but a small part of him hoped that the wound he’d taken would have proven to be little more than superficial.
One of the palace guards approached Arthur as he dropped lightly to the ground from his mount. The gelding hadn’t proved to be as fast a ride as Hengroen, but he’d served his purpose. Arthur made a mental note to check on his stallion to make certain he hadn’t gone lame from the race back to Camelot, before finally flashing a glance in the guard’s direction.
“What is it?”
“The King left word that you are to report to him the moment you have returned.”
Arthur hadn’t the slightest doubt his father had heard about his earlier return to Camelot with Merlin. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with all of that just yet. Without a word to the guard, he turned and headed in the direction of Gaius’ chambers.
The door was standing open. Arthur hesitated at the threshold a moment before stepping inside where Gaius was leaning over one of his many work benches, grinding some kind of herb. Apparently hearing his footsteps, the physician looked up, and Arthur found himself wondering if he had mistaken the momentary flash of censure in Gaius’ gaze before he nodded in greeting.
“How is Merlin?” He slid off his gloves, tucking them into his belt.
“He is doing well, sire.”
Arthur was certain he had to be imagining the accusatory tone of Gaius’ words. He glanced around a moment before his gaze settled on the door leading to Merlin’s room. “He’s awake?”
“Plotting his next foray to getting himself into trouble, I imagine.”
Arthur smiled at the words, making his way across the chambers and up the steps, feeling more human than he had in days. Pushing the door open, he shook his head at the sight of Merlin sitting up in bed, an enormous book resting on his chest. His eyes flickered up, meeting Arthur’s, where they held for just a moment.
“You look terrible.”
Arthur snorted, shutting the door behind him. “That wouldn’t be that magic book you mentioned, would it?”
“No.” Merlin smiled, closing it. “Okay, yes.” He slipped it beneath his bed. “I was reading up for the next time I get shot with an arrow.”
“There won’t be a next time.” Arthur sat on the edge of his bed, wincing slightly as his muscles protested.
Merlin was making a face at him. “Is that awful smell you?”
“Well, apparently your clothes have not. Is this supposed to be some kind of special punishment for not listening to you?” Merlin pressed his hand over his nose.
Arthur ignored him, reaching out to press Merlin’s shirt up over his chest. He tugged at the bandages, pulling them past the wound, which looked far better than he had imagined on his journey home. A thin, jagged red line marred his skin pale skin, tiny granulations forming in the center, knitting the wound together.
“You’re far from gentle, Arthur,” Merlin remarked as he wriggled beneath the press of Arthur’s fingers.
“I’m tempted to be far less gentle.” Finished examining the wound, he was a little more careful in slipping the bandages back into place.
“You were worried about me.” Merlin looked incredibly pleased with himself.
“Now you’re just being delusional.”
“No, no. I distinctly remember you saying something like I was one of the bravest souls you’d ever met and I was supposed to hold on for you.”
Arthur scoffed. “I think you’re overrating your importance to me.”
“Of course I am… sire.”
Arthur smiled, his gaze dropping to the bandage once more, fingers brushing against it gently. “Very well. Although it does come as a bit of a shock to me… I do need you by my side, Merlin.” Arthur hated himself a little for saying it, and quickly added, “Don’t let that go to your head.”
Merlin smiled hugely. “Never.”
Arthur was suddenly very tired. He was certain that it was his servant’s fault.
“Move over.” He pressed Merlin to the very edge of his bed and stretched out beside him, taking up far too much of what little space was there. He flung his arm over his eyes and sighed, finally relaxing. “I could sleep for days…”
“Not in my bed you aren’t. You stink!” Merlin pushed at his shoulders but Arthur had no intention of going anywhere for the moment. “And I’d rather the king not come looking for you here.”
“That would be … awkward.”
“Your gift for understatement is rather remarkable, Arthur.” There was silence, and then Merlin’s fingers were digging into his arm. “You aren’t falling asleep, are you? You can’t sleep here.”
“I’m crown prince. I can sleep wherever I want.”
Arthur felt Merlin sigh beside him, and then the feeling of warmth was pressing against his side. A leg flung over his thighs, an arm wrapped tightly around his waist, and then Merlin was tucking his head against Arthur’s shoulder. It felt a lot nicer than he would ever admit.
“Very well. Only for a short while, though. I fear I’m getting you into enough trouble as it is with Uther.”
“I’ll just blame you,” Arthur murmured as he felt sleep swiftly overtaking him.
Somewhere in the distance he heard Merlin reply, “Well, it’s comforting to know some things will never change. You know, Arthur…”
Arthur didn’t hear the rest.