fic - So That I Might Be Where You Are, part 1/2
Word Count: ~14,000
Summary: Um, wonky magic, UST, UST, UST, UST, PORN! The end. Basically, yeah.
Notes: This is dedicated with all my love to the amazing derryere who deserves a million good things right now for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that she is v.v. awesome. This fic was actually her idea, which she presented to me a long time ago and said PLEASE WRITE THIS FOR ME and I said SURE OKAY! And then I promptly did nothing for months and months. YEAH SORRY ABOUT THAT, HELEEN. But it is here now, with extra UST and bonus porn just for you <3
Very special thanks go out to staraflur and merelyn for the beta, and for showing me how to make this better, and to kelene for the Brtipick.
So That I Might Be Where You Are
After five days in the forest with no one but Arthur for company, Merlin was tired and dirty, and feeling very displeased. He glared at the back of Arthur’s head as they rode along the overgrown path that curved along beneath the trees in the fading light of the early evening. At least back at the castle they had reprieves from one another when Arthur practised with the knights or Merlin attended his duties, but here in the woods they had been together non-stop, and their conversations had become increasingly edged with anger as the days passed.
“Just up ahead,” Arthur called over his shoulder, and Merlin wondered how he managed to sound so haughty and smug with so few words.
He took a moment to consider the possibility that perhaps it was his frazzled nerves talking, but when he looked up at Arthur’s irritating blond head bobbing along in front of him he decided that no, Arthur really was that annoying.
Arthur led them into a small clearing and dismounted from his horse, brushing his sweaty fringe from his forehead and stretching his arms high over his head.
“We’ll camp here for the night,” he said as he tied his horse to a nearby tree.
Merlin slid off his own horse and surveyed the area critically. He was the one who always set up camp, and he was already mapping out the best place for the fire.
“I’m going to find something for us to eat. I expect a fire when I return,” Arthur said brusquely before stomping off into the woods.
Merlin rolled his eyes at Arthur’s retreating form and then set off to ready the camp.
When Arthur returned with several small rabbits, the fire was roaring nicely and Arthur gave Merlin a small nod, which was as much thanks as he’d ever got on these trips. Merlin set about gathering more wood to keep the fire going while Arthur cleaned and cooked the meat.
Later, after they had finished eating and the sky had darkened above them, Merlin fussed with his bedroll, mentally assessing the temperature and trying to decide how close he wanted to be to the fire. When he was satisfied, he looked over at Arthur, who was sitting on a log and staring into space.
“How much further until we’re home?” Merlin asked.
“Only a few hours. We could’ve made it today if we hadn’t been moving so slowly,” Arthur said, turning to face Merlin with a raised brow.
“Every time, Arthur,” Merlin said with a sigh. “Every time you complain about how slow I am, and yet you continue to ask me to join you.”
“You are my servant. You come along to serve me,” Arthur said, like it was the most obvious answer in the world. “Now would you quit fiddling with that? You’re making me nervous.”
Merlin entertained a number of the creative insults that he kept stored up and ready for the moments when Arthur was at his most insufferable, but instead he smoothed the blankets one last time and joined Arthur on the log. He rested his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands as he gazed into the fire.
They sat together side by side, and as the last of the daylight faded and the fire glowed brightly in the darkness, the sharp, angry mood that had hung between them all day slowly dissolved until the air no longer prickled with tension.
After so many trips together, it was always the same. During the day, Arthur snapped insults at Merlin, complaining about his ineptitude at great length and in painfully explicit detail, but when the sun set, Arthur was different. He was softer, more agreeable in the dark, and Merlin tilted his head to the side and gazed at his profile in the glow of the firelight.
“Tell me a story,” Merlin said, after a few moments of what was almost comfortable silence.
“Tell you a story?” Arthur repeated, and Merlin could hear the sarcasm in his voice, but there was no real bite behind it. “I’m not your nurse, here to offer you bedtime tales, Merlin.”
Merlin nudged Arthur’s side with his elbow. “Yeah, well I never had a nurse, so tell me a story.”
“I’ve met your mum, and I’m fairly certain that whatever questionable conditions you grew up in, you never went without getting tucked in at night with a story and a kiss on the cheek.”
Merlin only shrugged, unable to argue with that, but when he nudged Arthur again, Arthur sighed.
“Very well. What would you like to hear?” he asked, turning to face him, and raising his eyebrows expectantly.
“Tell me – tell me about when you were a boy. I want to know what it was like to grow up in Camelot.”
The words flowed easily once Arthur started, and Merlin listened to stories about a childhood so very different from his own. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine Arthur as a boy, sneaking away from his lessons to explore the grounds beyond the castle, stealing sweets from the kitchens, and generally making life extremely difficult for his nurse and the assorted people assigned to take care of him.
The fire threw sparks up into the night air and the light from the flames danced on the trees that edged the clearing, burning brightly at the centre of a cosy bubble of warmth in the middle of the dark forest. Merlin’s eyelids drooped as Arthur talked, his low voice mingling pleasantly with the sound of the crackling fire.
Merlin didn’t know how much time had passed, but eventually he felt Arthur nudging him gently, and he realised he must’ve fallen asleep. He blinked blearily for a moment and noticed that he had slumped over until he was leaning against Arthur, his head resting on Arthur’s shoulder. The log was hard under him, and his neck was stiff where it had lolled onto Arthur’s shoulder, but Merlin was struck with the odd sensation that he wanted to stay right where he was.
“Sorry, I must’ve dozed off,” he said, lifting his head and rolling his neck, trying to work out the kink.
“So much for my thrilling bedtime stories,” Arthur said dryly, but he stayed still with Merlin leaning against him.
“Well, considering you put me right to sleep, I’d say you could have a very promising future as a nurse,” Merlin replied, stifling a yawn.
Arthur huffed and Merlin braced himself for a witty retort, but when he turned his head, Arthur was watching him closely. Arthur’s features were thrown into sharp relief in the light of the fire, and Merlin met his gaze for a moment, the teasing words forgotten.
Merlin was suddenly very aware of the way he was still leaning against Arthur, pressed along his side, their arms tangled together. They were close enough that Merlin could hear the sound of Arthur’s breaths, soft and even with the rise and fall of his chest. His skin suddenly felt hot and he wondered if they were sitting too close to the fire. Merlin knew that he should probably get up since using the crown prince as a pillow was probably not something he was supposed to do, but he was just so inexplicably comfortable right where he was.
“Maybe…” Merlin started leaning closer to the warmth of Arthur’s body, not entirely sure where he was going with the thought, but thinking he should probably say something, and that was when Arthur pulled away.
“Go to bed, Merlin,” Arthur said, gently extricating himself and standing up.
Merlin nodded up at him and then rose and moved close to the fire, suddenly feeling cold from the lack of extra body heat. He shuffled over to where he had placed his bedroll, and settled under the blankets, shifting to find the best position on the hard ground.
After several unsuccessful tries, he rolled onto his side, gazing into the fire, just able to make out the form of Arthur in his own bedroll directly opposite him. Arthur must have had similar difficulties getting comfortable based on how he tossed and turned, his shape hazy and indistinct through the fire. When Merlin finally closed his eyes, he could still see the flames flickering brightly behind his eyelids.
The next morning, Merlin woke, blinking up at the early morning light that filtered through the branches of the trees above him. He rubbed his eyes and looked up to see Arthur bent over beside the remains of the fire, lacing up his boots.
“Are we leaving now?” Merlin asked, shifting stiffly under his blanket, his mind still fuzzy with sleep.
“Unless you’d rather laze around in the middle of the woods all day. But first I’m going to the lake to bathe.” Arthur wrinkled his nose in disgust and glared at Merlin, the easy mood of the previous evening gone now that the sun was up. “It would be nice if you’d do the same.”
Merlin glared back. “We’ll be home later today, Arthur, you said so yourself. And I much prefer hot bath water to the freezing cold lake.”
“Just be sure you ride downwind of me then,” Arthur said with a nasty smirk.
“You do realise that I’m the one who has to pull your armour off after you’ve been sweating in it all day? It’s not exactly the smell of flowers that you’re giving off then.”
“Must you complain about every aspect of your job? Ready the horses and pack our things. We’ll ride for home as soon as I return.”
“Yes, Arthur,” Merlin said wearily, as Arthur headed off toward the lake.
Merlin breathed a sigh of relief when Arthur disappeared. As much as Arthur drove him mad when they were away from the castle, mornings were the absolute worst time. On trips like this, when it was just the two of them, there was virtually no privacy, and that made things a bit awkward. The previous day, he’d had to stay under his blanket for quite some time, thinking about getting pelted with rotten vegetables, or that horrid woman from the marketplace with no teeth, before he was able to stand up in front of Arthur without embarrassing himself.
Merlin had no idea what Arthur’s personal habits were, and in fact he tried very hard not to think about it, but he himself never went more than a day or so without taking care of things so to speak, so five days was a long time – a very, very long time he thought as he brought his hand down between his legs to press lightly against his morning erection. As wonderful an idea as it was to have a wank, he pulled it away with a sigh, knowing that he’d have to listen to Arthur’s complaints the whole way home if he came back from lake before Merlin was ready to go.
There wasn’t much work to do and Merlin finished quickly, before settling at the base of a large tree to wait for Arthur’s return. He tilted his head back and looked up at the trees above him. The branches were covered with buds that would give way to bright green leaves any day, and the air carried the scent of clean earth and new growth.
Merlin felt a wave of contentment wash over him for no reason at all really, and he pressed his hand between his legs for the second time that morning, palming himself through his breeches. After such a long time without, he responded quickly to his touch.
Soon rubbing himself through the fabric wasn’t enough, so he slid his hand inside his breeches and wrapped his fist around his cock. It felt so good after so many days, and he leaned back against the tree, breathing in deep breaths, filling his mouth and nose with the taste of fresh air, and wondered why he didn’t do this outdoors more often.
He was close, but not quite there when he heard a muffled sound in the woods behind him. There wasn’t enough time to finish but he was too far gone to stop, and in a moment of panic, desperate to finish before Arthur stepped into the clearing at any second, he summoned magical words from the depths of his mind meant to speed things up. The words came out in a gasp as his breath caught in his throat, his head spinning with a mix of heady lust and the fear that Arthur might step into the clearing any second. He had only a moment to wonder if he got it right before his orgasm sneaked up on him with a surprise, his entire body stiffening sharply, and his head banged back against the tree with a painful thump.
Merlin scrambled to his feet unsteadily, swaying slightly and listening for approaching footsteps, but he heard nothing but birds chirping and the soft rustling of the branches in the breeze. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his knees felt weak and wobbly, so he sank back down on the ground and leaned on the tree, closing his eyes against his blurry vision. It was a relief all right, but as a wave of nausea swept over him, Merlin wondered if it was worth the price. Stupid magic, Merlin thought with a groan, wrapping his arms around his knees and waiting for the world to stop spinning.
When Arthur did return ten minutes later, Merlin was feeling much better, and rose to greet him, but immediately he could tell that something was wrong. Arthur’s face was pale and agitated and his gaze darted around in all directions, as if looking for something.
“Is everything okay?” Merlin asked.
Arthur continued to scan the woods around them as he nodded absently.
“It’s time to leave,” Arthur said, his voice anxious.
Merlin watched Arthur closely as they rode back to the castle. The tension was evident in the way he held his body stiff and clenched the reins tightly, and his eyes never stopped roaming the forest around them. Arthur was well trained and always aware of his surroundings, constantly lecturing Merlin on the many dangers that could befall them in the woods, but this was different. Merlin was certain that something had scared Arthur, but he dared not ask what.
Upon retuning to the castle at midday, Arthur muttered something unintelligible under his breath and left Merlin in the stables to take care of the horses. That itself wasn’t out of the ordinary, but later when Merlin stopped in Arthur’s chambers in the mid afternoon to see what he needed for the rest of the day, Arthur sent him away without a single request. That was most decidedly unusual.
The next morning, Arthur’s strange behaviour continued. His face was pale and drawn as Merlin helped him dress, and he jumped when Merlin leaned in to adjust the collar of his jacket.
“Arthur, are you feeling well?” Merlin finally asked, peering at him closely, taking in his wan complexion and furrowed brow.
Arthur just looked at him blankly and didn’t answer.
“I could have Gaius come see you,” he said softly.
“I’m fine,” Arthur choked out, turning away with a slight stumble and heading out the door.
Merlin sighed and followed him. Arthur was definitely not fine.
When Arthur seemed no better after three days, Merlin started to worry in earnest.
In an attempt to snap Arthur out of his mood, Merlin spent most of the morning meticulously polishing his armour, knowing how very pleased Arthur was when it gleamed in the sun. He met him at midday in the armoury and presented it with a proud flourish, but Arthur only nodded half heartedly.
“I’ve decided to return to my chambers. I won’t be needing you for the remainder of the day.”
Merlin looked at him with surprise, dropping his helmet with a clunk on the floor. Arthur always needed something.
“Arthur,” Merlin began, but stopped when he saw the look on his face.
“Just go, Merlin,” he said tightly, rubbing a hand over his eyes.
Merlin wondered yet again what could possibly be going on as he walked through the courtyard, but when he got to Gaius’ quarters, his thoughts turned toward his bed. Arthur’s behaviour was certainly worrisome, but surely the prince wouldn’t get any worse if he relaxed for just a bit. He closed the door to his room behind him out of habit, as Gaius was gone for the day, before toeing off his boots and collapsing heavily on top of the sheets. A full morning hunched over the armour left him exhausted, and he stretched back along the bed, relishing the novelty of a midday rest.
His bed felt exceptionally comfortable and his drifting thoughts soon folded back in on themselves until they were nothing more than a blur of nonsensical ideas, cut off before they could take shape. In a brief moment of clarity, he realised he was teetering right on the edge of unconsciousness, perilously close to sleep.
When he slid his hand down his chest and pressed it to his groin, it was more to keep himself awake than anything else, but when his cock hardened appreciatively under his fingers, he decided that yes, this was a really good idea after all.
He stroked lazily a few times, his mind still drowsy, but when he slid his thumb over the head and felt the tingle spread outward, all his sleepiness evaporated and he came fully awake. Soon he was rocking his hips into it, the delicious burn building into a blinding heat, and he was ready to just come already when the outer door to Gaius’ quarters opened with a loud bang.
Merlin stilled his hand, frozen in surprise. He heard the sound of footsteps, and then a muffled thump followed by something crashing loudly to the floor. After awkwardly getting to his feet and pulling his breeches up with one hand bunching them around his hip, Merlin moved to the door and opened it slightly, peeking through the crack. He was surprised to see Arthur, standing beside the table, a broken bowl at his feet.
“What are you doing here?” Merlin asked in surprise.
Arthur spun around to look at him and Merlin saw his face was flushed and his eyes wild.
“Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice hoarse as he stumbled unsteadily toward him. “I need to speak to Gaius immediately.”
“He’s not here,” Merlin answered, trying to sound casual despite the circumstances.
Arthur looked at him then, his eyes moving down Merlin’s body, taking in his dishevelled appearance and unlaced breeches, held up with one hand at his hip.
“What are you - ? Were you just - ?” he asked.
“I wasn’t – I wasn’t doing anything,” Merlin said defensively.
Arthur glared at him, his eyes narrowing dangerously. “Merlin, I order you to tell me the truth. What were you just doing before I came in?”
Merlin flinched slightly and took a step back, holding fast to his trousers. “You can’t ask me that, Arthur. You sent me away. This is my – my personal time.”
Arthur’s face fell and suddenly he was looking at Merlin with uncharacteristic desperation in his eyes.
“Tell me,” he said, and the arrogance was gone from his voice leaving behind something that sounded harsh and raw.
Merlin couldn’t understand why this was so important to Arthur, but he was staring at him with a haunted look in his eyes, so he drew in a shaky breath and nodded, staring at the wall behind Arthur’s head, unable to meet his gaze.
“Um,” Merlin said. “Yeah, I was – I mean, yeah.”
He hoped it was enough and that Arthur wouldn’t make him say it out loud because this was already the most ridiculous conversation they had ever had without him actually describing just what he had been doing to himself.
It seemed to be enough for Arthur who widened his eyes and hissed in a breath.
“What’s me?” Merlin asked, confused.
“Merlin, you will swear to me that you will never repeat this,” Arthur said, his voice low and shaky, but still frightening.
“I swear, Arthur,” Merlin said earnestly, still very confused as to where this was going.
“Ever since we got back from that trip I’ve had this… problem. I can feel – I can feel…” his voice trailed off as he looked away from Merlin.
“You can feel what?” Merlin asked encouragingly.
Arthur turned back to him, and Merlin was surprised to see he was blushing. “I can feel a hand on my – on me. Touching me. Only there’s no hand there.”
Merlin shook his head in confusion. “What?”
“It’s your hand.” Arthur said.
Merlin looked down at his hands automatically. “My hand?” he asked, uncomprehending.
“I think,” Arthur started, looking away from Merlin again, “I think it happens when you – you know. I feel it too.”
The pieces started coming together for Merlin and he swallowed thickly.
“Tell me something,” Arthur said, meeting Merlin’s gaze once again. “The last day we were in the woods, when I left to go to the lake, did you…?”
Merlin could feel the hot flush of humiliation that coloured his cheeks and that seemed to be answer enough for Arthur who nodded.
“That was the first time,” Arthur said. “When I went to bathe and you stayed behind. That was the first time I felt it.”
“Oh god,” Merlin said faintly, covering his face with his hands as it all clicked into place in his head – the spell he had done must have gone horribly wrong leaving them in this rather bizarre predicament.
“It must be some kind of evil magic,” Arthur continued.
A wave of terror coursed through Merlin, cold as ice in his veins. “No! I mean, I didn’t do anything!”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Well obviously not, Merlin. This is the work of a sorcerer, not an idiot.”
Merlin chuckled weakly. Despite the absurdity of the situation, it was oddly comforting that Arthur remained as clueless as ever about his magic. It was most definitely for the best, as Merlin had no doubt Arthur would actually consider sending him to the chopping block given their current state.
“So, um. What do we do now?” Merlin asked.
Arthur sighed with frustration. “I have no idea.”
They stared at each other for a few moments, and Merlin thought about how Arthur knew all the times he touched himself the past few days, and how Arthur must have been caught off guard in the mornings and then again before bed, and a fresh wave of embarrassment swept over him.
“I mean, obviously I’m not doing that ever again,” Merlin said.
“Well that’s good then,” Arthur said and he must have stepped closer, because Merlin was suddenly very aware of the way the muscles in Arthur’s shoulders looked tense under his skin, and something inside him lurched unexpectedly.
Merlin noticed then that he was still hard, his cock heavy and aching between his legs, and judging from Arthur’s face and awkward stance, he was too. They stood in silence for a few moments, and Merlin felt a warm prickle on the back of his neck.
Arthur cleared his throat and when he spoke his voice was so low Merlin had to strain to hear. “Maybe you can finish just this one time then?”
Merlin didn’t trust himself to speak so he simply nodded before slamming the door to his room in Arthur’s face and throwing himself back on the bed. He wrapped his fist around his cock, stroking furiously, and when he came moments later, he heard Arthur’s groan matching his own from outside the door.
Merlin threw one arm over his face and listened as Arthur left, his mind trying and failing to make sense of what the hell just happened.
The first few days were easy. Just the idea of Arthur knowing exactly when and how he touched himself was utterly horrifying, so he avoided it without much effort, but as time went on, it got increasingly difficult.
Each morning he needed longer and longer to compose himself enough to get out of bed and have breakfast with Gaius, and by the time he made it to Arthur’s chambers, they were both miserable. Arthur snapped at him with increasing frequency and viciousness, and Merlin was so distracted that he was nearly unable to perform his duties. Being close to Arthur was the worst, thus dressing him had become a rather difficult task. After a near disastrous incident in which Merlin had almost impaled Arthur with his own sword when he slipped on some water that had sloshed over the edge of the tub, they came to an unspoken agreement that Arthur was on his own when it came to baths.
One morning Merlin woke with his hand already around his cock; he was about three strokes into it and two away from coming before he realised what he was doing and pulled his hand away with an agonised shudder.
It took him twice as long as usual to get to Arthur’s chambers, and when he finally did, Arthur glared at him from across the room, flushed and angry and fumbling hopelessly with his own jacket and growled, “Get. Out.”
Merlin turned on his heel and fled gratefully, lying on the ground behind the stables with his face in the cool grass for most of the morning.
A few days later, he woke slowly, eyes blinking lazily up at the ceiling. It was a few moments before he realised something was different – his limbs were pleasantly heavy and he felt more rested than he had in a long time. It was only when he moved to get up and the sheets stuck to his sticky thighs that he realised what had happened.
He and Arthur spent the next two days ignoring each other.
Merlin was miserable. Every day was a silent struggle as he thought up excuses of how he could pass his hand near his groin – just a little, he thought, just one little touch – and then talked himself down by remembering why that was a terrifically bad idea. Any touching on his part and Arthur would know it, he’d feel Merlin’s fingers the same way on his own – and oh god, then Merlin was back to convincing himself that maybe it wasn’t such a terrible idea after all – just one quick touch, he was so hard and wanted it so much. This inevitably led to Merlin holed up in an empty corridor with his face pressed against the cool stones, hands scratching haplessly at the wall, held above his waist with a concerted effort as he tried to clear his head.
Everywhere he looked, it seemed there was something ready to break his resolve – the pretty kitchen maid who smiled demurely through batted lashes when Merlin went to pick up Arthur’s breakfast, the feel of the velvet of Arthur’s coat as his fingers stroked along the soft material and he thought about how it would feel rubbed all over him, and Arthur – Arthur whom he couldn’t escape, and half the time didn’t really want to. Merlin fumbled and trembled and fought down his ever present desire as he helped him dress every morning, close enough to feel the heat from his body and see the hint of stubble along his jaw – close enough to touch if he just reached out to the blond hairs that curled at the nape of his neck just above his collar. His mind played out scenarios in his head, each one more ridiculous than the last, until he backed away wildly, thinking, it’s Arthur, it’s Arthur, it’s Arthur.
When Arthur turned unsteadily to him, with flushed cheeks and uneven breath and tripped over his words before he managed a proper insult, Merlin just nodded mindlessly, agreeing to whatever names Arthur called him, if it meant he could just get away.
Merlin was quite certain that he’d go mad if he had to live like this much longer, but his attempts to find a spell to reverse whatever it was that he did in the woods weren’t exactly easy when he could barely get through his chores in the space of the day. He’d tried to talk to Gaius about it, but it had ended with him trailing off into embarrassed silence just after, “so, say there was this spell…”
His research hadn’t gone much better. He couldn’t find anything in his book of magic that was even remotely related to the situation at hand, and when he had paged through one promising looking volume in Gaius’ collection, all he had found were pictures of painful looking boils and sores on very sensitive body parts, and he’d slammed the book shut in horror.
At the end of a full week, Merlin was resigned to the fact that he might be hard forever. He had perfected the art of walking while aroused without looking like a fool, and as he made his way back to Gaius’ quarters with his hands full of supplies from the market, he found himself wandering off his course, down behind the castle toward the training field. He told himself that it wasn’t so much that he wanted to watch Arthur; he was just trying to get a glimpse of him to gauge his mood and see what was in store for the rest of the day.
When the field came in sight he noticed that there was a commotion with some of the knights. Merlin strained his eyes to get a better look, but from a distance all he could make out was a group of men clustered around someone. As he drew closer he realised that Arthur was at the centre of the knights, clutching one shoulder and using his other hand to wave off the small crowd around him. Merlin dropped the items he was carrying on the ground and made his way across the field toward the people.
“I tried to tell him he should see Gaius but he refused,” Sir Gareth said to Merlin as he approached the group.
Merlin just nodded and elbowed his way closer to Arthur, whose back was to him and hadn’t yet noticed his presence.
“Would you all just back off a little and give me some space? I am not some wounded girl. It’s barely a scratch,” Arthur said with annoyance, but Merlin could see the way he was cradling his arm carefully, and he knew he was in more pain that he was letting on.
“Of course you’re fine, but you should probably call it quits since the king is expecting you later,” Merlin said, approaching Arthur.
Arthur’s head whipped around at the sound of Merlin’s voice, and he pressed his lips together into a thin line.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said grimly, but he let Merlin pull him away from the field toward the shade of a large tree nearby.
“Could be a bit more grateful, yeah?”
Arthur huffed in a breath and Merlin braced himself for the verbal assault, but Arthur must’ve used up all his fight on the knights, because he just exhaled dejectedly and stood still while Merlin worked to free him of his armour.
“What happened?” Merlin asked after a moment.
“It was so stupid,” Arthur said with obvious frustration, “I could’ve blocked that in my sleep. I just – I can’t focus on anything anymore.”
Merlin fumbled with the straps on his vambraces and looked up at Arthur, his chest tightening a little at the desperation in Arthur’s voice.
“I know,” he said, and their gazes locked for a moment before Arthur puffed out a breath and looked away.
When Merlin had Arthur down to just his shirt, it was clear that the injury wasn’t severe.
“It doesn’t look like you’re bleeding,” Merlin said, trying to keep his tone light, “but you’ll probably end up with quite a bruise. I – I should take a closer look.”
Arthur swallowed and nodded stiffly, so Merlin stepped closer and pulled at the laces on his shirt until they came undone, revealing a swath of bare skin at his chest. Arthur stood still, frozen in place while Merlin carefully tugged at the collar of his shirt, pulling it down so he could see his shoulder.
The skin was unbroken, but the area on his upper back just behind his left shoulder was red and already beginning to bruise. Merlin tentatively reached out and let his fingers hover for a moment before touching Arthur, ghosting over his reddened skin. Arthur tensed and sucked in a breath, only it didn’t sound like he was in pain, so Merlin continued to trace lightly over the sweat-damp skin, outlining the injured area.
The air between them was silent except for the sound of their breathing, and as Merlin continued to move his fingers over Arthur’s skin in what he kept telling himself was meant to be some sort of pain relieving gesture, Arthur’s breaths came faster, hitching a little in his chest as Merlin’s fingers dipped below his shoulder and started to explore his back.
After a few moments Merlin remembered that despite the fact that they had moved off the field they were still in full view of anyone who glanced in their direction, and that while he was Arthur’s servant which brought all sorts of odd jobs upon himself, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to be seen rubbing his back in front of the knights. Still, he wasn’t quite ready to stop, a thought that both excited and perplexed him.
“Merlin,” Arthur said softly, then cleared his throat and spoke again, this time sharper. “Merlin, what are you trying to do exactly?”
Merlin snapped back to attention before straightening Arthur’s shirt and stepping away. His head was spinning again – thoughts circling madly though the familiar cycle of more and stop and but just a little.
And up until now he’d managed to get away every time before it got too bad, but he must’ve reached the end of his limit because he found himself speaking before the thought had even fully formed in his mind:
“There’s a new salve that Gaius has been working on to help with muscle injuries. I know where he keeps it and if we go back to your chambers, I could…”
“What?” Arthur asked, his voice hoarse. “What could you do?”
A few minutes later, Merlin stumbled into Gaius’ workroom and deposited the supplies on the table. The room was empty, so Merlin opened the shelf where the common remedies were stored and poked around at the various vials and bottles that covered the shelves, lined up in tidy rows. When he found what he was looking for, checking the label marked with Gaius’ loopy scrawl, he headed out the door toward Arthur’s chambers. As he hurried through the castle corridors, a small voice in the back of his head wondered if maybe he shouldn’t find Gaius or even Gwen to do this instead, but when he arrived and found Arthur standing in the middle of the room with his shirt off, every other thought slipped out of his head.
Merlin closed the door behind him and stepped toward Arthur, holding the jar up in offering.
“I found it.”
“Good. That’s – that’s good.”
“Do you want to sit down or something?”
Arthur nodded. “I think I probably should, yeah.”
But instead of moving toward the chair at the table as Merlin expected, Arthur turned and headed to the bed, sitting down on the edge. Merlin took a deep steadying breath and crawled over the sheets, kneeling behind Arthur and facing the wide expanse of his back. He unscrewed the jar, dipped his fingers into the goop, and made a last futile attempt at clearing his head before bringing his hands to Arthur’s back. Arthur let out a hiss of surprise at the first touch, and Merlin didn’t know whether it was from the shock of the cold substance or the soreness in his muscles, but he went quiet after that so Merlin continued his ministrations, gently rubbing the salve into Arthur’s skin.
It didn’t take long to cover Arthur’s bruised shoulder, but Merlin found he wasn’t quite ready to move his hands away. Maybe it was the pleasant, earthy smell of the substance, or maybe it was the way Arthur had finally relaxed under his touch and was letting out the occasional soft sound, but Merlin found himself shuffling closer, stupid with the ever-present arousal that throbbed through his body during every waking moment.
His hands moved further and further beyond the injured area until there was no way he could convince even himself that he was just being thorough, but Arthur didn’t say a word as Merlin continued to work his fingers into the muscles of his back. He trailed his hands down to the base of Arthur’s spine, over to the other side, and then up again until the entire expanse of skin glistened from the ointment. Arthur’s head lolled forward and he let out a noise that intensified the heat that ached between Merlin’s legs, and he found himself sliding closer and closer, leaning in until his face was just inches from Arthur’s neck, close enough to –
“Oh god,” Arthur groaned, and that’s when Merlin looked down over his shoulder and saw the bulge straining tightly under Arthur’s trousers, his hands clenched in tight fists high on his thighs.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Merlin was hard, which meant that thanks to the botched spell Arthur would be too, but seeing it like that, right there where he could just wrap a hand around Arthur’s hip, move it down between his legs – his pulse was pounding in his ears as his hand moved giddy and reckless, sliding down Arthur’s side toward his waist. It was only when Arthur tipped his head back so his hair brushed softly against Merlin’s cheek, that Merlin’s head caught up to his hands and he wrenched them away with a strangled grunt and scrambled back awkwardly.
Arthur turned from where he sat on the edge of the bed, staring at him and blinking heavily before crawling up on the mattress on his knees. Merlin bit back a moan as Arthur’s gaze dropped from his eyes and raked down his body, coming to rest at his groin. He knew Arthur could see – it must be obvious to the whole world that he was hard, straining tight against his breeches. That itself was nothing new – by this point it was so commonplace that he sometimes even managed to forget about the ever-present throb between his legs, but Arthur breathed heavily as he looked and looked until Merlin felt his cock swell, growing impossibly harder, and he thought he might come right there in his trousers, just from Arthur’s eyes on him.
Merlin moved backward again, his feet tangling in the sheets – the sheets on Arthur’s bed, he thought deliriously as he wrenched himself free and moved toward the opposite edge. He tripped and fumbled his way off the bed, anxious to get away before he did something really regrettable, no longer trusting himself in this moment. Arthur finally lifted his gaze and stared at Merlin with heavy lidded eyes, his cheeks flushed pink.
“I think – I think I should go,” Merlin managed, his voice cracking on the words.
Arthur didn’t answer; he just kneeled there on the bed with a dazed look on his face and Merlin forced himself to keep his gaze up, unwilling to let his eyes drop to the bulge between Arthur’s legs. With great effort, Merlin turned and left the room.
He leaned against the wall across from Arthur’s door, too afraid to even adjust his breeches, sure that his hand anywhere near his groin would be the end of it.
When he finally calmed down enough to walk with some semblance of normalcy, he headed back to his room with his head hanging low. Now that he was away from Arthur and the sickening, overwhelming feeling of desire was gone, he was left with shame and embarrassment at what he had almost done.
It was the middle of the afternoon, but Merlin crawled into bed anyway, trying and failing to find a position that didn’t cause the blankets to rub on him in a manner he found suggestive. Eventually he gave up and curled miserably on his side, wondering how much more of this he could take.