Merlin's eyes widened at Arthur's calm denial. Hadn't he been listening? Didn't he hear anything Merlin said? He felt like he'd sliced his heart out of his chest and held it out to Arthur in supplication. It hurt every time he said Edwin's name, like twisting the knife deeper and deeper. But he'd been willing to live with the pain for the sake of making it clear to Arthur. Hadn't it been enough?
"Arthur, listen to me."
"No, I've listened to you. Now you're going to listen to me. If I walk out that door now, it'll be the same as saying you're right. And you are not right. You're being stupid."
Merlin gaped at him. "Stupid? Calling me stupid isn't very nice."
"It is when you're actually being stupid. You're mother was an adult woman who made her own choices. They were bad choices and if you want to help her, then I'll leave no stone unturned, but they were her choices. Not yours."
"I'm an attempted murderer."
"It sounds like it's a shame you weren't successful. And as for Edwin..."
"Don't try to tell me anything about Edwin. You didn't know him."
"You didn't kill him. Not unless you cut him yourself. There's no telling what he was thinking or why everything went wrong for him. But it wasn't you, Merlin."
"You don't know that!"
"And you'll never believe any differently, will you? You're convinced that you're right even though the two people you trust have probably told you otherwise."
"What happens when you need me and I'm not there?"
"What makes you think that'd ever happen?"
Merlin deflated feeling as stupid as Arthur thought him to be. "I guess I thought...I mean, it was clear Uther never really valued my opinion but I thought you cared..."
Arthur knelt in front of him and took his shoulders. "I do care. I meant, what makes you think you'd not be there for me?"
"Because I know me. I've been living with myself for twenty-two years."
"Merlin, if you were as selfish as you think you are, you wouldn't care about hurting me. There's so much of your life left. You don't need to spend it alone all...self-loathing. And anyway, you don't know how this will work. You've never done it before."
"Have an adult relationship with a mentally stable person who loves you."
"Have you done that?"
"Well, not exactly that. But I've been pretty close a few times. And I still want to try with you. Besides...I've already fucked up and failed you once. That means you get a freebie."
Arthur leaned forward and kissed Merlin's cheek. Even the delicate contact was enough to aggravate his tender skin, and it was all he could do to not wince away. "I shouldn't have left you. In fact, if that's the reason you want me to leave without you, I'd understand. I am so sorry, Merlin."
"It's not your fault," Merlin said softly.
"So sorry," Arthur repeated, kissing him again.
"I'm not leaving here without you. Not unless you can tell me you feeling nothing for me."
"You've got to stop kissing me."
"I can answer you if you're touching me with your mouth."
"Do you want to know what I think?"
"I already know what you think. You've told me enough times."
Arthur smiled a little and nuzzled closer. Merlin was pulling tight, his spine bending upwards. He couldn't help it. Arthur was right there, and Merlin wanted to press into him and forget about the rest of the world. He wanted to bury his face in Arthur's neck and fuck him until the dark memories faded into irrelevancy. This was a dirty trick. Worse than a dirty trick, because he was supposed to be confessing everything to Arthur, and all his worst secrets didn't seem half as dangerous as his desire for Arthur's body.
"I'll make you happy," Arthur whispered earnestly. "I'll never hurt you. I know it's only been a few weeks, but there's never been anybody else like you. What I feel now isn't going to change."
Merlin could reiterate his list of regrets and failures, reasons why he'd never be with anybody for love, and the life Uther offered him truly was the best he could ever hope for. Wealth meant security and comfort. He could even buy a bit of happiness--Uther was that rich. But why waste his breath? Arthur clearly wasn't going to listen to him or common sense. But what if Arthur was mistaken? What if, what if, what if...
"I don't just want you for your money."
"I mean it. That's the first thing you said to me...that time in the car. That I could have your money. I don't want it."
"Then I won't share any with you."
"I'm lying by the way. I'll give you everything."
"I'm beginning to wonder if you have more money than sense."
"I thought you always held that opinion of me."
"I may have exaggerated my low opinion of your intelligence a tad."
"So does this mean you're not going to kick me out?"
"I'm not going to kick you out, Arthur Pendragon."
"Then there's something I should tell you."
"I don't have any money. Buying out Uther is pretty much going to suck me dry, and since it's a construction company in a shitty economy, there's a good chance we'll be living in a cardboard box within the year."
Merlin appreciated the warning for what it was, but he didn't believe for a second that Arthur would ever be reduced to that. Arthur was the sort who was born for greatness, which was just another reason for Merlin to run before he disappointed or destroyed him.
"Lance will let us crash here."
"So this place does have a spare bedroom?"
"Yes, through that door."
"Good." Arthur scooped Merlin up from the couch before Merlin could even squawk in protest. "I'd hate for him to get an eyeful."
Arthur undressed first. Merlin watched him from beneath the fringe of his lashes, staring at Arthur's perfect form without an openness he never risked before. Uther's presence didn't linger just outside the door, threatening to obliterate the fragile thing they were building between them. There were no more excuses, no more secrets to hide behind.
Once Arthur shucked his clothes, he straddled Merlin's hips and reached for his t-shirt. Merlin bit his lip and allowed Arthur to pull it over his head and toss it to the floor. Uther hadn't used his fists or his belt, but he could still do damage with open-palmed slaps and the strength of his fingers. There were discolored oval marks across his throat and shoulders and hips from where Uther had gripped him, and Arthur's face turned an interesting shade of red.
Instead of announcing that Uther would pay, Arthur wrapped his arm around Merlin's shoulders and held him as he dipped his head. Cool air fanned across his skin with each soft exhale, and Arthur kissed each mark, reclaiming the bruised skin with the gentle intent of each caress. Merlin clung to Arthur's shoulders, hard enough to leave bruises of his own, and skimmed his mouth over Arthur's silky hair, inhaling the scent of his shampoo and spicy aftershave.
There had always been an undercurrent of anger in Arthur's touch, and Merlin had never been quite sure where it came from or who it belonged to. But that was gone now, all of his edges softening into something tolerable. Arthur pushed his hand between their stomach and yanked at his fly, freeing it with a grunt. He shoved Merlin's jeans down his hips, giving him just enough room to wrap his fingers around Merlin's cock.
Arthur stroked Merlin's length, rocking forward each time he pumped his wrist. Arthur's cock dragged across his stomach, smearing pre-come over his skin. Merlin skimmed his palm over Arthur's crown, teasing the sensitive flesh and rubbing the thin fluid into his skin. Arthur moaned, leaving open-mouthed kisses over his throat and along his jaw. Merlin closed his eyes, swallowing every time Arthur flexed his fingers, fighting the growing tightness in his throat.
They moved at the same time, Arthur dropping to the mattress and Merlin rolling over to straddle him. Merlin kicked and squirmed until he worked his pants down his legs and kicked them away. The hand that wasn't wrapped around his cock went to Merlin's hip and held him. Arthur massaged him with his fingertips--it was nothing. The smallest caress. Merlin gasped and rested his forehead on Arthur's shoulder, dizzy from pleasure and fear in equal parts.
"I want you to fuck me," Arthur whispered, his tongue tracing over Merlin's earlobe. "Hard. Hard as you can."
And that was all Merlin needed to hear. His entire existence and every shred of concentration focused in on Arthur's desire. His hips stuttered, his cock jerking against Arthur's hand, desperate for anything, even the unsatisfying friction of his palm. He needed something tighter and softer. Something so hot that it would burn the last of his doubts from his mind.
Merlin slid down Arthur's body, wiggling until his stomach pressed to the mattress and his lips were within kissing distance of Arthur's cock. He loved the way Arthur's soap combined with his sweat and pre-come to make something soft and wholly unique to Arthur. He liked the taste of it on his tongue. He liked the moans that accompanied each slow lick as he gathered the salty fluid from Arthur's head.
He hooked his hands under Arthur's thighs, forcing him to spread his legs wider and then pushing his knees, until he was completely open to Merlin. He sucked Arthur's crown between his lips for a final taste, then leaned back and used his thumbs to spread Arthur's cheeks, revealing his rapidly clenching hole. Merlin blew a stream of air over the muscle, then licked the ring with the very tip of his tongue.
He just needed to be fucked. Merlin obliged him, pushing his tongue past the tight ring. Arthur stiffened slightly at the penetration, but then he was windings his fingers in Merlin's hair, holding him while he rolled his hips. Merlin responded by tightening his grip on Arthur's thighs, forcing his legs even wider apart and plunging his tongue into Arthur's channel again.
Arthur went wild above him, thrashing and pushing against Merlin and generally turning into an octopus. It was all Merlin could do to keep him down on the bed, but the more Arthur lost it, the more Merlin ached to fuck him, until he was forced to thrust against the mattress, humping it like a horny kid on prom night.
Arthur was growing more vocal with his appreciation, his deep voice rumbling over Merlin's skin. He looked up without lifting his head, trying to catch a glimpse of Arthur's face. It wasn't easy with all the thrashing, but it was worth the effort. Arthur looked completely lost, eyes rolled back, one hand clutching the headboard, every muscle taut and sinewy. Merlin loved Arthur, but he loved his body, and he wanted nothing more than to press against each lovely inch and claim it as his own.
When Merlin judged Arthur close enough to the edge, he pulled his mouth from the quivering muscles and wrapped it around Arthur's cock. Arthur swiftly thrust forward, pushing right into the tightness of Merlin's throat. Merlin groaned and swallowed, relaxing his jaw to allow another inch. He pushed two fingers into Arthur's slick channel, humming around the shaft at the same moment he massaged Arthur's prostate.
Arthur's cock jerked and Merlin lifted his head so the hot come wouldn't flow down his throat. Some of it hit Merlin's chin, but he mostly caught it with his mouth and allowed it to slide back down Arthur's shaft. Arthur shuddered through his orgasm then slumped into the mattress. Merlin didn't know how a man flat on his back could slump, but Arthur managed it.
Merlin pushed himself to his knees and collected the come with two fingers. He smeared it over the tip of his cock, slicking his skin as much as he could. Arthur watched him, body loose-limbed, blue eyes sharp under heavy lids. Merlin slid into him with a smooth stroke, pushing until he was buried to the root.
"Still want me to fuck you hard?" Merlin rasped.
Arthur nodded, rocking his hips to urge him on. Maybe if Merlin had ever felt like this with anybody else, he wouldn't be so willing to call the hot flood of emotion rushing through him love. Maybe if every thrust of his hips didn't take him higher than he'd ever been in his life. Maybe if Arthur didn't wrap around him and strain against him and buck under him with such fervor. Maybe if he felt a little less awe at the fact that Arthur even wanted Merlin's touch.
Merlin drilled into Arthur, using his willing body to exorcise the darker feelings that still filtered through him. He wished he could just fuck it all out of his system, until everything bad had been scooped away and replaced with Arthur. But Arthur let him get close to that, whispering encouragement with every breath. Faster Merlin...oh like that...oh yes...oh yes...oh yes all of it...give me everything.
That's what Arthur wanted from him. Everything. The thought was almost too much to take, and a shiver of fear made his hips stutter. Arthur moved his hand to Merlin's ass, palming him until his rhythm steadied again. He licked at the sweat on Merlin's jaw before shoving his tongue into Merlin's mouth in a sloppy, reassuring kiss.
The scrape of Arthur's teeth across his tongue made his balls pull tight. Arthur must have sensed that it'd all be over soon. He tensed and rolled Merlin to his back, using his greater weight to pin Merlin to the bed without releasing him. He slammed himself down on Merlin's length, spine arching with satisfaction. Merlin could only take two more of those hard thrusts before he shot his load, cock twitching endlessly.
Arthur's skin was gleaming, slick with sweat when he finally collapsed on Merlin. It was nice to stay there, trapped but comfortable, overheated and trying to catch his breath without the fear of being caught hanging over his head. He even let himself doze a little, his exhausted brain disengaging from his body. He didn't fall back to earth until Arthur rolled away from him, giving his damp skin a chance to dry.
"You're still Uther's heir, right? He's not going to cut you off completely after that fight you had?"
"I thought you don't care about money."
"Oh, I don't." Merlin propped himself up on his elbow. "But if we end up in a cardboard box, I want to be able to look forward to happier days."
"If he dies and it turns out he did write me out of the will, I'll contest it."
"You're not going to get bored with me now that you have me, right?"
Arthur chuckled, touching Merlin's cheek fondly. "Merlin, if I'm certain of anything, it's that I'll never find you boring."
Merlin decided to take that as a compliment and curl into Arthur's side. He might change his mind in the morning about the feasibility of their life together. He might be tempted to fall back into old habits because at least he understood them. He might be tempted to take the easy road and check out of the relationship that would require a full commitment from him. But the next morning was still a long time off, and in that moment, Merlin was within grasp of a truly new beginning.