The departure of the dragon that had terrorized Camelot brought relief to those who lived in the castle and the lower townórelief, that is, to everyone except Camelotís prince. Though he was seen as the hero of the confrontation, Arthur was somber as he attended funerals for the knights who had ridden out to battle the beast at his side, somber as he helped with the repairs to the castle and village, and somber while dealing with those around him.
"Thank you, Merlin; that will be all," he said as the younger man moved to turn down his bed.
Merlin turned to face the prince, frowning. "Are you all right, Arthur? Youíve seemed off for the last few days. More than the deaths," he added hastily.
"Itís probably the blows to the head Iíve had recently," Arthur said as he stepped behind the dressing screen to strip off his clothes.
Merlinís frown deepened, and he moved toward Arthur. "Are you feeling dizzy or ill? Should I get Gaius?"
"Iím fine, Merlin, good night."
"Are... are you angry with me?" Merlin asked hesitantly, ignoring Arthurís obvious desire for him to leave.
"Iím just tired, and I believe that Iím old enough to put myself to bed."
"All right, obviously itís something, so why donít you just tell me," Merlin said, knowing he was pushing his luck but wanting to fix whatever was wrong between them.
Arthur appeared from behind the screen and leveled a steely look at the dark-haired youth. "I could ask you the same thing."
Merlin looked bewildered. "What?"
"Nothing," Arthur sighed. "Just... nothing." He dropped onto the bed, taking the extra pillow and pulling it over his face, signifying that the conversation was at an end.
"Arthur!" Merlin sounded exasperated. "How can I fix this if I donít know what youíre upset about?"
Arthur slowly sat up, the pillow falling away from his face. "You could tell me the truth."
"The tru-" Merlin stopped abruptly, blanching. He had to swallow hard before he could speak again. "Are you sure you really want to know?" he asked almost soundlessly. "Considering who your father is."
"I am not my father," Arthur said coldly. "And donít bother; I know, Iíve known for over a year."
Merlin sat down suddenly, falling to the floor when his knees refused to support him any longer. "Y-you know?" He groaned. "I tried so hard to hide it, to not put you in the position of lying to your father."
"If thatís the case, you are even worse at hiding than you are at being a manservant; a man would have to be blind not to notice what was going onóand deaf as well considering you were shouting spells in my ear at Castle Idirsholas."
"Oh." Merlin hung his head and shifted uncomfortably, looking miserable. "You were in danger," he said in a small voice.
Arthur sighed again and ran a hand through his short, blond hair, leaving it in disarray. "Every time Iíve seen you use magic, it was because either myself, my father, or the kingdom were in danger."
"Well, er, I also used it on my chores. You just kept giving me more and more until there was no way I could keep up without using it..." He trailed off, an arrested expression on his face, and raised his head to stare at Arthur.
"What?" the prince snapped, sounding peevish.
"Did you do that on purpose?"
"Do what?" Arthur asked, his chin lifting as if he was daring Merlin to say the words.
"Did you pile on the tasks until there was no way I or anyone could accomplish them all without magic? Of course you did. Iím such an idiot!"
"And now you know I know. Good night, Merlin." Arthur lay back on the bed, turning his back to the other youth, pointedly ignoring him.
Merlin sank to his knees next to the bed. "Iíve never thought you were an idiot, Arthur. If I let myself think about it, I thought you didnít want to know, purposely didnít see or hear."
"Obviously," Arthur answered tightly. "And just as obviously you didnít trust me." He laughed harshly. "I suppose I was right about the two of us not being friends. Good night, Merlin."
A harsh, almost animal sound of pain escaped Merlin. "Arthur, please," he begged. "You have to know thatís not true."
"Do I?" the prince asked coldly, at that sounding just like his father.
Merlin stared at Arthurís rigid back for a long moment before finally nodding and pushing to his feet, moving as slowly and stiffly as a man decades older. "Iím sorry," he whispered before turning to leave Arthurís chamber.
"So am I," Arthur whispered to himself as the door closed.
When Merlin arrived back at the rooms he shared with Gaius, the elderly man looked up with a smile at his entrance. "Is Arthur finally settledóMerlin? Whatís wrong, my boy?" he asked, stepping around the table and hurrying to Merlinís side.
Regarding him miserably, Merlin whispered, "He knows. Arthur knows, and he hasnít told his father, but he doesnít trust me. I have to go, Gaius. I have to leave." He bit back a sob.
"What?!" Gaius exclaimed, his eyes widening. "Did you tell him?"
"He told me."
"Told you what?" Gaius asked, looking utterly confused.
"That heís known about my magic for months if not years. That I must think him deaf, blind and an idiot. That I obviously donít trust him. That we are not friends. And then he refused to speak me or even look at me. I have to leave, Gaius. Heís made that clear."
"Merlin, take a breath and calm down." Gaius gently urged Merlin toward a bench and sat down beside him. "Did he tell you to leave?"
"Yes!" Merlin ran into his room and began thrusting his belongings into a pack.
"He told you to leave?" Gaius asked, shock coloring his tone.
"Yes. He doesnít trust me, canít bear the sight of me, and I donít think he would tell the king, but I canít stay here now, not like this. I have to go, Gaius, Iím sorry."
The older man sat heavily on Merlinís bed, his features creased in sorrow. "Merlin, I want nothing more than for you to stay..."
"And I wish I couldóthis is my home nowóbut I canít. Gods, Gaius, I thought I would never leave Camelot," Merlin said helplessly, sinking down to sit on the edge of his bed next to Gaius and stare at his mentor.
"Where are you going to go?"
"I donít know," Merlin admitted. "Iíll go see my mother first and let her know, but I canít stay in Ealdor anymore."
"I wish you would reconsider." Gaius said quietly. "Arthur has his fatherís temper but also his motherís compassion; he will change his mind."
"I hurt him," Merlin said sadly. "I donít think he can forgive that. Itís why I never told him, even when I knew he would never tell his father. I was afraid of just this. And now itís happened. So much for destiny," he added bitterly.
"No one can change your mind once you have made it up," Gaius sighed. "I have wished many times it was otherwise but never more than now."
Merlin hugged the physician. "I will miss you, Gaius. You have been the father I never had."
"As you have been and will remain my son," Gaius whispered, his voice turning watery. "If you are able, send me word that you are well."
"I shall," Merlin promised hoarsely, his arms tightening before he let go, stood up and dashed a hand across his eyes. "Thank you... for everything." Unable to bear any more, he shouldered his pack and made his way out into the night, the pain growing with each step away from Camelotóand Arthur.
Hearing the muted sound as a tray was set on his table, Arthur rolled over and spoke without opening his eyes. "Merlin, about last night..."
"Iím Davey, Sire. Iíve been assigned to serve you now."
Arthur stared at the young redhead, his brow furrowed. "Whereís Merlin?" he demanded.
"I donít know, Sire," the hapless servant said in a near whisper. "I was just told he was gone and you required a new servant."
"Gone?" Arthur snapped, throwing back the sheets and flinging himself from the bed and looking around. "My clothes, where are myó" Ignoring Daveyís cowering stance, he pushed past the young man and grabbed for the things heíd worn the day before, yanking them on.
"You. Go tell them to ready my horse." Davey stood there, frozen, and Arthur looked up at him, his complexion ruddy. "Go!"
Davey cringed and scurried for the door, bolting out of the room and away from the furious prince, who stormed out of his rooms moments after him, practically running through the halls until he reached Gaiusí rooms and slammed through the door. "Gaius! Where is he?" he demanded of the older man.
"Good morning, Sire," Gaius responded dryly. "Iím well, thank you for asking." Seeing Arthurís ire, however, he finally answered, "I assume you mean Merlin. He was insistent that you had told him to leave, so that is what heís done."
Arthur stopped and stared at the elderly man, and his hand twitched at his side. "I did not tell him to leave," he said slowly, enunciating each word perfectly.
"I didnít really think so," Gaius admitted, "but Iím sure youíre aware of the futility of trying to change Merlinís mind once heís got an idea in his head. He left Camelot immediately after leaving you last night."
"Where was he going?" Arthur asked before pausing. "Ealdor, right?"
Gaius regarded him steadily for long moments before nodding. "Yes, but only to speak to his mother. He doesnít intend to stay there, but he doesnít know where heíll go."
"Then I will have to find him before he gets there, wonít I?"
"That would be best, Sire," Gaius agreed. "I would be happy to carry a message to your father."
"Thank you." Arthur turned to leave, then looked back. "And Gaius, so youíre aware, his knowing magic doesnít matter to me. Heís Merlin; thatís all that matters." Saying that, he turned and was gone.
Gaius smiled faintly. "I never doubted it for an instant."
Merlin was lost. Not just in the sense of having lost the path, but utterly, completely lost with no idea what direction lay ahead of him, where Camelot or Ealdor lay in relation to himself, or even where the sun might be.
"I hate forests," he grumbled, glaring over his horseís head.
"Then why are you going in circles in one of them?" Arthur asked, steering his horse out of the brush and blocking Merlinís path. The prince looked disheveled and upset and not in the mood to be argued with.
"Arthur!" Merlin actually flinched away from the irate blond.
"Why did you leave Camelot?" Arthur demanded, swinging down off his horse and striding toward Merlin to catch his mountís bridle in his hand.
Merlin looked anywhere but at the man standing at his knee. "You wanted me gone."
"When did I say that?"
"Over and over last night. You obviously had no further desire for my presence."
"Not at that moment, but I never told you to leave," Arthur growled.
"It certainly seemed that way to me!" Merlin finally looked at Arthur, only to glare at him.
Arthur stepped back at that, releasing Merlinís horse as he did. "You really believe that of me," he said quietly, a look of sorrow momentarily darkening his eyes. "That I would do that to myóto you."
Merlin looked away again. "I betrayed your trust," he whispered brokenly. "I donít know how to fix that."
"Neither do I," Arthur admitted, "but I would prefer not to lose a f-friend without trying at least to breech the distance between us."
Merlin slumped in his saddle. "You said I wasnít your friend," he whispered brokenly.
"I said what I thought."
With a violent flinch, Merlin tugged his horseís reins free. "Then there was no reason for me to remain in Camelot."
"What I thought given what you didóor didnít do," Arthur repeated. "And what you apparently thought my reaction would be."
"I think last night proved my fears of your reaction."
"That reaction was not to you having magic; it was to your hiding the fact from me," Arthur sighed, running a hand through his hair.
"It comes to the same thing in the end, doesnít it? You donít trust me," Merlin said unhappily, and Arthur looked at him pointedly.
"I do trust you," Merlin protested. "I admit it took me a little while, maybe a couple of months, but by then I knew you wouldnít let me be killed. But how could I ask you to lie to your father? You try so hard to be the perfect son he wants."
"Was what Morgause showed me the truth?" Arthur asked suddenly.
Merlin sighed. "Partially. You were born of sorcery, but your father did not know your mother would die. I donít know for sure, but I donít think Nimueh ever told him the price. And your motherís death is what turned him on this mad crusade against sorcerers."
"You knew that as well. How?"
"I asked Gaius. Since we already knew most of it, he told me the rest."
Arthur sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Are you going to sit up there all day or come down so that we can talk without my neck aching?" he finally asked.
Merlin hesitated for a long moment before finally swinging down from the horse, tying it to a nearby tree.
"You didnít seem to want to talk to me last night."
"I didnít," Arthur admitted after a moment. "But that didnít mean I never wanted to speak to you again."
"It didnít feel that way to me," Merlin said, moving restlessly around the small clearing.
"Then you have my apology for that."
Merlin sighed and turned to face Arthur from across the open space. "So now what, Arthur?"
"Now you come back to Camelot," the prince said simply.
"And do what? Continue as your servant, while your father would want me dead if he knew what I am?"
"Then we make sure that he doesnít learn of that fact," Arthur said firmly.
"And what about... us?"
"They had some boy named Davey wake me today; I believe I terrified him," Arthur admitted.
Despite himself, Merlin chuckled briefly. "Heís a nice enough fellow, but I donít think heís prepared to deal with the Pendragon temper." He eyed Arthur. "So we just go on as if nothing has changed?"
"No, ignoring it isnít going to make it go away." Arthur walked over to his horse and led it to Merlinís, tying it there as well, then went to sit on a nearby log. "I donít... I trust you, Merlin."
"Then why can you barely stand to look at me?"
"What do you mean; Iím looking at you," Arthur protested.
Merlin sighed and moved to sit down next to him, staring down at the ground. "It feels different."
"I notice you canít look at me as well."
That did make Merlin look up but only briefly. "Iím afraid of what Iíll see."
"Merlin," Arthur sighed before scooting closer to the other youth, "what am I going to do with you?"
Merlinís eyes darted up to meet Arthurís, suddenly dark. "What do you want to do with me?"
The prince swallowed suddenly and leaned closer at the same time he lifted a hand to cup the back of Merlinís neck, pulling the startled man in for a kiss.
"Oh." Merlin blinked dazedly and licked his lips. "I, er, yeah, thatís... good."
Arthur nodded, his gaze dropping to Merlinís mouth before rising to his eyes again. "Yes," he said simply.
"I... Iíve wanted this, but I couldnít, not when you didnít know, or at least I didnít know that you knew." Merlin shook his head, momentarily tangled in his own words. "But... Gwen?"
Arthur sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, his palm rasping against his stubble as he laughed harshly. "Another thing that is beyond me."
Merlin stared at him now. "So youíre settling for me?"
"I would have been settling for Gwen."
"Oh? Oh!" Merlinís eyes widened, and he flushed slightly, but he didnít look away. "Then in the interest of no more secrets, I should tell you that Balinor was my father."
"Thank you for telling me," Arthur murmured though it didnít seem that that the words were a surprise to him.
"So, er, Iím a dragonlord as well as being a sorcerer," Merlin added in case it wasnít clear to Arthur.
"Yes, I gathered that fact," Arthur nodded. "I seem to recall you shouting at the dragonóis that why it finally left?"
Merlin nodded, looked somewhat shamefaced. "I had to stop it; I was the one who freed it, but I really didnít have a choice."
"You... freed it?" This apparently, was something that Arthur hadnít known, and the princeís face turned ashen.
Flinching, Merlin nodded again, finally looking away. "I didnít want to; I was afraid of what Iíd seen in the druidsí crystal, but I had sworn to free it. I managed to delay after it told me how to save you, but then I had to swear on my motherís life to get its help when Morgause and the Knights of Medhir were attacking Camelot. I had to fulfill my promise, Arthur."
Arthur sighed and sat up, scrubbing at his face again. "You gave your word; I can understand that."
"I tried to avoid it, but I couldnít think of any other way to save Camelot, your father... you."
"I wish..." Arthur sighed before straightening. "No point in wishing for things that didnít happen, we have to deal with what has."
But Merlin was curious. "You wish what?"
"That you had told me, together we might have been able to find a solution."
"I wish I had too, but in this particular case, it wouldnít have helped. Iíd never have found the answer without the dragon." Merlin flinched from the memory.
"That Morgause could only maintain the spell by using a focus, which had to be in Camelot. And her focus was Morgana." Merlin shuddered. "I poisoned her, Arthur, and she knew it before she lost consciousness. And Morgause knows it too." He sucked in a shaky breath. "I poisoned my friend."
"Howó" Arthur began before breaking off as he noted Merlinís misery, and his hand dropped to Merlinís shoulder. "Your actions saved Camelot," he said quietly.
"But it cost us Morgana. She was Utherís enemy before, but now, I think she may hate all of us but you, Arthur."
Arthur remained quiet, at a loss as to how to answer this statement, then, feeling the tension coursing through the younger man, slowly pulled him into a hug. Merlin stiffened even more at first, but then all the tension flowed out of him with a single sobbing breath, and he scrambled further into Arthurís offered embrace, ending up in the princeís lap with his face tucked into the curve of Arthurís neck, clinging to him.
Arthur froze for a split-second, clearly unused to such things, then his arms tightened around Merlin, and he stroked his back, feeling the ridges of Merlinís ribs and spine beneath his palm. When it became obvious Arthur wasnít going to push him away, Merlin sighed shakily and loosened his hold slightly, though he didnít move in any other way, clearly quite content to remain where he was.
Arthur continued to rub his back, relaxing himself when he felt the tension slowly bleed from Merlinís body, not sure how to break the silence.
"Iím sorry," Merlin whispered what seemed a long time later, though it could have been minutes or hours; he had no way of knowing.
"I know," Arthur said quietly. "As am I."
"Can we get past it?" Merlin asked, raising his head to meet Arthurís eyes, the prince watching him for long minutes before answering.
"I believe we can; I know that I want to."
"I do too. And I can promise that I wonít lie to you again."
Arthur breathed a sigh that seemed to come from the very depths of his soul and leaned his head against Merlinís shoulder. "Thank you," he whispered.
"Thank you," Merlin murmured in response, incredibly grateful that Arthur was willing to get past this. As his tension ebbed, his position on Arthurís lap began to have other effects on him, and he squirmed slightly.
The prince swallowed thickly and moved his hands to Merlinís hips to make him sit still. Merlin gazed at him, a question in his eyes, and then slowly leaned in, giving Arthur every chance to protest. Arthur gave a low groan and lunged forward, capturing Merlinís mouth in an almost desperate kiss that Merlin returned with equal fervor. He twisted in Arthurís lap until they were face to face, Merlinís long legs pulled up and curled around Arthurís waist.
"No more secrets?" Arthur whispered, raising a hand to caress Merlinís face.
"No more secrets," Merlin promised, leaning into Arthurís touch.
"Good," Arthur sighed.
"I would never do anything to hurt you, and Iíd do anything to protect you," Merlin vowed, pressing closer.
"I know," Arthur whispered, splaying his hands over the small of Merlinís back before leaning in for another kiss, this one deeper and more lingering. Merlin yielded to him immediately, his fingers sliding up into Arthurís hair and tangling in it as he held Arthur as if to prevent him getting away.
"We should start back," Arthur finally breathed. "Itís getting late."
Merlin moaned softly in protest, clearly not wanting to move, and a shiver ran through the prince at the sound. "Merlin..."
Merlin shivered and raised heavy-lidded eyes to meet Arthurís.
"The things I want to do, I donít even understand half of them myself," the prince whispered, making an even stronger tremor wrack Merlinís frame.
"Anything," he promised.
"Merlin... promise youíll never leave me," Arthur rasped, breathing the words into Merlinís ear. "No matter what I do or say."
"As long as I live, Iíll be by your side, Arthur. I swear."
"You had better be; I donít want to have to chase you down again."
Merlin chuckled shakily. "Is it really bad that Iím glad you would?"
"No." Arthur kissed him again. "It isnít."
"And we donít really have to go back yet, do we?" Merlin squirmed against Arthur again.
"You want to sit on a log all night?"
Merlin couldnít help it; he burst into laughter. "You have a high opinion of yourself."
"That I can balance on a log all night?"
"That what Iíll be sitting on is a log."
Arthurís eyes widened as he stared at Merlin, who gazed back hopefully.
"Here?" Arthur asked.
"Why not?" Merlin responded, though he did look around, his expression less than thrilled. "Do you really want to take the chance of something attacking us or the kingdom if we wait?"
"At least weíd be more prepared than if it attacked us while we were in the midst of something out here," Arthur protested.
Merlin looked away, chewing his lower lip nervously, and Arthurís brows drew together.
"What is it?"
"If we wait, if you have time to think about... this," Merlin gestured helplessly, "you might change your mind," he finished in a near soundless whisper, unable to meet Arthurís eyes.
"Regarding what?" Arthur asked. "You? What we might become together?"
Merlin nodded miserably, still staring intently at a patch of moss, and Arthur sighed as he caught the other youthís chin, applying just enough pressure to make Merlin look at him again. "Merlin, have you ever called me a prat for not changing my mind about something?"
That drew a brief chuckle from Merlin. "Yes, but the circumstances are a bit out of the ordinary, yeah?"
"Should I list the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances weíve been involved in? This whole situation started because of trust, so Iíll ask again; do you trust me, Merlin?"
"Yes," Merlin replied simply, no other answer being possible for him.
"Then listen to me; this isnít something we want to do out here in the wild. Come back with me to the castleóand donít leave my rooms tonight."
"Oh." Merlin gave Arthur a singularly sweet smile before kissing him.
"So," Arthur murmured once their lips parted, "shall we collect our horses and get back? Iím sure Gaius is worried about you as well, and Davey will be relieved to know he doesnít have to wake me tomorrow."
The shame-faced expression Merlin had at the mention of Gaius morphed into a narrow-eyed glare as Arthur continued speaking. "Davey will stick to his own duties if he knows whatís good for him!"
Arthur burst into laughter at that, and he pulled Merlin into a tight hug. "Trust me, Iíd really rather not have Davey performing any duties for meóand Iím sure he thinks the same."
Merlin grumbled wordlessly, clearly unconvinced. "Iíll straighten him out," he muttered. "No one goes into your rooms but me."
"No one?" Arthur asked, sounding somewhat amused.
"Well, I suppose your father and Gaius are all right," Merlin said after a moment, and Arthur bit back a snort.
Merlin nodded emphatically. "No one else needs to be in there."
"All right," Arthur said simply, making Merlin smile and kiss him.
"Good. So letís go back." He clambered off Arthurís lap and offered the prince a hand to rise, Arthur clasping it and standing.
"First this," he murmured, slipping an arm around Merlinís waist and kissing him again, his tongue easing into Merlinís mouth to stroke against his.
Merlin gave him a dazed smile when Arthur finally raised his head. "You can do that again any time you want."
"When I want to is going to be the moment we get to my rooms."
His smile widening, Merlin demanded, "Then what are we waiting for?"
"Get on your horse, and letís get out of here," Arthur ordered with a laugh as he untied his mount and swung into the saddle, waiting for Merlin to climb aboard his horse and join him.
They were soon back at Camelot, and Merlin looked at Arthur sheepishly. "Come with me to let Gaius know Iím back. And yes, I was an idiot," he added at the expression on Arthurís face.
"I have to accept my share of blame for the misunderstanding," Arthur admitted.
Merlin opened his mouth, then stopped with an arrested expression on his face and started laughing. "Dear gods, we were about to start arguing over who was most responsible for us arguing."
Arthur gave a strangled laugh at that before shaking his head. "Yes, we were, so perhaps to Gaius and to where we donít have to talk?"
A slow, sensual smile curved Merlinís lips. "Sometimes, sire, you have the best ideas."
"Sometimes?" Arthur asked as they approached the door to Gaiusí rooms.
"On very rare occasions."
"Go talk to Gaius, Merlin," Arthur sighed.
"What do you mean, Ďgoí?!" Merlin nearly yelped. "You said you were coming with me!"
"I am; I meant both of us!"
Merlin looked like he wanted to grab hold of Arthur to make sure of that, but instead he took a deep breath and pushed the door open so they could step inside. "Gaius?"
"Merlin?" Gaius turned, and his haggard face lit up as he beamed. "Merlin! Youíve come back!" His gaze flicked to Arthur, who was standing behind Merlin, and his smile changed, becoming more knowing.
Flushing slightly, Merlin nodded, returning the embrace Gaius offered. "I might have misinterpreted Arthurís reaction a bit."
"Am I to assume that the pair of you have worked things out, then?" the physician asked, and Arthur nodded.
"I believe that we have come to an understanding that doesnít involve Merlin fleeing Camelot."
Merlin shuffled his feet uncomfortably and darted looks at both of them.
"I had a feeling that might be the case," Gaius said blandly.
"And itís also the case that his... situation is not an issue to me," Arthur continued.
Gaius smirked, making Merlin flush again and look away. "Iím shocked," the physician said dryly.
"And Merlin will be staying in my rooms tonight."
Merlin made a strangled noise, and his feet actually sank slightly into the floor when Gaius looked at him. "And is that what you want to do, Merlin?" he asked calmly.
Merlin grew even redder, but he raised his head to meet Gaiusí eyes and nodded. "Yes, it is." He reached for Arthurís hand, hoping that the prince wouldnít pull away.
"Itís not as if I was dragging him there," Arthur snapped, though his grip on Merlinís hand remained gentle.
"That would be somewhat difficult, considering what we all know about Merlin," Gaius agreed.
"I am right here!" Merlin protested.
"Which Iím very pleased about," Gaius said, smiling gently.
Merlin groaned and tugged Arthur toward the door, the prince needing very little urging as his face was just as red as Merlinís.
"That was the most embarrassing moment of my life," Merlin groaned as soon as they had made their escape.
Arthur nodded before giving a weak chuckle. "Though he did seem to give us his blessing."
"I suppose thatís better than the alternative," Merlin sighed. "But right now Iíd like to get to your room and lock the door behind us before something else happens."
"And knowing us, it will," Arthur nodded as the pair hurried through the halls, dodging servants and guards until they were safely locked in Arthurís chambers.
Once inside, Merlin seemed to grow nervous again, darting glances at Arthur while moving restlessly around the familiar room.
"Merlin." Arthur caught him by the arm and pulled him to a halt. "Whatís wrong?"
"I just canít quite believe this is real, that Iím not going to wake up."
"Shall I pinch you to prove it?" Arthur asked as he rubbed his thumb over the inside of Merlinís arm.
"Maybe you should kiss me instead," Merlin said, his eyes focused on Arthurís hand on him.
"And that would prove this isnít a dream?" Arthur asked, tugging Merlin toward him until their bodies were pressed together and their breath ghosted over each otherís lips.
"Well, if it is a dream, I donít want to wake up," Merlin said softly in the instant before their mouths touched, Arthurís coaxing his open so that their tongues could slide together in a slow, sensual dance.
"Not a dream," Arthur promised, and Merlin moaned, his hands gliding over Arthurís back and ass in a slow exploration.
"Much better than a dream," he whispered against Arthurís lips, gazing at Arthur with dazed blue eyes in which a hint of gold swirled in the depths.
Arthur nodded and swept his hands up under Merlinís shirt, his callused palms splaying over the pale skin, tracing the ridges of his ribs and over the bumps of his spine as he tilted his head, nipping his way across Merlinís jaw and back to latch onto his earlobe, making Merlin gasp and press closer. His hands tugged at Arthurís garments, forcing them to lean apart long enough for Merlin to draw Arthurís shirt over his head, and then he was touching Arthurís bare skin, feeling the strength and heat of him beneath his splayed fingers.
A groan wrenched from Arthurís throat, and he yanked at Merlinís shirt, ripping the worn fabric as he pulled it from the younger manís body and began working on the ties of his trousers as he walked them back toward his bed. A single push splayed Merlin out on the spread, and Arthurís tongue licked over his lower lip at the mouth-watering sight of pale skin against the dark fabric.
Merlin stared up at Arthur, his eyes gone heavy-lidded and the pupils so blown from lust that they looked black rather than blue. An instant later, a tiny rim of gold surrounded the dark centers, and Arthurís remaining garments unfastened themselves and dropped to the floor, leaving him hobbled by their tangle around his boots. "Get that off before you trip," Merlin warned him in a voice gone so throaty as to be nearly unrecognizable as his, and he reached for his own erection as his eyes ran over Arthur in an almost physical caress.
The prince growled in response, kicking off his boots and his tangled clothes before crawling up on the bed, his hand covering Merlinís and stilling its movements. "Mine," he rasped, the single word holding a world of no-longer repressed desire before he dipped his head to bite at the taut skin of Merlinís stomach.
"Always," Merlin replied, the word trailing off into a soft whine of arousal. "Arthur!" He arched under the blondís weight, his legs shifting restlessly and spreading to allow Arthur to settle between them, a groan of pleasure escaping his lips as he did so.
"Yes..." Arthur whispered, capturing Merlinís mouth in a claiming kiss as they writhed against each other.
Merlin wrapped himself around Arthur, arms and legs pulling his prince even closer. "Never leaving you again," he promised before kissing Arthur again.
"You had better not," Arthur panted against Merlinís mouth, his hands stroking over Merlinís sides, one slipping down to cup his ass.
"Yes," Merlin whispered, rocking up against Arthur. "Yes!"
Arthur caught his mouth again and rocked down against him, their cocks slotting together and rubbing against each other.
"Feels even better than I imagined," Merlin gasped into the kiss, shuddering against Arthur before the prince began to slide down his body, nipping at Merlinís pale skin, leaving reddened marks on every bit of flesh he touched. When he got to the hollow of Merlinís right hip, he sucked at the skin, holding the other youth in place as he raised a dark passion mark on the thin skin there.
"Lady bless, Iím not going to last long if you keep that up!" Merlin groaned, his cock jerking against his belly as Arthur placed a mark of possession on him.
"So let yourself go," Arthur rasped, looking up the length of Merlinís body then shifting sides to mark his other hip.
"Want you to enjoy it too," Merlin protested around moans of pleasure.
"I am," Arthur assured him, twisting his neck to lick a stripe up Merlinís shaft, making Merlin shiver and cry out, his hands fisting in the sheets at his sides. "Very much so," the prince murmured darkly before closing his mouth over the head of Merlinís cock.
"Arthur!" Merlin arched up under him, shuddering, and then he came, pleasure exploding through him as Arthur swallowed down his seed, his mouth working around Merlinís shaft and his tongue running over the spasming flesh.
"Sorry," Merlin mumbled, turning his head to the side although the high color staining his cheeks was clearly visible.
Arthur slowly pulled back, his tongue dragging over Merlinís cock as it slid from his mouth. "Sorry?" he asked, frowning slightly. "For what?"
"For being too quick," Merlin said, his flush deepening.
Arthur prowled up the long, lean length of his body and nipped at his lower lip. "You think I mind that I sent you over that quickly?"
Merlin finally looked at him. "You donít?"
"I think itís perfect." Arthur licked at the reddened spot. "And youíre going to come again, this time when Iím in you."
Merlinís eyes widened, and he swallowed hard. "I think I may need magic to keep up with you!"
"Youíre young; you wonít need magic," Arthur promised, dipping his body inward to rub against Merlinís sensitized skin, making him squirm and whimper.
"You can explain to Gaius why Iím too tired to help him."
"You saw his look; heíll know exactly the reason."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Merlin squawked.
"Would you rather I stop?" Arthur asked wryly.
"No! But no more talk about Gaius in bed."
Arthur chuckled and angled his head to nibble on Merlinís earlobe. "Iíll make you forget all about him," he promised.
"Oh gods help me, youíre going to be even more smug now, arenít you?" Merlin pretended to groan.
"Iíll make you not care about that either," Arthur chuckled darkly before closing his mouth on the juncture of Merlinís neck and shoulder, worrying at the skin there. Merlin gasped, impossibly starting to harden again at the touch of Arthurís teeth.
"I told you that I had had dreams," he growled, his hands moving restlessly over Merlinís body again.
"Of me?" Merlin asked, sounding startled.
"Of you, about you, about what I wanted to do to you."
"Yes to whatever you want to do, anything you want to do, everything you want to do." Merlin relaxed under him, yielding completely to Arthur.
"Yes." Arthurís teeth closed on Merlinís shoulder, digging into the thin skin before he reached out, grabbing a small container of oil from the bedside table, releasing his hold on Merlinís shoulder as he rocked back to his knees and poured a pool of the oil onto the hollow of Merlinís stomach.
Shivering as the cool liquid hit his overheated skin, Merlin looked up at Arthur. "Iíve always been yours."
"And you wonít leave me again." Arthur dragged his hands through the oil, leaving shiny streaks on Merlinís body as he laid claim to every inch of it.
"Never," Merlin promised. "You couldnít drive me away now." He writhed slowly against the crisp sheets, enjoying Arthurís hands on him, sliding downward to spread his legs wider, Arthurís thumbs brushing against his balls to drag down over the tight pucker of Merlinís ass.
"Yes, please, want you," Merlin panted, curling his legs around Arthurís hips.
Arthurís lips curved into tight smile as he pressed the tips of both thumbs against Merlinís hole, increasing the pressure until they slipped inside, his whole attention on Merlinís expression, which was taut with pleasure, eyes half-closed as he concentrated on the feelings Arthur was engendering in him.
Easing back on one thumb, Arthur pressed the other further into Merlinís body, groaning at the tight drag around his digit.
"Yes," Merlin hissed, "more." He clenched down, groaning with delight at the increased sensation of fullness.
A growl escaped Arthurís lips, and he twisted his hand, managing to pull back his thumb and replace it with two fingers, at the same time drawing his other hand up Merlinís twitching shaft.
"If you break me," Merlin panted laughingly, "Davey will be back as your manservant." His grip on Arthurís shoulders proved that regardless of his words, he was enjoying every second.
"Davey can go sod himself," Arthur rasped as he crooked his fingers, diving in to swallow Merlinís gasp with a kiss.
"And you can fuck me," Merlin suggested once Arthur let him speak again.
Arthur pulled back, his teeth dragging against Merlinís lower lip, and let his hand move from Merlinís now erect cock to his own, stroking oil over his length even as he pulled his hand back from between Merlinís legs. "Damn right I can," he whispered as he set himself at Merlinís entrance and pushed forward, not stopping until he was fully sheathed in the younger manís body.
Merlin cried out wordlessly, arching up as much as Arthurís weight over him would allow. His entire body spasmed as he struggled to adjust to Arthurís presence within him, and his face twisted with pained pleasure.
"So damned tight," Arthur groaned as he began to pull back, Merlinís body dragging at him every inch of the way. He was on the brink of slipping out when he drove back inward, setting a fast, hard rhythm that he silently dared Merlin to match or follow.
Gasping, Merlin could only take it at first, but he grew accustomed to the feel of Arthur in and against him, and slowly, he began to move in response, at first jerkily, and then finding and matching Arthurís rhythm, Arthur offering panted out words of praise and encouragement as he gripped Merlinís hips, his fingers tightening, pressing inward with enough force to raise bruises on the pale skin. Far from objecting, Merlin groaned with obvious enjoyment and grasped Arthurís shoulders with equal strength, leaving his own mark on the prince.
"Merlinóyesó" Arthur panted, each word accompanying a snap of his hips that drove their bodies together. Merlin rose to meet each thrust, increasing the force with which they came together, his back arching and his head falling back, baring his throat to Arthur as their pleasure mounted. The prince gave a strangled cry and darted his head inward, biting and sucking at the exposed stretch of flesh of Merlinís neck, drinking in the pleasured cries and rocking his hips, angling each thrust to rub against the small bump within Merlinís body.
Merlin let out a startled wail and clenched down on Arthur as he came, his body shuddering as his seed coated their bellies. Arthurís answering cry was muffled against the flesh that filled his mouth as he drove forward, burying himself as deeply as possible as he came as well.
Spasms continued to wrack Merlin as he sprawled beneath Arthurís weight, panting as he tried to catch his breath while his pulse gradually slowed.
"Do you need me to move?" Arthur asked, mumbling the words against the warm flesh of Merlinís throat.
"No!" Merlin shifted one arm to sling it around Arthurís waist to hold him close.
"Good, because I didnít really want to." Arthur eased his grip on Merlinís hips, stroking his way up the younger manís body as they settled together.
Merlin smiled and moved his hand slightly in a small caress. "It is your bed," he pointed out.
"I meant the way we are."
Merlin gave him his usual grin. "I know, and I like the way we are."
"Later Iím going to show you a different way to keep you from talking," Arthur promised though he was chuckling as he spoke.
Merlin regarded him for a long moment before he chuckled as well. "That sounds interesting."
"It will be."
"Oh good. Iíve liked your ideas so far." Merlin unconsciously raised a hand to touch one of the marks Arthur had left on his neck as Arthur pulled back enough to study the reddened flesh, his expression changing to one of supreme satisfaction at the sight.
"I have many of them."
"I noticed," Merlin admitted with a lazy smile.
"Was that a compliment?"
"It may have been."
"I may fall over onto the floor," Arthur chuckled.
"If you do, Iíll retrieve you," Merlin assured him.
"Why does that put me in mind of a dog picking up her pups by the scruff of the neck?"
Merlin snickered. "Would you prefer that I pick you up by some other body part?"
"And if you break it, what happens then?"
"Magic, remember? Iím not going to break you."
"Nevertheless, Iím pretty sure that was never designed as a handle!"
Merlin burst into laughter, and it was a little while before he could speak again. "I meant that I would use magic to pick you up and bring you back to the bed. Youíre the one who started talking about body parts as handles."
"If thereís one thing Iíve learned in dealing with you, Merlin, you have to be very clear in what you mean," Arthur shrugged.
"Now that I finally have you, do you really think Iím going to do anything to lose you?"
"Not the one who left, am I?" Arthur pointed out before nipping Merlinís chin.
"We are not having that conversation again," Merlin informed him. "It was a misunderstanding never to be repeated, and this is much better. I like your bed."
"Which explains why Iíve found you asleep in it before."
Merlin grinned at him. "Yours is big, comfortable, and warm. Mine is narrow, hard, and cold. Which would you sleep in if you had a choice?"
"Mine," Arthur chuckled before sighing as he felt himself slip from Merlinís body, then rolled them both over so that Merlin was pillowed on his chest.
"Exactly. And itís even better when it has you in it."
"So glad you think so," Arthur laughed, reaching up to rub his thumb over the darkening patch on Merlinís throat, giving a satisfied rumble as he did so.
Merlin raised his head to give Arthur a wry look. "Iím never going to be completely unmarked again, am I?"
Arthur lifted his chin, his gaze holding a touch of defiance. "No, you arenít."
"Thatís... sort of hot."
"Itís a good thing that you think so."
"Since youíd be doing it regardless?" Merlin laughed. "Youíre still a prat, Arthur."
Arthurís expression turned serious, and he rubbed his thumb over the bruise on Merlinís neck. "If you hated it, I wouldnít do it," he said quietly.
"Then itís fortunate for both of us that I donít." Merlin laid his head on Arthurís shoulder and pressed a kiss to the firm muscle. "I like it."
"Good. Good," Arthur murmured, sliding his arms down and around Merlinís body and lifting his head to kiss his dark, tousled hair. "Get some rest; Iím sure you need it."
"You can wake me up for a change," Merlin murmured, already half asleep after the events, both good and bad, of the last day.
"Unless your stomach wakes us both up," Arthur murmured, stroking Merlinís back and feeling the younger man relax against him.
"Prat," Merlin mumbled, relaxing completely against Arthur as his eyes closed, the princeís mouth curving into a soft smile.
"Idiot," he murmured before letting himself drift off as well.
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