Rating: very R
Wordcount: um... 12990. I fail at the 'flash' part of flashfic.
Summary: Arthur wakes up changed and that changes everything else.
Big thanks to torakowalski for the beta
In Turning We Come Around Right
Merlin didn't realise anything was wrong at first.
For once he was actually awake at the ridiculous hour Arthur normally chose to get up, and it was quite annoying to arrive at Arthur's rooms ready to attend to his duties and get no response to his knock. Merlin decided that Arthur must have been having a rare lie-in and went to breakfast instead.
Getting no response on returning with Arthur's breakfast was even more unusual. Merlin had knocked quietly the first time but the second he banged much more loudly. Arthur had duties of his own, and if he missed them due to oversleeping Merlin knew perfectly well who would get the blame.
The loud knocking should have got a response. Even if Arthur had company he would have yelled for Merlin to bugger off, a system that had started after Merlin had entered one morning and got an eyeful of a youthfully-widowed lady of the court and Arthur that he could have done without. He made sure he knocked in the mornings now, and waited for a response.
But there was nothing, and Merlin was getting a little worried.
"Sire?" he called through the shut door and knocked again, hammered nearly. Silence.
Very tentatively, Merlin tried the door handle. It was locked.
There was still no sound of life from the chamber and Merlin was really worried now. Arthur shouldn't have slept through Merlin's knocking or call; he was a light sleeper unless sick, or drugged, or incapacitated somehow and it wasn't like those things had never happened before.
Merlin looked cautiously around the corridor but nobody was near.
"Sire?" he called again. "Arthur? Look, I'm going to come in unless you say something, so either shout now or don't kill me when I do…" He held his breath and stuck his ear against the door to catch any sound he could, but there was still nothing.
Merlin took one last look up and down and then quietly spelled the lock open, balancing the tray on one hand as he pushed open the door.
He didn't know what he was expecting, but it wasn't Arthur sitting slumped on a stool with his back to the door, elbows balanced on his knees and head in his hands.
"Arthur?" Merlin said, closing the door and then setting the tray on the table and taking a few steps nearer. "Is everything –" he began and cut himself off as Arthur stood up and turned around. "Arthur?" he squeaked, suddenly very glad that he'd put the tray down. Dropping it would make an awful mess and Merlin would definitely have dropped it because it was Arthur, but with curves, lots of curves and Merlin abruptly sat down on the ground.
"Fuck," Arthur said in a miserable voice, crossing his arms over his chest, his breasts and Merlin just stared up at him in astonishment.
Arthur was a girl.
"Stop looking at me," Arthur snarled, snatching a coat up from one of the chairs and wrapping himself up in it, and even his voice had changed, higher pitched though still commanding.
Merlin scrambled back up and dragged his eyes up to Arthur's face, less of his attention on the changes there than on how white Arthur was and the angry desperation in his eyes.
"I don't know," Arthur snapped and slumped down into a chair, huddling back, and Merlin collapsed in the one opposite and struggled with shock.
"Was there anything… did anything weird happen?" Merlin asked after a few moments of awkward silence. He'd looked around the room for any lingering signs of sorcery but nothing seemed out of place or altered. Except Arthur, that is.
"No. I just went to bed, and then I woke up, and," Arthur said in a strained voice and waved a hand at himself at the end. "Until you came in, I was hoping it was a dream," he added, closing his eyes and Merlin winced in sympathy. He couldn't imagine waking up like that.
"Well, it's obviously sorcery," Merlin said and winced again at saying something that stupid as Arthur opened his eyes to glare furiously.
"And to think I ever called you an idiot," Arthur said sarcastically. "Of course it's fucking sorcery, you half-wit!"
"Sorry," Merlin muttered.
"Well?" Arthur said, drumming his fingers on the chair arm.
"Fix me," Arthur said intensely and Merlin stared.
When Merlin had finally had to do magic right in front of Arthur to save his life, Arthur had immediately declared he'd seen nothing at all, said 'don't tell me' when Merlin had tried to explain and then never acknowledged the matter again. If anything showed how upset Arthur was, it was bringing up the topic he'd declared forbidden.
"I don't know how," Merlin admitted. He'd never heard of anything like this. Arthur stared at him as if he could change the answer through sheer will power and then his head sank down as he apparently accepted Merlin was telling the truth.
"You have to. I can't stay like this, Merlin, I can't," he said and Merlin sat forward in alarm because Arthur's voice had the tiniest shake and his grip on the chair arms was white-knuckled.
"You won't, I'll find a way," Merlin babbled, "and I'll get Gaius, maybe –"
"No!" Arthur said, surging out of his chair and Merlin closed his mouth with a snap. "Nobody can see me! No-one knows about this, do you understand?" He paced agitatedly around the room while Merlin watched, before eventually bracing his hands on the table edge, his head down.
"Your breakfast is on the table," Merlin said after a minute, realising it was inane but at a loss for anything else.
"Breakfast?" Arthur said incredulously. "You think I care about breakfast? Merlin, I'm a sodding girl!"
"You can still eat breakfast," Merlin persisted. It might calm Arthur down at least. "And, and we can think about what to do."
"Well, one of us can. I've never been entirely sure you're capable," Arthur said snidely but he sat down and started banging things about and spreading honey onto the bread so Merlin ignored him.
It was his turn to pace while Arthur ate and glared, but it didn't take long for Merlin to exhaust his memories of transformative spells. He'd only heard of a few and they were all for objects, not living creatures. He needed Gaius' advice.
"Stop wandering about like that," Arthur finally said peevishly and Merlin sighed impatiently but sat at the other side of the table.
"It helps me think," he explained and Arthur's lip curled, making Merlin aware that one of the things that hadn't changed was the shape of his mouth. And his temper, of course, but since that wasn't physical there was no reason it should have.
"You don't need to think. I've already got a plan: we find whoever did this and then I kill them."
"How is that going to turn you back?" Merlin asked pointedly and Arthur glared. His eyes were the same too.
"It will make me feel better."
"And how are we going to work out who did it, when we don't know how it was done?" Merlin asked. "We need Gaius. He knows far more than me."
"No," Arthur said firmly.
"And what about the training and patrolling you're supposed to do today? I can tell your father you've buggered off hunting again, but I'll end up in the stocks and then I won't be able to help. Gaius is probably the only person who can keep him off your back long enough to work this out," Merlin said, leaning forward to try and convince Arthur.
Arthur looked conflicted. "Fine," he said after a moment. "You can tell him and get his help. But I won't see him."
"Fine," Merlin said getting up.
"You're going now?" Arthur said.
"Best get started," Merlin said and Arthur nodded, but his jaw was clenched tight and Merlin hesitated. "I'll be right back," he said and Arthur shrugged moodily, but looked more relaxed as Merlin left.
"Good God," Gaius said when Merlin finished explaining.
"Have you ever heard of a spell for this?" Merlin asked.
"No. No, I haven't," Gaius said, shaking his head. "But I'm sure we'll find a way to fix it. Where is Arthur?"
"Holed up in his room. I thought you could tell the king he was sick," Merlin suggested.
"Hmm. Uther will probably want to see him. Could we get away with that?" Gaius asked speculatively and Merlin considered. Bundling Arthur up in bed would disguise his body, but though the changes to Arthur's face were subtle, he did look different; his features finer and less angular than before. From a distance that might not be noticeable, but there was no way they could keep Uther at a distance.
"No," Merlin said definitely.
"Right, then," Gaius said briskly. "I'll tell Uther that Arthur has a non-life-threatening but unpleasant and highly infectious illness and that I've banned all visitors, including him, for fear of it taking out the entire court."
"Will that definitely work?" If it didn't, Merlin would have to find a way to smuggle Arthur out of the castle, and there were just too many ways that could go wrong.
"Oh, yes. Especially if I add details about unsightly pustules. Uther is rather squeamish about such things. Now, if anyone asks, you suffered the same illness as a boy and should be immune, which is why you are Arthur's only permitted attendant. There, that should do, and we'll start looking for something to counter it when I get back."
"Great. I'll go tell Arthur," Merlin said as Gaius left the room. He made sure to pick up his magic book and hide it in his jacket so he could do research as well and made his way back to Arthur.
The door was locked again of course, but this time Arthur actually let Merlin in when he knocked. He was calmer than earlier, but still angry and wasn't particularly impressed that Gaius also hadn't heard of such a spell.
"So what good is he then? I said no-one else needed to know."
"He'll do research, like me," Merlin said getting annoyed as well. He got that this was difficult, but Arthur could be a bit more pleasant. "And for now he's telling your father you have an infectious illness with pustules and are to have no visitors, so he's some use isn't he?"
"Pustules? That's disgusting," Arthur said, screwing his face up and Merlin grinned. It looked liked Arthur was squeamish too.
"Yeah, big, oozing, weeping, green ones," he said and Arthur pulled an even worse face, told Merlin to shut up and went back to trying to wear a hole in the floor through pacing while Merlin skimmed through his book for something useful. It was a strange spell for anyone to cast; Merlin couldn't figure out the reasoning for it. It wasn't like Arthur had actually been harmed.
Eventually he had to give up because he couldn't concentrate with Arthur stamping about and making increasingly violent threats against whoever was responsible.
"Why would anyone do this?" he asked and Arthur stopped pacing and stuck his hands on his hips. Her hips? Merlin wondered, studying their new curves and then hastily looking elsewhere as Arthur glared and wrapped the coat around his body again. Definitely his hips, if Merlin wanted to remain sound of limb.
"Because they're evil and they hate me?" Arthur asked sarcastically.
"No, I mean what's the purpose? You're not dead, or hurt, you just look different," Merlin said. "So why? What's the point?"
"You're assuming they aren't just completely insane," Arthur said bitterly but he leant back against the table and looked thoughtful. "And I might as well be dead like this," he said slowly. "Like an assassination with no murder."
"What? What do you mean you might as well be dead? You're a girl, not, not something hideous or monstrous."
"But I'm not the Prince," Arthur said impatiently. "Don't you get it? My father now has no heir to his throne. The kingdom is vulnerable."
"That's ridiculous," Merlin said. "Of course you're still heir, you're still you, aren't you?"
"No," Arthur said, pacing again. "A woman can't hold the throne. The king needs to be a warlord, to lead men into battle. And I can't do that now."
"Of course you can."
"I can't fight like this, Merlin," Arthur said, gesturing violently.
"Why not? Morgana can fight," Merlin protested.
"But she can't lead an army and neither can I now. Who would follow me?"
"I… your knights would," Merlin offered but he was starting to see where Arthur was going.
"Some of them, perhaps," Arthur said, sounding tired rather than angry as he walked back to where Merlin sat. "But others would protest, and so would some of the nobles whose troops we rely on. They would challenge my right to command or refuse to acknowledge me at all and it would rip the kingdom apart." Merlin sighed in reluctant agreement as Arthur sat down again, looking like he'd been gut-stabbed and was trying to hide it. "If there is no way to turn me back, either I must abdicate or my father will have to disown me as his heir."
"Leaving the kingdom vulnerable until he chooses another," Merlin supplied softly and winced as he said it because he knew how that would hurt Arthur. "And so there is chaos for Camelot either way."
"Yes," Arthur agreed, his eyes closed. "We'd be ripe for invasion," he added and Merlin shivered. It did sound like the most plausible reason.
"I won't let that happen," he promised. "I'll get you back to normal somehow."
Arthur held his eyes for a long moment before he nodded and looked away again. He was silent after that and Merlin went back to his book. He didn't think Arthur was convinced, but he would find a way to fix this. He just didn't know how yet.
Arthur sent Merlin away after he had brought lunch for them both and done the rest of his tasks, so he went in search of Gaius. He hadn't had any more luck than Merlin yet and he was called away to attend a birth in the afternoon so Merlin carried on searching through the many tomes in Gaius' possession on his own.
He was also thinking through who was at court to see if he could work out who might have cast the spell. There weren't many guests that week – a group of knights from the south, a few noblemen there to petition Uther – and they were all from inside Camelot's borders so there was no obvious candidate there. Of course, someone could always be betraying Camelot but Merlin was sure his chances of discovering that were slim. And then there were all the servants and armsmen the visitors had brought with them… it wasn't like sorcerers were really easy to spot either, even for someone else magic. Merlin was usually grateful for that, but right now it made things difficult.
When he had to light candles to see what he was reading, he gave up and went to collect Arthur's dinner. When Arthur let him in, it was obvious that he was in the same mood as earlier: brooding and pissed off.
"Anything?" Arthur mumbled through a mouthful of pie and Merlin had to shake his head. Arthur gave a depressed grunt through the food in response and Merlin ducked his head and went to poke up the fire.
"There's a lot of different incantations and kinds of magic out there," he said, nudging the wood about aimlessly. "It's just going to take some time, that's all."
Merlin swallowed his own discouragement and tried to be more encouraging. "More than the couple of hours we've had," he said. He heard Arthur's chair scrape across the floor and turned to find Arthur had stood up.
"Fine. I'm going to bed, not like I've anything else to do," Arthur said tightly. Merlin nodded, and out of sheer habit walked over and reached to help Arthur out of his clothes.
Arthur shied away and grabbed Merlin's hands, snapping, "Merlin!" and Merlin jerked back, feeling his face go red hot. "What the hell do you think you are doing?"
"Sorry," Merlin said quickly, backing further away. "I wasn't thinking, sorry."
"Do you ever?" Arthur asked, and Merlin tucked his hands in his armpits, feeling mortified. "Oh, just get out," Arthur said with a sigh and Merlin made hastily for the door.
"Right. Going. I'll see you at breakfast," he said and escaped into the corridor, waiting to hear the lock turn before he walked away, calling himself an idiot with every step.
The next morning was much the same. Gaius was looking for solutions in between his physician's duties and running interference with Uther and the court and Merlin carried out his manservant duties and then sat with a pile of books in Arthur's rooms and read them when he wasn't otherwise occupied trying to distract Arthur.
The only time Merlin had seen Arthur confined to his rooms before, it was as a result of illness or injury and he hadn't been able to make much fuss. It turned out that Arthur absolutely hated not being able to go out, something Merlin probably could have predicted if he'd really thought about it.
Another thing Arthur really didn't like was not being able to act. Merlin had tried giving him one of Gaius' books to search but Arthur had put it down in disgust after barely half an hour and sat tapping his foot on the floor and staring at Merlin until Merlin was tempted to throw his own book at him.
"You're not going to fix it, are you?" Arthur eventually burst out.
"I said I would and I will," Merlin said firmly, trying to concentrate on the words before him and not the tension in Arthur's voice.
"Then why haven't you?"
"I don't know how yet," Merlin said, forcing his fingers to loosen on the pages before he tore them.
"You mean you can't," Arthur said in his most disdainful tone. "I don’t know why I ever thought someone as generally useless as you could."
Merlin closed the book with a thump and glared. "I mean that I don't know how yet. And you behaving like a brat won't make me find out how any faster."
"Don't you dare talk to me like that. And I don't think you could go any slower, you've read that same page five times," Arthur snarled.
"If I've read it more than once it's because you keep distracting me," Merlin snapped back. "And if you're so unhappy with what I'm doing, why don't you fix it yourself? Oh wait, you can't," he said sarcastically and Arthur glared furiously.
"Shut up, sorcerer. It's just as well Gaius is looking too, if I have to rely on your idiocy to save me I'll be like this until I die," he retorted and Merlin stood up angrily.
"My so-called idiocy hasn't stopped me saving your life, has it? I'm sure I can save your prick too, it's much more insignificant," he taunted then had to dodge quickly as Arthur really did throw a book at him.
He shot around the other side of the table as Arthur came up out of his seat in pursuit, face livid. Merlin was sure that even as a girl Arthur could beat him to a pulp so he feinted left and then ran for the door, unlocking it magically and getting through and slamming it shut again just in time. He knew Arthur wouldn't follow him out in case there was anyone else there and sure enough, there was one loud bang from inside that was probably Arthur overturning a chair in frustration and then silence.
The stupid git.
Merlin stomped off down the corridor and nearly ran straight into Morgana and Gwen coming the other way.
"Sorry," he said, skidding to a stop to avoid a collision.
"Merlin," Morgana said as Gwen smiled at him. "How's Arthur?"
"Miserable," Merlin said with a shrug. "And spreading it around," he added, his irritation coming through clearly in his voice.
"Oh dear," Gwen said and Morgana laughed.
"That sounds like Arthur. He does so hate to be ill, especially anything that might make him less pretty," she said in an amused voice and Merlin bit his tongue because he had to admit that Arthur as a girl was actually very pretty.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Gwen offered, looking concerned.
"No, no, that's fine," Merlin refused quickly. "I've had it before so I should be safe, but Gaius doesn't want anyone else to catch it or we'll have the entire castle stuck in bed."
"No, that would be unfortunate," Morgana said. "Though I won't say some courtiers wouldn't deserve it. Please pass on to Arthur that I hope he recovers soon."
"Of course, my lady," Merlin said obediently as Morgana walked past him. Gwen whispered 'good luck' with a commiserating smile as she followed and Merlin made his way back towards his room feeling a little calmer.
He very nearly didn't take Arthur his lunch, but finally Merlin decided that was unnecessarily petty despite Arthur being the biggest pain in the kingdom. He didn't go in with it though, just knocked and yelled to Arthur that it was on the ground and then walked off again. Merlin knew from long experience that an Arthur spoiling for a fight was one that took a long time to get his temper back under control.
By the time dinner came around it was probably safe so Merlin spelled the door open and walked in cautiously. Arthur was practicing sword drills over by the fire, the chairs pushed out of the way, and he turned as Merlin entered and set his sword up on the mantel.
"Dinner," Merlin said, gesturing at the tray he'd set down in illustration.
"So I see," Arthur agreed.
"Morgana says she hopes you feel better," Merlin said, turning to go as Arthur sat down.
"Wait," Arthur said and Merlin looked back. "There's enough for two," he offered and Merlin hesitated and then sat.
They ate in silence for a while but when there was nothing left but crumbs Arthur cleared his throat. "I was unfair earlier. I know you're doing your best."
"I might be a rotten servant sometimes, but I am quite good at magic you know," Merlin said, but he was already feeling mollified and he knew Arthur could tell by the way he just smirked in response.
The sun was setting outside so Merlin got up and lit all the candles and torches. He settled down in a chair and picked up the book to find where he'd left off. Arthur sat for a bit longer at the table and then came back over to collect his sword and start training again.
It didn't look quite right Merlin decided later, when he looked up idly at a curse from Arthur. He'd seen Arthur do this any number of times but his movements weren't quite as smooth as usual and he was frowning in frustration when he normally just looked stern.
He thought it was the physical exertion that had calmed Arthur down from earlier, but Merlin wasn't sure it was working anymore. Arthur getting outside might help, but he and Gaius had already decided there was too much risk of discovery to try that as anything other than a last resort and Merlin didn't think Arthur being unhappy qualified as that.
There was really no way that Arthur could pretend to be as he was either. He'd discarded the coat from yesterday to practice in breeches and shirt and it was very clear that no amount of binding was going to hide that his new curves were, well, very curvy. The breeches were tight enough over Arthur's hips that Merlin was sure he must have struggled to get them on, and the shirt clung in a way that made it obvious Arthur now had at least as good a bust as Gwen, maybe better. Not that Merlin had been looking at Gwen, but he wasn't blind.
Merlin was vaguely aware of Arthur muttering some swear words but he did notice after half a minute that Arthur was now standing still. And that he was still staring curiously at Arthur's chest.
He raised his eyes quickly to Arthur's face and found Arthur staring at him in outrage.
"Merlin, what the fuck?" Arthur shouted and Merlin flinched.
"Sorry? You were staring at my chest," Arthur snapped, stalking forward and Merlin scrambled out of the chair and backed up.
"I didn't mean to," he said hastily. "I was just… distracted."
"By my chest?"
"Yes. No!" Merlin corrected, hitting the wall, and frantically trying to dig himself out of this hole. "I mean, you were just there. And, and all curvy, and I was thinking, and –"
"Thinking?" Arthur purred dangerously. "Thinking that you liked what you saw, hm? Staring at me like I'm a barmaid, wondering what they'd feel like?" and Merlin went red as Arthur crowded close threateningly because he hadn't thought that, or he didn't think he had, but he was now Arthur had brought it up. "Well, don't let me stop you from satisfying your curiosity," Arthur spat and he grabbed Merlin's hand and slapped it onto his chest, the look in his eyes just daring Merlin to break and run.
He should have, Merlin knew. Should have snatched his hand back and escaped. But Arthur was breathing hard and Merlin could feel the soft shape filling his hand pressing against him with each breath and he didn't. He just shifted his hand to cup it a little more, and stroked gently with his thumb. And Arthur didn't pull back either. The anger in his face was fading into something more uncertain, and he bit his lip and pulled his eyes from Merlin's to look down at Merlin's hand on him.
Merlin looked down as well and saw the little bump of Arthur's nipple pressing against the material and he moved to rub lightly over it without even thinking. Arthur gasped quietly and they both looked up, Merlin feeling it getting harder beneath his thumb, and Arthur jerked away abruptly as their eyes met.
He spun so his back was to Merlin and crossed his arms and Merlin sank back against the wall, realising for the first time that his breath was coming in short pants. He had no idea what to say.
"I'm tired," Arthur said in a rough voice after a long moment. "Leave now," he added and walked over to stare out of the window.
Merlin didn't trust his own voice so he simply slipped as quietly as he could from the room. He was shaking slightly as he walked away, still able to feel Arthur's warmth against his hand and his skin felt too tight and hot.
What had he been thinking? That should never have happened.
The next day was awkward.
Merlin had done his best to avoid Arthur, leaving breakfast and lunch outside his door again, but then Gaius had insisted that Merlin search Arthur's room for magical tokens "or anything that is new" because he'd found a reference to someone being transformed by touching a gift from a sorcerer.
So Merlin had to go in and look and he could feel Arthur's eyes on him the entire time, though every time he made himself look back, Arthur was ostentatiously looking elsewhere.
He didn't find anything. That was a shame, because Gaius said all they needed to do to break that kind of spell would be break the object.
"Have you found anything?" Arthur asked and Merlin shook his head.
"So I'll just go," he suggested and when Arthur didn't reply, Merlin escaped with a sigh of relief. It seemed like Arthur was angry. Merlin wasn't even sure he blamed him, even if it had been half Arthur's fault.
Arthur didn't let him escape after he brought dinner though, ordering him to stay. "Why?" Merlin asked warily, wondering if Arthur was going to punish him somehow.
"I'm bored," Arthur drawled. "That means you have to entertain me."
Merlin leaned back cautiously and prepared to flee just in case but Arthur just gave him an exasperated look. "What's going on out there? I'm not in exile yet."
"Oh," Merlin said. Arthur wanted gossip. That was even fairly safe. "Well, the kitchen staff all wanted to know how you were and Gwen says that the court have been asking Uther about when you'll recover. Gwen says Morgana keeps asking if you'll be hideously scarred from the pustules, but Gwen thinks that's because she likes seeing your father look disturbed."
"Typical Morgana," Arthur said with an unladylike snort, eating some bread.
"Lord Bruenor and Lord Daniel got into a fistfight in the middle of their petition to your father about who owned a certain prize bull and your father put them both in the stocks," Merlin went on with a grin and Arthur smiled.
"I'm sorry I missed that."
"Me too. It’s fun to see someone else there," Merlin said looking at Arthur pointedly, but Arthur just smirked. "Though Gaius said that little Aelth in the village told him that I'm more interesting to throw things at because they just hung there looking sulky."
"At least we know you're good for something then," Arthur said but his tone was teasing so Merlin ignored it.
"Oh, and I ran into Sir Cadoc's squire and he said that one of the visiting knights managed to beat all of yours sparring and they're all desperate for you to get better and teach him a lesson in humility."
"Really?" Arthur said, his eyes going sharp. "Which knight?"
"Grimmic, I think."
"Hm. He's won tournaments in other kingdoms. Good hunter too, he brought down a stag when we were out the other day."
"Well, I shouldn't think he'll give you much trouble," Merlin said confidently and got a pleased smile from Arthur.
"Of course not," Arthur said arrogantly. "I'm the best. Or I was," he added, scowling and Merlin shook his head.
"Are and will be," he said stoutly. He hadn't given up on sorting this out and Arthur wasn't going to either.
"So what else?" Arthur asked after a moment and Merlin shrugged.
"I don't know. I've not been out that much," he explained.
"Right. If you aren't going to entertain me with gossip, we'll just have to do something else," Arthur said authoritatively with a gleam in his eye and Merlin eyed him worriedly. "We can practice that knife fighting I started to teach you," he said and Merlin's shoulders slumped in dismay. He'd known Arthur was going to get him somehow, the gossip was obviously just to lull him into thinking he was safe. "Come on," Arthur said and dragged Merlin up and over to a clear space.
"Arthur, I really don't think –" he started but Arthur just tossed over a wooden blade and Merlin fumbled to catch it.
"Well, I do. I can't afford to get rusty lazing about here," Arthur said.
"I thought this was about me not getting rusty," Merlin said mulishly and Arthur gave him an amused look.
"You don't have any skill to lose yet," he pointed out and lunged forward, making Merlin flail backwards to avoid a hit. "No, not like that…" Arthur said and came over and started shoving Merlin into the right hold and posture, making Merlin freeze in surprise.
That's how it went from there. Arthur was actually a good teacher, but Merlin was sure he hadn't spent so much time touching him when they'd done this before. It seemed like every minute he had Arthur's hands on him somehow and it was making him breathless quite aside from the exertion. And Arthur kept making Merlin watch him do things to see how the moves should be, only that didn't really work because Merlin inevitably ended up watching his hips or other parts that he shouldn't or got caught up watching Arthur's bright eyes and missed whatever Arthur was actually showing him.
What was even more confusing was that Arthur caught him getting distracted every single time because Arthur really didn't miss anything in a fight, but instead of making Merlin pay with painful hits like Merlin knew he could, Arthur just looked at him sideways and carried on.
Finally they did some real sparring and Merlin managed to block a full three strikes from Arthur before Arthur grabbed his wrist and twisted it around and down, making Merlin drop the blunt blade, and dragged him in closer.
Merlin ended up pressed to Arthur's front, feeling Arthur all the way down his body, and he couldn't help the way that made him gasp and his body stir to life.
"Knew you wanted this," Arthur muttered triumphantly and Merlin tried to flinch away because Arthur was still gripping his wrist and didn't really sound pleased, but Arthur let go and stripped off his shirt and Merlin wound up simply staring instead.
He made some small sound of astonishment that made Arthur smirk before he was able to find his voice. "What –"
"Shut up," Arthur said impatiently, stepping back and tugging Merlin along with a hand in his shirt until Arthur was leaning back against the edge of the table and Merlin stumbled to a halt right in front of him. He couldn't have moved on his own if he'd tried, too much of his mind trying to work out what was going on and simultaneously cope with seeing all that beautifully bare skin that looked so soft and tender over rounded breasts.
Arthur apparently realised that Merlin was incapable and moved his hands for him, settling them on his ribs just underneath his breasts and then letting go and Merlin said "Oh," and regained the ability to move. He wasn't entirely sure it was by his own volition that his hands slid up to explore, but there was really nothing else that he could have possibly have done.
Arthur dropped his hands to grip the table edge and Merlin looked up to find that Arthur was watching what his hands were doing, a rapt expression on his face. Merlin hoped that meant something good, because now he'd started to touch he was fairly sure he couldn't stop. Arthur's skin was like warm silk under his fingertips and he could feel Arthur's heartbeat, and the more Merlin stroked the faster that beat got and the quicker they both breathed. Arthur's nipples were getting harder too, tightening up into little peaks, and finally Merlin couldn't wait any longer and let his thumbs wander in until he was touching them, circling and rubbing and teasing.
Arthur gasped and Merlin looked up to find his eyes were closed and he was biting his lower lip and he groaned quietly himself, hot all over at what he was being allowed to do. He didn't know what Arthur had wanted when he'd started this, or how far he could push, but Merlin had always been reckless. He took a deep breath and ducked his head, laying a soft kiss right at the top of where Arthur's breast started and began to work his way lower with little sucks and licks of his tongue.
Arthur made a startled noise and grabbed onto Merlin's head and Merlin froze, wondering if this was when Arthur would pull away. But Arthur relaxed his grip and pushed him to move down again and he kept going, Arthur's skin so smooth under his lips and tasting salt from Arthur's sweat on his tongue. He teased once with a swirl of his tongue around Arthur's nipple that made Arthur tense and tug his hair again and settled in to suck and lick and occasionally nibble until Arthur was gasping and arching away from the table, hips shifting restlessly.
Merlin gathered all his courage and let one hand drift down over Arthur's flat stomach and past his waist to tease along the skin just above where his breeches hung on his hips. There was a heart-stopping second where Arthur went completely still and silent but before Merlin could panic, Arthur pressed forward into his hand. He figured that was all the permission he would get, so he tugged the lacings a little looser, turned his hand and slid it slowly underneath the cloth. He felt Arthur suck in his stomach to create more room and muffled a groan against Arthur's skin, his mouth and other hand still busy up above.
Merlin shook all over when he felt the brush of hair against his fingertips, and then against his palm as he eased lower, fingers curling gently. He could feel Arthur's heat pulling him in and he stroked as softly as he could, his fingers pressing to where Arthur was hottest as Arthur gradually shifted his legs further apart, and he drew them back slick with moisture to slide against delicate flesh.
Arthur gave a choked-off moan and Merlin had to turn his head and rest it against Arthur's chest while his fingers worked and rubbed below because he was so hot that he couldn't breathe and he was aching with how good it felt to touch Arthur like this.
He'd always had quick, clever hands and he used that now in light, swift touches over the little fold that made Arthur groan and start to rock rhythmically into his hand. Arthur's hands were gripping Merlin's arms hard enough to leave bruises and his thighs were trembling, his hips moving faster and harder, and Merlin tugged a nipple back into his mouth and sucked hard and Arthur said "Oh" and went rigid, not even breathing while Merlin felt shudder after shudder ripple through him.
A long moment later Arthur collapsed back against the table, panting, and Merlin eased off, just cupping gently with his hand and somehow finding the strength to stand and not collapse into a desperate heap.
When he thought he was steady enough, he slid his hand back out and straightened up. Arthur was still panting, his chest heaving with every one, and he was staring at Merlin in a daze.
His mouth was open to breathe, his lips looking swollen and dark where he must have been biting them and Merlin leaned in to kiss and taste, nearly mindless with want.
But Arthur flinched back and pushed past Merlin before he could connect and he was left staring at Arthur's back as Arthur snatched up his shirt from the ground and pulled it back on. Arthur didn't look back as he walked over to the window and leaned against the wall. "You can go now," he said in a voice that was shaking underneath the huskiness and Merlin twitched and stared in disbelief.
"Arthur?" he said and if Arthur's voice was shaking, his was falling apart.
"Go, please," Arthur said, leaning his forehead on the window glass and it was the please that did it because Arthur sounded desperate and Merlin was still too aroused to think or say anything without making it worse, so he gathered what wits he had left and stumbled out of the door.
He was aching all over with desire and there was no way he could make it back to his room in this state. Walking to the room next to Arthur's was difficult enough and Merlin only just made it in before he collapsed back against the door and stuck his fingers in his mouth, sucking madly as Arthur's taste exploded across his tongue. He scrabbled futilely at the laces on his breeches with the other hand before he gave up and just forced his hand in and all it took was one touch and he was gone, bright lights behind his eyelids as he shook and moaned helplessly into his hand. It was so intense he was barely able to stand afterwards and Merlin sank down onto the floor and just sat there until he regained the ability to walk.
He managed to magic away the stains but it was going to take a lot longer before he was able to think again. His head was a muddle as he went to his room, full of doubts and Arthur and a fear that they had broken everything into pieces.
He answered Gaius' questions so incoherently when he got back that Gaius actually checked him for a fever, commenting how ironic it would be if Merlin caught a real illness, but Merlin eventually managed to convince him that he was just tired and with a head too full of all the spells he'd read to concentrate.
Merlin tossed and turned when he went to bed, trying to anticipate what was going to happen, what Arthur was going to do, but it was useless. He didn't understand what Arthur was thinking, he was being too unpredictable, and Merlin kept getting distracted by memories until he finally gave up and stole one of Gaius' sleeping draughts and that sent him into grateful oblivion.