Leon licked up Merlin's spine and Merlin shuddered beneath him. He dragged his teeth over Merlin's shoulder blades, pressed kisses into Merlin's neck, and panted against Merlin's damp skin. He shifted his hips, trying to find that one spot that made Merlin moan, but Merlin stayed silent.

In an effort to coax him out of his thoughts, Leon moved one hand from Merlin's hip to Merlin's cock and gave it a few sharp tugs. Merlin came suddenly and silently, his body jerking and his hands clenching around Leon's sheets.

Leon breathed through Merlin's orgasm, trying not to come as Merlin's muscles clenched fiercely around his cock. When Merlin relaxed with a sigh, Leon pulled out and sat back on his haunches, stroking himself as he looked at Merlin's spent body.

Merlin was so pale and so thin and so beautiful. Leon tried not to think of how Merlin was also sad and lonely and broken. Instead, he focused on the long line of Merlin's back, on the firm curves of Merlin's arse, on the flush of arousal spread across the back of Merlin's neck.

He sped up his hand and bit back a groan as his muscles started tensing. Leon wanted to come all over Merlin, to mark him as something other than what he was, to give him a few seconds of feeling like he belonged to someone else.

Merlin shifted up abruptly. He turned and took Leon's cock in his mouth, sucked it down until his lips were at the base, then dragged back off it again until he could swirl the tip of his tongue around the head. Leon bit down on his lip, trying to keep himself as silent as Merlin, trying to give Merlin whatever it was that Merlin needed to face morning.

When Merlin reached between Leon's legs and pressed one fingertip against him, he came with a whimper, bucking desperately into Merlin's mouth. He clapped a hand over his own mouth, muffling his harsh breathing and choked-off moans. Merlin continued licking him until he was soft, then sat up and started kissing his neck instead.

Leon uncovered his mouth and let his hand rest in Merlin's hair instead. He closed his eyes and concentrated on steadying his breathing and his pulse. Merlin continued licking and nipping Leon's neck until his breathing evened out and he slid his hand down to the small of Merlin's back.

"Would you like to stay?" Leon whispered, already knowing the answer because it was always the same.

"No, thank you," Merlin said into Leon's shoulder. He stayed there for a moment longer, then leaned back and gave Leon a small, hapless smile. "I should go. I have to be up early."

Leon nodded and watched as Merlin redressed himself, picking up items of clothing from where they had been tossed an hour ago. "Will you be at training tomorrow?" he asked, more for something to say than because he was actually curious. Merlin was always at trainings.

Merlin nodded as he adjusted his red neckerchief. "I'll see you in the morning," he said as he opened the door.

"Merlin," Leon said quickly, anxious to keep him just one moment longer. Merlin turned and waited, his face tired, his shoulders slumped, his eyes dark and unfeeling.

Leon licked his lips and tried to think of something meaningful and supportive, something that might make Merlin's walk back through the palace a little less painful, something that might put just the tiniest spring back in his step.

In the end, there was nothing. Nothing he could say or do would erase what Arthur had done.

"Sleep well."

Merlin nodded and left with a muttered, "you, too."


Percival tried to take things slow and easy because Merlin was even skinnier than most of the women he had sex with, but Merlin was having none of that. Merlin was straddling Percival's thighs, riding him with an enthusiasm he had never before witnessed in the manservant.

Merlin was hunched forward, stroking himself in time with the rough thrusts of his hips, and groaning in what sounded like pain but what Percival knew very well was pleasure. He loved seeing Merlin ride his cock. Merlin did it with a reckless abandon that no woman had ever achieved.

Percival put his hands on the bed to brace himself and started lifting his hips to match Merlin's rhythm. Merlin gasped and fell forward slightly, his elbows landing on either side of Percival's head.

"Yeah, like that," Merlin moaned breathlessly when Percival's hands moved to his thighs to steady him. Percival fucked him hard and fast, leaning up slightly to suck on his neck. Merlin panted harshly above him, clearly getting close to release.

"Not yet," Percival rasped out, his stubble scratching along Merlin's collarbones. He wasn't ready for it to be over. He wasn't ready to turn Merlin out for the night, to watch Merlin walk down the cold and empty corridor, to pretend that it was nothing more than a tryst between friends.

Merlin groaned in protest and straightened up again, settling his weight on Percival's thighs. He was no where near heavy enough to prevent Percival from moving, but Percival took the hint and stopped anyway. Merlin shifted slowly, rolling his hips in a wide circle. Percival let out a low and needy noise, and Merlin closed his eyes, his lips curling in a tiny smile.

"I said not yet," Percival complained when Merlin reached for his cock again.

"Shush," Merlin said, and Percival let it go because Merlin sounded happy. He continued rolling his hips on Percival's cock, slowly driving Percival a bit mad until Percival had had enough and started thrusting brutally into him. Merlin let out a long moan, and then another and another until Percival could hardly breath for all the sounds filling the room.

"Merlin," Percival gasped when Merlin clenched around his cock. "Don't - ah - no, stop."

Merlin just grinned wickedly and continued moaning obscenely and tightening his muscles until Percival was growling out groans through clenched teeth and coming hard.

"Stop, stop, stop," he pleaded when Merlin started rolling his hips again.

Merlin smirked and gently lifted off Percival's softening cock. He kept his hand on his own cock, pumping it slowly as he looked down at Percival's flushed face. He looked proud, proud that he had pushed Percival over the edge so easily, proud that he had lasted longer, proud that he had reduced such a large man into a moaning and trembling mess.

"Come on," Merlin said, not giving Percival time to catch his breath. He sat at the foot of the bed and raised his eyebrows impatiently. "Suck me."

Percival licked his lips and sat up. He grabbed Merlin's legs and spread them out on the bed, then pulled Merlin's hand away from himself. He leant down and took the tip of Merlin's cock into his mouth and Merlin hissed, arching up into his mouth. He backed off and licked his lips again.

"Come on," Merlin whispered again, his hand moving to Percival's shoulder.

Percival licked from the base of Merlin's cock to the head, then took the whole thing in his mouth. Merlin moaned appreciatively, quietly at first and then louder and louder until he was practically shouting. Then, as Percival was holding Merlin's cock tightly and rubbing the underside with his tongue, Merlin came with a cry.

Percival licked him through it, even as Merlin's come landed on his face. When Merlin pushed him away, he looked up, feeling come drip down his cheeks to his chin and onto the sheets. Merlin flung his head back in laughter.

"Sorry," he wheezed between chuckles. "Sorry."

Percival just rolled his eyes and got up to find something to wipe his face with. Normally he would complain, but it had been weeks since Merlin had laughed so genuinely, and he didn't want to ruin the moment.

"Will you stay?" Percival asked, sitting on the edge of the bed and tossing the dirty rag onto Merlin's face.

Merlin tossed it back at Percival's face and stretched gloriously, his long thin body arching under Percival's protective gaze.

"No, I'll go." Merlin got off the bed and began picking his clothes off the floor.

"You can stay, you know."

Merlin shrugged and turned away to dress himself. Percival watched and wished that their nights together didn't always end this way. He wanted Merlin to stay and relax and be happy. He didn't like it when he couldn't keep an eye on Merlin. It worried him, the idea of Merlin sitting alone in his room and thinking about everything that had happened. He wanted to keep Merlin with him so that he could make sure Merlin was safe and content and, well, debauched. That's what it all boiled down to, really. Merlin liked to fuck and so did all the knights, and apparently some days that was the only thing that kept Merlin from going out of his mind. Some days he just really needed a good, long fuck to distract him and overwhelm him and make him forget everything else.

Percival was always willing to do that, but he wished Merlin would let him do a little more. Especially on nights like this one, when Merlin had opened the window so that his moans could be heard down in the courtyard and throughout the castle and, of course, in the royal chambers.

"Goodnight," Merlin said, slipping out before Percival could respond.


Elyan had a difficult time coming when he was with Merlin. It was hard for him to focus on the heat around his cock when he knew that Merlin was so shattered. He really did not think sleeping with all the knights was the best way for Merlin to cope with heartbreak. In fact, he was pretty sure it was the worst way to cope, save for drinking the tavern dry every night.

Elyan also knew that Merlin's strategy, however damaging to himself, was working. Arthur was pushing his men harder during training, sending them on longer and more dangerous guard duties, asking them less and less for advice, spending more and more time on his own or with his new wife. Arthur was withdrawing and Merlin had a constant vindictive gleam in his otherwise dead eyes.

No one wanted Arthur to think that his knights were choosing his manservant over him. Their loyalty had always been and would always be with Arthur. But no one wanted the alternative, either. Elyan had come so close that evening, so close to turning Merlin down, so close to saying no and walking away and going home alone. In his moment of hesitation, Elyan had seen Merlin scanning the rest of the tavern, looking for another willing body, another lonely soul, anyone at all who would bed him and help him forget.

So Elyan had said yes, as he always did, as they all always did, because he didn't want Merlin crawling into bed with some stranger who didn't care. He wanted Merlin here with him, because he knew Merlin, knew what Merlin was doing, knew what Merlin needed. Elyan knew he could never be the one to give Merlin what he needed, but at least he could try. That was all any of them could do.

Elyan tried to push those kinds of thoughts out of his head. He tried to concentrate on the tight muscles of Merlin's stomach, the sharp collar bones jutting out at the base of Merlin's neck, the slightly desperate way Merlin was stroking himself as Elyan fucked him. Elyan tightened his grip on Merlin's thighs and pushed on them, moving them closer to Merlin's chest, folding Merlin in half. He thrust harder and deeper, holding Merlin up and moving at just the right angle that Merlin couldn't help but moan.

Merlin was sexy as hell. There was no denying it, and under different circumstances, Elyan would have gotten off easily. But on this night, Merlin had Elyan's pillow stuffed over his face. It was muffling his moans, which Elyan didn't mind because it meant that Merlin wasn't hell-bent on revenge at the moment, but it was also covering his face and blocking him out. Elyan knew he was somewhere else completely, thinking about Arthur or maybe trying not to think about Arthur, but in any case, he wasn't thinking about Elyan. He wasn't lost in the feeling of being with another man. He was in his own world, captivated by his own thoughts, and he neither wanted to see Elyan or be seen by Elyan.

Elyan reached out with one hand and rubbed his thumb over Merlin's nipple, trying to bring Merlin back from his thoughts. Merlin's free hand flew to his other nipple, and the hand around his cock sped up. The muffled noises from Elyan's pillow grew louder and then Merlin was coming over his chest, his hips jerking against Elyan's and his neck muscles straining as he arched off the bed.

Elyan fucked him through it, then pulled out when he sank back onto the bed, his body limp and flushed. Merlin pushed the pillow off his face and propped himself up on his elbows.

"Do you want..." He nodded at Elyan's hard cock, licking his lips.

Elyan shook his head. He'd had enough for the night. He'd given what Merlin had come for, whatever it was that Merlin had wanted or needed from him, but that was all he could give. He couldn't pretend that he enjoyed having sex with Merlin, that he got off on sleeping with someone so lost.

"Are you sure?" Merlin asked, his brow furrowed. "I don't mind. Here, let me." He sat up and reached out for Elyan's cock, but Elyan pushed his hand away.

"I'm fine, really. It's been a long day. I'm very tired."

Merlin nodded and stood to get dressed, both of them avoiding looking at each other.

Elyan tried to say goodnight when he saw that Merlin was dressed and opening the door, but Merlin was gone before he could get the word out.


Gwaine pushed Merlin down on the bed and then hovered over him, stroking his cock and nipping at his collar bones. Merlin squirmed, trying to situate himself properly on the bed, but Gwaine kept him firmly in place. He liked seeing Merlin lounging on his bed, knees bent over the edge and toes curling on the cold floor and hands scrabbling for purchase on the sheets. He liked seeing Merlin caught off guard and tricked into a moment of spontaneity. Gwaine knew Merlin hadn't planned on Gwaine stroking him off on the edge of the bed, but that was what Gwaine had decided to do right then, and he honestly thought it would do Merlin some good to just let things happen for once.

Merlin let out a soft, needy sound and Gwaine slid his own cock against Merlin's thigh, trying not to groan. He really loved watching Merlin fall apart like this. He had rarely seen anything so beautiful. His only wish was that Merlin enjoyed it just as much, or rather that Merlin enjoyed it just as much with him. He wanted Merlin to want him, wanted Merlin to get off on his pleasure the way he got off on Merlin's pleasure. He wanted Merlin to touch him with desire.

When Merlin's collar bones were red and wet and bitten, Gwaine moved on to his neck. He licked up, kissed back down, sucked on soft spots in the middle, and scraped his teeth over every inch he could manage. Merlin was tense, his knuckles white as he gripped the sheets, and his breath was coming out in shuddering sighs. Gwaine only moved to his jawline, wanting to hear him moan and whimper and give voice to the pleasure that was clearly coursing though him. He wanted proof that Merlin was enjoying him and what he was doing. He needed reassurance that Merlin wasn't faking it just to get back at Arthur.

"Gwaine." Merlin's voice was quiet and trembling and Gwaine pressed himself against Merlin's thigh again.

Gwaine dragged his lips to Merlin's ear and licked up the wide shell, then pulled on the lobe with his teeth. Merlin bit down on his lip as he moaned. He lifted his hips, trying to get Gwaine to move faster, but Gwaine just rocked against his thigh, precome leaking over his hip.

Merlin mumbled some half-formed words as one hand moved to Gwaine's hair, holding Gwaine's mouth to his ear as he rocked up into Gwaine's hand.

Gwaine grinned before flicking his tongue into Merlin's ear. He thrilled at the loud groan that elicited. Merlin was finally there, gone with passion and feeling and heat. Gwaine changed rhythms, moving his hand faster and twisting his fingers around the head of Merlin's cock. Merlin gasped and gripped Gwaine's hair tighter, pulling him closer.

"Merlin," Gwaine ground out, rolling against Merlin's thigh, trying to get more friction, trying to find some relief for the hot tension that had settled in his groin.

"Yes," Merlin breathed, his hand going slack on Gwaine's head.

Gwaine took the opportunity to move to Merlin's cheekbone. He kissed across it, then down the edge of Merlin's nose, until his lips were on the corner of Merlin's mouth.

Merlin turned his face away and Gwaine felt the thrust of his hips getting rougher and more demanding.

"Merlin," Gwaine whispered into Merlin's temple. He wanted this so badly and all Merlin had to do was let it happen.

Merlin said nothing, just stared at the wall and fucked into Gwaine's hand.

"Please," Gwaine tried again. He shifted and kissed the stubble below Merlin's bottom lip.

Merlin sat up abruptly, shoving Gwaine off and cursing under his breath. He rested his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, then let out a long, wrecked sigh.

Gwaine shifted slowly until he was sitting next to Merlin, their sides pressed together. He nudged Merlin's knee with his own, but Merlin stayed silent and still.

All Gwaine had wanted was a kiss. Just one kiss, and he probably would have come from that and been satisfied. But that wasn't what Merlin wanted, and it certainly wasn't what Merlin needed. At least, it wasn't what Merlin thought he needed. Gwaine knew that what Merlin really needed was love and affection from someone who meant it. What he really needed was to be reminded that there were other people out there who cared for him and whom he could grow to care for, too, if he only opened himself up to it. Gwaine was almost desperate to be that person for Merlin, to be the man who brought Merlin back to life and made him happy and showed him that he was still worth something and that he was still capable of loving. He wanted to show Merlin that he had been hurt, too, but he had healed and he was still willing to take risks and love and be loved. He wanted Merlin to let him in. And, in return, he wanted to let Merlin in. He wanted Merlin to be his world, to be the thing he thought about first thing in the morning, to be the person who brought a secret smile to his face when was tired after training, to be his refuge from evil and pain.

"Maybe if you just tried-"

"No," Merlin said quickly. "I'm sorry, but - no. I can't."

He stood and Gwaine watched him dress, knowing that Merlin would never come to him like this again. Instead, Merlin would go to Leon and Percival and Elyan, and Gwaine would stay in at night and get treated to the same heartbreaking sounds as Arthur.

"I'm sorry," Merlin said again before he slipped out and closed the door.


Arthur ran his hands between Gwen's thighs, then up her stomach and over her breasts. He dragged his thumbs over her nipples and smiled at the small hitch in her breath. She covered one of his hands with her own and gasped when he pulled slightly on her nipple.

"Keep doing that," she said breathlessly, moving her hand back to the headboard. Arthur shifted slightly closer, settling her arse on his hipbones before resuming his thrusting. He loved being with her like this, with his chest pressed against her back, and her front completely open to his exploring hands. He loved being able to touch her all over and bury his face in her hair and nibble on her ear and whisper loving and dirty things, just for her.

Arthur twisted her nipple and snapped his hips against hers, losing himself in the sounds of her soft moans until something else broke into their moment.

"Yes - yes - oh!"

Gwen leaned forward, resting her forehead on the headboard between her white-knuckled hands.

Arthur kept his rhythm steady, giving no indication that he heard the deep groans coming through the window. He slid his hands to Gwen's waist and gripped her tightly, trying to focus on her and her wet heat and how she was here and she was his and she loved him and he loved her.

"Come on, come on - yes, oh - theretherethere..."

Gwen shifted her legs wider and rocked back against Arthur's hard thrusts. He pressed his forehead to her back and kissed her warm skin. He traced a few bumps up her spine until he could plead into the back of her neck.

"Please," he whispered, knowing she wouldn't have to be asked twice, not with those other noises pushing their way between them. "Please."

Gwen dropped one hand from the headboard and moved it between her legs. She rubbed herself as Arthur fucked her and Arthur moaned against her neck, loving the way she still blushed when he asked her to do this, loving how beautiful and sexy she was, loving the way she was his and his alone and how he never had to share her with anyone but herself. She was the only other person to touch her body like this, and he loved that almost more than touching her body himself. He loved to watch her hands groping at her breasts or sliding between her legs, fast and slick and knowing all the right things to do.

"Go on," he urged. He needed her to come, to pulse hotly around him, to tense in his arms and then relax in ultimate satisfaction, to groan and whine and call out his name. He needed her to claim him as hers, to crumple his sheets, to turn him into a writhing puddle of pleasure. He needed her to consume him, to command his attention, to make him incapable of focusing on anything but her and her body and her pleasure.

"Oh, oh, OH - ahh!"

Arthur tugged roughly on one of Gwen's nipples as he tried not to think of a flatter, paler chest and a smaller, firmer arse and shorter, straighter hair and higher, sharper cheekbones. He held Gwen closer and tried to focus on curves and softness and warmth and her faint scent of lilacs. He blocked out memories of jutting hipbones and hard muscles and that impossible heat he had never found anywhere else and the faint scent of soap and grass and dust and parchment and healing potions.

"Arthur," Gwen breathed shakily, her legs trembling. "Arthur..."

Arthur moaned in relief as she gasped and came around him, her muscles clenching his cock and squeezing his own climax from him. He groaned low against her back, then slumped against her when he was spent and boneless. He let his mind go blank as his breathing and heart rate slowed, let himself go soft inside his wife, inside his queen.

Then Gwen lifted her head and turned to look at him over her shoulder, and he pulled out and went to find a cloth to clean himself. He wanted a child - they both did, the whole kingdom did - but he couldn't help but pray that tonight was not the night. He didn't want his child conceived and associated with that heartbreak and those sounds and all the buried memories.

When he returned to the bed, Gwen was under the covers and waiting for him. He slipped in beside her and kissed her gently.

"Arthur," she started when he pulled away. Her eyes were tired and worried and he knew what she was going to say.

"I love you," he said simply, and it was not a lie. He loved them both.

Gwen smiled and Arthur was relieved to see that it was a genuine one.

"And I love you."


Merlin closed his bedroom door slowly, watched the lock click into place, and then turned to face his empty bed. It was still early and Gaius had given him a questioning look as he came home, but he had ignored it and moved straight for his room.

There were plenty of nights when he retired early, when he skipped the tavern and sank into his own bed and fell asleep without even taking off his clothes. Those were the nights when he was exhausted from working all day, from scrubbing and shining and polishing and mucking and running around the castle trying to make sure everything was running smoothly Those were the nights when he had spent all day on the go and not giving himself one minute's rest because he knew if he stopped moving he would think about everything he was trying to block out and he would break down. Those were the nights when he had to catch up on all the sleep he had lost the night before, from working Leon into such a limp and speechless state that he could escape afterwards without comment, or from staying out too late at the tavern so he could follow Percival home after they were both drunk, or from coaxing Elyan into new positions and then trying not to pass out when Elyan lasted for what felt like hours, or from being fucked into oblivion multiple times by Gwaine.

Those were the nights when he had gone to bed early of his own accord. But on this night, he was home before midnight because there was no where else for him to be. He had gone to the tavern and found nothing worth staying for. Percival had been absent, stuck in bed with some sickness that Gaius was monitoring. Leon had been flirting with the new barmaid and Merlin hadn't been able to bring himself to interrupt. Elyan had kept to himself, looking tired and worried, and Merlin didn't feel up to accepting another pity fuck. Gwaine had stayed by his side, making jokes and buying him drinks and trying to seem unaffected. But Merlin had already decided that he was done with Gwaine, at least when it came to how he spent his nights. Gwaine wanted more than Merlin could offer and he didn't want anyone else to get hurt.

Merlin didn't want to go to Gwaine. Elyan didn't want Merlin to go to him. Leon was busy with a girl. Percival probably would have taken Merlin home for the night, but he was sick. So, Merlin had decided to go home on his own. He didn't want to find someone else, that took too much effort and all he wanted was a quick and easy fuck with someone he trusted not to take advantage of him.

On this night, that wasn't available, so he went back to his room to face the long night alone.

At first it felt strange, sitting on his bed with time to kill and nothing to do. He didn't want to read or study. He didn't want to wash or tidy or go chat with Gaius. He didn't want to sleep. He wanted someone, someone close to Arthur, someone who wouldn't quite be able to look their king in the eye the next morning, to pin him down and make him scream. He wanted someone to map his body with fingers and lips, to make him stop thinking, to help him forget, to just be with him without questions or conditions.

He wanted someone to come along and make him feel whole again, instead of so empty and broken and lost. He wanted someone to make him feel like he had some purpose other than washing the floors. He wanted someone to completely fall apart under his hands and mouth, not because he was skilled in bed, but because he was their world.

If he couldn't get that blissful distraction from someone else, he was going to have to get it from himself.

Merlin pressed the heel of his palm to his cock and sighed when it twitched in interest at the pressure. He rubbed it slowly, working himself into a half-hard state as he kept his mind carefully blank. He watched the flicker of the candle on his desk and the shadows playing on the wall behind it. He listened to Gaius moving around on the other side of the door, turning pages in a book and clinking bottles together and muttering softly.

When he was hard enough that he was squirming for a firmer touch, he stood and removed his clothes. Then he lay down on his bed, naked and spread out, and ran his hands over his chest. His fingertips were cold as they brushed over his nipples and he bit back a whimper at the shock. He kept at it though, rubbing his cool palms on his flushed chest and pinching his nipples. He fought back shivers and watched his cock twitching and growing harder as he explored himself.

His thoughts wandered to warmer, tanner, thicker hands and he closed his eyes against the memories.

Merlin brought his hands up to his face and breathed deeply into his palms. He needed and wanted a release, but it was so much harder not to think about Arthur when he didn't have another person to focus on right in front of him. He knew he could try to think about Leon or Percival or any of the knights or any random townsperson, but it would only be a matter of minutes before Arthur came to the forefront of his thoughts. It was all he could do to not think about Arthur during the day, and by nightfall he didn't have that energy or willpower anymore. That's why he needed the knights. They helped distract him.

But for now he was alone and he would lose the battle against his thoughts in the end. He knew it was pointless. Arthur was still everywhere, all the time. Arthur was there in the morning giving Merlin a list of chores, and he was there in the afternoon telling Merlin to take a moment for lunch, and he was there in the evening rattling off his upcoming kingly duties. He was there when Merlin moved from place to place, watching from afar, his eyes heavy on Merlin's back. He was there when Merlin polished his armour, watching silently and breathing in such a sad way that Merlin wanted to turn around and chuck the armour right at his head. He was there when Merlin blinked and yawned and woke up and fell asleep and ate and bathed and fucked his closest knights. He was there in every breath that Merlin took.

Merlin licked across his hand and began stroking his cock slowly. He moved his other hand back to his chest and brushed his fingers over the dark patches of hair there. He thought of Arthur's fingers making the same movements, touching the same skin. His insides squirmed and clenched but he kept going. He twisted his hand over the head of his cock once and hissed at the sensation, then resumed his slow and steady pulling. He closed his eyes and imagined Arthur sitting between his legs, one hand around his cock and the other just below it, teasing his tight hole with one fingertip.


Merlin mouthed the word as his free hand moved from his chest to below his balls. He pressed just the tip of one finger inside himself and let out a huff.


Arthur always said it twice, sounding ridiculously awestruck for someone who had his fingers inside Merlin on a daily basis. Each new time seemed like the first time for him, and he always watched his hand with a slightly shocked expression as he pushed more and more of each finger into Merlin's trembling body. Merlin had always laughed and blushed and shrugged off the compliment. But now he missed those words, missed that comforting certainty of hearing that praise as Arthur prepared him. He missed the swell of pride at knowing that Arthur was slightly speechless just from fingering him.

He missed feeling beautiful under Arthur's gaze.

Merlin sighed and shifted around. He let his fingertip slip out of him and moved that hand to his balls instead. He brushed his fingers over them gently, then gave them a harsh tug that made him groan. A hot spark shot up his spine and made him shudder. He felt the back of his neck get hot and a thin sheen of sweat form on his brow.

"Easy,"Arthur would whisper if he saw Merlin straining. Then he would lean down and kiss Merlin roughly, distracting Merlin from where his body was struggling toward an early release and focusing both of their attentions on their mouths. Arthur was a demanding kisser. He would bite and tug on Merlin's lips, lick fully into Merlin's mouth and then coax Merlin's tongue into his own. Merlin had never managed a proper defense against Arthur's kisses. He always melted and moaned and arched into Arthur's firm body, letting Arthur take everything and anything. He always struggled to keep his grip on the situation at hand and not lose himself to Arthur's kiss completely. It was always far too easy for Merlin to let himself go blank when Arthur was kissing him. It was always far too easy to just relax and stop thinking and be consumed by the heat and the needy passion and the overwhelming feeling of a starving man devouring him.

Before Merlin knew what was happening, Arthur would be inside of him, filling and stretching him, and all Merlin could do was gasp into Arthur's still hungry mouth. They would kiss until it was too much, until they couldn't concentrate on two tasks, until their lips went slack as their hips moved together. Then Arthur would shift up and toss his head back with a groan. Merlin would reach for his cock and stroke it in double-time to Arthur's thrusts. They would lose themselves in the build-up, gasping and moaning and trying to make it last even though neither was willing to slow down.

Then Arthur would curse under his breath and lose his rhythm completely. Merlin would whine at the harsh jerks of Arthur's hips, but then Arthur would go still with a shuddering gasp and Merlin never lasted much longer. Arthur's face was too much for him and he would watch Arthur come, would watch Arthur's eyes close and mouth fall open until the sight was too much and he closed his own eyes as he came onto his stomach.

And when Arthur had caught his breath, he would pull out and lean down to lick up Merlin's come. Merlin would stroke his fingers lazily through Arthur's sweaty golden hair until Arthur rolled over and collapsed beside him. Then they would kiss tiredly, their lips sloppy and their tongues heavy. Arthur would break the kiss to drag his lips up Merlin's jaw, and then he would whisper in Merlin's ear.

Merlin clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a cry as his muscles tensed. He shuddered helplessly at the memory of Arthur's breath over his neck, of Arthur's tongue in his ear. He arched up into his orgasm, pumping his hand quickly and moaning into his palm.

"Good?" Arthur would ask, his lips tickling Merlin's earlobe. Merlin would nod and reach for Arthur's hand and their fingers would tangle together against his chest. "Love you,"Arthur would breath against Merlin's skin, and Merlin would smile and turn his head for another kiss, quick and chaste but sweet.

Merlin groaned and rested both of his hands on his stomach as he tried to even out his breathing. He ran his fingers through the mess on his chest and sighed.

Sleeping with the knights was fun. They were all gorgeous and fit and they offered a very welcome distraction. They allowed Merlin to forget and be happy and be himself for a few hours.

But none of them could make him feel how he had felt with Arthur. None of them could make him feel so breathless and boneless and wanted and needed and loved. None of them could make him want to stay the night, to whisper things to each other in the dark, to spend hours exploring each other with fingers and tongues, to spend every night in their company, to wake up next to them, to love them back. None of them could ever replace Arthur. Arthur had been his best friend, his advisor and advisee at the same time, the person he trusted the most even with the secrets between them, the person he thought about in the morning and at night and in every second in between. Arthur had been his world and all his hopes and desires.

Now Arthur was just his king, just the man Merlin had to protect at all costs, just the man bossing him around night and day. Now Arthur looked at him with regret instead of hope, with sorrow instead of joy, with guilt instead of love. Now Merlin was just a servant, just a bumbling fool getting in the way of everything and everyone, just an idiot trying to do his job and please as many people as possible.

Now Arthur spent his nights with Gwen, and Merlin spent his nights with all the rest of Arthur's friends.

Merlin sat up and reached for his shirt, using it to wipe up his front. Then he waved his hand at the candle, putting it out, and curled up under his covers.

There was always hope that tomorrow would be better.