Sir Percival and Sir Elyon were hasty and brutal and Merlin always felt more like a tool for release when laying with them. It was a little too clear when they were done in the way they left him sore and naked, often unsatisfied, in bed with the sweat still drying, with only a brief clap on the shoulder and a muttered farewell. They inwardly regarded themselves as too manly to share such an activity with a male servant. Both, for the most part, preferred women when women were available, though Percival had once during a hunt visited Merlin's tent one night and snuggled up, despite a tavern stocking wenches and farm girls being within a ten minute walk. Merlin was sure Percival thought he was sleeping, though the knight did not move or even flinch when Merlin wriggled back into the embrace so they were flush against one another with not a hair's breadth between their legs and shoulders and anything in between.
Merlin was not a sentimental young man, though he would have preferred a little post-coital sentimentality to the abrupt way Elyon or Percival would stand and pull on their clothes as soon as it was done.
Still. Lancelot made up for that. Lancelot was more emotionally intimate with Merlin than any of the others. He regarded Merlin as a friend as well as a bedmate, and treated him the way lovers dream of being treated. He took the time to lave Merlin's neck, to stroke Merlin's chest and thighs and nibble and suck his nipples and prepare him with oil before driving him into a writhing, gasping frenzy with slow, achingly sweet, languorous lovemaking. He would stare with half-lidded eyes at Merlin's mouth, and he would call him "my love" and "dear Merlin" and all sorts of other affectionate things. And then he would lay stroking Merlin's hair and kissing his eyelids and sometimes he would shyly (Merlin failed to understand how Lancelot could be shy after such an activity) lick the creamy white release from Merlin's belly.
Merlin liked, after one or two extended passionate sessions with Lancelot, to please Leon. Leon was comfortably between Lancelot's romanticism and Elyon's violent unemotional lust. He would kiss Merlin, he would ensure Merlin enjoyed it from start to finish, but there would be no unnecessary steps. Leon was realistic. He was tall, gentle, and generous, but he did not pretend that the activity was anything more than Merlin's "other job". That having been said, he was regular in his visits, and never seemed to consider several hours spent with Merlin to be a waste.
Merlin especially liked being shared between Leon and Lancelot. Merlin could see plainly that sometimes Leon just wanted to have Lancelot in bed and Merlin would graciously take the place with his face between Lancelot's legs so he was out of the way and Leon could take Lancelot in his lap, or press kisses to Lancelot's face, and it wouldn't be two knights sharing a bed, but two knights sharing a whore, and that was much more acceptable, at least until they learned to love each other when Merlin wasn't there to give them an excuse.
If pressed, Merlin would confess he had a favourite. A glance would show him a hint of shamed distaste in Percival and Elyon's eyes, a gentle humour in the curve of Lancelot's lips, a faint twinge of jealousy in Leon's curtness, when Gwaine sidled up to Merlin and didn't bother asking before picking him up, tossing him over his shoulder and swaggering to the nearest convenient (or inconvenient) stable or cupboard or alcove or glen or wherever was out of sight but not out of earshot, and proceed with the thorough debauchery. Gwaine didn't always toss Merlin over his shoulder, though he seemed to like to. Sometimes he would simply approach from behind, press his face into Merlin's neck and his right hand into Merlin's pants and whisper something obscene into his ear, and Merlin would hastily follow wherever Gwaine led him.
Gwaine was, depending on the mood, a combination of the best features of the other knights. He was fearlessly rough, like Percival, he was loving, like Lancelot, he was honest, like Leon. But he was unmistakably himself. If he was completely honest, Merlin didn't think the other knights could hold a candle to Gwaine's unembarrassed humour, his warmth or his energy.
All the knights had broad hands and confident tongues and stubble and most had smooth, nice hair than Merlin could run his fingers through. But Gwaine had … Merlin could not put a name to exactly what it was that Gwaine had. All Merlin knew that that he was eager to please, even if he was exhausted from an entire day on his feet and on his back (or on his front), and even if it took a whole night. Even if all Gwaine wanted was a massage and a cuddle. Merlin would be there, blood racing and eyes darkened and hands fumbling, sweaty and shaking, with the buckles of Gwaine's armour or the strings holding his breeches, as if he was a virgin all over again.
Sometimes Leon would ask Merlin to talk about what Gwaine had him do, as a way of arousing him. Merlin was too desirous to care much about how obvious his infatuation with the man had evidently become.
It was preferable to the very beginning when all the knights used to assume that Merlin's heart lay with the unreachable prince. Arthur bedded Merlin only once, and it was a ceremonial sort of affair, and Merlin had been touched by Arthur's determination to be Merlin's first. The gesture had been an honour, but it had been out of the deepest friendship, not out of love. Arthur's love lay with Guinevere, and Merlin would not have interfered with that for all the world.
Gwaine was, in the eyes of propriety, out of Merlin's reach as well. But both men knew, if Gwaine was asked to choose between the servant boy and a Knighthood, he would choose the servant boy. He would choose Merlin. Because being a knight was not nearly as important to Gwaine as it was to Lancelot. Being in love with another man was not as messy to Gwaine as it was to Percival, to Elyon. Giving his heart and soul to a whore was not as forbidden to Gwaine as it was to Leon. And abandoning his post for love was far easier and less complicated to Gwaine than it was to Arthur.
Gwaine gave love and loyalty unconditionally to Merlin in a way that made Merlin determined to deserve the blessing.