Challenge: Make Them Do It
Word count: c. 7000
Spoilers: Through 1x13
Author’s Note: This was supposed to be a short, porny piece to shake me out of my big bang writer’s block. 7000 words later, it’s not short, but at least it’s porny. :)
Accept No Substitutes
It was extraordinary, Merlin reflected as he pounded down the corridor toward the Great Hall, how often the destiny the Great Dragon constantly spoke of entailed saving Arthur from beautiful women.
Not that they didn't see their fair share of evil sorcerers, gryphons, questing beasts and the like, mind you, but after a year in Arthur's service, Merlin noticed that there had also been a generous helping of damsels who were anything but distressed. In fact, they were quite capable in their own fashion, and their ultimate goal usually involved Arthur's premature demise.
The Lady Mireilla was easily the most benign so far, in that she didn't want Arthur dead, only married off – to her. She and her party had been enjoying Camelot's hospitality for well over a week, and while she was quite beautiful and eligible, Uther had made it clear that Arthur would not be matched for some time yet. Unfortunately, it appeared that Mireilla was on a slightly more accelerated timetable, as Gwen and Morgana had explained when they dragged him out of the main hall just after the feast had ended.
“She's twenty-four,” Gwen had told him, as though that explained everything, “and her father's told her that if this visit doesn't lead to a betrothal to Arthur, it's the Thane of Northumbria for her.”
At Merlin's blank look, Morgana had sighed. “You truly are from the country, aren't you? The Thane of Northumbria is at least fifty, with only two of his own teeth left and a stomach that arrives in town fifteen minutes before the rest of him does.” She smirked. “Compared to him, even Arthur looks good.”
Merlin's jaw twitched; lately, he'd been feeling increasingly – unsettled – whenever he heard disparaging comments about Arthur, most of which came from Morgana. He tried not to think about this disturbing trend too much, however, and decided to push it aside for now.
“That's not the worst of it,” Gwen said, peering around the edges of their quiet alcove to check the corridors before continuing. “Just now, I overheard the lady and her maidservant talking. It would seem they used a potion on Arthur before the feast tonight.”
Merlin's heart dove for his boots. “They poisoned him?” he said, straightening and preparing for flight.
“No,” Gwen said, averting her gaze. “It's, um, it's more to compel him to – um.” She made a complicated motion with her hands that Merlin was at a loss to decipher. He blinked at her in confusion.
“Oh, for Heaven's sake,” Morgana huffed, “it's a love potion, designed to make Arthur mad for the first person he sees upon waking. Mireilla intends, of course, for that person to be her. And once Arthur compromises her...”
“...he'll be forced to marry her,” Merlin finished. He hadn't read about them in any of Gaius' books, but love potions and the like were part of folklore, and everyone knew how they worked.
Morgana inclined her head in an approving gesture. “Doubtless she'll be headed to his quarters as soon as Arthur's asleep. That's where you come in.”
“You understand why we want to keep this quiet,” Gwen said. “If Uther were to find out that Mireilla used magic on Arthur –”
Merlin nodded. “Yes, of course.” He wasn't terribly fond of Mireilla, especially after this revelation, but he certainly didn't want her to be burned at the stake simply because she'd been desperate enough to use magic to get a husband who wasn't utterly horrid. Love potions generally only had strength through the night, their power dissipating with the dawn's light. If Arthur could sleep undisturbed until morning, he would never know he had been enchanted, and no harm would have been done.
“Good,” Morgana said. “So you'll stay with him after he falls asleep and ensure Mireilla isn't able to follow through with her plan.”
Merlin blew out a breath. “He usually dismisses me long before he retires,” he admitted. When he'd first entered Arthur's service, he'd sometimes stayed after Arthur went to bed, straightening up the room or tending the fire. But in the past month or two, Arthur had been dismissing him earlier and earlier, so that now he never required him to help him disrobe at night, and on the nights Merlin drew him a bath, Arthur let him go as soon as it was ready. He'd thought about asking Arthur about it, but had decided not to tempt fate. If Merlin was doing something wrong, he would surely have heard of it; Arthur had never been shy about complaining loudly whenever Merlin didn't provide satisfaction. Still, Merlin couldn't dispel the feeling that Arthur wasn't being entirely honest with him about something, and with each passing day, it bothered him more and more.
None of this Morgana knew, of course, so it was easy for her to wave away his concern. “Just make yourself indispensable tonight,” she said airily. “I have confidence in you.”
“Yes, milady,” Merlin said, unable to stop the curl of dread that threaded its way through him.
When Merlin returned to the feast, he found Arthur just taking his leave from the Lady Mireilla. He kept his gaze averted, because if he were to look at her, he was sure his distaste would be written all over his face. Still, he couldn't help but glance at them and mark the way her hand rested familiarly on Arthur's arm, the way she gazed up at him with huge, adoring eyes. He looked away again, but he couldn't escape the sound of her laugh, just this side of hysterical.
Merlin felt his eyes lose their focus, and realised to his horror that he was seconds away from blasting a hole in the stone floor of the Great Hall, no more than five yards from where Uther stood. Not the most brilliant way to avoid getting caught, that.
Finally, Arthur took his leave of Mireilla, bidding her good night, and if there was any extra warmth in his tone, Merlin failed to hear it. And then it struck him like a blow from a mace: what if Arthur truly wanted to be married? After all, it was Uther's idea to keep the crown prince in circulation for the time being in order to negotiate the best possible alliance for Camelot, but no one had bothered to ask Arthur himself what he thought of that plan. Perhaps he would be just as happy to put an end to the humiliation of being paraded about like a prize bull. And Mireilla, though obviously not without her faults, was pleasant enough, as noblewomen went. Was Merlin making the wrong choice for Arthur by conspiring to foil Mireilla's plan?
There was only one way to find out: subtle inquiry. As they walked back to Arthur's rooms, Merlin let his shoulder brush lightly against Arthur's. “So, the Lady Mireilla seems nice,” he ventured.
When Arthur didn't respond, Merlin tried again. “I said, the Lady Mireilla –”
“Yes, Merlin, I heard you.” Arthur's tone was weary, and Merlin glanced at him. He looked as tired as he sounded, and Merlin felt something inside him clench unpleasantly.
“D'you – do you think you might –” Merlin began.
“Erm,” Merlin managed, realising all hope of subtlety seemed to have abandoned him. “Like to marry her?”
Arthur stopped dead in his tracks, and Merlin skidded to a stop to avoid bumping into him. When Arthur turned to glare at him, Merlin winced.
“Right,” he murmured. “I'm guessing that's a no, then.”
“I barely know the woman,” Arthur muttered, starting up again, nearly leaving Merlin in the dust.
“Right,” Merlin repeated.
“And she's very – well, she's not offensive or anything, but she's very –” he made a grabbing gesture with his hands “–touchy. She's always hanging off some part of me.”
“Not your favourite thing,” Merlin acknowledged.
“It's rather off-putting,” Arthur insisted.
“Maybe she just – likes you,” Merlin ventured.
“She likes me a little too much, if you ask me,” Arthur said, making a face. “Mind you, it's not that she doesn't have good taste –”
“Oh, impeccable,” Merlin said, biting back a grin when Arthur shot him a nasty look.
“–nevertheless,” Arthur continued, as they came to a stop outside Arthur's door, “a man prefers a challenge. Someone who won't simply agree with everything he says, who isn't afraid to show a bit of backbone, who –”
When Arthur cut himself off abruptly, Merlin turned to look at the side of Arthur's head, watching as the colour rose inexplicably over the sharp jut of his cheekbone. After a few frozen seconds, Arthur fiddled with the latch until the door finally creaked open. As Merlin followed him inside, Arthur peeled off his shirt, and Merlin found himself presented with the sight of Arthur's broad, muscled back, skin turned to burnished gold in the candlelight. It had been some time since he'd seen that much of Arthur's body, and it made him feel quietly proud, as though Arthur were sharing a secret with him.
Arthur glanced at him over his shoulder, then turned away again. “You may go,” he said. “I won't be needing you any longer.”
Merlin's throat went dry. Damn. In all the talk of Mireilla, he hadn't thought to dream up a convincing excuse to stay.
Arthur stalked over to his wardrobe and flung it open, then fumbled inside for something. As he stretched his left arm up over his head to reach the top shelf, he released a grunt of pain.
Merlin was at his side in an instant. The wound from the questing beast was fully healed, but his ribs and shoulder muscles were still tender, and Gaius had warned him his left arm would be weak for at least another month. Which of course had prompted Arthur to fling himself back into his duties like the thick-brained idiot he could be.
“Now, who's the servant round here?” Merlin murmured, placing one hand on Arthur's upper arm and edging past him to snatch the shift from him. “You've been overdoing it, haven't you?”
Arthur remained stonily silent. Merlin turned to look at him and saw that they were very close, wedged as they were between the large wooden doors of Arthur's wardrobe. Not for the first time, Merlin felt that odd thrill he experienced whenever Arthur's complete attention was focused on him. Arthur's tongue darted out to wet his lips, almost as though he were nervous, an uncharacteristic gesture for him that drew Merlin's attention.
“Merlin,” Arthur murmured. Merlin belatedly realised he was still holding onto Arthur's arm when the muscles shifted under his palm.
Suddenly, Merlin hit on an excuse to stay. “Where's that salve Gaius gave you?” he blurted.
Arthur blinked. “Beside the bed,” he answered. “What –”
“Go lie down,” Merlin said. “I'll rub some on you.”
Arthur made a strange sound halfway between a laugh and a cough, then clamped his lips shut and spun round, stomping toward the bed. Merlin frowned at Arthur's strange behaviour, then moved to follow him.
Arthur climbed into the bed awkwardly, favouring his good arm, and Merlin's frown turned to a scowl. “What kind of warrior will you be if your arm rots and falls off?” he grumbled. Arthur snorted at that, but otherwise made no comment. He lay flat on his belly, his arms loose at his sides, his head turned away, and as Merlin settled beside him, he noticed a faint tremor in Arthur's weak shoulder. “God, you're so bloody stupid sometimes,” he whispered, feeling a surprising wave of affection sweep through him.
“Are you actually going to use the salve, or are you just going to continue to abuse me for the rest of the evening?” Arthur snapped.
Frowning at himself now, Merlin unstoppered the jar and dipped his fingers into the thick salve. “I can manage both at once,” he answered mildly, applying a good-sized dollop to Arthur's shoulder.
Arthur's body jerked under his fingers. “Bugger! That's cold!”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “It'll warm up soon enough,” he said, spreading the stuff carefully over Arthur's skin. Gaius had told him it was meant to relax the muscles and accelerate the healing process, but Merlin didn't dare massage it in too vigourously. Not for the first time, Merlin wished he could whisper a healing spell to increase the potency of the herbs in the salve. One day, perhaps, he would be able to practise his magic openly, but that day was not here yet.
As Merlin worked the salve into Arthur's skin, Arthur emitted a long, slow sigh of contentment that made Merlin smile. “Better?”
“Mmmmmmmmm,” Arthur said, almost purring, and Merlin paused in his ministrations as the vibrations traveled up his fingertips, making them tingle. And just like that, it was as though the world came into sharp focus and he was seeing the scene as though through another's eyes: himself sat on Arthur's bed with Arthur half-naked and pliable beneath his hands, Arthur producing rather sexual sounds as Merlin touched him gently, almost reverently. If someone had chosen to walk in at this moment, they would have seen something that would not have been simple to explain. Of course, it was entirely innocent, but that didn't stop Merlin from wondering for one mad moment what it might feel like to have it be exactly as it appeared.
To have Arthur for his own, not only to protect and care for, but to – alright, yes, to love. Merlin rolled the thought around in his brain, the way he did the words of an unfamiliar spell. The more he examined it, the more it seemed that he'd known it all along, as though it had always been a part of him, the same way each new bit of magic he learned wove itself seamlessly into his existing power. This feeling for Arthur was not alien; on the contrary, it was natural, right, and so obvious he couldn't believe it hadn't risen up and smote him full in the face long before this.
He loved Arthur. It was bloody ridiculous, but there was no denying it.
Merlin blinked, returning to himself as he gazed down at his own hands still splayed over Arthur's back. And what, exactly, was he to do with this new knowledge? Just as with his magic, it wasn't something he could simply confess to Arthur and expect him to understand. He was stuck with another secret, he realised, his gut lurching at the thought.
Just then, Arthur emitted a soft snore, rudely interrupting Merlin's thoughts. Merlin lifted his hands away from Arthur's skin and moved off the bed as carefully as he could so as not to wake him. Arthur shifted and groaned when Merlin drew the blanket up over him; Merlin held his breath until he quieted again, then stood there watching him with a no doubt cow-eyed expression for some minutes after that.
The time would come, he promised himself, when he would tell Arthur the truth about his feelings – about everything. In the meantime, however, he had a job to do.
Merlin wasn't sure how long he was sat by the fire waiting for Mireilla to appear, but it was long enough that he was on the edge of sleep when he finally heard the door creak open. He was on his feet in a moment and hid himself quickly behind a pillar.
She was wrapped in a black velvet cloak, and even in the dim light he could see her pretty face appeared terrified. Merlin tried to hate her, but all he could manage was pity. She had been driven to this choice, and he couldn't despise her for that, not when his own path had forced him to make some fairly unpleasant choices in the last year.
As Mireilla passed him, Merlin darted out from behind the pillar and grabbed her from behind, swiftly clapping a hand over her mouth. She jerked in his arms, but before she could cry out, he whispered in her ear, “I'm sorry, my lady. I cannot allow you to do this.”
Mireilla stiffened for a moment, then her whole body seemed to collapse in on itself, and Merlin let her go. Turning slowly, she peered at him in the dim light, her gaze assessing. “You serve your master well,” she murmured.
Merlin spread his hands. “I am sworn to protect him,” he said simply. Not quite the truth, as he had never made formal oath, but he had pledged it in his heart nevertheless.
“I would make him a good wife,” Mireilla whispered.
Merlin held her gaze. “That may well be true,” he conceded. “Still, he deserves better than to be won with deceit and enchantment.”
Mireilla turned toward him, her face illuminated by the light of the dying fire, and Merlin could see her eyes were brimming with tears. “We both deserve better,” she said. “But you are correct. I have no right to force him to share my fate.”
Merlin shook his head. “I am truly sorry, milady.”
Mireilla said nothing more, merely reached back to settle the hood of her cloak over her head and turned toward the door. Merlin watched her go, then stood for a few moments after the door had closed behind her, debating whether it would be prudent to spend the night here propped up in one of Arthur's chairs just in case she had a change of heart and decided to follow through with her original plan.
Merlin jumped at the sound of his name. He pondered fleeing, but his feet were rooted to the spot. He heard the sound of Arthur's bedclothes rustling, and then Arthur was sitting up, blinking back sleep. “What are you still doing here?”
Merlin's mouth opened and closed a couple of times. “Erm – tending to the fire,” he managed. “I didn't mean to wake you.”
Arthur frowned. “Do you do that every night?” he said.
Merlin shifted on the balls of his feet. “Some nights. When the fire is – ah, that is, when it needs tending.”
Arthur's expression shifted into something Merlin was at a loss to read. Oh Christ, it was probably the potion exerting its influence. And the first person Arthur had seen upon waking was not Mireilla, but Merlin. This was a disaster.
Merlin pointed at the door. “I'll just –”
“Merlin,” Arthur murmured, his voice sleep-rough, and Merlin's heart thudded against his ribs at the sound of his name spoken in those tones. He watched Arthur swallow, look down at his hands where they lay folded in his lap, then back up at Merlin. “Don't go.”
Merlin could hear the blood rushing in his ears. Arthur threw his legs over the edge of the bed, then padded over to Merlin on bare feet. His gaze never left Merlin's face, and Merlin gulped back a feeling of mingled panic and near-overwhelming desire. God, how had he missed this? It felt huge inside him, bigger than the Great Dragon and expanding with each passing second until he was sure Arthur would be able to see it spilling from his pores like an excess of magic.
“You should go back to bed,” Merlin pleaded.
“I probably should,” Arthur agreed, unusually affable in the face of Merlin's high-handedness.
“Is your shoulder still hurting?” Merlin murmured, hand rising to Arthur's left shoulder and hovering in the air just above it.
“Hardly at all,” Arthur said, just as quietly. “Thank you. For earlier.”
Merlin shook his head. “I'm glad it helped, sire.”
“Perhaps it won't rot off after all,” Arthur observed dryly.
Merlin couldn't help but smile at that. Then his gaze dipped to Arthur's bare chest, and he sobered quickly. “I – I really should go.”
“Not yet,” Arthur murmured, reaching out to encircle Merlin's wrist in a loose grip. Merlin sucked in a breath; he was sure Arthur could feel his pulse fluttering wildly against his fingertips.
Arthur searched Merlin's face, his expression as grave as if he were contemplating mortal combat with a formidable foe. “It's not only me, is it?” His thumb slid up under the cuff of Merlin's shirt and Merlin suppressed a shiver. “Is it, Merlin?”
And truly, that was the most unfair choice Merlin had ever been asked to make. If he told the truth, he would be as bad as Mireilla, using Arthur for his own ends. Avoiding the question by telling Arthur of the potion wasn't an option either; he couldn't be sure how Arthur would react, and he had promised not to divulge Mireilla's secret.
The best, the right choice, was to lie. But looking into Arthur's huge blue eyes, more open and vulnerable than Merlin had ever seen them, he couldn't force himself to say the words, to deny how much he wanted this. “It's not,” Merlin breathed, the words emerging in a rush. “It's not only you. But Arthur, you have to trust me –”
Arthur smiled, slow and sweet, and he tugged on Merlin's arm, bringing him closer. “I do trust you,” he murmured, gaze dropping to Merlin's mouth, “with my life.”
“That's not what I mean. Look, the thing is, you're not yourself –”
“Shut up,” Arthur said, and kissed him.
To his credit, Merlin resisted for all of three entire seconds before he was sliding his hands into Arthur's hair and kissing him back. Arthur groaned and angled his head, his arms going round Merlin's back and pulling him close, and Merlin was lost, his principles deserting him in a rush. This, this was what he wanted, and God help him, he'd find a way for Arthur to want it, too, even after this night.
That didn't change the fact that he was an utter bastard for allowing it to happen. But here like this, with Arthur hot and hard against him, he couldn't find it in himself to care.
Still kissing, they shuffled their way to Arthur's bed, where Merlin boldly pressed his palm to the bulge in Arthur's breeches. Arthur broke away gasping, shoving his hips forward, and Merlin licked the strong column of his throat, nuzzled the notch in his collarbone as his fingers attacked the laces keeping Arthur from him. But when he tried to take off Arthur's trousers, Arthur drew back and began shoving up Merlin's shirt with both hands.
Merlin took a step back and placed a hand firmly in the centre of Arthur's chest, pushing him back against the bed. Arthur frowned at him. “What are you –”
“You're not going to strain your shoulder again,” Merlin insisted. “Just let me do the heavy lifting, alright?”
Arthur rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, but didn't make any more attempts to undress Merlin. “Good,” Merlin said, leaning in to reward him with a swift kiss before finishing his work on Arthur's breeches. When Arthur was standing naked and hard before him, Merlin drew in a breath, momentarily stunned at how ridiculously perfect he was.
“You're blushing,” Arthur murmured, his gaze fond as it studied Merlin’s face.
“I am not,” Merlin lied.
Arthur swept a thumb over Merlin's left cheekbone. “Don't worry,” he said, “'S quite a fetching look on you, really.”
Merlin glared at him, and Arthur laughed and kissed him. After a moment, Merlin pulled away and stripped off his shirt in one swift move, which made Arthur's laughter die in his throat. Arthur sat back on the bed of his own accord this time, watching with rapt attention as Merlin divested himself of his clothing. When he was done, Arthur beckoned him forward, and Merlin came closer, moving to stand between Arthur's spread legs.
Arthur's hand caressed Merlin's chest, calloused fingers brushing a nipple, drawing a shudder from Merlin. “You're exactly as I imagined,” Arthur murmured, and just as it occurred to Merlin that it was a rather odd thing for him to say, Arthur's hand wandered down to his cock and Merlin gave up thinking for some time. By the time he recovered some small portion of his reason, they were lying full length on the bed, Merlin poised above Arthur, their erections brushing together almost lazily as Merlin moved over him. Arthur's injured arm lay at his side at Merlin's insistence, but Arthur compensated for the lack with his right hand, touching every bit of Merlin he could reach, driving him slowly mad.
Merlin planted a wet, open-mouthed kiss on the centre of Arthur's chest, and Arthur moaned as he continued downward, licking over ribs, setting his teeth into the taut flesh of Arthur’s belly, trailing his lips over the sharp cut of a hipbone. His adolescent fumblings with Will hadn't prepared him for what he was about to do, but he hoped that enthusiasm and a burning need to drive Arthur round the bend would count for something, and so he lowered his head and delivered a long, slow lick to Arthur's cock without thinking overmuch about his pitiful lack of experience.
If Arthur could tell he was new to this, he didn't seem to mind, as he was soon gasping out Merlin's name almost constantly, his hips trembling with the effort of not thrusting up into Merlin's mouth. Merlin silently gave thanks for Arthur’s sense of discipline, as he didn't think he could manage much more at this point. There was no doubt it was worth the effort, though, because when he looked up, Arthur was staring at him wild-eyed, his hair plastered to his forehead, his nostrils flared as though he couldn’t get enough air, and Merlin thought he had never seen Arthur look so beautiful.
“Merlin,” Arthur rasped, “God, wait, I'm going to – you mustn't –” He reached down and tugged feebly at Merlin's shoulder, but Merlin shook him off and held Arthur's gaze as he took him as deeply as he could, and when he felt Arthur hit the back of his throat, Arthur stiffened as though he'd been shot with a quiver full of arrows and spent himself in Merlin's mouth. Merlin closed his eyes and concentrated on guiding Arthur through the aftershocks while at the same time trying desperately to avoid choking. He managed both, but it was a close run thing, and when it was over he had to rest his forehead against Arthur's still-trembling thigh for a few moments while he remembered how to breathe.
And then Arthur reached down and hauled Merlin up the bed one-handed as easily as if he were a sack of grain, and before Merlin knew what was happening he was propped up against the headboard with Arthur straddling his hips, leaning in and murmuring deliciously filthy promises in his ear while he wrapped his good hand around Merlin's cock and worked him to a peak of helpless, screaming ecstasy.
“I think you deafened me,” Arthur complained afterward, sticking a finger in his ear and wiggling it about.
“Arthur? Shut up,” Merlin said happily, looping an arm around his neck and pulling him down, kissing away Arthur's spluttering complaints about his terrible insubordination.
Merlin awoke with a start in an unfamiliar bed, sunlight streaming through the windows and past the bedcurtains, and in his muzzy-headed state it took him far too long to realise where he was.
He turned his head slowly and nearly felt his heart stop when he saw Arthur lying beside him, watching him with what could easily be called a besotted expression.
Oh, bollocks. By all the rules of love potions, Arthur should have been booting him out on his arse right about now. This had to be an especially potent formula, and there was no telling when it might wear off. And while it might be tempting to bask in the heat of that gaze for as long as possible, Merlin's conscience wouldn't allow it any longer. In the harsh light of day, his conduct last night seemed even more reprehensible.
“Good morning,” Arthur murmured, leaning in to kiss Merlin softly. Merlin put out a hand, intending to hold Arthur back, but as soon as he touched Arthur's sleep-warm skin, that plan went straight to hell. Within moments, Merlin was flat on his back and gasping as Arthur worried a nipple with his teeth.
“I want to do what you did to me last night,” Arthur said to Merlin's chest. “Would you like that?”
“Nnnngghhh,” Merlin said, and Arthur chuckled low in his throat and started kissing his way downward. Taking a deep breath, Merlin summoned every last shred of his tattered will power and shoved himself up on his elbows. “I mean – no, I – erm –” Arthur raised his head, surprised “– I promised Gaius I'd help him this morning. I'm sorry.”
“It's barely past dawn,” Arthur said, his hand idly caressing Merlin's hip, then moving inward.
“He starts very early,” Merlin squeaked. “I really have to go.”
Arthur studied him, and his expression slowly hardened at whatever he saw in Merlin's face. “Yes, well,” he said, voice gruff, and Merlin's gut churned, “you mustn't keep him waiting, then.” He pushed himself up off Merlin and was on his feet before Merlin could think of anything to say.
“Aren't you – staying in bed?” Merlin asked tentatively.
Arthur didn't turn round. “I'm due at the training ground. Some of the new knights are bloody hopeless at spear-work.”
“But you're not going to – your shoulder,” Merlin managed.
He could see Arthur stiffen. “It's fine.”
“It's not your place,” Arthur gritted, back still turned, “to lecture me.”
Merlin ran a hand through his hair, heart in his throat. “No,” he said softly, “I don't suppose it is.” And with that, he fled.
Merlin burst into Gaius' rooms barely a minute later; his feet had hardly touched the ground the whole way. “I need an antidote for a love potion,” he blurted.
Gaius set down the knife he was using to chop up some fresh feverfew and looked up slowly. “I don't want to know, do I?”
“You really don't. Is there a book I can read –”
“Merlin, sit down.”
Merlin shifted on his feet. “I’m sorry, but I don't have time –”
“Merlin,” Gaius snapped, pointing to a chair, “Sit. Down.”
Merlin sat, planted his elbows on the table and propped his head in his hands. He had never been less eager for a lecture in his life.
“There is no book of magic that describes an antidote to a love potion.”
Merlin's head snapped up. “But I –” Gaius held up a hand, and Merlin fell silent.
“And there is no antidote because there is no such thing as a love potion.”
Merlin gaped at him. “That’s impossible. Everyone’s heard of them; even back in Ealdor, there was –”
“Let me see if I can guess, hmm?” Gaius asked. “There was a traveling peddler, supposedly a great magician fallen out of favour with a faraway court, who sold them to the randy young men of the village. Along with magic poles for controlling the weather which were popular with the farmers, magic poultices to heal the blind, and a magic ointment that was guaranteed to banish unsightly facial hair in any woman over forty.”
Merlin closed his mouth. “Well, now that you mention it…” He sighed and placed his head in his hands again. “Alright, I feel a little foolish now.”
“Considering you are ‘in the business’, as it were, I should hope you would be,” Gaius said, not as harshly as he might have.
Merlin frowned. “But what about Sophia? True, she didn't employ a potion, but she did force Arthur to fall in love with her.”
Gaius shook his head. “Merlin, while there are magical means for enhancing desire or bewitching the senses, no one has ever managed to find a spell or a tincture that creates love where there is none to be found. Sophia was able to gain influence over Arthur only because he was already attracted to her, but in the end that was all it was – influence. He obeyed her commands as a dog might its master, but he never loved her. And whoever is suffering from the nonexistent effects of this ‘love potion’ – and believe me when I say I do not wish to know their identity – understand that there is no potion that can force them to feel anything that was not already planted in their heart by Nature.”
Merlin slowly lifted his head, his heart gaining speed until he was sure it would burst through his chest and start hopping round the room. “But that means –” That Arthur truly wants me. That he quite possibly loves me as much as I do him.
And that I completely bollixed everything up just now.
“Oh, bugger,” Merlin groaned.
“Language,” Gaius said, cuffing Merlin across the back of the head.
“You don't understand,” Merlin wailed. “I don't know what to do.”
“You've got a problem that no magic can fix,” Gaius said, gaze softening as he patted Merlin on the shoulder. “Think of it as a learning experience.”
Merlin leaned forward until his forehead collided with the table top. “Thank you, Gaius.”
“Don't mention it, my boy.”
Merlin thought it best to avoid Arthur when he was out of sorts and playing with spears, so he made his way back to Arthur's chamber. Arthur likely wouldn't be back for hours, and Merlin thought it might be a good spot to think up a strategy to win Arthur back. He bloody well wasn't going to see the Great Dragon for advice, that much was certain.
Unfortunately, as soon as he let himself into Arthur's room he knew he'd made a mistake, for everything reminded him of last night, from the still-warm ashes in the fireplace to the rumpled sheets. When he found himself standing beside the bed clutching one of Arthur's pillows and staring off into space, he sighed and hung his head. If there was any hope that he could manage rational thought today, it was sure he wouldn't manage it here.
“Found a new friend?”
Merlin spun round. “Arthur!” he exclaimed, panic seizing him. “What are you doing here?”
Arthur's eyebrows shot up. “I had the silly notion I lived here,” he drawled. Nodding at Merlin, he added, “If you're so attached to that, you can have it. I would never want to break up such a handsome couple.”
Merlin blinked at him, then realised he was still clutching the pillow. “Oh, I – erm,” he said. “I was just – plumping it for you,” he said, punching it a couple of times with his fist before flinging it back on the bed. And oh, lovely; Arthur was now looking at him as though he had three heads. “Have you been to the training ground yet?” Merlin ventured.
Arthur's jaw muscle twitched. “I won't be going to the training ground today.”
“Because my father intercepted me on the way there,” Arthur snapped, “and forbade me to go. He told me I should be convalescing, as though I were some feeble invalid.”
In spite of everything, Merlin felt his respect for Uther go up a notch. “He's concerned about you,” Merlin said, taking a step forward. “We all are.”
“I'm not a cripple,” Arthur growled.
“No one's saying you are. But Arthur, you almost died.” Arthur's gaze rose to Merlin's face as he took another step. “It was – it was awful, to think you might not –”
Arthur's chin lifted. “I thought I was a prat.”
“You are,” Merlin murmured, “sometimes.” He took a swift breath, then let the words come. “Doesn't seem to matter, though. I'm still mad about you.”
Arthur's eyes widened. “You –”
Merlin shrugged and closed the remaining distance between them. “Yeah. Can't help it, really. Sorry.”
Slowly, as though unsure of his welcome, Arthur's hand rose to Merlin's face, finally cupping his cheek gently. “I seem to find myself in a similar predicament,” he murmured, and Merlin bit his lip to keep from grinning like an idiot.
“Well, that's – not necessarily a bad thing,” he said, when he could trust his voice.
“I suppose not,” Arthur said, mouth twitching. “Unorthodox, though.”
Arthur brushed a thumb over Merlin's lower lip. “Possibly ill-advised.”
“Possibly,” Merlin conceded. “But possibly...”
“What?” Arthur asked, gaze roaming over Merlin's face.
“Bloody brilliant,” Merlin said, and Arthur laughed into his mouth as they met in the middle.
Two Months Later
Merlin awoke with a start when Arthur's hand slid over his belly. “Arthur.”
Arthur's breath tickled the back of Merlin's neck. “Shhhh, I'm convalescing.”
“You haven't been convalescing for well over a month,” Merlin shot back. “What are you – oh.”
“Mmmmm,” Arthur said. Merlin wiggled experimentally and felt Arthur's erection pressing against his arse.
“Do it, then,” Merlin whispered, shifting his hips so that Arthur slid between his legs.
Arthur's arm tightened where it lay across Merlin's chest, then relaxed as he twisted round to get the jar from the nightstand. When he felt Arthur's fingers teasing his entrance, Merlin reached back and grabbed at Arthur's arm. “No,” he said, “Just put it on yourself. I don't need it.” He was still loose and slick from last night, and he was languid and boneless and wanted Arthur now, like this, just like this.
He heard Arthur draw in a sharp breath. “God,” he rasped. Arthur moved away for a moment, and then he was hot against Merlin's back and pressing his cock in ever so slowly. “Alright?”
“Yes, Arthur, oh, Christ,” Merlin gasped, and Arthur groaned and pushed at Merlin's shoulder, rolling him over onto his stomach as he drove in the last few inches, burying himself to the hilt. Merlin clutched at the pillow and spread his legs and lay flat as Arthur drew back, lifting himself easily despite the awkward position. The thought of Arthur fucking him like this – using every ounce of his not inconsiderable strength to move his cock in and out of Merlin's body – was enough to bring him to the brink in very short order. He always came without a single touch to his own cock; the pressure of the mattress against him combined with the perfect rhythm of Arthur's strokes was all it took.
Arthur continued his impossibly slow, impossibly deep thrusts until Merlin was moaning constantly into the pillow, and just when he was sure he couldn't take another minute, Arthur angled his thrust just so and the sparks flew behind Merlin's eyelids. He crested with Arthur's name on his lips and his heart so full he thought it might explode.
Arthur stilled as Merlin came, riding out the pulses of his completion, and then Merlin felt Arthur's forehead against his shoulder as he drove deep one last time and shuddered to pieces above him. Arthur's ragged puffs of breath tickled his skin. “Merlin, I –”
Merlin reached back as best he could and touched his fingertips to Arthur's hair. “I know,” he managed.
Arthur rolled them back onto their sides, his cock still inside Merlin, and Merlin gasped and tipped his head back as Arthur’s arm wrapped around him again. “What do you know, hm?” he murmured in Merlin’s ear. “That you can tell me anything? That I would rather die than see you harmed?”
Merlin’s heart, which had just begun to calm, started pounding wildly again. “I – Arthur –” He tried to turn, but Arthur’s arm held him fast.
“I keep waiting, you know,” Arthur said almost conversationally, as though they were discussing the weather, “for you to tell me the truth. I think to myself, today will be the day. Today he loves me enough.”
Merlin sucked in a harsh breath, stung. “I love you more than my life,” he said heatedly, struggling against Arthur’s iron grip.
“Yes, I’m quite sure you do,” Arthur said. “But you don’t trust me with it.”
Merlin opened his mouth, closed it again. “I – Arthur –” And then he remembered the words Arthur had said, that first night. I trust you with my life. For Arthur, that was the true test of love, a declaration worth more than all the pretty phrases in ballads and poems. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “You have to know I wanted to, more than anything.”
Arthur sighed and released him, and Merlin closed his eyes tightly as he felt Arthur slip from him. He turned slowly to face him, dreading what he would see, but Arthur merely looked weary and a little sad.
“Listen,” Merlin said, placing a tentative hand on Arthur’s chest, waiting until Arthur’s gaze locked with his, “the way I feel about you – it’s not duty, or obligation. But that’s all the more reason why I couldn’t tell you.” Arthur frowned at that, but he was listening, and Merlin continued on. “The thing is, there’s the part of me that wants you just for me, and that loves you just for you, and that’s the part of me that wanted desperately to tell you the truth. But there’s another part that knew I couldn’t risk taking even the smallest chance that you would send me away. Because I have to be with you, you see – to protect you and – well, to make sure you’re able to fulfill your destiny.”
Arthur stared at him, and Merlin sighed. “There’s someone who explains this much better than I do, believe me. Or rather, no, he doesn’t – he talks in riddles, mostly, the bastard – but it sounds less like utter bollocks coming from him. I’ll take you to him, and he can –”
“Merlin,” Arthur said, interrupting him. “Are all sorcerers as completely potty as you are?”
“From what we’ve seen over the last year, I’d say I’m one of the least potty ones,” Merlin grumbled.
“Point taken,” Arthur allowed. He placed his own hand over Merlin’s where it lay on his chest, and Merlin released the breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding. “So this destiny you speak of,” Arthur said. “Does it involve the two of us shagging until we’re old and gray?”
“I think it has more to do with great and noble deeds that will be immortalised in song and story,” Merlin said, mouth curving.
“Oh, I can make you sing,” Arthur assured him, grinning lasciviously as he leaned in. And damned if the prat didn’t proceed to do exactly as he promised.