Part 2: Arthur
When Arthur got back from hacking one of the dummies he had set up in the dungeons to pieces, he found his rooms empty except for the covered tray on the table. Rubbing his shoulder, Arthur scowled at it and stalked past it to sink into his chair.
Maybe training in the dungeons hadn't been the best idea. His skin felt slightly clammy and his shoulders hurt from being limited to a much narrower space than outside. It had been sheer desperation that had driven him to set up that dummy, unable to stand one more battle of chess and even more unwilling to find Merlin avoiding him again.
Arthur wondered what Merlin was doing. Before he had started simply disappearing on him, he had always been there and now that he wasn't it felt like someone had taken a part of himself and hid it somewhere he wasn't able to find it. It was irritating and only made his frustration grow.
It was ridiculous, really. This was Merlin. How hard could it be to get him alone? Very, obviously. He hadn't had a proper conversation with Merlin since they had discussed his magic almost two weeks ago.
The truth was that Arthur just didn't know what to do. When Merlin had opened up to him for what felt like the first time, when Arthur had given in and pulled him close, he had thought that Merlin felt the same. Arthur could still feel the way Merlin had pressed close to him, the way his hands had clutched his coat as if he never wanted to let him go. But then, suddenly, everything changed once more and they were back to where they started. The mutual awareness of Merlin's magic had been brushed aside and they hadn't said one word about it since then. Merlin was back to being as insolent and insubordinate as he had ever been – at least the little time he actually spent in Arthur's presence.
Sometimes, when Arthur looked at him, he thought he saw something in Merlin's eyes, but then Merlin would blink or look away and it was gone. Surely, if Merlin felt the same, he would have done something by now. Arthur's couldn't imagine Merlin simply waiting in silence for Arthur to take over, seeing as he normally had no qualms about defying Arthur in everything else.
Letting go of the air in his lungs, Arthur rubbed his aching shoulder once more. The few times his sword had connected with the stone-wall had obviously done him no favours. He decided it was probably best to send a servant down to Gaius' quarters for some of the massage oil the physician always provided him with. Otherwise, he knew from experience, he would be unable to lift his arm come tomorrow.
Once he had found a passing servant to relay the message to, also ordering a bath while he was at it, he couldn't help the small twist in his stomach as he thought about the chances of Merlin bringing the oil himself. Feeling foolish, Arthur forcefully pushed his feelings aside and tried to busy himself with perusing a book he had been meaning to read for months, but his duties had never allowed it.
When the knock on the door finally came, Arthur couldn't help the slight fluttering of his chest, but did his best to ignore it. He had never thought that falling in love would turn him into a complete girl, it was downright appalling.
Grimacing in disgust at himself, Arthur tried to look nonchalant.
"Enter," he said in his usual sharp voice.
But it wasn't Merlin who entered and Arthur had trouble concealing his disappointment. The servant, a tall blonde, entered hesitantly as if he had never been in the Prince's chambers before. And on second thought, Arthur looked at him more closely, maybe he hadn't. Arthur couldn't remember ever seeing him before.
"The oil you asked for, Sire," he said, bowing respectfully as he deposited it on the other end of the table.
"Give Gaius my thanks," Arthur said. "Are you new?"
The servant shifted slightly from foot to foot, glancing up briefly at Arthur's face before lowering his gaze once more.
"Yes, Sire," he replied, folding his arms behind his back. "I'm Galen. Gaius' new apprentice."
Arthur set up straighter, fighting a frown as he put his book aside.
"Gaius' apprentice? Since when?"
The boy shifted again, seemingly feeling awkward at being interrogated.
"For about two weeks now, Sire," he answered, glancing up through his lashes at Arthur.
"What about his other apprentice?"
Galen shrugged slightly.
"Merlin doesn't really have an interest in becoming the future court physician."
In an attempt to seem uncaring, Arthur uncovered the tray and reached for a piece of cheese. All the while he was seething inside. Two weeks and Merlin obviously hadn't found it necessary to inform him of these changes.
He thought about Gaius' cramped working space and couldn't help but ask: "Where do you sleep?"
The servant finally looked up at him and Arthur wasn't sure of the expression on his face.
"I sleep with Merlin, Sire."
The boy had the presence of mind to pour him some water and hand him the goblet. Arthur gulped it down.
"Are you alright, Sire?"
Arthur waved him off, his composure returning only through years of practice. His knuckles, however, were white where they gripped the goblet and Arthur could feel his short nails biting into the metal. The pain did nothing to ground him.
"That will be all," Arthur commanded, voice still a little hoarse from the coughing fit. "You may go."
After the door had closed behind Gwalen-Gaden-whatever, Arthur stopped all pretence of calmness and jumped up from his chair in order to pace furiously in front of the fireplace. Here he had been wondering why Merlin was so reluctant to reciprocate and all this time it was because his attentions were focused on this…Gralen. How could he have been so blind, so stupid! He had wanted to give Merlin time to adjust to the idea, time to maybe approach him on his own.
Feeling the urge to destroy something, Arthur balled his hands into fists and tried to breathe in deeply. He was the Prince of Camelot, he would not be bested by a mere servant. Especially not one like that Gayden.
Unbidden images of Merlin and that damned boy flooded his inner eye and Arthur was sure that he had never felt anything like the intense burning in his chest before. It felt as though it was about to consume him whole. For once he thought he knew what those sorcerers burning on the pyre felt.
Deflated, Arthur braced his hands against the cold stone above the fireplace, feeling as though he might simply stay like this forever. He hadn't thought it could hurt anymore than it already had these past few weeks, but obviously he had been wrong.
This was the most pathetic he had ever felt, and Arthur had the childish urge to simply crawl under his covers never to emerge again. What if Merlin really liked that Greyden? What if he could give Merlin something Arthur couldn't? He was the Crown Prince, after all, he wouldn't be able to give Merlin a normal life. He would have to share Arthur with his people, something Arthur knew for a fact wasn't easy.
Sighing, Arthur slumped further against the stone and hung his head. He didn't give his love lightly, had never given it to anyone before Merlin, and now he found it impossible to take it back. And there was still this selfish part of him that didn't want to give it back.
What it wanted was Merlin and Merlin alone. He wanted Merlin to be his. It made his skin crawl just thinking about someone else touching him and Arthur wanted to have the right to banish everyone who even looked at Merlin the wrong way. And he would be damned if he just stood by while none other than Gadwin took away what should have been Arthur's all along.
He would just have to make Merlin see that, despite everything, no one could ever adore him more than Arthur.
When Merlin came to take the tray away over an hour later, Arthur was freshly bathed and somewhat calmer. He had managed to force down a few more pieces of cheese accompanied by some bread and meat, before pushing his plate away.
Merlin looked at the almost full tray, before eying Arthur intently.
"If you continue like this, it will be me finding you in a heap somewhere," he said, a small undertone of concern in his voice.
"It takes quite a bit to get me into a heap, Merlin," Arthur replied, crossing the room to take a seat in his favourite chair once again. "And I still have a long way to go before I look as half-starved as you."
Merlin huffed, picking up some of Arthur's clothes and stuffing them into his cupboard without fineness. Arthur scowled.
"I do actually still intend to wear those, Merlin," he bit out.
Merlin ignored him, pointedly closing the cupboard doors and turned back to him.
"Seriously, Arthur, you should try and eat some more," Merlin pressed on, making a vague gesture towards the tray.
Arthur's insides became all warm and pathetic, but he just couldn't get himself to care. He found the edge of the chair next to him with his boot and pushed it away from the table the same way he had done the last time he offered Merlin to share his meal.
Merlin looked at the chair for a moment, seemingly fighting some inner battle, before sighing and taking a seat. Their legs brushed and the jolt from the contact went straight to Arthur's cock. He had to tense his thigh to keep from pressing closer.
Clearing his suddenly dry throat, Arthur forced himself to reach for some more meat. If he wanted to find a way to win Merlin, he first needed to ascertain Merlin's feelings for Geldin.
"I see Gaius has a new apprentice," Arthur tried his best to sound casual, biting off a chunk of meat and chewing it carefully.
Merlin looked up from where he had been stuffing cheese into his bread.
"Yeah, Galen," he clarified, before taking a bite and resuming his sentence in-between chews. "He's a good student for Gaius."
"You think so?" Arthur's act of being uninterested didn't slip for a moment.
Merlin stuffed the last bit of bread into his mouth and had the decency to swallow before he answered.
"He's very dedicated, much more so than I ever was," he said then, taking a sip of water before continuing. "And he is very talented at what he does, and seems to really care about people."
Arthur frowned, both at Merlin's obvious appreciation of Gredwin's talents and his words.
"There is hardly anyone who cares more for people than you do, Merlin."
Merlin looked up, seemingly pleasantly surprised at Arthur's words and Arthur decided that if this was the look he earned when he complimented Merlin he should do it more often.
"Maybe," Merlin sounded thoughtful, looking at the tabletop. "But not like Galen. I mean, he's so enthusiastic about it all…to be honest it makes me feel a bit stupid sometimes."
Food completely forgotten, Arthur studied Merlin's bowed head wishing he could brush his lips against those fine cheekbones that seemed to have been haunting him for months, if not longer.
When his gaze slid down to Merlin's hand where it rested on the wood, long fingers slightly curled inwards, Arthur's own had reached out before he even realised what he was doing. Unwilling to back down, he covered Merlin's hand with his and tried to ignore the surge of heat it sent through his body.
Merlin's eyes snapped to his, wide and impossibly blue, but he didn't withdraw. Instead, the hand carefully twisted in his grasp until their palms pressed together intimately. Arthur had to force himself to keep from tugging Merlin closer, from dragging him off his chair, sweeping the plates from the table and spreading him out on it while finally claiming his mouth the way he had been fantasising about almost since the day he first lay eyes on it.
"You're not stupid, Merlin."
Merlin raised an eyebrow, a small smile curving his lips and making Arthur falter.
"I mean, your are but…" Arthur cleared his throat. "But not really."
The small smile transformed into one of Merlin's bright grins, his fingers tightening slightly around Arthur's. Though the grip was strong, they felt almost delicate under all of Arthur's calluses and his bigger palm, making him cradle them closer and give in to his ridiculous urge to protect every inch of Merlin. The fact that he knew Merlin hardly needed his protection didn't seem to matter in the least.
"Always so profound, your highness," Merlin teased, but there was no trace of bite in it.
Arthur fought to keep a straight face.
"Shut up, Merlin," he shot back with practised ease.
Merlin's grin didn't falter as he gently ran a thumb over the side of Arthur's hand that suddenly seemed to have developed a straight line to his cock.
"It's quite late, I should go," Merlin sounded regretful, but any pleasure Arthur felt about that fact was swiped away by his next words. "I promised Galen to help him with something before we go to bed."
Arthur's hand was left cold and empty when Merlin stood up to stack the dishes onto the tray. Arthur almost reached out again, had the urge to chain Merlin to his bed in order to keep him.
"I'll send a servant up to take the tub away," Merlin said as he deposited the last plate. "Would you like me to help you into bed before I go?"
Arthur felt his cock throb against the seam of his breeches and automatically sank lower in his chair.
"That won't be necessary," he replied firmly. "You may go."
Did he just imagine it or was there a distant note of relief in Merlin's expression when he picked up the tray? Arthur's heart clenched painfully and he cursed silently.
"Good night, Arthur."
As was his custom, Merlin all but fled after uttering those words and Arthur had no time to reciprocate. He wondered whether Merlin thought he wouldn't say it back. Then he wondered what Merlin could possibly help Galen with and cringed at the flood of unwanted imagery that caused.
Feeling as though his blood was boiling, Arthur snapped at the two servants who came in to take the tub away and all but ripped his clothes apart when he undressed after they had left.
When the cold sheets finally touched his bare skin where the shift didn't reach, Arthur set a furious pace, jerking off with short, fast tugs until the anger drained out of him alongside his release, Merlin's name on his lips as hot come coated the hand that had been wrapped around Merlin's just a few minutes ago.
With Yuletide only a few days away, the castle seemed to awaken from its stupor. The scent of pine was heavy even in the coldness of the corridors and Arthur constantly saw servants hurrying through the icy hallways. Some of the braver souls in the castle even ventured outside once there was a short break in the heavy snowfall.
Arthur himself had made use of the brief lapse and had gone on patrol with a larger group of his knights through the city to ensure their people's safety. They had helped unbury some of the houses and brushed large amounts of snow from various roofs in order to keep them from giving under the weight.
Though there was still enough food, Arthur and his knights gave out several of Gaius' potions to the people that had succumbed to the low temperatures. It seemed to be a lucky year, however, because only very few had died as of yet and the victims were mostly elderly people and no children up to now. All in all, Arthur was pleased with the general situation and was happy to report mostly positive things back to his father.
It was only on his way back to his chambers that Arthur's good mood plummeted at the sight of Merlin in deep conversation with Galen. They were obviously on the way to the kitchens and Arthur's jaw clenched enough to make his teeth ache as he watched Merlin laugh at something the other had said.
Their manner was familiar and when Galen curled his hand around Merlin's elbow, he didn't protest.
Arthur shot across the hallway quicker than should have been possible, laden down as he was by his thick, fur-lined coat which was made even heavier by the cold wetness that had seeped into it from the snow.
"Merlin, attend to me at once," Arthur bit out, voice harsher than he had intended.
It was enough to make them jump apart and Merlin's smile diminish. Arthur thought he might scream in frustration.
"Is there a problem?" Merlin inquired, carefully studying Arthur's face.
Arthur scowled at him, though it was more directed at Galen than anywhere else.
"Only that my manservant is his usual inept self," he snapped. "Now get a move on, Merlin. I don't wish to perish of pneumonia in the corridor."
Merlin rolled his eyes, but turned to say his goodbyes before following Arthur down the corridor into the direction of his rooms.
Jealousy felt like a living thing, like a poisonous snake curling around his heart and squeezing it so tightly it hurt. Arthur's skin felt raw and itchy as if the poison was seeping into his veins and spreading through his body.
"I do actually keep you around to work, Merlin, not to philander with that servant boy." Arthur's voice was unkind, any teasing absent.
Merlin spluttered as colour shot up his neck and into his cheeks until it reached the tip of his ears. Arthur wanted to push down that ridiculous neckerchief and lick at the redness of his neck, wanted to bite down on the soft skin and leave his teeth marks for everyone to see.
"I wasn't philandering!" Merlin protested heatedly, tearing Arthur from his thoughts.
They had stopped walking and were facing each other with stormy expressions. Arthur had trouble suppressing his trembling, but Merlin seemed beyond that type of repression. His hands were shaking where they had curled into fists, his body bend slightly towards Arthur in a clearly antagonistic stance. Arthur was torn between anger and intense longing.
"I find that hard to believe, seeing as you've been shirking your duties in order to amuse yourself with your new playmate."
Merlin's eyes widened and he looked both insulted and as though Arthur had lost his mind.
"Galen is not my playmate," Merlin snapped. "We're just friends."
Arthur's lips twisted into a snarl, vividly remembering Merlin's promise to refrain from lying to him from now on. The snake coiled tighter and Arthur had trouble taking his next breath.
"Friends or no," he barked harshly, spitting out the first word as if it was toxic. "You will remember that your duty to me comes first. Is that clear?"
Merlin glared at him with a fierceness that made a shiver run down Arthur's spine, the slightest flash of gold swirling through the depth of Merlin's gaze before it was gone.
"Yes, Sire," he spat out.
Somehow Merlin managed to convey the honorific like an insult time and time again, but Arthur had no choice but to let it go and continue to stalk down the corridor. If he looked at Merlin for only a moment longer, he would be forced to throw caution to the wind and have him against the next wall – decency and patience be damned.
Merlin seemed to make a point in arriving almost an hour late with Arthur's evening meal. He dropped the tray onto the table without finesse, plates clanking against each other noisily as they protested the harsh treatment.
He poured the wine vigorously enough for it to splash onto the wood, splattering darkly onto the tabletop and reaching as far as Arthur's sleeve resting next to it. Arthur looked up with a pointed look.
"If you make a mess it will be you who cleans it, Merlin," he snapped irritably.
Merlin's response came in the form of a dark glare.
Stony silence followed Arthur throughout his meal, interrupted only by the sound of deliberate abuse being bestowed upon several of Arthur's possessions.
Arthur couldn't stand it and dismissed Merlin before having emptied his plate. He hated to see him go.
When Arthur saw them again the next afternoon, Merlin was busy rubbing warmth into Galen's arms and seemingly chiding him about something the other man simply laughed off.
Galen patted Merlin's shoulder, before slinging an arm around it as they continued walking. Their chatter never stopped, though Arthur was too far away to hear what was being said.
This time, Arthur forced himself to turn on his heel and stalk into the opposite direction. It was with a feeling of utter satisfaction, however, that he visited Gaius and ordered potions be made for all his knights, seeing as they had been out in the cold almost all of yesterday.
Over the next two days, Arthur took advantage of Merlin's angry absence and filled the idle hours of his time with wandering through the corridors in order to catch Galen on his own as often as he could. No one questioned his sudden need to roam the hallways, he was the Prince, after all, and his firm mask of arrogance distributed a general air of importance that no one dared to contradict.
Whenever he came across Galen, Arthur seemed to remember something very important that needed doing and ordered the servant to carry out said task himself. As Gaius' apprentice, Galen wasn't a regular servant, could even order lower one around, but, as Arthur had hoped, no one seemed to have told him as much.
After he had ordered a bath to be brought up to his rooms on the evening of the second day, Galen had managed to get drenched in water by the time he had finished setting it up. When Arthur dismissed him, he was shivering and eager to get back to the safety of Gaius' rooms.
Or Merlin's bed.
The thought came unbidden into his head and any trace of remorse he might have felt at his juvenile behaviour was immediately stifled. If Arthur weren't so merciful, he'd make Galen scrub the floor of his rooms with a brush the size of his thumbnail.
Arthur, therefore, had absolutely no doubt as to the reason why Merlin all but stormed into his quarters barely half an hour later. He seemed to falter slightly, however, when he saw that Arthur was lying in his tub, arms resting along the sides and head tilted back in a deliberately well planned act of displaying the line of his jaw and neck.
When Merlin's eyes were all but glued onto exactly that, Arthur had to suppress his smugness. He hadn't thought it to work quite so well.
It took Arthur raising an inquisitive eyebrow to snap Merlin back to reality. The change was immediate as his features drew into a dark scowl.
"What the hell is your problem, Arthur?"
Arthur shifted slightly to the sound of the soft splashing of the water and put an expression of complete boredom on his face, perfected through the constant dealings with nobility.
"You'll have to be a bit more specific, if you expect an answer to that," he drawled lazily.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" Merlin's voice rose to a shout. "He could have caught his death out there!"
Arthur's jaw tightened at Merlin's fierce display of defence.
"It is hardly my fault that your precious friend seems unable to accomplish the easiest of orders."
Merlin looked as though he wanted to hit him. It had been a long time since Arthur had seen him this angry.
"It's not his position to be treated by you like a slave!" Merlin erupted, waving his arms about in a jerky and uncoordinated manner. "There are more than enough experienced servants for you to order about. You never had any qualms about sending for me night or day, so why is it that you suddenly feel the need to bully a new servant?"
Sitting up in the tub, Arthur forewent all pretence of indifference.
"I will not treat him favourably, simply because you enjoy bedding him!" Arthur bit out furiously.
Merlin looked stricken, frozen to the spot, almost as if Arthur had slapped him.
"Arthur- you- It's not- I mean, I'm not-" Merlin seemed to have trouble finding the right words. "You-You've got this all wrong."
"And how exactly am I wrong?" Arthur's voice was harsh enough to hurt his throat and he fought the painful clenching of his stomach. "You are all over each other. You are sleeping together."
"We are just sharing my room, we're not-" Merlin interrupted himself as sudden realisation dawned on his face.
Arthur wanted to sink underwater and drown himself in the tub. Merlin stepped closer, slowly closing the distance between them.
"Is that what this has been about?" he sounded slightly breathless and completely taken aback. "You-You're jealous?"
Arthur clenched his jaw, hard, but his silence was answer enough. It took Merlin another moment to react and when he did, it was by bursting into laughter.
Arthur felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. Merlin must have seen his wounded expression, however, because the laughter subsided and suddenly there were hands in his hair and on his cheeks, gently tilting his head and making their gazes lock.
Merlin's eyes were softer and warmer than Arthur had ever seen and it made him feel utterly helpless and faint with adoration.
"Now who's the idiot?" Merlin said, the gentleness of his voice belying his words. "Arthur, I've been in love with you forever. I can't even look at anyone else, let alone find the will to do anything. I've been miserable for months. I can't believe you noticed something like my magic and didn't see what obviously everyone else already seems to know."
It felt as if someone had ripped the ground away from under him and Arthur knew he must indeed look like an idiot.
"You mean you're not…" here he inserted a completely unnecessary, vague gesture before stumbling on stupidly. "And you're…"
Merlin rolled his eyes, a smile curving his lips.
And that seemed to be enough for Arthur's brain to finally take in this new bit of information. He had absolutely no control over the broken, little sound that tumbled from his throat.
Unable and unwilling to wait even a moment longer, Arthur finally gave in and curved one of his hands around the back of Merlin's neck, feeling thick black hair tickling his palm, before he crushed their mouths together.
Merlin's lips were hot and pliant, parting easily for Arthur's demanding tongue as he licked his way in. Arthur couldn't help groaning into the wet heat of Merlin's mouth as he pressed even closer, feeling Merlin do the same as his grip on Arthur's hair tightened slightly.
"Arthur," Merlin breathed against him, into him like a prayer.
Scrabbling briefly for purchase on the edge of the tub, Arthur hauled himself to his knees, dragging Merlin with him in order to meld their chests together. He could feel his skin soaking the front of Merlin's tunic, gluing them together. His hands found their way back to Merlin's body, one curling around his hip while the other tugged at his neckerchief with insistent force.
His hard cock pressed against the unforgiving wood as he sought to move closer to Merlin, made every attempt to crawl under Merlin's skin, his tongue licking deeper into his mouth and muffling Merlin's breathless gasps.
Finally freeing Merlin of his neckerchief, Arthur threw it aside and ran his fingers over the soft paleness of his skin. His thumb traced the line of his neck, then his jaw before coming to rest on his chin.
Drawing back slightly, Arthur opened his eyes to drink in the sight of Merlin's flushed cheeks and rumpled hair. He already looked as though Arthur had had him several times over, which made Arthur's cock throb painfully against the side of the tub.
When Arthur pressed down gently on his chin, Merlin's eyes fluttered open to look at him, darker than Arthur had ever seen them and with a distinct shimmer of gold in their depths. Arthur pressed down harder and Merlin yielded instantly, as if there was nothing he wouldn't let Arthur do to him, letting his mouth fall open just as Arthur leaned in once more and licked back inside. He curled his tongue against the roof of Merlin's mouth, while his thumb moved to feel the sharp edges of Merlin's bottom teeth. Merlin's moan was more audible this time, unmuffled by the openness of his mouth and Arthur let his hands slip down to grab Merlin's shoulder and delve his tongue deeper into the hot heat of his mouth.
"Merlin," Arthur half moaned half mumbled into Merlin's soft mouth, gripping him tight enough to bruise. "Merlin, I need - come here."
Not waiting for Merlin's reaction, Arthur wrapped both arms around him and hauled him into the tub, sending water slushing over the rim and flooding the floor around them. Merlin gave a startled yelp that turned into a heated groan as soon as Arthur had him pressed against the side, rutting against him insistently.
"Arthur," Merlin gasped, nails biting into Arthur's scalp as he arched his neck.
Arthur latched onto it hungrily.
"Wanted you for so long," he whispered heatedly, lips brushing damp skin, as he felt Merlin's racing pulse throbbing against his tongue. "All this time I thought-"
Arthur interrupted himself, sliding his hands up to gently curve around Merlin's jaw as he kissed him again, desperately.
"I couldn't bear the thought of him touching you," he breathed into his mouth. "I wanted to have him thrown in the dungeons just for looking at you."
"Arthur," Merlin whispered again, running gentle hands through his hair and over his chest and parting his lips for Arthur's tongue.
The muscles in Merlin's thighs flexed as he pushed back and wrapped his legs around Arthur's waist to draw him closer against him. Arthur wanted to get Merlin out of his soaked clothes, wanted to touch every inch of his naked skin, but his body wasn't cooperating anymore. His need for Merlin had burned away any fragment of control and Arthur felt helpless and frantic at the same time.
"Promise me there was nothing between you." Arthur couldn't decide whether he meant his words to be a plea or a demand.
His fingers curled around Merlin's still clad arse as he pushed against him with more force, the fabric coarse and slightly rough against Arthur's bare cock. He could feel Merlin's own arousal through his breeches, straining against the wet material as it jerked against Arthur's own with every thrust.
"I promise," Merlin whispered feverishly, dragging Arthur closer and pressing kisses to every part of his face. "It's always been you, Arthur. And it always will be."
A sound that Arthur hardly recognised as his own broke free form his throat and Merlin held him tightly, winding his own arms around Arthur's shoulders, both for leverage and to keep their lips locked. Their kisses had lost any finesse, were simply a mess of tongues and teeth, but Arthur was too far gone to care.
Merlin's legs tightened around him , reducing Arthur's movements to short, sharp thrusts that made Merlin slide up and against the tub with every grind of their hips. The water moved with them, tiny drops of liquid hitting Arthur's overheated skin and running down his spine, mingling with his sweat.
He was so close, drunk on Merlin's taste and his scent and the way he seemed as desperate for Arthur as Arthur was for him, each and every little sound enough to drive him mad with want. Feeling his chest constrict, Arthur was forced to part from Merlin's lips and suck much needed oxygen into his screaming lungs. He could feel Merlin trembling and a needy whimper escaped his throat, making Arthur's hips snap forward to hear it again.
Merlin's fingers curled inwards, nails biting into the skin of Arthur's shoulders and Arthur thought he could feel something shift in the air around them. A strange tingling sensation suddenly spread all over his body and it felt as if tiny sparks were exploding right beneath his skin. He felt Merlin panting hotly against his lips, felt him pressing against him with desperate urgency and when the blue in his eyes started to be taken over by gold, Arthur felt an unexpected surge of heat shoot through him.
Merlin's head fell back, a dull thud in between the sounds of the water, and Arthur held on tightly as he felt Merlin shudder against him, a litany of breathy moans interlaced with Arthur's name falling from his lips. Distantly, Arthur heard a thunderous crash somewhere behind them, but every thought was wiped clear from his mind as he pressed his face against Merlin's neck and sank his teeth into his soft, pale skin and came so hard his vision exploded.
Arthur didn't know how long he simply stayed there, desperately drawing air into his lungs, but when he felt Merlin's heaving chest beneath his, he forced himself to shift, concerned he might be crushing him and pressed an uncoordinated kiss to the closest patch of skin. It landed on the corner of Merlin's mouth.
Merlin turned his head slightly, catching Arthur's lips in a kiss that consisted mostly of panting in each other's mouths as they tried to catch their breath. He stayed close, unwilling to part from Merlin's mouth just yet, running a hand over the soaked fabric clinging to Merlin's skin.
The water was starting to lose its warmth and Arthur couldn't help the slight shiver running down his spine as he felt the dampness on his back drying in the cool air of his room. The fire must have burned low since Arthur had settled in the tub.
When he drew back slightly, craning his neck to look over Merlin's shoulder to check, he caught sight of the bed. It looked as though it had been to war. The canopy had fallen down, taking with it the unlit candle sticks on Arthur's bedside table. Splinters of wood lined the floor.
"Well," he said, slightly stunned and voice still scratchy. "I hope you won't do that when we're in it."
Merlin, who had followed Arthur's gaze, managed to blush scarlet and scowl simultaneously.
"Ever the romantic," he said dryly, shivering slightly.
Arthur looked at Merlin, his finger leaving a fresh streak of water on Merlin's cheek as he studied his expression.
"Cold?" he asked, bed completely forgotten.
Merlin nodded even as he covered the hand on his face with one of his own, leaning into Arthur's touch before pressing his lips to the lines on his palm and kindling that silly fuzzy feeling in Arthur's chest that made him want to melt against Merlin and give him everything he could ever want.
"Do you think you could get us a towel?" Arthur asked softly.
Merlin's mouth curved into a smile against his palm and Arthur couldn't resist leaning in for a kiss, parting Merlin's soft lips with his tongue and drinking in the soft sound Merlin made when he gently sucked on his lower lip. He would have probably kissed Merlin until they both caught a cold, if Merlin hadn't chosen right this moment to curl his hand around the nape of Arthur's neck and the chilliness of his skin startled Arthur back to reality.
He drew back, though with great reluctance, and watched Merlin's eyes open, a slightly dazed look on his face before he blinked it away.
"Towel, right," he said firmly, but when he tried to get up, Arthur held him back.
"I meant from here."
Merlin looked at him, eyes widening slightly.
Merlin gave him one more searching look, before looking past him towards the cupboard and stretching out one of his hands. When Merlin uttered the words for the spell, Arthur watched in fascination as his eyes turned to molten gold once more. Across the room, the cupboard doors opened and one of Arthur's towels came floating towards them, neatly landing in Merlin's outstretched hand.
Arthur gently curled his own around Merlin's arm and helped him to his feet and out of the tub, the water now cold and having leeched every bit of warmth out of their bodies. The stone was freezing under Arthur's bare feet, the uncomfortable sensation enhanced by the puddle that was slowly forming around them. Merlin's clothes were heavy and dripping steadily and when Arthur saw him shiver, he instinctively stepped closer, the towel crushed between their bodies.
"You look like a drowned rat," Arthur said not without affection, taking the towel from Merlin's hand and gently rubbing it over his partly wet hair.
Merlin leaned into the touch and shivered when Arthur dragged the towel over the nape of his neck.
"And whose fault is that?" Merlin shot back with practised ease. "Who was the one that couldn't contain his hormones long enough to get out of the water?"
Arthur brushed a stray drop from Merlin's cheek with the corner of the towel.
"And who was the one that destroyed my bed in a fit of passion?"
As predicted, Merlin's cheekbones and ears flushed bright red and he ducked his head slightly in embarrassment. Arthur felt a smile tugging at his lips, his arms sliding around Merlin's thin frame as he brushed a kiss to the overheated skin of his face.
"It was amazing, actually," he admitted softly. "Your eyes…"
Arthur trailed off, breathless at the memory of Merlin writhing against him and losing control, looking at him as though he would pick the stars from the sky if Arthur only asked.
Merlin reached up and gently threaded his fingers through Arthur's soaked hair.
"I can dry that, if you want."
Arthur swallowed. Then nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
Merlin's voice was just above a whisper and Arthur watched in fascination as gold took over blue, shining in the increasingly darker room. The steady dripping of his hair onto the nape of his neck stopped and Arthur felt already warmer as the wetness disappeared from his head.
"I should get your dinner," Merlin murmured, though he contradicted his words by curling his fingers deeper into Arthur's hair.
Arthur kissed him again, slow and deep.
"Don't go," he whispered, the words almost incomprehensible against Merlin's mouth. "I'll send someone else. I don't want you to go back there."
"But, Gaius…" Merlin protested weakly, even as he pressed closer, his wet clothes a shock against Arthur's skin, and wrapped his arms around Arthur's shoulders.
Arthur crushed him against his chest, kissing him fiercely, before sliding his lips down to Merlin's neck and tracing the indents his teeth had left earlier with his tongue, feeling Merlin trembling against him.
"Come to bed with me," Arthur said into Merlin's skin.
Merlin's fingers were soft were they brushed Arthur's hair from his forehead, before ghosting a caress against his jaw.
Arthur drew back slightly, heart fluttering in his chest.
Merlin nodded, pressing close again and seeking Arthur's lips, kissing him slowly, carefully as if he wasn't exactly sure what to do. Arthur drew him close, one of his hands blindly finding the hem of Merlin's tunic and forcing it in-between the wet fabric and Merlin's clammy skin. He rubbed gently, trying to get some warmth back into it.
"You have to get out of those wet clothes," Arthur murmured, absently tracing a finger where Merlin's soaked breeches met his skin.
Merlin shivered slightly, but his hands were trembling when they slid back into Arthur's hair. Arthur closed his own around Merlin's delicate wrists, thumbs running over the gentle beat of Merlin's pulse. It was racing under his fingers.
Arthur frowned slightly.
"What is it, Merlin?" he asked gently, searching Merlin's expression carefully. "We don't have to-"
"No!" Merlin protested quickly, colour staining his cheeks as his fingers curled deeper into Arthur's hair. "I mean, I want to- I just…"
"What?" Arthur prompted gently.
Merlin leaned into him, and Arthur pressed a soft kiss to his temple and felt Merlin's lips brush the side of his neck as he answered.
"It's just," he hesitated once more and Arthur hugged him closer, soothing the tense muscles under his touch. "I've never done anything like this before."
At that, Arthur drew back slightly feeling both relieved and impossibly aroused. Merlin looked unsure and that only seemed to inflame Arthur more.
"Never?" he echoed, feeling slightly dizzy with the revelation.
Merlin shook his head, his fingers now curling around Arthur's shoulders as if he expected to be pushed away.
The knowledge that no one had ever touched Merlin this way before was enough to send him reeling and he knew without a doubt that he would do anything to be the first and only person to ever have Merlin this way.
Merlin's jaw was smooth under his touch, only the slightest hint of a stubble against his palm as he cupped his jaw.
"It's alright," Arthur reassured him softly, brushing their lips together. "There's no rush."
"I trust you," Merlin murmured against his lips, tilting his head slightly to bring their mouths together once more.
Arthur kissed back slowly, curling his tongue deeply into the heat of Merlin's mouth, before gently detangling himself.
"How about I find us something to wear, while you restore my bed to its previous state?"
The blinding smile that curved Merlin's lips, eyes bright blue even in the low light of the room, made Arthur's knees feel weak.
"But only because I'm spending the night," Merlin teased, grinning. "Otherwise your royal arse would probably have to spend the night on the floor."
Arthur fought a smile, doing his best to scowl convincingly.
Merlin blinked at him innocently.
Merlin's stifled laughter followed him all the way to the cupboard and Arthur finally allowed his mouth to stretch into a grin as he stuck his head between the shelves to look for an additional nightshirt.
The great hall was warm and alight with hundreds of candles. Every occupant of the castle was crammed inside it and the tables bent under the amount of food. A small group of musicians were fiddling away in a corner, nearly drowned out by the joyful voices already raised with the help of wine.
Arthur knew better than to drink too much of it in quick succession. He knew that the type of wine his father had the servants give out on special occasions was a strong sweet blend brought all the way from Mercia and two goblets were already enough to make a man of normal growth feel light-headed.
His thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of Merlin's hand and the presence of his warm body brushing up against his side as he refilled his water goblet. When he made a move to withdraw, Arthur held him back by discreetly sliding one of his hands up his inner thigh, curling gently around it to hold him in place.
"Arthur," Merlin warned, though made no move to shake him off. "People could see."
Arthur leaned against Merlin's side, only barely resisting the urge to turn his face into the ceremonial tunic all servants had to wear tonight. He couldn't wait to get Merlin back to his room, back to the bed they had left only hours before.
"I highly doubt anyone can see anything past their wine goblet, Merlin," Arthur retorted lazily, his thumb stroking a caress into the velvet of Merlin's breeches.
Merlin sighed, his breath stirring Arthur's hair as he fully relaxed under his touch, even went so far as to sneak one of his own hands between them to slide his fingers up were Arthur's tunic met his wrist.
The moment was interrupted, however, when Morgana suddenly appeared at Arthur's other side, looking not entirely sober but not as inebriated as even his father seemed to be.
Merlin jumped back guiltily, spilling some of the water he was holding onto Arthur's sleeve. Morgana smiled her smug smile at them, seemingly extremely pleased about something. Arthur tried his best not to ponder on it.
Even Gwen's cheeks held an unnatural amount of redness, but Arthur wouldn't put it past Morgana to have slipped her maidservant some of the wine in the honour of the festivities. Yuletide had always been Morgana's favourite feast of the year ever since she was a little girl.
"I wish everyday was like this," she said as if on cue, looking happier than Arthur had seen her in a while.
Arthur cast a doubtful glance at his father, who had slid an arm around Gaius' shoulders and was roaring something into the round of noblemen that had gathered around him. There was a wine-stain on his kingly robes and Arthur would have been more concerned were it not for the noblemen laughing tears, slumped on the table as they were seemingly unable to keep upright any longer. Even Gaius was laughing at whatever anecdote his father had relayed in his drunkenness.
"Sit down, both of you," Morgana's voice commanded next to him, drawing Arthur's attention back to his present company. "It's ridiculous for you to still be standing. No one can tell nobleman from servant anymore."
Merlin and Gwen both let themselves fall onto the empty chairs next to their masters, giving identical sighs of relief as the weight was finally taken from their aching feet.
"The upside of everyone getting drunk is the fact that they won't be able to crawl out of bed before the afternoon tomorrow," Merlin said, grinning as he leaned back against the table, pushing several plates together in the process.
Their chairs were positioned just right for Arthur to be able to press their thighs together and Merlin glanced at him briefly as he pressed back.
"I agree," Gwen said, before reaching for a chicken-leg that still looked fairly intact and untouched. "This is the only time we are ever allowed to sleep in."
Merlin made a vague gesture that Gwen was obviously familiar with as she handed him a piece of pork from the closest plate.
"I'm glad your father is having such a pleasant time," Morgana commented quietly at Arthur's side, a soft look in her eyes. "He looks happy."
Arthur glanced back to where he had last seen his father, who now seemed to be involved in a joyful conversation with Gaius, who had trouble supporting Uther's weight. Heart warmed, Arthur had to silently agree with Morgana. It was good to see his father happy.
"Gaius seems to be having some trouble with keeping him from falling off his chair," was what Arthur replied instead.
Morgana laughed and took another sip from her wine goblet.
"I'm sure Gaius has experience in handling the King," Merlin mused from his other side, teeth still ripping bits off the piece of pork he was eating. "I always forget how long they've known each other for."
Morgana and Gwen both made some noise of agreement.
"I know," Gwen said, wiping her greasy hands on the tablecloth. "It's a shame they seem to spend so little time together under normal circumstances."
Their slightly somber conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Galen, balancing a huge jug of fresh wine in his hands.
"I can't believe people are still drinking," he huffed as he staggered to a halt next to Merlin and placed the jug on the table with a groan. "They must have already imbibed more than half of the wine-supply."
"At least they won't want any for a while after this," Gwen said cheerfully, reaching for another piece of meat before passing two more to Merlin and Galen.
The latter joined them, sinking into the chair next to Merlin and looking for all the world as though he was about to pass out.
"Why are you carrying that thing anyway?" Merlin questioned, gesturing at he jug with the bone he was holding. "I though Shanley was in charge of the wine."
Galen snorted, kneading his arms as he answered.
"When I last saw him he was sprawled under one of the tables with Sir Kendrick's daughter."
Galen seemed to suddenly realise the full extent of the current company and snapped his mouth shut with the most guilty expression when he spotted Arthur and Morgana.
Arthur had not yet fully buried his feelings of resent towards the boy, but decided that in the face of the festive atmosphere he could ease up on his grudge.
"She's neither my daughter, nor my wife, so it is no business of mine who despoils her and where," he replied casually, deciding that one more sip of wine would not harm anyone.
Morgana gave an unladylike snort next to his ear as she leaned slightly towards where Galen was sitting.
"There is no need for him to worry about that," she commented dryly. "For he would be far too late. Half the castle has already had her."
Gwen blushed furiously at that, while Galen looked ready to cry with relief. Merlin burst out laughing and Arthur had to hide his own grin behind his goblet.
It was with that that the atmosphere became even more comfortable and after such a promising opening, everyone seemed to think it was time to relay each and every of the castle's gossip. Arthur was torn between shaking his head and joining in,an impulse that he fought bravely. The Crown Prince could not be caught gossiping, no matter the height of inebriation.
All in all, Arthur had to admit that the evening was quite pleasant and, though he would never admit it out loud, that he was touched by his father coming over to them to wish them a good night, clasping a strong hand around Arthur's shoulder and accepting a hug from Morgana before retiring with Gaius' help.
By the time Arthur and Merlin stumbled back towards Arthur's room, arms around each other for support, dawn was already closer than not and Arthur felt tired, but ridiculously happy. The corridors were deserted and they made little progress as Arthur felt the need to push Merlin against the wall every few steps, pressing heated kisses to his lips and running his hands up under Merlin's tunic to feel the smooth warmth of his back.
Merlin kept murmuring protests into his mouth, while he leaned into every touch and curled his tongue around Arthur's, drawing him closer and letting Arthur suck marks of claim into his neck.
When Arthur finally slid under the heavy blankets and furs on his bed, he was glad to have parted with the cold stone floor at last. He watched Merlin, now clad in one of Arthur's warm, woolen nightshifts, pad over to the fireplace to rekindle the fire. Arthur wondered if it was mere habit that made him do it manually, or if he was still slightly wary of using magic in Arthur's presence.
By the time Merlin slid in next to Arthur, the chill had mostly left his body and Merlin's cold feet were a shock against his calves.
"By God, Merlin," Arthur hissed, though he slid his arms around Merlin to draw him close nevertheless. "We can be grateful your feet haven't dropped off yet."
Merlin burrowed closer, the wool of the nightshift slightly rough against Arthur's palms.
"I don't think I'd be able to feel it if they did," Merlin's words were muffled from where he had buried his face in Arthur's neck, cold nose wedged in behind Arthur's ear.
Arthur was silent for a moment, one of his hands covering Merlin's on his chest, while the other caressed the nape of his neck. His fingers alternately brushed unruly black hair and the patch where it met skin. Merlin sighed, pressing closer.
Turning his head, Arthur inhaled Merlin's scent, briefly closing his eyes as he fought sleep.
"I want you to move here," Arthur said, blinking slightly against the temptation of simply nodding off.
For a moment, Merlin remained as he was, but then he shifted and lifted himself to support his weight on one of his elbows. His features were even softer in the firelight and Arthur couldn't help but trace them as Merlin looked down at him.
"What are you talking about?" Merlin asked, incredulous. "I can't just move into your room! People would know that-"
Arthur silenced him with the touch of his finger, before replacing it with the gentle brush of lips.
"You are my manservant," he murmured, leaning their foreheads together. "You are supposed to be close by, that's why there is an antechamber next to the King's and Prince's bedrooms. The only reason you didn't move there straight away was Gaius. But he has an apprentice to accommodate now and I want you here. People won't know the difference between you sleeping in the next room or my bed."
Merlin frowned slightly, looking torn.
"Is this about Galen?" he asked suspiciously, drawing back slightly. "Because I told you-"
Arthur drew him back in.
"It's about you," he told him seriously. "And about wanting to have you close to me."
Merlin's resolve visibly melted and he yielded easily, readily parting his lips for Arthur's kiss.
"Okay," he whispered into Arthur's mouth, long fingers cradling the side of his face.
Arthur drew back slightly to smile at him.
Merlin's smile was brilliant and soft at the same time as he nodded, making Arthur's heart pound. He felt like a girl, like a pathetic, moony girl, but right then he couldn't find it in himself to care, because he was also absolutely and stupidly in love. So maybe that was okay too.