I'm going to make this the last chapter of this story, but I have a sequel in mind which I have just started, which will twist the situation about a bit... since this story decided to go in a whole different direction than the one I had orginally planned. My plot bunnies have a habit of doing that to me ;-)

The late night patrol bell roused them. It was almost midnight, the night watch was changing over. Merlin was half dozing, curled into Arthur's side, one of Merlin's legs resting across Arthur's. Arthur's hand was moving up and down Merlin's thigh, occasionally brushing his fingertips over the ticklish area just below his backside. It made Merlin shiver on occasion, and Arthur watched Merlin's lips quirk upwards just briefly each time he touched him there.

Merlin, Arthur had now discovered, had several spots like that. His spine was the most sensitive, but Arthur had found out that Merlin responded to his nipples being stroked, but only lightly, and he also appeared to have a liking of having his earlobes nibbled. Arthur increased the pressure on Merlin's leg, making him jump and huff with laughter.

In revenge Merlin moved his hand and aimed for the ticklish spot on the inside of Arthur's upper arm. The prince clamped his arm down against his side, but Merlin determinedly wangled his fingers in, without moving from his comfortable position against Arthur. Arthur started to shake with suppressed laughter, Merlin's lips quirked again, before turning into a smirk, and he ground his groin against Arthur's hip.

"If you don't stop that I will be forced to put you over my knee," Arthur said.

"Which bit?" Merlin asked. Then he yelped as Arthur attacked, pushing Merlin off, so he could sit up, but Arthur kept a firm hold of his servant, roughly pulling him forwards so Merlin crashed across his lap. He tried to prevent Arthur from pinning him, bracing his arms but Arthur swept an arm out under Merlin, knocking his braced limbs out from under him. Merlin flopped down across Arthur and Arthur's arm pinned him in place.

"That bit," Arthur said, securing Merlin down against his groin. Merlin wriggled a little and got a smack on the backside for his trouble. He gave a loud yelp.

"I was actually referring to me tickling or rubbing against you," Merlin announced in an overly resigned voice. Arthur ran his hand over the now reddening spot on Merlin's backside.

"I know," Arthur said, before going back to stroking Merlin's thigh again, making him squirm. Merlin shook his head to give himself some semblance of sense, and he wriggled with a little more seriousness.

"Arthur I have to go."

Merlin shifted, slowly easing his way out from across Arthur. Arthur didn't stop him, he shifted on the bed to lie face down and his eyes followed Merlin as he sat on the end of the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"Gaius asked if I would be back tonight and I said yes. I promised."

"Okay," Arthur said. Merlin got up and went to the pile of neatly folded clothes.

"See this is the reason I tided up," Merlin informed the prince, who regarded him with an amused expression.

"When are you going to apply the same principle to my armour?"

"Funny," Merlin said. "I look after your armour."

"It's usually clean, even if it is left in random parts of the castle."

"I did that once," Merlin said. Arthur grinned and rolled onto his side, propping his head with his hand.

"You don't have to go, I won't kick you out. I'm not that much of a prat."

"No, whenever you are a prat, rest assured I will tell you."

"Just make sure it's not in front of my father."

Merlin's head disappeared into his shirt and then popped out through the hole. As Merlin struggled to get his arms through the relevant gaps he said.

"I won't make that mistake twice either," Merlin said. Arthur smirked.

"I may have issues looking your father in the face again, and the council," Merlin added.

"Don't worry about it, they've gawped at me more than they have you. None of them will lay a hand on you again."

"Will you?" Merlin asked, pulling his trousers up, and lacing them efficiently.

"If you want me to."

"Do you want to?"

"Yes," Arthur said, the answer simple and practical. Merlin looked at Arthur for a long moment, trying to process the change, if there had even been one. Things didn't feel all that different, not between himself and Arthur anyway. Arthur had said he trusted him, and Arthur had done that countless times before now. Whatever Merlin said to him, Arthur believed him, even if it took some time to prove his point. And Merlin trusted Arthur, as much as he complained about him, Merlin knew he could.

"Do you think Gaius knows?" Merlin asked.

"I think it's a don't ask, don't tell, situation," Arthur said. Merlin grimaced. "Gaius knows about life at court, he probably knows it was expected of you."

"I'd better go," Merlin said. Arthur nodded.

"We're patrolling tomorrow."

"Don't remind me."

"Wake me up early, and have my armour ready, I want a hot breakfast and I will need my tunic repaired. And I daresay, you will need to change my bedding."

Merlin glowered at him. "Prat," he announced before flouncing out.

Arthur snorted with laughter and flopped back down onto the bed. He moved the sheets about so the mess was away from him, and pushed to the end of the bed. Lying back Arthur considered the events of the last few days. They were most certainly interesting, but not easy. He probably still should not have done what he had, to Merlin. Part of it was no choice of his own, but Merlin had handled it well, better than Arthur expected.

In the end, Merlin had come to him. Arthur had felt obligated to respond to Merlin's wishes. Merlin sort of did that to him, and it had nothing to do with Arthur's prior imagination of the scenario. He had tried hinting, and the hinting hadn't even been registered. Merlin hadn't just avoided the advances, he had never even seen them.

Merlin had just blundered onto it. He had been concerned about Arthur, and witnessed something Arthur hadn't wanted him to see. Certainly not without some careful preparation and Arthur hadn't felt proud of his reaction, he shouldn't have hurt Merlin, but he hadn't been able to stop himself. Arthur wasn't proud of what he had to do. But he was heir to the throne, the future king. He didn't just have to look after the kingdom, he had to make sure it would be there for his own children. And he had to prove he could produce them.

It was not something he had wanted to drag Merlin into, but in trying not to, he had managed to make it worse. All in all, it was a good thing that Merlin had stumbled in on what was going on, or the council's request would have caused even more problems. As it was, the interference had helped clear up a few things.

Merlin would be back, Arthur could wait for that. Arthur has his obligations, to Camelot, to his father, to himself, and now to Merlin. As he settled down, he smirked and shook his head.

Now and again, obligations weren't all that bad.