An Ordinary Life

By Orithain and Rina

September 2010

Disclaimers: This version of Merlin belongs to the BBC. No infringement is intended.

It was a beautiful spring day, the sun shining over the green meadow dotted with flowers and fluffy white clouds sprinkled across the cerulean sky, a perfect day. Merlin lay on his back, finding pictures in the clouds, enjoying the quiet afternoon for a little while. A jet contrail across the sky eventually shattered the illusion that he was still in Camelot, enjoying a stolen moment away from his duties, and he sat up with a sigh, his eyes going to the nearby hill, a few scattered rocks all that remained of the once glorious castle which for a short time had been the center of a golden age for Britainóor Albion as it had been called then.

After Arthurís death, the bright dream had quickly collapsed, no one else able to hold it, and after a few generations, even the castle had fallen into disuse, the kingdom broken apart and the lands of the Pendragonís fief absorbed piecemeal into the surrounding kingdoms. Unable to bear seeing anyone else lay claim to Arthurís home, Merlin had razed it to the ground and left Camelot, refusing to return for generations.

That had been a decision heíd regretted the first time he encountered a young man with familiar eyes who seemed drawn to the eccentric old man who lived in the forest in the woods. Though Arthur didnít always remember their past, anytime they met some deeply buried part of him recognized Merlin, no matter what age the eternal wizard chose to be, and they almost always became friends. Very rarely, Merlin allowed the feelings between them to become more, but losing Arthur again when they had been lovers was even more painful, and it had been several lifetimes now since he had been able to bear the thought of that loss.

In fact, it had been some time since Merlin had found Arthur at all, as sometimes he didnít, but for the last twenty years or so, heíd felt the hum deep in his bones that told him Arthur had been reborn, and he could only hope that this time, they would meet. And perhaps this would be the time that Arthur would remember who and what he was and what they were to each other. With that in mind, heíd chosen an appearance much as heíd looked when he and Arthur first met all those centuries ago, one that should approximate Arthurís own current age.

With a final glance at the spot where the castle had once stood, Merlin resolutely turned his back and made his way back to his motorcycle, leaving the Welsh countryside behind to return to London and his life as one of the idle rich. Centuries of life had allowed the wizard to amassóand occasionally loseófortunes, and this was one of the lifetimes where he chose to Ďinherití wealth and simply enjoy a few decades without bothering to work. It was time to find Arthur, and he wanted nothing to interfere with that.

The club was wild, packed with young university students all looking for a good time, chief among them a blonde twenty-year-old dressed in faded jeans and a red shirt who was leaning against a railing, talking with his friends and holding a bottle of beer in one hand.

"Mmm, thereís a nice one," he murmured, downing the rest of his beer before heading out into the crowd to ask the woman heíd spotted to dance. A few songs later, he abandoned her, bored by her inane conversation, and scanned the crowd for another partner. "Well hello," he murmured, sauntering up to the lean-featured young man and flashing him his most brilliant smile. "Care to dance?"

Merlin nearly choked on his ale, his eyes widening as he stared at the gorgeous blonde man. Even if he hadnít felt Arthur, he would have known this was him. He looked exactly as he had the day Merlin met him in Camelot.

He managed not to gasp out Arthurís name, and he regained his composure before the other man decided he was brain-damaged. "Love to," he said, setting the bottle down and moving closer.

"Brilliant," the blonde grinned, grabbing Merlinís hand and urging him toward the dance floor where they joined the throngs gyrating to the dayís top techno music.

"Iím Rhys," Merlin yelled, letting his hands rest on the soft denim covering Arthurís hips. He wished he hadnít chosen to wear leather trousers that night since it would make it that much more difficult to feel Arthurís touch, but judging by the heat in the blondeís eyes when he looked at Merlin, theyíd served their purpose far better than the wizard could ever have imagined.

"Arthur," the other man replied, flashing another brilliant smile at him as he slid an arm around Merlinís waist, synchronizing their movements with negligent ease. "Itís good to meet you."

Merlin had to fight the desire to melt against Arthur. He looked like him, sounded like him, smelled like him, and even felt like him, and Merlin was finding himself reacting as if the fifteen centuries between had never been. Not even the few times that he had permitted himself to become the lover of one of Arthurís reincarnations had felt like this. "Yeah," he said simply, moving his hands up Arthurís chest to loop his arms around the blondeís neck.

Arthur chuckled at that, and his free hand came to rest on Merlinís ass as he pulled them closer together. "Not much for small talk, are you? Fine by me, I hate being yammered at."

Merlin chuckled. "We might have a problem then. Iíve been told I have a tendency to talk too much. Unless Iím distracted."

"And how does one best distract you?"

Somehow moving closer, Merlin rocked against Arthur. "Getting the idea yet?"

"Yeah, I think I am," Arthur grinned, his fingers flexing against Merlinís ass as they moved in time to the music, burgeoning erections rubbing together through the layers of denim and leather that separated them.

"I love a clever man," Merlin purred against Arthurís ear just before his teeth closed on the tender lobe, worrying it gently, causing the other man to shudder against him.

"And I love a perceptive one. Any reason weíre still here dancing when we could be doing something much more interesting?"

"Youíre leading."

"And Iíd be glad to continue doing it," Arthur laughed, beginning to walk Merlin back through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor, keeping an arm around his waist even as he let Merlin turn around. "So, yours, mine, or the alley behind here?" he asked, giving a wink.

"Option D," Merlin replied with a filthy grin.

"Which is?"

"All of the above, of course."

"Definitely my kind of man. Tube it from here or are we going for the alleyway?"

"If we go for the alley, will you be able to get it up again by the time we get to my flat?"

"That depends," Arthur asked, grinning cockily. "Is your place more or less than five minutes away?"

"Oh, you are so going to live up to that," Merlin chuckled, stopping so that he could pull Arthur to him for a kiss that quickly had both of them groaning and Merlinís legs wrapped around Arthurís waist.

"Greedy," Arthur panted once the kiss broke, "I like that in a person even more." As he was speaking, he hefted Merlin higher and staggered back toward the alley, pressing the leaner man up against the wall and grinding against him as he kissed Merlin again, their tongues dueling as their mouths opened.

"Fuck or fucked?" Merlin gasped, nibbling along the tendon on the side of Arthurís neck and rocking against the hard cock pressing against his own.

"Either works for me, but right now Iíd rather be in your ass," Arthur growled, unwinding Merlinís legs from around his waist and getting a hand between them to knead Merlinís cock.

"I really hope you have something," Merlin groaned, thrusting into Arthurís hand. "If I have to wait till we get back to my place, Iím going to be very disappointed."

"Would I have offered if I didnít?" Arthur let go of Merlinís ass and dug in his back pocket, coming up with a condom and small packet of lube which he waved in front of Merlinís face.

"Brilliant," Merlin said, pulling Arthur in for another kiss, grinding against him at the same time, at least until the more muscular man moved back enough to pop the button to his trousers and ease down the zipper.

"So," Arthur murmured, nipping at Merlinís lower lip, "face to face or up against the wall?"

Merlin grinned. "Much as Iíd like to ride you, I really donít feel like stripping in an alley, so up against the wall it will have to be. We can try other options later."

"Perfect plan." Arthurís hand slipped into the open fly of Merlinís trousers and closed around his shaft, slowly stroking the hard length. "And I have to say, I love a man who goes commando." The last was added with a dirty chuckle before he let go and worked the supple leather downward, baring the other man from waist to knees.

"I like the feeling," Merlin replied, rocking against Arthur and groaning at the sensation of his bare cock rubbing against the denim.

Arthur hummed in pleasure even as he ripped open the packet of lube and squeezed some out onto his fingers behind Merlinís back. The finger was then trailed down Merlinís ass crack, dipping inward to rub against his hole as Arthur kissed him again.

"Oh hell yes," Merlin groaned, "Arthur!"

"Turn around," Arthur whispered, releasing his hold on Merlinís waist to gently press against his hip until he did just that. Waiting until Merlin had braced himself, he then leaned up against him, licking Merlinís ear as he slid his finger inside the tight channel.

Shuddering, Merlin pressed back and clenched his ass around the invading digit, reveling in the sensation of being filled. "So good," he rasped, letting his head fall forward.

"How do you feel about biting?" Arthur rasped, twisting the finger that was buried in Merlinís ass.

Merlin shuddered and moaned, his whole body tightening, and Arthur chuckled throatily. "Iím going to take that as a positive reaction," he said, adding a second finger and nipping at the bare skin of the base of Merlinís neck.

Merlin shuddered again, his fingers scrabbling at the wall. "If you keep that up, Iím going to come before you ever get inside me."

"To quote someone I recently met, Ďwill you be able to get it up again by the time we get to your flat?í" Arthur asked, speaking the words against Merlinís shoulder as he pulled his fingers from his ass and tore open the condom. It was a matter of seconds to roll it on, and then he was pushing inside, moaning deep in his throat as he was surrounded by clinging heat.

Laughing breathlessly, Merlin tensed for a short time as his body adjusted to the sudden fullness and then slowly relaxed. "Youíd be amazed how often I can get it up," he promised.

"You good?" Concern had entered the other manís voice as he held himself still, breathing deeply to keep from moving.

"Better than good," Merlin assured him. "Itís just been a while since Iíve done this, so give me a minute, yeah?"

"Damn, Rhys, you know how to make it hard on a guy," Arthur panted, resting his head against Merlinís shoulder but doing as he asked though he did snake a hand down to circle Merlinís shaft, and his lips curved into a smile when he felt that he was still hard.

"Hard is good," Merlin murmured, shifting his hips and groaning at the sensation. "Okay, minuteís over; letís shag."

"Oh yeah," Arthur said as he began to move, hips and hand working together in perfect harmony as he groaned against Merlinís shoulder.

"Oh yeah," Merlin echoed, rocking between Arthurís hand and cock, his motions speeding up and his body tightening after only a few minutes. One more thrust from Arthur against his prostate and Merlin was crying out, his seed spraying over the wall as he came.

A low-voiced curse escaped Arthurís throat, and he closed his teeth on Merlinís shoulder, indenting the skin as he thrust a few more times and came as well as he was massaged by the last spasms of Merlinís climax.

The bite made Merlin cry out, another hard spasm wracking him with pleasure. After a long moment where the only sound in the alley was them trying to catch their breath, Merlin chuckled. "I am so glad I decided to go out tonight."

"Me too," Arthur said, his smile audible in his tone as he slowly pulled back out of Merlin, tossed away the condom, and set himself to rights. "It gives me a good reason to skip classes tomorrow as well because Iím going to wager itís going to be a long night.

"Mmm, as long as we can make it," Merlin agreed, hitching his trousers up some. "Oh bugger it, please tell me you have a tissue or something," he said hopefully.

Arthur grinned as Merlin turned around and dug in his back pocket to brandish a somewhat ragged tissue at him. "Always prepared," he smirked.

"I like you already," Merlin said, snatching the tissue to clean himself up somewhat before working the leather trousers back into place. "Iíd have hated to have to use my shirt; itís one of my favorites."

"While Iím enjoying the trousers myself," Arthur said appreciatively as he watched Merlin squirm to get them back on.

Merlin glanced at him. "I have others."

"At your flat which is how far from here?"

"Maybe fifteen minutes by cab," Merlin said with a shrug, and Arthur frowned slightly before digging in his other back pocket and rifling through a slim black wallet.

"Sure we canít take the tube?" he asked.

"Did I mention that I donít work because Iím disgustingly rich?" Merlin replied cheerfully.

"Come off it," Arthur scoffed before looking at Merlin more closely. "You arenít?"

"íFraid so. My flatís actually the top two floors of a tower, and I own it. Er, the tower, not just the flat."

"Bloody hell. Are you sure you donít want to marry me?" Arthur laughed.

"Never on a first date," Merlin chuckled. "So fifteen minutes groping each other in a cab rather than an hour of behaving ourselves on the tube, yeah?"

"Good by me." Arthur slung a companionable arm around Merlinís shoulders as they walked out of the alley and past the line of twenty-somethings waiting to get into the club then to the corner where they flagged a taxi.

They piled in, and Merlin gave his address to the driver, then promptly ignored him in favor of half turning in the seat and kissing Arthur.

"Best taxi ride Iíve ever had," the blonde murmured before tracing the line of Merlinís lower lip with his tongue as his hands kneaded Merlinís ass.

Totally ignoring every tenet of safety in a moving vehicleóit wasnít as if he couldnít use magic to protect himself and Arthur if need beóMerlin twisted more and moved to straddle Arthurís lap, rocking against him as the kiss deepened.

Arthur groaned, his thumbs slipping up under the brilliant blue fabric of Merlinís shirt to rub against his lower back, just skimming the divot at the top of his ass and remaining there until the driver cleared his throat.

"Thatíll be twenty-two fifty," he announced.

Merlin retrieved the slim wallet from his pocket and tossed a fifty pound note at the driver. "Keep the change," he said, climbing out and pulling Arthur after him.

They nearly tumbled into the private lift, and Merlin had fistfuls of Arthurís shirt in his hand as he kissed him even before the door slid shut.

"We arenít even going to make it to a bed, are we?" Arthur panted as the floor jarred beneath them and the lift began to rise.

"Eventually," Merlin mumbled against his lips. "I hope you were planning to stay for breakfast. And maybe lunch."

"Can you cook?"

"Very well, actually. Though I was always shite at hunting," he said with a chuckle.

"Hunting?" Arthur asked, for the moment distracted from the kissing.

"I had a friend who enjoyed itóand ate what he hunted," Merlin added hastily, "but it was never my thing."

"I have to agree with you; honestly, whatís the point in it when we have Tesco and take away?" Arthur chuckled. "Or are you telling me he was of that class?"

Merlin shrugged. "He was, but he also lived out in the countryside. But heís not really what I want to be thinking about right now." He hooked a leg around Arthurís waist, the other man grinning as he ran a hand down his thigh.

"Good point," he murmured before kissing Merlin again, their lips and bodies remaining locked together until the lift doors opened onto a poshly conservative foyer.

Merlin wrapped his other leg around Arthurís waist, letting him support his weight. "That way," he mumbled, more intent on mouthing Arthurís jaw than paying intention to where they were.

The blonde stumbled out of the lift and into the foyer, trying to keep his eye on where he was going without dropping his chin. "Keys?" he asked in a distracted tone, his arms flexing as he pulled Merlin tighter against him.

"Already used it to get into the lift," Merlin mumbled. "That door," he said, gesturing toward the main entrance to his flat.

"You going to open it, or am I risking dropping you?" Arthur asked as he walked in the direction Merlin indicated.

"If you bruise my ass, you donít get to fuck it," Merlin retorted laughingly, looping one arm around Arthurís neck and reaching with the other to open the door. Arthur carried him through to his real foyer, one that reflected Merlin more than the generic outer lobby. Filled with an eclectic mixture of starkly modern and antique pieces, the room somehow worked. Rich scatter rugs broke the polished marble expanse of the floor, and one wall was covered with a hanging that was as brilliantly colored as if it had been woven yesterday but which had once hung on the wall of Arthur and Merlinís chamber in Camelot.

"Down the hall and to the right to the stairs up to my bedroom," Merlin instructed.

"Up the stairs?" Arthur asked, not really noticing their surroundings as he was intent on getting to where they wanted to go. "Are you trying to kill us both?"

Merlin laughed. "Iíll hop off once we get to the stairs. I donít want to break you before I get to try all your paces."

Arthur snorted at that even as he walked down the hall, stopping at the foot of a wide marble staircase. "Iím not a horse," he commented dryly.

"So you donít want to be ridden hard?" Merlin asked as he lowered his feet to the floor and caught Arthurís hand in his to draw him upstairs.

"Hrmm, when you put it that way," Arthur mused as they ran up the stairs and Merlin led him to his bedroom where he immediately dropped down on the plush king-sized bed. "Ride away!"

Merlin burst into laughter, though that didnít slow him down from retrieving lube and condoms from the bedside table. He tossed them down next to Arthur, removed his shirt and toed off his ankle length soft leather boots and socks, then moved to straddle Arthurís waist.

"Hrmm, Iím liking this more when I can see you," Arthur observed, running his hands up Merlinís thighs to frame his groin between his palms.

"And turnaboutís fair play," Merlin replied, reaching for the buttons on the bright red shirt hiding Arthurís chest from him.

"I always believed in fair play," Arthur purred, arching up like great cat beneath him when Merlinís fingers grazed his skin.

"Mmm, nice," Merlin replied, the long, pale back bending so that he could drag his tongue over first one then the other nipple, drawing a shudder from the man beneath him.

"Oh bloody hell, do that again, Rhys," Arthur groaned, threading the fingers of one hand through Merlinís hair.

Smiling, Merlin snapped at a nipple, tugging with his teeth, and he pinched the other gently.

"Christ!" Arthur almost levitated off the bed. "You do realize that itís been a lot more than five minutes since we finished." The words were panted out as he squirmed beneath Merlin.

"Iím just trying to decide if I want to fuck you or ride you," Merlin said, his eyes dark and his voice husky. "Any preferences for which comes first?"

"Well, I have fucked you," Arthur panted, "shouldnít I find out if youíre crap or not from this end?" He grinned as he spoke and rubbed his thumbs over Merlinís leather-covered cock, making Merlin gasp and laugh at the same time.

"I have never been crap, well, at least not since the first time." Merlin smirked at him. "Care to help me out of these?"

In answer, Arthur went to work on the button and zipper once again, dragging his fingers over the bare flesh beneath the black leather. Merlin shuddered with pleasure and thrust forward, then settled back so he could work Arthurís jeans open.

Arthur shifted from side to side, and in a short time both their trousers were gone and Arthur was sitting up enough to shake off his shirt, leaving them both totally bare. The blondeís eyes darkened with arousal and appreciation as his gaze swept over Merlinís bare body.

"Gorgeous," Merlin breathed, leaning in to kiss Arthur and grab the lube. A moment later, they were sitting in the middle of the bed, Merlin straddling Arthurís lap, and slick fingers slid between Arthurís cheeks to tease at his opening.

"The whole point is to be in me," Arthur growled before dipping his head to lick Merlinís nipple, making Merlin gasp and shiver.

"Thatís the point of getting you slicked," he pointed out when he could speak.

"Which will only happen if some of it gets inside me."

Laughing, Merlin pushed Arthur flat and shifted back to settle between his legs. A moment later a finger pushed into him. "Happy now?"

Arthur shifted and sucked in a deep breath when the finger brushed against his prostate. "Oh yeah, Iím brilliant," he crooned, spreading his legs wider and looking down the length of his own body at Merlinís cock with a hungry expression.

"Yes, you are," Merlin whispered, his heart in his eyes for the merest split second before his gaze fell to where two fingers were slicking and opening Arthur for him, twisting and pushing deep. Arthur groaned as his hips arched up off the bed, and his eyes went half-closed with pleasure.

"It hasnít been a long time for me, so donít feel as if you have to take forever," he offered in a throaty voice.

"Oh really? So this would be all right?" As he spoke, Merlin was opening a condom one-handed and sliding it onto himself. That was all the warning Arthur got before the fingers were gone and Merlinís cock was pushing into him.

A startled groan emerged from Arthurís throat, then he was wrapping both his arms and legs around Merlin, rocking up to meet each thrust as he caught Merlinís mouth in a wild, hungry kiss. Their bodies moved together, and their hands explored, both men finding the otherís hot spots, Merlin with conscious intent and Arthur with subconscious memories that allowed them pleasure neither had ever found with anyone else.

It seemed to last forever, but all too soon Arthur gasped and shuddered, hot liquid spurting over both of their bodies while Merlinís mouth ate his cries of pleasure.

"Arthur," Merlin moaned, rearing up to stare at the evidence of Arthurís climax, the sight sending a ripple of pleasure through him. "Yes," he hissed, moving faster now, stabbing into Arthur with quick, hard thrusts that sent him screaming into orgasm after only a short time longer.

"All right," Arthur murmured a time later when both their breathing had slowed to something approximating normal, "it might take longer than five minutes to recover this time."

Merlin chuckled wearily, his head tucked into the curve of Arthurís shoulder and an arm and leg flung possessively over the blonde. "It might even be time to sleep between rounds."

"And I see I get the wet spot," Arthur murmured, not sounding too upset, judging by his yawn and the arm he wrapped around Merlinís waist.

Merlin snorted. "Have you noticed how big this bed is? Move us if it bothers you." He clearly had no intention of moving off his comfortable position half on top of Arthur.

"Ass," Arthur muttered as he did just that, managing to shift them both to the side and out of the spot where the other manís semen had leaked from his condom before Merlin had disposed of it.

"You can have that later."

"After breakfast or before?" Arthur yawned.

"Both." Merlinís lips curved into a smile Arthur could feel against his shoulder.

Arthur stretched as he woke up, the move aborted by the weight that was half over him. "Need the toilet," he mumbled at the interrogative noise he heard, then slipped out of the bed, pausing when he realized he wasnít sure just where the toilet was.

"Oi, Rhys, directions?" he hissed, half-turning as he scratched the back of his neck.

There was an incoherent mumble, muffled by the pillow that Merlinís face was buried in, and an arm waved, somehow managing to cover a complete circle.

"And that helps how?" Arthur sighed, squinting as he made out more details in the near dark and took a few careful steps forward, not wanting to bark his shins on anything. "This is complete shite," he muttered as he finally found a wall and felt his way along it until he felt a door knob and eased it open. Waving a hand into the space, he felt the brush of fabric against his hand and sighed.

"All right, closet. Next?" Stifling a yelp when he stubbed his toe on what he thought was a dresser, he glowered in the direction of the bed Ė or so he hoped. "You are so giving me a blow job for this!"

There was more grumbling, and Merlin finally raised his head, peering around blearily. "What the hell are you doing over there?" he mumbled, reaching over and switching on the bedside light, though heíd come within a hair of creating a ball of witchlight to illuminate the room.

"Trying not to kill myself," Arthur growled. "You live in a bloody maze! I could have been killed trying to find the damn toilet!"

Merlin stared at him and pointed at the door almost directly across the room from Arthur. "You might want to try the bathroom."

"Thank you so much for the succinct directions," Arthur snorted as he crossed in front of the bed and vanished into the indicated room.

Merlin stopped with his head halfway back to the pillow, wide eyes fixed on the space where Arthur had disappeared. A moment later he was across the room and staring at Arthurís back, licking his lips.

Arthur turned and looked at him strangely. "What? Was there some other toilet I was supposed to use?"

Merlin moved around so he was looking at Arthurís back again, and a finger came out to trace a line in the tattoo of a wide-bladed sword with a plain, leather-wrapped hilt. "That is really hot."

"Ahh." Arthur grinned at the reaction. "I got that to drive my mum insane."

"I donít know about your mum, but I think it might drive me insane."

"Itís supposed to be Excalibur," Arthur chuckled. "My motherís a fanatic for ye olde tales of Camelotówant to guess who she named me after?" He rolled his eyes as he added the last.

Merlin choked back a laugh he thought might have come out hysterical. "Well, if you want a real laugh, Rhys is short for my middle name Emrys. My mum named me Merlin."

Arthur burst into laughter at that, leaning on the doorjamb for support. "Oh, thatís rich; my mum would love to meet yours, but what a name to grow up with!"

"Why do you think I go by Rhys?" Merlin asked wryly. "I preferred not to listen to the jokes. And I wish our mothers could meet, but mine died a long time ago."

"Iím sorry about that." Arthur straightened at that. "You must have been young."

"Thanks. And yeah, I was. But like I said, it was a long time ago, and I have a lot of good memories of her."

"Thatís a good thing then." Arthur leaned against the door frame again and smiled slowly. "So, itís morning; weíre both up... Breakfast?"

Merlin looked him over. "What exactly are you in the mood for?"

"Food? Coffee? Both?"

"Well, hell." Merlin grinned. "Fine, Iíll feed you first. Want to borrow some track pants or a bathrobe? The kitchenís downstairs."

"Track pants would be super; Iím not really the bathrobe type."

Merlin snickered. "A brocade smoking jacket?" he suggested before beating a rapid retreat to retrieve the requested garment.

"So that explains where your money comes from; youíre Hugh Hefnerís great-grandson!" Arthur laughed as he followed, enjoying the sight of Merlinís bare ass as he crossed the room to the large dresser.

The track pants landed on Arthurís head, accompanied by Merlinís laughter. "Donít be ridiculous. Iím rich because Iím Merlin the Magician and have had fifteen centuries to accumulate wealth." He smirked at Arthur before getting one of the soft cotton garments for himself as well.

"If youíre Merlin the Magician, whereís your pointed hat and sparkly robe?" Arthur snickered as he pulled the stretchy grey pants on and walked over to the other man, staying out of punching range.

Merlin glared at him. "The only person who ever tried to get me to wear something like that was another blonde prat I used to know. Give me a minute to add the arsenic to your coffee, wonít you."

"Youíre the one who brought it up!" Arthur laughed, slinging his arm around Merlinís waist as they left the bedroom and started down the stairs. As opposed to the night before, he actually looked around him, letting out a low whistle at what he saw. "Bloody hell, being Hugh Hefnerís great-grandson has its perks."

"Prat." Merlin shook his head. "Keep it up and I wonít make you breakfast. Or Iíll make you wear a Playboy Bunny uniform."

"Ooo, Iím so scared." Arthur took a seat on one of the chairs at the island in the center of the kitchen and watched as Merlin set up a complicated looking coffee maker.

"You should be. You really donít have the legs for fishnets." Merlin tossed him a grin once he had the coffee started and then went to rummage in the fridge. "Any preferences?"

"Food?" Arthur said, sounding rather pathetic. "Danishes? Bagels? Eggs and sausages?"

As the requests grew steadily more complex, Merlin straightened up and turned to look at him with eyebrows raised. "If you ask for eggs benedict, youíre going to be the one making them."

"I can try," Arthur grinned, "but weíd both end up in hospital, so I wouldnít recommend it."

Merlin shook his head and chuckled. "Pour the coffee, and Iíll make breakfast," he instructed, drawing sausages and eggs out of the icebox and setting them on the counter next to the stovetop. "Am I hoping for too much to think you might be able to put the toast on?"

"It depends on how complicated your toaster is," Arthur observed as he stood and began to open the dark oak cupboards, looking for coffee mugs.

Merlin stared at him, an egg in either hand. "Put the bread in the slots on top and push the lever down. Think you can manage that?" he asked dryly.

Arthurís response was to raise two fingers at him without turning from his search of the cabinetry, making Merlin laugh and turn his attention back to the fry pan. "Right, Iíll let you know when to put the toast on then," he said. "How do you like your eggs?" he asked, poised to crack the eggs into the pan until he remembered Arthur might prefer them scrambled.

"Over easy," the other man called back before making a triumphant sound as he finally found the mugs and pulled two off the shelf to pour both of them their coffee, setting Merlinís on the granite counter next to the stove then turning and pulling a loaf of bread out of the breadbox. "So who cleans this place?"

Merlin shrugged. "I do the basic stuff, and I have someone come in once a week to give it a good going over. Thanks," he added, gesturing with the cup before taking a mouthful.

"Must be nice," Arthur grinned before drinking as well. "Hrmm, good lay, good coffee, youíre two to the positive, Rhys."

"Does that mean youíre planning to keep me?" Merlin asked dryly, expertly flipping the eggs. "Best put the toast on now."

"That depends, are your inoculations up to date?" Arthur asked as he pulled four slices of bread from the packaging and slid them into the toaster. "Dark or light?"

"Midway," Merlin replied, taking a moment to admire the way the soft cotton clung to Arthurís ass.

Arthur nodded and left the slide where it was before pushing the lever to drop the bread into the toaster. "Butter or margarine?" he asked, carrying his coffee over to the refrigerator and looking inside.

"Oh butter, definitely. It tastes so much better, donít you think?" Merlin replied, sliding their breakfast onto plates and carrying them to the small table in the sunny alcove at one end of the kitchen.

"Definitely," Arthur agreed, grabbing the coffee carafe and bringing it over to refill both their mugs before taking a seat across from Merlin.

Merlin eyed him across the table, though that didnít slow down his own consumption of his breakfast. The previous night had left him hungry. "So," he said slowly, "am I right that you wouldnít be adverse to continuing this?" He gestured vaguely.

Arthurís answer was somewhat garbled by his mouthful of food, and when Merlin looked at him strangely, he swallowed and tried again. "You mean this as something other than a one off?"

Merlin nodded. "We seem to get along well, and I thought last night was fun."

Arthur started to speak then seemed to be seriously considering Merlinís words, and he slowly nodded. "Yeah, it was; so we see where it goes from here?"

A wide grin split Merlinís face. "Brilliant! Eat up then; youíre going to need your energy."

"Why am I thinking where itís going to go from here is back to bed?" Arthur didnít sound upset at all by the prospect.

"Oh good, youíre smart as well as pretty."

"While that fact remains to be seen about you," Arthur smirked, making Merlin pull a face and threaten to throw something at him before laughing.

"I decided to bring you home with me, didnít I?"

"Hrmm, good point, so weíre both smart and pretty; itíll take us far."

Merlin laughed. "At least as far as the bedroom."

"Give me your mobile," Arthur said, holding out his hand later that day after they had finally showered and he had gotten dressed in the clothes heíd been wearing the night before.

Merlin blinked at him. "You donít have one of your own?"

"Just give it to me, you idiot," Arthur laughed.

"Nice," Merlin snorted, shaking his head as he retrieved the phone and handed it over.

"Or donít you want my number?" Arthur asked as he flipped to the contacts page and entered his own information before handing it and his own mobile back to Merlin.

As he was programming his own number into Arthurís phone, Merlin asked, "So is it ten or forty-two?"

"Forty-two of course," Arthur snorted. "I mean, really, what a question."

Merlin laughed. "I should have known, oh great once and future king."

"Watch it, or I will get you that pointy hat," Arthur mock threatened as he took his mobile back and stuffed it into his pocket.

"Will you put me in handcuffs at the same time?" Merlin wanted to know.

"Fur-lined ones," Arthur promised with a wink and a leer.

"Oh goody, sounds like fun," Merlin said, clapping his hands together and batting his eyelashes at him, causing Arthur to back up a step.

"Okay, that was terrifying."

"Iím a man of many talents."

"So Iíve seen." Arthur stepped forward at that and hooked two fingers into the waistband of Merlinís track pants, pulling him in for a kiss. "And if I donít get going, Iím going to see them again."

"Call me when you have some free time. Iím usually pretty flexible." Merlin looped his arms around Arthurís waist, not wanting to let go but knowing he had to.

"Oh really?" Arthur grinned before growing serious. "I will. I never expected this from last night, but I like you, Rhys."

An almost shy smile curved Merlinís lips. "I like you too." Backing away from the emotion neither of them was ready for, he added, "With names like Arthur and Merlin, how could we not?"

"Though wasnít Merlin something like Gandalf years while Arthur was a hot stud?" Arthur chuckled, kissing Merlin a final time before stepping back away from him.

"At least Merlin wasnít a prat!"

"How do you know?"

Merlin smirked. "I told you, I really am Merlin, so who better?"

"You look damn good for your age, oh mighty wizard," Arthur snickered. "Do you moisturize?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Oh, go home and become educated before I give in to temptation and turn you into a toad."

"Rather hard to shag a toad, isnít it?" Arthur asked before darting for the door and the private elevator to avoid Merlinís comeback.

Merlin had restrained himself for two entire days, reminding himself that Arthur had responsibilities in this lifetime, and he didnít belong to Merlin, at least not yet, but finally he needed to hear the other manís voice, needed to assure himself that it hadnít all been a dream on his part. He called Arthur, hoping he wasnít in a class.

"Hullo?" The other man sounded out of breath.

"Arthur?" Merlin asked tentatively, wondering if heíd interrupted something he shouldnít. It wasnít as if they were exclusive after a single night.

There was a secondís silence before Arthur responded. "Rhys! Sorry, just got in from practice, and Iím a bit fagged. Howíre you?"

"Mmm, happy now that Iím imagining you all hot and sweaty," Merlin purred.

"More like bruised and aching," Arthur laughed. "Iíd suggest you coming over to rub liniment on me, but Iíve got class in half an hour."

"Well, hell, itís not fair to tease a bloke like that," Merlin chuckled. "Are you free for dinner?"

"I think I can be talked into that. Are you going to bring me flowers as well?"

"Iíll see if I can gather some nettles for you."

"Oh, now thatís cold," Arthur laughed, "or painful. When and where? I need to go hop in the shower then go listen to a boring lecture on macroeconomics."

Merlin considered what he knew of the area around the university Arthur was attending and then suggested a pub that had been around for literally ages. "Is seven good for you? And would you care to bring a change of clothes?"

"As long as you get me out of the door by seven come morning."

"I own an alarm clock," Merlin assured him, smiling widely now as he contemplated twelve hours of Arthur.

"Solves that problem then. Need to run; see you at seven then; oh, and Rhys? Glad you called." Arthurís smile was evident in his voice.

"Me too," Merlin said by way of farewell before disconnecting the call.

Merlin looked up the instant Arthur walked into the pub that evening, the part of them that was connected letting him know Arthur was close. He smiled broadly and waved to catch Arthurís attention, the blonde raising his hand in acknowledgement though his grin was somewhat pained as it pulled at the swollen skin under his left eye.

"Good thing you got here early," he commented as he reached the table, "this place is always packed."

Merlin surveyed him with interest. "You look like I should have ordered a raw steak to drape over your face."

"Caught an elbow in the scrum," Arthur chuckled, ordering an ale when the waitress came over. "I can still see, so itís not too bad."

"And you donít appear crippled, so youíll still be of some use to me," Merlin mused, grinning.

"So glad my future employment as a rent-boy is ensured."

"You are pretty versatile," Merlin decided, "I suppose I can keep you."

Arthurís ale arrived, and he chuckled as he lifted the glass, toasting Merlin with it. "Then hereís to being versatile."

"Iíll happily drink to that," Merlin agreed, suiting action to words before setting his glass back down. "I may have to get you to sign documents about your games though; Iíd hate to have people think I was battering you."

Arthur looked down at himself then over at the much leaner man sitting across from him and bit back a snicker. "Not sure if theyíd ever believe that one; good thing you arenít the one with the bruises."

"Prat," Merlin replied without heat. "Iíll have you know Iíve had a lot of self-defense training."

"What? Are you some kind of black belt or something?"

Merlin nodded. "Fencing too. A friend insisted," he added with a sad smile.

"Is this the same friend that hunted?" Arthur asked curiously.

"Actually, yes. He was determined that I be able to take care of myself to his satisfaction in any situation."

"You make it sound as if you were growing up in a war zone or something," Arthur observed before taking a drink.

"It seemed that way at times. But he just had a very strongly developed sense of responsibility and a protective streak a mile wide."

"Did something happen to him? I mean, itís all right if you donít want to talk about it, but you talk about him in the past tense..."

"He died a long time ago," Merlin said before taking a long swallow of his ale. "Sorry, I donít mean to talk about him too much."

"You havenít; itís just obvious from your expression when you do that he meant a lot to you." The waitress appeared again and they both ordered.

"Iíve always had good taste in men," Merlin assured Arthur once the waitress was gone, saluting him briefly with his drink.

Arthur returned the salute and leaned back in his chair, downing the rest of his glass. "So, what have you been doing the past few days?"

"The weatherís been good, so Iíve been enjoying it, taking my motorbike out into the countryside, with a good book and a box lunch."

"Thatís it?" Arthur asked after staring at him for a moment. "Sorry, Iím just not used to hearing of anyone who can just do nothing whenever they want."

Merlin grinned. "Itís lovely being filthy rich."

"But donít you ever want to do something?" Arthur asked curiously

Of course he did, but Merlin didnít really think there was any way to explain the work and play cycles of fifteen hundred years. "Of course, and I do have a degree. But right now, I just want to enjoy myself for a while."

"Canít blame you a bit for that," Arthur nodded. "And did I hear you say that you had a motorcycle?"

"Itís my favorite way to travel. I hate being sealed up in a metal box, although I do have cars for when I need them." Merlin leaned back as the waitress brought their meals, and he immediately dug into his shepherdís pie, making happy noises at the first bite.

Arthur grinned at Merlinís reaction to the meal before digging into his own steak and kidney pie, waiting until they were about both halfway through their meal before taking a break. "All right, I have to ask, how many cars does that plural include?"

Merlin grinned briefly. "It varies. I buy new ones that appeal to me and sell off older ones that Iíve grown bored with. I think I have about seven or eight right now."

"Christ," Arthur whistled, shaking his head. "Do you drive them when the weather comes in?"

A quick nod didnít interrupt Merlinís continued enjoyment of his dinner. After swallowing, he elaborated, "I used the bikes and convertibles in good weather and the others in rainy weather or winter."

"Mmm, lucky sod," Arthur sighed, his eyes going half-closed in imagination.

"Want to drive some?" Merlin offered easily.

"Fuck yeah!" Arthur exclaimed before looking sheepish. "I didnít say that just to get you to offer."

Merlin chuckled. "Trust me, I have very good radar for people who are just after my money. Youíre about as far from that kind as humanly possible."

"Know me that well, do you?"

"Oh, I think I know you pretty well." Merlin chuckled suddenly. "Even if I donít know your last name."

"Pembroke, planning on telling me yours now?" Arthur asked.

"We did skip a few things, didnít we?" Merlin said wryly. "Mineís Lloyd. Pleased to meet you," he added, offering Arthur his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you," Arthur grinned, his fingertips sliding over Merlinís palm after they shook hands. "So, are we having dessert here or back at your place?"

"I thought weíd do both," Merlin replied, his fingers curling up to catch and hold Arthurís. "Unless you have some objection?"

"To two of my favorite things? Never."

"Iíve made it to your top two? Iím flattered... or were you talking about sex in general?" Merlin asked with a hint of a chuckle.

"For right now, itís the latter," Arthur said as he finished his ale. "After all, weíve only known each other a few days."

"Well damn, and here I thought Iíd made such a spectacular impression for a moment there." Merlin grinned, making it clear that he hadnít expected anything else.

Arthur rolled his eyes, wincing when the move pulled at the swollen flesh under the right one. "Oh yes, Iím that much of a push-over."

"I like pushing you over," Merlin smirked.

"Oh, into that kind of thing, are you?"

"Iím into anything that feels good and we both enjoy."

"Oh, I think we can come up with something," Arthur began before a pair of hands slipped over his eyes, making him wince.

"Guess who," a feminine voice laughed in his ear.

Merlin regarded the tall, svelte brunette with interest, his eyebrows rising as she completely ignored him. "Hi, Iím Rhys," he said, hoping both for an introduction and to get her hands off Arthur.

Arthur reached up to rub at his eyes as the womanís hands slid away, and she leaned in around him, her hands resting on his shoulders. "This is Megan, Rhys." He twisted around to look up at her. "I thought you were studying in Paris?"

She shrugged, sliding around to sit down on Arthurís lap, looking surprised when she got a good look at his face. "Good Lord, Arthur, what have you done to yourself now?"

"Practice," he sighed, looking decided uncomfortable. "Nothing to worry about, not that you ever did."

"If you will play your games, you have to expect to get hurt. And not expect me to watch that nonsense."

"Iíd love to see a game," Merlin butted in. "There are chairs, you know," he added pointedly.

"This is more comfortable," Megan informed him with a negligent toss of her hair as Arthur sighed.

"Did you hear me complain about it? And werenít you here with people, Megan?"

"I thought you might be missing me," Megan purred, curling an arm around Arthurís neck while Merlin did a slow boil across the table.

"Why?" Arthur asked bluntly.

"We were very good together."

Arthur sighed again and barely kept himself from pushing her off his lap "And you were good with everyone else. Itís not happening again, Megan, so perhaps you should go toddle off to whomever is warming your bed right now."

"Oh, donít be so boring, Arthur. Thereís more than enough room for you too. I do love two men."

"Right, thatís it." Merlin got to his feet and grabbed Meganís arm, clearly intending to remove her from Arthurís lap.

"Rhys," Arthur said, reaching up to place his hand over the other manís, "donít. Megan, enough." With that he stood and ceremoniously dumped her off his lap.

Megan let out a yelp of surprise and stumbled a few steps before regaining her balance and whirling around to glare furiously at them. "What did you think you were doing?" she demanded.

Merlin cut in before Arthur could answer. "Getting rid of an irritant," Merlin said coldly.

Megan drew in a breath as her dark eyes narrowed, and Arthur held up a hand. "You really should go back to the crew you came with," he suggested. "Weíre over, Megan; you made that abundantly clear."

"Donít be absurd, Arthur; weíre never going to be over."

Merlin glared at her, turned to grab Arthur, and kissed him hard. "Go away," he gritted out after the kiss.

"You have to be joking me!" she exclaimed.

"Megan, go. Now," Arthur said, his expression hardening as he looked at her.

"This isnít over, Arthur."

Merlin snorted.

"It was over when I found you in bed with Robert," Arthur stated flatly.

Merlin stared at Megan, turned to give Arthur an obvious once over, and started to laugh. "Oh, you are an idiot, Megan."

"And just who are you to judge me, you, you poofter!" she snipped, glaring at him before turning and stalking away.

"Iím the one who knows a treasure when he sees it," Merlin murmured too softly for her to hear before returning to his chair and gazing up at Arthur. "I really thought you had better taste, Arthur, though I do have to admit that sheís beautiful."

Arthur sighed as he sat down again, at the same time running his hand over his jaw. "That was the issueóand you really donít know me, do you, or vice versa."

Merlin raised his ale to his mouth to hide his smile, draining the last of it. "Have you ever met someone and just known them?" he asked after a moment.

"You mean think you knew them, right?" Arthur asked.

"Do I?" Merlinís smile held a tinge of mystery now, and Arthur shook his head as he chuckled.

"You are so strange."

"At least Iím not boring," Merlin pointed out, starting to chuckle, the annoyance caused by Megan vanishing as quickly as it had come.

"So youíre saying thatís a good thing?" Arthur asked before grinning.

"Of course." Merlin looked down his nose, pretending to be insulted.

"So strange," Arthur repeated as their waitress returned and dropped the bill on the table. "So, I guess we arenít having dessert here then."

"Letís stop and get something on the way, and we can have it at my flat," Merlin suggested as he pulled out his wallet at the same time Arthur pulled out his.

"Are you at least going to let me pay for it then?"

"Iíll pick the most expensive pastries I can find for you to buy for me," Merlin promised, making Arthur chuckle.

"Just so long as they arenít ones with lemon curd."

"You have something against lemon curd?" Merlin asked, getting to his feet after leaving enough cash to cover their bill and a good tip.

"What?" Arthur asked. "You donít know that about me?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Iím not a stalker, you prat."

"Youíre the one who said they felt they knew everything about me!" Arthur paused before shrugging. "Actually, Iím glad you didnít know that; itís a bit disconcerting the other way."

"Personality, not every detail of your likes and dislikes," Merlin retorted. "So, lemon curd?" he prodded.

"Hate it."

"Ah. I like it, but I can happily forgo it in favor of something weíll both enjoy licking off each other."

"Whipping cream perhaps?" Arthur asked.

"Or chocolate mousse. Or both." Merlin grinned as he reached for Arthurís hand as they made their way out of the restaurant.

"Mmm, sounds excellent, of course we have to find a place that has them in stock."

"I know the perfect place," Merlin assured him. As they approached his car, a cherry red 1967 Camaro convertible, he pulled the keys out of his pocket and dangled them in the air. "Want to drive?"

Arthur stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the vintage car. "Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath before looking over at Merlin. "No, you drive, that way I wonít be distracted and wreck us."

Merlin shrugged as he hopped over the door and slid behind the wheel, reaching over to unlock Arthurís door for him in case he preferred to open it to get in. "Let me know if you change your mind." Something struck him, and he paused. "Oh, have you ever driven a left-hand drive car? Is that the problem?"

Arthur smiled wryly as he got into the car. "Not much chance of that where I came from."

"Then weíll just have to go out into the countryside one weekend when youíre free, and you can practice away from innocent civilians."

"Youíd trust me with your car?" Arthur asked incredulously.

Merlin turned to stare at him. "I told you you could drive them if you wanted. Iím not in the habit of saying things I donít mean."

"I justĖ" Arthur began before closing his mouth with an almost audible snap. "Thank you."

Merlin shrugged. "Itís my pleasure. I have them, and thereís no reason someone else shouldnít have the chance to enjoy them." He grinned quickly. "Maybe Iím trying to buy your affections."

Arthur looked at him askance before snorting. "Perhaps itís that feeling as if you know someone, but I highly doubt thatís the case."

"Okay, so maybe I know that your affections canít be bought, and I wouldnít want anyone who could," Merlin admitted with a chuckle. "But you know people are going to say that. Itís just a good thing Iím not older, or weíd end up on the front pages of all the tabloids."

"Oh, so youíre that well known are you?" Arthur asked, his eyebrows arching upward. "Or is that notorious?"

"Depends who you ask," Merlin replied. "And itís not as if I canít walk down the street without being mobbed, but the paparazzi do come round during slow news cycles. Iím rich, and I donít give a damn about playing by the rules."

"It must be nice," Arthur mused, sounding amused.

"Itís a lot more fun than being poor," Merlin admitted with a chuckle. "And I enjoy it as much as I can."

"Well, Iím certainly for enjoying yourself." Arthur looked around them at the traffic that crowded Londonís streets before chuckling. "Was there a point in driving?"

"I had the pastry shop stop in mind when I headed out, and I didnít really think you wanted to balance behind me holding a box," Merlin replied. "And this way, weíre that much closer to home after we make our stop. Itís on the way to my flat."

"You think that I couldnít hang on to a box?"

"I think that when I get you behind me on one of my bikes, I want you hanging on to me."

"I could hang on with one hand," Arthur chuckled. "Rugby skills do come in handy."

"Hmm, sounds intriguing. Weíll have to experiment some time. But I can really think of better things for you to do with your other hand than hold a box."

"Probably, but then we need to get a box before we can discuss that," Arthur observed.

"Focused too, I like that in a man," Merlin said, sounding amused. "And we can see what comes of it back at my place."

"Oh, something will come up, Iím sure," Arthur snickered, and Merlin groaned.

"Oh, that was bad. You should be ashamed of yourself."

"Havenít you heard?" Arthur asked, smirking slightly, "Iím shameless."

"Iíve noticed," Merlin agreed with a truly filthy grin. "And in most situations, I enjoy it. But right now, Iím trying to figure out a way to gag you."

"I could think of one way, but then you might have an accident," Arthur shot back.

"Thatís exactly my problem. I can think of a couple of ways weíd both enjoy, but not without getting arrested," Merlin said, starting to laugh helplessly. "Good thing weíre at our first stop, isnít it?" He parked the car, managing to find a spot not too far from the shop that was their destination, and turned to face Arthur. "So youíd best behave now."

Arthur pulled a face as he climbed out of the car, closing the door behind him. "You sound like my mother when you say thatónot at all the image I needed, thank you."

Merlin was now laughing so hard that he had to lean on the car until he caught his breath. "No, itís really not how I want you to be thinking of me."

Arthur was still shuddering as they walked into the bakery, perusing the limited late evening selection. "Cream horns?" he suggested, nodding toward the tray of them.

"Fitting. Eclairs too," Merlin decided. "Both kinds, cream and custard, unless you donít like one?"

"Just how much are you planning on eating?" Arthur asked before ordering all three of the desserts.

"We want some for tomorrow too, donít we?"

Arthur paid for the pastries, accepting the box and holding it in one hand as they walked back out to the car. "Iíll take one with me to class," he commented wryly.

"Or maybe Iíll hold on to it and use it a bribe to get you to come back over afterward," Merlin mused.

"Oh really?"

"What, youíre not bribable?"

"Not that I wouldnít love to, but failing my classes really isnít good for my future career," Arthur chuckled.

"I hate logical men. What about after classes, if I promise to leave you alone long enough to get any work done that you need to?"

"That could work," Arthur mused.

"See, Iím known for my good ideas."

"And your hot ass," Arthur said with a wink.

"Which youíre more than welcome to once we get back."

"Oh damn," Arthur grinned. "Drive faster."

Merlin burst into laughter. "I do like a greedy man. And I am." He pressed down on the accelerator whenever possible.

The drive to Merlinís building was longer than either man would have liked but still relatively short, and they survived the elevator ride to tumble, half-undressed but somehow still holding the bakery box, into his foyer.

"Door," Arthur mumbled around the bit of Merlinís neck he was sucking on, urging him forward from behind.

Merlinís response was unintelligible, but he did get the door open, and they stumbled inside. Merlin spun to face Arthur, pulling him into a kiss, and his hands slid under Arthurís shirt, palms flattening against the warm skin of his back.

"Need to put the box down," Arthur muttered against Merlinís lips even as he spread his legs wider to drag Merlin against him with his free hand.

"Need to put it in the fridge," Merlin replied, steering them toward the kitchen without parting from Arthur. "Cream," he added in explanation.

"Too rational," Arthur murmured, grabbing hold of his jeans to keep them up as he stumbled after Merlin.

"Not for long," Merlin assured him, intentionally pausing so that Arthur ran up against him and he could rock back against Arthurís erection.

"Mmm, glad to hear that." Arthur reached around Merlinís side to offer him the pastry box once he had the refrigerator door open. Merlin shoved it inside and shut the door, immediately pulling Arthur to him for another kiss.

Arthur groaned into his mouth, his hands moving greedily over Merlinís body, shoving aside cloth and denim to get to the flesh beneath it.

"Never have fucked on the counter," Merlin mumbled as he dragged his teeth along the tendons of Arthurís neck.

Fair eyebrows rose over blue eyes before Arthur grinned. "Well then, we should remedy that, shouldnít we?"

"Thatís a brilliant plan," Merlin agreed, hooking a leg around Arthurís waist, the other man lifting him up before turning and setting him on the granite counter next to the sink.

"So, you have lube here, or do we need to get the cooking oil?"

"I donít usually keep lube in the kitchen," Merlin chuckled, "although that may change now."

"Cooking oil then or is that one of those things that destroys rubbers?" Arthur asked, grinning.

"No, thatís good," Merlin said, pulling out a bottle. He had no idea if it was or not, but he could use his magic to make sure that it would be, at least this time.

Arthur took the cooking oil and looked at it before breaking into laughter. "Iím never going to look at this the same way," he said as he pulled a condom from his back pocket and set it on the counter next to them and started tugging Merlinís trousers off.

"Change is good," Merlin laughed breathlessly, combing his fingers through Arthurís hair as Arthur undressed him.

"Tell that to my mum when I have to leave the table if she serves anything fried!" As he spoke, Arthurís hands were sliding up Merlinís legs to settle on his hips, his thumbs rubbing small circles on the thin skin there.

Merlin snickered, almost choking when it changed to a gasp as Arthur touched him. "Iíll have to stock up on fried foods for you then."

"Evil, evil man," Arthur chuckled as he stepped out of his own jeans and stepped forward into the V of Merlinís legs, rubbing their bodies together.

"I do try... and I enjoy an appreciative audience." Merlin clenched a fist in Arthurís hair and used it to pull him down for a hot, messy kiss, Arthurís hands sliding to roam over his back before he reached for the oil, managing to get the top off with one hand and narrowly avoiding spilling it all over both of them.

Merlin groaned into the kiss, his back arching to press closer to Arthur before he leaned back on his elbows, displaying himself blatantly.

"Oh hell," Arthur moaned, bending to swipe his tongue over the pale skin just above Merlinís navel then nipping at the taut flesh before he poured the oil over his fingers and Merlinís groin, rubbing both hands through the slick liquid.

Merlinís hips jerked up, and he moaned, biting his lip as he stared down at Arthurís hands on him. "Bloody hell, yes."

Arthur circled a finger around Merlinís balls then pressed it against his hole, the tip of his digit sliding easily into him. "Just donít slide off the counter," he murmured.

"So get your cock in me, and I wonít be able to."

"Greedy git," Arthur laughed, adding a second finger to stretch Merlin more fully before giving in and pulling back so that he could roll a condom on over his erection, slick it up, then press inside.

"Oh yeah," Merlin moaned. He moved his hands to Arthurís shoulders, his thumbs lightly stroking over the tendons as he felt Arthur sinking deeper inside him.

"Mmm," Arthurís eyes closed as he began to move, one hand sliding between them to circle and stroke Merlinís cock, making Merlin groan and clench around him.

Merlinís eyes fell shut as well as he concentrated on the intense sensations filling him, Arthur inside him and his hand on him, moving in the perfect rhythm, exactly as he always had done. "Arthur," he whispered.

Arthur moved his other hand to cup the back of Merlinís neck, teasing him with light kisses as he continued to thrust into him. "Merlin," he breathed before closing his lips over Merlinís.

Merlinís eyes flew open at the name even as he returned the kiss, but it seemed unconscious on Arthurís part, and he let his eyes close again, giving himself up to the moment, their bodies slapping together and pulling apart while Arthur leaned against him, keeping Merlin securely on the counter.

Merlinís fingers combed through the thick blonde hair, and he whimpered into the kiss, his arms and legs wrapped around Arthur. Every moment drove the pleasure higher, and he cried out, his body tensing as he came.

"Fuck, yes," Arthur gasped as Merlin convulsed around him, and he drove forward, burying himself fully in the other man before his body clenched as he spasmed, gasping out his pleasure into Merlinís mouth.

Merlin held tightly to Arthur, half supporting him as they both slowly calmed and caught their breath. "I have a new appreciation for counters," he said cheerfully and pressed a kiss to Arthurís temple.

"Good thing theyíre sturdy," Arthur chuckled throatily before straightening, stroking the hand that had been wrapped around Merlinís cock up his chest, making Merlin purr with pleasure.

"Unlike me. I think you broke me," Merlin chuckled.

"You look all right to me, just somewhat wrung out," Arthur grinned. "Do you feel like you can stand, or do you need to sit there a bit longer?"

Merlin stuck his tongue out. "Iím just going to sit here for a bit. Smug prat."

"Oh, you like me this way, donít deny it," Arthur laughed before wincing as his bruised cheekbone throbbed.

"At the risk of giving you a swelled head, yes, I suppose I do." Merlin fought the urge to heal Arthurís injury, knowing there was no way to explain it if he did.

"Give me five minutes or so, and that might be the case."

"Not that one," Merlin laughed before pulling Arthur in for a quick kiss.

"So you say now," the blonde laughed.

"Iím sure you could convince me otherwise," Merlin agreed. "Though someplace more comfortable for the next round would be good, yeah?"

"Your bed would work for that," Arthur suggested as he got rid of the condom and hitched his pants up, grinning at Merlin. "And if itís so uncomfortable, why are you still sitting up there?"

"Because I needed to give my knees time to start working again," Merlin retorted. "As you bloody well know, so stop fishing for compliments." He slid off the counter, pulling a face at Arthur when he wobbled briefly before finding his footing, Arthur pressing his lips together to keep from smirking all the while.

"How about we agree that you can gloat next time you fuck me?"

"That sounds fair," Merlin decided. "And I think we need a shower before bed," he added.

"Yes, mum," Arthur laughed. "Though itís not that late."

"Who said anything about sleeping?"

"Pervert," Arthur grinned. "No wonder I like you."

"I think that makes you a pervert too," Merlin chuckled, catching Arthurís hand in his to draw him down the hall toward the stairs up to the bedroom.

"Hold on!" Arthur laughed, putting on the brakes, his heavier mass bringing them to a stop. "We forgot something."

Merlin looked over his shoulder at him. "What?"

"Dessert." Arthur said, pointing back forward the refrigerator.

"Oh right. I was concentrating on the wrong creamy filling." Merlin reversed course, swerving toward the fridge to retrieve the pastries. "Which do you want, or shall I just bring them all?"

"If we do, are you going to make us get up and put them back in the icebox later on?"

"Theyíd go bad if we left them out," Merlin pointed out, grinning.

"You are just too rational," Arthur sighed. "Fine, just bring the eclairs."

"I save my irrational moments for when I run into someone interesting and decide to bring them home," Merlin retorted, pulling him in for a kiss.

"That was somewhat irrational," Arthur mused, his lips moving against Merlinís, "but Iím not going to complain about it."

"Youíre more interesting than a stray cat," Merlin replied with a grin before deepening the kiss, the sensation of Arthurís partially clothed body against his nakedness making him squirm pleasurably.

Arthur pulled back at that, his eyebrows raised. "The idea of you sexually involved with a stray cat makes me wonder just what secrets youíre hiding from me."

Merlin gaped at him and then whacked the back of Arthurís head. "Youíre a very sick man!"

"Ow! Youíre the one who brought it up!" Arthur exclaimed, stepping back and reaching up to rub the back of his head.

"You know damn well I didnít mean that! I prefer to confine myself to my own species, you prat," Merlin retorted. "Oh, stop that!" he added, watching Arthur continue to rub his head. "I barely touched you."

"It was abuse," Arthur sniffed. "And who knows what you idle rich do for shock and amusement."

"Trust me, youíre more than shocking enough," Merlin replied wryly. He shook his head and pulled Arthurís forward so he could press a kiss to the "injured" spot. "Happy now?"

Arthur grinned at that before winking as he straightened up. "For now, but bed and those eclairs and perhaps some champagne would make me happier..."

The morning sun woke Merlin, and he rolled over, a smile curving his lips when he saw the blonde head on the pillow next to him. It was a sight that had been familiar to him once upon a time, but that time was long past, and every time he woke up to Arthur now, at first he wondered if he was still dreaming.

Unable to resist, he reached over and placed his hand on Arthurís back, simply resting it there and feeling the warmth of his skin.

"Mmm." The rough noise was rumbled into the pillow as Arthur squirmed, fighting to stay asleep.

"Go back to sleep," Merlin murmured, leaning over to press a kiss to Arthurís shoulder. "Itís still early."

"Then why did you get me up?" Arthur muttered, still mostly asleep. "Honestly, Merlin, you are a worthless..." his voice trailed off as he drifted back to sleep.

Merlin stared at the back of Arthurís head, an arrested expression on his face. "Youíre still a prat," he said almost soundlessly, torn between laughter and tears.

The alarm sounded several hours later, and Arthur almost threw himself out of bed, letting out a squawk when the distance proved farther than he was used to. "What?"

Merlin stared blearily at him. "Itís called an alarm clock; youíre the one who wanted to get up for class."

"Iím not used to a bed a meter off the floor," Arthur muttered as he got to his feet, yawning as he looked back at Merlin, who was still curled up in bed. "And donít bother getting up on my account."

Merlin smirked at him. "I wasnít planning on it." He reached over to the nightstand and then tossed something to Arthur, who looked down at the set of keys, then back at Merlin.

"What are these?"

"Keys obviously. That way you can let yourself back in after your class and wake me up... if youíre still planning to come back to share the rest of those pastries."

Arthur simply stared at him before finally finding his voice. "Awfully trusting, arenít you?"

Merlin laughed wryly, sitting up against the pillows. "Far from it, actually. But if you were planning to murder me in my sleep and steal everything I own, youíve already had plenty of opportunity."

"Sorry, nothing here that I want, except for whatís in that bed," Arthur chuckled, tossing the keys from hand to hand as he turned and headed for the shower.

"Youíre the one who got out of it," Merlin yelled after him.

"Some of us need to get an education!" Arthur yelled back over the sound of running water, emerging a short time later, his short hair dripping water down onto his bare shoulders.

"Iím happy to help you with biology and chemistry," Merlin purred before grinning. "And Iím pretty good at history too."

"Tempting," Arthur mused, pulling the towel from around his waist to dry his hair. "But even so, itís going to have to wait."

"Well hell, I must be slipping," Merlin said mock mournfully, already sinking back down in the bed, although his eyes were fixed on Arthur.

"I can tell that youíre crushed; try not to call my replacement so quickly that Iíll bump into them on the way out," Arthur chuckled as he began to get dressed.

"Got any recommendations?" Merlin retorted, rolling his eyes.

"Please, as if Iím replaceable."

"Weíre going to have to work on your self-esteem issues," Merlin snorted.

Arthur only grinned as he pulled his t-shirt over his head and walked over to the side of the bed to kiss Merlin on the forehead. "Go back to sleep, Rhys; Iím sure you have a busy day ahead."

"I may buy another bike," Merlin murmured.

"Horrors," Arthur laughed. "Have fun; Iíll give you a ring once Iím done with classes."

"Or just come over if you want. I should be back, or if not, I wonít be long."

"I can imagine." Arthur tipped Merlinís chin up so he could kiss him again. "How long does it take to throw piles of cash at a dealer, not long I wager."

"Everyone needs a hobby." Merlin reached up and caught a fistful of Arthurís hair to hold him in place for a deeper kiss, one that had Arthur ruddy faced and breathing deeply as he finally, reluctantly, pulled back.

"You are a bad influence, Rhys Lloyd, and my mother would say I donít need any more of those, so Iím off before I change my mind and crawl back into bed with you." He took a step back out of Merlinís reach, grinned, blew him a kiss as he grabbed his duffle, and left.

Merlin gazed at the vacant space where Arthur had been for several seconds, a fond smile on his lips. It might not be long before Arthur remembered him, he mused, since more and more, Arthurís comments were reminiscent of that first lifetime together. His subconscious clearly knew who he was and who Merlin was, and that would push into his conscious mind as time passed if previous incarnations were anything to judge by. Merlin just hoped that Arthurís appearance being identical to the first time didnít indicate that this would be the lifetime that involved a crisis requiring the "once and future king".

"This time," he murmured, "Iím not going to lose you young, Arthur Pendragon. You owe me a lifetime together."

And a good start to it would be a second bike so that they could travel together, so Merlin pushed himself to his feet and went off to start his day, hoping to be back home by the time Arthur returned so as not to waste any time together.

"Question," Arthur said when Merlin answered his mobile, "I have work I have to get done this evening; do you still want me to come over?"

"Sure, Iíll be good and not bother you while youíre working, and then I can be your reward."

"Oh yes, that will help my concentration," Arthur sighed though the sound was tinged with laughter. "So, what time did you get out of bed anyway?"

"Not too late, around nine. And I got another bike, so we can go out of the city if you like one weekend."

There was silence from Arthurís end of the conversation for a moment. "You bought another motorcycle so that we could take them out to the country?" he asked slowly. "I thought you just wanted another one."

"Arthur, I really am revoltingly rich. I wanted us to have the option, so I bought the bike. Donít make it more than it is."

There was another short silence before Arthur answered. "Right then, Iíll see you later."

"Donít make less of it either."

"You drive me mad, did you know that?" Arthur murmured.

"Sorry," Merlin murmured. "I just meant that moneyís not a big deal for me, but I still donít make a habit of buying things for just anyone."

"Just pastries," Arthur chuckled.

"Yeah, those I do buy frequently," Merlin agreed with a laugh. "So come here before I eat them all myself."

"Can you restrain yourself for an hour?"

"I suppose I could manage that."

"If not, call me, and Iíll try to pick up some more."

"All right, but I think I can hold out for an hour. Are you hungry? I could make dinner."

"I could eat," Arthur allowed.

"Brilliant. Iíll indulge myself in the kitchen. Just let yourself in when you get here."

"Iíll do that; see you soon, Rhys."

"So, do you need to study this weekend, or are you free to go away?" Merlin asked Friday morning as he watched Arthur get ready to leave.

Arthur was quiet for a moment before answering. "Actually, I was going to visit my mother; itís her birthdayóunless youíd like to come along..."

Merlin blinked in surprise. "You want me to go with you?"

"Do you want to go with me?" Arthur asked in return.

"I... Yes, Iíd like that very much."

"So says the man who hasnít met my mother," Arthur chuckled.

"You would be surprised by some of the people Iíve met," Merlin retorted.

"Iíve seen pictures," Arthur said dryly.

"I really hate the internet," Merlin sighed. "And?"

"And what?" Arthur chuckled. "Though I might ask how your evenings with the princess were..."

"And what did you think? And what do you want to know? And she was fun to go out with, though we make better friends than lovers."

"Iím just amused by the thought of you having a romp with royalty is all," Arthur grinned.

Merlin snorted. "You have no idea," he said wryly.

"What? Are you going to tell me that youíve slept with the princes as well?"

"Very funny. That would not play well in the press. Theyíre a little staid when it comes to the royals. Not that I would have mindedóthe current generation is hot."

"Iím beginning to think that you have a thing for royalty," Arthur mused.

"Well, Iím with you now," Merlin pointed out.

"Perhaps my mother slept with Prince Charlesóno, I donít have the ears for it," Arthur mused before shuddering at the thought.

"Thereís nothing wrong with his ears!"

Arthur stared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter.

Merlin folded his arms and glared at Arthur the entire time he was laughing.

"Your face," Arthur finally sputtered, leaning back against the wall to keep himself upright.

Still glaring, Merlin demanded, "Do you have some kind of ear phobia?"

"I think yours are cute," Arthur offered though he was still snickering.

"I really, really hate you."

"No, you donít."

"Well, I should."

"No, you shouldnít, and you know it."

"Prove it," Merlin challenged.

"I would, but then Iíd be late to class."

"I really hate your classes sometimes," Merlin grumbled.

"Some of us werenít born rich, so youíll just have to deal with them Ė and donít forget to pack if you were serious about going with me to see my mum," Arthur offered as he backed toward the door.

"Iíll be ready by the time you get back here for dinner... You are coming back here tonight, yeah?"

"Actually, tonight dinner will be at my mumís, unless thatís a problem."

"Oh, all right, I didnít realize you wanted to go that soon. Thatís fine." Merlin looked around. "Do I need anything dressy?"

"Just an apron," Arthur chuckled.

"Now that sounds far too kinky for around your mum!" Merlin laughed.

"For the kitchen, you idiot! And just a collared shirt and khakis are fine for supper on Saturday."

"Yes, sir, Iíll do my best not to embarrass you."

"I just wanted to make sure that you didnít bring formalwear or leather; Mum might faint," Arthur laughed as he reached for the doorknob. "Go back to bed, Rhys; I know you want to."

"Iím up," Merlin protested, biting back a yawn.

"Go back to bed," Arthur repeated, smiling fondly. "And dream of me."

"Always do," Merlin murmured, more than half asleep.

"Iíll phone you when Iím on my way back," Arthur promised as he ducked out of the door.

"Okay, Iíll be ready," Merlin promised, prying his eyes open in time to see Arthur leave.

"So are you sure you packed enough?" Arthur snickered as he eyed Merlinís bag.

"Some of us need more than a single pair of jeans and two red t-shirts," Merlin retorted. "Be nice, or I wonít let you drive."

"I have more clothes than that," Arthur huffed, sounding put out.

"Really? Aside from the first night in the club, I havenít seen any sign of it."

"Thatís because you rarely let me wear anything once we get here."

"Good point." Merlin looked him up and down. "Good as you look with clothes on, you look even better naked."

Arthur snorted at that as he reached for Merlinís bag. "Iím not walking around naked in front of my mum!"

"No, that would be bad!" Merlin shuddered. "Iíll just have to strip you down once we get back on Sunday."

"Not if I strip you down first," Arthur warned.

"This is going to be a very long weekend," Merlin moaned, and Arthur patted him on the shoulder.

"Mum will keep you too busy to worry about it."

"Is that supposed to be comforting?"

"Sheís looking forward to meeting you," Arthur offered as they left Merlinís flat, taking the elevator down to the parking garage.

"Iím looking forward to meeting her too," Merlin admitted. "And getting all the stories about your childhood."

"Watch it or Iíll tell her your real name," Arthur threatened playfully.

"You wouldnít!"

"Try me."

"I already have," Merlin pointed out, smirking as they walked toward the car.

"Idiot," Arthur laughed, waiting for Merlin to unlock the boot so they could both put their bags inside it.

Once done, Merlin dangled the keys from a finger. "Want to drive?"

Arthur looked down at the cherry red Porsche, then back up at Merlin, the keys vanishing the second their eyes met. "Damn right I do!" he laughed, pressing the button on the fob and unlocking the doors, revving the engine once they were both belted in and steering the car out of the garage and into the late afternoon London traffic.

"Itís several hours; she lives in Wales now."

"Iíll just sit here and admire the view," Merlin replied easily.

"Ahh, and we get to the real reason you asked me if I wanted to drive."

"Even if I canít touch, I can look."

"Why do I have the feeling that you arenít talking about the landscape?"

"Because youíre smart as well as decorative."

"Oh, thatís so amusing," Arthur snorted, shaking his head as he negotiated the traffic until they got to the motorway, opening up the engine more when he had room to do so.

"Would you prefer that I thought you brainless and ugly?"

"If you thought that, youíd be brain-damaged."

"We really need to work on your self-esteem issues," Merlin laughed.

"I happen to think itís fine the way it is." Arthur suddenly squirmed and hitched himself onto his right hip. "Would you grab my phone?"

"Are you sure thatís all I can grab?" Merlin muttered as he worked his hand into Arthurís pocket and retrieved the phone. "And you canít take a call, youíre driving." At Arthurís look, he rolled his eyes and answered the phone, saying, "Arthurís phone."

"Is this Rhys?" a feminine voice asked at the same time Arthur asked, "Who is it?"

"Yes, it is. And you must be Arthurís mother. Weíre making fairly good time, so we should be there on time, maíam."

"Yes, Iím Ann, and Iím looking forward to meeting you; Arthur has told me so much about you."

"Then youíre well ahead of me," Merlin chuckled. "All heís told me is that youíre his mum, and youíre brilliant." And that youíre obsessed with all things Arthurian, but letís not go there.

"Arthur said that?" Amusement was plain in Annís voice.

"Well, yes, but I probably wasnít supposed to repeat it," Merlin said, grinning at Arthur, who glared at him out of the corner of his eye even as he held his hand out for his phone.

"Knowing Arthur, I would say not, and tell him to be nice to you, I like you already."

"Oh, I do," Merlin laughingly assured her. "But he wants to speak to you know, so Iíll say bye for now. I look forward to meeting you in person." He held the phone to Arthurís ear, refusing to let him hold it while he was driving.

"I never said that," Arthur assured her though he was laughing as he spoke.

"I think I believe your friend over you, Arthur Michael Pembroke. And why didnít you ring me when you were leaving, as you were supposed to?"

Arthur flushed and winced. "Because my hands were full with Rhysí bags?" he offered.

There was a patently unimpressed silence before Ann spoke again. "Weíll discuss it when you get here. Drive carefully."

"Yes, Mum. We should be there in an hour. Love you."

"She sounds nice," Merlin observed after ending the call. He reached down to slide the phone back into Arthurís pocket. "And perfectly sane."

"Thatís because she wasnít talking about her favorite subject," Arthur chuckled.

"I did avoid that," Merlin admitted with a chuckle.

"Just hope she doesnít try a tunic on you; she makes period clothes."

Merlin smiled strangely, his gaze momentarily distant. "It wouldnít be first time Iíve worn one."

"Really? Do tell!"

"Costumes," Merlin replied easily.

"Ahh," Arthur chuckled. "At least you didnít have to wear wizardís robes."

"Friends tried to talk me into them a few times, but I always refused," Merlin said. "I donít understand the obsession with the damned things; theyíre hot and uncomfortable and look silly."

"You sound as if you speak from experience."

"Only on how they look. As I said, I always refused to be cajoled into one."

"Just be careful what you say to my mother then; she might make you some."

"Not even for you!" Merlin exclaimed, trying not to remember the first time heíd said that to Arthur.

"But Iíd offer to play with your wand," Arthur snickered, counting on the fact that he was driving to keep Rhys from hitting him.

"Oh, I donít believe you said that," Merlin groaned, thumping his head back against the seat.

"At least I didnít say you needed a lightning bolt scar..."

"I am thumping you the minute this car stops!"

"Ooo, Iím terrified," Arthur laughed. "How can I make it up to you?"

"Iíll let you on Sunday night," Merlin replied sweetly.

"I think I could be talked into that..."

"I had a feeling that might be the case."

"Shocking, isnít it?"

"And now we have to be good for two days," Merlin said mournfully. "I just hope I donít forget and touch you in front of your mother."

Arthur frowned and glanced over at Merlin at that comment. "Why? I mean we certainly canít act as if we were at your place, but I doubt my mum would faint dead over if I touched you."

"So Iím allowed to steal the occasional kiss?" Merlin asked hopefully. He was dismayed to realize how quickly heíd grown accustomed to being able to touch Arthur again, and he knew that no matter how hard he tried, it was likely that he would reach out for Arthur at some point during their weekend.

"I donít think that Mum thinks that youíre one of my rugby mates," Arthur pointed out wryly.

Merlin looked down at himself and burst into laughter. "If she had, Iím fairly certain sheíd change her mind after her first sight of me."

"Probably," Arthur laughed, and the two settled into companionable silence as they drove, crossing into Wales and finally ending up in front of a small cottage that was almost hidden behind green ivy that climbed its walls and late spring flowers blooming in neat beds in the tidy yard.

Merlin climbed out of the car and leaned back against it, ignoring both Arthur and their bags for the moment as he took in the home before him. And it was very clear to him, that it was truly that, a home, much more than simply a house. "Itís wonderful," he said softly, glad for Arthurís sake that heíd had a good childhood this time. It didnít happen often.

Arthur started to say something sarcastic then caught sight of Merlinís expression and smiled softly. "Yes, it is," he murmured as the door flew open, revealing a tall woman dressed in a long blue skirt and a plain white Oxford shirt. Her long blonde hair was pulled back so that it spilled over her shoulders, and her smile brightened her dark blue eyes.

Arthur climbed out of the car, strode over to her and caught her in a tight hug. "Hello, Mum."

Ann hugged him just as tightly, all her attention on her son for that moment, and Merlin observed them, a small smile curving his lips. Arthur so often lost his mother early, but it looked as if that too was different this time, and it gave him hope for the future. Just then Ann looked up, her eyes catching Merlinís, and she smiled a greeting.

"And you must be Rhys."

"I must be," he agreed with a smile. "Itís a pleasure to meet you, maíam."

"None of that, now. My name is Ann."

"As direct as your son, I see," Merlin chuckled. "Itís a pleasure to meet you, Ann, then."

"Oh lord, theyíre going to be best mates," Arthur groaned.

"And youíd rather I not like your boyfriend?"

Merlin snickered at the expression on Arthurís face even as he raised an eyebrow. "Well, Arthur? Arenít you going to answer your mother?"

Arthur could feel the heat creeping up his face, and he cleared his throat. "No, Mum, Iím pleased that you like him," he said dutifully, all the while plotting at how to get back at Rhys for his comment.

"We should bring our bags inside," Merlin said, taking pity on Arthurís obvious embarrassment.

"I was thinking the two of you could share Arthurís room, if you donít mind dear," Ann said, finally releasing her son so that he could get his bag from the car.

"No, Mum, thatís fine," Arthur got out, his voice strangled.

Merlin retrieved his bag and turned to face the others again. "Iíll be right behind you, since I have no idea where Iím going."

"Follow me," Arthur sighed, giving his mother a wry smile as she smiled indulgently at them, then leading Merlin into a room that was something out of a medieval setting.

Merlin looked around incredulously before turning his stare on Arthur. "This is... unusual," he said carefully.

"Iím sure Arthur has told you about my field of study," Ann said from behind them before Arthur could answer. "And Iím sure heís said that Iím somewhat obsessive about it."

Looking over his shoulder at her, Merlin smiled. "People should be obsessive about things they enjoy. And I have to say that this all seems very accurate. Youíve put a lot of effort into it."

"Thank you, Rhys," Ann said, smiling at him while Arthur rolled his eyes as he led the other man back toward his bedroom.

"Itís a little more this century in here," he commented, setting his bag down.

"What, no football star posters on the walls? Iím disappointed in you, Arthur," Merlin chuckled.

"You donít like Billie Piper in wet lace?" Arthur asked, sounding shocked.

"Youíve apparently missed this, but Iím gay, Arthur."

"Princesses," Arthur shot back, his eyebrows raised.

"Okay, fine, bi, but only occasionally when I happen to like the specific woman. Iíve always preferred men."

"Well, as your boyfriend," Arthurís nose wrinkled at that term, "Iím glad of that."

"Donít give me that look. Youíre the one who had to have said something to your mum to make her think that."

"I may have mentioned you a time or two when we talked."

Merlinís eyebrows rose, and he simply stared silently at Arthur.

"Or more."

"Iíll be sure to thank you for the good reviews once weíre back at home," Merlin promised him.

"Iím very glad of that; now weíd better go out before Mum comes knocking," Arthur chuckled before stealing a kiss and catching Merlinís hand, drawing him from the bedroom and back to the living room.

"No wonder you thought I was mad for thinking I couldnít touch you this weekend," Merlin muttered before they rejoined Ann, who smiled at them, her eyes on their joined hands.

"More that I didnít think you could," Arthur snickered under his breath.

"And you can?" Merlin challenged.

"Boys," Ann chuckled, watching them, and Arthur grinned.

"Can I get you anything, Mum?"

"Iíll have a glass of cider, luv. You two help yourselves to whatever you like... within reason," she added, glaring at them both with mock sternness, which made Merlin chuckle.

"I always behave in the presence of a lady."

"Why you donít tell Rhys about the class youíre teaching this semester, and Iíll get us those drinks," Arthur suggested.

Merlin glanced at him, looking slightly wary, but he sat down in the chair across from Ann with every evidence of interest. "Yell if you need a hand carrying them, yeah?" he said to Arthur.

"I think I can manage three drinks," Arthur said wryly. "Beer for you?"

Merlin nodded. "Please."

"And donít worry, Rhys, I can discuss things other than Arthurian legend," Ann promised as Arthur vanished into the kitchen.

"I wasnít worried in the least," Merlin assured her. "I know a fair bit about the legend myself."

"Really?" Ann leaned in, looking interested. "How did you get interested in it?"

"Iím not really sure that I could say that any one thing made me interested. As far back as I can remember, I always have been. And I find the different versions of the story interesting."

"As do I," Ann nodded. "How they intersect and diverge from one another; what the truth is behind the legends."

Merlin smiled. "Yes, itís history thatís lost to the mists of time and myth, but it has inspired some gifted writers over the centuries, and we reap the benefits."

"You need to teach my son that viewpoint."

"Mum," Arthur sighed as he returned carrying three glasses, handing Merlin his before passing Ann hers and taking a seat with his beer.

"Arthur has other skills," Merlin replied. "Not everyone can appreciate art and history," he added, tongue-in-cheek.

"Or princesses, isnít that right, Merlin?" Arthur asked archly.

"Merlin?" Ann asked, looking from one young man to the other.

Merlin gave Arthur a dirty look before sighing as he admitted, "Itís my first name. For obvious reasons, I go by Rhys."

"Merlin and Arthur, how... prophetic," Ann said, sipping her cider and smiling slightly.

Merlin chuckled wryly. "I donít think Iíd be content just to be an advisor." Not that it was ever that way, but they do like to clean up their legends. Nimue! He snorted softly.

"No, I think that youíd want to run the kingdom yourself," Arthur laughed.

"I really doubt Arthur would have been content as a puppet king."

"I donít know, I think I like that idea; sit back and relax and let someone else handle the heavy lifting."

"I give you half a day before that drives you mad and you take over everything," Merlin replied laughingly. "Youíre not the puppet type either."

"Point," Arthur sighed. "But it would be nice for a short time."

Merlin opened his mouth to say something, stopped, looked at Arthurís mother, and blushed.

"Oh, I would dearly love to know what you almost said," she chuckled.

"No, you wouldnít, Mum," Arthur pleaded.

Merlinís blush darkened, and he shook his head emphatically, and Ann relented.

"So, Arthur tells me that youíre living the idyllic life for the moment."

Merlin chuckled, though he was still somewhat flushed. "Arthur disapproves of my indolence, but Iím rich enough to be able to do whatever I want, and I donít know what I want to do yet," he finished with a shrug.

"I never said I disapproved of it," Arthur protested, smacking his knee.

"Itís better to wait and see where your instincts take you than to flounder your life away," Ann nodded.

"See, your mum understands," Merlin said triumphantly.

"If you can afford to wait," Arthur pointed out.

"Which I can." Merlin regarded him quizzically. "Iím not planning to do nothing my entire life, if thatís what bothers you. I just need some time just to be me."

"Youíre very young to feel that way," Ann observed, regarding her sonís lover curiously, especially when her words made Merlin laugh harshly.

"You might be surprised."

"Rhys likes to say heís wise beyond his years," Arthur told his mother with a fond look toward the other young man.

"Or foolish, to put up with you," Ann said, hiding her smile by taking another sip of her drink.

"People who know me might say it was the reverse," Merlin chuckled, reaching over and taking Arthurís hand.

"Iíd have to agree with you then; Arthur might play the brainless athlete, but has he told you that heís on a full academic scholarship?"

"Mum!" Arthur groaned, tightening his fingers around Merlinís.

"Why no, heís somehow forgotten to mention that," Merlin replied, turning to look at Arthur with raised eyebrows.

"Someday Iím sure heíll save England from financial ruin," Ann said, her pride plain in her voice.

For a moment Merlin looked almost sorrowful as he gazed at Arthur, but then he seemed to shrug off whatever mood had struck him, and he smiled. "That does sound like a job for the once and future king."

"Honestly, Iíd prefer to be a barrister," Arthur admitted with a slight shrug.

"Sweetheart, you know Iíll be happy with whatever you choose to do as long as youíre happy," Ann assured him, leaning forward, and Merlin inhaled sharply.

He hadnít been sure, but now, seeing Ann Pembroke in just that position, with that look of love and pride on her face, he was reminded of the one time he had seen Arthur Pendragonís mother Igraine, and he knew. Ann wasnít just obsessed with Camelot; some part of her remembered it.

"Is there something wrong, Rhys?" Ann asked, transferring her attention to the lean youth, her brow creased with concern.

"No, Iím fine," Merlin replied. Seeing that neither of the others looked convinced, he added, "I must have moved wrong, thatís all." He took a long swallow of his beer.

"You sure? Want me to check it out?" Arthur asked, pulling his hand from Merlinís to press it against his side.

Merlin looked at him, his eyes darkening, and Ann had to hide another smile in her glass. "Really, itís fine, just a twinge," Merlin replied, his hand rising to cover Arthurís.

"Well, let us know if it gets worse," Arthur said seriously, and Ann nodded.

"I do have aspirin and plasters."

"I will, ta." Merlin was touched by their concern but also somewhat amused. After all, it had been fifteen hundred years since heíd had a mother to fuss over him.

"You had best; Iím quite the expert at checking sprains and strains, given Arthurís past," Ann warned.

"I assure you, I havenít done anything to cause a sprain or strain recently."

Ann glanced from him to her son and tried to bite back a smile, and Arthur groaned. "Mum, could you please pretend that you donít know I have a sex life, please."

"I second that request," Merlin said plaintively, wondering if the color in his face would ever fade after this day.

"Keep it up, Mum, and Iím going to ask if youíre still seeing that maths professor," Arthur warned.

"Oh? Is this someone we need to meet and make sure has honorable intentions?" Merlin asked, grinning at Ann.

"And just who is the eldest here?" Ann asked archly.

"And just who has your best interests at heart?" Arthur shot back in exactly the same tone.

Merlin sat back to enjoy the show, his head turning from one to the other like a spectator at Wimbledon.

"You do remember that Iím the parent in this family, donít you?" Ann wanted to know.

"Heís exceedingly dull."

"Malcolm is a perfectly nice man!"

Merlin turned and mouthed "Malcolm?" at Arthur with a faint shudder.

"And donít you think I didnít see that, Merlin Rhys Lloyd," Ann said sternly.

"Yes, maíam," Merlin replied, choosing not to correct her on his middle name of Emrys since he wasnít an idiot.

"Donít terrorize my boyfriend, Mum," Arthur said quickly, before blinking as he realized what heíd said.

Ann grinned at him, but Merlin was staring at him searchingly, and after a moment he gave Arthur a shy smile, one that made him look younger than he was, Arthur chewing on his lower lip for a moment before smiling back.

"Youíre very sweet together."

"Ann!" Merlin groaned, looking appalled.

"Sweet?" Arthur groaned. "Mum, thatís horrid!"

"But quite apropos."

"I feel ill," Merlin muttered.

"As do I," Arthur nodded.

"Silly as well as sweet," Ann decided, and Merlin got to his feet.

"Iím getting us more drinks," he announced before heading to the kitchen.

"Find the hard liquor," Arthur begged.

Laughing, Ann called, "Iíve a bottle of brandy and one of whiskey in the cupboard next to the fridge."

"Thank god!" Merlin said fervently. He returned a few moments later with the whiskey and three glasses.

"Just donít drink so much that youíre hung over in the morning," Ann chuckled.

"Whyever not?" Merlin wanted to know, clutching his glass as if it was his new best friend.

"Because itís my birthday and Arthur always cooks breakfast for me on my birthday."

Seeing Merlinís expression, Arthur groaned.

"Arthur cooks, does he?" Merlin asked, eyeing Arthur, the blondeís eyes widening at his calculating gaze.

"And very well; you mean he hasnít cooked for you?" Ann asked above Arthurís groan.

"I very distinctly recall Arthur telling me that he couldnít cook."

"Arthur?"

He flushed and cleared his throat. "Rhys looks cute in an apron?"

The look Merlin was giving Arthur clearly promised retaliation. "I canít wait to see how you look in one."

Ann shook her head at her son, chuckling. "I always told you, Arthur, that dishonesty never pays."

"Yes, Mum," he sighed, feeling as if he was a youngster again.

"Iím looking forward to tasting this wonderful breakfast tomorrow," Merlin put in, still staring at Arthur.

"Porridge for you," Arthur sniffed.

"No s- er, nonsense." Merlin blushed again.

"Exactly; weíll all have the same thing to eat, so unless you care to dine on porridge..." Ann offered, and Arthur shuddered.

"Horrid stuff."

Merlin grinned, remembering that Arthur had always hated porridge. That was one thing that never seemed to change from life to life. "You donít know what youíre missing," he said cheerfully.

"Yes, I do, and Iím happy to keep missing it!"

"There, there, I promise to protect you from the evil porridge," Merlin crooned, and Ann lost her battle against laughter.

"Iím beginning to wonder why I invited you!" Arthur exclaimed.

"And I see exactly why you did," Ann said, smiling at both of them.

It was past eleven, dinner was eaten and the dishes cleaned when the three finally said good night to each other, Arthur and Merlin heading toward Arthurís childhood room while Ann entered her own room and shut the door behind her.

Merlin sank down on the edge of the bed and looked up at Arthur. "I really like your mum."

"I do as well, and it seemed she really liked you," Arthur mused, dropping down beside him and flopping back onto the comforter.

"Yeah, so youíd best be nice to me, or I might dump you for her. I think she might have me," Merlin chuckled, grinning down at the prone man.

"Well, you are better than Malcolm," Arthur mused before poking Merlin in the side.

"Ah, but then youíd have to call me Dad," Merlin pointed out, squirming away from the offending finger.

"Would I get a large allowance if I did?"

"Much less than as my boy toy."

"And then thereís the fact that Mum would probably wear you to a frazzle," Arthur mused. "I suppose Iíll have to keep you."

"So now Iím the toy?" Merlin asked with a lazy chuckle, stretching out next to Arthur and idly petting his chest.

"You are fun to play with," Arthur allowed as he rested his arm around Merlinís waist.

"Iím pleased you think so. It all works out rather brilliantly, donít you think?"

"Us together? Yes, it does," Arthur murmured, kissing the top of Merlinís head.

"I like this too, the smaller bed. Itís... cozy."

"As opposed to one the size of a small country?"

"It gives us plenty of room to play without worrying about falling off," Merlin pointed out. "However, thatís not something we need to worry about this weekend."

"We just have to be careful not to fall off and have my mum laughing at us come morning."

"Iím fairly certain that her laughing at us is inevitable."

"I should return her gift since she seems to have a comedy troupe in residence."

"I suppose it could be worse," Merlin mused. "She could have hated me on sight."

"I knew she wouldnít."

Merlin propped his head on his hand and gazed down at Arthur curiously. "How?"

Arthur paused and shrugged a shoulder. "I just did; Iím not sure why."

"Well, whatever the reason, Iím glad of it and glad that you invited me along this weekend."

"Iím glad you came. I suppose we should get changed and try and get some sleep."

"Yes, I donít think lazing in bed till noon is in the cards for us tomorrow," Merlin agreed. He sat up reluctantly and slid off the bed to dig through his pack for the sleep pants and t-shirt heíd packed for the nights.

"Especially not for the one of us who has to cook," Arthur sighed as he stood and got changed as well. Chuckling wryly, he waited for Merlin to climb into the bed, then turned out the light and joined him.

"This seems rather odd."

"It seems extremely odd," Merlin corrected. "Weíve never shared a bed before just to sleep. And certainly not with this many clothes on."

"If we had less clothes, we wouldnít be just sleeping," Arthur mused.

"Much as I like the sound of that, I donít think I could with your mum just down the hall."

"And I know I couldnít!"

Merlin chuckled at the sheer horror in Arthurís voice. "So letís get some sleep then, shall we?" He settled himself more comfortably against Arthur and pressed a kiss to the cotton-covered chest before closing his eyes.

"See, Arthur can cook quite well," Ann said as she sipped her tea, the remains of their breakfast spread on the table in front of them.

"So I see," Merlin agreed, eyeing Arthur askance. "I shall look forward to finding out what heís going to cook for me."

"Shepherdís pie?" Arthur suggested weakly.

"One of my favorites," Merlin replied with a beatific smile as Arthur groaned and quickly grabbed for his tea.

"He does make very good pies," Ann said, hiding her smile behind a napkin.

"Oh good, Iím absolute rubbish at pie crust," Merlin said.

"I hate you both," Arthur moaned.

"No, you donít," Merlin responded serenely while Ann chuckled.

"Oh, you are in trouble, son of mine."

"Shepherdís pie doesnít even have crusts, so there." Arthur resisted sticking his tongue out at them both only by the slimmest margin.

"What, youíre not making me apple pie for a sweet?" Merlin asked, trying to sound hurt.

"You like eclairs better," Arthur shot back before remembering his mother was also listening and blushing.

Annís eyebrows arched at the flush, but she chose not to embarrass either of them by asking. She could see that the tips of Merlinís ears were red, and the poor things might combust if she pushed for an answer.

"Yeah, well, you donít make those, do you?" Merlin muttered.

Casting about for a change of subject, Arthur looked over at his mother. "So, Mum, what would you like to do today?"

Still looking amused, Ann suggested, "I thought we could show Rhys the area. The countryside is lovely, and some of the local shops are quite interesting."

Merlin glanced at Arthur for guidance, not sure how the blonde felt about his motherís suggestion.

"Feel up for a tour, Rhys?" Arthur asked, knowing that his mother loved to give tours.

"I should love a tour," Merlin replied gamely. "I donít think Iíve ever been to this part of the country."

"Where are you from?" Ann asked. "I donít believe Arthur told me."

"That would be because Arthur doesnít know either."

"I grew up in London," Merlin said, since that was what his background this time around said, "but I was born in Wales, in a small village near the English border."

"Then youíll love seeing this part of the country," Ann assured him.

"I never doubted it."

The three of them worked easily together to clean up the small kitchen, and then they returned upstairs to get ready for their day out. When they regrouped downstairs, Merlin asked which vehicle theyíd be using.

"Yours doesnít have a back seat, so unless one of us is riding in the boot..." Arthur chuckled.

Merlin smirked at him and ducked the retaliatory swing. "Here now, no boyfriend abuse!"

"I think I should put both of you in the boot," Ann informed them. "Behave!"

"Itís your birthday, Mum, we will," Arthur promised.

"Heaven help me when itís not my birthday then!"

Merlin chuckled. "We really do know how to behave in polite company."

"That remains to be seen," Ann commented. "Are you boys ready to go? Thereís a lot to see."

They both nodded and Ann led them out to her car, where the two young men got into a brief discussion of who should sit where.

"You should sit in front," Merlin hissed. "Sheís your mother."

"Iíve seen the sights and you havenít," Arthur responded. "Youíre in the front, Rhys."

"But..." Merlin looked at the stubborn expression on Arthurís face, sighed, and slid into the front passenger seat.

"I shall stand against the beast," Arthur muttered, twisting under Merlinís weight in the bed, his moves nearly strong enough to roll the other man off of him.

Merlin bit back a yelp of surprise, his eyes flaring gold as he kept himself from being dumped onto the floor. Then they widened as he actually heard what Arthur was saying.

"Itís all right, Arthur, you defeated the beast," Merlin whispered, lightly stroking Arthurís arm. "You prevailed as always, sire."

"Too many hurt, too many killed, always too many," Arthur sighed in his sleep, his hand coming up to grip Merlinís wrist. "Not you though."

"No, Iím well and here by your side, where Iíve always been and always shall be."

Arthur relaxed at that, his hand loosening its grip on Merlinís arm. "Iíll be here for you as well, my love," he murmured before falling sound asleep again.

"Oh Arthur," Merlin breathed, "only you could make you fall in love with you over and over again. Youíre so very like this time... and yet still so very different." He lay back down at Arthurís side, one arm stretched over him possessively, and slowly dozed off, content.

"Feel like coming to a game? I can promise a pint or two afterward, and you can put ice on my bruises."

For a moment, Merlin looked surprised before his expression morphed into shy pleasure. "Iíd like that," he agreed. "And Iíll even kiss them better if you like."

"I like," Arthur promised.

"Do, er, do your friends know about..." Merlin gestured vaguely. "Us?"

"Those that donít will after tonight," Arthur shrugged before quirking his lips in a smile. "Is that a problem?"

"Of course not. I just wanted to make sure no one was going to punch me in the nose if I kiss you after the game."

"If they do, Iíll punch them back."

"My hero. Should I give you my favor to wear during the game?" Merlin chuckled.

"What? A g-string?" Arthur asked.

Merlin burst into laughter. "Well, if you insist."

"Why donít you model it for me after we get back to mine," Arthur suggested.

"I could be convinced," Merlin replied, leaning in for a quick kiss. "If you promise to take it off me."

"Youíre actually coming back to my flat?" Arthur asked, surprised.

"Why wouldnít I?" Merlin looked bewildered.

"My bed is even smaller than the one at my motherís..."

"Then youíll have no excuse to complain when I sleep on top of you."

"You do that anyway."

"So whatís the problem?"

"I didnít say there was one," Arthur pointed out.

Merlin eyed him for a moment before saying, "The only reason I havenít been to your flat before, Arthur, is because you havenít invited me."

Arthur started to speak, then closed his mouth and chewed on his lower lip. "After seeing yours, I didnít think there was much of a point."

Merlin frowned, suddenly looking worried. "Did I say anything to make you think that? I promise you, Iím very interested in seeing where you live."

"No, you never said anything, but itís a room, nothing special."

"Itís your home."

"Itís a room, Rhys."

"Itís your room, and I want to see it."

"Fine, fine, youíll see it after the match, all right?"

"Brilliant, we can celebrate."

"If I can move," Arthur chuckled.

"You can always lie back and think of England."

"The queen or Prince Charles, no thank you!"

Merlin burst into laughter. "Thereís always William or Harry."

"As you said, itís best to leave the princes unmolested."

"I suppose youíll just have to molest and think of me then."

"I thought I was to lie back in bed so you could tend to my bruises?"

"Tending first, molesting second."

"Iíll hold you to that."

"As if Iíd forget," Merlin scoffed. "Just try not to invite your mates over to continue celebrating. Iím not into shows."

"Thatís not what I saw on the internet," Arthur grinned.

"That was not intentional!" After a moment Merlin added, almost too low to be heard, "And it wasnít you."

"Do you mind if I ask what you mean by that?" Arthur asked, frowning slightly in confusion.

"I didnít know we were being filmed, of course. Iíve no hidden yen to become an adult movie star," Merlin replied.

"Right, I should have guessed that."

Merlin eyed him. "Are you sure you havenít already suffered some brain injury?"

"Iím not the one ignoring a question I was asked, am I?"

Sighing, Merlin realized that Arthur wasnít going to let him avoid the question, not that heíd really thought he might. "I just meant that the people in those videos didnít really matter to me, not beyond superficial friendship at best. You, er, you do. This, us, is just for us."

Arthur beamed at that. "Exactly," he murmured before leaning in to press a lingering kiss to Merlinís lips.

"Are you sure we have to go to the game?" Merlin muttered, licking his lips.

"I should be on my way there now; youíre distracting, Rhys."

"You say that like itís a bad thing," Merlin purred, but he did get to his feet. "Do you want to take my car?"

"With you in it?" Arthur asked as he stood as well.

"Well, you did invite me, and I wasnít planning to walk."

"You do have more than one car, and I wasnít sure if you would want to get there this early."

Merlin shrugged easily. "I donít mind, and this way I can be sure you wonít be spirited away after the match."

"Well then, can I call you my bodyguard then?"

"Around a bunch of burly footie players whoíd take it as a challenge to reduce me to kindling? I think not!"

Arthur paused and looked at him before chuckling. "Rhys, if you call them footie players, they will reduce you to kindling. Rugby, itís rugby."

Merlin grinned. "I know, but youíre cute when you puff up."

"Cute?"

"In a very hot, masculine sort of way, of course."

"Oh come on, and letís get out of here before some other strangeness comes out of your mouth."

Merlin laughed. "And here I thought you liked my strangeness."

"Strangeness doesnít equal kinkiness," Arthur sniffed as he picked up his duffle and they headed for the door.

"Do you really want me to get kinky before your match?" Merlin demanded with a wicked grin.

"What I want and what I can have are two different things at the moment."

"Iíll make it up to you tonight," Merlin promised.

A few hours later, Merlin was wondering if heíd tempted fate with those words. While most of Arthurís teammates had been fine with his introduction of Merlin as his boyfriend, a few had clearly been horrified by the poofters, and with his typical luck, it was one of those whoíd finished up with his shower and left the locker room first.

The very large, muscular rugby player whose name was something stereotypically ridiculous like Buzz or Ox, which Merlin had forgotten immediately upon hearing it, glared when he saw the wiry young man leaning against the wall, waiting for Arthur and his friends.

"Disgusting," he sneered, moving toward Merlin, who watched him warily after a quick glance around revealed no one in the vicinity.

"Donít worry, youíre not my type," Merlin retorted, which only seemed to infuriate the big man more.

"Pervert!" The larger manís hands clenched into fists, and he stepped closer.

"You really donít want to do that," Merlin warned, trying to avoid an altercation, although his magic could almost be felt as he prepared defend himself.

"You really donít want me to, but, guess what, I am."

"I warned you," Merlin said softly, his eyes flaring gold in the instant before the other man found himself slammed against the wall, dazed by the impact.

The low, choked cry came not from the other man, but from Arthur, who was staring at Merlin from where heíd just come around the corner. "Rhys?" he asked, before shaking his head almost violently. He brought both hands up to his forehead and leaned back against the wall behind him. "Youóyour eyesó" He sank to the ground, his knees pulled to his chest, groaning. "My head."

"Arthur!" Merlin murmured a quick spell to knock the bully out completely, not wanting to worry about an attack from behind, and bolted to Arthurís side, sinking to his knees next to the blonde. "Are you all right?"

"I feel as if someone slammed a cudgel into the back of my head." Arthurís reply was not in modern English, and when he looked up at Merlin, his pupils were blown wide, almost eclipsing the blue of his eyes. He blinked slowly, and his forehead creased in a frown. "What did I just say?"

"That you have a headache," Merlin replied distractedly as he tried to decide whether it would make things better or worse to tell Arthur what had just happened.

"No, thatís not quite it... Did I take a rap during the match?"

Merlin really wished he could take advantage of the ready-made excuse, but heíd promised himself not to lie to Arthur. "No, you were fine when you went to clean up."

"Ióitís like, like my brain is overfull. I keep seeing things that canít be there."

"There are more things in heaven and earth..."

Arthur stared up at him before his face whitened, and he twisted to the side, retching.

Merlin put an arm around his shoulders, offering his support. "Iím glad thatís not your usual reaction to looking at me," he said wryly.

"You lookó" Arthur reached up and wiped a hand over his mouth. "I saw you, but also a different you."

Merlin inhaled sharply. "What... what did I look like?"

Arthur frowned up at him, his gaze somewhat unfocused. "You, but, different... like something out of my motherís studies. But sometimes you were old." He looked up as several of his friends came around the corner, their voices rising when they saw the scene before them.

"We should talk about this later, when weíre home," Merlin murmured, helping Arthur to his feet.

"What happened?" one of the other young men asked, and Arthur looked at Merlin to provide the answer as he wasnít sure of it himself.

"Youíre probably dehydrated after the match," Merlin said. "You came out, seemed to wobble, and fell down and were ill."

"Perhaps we should get you in to the trainer..." At the suggestion, Arthur shook his head and slowly began to get to his feet.

"Iíll be fine; will have to have a rain-check on those beers though."

"Maybe in a day or two," Merlin suggested, "once youíre feeling more yourself. You may have caught a bit of a cold, and the match on top of that just took it out of you."

"That must be it," Arthur nodded slowly, managing to give his mates a lopsided smile. "Another time, lads?"

"Right. And be sure to bring Rhys along. We have to tell him all our Arthur stories, yeah?"

Merlin chuckled. "Iím looking forward to it."

Arthur groaned, sounding half-pitiful, half as if he was in real pain.

"What happened to Bear?"

That was his name! Merlin cast a quick glance at the still unconscious youth.

"He must have stumbled and hit his head."

Nearly everyone eyed Merlin, but no one seemed to want to challenge the statement.

"Seems to be a lot of that going around lately; weíll take care of him."

Merlin cast a glance at Bear more fitting for a bug he was about to step on. "You do that. And Iíll get Arthur home and take care of him."

The small group collected Bear and headed off, leaving Arthur and Merlin alone. "Sorry about that beer," Arthur muttered as they slowly began making their way toward his flat which was near the field.

"Thatís fine; weíll do it another day. I rather liked your friends," Merlin said, watching Arthur anxiously as they walked.

"Do you have any?" Arthur asked suddenly.

"What, friends? Of course I do, though none who are particularly close," Merlin admitted. There had been over the years, but Merlin had found himself growing increasingly more distant as the centuries passed and he lost friend after friend.

"I canóWill? Did you mention someone named Will?"

Merlin stilled. "Not that I recall, but I did have a friend named Will when I was a boy."

"Did he die?" Arthur asked, glancing over at Merlin, his eyes still dilated and unfocused. "He was... shot."

Merlin started them moving again, more anxious than ever to get Arthur inside. "Yes, he was. But it was a very long time ago."

"I can remember it; I can see it; how is that possible?" Arthur asked, pulling Merlin to a stop and staring at him.

Sighing heavily, Merlin turned to face him. "Please, letís get inside, and then Iíll explain everything, I promise."

"You have an explanation for this?" Arthur asked wildly.

"Yes, and I just hope you can understand and still stand to be around me afterward."

Arthur started to say something but winced and reached up to rub his forehead again. "Fine, once we get inside, you will explain."

"Yes, Sire," Merlin muttered, sliding his arm back around Arthurís waist to offer support as they continued on to Arthurís flat.

"Very good," Arthur murmured absently, leading Merlin up the stairs and opening the door to his small flat, dropping down on the battered sofa and leaning back, looking up at Merlin expectantly.

"Youíre not going to like it," Merlin muttered, pacing around the room, trying to avoid meeting Arthurís eyes.

"Tell me, damnit!" Arthur roared, making Merlin flinch and turn to face him.

"Fine, my name isnít Merlin Emrys Lloyd, itís just Merlin Emrys, and the first time we met was in your first incarnation... as Arthur Pendragon, Prince and future King of Camelot."

Arthur blinked at that, and he opened his mouth to argue the fact, then slowly closed it again as memories that didnít match with his own assailed him. "Did you know this when we first met?"

"Yes. It would be difficult not to, since you look just the same as you did then."

"Just because I remember the facts doesnít make him me," Arthur snapped.

"I know that. You were him, fifteen centuries ago, but youíre not now. Youíre you, very like him in some ways and very different in others. Youíre a product of this world, not that."

"And is this the time of Englandís great need then? Has he come back to save the country from its greatest peril?" Arthur asked, rubbing his forehead.

"No, I donít believe so. You have been reincarnated many times over the centuries, and the memories often came back to you eventually, though this is the first time you looked the same. If it were his time to return in that way, I think you would have been born knowing it, remembering it all."

"And what do you do? Wait?"

"Yes," Merlin replied simply. "I live, and I wait, and I make friends and love people and watch them all die, year after year, decade after decade, century after century."

"Waiting for him," Arthur murmured.

"Yes, but also finding and loving others along the way. I was drawn to you because of him, but I love you for yourself, Arthur."

"And how many times have you said that before?" Arthur asked, looking away from the other man.

Merlin sighed again. "I havenít. Have I loved any of your previous incarnations? Of course I have... for being reincarnations of Arthur. But you... Iíd have loved you even if you had nothing to do with him."

"And you really can doóthose things I have memories of you doing?"

"Yeah." Merlinís eyes flared gold, and Arthurís apartment began to straighten itself up.

"So if I asked, you could take away these memories?"

Merlin flinched, and his eyes closed as he turned away, his shoulders hunching self-protectively. "Ifó" His voice cracked, and he had to try again. "If thatís what you really want."

Arthur was quiet for a long moment before he answered. "I need to think about it. Right now everything is confused; I canít tell what are my thoughts and what are his. He loved you, but then Iím sure you knew that."

Merlin nodded without turning around. "It was all I had to hang on to for a very long time." He hesitated, then forced himself to ask, "Do you want me to leave?"

"No," Arthur said immediately before giving a hoarse laugh. "I suppose thatís one thing he and I are in agreement on."

Merlin nearly staggered from the relief of those words. "Thank all the gods," he murmured. "I lost him; Iím not sure I could bear to lose you too."

"I donít think I have a bastard son hiding out anywhere plotting to kill me," Arthur said dryly before sighing. "Though that isnít what happened, is it?"

"No, Mordred was no relation to Arthur, nor was Morgana beyond having been Utherís ward. And I certainly never was in love with Nimueh!" Merlin added, centuries of annoyance in his tone at that last.

"And you obviously arenít missing your heart and buried in a crystal cavern," Arthur murmured. "My motheróChrist, my mother..."

"I think your motherís, er, obsession with all things Arthurian has a very simple cause. Some part of her remembers. Ann was Igraine, Arthur."

"My mother was his mother?" Arthur asked, finally looking at Merlin again, his eyes wide.

"It happens from time to time over the years, Arthur. Others are reincarnated and find each other. You, Arthur is the one reborn the least frequently."

"And did you find him each time?"

"Five times," Merlin said softly. "Five short lifetimes out of fifteen hundred years, in one of which he was so furious once he remembered that he refused to ever speak to me again."

"I can understand that," Arthur murmured under his breath, making Merlin stiffen and hunch his shoulders again.

"If youíre going to do that, please just get it over with," he whispered brokenly. "Youíve been many things, but I never thought you were cruel."

"I didnít say I was going to do it, just that I could understand why he did."

"Arthur, please." Merlin finally turned to face Arthur, letting him see the fear in Merlinís face. Arthurís expression twisted, and he reached out, grabbing Merlin and yanking him in for a desperate kiss.

"I canít send you away," he rasped, "it would hurt me too much."

Merlin let out a moan of sheer relief and all but wrapped himself around Arthur, clinging with desperate strength. "Thank the gods."

Arthur bowed his head, resting his forehead against Merlinís dark hair and inhaling, his scent familiar on several levels now. "I donít want to lose you," he whispered.

"You couldnít," Merlin promised. "The only way youíll be rid of me is if you drive me off with a stick."

"I somehow donít think that would work."

"It would if you wanted me gone. Thatís the only thing that could make me leave you."

Arthur held him, slowly stroking his back as he struggled to come to grips with all that he had learned. "Will his memories take over?" he finally asked. "Will I become him and not myself?"

"No!" Merlin exclaimed, raising his head from Arthurís shoulder to meet the blondeís eyes. "No, youíll be able to remember his lifeóand possibly the others in betweenóbut itís more as if itís something you had seen, a show. Youíll still be you."

"When he finally comes back, do you think heíll remember any of us?"

"I think so, but thereís really no way to know for certain."

Arthur nodded slowly even as he took a deep breath and let it out.

"Iím sorry," Merlin said helplessly. "But I didnít think any good could come of telling you before you were ready to remember on your own. But I never lied to you. No matter how deranged it made me sound," he added in a mutter.

"I thought you were eccentric," Arthur sighed, stroking his hand over Merlinís back to try to soothe them both.

"Iíve been called worse. But in this case, no, simply a good bit older than you thought."

"Just a bit!" Arthur exclaimed, shaking his head. "This takes dirty old man to the extreme."

Despite the situation, a snicker escaped Merlin. "Iím no old man, Iíll have you know!" he protested.

"Hullo? Fifteen hundred?"

"Thatís just years," Merlin replied dismissively. "Do I look old to you?"

"You look exactly like he remembers."

Merlin chuckled wryly. "I look the way I did when we first met, but there are plenty of other memories to come. Decadesí worth."

"Will you end up with a tangled beard?" Arthur murmured.

"No! Nor a pointy hat or sparkly robe either!"

"I think I could come up with ways of making you wear them."

Merlin whimpered, and Arthur managed a smile. "Youíll enjoy it."

"No, I really, really wonít," Merlin said mournfully, already knowing he was going to end up wearing the costume.

"He says different."

Merlin glared. "Brilliant, now Iím outnumbered!"

"Youíre not the one who has to live with another personís memories," Arthur said dryly.

"Which youíre already using against me," Merlin retorted.

"Iíd be willing to give up the advantage to feel as if my head was my own again."

"Iím sorry," Merlin said sympathetically. "It will get easier as you grow used to it. After all, you donít get overwhelmed by your childhood memories every day."

"That would be because I lived them," Arthur groaned, rubbing his head.

"These memories will feel like that eventually, only even less immediate."

"Thatís good because right now I feel as if my head is about to explode."

"Itís like turning the light on when youíve been in the dark; itís painful for a bit, but only until your eyes adjust."

"Right now it feels as if I should have a paracetamol and a lie down."

"Then letís do that."

Arthur managed a small smile at that. "There is the minor issue of you being in my lap."

"I rather like it here."

Arthur groaned piteously, and Merlin smiled briefly and leaned forward to kiss him before standing up and offering Arthur a hand. "Bed?" he suggested.

Arthur clasped his hand around Merlinís and slowly stood, wobbling a bit before he got his balance. "Just need to get that paracetamol first," he murmured, leading Merlin down the narrow hall to the washroom.

"You can give me the grand tour tomorrow," Merlin said, though he looked around with interest as he followed Arthur.

"Not much to it," Arthur shrugged, reaching in the cabinet for the paracetamol and dry swallowing two pills, all without releasing Merlinís hand, then leading the other man back to the bedroom, finally releasing Merlinís hand to strip out of his trainers and jeans. He stripped back the comforter on the bed and collapsed onto it, closing his eyes against the dim lighting.

Merlin watched him for a moment, and then he stripped down as well and crawled in next to Arthur, pressing close. "I do love you, Arthur Pembroke," he whispered.

Arthur breathed out a sigh and pressed a kiss to Merlinís dark hair. "Iím glad youíre here, Rhys," he said quietly, his arms wrapped securely around the other man.

Letting out a long, slow breath of relief, Merlin wrapped himself Arthur. "Iím glad too."

It was early evening when Arthur walked into the flat, setting his attachť case on the small desk near the inner door but leaving his suit jacket on. "Rhys?" he called, not seeing the other man, "are you ready to go? The reservations are for eight."

"You are so the girl in this relationship," Merlin announced as he came out of the bedroom, still knotting his tie. "You never forget an anniversary."

"Just because youíre senile and ancient," Arthur chuckled, "and canít remember one."

"As if Iíd forget our tenth anniversary," Merlin snorted before grasping Arthurís tie and reeling him in for a kiss.

"Itís because I put it in your calendar," Arthur laughed against his lips.

"Ha! Keep it up and we wonít make eleven years."

"Keep it up and you wonít get your present," Arthur warned before kissing Merlin again then pulling back, knowing if he kept doing that, then they wouldnít make their reservations.

"And here I thought you were my present," Merlin replied, letting him go. "Iíve always thought so."

"Which is why you call me a prat so often. Now come along, Rhys, thereís a good French meal waiting for us."

"You are a prat," Merlin chuckled. "At least you donít sink to clotpole very often anymore."

"Only when I tie you up and donít let you come," Arthur smirked as he wrapped an arm around Merlinís waist and started him for the door and the elevator beyond.

"I take it back; you are a clotpole, talking about that when weíre on our way out!" Merlin exclaimed, trying to adjust himself discreetly.

"Just think of it as an appetizer," Arthur promised.

"I hope youíre planning to put out in the end."

Arthur only smirked and, once theyíd stepped into the lift, pushed Merlin up against the wall, ravaging his mouth. "Does that answer your question?" he murmured once their kiss-swollen lips parted.

"Do we have to leave the elevator?" Merlin wanted to know. "We could stay in and celebrate, yeah?"

"Weíre going out," Arthur said sternly.

Merlin sighed. "Slave driver."

"You love it and you know it."

"Sadly true. Iím whipped."

"Thatís a little kinky even for me if you must know," Arthur chuckled, reluctantly moving away from Merlin when the lift reached the garage level.

Merlin chuckled as they made their way toward the car they were using that night. "Itís a bit much for me too. Now some cuffs on the other hand..."

"Fur-lined, of course."

"You are so coming through on that promise later tonight."

"You may have to do a little mumbo jumbo to come up with them unless weíre going shopping on the way to our meal," Arthur chuckled as he backed the car out of the space and navigated through the garage and out into the cityís streets.

"Leave it to me," Merlin said with a quirked smile. "Consider it part of your present."

"And youíre the rest of it, hrmm?"

"Of course." Merlin preened.

"My favorite one."

"And itís one you can have any time you want."

"And I plan on it," Arthur said cheerily.

"Now?" Merlin asked hopefully.

"While weíre driving?"

"Iím willing to use magic to keep the car on the road."

Arthur looked tempted but finally shook his head. "I believe itís called anticipation."

"Itíll accumulate interest," Merlin promised him. "You wonít be able to walk tomorrow... and I hopefully wonít even be able to get out of bed."

"Isnít it a good thing that I took a holiday from work?" Arthur asked with a sly grin.

"Brilliant!" Merlin exclaimed delightedly. "I knew there was a reason I fell for you."

Arthur cut a glance over at him and chuckled. "Actually, I think that had something to do with who I looked like; itís me being myself that has kept you around."

"Well, it certainly wasnít for your humility," Merlin laughed.

"Oh please, this from the jet-setting playboy."

"Not for the last decade," Merlin protested.

"What, you mean because weíre married you canít be a jet-setting playboy?"

"The only jet-setting and playing I do is with you, and thatís the way I like it."

Arthur smirked. "Exactly."

"Youíre a smug prat."

"And you love me," Arthur laughed.

"As much as you love me."

"Damn right," Arthur nodded, sounding very satisfied with himself for that fact.

"I think we deserve each other," Merlin decided.

They finally reached the restaurant and enjoyed a long, leisurely meal accompanied by an excellent bottle of wine; Arthur, however, stopped Merlin before he could order dessert.

"I have a plan for that," he promised."

"That sounds interesting," Merlin said, following Arthur when he rose from the table, and they made their way back to the car to return home.

"You were right again," Merlin said idly, watching Arthur drive. "Dinner out was nice."

"Considering the bill, I would hope it was more than nice," Arthur chuckled, though he reached over and squeezed Merlinís hand before letting go and shifting as they sped up, the late night traffic having eased somewhat.

"Iíll show you just how nice I thought it was once we get home," Merlin promised, content to sit back and look at Arthur... in his own way. His eyes flashed gold, and invisible hands ran over Arthurís chest and down to his groin.

Arthur gasped and had to hit the brake, almost stalling the sports car when his other foot missed the clutch. "Bloody hell, Iím never going to get used to that!"

Merlin smirked. "Which makes it even better."

"Idiot," Arthur sighed, shaking his head. "I asked you to marry me, why?"

"Because you love me." Merlinís smile broadened.

"Actually, I think it was because of that thing you do with your tongue..."

Merlin burst into laughter. "Itís a good thing Iím good at it, then."

"Exactly so."

"So I should worry about being dumped if you find someone who does it better?"

"To quote that old song, ĎNobody does it betterí," Arthur snickered.

"Awww. Just for that, Iíll reward you when we get home."

Arthur grinned at that. "Iím looking forward to it."

"I live to serve you."

"Iíll remember that."

Merlin snorted. "Iím sure you will... and repeat it at the least opportune time."

"Of course I will," Arthur chuckled before slowing the car and pulling into a parking space. "Stay here, Iíll be out in a few moments," he promised, leaning over to kiss Merlin before hopping out of the car.

Merlin gazed out the window as he waited, and after a short time, he realized that his surroundings were familiar. He leaned forward, peering in the direction Arthur had gone, and then he started to laugh when he recognized where they were.

"A very special dessert indeed," he chuckled as he sat back in the luxurious leather seat.

A short time later, Arthur returned from the bakery, a pink box tied with string held in one hand. He opened the door and leaned in, handing the box over before climbing in and belting himself in. "No peeking," he ordered.

"Yes, sir," Merlin purred, invisible hands gliding over Arthurís body again.

"If I crash your car because Iím distracted, itís your fault," Arthur growled.

"Iíll make sure you donít," Merlin assured him cheerfully.

"Your concern for your car warms my heart."

"The car can be replaced. You canít."

Arthurís smile softened, and he pulled Merlin in for a kiss. "Anything you can do about the traffic?" he murmured against Merlinís lips.

"Of course." Merlinís eyes flared, and suddenly they had a clear path ahead of them as other vehicles abruptly moved aside, the drivers finding that they didnít want to be in that lane.

Arthur glanced in front of them, then broke into laughter. "Perfect," he chuckled, pulling out into the now empty lane and speeding them back to their home.

"I hate interruptions," Merlin said smugly.

Arthur chuckled and increased their speed, knowing that Merlin would manage the traffic. "So Iíve gathered."

"As if you donít like uninterrupted time together."

"I never said that I didnít!" Arthur protested.

Merlin chuckled. "Get us home, Arthur."

Arthur grinned and downshifted, and they arrived at their building less than five minutes later. He slowed as he pulled into the garage and up the ramp to their spaces. "Ready?" he asked, grinning over at Merlin.

"Always," Merlin assured him, sliding out of the car and all but running to the lift.

"Donít forget the..." Arthur began, but Merlin was already gone, "...box." Moving with purpose, he snatched the box and climbed out of the car, locking it behind him and following Merlin to the lift.

Merlin grabbed him by the tie and wrenched him inside, the doors closing behind Arthur. "Alone at last."

"Just you, me, and a box of eclairs..." Arthur nodded.

"Just like one of our first nights," Merlin murmured.

"Exactly why I bought them," Arthur said before kissing him.

"I like the way you think," Merlin murmured against Arthurís lips.

"Just the way I think?"

"Itís a starting point. But I think I like everything about you."

"Just think?" Arthur asked, laughing quietly as he felt Merlin scowl against his lips.

"Youíre still a clotpole."

"Ahh, but Iím a clotpole with eclairs..."

"Good point," Merlin chuckled. "I suppose Iíll have to keep you."

"You couldnít afford the alimony if you chose to get rid of me," Arthur countered laughingly.

"Leave it to a barrister to think that way," Merlin snorted. "But I intend to keep you anyway, so I suppose itís a moot point."

"Shocking." The lift dinged on their floor, and Arthur wavered as the doors behind his back opened. Merlin kept them close together as he moved them down the hall toward the main door to their flat, rocking against Arthur with every step.

Arthur groaned and shoved the box at Merlin, lifting him so his legs wound around his waist the moment the box left his hand.

"I love your take-charge attitude," Merlin murmured, ducking his head to nuzzle Arthurís ear.

"Be that as it may, Iím still not carrying you up those stairs," Arthur groaned, making Merlin laugh.

"Some white knight you are," he scoffed. "Never willing to sweep me off my feet and up to the bedroom. Youíre no Rhett Butler."

"You wonít wear a sparkly robe for me; I highly doubt youíre going to wear a hoop skirt and crinolines," Arthur snorted.

"I can assure you that I wonít," Merlin replied emphatically, letting his feet drop to the floor as Arthur reached the foot of the stairs.

Arthur snickered before looking sheepish when Merlin glared at him. "It would be amusing..."

"I am not wearing a dress! Just get that idea out of your mind."

Arthur snickered as they started up the marble steps toward their bedroom. While wrapped around him, Merlin murmured a spell that rid of them their clothes without making Arthur miss a step.

"Not. Happening." Merlin glared at the blonde, and a spectral hand goosed him as they climbed.

"But it makes a sparkly robe look better, doesnít it?" Arthur laughed, collapsing against the wall, unable to climb any longer.

"I think weíll see what you look like in a dress," Merlin growled, stopping as well with a ferocious scowl on his face, though his eyes were brimming with laughter.

"Lingerie?" Arthur asked.

"Only if youíre the one wearing it... though I really donít think you have the figure for it."

"Thank God for that," Arthur laughed as they started up the stairs again.

"Yes, youíd look very odd with breasts," Merlin agreed with a snicker.

"Thatís simply disgusting!"

"And yet still better than the thought of your hairy legs in fishnets and stilettos."

Arthur snickered, hoisting Merlin into his arms again when they reached the upstairs foyer. "Iím really beginning to wonder if you married me because you wanted a draft horse."

"Iíve had horses; theyíre big, smelly brutes. Iíd much rather have you. Youíre a lot more fun to ride."

"I suppose I should be glad you think so."

"I would have thought you would already know that."

"I did, but with you one never knows, so itís important to be sure," Arthur laughed, tumbling them both onto their bed and rolling them so that his body covered Merlinís.

"I thought you knew by now that Iím a sure thing," Merlin chuckled, spreading his legs and hiking them up to wrap around Arthurís hips.

"Mmm, if only my cases were that easy," Arthur murmured before dipping his head and nipping at the juncture of Merlinís neck and shoulder.

"Iím the only one you need to be easy," Merlin retorted, moaning at the sensual bite of Arthurís teeth. "You could fuck me now," he suggested breathlessly.

"Havenít you learned patience in your life?" Arthur asked, laving the small reddish patch, then biting it again.

"No," Merlin replied emphatically even as he shuddered under Arthur and squirmed sensually, the move making Arthur groan.

"Weíll have to work on thatósome other time."

"Another time," Merlin agreed. He stared up at Arthur and lightly dragged his nails down the blondeís spine while continuing to squirm under him.

"Oh hell," Arthur groaned, "you make me crazy, Rhys."

"Every chance I get."

"So I noticed," Arthur panted, maneuvering them so that his cock was positioned and drove into Merlinís body, groaning in pleasure at the sensation. Merlin clenched down on him, biting his lip to hold back a cry as Arthur finally filled him, exactly what he needed.

"Gorgeous and all mine," Arthur growled before nipping at Merlinís jaw as they began to move together.

"Always yours," Merlin promised, arching up to take Arthur deeper on every thrust.

"Forever." Arthurís tone changed as he spoke, then he shook his head and kissed Merlin deeply. "I hate it when he wakes up and intrudes," he growled against Merlinís mouth. "Youíre mine for now, and he can just live with it."

Merlin kissed him, reassuring Arthur that he wasnít going anywhere, that he was Arthurís, and he tightened his legs, pulling Arthur deep inside himself. The pair of them rocked together, driving each other higher, until Arthurís body tensed and he stared down into Merlinís blue eyes. "Now," he whispered.

Merlin came instantly, as if heíd just been waiting for Arthurís command, and Arthur followed him over, driving deep within Merlinís body as he whispered the name he knew the other man by, then, "Love you."

"I love you too, Arthur Pembroke." Merlin pressed a kiss to Arthurís lips.

 

2150

The weather was unseasonably cold, even for north Wales, and snow pelted the windshield of the heavy SUV that was inching itself up an unplowed, barely marked road. The driver cursed under his breath, fighting the wheel and the slick conditions until the latter won out and the SUV ended up in a ditch.

"The man is still an idiot," Arthur growled as he reached back for his insulated leather duster, awkwardly pulling it on before pressing his thumb against the ignition to turn the engine off and lock the vehicle.

Light leather gloves were little protection against the frigid temperature, and he jammed his hands into his pockets as he started to slog through the calf-deep snow, his course based more on instinct than any map or directions. After an hour of walking, he spotted a thin trail of smoke rising over the barren trees and angled in that direction, finally ending up at the front door of a small cottage.

A gloved fist pounded on the door, followed by an undignified yelp when the lintel discharged its accumulation of snow onto his head. "Merlin! Open the damn door!"

The door was flung open a moment later, and Merlin, once again looking like the young man whoíd first traveled to Camelot, stared out, his eyes wide. "A-Arthur?"

"No, itís the Abominable Snowman," Arthur said dryly, his voice breaking at the last as he stepped forward and dragged Merlin into his arms, resting his face against the younger-looking manís while the snow covering him melted between them.

"Arthur!" Merlin grasped him convulsively. "How... When?"

"Damp. Half-frozen," Arthur countered, giving a pointed look at the fire blazing in the hearth.

Merlin yanked him inside and slammed the door, locking it with a thought while hauling Arthur toward the fireplace. He pushed the blonde into a chair and simply stood there, staring at him, and held on, apparently unable to let go.

Arthur caught Merlinís hand with his free one so he could shake that arm out of the sleeve before repeating the move, then kicked out of his heavy boots so that he could stand and pull Merlin into an embrace again, sighing in pleasure at the feel of the lean body pressed against his.

Merlin inhaled the familiar scent and closed his eyes against the tears that threatened. "You know yourself," he whispered.

"I do, and more importantly, I know you," Arthur turned his head enough to kiss Merlinís jawline. "Iíve known for the last twenty years, I suppose, since this body could withstand having an adult consciousness inside it."

Merlinís eyes widened, and he drew his head back just enough to meet Arthurís gaze searchingly. "Youíve always known who you were this time?"

Arthur nodded somberly, aware of what that meant. "My birth certificate reads Jonathan Carter, but I am Arthur Pendragon. I remember the other lives I spent dreaming, but I am awake now."

Looking shocked, Merlin abruptly sat down on the floor at Arthurís side. "You do? You are? Then why did you wait so long to find me?" The last question took Merlin himself by surprise if his expression was any indication.

"Did you really want a four-year-old showing up at your door? The way you move around made finding you rather difficult, especially with times being what they are."

"Perhaps not four," Merlin agreed. "That would be disturbing on far too many levels... But I wouldnít have minded sixteen," he said with a fake leer, trying to make a joke of it.

"If I could have found you, you would have had me at sixteen; it was only when you came back to here that I felt you again, though it still took me two years to track you down."

"I didnít know," Merlin whispered. "I had no idea you were back this time," he added sadly. "I wish I had. We wouldnít have wasted so much time." He frowned. "But maybe this is the last time weíll do this dance; itís obviously different this time."

"It is," Arthur nodded, slowly drawing Merlin to the floor in front of the fire and settling him into his arms. "None of the others ever remembered me until something triggered them, and even then they were still themselves; Iíve never been anyone else.

He sighed and rubbed his face against Merlinís. "Iím only sorry you had to wait so long for my return."

"I would have waited forever," Merlin replied simply, leaning back against Arthurís chest and letting a long, slow breath of contentment.

"Almost two thousand years is long enough."

"Iíve missed you," Merlin said softly. "Though I loved some of your other incarnations in their own rights, I still loved you too, and gods but I missed you."

"I know," Arthur answered, breathing the words against Merlinís hair. "They loved you as well; even Charles did, that was why he sent you away. Iím glad you had that, that you werenít alone." His arms tightened around Merlinís body, and he took a deep breath. "But I would have given anything to be the one with you."

Merlin nodded. "I canít live without you again, Arthur," he said quietly. "I donít think Iím strong enough to face losing you a second time."

"Perhaps this timeóno, this time will be different. Weíve both learned from what we have been through, though you more than I had the harder time." Arthur paused and cocked his head to the side as if listening to someone, then smiled wistfully.

Merlin, his head comfortably pillowed on Arthurís shoulder and tilted so he could see the other manís face, regarded him curiously. "What is it?"

"Princesses, hrmm?"

"Iím never going to live that down!" Merlin groaned. "They were... fun."

"And Iím glad you had them," Arthur chuckled quietly, "in more ways than one."

"Iíd much rather have you," Merlin retorted.

"That could be arranged."

"I rather thought it might," Merlin said, the somber mood finally lifting as he accepted that Arthur was back and with him.

"Weíre going to be busy enough all too soon, so for now we should enjoy ourselves and each other." As Arthur spoke, he slipped his hands under Merlinís thick jumper, sighing in pleasure at the skin on skin contact.

"We never had trouble with that, not even when your father would have killed me for it," Merlin replied, his voice growing hoarse as Arthur touched him. His own hands worked under Arthurís clothes, and his fingertips pressed the warm flesh beneath as if testing his reality.

"He would have had to have gone through me to get you," Arthur murmured before leaning in to close his mouth over Merlinís, breathing his breath into the other manís lungs then drawing it back, intoxicated by the faint taste he received this way.

Merlin whimpered softly, twisting in Arthurís lap so that they faced one another with Merlinís long legs curled around Arthurís waist.

Arthur pulled back far enough to tear Merlinís jumper off him, then yank his own off as well so that they were skin to skin from the waist up, and his hands moved greedily over Merlinís chest and back as their mouths came together again.

"You even taste the same," Merlin groaned, glutting his senses on Arthur.

"I am the same," Arthur promised in between gasps for breath.

"And youíre mine," Merlin ground out possessively, his hands cupping Arthurís ass to pull them even closer together. "All mine, always mine."

"Gods, yes." Arthur twisted and kissed his way down the long column of Merlinís throat even as he arched against him, making Merlin gasp and let his head fall back. His eyes flashed gold, and their remaining clothing vanished, leaving them naked and entwined.

Arthur gave a throaty laugh even as his hands closed on Merlinís ass, his fingertips brushing against his hole. "You always did cut right to the chase," he gasped.

"And you always liked it," Merlin returned, gasping and spreading his legs wider apart.

"Damned right, just as Iíve always loved you."

"I think I knew that from the first time you risked your life to save mine." Merlin caught Arthurís lips in a long, slow kiss. "And Iíve always loved you."

"You thought I was a prat and you know it," Arthur snorted even as he slowly eased a finger into Merlin, sucking in a breath at the tightness of the passage.

"Thatís because you are a prat, but I still loved you. Much to my own dismay at times." Merlin moaned softly and squirmed on Arthurís finger.

"And your pleasureóour pleasure," Arthur corrected himself, nipping Merlinís chin at the same time he twisted his finger.

"Gods yes." Merlin shuddered and traced a fingertip between Arthurís cheeks, causing the larger man to shudder.

"And that pleasure will be very soon at this rate."

"Thatís just the first round," Merlin rasped, pressing inward.

Arthur gasped, his back bowing forward to press his chest against Merlinís even as his own finger pressed deeper. "Good thing weíre snow-bound then."

"This may turn out to be the worst storm in history," Merlin said with a breathless chuckle. He rocked in Arthurís lap, pushing back to force the finger deeper and then forward to rub his aching cock against Arthur.

"Oh damn." Arthur pulled his finger from Merlinís ass, kissing away the noise of complaint he made, and rolled them to the floor, the flames gilding Merlinís pale skin with tones of gold. "I believe we can come up with ways to entertain ourselves." He felt Merlinís legs tighten around his hips and drove downward against the other manís body. "I need to be in you; itís been far too long, my love."

"Dear gods, yes," Merlin groaned. "Now!"

The flare of gold in Merlinís eyes told Arthur that he had slicked himself, and he breathed out a groan as he positioned himself and pushed inside Merlinís clinging heat. Arthur slowly pressed forward, sheathing himself inch by inch until he was fully held within Merlinís body.

Merlin shuddered beneath the blonde, his eyes half closed as he grounded himself in the sensation within him, filling him, completing him. "Want to stay like this forever," he panted, fighting the urge to move.

"Later common sense will make me argue that, but right now, it sounds perfect to me," Arthur whispered before dipping his head to nibble on Merlinís earlobe.

"I a-always give you good counsel, Sire," Merlin moaned. He pulled himself together as much as possible when he was falling apart and tried to give Arthur as much pleasure as he was being given, adding a second finger to Arthurís ass and pressing inward until he found the sensitive gland deep inside him.

Arthur spasmed, pressing impossibly deeper into Merlinís body before he got control of himself again and began drawing slowly back, prolonging the pleasure for both of them. "Thatís not all you give me," he rasped.

"Everything," Merlin gasped. "I give you everything."

Unable to hold back any longer, Arthur began to move, driving his full length into Merlinís body, feeling his pleasure in the clench of his arms and legs, the spasm of the sheath around him, all of it driving him on.

"Arthur," Merlin groaned, meeting his rhythm eagerly. "Gods, yes."

"All mine, all yours," Arthur whispered, feeling Merlinís cock slap between their bodies.

"Yes, always," Merlin panted, his back arching as the first wave of pleasure flowed through him.

Arthur nodded, kissing Merlin wildly as they moved together, their climaxes coming at almost the same instant, the pleasure seeming to flow between them, growing and multiplying as it did.

"Oh gods, itís really you," Merlin whispered, feeling the empty spot inside himself filled for the first time in millennia.

Arthur nodded against his neck before kissing the thin skin there and breathing deeply, his whole body replete with satisfaction and one hand gently carding through Merlinís hair.

"Just stay right here for a bit, yeah?" Merlin said, loving the sensation of Arthurís weight on him.

"Of course, itís one of my favorite places to be," Arthur assured him before nuzzling his neck again.

"And my favorite place to have you." Merlin tilted his head slightly, inviting Arthur to continue.

"This time it will be different," Arthur promised before burying his nose in the hollow of Merlinís throat and breathing deeply.

"More like the first time, you mean," Merlin said in a near purr. "Though with a much longer time together, I hope."

"As do I, I want to see you with my own eyes as an old man with a white beard... and a sparkly hat." Arthur chuckled quietly at the last.

Merlin thumped him on the chest. "You are an evil and twisted man."

"Which is exactly why you love me," Arthur laughed, kissing Merlin soundly before rolling to his back.

"Sadly true," Merlin sighed before chuckling. He twisted around to rest half atop Arthur, their legs tangled together and his head pillowed on Arthurís shoulder in what had always been one of their favorite positions.

"Sadly?" Arthur scoffed even as he closed both arms around Merlinís back, holding him close.

"You take dreadful advantage of the fact."

"Oh, and you are just so abused in the process."

"Pointy hats and sparkly robes," Merlin reminded him with great precision.

"And what did you get out of the deal when you wore them?" Arthur asked, smirking at the memory.

Merlinís wry smile turned sensual. "As I recall, neither of us could walk properly the next day."

"Exactly."

"Canít we do that without the ridiculous getup first?"

"Iím planning on it for tonight," Arthur promised.

"This is turning out to be a very good day."

"Though I am going to need food eventually," Arthur chuckled though he didnít loosen his hold on Merlin.

"I see weíre back where we started, with you expecting me to serve you," Merlin laughed.

"Are you saying that you wonít feed me?" Arthur asked, giving his best pout, which made Merlin laugh harder.

"I suppose I can do that... Iíd hate to have you die of hunger," he finished dryly.

"Feed me this time, and Iíll cook for us in the morning," Arthur promised.

"Mmm, that sounds good." Merlin gave him a quick kiss and then murmured a spell that had a full tray appearing on the floor beside them, filling the air with the scent of freshly roasted fowl, gravy, and crispy roasted potatoes and greens.

"And that smells delicious," Arthur groaned.

"I remember your favorites."

"You are my favorite."

Merlin smiled. "As youíre mine. But I think you need to eat something."

"It might be a bit easier if I were sitting up," Arthur pointed out, making Merlin sigh and sit up.

"Fine, Iíll let you eat... and then you become my pillow again."

"Yes, oh great magician," Arthur laughed, waiting until Merlin moved before sitting and stretching then rolling over and catching the leg of a heavy chair, pulling it closer so that he could lean back against it. "Though thereís no law against you leaning against me while we eat."

Merlin smiled and shifted so that he was leaning against Arthur. "Thatís better," he said happily.

"Mmm, much." Arthur reached over and plucked up a slice of breast meat, offering Merlin a bite before finishing what was between his fingers.

Merlin caught hold of Arthurís hand and drew it to his mouth, licking the grease off and slowly sucking on each digit.

"Mmm, I know what my sweet is going to be," Arthur rumbled.

"Whenever youíre ready," Merlin purred.

"After weíve both eaten our fill," Arthur promised, feeding Merlin another bite.

"Of the food or each other?" Merlin asked with a soft laugh.

"The food," Arthur said simply, "Iíll never get my fill of you."

"Likewise," Merlin replied, turning his head to kiss Arthur, the pair of them finally breaking apart and continuing their meal, sharing bits with each other and washing it all down with wine that Merlin conjured as well.

"I can still hardly believe youíre here," Merlin said softly once they were done and heíd made the remnants of the meal vanish. "I keep thinking Iím going to wake up and find this was all a dream."

"Do you want me to pinch you?" Arthur asked, smiling tenderly and tightening the arm wrapped around Merlinís side.

"Only if you want me to bite you!"

"I was only offering to prove to you that you were awake!"

"I can think of much more pleasant ways for you to do that."

"True, but I highly doubt you ever dream of me pinching you so that would be more effective."

"Forget the pinching!" Merlin twisted around and pulled Arthur into a kiss to put an end to the conversation.

"What were we speaking of?" Arthur asked when their lips finally parted.

"Dessert."

"Ah yes, my favorite meal."

"Some things never change. Fortunately, itís mine as well."

"So, dessert in front of the fire or should we find a bed?" Arthur murmured as he stroked Merlinís back.

"Nice as this is, I think weíll be both be happier in the morning if we move to a bed."

"Which means weíre back to you getting off of me again."

"I much prefer to get off on you." Merlin didnít seem likely to move any time soon.

"Mmm, but if we get to that bed, I promise you can get off in me once we get there."

"You always know the perfect thing to say," Merlin laughed, nearly springing to his feet and offering Arthur a hand up.

"Of course, itís because I know you well," Arthur said as he clasped Merlinís hand and stood as well.

"You always have," Merlin agreed, drawing Arthur into a tight embrace. Arthur rested their temples together before straightening and, with a slight grin, hoisted Merlin into his arms to carry him toward the bedroom.

"Itís a good thing there arenít any stairs," Merlin chuckled even as he curled into Arthur, inhaling the familiar scent of him.

"I believe I could manage them this timeóand that you would catch me if I didnít."

"You tempt me to add a second floor to the house," Merlin laughed, but he seemed more interested in nuzzling Arthurís throat than carrying through on his joking threat.

"Do you really want to add to the time it takes us to find the bed?" Arthur asked, stopping at the side of the bed and lowering Merlin to the thick comforters, then following him down.

"Maybe tomorrow," Merlin decided, wrapping arms and legs around Arthur to hold him close. "We have better things to do tonight."

"Each other," Arthur nodded, rolling to his back and bringing Merlin on top of him.

"And thatís always better than any other option." Merlin lowered his head to kiss Arthur, squirming slightly to settle himself.

"You moving like that is certainly better than any option I can think of," Arthur rumbled, his eyes going half-lidded as he spread his legs and felt Merlinís whole body settle against him.

"Oh, I could think of a few better things... like me in you, you in me..." Merlin laid a line of biting kisses along Arthurís jaw.

"The first," Arthur growled, his fingers digging into Merlinís ass as they rubbed together. "Now."

"Just as demanding as when you had a crown on your head," Merlin half-laughed, rocking against Arthur while reaching for the hand lotion on the nightstand.

"And is this the point where you call me a prat for it?" Arthur laughed breathlessly as he ran his hands over Merlinís back.

"I think that can wait," Merlin replied. "Iím sure youíll deserve it... later. Right now, Iím more interested in your ass than your prat-dom." A slick finger slid between Arthurís legs and over the silky skin behind his balls, petting him before continuing on to find the sensitive ring of muscle.

Arthur gave a pleased rumble in response and took a deep breath as he watched Merlin through half-lidded eyes. "Iím very glad to hear that."

"And feel it?" Merlin took Arthurís mouth in a deep, possessive kiss at the same moment that his finger breeched the blonde.

Arthur moaned in response, clenching down around Merlinís finger before relaxing and allowing it deeper as their tongues dueled together. Merlin continued pressing deeper, groaning at the heat and tightness and imagining that surrounding his cock.

"Want you," Arthur growled against Merlinís lips. "Not your finger; you."

Merlin shuddered with arousal at the throaty tone of Arthurís voice, and seconds later his finger was gone and he was pushing into Arthur.

"Oh yes," Arthur moaned, sliding his hands down Merlinís back so that he could grasp his ass and pull him closer.

"All mine, not letting you go again," Merlin rasped.

"You wonít need to," Arthur promised. "Together. Together weíll finish what we were meant to do."

"Right now what weíre meant to do is enjoy each other."

"Merlin..." At the pathetic expression that single word resulted in, Arthur growled and claimed Merlinís mouth as he dragged them together, and Merlin opened to him eagerly, submitting and possessing in equal measure.

"Yes," Arthur whispered. "Together we are everything. Together we can save them all." His last words morphed to a groan as he arched up off the bed.

"This time Iím going to save you too though. Iím not losing you again." Merlin pulled back only to press deeper again, possessing Arthur utterly.

"Do it," Arthur rasped. "I donít want to leave you alone again."

"I wonít let you," Merlin promised, lowering his head to bite at Arthurís throat, marking him, Arthurís groan filling the air around them in response.

"Yes. Need you, love you, always."

"My king, my love, my Arthur." Merlin began to move faster, Arthur meeting every thrust, his muscles clenching as pleasure tore through him until it proved too much and he came, spasming around Merlin. Merlin shuddered through Arthurís climax and then managed only a few more strokes before he was coming as well, the pleasure overwhelming after all the centuries apart.

"Perfection," Arthur murmured, stroking his hands over Merlinís back and sighing as he relaxed beneath him, his eyes going half-lidded as he relaxed under and around Merlin.

"We always were, together." Merlin sprawled over Arthur and nuzzled the blondeís throat, clearly content.

"And we are again." Arthur stroked his hands over Merlinís back as he kissed his temple. "Sleep, love, rest."

"íFraid this is just a dream," Merlin mumbled, fighting the urge to close his eyes though that changed when Arthur pinched his ass. He jumped and glared at Arthur. "Oi!"

"This isnít a dream," Arthur assured him. "This is reality."

"If youíre gone when I wake up, Iím going to be very unhappy about all this," Merlin grumbled, settling over Arthur again.

"So hang on to me."

"Good idea." Merlin wrapped himself around Arthur so that the other man couldnít possibly get away without waking Merlin and allowed himself to close his eyes. "Love you," he murmured.

"I love you too, Merlin Emrys," Arthur whispered, kissing his temple.

END

 

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