Give and Take

Orithain and Rina

October 2009

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

Merlin thought his heart had stopped when Arthur sank beneath the water and again when he couldnít find the prince for what felt like an eternity, but he had caught hold of Arthur and managed to draw him to the shore. The sound of Arthur coughing had been music to his ears, and he had simply sat there, the wet head a welcome weight in his lap, for a time before he got them both on a horse and back to Camelot.

Gaiusí examination had relieved the last of Merlinís fears, and now he simply sat at Arthurís bedside, waiting for him to awaken.

A low groan sounded from the bed before Arthur thrashed, then sat up, looking around in bewilderment. "What? Merlin, what are you doing here?" the heir asked, looking almost hung over.

"Donít you remember?" Merlin asked, unconsciously leaning closer. "Lady Sophia?" he nearly spat the name.

"What about her?" Arthur asked, looking utterly confused. "What happened?"

"What happened?" Merlin nearly squawked. "You eloped with her! And she tried to sell your soul to the Sidhe!"

"I what?" Arthur demanded, sitting up fully in the bed, the sheet falling away, leaving his upper legs bare. "And where is she so I can wring her neck?" the last was growled in a much lower register.

Merlinís eyes shot up to Arthurís face, torn from his fixed stare at the newly bared skin, and then he suddenly found the blanket fascinating. "She didnít survive the failure to deliver on her deal with Sidhe."

Arthur frowned at the information, his blue eyes narrowing. "And just how do you know this?" he asked.

Merlin shrugged slightly. "I, er, followed you. I told you something was wrong with her. I saw it all." He shuddered. "You nearly drowned."

"I nearly drowned," Arthur said slowly, as if weighing each word.

"Yes. You were already in the water, in your armor, before she died." Merlin shut his eyes briefly as if to close out the memory. "I thought..." He broke off, unable to say it.

"And you saved me." It wasnít a question but a statement.

"It seemed like the thing to do."

Arthurís eyebrows rose, and he suddenly broke into laughter. "Thank you for deciding that."

"Yes, well, for a prat, Iíve rather grown used to having you around, and you are the only prince Camelot has."

At the mention of the words Ďprinceí Arthur paled, his eyes widening. "I told my fatheróbollocks!" He leapt from the bed, throwing off his nightshirt and pulling on his clothes.

"Gaius has informed him that youíre back and still unwed," Merlin told him.

"Iím well now," Arthur said, tucking his shirt into his pants and dropping to the bed, looking around frantically for his boots.

"Iím sure Gaius has conveyed that fact as well." Merlin watched him with bemusement. "Arthur, why are you running about like a mad thing?"

"Because I defied my father! I eloped and I canít for the life of me explain why!"

"Sorcery," Merlin replied bluntly. "And even if it wasnít the truth, you know your father would happily blame every ill on sorcery regardless."

"And then heíll go on another rant," Arthur sighed.

"Oh right. Well, maybe the truth is overrated," Merlin mused. "Iím sure we could come up with some other explanation."

Arthur looked over at him, his eyebrows raised, plainly waiting, and Merlin sighed.

"Why do I always end up in the stocks for things you do?" He shook his head. "You didnít really elope; you were trying to find out what they were really doing, and I was supposed to bring a message from you to your father, but I forgot."

Arthur broke into a wide grin at that. "Perfect! Merlin, youíre brilliant, and it wonít end with you in the stocks, Iím sure."

"Come on, they stopped throwing things when I showed up," Arthur said, leading a vegetable draped Merlin into the castle.

"Iím going to be single-handedly responsible for a famine," Merlin said with a marked lack of cheer.

"It was all rotten," Arthur assured him, the curl of his lip assuring Merlin of that fact.

"Lovely," Merlin sighed. "At least there werenít any potatoes this time."

"Come on then, letís get you cleaned up." Arthur said firmly, turning away from the corridor that led to the room Merlin shared with Gaius and toward his own rooms.

"My roomís that way," Merlin said, his steps lagging slightly until he had to hurry to catch up to Arthur.

"And?" Arthur asked, closing his hand on Merlinís arm and drawing him along. "Keep up, will you?"

"You realize that if I clean up in your room, youíre going to have bits of rotten vegetables there, right?"

Arthur turned a baleful blue gaze on him at that comment and didnít stop walking, dragging the lighter teen with him.

"Donít complain to me about the smell then," Merlin said, following Arthur without any further protest.

"Weíll toss the bits out the windows."

Merlin eyed him wryly. "You mean I will."

Arthur only smiled mysteriously as he ushered Merlin into his rooms. "Now then, off with the vegetables and into the bath." He nodded toward the steaming tub in the corner.

"Youíre in an odd mood," Merlin muttered, moving toward the basin and ewer on the table against the wall to rinse the worst of the mess off his head.

"I almost died; Iím allowed an odd mood," Arthur pointed out, crossing after him and taking the ewer from his hand, pouring the water over his head.

"If you say so, Sire," Merlin replied. If Arthur wanted to explain himself, he would, and if not, Merlin had no hope of prying information out of him. "Are you planning to help me bathe too?" he asked wryly once theyíd finished rinsing the vegetables from his hair.

"Yes," Arthur said simply, "now strip."

Merlin gaped at him for several seconds, unmoving. Finally, his hands rose to the hem of his shirt to draw it over his head.

"The waterís getting cold," Arthur commented as he watched, leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Iím starting to think I should have Gaius check you again," Merlin muttered as he shucked his remaining garments and then climbed into the bath.

"Use this," Arthur said, tossing a bar of soap into the water, splashing Merlin as it landed, "itís soap in case you wondered."

"Oh, very funny." Merlin glared at him even as he retrieved the soap and began to lather his arms and chest.

"I thought it was," Arthur chuckled, dragging over a stool and sitting down beside the tub after taking off his doublet.

"You would." Merlin made a face at him, then did a double take when he realized Arthur was undressing.

"Meaning?" Arthur asked, rolling up his sleeves and holding a hand out.

"Meaning you think more of your humor than anyone else does, you prat," Merlin retorted. He regarded Arthurís hand blankly. "What?"

"Soap," Arthur demanded, reaching into the water when Merlin didnít move fast enough for his liking. Merlin let out a muffled squawk and jerked back in the water, causing some to splash over the sides.

"Here, itís right here!" He all but shoved it into Arthurís hand.

"Well, now youíve done it," Arthur sighed, setting the soap on the floor and looking down in disgust at his drenched shirt. Yanking it over his head, he reached for the soap, dipping it into the water to wet it and lathering his hands. "Lean forward, no way to get your back like that."

Merlin sputtered wordlessly, his eyes wide, and his hands waved in a gesture that may or may not have been supposed to mean something.

"What? Are you trying to cast a spell on me or something?" Arthur laughed.

Merlinís eyes grew even wider before he shook his head emphatically, and Arthur leaned in, resting a hand on his shoulder and pushing gently. "Good, now lean forward."

With an audible gulp, Merlin finally leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his knees, Arthur then rubbing the soap over his pale skin with a surprisingly gentle touch. Merlin slowly relaxed, turning his head to rest a cheek on his knees while enjoying Arthurís touch.

"Which hurt the mostóbesides the potatoes?" Arthur murmured, his hand moving in slow circles over Merlinís back.

There was a moment of silence, and then Merlin said in a near whisper, "Thinking you were dead."

Behind him, Arthur blinked in surprise. "Iím not, thanks to youóand you deserved more for that than time in the stocks."

A chuckle escaped Merlin. "I think your father enjoys putting me there. Itís a near daily event."

"Because of me for the most part." The soap slipped and Arthurís fingers grazed Merlinís back, making him start and dart a glance over his shoulder.

"I think thatís why nobles have servants," Merlin said in what was supposed to be a wry tone but came out far too breathlessly.

"Really?" Arthurís tone was distracted as his fingers skimmed Merlinís shoulder blade, the soap dropping into the water before he pressed his hand flat against the warm skin beneath it.

"Arthur..." Merlin stopped, unsure what to say after that, then speaking was impossible as Arthurís hand fisted in his hair, tilting his head back so that he could cover Merlinís mouth with his own, swallowing the shocked gasp as his tongue dove inward, scouring Merlinís.

At first Merlin simply hung in Arthurís grasp, too stunned to respond, but heat quickly overwhelmed surprise, and he groaned as his tongue met Arthurís. His hands moved to grip both sides of the tub as he sought to press closer, meeting Arthurís kiss with equal hunger.

Arthurís free hand moved to Merlinís chest, stroking the smooth skin as he prolonged the kiss, not letting the younger teen think. Merlin twisted in the tub, coming up to his knees as he turned to face Arthur and lean into him as the kiss deepened.

"Mmmm, you taste sweet," Arthur growled into the kiss, his hands sweeping over Merlinís back, his hands stroking over the lean frame before dropping down to close over Merlinís ass, making Merlin gasp sharply.

He pulled his head back, breaking the kiss, though he still clung to Arthur, his eyes dazed with both arousal and confusion. "Arthur, what are you doing?"

"Kissing you. Enjoying myself. Any other questions or can we get back to what we were doing?"

"But... but..." Merlin sputtered, still gawking at him. "Youíre the prince. And you like girls!"

"Both the truth," Arthur nodded, trailing a finger down the cleft of Merlinís ass. "But I also like boys."

"Oh. Well, carry on then," Merlin said, gasping and catching his lower lip between his teeth as Arthur teased him.

"Thank you for the permission," Arthur chuckled before kissing Merlin again, his tongue teasing every inch of the younger teenís mouth as he pulled their bodies together, their hips only held apart by the stiff canvas side of the tub.

Merlin moaned softly, his hands finally moving over Arthur. When their lips parted to allow them to gasp in much needed air, he groaned, "In the bath, Arthur? Only you."

"Saves on the mess and since I intend on leaving the person who would be cleaning it up a limp wreck..." Arthur trailed off, his hand sliding between them to close around Merlinís shaft.

"Oh," Merlin said again. His hands clenched on Arthurís waist, the warm, bare flesh only making him want more. "But I donít think weíll both fit in here."

"Then weíll just move to my bedóafter..." Arthurís hand tightened around Merlinís cock, and he began to stroke, feeling Merlinís shudders as he moved.

"Arthur," Merlin moaned, his head falling back as his back arched, pushing him into Arthurís hand while the prince lowered his head into the crook of Merlinís neck, closing his teeth gently on the taut flesh there. The bite made Merlin shudder and his cock jump, and his eyes fell closed as the sensations threatened to overwhelm him.

"Thatís it, Merlin," Arthur breathed against his neck. "Let me feel you."

A strangled, breathless laugh escaped Merlin. "Nothing could stop that now," he panted, his fingers flexing against Arthurís hips. He gasped again as he went rigid, his back arching even more deeply in the instant before he came, spasm after spasm of pleasure tearing through him.

"Mmm, pretty," Arthur purred, having pulled back just enough to watch Merlinís expression, the closed eyes and flushed skin tone driving his own arousal up a notch.

Merlin opened his eyes to glare, though the satiated expression he wore reduced its effect dramatically. "Men arenít pretty," he grumbled.

"You are," Arthur corrected, bringing his hand to his mouth and licking his fingers clean. "And you taste good too."

A soft formless sound of pure lust escaped Merlin at Arthurís actions, and he lurched to his feet, nearly falling over as he tried to climb out of the bath, Arthur catching him before he tipped himself and the bath over.

"Merlin, you are quite something," the prince chuckled, kissing him even as he helped Merlin out of the bath and toward his bed.

"What I am is wrung out and still looking forward to more."

Arthurís smile was full of guile as he dropped back onto the bed, pulling Merlin with him. "Well then, I think Iím somewhat overdressed for that."

"I do believe youíre rightóastonishing." Merlin smirked at Arthur as he twisted free to get back to his feet and grasp one of Arthurís feet. "So letís do something about that."

"Did I just hear you saying that Iím never right?" Arthur asked, his eyebrows rising to be lost beneath his fair bangs.

"Why yes, I think I did," Merlin agreed, freeing Arthur from one boot and reaching for the other, completely unselfconscious in his nudity.

"And just how many menóor womenóhave you been with?"

His hands moving toward the laces of Arthurís trousers, Merlin eyed the prince with amusement. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"With what youíre going to do after my trousers are off."

"Ah. Yes." Merlin flushed, somewhat absurdly under the circumstances, but there it was. "No women, and only one man, before I came to Camelot. It was the first time for both of us, and we werenít very good at it," he admitted, the blue eyes darting up to meet Arthurís.

"Well, Iíve been with more than one man, so weíll see what we can do about your expertise in the matter." As he spoke, he caught Merlinís hand and drew it toward his groin.

"I can be very good at lessons, when I like the subject," Merlin assured him even as his fingers curled around Arthurís shaft and slowly stroked.

"You might have to remind Gaius of that fact," Arthur chuckled, his eyes going half-lidded with pleasure as Merlinís long-fingered hand closed around his length.

"Gah! Please donít mention him at times like this," Merlin begged, his face screwed up in distaste. To banish the image, he concentrated on Arthur, drinking in the sight of him sprawled nearly naked on his bed, his erection jutting out of the open trousers and only partially concealed by Merlinís fist. "Gods," he breathed, "youíre beautiful."

"Iíd be more beautiful with your mouth wrapped around me," the prince suggested, curving a hand around Merlinís neck and urging him downward, an order Merlin was only too happy to obey.

He crawled back onto the bed, settling between Arthurís legs. He paused for only a moment to survey the expanse of fair skin spread out in front of him before yielding to the impatient pull and lowering his head to press a soft kiss to the tip of Arthurís cock. His eyes rose to meet Arthurís as he licked his lips, tasting Arthur upon them, and then they parted again and he licked Arthur, the older teen giving voice to a low groan, his hips rising, urging Merlin on. With that encouragement, Merlin opened his mouth a little more, taking more of the shaft into his mouth, and he suckled strongly as Arthur jerked beneath him, only the hand pressing down on the princeís hip preventing him from choking. His tongue traced teasing patterns along Arthurís length, and Merlin hummed with pleasure when he tasted more of Arthur, enjoying the musky flavor of him.

"Very good, Iím impressed," Arthur murmured, his head falling back to the sheets as Merlin teased him, his hot, wet mouth sliding along his length, teasing him with more skill than he would have thought the young man would have possessed, considering his earlier reaction.

Merlin pulled off for a moment, giving Arthur a long swipe of his tongue, and the blue eyes flashed wickedly as they met Arthurís gaze. "That part we figured out fairly well," he informed Arthur before lowering his head again to delve lower. This time, he lapped at the sensitive sac and slowly drew one ball into his mouth with gentle suction.

"And here you said you werenít very good at it," Arthur chuckled before groaning, his hips arching up off the bed. "Lying to me, shame on you, Merlin. I wonder what else youíre keeping from me."

"I said we were terrible at fucking," Merlin corrected. "Or at least thatís what I meant." He carefully avoided thinking about the rest of Arthurís comment, not wanting to ruin the moment by freezing up. Instead he took Arthur back into his mouth, taking him even deeper this time until his nose was pressed to the wiry golden hairs at the base of the shaft, and then he swallowed.

"Oh bloody hell youíre good at this," Arthur groaned, his fingers tightening on Merlinís neck as he rocked shallowly into his mouth.

Merlin pulled off again, ignoring the sound of protest Arthur made. "Then maybe I should stop, if youíre actually planning to do anything with my ass," he teased.

"And who said that was my plan?" Arthur asked archly.

Merlin pouted at him, and Arthur looked back at him, his eyebrows raised. "For someone shocked that I kissed him to go to asking to be fucked?"

"Yes, well, I think itís rather obvious by now that youíre interested," Merlin pointed out. "And you did say that you know what youíre doing, so Iíd rather like to know what all the fuss is about." The words may have implied that any man would do, but the look in the eyes that met Arthurís put the lie to that.

"You would, would you? And maybe Iíd just rather get sucked," Arthur mused, a slight smirk curving his lips.

"Well, I do like that, and the fucking part was pretty much a big letdown," Merlin mused. He shrugged faintly and lowered his head again, only to have Arthur pull him back.

"Well then, we should change your opinion of that, shouldnít we?"

Merlin glared at him. "You really are a prat!"

With that Arthur flipped them both over, drawing Merlin up beneath him. "Perhaps, but Iím a royal prat."

"Is that supposed to be an improvement?" Merlin wanted to know even as he wrapped his arms and legs around Arthur and arched up against him.

Arthur only grinned before kissing Merlin again, rocking down against the pliant body beneath him and grinding against it. Merlin happily abandoned speech in favor of returning the kiss, and his hands ran over Arthurís back, exploring every ridge and hollow.

Arthur finally pushed up, reaching for a small crock on a table by the bedside, dipping his fingers into the thick cream inside before dipping them down to stroke over Merlinís hole, slicking it before slowly working a finger inside.

Merlin tensed slightly before making an obvious conscious effort to relax. His eyes remained fixed on Arthurís face, and his hands moved to the princeís shoulders, flexing there as he waited for whatever would come next.

Arthur raised his head and looked at him, his brows lifted inquiringly. "The time you had... you didnít play this part, did you?"

A flush colored Merlinís cheekbones, and he bit his lip before replying, "That obvious, is it? No, it was such an abysmal failure that neither of us wanted to try again, so we stopped at just the once."

"Well, I promise you that this wonít be a failure, abysmal or otherwise." With that, Arthur pressed his finger into Merlinís ass, and Merlin shivered, his eyes falling half closed as his legs spread wider, falling back to the bed with his feet braced flat for leverage. He squirmed slightly, feeling oddly full, and yet the sensation wasnít unpleasant, no matter what Will had said.

"Oh!" he gasped, his eyes widening as Arthurís finger slid deeper and brushed something inside him that made him jump.

"There is something to be said for experience," Arthur pointed out, rubbing his finger back and forth and watching as Merlinís cock began to twitch between them.

"So it seems," Merlin gasped. "Ah gods, please, Arthur!"

"I donít plan on hurting you," Arthur said sternly, working his finger in and out of Merlinís ass.

Merlin blinked in surprise, looking remarkably owl-like. "I thought it always hurt... Oh!" He gasped sharply as Arthur moved his finger and set off an indescribable explosion of pleasure inside him.

"Not if you do it right."

Beyond speech now, Merlin simply moaned and nodded, his hips moving jerkily as he tried to meet the thrusts of Arthurís hand. Arthur balanced on his knees as he slicked himself up even as he added a second finger, stretching the other teen out as he teased himself. Dazed blue eyes that seemed almost to glow in the candlelight watched Arthur with anticipation, and Merlin licked his lips as he waited, nothing but eagerness in his expression.

"I want you to relax," Arthur murmured, pulling his fingers back and settling between Merlinís legs. "If you get nervous, it is going to hurt."

Merlin stared up at him. "I trust you," he said simply, propping himself on an elbow to kiss Arthur before sinking flat again, Arthur deepening the kiss as he let his hand slide from between Merlinís legs to take hold of himself, press his cock against the slightly loose hole, then, slide inside.

Merlin gasped, his eyes widening and his fingers tightening on Arthurís shoulders, but though there was some discomfort, it was far from true pain and quickly faded to be replaced by pure pleasure. "Arthur," he moaned, lifting his legs to wind them around the princeís waist once again, a pleased whimper escaping him as the movement shifted Arthur inside him.

The prince leaned on his arms over him, panting for breath before he leaned in and captured Merlinís mouth as he began to move, his tongue invading the wet depthsat the same pace his cock was invading Merlinís ass. And Merlin clearly loved every second of it, meeting every thrust eagerly and wordlessly demanding more. His hands explored Arthur, short nails lightly scraping over his spine as Merlin moved under him.

"See?" Arthur asked, "Not so bad, is it."

"Itís bloody fantastic!"

Arthur smirked at that answer and rocked his hips, changing the angle slightly to rub against the bump deep inside Merlinís body.

Nothing could have stopped the wail that Merlin let out then, and he lurched under Arthur, his head falling back as his entire body arched. "More!" he begged wildly when he could speak again, dazed eyes opening to find Arthurís already on him, the princeís mouth curved in a hungry smile as he continued to move, rocking his full length in and out of Merlin, his callused hands pulling the slighter man to him with each thrust.

Merlin whimpered as every movement dragged his long since hardened cock against Arthurís belly, adding to the intensity of the sensations in his ass, and his rhythm grew jerky as the pleasure mounted until he thought he couldnít bear it and then increased even more.

"Let me feel you," Arthur whispered, repeating his earlier words as he drove into Merlin, each thrust brushing against Merlinís cock.

As if the words gave him permission, Merlin cried out and lunged upward, his ass clenching around Arthur as the pleasure burst through him, radiating outward to the very tips of his fingers and toes until for a moment there was nothing else in the world but pure sensation. And then it ebbed, and he collapsed back to the bed in a satiated tumble, limbs loose and a smile on his face as he slowly focused on Arthurís face above him while smaller aftershocks flowed through him. "Now you," he said in a throaty rasp, wanting to see Arthurís pleasure as well.

"Already there," Arthur gasped, his own pleasure rolling over him as he drove into the other teen, spending himself in to the still clenching channel, his whole body shuddering with pleasure as he climaxed.

Merlin smiled and moved heavy arms and legs to wrap around Arthur, holding him close in case he had any ideas of rolling aside, leaving the prince to finally lift his head, looking down at him. "So?"

"So now I know what all the fuss was about."


"And maybe we should do it again sometime." Merlin gave Arthur an almost shy smile as he said that.

Arthur leaned in, nipping at his lower lip and sucking on it. "Perhaps the next time youíre in the stocks?"

A snicker escaped Merlin as he imagined that. "I really donít think your father would approve," he said wryly.

"I didnít suggest we do it while you were in the stocks," Arthur snorted.

"It sounded that way to me," Merlin protested laughingly. "And while I have to admit I do seem to end up there with lamentable frequency, maybe we might want to try it sometime sooner than that?"

"Why donít we say we do this the next time you drop a pitcher," Arthur suggested with a laugh.

"You might not have any pitchers left in Camelot after a little while," Merlin pointed out, grinning from ear to ear.

"Iíll order more," Arthur promised.

"Or maybe we could just do it whenever we feel like it."

"Weíre young; that might be more often than you can imagine."

"You have no idea what I can imagine," Merlin replied softly, a strange, wry expression appearing briefly on his face, causing Arthurís eyebrows to rise.

"Iím going to have to hear more about this," he mused, rolling off the slimmer teen and stretching.

"Ah, but if I tell you all my secrets, you would grow bored with me," Merlin said, watching Arthur with obvious enjoyment.

Arthur laughed aloud at that. "Merlin, I somehow believe you will never be boring."

Merlin had to smile despite his nerves. "Thatís probably true," he admitted, "but sometimes secrets are better left unspoken." Even knowing that every word would only serve to inflame Arthurís curiosity, Merlin couldnít keep himself from hinting at his secret, part of him wanting to tell Arthur so that there would be no more lies between them.

"Just probably?"

"I live in hope of someday having a simple, normal, boring day."

"Ahh, but that would, as youíve said, be boring," Arthur pointed out.

"Which might be a pleasant change from witches and plagues and monsters," Merlin retorted.

"Hrmm, though a boring day would leave me time to ferret out your remaining secrets," Arthur mused, rolling to his side and tracing a finger up Merlinís stomach and chest, not seeming to be bothered by the semen cooling on his skin.

"I could think of much more interesting ways to fill a day," Merlin replied, his eyes on Arthurís finger.

"Oh really?" Arthur asked, sounding amused. "Perhaps you could share your thoughts on the matter?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Prat. What do you think I mean?"

"Did you just call your prince a prat?" Arthur asked mildly though a tension entered his muscles as he spoke.

Merlin gawked at him for a moment before replying, "Well, yeah, just like I have nearly every day since I arrived in Camelot, which is almost as often as youíve called me an idiot." He considered for a moment and then added, "And probably slightly more often than youíve called me the worldís worst manservant."

"You are the worldís worst manservant," Arthur said, "and an idiot." As he spoke, he lunged, landing on top of Merlin and pinning him to his bed. "But you are a good friend." He seemed almost surprised as he said that, and Merlin smiled up at him while trying to catch his breath.

"And you are a prat... and a good friend." Merlin looped his arms around Arthurís waist. "And, it seems, rather more as well."

"Rather good, you mean?" Arthur asked, his lips curving into a smug smile.

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Vain much?"

"Itís called being self-assured."

"Itís called being a prat," Merlin corrected. "But Iíve sort of grown used to that," he admitted. "And you actually are rather good at almost everythingówhich Iíll absolutely deny if you ever repeat that I said it."

"And who are they going to believe?" Arthur chuckled, catching Merlinís face between his palms and kissing him.

"Me of course, Iím clearly the better person," Merlin informed him between kisses.

"And clearly an imbecile."

"I must be or why else would I be here?" Merlin retorted, his grin widening.

"Because youíre an idiot who knows whatís best for him."

"And thatís you?" Merlin scoffed, and Arthur only smirked and looked at him archly, making Merlin sigh and finally laugh. "All right, yes, maybe," he admitted.


"Maybe," Merlin repeated firmly. "Prat."


He looked up in surprise, blue eyes finding Gwen standing next to him. "Gwen, sorry, I didnít hear you come in. Have you been standing here long?"

"Long enough to know that if you keep that up, the king is going to notice," she said.

Merlinís eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"You look like a starving man at a banquet, and Arthur is the banquet."

Merlin blanched. "Youíre imagining things. I was looking at the food; Iím hungry."

"The food was hovering two feet over the table, was it?" Gwen asked, trying not to smile as she spoke, and Merlin flushed, his eyes falling to the floor.

"Gwen," he started, only to trail off, not knowing that to say. He wasnít sure, but he thought that Uther learning that Merlin was sleeping with his son might be worse than finding out Merlin was a wizard.

"Merlin," she answered gently, "Iím certainly not going to say anything, especially about the fact that he seems to be looking over here just as often."

Merlin flushed again, this time looking up with a shy smile. "He is?"

"He is," she agreed, reaching over and squeezing his hand quickly. "Just be careful, Merlin; he doesnít think like we do, so he can hurt you even without meaning to."

Merlin half smiled and half shrugged. "I donít think it makes a difference, Gwen. Heís Arthur."

"That does say it all, doesnít it?" Gwen glanced up toward the prince, who was talking with his father, then back at her friend. "And it doesnít hurt that heís quite good looking."

Merlin smiled wryly. "And doesnít he know it? But heís not nearly as much of a prat as he seems at first. In the end, he always does the right thing."

"Perhaps after a small push in the right direction?"

"Sometimes, but not always. Heís a better person than I would have believed that first day. He deserves our loyalty."

Gwen nodded at that. "Heíll be a great king one day."

"If he doesnít get himself killed in the meantime," Merlin said dryly, his gaze once again upon Arthur.

"Itís a good thing that he has you around to help then, isnít it?"

Merlinís eyes darted back to Gwen, and he seemed to stop breathing for a moment before he laughed uneasily. "Heís the warrior, Gwen. I just polish his armor."

"And that isnít helping?" she asked, studying him closely before Morgana stood to take her leave of the men. Giving Merlinís hand another quick squeeze, she hurried after her mistress, the two young women laughing together as they walked out of the hall.

Merlinís gaze returned to Arthur as if drawn, and he stared helplessly when Arthur looked up, meeting his eyes before turning to speak to his father then standing and leaving the table, following the same path that Morgana and Gwen had taken. Merlin followed on his heels, like any good servant, but the moment they were out of sight of the hall, he crowded up against Arthur, pressing close.

"You make it very hard to sit and converse with my father and Morgana," Arthur commented.

"I was just watching to see if you needed anything... like any good servant."

"Which makes it hard..." Arthur said pointedly.

"Are we still talking about talking to your father?"

"In that condition? I would hope not!"

Merlin burst into laughter. "I would think that thinking about it would take care of the problem."

"Now, not then!" Arthur shuddered, suddenly catching Merlin by the arm and practically dragging him into a side room, glaring at the servants who were straightening up in there until they left, closing the door behind them.

"You do remember you have a room of your own, right?" Merlin asked, smirking. "And youíre going to get a really bad reputation with the palace servants if you keep that up... even worse of one, I mean."

"Do you really think I worry about that?" Arthur asked. "Iím not a tyrant and they know itódonít they?"

Merlin raised his eyebrows and stared at Arthur, who stared back. "What?"

"Nothing, your royal pratness. Can we go to your chambers now?"

"And if I say I want to stay here?"

"Iíd say you can keep your back to the entrance so itís your ass anyone sees if they come in here."

"Really, Merlin, there are such things as locks," Arthur sighed, shaking his head.

"Which you havenít used."

"Yet," Arthur shot back before turning back to do just that. "Better? Or is there something else thatís a problem?"

"Well, you havenít kissed me since this morning."

"Hrm, that could be seen as a problem, couldnít it?" Arthur mused as he stalked toward Merlin, herding him toward a wall and pressing him against the stone blocks so that he could claim the younger teenís mouth.

Merlin smiled in the instant before Arthur kissed him. He opened to Arthurís demand, his hands sliding down to Arthurís ass and pulling him closer.

"While this is anything but," Arthur murmured, working his hands under Merlinís tunic and into his pants, his strong, callused fingers digging into the slighter teenís backside as he ate at Merlinís mouth.

"I want you," he murmured. "Here. Now."

Merlin groaned, knowing they should go to Arthurís room, but he didnít care. "Yes," he gasped out, pressing closer and pulling at Arthurís clothes, wanting to get his hands on skin.

The prince did the same, and soon they were both naked and rubbing against each other until Arthur pulled back, giving Merlin a bruising kiss before turning him to face the wall. Cursing, he bent and scrabbled in his belt pouch for a vial of oil, and spilling some out into his hand, he slicked himself up then dragged his fingers up the crease of Merlinís ass, making Merlin whimper and arch his back, pressing back demandingly.

"Please, yes," he moaned, his eyes half shut in pleasure.

"Yes," Arthur echoed, pressing a finger inward and feeling the tight muscle slowly give around him until he had slid far enough in to rub against the tiny organ deep within Merlinís body. Merlin cried out, beyond words, and clenched down on Arthurís finger, loving the sensation of being filled, but...


"Like this?" Arthur purred, adding a second finger, the muscle relaxing around him as Merlin writhed against the stone of the wall that supported him.

"Not your fingers, you," Merlin demanded, only to have Arthur chuckle.

"So damned demanding." As he spoke, he drew his fingers back, replacing them with his cock and groaning as he eased inside.

"Are you complaining?" Merlin demanded before gasping as he stretched to accommodate Arthurís cock.

"Not in the least, thatís one of the things I most like about you."

Merlin chuckled breathlessly. "And the fact that you can keep up is one of the things I like most about you."

Arthur circled his hips, driving inward, the hand on Merlinís hips keeping him from scraping against the stonework. Merlin moaned softly, arching his back to take Arthur deeper, and he let himself fall back, his head resting on Arthurís shoulder, trusting to his prince to support him.

Arthurís feet shuffled against the floor as he widened his stance slightly, his hand slipping down to circle Merlinís cock as he continued to thrust, tightening and loosening his fingers with each movement.

"Arthur!" Merlin gasped the name, knowing he wasnít going to last long with Arthur hitting every hot spot he had.

"Yes, let me feel you." Arthur groaned the words against Merlinís neck, his own body tightening as he felt the other youth tense against him.

Merlin cried out again, thrusting back hard and shuddering at the sensation of Arthurís mouth on his skin. His hands dropped down to clutch at Arthurís thighs, needing the contact as the pleasure overwhelmed him, pulse after pulse flowing through him.

Arthurís wordless cry greeted Merlinís release, and he drove forward, pleasure overwhelming him even as Merlinís seed ran over his hand. Once his spasms had subsided, he leaned against Merlin, his breath gusting over the other manís sweaty skin.

"Love you," Merlin whispered, turning his head to press a kiss to Arthurís throat. Then his eyes widened as he realized what heíd said, and he hastily tried to cover his admission. "Love what you do to me."

"What?" Arthur chuckled after a moment of silence. "Making you clean up after me?"

"No, then I hate you," Merlin retorted. "I meant this."

"Ahh, the sex. Well, I am very good at itóor so Iíve been told." As he spoke, Arthur pulled out of Merlin and turned him around, grinning as he kissed the dark-haired youth.

"Much as I hate to contribute to your swelled head, I have to agree," Merlin said, looping his arms around Arthurís waist and leaning against him, perfectly content to remain there for the moment.

Arthur leaned his head against Merlinís, his lips curving in a soft smile as he kissed Merlinís hair. "Well, of course you do," he murmured.

"You are such a prat."

"And youíre a worthless servant."

Merlin glared. "Ass."

"I do enjoy yours."

Merlin eyed him. "And am I ever going to get to find out if I enjoy yours?"

Arthur pulled back a bit at that. "I donít do that."

Stiffening slightly, Merlin stood on his own feet, no longer leaning against Arthur at all. "Ever?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" the prince asked, sounding confused but not letting Merlin go.

Merlinís eyebrows rose. "So youíre going to fuck me every day, and I never get to fuck you?"

"What? Now itís such a hardship to be in my bed?"

Merlin exercised more restraint than heíd realized he had. "Sod off!" he snapped, wrenching out of Arthurís grasp to grab for his clothes.

"Merlin!" Arthur exclaimed, turning to watch the younger teen throw on his clothes. "What are you going on about?"

"Iím going on about the fact that you may be the sodding prince and I may be your sodding servant, but I thought this was different, but obviously you donít, so fuck you!"

"Fuck me?" Arthur glowered, his temper rising as he gave up trying to understand what Merlin was so upset about. "Fuck you!"

"Apparently thatís all thatís allowed!" Merlin yelled, completely losing his temper and taking a swing at Arthur, the prince easily dodging his fist, grabbing Merlinís arm and swinging it around behind him so that the slighter teenís back was to his chest.

Furious, Merlin snarled a spell that sent Arthur back against the wall, sparks flying as a blast of light hit his chest. A moment later, the momentarily golden eyes turned blue again and widened as Merlin realized what he had done.

Arthur blinked several times before groaning and reaching up to rub at the back of his head with one hand while prodding at his singed chest with the other. He stared up at Merlin, his mouth working though no sound came out.

Merlin stared back, desperately trying to think of any explanation that might be even remotely believable. "Weíve been attacked by sorcerers?"

"Interesting," Arthur said slowly as he stood, still rubbing his head, "I donít see anyone here but the two of us."

"Invisibility spell?" Merlin suggested hopefully, and Arthur shook his head.

"Then why havenít they attacked again?"

"They fled while they could?"

"Out of the locked door?"

"Itís magic." Merlin cast a hunted glance at the door.

"Stop lying to me, Merlin," Arthur snapped.

Merlin closed his eyes. "I really donít want to be burned at the stake or have my head chopped off."

Arthur took a deep breath, then winced and looked down at his chest. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since before I could talk," Merlin said in a tiny voice.

"Who knows?"

"Most of the people in my village. And Gaius. And Lancelot figured it out too," Merlin admitted as an afterthought. "But I didnít tell him."

Arthurís expression closed, and he began to pace around the room, heedless of his nudity. "If my father becomes aware of this..."

"Thatís why I didnít tell you. I didnít want to have to leave," Merlin said, hanging his head and staring at his feet intently.

"Why would you think you would have to leave?" Arthur asked, turning to study Merlin.

Merlin looked at him, his heart in his eyes. "Because if I stay, I put you in the position of having to lie to your father," he replied simply.

Arthurís brows furrowed, and he studied Merlin. "You canít leave," he said flatly.

"How can I stay?" Merlin asked helplessly. "The next time your father sends you to seek out practitioners of magic, what are you going to do? Itís an impossible situation."

"My father doesnít know everything," Arthur stated. "Youíve risked his wrath to keep my secrets."

Merlin shrugged. "Considering how many times Iíve risked being killed to save your life, that seemed fairly minor. But Iím not his son."

"How many times?" Arthur asked, his gaze sharpening.

"I havenít really been counting," Merlin replied, evading the issue.

"Merlin..." Arthurís tone brooked no argument. "How many times?"

"I really didnít count," Merlin protested. "Maybe a dozen or so," he said with a shrug.

"A dozen or so! And this was something else you were never going to tell me?"

"Well, no. But I was going to tell you I was a wizard once you became king," Merlin offered feebly.

Arthurís eyes narrowed. "Thank you so much for your trust in me."

"I do trust you," Merlin exchanged, turning to pace in frustration. "But I didnít want to put you in the position of having to choose between lying to your father and king or telling him about me."

"And why would I tell him about you? Do you think I want you dead?" Arthur exclaimed, catching Merlin by the arm and stopping him in mid-stride.

Merlin sighed heavily. "Of course not. But you shouldnít have to choose."

"Merlin," Arthur shook his head and reached out to brush a lock of dark hair from Merlinís brow, "what am I going to do with you?"

Merlin leaned into Arthurís touch, closing his eyes again. "I donít know," he said sadly. "I hope it doesnít involve a fire."

"Only the fire in the hearth in my rooms," Arthur assured him, his free arm sliding around Merlinís waist to pull him closer, and Merlin let a breath of relief and sagged against him.

"I wanted to tell you so many times," he whispered, and Arthur kissed his brow.

"And now that you have?"

"I think thatís entirely up to you."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean you have my life in your hands," Merlin replied, pressing closer to Arthur, unconsciously clinging to him. "I donít want to leave you, but I will if thatís what you want."

"That depends," Arthur murmured.

"On what?"

"On whether youíre keeping any other secrets from me."

Merlin shook his head. "Nothing else. I thought that was enough."

Arthur gave a bark of laughter at that comment. "More than enough, so then, what exactly is it your magic does?"

"Whatever I want," Merlin replied with a shrug. "Slow time, freeze things or people, blast, move objects..."

"Other than me, you mean?"

Merlin bit his lip before replying, "Only when necessary to save your life."

Arthurís lips curved in a small smile before he took a step back from Merlin. "Show meóif you donít mind."

Merlin stared at him for a long moment, searching Arthurís eyes, and then he nodded sharply. The blue eyes flared gold, and Arthurís clothing rose from the floor, settled into position as if being worn and began to dance a jig.

After blinking at the change of color in Merlinís eyes, Arthur looked over at his clothes, staring at them for long moments before slowly beginning to laugh. "Of all the ways in the world, this is how you show me?"

"It seemed fairly non-threatening."

"That depends on how you judge that dancing." As he spoke, Arthur stepped forward to slowly poke a finger at the arm of his shirt.

"Are you insulting my dancing?" Merlin demanded, watching Arthur with amusement as the arm heíd just poked rose to swat at him, causing Arthur to dance back out of the way.

"No, Iím insulting my clothesí dancing."

Merlin snickered and let the clothing fall back to the floor. "Careful, you might hurt their feelings."

"And what? Theyíll trip me the next time I wear themówhich would be now," Arthur snorted, bending to pick up his shirt, examining it carefully and glancing at Merlin before pulling it on.

"Itíll probably be easier to get back to your room with you dressed," Merlin agreed. "If not nearly as much fun to look at."

"I donít think the palace guards would appreciate the sight."

"Some of them might appreciate it too much."

"Have you seen the palace guards?" Arthur asked, hopping on one foot as he pulled on his breeches.

"Just because they look like the back end of a horse doesnít mean they canít appreciate the sight of something better."

"Then can we say that Iíd rather they not appreciate the sight."

Merlin chuckled. "I can agree with that. As long as I get to continue to appreciate it."

Arthur turned in a slow circle, grinning as Merlinís gaze followed his every move. "I can agree with that."

"So, I, uh, can go with you?"

"I have to keep an eye on you somehow, donít I?"

"Is that all you want to keep on me?" Merlin asked, grinning wickedly.

"Thatís all I want to see on you," Arthur chuckled throatily, dropping into a chair and pulling his boots on.

"Oh." Merlin had to swallow hard and remind himself that they still had to make their way through the castle to Arthurís room. "That could make it interesting when Iím mucking out the stable," he said.

"Hrmm, not there, the horses might spy dangling bits and think they were some strange carrot."

"Ouch!" Merlin shuddered. "Right, no naked stable mucking."

"Exactly," Arthur grinned as he stood. "I can think of much more interesting things to do while youíre naked."

"Not in the stables, I hope! Hay really isnít comfortable under a bare ass."

"And how is it you know that?" Arthur asked, glancing at the wall and chuckling.

"Remember when I mentioned previous bad sex?" Merlin asked wryly, watching Arthur. He promised himself that if the princely prat ordered him to clean the wall, he would hit him over the head with a candlestick.

"I wonder when someone is going to notice that," was all Arthur said before he unlocked the door and walked with Merlin out into the corridor.

Camelot stretched out before Merlin, the sight both familiar and dear to him after months of living in the castle. It was almost as dear to him as the blonde youth at his side. "I have to go back with her," Merlin said softly, not looking at Arthur. "She needs my help."

"Of course," Arthur nodded, looking over at him. "Sheís your mother."

Merlin finally turned as well. "Itís been an honor and my pleasure to know you."

"What? Youíre going to be back, why so formal?"

Merlin regarded him helplessly. "Sheís my mother, Arthur. I have to be sure sheís safe."

Arthurís expression turned somber, and he turned fully toward Merlin. "You donít plan on coming back," he said, answering his own question.

"I want to, but I canít as long my mother is in danger," Merlin replied unhappily. "I canít leave her, Arthur."

"And you can save her. I wish..." Arthur began before sighing. "You will be careful."

"I wish too," Merlin said almost soundlessly. "I will do my best to come back," he said, knowing it was a hollow promise.

"I would hope so; youíre rubbish as a servant, but you do make a tolerable blanket," Arthur said, reaching out to clasp Merlinís shoulder.

Chuckling, Merlin glanced around to be sure they were alone and then pulled Arthur into a quick, hard hug. "I am going to miss you, no matter how big a prat you are."

"Iíll miss you too," Arthur said gruffly before stepping back and clearing his throat. "Remember what I taught you about swordplay, all right? It can still save your life."

Merlin smiled wryly. "Do you actually remember our practice sessions? I think magic is going to serve me better, Arthur."

Arthur raised a finger at that. "I think that they can work together."

"It works best when you do the sword work and I do the sorcery, but I will use what you taught me," Merlin promised. "My mother is anxious to get back, so weíll be leaving today," he said, wishing they could have one more night, but it wasnít to be.

"Try not to get lost, will you?"

"I only do that when Iím being chased by some strange, murderous beast, and that only happens when Iím with you."

"Ahh, but what happens after those chases is half the fun." Arthur stepped back to look the younger teen over. "Right then, youíd best get on with it; your mother is waiting."

Merlin nodded and turned to go, only to spin back suddenly and pull Arthur into a kiss. "I love you, you prat," he said before bolting away, leaving Arthur gape-mouthed behind him.

A sound woke Merlin from a restless sleep that night, and he grabbed the sword that Gwen had given him, then cautiously moved away from their fire. He briefly considered waking Morgana to warn her, but he decided the noise would warn any intruders. If necessary, he could yell to wake the three women. He moved as silently as possible, knowing from experience that it wasnít very quietly, and tried to listen for the sound that had woken him.

A sword tapped him on the back, then a voice spoke from behind him. "Iíd ask for your money, but I know you donít have any."

"Arthur?" Merlin whirled around, the naked sword in his hand nearly taking Arthurís head off, only prevented by Arthurís fortunately good reflexes.

"Put that thing down!" Arthur demanded, staying back until Merlin lowered the blade.

"Sorry," Merlin said, starting to move toward Arthur to hug him but then stopping abruptly when he remembered their last conversation. He regarded Arthur warily, wondering if he was going to ignore it.

The moment the sword was pointed toward the ground, Arthur took a step forward, fisted his hand in Merlinís shirt and hauled him in for a demanding kiss. "Did you mean what you said?" he rasped.

Apparently he wasnít going to ignore it.

Merlin licked his lips and looked anywhere but at Arthurís face as he nodded silently.

"And did you tell me that because you were leaving, or did it just slip out?"

Merlin sighed, realizing Arthur wasnít going to give up until he understood fully. "Because I was leaving. I didnít know if Iíd ever have another chance to tell you, and I wanted to say it, just once."

"Just once? Thatís all Iíll get to hear itóor is it just once for every time I tell you that I love you too, you idiot."

Merlinís jaw dropped, and he stared at Arthur, unable to get a word out.

"At least I didnít say it then run off," Arthur snorted, making Merlin flush.

"I didnít really think youíd care, at least not in a good way."

"You always think so highly of me," Arthur sighed, taking a step back.

"Arthur, youíve never given me any reason to think otherwise... not that I did either," Merlin admitted, wanting to be fair. "But you wouldnít even talk about me having you, so how could I possibly think you wanted anything more than a shag?"

"And what does that have to do with anything?" Arthur asked, exasperated.

Merlin threw his hands up in the air, nearly removing his own ear with the sword heíd forgotten he was still holding, and marched angrily away toward the campsite, not wanting to start this conversation again within earshot of the women. If they were still asleep, they wouldnít be once he and Arthur started yelling.

"Merlin," Arthur hissed after him before growling in frustration and stomping back to untie his horse and bring it up to the camp, where he picketed it with the other three mounts. He found Merlin sitting on a log in front of the campfire and dropped down next to him, casting a glance back at the sleeping women.

"You want to..." Arthur paused and glanced toward the women again.

"What?" Merlin wasnít going to make any assumptions.

"To fuck me," Arthur said flatly.

"Well, not right this second, no," Merlin said, trying not to sigh. "But yes, I would. I love it when you fuck me, but sometimes, Iíd rather like to have the chance to fuck."

"Ió" Arthur sighed and rested his elbows on his knees as he stared into the fire. "Iím not finding that idea particularly repellant," he said carefully.

Merlin stared at him. "Lovely, Iím better than repellent. Iím bowled over by your enthusiasm."

"Youíre never happy, are you?"

"Actually, since coming to Camelot, Iíve been happy most of the time."

"Iíve just admitted to you that I love you and that Iím not disagreeing with what you want, and youíre complaining about it."

Merlin blinked. "Oh. Oh!" He laughed sheepishly. "Sorry?"

"Come here, you idiot," Arthur chuckled, slinging an arm around Merlinís shoulders and pulling him in for a kiss.

"You can explain this to my mother when she wakes up in the morning," Merlin chuckled, pressing even closer.

"Explain what, my being here? I want to help, and that is the truth."

"Explain why Iím sleeping on top of you." Merlin grinned at him.

"What?" Arthurís voice rose before he hushed himself. "With Morgana and Guinevere and your mother around?"

Merlin stared. "You donít actually think Gwen and Morgana donít already know, do you? Though Iíll grant you my mother. Iíd rather like my mother to know, but I can understand if youíre not ready for that. I wouldnít want your father to know," he admitted wryly.

"No, if he found out..." Arthur balked and stared. "You think they know?"

"I know for a fact that they do. Gwen tried to give me advice."

"When?" the prince asked, his voice strangled.

"Several months ago, now would you two please be quiet and let us sleep," Morgana groaned from where she and Gwen were lying.

Merlin whimpered and buried his face against Arthurís chest.

"If your mother is awake too, Iím going to kill myself."

Fortunately for all concerned, Hunith chose that moment to let out a soft snore.

"Iím going to sleep now," Merlin stated, more than a hint of desperation in his voice, though he didnít move away from Arthur.

"Please do," Gwen giggled while Arthur only groaned.

"Do I have to move?" Merlin asked pitifully.

"It might be easier to sleep if we do."

"But then I have to look at them."

"Weíll put blankets over our heads if youíll just be quiet and go to sleep!" Gwen exclaimed in exasperation.

"Close your eyes and you wonít see them," Arthur suggested, now sounding as he was on the verge of laughter.

"But then Iíll trip and fall on someone."

"I wonít let you fall," Arthur promised, coaxing Merlin to sit up.

"Can I at least sleep next to you?" Merlin asked with a pout.

"Are you sure you wouldnít rather sleep next to your mother?" Arthur asked dryly.

Merlin glared, and Arthur snickered before picking up his gear, standing them both up and leading him over to the empty blankets so he could lay his out beside them. Once they were both settled, Merlin leaned close to kiss Arthur. "Thank you for coming."

Arthur shrugged and rolled to his back, staring up at the night sky. "It was the right thing to do."

"That doesnít really seem to matter to most people," Merlin said, keeping his voice low enough not to disturb the girls. "And I know that your father didnít want to get involved, so, yeah, thanks."

"He couldnít, not without risking war, and youíre welcome, now sleep. Why is it you always want to yammer on at night?" Arthur muttered though he sounded pleased by what Merlin had said.

"I know, I do understand." Merlin reached over to take Arthurís hand, moving slowly enough to give him plenty of time to move away if he objected.

The prince stayed still for a moment before closing his fingers around Merlinís and turning his head to watch him until he fell asleep.

"Is there perhaps something youíd like to tell me, Merlin?" Hunith asked the next morning, looking from her son to the crown prince of Camelot, who had been tangled together when she awoke.

Merlin flushed scarlet and murmured something unintelligible, cursing himself for having gravitated toward the familiar warmth of Arthurís body in his sleep.

"Prince Arthur joined us during the night," Gwen offered helpfully when it seemed neither man was going to answer.

"And it was chilly," Morgana added in a voice full of laughter.

Merlin groaned, the sound echoed by Arthur as well.

"I wanted to offer my help with your problem," the prince said when he could finally speak again.

"Thatís very kind of you, my lord," Hunith said politely, her eyes full of amused speculation as she gazed at the two young men. "Your assistance will be invaluable and may save us all."

"Arthurís a brilliant fighter," Merlin put in enthusiastically.

Arthur cleared his throat and looked around the makeshift camp. "Yes, well, we should get going so I can lend that assistance."

"Such brilliance," Morgana said sweetly, making Hunith cough suddenly while Merlin snickered, but they did all get moving and manage to break camp within a short time. It was only a few hoursí ride to Ealdor, fortunately, since they arrived just as the village once again came under attack.

The four young people threw themselves into the fray, Morgana and Gwen fighting back to back while Arthur took on the minor lord leading the troop and Merlin resorted to sorcery against another bandit, out of sight of the villagers. Arthur defeated the leader but allowed him to leave, still hoping to avoid a war that could lead all the way to the steps of Camelot. Arthur was watching him ride off when swords clanged behind him, and he spun to see Morgana drive off the guardsman who had been about to impale him.

"Remind you of when we used to practice and I would beat you?" she asked sweetly before walking off to watch the rest of the troop flee.

"That never happened!" Arthur hollered after her before pulling himself together and looking around, hoping no one else had witnessed the incident. He spotted Merlin with a village youth and started toward them to assure himself that Merlin was unharmed.

Merlin was delighted to see his old friend Will, and after a bit of banter, he hugged Will, a broad grin on his face.

"Itís good to see you again, Merlin," Will said, his hands on Merlinís shoulders. "I have missed you. Want to go for a walk tonight?" he suggested, waggling his eyebrows.

"Merlin," Arthur commented as he reached them, having heard the villagerís comment and drawing a niggling suspicion as to just who this was from it.

Merlinís eyes widened, and he hastily stepped back from Will, moving to Arthurís side. "Arthur," he replied, "this is my old friend Will. Will, Prince Arthur of Camelot."

Willís eyes narrowed, focusing on the way that Merlin stood close to the blonde, which only added to his irritation at the title. "Come to save all us peasants, have you?" he sneered.

"To work with you to save yourselves," Arthur responded, for once biting his tongue to keep from antagonizing the other youth and gaining a grateful look from Merlin in response.

"Arthur came to help us, Will," he said. "Unless youíd rather watch people have their heads chopped off by axes," he added bluntly, his gaze warning Will to back down.

"What heís going to do is get us all killed," Will grumbled, stalking away and leaving Arthur to look mildly at Merlin.

"Will, hrmm?"

Merlin regarded him warily. "It was really, really bad sex."

"In the barn. With hay sticking to your ass..."

"Thank you for that reminder." Merlin glared while Arthurís lips twitched as he struggled not to laugh.

"Perhaps I should write out some pointers for him to tryóon someone else."

Merlin snorted. "Iím fairly certain he can figure it out on his own. Though if youíd like to demonstrate some to me..." he trailed off with a grin.

"When this is over," Arthur promised.

"Over," Merlin repeated slowly, finally realizing that with Arthur there, it would be over. The prince wouldnít allow anything else, and then Merlin would be able to return to Camelot... with Arthur. "Oh, I do love you."

"Idiot," Arthur said affectionately, slinging an arm around Merlinís shoulders as they walked back to where the villagers were gathered. "Oh and by the way, donít listen to a word Morgana says if she goes on about saving me."

Merlinís eyebrows rose. "It sounds like I need to have a chat with Morgana," he replied, laughter bubbling in his voice.

"If you do that, then I may have to have a talk with your William," Arthur responded easily.

Merlin smirked. "So Iíll wait till weíre back in Camelot."

"Not if I keep you busy," Arthur said before they reached the others and fell into a discussion of how to protect the village when the soldiers next returned.

"So being a servant includes warming his bed?" Will asked when Merlin sought him out while the villagers were practicing their swordplay.

"No, being in love with him includes sharing his bed."

"Youíre in love with him?" Will asked before starting to laugh. "Oh, Merlin, thatís tragic."

"I think itís rather brilliant."

"Heís a prince, and youíre... you. Heís from Camelot as well; does he know about the magic?"

"Yes," Merlin replied bluntly. "And it doesnít matter that heís a prince and Iím a sorcerer; weíre just Merlin and Arthur, and itís perfect."

"Merlin," Arthur yelled at that moment, "where are my vambraces?"

"So I see," Will said dryly.

Merlin looked back at him for a long moment. "Heís the most important thing in the world to me, Will," he said simply before turning to go assist Arthur, leaving the other youth to stare after him with narrowed eyes.

"Iím sorry about your friend," Arthur said as he settled on the ground next to Merlin, who was staring at the campfire. The battle was won, the village was safe, and Will had diedósaving him, something the prince was still coming to grips with.

Morgana and Gwen looked at them, then each other and announced that they were exhausted and were going to sleep.

Still gazing into the flames, Merlin said, almost too softly to be heard, "I think it was my fault. I told him what you mean to me, and he saved you for me. And gods help me, but Iím glad. I miss him, but if I had had to choose his life or yoursó" He broke off on a strangled sob.

"Merlin, no," Arthur said, gently gathering him into his arms and kissing the top of his head. "It wasnít your fault."

Merlin sighed, melting against Arthur, content to allow the princeís strength to support him for a time. "It sort of was," he said, "And Iím sorry for that, but," he looked up at Arthur, his heart in his eyes, "Iím not sorry he saved you. If you had died..." He shuddered, knowing he would have unleashed his powers on the remaining soldiers. None would have survived.

"But I didnít; weíre both here," Arthur murmured, rubbing Merlinís back as he spoke.

Merlin nodded, simply leaning against Arthur. "You really need to stop nearly dying. I donít like it."

"I could honestly do without it as well," Arthur conceded. "And I could say the same for you; it doesnít happen nearly as often, but Iíd prefer for it not to happen at all."

Merlin nodded vigorously. "Iíd much rather get our excitement in other ways. More fun ways. Private ways," he added with a half-hearted glare toward where the girls lay.

"Weíre not listening to anything," Morgana called, "not that the two of you arenít darling."

"I really hate them," Arthur sighed.

"We are not darling!" Merlin growled, sounding revolted.

"Yes, you rather are," Gwen argued.

"No, we arenít!" Arthur growled.

Gwen and Morgana laughed, and Merlin groaned.

"Ignore them and maybe theyíll go away," he suggested, finally straightening away from Arthur to push to his feet. He retrieved his bed roll and spread it out, suddenly completely exhausted both physically and emotionally.

"Sound advice," Arthur nodded as he joined him, dropping his bed roll on top of Merlinís and pulling back the top layer of blankets. "More comfortable with extra padding under us, donít you think?" he asked.

Merlin stared at the bedding for a long moment before a wide smile blossomed on his face. "That sounds good," he agreed, unable to stop grinning as he dropped down and stretched out, finding the makeshift pallet fairly comfortable.

"Or it would if you would move over some," Arthur chuckled, dropping down beside him and pulling off his boots before stretching out and pulling Merlin half on top of him.

"Mmm, comfortable," Merlin said happily, tucking his head under Arthurís chin and flinging a possessive arm and leg across him in what had become his favored sleeping position back in Camelot.

"Yes, you are rather a good blanket," Arthur mused, wrapping an arm securely around Merlinís waist to hold him close.

"Itís good to be back home," Merlin said, stretching out on Arthurís bed with a sigh of contentment. He watched Arthur eat his dinner, enjoying the knowledge that they were completely alone for the first time in days.

"Yes, itís somewhat more comfortable than blankets on the ground," Arthur said between bites of pheasant.

Merlin grinned. "You seem hungry. Iím sure my mother would have been happy to give you bigger servings if youíd asked."

"I would throw something at you, but youíre on my bed," Arthur growled though he didnít stop eating.

"Alone," Merlin grumbled.

"Still eating," Arthur pointed out.

"So come eat me."

"I donít think you want me biting you."

Merlin opened his mouth to answer but then paused, seeming to think about it. "Well, under the right circumstances, and if it wasnít too hard..."

Arthurís eyebrows rose, and he set his knife down. "Oh really?"

Merlin nodded, his eyes already growing dark as he looked at Arthur. "Not that Iíve tried it, but I like the sound of it," he said in a voice grown slightly hoarse.

Pushing aside his platter, Arthur stood, grasping the bottom of his shirt and pulling it over his head. "So, do you want me to bite you, or do you want to do what we discussed the other night?" he asked, his voice remarkably steady he thought.

Merlin had to swallow hard before he could manage to speak. "If I say one, can we still do the other another time?"

"I think we can manage that."

"Then I really, really want to shag you." Merlin half sat up, the tightness of his trousers making it obvious how very much he liked that idea.

Arthur took a deep breath as he bent to pull off his breeches, but he was smiling as he straightened and tossed them away. "Then thatís what weíll be doing tonight."

Merlin stood up and came over to wrap his arms around Arthur. He searched the blue eyes intently before pulling Arthur into a kiss. "You can shag me afterward," he promised.

"Are you saying youíre going to be crap so I wonít be too relaxed to do that?" Arthur asked, smiling slightly in apparent challenge.

Merlin gave him a dirty look. "I meant much later, you prat," he said before kissing Arthur again, his hands making short work of Arthurís remaining garments.

"Ahh," Arthur chuckled as he tugged at Merlinís shirt, "that makes more sense."

"You really are a prat," Merlin snorted, getting rid of his other garments so they were both naked. "But a really attractive one."

"So then why arenít we in bed?" Arthur murmured, dragging a finger down Merlinís chest.

"Because youíre too big for me to throw."

"Unlike you," was all the warning Merlin got before Arthur grabbed him and picked him up, heaving him toward the bed and then joining him the moment Merlin hit the mattress. Merlin immediately flipped them over and sat up straddling Arthur, a greedy expression in his eyes as they ran over the muscular blonde.

"But we got here, so itís good."

"And much more comfortable."

"Comfortable is good too," Merlin replied, rocking against him while leaning forward to retrieve the flagon of oil they kept under the pillows.

"Mmmhmm," Arthur murmured, running his hands up Merlinís sides, fingers playing over the ridges of his ribs.

Merlin purred happily and kissed him again while opening the small container. Once he had it in hand, after another nibbling kiss, he slid backward, settling between Arthurís legs. Oil-slick fingers slid between Arthurís cheeks, slicking him up and slowly circling the tight opening, teasing him but not yet attempting to breech him.

Arthur took a deep breath and let it out as he rubbed his thumbs over Merlinís chest. "I love you," he whispered, meeting Merlinís gaze.

"I know," Merlin replied, "and I love you too." One finger pressed against Arthur as they stared at each other and slowly slid inside him.

Some of the tightness around Arthurís eyes eased, and he breathed deeply again as he relaxed then shifted his hips so that Merlinís finger could slip deeper into him.

"You feel so good, so tight," Merlin whispered, slowly easing his finger back and forth.

"It feels... good." Arthur sounded almost surprised by the admission.

Merlin rolled his eyes. "You thought I was faking it?"

"Shut up and do it more," Arthur growled.

"Are you going to try to hit me if I say I told you so?" Merlin chuckled, adding a second finger and twisting them in search of the spot he knew would make Arthur want more.

Arthurís growl changed to a surprised and pleasured moan, and he spread his legs wider. "Merlin!"

"Iím right here," Merlin whispered, watching Arthur intently, the princeís pleasure increasing his own arousal. "Itís going to be so good, and weíre both going to love it," he promised.

"Then perhaps we should get on with it," Arthur suggested, grabbing the oil and spilling some over his palm and then stroking Merlinís cock.

Merlin desperately fought the urge to laugh or to point out that Arthur had certainly changed his opinion in a hurry. "I donít want to hurt you, so youíre just going to have to wait a little longer." To distract Arthur from arguing, he twisted his fingers again, pushing them deep inside Arthur, the move pulling a drawn-out groan from the princeís throat as he spread his legs wider.

"Youíre so gorgeous," Merlin groaned, pulling his fingers free and positioning himself at Arthurís entrance, the head of his cock pressing forward against the resisting muscle.

Arthur hissed out a breath, the muscles in his arms clenching as Merlin slowly breeched him and gradually relaxing as he bottomed out deep within him. "All right," he gasped, "are you going to move?"

"As soon as Iím sure I wonít come right away," Merlin groaned, his eyes closed as he fought to hold on to his control, the tight heat surrounding him more pleasure than heíd imagined.

"It is rather good, isnít it?" Arthur panted, experimenting with shifting under Merlin and grinning when the other teenís eyes grew wider.

"Oh bloody hell," Merlin groaned, starting to move inside Arthur, rocking back and forth with gradually increasing speed. Arthur moaned and hooked his legs up around Merlinís hips, reaching between them to close his hand around his own cock, stroking in time with Merlinís thrusts.

"So good," Merlin whispered, covering Arthurís hand with his own, both of them stroking Arthur as Merlin fucked him, their bodies moving together. "Love you," he gasped as his body tightened, drawing close to his climax.

"Yes," Arthur managed, his muscles clenching as Merlin drove into him a final time and he came apart, his seed spilling over both their hands as he spasmed around the length inside him.

Merlin came at almost the same moment, the sensation of Arthur clenching even tighter around him pulling a cry from him, and he clutched at Arthurís shoulders hard enough to bruise as the pleasure tore through him. He collapsed on top of the prince, panting as he tried to catch his breath.

"All right," Arthur said after a space of time where they were both simply gasping for breath, "that was not a case of fumbling poorly."

"That was bloody brilliant."

"We may have to try it again some time," Arthur nodded.

"Oh damn, Iím just going to hate that," Merlin said dryly before chuckling and raising his head to kiss Arthur. "I love shagging you whichever way we do it."

"Damn right!" Arthur exclaimed. "If you suddenly decided this was the only way we were going to do it, Iíd have serious issues."

"So would I," Merlin admitted. "I like having you fuck me far too much to give it up."

"Which I will remind you of come morning," Arthur yawned, letting his legs fall from around Merlinís hips.

"Good. I can sit much too comfortably the last few days," Merlin mumbled, his face pressed into Arthurís throat as he started to doze off.

"Oh hell, how is this going to feel come morning?" Arthur groaned to himself, trying not to disturb Merlin as he tried to decide how his body felt.

"Sore but good," Merlin muttered. "Tried tí be careful, didnít hurí you."

"You didnít," Arthur assured him, stroking Merlinís back and lifting his head enough to kiss Merlinís hair.

"íatís good." Merlin pressed closer as he fell asleep, a smile curving his lips.

"We need to find this beast before it can kill again," Arthur said, looking around at his men. "Be wary and be careful, but stand together, and we will not fail."

Merlin moved closer to Arthur as they made their way into the forest. "Itís going to be hard to use magic with all your men-at-arms around us," he hissed at Arthur.

"I told them to stay together," Arthur murmured. "When we find the beast, weíll lure it off and dispose of it."

"We make a good team," Merlin agreed. "Just make sure no one else is nearby."

"Of course I might possibly kill it without your help," Arthur said dryly.

"Possibly, but itís a magical beast, and Iíd really rather you didnít get yourself killed, so letís do it together," Merlin replied with equal dryness.

"Yes, dear," Arthur snorted before turning back to his men. "Letís go."

"Iím right behind you," Merlin assured him. "And you can decide who shags whom tonight as a reward for saving Camelot yet again."

The first hours of their search had proved fruitless, but finally they spotted the beast, the guard and knights thundering after it while Arthur and Merlin circled around, coming upon a cave entrance.

Arthur glanced at Merlin and drew his sword as he nodded toward the darkness. "The tracks lead into here."

"Then thatís where we need to go." Merlin took a deep breath. "I know itís pointless, but I still need to say it: Be careful."

"Donít get lost," Arthur grinned back at him before they headed into the cave. Darkness surrounded them after a few steps, and they lit a torch, Merlin holding it high as Arthur led the way deeper, pausing every so often to listen for other movements.

Merlin kept close to Arthur, but they were still taken by surprise when the Questing Beast attacked, knocking both young men to the ground and sending them rolling in opposite directions. Merlin scrambled to his feet, yelling Arthurís name in horror when he saw that the beast was closer to Arthur and moving to attack him. The prince fought it off for a time while Merlin tried to distract it, but it got past his guard while dodging Merlinís magical attacks and managed to bite Arthur. Merlin yelled in mingled rage and grief and hurled a blast that destroyed the creature before racing to Arthurís side, only to find that he had already fallen unconscious.

Desperate, Merlin got Arthur back to their horses and rode for Camelot, barely pausing to inform the guardsmen of what had happened before driving the horse onward, his only thought to get Arthur to Gaius.

At Merlinís cry, several palace guards hurried over, looking horrified when they saw the princeís unconscious body draped over his horse. At Merlinís direction, they carried Arthur to Gaiusí chamber, the older man looking up in shock at their entrance.

"Merlin, what happened?" he exclaimed, lurching to his feet. "No wait, get him to my bed first, then tell me."

"It was the Questing Beast," Merlin said, terror in his voice as he sank to his knees next to the bed once the soldiers laid Arthur in it and then left to inform the king. "It bit him before I could stop it. You can help him though, right?"

"Iím sorry, Merlin," Gaius said gently, reaching out to lay a hand on the youthís shoulder. "The beastís bite is fatal; there is nothing I can do."

"No! There has to be something," Merlin said desperately. "Surely Ió" He stopped abruptly as Uther burst into the chamber, shouldering them both aside to get to Arthur. Gaius had to repeat the dire prognosis to Uther, with much the same reaction as Merlin had had.

Uther picked his son up and carried him out, intent on bringing him to his chamber, but the king staggered and fell to his knees halfway across the courtyard, overcome with grief. The men-at-arms rushed to the assistance of their king and prince, carrying Arthur to his room, eventually followed by Uther with Gaiusí help.

It was some time before Gaius managed to convince Uther to rest, and he and Merlin were left alone with the unconscious prince. "There has to be something, Gaius," Merlin said as if the intervening hours had never happened.

Gaius pressed his lips together before looking down at Arthur then over at Merlin. "There is nothing that I am aware of. I am sorry."

"No!" Merlin dropped to his knees beside Arthur, his forehead pressed to the princeís shoulder, and then he kissed Arthur gently before pushing to his feet. "There has to be something." He cast a wild look at Gaius before fleeing the chamber, making his way to the underground cavern where the dragon was held.

He explained what had happened, begging the dragon to tell him how to save Arthur.

"To save the prince, you must travel to the Isle of the Blessed," the dragon rumbled as he shifted on the rock in front of Merlin.

"There is a cure there?" Merlin demanded, hope springing to life within his heart.

"Water from the Isle can cure any poison," the dragon nodded.

"Then I will bring back this water to save him," Merlin said. "Is there anything else I need to know?"

"The old religion requires balance; to save the prince, a life must be given in exchange."

Merlin closed his eyes briefly. "Then I will gladly give my life for his."

He made his way back to his chamber, quickly gathering the bare essentials for a journey, but before he could leave, Gaius returned.

"I have to go, Gaius; I know the water from the Isle of the Blessed can cure Arthur, and I know the cost. Iím going."

"Merlin..." Gaiusí voice lost its strength, and he looked sorrowfully at the young man, seeing the resolve in his eyes. "Do you even know where youíre going?"

"The Isle of the Blessed. I have a general idea where it is," Merlin said, sounding much less certain.

"Come here, Merlin," Gaius said, leading the young man to the table and reaching for a book then opening it and unfolding a map from inside it, giving Merlin more detailed instructions than he had had before.

"Thank you, Gaius." Merlin at him. "For everything. Iíll be back as quickly as I can. Please keep Arthur alive till I return."

"Iíll do everything I can," Gaius promised, taking Merlinís hand and pressing something into it. "It was a gift from my mother; itís supposed to bring luck to whoever carries it."

Merlin closed his hand around the rabbitís foot. "Thank you. I think I can use all the luck I can get."

Merlin left Camelot immediately, pushing his horse to its limits until he reached the lake where the Isle of the Blessed lay concealed, a boat resting at the shore. Once he stepped into it, it propelled itself across the lake to the island shrouded in the mists, stopping when it reached an empty pier. Merlin made his way to the ruins, stopping in the courtyard when a voice spoke his name.

"Why have you come here?"

"Nimueh!" Merlin glared. "I came for water to cure the poison of the Questing Beast."

The sorceress laughed aloud at that and ran a hand over the ruined alter behind her. "Do you know the price of such a gift?"

"I know. Iím willing to trade my life for his," Merlin replied, remembering how eager she had been for his death months earlier. "Just give me the water."

Nimueh extended her arm, showing Merlin a goblet. "If he drinks water from this goblet, he will be saved." When Merlin leaned in to look closer, she clasped his wrist, pulling him next to her then crying out to the heavens, causing a thunderstorm to swirl in around them, the rain filling the goblet.

Merlin watched silently as the storm cleared as quickly as it started, and Nimueh poured the water into a flagon that she then handed to him. Without another word to the sorceress, Merlin tucked the water safely into his belt pouch and began his journey back to Camelot, pushing the horse beyond what it could have accomplished without his magic in order to shorten the time.

He ran directly to Arthurís chamber, fortunately arriving at a time when Uther had gone to deal with urgent matters and Gaius was alone in the chamber. "I got it, Gaius," he exclaimed, offering the flagon to the physician.

"Heís still alive," Gaius answered, waving Merlin around to lift Arthurís head and support him. Once that was done, he carefully poured the water into the princeís mouth, stroking his throat to help him swallow.

"What are you giving him?" Uther demanded as he returned in time to see this. "Did you find something that would help him?"

"Itís a tincture that cures some poisons, sire," Gaius explained quickly. "It may help."

Uther sank down onto the chair by his sonís bed, saying that he planned to stay, and Merlin reluctantly stood back, desperately wanting to touch Arthur, to hold his hand for what was probably the last time but unable to in Utherís presence. They all waited in tense silence until Arthur began to stir.

"What happened?" the prince asked as he opened his eyes and looked around at the circle of concerned faces watching him.

"Arthur!" Uther leaped to his feet, catching his sonís hand in his own, fierce joy blazing in his face, eclipsed by Merlinís.

"Father?" Arthur asked, his gaze skipping from Utherís face to Merlinís and finally back again.

"You were bitten by the Questing Beast," Gaius explained when it seemed the other two men were unable to. "Merlin brought you back here, and we were able to cure you."

"I am pleased you are well," Uther said, squeezing Arthurís hand before releasing him and getting to his feet. "I must see that your recovery is announced to the people. They need to know that their prince is well."

Uther made his way from Arthurís chamber, and Merlin immediately moved to Arthurís side, reaching for Arthurís hand before remembering Gaiusí presence and letting his hand fall back to his side.

"I am glad to see that you are recovered, Your Highness," Gaius said before bowing and taking a step back. "Just remember that your wound is not fully healed; Iím sure Merlin can get you anything that you need." He bowed again and walked out of the room, leaving the two young men alone.

"What did you do, Merlin?" Arthur demanded the moment the door was shut though his hand closed around Merlinís, and he pulled him down to the bed beside him.

Merlin made a strangled sound and turned into Arthur, clinging to him desperately, hardly able to believe that heíd succeeded and that Arthur was healed. "I brought back the cure, thatís all," he mumbled into Arthurís chest.

"And so you save my life again," Arthur chuckled, kissing the top of Merlinís head. "How shall I say thank you this time?"

Merlin closed his eyes, pressing closer. "Not getting yourself killed would be a good start."

"Iíll do my best," Arthur promised, bringing up an arm and resting it around Merlinís waist. "Of course you could just stay here for the rest of the day and make sure that I stay safe..."

"Nothing but your fatherís return could make me move from this spot," Merlin assured him.

"Mmm, Iím glad." Arthur kissed the top of Merlinís head again and relaxed back against his pillows, holding Merlin securely to make certain that he didnít move. "Then we can stay here for at least a week."

Merlin flinched very slightly and tried to cover it with a laugh. "I think your father might want to see you before then."

"We can tell him Iím recovering and donít want to be disturbedóafter all, it might be true," the prince chuckled, "just a different kind of recovery."

Merlin laughed, hoping the near hysteria in it wasnít apparent to Arthur. "Iíd like that," he said with absolute truthfulness.

"Just let me," Arthur paused as he yawned, "get my strength back, and Iíll see what trouble we can get up to."

"Iíll look forward to it," Merlin whispered. "Now sleep. I just want to lie here with you and know youíre well."

"Because of you," Arthur murmured. "Thank you, Merlin. Love you."

"I love you too, Arthur Pendragon, more than anything."

"Good morning." The words were followed by a kiss slanting over Merlinís mouth, followed by a hand sliding up under his shirt so that agile fingers could find his nipple.

Merlinís eyes widened as he realized he had survived the night, and then he pulled Arthur over him, eager to celebrate the fact that they were both alive and together.

"Definitely a good morning," Arthur laughed, nipping at Merlinís lower lip before beginning to work his way lower, shoving Merlinís shirt up and off him even as his mouth closed over the nipple that he hadnít been teasing.

"A brilliant, perfect morning," Merlin replied, wrapping his arms and legs around Arthur and giving himself up to the pleasure as Arthur slowly kissed, licked and bit his way over and down Merlinís body, leaving a rash of reddened flesh in his wake until he finally took Merlinís erect shaft into his mouth.

Merlin moaned, his back arching and his fingers combing through the blonde hair. "Love you," he gasped, "love you so much."

Arthurís unintelligible answer vibrated around Merlinís cock, making him shudder and thrust upward, whimpering softly. As Arthur sucked, he rolled Merlinís balls between his fingers, groaning himself as he tasted the musky tang of Merlinís need on his tongue.

"Yes, please," Merlin begged, squirming. "Suck me then fuck me. Want it all today."

Arthur lifted his head, his blue eyes dark with desire as he stared up the length of Merlinís flushed body. "Everything," he promised before diving back in, one finger tracing around the tight hole behind Merlinís sac.

Merlin stared down at Arthur, his eyes flaring gold for a moment simply from the overwhelming pleasure, and he squirmed, thrusting up into Arthurís mouth and then back, trying to force the teasing finger inside himself. Arthur sucked harder as the tip of his finger breeched Merlinís ass, moving slowly.

"All I could ever want," Merlin gasped, keeping his eyes open to watch Arthur, who pulled back, dragging his tongue over the head of Merlinís cock as he pressed his finger deeper.

Merlin cried out, his back arching again, and he came, gasping Arthurís name, the prince sealing his lips around the spasming flesh he had been tormenting and swallowing down each spurt of liquid. Merlin collapsed back against the bed, a sated smile curving his lips even as he demanded, "Now shag me."

"Feeling very pushy this morning, arenít you?" Arthur chuckled as he crawled up Merlinís body and kissed him, at the same time reaching for the container of oil at the side of his bed.

"Needing to know w-youíre really alive," Merlin corrected, watching him hungrily.

"Thanks to you." Arthur levered himself back onto his knees as he spilled oil out into his palm, dragging two fingers through it before plunging them into Merlinís ass, his cock throbbing at the tight clench of muscle around them.

"Never going to let you die," Merlin nearly sobbed, thrusting upward to ride Arthurís fingers.

"Shh, Iím here," Arthur whispered, his movements becoming gentle as he twisted his fingers before pulling them back then kissing Merlin as he slotted his cock against the slicked hole and pressed inside.

"I love you," Merlin moaned against Arthurís lips, "more than my own life," he whispered almost soundlessly.

Arthur kissed him again as he began to move, gliding in and out of the tight passage, moving his hands upward to cup Merlinís face between his palms. Merlin stared up into the blue eyes, shuddering with pleasure. He couldnít come again this quickly, but that didnít prevent his enjoyment.

"Merlin," Arthur gasped into his mouth, his hips snapping faster as pleasure mounted within him, licking like lightning bolts along his body until it finally erupted as he came, spending himself as he stared down at Merlin.

"I wish we could stay like this forever," Merlin whispered. "Let the kingdom and magic take care of themselves; just let us be us."

"That would be nice," Arthur allowed, stroking his thumb over Merlinís cheekbone and smiling down at him, his eyes lazy and half-closed with satiation. "But then, if that happened, we wouldnít be us, would we?"

"I hate the rare moments when you actually make sense," Merlin replied with a grin.

"Rare moments?" Arthur pulled back, his eyes widening. "Are you saying that Iím an imbecile?"

Merlin smirked. "I would never dream of saying such a thing to my prince."

"And now youíre lying to me!" Arthur rolled to the side, his hand skittering over Merlinís ribs, finding every ticklish spot and hitting them. Merlin howled with laughter, trying to twist free but unable to defeat Arthurís superior strength and weight advantage.

"Uncle," he finally cried, tears of laughter running down his cheeks.

"I am not an imbecile," Arthur huffed, glaring at him.

"Of course you arenít; youíre a prat," Merlin replied.

"But you love me," Arthur smirked before a knock on the door had them both scrambling for their clothes.

"Enter," Arthur called once he and Merlin were both dressed. The door opened, and Gaius entered, his aged face looking even more care-worn.

"I am sorry to disturb you, sire, but I must speak to Merlin."

"Gaius? Whatís wrong?" Merlin asked anxiously, taking a step toward him.

"Itís your mother; sheís here in Camelot, but sheís ill."

"Ill?" Merlin was dismayed. "Why is she here? Do you know whatís wrong? Where is she?" He threw question after question at Gaius without allowing the physician a chance to reply.

"In our quarters. You should come with me, Merlin." Gaius looked over at Arthur at that, an apology on his lips, when the prince spoke.

"Go to her, Merlin. Iím sure Gaius will find a cure for what ails her."

Merlin nodded worriedly, following Gaius back to his room, growing more nervous as the physician continued to evade his questions. He rushed inside once they drew near, only to stop in horror as he saw his mother, every bit of her that he could see covered in blisters, Gwen sitting at her side and gently bathing her brow with a damp cloth.

"What is wrong with her?" Merlin whispered, frozen in place.

"Iím not sure," Gaius said, his voice low and solemn. "Sheís burning up with fever." His hand closed on Merlinís shoulder as he spoke, as if there was more that he left unsaid.

With dawning horror, Merlin turned to look at Gaius. "Can you help her?" he begged.

"Iíll do everything I can."

"But you canít save her," Merlin said hopelessly, barely glancing up when Gwen paused to squeeze his shoulder as she left the chamber, giving him privacy with his mother.

"A life for a life," Gaius said sadly. "That is the way of the old magic, and it has chosen Hunithís life in exchange for Arthurís."

Merlin turned on his heel and ran from the room, not stopping until he reached the ledge in the cavern that served as the dragonís prison. "You lied to me," he yelled. "I bargained my life for Arthurís, not my motherís!"

All was silent in the cavern before the swoop of wings heralded the dragonís arrival. "You cannot dictate whom the magic takes, young warlock," it boomed.

"It cannot have my mother," Merlin raged. "You betrayed me! It was my life, my choice, and I will not allow my mother to die, nor will I ever trust you again. You will never leave here," he vowed furiously, "never see the light of day again."

"Merlin. Merlin!" the dragon howled, rising into the air and roaring out his fury with huge gouts of fire as Merlin turned and ran back up the tunnel that led to his lair.

Merlin returned to Gaiusí chambers and sank down beside his motherís bed, carefully taking her hand in his and managing a wavering smile when Hunith opened her eyes to look him. "Donít worry, Mum," he whispered, "everythingís going to be fine. Just rest now."

Once she dozed off again, he turned to Gaius. "This is Nimuehís doing. But Iím not going to let this happen, Gaius. Iím going back to the Isle of Blessed and fix this. I have to."

The sound of the outer door opening stopped Gaius from replying, and both he and Merlin looked up to see Arthur standing in the main room. "I cameó" he began, before pausing and looking at the two of them. "Has her condition improved?"

Merlin swallowed hard and cast a glance at Gaius that had the physician murmuring something and leaving the room, shutting the door firmly behind him to ensure Merlin and Arthurís privacy.

"Arthur, I..." Merlin trailed off helplessly. "When you get a new servant, make sure heís not a yes-man. And try not to be too much of a prat."

"What are you going on about?" Arthur asked, crossing over to Merlinís side and resting his hand on his shoulder. "Gaius will find a cure for her."

Merlin shook his head slowly, knowing that this was the time for absolute honesty. "Magic saved your life, Arthur, but magic demands a balance, a life for a life." He stared at his feet. "I bargained my life for yours, but Nimueh lied, as ever, and it is my mother who is dying. I canít let that happen, Arthur." Merlin raised tormented eyes to meet Arthurís.

Arthur stared down at the dark-haired youth, his eyes slowly narrowing as he worked out just what Merlin meant. "You wanted to trade your life for mine."

"I did trade my life for yours."

"Why?" Arthur demanded.

"Because I love you, you stupid prat! And you will be king; you have to live."

"Not at the cost of your life," Arthur said fiercely. "And not at the cost of your motherís."

"Better mine than yours. Never yours."

"And never yours," Arthur responded, tilting Merlinís face up so that he could kiss him.

Merlin half sobbed, half laughed before responding to the kiss, gorging himself on the taste of his prince. "Never forget that I love you," he whispered when he finally drew back. And then his eyes flared gold, he whispered a spell, and Arthurís eyes closed. He floated Arthur to his bed and settled him, pressing a final kiss to the princeís lips before he left.

Merlin stopped in surprise when he found Gwen waiting outside the chamber, holding a parchment. "Gaius asked me to give this to you."

Frowning Merlin read the letter, and a moment later was running to the stables, ignoring Gwenís questions behind him. Once again he rode a horse near to floundering as he raced to the Isle of the Blessed, but Gaius had enough of a head start that he was already lying dead at Nimuehís feet when Merlin arrived.


"Your mother lives, Merlin; are you not pleased by this fact?" the witch asked before looking down at the body at her feet. "A life for a life, you knew this."

"My life! Not my motherís, not Gaiusí, mine," Merlin snarled. An instant later, he raised his hand and blasted Nimueh, who held her hand up, catching the gout of power and holding it so that the flames gloved her palm.

"We are like kin, Merlin," she said. "We could rule the world together, end Utherís tyranny. This is why your life was not taken; the others are nothing compared to you."

"Arthur is everything," Merlin snapped, watching her hand warily. "And I am nothing like you."

"Then your fate is decided." Nimueh cried, pointing toward Merlin and letting loose the flare of power she had held contained.

"No!" The cry came from the passageway to the boat dock as the brilliant energy struck Merlin, and Arthur charged toward the witch, his sword drawn.

Nimueh laughed and sent Arthur flying back against a wall with a wave of her hand. The prince slumped to the ground, at the very least dazed, and Nimueh turned her back on both men to saunter back toward the altar, only to stop in her tracks at the voice behind her.

"You shouldnít have killed my friend or attacked Arthur." Merlin pushed to his feet and looked up at the sky, intoning a spell that had storm clouds gathering.

The witch looked upward, her triumphant expression morphing to shock at the black clouds. "No! You canít!" she cried, spinning to look at Merlin.

"I can. I have." Merlin watched impassively as lightning struck Nimueh, a prolonged, continuous bolt that caused her to jerk and then explode, utterly destroyed by Merlinís power.

As soon as she was gone, Merlin cast an anguished look at Gaius, but he ran to Arthur, hoping against hope that Nimueh hadnít killed him. He sank to his knees on the sodden ground, pulling Arthurís head into his lap as he cried his name.

"Wható" Arthur began, groaning as he tried to sit up, then his gaze sharpened, and he batted away Merlinís hands to look around. "Where is she? What happened?" he demanded before spinning to study Merlin. "Are you all right?"

Merlin sobbed. "She killed Gaius." He collapsed against Arthur, one hand gesturing vaguely toward where Gaius lay slumped at the base of the altar.

Arthurís expression turned sorrowful, and he supported the younger man as he looked at the body by the altar, blinking away the rain that poured over them both. After a moment, he frowned and blinked again, not sure if he could believe his eyes. "Merlin. Merlin, look."

Merlin looked up at him in bewilderment then followed Arthurís gaze and froze. Gaius was moving. "Gaius!" A moment later he had scrambled to his feet and was running and sliding over the rain-slick grass to Gaiusí side, nearly knocking himself unconscious on the altar when he fell to the ground next to his mentor.

"Merlin," the older man gasped before beaming and pulling him into a hug. "What happened?" he asked.

"You tried to sacrifice yourself!" Merlin replied, sounding annoyed before he hugged Gaius fiercely. "And I killed Nimueh, and when you feel better, you need to look at Arthur. He hit his head again."

"Well, of course I did," Gaius began before pausing. "Arthur? Heís here? Did he see anything?"

Merlin looked sheepish and glanced over at Arthur, then had to smother a snicker at the rain dripping off the princeís nose.

"Yes, he saw something, but itís nothing he hasnít seen before," Arthur answered, crouching down beside the other two and smiling at Gaius.

Gaiusí narrowed gaze shot to Merlin, who had the grace to flush. "Arthur knows everything about me."

"And before you ask, Iíve known for months," Arthur cut in as Gaius floundered for words.

"We need to talk about this, but, Merlin, could you please stop this blasted rain?"

Merlin started laughing helplessly, but the rain cleared, the sun shining down brightly on the three men. "Do you feel well enough to travel? We should get back to Camelot," Merlin said, an arm around Gaius and one hand clutching Arthurís.



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