Title: Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
Word Count: About 9k
Warnings: Violence, possibly triggering, and OH HELLO THERE, ANGRY EMO YET INSECURE ARTHUR!
Beta: The brains behind it all (y'know it), mastah scifijunkie! ♥
A/N: Written as a brain!melt reply to lizardspots's art for kinkme_merlin, Trusty Steed, (NC17). (And maybe also Afterglow, if you look close, because jhgshdgfdhg awwhh!) Idk why it's so long. I--I just don't know.
Summary: It's happened five times and they don't talk about it.
- Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
- It's happened five times and they don't talk about it.
It's happened before. It's happened five times and they don't talk about it.
The first time, he sort of understood it, he thought. On some level there had been some recognition to sentiment perhaps. On that day, that afternoon, he'd taken one of Arthur's gauntlets apart to clean the mud out from between the joints, and then forgot at which order to put the links back together. So he just did whatever looked nice, which was wrong, and Arthur—as a wordless reply on being shown the result—dragged him by the collar through the corridors to the armoury. To show the other knights, he'd said, what an amazing piece of art his genius manservant has managed to make of his gauntlet. And—he added—because Merlin was so artistically inclined, he'll get to polish all the links of every single gauntlet in the armoury. Merlin had began a serious protest because really, really, Arthur had to try and be reasonable because all the gauntlets in the armoury? That was not even humanly possible and whatever way you looked at it, it was just—
Arthur had stopped him with a hand to his chest. They were outside the armoury, just a few steps away and inside—inside, something else was happening altogether. Other people doing other things and Merlin could pretend he didn't know what those noises were, he could look at Arthur in confused wonder and—if only just for the laughs—ask if someone is jousting in there, if they should maybe go help a fellow out. But it's hard, really, to follow of a proper course of action, even if you know what you're supposed to do, when the unexpected idea of sex is at once so nearby and he can hear it, almost see it, and he is also so very nineteen as it is.
Through the haze of that shock of excitement, Merlin still thought Arthur was going to turn away and leave any moment. That he'd follow and that they'd be awkward for a while—and then forget about it, and keep on bickering over gauntlets. But instead Arthur's hand just fell away from his chest, distractedly, as if he'd for a moment forgotten Merlin was even there. Arthur took a step forward, leaning a little on the wall next to the door as he pushed it open—just a little—his breathing noticeably growing irregular as he peered inside. And from over his shoulder, from behind him, Merlin could now see it too: one of the servant boys and a girl, the both of them up against a wall, her skirts high around her hips and his pants around his ankles—headily thrusting, grunting as she fisted his hair with two hands and pulled, hissing, urging him on.
Merlin doesn't remember how long they'd watched. He just remembers how his mouth went dry, how his heart was pounding in his ears and how badly he wanted to—couldn't—but needed to reach down and just perhaps adjust his trousers, just shift them a little and maybe run the heel of his hand over just for a second, he really didn't need much more than that. But then, quite abruptly and quite without warning, Arthur closed the door with a quick and sharp movement. He didn't move for a second, but his shoulders seemed to slump before he straightened proper again and then turned on his heel—ignoring Merlin entirely as he stalked away. It took Merlin a little while to relocate himself, his feet most of all, before hurrying after—his hands as clammy fists as his side. It was hard to run or even walk normally in the condition he was in and it ended up as a bit of an awkward swagger, one that looked even sillier as he came to walk next to Arthur—Arthur, whose strides as were as staccato and controlled as ever.
Merlin chanced a quick glance at Arthur's face. Angry, he seemed. Merlin had wanted to say something, something light and ha-ha he'd say if this would've happened with any other friend, like—'So. How hot was that?', or, 'Holy Mother, I was this close to coming in my pants, I swear.'—though he couldn't for some reason. Instead he ended up with a meekly uttered,
'All right, Arthur?'
And maybe he shouldn't have said anything at all. Probably. But he did and apparently, that was all it took. Arthur stopped mid-step. He stared ahead for a small second and then shot Merlin a wild-eyed glance, a frightening one, and—just like that—roughly backed him up against a wall. It happened so fast, so harshly and suddenly that a short exclamation of confusion was all Merlin had time for in reply. And then Arthur's knee was between his legs, edging them apart and whatever other weak noises of surprise, or objection or outrage, Merlin was about to make were swallowed by Arthur's rumbling groan as he shifted their hips together—immediately grinding down on Merlin's leg. Merlin closed his eyes, then, screwed them shut and tried to breathe and work out what was happening before it could keep on happening. But the next moment Arthur had worked his arms above his head, pinning them down, the next he was rutting up against him and the next his breath was coming in hot puffs on Merlin's cheek and he could feel Arthur so clearly, even through that fabric, heavy and strained and moving against his thigh.
It didn't last very long. Barely a dozen sharp thrusts later and Arthur stilled, quietly, and remained unmoving for a moment or two before stepping back—staring at Merlin's arm. Merlin swallowed, shock still not out of his system, and Arthur glanced up—briefly. There was something of a question about him, or an expectation of sorts, and when he moved his head down in a small and jerky gesture Merlin thought that perhaps he was expected to do something now—say something. But there was nothing Merlin could think of, not a single word in general, and so he simply remained silent in his heavy breathing—and Arthur simply walked away, steps echoing through the corridor.
Merlin had looked down at himself, then, and idly wondered when he'd come himself, and why he hadn't noticed. Later, days later, Merlin's first words to Arthur were,
'I don't know what you're talking about,' is what Arthur had to say about that, and nothing more.
The second time, there was nothing that Merlin could point at and say, Yes. That. That, that's what caused it all. He could the previous time, more or less—he could say it was the excitement, the timing, hell—the age seemed like a good excuse, if you wanted it to be. But about two weeks later when—after a banquet—Arthur had drunkenly shoved him in a corner on their way back to his chambers and tried to get his hand down Merlin's pants, Merlin didn't know what could've possibly set it off. He'd thought about it for about two seconds and then Arthur's hand was around his half-hard cock, and then he didn't think anything at all.
'Come on,' Arthur had said, grabbing Merlin's hand and pushing it to his own clad erection. 'I'll do you if you do me,' he'd grumbled, voice thick against Merlin's neck. 'Come on, Merlin. I'll do you—if—' He'd flicked a thumb under the head, over it, squeezed and then slowly let go—torturing—only to press his hand flatly to Merlin's hip. 'I'll do you if you do me,' he'd repeated, and then again, and again, bucking into Merlin's loose palm. Merlin, too turned on to care, barely noticed when Arthur unlaced his own breeches and wrapped Merlin's hand around his cock for him.
'You'll do me, yeah?' he asked, lips to Merlin's ear, fingers teasingly dancing over the base of Merlin's cock. Merlin could only give a breathy groan in reply, rolling his hips into Arthur's touch, but Arthur's hand backed away. Only when Merlin moved his own hand, tightening his grip around Arthur's cock, shifting it in a way he remembered always worked even though the angle was all wrong—only then did Arthur touch him too, stroked him in time with Merlin's own movement, sweaty face pressed to Merlin's throat.
Afterwards, still panting and confused, Merlin watched in silence as Arthur tucked them both in—tied both their laces in turn. And when on looking up Arthur had lifted his hand to Merlin's jaw—his still damp hand, still pungent so close by—and idly ran his thumb over Merlin's lip, Merlin thought, for a moment, that something would be said. There it was, that same expectancy from before that didn't help explain anything of what was happening in the least. But when Arthur's hand slipped back down, over his neck and then away—back to Arthur's side—all traces of acknowledgement disappeared. Merlin thought, He's going to walk away now.
And later, the next day when he was walking to Arthur's chambers, he'd thought, And now we're going to be very good at pretending none of that happened.
So Merlin stopped thinking about it. He didn't think about it when later that week Arthur—after returning from a patrol drenched and muddy—had dismounted, handed Merlin the reins and had given him the exact amount of time it took to lead the horse to the stables before grabbing him by the hair and dragging him down into the hay. He didn't think about it in the kitchens in the smallest hours of the night, with Arthur licking at his throat and holding the both of them in hand, sliding them together and twisting, his other hand clamped firmly over Merlin's mouth to keep him from screaming it out. He didn't think about it in his room, up against the cupboard, Arthur's hoarse voice telling him in close whispers that he wants to feel Merlin's mouth on him, wants to fuck those lips, that hot mouth, wants to watch it drip down his chin and then lick it—love it—make Merlin tell him how much he loves it—groan it out, beg for it, how much he—
They're on their way back from an early morning hunt when it starts raining. It's late afternoon now but they're already tired, dozing off on their horses. The thunder does wonders to keep them awake, though, and even while the cap of Merlin's cloak manages to keep the rain from blurring his vision it doesn't help much in keeping him dry. They're riding down a soft road just outside the forest so the ground needs little to turn to mud, puddles and puddles of mud that stretch on and soon the horses are slipping—unable to keep their footing. Arthur shouts something at Merlin, over his shoulder and over the sound of rain and thunder and panicked horses, Merlin barely hears it. So he just nods, and simply does everything Arthur does, which usually is the safest way out.
When Arthur gets off his horse and Merlin follows, and when Arthur leads his horse off the road toward the open field on their left Merlin follows, and when Arthur points at an old ruin in the near distance—an uninteresting, dilapidated collection of stones that has always been there—Merlin gets it, knows where they're going, and doesn't need to look up as much to navigate the way through the rain. The ruin spans quite a part of the field, what’s left of its construction wholly unlike what Merlin's ever known. They've had a few of these, unfamiliar ruins scattered in the farmlands behind Ealdor, but nothing quite the size of this one. Most of it is just rocks piling each other, overgrown with weeds and moss, but the far end still has some wall and a beginning of a roof overhead. There are broken steps hidden in the muddy grass leading up to it, there where the arches still span high next to one another—as if the design itself was unable to decide on a single angle for an entrance, and so made everything a means to let visitors inside.
They tie the horses to one of the half-upright stranding pillars and wrestle their packs out of the saddle bags. Wet and out of breath they collapse against a dry wall, under the slight roofing, slowly sliding to the floor. It's Arthur's panting that first turns into an airy kind of laughter, exhausted in its nature and happy, too, if only to momentarily be out of the rain. Merlin can't help but laugh too, breathless, glancing at Arthur with an appropriately hapless expression. Arthur doesn't reply and instead leans his head back against the stone, closing his eyes with an open-mouthed smile—still trying to get as much air in as possible.
'My mother,' Merlin says after a while, when neither is breathing so loud the other can hear it. 'My mother used to say these were made by the giants.'
Arthur gives a single, voiceless chuckle. 'There is,' he says, 'no such thing as giants.'
Merlin is quiet. He looks at the cracked tile he's sitting on, how, with his elbows resting on his knees, the sleeves of his shirt are dripping on it—the water making small, dark puddles. Arthur is sitting on the same tile, and three other people could, too, if there were three more people, and Merlin still thinks no man could craft and then carry something that big. It wouldn't be the first time Arthur was wrong about things that didn't exist.
'The Romans built this,' Arthur tells him, as if he can sense Merlin's disbelief. Merlin glances up, noncommittally, and shrugs. Arthur's opened his eyes now and he's looking vaguely irked as he adds, 'The Romans. You know. From across the waters.'
'Yeah,' Merlin says. 'All right.'
Arthur just glares. There's something faintly appalled about his features, a certain scowl, and eventually, he huffs—shrugging himself off the wall with a shake of the head. He fumbles with the tie of his cloak for a moment and then takes it off, tossing it next to him. It must be a good cloak, it very probably is because Arthur is nearly dry under it—his red shirt only coloured darker around the collar and in a blotchy line down the front, where the rain still managed to leak through. Seeing this, Merlin suddenly feels weighed down by his drenched clothes, itchy somehow and ill at ease. It's harder now than usual to untie the lace of his cloak, fingers messy and frantic, but eventually he manages—pushing it off him, leaving the wet heap as far away from him as he can without having to get up. But still his shirt clings to his chest, the blue almost too dark to be a proper colour now and his trousers cling to his legs and he tugs at them, shifts awkwardly as he fists at the cloth at his thighs—pulling, trying to get it away from his skin for a second. It's late spring and not cold, not uncomfortable in that sense but the rain is incessant and the temperature not high enough to dry him as quickly as he wants it to.
'Stop it,' Arthur snaps, eventually, when Merlin can't find a comfortable enough position—everything sticks, no matter how he sits.
'I'm wet,' he explains, sounding perhaps a bit more miserable than he is.
'You're a baby, is what you are.' Arthur shuffles away from Merlin, from the puddle that surrounds his spot on the floor. 'You'd think you've never been caught in the rain before.'
'Of course I've—' Merlin cuts himself off, looking away with a tight sigh and adding in a mutter, 'Doesn't mean I have to like it.'
'Shut up,' is Arthur's immediate reply, and Merlin already knows this mood.
'Look, Arthur,' he tries anyway. 'If we're going to be stuck here until the rain stop you might as well try to—'
'Are you deaf, Merlin? Because I do remember telling you to shut up just now.' Arthur shifts a bit, clearly uncomfortable even just outside Merlin's vision. 'If we are going to be stuck here until the rain stops, which might be as well be forever, I'd rather not spend all that time listen to your inane talk.' He stretches out a leg, kicking up a bit of dust as if to underline his point. Merlin raises a quiet brow at the ground in front of him and says nothing, happy with grinding his teeth for now.
For a while after that it's just the rain and distant thundering, the nervous horses and the quiet echoing of the ruin. The air itself is damp, an eager sign of the early season, but the shelter they've found is dry enough that Merlin's shirt doesn't cling so much anymore—his trousers don't chaff with every movement, and that's better—it eases him a bit, makes him calmer. He doesn't think much for it when some time later he shoots Arthur a quick look and wants to say,
'All right,' Arthur cuts in at once, mouth set in a grim line as he pushes himself off, getting to his feet and clapping the dust from his breeches. 'We're going.'
Merlin blinks up at him, mouth open for a moment or two before he can actually get the question out of, 'What?'
'Get up,' Arthur tells him. 'We're going back.'
'It's still raining, Arthur. We can't—The horses—'
'Sure we can. The mud's only that deep in the open roads. We just need to plough through that strip there and cut back into the forest. Find a path, and we're—'
'Just plough through that? We were in that mudpool for barely a minute and barely got out. And that was when the rain just began! There's no way we can get the horses to wade through it now and—back through the forest, Arthur? Do you know how long it's going to take us to get—'
'—Get up. Now.' It's the mere look on Arthur's face that makes Merlin want to do the exact opposite—this no-bullshit look, cold and direct, glaring down at him from an impressive height. 'On your feet. Right. Now.'
'No,' Merlin says, just because he can. He doesn't really think about how Arthur will reply to that, how he has to react with all that pride of his, that ego. In his head he, just runs over how ridiculous it would be to get up, to ride out in this rain, and how Arthur can't make him—not really.
But Arthur can, sort of, and Merlin doesn't see it coming at all when he takes a step toward him and grabs him by his shirt—hauls him up to his feet and shakes, hard. Merlin's hands reflexively go up to Arthur's arms, trying to push him away but Arthur holds on tight—holding Merlin close, closer even, just a breath away from his face as he hisses,
'You're going to fight me on this? On this?'
Merlin pushes again, tries to push harder than before but Arthur is strong, has the right angle and the leverage and is not letting go.
'Of all things,' Arthur continues. 'Of all things, Merlin, this is the one you'd pick a fight over?'
Still awkwardly pressing the heels of his hands in half-hearted shoves to Arthur's arms, chest, Merlin is not looking up as he mumbles, 'I don't know what you're talking about,' intonation urgent as if to say, Let me go now.
'You don't—' Arthur stops. There's an incredulous shade of a grin on his face as grip loosens and he lets go, suddenly. Merlin has barely a second to find his footing again when the hands that had been holding onto his shirt come up, grabbing his face and then Arthur kisses him—forcefully, hard and flat on the mouth. He lets go immediately, pushing back Merlin's head in the process.
'What—' is all Merlin manages before Arthur does it again, this time propelling him back against the stone wall, making his head collide with the surface. The momentum of it and Arthur pressing his mouth to his makes the inside of his lip catch on his teeth, nastily, and the next time Arthur pulls away Merlin's hand goes up to his mouth—wiping at the cut with a knuckle and watching it come away with a bit of blood.
Arthur glances at the knuckle as well. He is oddly snide for a moment, lips wryly curled, and then he's grabbing Merlin's wrist—both his wrists—and there's a brief struggle where Merlin tries to keep him from pinning him to the wall and Arthur wins, because that's what Arthur does.
'You're not even trying,' he says, holding the restless Merlin in place. 'Go on, then. You don't want this. Fight me off, then. Fight me off properly.'
Merlin attempts to kick out a knee, perhaps hit a right spot, but he's not even close and Arthur digs his own knee into his thigh, and it hurts. He huffs up a small groan of frustration, truly trying to get out of Arthur's grip now and he says it, through tightly clenched teeth he says,
'I am trying.'
'You're not,' Arthur bites back, giving Merlin a rough shake for emphasis. He's well angry now, well on his way to not controlling himself and it would be such a lie to say it's not a bit frightening—a bit of an uncharted territory like this, new and probably unsafe.
'You fight me on everything else,' Arthur says, voice just a hiss again. 'All the time. Everything is always a struggle with you, always an uphill battle—except,' his hands wrap tighter around Merlin's wrists, pressing them harder into the stone, 'except for this. And I don't get it. I just don't get it. Why do you—even let me—'
'I don't—!' Merlin huffs again, loudly through his nose—frustration building up and he's still trying to push Arthur off, and he’s starting to feel helpless even though he knows there are always other ways. 'Can you just please let me go?' he says, and he can't help how it doesn't sound like any kind of plea. 'You're—Arthur, you're bloody hurting my—'
'You know what I think?' Arthur interrupts, letting go of his wrists a bit only in favour of running his hands down Merlin's arms, rubbing them slightly through the fabric of the shirt. 'I think you're just not angry enough.'
To this, Merlin knows the answer. He has the lever now, with his wrists free, has the weight to put into it so when he pushes at Arthur this time, Arthur actually stumbles back a step—smiling a bit, as if humouring him.
'Fuck you,' is what Merlin has to say, and he says it with feeling.
'There you go,' Arthur agrees, that same wry smile spreading as he takes the step toward Merlin. 'Fuck me. Fuck Arthur. Isn't that right?' Close again, his hands don't travel far—he easily slips them under the hem of Merlin's shirt, raking his nails over the bone of his hip and Merlin doesn't waste time in pushing him off again. He puts more effort into it now, the best he can and this time Arthur swaggers back a good three steps.
And once he finds his footing again, Arthur only laughs. 'Oh, oh oh, I see. You're getting the hang of it.'
Merlin shrugs himself off the wall. His head throbs vaguely where he hit it and the nervousness of this Arthur, the unbridled anxiety suddenly make the idea of riding out in this weather a whole lot more appealing.
'Fine,' he says, pulling his shirt straight as he makes to stalk past. 'Let's go back, then.'
'No.' Arthur stops him, fisting a handful of his sleeve and pulling—making him track back a step.
'No?' Merlin glances down at Arthur's hand. 'Now it's a no?'
Arthur does something with his face, screws it up and it's not pretty, not at all. But Merlin won't be intimidated, doesn't even know what Arthur wants from him at this point so he just keeps his posture high—straight, shoulders back and jaw tight, even if his nostrils are flared with how much it takes him not to just pull away right now, jump on his horse and ride away as quick as he can. Through the mud, he doesn't care, he can find ways of keeping the animal going—he can find ways.
And then Arthur pushes him. And whereas Merlin's shoves made Arthur stumble back, when Arthur does it—when he puts the force into it—it's the kind of momentum that makes you fall, makes you slide back on the floor. The next moment Merlin is out from under the roofing, half on his back on the wet floor, in the pouring rain again. In trying to stop his fall, the heels of his hands skidded over the cracked ridges of the tiles, over loose, sharp little stones and so they're hurt as he slowly pushes himself to sit up.
He looks up at Arthur. The man is standing in that same spot, breathing as if he's the one who just took a punch to the arm, staring at Merlin as if he can't quite understand what he's doing on the floor. Merlin stares back, holding Arthur's gaze and making sure he can see it—see the slow transgression of the trouble he's made for himself—and when the time is just right, when Merlin has sat in the wet long enough, he jumps up and launches himself at Arthur. The element of surprise has it: he wraps two arms around Arthur's waist and manages to thump him back into the wall and if Arthur's muffled oomph is anything to go by, it hurts just enough.
It barely takes him a second to recover, though, and soon he's clawing at Merlin’s back. Merlin just holds on and tries to pull back a little, to push him back again—make him grunt like that again—but it's a stupid move because the small space gives Arthur an opportunity. And he takes it, maybe even unthinkingly: his knee goes up, straight into Merlin's stomach, knocking the breath right out of him. He clutches to his middle, choking on the air that his lungs won't take.
'Oh, God,' he can hear Arthur say from above him, and then there's a hand at his shoulder—a flushed face ducking into his vision.
'Merlin?' Arthur manages between heavy breaths. 'Merlin, are you—?'
With a hoarse grunt of a war cry, Merlin half lets go of his stomach and swings out at Arthur's face, close and unsuspecting as it is. His angle is wrong and he's still shaky from the blow to his guts so it barely hits hard enough to do any damage, but the knuckles still collide with the right spot under Arthur's chin—still send that head whipping back. Arthur groans his surprise, and when Merlin looks up—hands braced on his legs—he is cradling his chin, eyes wild with disbelief.
'You bastard,' Arthur admonishes, then, and Merlin smiles shakily—a nasty, brief smile as he tries to stand straight.
'Bastard,' Arthur tells him again, and instead of aiming at any part of his body—punching back, which he can do very well now—reaches out to grab at Merlin's hair, twisting a hand into mean fist at the back of his head and hauling him closer. Merlin takes a second, two, three to breath tightly an inch away from Arthur's face and then he does it—has always wanted to do it, to someone, anyone because of how cool it actually looks but finds that it's a lot more painful in reality, bashing his forehead into someone's else's with so much purpose.
They both voice their reaction at the contact, matching grunts of pain but it's only Merlin's hand that goes up to his forehead—rubbing with a flat hand. Arthur lets go of Merlin's hair, eyes screwed shut and face twisted into a grimace at first—and then, as Merlin glances at him from under the heel of his hand, he opens his eyes and there's already a glare behind them, ready to accompany the short swing of a fist that's coming his way. But because they're back against a wall and there's not much room for elbows, for gaining momentum, the punch is awkward and short and Merlin can see it coming—is able to lean back, just about, so that Arthur's fist only skims the skin of his jaw. This merely serves in angering Arthur further, and he doesn't take a second to try again—this time with two hands, properly shoving at Merlin's chest.
Merlin, on his part, won't go down alone this time and grabs on to Arthur—to his shirt—and as he swaggers back, he pulls. Arthur's feet don't know what's coming, much less so than Merlin's and there's a wayward moment where their legs tangle and there's no way they can stay standing, not like this. So when Merlin hits the floor, Arthur is less than a heartbeat late in following, collapsing on top of him, knocking the breath out of the both of them.
Between the both of them, it's not odd that Arthur is the first one to recollect himself—to prop himself up a little, hands braced on the ground on either side of Merlin's head, so that he's ready when Merlin tries to push him off. He's very quick, sees all the possible loopholes in the loose weight he's got on Merlin and Merlin's barely begun to thrash—barely started to move when Arthur locks his arms over his head, pinning them down. Arthur's thighs lock in place on his sides, keeping him as still as possible and it's immediately as exciting as it is awful.
They've landed on a dry square on the floor, just barely under the jut of the roof's remnants, and Merlin can feel the rain bouncing off the stone next to his cheek. The thunder, all this while keeping a safe distance—rumbling over the woods—is coming closer and the horses are not liking it, are whinnying and huffing from where they're tied. This works as an incentive somehow, and Merlin begins to fight in earnest—scrambling under Arthur, twisting his hands in search for something to hold on to, maybe use as lever. But there's nothing, of course there's nothing and all he can do is grunt again, grunt and buck and try, and pretend he doesn't notice how Arthur's reacting to this all—hot and heavy through the breeches, pressing against his underbelly—how he himself is reacting, every time Arthur tightens his hold and shifts back between his hips.
'Come on,' Arthur barks, roughly working his wrists into the stone after Merlin—again—tries to claw at the hands holding him. 'You can do better than this, can't you? Surely, you can—' Arthur lifts his weight then, just a little and when he settles back with a minute upward movement, the pressure is just right, just where it needs to be, and Merlin arches into it—involuntarily, throwing his head back with an unintelligible curse. His mind is still racing with it when the movement repeats itself, this time with a small and breathless sound from Arthur too, and Merlin has to swallow—has to keep his eyes shut real tight if he doesn't want to end up doing something stupid right now. But then something else happens, a hot presence suddenly close to his throat and it takes him an unnaturally long span of thought to realise it's Arthur's mouth, at first ghosting close to his skin and then there are teeth. Biting, hard teeth, chased after by an impossibly hot tongue.
It's rather an impossibility, Merlin finds, to not arch into that too. To stretch his neck even more, give Arthur more skin, more space, something that he accepts greedily—sucking down and licking, at the same time grinding down on Merlin in a way that thickens his thoughts and renders them into the sounds he's emitting. The single-syllable, primal sounds that are grumbling up from the back of chest every time Arthur sucks at his earlobe, licks down a path to the hollow between his collarbones.
He barely even notices when the pressure on his wrists gives away. Barely even cares when the fingers pad their way down his arms and lower, over his ribs and then under his shirt. A back of a nail then roughly scrapes over a nipple at the same time as Arthur bites down particularly hard and he hisses, hand coming up to twist into that damp hair—pulling. Arthur lets him pull, grinning at the roughness of the gesture but still hovers low, close to Merlin's face. His lips are wet, his chin is wet and all around from his own saliva and he's flushed, lively, eyes dancing with something dangerous.
'What is it?' he whispers, voice rough even in its quietness. 'All the fight gone out of you, Merlin?'
Merlin's grip on Arthur's hair tightens, and there's a definite, sharp anger to every one of his words as he hisses his reply through clenched teeth, 'What do you want from me?'
Arthur's glaze flickers down to Merlin's lips, and Merlin has to shake him a little, get his attention again.
'Do you really want me to fight you off?' he continues, jaw still set tight, barely letting the words through. 'Is that really what you want? For me to tell you I don't want this?'
'You don't,' Arthur tells him. 'You don't want this. You're nineteen and you’re horny. That's what you are. And you're doing it because—' He stops himself and it's only because Merlin is so close that he sees the uncertain look that passes through his eyes for just a fraction before Arthur adds, harshly, 'Because you know I want it. And because you think you're supposed to give me this.'
Merlin, for all the things that he wants to shout at Arthur right now, for all the punches he wants to throw to knock some sense into the man's head because he can be so stupid, so thickly insecure for someone so arrogant, for all that—he just manages to follow a single trail of a thought at a time and ends up with no reply whatsoever, no way to solve whatever's gone wrong between them (and something definitely gone wrong, even though he can't for the life of him pinpoint what it is) and instead just threads another hand into Arthur's hair and pulls him down. The force of it is so abrupt that at first it's just teeth, just clanging and a dull pain at the back of his skull. But the point is clear, overall, and so it doesn't take a lot of tries—that much angling—to make it better, if not right. They've done so much already, have seen each other at such states already that Merlin doesn't know why he's surprised at how straight-forward Arthur goes about it, immediately cocking his head and curling in a tongue. He doesn't complain, doesn't even come close to complaining and replies with as much enthusiasm, licking into Arthur's mouth and sucking down on his tongue, playing it back and forth so that the wetness of it—the saliva—makes for an even messier element, dripping between them as Merlin opens his mouth even wider, tries to take all of Arthur in, trying to make the kiss more invasive, filthier than a kiss in its nature can be. But he gets pretty far, though, manages to get it pretty well and dirty with noises and accompanying movement, holding Arthur as close as he can while driving up against him in rolling waves of motion.
All the while, Arthur's hands, under his shirt, grip and scrape and move—over his chest and down, drawing careless lines over his ribs, tracing a pad of a thumb around the edge of his bellybutton so that it feels like incentive enough for Merlin to gasp into Arthur's mouth. There was not much control in the kiss before, but at that moment whatever was left of it dissipated entirely in the haze of their urgency. Arthur pulls back a little, just enough to look down at Merlin with an unreadable expression for a short heartbeat—his panting breaths cooling on Merlin's lips—and then that was done, too. Arthur's hands are frantic in their search down, between the both of them, fumbling with Merlin's breeches to the point where it gets too hard and he pulls with intention to rip. And when Arthur slips back a bit, gives himself room to work Merlin's hard cock out of his breeches, all Merlin can do is let him, let his eyes roll back with a groan. Almost blindly, he scrambles at Arthur's legs, thighs, tries to find a way through the barrier of the laces but Arthur pushes his hands away. It takes Merlin quite some effort to lift his head, to look at Arthur with impatient question, and the almost unbalanced grin he gets in reply doesn't help in clarifying matters at all.
Arthur's hand stills. Merlin props himself to his elbows, gaze flickering from down—taking in the state of himself—to Arthur, who is now leaning back, reaching for something behind them. He drags back Merlin's bag, working at the buckle with wild hands and then holding it upside down, spilling the entire contents to the floor. It's what he always has with him on these trips, what Gaius makes him take: small strips of bandages, just in case, just to be safe, and medicine, little knifes to cut with care if needed and mild salves in jars. Arthur's hand spreads it all over the floor, picking up a few jars before settling for one, fisting it and setting it next to Merlin's head before pushing himself off—getting to his feet.
Merlin sits up, unsure of what's going to happen next. He has the odd thought, the odd, wild image flitting through his mind, but it's nothing he can concentrate on when Arthur is looming over him like that, nearly clumsy in his attempts to get out of his breeches as quickly as possible. He puts a hand on Merlin's shoulder for balance as he tugs off the legs, and that—that makes Merlin realise how close he is, how all he has to do is lean forward and—
He does. Headily and thoughtlessly, he places two hands on Arthur's hips and presses his face to Arthur's inner thigh, breathing him in. He kisses the skin, softly, minding the distant hitch of a breath above him and the way Arthur's grip on his shoulders tightens. It's enough incentive to open his mouth, to lick at the dip and bone that means it's the end of one limb and the start of another.
'Merlin,' Arthur tries to protest somehow as Merlin noses his way further, nipping at the base of his cock. 'Fuck, Merlin, you can't—'
Merlin licks a stripe up the shaft, deftly hooking his tongue under the head before closing his lips around it—lightly sucking, then running the flat of his tongue over the slit and he wants to do more, take it in deeper like that time Arthur said he wanted him to, do all the things Arthur had breathed into his ear while rutting them together, and Merlin moans at the memory—around Arthur's cock—and he's so hard now, so achingly hard he has touch himself even if it's messy and not nearly enough. He only manages one stroke, two, and then Arthur gives a strangled noise as he pushes him away—cock slipping from his lips and in the back of his mind, Merlin knows how obscene he looks: a string of precome between Arthur and his mouth, the sound he makes as he tries to go after, get it back. Shame is mostly lost on him, though, and there's only a deafening sense of need when Arthur pushes again—shoves him to his back, straddles him. He seems to know exactly what he wants, pushing Merlin's breeches further down to his knees and then taking Merlin's hand from where it had quickly wrapped around both their cocks, and brings it to his mouth. He drags the fingers over his lips to get the angle right and then sucks two in, lapping between them and around each one and it's so—so impressive, Merlin doesn't know why he hadn't thought of this before, sucking on fingers because it's simple in how ingeniously hot it is, how much of a turn on.
And he's just getting to really enjoy, truly liking the feel of Arthur's mouth and tongue and the scrape of his teeth, when Arthur stops. Merlin objects weakly, quietly, but Arthur still has a firm grip on his wrist—taking it somewhere else now. Merlin doesn't know where they're heading, but then he does, and when Arthur positions his wet fingers at the right spot behind him, tells him to do it, to just fucking do it, Merlin doesn't know who he can possibly be to not comply. So he does it, just does it, running his fingers along the opening first before pushing in, staring intently at Arthur's face as he takes in a hissing breath, screwing his eyes shut. He wants to stop just then, give up and let the tremor of panic take over, but Arthur doesn't let him. He grits out promises of what he'll do to Merlin if he dares to stop now, awful things that shouldn't be that exciting, that thrilling to hear.
Arthur braces two hands on either side of Merlin's head and rides Merlin's fingers, fucks himself on them until the hisses turn into voiceless gasps, slackening jaws and, Harder, fuck it. More, and then—finally—a sudden,
Arthur doesn't move. Merlin waits for the next step, as patiently as he can with one hand clamping onto Arthur's hip, fingers digging into the skin, other hand stilling as well—or almost, three fingers unable to keep from pushing, brushing against what he now knows feels good.
'Merlin,' Arthur breathes. 'You have to—stop—'
But instead of trusting Merlin to it, Arthur just lifts himself off, features briefly contracting in a frowning grimace. He shifts forward somewhat, and now it's Merlin's turn to screw his eyes shut as the weight passes over his cock and Arthur settles low on his belly. Out of the corner of his eye Merlin can see Arthur's hand shake as he reaches for the jar, the one he put there knowing—planning—
Merlin's clammy hand clings on to Arthur's thigh when Arthur reaches back, wrapping salve-slicked fingers around his cock, pumping a few good time and repeating—spreading it, over the head and down, best as he can in knowing what's to come next. Merlin can’t look anymore, slinging an arm over his eyes as Arthur grips him good and lifts himself—positioning, pausing, and then slowly, slowly sinking back down.
Merlin tries to breathe properly, his jaw slack and mouth open—but his lungs won't take it right, and all he manages are shallow, grumbling exhales. Arthur isn't moving but the pressure of it, all around him and the tightness, the searing heat is maddening, perfect but insane and he tries to roll up his hips—haplessly—but Arthur stops him with a hand to his chest, under his shirt, over his heart. Merlin quiets for a small moment, chancing a quick glance at Arthur from under his arm. The man's face is tilted down and is obscured by his hair, veiled by it, and all Merlin can see is his bottom lip—red and wet, jutting out a bit with the angle of his jaw. He's breathing fast, erratic, and that frightens Merlin to the point where he squeezes Arthur's thigh just to make sure. As a reply, Arthur's fingers, a fraction from his on his leg, move to his, tangling them messily in a way that kicks Merlin's heart that much higher up his throat and just then—just then—Arthur starts moving.
He rocks forward. Gently, then harder, drawing the moans from the both of them with a torturing rhythm. Lifting a bit, then settling back down and rocking, always rocking, driving Merlin out of his mind with it.
'Look at me,' Arthur says, in time to a mean twist of his hips. 'Merlin. Look at me.'
Merlin just thrashes under the crook of his arm, he can't—it's too much, just the feel of it is too much and he can't look again, but Arthur is insistent, voice getting harsher as he repeats,
'Look at me. Merlin. Now.'
Reluctantly, completely at his mercy, Merlin lets his arm slip back over his head and blinks at Arthur. Flushed, mad-eyed and breathtaking in his wildness, Arthur gives him a shaky smile. Merlin doesn't know what to do with the feeling that washes over him at the sight, doesn't know how to express any of it so he just reaches out and places his hand to the side of Arthur's face—cradling his jaw, threading his fingers as far as he can into Arthur's hair. Arthur opens his mouth, distractedly runs his lips to the edge of Merlin's palm as he continues to ride him, not stopping for a moment.
'Tell me what it feels like,' he says, tightening his grip on their entwined fingers, still resting on his thigh.
'I—Arthur,' Merlin tries, tries to make the words, but doesn't get much further than, 'I don't—fuck—'
'Tell me,' he says, again, and again, and, 'Tell me.'
'Hot,' Merlin attempts on a breath. 'So hot, oh God it's—'
'Tight. Tight, Arthur, I—'
'—What does it feel like.'
Merlin voices his frustration, his inability to word his thoughts—what's left of his thoughts—as he just tries to thrust up harder, deeper, and his efforts get him an angry grunt as a reply and Arthur still wants to know, still wants to know—
'Tell me what it—'
'—Fuck, it—like—it feels—' Merlin curls his fingers into Arthur's hair, pulling him down, '—heaven, like fucking heaven, it—'
'Tell me that you want this.' Their entwined hands fall from Arthur's leg at the shift and he laces their fingers proper now, dragging the back of Merlin's hand over the rough stone all the way up over his head.
'I want this,' Merlin tells him at once, not even thinking about it, not even wondering—
'I want this.'
'I want—I want this. I want this, I want this, I—' He loses the coherency of his mantra as Arthur dips down to suck at the line of his jaw. '—you—want you, Arthur, I want—'
Arthur picks up his pace. Rocks down harder, and Arthur's hand on Merlin's chest slips down to his cock and he jerks himself off with hard and quick movements—his knuckles brushing Merlin's skin with every up and down—and Merlin can feel it building up now, really building up and his grip on Arthur's hair gets harder and he pushes up with as much determination as Arthur pushes down.
His murmurings barely falter through it all, his repeated, 'Want you, want you, want you,' are only stopped by Arthur's mouth on his—the kiss swallowing down his delirious cries as he comes, hard, into Arthur. And Arthur doesn't let down, keeps on fucking himself on Merlin's cock even through it, through the aftershocks and what follows—the soft gasps of too much stimulation, too much arousal to keep up with. Arthur comes when Merlin's hand lets go of his hair and trails down, wraps around Arthur's leaking cock, fingers only fluttering over the silky skin between Arthur's own fingers. Together they stroke him, continue to stroke him as he shudders and goes limp, face buried in the crook of Merlin's shoulder.
Merlin doesn't know how long they lie there, empty silence save for the constant rain and the huffing horses, but it can't be long. Even if it feels like years, the weight of Arthur heavy and inexplicably right, it must be seconds—just moments of vaguely stroking the sweaty nape of Arthur's neck, closing his eyes and minutely moving his cheek along the stubble of Arthur's jaw. And then Arthur rolls off, wincing, Merlin wincing as well.
Arthur stays on his back just long enough to catch his breath and then he sits up, and he's different all over again. Merlin looks at his back, the movement of muscle under the fabric of the shirt and waits. For a comment, a statement or question—anything, which he knows will come—has to come—because here Arthur can't walk away, and it would be impossible, impossible to just get up, dress, and pretend it didn't happen.
And yet, somehow, Arthur manages it pretty impressively.
He gets up, half naked, relocates his breeches and ignores the slight awkwardness to his steps as pulls them back on. Next are his boots, then his cloak, and all this time Merlin doesn't get even the smallest glance—not the smallest sign of acknowledgement. He sits up too, eventually, and needs to swallow a few times before he can find it in him to carefully shimmy his breeches back up. The laces are a lost hope, ripped apart completely, and so he improvises with one of the bandage strips from the messy pile next to him. He doesn't have much to do, then, while Arthur silently repacks their saddles and so he settles for quietly putting the strewn items back in his bag. His heart speeds up when he puts the lid back on the jar, when he shoves it back into the bag, and doesn't stop racing when he looks up at Arthur—just in time to catch the short glare sent his way.
'Get your stuff,' he says.
Merlin clambers to his feet with the bag in hand, a lack of balance making it harder to stay up than usual. 'Arthur . . .' he starts, not even knowing what he wants to say.
'Get your stuff, Merlin,' Arthur repeats, snapping, and then—as he turns back to his horse—adds, 'I won't—won't make you any more. This—' He pauses, tensing. 'The last time. I swear it.'
'Oh,' Merlin says. He drops the bag. 'So that's it, then. You just decided that.'
Arthur flaps down the cover of the saddlebag and turns around, expression tight as he says, 'What?'
'Because obviously, it's just you here, isn't it? You're the only one who counts. Me, I'm—' He shrugs, adding an ironic little laugh, '—an inconvenience, really, aren't I.'
Arthur pushes back the hood of his cloak, as if he fears he's mishearing Merlin somehow. He blinks at him through the rain, frowning. 'What are you talking about?'
'That's what you decided for yourself, right. In your head, you just went off and did another servant, shagged another one proper. But not me—not Merlin, no, just another servant.' Merlin takes a good and deliberate step forward, into the rain again, if only to see the way Arthur wants to back up at that, but won't let himself, is either way unable for the horse behind him. 'And yeah, all right, you're so sad—so much power, no one can ever possibly say no to you, can they?'
Arthur opens his mouth to reply but Merlin is ready to cut him off with a sharp, 'That is such a bloody load of crock, Arthur. You didn't even stop for a second, did you? Not for a second to consider that maybe I—that I—'
Arthur watches him, carefully, and when he doesn’t finish shoots back a quick and sneering, 'What, Merlin? That you what?'
'That I didn't think you were—That I thought that—' He squints, annoyed as he wipes the rain from his face. 'I don't know, okay? I just thought that we were being . . . just Merlin and Arthur, yeah? You know. Us.' He tries to look at Arthur, tries to hold his gaze and not back down as he adds, 'Only—Only better.'
Arthur stares at him. Merlin's vision is blurry no matter how much he wipes at his brows, the shower never letting up and so he can't make out the exact look on his face, the meaning of that concentrated glare and when Arthur starts moving—suddenly marching toward him—Merlin is momentarily afraid there's going to be more fighting. He shuffles back a couple of steps, unsure, nervously eyeing the approaching Arthur and reaches out an arm to stop him—a flat hand to press to his chest—but Arthur just walks straight through that, making it bend at the elbow and press to his chest as he grabs Merlin's face with both hands and kisses him. It's just like before, that same hard press of lips and then there's that same wall behind him, and Merlin has no idea what this means, after everything—that it's starting all over again as if it's okay, as it no one would care if they just keep repeating this with no regard to any sentiments involved—but then—
Then he notices the difference.
Arthur's hands are trembling where they're holding Merlin's face, and when Arthur's lips relent—a little—they start to move. Slowly, gently, carefully brushing kisses to the corner of his mouth, to his bottom lip, upper lip, diagonally then back to just briefly tracing the swelling lines again as their noses touch, lightly.
'I didn't,' Arthur cuts him off, voice thick. Merlin doesn't know what he means, looks up to tell him, but Arthur catches his lip between his own, kisses it—open mouthed—and Merlin doesn't have it in him not to kiss back, sucking down on Arthur's bottom lip.
'I didn't,' he repeats, pulling back a little to make for a better angle. 'I didn't know,' he murmurs against Merlin's lips, shyly licking, trying. 'I didn't—' Merlin licks back and opens his mouth, then, so the next word is lost for a long time as the kiss continues to deepen—a world apart from the sloppy display from before, concentrated and frowning and careful as they both are right now.
'I didn't think,' Arthur breathes, eventually, when they both come up for air. 'I didn't.'
Merlin doesn't know what to say to that, and so he kisses the natural lift of Arthur's mouth instead. Then his jaw, and temple, his brow—his eyes, the dip of his frown and everything else, whatever he can get until he's back at Arthur's mouth, thinking about how much he likes to kiss it, can't imagine not liking kissing it ever again. And whatever's going through Arthur's mind, the general thought can't differ that much, if the slight smile on his lips is anything to go by, or the way he's holding on to Merlin as if keeping him from running—from either shooting into the sky or disappearing into the ground, or going anywhere that isn't right there, with him.
They're wet to the bone by the time they get back to Camelot. The next day Merlin comes down with a cold and Arthur keeps him in his room for a week until it passes, spending the odd mornings and afternoons next to him in bed—watching him sleep, pushing back his hair, checking for fever and thinking. Thinking until Merlin wakes up and smiles, slow and lazy, pulling Arthur close—closer—as close as any two people can get without wearing each other for skin.
NO MORE PLOTLESS PORN UNTIL I FINISH BIG BANG.
. . . SERIOUSLY. I MEAN IT.