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A Simple Substitute

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"Gwen called here earlier looking for you," Arthur said, sitting across the counter from where Merlin was standing trying to get a bag of crisps open. Preferably without exploding the entire bag all over the kitchen, like he did the last time.

"My mobile died," Merlin replied absently, giving up and rummaging through a drawer for some scissors. Arthur made an exasperated noise, looking up from the magazine he was flipping through.

"Did you forget to charge it again?"

"No," Merlin said, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out. "I did last night. The charge just doesn't seem to last very long anymore."

"That phone is useless," Arthur said, going back to the magazine. "You should get a new one."

"Can't, rent's due," Merlin said, cutting across the top of the bag. "Did Gwen say what she wanted?" he asked, trying to distract Arthur so he wouldn't decide to buy Merlin a new phone.

There were certain disadvantages to being a poor med student with a rich boyfriend. Arthur tried to buy him everything. It'd only been five months, but he'd already bought Merlin a new bag for work at the hospital, two new sets of scrubs after Merlin's last pair had met an unfortunate end in the washer and paid for Merlin's books for the term, all without asking. The books had caused quite a row, considering they cost several hundred pounds and Merlin just couldn't justify accepting something like that, no matter how much he loved the stubborn, overly-generous sod.

"Nothing important," Arthur answered, closing the magazine. "We had a nice, long chat."

Merlin paused with his hand in the bag. "Oh?" he asked cautiously. They hadn't know each other long, but Gwen and Arthur got along famously. It never worked out well for Merlin when they were left to their own devices.

"Yes," Arthur replied, getting up from his chair and walking around to Merlin's side of the counter. "She told me some interesting things."

"Like what?" Merlin asked warily, though he suspected he already knew. He was going to kill Gwen.

"Like the fact that it's your bloody birthday on Friday."

Merlin closed his eyes. He'd intended to tell Arthur later in the week, when he wouldn't have enough time to go out and buy something expensive, or arrange for some big fancy dinner at a restaurant. "I was going to tell you."

"When? The day before?"

"Probably."

Arthur didn't answer. Merlin looked over at him, and his stomach gave a vicious twist. Arthur was staring at him, eyes wide, looking extremely hurt. "But--why wouldn't you want me to know?"

"It's not that," Merlin said, desperate to get that look off Arthur's face. "I was going to tell you, I swear." He put the crisps down and grabbed Arthur's wrist, dragging him closer. Arthur came, but a little reluctantly. "I just didn't want you to make a big fuss about it."

Arthur looked at him like he was crazy. "But it's your birthday."

"Yes," Merlin said, taking Arthur's other wrist and drawing him forward so that his arms wrapped around Merlin's waist. "So I should get what I want, yeah?"

Arthur frowned. "Well, yes, but--"

"And what I want," Merlin said, slinging his arms around Arthur's shoulders and giving him a series of quick, sweet kisses, "is a nice, quiet day to relax and then to spend the night with my devastatingly handsome boyfriend." He figured a little flattery wouldn't hurt. "Preferably in bed."

Arthur smiled a little, in spite of his sulk. "It'll be tough to have a nice, quiet day at the hospital," he said, his hands sliding up under Merlin's shirt to stroke at the small of his back.

"I took the day off," he said, kissing Arthur again, longer this time. Arthur pulled away after a moment and looked at him. Merlin immediately grew wary--he could practically see the wheels turning in Arthur's head.

"How about this," Arthur started, his nails scratching lightly against Merlin's spine. "I take the day off as well, and you can spend the whole day with your devastatingly handsome boyfriend--"

"Preferably in bed," Merlin cut in, liking this so far. Arthur naked in bed all day sounded like a fine birthday present to him.

"Definitely in bed," Arthur added, his arms tightening around Merlin's waist. "And then I'll cook dinner for you and your friends."

Merlin opened his mouth to protest, but Arthur cut him off. "You should be with your friends on your birthday. What do you say?"

"How many friends?" Merlin asked, knowing he had to be specific or Arthur would find some technicality that would allow him to invite a hundred people, even though Merlin was pretty sure he didn't even know a hundred people.

"As many as you want. You pick them."

"And that'll be it. Nothing else--no surprise party, no limousines, no fancy restaurants."

"That'll be it," Arthur said, sounding rather depressed about it.

"And no presents."

Arthur didn't answer. Merlin lifted his head and looked at him. Arthur's gaze skittered away and he looked decidedly shifty. "Arthur."

His chin jutting out stubbornly, Arthur said, "Presents are customary for birthdays."

"No presents," Merlin repeated, playing with the hair around Arthur's ear.

"Fine," he said with a theatrical sigh, "but I get to pick what to serve for dinner."

"Fair enough," Merlin said, aware that he had to concede something. Choice of food was probably harmless enough. Arthur looked satisfied enough and Merlin had to kiss him again, a warm feeling spreading through his chest. Sometimes it frightened him that he could love Arthur so much after only knowing him five months. Most of the time, though, he was just grateful.

"Now," Arthur said against his mouth, his hands sliding down to Merlin's ass, "I think we should get a head start on the whole spending-the-day-in-bed thing. You know, get some practice in."

"Warm up a bit?" Merlin asked, already pushing Arthur out of the kitchen and toward the bedroom.

"Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking."

***

Merlin liked Arthur's bed. Really a lot. It was best when Arthur was in it with him, but even when he wasn't, Merlin loved to burrow down under the thick bedding. Arthur preferred it to be cool when he slept, so he kept a thick duvet on the bed even during the warmer months.

Arthur had made good on his promise to take the day off work, and they had indeed spent most of the day in bed. Arthur had abandoned him hours ago to start cooking, so Merlin had promptly curled up in the warm spot he'd left and fallen asleep. He was mostly dozing now, but was far too comfortable to move.

Of course, Arthur had to go and ruin it all.

Merlin vaguely felt the bed dip behind him. He was splayed out on his stomach with Arthur's pillow shoved beneath his head. The covers lifted, sending a gust of cold air down his spine. He shuddered, curling up on his side to escape it.

"Cold," he croaked, his throat still raw from their earlier activities.

Arthur chuckled, and then his warm chest was pressed up against Merlin's back and he was shuddering for an entirely different reason.

"Mmm, better," he said, settling back against Arthur as he draped an arm over Merlin's hip. Arthur wasn't wearing a shirt, which was always nice, but he smelled incredibly delicious as well. Merlin opened his eyes.

"Did you shower without me?" he asked, turning his head to look Arthur in the face. He had, the prat, his wet fringe falling into his eyes.

"Yes," Arthur answered. "I thought you'd want the extra time to sleep."

Merlin turned in Arthur's grip until his nose was pressed against the warm skin of his throat. "You smell good," he murmured against Arthur's collarbone, lifting his leg and hooking it around Arthur's. He pulled until Arthur's thigh slid between his. He felt Arthur swallow.

"It's your turn for the shower," Arthur said, voice strained. Merlin didn't bother answering. Using just the very tip of his tongue, he licked up Arthur's neck and then back down, stopping to focus on the spot just under his Adam's apple that always drove him crazy.

"Merlin," Arthur said, trying to sound stern. He gripped Merlin's right bicep and rolled him onto his back, glaring down at him as he straddled his lap. "Everyone will be here in an hour. You need to get in the shower."

"Come with me?" Merlin asked.

"I already showered."

"So shower again. It's just water, it won't kill you," Merlin answered, his hand traveling up Arthur's thigh to the waistband of his boxer briefs. "Besides, if you didn't want me to ask, you shouldn't have gotten back into bed in just your pants."

Arthur glared down at him. "An hour."

"It's my birthday," Merlin said, rubbing the back of his hand against the head of Arthur's cock, outlined through the thin cotton. Arthur shuddered.

"You don't get to play the birthday card after making a fuss about it not being a big deal." Merlin could tell he was trying to sound indignant, but it came out more breathless than anything.

"I think I do," Merlin said with a grin, turning his hand and squeezing. Arthur closed his eyes.

"Fine," he said after a moment, climbing off Merlin's lap. He grabbed both Merlin's wrists and hauled him up off the bed. "But if we're not ready when they get here, I'm telling everyone that it's your fault for being such a little tart."

***

They were ready when everyone got there, as it turned out, but only just. Merlin was sitting at the counter when the first guest arrived, his legs pulled up to his chest, trying not to look as well-fucked as he felt. Judging by the smirk he got from Will, he didn't manage very well.

Dinner was very nice. It was a small group of them--just Merlin and Arthur, Gwen, Will, and Morgana. Arthur had protested having Will and Morgana in the same room together with Merlin; the few times they'd met, they'd tormented Arthur the entire time, and Merlin had laughingly egged them on. But everyone was on their best behavior tonight--the food was amazing, there was a lot of laughing and a lot of wine.

A lot of wine.

Merlin had a whole bottle on his own (maybe a little more) and was currently sprawled out on the couch, loose-limbed and a little fuzzy headed. Everyone had departed about a half hour earlier.

"I should be helping you," he called out absently. "It's not fair that you did all the cooking and now you're cleaning up."

"It's fine," Arthur said, turning off the dining room light and coming over to the sofa. "I'm done. Besides, in your state you'd probably break half the dishes."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're drunk," Arthur said simply, lifting Merlin's feet off the sofa and sitting down, laying them back over his lap.

"I am not drunk," Merlin said, watching as Arthur started undoing the laces on his boots. "I'm just very relaxed."

Arthur just hummed, pulling the boot and then Merlin's sock off. "Are you undressing me?" he asked as Arthur started on his other foot.

"I am," Arthur answered once he'd finished, slipping his hand under Merlin's trouser leg and lightly gripping his ankle. "Did you enjoy yourself today?" he asked, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the arch of Merlin's foot.

"Yes," Merlin said, flailing for the sleeve of Arthur's shirt and using it to haul himself up into a sitting position. Arthur rolled his eyes.

"You are such a hopeless drunk."

"Told you, not drunk," Merlin said, his head falling heavy onto Arthur's shoulder. Arthur pulled him closer, manhandling him into a more comfortable position.

"Mmm." Merlin curled into Arthur's warmth and rubbed his face against the smooth skin of his neck. "Thanks," he continued, "for everything."

"You're welcome," Arthur replied, his fingers liberating the hem of Merlin's shirt from his trousers and sliding up underneath to stroke his back. The spark of arousal that was a constant in Arthur's presence ignited, sending a shiver up his spine. He undid a few buttons on Arthur's shirt, sliding his hand inside to rub over Arthur's chest, enjoying the crispness of the hairs under his palm. Arthur's hand clamped down on his hip as Merlin started tracing a nipple with his thumb.

"I can't believe you actually listened and didn't get me a present," he said. He'd been sure that Arthur would totally disregard his request. "Well done, you."

"Took all the fun out of having a birthday," Arthur said, pout evident in his voice.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Merlin replied, sitting up and working his way down the rest of Arthur's buttons. "I had plenty of fun today. Didn't you?"

Before Arthur could answer, Merlin leaned down and kissed him. Arthur's lips parted automatically and Merlin swept his tongue inside, pressing Arthur back against the sofa. His fingers made it to Arthur's trousers, pulling the button open and sliding down the fly, exposing the outline of Arthur's erection beneath his briefs.

Arthur chased him when he pulled away, but Merlin pushed him back and slid off his lap. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of Arthur's trousers and peeled them off, taking his pants down at the same time. Arthur lifted his hips to help the process along, kicking everything off when it pooled down around his feet.

Merlin was distracted momentarily by Arthur's cock, hard and flushed, resting against his stomach as he sprawled back on the couch. Arthur smirked, wrapping his hand around it and giving it a light stroke, teasing, knowing exactly what it did to Merlin to watch him play with himself.

"Prat," Merlin grumbled, practically diving for the table next to the sofa where they kept their supplies. He had to stand up to manage it, and Arthur immediately went to work on Merlin's trousers, nibbling at the skin around his navel as he undid them and slid them down Merlin's thighs. His shirt and boxers followed quickly thereafter.

Merlin fumbled with the box of condoms, clumsier than usual from a mixture of the alcohol and his arousal, which increased tenfold when, without warning, Arthur swallowed his cock, taking it deep down his throat.

"Shit," Merlin said, his knees buckling, the remnants of the wine buzz the only thing keeping him from immediately coming down Arthur's throat. Arthur's hands came to his hips to steady him while he went to work trying to suck Merlin's brain out through his cock--wet, loud and sloppy, just the way Merlin liked it.

But after a few minutes of Arthur's enthusiastic sucking, the buzz wasn't doing much to hold him back anymore and Merlin had to push Arthur away. He pouted, his red, shiny lips forcing Merlin to contemplate just climbing onto the couch and fucking his mouth for the few additional minutes it would take him to come, but then Arthur reached up and plucked the condom he'd somehow managed to procure from the box out of his hand.

"Right," Merlin said absently. Arthur was looking up at him, rolling the condom on with the ease of long practice. Merlin grabbed the small bottle of lube and squirted a bit into his palm as he got back onto Arthur's lap. He tossed it off to the side, causing Arthur to look up at him in surprise.

"Shouldn't I-?" he started, but Merlin cut him off by wrapping his hand around Arthur, making him groan and arch up into the touch.

"Don't need it," Merlin said, lifting himself onto his knees. He didn't, really--Arthur had fucked him last in the shower only a few hours earlier, and he was still plenty relaxed from the wine. Arthur slid further down and grabbed Merlin's hips as he reached down, guiding Arthur's cock into him.

"Fuck," Arthur said as Merlin slid down, a slow, relentless glide, his body swallowing Arthur's inch by inch. He had to stop once he was fully seated, his hands clutching at Arthur's hair. Arthur grabbed him, holding tightly as he turned them both until Arthur was lying down with Merlin on top of him. Merlin's breath whooshed out of him at the sudden change of angle, and he laughed, but then Arthur was lifting his legs and digging his heels into the sofa and pushing, and all Merlin could do was hold on as stars burst behind his eyelids.

"Arthur," he groaned against a damp shoulder, pushing himself up until he was sitting astride Arthur's hips, reaching back to place his hands on Arthur's bent knees. He raised himself up a little, looking down at Arthur, who knew his cue. He gripped Merlin's hips again and started thrusting in earnest, honing in and finding the right spot on the third thrust and then attacking it with short, hard jabs of his hips.

Merlin threw his head back, arching into the thrusts, obscene noises spilling unchecked out of him. This was his favorite way to fuck, wild and uninhibited, with Arthur underneath him but still in control. His fingernails dug into Arthur's thighs right above his knees as he felt it start, low in his balls and then into the base of his cock before spreading into his belly, creeping up his torso in a slow flush.

"Merlin--" Arthur choked beneath him, his voice strained from holding it back.

"I'm ready," Merlin gasped, "shit, Arthur--"

Arthur let go of one hip and wrapped a hand around Merlin's cock, and that was all it took for him to start shaking apart, crying out wordlessly as he came in long, hot spurts onto Arthur's stomach and chest. He clamped down on Arthur's cock, sending him over as well, his head flung back, neck arched up off the sofa, and Merlin followed him down into a spiral of white hot pleasure.

When he came to- had he actually passed out?- he was sprawled on Arthur's chest, face buried in his neck. They were both sweating and still breathing hard, Arthur's hand still around his cock between them. He lifted his head, blinking down at Arthur, who was staring up at the ceiling in a daze.

"You win," Arthur said, sounding completely wrecked. "I'm not buying you any birthday presents ever."

"You do realize I'm going to hold you to that," Merlin said, shifting over and then settling against Arthur's chest. Arthur swatted the back of his head lightly, but didn't say anything, so Merlin knew they'd have this argument again. He closed his eyes anyway, smiling, letting the rhythmic rise and fall of Arthur's chest lull him to sleep.