Merlin leaned against the door, heart racing.
What the hell? What the bloody hell?
He raised a shaking hand to touch his jaw where Arthur's fingers had been.
Had Arthur been about to kiss him?
"Well? Where is the water?" Catrine demanded, hands on her hips.
"Um… forgot the bucket," Merlin replied lamely and looked around as though searching for it. In truth, his thoughts were so scattered he probably wouldn't have seen the bucket if he had been standing in it. He did notice when it came flying at him, however, hurled by Catrine.
"And bring back some apples," she snapped.
Merlin sighed and went out again, swinging the bucket as he walked. He wondered where Arthur had gone and then cursed himself for his inability to stop thinking about the prince.
He was walking down the steps heading for the outer doors and the well when a burly man stopped in his path. Merlin tried to sidestep him, but he man shifted to block him. Merlin looked at him uneasily, hoping the man was not some random bully.
"Are you Merlin?" the man asked.
After long moments of consideration where lying seemed an extremely viable option, Merlin finally nodded. He realized he should have gone with lying when a meaty hand twisted in the shoulder of his tunic. "You're coming with me."
"I can't!" Merlin cried, fighting to keep from falling down the stairs as he lost his footing. The tunic tightened around his arms and he half-dangled in the man's grasp. The fellow was muscular enough that he probably could have hefted Merlin with that single hand and carried him to their destination. "Errand. For the prince!"
"The little princey can wait. My mistress wants to see you." The man was implacable and started up the stairs. Merlin struggled to keep up, losing his balance once and banging his shin on a step before scrambling up, assisted by the fist on his garment. The man had a grip like the jaws of a boarhound. It never unlocked.
They made their way to the wing where most of the guests were housed. The man finally halted before a closed portal and banged on it, opening it when a female voice bade them enter.
"Merlin, my lady," the man said and pitched Merlin forward. He stumbled and nearly fell before righting himself, dropping the bucket in the process. It rolled forward and stopped at the feet of an angry-looking woman.
She strode forward and grabbed Merlin by the chin to look at him critically. Merlin reflected that there had been far too much chin grabbing recently. He shook free and earned a scratch from one of her long nails.
"Merlin," she said. "So you are my little spell breaker. How did you do it?"
Merlin glared at her and reached down to retrieve the bucket, trying to act as if he wasn't bothered at all by the bizarre circumstances. "What are you talking about? And who are you?"
"My name is Nimueh. It is said that you are responsible for breaking the spell on Prince Arthur. Is this true?"
Merlin shrugged, trying not to blush at the thought of Arthur. He certainly did not want to recall the fateful kiss, although he was very glad Arthur was awake. Nimueh did not seem glad. "I suppose," Merlin said noncommittally.
She advanced on him again. "How?" she asked in a tone that was a near hiss. Alarmed, Merlin stepped back. She followed, eye flashing. "How did you do it? There should have been no power on earth capable of breaking that spell. No power save for the one meant to dispel it. And you do not possess that power, Merlin."
"How… how do you know?" Merlin asked, still backing away. He stopped abruptly when his back bumped against something hard and unmoving—Nimueh's manservant. Merlin looked up over his shoulder and met the man's implacable stare.
He quickly looked back at the real danger—Nimueh. "What did you do?" she asked, moving even closer and tapping him on the chest with a red-tipped nail. "Tell me, Merlin."
"Nothing!" Merlin said. "It wasn't… There was a girl. She kissed him and he woke up." He knew he was babbling, but between the scar hulk at his back and the mad light in Nimueh's blue eyes, Merlin wanted nothing more than to escape.
Her lips curved in a smile that was not reassuring. "You are a terrible liar, Merlin. No matter. The truth will out." She turned away and Merlin had only a moment to sag in relief before she added, "Bind him, Simon. I need to brew a potion. Where did I put that asphodel?"
Merlin struggled to no avail as he was dragged to a sturdy chair and bound to it hand and foot. His shouts of protest were stifled by a cloth shoved into his mouth and tied there with a silk scarf. He wondered if anyone had seen Simon dragging him through the halls and whether or not anyone would even bother to look for him.
He stopped struggling when he realized it was unlikely. Nimueh and her henchman could probably kill him and no one would even notice. Perhaps Gwen, but even that would take time. Merlin was completely on his own.
His father smiled when Arthur entered the library. He was half-leaning over a large desk at which Gaius was seated. Gaius looked worried, but then Gaius always looked worried, so that was not of much concern.
"There you are, Arthur. Gaius has been doing some research and we may have found a way to find out which girl awakened you." His father held up a hand when Arthur tried to speak. "Now, now, I know she does not wish to be found, but it seems wrong not to reward her somehow. Even if she is not interested in marrying you and becoming the eventual queen of the land, she should still accept some small token of our gratitude."
Arthur frowned. He knew his father would never let it lie. The mysterious girl would be run to ground and pestered mercilessly until she gave in and agreed to become Arthur's wife, despite the fact that neither of them wanted it. If there was, in fact, a girl. Which there wasn't. Arthur was certain of it.
"I think you're barking up the wrong tree," Arthur admitted.
His father straightened with a frown. "What do you mean?"
"I think Merlin woke me up. Merlin did. Merlin kissed me."
His father's perplexed look did not change, but Gaius pursed his lips. "Are you sure?" the physician asked.
Arthur nodded. "I have gone over it a dozen times. I'm certain of it."
"But that would mean..." His father went somewhat pale and then coughed and stared at Gaius, who nodded.
"Merlin is Arthur's true love," Gaius finished in a sage tone.
Arthur sighed. He didn't find it ridiculous at all. The more he thought about it—and he had thought about it quite a lot—the more attractive the notion seemed. There was just something about Merlin... His mind wandered to the almost-kiss in the hallway and the way Merlin's lashes had fluttered...
"Oh dear god, Arthur, don't tell me you have feelings for the lad!"
Gaius chuckled. "Dear me, he does look smitten, doesn't he?"
"It can't be borne!"
Arthur's eyes flashed. "And why not? There is no law against falling in love!"
"Well, there should be!" Arthur and Gaius both stared at the king until he slammed his hand down on the desk. "You can't be serious, Arthur. What about heirs to the throne? You are honestly considering marrying a man? You'll be a laughingstock. We all will!"
"Without Merlin I would be no better than a corpse, sleeping in my room until I perished of old age. The fact that I am up and walking around is nothing short of a miracle and if Merlin is the one that awakened me, then Merlin I shall have. If you insist on heirs, then have more of your own. Or I will choose a child and name my own heir. Sir Kay's boy would make a fine king."
His father's voice lowered. "Arthur, be serious."
"I am perfectly serious. What would you have done if I had never awakened?" Arthur nodded in satisfaction when his father scowled. "You see? You would have remarried or named another heir. The castle is currently full of eligible maidens. Perhaps you should choose one, yourself. Lady Catrine seems rather taken with you, of late."
Gaius muttered something like, "Rather wed a troll..."
His father looked thoughtful and Arthur realized with a start that he had meant his own words. He wanted Merlin, no matter the cost. Even if he had to flee the kingdom and go live in the woods where the wolves roamed. He wanted Merlin.
"Very well, Arthur, I can see your mind is made up. I don't understand, but I'll not have you plotting to murder me in order to have your way." Arthur gasped and made to protest, but the king waved a hand at him. "I spoke in jest. Before you make any rash decisions, perhaps you should ask what this boy's intentions are toward you. After all, you are not even completely certain he awakened you."
"I am certain," Arthur said, but he felt a moment of indecision, nonetheless. "Gaius, did you not mention some method you had of locating the mysterious 'girl' who kissed me?"
Gaius looked at the king, who nodded. "Indeed, sire. All I need is your ring."
"My ring?" At Gaius' nod, Arthur worked the silver band from his thumb and handed it over. Gaius dropped it into a goblet and murmured some words over it. A puff of red smoke wafted from the goblet. Gaius reached in and retrieved the ring, wiping it dry on the sleeve of his tunic before he handed it to Arthur.
"That ring has been attuned to you, and to the one who broke the spell. Only the two of you will be able to wear it—it will repel all others."
Arthur slipped it back onto his thumb. "Brilliant! I need only find Merlin now and prove he was the one."
"And if he was not?"
Arthur grinned at his father, feeling nothing but confident excitement. "Then I will cross that bridge when I come to it. Good afternoon, Father. Gaius." With that, Arthur hurried out to locate Merlin.
Merlin was not to be found. Lady Catrine stated that Merlin had "gone to fetch water" nearly an hour previous and had not returned. Guinevere, whom Arthur caught snogging Lancelot in a quiet corner of the armoury, blushed and mentioned she had not seen Merlin since breakfast. Morgana had no clue as to the lad's whereabouts.
Arthur was worried. "He would not have fled, would he?"
"Why would he flee?" Morgana asked as she looked critically down the edge of her blade. "It's nice here."
"Because of the whole... kissing... situation," Arthur said delicately. "He might have felt a bit pressured."
Morgana snorted. "Merlin is no stranger to pressure. He lives with Catrine. She keeps him hopping every moment."
"Well, yes. There is that." Arthur refused to mention that he might have been the cause of Merlin running away. What if their near-kiss in the corridor, coupled with Arthur's innuendos on the tower, had frightened Merlin into seeking escape? Where else could he have gone?
He turned to leave, but paused. "Morgana, will you try this on?" He plucked his ring from his finger and handed it to her.
She smiled prettily. "Why, Prince Arthur, I thought you were spoken for."
"You know, you're pretty cheeky for a maiden."
"So I've been told." She took the ring and lifted her hand to insert it on one finger, but something prevented her. She frowned and held it up to the light. "Is there a blockage?" She tried another finger and then another. "That's odd."
Arthur smiled and held out his palm. "Never mind." Apparently Gaius' spell had worked. Now, if only he could find Merlin.
Where could he be?
Merlin was groggy. His tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth with an unpleasant taste and his vision was blurry no matter how many times he blinked. He tried to focus on Nimueh and she sharpened in his sight for only a moment before fuzzing into indistinction once more.
Even his earlier panic had lost its edge, dulled into a sense of unease. They had taken off his gag and forced him to ingest a foul-tasting concoction. Merlin had spit much of it out, choking and thrashing to the best of his ability, but Simon had simply held his jaw and upended the bottle until Merlin had to swallow or choke on it.
"How are you feeling, Merlin?" Nimueh asked. Her voice seemed extra loud and he winced at the sound of it.
Her face drew near and his gaze focussed on her mouth, red-edged and full of sharp teeth. She was terrifying.
"I see it is working. Excellent. What is your name?"
Merlin said nothing and a hand yanked sharply at the hair on the back of his head. Merlin yelped and would have rubbed at his head, but his arms remained tied.
"Answer the question," Simon growled.
"Merlin," he whispered.
"Very good. And who am I?" she asked.
"That's right. And why are you here, Merlin?"
"Simon brought me here."
Her features spun into annoyance, red-tinted flesh and dark brows clarifying and then blending together. "I mean why are you in Camelot?"
Camelot. Merlin nearly answered the question, but his mind wandered to the blond-haired prince and focussed on his quick smile and handsome face. "For Arthur," he replied.
"You came to Camelot to kiss Arthur?" she demanded.
"Yes. No! Not me! I came with my stepmother. She brought my sisters to kiss Arthur. Prince Arthur," he amended.
"And did your sisters kiss Arthur?"
"Did their kisses awaken him?" Nimueh's voice was deceptively soft.
"Then what did awaken him?"
"My… mine," Merlin replied, blushing furiously. He could not seem to stop himself from babbling answers once begun.
"Yours? Your what?"
"My kiss," Merlin admitted. His entire face felt hot and sweat broke out over his skin in a flash.
"Your kiss? You kissed Arthur Pendragon?"
The words conjured the memory and Merlin pushed it away even as he nodded. "Yes."
"And he woke up when you kissed him?"
He heard a loud ringing sound and his head snapped sideways. It took a moment for him to realize he had been slapped—there had been no pain. "You lie!" Nimueh cried.
Merlin blinked at her and tried to focus, cocking his head. "No, not this time, thanks to your bloody potion. What did you put in it? I don't like it." His cheek began to sting in delayed reaction.
She ignored his question and paced the length of the room and back, muttering to herself. "It can't be. It wasn't supposed to work that way." She walked to the nearby large desk and began to pull books from a large pile, flipping through them rapidly. Merlin watched her and felt a moment of pity for Simon at the knowledge that the burly man had been the one to drag Nimueh's trunk full of heavy books up the stairs.
His sympathy departed when he tugged at the ropes on his arms. The man tied a mean knot. Merlin sighed and then thought of something else. "Did you have something to do with the spell on Arthur?"
She glared at him. At least, he thought she did. It was hard to tell through the fog. "Of course I did. And it was bloody hard to cast from such a great distance. Only someone of my skill could have attempted such a thing. My plot would have succeeded, too, except for you."
"Why would you want Arthur to sleep until he found his true love?" Merlin wondered if the potion was making him confused or whether it was, as Morgana would insist, his natural state.
"Because I was to be his true love, you imbecile. Me! Not you. I am meant to be the next queen of Camelot. This bloody kingdom will be mine with all the riches and trappings of luxury and power. Especially the power." She stood tall and stared off into the distance for a moment while Merlin watched with an amused grin.
"And Arthur, too?" Merlin asked although he felt a twinge at the words. He didn't want her to have Arthur. He didn't think she was acceptable for the prince. She didn't seem capable of loving Arthur the way he deserved. In fact, the very thought of them together made Merlin's insides churn unpleasantly.
"Arthur. That idiotic puppy prince? He hasn't a thought in his head beyond gadding about on his horse and bashing at his knights with a sword. As soon as I have his crown he will have outlived his usefulness. Pity I will have to wear black for a year, but that is a small price to pay for Camelot." She sighed heavily and turned back to her books. "Except that you, Merlin, have bollixed my plans. The foolish 'true love' portion of the spell was only for appearances. I must have missed something. How could a kiss from a man awaken him?"
The last question seemed to be rhetorical, but it made Merlin frown. Did that mean he was not Arthur's true love? Would any kiss from a man have awakened Arthur? The thought was depressing. Merlin had begun to think he was special. He rolled his eyes at the idea. It was foolish, anyway. Arthur was a prince and Merlin was… well, he was no one.
Still, Merlin would like to see him one last time before Nimueh killed them both. That bit was inevitable since she had just confessed to her plot to marry and eventually murder Arthur, and part of Merlin was clinically waiting for her to reveal the manner in which he would die. He supposed the potion was to blame for his lack of concern at the thought. He knew he should be trying to escape, but it seemed like far too much effort at the moment.
Nimueh stopped pacing with an explosive sigh. "No matter," she said. "It is of little import. Soon you will be gone and another potion or spell will bring Prince Arthur to his knees and under my thrall. I merely need to decide which it will be."
She returned to Merlin and bent at the waist to grip his chin and look into his eyes.
"Pity you'll never be queen, Merlin," she murmured and then laughed coldly. She looked at Simon. "As soon as night falls, take him out and dispose of him. Make certain you are not seen."
Merlin glanced out the window, heartily sorry to see the sun touching the horizon. He wondered at Arthur's whereabouts.
As the sun began to set, Arthur was becoming frantic. The guards at the gatehouse had not seen anyone of Merlin's description pass. Unless Merlin had disguised himself or escaped by some other route, he was still in Camelot.
Arthur went back to the castle and made his way back to Lady Catrine's rooms, hoping that Merlin had returned there, despite the fact that Arthur had left strict orders to be notified in case of such an event.
Partway there, he was stopped by a serving girl. "Prince Arthur!" she called breathlessly.
He halted and waited impatiently, already concocting an excuse to explain his rudeness even as he took another step.
"It is said you have been searching for Merlin, the servant of Lady Catrine."
That stopped Arthur's surreptitious retreat. "Yes?"
"I last saw him in the company of Simon, the one in service to Lady Nimueh. They were going in the direction of her rooms. Perhaps, if you have not yet spoken to her…?"
Arthur felt something constrict. Of course. Lady Nimueh. He remembered her unpleasant expression and turned to hurry up the stairs again. "Thank you…?"
Her name rang out after him and was instantly forgotten as worry for Merlin crowded all thought. He tracked over his conversation with Nimueh. She had said nothing outwardly threatening, and yet her demeanour had filled Arthur with suspicion.
Arthur reached her chamber and raised his hand to knock when the door opened. He blinked at Simon for a moment, who seemed just as shocked.
Simon recovered first. "Prince Arthur. Do come in."
"Thank you," Arthur said and strode into the room, keeping one hand on his sword hilt and his eyes on Simon, at least until a noise caught his attention and dragged his gaze across the room. His heart nearly stopped when he beheld Merlin, bound to a chair and gagged, eyes wild.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried, relieved that he had found him, but quickly realizing that something was up. The knowledge registered an instant too late and something crashed down on the back of his neck, bringing him to his knees.
He heard Merlin's muffled cry a moment before another blow struck him and drove him to the floor where he lay still, head ringing and blackness licking at his senses. He fought to remain conscious as he heard the sound of footsteps approach.
"Prince Arthur," Nimueh's voice said, "How convenient. I thought I would have to concoct some nefarious means to feed you this potion, but here you are! It must be fate."
Arthur's head swam, but he felt a hand grip his hair and pull his head back. Nimueh's perfume assaulted him, inducing nausea along with the flickering darkness. "And say goodbye to your little Merlin. Simon is taking him out to die. Fear not; you won't even remember him soon."
No, thought Arthur, struggling against the fog. Please, no.
Merlin watched with horror as Arthur was brought to his knees by a blow from Simon. A second strike sent him to the floor.
"No!" he screamed, although his cry was solidly muffled by the gag.
Nimueh crossed the room and crouched next to Arthur before curling a hand in his fine blond hair and brutally forcing his head back to whisper something to him.
Merlin struggled with his bonds, feeling suddenly sober and no longer bound by lethargy. Seeing Arthur in danger seemed to have boiled the potion from his blood, leaving him clear-headed… and terrified.
"Simon, see to Merlin," Nimueh said. "And take care not to be seen. I will deal with my Prince Charming." She pulled a vial from a pocket of her skirt. "This will keep him biddable until I can brew a longer lasting solution."
Merlin was never sure where it came from. He seldom used it, as there was little need for it when doing laundry or baking bread or brushing Morgana's hair. But in times of duress he had always found it to be accessible and this definitely counted as duress.
Nimueh rolled Arthur over and Simon strode toward Merlin. Events seemed to be happening slower than normal. Simon's steps slowed in an exaggerated fashion and Merlin watched Arthur's limp hand slide little by little across his abdomen and flop to the floor.
Nimueh uncorked the vial and reached for Arthur, who raised a hand sluggishly, as though it was too heavy for him to lift. Her hand gripped Arthur's hair and pulled, tipping his head back as Simon's weighty footsteps thumped closer.
No, thought Merlin. Not Arthur. You'll not have Arthur.
Merlin's focus grew intense and he called up the power. It swelled through him in an uncontrollable tide and burst forth to crash into Nimueh, barely controlled and full of nothing but raw force. It pushed her across the floor to slam into a chair beneath the table, jolting the potion from her hand. The vial bounced to the floor and spilled greenish liquid across the stone with a ringing chime of glass.
Simon paused, reaching for Merlin. He frowned and turned back, still moving far slower than normal. Merlin called forth his magic again in order to seize a vase from the floor—this one made of heavy metal coated with enamel.
Simon took a step toward Nimueh with a muted cry—and then toppled forward when the vase slammed into the side of his head. Nimueh cried out, whether in pain or rage, Merlin wasn't certain. Her features twisted and she got to her knees and snatched up the spilled vial even as she pulled a wicked looking dagger from her boot.
Merlin tried to concentrate on freeing himself from his bonds, but throwing raw power around was far simpler than attempting something intricate, such as untying ropes. Even slicing through them seemed impossible.
"Merlin, you are a sorcerer!" she hissed. "And you have just killed your prince. With Arthur gone, the king will need another heir, and Uther's death will be far easier to explain."
She crawled toward Arthur, blade in her fist, and Merlin gave up trying to free himself in order to stop her. The vase was too close to her to pick up damaging speed; he cast about for something else.
Arthur's foot shot into the air and connected with Nimueh's wrist, sending the blade spinning through the air to hit the floor and slide beneath the wardrobe. Nimueh cried out again—this time in certain pain as she grabbed her arm. Arthur launched himself upward and wrapped his hands around her throat.
"You bitch!" he snarled. "This treason will not go unpunished!"
She whispered a word and Arthur shouted and snatched his hands away as if burned. Nimueh leaped to her feat and raced for the door. Merlin's heart was in his throat as her escape became imminent.
Arthur's questing hand found the vase. He flung it at Nimueh's running form and it crashed into her just as she reached the door, knocking her into the portal with a loud thump. She and the metal urn fell to the floor simultaneously. The vase rolled in a slow circle. Nimueh did not move.
Arthur staggered over to her and knelt to feel at her throat. Merlin prayed she wasn't faking unconsciousness, but after a moment Arthur straightened and turned back to Merlin, picking up Nimueh's fallen knife in passing.
"Merlin," Arthur said with a tsking sound. "You seem to be prone to trouble." Arthur slid the dagger's blade between Merlin's cheek and the cloth of his gag to slice it through with a single stroke. Merlin spat the gag and opened his mouth to speak, but then Arthur's lips were pressed against his and his tongue was swiping over Merlin's and replacing the foul taste of the cloth with something heady and wonderful.
It took a moment for Merlin to register that Arthur was kissing him, and of his own accord, apparently, and also quite wonderfully. Arthur's hands cupped Merlin's face like a lover and his tongue found every sensitive place in Merlin's mouth.
Arthur finally pulled away and Merlin followed, lips seeking more, until he was brought up short by his bonds. He blinked and looked at Arthur with astonishment. Arthur smiled at him. "It was your kiss that awakened me, was it not?"
Merlin could only nod and then Arthur was kissing him again, hot and heady, as if they were the only two people in the world. Merlin was rapidly becoming unable to think of anything else, except that Nimueh had planned to kill them both and Simon was already beginning to stir, if the muted groan was anything to go by, but god, Arthur's mouth was brilliant...
Arthur pulled away again with a groan and then pressed a wet kiss against Merlin's forehead. "Must stop. Need to... untie you."
Merlin nodded breathlessly. He wanted his hands free so that he could put them all over Arthur and verify that he was real and not some potion-induced figment of his imagination.
Arthur moved around behind him and untied the ropes just as Simon began to awaken in earnest. Merlin leaped out of the chair and massaged his wrists until Arthur took them into his hands to examine them critically. Merlin blushed at the attention.
"Arthur, I'm fine. Shouldn't we deal with those two before we...?" He wasn't quite sure how to finish the sentence, because he had no idea what Arthur's intentions were, although anything that involved more kissing would be affirmative in Merlin's book.
"Yes. Yes, we should. Take these ropes and bind Nimueh, but open the door first and shout for some assistance. Where are my bloody knights when I need them?"
To Merlin's relief, Nimueh was out cold. Merlin shoved her away from the door with one booted foot and then yanked open the portal to flag down a passing servant.
By the time a group of soldiers arrived, Arthur had bound Simon and dragged him into the corridor. "Take her, as well," he ordered and gestured to Nimueh, who was beginning to recover. "And mind she doesn't use any tricks. She seems versed in sorcery."
Merlin paled at that, wondering if Arthur had noticed his own use of magic. With everything that had happened to Arthur recently, he would not be surprised if sorcery was completely banned in Camelot and all magic wielders put to death.
The two traitors were bustled away, leaving Arthur and Merlin alone. Arthur turned to him with a positively predatory gleam in his eyes.
"Now, then. Where were we?" he asked and advanced on Merlin, who suddenly felt like prey, and yet he had no desire at all to escape.
"Right here, I believe," Merlin replied and stepped into Arthur's arms before pulling him in for another bruising kiss. It was even better this time, because Merlin could touch. He ran his fingers over Arthur's tunic, feeling the strong muscles beneath the fabric, and then higher to caress the blond curls at Arthur's nape, and then higher still to bury his hands in Arthur's soft hair.
All the while the kiss flooded his senses with delight, and Arthur's hands were not idle. They slid over Merlin's back and down to grip his arse to pull him even closer, giving Merlin a glimpse of delights he had not yet dared to dream.
"Wait," Merlin said, pulling away. "Why? Why are you doing this?"
"Because I want you, Merlin." Arthur's voice was rough and heady and did wonderful things to Merlin's body, particularly in the groin area.
He groaned. "But why? Is it another spell?"
"Only if you have cast it upon me. But let us be certain, shall we?" Arthur stepped back and Merlin bemoaned the loss of his warmth for a moment, until Arthur pulled a ring from his thumb. "Here. Put this on."
Merlin raised a brow at him. It seemed an odd request, but perhaps it was some bizarre ritual known only to the Pendragons. Merlin took the ring and slipped it over his own thumb. It fit perfectly.
Arthur's smile was brilliant. "I knew it!"
Merlin smiled in return. "Good. That's good then, yes?"
"Very good," Arthur growled and then pulled Merlin back in.
It was very good, indeed.
Arthur shifted and pulled at the neckline of his tunic. He was very glad he was seldom forced to wear finery, because it was bloody uncomfortable. Of course, he refused to give evidence that he was anything less than ecstatic, so he smiled at Guinevere, who was surreptitiously holding hands with Lancelot. Morgana, next to her, was boldly dressed in male clothing. Arthur nearly snickered aloud at that. The minx was bound and determined to give her mother apoplexy, which would surely happen the moment she caught sight of the outfit.
The vicar coughed, looking as uncomfortable as Arthur felt, and took a nip from a "medicinal" flask that dangled from a cord fastened to his belt. Arthur wondered why he hadn't thought of that. He supposed men of the cloth could get away with such behaviour. They were allowed to drink to excess since they had forsaken earthy pleasures. Arthur grinned at that. If he had to forsake earthly pleasures, he would drink to excess, as well.
Music began to play and the small-talk humming throughout the room silenced immediately. Arthur looked at his father, who looked very sombre and serious beneath his glittering crown.
As the music swelled, all heads turned toward the entrance doors where Catrine had appeared, dressed in golden silk and adorned with jewels of every sort. She looked lovely, Arthur had to admit, and both she and his father seemed blissfully happy with the match. The whirlwind romance had surprised most of the residents of Camelot, but they had quickly shaken off their bewilderment in order to prepare for a royal wedding. Arthur was not certain if his father saw it as a marriage of convenience or if he had really developed feelings for Lady Catrine. Regardless, Arthur hoped her child-bearing days were not over and she would provide Uther a new heir so that Arthur would be off the hook.
Arthur grinned, knowing what Merlin would say about such an uncharitable thought. With Merlin in his mind again, he sighed and mentally hurried the ceremony along. After what seemed forever, the vicar pronounced Uther and Catrine married and they shared a kiss that caused Arthur to wrinkle his nose. He hoped they planned to confine that sort of thing to the bedchamber, because watching his father locking lips was something of a libido killer.
Catrine swept regally past on his father's arm, beaming beneath her new crown and barely throwing a disapproving glare toward Morgana. Uther halted at the door. "Everyone is welcome at the feast below. We will attend you shortly, once a small matter of state business is attended to." He and Catrine stood on either side of the portal and accepted congratulations and well-wishes from each of the nobles as they filed past. Arthur knew it was an important ritual that would help determine if any of them held hidden animosity toward the new queen, but from what Arthur had seen the people of Camelot were in favour of the match.
When the last of the nobles had departed, his father shut the door. "Now, then, on to Arthur's business." He clapped his hands and gave Arthur a fond smile.
Inexplicably, Arthur was suddenly nervous. His mouth was dry and he eyed the vicar and wondered if would be inappropriate to ask for a nip from his flask.
Yes, he decided, terribly inappropriate. The others might get the wrong impression and think that Arthur was changing his mind, which he most certainly was not. Of course, there weren't many others left, only his father and Catrine, Gwen and Lancelot, and Morgana with a handful of Arthur's most trusted knights.
The music started up again and Arthur's mouth went even drier. He hoped he would be able to speak when the time came. Even as the thought rushed through his mind, he turned to a door at the side of the room as it opened.
Merlin stepped out and Arthur's breath caught in his throat. He looked splendid. Arthur had suggested he wear white in honour of his virginal status—even though Merlin always gave him a hearty bash with a fist or an elbow when Arthur brought up the fact, plus it had been growing exceedingly difficult to maintain such status lately—but Merlin had insisted on richest blue. Arthur was glad of it, because it made his eyes sparkle like sapphires.
Merlin looked nervous, but also shyly pleased, which steadied Arthur's nerves. He knew then that he was doing the right thing.
Merlin squared his shoulders almost imperceptibly and strode forward in time with the music to stand next to Arthur. Their eyes met for a moment and Arthur smiled fondly. Merlin blushed, but he smiled back.
The vicar cleared his throat. "Friends and family, knights and nobility, we are gathered here to join Prince Arthur Pendragon and Merlin Emrys in eternal wedlock."
Eternal, Arthur mouthed and nudged Merlin with an elbow. Merlin gave him a sidelong warning look, which warmed Arthur even more than the smile had.
"This union is acceptable to His Majesty, King Uthur Pendragon?" asked the vicar and looked at Arthur's father.
"It is." Arthur relaxed when his father's voice rang out strong and sure.
"Then so shall it be." With that, the vicar began to intone the words of the ceremony that would bind him and Merlin together forever. They faced each other and linked hands, right to right, and left to left. Cords were tied around their hands and wrists, and words were spoken, even though Arthur could scarcely register anything but the feel of Merlin's hands in his and the piercing blue brightness of his gaze.
And then Arthur was promising to love and protect and cherish Merlin all the days of his life and Merlin was promising the same, which made Arthur's vision strangely blurry and his throat nearly close up.
"You may… um, kiss your… bride?" the vicar finished uncertainly.
"Finally," Arthur murmured and stepped forward to press his lips gently to Merlin's. The room erupted into cheers—mostly from Arthur's knights—and Merlin pulled quickly away after the single kiss. Merlin had never been comfortable with public displays of affection. Arthur vowed to work on that now that they had all the time in the world.
"Now we will all adjourn to the feast," his father announced. "And celebrate this auspicious day."
With that, he and Catrine swept out. The others waited around to congratulate the new couple. Arthur waited impatiently for them to finish handclasping and cheek-kissing. Finally, he and Merlin were alone.
Merlin cocked a brow at him. "Are we going to the feast?"
Arthur nodded. "Just as soon as you correct that pathetic excuse for a kiss."
A hint of a smile played about Merlin's lips. "Pathetic?"
"Very pathetic. I've had better from chambermaids."
The smile fled and Merlin's eyes narrowed. "Chambermaids? When was this?"
Arthur waved a hand airily. "It's not important."
Merlin grabbed him by the front of his tunic and dragged him forward. "Your chambermaid kissing days are over, sir." With that, he fit his lips to Arthur's and set about making Arthur forget chambermaids even existed.
Several minutes later, Arthur had Merlin plastered against the wall and the delicious hardness between them contained such potential it left Arthur gasping with need.
"Feast..." Merlin murmured before his tongue returned to doing wicked things to Arthur's libido. They had snogged often and well since Nimueh's capture, and Merlin had become something of a god at using his lips and tongue. Arthur could hardly wait for him to try them out elsewhere.
"Yes," Arthur said, but kissed him again and rocked his hips forward until Merlin moaned into his mouth. The sound was electrifying and Arthur shoved himself away with an oath. "Yes, we must. Feast." In truth, the only thing he wanted to feast on was Merlin, who watched him through half-lidded eyes, mouth open and panting and wet...
"Yeah, just... give me a minute," Merlin said weakly.
Arthur nodded and spun around to walk several steps. Perhaps if he did not look at Merlin at all, it would help. He tried to think unsexy thoughts and ended up laughing aloud.
"What?" Merlin asked.
"I was thinking of Morgana. Whose clothes do you suppose she's wearing?"
Merlin made a sound of disgust. "I'd rather not think about it."
Arthur chuckled, picturing Morgana in bed with Leon. "Okay, that's done it. I think we can go to the feast now."
"You killed your erection by thinking of Morgana? She will not be flattered by that."
"Then I'll trust you not to tell her, idiot," Arthur said and rolled his eyes. "Come along. You are going to need nourishment because I don't plan to let you sleep tonight."
With that, he took Merlin's hand and went to join the others.
Merlin staggered into Arthur's room feeling pleasantly tipsy. Arthur was somewhere behind him, being serenaded by his drunken knights and being given loud advice about his "wedding night" that made Merlin's cheeks burn. Even so, he couldn't stop smiling because soon he and Arthur would be alone and it really was their wedding night.
Merlin still could not quite believe Arthur had gone through with it. Merlin had insisted on a month-long courtship period in order to dissuade Arthur from his insane notion, but each day had only seemed to make Arthur more certain. And more amorous.
Merlin flushed darker when he remembered a night last week when Arthur had cornered Merlin in a corner stairwell and snogged him until he could barely breathe. Merlin had been so hard and needy had had actually begged for Arthur to touch him. And Arthur had complied, reaching down to cup Merlin's erection with a palm. Merlin had bucked into it with a moan... and then the sound of footsteps tripping down the steps had wrenched them apart.
Merlin had stared at Arthur with wide eyes and then fled, racing to a private place in order to take care of his Arthur-induced problem. A problem which returned full-force at the mere memory, encouraged by the arms that wrapped around him from behind. The door slammed, helped along by Arthur's booted foot.
"Alone at last, Merlin," Arthur murmured against his neck. "Alone at very long last."
The breathy, rich hum of Arthur's voice made Merlin arch back against him. "I can't quite believe it," Merlin admitted.
Arthur hummed, sending a titillating vibration through Merlin's flesh. "Can you believe this, then?" he asked and sent his hands down to unfasten the fancy buckle of Merlin's belt. It dropped to the floor with a clank, dragged down by the weight of the ornate dagger strapped to the side. Merlin was glad to be free of it, especially when Arthur's hands moved beneath the hem of his tunic and pushed it upward to touch Merlin's abdomen, splaying his fingers over the flesh there.
"Yeah, that's... that's feeling pretty real."
Arthur gripped the tunic and tugged it over Merlin's head and off. Merlin shivered. He had been shirtless in front of Arthur before, plenty of times, actually, but never like this. Never alone in a darkening bedchamber with full knowledge of what was coming, or at least a rudimentary knowledge.
"Are you cold?" Arthur asked.
Merlin shook his head and turned to wrap his arms around Arthur's neck and continue where the kissing had left off earlier. He knew his nervousness would be gone with a few swipes of Arthur's tongue.
He pulled back with a gasp, however, when his breastbone met cold metal—Arthur's bejewelled amulet. Merlin's eyes narrowed. "You have far too much finery on, milord."
"Then perhaps you should remove it for me?" Arthur suggested with a grin.
So Merlin did, taking his time as he unfastened each buckle and ribbon and button. Honestly, peeling him from his armour was easier and less time-consuming. Even though it wasn't his job, Merlin had volunteered for the task a time or two, although he had always managed to flee—barely—before stripping Arthur down completely.
Not this time, though. Merlin slowly peeled off Arthur's linen undertunic and let it fall atop the other rich fabrics accumulated on the floor. All that remained were his braies, hose, and boots. Merlin dropped to his knees to tug the boots from Arthur's feet and then he began to untie the garters that held Arthur's hose in place. He used both hands to slide the silk down first one leg and then the other, feeling each bump and curve of Arthur's thighs, knees, and calves with something close to reverence.
He chanced a glance upward and his heart leapt when Arthur's eyes met his, filled with such intensity that his hands shook as he tossed the last leg covering aside. All that remained were the braies and Merlin reached up to untie the ribbon at Arthur's hip.
One of Arthur's hands dropped into Merlin's hair and the other cupped his chin and tugged him back to his feet. The bow pulled free and the light silk rustled to the floor as Merlin's lips pressed against Arthur's once more. It had all begun with a single kiss and every kiss to follow had been brilliant.
Arthur quickly divested Merlin of his finery, taking not quite so much care as Merlin and actually tearing the fabric of his hose when one ribbon refused to loosen properly. Merlin laughed and admired Arthur's unclad form. His prominent erection was impressive and filled Merlin anew with nervousness, except that he knew Arthur would never hurt him.
"Bed," Arthur said when Merlin's braies were kicked away and he was left wearing nothing but a blush. "We should move to the bed."
Merlin nodded and turned to make his way to the bed. He yelped when Arthur's hand came down across his bottom in a playful slap, and he turned to glare at his prince. Arthur laughed. "You have a beautiful arse, Merlin."
Merlin snorted and threw himself on the bed before rolling over, striving for casual even though he felt anything but, especially when Arthur's eyes roamed over him and lingered on his erection, which jerked under his perusal. There was no laughter in Arthur's gaze, only intense heat that seemed to increase as he stepped forward and then lowered his head to press a kiss to the tip of Merlin's cock.
Merlin's breath caught in his throat and he made a strangled noise when Arthur's tongue lapped over the head and then he took the entire thing into his mouth. Merlin wasn't sure how long he could stave off his orgasm—he had never felt anything like it.
"Oh god, I'm going to—"
"Do," Arthur said, releasing his cock long enough to whisper the word, breath hot against Merlin's flesh. He took in Merlin's length again and sucked before sliding his tongue over and around in an exquisite fashion, until Merlin couldn't hold it any longer. With a muffled cry, Merlin arched his back and came in Arthur's hot, brilliant mouth, which never pulled away or stopped moving until Merlin curled a hand in his hair to stay him.
Arthur's smug look was well earned and Merlin did not protest when their lips met. The taste was slightly bitter and unpleasant. He wondered if Arthur's would taste better and felt a brief rush at the knowledge that he would have the opportunity to find out.
He wrapped his arms around Arthur's neck and held on tightly. Arthur kissed him gently and slowly moved his lips over Merlin's jaw and down to his neck. His hands roamed over Merlin's skin, holding his hips for a moment before curling lower.
"Are you ready for…?" Arthur murmured.
"Yes." Merlin did not hesitate. He was more than ready to give Arthur everything.
Arthur groaned into his neck and pressed a kiss there. "All right, hold on a moment." Arthur rolled away from him and left the bed for the cabinet that held all of his jewellery. He opened a drawer and withdrew a small bottle.
"I made this myself," Arthur said and then grinned and added, "Well, Gaius helped."
Merlin snorted a laugh. "I'm impressed."
"Oh, you will be," Arthur promised as he returned to the bed to prove his words.
By the time Arthur finished using his fingers and the scented oil to loosen and prepare him, Merlin was hard and gasping again, on the verge of begging for more. When Arthur entered him, the burn was both uncomfortable and welcome. Arthur's gaze was steady and concerned.
"It's all right," Merlin assured him, breathing through the unfamiliar sensation. Arthur smiled gently and then began to move, gently at first, and then working his way up to near frantic. His body thrummed with an urgency that Merlin tried to match, clinging tightly to Arthur's muscular arms as he met each brilliant thrust.
"Merlin," Arthur said. "My Merlin." His hand found Merlin's cock and stroked. Merlin arched into him with a gasp.
"Yes," Merlin said, knowing it was true. He had belonged to Arthur from that first kiss.
Arthur's body thrummed with tension, arms trembling beneath Merlin's hands. He quivered and then tugged at Merlin's cock once more. The combination of Arthur coming inside him and the pressure on his prick pulled Merlin's release forth once more and he felt a warm splash on his abdomen.
Arthur collapsed over him in a limp mass, damp with sweat and panting hard. Merlin trailed a hand over his skin and up into the wet locks of hair at the base of Arthur's skull. It would take some getting used to, the fact that he could touch Arthur all he wanted now, that they could do this every night (and even in the daytime, if they wished), and he could sleep in Arthur's bed and wake up with him in the morning…
Arthur rolled away to lie beside him. Merlin turned his head to look into Arthur's serious blue eyes.
"What are you thinking?" Arthur asked and splayed a hand over Merlin's chest.
Merlin only smiled, hoping Arthur could see the fullness of his heart in his stare. Arthur leaned up to kiss him. It was long and slow and perfect.
"That we'll live happily ever after," Merlin said when Arthur pulled away.
Arthur chuckled. "Of course we will, Merlin. Of course we will."