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by astolat

"I really want my cock sucked," Arthur announced wistfully, stretched out on his cot and staring up at the pavilion roof while Merlin puttered around getting the armor cleaned and put away. The rain was still drumming away on the fabric, everything was wet, the hunt had turned into a mess and they'd lost three separate deer, and two of his knights had twisted their ankles and needed to be supported limping back into camp in an embarrassingly undignified way.

He only meant to complain; you didn't take serving girls on hunting trips, and the alternative interpretation didn't even occur to him until Merlin said indignantly, "I'm not going to do that!"

The complete blinding glory of it hit Arthur all at once: not just having his cock sucked, but Merlin on his knees, probably glaring at him with that you utter prat expression while Arthur's cock—Arthur's extremely large cock, he mentally amended, smugly—slid in and out of Merlin's mouth. His pink, flushed, full-lipped mouth—

Arthur sat up. "Yes, you are. Come here."

"Not a chance," Merlin said, not even bothering to look over at Arthur; he'd hung the chainmail up on the rack and was looking it over critically, rubbing a cloth at a few nonexistent spots. Arthur thought sometimes Merlin had developed a bit of an unhealthy obsession with his armor. "I've heard about you."

On the verge of telling Merlin to leave the chainmail alone and come attend to significantly more important matters, Arthur paused. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That my cock wouldn't be getting any attention in this scenario," Merlin said, finishing with the mail, and draping the jerkin and cloak over the rack. "No, thanks. I'd rather get some sleep."

Arthur stared at him in outrage. Was Merlin actually suggesting—"Do you actually think—you'd expect me to—I'm the crown prince, and you're a servant!"

"Right, with that attitude, it's no wonder half the girls ask me when you'll be out of your rooms before they come up to do the scrubbing," Merlin said, rolling his eyes. "You'll have to make do until there's someone around who's more scared of you than I am. I'm going to sleep with the squires."

Then he blew out the candle and stepped out of the tent, and left Arthur sitting up on his cot with a clenched, queasy feeling in his stomach.

Merlin obviously wasn't to be trusted. With anything, really, but certainly not to have any sort of sensible opinion or to understand—to understand things like a normal, not-ludicrously-stupid person.

Someone who's more scared of you than I am. As though the servant girls weren't honored by Arthur's attentions. Merlin was an idiot. Probably the girls didn't want anything to do with him, so he thought that meant they felt the same way about everyone.

"I'll have you know I have never forced myself on a woman in my life," Arthur bit out to Merlin, who stopped clearing the dinner plates off the table and blinked at him. They'd come back to the castle late that afternoon—Arthur had lost his taste for the hunt.

"I shouldn't think you'd have to?" Merlin said, sounding a little confused.

"Then what the hell did you mean by that remark—that I can only get someone who's afraid of me," Arthur said. "Are you trying to say they think I'll have them sacked if they don't?"

Merlin paused, and tilted his head, as though he was actually considering that possibility. "No," he said judiciously, after a moment. "I expect mostly it's—you're the prince, and you're not actually repellant or anything—"

"Thank you!" Arthur snapped.

"—physically, anyway," Merlin added, rolling his eyes. "But they're not doing it for the fun they're getting out of it, are they? Since you can't be bothered with turnabout."

"Believe it or not, Merlin, not every servant has your ludicrous expectations," Arthur said.

"No, they don't expect anything at all from you," Merlin agreed.

Arthur lunged out of his chair and grabbed Merlin by the collar and shoved him clear across the room, up against the wall. "That is enough!" he said. He didn't know how Merlin managed to make a completely reasonable and straightforward statement of appropriate fact sound like a condemning sentence handed down from a judge, but he wasn't going to stand for it.

"You asked!" Merlin said, pushing ineffectually at Arthur's chest.

"I did not ask you to start insinuating that I—abuse the servants, or frighten them into servicing me," Arthur said. "I bloody well don't frighten you, and I'm trying!"

"Don't be an ass," Merlin said, outrageously. "I know you. I don't care when you shout or throw me into walls like a huge bully. It's different for them. You don't even know their names."

"Of course I know their names," Arthur said. Merlin raised his chin and gave Arthur a look. "Shut up and get out," Arthur snarled, and shoved him at the door.

The problem was he'd spoiled Merlin. Merlin got away with stupidity and insolence and actual disobedience, and Arthur let him because—because—because it entertained him, as often as not. But he couldn't allow every servant the same kind of license, as Merlin would realize if he weren't an idiot. Instead, Merlin had apparently got hold of some idea that—that—actually Arthur didn't even know what Merlin thought, or wanted from him, not that Arthur cared.

He threw the last dagger into the target, and it sank in three inches. After five minutes wrestling it back out, Arthur dumped it into the basket of knives and stormed out of the training grounds and went back to his rooms.

He shoved the doors open, and the chambermaid looked up from the floor, startled. Arthur paused and stared at her. He'd seen her before. He was almost sure he'd seen her before. Her name was—it was—Maybe this was her first time cleaning his rooms. He said abruptly, "What's your name?"

She sat up on her heels, keeping her eyes correctly downcast, with a respectful smile. "Maggie, sire," she said. "Is there something I can do for you, sire?"

There, now that was a proper answer. She was young and pretty, with dark brown hair not quite all pinned up under her cap, and a low-cut blouse that showed the lovely curves of the top of her breasts, and Arthur was very much in the mood right now, and he was not going to let Merlin's ridiculous remarks alter his behavior.

He opened his mouth and shut it. Then he said, "No, thank you." Then he went to put his leathers away, to have something to do with himself. Behind him, she went back to scrubbing the last corner of the room. Was she scrubbing particularly quickly, as though she wanted to get out? He tried to glance over without her noticing, but he had no idea how fast scrubbing was ordinarily. He stared back into his wardrobe and thought pleasant thoughts of murdering Merlin, slowly.

She finished and rose and picked up her bucket. Arthur said abruptly, "Wait," as she headed for the door. She turned—slowly? Nervously? Perfectly normally? He couldn't tell; she wasn't even looking him in the face. This was a nightmare. Merlin had probably done this to him on purpose.

"Yes, sire?" she prompted, after a moment.

"Nevermind," Arthur said. "You may go."

He took care of matters with his own hands instead, and then went down and brooded all the way through dinner in the great hall. "No, I don't want you tonight," he snapped at Merlin after, and stalked back to his rooms alone. He threw his clothes into a corner—Merlin could deal with the mess tomorrow—and went to bed, three hours early.

Three hours later, he was still lying there staring at the canopy, and he rolled up and got out of bed to pace. He was cold in just his shift, and he glared accusingly at the fireplace, where the embers had gone out; Merlin should have known that Arthur did want him to tend to that. He jerked the door open and shouted for a servant—who turned out to be another of the chambermaids. She relaid the fire and rose and curtseyed. "Did my lord wish anything else this evening?" she said, glancing up at him, green eyes bright through her thick lashes.

Arthur stared at her miserably, struggled, and then said abruptly, "Go and tell Guinevere I want her." He needed help here, from someone whose opinion he could trust, and that was clearly not going to be Merlin, so—

The maid blinked at that, startled expression on her face. "Lady Morgana's servant, Guinevere?"

"How many other Guineveres are there in Camelot?" Arthur snapped. "Yes, her. At once."

She hesitated, dropped a curtsey, and whisked out of the room. Arthur went to stand in front of the fresh crackling fire and warm his chilled legs, morosely, until a knock came on the door.

"Enter!" he said, and Gwen came in.

She also kept her eyes downcast, and curtseyed; Morgana didn't have to put up with a completely disreputable servant, Arthur noted in some bitterness. "You sent for me, sire?" she said formally.

"Yes," he said. "I. Um." He cleared his throat. "I need to ask you a question," he said, after a moment. "In confidence—oh, look at me while I'm talking to you."

Gwen raised her eyes and blinked at him in surprise, then frowned. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

"Yes," Arthur said. "No. No, nothing—I only—" He paused. "I need to know what the—the servants—think of me," he said, abruptly. There. That would do.

Gwen hesitated and said, tentatively, "Sire, if someone has—done something wrong—"

"No!" Arthur said. "I am not—just, stop trying to guess at why I am asking and answer the bloody question."

"I'm sorry, sire, I don't know how," Gwen said. "Are you asking me to repeat gossip?"

"So there is gossip," Arthur said.

"There's gossip about everyone," Gwen said, and hesitated again, then she offered, "I—I wouldn't pay any attention to it? If it were me, I mean. Which, it has been, sometimes. I think it's better not to know, anyway."

"It was better not to know," Arthur said. "Thanks to Merlin, however, that option isn't available to me anymore."

Gwen said, encouragingly, "So—Merlin told you—what someone had said? Belowstairs? And—?"

Arthur stopped, struggling; at least Gwen wasn't afraid of him, and also wasn't a vicious idiot intent on ruining his life, but—he couldn't imagine asking her if—if the women liked him or something like that —

Before he could decide, the doors slammed open so hard they struck the wall, and Morgana came charging into the room, so quickly that even the train of her dressing-gown cleared the rebounding doors. "What do you," Arthur began, and then she reached him and hit him—a closed-fist blow, straight across the jaw, so hard it snapped his head back and made him bite the inside of his cheek. "Bloody ow!" he yelled, and grabbed her wrists as she tried for another go.

"How dare you!" she said. "How—dare—you!" She wrested herself free, Arthur's grip weakening with surprise as he stared at her. "How dare you summon Gwen to your rooms, like a—a scullery maid—Gwen, of all people, you—you utter—"

"Oh!" Gwen said, jumping forward. "My lady, no! No, don't—" She caught Morgana's arm, tugging her back.

"I wanted to ask her a bloody question!" Arthur yelled, a hand pressed to his face.

"What, whether she would rather from in front or in back?" Morgana snapped, and Gwen said, "Morgana!" in a voice Arthur had never heard from her, and Morgana stopped and looked at her.

"My lady, the prince had a perfectly respectable question to ask me," Gwen said, quietly, but with a firm finality. "He has not offered me any insult. You owe him an apology."

Morgana stood there, still breathing hard, and then she said, "No, Gwen. No—" she held up a hand. "I owe you an apology, for embarrassing you. But that I assumed the worst—no. I had every reason to assume the worst."

"Of me?" Arthur said.

Morgana whirled on him. "Even if you didn't mean to insult Gwen, what do you expect everyone else in the castle would think, when you have her summoned to your rooms in the middle of the night, like—that?" She waved a hand up and down at him.

Arthur glared at her. The shift went to his knees, he was perfectly decent. "I doubt they would leap to the insane conclusion that I was outraging her."

"When every halfway-pretty serving maid in this castle has to put up with being treated like one of a harem for you and your knights?" Morgana said. "That is exactly what they would think," and she took Gwen by the hand and tugged her out the door. Gwen threw a worried, half-apologetic look back at him, but went with Morgana.

Arthur stood there a moment, then he threw himself at the door before it swung all the way shut, and stepped into the hall, meaning to go after Morgana, to tell her, in tiny words that could get through her diseased imagination—

She and Gwen were walking down the hallway, and they had their arms around each other's waists. Gwen was saying softly, "— don't believe you did that for me—" and Morgana was resting her head on Gwen's shoulder.

Arthur stepped back inside his room, and closed the door, and went and sat down at the table.

The door opened, a little while later, and he looked up. Merlin was standing there in a shift and breeches, with a tray. He nudged the door shut with a foot and began to put out some dishes on the table. "I brought you some ice," he said, and slid Arthur a packet, wrapped in sawdust and rags.

"Why?" Arthur said, harshly.

"For your—" Merlin said, pointing at his jaw.

"No," Arthur said. "Why would you bother? Since you're not afraid of me."

Merlin stopped and stared at him. Then he said doubtfully, "Did Morgana hit you really hard?"

"Leave the food and go," Arthur snapped, and took the ice packet and pressed it to his jaw.

Merlin just stood there like an idiot, still looking at him—Merlin never lowered his eyes—and then he left the food half on the tray, and went to the door and locked it. Arthur watched him, baffled. Merlin came back over and took the ice packet out of Arthur's hand to put it on the table, then leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.

Arthur jerked back. "I thought you didn't want—" he started, icily, but Merlin put a hand on his lips, silencing.

He said, "I'd really like to take you to bed. May I?"

Arthur flushed, blood rising hot in his cheeks. It was ridiculous. No one had ever spoken to him like— "What do you think you're—" he began, and then Merlin pressed his lips shut again.

"You're beautiful," Merlin said, "and you're ridiculously brave, and you're a complete ass sometimes, but I like you anyway. And if you don't want me, it's okay to say so, and I won't be upset, and I won't ask again."

Arthur was about to snap at Merlin to say, obviously it was all right to say so, and if Merlin were upset by it, Arthur wouldn't care in the least, and also he was not under any circumstances to be referred to ever again as beautiful, and then he stopped. He looked at Merlin, who was looking back at him expectantly, although with a faintly doubtful air, as though he wasn't entirely sure Arthur was going to get the point.

Arthur had a brief struggle. It was too much like admitting something, and what if Merlin actually wanted him to—to—do anything he didn't care to do? And whatever Merlin or Morgana said, Arthur was sure that at least half the maids in Camelot really were perfectly willing and even happy to do the crown prince a favor. The only problem was, half wasn't all, and now that he'd realized that, he had no way to tell whether any given maid was in the perfectly-willing half.

And, Arthur reasoned to himself, it in fact made perfect sense to get lessons in this area from Merlin, because it wasn't as though anyone would lie with Merlin because they were afraid of him. If anything it was a wonder Merlin had ever got anyone to lie with him at all. "Fine," he said, abruptly.

Merlin looked for a moment as though he wanted to laugh, and Arthur glared at him to make clear just how bad an idea that would be. Merlin managed to restrain himself to a grin. He stepped back, and Arthur stood up and started to turn towards the bed, but Merlin caught him by the shoulder.

"There's no need to rush," Merlin said, and he cupped his hands around Arthur's face and kissed him again, a slow lingering kiss, suckling on his lip and tongue, and diving back in. Arthur didn't quite know what to do with his hands, so he rested them on Merlin's waist, wondering how long Merlin was planning to spend on this. Merlin nuzzled at his cheek, and then nosed at the line of his jaw. Arthur's breath was coming a little quicker.

It took nearly ten minutes just to get across the room and onto the bed, which Arthur felt was about as much delay as he could reasonably be expected to tolerate. He was already panting for it. "Right," he said, pointedly, throwing his shift off over the side at last, and arranging himself on the pillows.

Merlin stopped and sat back on his heels and just stared at him. "Merlin," Arthur said, dangerously.

"Don't be an ass," Merlin said, without heat, and then he leaned forward and—oh yes, licked a hot wet stripe all the way up Arthur's cock.

And then crawled up Arthur's body, moving his mouth away. "Damn you, Merlin," Arthur began, only to have Merlin stop his mouth with another kiss.

"Stop being so impatient," Merlin said. "We've all night."

"How long does this usually take you?" Arthur demanded.

"Long enough to get it right," Merlin said, kissing him some more, and then he pushed himself up on his elbows and looked at Arthur, and said slowly and meaningfully, "Arthur. Let me take my time with you."

Arthur swallowed, unsteadily. That was—that was very odd to hear. It sounded vaguely insubordinate, as usual, but—so intent, and then Merlin was kissing his collarbones and asking, "Is this good?"

"If I want you to stop, I'll tell you," Arthur said, shifting restlessly.

Merlin raised his head. "I'm aiming for something better than not bad," he said. "Tell me if you like it." Then he nuzzled his head up against the side of Arthur's throat and flicked the tendons with his tongue. "This?" he asked, and then he bit the lobe of Arthur's ear, "or this?" and then he moved his lips up a little and breathed out, "This?" on a hot moist breath, right into Arthur's ear.

A very strange liquid sensation ran through Arthur's belly, and he swallowed. "That," he said, and Merlin blew in his ear again. Arthur found he even shuddered, a little.

Merlin went unbearably slowly, as though he were surveying land for a battlefield, and meant to find every dip and hollow of Arthur's body, every secret: that a touch inside his elbows only made him squirm, but a tongue drawing slow circles on the inner skin of his wrist could make him shudder so hard he nearly pulled free. That his nipples, embarrassingly, made him yelp when Merlin pinched them, and then even more embarrassingly made him moan when Merlin just softly breathed on them, or teased them with the tip of his tongue. Merlin's hands were kneading Arthur's inner thighs, and his nose was brushing teasingly against Arthur's cock, warm breaths gusting softly between Arthur's legs.

"Merlin," Arthur said, almost pleading, and Merlin finally licked him again. Another lick, and then Merlin blew cool air over his cock, then breathed warm. He suckled just the head, his tongue poking thoughtfully at the hood, rubbing it back and forth, and then he slid off, and slowly licked Arthur root to head once more.

He moved his attentions to Arthur's balls, and then to Arthur's thighs, nibbling a little, with teeth, as Arthur kept saying, "Yes, yes, I do, now, Merlin—" his voice getting more and more ragged, and his hips jerking futilely up against Merlin's grip. Merlin ignored all of Arthur's increasingly broken attempts to order him to get on with it, and kept working him over.

Finally, at last, he settled himself between Arthur's legs with a luxurious air, and began to work his cock properly: Merlin licked all the length, messy and thorough, drawing curving lines up and down with the tip of his tongue. Then he closed his mouth over the head again, and slid tightly down the shaft, or nearly, sucking hard. Arthur whimpered and tried to thrust; he was so ready, he could have—just a few more—and then Merlin was pulling off again, and leaving Arthur to slap wetly against his belly, while Merlin pressed kisses to his thighs again.

"Merlin!" Arthur said. "Damn you, what are you waiting for—I'm ready, just—"

"I'm not," Merlin said, and kissed his hips, and then his cock, and sucked it some more, until Arthur was right on the verge again, and then he pulled off

"Are you bloody enjoying sucking my cock so much that you want it to keep going?" Arthur said, pounding his head back against the pillows in straining frustration.

"Yes," Merlin said, and licked him some more. "Otherwise I wouldn't be," he added, and very carefully ran the edge of his teeth against the ridge of the hood. "It's lovely. You're lovely."

"I am not lovely," Arthur said. "I'm—I'm—oh god, Merlin, please—" because Merlin was sucking again, and Merlin stopped and said severely, "Will you learn to take a compliment?"

"Will you please for the sake of all the gods there are finish me," Arthur said, whining and not caring in the least, because there were limits, and Merlin had found each and every one of them, and Merlin sighed and said, "All right, if you really need, I suppose we can take the edge off for now."

Arthur had a brief moment to say, "— for now?" and then Merlin's mouth was sliding back down on him, nearly to the root, and his tongue was teasing at the head while he sucked, and he wasn't stopping, he wasn't stopping, and Arthur came in huge shuddering waves that made him jerk wildly, writhing against the sheets, until they gradually ebbed and left him spent and quivering against the pillows.

Merlin slid off, licking his swollen lips clean with a pink tongue, and kissed Arthur's hip again. "Good?" he said.

"Nmhmph," Arthur said feebly.

Merlin crawled up and settled against his side, curling one leg over Arthur's thigh, and nosed at his ear again, idly, while Arthur caught his breath. "How long d'you think you'll need, before more?" he asked, trailing fingers very lightly over Arthur's spent cock, still flushed and red against his belly.

Arthur swallowed a whimper. He didn't think he could, except he wasn't bloody well going to admit—

"Unless you want a go?" Merlin said. "It's all right if you're not as good," he added. "I know you haven't had much practice."

"Not—as—good?" Arthur said, pushing himself up, furiously, and he shoved Merlin down onto his back.

Merlin began, "I'm just saying," something stupid, obviously, so Arthur shut him up with a kiss, and then tried kissing Merlin's neck, since that was vaguely where Merlin had started. Merlin made a sort of purring sound and squirmed under him, which led to Arthur more or less accidentally discovering that Merlin quite enjoyed being held down and went bright-eyed when Arthur put all his weight on top of him. That brought Merlin's cock very noticeably into the affair, however, and Arthur was appalled to realize, when he casually eased his weight back off to one side so he could get a look, that Merlin might—just possibly might, very unlikely—be larger than him.

Arthur hoped very much Merlin hadn't noticed that, and when Merlin made a protesting noise and tried to turn towards him, Arthur shoved him back down and put a hand around Merlin and started to jerk him. It was rather awkward, and Merlin wasn't exactly complaining, but he certainly wasn't getting overwhelmed. Then Arthur had the brilliant idea of hauling Merlin on top of him, back to chest, and settling Merlin between his legs, so the angle was more familiar.

Merlin gave a very encouraging choked noise as Arthur manhandled him over, and his head tipped back against Arthur's shoulder as Arthur worked. He started kissing Arthur's throat again, slow sucking kisses while Arthur jerked him, and every so often he'd break off and gasp against Arthur's skin. A pink flush was rising over his skin.

Arthur brought the girls off every time, of course, usually right at the same time he came himself; sometimes they made the most amazing racket, moaning loudly, though he was usually too lost in the moment to fully pay attention. He'd never done this before, though, worked someone else to climax alone. There was something—interesting about watching it. Merlin's hands were gripping his thighs tightly, like Merlin couldn't help himself and needed to hold on. "Oh," Merlin kept saying, a little breathily, and his hips would try and push up.

Arthur's own cock was rousing again after all, the third time in a day; not unheard of, naturally, but worthy of notice. It occurred to him he probably ought to stop and make Merlin attend to him again; but then Merlin made an odd almost whimpering sound as Arthur's thumb skidded, mostly by accident, over just the very head of his cock, and after all, it wasn't that much trouble to continue. Merlin's cock had gone slippery, leaking over Arthur's fingers; it made the strokes easier, long and steady pulls, then trying quick and a little rough. Then Merlin was saying, "Arthur, oh, I'm," in a short stifled voice, and he went utterly silent, trembling, while his cock jerked in Arthur's hand, spilling hot all over his fingers.

As ought to have been thoroughly unsurprising, Merlin was completely useless after. Unless you considered there to be some use in being nuzzled at and murmured to incoherently, which Arthur very definitely did not, even if there was something oddly endearing about Merlin's eyes gone heavy-lidded under his ridiculous mop of dark hair, and the way he kept smiling.

"You are going to launder and scrub every inch of this bed tomorrow," Arthur informed him, having given up on wrestling out from under his armful of servant; he wiped his hand on the sheets and irritably after a moment mopped Merlin clean, too, so he wouldn't drip.

"Yeah, all right," Merlin said, drowsy, and then redeemed himself just the least bit by squirming over in Arthur's arms and sliding his hand around Arthur's cock again. "Might as well get it messier, then," he suggested.

"Right," Arthur said, a little strangled; he was still—oh gods—still sensitive.

"I'll bring some oil tomorrow, shall I," Merlin said, doing this thing with his hands.

"Yes, fine, why?—yes," Arthur said, arching up into his grip. "Like that—yes. Yes."

"I am not letting you do anything of the sort," Arthur said flatly, when Merlin explained what the oil was for.

"You can do it to me, then," Merlin said, agreeably, and spent the next extended while moaning and writhing and coming apart on Arthur's fingers. It was the most compliant Merlin had ever been, and that was the only explanation for why Arthur lost his head completely and actually used his mouth, near the end. He only wanted to see if he could drive Merlin any further, and he could: Merlin made this wild shocked moan of, "Arthur, Arthur," and started trying to levitate off the bed, almost literally; and then he suddenly and abruptly came, hot and wet and—good God.

Arthur spat on the floor and spat and coughed. "What's wrong with you, you taste wretched."

"That's how it tastes," Merlin said, feebly. His head was sort of tipped sideways to his body, and he was still trembling.

"Girls always swallow for me," Arthur said, and Merlin wobbily levered up his head and gave him a pointed look, before letting his head fall back again. "I do not taste like that," Arthur said. "I don't!" He jabbed Merlin in the side. "And if you bloody dare fall asleep on me, now, after I just spent—"

Arthur stopped, belatedly realizing he had been maliciously and shamelessly tricked into spending the better part of an hour servicing his manservant; and also he was now desperately ready to come, and Merlin was limp as a dishrag and barely even moving.

He began to express his feelings on the situation at some length and volume, until Merlin cracked his eyes open and said drowsily, "C'mere, then," and tugged vaguely until Arthur straddled his waist. Merlin put some of the oil on his hand and started to jerk Arthur with slow, languid, delicious strokes that were just short of enough. He kept looking up at Arthur with this pleased, sort of happy look, and his fingers were really—remarkable; long, and delicate-looking, not nearly as callused as they ought to have been.

"Merlin," Arthur gritted out, and Merlin said, "Hm?"

Arthur glared at him. "Do it, then, already," he snapped.

"You're sure?" Merlin said, though he slid an oil-dripping finger into Arthur's cleft without waiting for an answer.

Arthur twitched at the feel of it, and it was very strange; he couldn't see what all Merlin's fuss had been— "Oh bloody hell," he strangled out, and fell forward, bracing himself up over Merlin with trembling arms.

"Arthur," Merlin said, almost pleadingly, tilting up. Arthur shakily lowered his head to kiss Merlin's mouth; and kept still kissing him as he came, shudderingly, all over Merlin's body.

"You know, I'm beginning to think there may be something to these notions of yours," Arthur said. "It's certainly a pleasure to be able to silence you on occasion."

Merlin of course immediately tried to make some quarrelsome and insolent response, but Arthur had been waiting for just that, and right as Merlin's mouth opened, he gave a slow, deliberate thrust. A sort of feeble squeaking noise came out of Merlin's mouth instead of words, and his head fell back against the pillows. Arthur grinned down at him, and rolled his hips luxuriously. Merlin whimpered, and his eyelashes made a dark sooty sweep against his cheeks, flushed pink with heat.

Arthur felt a surge of triumph, watching him shudder, and he bent forward and ran his tongue up Merlin's bared throat, pressing even deeper. It was sweet torture to go this slowly, every instinct inviting him to start moving at speed. "Arthur," Merlin moaned, complaining, and tried to push up against him.

"No, not yet," Arthur said, smugly, and savored Merlin's whine. He was holding out for pathetic broken begging this time.

Afterwards, Merlin was impossible to get rid of, as usual, which was the one downside of this arrangement: sleeping cats had nothing on it, and he was restless at night. However, with Merlin sprawled out like a limp starfish and still quivering, Arthur decided magnanimously that for once, he wouldn't make a fuss of it. Anyway, he didn't have patrol until nine, tomorrow; they'd have time for a go in the morning.

However, he'd already had to shove Merlin to the foot of the bed the last few nights, in desperation, and it was time to put a stop to that. "If you're staying, you are going to learn how to share a bed in a civilized manner," Arthur said, and dragged Merlin over, tucked him up close, and put Merlin's head onto his shoulder.

"Mmrm," Merlin said, and promptly tried to shift positions.

Arthur pinned him against his side. "Stay," he said firmly. Merlin tried to move again, failed, and subsided with an air of resentment. After a moment, though, he put his arm over Arthur's chest, hitched his leg over Arthur's thigh, and settled in.

And if Arthur stroked his head, a very little bit, that was only making sure Merlin stayed in place instead of squirming about all night.

After a couple of weeks, Arthur had to detail off another servant to do his laundry, because Merlin had a fit and refused to do it anymore, on the grounds that it was cutting into his time communing with Arthur's armor. "Your armor is more important than your bedsheets," Merlin said. "I'm not having you getting killed because one link rusts somewhere and someone gets lucky and hits you right there with an arrow."

"Then I suppose we won't be able to dirty them quite as often," Arthur said, flinging out his trump card.

And then Merlin dropped his eyes a moment and raised them and said seriously, "I'd rather have you alive than shagging me."

Well, it was undignified to keep squabbling with Merlin. Arthur got the steward to assign a second chambermaid, and fought off the temptation to blush when he informed her of her duties. Everyone in the castle was his, after all; if he felt like sharing his bed with Merlin for a while, it was all his decision, and no one had the least right to look sideways about it.

Instead, a few weeks after that Morgana actually apologized to him, if a little grudgingly. "I shouldn't have spoken so harshly. But—I am glad you are giving a better example to your men, these days. Not to mention," she added, "it's made your mood almost tolerable."

"Er, thanks," Arthur said. He wasn't sure what to do with Morgana when she wasn't insulting him; it made him feel uncomfortable. Or as if he were being asked to do something dangerous.

Which perhaps he was: the feast of the first pressing was held a little more than a week after, and the wine began to flow in the morning and didn't stop. Arthur didn't indulge much; he had plans for the evening, and he'd discovered that too much wine had an unfortunate effect on the ability to stretch things out. Some of the other knights dipped deep, however, and around noon, Merlin leaned over, under the pretense of refilling Arthur's goblet, which wasn't empty, and murmured, "Ceredan's bothering Lynne."

"What?" Arthur said, and then saw down at the middle table, young Sir Ceredan was trying to draw one of the serving girls down into his lap. He kept leaning over to murmur in her ear. She was plainly trying to work free without spilling her over-full jug; there was a smile pinned on her face, but a fixed, resigned quality to it.

Arthur glanced at Merlin, who blinked at him not like he wanted Arthur to do something; more as though he knew with complete certainty that Arthur was going to do something. Though Ceredan was the son of the Earl of Duboine, an important ally, and as second in line not even that far from the inheritance.

Evidently Merlin was right, though, as Arthur went over, rescued the jug out of her hands and pulled her up, then set it back in her grip. "There are cups empty at the lower table," he told her, and she curtseyed with a grateful look and flitted away; Arthur clapped Ceredan on the shoulder and drew him up and away from the feasting.

Ceredan stumbled a little, coming after him, and looked both drunk and sulky. When Arthur had finished delivering what he felt was a really impressive lecture, about the necessity to be sure that a woman was not only willing but enthusiastic about her circumstances, Ceredan blurted, "They don't like me! It's not fair!"

Arthur glared at him. "Yes, Ceredan," he snapped, "I'm bitterly sorry that you, a knight of Camelot, with two estates and most of your teeth left, have such difficulty in persuading a serving woman to favor you for a night. A true knight would think less how unfair it was for him, and more for the woman."

He was pleased with having come up with that, and said it with a flourish of finality, but Ceredan had the unbelievable temerity to keep arguing. "It's easy for you to say," Ceredan muttered sullenly. "They all want you—"

About to demolish him as he deserved, Arthur paused and said, "They do? That is," he hastily corrected, "they do, obviously—that is the privilege of the crown—"

"—you're a bloody hero and all!" Ceredan said, waving his hands about. "You win all the tourneys, and whack monsters, and you're—beautiful—"

"I am not beautiful!" Arthur said.

"—and there's not a girl in the castle who wouldn't drop anyone at all to have you, and, and, so, what do you know about it!" Ceredan said. He stood blinking at Arthur, defiantly, and then his sluggish head seemed to catch up to his own mouth, and his face began to fall. "Er. Sire?" he added, a little weakly.

Arthur put aside these extremely interesting revelations to deal with the matter at hand. "Well, Ceredan," he said, silkily, "I do see the difficulty. Fortunately, we can fix this."

Ceredan said, "...we can?"

"Oh yes," Arthur said. "Why don't you start with an extra hour of training with the guards every morning—shall we say an hour before dawn?—get that shieldwork of yours into a respectable state. And in the evenings, after everyone else is finished, you can go for a nice, relaxing run in your mail; I think three miles should do." His eyes narrowed. "That way, you'll be more worthy of attention—and less likely to have the energy to miss what you don't get."

After he had sent Ceredan back to the tables with his tail between his legs, Arthur looked for Merlin for a very pointed discussion, but he was nowhere to be seen, probably having taken the opportunity to scarper off and hole up with Arthur's armor somewhere—there was going to be a tourney next week to celebrate the harvest. Arthur went back inside the castle and looked in his quarters; and though Merlin wasn't there, the new chambermaid was, making up the bed.

"Have you seen Merlin?" he asked.

"No, sire," she said, dropping a curtsey, and she looked coquettishly up at him as she did; Arthur looked at her and it occurred to him, here was a perfect chance to make certain—"It's Alys, isn't it?" he asked, extremely smug that he had made sure of learning that.

"Yes, my lord," she said, and flicked up a glance at him. "I'm honored that you remembered. Is there—anything I can do for you, my lord?" She didn't quite say anything at all, but it was rather implied in her tone.

"Tell me, Alys," Arthur said, "do you enjoy your post, here in Camelot? It must be hard work."

"Oh, I do, my lord, very much," she said. "It is an honor to serve you."

"Is it really," Arthur said. Oh, he was never going to let Merlin hear the end of this. She was even leaning forward to plump the pillows, just to display her breasts some more. They were very nice breasts, actually. "Alys, have you a lover?"

She covered her mouth with a hand, to stifle a little laugh, and said, "I don't, my lord," and then she tossed her head up and gave him a bold look. "But that doesn't mean I shouldn't like one."

He walked over and leaned against the bedpost. "If you would like me, the bedding could wait," he said, and added, feeling virtuous, "and if you would rather not, we won't speak of this again."

She blushed, attractively, and murmured, "I very much would, sire," she said, looking him up and down.

She made clear she was more than happy to oblige him in any whim at all, but he firmly said, "What I should like is for you to enjoy yourself," and tried several things, experimentally, which proved highly successful—at one point she became so overcome she pulled on his hair, although unlike Merlin, she stopped at once and apologized.

The ending came off very nicely as well, on both sides, he thought; and afterwards she said dazed and incautious, "That wasn't at all how the other girls said," which Arthur decided was not going to get repeated to Merlin. And neither was the bit after he caught her staring at him in the bath, a little dreamy-eyed, and she said, "Oh, I'm sorry, sire, it's just you're so—"

The rest, however, he stored up in detail. After he was done with the bath, he sent Alys off about her work, and settled himself at the table to wait for Merlin to come back and be informed at great length exactly how irresistible Arthur actually was. Then, Merlin was going to have to do a great deal of explaining, and afterwards, Arthur would outline several ways in which Merlin was going to make it up for having deterred Arthur from propositioning anyone for six weeks, thereby cruelly depriving all the poor servingwomen of Camelot of the crown prince's favours.

Arthur ran several enjoyable versions of this conversation through his head, feeling pleased with himself and all the world. The charming sensation lasted only until Merlin actually appeared, banged into the room with his dinner tray, slammed the plates onto the table—slopping everywhere—and bit out, "Did you want anything else, or will that do?"

Arthur opened and shut his mouth. "What's got into you?" he said, baffled.

"Nothing," Merlin said, glaring. "If that'll be all, I'll be going."

"No, of course that won't be —what are you talking about?" Arthur said, looking from Merlin to the bed and back.

Merlin followed his glance to the bed and said in utter scorn, "You must be joking."

Which Arthur thought was a bit much, seeing how Merlin had been sharing that bed with him for more than a month on end. "I am not joking," he snapped, "and you are going to explain yourself at once, you lunatic."

Merlin looked at Arthur as though he were the lunatic. "A last bit of advice then, since evidently you need it: if you want to keep a friend after you're finished with a lover, you should let them know you're done before you move on to the next."

Arthur said, in dawning outrage, "Are you saying this is about Alys? Don't be an idiot, Merlin, I'm not done with you just because I gave one of the girls a tumble."

"That's too bad, then, as I'm done with you," Merlin said, and slammed out of the room without waiting to be dismissed.

Arthur spent the next several days composing appropriately scathing and lordly responses to Merlin's fit of insanity, to be delivered as soon as he managed to find Merlin, who apparently had suddenly developed some magical gift for avoiding Arthur. Arthur's armor still wound up polished and his clothing put away and dishes cleared, but as far as Arthur could have told it was all being done by invisible gnomes.

After this dragged on for three days, Arthur finally took slightly underhanded measures: he cleared his evening tasks, ordered dinner in his chambers, early, and then lay in wait for Merlin to show up. Except when the door opened next, it was Alys, instead.

"What are you doing here?" Arthur said. "Where's Merlin?"

"Oh," she said, "the steward thought perhaps I might clear the dishes, sire." She gave him a slow, curving smile.

"Did he?" Arthur snapped. "Well, you may go back and tell him that when I want my arrangements altered, I will inform him, and also that I expect my manservant to do his work, and if he can't get him here, I would like a damned good reason why."

He glared at her for good measure: what bloody reason did she have for blabbing it all over the palace so Merlin had known not five minutes later. Not that Arthur would have in any way bothered to conceal anything he chose to do from Merlin, obviously. Or that Merlin had any right to object in the least.

She took half a step back and stammered, her hands twisting into her skirt, "If—sire, if I've displeased you—"

Arthur stared at her, appalled. She was not going to go proving Merlin right at a time like this. "Stop that!" he yelled. "I'm not going to do anything to you! What do you think—" and then he stopped short: she'd dropped her eyes to the floor and her shoulders had curled in. He swallowed, low unaccustomed shame crawling up his back. But—he'd shouted down servants all his life without a second thought; it was his right, they understood he didn't—

Arthur could see Merlin's disapproving looks without even having him here. Alys didn't look much as though she understood, at the moment.

"I'm sorry," he said, forcing his voice calm, and she glanced up at him, startled. "I'm in a temper, and it isn't your fault." He stepped back and waved a hand at the table. "Nevermind what I said. Go on and clear it, and then go to your rest; it's late."

She curtseyed and said, "Yes, my lord," in relieved and slightly puzzled tones, and whisked out again with the dishes in a rush.

After she had gone, Arthur threw a chair at the wall, which did not make him feel better but at least didn't make anyone cringe, and went to bed. He had ended up stuffing two of the pillows under the covers last night, to try and fill the emptiness; tonight he hurled them out on the floor and lay back angrily to toss and turn for another hour, and finally he threw back the covers and pulled on a pair of breeches.

Gaius rose from a narrow cot as Arthur stalked into his chambers; Arthur pulled up short and stared at him.

"Er," Arthur said. "I apologize for disturbing your rest."

"No, sire," Gaius said, with a faintly long-suffering air. "A physician must be ready to rouse at any hour of the night. Are you feeling unwell?"

"No, I—" Arthur said, and stopped.

"Ah," Gaius said. There was a certain wealth of meaning in his tone. "Then with your leave, I will return to my sleep."

"Yes," Arthur said. "Yes, of course," and sidled over to Merlin's door as quietly as he could, as Gaius lay back down. Arthur had to knock quietly, instead of banging with the deserved vigor, but on the bright side, Merlin opened it without any hesitating, saying, "Yes, Gaius, did you—" and stopped.

"Well?" Arthur said. "I'm not standing here on the threshold, move."

"Um," Merlin said, and threw a long look behind him into the room.

"I know your room's a pigsty, Merlin, I'm not going to be shocked by anything," Arthur said, and then a horrible thought hit and he snapped, "—do you have a girl in there?"

"What?" Merlin said, a little abstractly, and then he turned around and glared at Arthur. "No! I don't! Not that it would be any business of yours if I did!"

"Like it's none of yours if I do, you mean?" Arthur said.

"Like it's not anymore," Merlin said coolly, and Arthur shoved him backwards into the room, and kicked the door shut behind them.

"I am going to make this clear once and once only," Arthur said. "It is not for you to decide who I take to my bed. If I choose to fuck half the castle, it's no business of yours."

"No, it's not," Merlin said.

"Right, then," Arthur said.

"It's only my business to say, I won't be one of them," Merlin said, raising his chin.

"Why the hell not?" Arthur said. "I'm not bloody replacing you, it's not like it changes anything. Why are you behaving like a jealous girl—" and he stopped, in sudden widening delight, as everything came perfectly clear. "That's it, isn't it!" he said, gleefully. "You're jealous. You are jealous, over me!"

"I am not!" Merlin said hotly.

"Yes, you are!" Arthur said. "Don't even try to pretend otherwise. You're not upset because I didn't tell you first. If I had told you we were done, you would probably have—cried or something." He paused to savor it, and then announced, "You're in love with me!"

He basked in the shining perfect glow of it all: so much for Merlin ever pretending he didn't like Arthur, or was annoyed with him, or thought he was an ass, or rude, or anything. It was all a ridiculous show; Merlin was in love with him. Merlin probably wrote little bits of terrible poetry about him, and watched him goopily behind his back, and really thought Arthur was wonderful.

He beamed at Merlin, full of victory. And in the candlelight, Merlin's face looked suddenly worn and even a little hollow; and Merlin said nothing, not even to deny.

Arthur stopped smiling. There was nothing he could be delighted by in that look, which said plainly that yes, Merlin did love him, and was jealous and unhappy; and here Arthur was gloating over it like he'd taken a prize of painted ribbons at a village fair.

Arthur said, "Merlin—" and abruptly a hundred impossible things seemed easy to say: to admit that he had been lonely and sleepless, these three nights alone; that he was sorry; that Merlin's mad insolence was worth more to him than a thousand others' smiles.

He struggled more trying to think where to begin, and how to say it, that wouldn't sound stupid or clumsy; he had to fix this, but there was no call to make a soppy idiot of himself. Then he took one step into the tiny room towards Merlin, who didn't retreat even though his eyes were wary. Arthur put his hand up to cup Merlin's cheek, and leaned in and kissed him softly: an exchange of breath and brush of his mouth against Merlin's hesitant lips.

Arthur said, "You are—you are ridiculous, and disobedient, and you plague every day of my life, and—" Merlin was looking at him with something wide and shining in his eyes, even before Arthur finished, "— I like you anyway. And I would very much like to have you."

Merlin didn't speak at first, just flushed pink, still looking at Arthur in that absurd way, and then he said a little unsteadily, "Yeah, all right."

"All right?" Arthur glared at him, even though he already had his hands sliding under Merlin's shift; this once, he had no intention of being patient.

Merlin slid his hands into Arthur's hair and kissed him again, his mouth curving into an completely disrespectful smile against Arthur's. "Well, you know," he murmured, kissing along Arthur's jaw, "I was just thinking I'd really like to have my cock sucked."

"Count yourself lucky if you don't have your neck wrung," Arthur said, and tipped him down to the narrow cot.

= End =

With many thanks to Cesca and giddy and hafital and Julad and Mia! <3

All feedback much appreciated!

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