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Remember When Money Bought Love

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Arthur didn’t know where Merlin slept that night, because it wasn’t in the bedroom. He could only hope that nobody had noticed, since they were supposed to be sharing the same bed. But the manor was big. Merlin wouldn’t have had trouble finding anywhere else to rest for the night.

Arthur was definitely not brooding when Morgana entered his room unannounced the next morning. “Get dressed. We’re playing chess.”

In his not-brooding state, Arthur had neglected to put on trousers. He was sitting at his laptop in nothing but his shirt and pants, not that Morgana seemed to care.

“Um, sorry?”

“Where’s Merlin?” she asked, looking around.

Arthur shrugged. “Dunno. He’s around here somewhere.”

Morgana’s eyebrows shot up. “And you aren’t with him why?”

“I have work to do, clients to email,” Arthur said, nodding at the laptop in front of him.

“God, do you bring that thing with you everywhere?” she sighed and walked over to the table. Before Arthur could stop her, she pushed the lid shut. Arthur opened his mouth to protest but she cut him off. “Put your job on hold for two bloody seconds to come play chess...Unless you don’t think you can still beat me?”

That was just low, appealing to Arthur’s sense of challenge. “Of course I can still beat you!” he replied indignantly.

Morgana stepped back and crossed her arms, a smug grin on her face. “So prove it. You do remember where our study is, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Put some clothes on, get your brain a nice healthy breakfast, then meet me there.” She turned and glided off with a wave of her hand. “See you later, dear brother.”

As soon as she was gone, Arthur propped his elbows on the table, put his head in his hands, and sighed. The last thing he felt like doing was pretending everything was fine and playing a game of chess, but maybe it would take his mind off his shaky situation with Merlin. And chess with Morgana was like a tradition. Whenever Uther had done something particularly irritating or Arthur felt so morose he couldn’t function, it was almost like Morgana’s duty to put everything on hold and distract him with a game.

Which was nice of her, really, but this time Arthur wanted to sit and tiptoe around solving his problems like a normal hopeless adult. He’d come to believe that seeking escape from reality was for children.

Wondering for the umpteenth time where Merlin could have strayed off to—and momentarily panicking that he might have hired a cab and left—Arthur stood to make himself presentable.

After dressing, Arthur brushed his hair in front of the mirror, idly wondering how Merlin best liked it styled. Maybe if he let it stick up a bit in the front, Merlin would notice and...

Arthur dropped the brush and smoothed his hair down with his hands. He gave himself one last look in the mirror, tried to smile at his reflection, then started off towards the kitchen for breakfast.

&&

Arthur walked through the long corridors of his old home, praying he wouldn’t run into his father or Catrina on the way to his and his sister’s private study. During breakfast, Arthur had let his thoughts get the best of him, and texted Merlin a quick ‘where are you?’ Merlin had replied with ‘still here’ only a few minutes later. Arthur felt some weight lift from his shoulders, but not much.

Now, walking into the study designated only for the Pendragon siblings’ personal use, Arthur saw Morgana lounging on the sofa with her feet up, a large book in her lap. She seemed at ease waiting for him, but Arthur knew she would complain about how long he’d taken to arrive just on principle.

“I think my hair has started to go grey waiting for you,” Morgana stated, not looking away from her book.

Arthur went to the chess table by the window. The game was already set up. “Come on then, let’s get on with the massacre,” Arthur said, taking his seat in front of the ivory pieces.

Morgana laughed as she marked her page and set the book aside. She came over smoothly, her face a mask of determination and eager anticipation.

“White goes first,” Arthur reminded her needlessly.

“Has that ever bothered me before?” Morgana folded her arms on the edge of the table and smiled sweetly at him.

Arthur sighed wistfully, already getting back into the easy routine. He picked up his pawn and moved it two spaces forward.

“As headstrong as ever I see,” Morgana commented. She moved a pawn at the end of the board one space forward, freeing the square in front of her rook.

Arthur smiled. Nearly five long years might have passed but the game was still the same. Arthur moved his knight into the space his pawn previously occupied.

“Sending your knight in already,” Morgana tutted and moved a pawn to free way for her bishop.

That was familiar as well. Morgana had always abused her bishops. It was fun, she claimed, watching those closest to the king and queen take so much power for themselves. Arthur preferred to have his knights dominate the board, dancing around Morgana’s slippery bishops while his pawns did the real work in the background. He might occasionally have his own bishop step in, or even a rook, to pluck up Morgana’s pawns and line them neatly along the side of the table. Morgana said the pawns didn’t matter, that they were only a line of defence needed in the beginning anyways. But Arthur always argued that a piece was a piece, no matter how inconsequential.

The game was well underway, and Arthur had effectively forgotten his troubles—why he had slept poorly, why he was even back home in the first place—when the door to the study suddenly opened and a puzzled-looking Merlin walked in.

“Oh!” Merlin exclaimed upon seeing them. “Sorry, I didn’t...I got turned around. This house is...Sorry, I’ll just...”

Merlin spun on his heel to escape, and Arthur was going to let him, no matter how badly he wanted to scream for him to stay. But Morgana spoke up before Merlin could completely close the door behind him.

“Merlin,” she called. “Why don’t you join us?”

Merlin’s head peeked through the doorway. Arthur had never seen him so...so childlike. But that’s how Merlin’s looked now, tall and thin, wary and worried, like he might crumble at any second. When he walked into the room and glanced at Arthur, however, the look was anything but innocent. It was almost hateful, which tore Arthur up inside.

“I’m beating him at the moment,” Morgana declared proudly.

“No she’s not,” Arthur said. “She only thinks she is.”

Merlin cracked a small, fake smile and took a seat on the bench by the window beside them. After a moment of studying the board, he said, “Arthur has more pieces.”

Morgana huffed. “It’s not who has more pieces, Merlin, it’s how you use them.”

“Hmm.”

“What?” Morgana prodded.

“Nothing, nothing. Just...You can’t be using them very well if you’re losing them?”

Arthur laughed. “He’s right, Morgana. He doesn’t even know anything about chess and he knows that.”

Morgana grit her teeth and glared at the two of them. “We’ll see.” She moved a rook nearly all the way across the board, where it ended up dangerously close to one of Arthur’s knights.

Arthur frowned. He should have seen that move coming. He scanned the layout of the pieces, searching for a countermove. In his peripheral vision, Merlin sat on his hands, momentarily distracting Arthur with his presence.

In the end, Arthur just moved the knight away, buying himself time to think of a proper strategy. As the game went on however, with Merlin perched in front of the window—causing his shadow to fall over the table—Arthur saw his precious pawns slipping out of his grasp.

Arthur rubbed his forehead in frustration. It had all been going so well until Merlin showed up. He found himself fighting off intruding thoughts of how to apologise, or whether or not Merlin was still angry. But of course Merlin was still angry. Arthur had denied the friendship he had so dearly clung to, and called him nothing but a hired fuck. Unthinkingly, Arthur sent in his rook to capture Morgana’s bishop, only because it was the most obvious move he could make.

Then, from seemingly nowhere, one of Morgana’s knights swooped in a claimed it. Morgana smiled as she placed Arthur’s ivory tower in the line with all his other captured pieces.

Arthur had completely forgotten about Morgana’s knights. She rarely played them, choosing instead to hide them in the background. Arthur mentally kicked himself. She always did something stealthy like that with her knights. Would he ever learn?

“Why don’t you just give up now, Arthur?” Morgana said. “This is getting truly pathetic.”

Arthur looked at his remaining pieces: one knight, one rook, two pawns, one bishop, and his king. The knight and bishop were only barely defending the king, and they wouldn’t be able to do much against Morgana’s queen.

A sigh from Merlin interrupted Arthur’s strategising. Raising a brow at him, Arthur asked, “Bored, Merlin?”

Merlin smiled sheepishly, and the light shining through his ridiculous ears made it hard to keep up an irritated facade. “A bit,” Merlin nodded. “I’ve always found chess boring, to be honest.”

Arthur snorted. Of course. “Yes, well, it’s a good thing you’re not the one playing.”

Merlin’s eyes narrowed with anger, and his nostrils flared slightly. Morgana glanced between the two of them, and Arthur was convinced he had messed up and given themselves away. But Merlin only crossed his arms over his chest with a huff and Morgana simply smiled.

“I bet he’s still better than you,” she said.

Arthur laughed somewhat bitterly. “Hilarious, Morgana.”

“Have you ever played with him?”

“No, but I still don’t think—”

“So how would you know?” Morgana insisted. “Merlin, why don’t you play Arthur next? My brother here has such a big head, he thinks he’s invincible. I bet you could beat him easy.”

Merlin pursed his lips in thought. “How much?”

Morgana’s brow furrowed. “How much what?” Arthur was also confused.

Merlin perked up a bit, leaning forward. “How much do you bet? That I could beat him?”

Arthur laughed again. “Merlin, you’ve hardly got money to lose—”

“One hundred pounds,” Morgana said.

Merlin looked impressed by the amount. Arthur looked at them both incredulously. “You’re joking right? Morgana, it’s...it’s Merlin, for fuck’s sake.”

“So?” Merlin asked.

“So you don’t even like chess! I’ll play you if you want, but not for an hundred quid. That’s like...like robbery.”

“I’ll spot him the money,” Morgana offered. “If you lose, you owe Merlin one hundred pounds. If you win, I’ll give you the same amount.”

It sounded like an easy one hundred pounds. Plus, Arthur loved any chance to take money from Morgana. With a shrug, Arthur agreed. He shook Merlin’s hand to seal the bet.

“Great,” Morgana said, moving the pieces to set up the game.

“Oi!”

“Oh come on, Arthur, we both know you were going to lose.”

“It would have been a stalemate, at least,” Arthur muttered, letting Morgana set up the table.

Morgana stood and gave her seat to Merlin. For a moment, Arthur felt disconnected. His two worlds seemed to clash—the old one of his miserable life at home, and the new one with Merlin. Merlin sitting across from him, where he’d so often battled his sister, was strangely surreal.

Merlin fidgeted in the seat, getting comfortable, then smiled brightly at Arthur. “Ready?”

Arthur felt a rush of blood shoot downward. That was what Merlin said whenever they got together: Ready? It was what Merlin had asked weeks before, the last time he’d slid into Arthur and fucked him, hard, like Arthur had needed it. Arthur blushed at the arousal he felt now. It was inappropriate not just because his sister was there, but because he was still at odds with Merlin over what happened the previous night.

Foregoing words, Arthur moved his pawn. The game began.

At first, it seemed like Merlin didn’t really know what he was doing. He moved pawns around the board experimentally, keeping his second row of pieces safe in their starting positions. Arthur had asked if Merlin even knew what actions the specialised pieces could perform. It was stupid to bet one hundred pounds when you didn’t even know how to play the game. But Merlin had simply glared at him and grunted out a “Yes.” So Arthur left it alone.

Then Arthur started losing pieces. The first was a pawn, and Arthur attributed it to beginner’s luck. He had made a careless mistake that left his pawn unprotected, and Merlin had taken advantage of the opening. The second, though, was a bishop, which Merlin stealthily captured with a knight. Arthur heard Morgana snickering from off to the side and got angry.

Keep a clear head, he told himself. You can’t win if you let emotions cloud your thinking. But it was easier said than done. Merlin kept coming from nowhere with pieces that Arthur had previously judged non-threats. One by one, Arthur’s ivory pieces disappeared from the board to be lined up beside Merlin.

“You knew!” Arthur accused Morgana, who hadn’t stopped laughing to herself by the window. “He told you he could play when you were giving him that tour yesterday.”

Morgana looked horrified by the suggestion. “He told me no such thing. And besides, he’s your boyfriend. You know him better than I do.”

Looking back to Merlin, Arthur saw him smirking in victory.

“You tricked me,” Arthur said, awed.

Merlin shrugged. “I just said I found chess boring. I never said I wasn’t good at it.”

Morgana laughed delightedly. “Oh, I like him.”

Arthur sighed and stared at the board moodily. He put every effort into formulating a strategy, doing his best to ignore the way Merlin’s hands fiddled with one of the captured pieces. After executing a few moves he thought were good, though certainly not his best, Arthur realised Merlin had him cornered.

“Checkmate,” Merlin’s low voice cut through the silence as soon as he placed his pawn.

Arthur blinked. He couldn’t believe it. Merlin had beat him?

He was still staring uncomprehendingly at the table when Merlin stood and walked to his side. Merlin’s voice whispered in his ear, “I’ll add that hundred quid to what you already owe me for the week. Don’t ever bet against me.”

After a quick peck on the cheek that was surely meant only to fool Morgana, Merlin shoved his hands in his pockets and left.

Arthur let his head fall to the table with a groan, the marble cool against his forehead. It seemed he’d only upset Merlin more by suggesting he was too incompetent to know how to play chess. Arthur felt even more hopeless than before.

He’d completely forgotten Morgana, until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He was startled and raised his head to look at her curiously, only to find her staring down at him just as puzzled. She seemed to be fighting for words, which was a rare occurrence in itself. But now she looked at him as if she didn’t know him, and Arthur wondered how he appeared through his sister’s eyes. How much had he changed to someone who hadn’t seen him for nearly five years?

Eventually Morgana just said softly, “What have you done, Arthur?”

Arthur didn’t have the courage to explain. He avoided her gaze until she gave up with a sigh and left him alone.

&&

“Merlin beat Arthur at chess today,” Morgana announced that night at dinner. It was probably meant to direct the conversation towards less triggering topics, which was tactful of her, but also annoying.

Uther raised an eyebrow in Merlin and Arthur’s direction. “Oh? Is that where your strength lies then?” he asked Merlin. “In intelligence?”

Merlin shifted uncomfortably under Uther’s gaze. Arthur didn’t blame him; many men had felt the same piercing, judgemental stare.

“I suppose,” Merlin said. “I do like learning things. I always have.”

Arthur was surprised. He hadn’t known that, wouldn’t have even suspected it. But then, now that Arthur thought about it, there seemed to be a lot he didn’t know about Merlin.

“You’re a student, isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

“And what is it you are studying?”

“Computer engineering.”

Arthur tried not to appear too taken aback, but it must have failed because Uther said, “You seem surprised, Arthur. Didn’t you know?”

Merlin’s eyes flicked to his and Arthur tried to throw together a quick lie. “Of course I knew. I just—”

“I’d told him computer science before,” Merlin interrupted. “But I recently switched to engineering. He’s been trying to get me to do it for ages, and I finally did.” Merlin’s hand slipped into Arthur’s where it rested on the table and Merlin produced his most charming smile. “I didn’t really think I was good enough because engineering is so much more challenging. But Arthur has always believed in me.”

Arthur swallowed and fought down a blush. He ignored Morgana’s smirk across the table and didn’t dare look to see what Catrina thought. He turned to his father, his palm starting to sweat in Merlin’s strong hand, and stammered, “Uh, yeah.”

Uther nodded approvingly—much to Arthur’s surprise—and asked, “And your hobbies? Arthur himself seems to be sorely lacking in that department. Naturally I’m curious to know what it is his partner likes to do for fun.”

Merlin’s hand slid from Arthur’s to pick up his fork. As his smile slowly slipped into a much more genuine one, Arthur realised this was a topic which Merlin enjoyed.

“I love music,” he declared excitedly. “It’s practically my life. And since I like learning things, I’ve always found history interesting. If I could, I’d be an historian or an anthropologist maybe—”

“Why can’t you?”

“Oh, well, money, obviously. I’m better with numbers, so I figured I should use the skills I have to earn the most I can.”

“You’re skilled with numbers?”

Merlin backtracked through what he said, then, for some odd reason blushed. “I...A bit, yes.”

Uther chuckled. “Is there reason for embarrassment?”

“I, um,” Merlin faltered. He glanced at Arthur but Arthur had no idea about any of what Merlin was saying. It was the first time he’d heard it as well.

When there were no words, Arthur resorted to placing an arm over Merlin’s shoulders. He knew Merlin wouldn’t physically protest, since they were putting on a show, after all, but he wasn’t sure if Merlin would mentally welcome the action. When Merlin’s eyes didn’t give away any dislike, Arthur squeezed a bit and tried to smile encouragingly.

He ignored Catrina’s hawk eyes watching them over Merlin’s shoulder.

“My mind is, er, sort of different,” Merlin said. “I read something, or look at it, and I know it. I understand it. So with numbers and maths, it’s like...it just comes easily to me. I, erm, know the first hundred digits of pi by heart from when I saw it on a piece of paper a few years ago.”

“That’s quite impressive,” Catrina said.

Merlin’s head turned abruptly to look at her. “Thank you.”

“Ah. You have a photographic memory,” Uther said, taking a slow bite of food. The tone in which he said it was...off. It was almost as if he’d made a distasteful discovery. Arthur bristled.

“I suppose so, yes,” Merlin admitted. “Although I don’t really think there’s such a thing as photographic memories.”

“He’s quite amazing actually,” Arthur declared, sensing Merlin’s mood. “What’s two hundred thirty-six cubed, Merlin?”

Merlin thought a few seconds, then said, “Thirteen million, one hundred forty-four thousand, two hundred fifty-six.”

“Given that my father was born on the fourteenth of September, 1961, how many months has he lived so far?”

“Six hundred twenty-two.” Merlin paused. “Well, six hundred twenty-three, I guess, since this month is nearly over.”

Uther raised a brow. “That’s...”

“Odd,” Catrina finished.

“Brilliant!” Morgana exclaimed happily.

Merlin beamed at her, then at Arthur. Arthur thought—hoped—that maybe he’d made up for what had happened last night. He felt his stomach clench with anticipation and his arm tightened around Merlin, silently asking if he was forgiven.

Merlin reached up and squeezed the hand that was on his shoulder, the corners of his lips lifting just a little higher. Arthur exhaled. The rest of the meal, thankfully, was quiet.

&&

Walking back to his bedroom, Arthur realised he should probably apologise to Merlin properly, with actual words. When they entered and Merlin made to settle at the table to do coursework, Arthur stopped him with a hand on his wrist. Merlin looked at Arthur questioningly.

“Merlin, I—”

Merlin put up a hand. “You don’t have to say anything, Arthur. Words are not exactly your area of expertise. I get it, okay?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, I have to say this.” He swallowed and took a deep breath, and continued when Merlin didn’t try to stop him. “I’m sorry I said you weren’t my friend. You know you’re more than just a rent boy to me. I only said that because I was angry. Well, there were a lot of emotions involved, I guess, and I couldn’t handle it. So I sort of...lashed out. And I was, um, wrong. To do that.”

Arthur waited for Merlin to say something, anything, in reply, even though he felt like there were a few more words he could have added.

“Sixteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four,” Merlin said flatly.

Arthur frowned. “What?”

“Sixteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four pounds. That’s how much money you’ve paid me over the seven months we’ve known each other.”

Arthur gaped. He was amazed by the amount. How had it managed to pile up so quickly?

“Friends don’t pay each other to stick around, Arthur.”

“I...But...” Arthur was momentarily speechless. What was Merlin saying? “You wouldn’t be my friend if I didn’t pay you?”

Merlin shook his head in frustration. “No, that’s—You only pay me for the sex. I’d still hang out with you—”

Arthur grabbed Merlin’s hand tightly. “So you are my friend.”

“Do you want to be?”

“Of course I do! I don’t know what I’d do without you!” Arthur stepped back. He hadn’t meant to reveal all that.

Merlin bit his lip and looked away. When he finally spoke, it was in response to Arthur’s earlier apology, tactfully not dwelling on what Arthur let slip.

“Look, I didn’t mean to sound like I was okay with what Catrina did to you last night. I guess that’s what you thought, right? When you said I was taking sides? But I only meant the women before. Obviously, I wasn’t around to see if they did anything similar to Catrina. I was just saying that, if they hadn’t, you should have given them a chance to prove themselves.”

Arthur was about to agree that yes, of course he’d been out of line. He had been young, angry, and impulsive. None of his actions had been warranted, none of the women before Catrina had ever been so malicious. But Merlin went on.

“That’s in the past now, though. You can’t really change your behaviour towards them since they’re long gone. And normally I would be all for an attitude change, now that you’ve realised your faults. But Catrina...”

“Is the devil,” Arthur finished, nodding in agreement.

Merlin laughed. “Definitely.”

Arthur grinned. He’d fixed it! He’d managed not to fuck up his relationship with his best and only friend!

But Merlin had become quiet again, and Arthur worried if he was thinking about what Arthur had exclaimed. I don’t know what I’d do without you.

“Did you...” Merlin began hesitantly. “Did you mean what you said to your father yesterday? About me being strong?”

Arthur felt his throat tighten with emotion and his face heated with blush. He tried to step away from Merlin, give them each some more room to breathe, but Merlin held him firmly.

“I meant some of it,” Arthur admitted. “You, um. You’re very important to me, Merlin. I would even go so far as to say I need you. But I’m not quite as dependent on alcohol as I made my father believe.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. He couldn’t believe he’d just told Merlin he needed him. It was true, but still...Once again, Merlin held Arthur’s life in his hands.

Those same hands now reached up to cradle Arthur’s face and tilt it just slightly upwards, forcing him to look Merlin in the eyes. Merlin stared at him like he never had before, seeming to search Arthur’s face for something. Arthur didn’t know what Merlin was searching for; he only knew that he wanted to give it to Merlin, would give Merlin anything gladly.

There was a frightening thought.

They had only kissed a handful of times. Occasionally, when they fucked, Merlin would bring their mouths together and ravage Arthur so thoroughly with his tongue that Arthur felt dizzy. Merlin would wrap his fingers around Arthur’s neck, squeeze just enough to make it difficult for Arthur to breathe but not enough to choke him, and suck Arthur’s bottom lip as he did it. Arthur could count on one hand the number of times he’d felt Merlin’s lips against his.

So it was surprising, even slightly shocking, when Merlin tilted his face to align their mouths and pressed gently against Arthur’s lips. Merlin had kept his eyes open, wordlessly asking if it was okay. When Arthur attached his hands to Merlin’s hips and parted his lips just a little more, Merlin’s eyes fluttered closed.

Arthur knew Merlin could be soft. Merlin had massaged Arthur’s worries away enough times for him to be well acquainted with the nuances of Merlin’s body. But kissing Merlin was an experience unto itself. There were little teasing bites and hitches of breath, fingers sliding into hair and flicks of tongue that promised more. Arthur’s head spun and he clutched Merlin’s shirt, holding onto the fabric as an anchor. He moaned when he felt Merlin’s tongue stop teasing and enter his mouth to fully explore. His heart hammered in his chest and he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs.

Before Arthur knew what was happening, he was pushed backwards and Merlin was straddling him on the bed.  Arthur’s mind flew out in a thousand different directions. This was different—this was more passionate than any time before—but it was brilliant, too. Would he have to pay Merlin for this? What exactly was going on?

“Stop thinking,” Merlin breathed into his ear before sucking the lobe into his mouth and grinding his erection against Arthur’s. Following Merlin’s instruction was easy enough after that.

Merlin’s hands ran up the inside of Arthur’s shirt, fingertips dancing across hot skin before pulling the garment up and over Arthur’s head. Desire building, Arthur quickly removed Merlin’s shirt as well.

Arthur had wanted to take his time with Merlin many times before, to lay him out and devour him slowly. It had always seemed too personal to ask. But now, after the kissing, and seeing the way Merlin looked at him, the moment seemed right. Arthur rolled them over until he was above Merlin, laying flat between Merlin’s legs, and lowered his mouth to Merlin’s chest. Merlin arched his spine as Arthur placed wet kisses on his skin. Arthur felt Merlin’s stomach flutter when he attached his lips just beneath Merlin’s navel.

The jeans were going to be a problem. Arthur reached up to undo them, but Merlin swatted his hands away and had them off quickly enough. Arthur took the time to remove his pants and trousers as well, throwing them carelessly behind him before returning to where Merlin’s legs butterflied open invitingly.

Merlin pulled him forward for another mind blowing kiss, raising his hips to brush their cocks together again. Arthur gasped and grabbed a fistful of the duvet as he moaned into Merlin’s mouth. He stifled another when Merlin’s hand slid down to wrap fingers around both of them and start stroking.

Arthur had long lost the ability to keep himself from thrusting into Merlin’s grasp by the time Merlin whispered something else in his ear. “Open me up, Arthur.” Merlin’s hand fell away and Arthur scrambled off the bed for where he packed the lube, Merlin’s breathy laughter echoing through the room.

When Arthur turned around with the required items in hand, he saw Merlin stretched out, fisting his cock as he waited for Arthur to prepare him. Arthur felt a powerful bolt of nerves shoot to his groin. “Fuck, you’re gorgeous,” he blurted. Merlin looked like some sort of Greek god, all pale skin and lean limbs splayed across the bed.

Merlin grinned. “Get over here,” he said, speeding up his hand until it was a blur over his cock.

Arthur sprung into action, jumping forward onto the bed and stilling Merlin’s hand. He popped the cap off the lube and drizzled some over Merlin’s perineum where it dripped down into his arse, making him inhale sharply and shudder.

Arthur could also count on one hand the amount of times he’d had Merlin’s cock in his mouth, but if they were breaking all the rules, Arthur figured he should at least indulge. As he circled his finger around Merlin’s entrance, he leaned forward and took the head between his lips, twirling his tongue around and tasting the tangy precome.

“Ah, Arthur, fuck,” Merlin panted, his thighs quivering with the strain not to push upwards. “I always thought...Fuck, do you like that?”

Arthur nodded as he sank lower and finally breached Merlin’s hole fully with his finger. Of course he liked sucking Merlin’s cock. He loved it. It was only because Merlin was always so focused on giving pleasure instead of getting that Arthur was deprived of it. That, along with Merlin’s other mysterious clients making Arthur a little more cautious where he put his mouth.

“Did you want...” Merlin’s hand came to rest hesitantly on the top of Arthur’s head and pushed down slowly until Arthur’s nose was buried in Merlin’s pubic curls. Arthur could barely breathe and Merlin’s cock was large enough to make Arthur’s jaw ache with the stretch.

But Arthur understood what Merlin was asking. Merlin knew full well how much Arthur enjoyed having his throat restricted during the heat of the moment. He was—basically—asking if Arthur wanted to be choked with his cock.

Arthur pulled back a bit, spit dripping from his mouth and down Merlin’s shaft, only to lower himself farther on the way back down. That was answer enough for Merlin, who tightened his hold on Arthur’s hair and began fucking Arthur’s mouth with a low growl. Arthur shut his eyes and focused on controlling his gag reflex.

As Merlin pistoned his hips upward, his hole tightened around Arthur’s finger, and Arthur was reminded of the task at hand. As much as he loved the feel of Merlin’s cock sliding between his lips, making it hard for him to breathe and bringing black dots to his vision, he also wanted to finish what he started. Attempting to multitask, Arthur began to pump his finger in and out of Merlin’s clenching arse.

“Oh, oh, Christ, Arthur, how are you so—Fuck, fuck!” Merlin shouted as he tensed up and spurted release down Arthur’s throat. His fingers curling tight in Arthur’s hair were so painful Arthur thought Merlin might rip it from his scalp. Tears sprung to his eyes as he felt Merlin’s hot come hit his tongue.

Merlin was shaking when he came back down, and his chest heaved with each deep breath. Arthur let Merlin slip slowly from his mouth and swallowed the thick fluid that had accumulated. He waited until Merlin opened his eyes again to pour more lube onto his fingers and add another. Merlin snorted in amusement but hitched a leg up to better accommodate him.

It wasn’t five minutes before Merlin said he was ready. Arthur tore open the condom beside him, slipped it on with ease, and was about to line himself up with Merlin when Merlin rolled them over and straddled Arthur again.

“You’ve got to start giving me some warning,” Arthur said, voice hoarse.

Merlin smiled, but didn’t respond. He reached behind him and grabbed Arthur’s cock, finding the right angle to sink down on it ever so slowly.

Arthur held his breath as he watched his cock disappear into Merlin’s body. Merlin was panting again by the time he’d taken Arthur all the way. He lay his hands on Arthur’s chest while he let his arse get used to the stretch.

Watching Merlin breathe through parted lips, Arthur thought he’d really like to kiss them again. The thought took him by surprise. He hadn’t thought much of kissing Merlin before, had only taken it when it was given. Now he found himself craving it. He pulled Merlin down and forced their lips together desperately.

He indulged in Merlin’s lips as long as he could; sucking, licking, nibbling, teasing. Then Merlin began to move, rocking up and down on Arthur’s cock, and all Arthur could do was gasp into Merlin’s mouth, sharing the hot air between them.

Merlin kissed down Arthur’s jaw, to his neck, until he finally pulled away entirely and sat up again to ride Arthur properly. Arthur held onto Merlin’s hips as Merlin raised himself up and let gravity pull him back down.

Besides the tightening in his legs that made its way up into his groin, Arthur felt a tightening in his chest as well. It was as if someone had reached inside him, wrapped fingers around his heart, and started to squeeze. But it was a pleasant ache, the best sort of pain, because Arthur knew it was all Merlin’s doing. Seeing Merlin bouncing up and down, forehead breaking out in a sweat, Arthur thought—not for the first time—that Merlin was beautiful. Arthur felt incredibly lucky to have him here. Merlin made every muscle in Arthur’s body tight with emotion.

When Merlin entwined their fingers together, Arthur felt himself edging closer. Merlin must have felt it too, because he urged Arthur on, saying, “Come on, fuck me,” until Arthur started jerking his hips up to ram into Merlin harder. Then the only thing that came out of Merlin’s mouth was the occasional moan and whimper.

I want him, Arthur thought as his pleasure peaked. I want him, all of him, the part with a photographic memory, and the numbers, and the computer engineering part, I want the chess-playing part, I want him I want him I want him

“Nnnngh!” Arthur’s eyes squeezed shut as he spasmed and erupted inside Merlin’s heat. He felt pleasure explode and seep from his skin in pulsating waves. He gripped Merlin’s thighs as he rode it to completion.

And I don’t want to lose him.

Arthur blinked his eyes open to see Merlin staring down at him, a dopey smile on his face. One of Merlin’s hands caressed Arthur’s cheek, brushed part of Arthur’s sweaty fringe out of his face, then caressed him again. Arthur felt like he must have been glowing with happiness. Everything felt so...right.

As Merlin lifted himself up and disposed of the condom for Arthur, Arthur felt uncertainty creep in. What they’d just done...that wasn’t anything like what they’d done before. It had been...strangely emotional. Arthur started panicking, but was careful not to let it show.

Merlin slipped beneath the duvet with a warm grin. “This bed is much nicer than the one I slept in last night. The mattress is a lot softer.”

“Yeah, the, uh, guest bedrooms aren’t really used,” Arthur said as he stood to put his pants on. He waited until he had joined Merlin beneath the duvet to ask the first question that plagued his mind. “Was that...Will that be added to what I owe you at the end of the week as well?” he asked with what he hoped was a teasing smile.

Apparently, Merlin didn’t find it funny. The colour left his face and he blinked a few times before his expression turned angry.

“What?” Arthur asked, confused.

Merlin, to Arthur’s annoyance, refused to say anything. He bolted from the bed, shoved his legs into his pants and jeans—completely ignoring Arthur’s pleas for him to say something—then left in a huff.

Arthur punched a pillow. What the hell had he even done wrong this time?