Dreaming about Arthur wasn't unusual for Merlin. It was common enough, or so Merlin heard, to dream of a person you spent most of your waking hours with, not to mention a person you were secretly in love with. Merlin had been Arthur's servant for almost a year, in love with him for the better part of that time, and had no reason to think Arthur might feel the same, aside from Arthur's chivalrous tendency to save Merlin's life on occasion. Also to look at Merlin with a certain keen attention, once in a while. Also to hit him, affectionately-ish. No reason besides those, but Merlin's feelings had led to plenty of dreams about Camelot's crown prince; some prosaic, some romantic, some quite salacious.
So tonight it felt normal enough when Merlin dreamed he was sitting outside a cattle shed in Ealdor with Arthur, talking about stew, then snowstorms, then books of stories. The subject of books made Merlin recall the grimoire he'd been reading just before bed. He'd been studying spells he hadn't tried before, committing their words to memory. And, because one's discretion is terribly lax in dreams, he tried saying a spell aloud, though he couldn't remember what it did exactly.
The dream changed, abruptly. He was in a wood dappled with sunlight and wildflowers, riding a horse with Arthur. Merlin sat behind him in the saddle, his arms around Arthur's waist. They didn't seem to be any hurry; the horse was only walking, and a few knights rode along at a fair distance, paying them no attention.
Arthur glanced over his shoulder. "I don't know why I'm letting you ride with me, instead of making you stay on your own horse."
Merlin wrapped his arms more cozily around him, and set his chin on Arthur's shoulder. The armor plate, topped with the red cloak, felt warm and smooth. "Because you like being cuddled, despite your prickly exterior."
Arthur smirked, and wriggled back against Merlin. "I won't deny that you feel good."
Because Merlin had his legs apart and Arthur was wedging himself between them, and because these things made sense in dreams, Merlin got hard and let Arthur feel it by pressing up against his back. "I do feel good," he murmured.
Arthur nudged his head against Merlin's. "You like that, do you?"
"Most comfortable I've ever been on a horse." They were passing under a wild cherry tree full of blossoms. Merlin picked a twig of them and tickled Arthur's nose with it.
Arthur stole it from him and sniffed it. "Giving me flowers? I knew you were a complete girl."
"It's a romantic gesture, you cabbagehead." Merlin slid a hand down, seeking Arthur's crotch.
Arthur obliged by moving aside the relevant section of chainmail, and moaned in appreciation when Merlin got his hand down inside all those padded layers of clothes and wrapped it around Arthur's cock. Arthur pulled his cloak over his lap. "There, now no one'll see," he said, though he sounded all lustfully out of breath, and Merlin had to giggle, because how likely was it that the knights wouldn't guess what was going on, when Merlin was sharing a horse with him and holding him from behind, and Arthur was covering his lap with a cloak and leaning his head back and shutting his eyes and groaning like that?
But Merlin didn't particularly care if they did notice. None of them seemed to, anyway. So he kept at it, drowsily stroking off the prince on a slow horseback ride on a spring day, and in the process getting appallingly aroused himself.
"God, don't stop, never stop," Arthur said. He felt so rigid in Merlin's hand, all slick with sweat. His hips bucked up into Merlin's strokes.
"Love touching you, wouldn't stop, wouldn't dream of it." Panting, having freed his cock from his trousers, Merlin thrust against Arthur's back in tempo with the horse's steps, and somehow--maybe through magic--he was in direct contact with Arthur's skin; no chainmail in the way.
"You're going to make me--oh--don't stop, you're making me--" Arthur broke into a stuttered groan, and heat spilled over Merlin's fingers.
With his face against the back of Arthur's neck, Merlin moaned, thrust hard, and came too, his fingers clutching tight against Arthur's body.
When he shuddered awake a moment later, he found it was dawn and, predictably, his long shirt and sheets were now in need of laundering. He sighed and relaxed against his mattress, savoring the spice of that dream while the sweat cooled on his body.
Merlin's only experience at doing things like that had been with Will back home, and at the time it had seemed intensely exciting. But now the thought of Will did absolutely nothing for him, while the thought of Arthur--Merlin groaned, and rubbed his eyes. Stupid princes. Spoiling you for the rest of the world forever, even when they treated you like you were a pack mule.
After washing, dressing, and bundling up his sheets for the laundry, Merlin ate a few bites of apple, then jogged off to get Arthur's breakfast. Amidst the bustle of the kitchen, a maid was arranging vases of flowers. Blossoming cherry stems filled one of the vases--probably Merlin had noticed those trees blooming lately and that was why he'd dreamed of them. He slowed and told the maid, "For Prince Arthur," so she wouldn't squawk at him, then broke off a small twig of the white blossoms to lay upon Arthur's breakfast tray. He did it just because it pleased him; Arthur probably wouldn't even notice.
Merlin hastened up to Arthur's room. Arthur was already up, and had changed into trousers and nothing else, and was pulling the sheets off the bed and stuffing them into a pile on the floor. He jumped a little when he noticed Merlin entering the room, then stood straight, rested his knuckles on his hips, and said, "Ah, good. Breakfast."
"Yes, breakfast. Hello." Merlin carried the tray over to the bedside table, and lifted an eyebrow at the stripped bed. "Problem with the sheets?"
Arthur stepped to the tray, and focused on buttering a slice of bread. "I was too hot. Got sweaty. You'll have to change them."
"Oh. I just changed them yesterday; they'll probably be all right one more night."
"Merlin, just change them. It's your job." Arthur took his bread to the window, where he stood looking out, chewing.
"Right. Sure." Suppressing pronouncements about Arthur's rudeness, Merlin gathered up the pile of sheets, and stopped when a whiff from them registered in his nose. After another glance at Arthur, whose back was still turned, Merlin sniffed them closer, and arousal turned a somersault low in his belly. It was the same way his own sheets had smelled this morning. Same kind of dream, then.
It was a serious turn-on to know he'd had a wet dream the same night Arthur did, and he'd most definitely be thinking about that for a long while. But as Merlin carried the sheets to the laundry basket by the wardrobe, he also felt an unexpected nudge of sympathy. Merlin could come in his sleep and, upon awakening, merely shake his head and change the sheets himself without anyone being the wiser. Arthur, as a prince whose life was invaded by servants, could not. He had to command someone else to change them; if he did it himself he'd look beyond furtive. Either way, someone in the servants' hall was going to learn about the prince's nocturnal incident.
Merlin dropped the sheets into the basket. Poor Arthur. He had many flaws, most of them involving being an arrogant royal, but Merlin honestly wouldn't have wished to switch places with him most of the time. Arthur shouldered all the pressure with far more grace than Merlin would have, and that (along with reasons of physical desirability) was why Merlin loved him. Despite all the terribly annoying flaws.
When Merlin turned, he found Arthur had wandered back to the breakfast tray, and was standing there twirling the cherry blossom stem in his fingers. He looked at Merlin with a hint of amusement in his features. "Giving me flowers, are you?"
Merlin blinked, startled. After all, Arthur had said almost the exact same thing in his dream. "I saw them in a vase downstairs. Thought they were pretty."
Arthur set the stem down and picked up a bowl of grapes. "Odd. Last night I had a dream you handed me flowers like these." He paused, chewing, and sent an uneasy glance at Merlin. "That is, I think it was you. Can't remember exactly." He looked away and stuffed another grape into his mouth.
Merlin's heart began pounding. Suddenly he had the most awful recollection of what one of those new spells was supposed to do. "Really. Interesting. What, um. What else was the dream about?"
Arthur ate another couple of grapes before answering. He still didn't look at Merlin. "I was out riding, with the knights, I think. In the wood. What does it matter?"
Merlin swallowed. He shook his head swiftly. "Doesn't. Nothing."
After carting the laundry downstairs, he ran back to his room and dug out the grimoire. He found the word he had uttered in the dream, and beneath it, the description. For joining dreams, it said, along with a drawing of one sleeping man in the right margin and another in the left, with vines and flowers growing out of their heads and connecting above the writing in an elaborate tangle. Quite as if their dreams had linked up into one shared experience.
Merlin lifted his gaze from the book and stared in blank alarm at his bedroom wall. He could do magic in his sleep? Well, he had sort of known that already, since there'd been that one time when, while poisoned and almost unconscious, he had sent a magical glowing ball to help guide Arthur out of a monster's den…so yes, really, he ought to have been more damned careful. He was lucky Arthur had dismissed this little horseback rendezvous as just an odd dream.
But then, hang on. Say it was a shared dream. In the dream, Arthur liked Merlin touching him; like, really liked it. He'd almost seemed nonchalant about it, too, as if thinking about sex with Merlin was as common for him as it was for Merlin. That notion made Merlin start getting all breathless and hot between the legs again. However, on the other hand…
Maybe it hadn't been a shared dream at all. Arthur might have had an erotic dream about someone else, which of course he wouldn't have mentioned to Merlin. The details in common might only have been coincidence. They both noticed cherry trees flowering lately, they both were young enough men to have wet dreams without it being completely unusual, and Arthur on horseback was a common enough detail in real life to feature in both their dreams too. So. Hmm.
Well, it wouldn't hurt to test the spell just once more. After all, there was no harm done, beyond a little extra laundry. And now the question of whether Arthur desired him--really and truly--was going to burn in Merlin's mind until it consumed every sane thought. He needed to know more. It wasn't the kind of thing he could ask Arthur while they were awake, obviously, but perhaps in a dream where the usual rules didn't apply…
He clapped the book shut. Yes. Basically there was no way in hell Merlin wasn't going to try the spell again.
* * *
Arthur treated Merlin a little nicer than average that day, Merlin gauged. Or at least, there was one moment during training, when a visiting Northumbrian knight repeatedly pounded his practice sword rather too hard upon the shield Merlin was holding onto for dear life, and Arthur stepped in and stopped him. Grinning, Arthur sent the knight off to spar with another man, then slapped Merlin on the (aching) shoulder and said, in a low tone pitched just for Merlin's ears, "Only I get to torture you like that."
"Yes, that's what I love about you," Merlin said, wincing as he put the shield down. "Um. I mean. About working for you."
Arthur's hand lingered on Merlin's shoulder, rubbing gently, a few seconds longer than he really had to.
Whether that moment was due to sexy dreams or not, Merlin was happy to take it.
Once he'd fallen asleep that night, he spent a while swimming through other random dreams before his mind remembered its mission. He held onto the idea of Arthur until the prince appeared, strolling into the courtyard in his belted gray tunic. Merlin walked up to him and spoke the spell-word.
The dream rippled and transformed--he supposed he was stepping into Arthur's dream when that happened. Now they were alone together atop one of the high battlements of Camelot, at night, and they were looking down on the courtyard, where lots of colored lanterns had been lit and people were dancing to festive music.
"I like to escape these events when I can," Arthur said. "Don't you?"
"Better than having to wear the ceremonial robes of a servant of Camelot," Merlin agreed.
Arthur snorted a laugh, and looked at Merlin. "You were kind of adorable in that hat. I would never admit it out loud, though."
Merlin leaned against his side. "Well. You're always kind of ridiculously beautiful. Which I wouldn't admit out loud either."
Arthur slid his arm around Merlin's waist casually, like they did this all the time. Which, Merlin finally remembered, they did not.
"Listen," Merlin said, as music and laughter trilled up from below. "Do you actually like me, or is this just a weird dream?"
Arthur kept watching the dancers, his face lit with an angelic glow by the colored lights. His hand caressed Merlin's hip. "Oh, I think about you far more than I should. It's only, I can't really act on it, can I."
Longing drew Merlin closer; he couldn't resist touching Arthur's ear with his nose. "Really? I mean, in actual waking life, though?"
"In actual waking life. But the crown prince can't be carrying on an affair with a servant, especially a man. Even if that's all I want. Don't you think I've thought it through?" Arthur was still tracing circles on Merlin's side, trailing from ribs to thigh and back again.
"So…" Merlin realized Arthur was making real-world valid points, but he was finding it hard to keep his mind where it should be. It was so easy to slide into the world of the dream. Everything seemed very lifelike. He even smelled the fresh night air and heard snippets of conversation from the revelers below. He ached to touch Arthur, and gave in by sliding his hand down Arthur's side, feeling the texture of his tunic and belt and the shape of his muscles beneath, the way he'd felt them in waking life hundreds of times when helping him dress. "So have you had other dreams about me?"
Merlin moistened his lips. "And what do you like to do in them?"
"Oh…things like this." Arthur drew Merlin around in front of him, so Merlin's back was against the stone parapet. He opened the front of Merlin's trousers. Merlin was already hard, and moaned when Arthur wrapped a hand around him and pulled on him. "I like to suck your cock in them," he said, breath hot in Merlin's ear. "Then I like you to suck mine. For example."
This was too much for any enamored young man to expect to resist. "That's…" Merlin swallowed. "That's what you want? Are you sure?"
Arthur straddled Merlin's leg, so Merlin could feel the hard line of his erection. "Don't I feel sure?"
"Oh yes." Merlin slid his lips against Arthur's. "Have you…done that with anyone before?"
"With a man? I have. Before I met you. Learned just enough to know my way around, I'd say. What about you?" Arthur was still playing with Merlin's cock, which was intensely distracting.
"Mmm...um…yes. Just one, but…God, yes, it's you I want."
"Good boy." Arthur slid to his knees, and then a teasingly light warmth swirled around Merlin's cock. Merlin flattened his palms on the stone behind him, and surrendered, straining his hips forward to chase the sensation. It wasn't real and yet it was; this was what Arthur was dreaming and saying and wanting, and that was even more arousing than the phantom touch of his tongue.
Merlin must have inadvertently thrown more magic into it, must have created the feel of Arthur's mouth upon him. That could be the only explanation for how vivid, how good it felt. So even though he was certain he glimpsed King Uther walking on one of the walls directly below them, Merlin clung selfishly and recklessly to the supposed safety of this being a dream, and gave himself over to desire.
He soon came in Arthur's mouth, crying out, stifling it by biting his knuckle. And that almost woke him up--the night and the battlement wavered and darkened; the music vanished. But he fought to stay with Arthur, urgently repeating the spell-word a couple of times, and he succeeded.
He found himself pulling down Arthur's trousers on the stone floor of…he glanced around and found it wasn't the battlement anymore; it was the front steps of the castle, just above the courtyard, where the revelers had been. The colored lanterns were still strung up, but all of them were extinguished now. It was late at night and everyone had gone home; the whole castle was dark and seemed eerily deserted. But that meant it was perfectly safe for Merlin to lick and suck at Arthur's cock, there under the starlight, until Arthur arched up in climax, filling Merlin's mouth with salty heat that soon disappeared.
Merlin stretched out across the steps beside him, and fondled Arthur's naked groin while they gazed at the sky impossibly packed with stars. "If you do love me," Merlin told him, "give me a flower tomorrow. In real life, when we're awake."
Arthur smirked. "That's what you want? For me to give you flowers?"
"As a sign you really mean all this. That's all. I just want to know."
"How do I know you really love me?"
"I gave you flowers this morning, remember?"
"Oh. Of course."
There, regretfully, Merlin did awaken. With more laundering of sheets to add to his to-do list. But he reported to Arthur's room with particular interest that morning, and his pulse quickened when he found Arthur once again crumpling up his sheets into a heap. Arthur stood, in his loosely-laced trousers, and flapped a hand at the sheets. "Right. Laundry. So."
Merlin beamed at him with a deeply understanding, and probably rather too ecstatic, smile. It made Arthur squint at him in confusion. Merlin dimmed the smile a bit and cleared his throat. "No problem. Hungry?"
While Arthur ate breakfast, and got dressed (with Merlin's help), Merlin hovered, waiting for some hint or glance or opportunity to ask whether he'd had pleasant dreams. But Arthur kept nattering about the visiting nobles from Northumbria, who were taking up most of the royal family's schedule this week. For instance, it was going to involve Merlin getting smacked around with practice swords again this morning, because that kind of thing was the men's idea of fun.
It was a good thing Arthur had other ideas of fun that Merlin could get behind, such as the ones indulged in in his dreams, because otherwise Merlin would have to drop this whole idea of being in love with him. The fight-training "fun" today resulted in Merlin once again feeling resentful and bored and in pain, after hours of holding shields or carting around weapons for burly men when there was no particular war on at the moment or anything.
But. Then. At noon, when the session finally ended, Arthur piled Merlin's arms high with shields and wooden swords and armor until his knees were about to buckle. Then Arthur stooped, plucked a tiny daisy from the grass, and set it on top of the heap. He gave Merlin a sunny smile and strolled toward the castle.
Enthralled, Merlin couldn't speak for a few seconds. Then he called after Arthur, "Thank you. Lovely gesture, the flower." He used the half-sarcastic tone Arthur would have expected of him; nothing too soppy. Didn't want to unnerve him.
"Knew you'd appreciate it," Arthur called over his shoulder without breaking his stride.
Well. Well well well.
Arthur loved him. In actual waking life.
Merlin couldn't stop beaming, and the heap of heavy gear felt almost light as he carried it to the armory. Of course, he did suspend it in the air with magic just a little.
Which… Merlin's smile disappeared. Magic: another problem, beyond the obstacles Arthur had already brought up in their dream.
Merlin could continue fondling Arthur in dreams without revealing he was using magic to do so. He could also go on using what he learned in dreams to elicit waking-life gestures of affection like the flowers. Enough such gestures might even lead Arthur and Merlin into a real-life love affair--a thought so tempting and beautiful and terrifying it stole his breath away.
Because how could he enter into a love affair with anyone while concealing his magic from them, the magic that made him who he was? Especially when his love was the crown prince of a land in which sorcery was punishable by death?
Merlin dropped the gear on the armory floor and disconsolately began sorting it out. That question was tangled indeed. He couldn't undo all its knots today. He might as well wait and see. What the dreams would bring. How Arthur would behave to him next. What "destiny" had in mind here exactly.
* * *
They had a long feast that night, as they had every night this week, to let the visiting Northumbrians mingle and chat with Camelot's court. Arthur had stuck it out stoically the first two nights so far. But tonight, after dessert, as everyone was rising and allowing the servants to rearrange the tables and make room for dancing, Arthur turned to his father and the lord of Northumbria, and said, "I'm afraid I've a dreadful headache, and must bow out. Do give my regrets to the ladies."
Standing ready by the wall nearby, Merlin went into high alert at the words. Had someone tried to poison Arthur again? He hastened forward. "Arthur, are you all right?"
"Ah, Merlin, yes. Attend me." Arthur made his gracious farewells to everyone, ignoring how Uther glared at him and hissed hints that he really ought to stay. Soon the prince left the banquet hall anyway, Merlin hurrying along beside him.
"What's wrong?" Merlin asked once they'd gotten out into the quiet of the torchlit corridor. "What kind of pain is it?"
"I don't have a headache," Arthur said under his breath, without looking at Merlin. He kept striding swiftly down the corridor, red cloak billowing. "We're escaping." He flashed Merlin a glance, blue eyes sparkling with mischief, lips barely containing a smile.
Merlin's heart lifted. "Oh! To…where?"
"Hmm." Arthur hesitated at the end of the corridor, then swiveled left. "Up."
In two minutes' time, they reached the top of one of the battlement towers, laughing and panting from the stair climb. The fragrant spring night air spilled into Merlin's nose and mouth. It wasn't the exact tower they'd dreamed of last night, but the fact that Arthur had chosen to bring him to a battlement at all, as if to honor the dream, made him feel quite tender inside. He paused to drink in the starry sky and the brilliant half-moon, and promptly got hit in the chest with something that fell to his feet with a metallic clatter.
He crouched and picked up Arthur's gold circlet, which Arthur had removed from his head and flung at Merlin. "Hey, stop that," Merlin reproved. "I'm the one who has to get this fixed if you dent it, you know."
"Oh, complain, complain." Arthur strolled to the parapet and leaned his elbows on it. "Try it on. You'll see how uncomfortable it is, and why I hate having to wear it."
Feeling a bit drunk on the air and the delight of Arthur sneaking him out like this, Merlin jammed the circlet onto his head and sauntered over. "Hmm, yeah. Bit hard, isn't it."
"I think there are permanent dents in my skull from that thing." Arthur's gaze had been drifting across the towers of the castle, but now he looked over at Merlin in the moonlight, and broke into a grin. "That is an amusing sight. His Highness, Prince Merlin of Ealdor."
"Wearing this is probably treason, isn't it."
"Probably." Arthur looked down toward the candlelit windows of the banquet hall, and his grin evaporated. "At least according to my father. But then, what isn't, according to him?"
Merlin pulled the uncomfortable metal circlet off his head, and threaded it onto his arm so it wouldn't get lost. He folded his arms on the parapet beside Arthur, their elbows an inch apart. "Is that what you're escaping tonight? The king?"
Arthur was quiet for a moment. "In a sense. He'd like me to be dancing with the Northumbrian daughters and nieces right now and choosing one to become engaged to. As if I'm interested in proposing to someone I've known for three days."
Merlin nodded. He found it was easier to accept such conversation topics without flinching now that he knew, or at least almost knew, that he was the one Arthur loved. "You've put your foot down about his matchmaking efforts before. I imagine he's getting impatient with you."
"You've no idea." Arthur turned his back on the castle, and slid down the wall to sit in the shadow of the parapet, gazing up at the stars. "But I've said I'll only marry for love, and I'm not going to change my mind. It's too important. Alliances be damned."
Merlin sat beside him. He tilted the circlet back and forth on his arm. Its little gems caught the moonlight and sparkled like stars. "Alliances are important."
"Yes, but marriage isn't the only way to go about them. We're talking about who I live with, who I sleep with--I mean, God. Could you?"
"Could I what? Sleep with you?" Merlin blushed immediately after making the joke. Ill-advised, surely. His heart started drumming.
It shut Arthur up for a few seconds. He shot Merlin a keen stare. Then he snorted. "No, idiot. Could you stand an arranged marriage? Oh, never mind."
"I do see what you mean. And though I know it causes problems between you and the king, I think you're in the right. It's commendable of you to stand firm." Also, I want you only for myself, so if it's me you want, you can have me, here and now, he managed not to add.
"Mm." Arthur tipped his head back. The moonlight gleamed in his eyes, and sent dark blue shadows streaking down his neck. "Well, at least I'm avoiding the dancing. I'm terrible at the dancing."
"Yeah," Merlin agreed. "You are."
Arthur elbowed him. Merlin laughed. They shifted into a discussion about tomorrow's picnic, and the horses involved, and a hunt the group might go on (another bizarre idea of fun in Merlin's opinion), and the new litter of puppies one of the hunting dogs recently had. When they heard voices coming outside from far below, signaling some of the party leaving for their rooms, they crept back down the tower and made it to Arthur's door without anyone catching them.
"Do you need me tonight?" Merlin asked, for often enough Arthur dismissed him and got ready for bed himself, probably enjoying the rare solitude.
Arthur paused, and his glance traveled from Merlin's eyes down to his boots, then drifted over to the door. He looked a little sad, or perhaps regretful was more the word. "No, I suppose not," he said.
"Well. Sweet dreams, then." Merlin smiled as Arthur's gaze cut back to his. "About someone you do like and aren't being forced to marry."
Arthur nodded, blinking a few times, as if deep in thought. "Right. You too." He clapped Merlin on the shoulder, and his fingers clung there a few extra seconds.
Merlin couldn't tear his gaze away from Arthur's. His heartbeat pulsed in his throat. Why wasn't he allowed to kiss him, right this second?
Then Arthur let his hand fall, and their gazes separated. Arthur turned the door latch. "See you in the morning."
And he stepped inside and was gone.
Merlin turned toward the stairs to return to his room. "Or," he murmured, "see you in our sleep."
* * *
Merlin spoke the spell-word and found himself in Arthur's dream. They were standing among the crowd during a council meeting. Uther, in a ridiculously ornate crown, sat on the throne, declaiming loudly about something or other. Arthur wasn't paying attention. He was holding one of the hunting dog puppies, a white one with black splotches. It slept with its head on his shoulder and its fuzzy belly against his chest, and he petted its back, smiling.
Merlin stepped up and stroked his fingertip down the pup's soft little forehead to its damp nose. "So am I part of the problem in your marriage prospects?" he asked, in an undertone so as not to disturb anyone else. "Is it because you're in love with me?" The puppy woke and started wriggling.
Arthur rocked from foot to foot to lull it, like a parent with an infant. "It doesn't help, certainly," he murmured back. "I prefer men to women, and I want you entirely too much. I can't tell my father any of that." The pup wouldn't be contained; it flopped around like a fish in his grasp.
"Here, let me." Merlin took the puppy, who wagged its tail, and yipped loudly.
Everyone stopped talking to stare at them.
"Sorry," Merlin said, and set the puppy on the floor. It scampered back to its mother, who lay at Uther's feet.
Uther glared at him, then resumed his monologue.
"Over here," Arthur whispered, and took Merlin's hand and drew him to the edge of the room. He slipped behind one of the massive red draperies at the window, and beckoned Merlin to join him. He pulled the curtain so it shut around them, closing them out from view. Uther's voice still droned, but it sounded distant. Arthur smiled. "There. Now we're alone."
"Indeed, Sire." Merlin still held his hand, and he bowed over it and kissed Arthur's silver ring playfully. People did sometimes kiss Arthur's ring, but Merlin definitely never did, and the gesture made them both snicker. Merlin turned it naughtier, mouthing each one of Arthur's knuckles and flicking the tip of his tongue between them, until Arthur groaned in impatience and grabbed Merlin by the hips.
"Give me that tongue," Arthur said, and kissed him on the lips, long and lingering.
Merlin pulled in a breath around the edges of Arthur's mouth, then tangled his tongue with Arthur's. His hands sank into Arthur's hair, which felt as soft as the puppy's fur.
"Did you notice when I gave you a flower today?" Arthur mumbled against his lips.
"Yes." Merlin kissed him three or four more times before adding, "You made me very happy."
"Good. But how do I know…" Arthur paused for another handful of kisses. "…you feel the same? How can I know you want me?"
"Mm…" Merlin tried to think, which was difficult when they kept sliding lips and tongues against one another, all slippery and warm. It was making him so hard. "I could give you something. What should I give you?"
Arthur transferred his kisses to Merlin's jaw, then nipped his earlobe. "A puppy. I liked the puppy."
Merlin laughed. "All right. A puppy."
Arthur pressed his whole body against him then, his erection rubbing Merlin's, and Merlin whimpered and lost track of logical plans.
"Why can't we really do this?" He sank his face into Arthur's neck, nosing aside the collar of his jacket to mouth the silky skin there. "I want us to do this."
Arthur ground against him in a delicious, relentless rhythm. "So do I. I really do. But..."
"But there's…there's problems, there's…things to discuss…" Granted, Merlin couldn't remember at the moment exactly what those were. He closed his eyes and parted his legs and moved a hand down to Arthur's arse to hold him tighter, right there, right like that.
Arthur panted against his chin. "Just help me feel good. You always do, you make me feel so good. Mm, I want to touch all of you." His hands coasted up and down Merlin, front and back.
Merlin sagged against the wall, clutching Arthur's arse in both hands now, rutting desperately against him. "You too…nothing's ever felt as good as you…there, like that, like that--I'm--ah!" Jolting hard, he came in his trousers.
Arthur kept thrusting against him, hands locked around Merlin's hips. "There you are. That's good…I love…making you…come--" At the word, his voice turned into a groan and he shuddered and came too.
They wilted into the drapery and the wall and held each other, breathing fast. Merlin felt so sleepy he couldn't keep his eyes open, but he heard Uther demanding from the other side of the curtain, "Arthur! Prince Arthur!" Merlin held Arthur closer so he wouldn't lose him, but then he realized Arthur seemed to be shrinking and changing in his arms, and when he forced his eyes open he found he was only holding the bunched-up drapery and Arthur was gone.
He tried to shove the curtain out of the way, got tangled in it, flailed, and woke up in his own bed. It was dawn. At least he had had the foresight to wear trousers to bed this time and could therefore avoid washing a whole set of sheets.
Feeling more than a little emotionally wobbly from all that--and from everything that might yet lie ahead--he dragged himself from bed and set forth on his day.
When he entered Arthur's room, he was puzzled to see the sheets weren't stripped off the bed this time. They were in their more common disarray, with Arthur lounging sleepily in them in a nightshirt, as he had tended to be most mornings before Merlin started invading his dreams and complicating things. Frowning, Merlin approached in the dim sunlight filtering between the curtains. Had Arthur not realized he needed to change the sheets yet? Or had the dream spell not worked? Had that all been Merlin's own imagination? That was a disheartening thought.
Then his boot-clad toe encountered something cloth beside the bed, and he looked down to find a pair of Arthur's thin sleep-trousers crumpled up there. Arthur's wardrobe contained them, but he usually didn't wear them; he preferred only a long shirt or nothing at all (and hadn't that tormented Merlin with steamy thoughts all these months). Merlin set down the breakfast tray and bent to pick up the trousers.
"Those are for the wash," Arthur mumbled, words obscured by the pillow squishing half his mouth.
"Oh. Of course." Merlin's fingers curled into the folds, and found what he was seeking, with a shock of eroticism: a wet patch, cooled now and sticky-slippery to the touch. The smell of seed, as Merlin picked up the trousers, confirmed all he needed to know. Smiling, he carried the trousers to the laundry basket and dropped them in. How clever of Arthur to think of wearing those to bed last night too.
He went to the curtains and swept them open, getting the usual grunt of protest from Arthur.
"Too bright. Want to stay asleep," he complained, folding his arms over his face.
"Yes, I know." Merlin turned, and paused to enjoy how the sun lit up Arthur's golden hair, all adorably disordered. "I would have liked to stay in my dreams as well," he confided. "They were… Well. I'll have laundry of my own to do. Been a few nights like that in a row now, in fact." He could feel his heartbeat in every one of his fingertips. He was surely daring too much, to say such things.
Arthur adjusted his arms to peer at Merlin from between them, then covered his face again. "That is entirely more information than you ought to tell me, Merlin."
"You're appallingly forward. Indecently so." But he still seemed to be only grousing, as opposed to actually affronted.
So Merlin gave in to his mischievous impulse, and bantered the way he would have if they hadn't been sharing dreams. "Oh, but I thought you were such a worldly young man. Able to discuss anything with anyone, without blushing."
"No one says I am blushing." Arthur uncovered his face and rose up on his elbows to glare at Merlin.
Merlin twisted his mouth sympathetically. "Mm, you kind of are, though."
"I am n--" Arthur clenched his mouth shut, seized a pillow, and threw it at Merlin.
Ah good. So they were on normal enough terms.
Arthur dropped the subject for the time being and did indeed speak in an ordinary fashion to him as Merlin assisted with breakfast and clothes. The prince seemed once again mostly focused on the day's plans and its tedious social schedule. But in the few silent moments between sentences, Arthur seemed to be studying Merlin, searching him for some answer to an unasked question.
Oh, the answers Merlin could have given. But it made him shake with fear--fear at everything that could go wrong--to even think of confessing all his underhanded, love-fueled actions. Not yet. Not just quite yet.
He had to follow up on Arthur's request from the dream, though. He couldn't let that go unanswered. He waited for a plausible moment, and it finally came, after a whole large group rode out for a picnic. Merlin and other servants came along too, to do all the actual work, of course. When they returned to the stables, Merlin approached Arthur and said, "Come over here a minute. I've something nice to show you."
"That sounds positively illicit," Arthur remarked, but handed his horse's reins to a stable boy and followed Merlin.
Merlin led him to the corner stall where the mother dog and her pups bedded down. The puppies, five of them, perhaps a month old, bounced and rolled around in the straw, making squeaky sounds of joy while their mother snoozed in the corner. "Puppies!" Merlin declared, trying to sound carefree, though his heart beat hard as thunder.
Arthur stopped at the low wooden gate fencing the pups in, and frowned at them. He slid a glance at Merlin, but said nothing.
Merlin bent over the gate and caught up the black-and-white puppy. She was the only one with that coloring; all her siblings were brown and white. Merlin held her up to his face and let her lick his nose several times, then handed her to Arthur. "Isn't she sweet?"
Arthur took the puppy and cradled her against his chest, watching as she found the leather edge of his jacket and enthusiastically began gnawing on it. He lifted his gaze to Merlin and just stared.
Merlin stared back, feeling he might pass out, his heart was beating so fast.
They gazed at each other far longer than anyone could possibly call natural. Then Arthur looked at the puppy again, and asked in a gruff voice, "Why…why a puppy?"
"Because we were talking about them last night. On the tower. Remember? I thought it'd be nice to visit them, since we were here." He had that excuse at hand, at least, and he tried to speak it innocently.
It did seem to calm Arthur a little. His brow eased out of its tense lines, and he stroked the puppy's head, scratching behind her floppy ears. "Yes. So we were."
But Merlin couldn't just let him think it meant nothing, either. What a fine line he was dancing here. He stepped up and petted the puppy, letting his fingers brush Arthur's in the process, slow and deliberate.
Arthur looked at him, and once again their fraught gaze stretched out several seconds.
Then Merlin modestly looked down, and lifted the puppy out of his arms. "We have to give her back, of course. She's not old enough to leave her mother. I just thought we might like to see them." He set the pup down in the straw. Rather than run back to her mother, she planted her front paws on the gate and looked up longingly at Arthur and Merlin.
"Yes. Of course." Arthur's voice sounded distant. He reached down and stroked the puppy's head once more, then turned and strode out of the stables without waiting for Merlin.
* * *
Merlin hovered behind Arthur's chair during the feast that evening, waiting wretchedly for a reassuring glance from him. The prince sat stiff-backed, eating and drinking only a little, conversing in polite but uninterested tones with those sitting near him. He spoke to Merlin only when he had to, and made no eye contact with him. Merlin, consequently, was an utter mess, lashing himself with abuse in his mind.
How could he have been so bold, so thoughtless? Naturally it would frighten Arthur, or anyone, to learn someone was spying on their dreams. Dreams should be private, inviolate. Yes, these particular dreams apparently involved mutual desire, and Arthur had said in them he wanted to do such things in the waking world; but he had also said, in direct contradiction to that, that he was not free to act on his feelings, and had delineated all the reasons why. They were good, solid, concrete reasons, and Merlin could have added one more that trumped them all: his being a sorcerer.
He knew he should just tell Arthur everything, at this point. But he also couldn't bear to, because given Arthur's behavior toward him right now, Merlin wasn't betting on a positive reaction to his confession.
Or he could offer his love humbly to Arthur in waking life, without mentioning the magic. Arthur might be tempted enough to take him up on it, and that would be sweet indeed. But only partly. It would also be bitter, if Merlin was keeping the most important secret of all from him. Besides, Arthur already suspected something magical was going on, surely. So perhaps that was where Merlin had to begin, in prying open this dreadful conversation.
Assuming Arthur ever condescended to speak to him again, that is. If he wouldn't, then Merlin would simply have to tell him in a dream.
At first it looked like it would come to that. After dinner, Merlin shadowed Arthur down the corridor to his chambers. Arthur said over his shoulder, "You can go. I'm tired, I don't need anything."
Merlin kept up with him anyway. "Arthur, I need to talk to you. Please."
Arthur stopped at his door, grimacing, looking quite likely to snap at Merlin and tell him to leave. Instead he sighed heavily, entered the room, and left the door open so Merlin could follow if he wished.
Merlin came in and shut the door. While Arthur took off the uncomfortable parts of the feast clothes--circlet, armor, belt--Merlin picked up a slender wooden spill from the hearth, and lit candles on Arthur's desk and bedside table.
Arthur sat on the edge of his bed, tugged off his boots, and watched Merlin. He looked grave, his eyes dark in the candlelight.
Merlin blew out the spill and dropped it next to a candlestick. Then he walked to Arthur, sank to his knees, and took Arthur's hand.
He kissed Arthur's ring, then his knuckles, their peaks and the warm valleys between them. Arthur's skin smelled of leather and bread crust and the herbs from the roast. Tiny hairs on the backs of his fingers tickled Merlin's lips. It was all so alive compared to the dreams, and it made Merlin tremble.
Arthur's breath pulled in and out unsteadily. Finally he drew his hand away.
Merlin looked up at him. "Forgive me?" he whispered.
"You're having the same dreams I am." Arthur's voice sounded ragged. "Aren't you."
"Yes," Merlin said, still kneeling.
"That can't be. But…" Arthur's eyebrows were pulled together in confusion. "Last night, in a dream, I told you to give me a puppy, and…"
"Yes. When we were behind the curtain, in the council room."
Arthur drew in a sharp breath. He blinked, and persevered. "And the night before. The battlement--I dreamed of it before I took you there; that's why I took you there…"
Merlin nodded. "There were people dancing below us. Colored lanterns. And you…" Merlin almost couldn't speak the words, but forced them through, in a small voice. "Told me what you wanted. Showed me."
Arthur closed his eyes a moment. "And the one before that? When we were on horseback? When you gave me the flowers from the cherry tree?"
"I was riding behind you, sharing your horse. It was…it was lovely. All of it." Merlin watched Arthur rub at his forehead as if now he had a headache, and he continued, trying not to let his voice break. "But that was the first time. I promise. Not the first time I've dreamed of you--not even close. Just the first time I've dreamed with you. It's only been these three nights."
"Yes. Those three have been much more vivid than most dreams, much more…" Arthur shook his head. "God, what…how? How is it possible?"
He didn't immediately leap to the idea that Merlin had used magic. Merlin obviously had done too good a job of hiding it, if that didn't even occur to Arthur.
Merlin had another half-truth prepared, not because he wanted to lie, but to ease Arthur toward the full truth. "Maybe it's just something that can happen, when two people…are close." Why was it so hard to say "love" in the waking world? Why couldn't they jump this divide when it was so easy in their sleep?
"But what if it's sorcery? What if someone's doing this to us?" Tension still formed creases at the corners of Arthur's mouth. "Things like that do keep happening round here. We've seen it often enough."
Merlin sat back on his heels. "To what end? It seems only to concern the two of us."
Arthur raked his hand through his hair. "I don't know. To distract me, perhaps?"
"I don't think you're in any danger. But…do you want the dreams to stop?"
Arthur met his gaze, looking tortured. "No. But perhaps that's part of the spell, making me want it."
Merlin shook his head mournfully, and dropped his gaze to his own hands, splayed on his thighs. "Arthur…it isn't a spell making me love you." There. Finally. "I know it isn't. I've felt it for too long. The things we do in the dreams…I don't want them to stop either, but if you do, I can find some discreet way to ask Gaius what might be happening, and--"
He was rambling, gaze cast down, because he dreaded how Arthur might answer. But Arthur cut him off by grabbing his arms, hauling him up, and kissing him on the mouth.
And it turned out dreams couldn't ever capture the living taste of Arthur's mouth, the exact scrape of the stubble on his chin, the bruising strength of his arms and hardness of his teeth. Merlin loved all of it, its roughness, its imperfection, twenty times better than the already stupendous dreams, and he clung to Arthur, hands diving under his arms and up his back, his knees settling on either side of Arthur's lap.
But. Arthur didn't know everything. And he deserved to. And Merlin was still, even now, too afraid to tell him in person; afraid to see this newfound desire wink out like a snuffed candle, to be replaced by reproach or horror. That, he wouldn't be able to bear.
So he pulled free from the kiss, breathing like he'd been running, and dropped his feet back to the floor. As Merlin stood again, Arthur's hands slid down his arms, and grasped Merlin's hands firmly, refusing to let go.
"You could stay tonight," Arthur said, gazing up at him, gruffness not entirely masking vulnerability in his voice. "We don't have to meet only in dreams."
Merlin laced his fingers into Arthur's. "I'm so tempted. You've no idea. But…let's say you're right about the magic." He could only look downward, miserably, when he said that. "What if that's the only reason this is happening? We should both know the truth, before we do anything that we'd…that you'd…regret."
Arthur's thumb circled Merlin's. Even that tiny brush of sensation sent a poignant thrill through Merlin's whole body. "And you think you'll find this truth soon? You think Gaius might be able to tell us?"
"I suspect…as soon as tomorrow. Or maybe our dreams will tell us themselves." Merlin could have wept. Here was Arthur, inviting him into bed, and stupid late-blooming honesty was standing stubbornly in Merlin's way, refusing to budge until it was dealt with.
And Arthur might not want him anymore after that.
Arthur still held his hands. "We do have rather a lot of problems in our path, whatever the explanation."
"Yeah." Merlin said it as a sigh of sorrow. He rubbed his forefinger against Arthur's ring.
Arthur's grip tightened. "But I don't let problems stop me easily. You know that."
"I know. We'll see."
"Indeed." Arthur finally let go of his hands. "In that case…sweet dreams, I suppose."
"Sweet dreams." When Merlin met Arthur's blue eyes, so frustrated and sweet and human, he couldn't resist leaning down for another desperate, clinging, open-mouthed kiss. He clutched Arthur's head to him; Arthur's arms encased him like steel around neck and waist.
Then Merlin forced himself to climb off Arthur's lap, and retreat to the door. "Goodnight," he said. Arthur echoed the word, still seated on the bed, looking sad and confused.
Merlin fled back to his room, tears swimming in his eyes and blurring the light of the torches in the walls.
* * *
The trouble with being emotionally stirred up was it made it hard to fall asleep. Merlin flopped and sweated, kicked the blanket off, and pulled it on again, for what must have been half the night before exhaustion caught up with him and allowed him to sleep at last.
He walked up to Arthur, who sat on the princely bed where he'd left him, and spoke the spell.
The setting changed to the ruins of a castle. "There you are," Arthur accused. "Feels like I've been looking for you for days."
It was a gray day, and rain fell steadily, dripping down the remains of stone walls, pattering in puddles. Arthur stood under what was left of a roof, arms folded, wrapped in cloak and armor and looking weather-chilled and unhappy.
Merlin walked to him, stepping over broken gray bricks with ferns growing between them. "It's me doing it," he said straightaway. "I'm doing a spell to get into your dreams. I'm doing magic." The tears he'd fought so stubbornly all evening filled his eyes again. It was far too easy to cry in dreams.
Arthur looked skeptical. "You?"
"Yes. I've been able to do magic all this time. Look." Merlin sniffled, and swirled his hand at the falling rain a few feet away. The raindrops twisted into a spiral column, rotating like a small, harmless whirlwind.
Arthur frowned at it. "But…this is a dream. Isn't it?"
"Well. Yes." Merlin let the whirlwind dissipate back into ordinary rain.
"Then that proves nothing. I can probably do magic in a dream. People can do anything in dreams." Arthur shook his head. "We aren't thinking straight. This isn't working."
"Arthur, I'm telling you, I can do magic! And I'm not afraid of the king catching me--at least, not very, because I could probably use magic to escape. But you hating me for it, you never wanting to see me again--I'm afraid of that. That would destroy me." The tears pushed over, and ran down his cheeks.
Arthur studied him. He looked confused, maybe scared; but not angry, not hateful. "So…you've done this spell? Is that all? Is that the only magic you've done?"
Merlin laughed humorlessly, and wiped off the tears with the heel of his hand. "Hardly. Where do I start?"
He started at the beginning: being born with magic. Trying to hide it, in Ealdor. Coming to Camelot and saving Gaius with it, then saving Arthur. Over and over and over again.
He talked a long while. Arthur listened motionlessly throughout, arms staying folded under his cloak. When Merlin was through, Arthur turned his back, and looked out a vacant window at the forest.
"And what else do you use it for?" he asked.
"Well, to…sometimes to help with chores, though I'm not really supposed to. Gaius doesn't like it."
"What about to win my affections?" Arthur said without turning. "To make me want you?"
Merlin blinked, shocked. "What? No! I can't believe you'd--arrrrgh." He spun away, rage washing out vulnerability, and kicked a fallen block of stone. Because this was a dream, or because he sent magical strength at it, or both, it flew across the grass and smashed into a wall, and toppled it.
Arthur turned to stare at him in alarm.
"Why would I want this?" Merlin shouted at him. "Why would I do this to you, or anyone? You yourself have gone over all the reasons it's completely stupid! I know all those reasons, plus one more! If I could use magic to stop feeling this way about you, I might very well do it, so stop flattering yourself, you stupid conceited prat!"
Arthur drew himself up, lips tightening, probably preparing something angry to say right back. But then fog blew in among the ruins, completely obscuring him.
Merlin stepped forward. "Arthur? Arthur!" He reached out, groping around through the blindingly thick fog, finding stones and trees and rain but no Arthur.
He woke with a gasp. It was still dark outside. He sat up, punched his mattress in frustration, then lay back and stared bleakly upward. Well. He could try to fall asleep again, get back into Arthur's dream, argue all night with him in a realm where it was difficult to keep your mind on track and make sense… But what was the use? Chances were, at dawn he'd be getting banished from the city permanently--if he were lucky--and that would be the end of his short, strange affair with the prince.
He lay curled on his side a long time, unhappily planning what he'd tell Gaius, and what he'd tell his mother when he returned home, and what he'd do with the rest of his life…
A soft footstep whispered outside his bedroom door. The door latch clicked. Merlin lifted up on his elbow and looked over, wondering if Gaius needed something.
But the figure stepping in and quietly shutting the door behind him was Arthur. Merlin knew it in an instant, though it was so dark he could only make out a white shirt and light hair.
"Arthur?" he whispered.
"Shh. I had to sneak past Gaius," Arthur whispered back. He approached and sat on the end of the bed, on one of Merlin's feet. Merlin tugged it out of the way. "He's still asleep. So no more shouting at me," Arthur added dryly.
Now Merlin could see Arthur's face in the faint amount of moonlight, starlight, and torchlight that filtered in through his window.
Merlin sat up, letting the blanket fall around his waist. "I'm sorry for yelling at you. But I swear, I've never put any sort of love spell on you. If you've ever wanted me, you can't blame anything but your own bad taste."
Arthur smirked. He glanced around. "Dark in here. Can't you conjure up a floating ball of light or something?"
Merlin sighed. His chest still felt tender from unloading all the dangerous secrets it had carried so long. "You really want that?"
"If you can do magic, then yes, of course I want to see it." He sounded reasonable, at least. But then, Merlin had heard Arthur sound reasonable to enemies right before stabbing them.
Might as well get it over with.
Merlin whispered the spell, and poked his finger upward toward the ceiling, again and again, moving from one corner to another. With each gesture, a little ethereal lantern appeared, hovering in the air, some red, some green, some purple, some yellow. They lit up the room with a rosy glow, which streamed down on Arthur's mussed-up hair and his profile as he looked up at them.
"Colored lanterns," he said. "Just like in the dream."
Merlin nodded. Then he reached over and took the broom that leaned against the wall, and spoke a different spell. From the end of the broomstick, small twigs sprouted. Leaves and buds uncurled from them, then the buds opened into white cherry blossoms. Merlin broke a twig off and handed it to Arthur.
Arthur twirled it, examining it. "Amazing. Looks completely real."
"It'll probably fall apart within a few hours, though."
Arthur shook his head. He looked around at the lanterns. "So everything you said in the dream, all the magic you've done. That was all true?"
Merlin bunched the blanket's edge into his fists. "Yeah."
Arthur sniffed the blossoms. "You…are extraordinary. Extraordinarily irritating, but also merely extraordinary."
Merlin's clenched hands relaxed a little. "So am I banished?"
Arthur set down the cherry twig on the blanket, and scooted up closer. He was barefoot, Merlin saw now, wearing just trousers and unbelted shirt, same as Merlin. He turned and wedged himself in to sit beside Merlin against the pillow. Though the two of them just barely managed to fit on the small bed, Arthur stretched out his legs alongside Merlin's and crossed his bare ankles as if comfortable. He regarded the floating lanterns. "No, idiot. You're not banished. I'm much too in love with you for that."
Warmth bloomed in Merlin's chest. His hand crept along the blanket edge toward Arthur's arm. "So…this doesn't ruin everything?"
"The magic?" Arthur shook his head, looking thoughtful. "If anything, it helps me understand why I love you. I knew you fascinated me, I just never quite could work out why. And now it turns out you've protected me, cared for me, in more ways than I already knew."
"I always will," Merlin whispered.
"All taken into account, you're a far better match for me than any bride my father could find."
Merlin huffed out a soft laugh. "I doubt he'd agree."
"Indeed, well. We don't see eye to eye on a lot of things." Arthur noticed Merlin's hand hesitating at his elbow, and caught it up, enfolding his warm, callused fingers around it. He brought it to his mouth and kissed it.
Merlin settled closer, resting his cheek on Arthur's shoulder. "That'll still be a problem. His wanting you to marry. And I really don't want to get thrown in the middle of it, if it's all the same to you."
"No, that wouldn't accomplish anything. I'll just keep putting him off and being a stubborn arse, same as I have been." Arthur interlaced his fingers with Merlin's, on top of Arthur's stomach. "With you to come back to every evening, I think I'll even have the strength to pull it off."
Merlin slid both arms around him and hugged him tight, shutting his eyes, breathing in the comfortable, pleasantly sweaty scent of him.
"What about you?" Arthur asked. "Until I become king I'd say it's still best for you to hide it--the magic and…this." He nudged his nose against Merlin's forehead. "But it's hardly fair to you. Could you live like that?"
"With you to come back to every evening," Merlin said, "I'd be delighted."
Arthur shoved the blanket down with his feet, uncovering Merlin's legs, then shifted onto his side to face him, and maneuvered his arms around him. They were slumping downward, pulled by gravity and tiredness, almost horizontal. "Probably no need to invade my dreams so much in future, though," Arthur said. "It's a bit exhausting."
"And it creates too much laundry."
Arthur snorted. He caressed Merlin's back, sliding his hand down his spine and onto the curve of his rear, and let it linger there. Sparks of arousal fired in Merlin's belly. "Speaking of," Arthur drawled.
Merlin lifted an eyebrow. "Speaking of?"
"Tonight's dream may have been the most important yet, but it did neglect to accomplish one thing." Arthur traced circles on Merlin's arse, dragging the cloth of his trousers around.
Merlin's breathing picked up to keep pace with all the blood rushing new places. "So true." He moved his hand to Arthur's hip, and started gathering up the white shirt, bunching it so it inched up higher.
Arthur tilted his head and kissed Merlin, and pulled Merlin's hips up against his own. Merlin's erection bumped Arthur's hipbone, and he jolted in the middle of the kiss, mumbled an apology, and tried to shift position only to have his cock bump against Arthur's instead.
Arthur chuckled, with a note of shyness that Merlin found quite endearing. "God, we're a lot smoother at this in our dreams, aren't we?"
"We're more shameless there, I suppose." Merlin's face felt hot as an ember, but then, Arthur's did too, he found, as he stole damp kisses between words.
"I can't believe some of the filthy things I said to you in those." Arthur hooked a leg over Merlin's, and kissed his neck. "Please tell me you don't remember them all."
"Oh, I'll always remember them all," Merlin said, wickedly.
Arthur rolled him onto his back and sank his full weight onto Merlin--a blessedly delicious position, Arthur's body all hot and supple from shins to lips, definitely no ethereal dream. Merlin sank his hands into Arthur's hair--not so much like a puppy's fur in reality; just a man's hair, some strands coarse and some silky--and he caught up Arthur's mouth in a kiss rich with tongue. They ground in slow cadence against each other, the hard shape of Arthur's cock easy to feel through their trousers. Merlin groaned and twitched open his thighs, and wrapped an arm across Arthur's back. Above, the magical lanterns still floated, sending showers of colored light down to dye Arthur's shirt and hair and the edge of his ear.
Merlin hauled the shirt up to grab palmfuls of Arthur's skin, stroking his back and as much of his chest as he could touch without actually shoving Arthur off him. Breathing hard, Arthur mouthed the side of Merlin's throat and sucked at the curve where neck met shoulder, a sensation that sent thrills shivering down Merlin's body.
Arthur slowed, lifting up to look at him, his face gorgeously flushed. "How should we go about this?" he whispered. "Which of those…" He ran his fingertips around the sucked spot on Merlin's neck. "…various dream options do you prefer?"
"Any," Merlin breathed. "Any of them. Except…" He worked his hands between their bodies, undoing his trousers and wriggling them down, even with Arthur still on top of him. "Let's minimize the amount of laundry that needs doing. Off with those trousers, Sire."
Arthur smiled, and sat up on his knees. He reached behind his head and grasped the shirt at the back to haul it off. He tossed it aside, then, bare-chested, opened his trousers, shoved them down, and wormed out of them.
Merlin let himself look at everything for a few seconds, then lay back grinning, draping an arm over his eyes. "My turn to blush."
"Who's not worldly enough now, little sorcerer?"
Merlin felt Arthur's hands shove his shirt upward, and he sat up to let it get taken off. They tumbled down side by side and entwined. Merlin closed his eyes in bliss at the feeling of Arthur, naked and real, moving against him, caressing him, kissing him. Because of the chill in the air and because of modesty, Merlin sent down a thread of magic to draw the blanket up over them without having to take his hands off Arthur's body--important since one hand was now closing around Arthur's cock.
Arthur groaned, then glanced down his shoulder at the blanket and chuckled. "Aren't you clever."
Merlin shrugged, trying to look cavalier, an effect soon demolished by Arthur dipping his hand between Merlin's legs and fondling his balls. Merlin gasped in a breath, and let it out with a moan. They rubbed and stroked one another, grappling one direction and then the other to keep from rolling off the small bed, stifling groans to keep from waking up Gaius in the next room.
"Magic," Arthur panted in his ear. "What can you do to me with magic?"
"You mean…?" Merlin tightened his grip on Arthur's stiff cock, as a form of question.
Arthur bared his teeth in a lusty smile. "Quite."
"Hmm." Merlin settled both hands between Arthur's legs, one around his shaft and the other massaging his balls, then reached out with a tendril of magic. He had the satisfaction of watching Arthur's eyes widen as it hit its mark: teasing at the opening to Arthur's arse, much like a fingertip would.
"What are you doing?" Arthur shifted up one thigh, as if to give the magical touch more room.
"What do you think? Is it all right? Is that too hard, or too soft, or--"
Arthur's eyes fluttered closed. "No. That's…amazing."
Merlin smiled, and kept the magic circling and pressing at his arse, while both his hands stroked at Arthur's groin. "Good."
"Sorry I can't…return the favor entirely…" But Arthur transferred his other hand to Merlin's crotch too, and did what he could, fondling everything there with tight, sure, two-handed strokes.
Merlin whimpered, and licked Arthur's lower lip. "You're doing just fine, trust me." He gave the magic a slight push so it prodded inside Arthur a little.
"Mmm, yes... Where did you learn to do this?" Arthur's eyes opened and focused on him. "Who have you been doing this with?"
Merlin lowered his lashes. "Ha. Umm, well."
"No, don't tell me. It'd only make me jealous."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Myself. Is the thing. That's all." Yes, most certainly blushing now. "I mean, I did stuff with Will, but not magic stuff…"
"Ohhh." Arthur grinned, nudged his nose against Merlin's, and stroked him faster. "Less jealous, then; more turned on."
Merlin responded with a firmer push of magic up Arthur's arse, getting a gasp of pleasure in answer. "Happy to put it to use."
"God, don't stop, never stop." Arthur was fisting Merlin's cock hard, panting, his breath hot along Merlin's cheek.
Merlin smiled, recognizing what they had said in the first shared dream. "Wouldn't…dream of it…" he managed, just before coming in a wave of spasms that made his beleaguered bed squeak and rattle.
Arthur breathed something that might have been Merlin's name, and his whole body arched toward Merlin as his come spilled over Merlin's hand and onto his navel.
They lay limp and blissful. The colored lights above began flickering and winking out. Darkness stole back into the room. Arthur turned his face upward and chuckled. "Spell falls apart before long?"
"Yeah." Merlin wiped the sweat off his face with his wrist. "Also I kind of lost a grip on them."
"Wonder how that happened." Arthur accepted the spare pillowcase Merlin handed him, and mopped up with it. He dropped it on the floor when they were both clean, and slid contentedly into Merlin's arms.
"I know it's close quarters," Merlin mumbled into his neck, "but stay if you want. I'd like you to."
Arthur yawned. "I do need sleep."
"So do I."
"And stay out of my dreams, you lunatic."
Merlin smiled, but he was too consumed with happiness to bother opening his eyes or answering.
* * *
"Merlin! Are you honestly still in bed? Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Gaius' irritated voice drew close to the door, pulling Merlin out of sleep. He opened his eyes, finding the room full of brilliant sunlight, and Arthur snoozing naked underneath him--Merlin had apparently more or less fallen asleep on top of him.
"Gaius, no," Merlin called, his voice creaky. "Wait, don't come in!"
But Gaius threw open the door anyway, and immediately froze there when confronted with the sight of the bare-chested Merlin untangling himself from the equally bare-chested and just-awakening crown prince.
"Gaius," Arthur mumbled in greeting.
Gaius stood perfectly poised in the doorway. "I beg your pardon, Your Highness."
"Gaius, um," Merlin began.
"It's all right, Gaius, all's well," Arthur said, gaining a touch more eloquence as he awakened. "I just came early to see Merlin. He'll, ah, have some things to discuss with you later."
Gaius still betrayed no facial expression whatsoever. "So I expect, Sire."
While Merlin quietly wished to hide under the covers for the next week, Arthur tousled Merlin's hair. "You'll likely be annoyed with him for how irresponsible he's been."
"I daresay I already am," said the infinitely dignified Gaius, and he inclined his head in respect and stepped out and shut the door.
Merlin groaned in embarrassment and pulled the blanket over his head. Arthur burst into giggles, and ripped the blanket back down to uncover Merlin's face. "Oh, please," Arthur said. "That wasn't so bad. Imagine if it'd been my father who'd opened that door."
Merlin grimaced. "Are you trying to give me nightmares?"
The mischievous light in Arthur's eyes softened into a smile of affection. "No." He leaned over and kissed Merlin. "I only ever want to give you the filthiest, loveliest dreams."