It was about time now that Arthur confronted Merlin and they had that conversation. If he was being honest, it hadn't been all that hard to figure it out, really, and in hindsight he wondered why it had taken him so long to get behind Merlin's ever so dark secret that he desperately had tried to hide from him.
In the end it had been obvious. It had shown in the little things, daily situations in which Arthur finally saw that his manservant was not quite the one he wanted to make him believe. Sure, he had always been secretive about private things but Arthur had just considered that as professionalism.
He had thought about bringing it up for a long time. Things had worked without him knowing, without it being a topic. Maybe it was even better this way. If he thought of what his father might say if knew that the crown prince's manservant was...
Arthur kept quiet for weeks after he had realised it. But he had always been “a nosy prick” as Merlin liked to say and so he eventually decided to actually address said matter.
It was late evening, they had been on the training grounds all day, practising with some of the new knights. Now Arthur was sitting at his table, a plate of really delicious looking food right in front of him, a cup of wine in his hand, while Merlin was standing at the door, a jug in his hands, staring out the window at the opposite side of the room. He seemed to be absent and Arthur could very well think of a reason why.
This moment was as good as any other, he decided, and he sat down his cup, cleared his throat and looked at the other man.
His servant flinched at looked at him.
He adjusted in his chair and gestured at the empty one sitting around the corner of the table.
“Have a seat.”
Merlin followed his order hesitantly. He never before had been asked to join Arthur at the dinner table and the confusion was written clearly all over his face.
The prince leaned forward, his elbows resting on the counter top, and looked at the used wood for a few seconds before continuing.
“Merlin, I know you have been hiding something from me for the past years.”
He looked at him and there was concern in his big blue eyes.
“I... my lord, I don't know what-”
“Don't deny it, you weren't exactly subtle about it. It took me a bit but now I finally know your secret, Merlin.”
The concern gave away to sheer panic.
“Arthur, I ... I can explain!”
He smirked at that reaction. This had exactly been what he had imagined this conversation to go.
“No need to panic, I don't judge you.”
A total lack of understanding on his face.
“I'm solely disappointed that you didn't trust me enough to confide it to me. So tell me, when did you realise you were attracted to men instead of women?”
It took Merlin a moment to answer, a couple of seconds in which many emotions showed on his face too rapidly for Arthur to follow all of them, until it was relief that settled on those soft features. Merlin smiled at him mischievously.
“I thought it would take you a lot longer to figure it out, dollophead.”
“I beg your pardon? I was surprised I didn't interpret the signs right earlier! You never made advances to a single woman in the castle and you're living here for years now. You stared at the knights when we all changed into new clothes after a hard training. And I have the feeling your eyes didn't stay up at my face every time I was bathing.”
The last comment made Merlin blush and look down at the jug he still held in his hands.
“My lord, I never... you were... I...”
Arthur grinned at him and patted his shoulder.
“I cannot blame you, Merlin, I know that I am a handsome man.”
Blue eyes darted up to meet his. They stared at each other for a moment, then Merlin began to grin as well and Arthur huffed laugh. He took his cup.
“Now, you haven't answered my question yet.”
“Well, if you insist...”
Merlin grabbed a chicken wing from Arthur's plate to which he responded with rising an eyebrow in amusement before he listened to Merlin telling him his story.
Of course Arthur was happy that Merlin had finally opened up to him. But the other thing that opened up was a whole new world of ways to tease his servant and he totally used that for his advantage. At first he started to smirk at Merlin and wiggle his eyebrows obviously whenever some of the knights took of their gear after training. But even if anyone noticed, no one lost a word about it and that soon became boring after a few days of having Merlin blush and looking away in shame. He had to think of something new.
It wasn't until his next bath that he had the ultimate idea. He caught Merlin staring at his bare chest and when his servant noticed Arthur's look he quickly turned to the closet, his face turning almost as red as the shirt he pulled out for the prince.
Arthur's mission started the next day. When Merlin came into his room to wake him and follow their daily procedure, he was confronted with a very shirtless Arthur. That was nothing completely new, he had slept like this every now and then when it had been too warm in his chambers. But unlike those times he didn't dress for breakfast. That clearly irritated Merlin and Arthur saw how he tried to not look at him too closely.
He continued to change from the pants he slept in into fresh clothes but didn't bother to do it behind the folding screen. He smirked at the shock on Merlin's face before he hid behind the screen and reached over it to offer him his clothes and Arthur really had to restrain himself from laughing.
He had his fun playing that game throughout the day. Whether he randomly touched Merlin on various occasions or continued to show more skin than necessary, sometimes followed with a soft whisper of "like what you see?" in his servant's ear, it seemed to drive him mad. Arthur way too much enjoyed himself and the way he could Merlin's face go red and maybe - maybe - he should have seen it coming when things escalated.
They had been in the tavern, playing cards with some knights, and Arthur had emptied more than just a few cups of wine. When they got back to his chambers his tongue was heavy and his vision blurry at the edges. His mind was slow and that turned out to be his doom. When Merlin walked past him to prepare his bed for him, his hand reached out without his permission and smacked his butt. Merlin froze in his movements and Arthur realised what he just did. He opened his mouth to apologise but before he was able to say something, his servant spun around, grabbed the fabric of his shirt with his fists and crashed him into the wall behind his back. It hurt when his shoulders collided with the hard, cold stone; Merlin really was stronger than he looked like.
Speaking of, his face was just inches from Arthur's, their bodies pressed together. Blue eyes stared at him, and there was something wild in them, something he couldn't define, but it made his stomach turn.
Merlin leaned forward, his breath tickled the soft skin of Arthur's neck which gave him goosebumps. And then Merlin spoke, his voice a hoarse whisper, his lips barely close enough to touch his ear.
“You better stop, my lord.”
Merlin's tone was threatening but it wasn't just that. It was teasing, pushing boundaries, maybe even promising something Arthur wasn't possible to guess yet. He swallowed.
“What if I didn't?”
When did his own voice become this shakey?
He could feel Merlin's grin at his ear and then one of his hands loosened on his shirt just to stroke through his hair and find a tight grip there that almost hurt a little. Arthur couldn't stop the groan from escaping his lips.
“Then maybe I won't be able to control myself any further as perfectly as I do now.”
“You call that perfect control?”, the prince tried to ease the situation with sarcasm but, again, his voice failed him, becoming thinner towards the end of the sentence.
The low chuckle right next to his ear did unimaginable things to him and his eyes fluttered shut, his next breath unsteady as he suddenly became well aware of how close his and Merlin's bodies were right now.
“You have no idea, sire.”
Then Merlin was gone in an instant. When Arthur opened his eyes in confusion he saw him walking towards the door.
“I wish you a good night, my lord.”
There was nothing hoarse in his voice this time, he sounded just like always and when he turned to him he gave him an innocent smile.
“If you should have any further wishes, you know where to find me.”
And with that he stepped out the room, shut the door and left a mess of a prince leaning against the wall, trying to process what just happened.
Well, Arthur had suspected his manservant to be full of surprises, after all.