Harlequin's Slash Fic

Reward System

Title: Reward System
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Arthur/various knights, Arthur/Lancelot, Arthur/Merlin
Category, Word count: Short story; 7785 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Each month the knights of Camelot stage a mock tournament as part of their training. Merlin is rather surprised by the reward Prince Arthur offers to the winner.
Notes: This was written for antychan and rain_polish, following antychan’s fic and their exchanged comments over here.
Warnings: Well, you’ve probably got the idea already that this features slut!Arthur – I mean, sexual–sophisticate!Arthur – whom I love way more than I should. Also, this features the death of a main character (but not our boys, of course).

Reward System

April

On the last Friday of every month, the knights held a mock tournament on the training grounds below the castle. This was presided over by Prince Arthur, who sat in a throne–like chair right near the action, looking resplendent in his silver chain mail and red surcoat, his hair in the sunshine glinting a brighter gold than the dragon on his chest. And so the prat should look resplendent, Merlin grumbled to himself. ‘Do you know how long it takes to make chain mail shine like that?’ he asked his companion.

Gwen guffawed in a ladylike manner, and said, ‘Yes.’

‘Oh yeah, course you do,’ Merlin said, directing a chagrined smile her way. ‘You’re the blacksmith’s daughter.’ The two of them, having nothing that seemed better to do on this particular Friday morning, were sitting in the grass under the trees on the far side of the grounds, watching as the knights whacked each other about with swords, eliminating each other from the competition one by one. Merlin was still new to Camelot, so as always he was full of questions. ‘What does the winner get? Some kind of prize? A medallion, maybe?’

‘No. There’ll be a feast tonight, and he’ll be the guest of honour. And then he gets to help Sir Bedivere and Prince Arthur run the knights’ training sessions for the month, until the next tournament.’

‘Great!’ Merlin muttered sarcastically. ‘I think I’d rather have a medallion.’

‘It’s an honour,’ Gwen argued. ‘And they learn about more than just fighting. You know, they learn about leading the other knights, and things like that.’

‘Huh.’ That actually made the Princely Prat sound a bit wise. Almost like he knew what he was doing.

Eventually the clang of the Lesser Bell drifted down to them from the town, which meant it was midday. ‘I’d better be going,’ Gwen said.

‘Don’t you want to see who’ll win? I think they’re down to the last two men.’

‘My lady will be expecting me. Come and tell me who won, if you get the chance.’

He scrunched up his face in sympathy. ‘Sure! See you later, then.’ And then Merlin started getting a bit bored, and didn’t much enjoy sitting there alone. There was only so much swordfighting a man could watch in a morning, really, unless he was the Prince of Prats and had little else to occupy his feeble mind. Merlin got to his feet, and went over to gather together Arthur’s armour and other gear, keeping an eye on the last fight.

Merlin got caught up in the drama of it despite himself, as both knights seemed absolutely determined to win. But eventually one of them was on his back in the grass, with the other’s sword pointing hard at his throat, and he lifted his hands palm–out in surrender. The surrounding knights applauded, and Arthur looked pleased and proud.

The winning knight doffed his helm: it was one of the older men, Sir Ryance; all thick dark hair with silver at his temples, a gruffly handsome face with a rakish scar across one cheekbone, and a twinkle in his eyes and his smile. He approached Arthur, and went down on one knee before him, offered his sword.

Arthur was grinning at him. ‘There’s no need to kneel, Sir Ryance. You are our champion for the month, and you deserve our respect.’

‘Thank you, your highness.’ The knight stood, towering over the prince.

‘You fought at my father’s side in many great battles; he would tell me of them when he came home victorious, and he often mentioned you. It is wonderful to know that one day you’ll be fighting at my side, too.’

‘You do me great honour, sire.’

When Arthur stood up from his chair, Ryance didn’t move away, but instead bent his head so he could mutter something in Arthur’s ear. Arthur’s grin turned wry, and he flashed a bright glance at the man who stood there so close to him. Then he nodded, and began walking off with Ryance beside him. ‘Bedivere!’ Arthur called back over his shoulder. ‘Another half–hour’s light training before they’re released.’

‘Yes, sire.’

There were a few groans from the knights, but no one dawdled in forming the lines in which they practiced their swordplay.

Arthur and Ryance were striding up towards the castle together, and soon disappeared from view. Merlin gathered the last of Arthur’s gear, managed to get it all piled into his arms, and slowly followed after them.

It was as Merlin approached the armoury that the strangeness began. As he walked down the corridor Merlin could hear a shuffling kind of movement, and small rhythmic grunts. He trod cautiously, not knowing quite what to expect – but if he had been asked to actually say what he expected, then what he saw as he peered around the doorframe wouldn’t have even made the list.

Arthur, completely naked. Arthur, so very beautiful with all that pale gold skin exposed, with every curve and plane of his body a perfect illustration of ideal musculature. Arthur bracing himself against the stone wall with his forearms, and one leg bent so his foot was propped on a low wooden bench. Arthur making those quiet grunts deep in his throat.

And of course Ryance immediately behind him, still fully clothed, thrusting himself up into his prince, fierce and hard. Ryance’s reddened hands grasping Arthur’s hips, holding him firm, his fingers digging in. Ryance, groaning once deep and loud and long.

Merlin couldn’t move. He would have, if he thought Arthur didn’t want this. But Arthur was naked, and grunting – and strong enough to have held Ryance off for at least this long – at least strong enough to have kept most of his clothes on. Merlin wasn’t required to rescue him, he was pretty sure of that. He would have, if necessary.

But as it was, Merlin couldn’t move, not even to walk away. Not even to drop Arthur’s gear and armour in a clatter, and interrupt them. He didn’t want to embarrass Arthur by letting him know he’d been witnessed. He didn’t want to… He didn’t want to stop watching. Arthur was… so very beautiful. His figure sculpted, perfect. His stance strong, sure. His face flushed, fraught.

And if there had been any doubt about what Arthur wanted, it was soon put to rest, for Arthur dropped his forehead to rest on his left forearm which was still against the wall, and reached down for himself with his right hand. Began a fierce and hard tug, in time with Ryance’s thrusts. His grunts growing louder, more conscious, as if in appreciation now rather than in a simple physical reaction.

From there it was over within moments. Ryance was suddenly hammering up into Arthur, almost lifting the prince off his feet with each thrust – then Arthur groaned and quaked, forcing his cock down against his own thigh – Ryance shouted out, and suddenly crushed Arthur up against the wall. A long crazed bruising moment held – a ragged tearing cry died away.

And then the two men found their feet again, and carefully parted, both with their heads down. Ryance fumbling himself safely back into his britches. ‘Your highness…?’ he whispered, as if suddenly awestruck by what he had done. ‘Are you –’

‘I’m fine, Ryance.’ Arthur had turned, was leaning a bit shakily against a rack of swords. ‘You did well today –’ He grimaced. ‘I mean the tournament, of course.’ Then Arthur seemed to gather himself, for he smiled a bit wryly. ‘I trust the effort involved in winning proved worthwhile.’

Yes, sire,’ came the heartfelt reply. Though Ryance looked like he feared he’d made a terrible mistake. ‘Sire, if I…’

No one but Ryance would ever know what he’d been about to say, for that was when the knight spied Merlin peering through the door. Ryance went bright red, and reached for his sword. He hadn’t even unbuckled his swordbelt before fucking the prince.

Arthur looked up, and realised what was happening. He went pale. Held out a warning hand to Ryance. ‘It’s all right. He’s my man servant. Leave us now, Ryance.’

‘Sire.’

‘I’ll see you at the feast. All is well.’

‘Yes, sire,’ Ryance said with gratitude. Then he swept out of the room and past Merlin with nary a glance of acknowledgement.

Merlin still couldn’t move. Arthur just ignored him, and went over to the barrel of water near the far wall. He was moving a bit stiffly, still a bit shaky. When he found a cloth, wet it, and began washing himself, then Merlin finally stirred into action. That was his job.

He stepped into the armoury, and finally put down the pile of Arthur’s gear. Went over and took the cloth from Arthur. Knelt by him, and gently wiped Arthur’s seed and Ryance’s seed from his thighs. Carefully pressed the cleanest part of the cloth against the place where Ryance had possessed him so roughly. When he took the cloth away, he was relieved to see no sign of any blood.

Finally Merlin looked up to find Arthur leaning with his elbows on the barrel rim, watching him. When Merlin’s gaze met his, Arthur said very calmly, ‘I’m sorry if that came as a bit of a shock.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Merlin mumbled in reply. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes. Yes, of course. Help me get dressed, would you?’

‘Yes, sire.’

And they didn’t speak of it again.

May

Bluebells and mushrooms, a griffin and Lancelot. The brave and humble and gorgeous Lancelot, who quickly became Merlin’s best friend next to Gwen. Lancelot, who was so damned good at everything knightly that of course he effortlessly won the mock tournament held on the last Friday of May.

Once the fighting was done, Arthur and Lancelot stood close together by Arthur’s chair, heads bent towards each other as they talked. Arthur was obviously so proud of this newly–arrived young man, so delighted by his skills and his demeanour, and Lancelot – well, it had been plain from the start that he pretty much worshipped Arthur. Merlin watched carefully, thinking them each more beautiful than the other, yearning, and wondering which he was more jealous of. And he wasn’t the only one who was jealous: Sir Ryance was standing some distance away by a knot of oblivious knights, but Ryance was also yearningly watching his prince, and Merlin imagined Ryance would have dearly loved to win the tournament again, for it seemed that Lancelot would now be granted the privilege that had been Ryance’s a month ago. Merlin sighed, wondering if Lancelot would win every tournament from now on, and he and Arthur would become lovers. His heart twisted a little at the thought.

Arthur beckoned him over, and Merlin went with some reluctance. Tried to ignore the fond smile Lancelot bestowed on him. ‘Yes, sire?’

‘Lancelot will dine with me. Bring food to my chambers, would you? As soon as you can, Merlin.’

‘Yes, sire.’ He carried Arthur’s gear back to the armoury and put it away, taking his time, glancing longingly at the place where Ryance had crushed Arthur up against the wall. Headed for the kitchens. Threw together a platter of the best fruit, the best cuts of meat, a chunk of cheese, torn pieces of bread. Grabbed a pitcher of wine.

Merlin used the servants’ entrance for once, and peered around the pillar, wondering what he’d walk in on this time, how far the two men had progressed. But they were just sitting at the table, conversing in a civilised manner. Their chairs were drawn back, and turned partway towards each other. They had both divested themselves – or each other – of their chain mail, Merlin was pained to see. That was his job.

Figuring it was safe enough, Merlin straightened up, and walked in to place the platter and pitcher on the table between the two men. Went to fetch plates, goblets and napkins from the far cupboard. But Merlin stalled with his hands full of crockery when he heard Arthur say, very urbanely, ‘It’s simply another reward available to our best knight. No doubt the custom seems odd to you –’

‘No, sire,’ Lancelot murmured reassuringly. A tremble in his voice betrayed his shock, however. Merlin closed his eyes for a moment. This was perhaps even worse than walking in on them actually having sex.

‘Well. Until midnight tonight, you are entitled to ask. Not everyone takes up the privilege, so there’s no need to feel you’ll insult me if you don’t. I am, of course, entitled to deny you, if I wish. But you should know that… this isn’t a reward I am reluctant to grant.’ Arthur took a breath. ‘So, Lancelot. There it is, all laid out for you.’

‘Yes, sire. I… understand.’

Merlin forced himself to turn around, to take the crockery over to the table. The two men were staring at each other. Lancelot’s worshipful gaze had turned smouldering hot. Arthur’s acceptance of that gaze had turned meltingly languid.

‘Sire,’ Lancelot whispered, ‘if I may…?’

‘Yes, Lancelot,’ Arthur replied, ‘you may indeed.’ Then, when Lancelot glanced uncertainly at Merlin, the prince added, ‘Merlin, leave us, would you?’

‘Yes, sire,’ he muttered, voice hurtful in his throat.

But Merlin couldn’t bear to go. He wanted to watch. He wanted to be part of this, even if it was in the most meaningless way possible. Heart hammering, Merlin walked back to the hidden servants’ entrance. Opened the door, and then closed it again firmly. Crept back to the pillar, crouched low, and peered around it.

Arthur had stood from his chair and was stripping, revealing that perfect beautiful body. Lancelot was watching in awe. When Arthur was done, his excitement was evident: he wasn’t fully engorged, but his cock lifted proud from amidst dark golden curls, his balls hanging heavy below. Lancelot suddenly surged forward onto his knees, and took Arthur’s cock into his mouth – and it seemed he sucked hard and devotedly, for Arthur groaned deep and fraught, his hand curving itself around Lancelot’s nape. Lancelot’s hands lifted to cup Arthur’s rear, to drag him closer.

‘Enough!’ Arthur cried out a few moments later.

Lancelot withdrew, got to his feet, spread a hand on Arthur’s chest and guided him, pushed him around and back, until he was lying on the table, his rear just at the edge of it, his feet bent with his toes still on the floor. Lancelot standing between those wide thighs, undoing his own britches, releasing himself – encouraging Arthur to lift his legs, lock them around Lancelot’s waist – and then Lancelot was pushing inside him, and they both groaned fraught. ‘My lord…!’ Lancelot cried, helpless, passionate.

‘Harder!’ Arthur demanded, his hands wrapping around the edge of the table to hold on tight.

Lancelot obeyed, driving into him fiercely with all his single–minded determination, his hands on Arthur’s hips no doubt bruising them just as Ryance had. Arthur’s cock bobbing stiffly back and forth with each thrust. ‘My lord!’ Lancelot cried urgently.

Arthur groaned, brought his right hand up to wrap around his own cock, and tugged. Suddenly pressed his shoulders down hard while his back arched up off the table, and then his seed was spurting all over his own stomach and chest. He cried out raggedly.

Lancelot dared to call, ‘Arthur!’ And then a last great triumphant incoherent moan as he finished as well.

A long moment passed while Lancelot tried to catch his breath. They were both panting from the exertion, from the utter excitement. Merlin was breathing hard, too, leaning his dizzy head against the cool pillar. No longer crouching but sitting sprawled there. Still hidden, just in case anyone else was capable of looking around.

‘My lord?’ Lancelot eventually murmured.

‘Yes,’ Arthur tersely replied.

Lancelot helped him sit up, then stand up. Fetched the robe that was lying on Arthur’s bed, and wrapped him in it. Merlin grimaced. That was his job. Lancelot tucked himself away, then carefully examined Arthur’s pale, beautiful face, ran a hand back over that fall of golden hair. ‘Are you all right, my lord?’ he asked, full of concern.

‘I’m fine, Lancelot.’

‘Thank you,’ the man murmured politely yet fervently. ‘I can’t imagine ever winning a higher honour than what you have granted me.’

Arthur smiled wryly, a bit reluctantly. ‘That’s enough flattery, Lancelot.’ He sighed. ‘Leave me now.’

‘Will you be all right, sire?’

‘Of course. I’m fine. I’ll see you tonight.’

‘Yes, sire.’ Lancelot lifted Arthur’s hand in his, and bent to kiss it. And then he discreetly took his leave.

Arthur just stood there for a long moment, not quite upright. A bit shaky, as he’d been last time. Eventually he said, quietly, ‘Merlin.’

Merlin froze. By all the Gods… The prince must have known he was there all along.

‘Come here, Merlin.’

It took all his courage, but Merlin put his head around the pillar, and looked at Arthur. ‘Sire?’ he managed.

‘It seems I require your services again.’

‘Yes, sire.’ Merlin dragged himself to his feet. Poured a bowl of water, and brought it to the prince with a cloth. Gently took the robe off his shoulders, and then knelt by him, wiped down his thighs and chest and stomach. Carefully cleaned the place where Lancelot had entered him. Again, there seemed no real harm done. Arthur simply stood there, resting a hand on Merlin’s shoulder for the sake of balance. Merlin asked, ‘Shall I dress you now, sire?’

‘No, I’ll, uh –’ Arthur sighed. ‘I don’t have any duties this afternoon, do I?’

‘Not that I’m aware of.’

‘Just – give me the robe again.’ And once Merlin had helped him into it, Arthur said, ‘All right, you can go now. Come back to get me ready for the feast tonight.’

‘Yes, sire.’ But Merlin stayed long enough to help Arthur settle onto the bed. And then he waited behind the pillar until he could hear from the prince’s breathing that he’d fallen asleep. Merlin crept over to bar the main door, leaving the key in the lock, so that Arthur wouldn’t be disturbed, and then he finally left by the servants’ entrance.

June

The strange thing was – actually, one of the many strange things about this strangeness was that Arthur didn’t seem to have sex with anyone else, man or woman, at any other time. He only seemed to indulge in these monthly assignations with whoever proved himself to be his best knight. And Merlin would have thought that such intense tastes as Arthur had needed to be indulged more frequently.

Though – obviously – what would Merlin know about any of this? He was beginning to wonder why he’d never taken Will up on any of his suggestive offers. At least that way Merlin might have stood a chance of understanding Arthur now.

Arthur didn’t seem quite as bright or enthusiastic while watching the tournament in June. Merlin wondered if that was because Lancelot had had to leave Camelot when the lie about his noble origins had been discovered. Arthur had certainly seemed as sorry to lose him as both Merlin and Gwen were, but perhaps Arthur had extra cause to miss Lancelot that day.

Sir Kay won the tournament, and even though he could be the bluntest and rudest of all the knights, Arthur didn’t deny him. Kay insisted on Arthur going to Kay’s own rooms, so Merlin spent the longest ten minutes of his life waiting in the corridor outside, before escorting Arthur back to his chambers. This time there was blood on the cloth Merlin used to clean the prince, but when he showed it to Arthur, the only reaction was a shrug.

July

The sex was always fierce and hard. Which seemed to be what Arthur wanted, what he expected, and the knights always seemed happy enough to comply. Even the gentlemanly Sir Dinadan was almost brutal under cover of night’s darkness, when he fucked the prince against the battlements of the highest turret in the castle. Merlin enjoyed witnessing that assignation even less than the one with Sir Kay, for he spent the whole time hovering just out of sight, fretting over the possibility that Arthur might overbalance and plummet to his death. Trying to convince himself that he could save the prince with magic if need be. Dinadan was decent enough to accompany Arthur back to the prince’s rooms afterwards, but Merlin couldn’t forgive him that scare for weeks. Let alone the scrapes and massive bruises on Arthur’s shoulders.

August

In the height of summer, Merlin could certainly see the attraction of taking the prince down to the brook that ran under the trees just beyond the training grounds. He could also understand the urgency of wanting Arthur immediately after the tournament was over and his favour was won. Still, he was a bit annoyed with the lusty Sir Lucan for being so obvious about it all. Luckily the other knights and various hangers–on had more tact than Lucan, for they all remained on the far side of the training grounds, and soon began heading back up towards the castle.

Once Merlin was sure the prince wouldn’t be interrupted, he crept closer under the trees, remaining hidden behind a convenient trunk. Arthur was naked – he always got completely naked – and on his hands and knees on the soft turf by the brook. Lucan was kneeling behind him, ramming into him hard and fast, just as animals rutted. Merlin scrunched up his face. He was stirred by the sight, he couldn’t deny that. But he also thought that there was – there had to be – so much more to sex than this.

Not that Arthur seemed to mind, for as Lucan began to obviously reach the end, Arthur went down to one elbow, and reached a hand back to where his cock jutted out hard, and finished himself off with three demanding twisting tugs. Merlin sighed to see the prince’s seed lying discarded on the grass.

When Lucan was done, he stood up, and for a moment looked down upon Arthur – who had sprawled onto his back, with his shoulders flat against the turf, and his arms spread wide, but his legs curled up below. ‘Your highness…?’

Arthur sighed. ‘I’m fine, Lucan. Leave me now, would you?’

But apparently Lucan was subject to post–coital guilt, because he fell to his knees at Arthur’s side, and took the prince’s hand in his. ‘I’m sorry, sire, I should have –’

‘Lucan, I’m fine, I’m honestly fine.’ Arthur found a smile somewhere for the knight. ‘Thank you.’

‘Sire –’

‘I’ll see you at the feast tonight, all right? You’ll sit beside me. But leave me now. Merlin will be along in a minute to get me dressed and decent again.’

The oblivious Lucan glanced back towards the training grounds, apparently not liking the thought of a witness to his sudden shame. Nevertheless, he stayed where he was a moment longer, and he bowed his head over Arthur’s hand. ‘I’d die for you, my lord,’ he swore. ‘I always would have for the sake of duty, but now I’d do so happily.’

Arthur’s smile became more genuine, though tinged with sadness. He brought Lucan’s hand to his own lips, and pressed a kiss to the back of it. ‘Thank you, Sir Lucan. I hope it will never come to that, but I’ll always know I can rely on you utterly.’

And at last Lucan left.

Merlin slowly approached his prince, his friend. Arthur looked beautiful, as he always did, but perhaps especially so lying there in the dappled sunlight. The brook murmured peacefully beside them, as if taking their troubles and bearing them away. Arthur smiled up at him, and didn’t move. So Merlin took off his neckerchief, and wet it in the brook, and came back to clean Lucan’s seed from Arthur’s thighs. The neckerchief was a harsher weave than the cloths Merlin usually used, so he was particularly careful when dealing with the tender flesh hidden between Arthur’s strong buttocks. Merlin sighed a little.

‘What’s wrong?’ Arthur asked.

‘Nothing, sire,’ Merlin mumbled.

Arthur was gazing up at the clear sky beyond the fluttering leaves. ‘It’s a beautiful day, you know.’

‘Yes, I know.’

And because Arthur showed no signs of wanting to move, Merlin carefully covered his nether regions with Arthur’s own shirt, and sat nearby him to patiently wait. After a while Arthur reached to hold Merlin’s hand in his, and seemed to take comfort from it. They stayed there silently together for a long while.

September

Sir Bedivere seemed to decide it was his turn in September, and he was as determined to win the tournament as Sir Ryance had been earlier in the year. He went to Arthur’s rooms with him after the feast, when both men were giddy with wine. Merlin trusted Bedivere and respected him, so he waited in the corridor outside the servants’ entrance, letting him and Arthur have their privacy. In fact, Merlin was so relaxed about how Bedivere would treat the prince, that he actually dozed off while propped against the wall – and when Arthur required him, he had to yell to gain his attention.

Nevertheless, Merlin was concerned to find that Arthur was bruised and raw and shaken. Some things didn’t change.

Only days later, however, a hunting party which included Arthur, Merlin and Bedivere was in turn hunted by the fearsome Questing Beast. And Bedivere, in trying to help Merlin to safety, was taken by the Beast. As they heard his dying screams, Arthur went blank and pale with shock. But he didn’t have long to grieve, as Arthur himself was seriously wounded by the Beast the very next day – a wound that should have proved mortal.

Despite Gaius’s dire predictions as Arthur lay ill, Merlin managed to save the prince’s life. Of course. It almost cost him dearly, but by this time Merlin knew he would do absolutely anything for Arthur. That all worked out well enough.

But Sir Bedivere was a sad loss to Camelot.

October

Arthur was still recuperating in October and hadn’t yet returned to training, but the mock tournament went ahead as usual on the last Friday of the month. Merlin sat on a stool beside Arthur, ready to take care of him as necessary.

Sir Dinadan soon emerged as the main contender, and with Arthur sitting there pale and drawn, no one else seemed to have the heart to really challenge him that day. Once he was victorious, Dinadan knelt before Arthur and offered him his sword. ‘Your highness.’

‘I congratulate you, Sir Dinadan. You are a fine champion.’

‘Thank you, sire.’ He lowered his voice, so that only Arthur and Merlin would hear. ‘Forgive me, sire. I am at your service, always. But if you will not take it amiss, I won’t insist on my reward this month.’ His gaze met Arthur’s with fearless candour. ‘My only concern is for your health and wellbeing, sire.’

Arthur considered him for long moments. Merlin had a horrible feeling that Arthur was going to insist, for after all the assignations were as much about Arthur’s pleasure as anything else. However, Arthur eventually said, ‘Then you are the finest champion I could possibly ask for, for you are not only strong and brave but truly chivalrous.’

Dinadan humbly lowered his head. ‘Thank you, sire.’

‘Excellent. You make my decision easy.’ Arthur stood, and raised his voice so that the other knights would hear. ‘It was my intention that the champion this month would take on the role that Sir Bedivere filled so well. Sir Dinadan, I want you to help me lead the knights from now on. Will you do so?’

‘You offer me the greatest honour, sire. I will do so with pleasure.’

‘Excellent,’ Arthur said again. And he sat down again, looking even paler but also very pleased.

It didn’t take long after that for Merlin to persuade the prince to return to the castle. Arthur didn’t even argue as Merlin insisted on tucking him up into bed.

‘Merlin…’ the prince murmured as he drifted off into sleep. ‘When exactly did you learn how to look after me so well…?’

But then he was gone, and luckily didn’t require an answer.

November

The prince had barely regained his health in early November when he suddenly became a king. Merlin and Gaius were sent for, and rushed to the throne room – Gaius telling Merlin to run on ahead – but it was already too late. Arthur was sitting on the stone floor with Uther in his arms, Arthur pale and Uther grey. Gaius knelt by them, and tried to find Uther’s pulse, but it was obvious there was no hope; Gaius didn’t even insist on Arthur letting go of the body so that he could examine it properly.

‘He just collapsed,’ Arthur said, his voice oddly distant. ‘We were talking, and he started to fall. There was some pain here –’ he indicated Uther’s left shoulder and upper arm with a clutched hand, perhaps miming Uther’s own actions. ‘He said –’ Arthur swallowed and looked away. ‘We said our farewells, and then he was gone.’

‘I’m sorry, sire,’ said Gaius gently. ‘I’ve seen this before. His heart gave out. There’s nothing I can do.’

‘I know. I know that he’s gone.’

‘There’s nothing I could have done, even if I’d been here at the time. Arthur, there’s certainly nothing you could have done.’

Arthur looked at him across Uther’s body. ‘Was it my fault? Don’t be kind to me, Gaius. We were just talking, I wasn’t arguing with him. But was it my fault?’

‘Of course not, sire,’ Gaius reassured him. ‘If this was going to happen, then it would have happened regardless, no matter what was going on around him.’ After a moment he quietly added, ‘Uther was my friend. I know that he would have wanted nothing more than to have you with him at the last. To say farewell to you, Arthur. He loved you more than anything in the world.’

Arthur’s mouth trembled a little, and his eyes were bright with tears. But he didn’t give way to his grief. He simply whispered, ‘Thank you, Gaius.’

‘You’re welcome, your majesty.’

Arthur looked at him for a long moment. Then he nodded once. Decisively.

And Gaius got them all organised: entrusting Arthur to Merlin; sending for Morgana and the other nobles; having the guards lift Uther to the table and arranging him suitably with his sword and his cape and his fallen crown. Merlin did as he was bid, and otherwise stood fast at Arthur’s shoulder. His heart aching not for Uther’s death but for Arthur’s pain.

The Last Reward

The king sat in his chair by the training grounds, ready to watch the mock tournament on the morning of the last Friday in November. Arthur was looking a little pale and careworn, but Merlin had decided on a plan soon after Uther’s death, and he was determined to go through with it. While Dinadan organised the first round of matches, Merlin marched up to stand before Arthur, and inclined his head. ‘Your majesty.’

‘Ah, Merlin! I almost didn’t recognise you, what with all this showing of respect. What’s gotten into you this morning?’

‘I want to compete in the tournament today.’

Arthur was so surprised that he shouted out a laugh. ‘That’s very good,’ he managed a moment later. ‘Are you applying for a role as Court Jester?’ Then he laughed with genuine amusement. ‘You’ll look very fetching in the official attire.’

‘I’m serious, Arthur.’

‘What is the point? I don’t deny you’ve made some progress in swordcraft, but you’ve a long way to go before you’re a match for one of my knights. You’ll just get yourself hurt.’

‘I won’t be using a sword, Arthur. I’m a warlock. I’ll be using magic.’

The laughter slowly died away on Arthur’s face. He stared at Merlin for a long moment, and then said very flatly, ‘Are we still bantering? Because I’m sitting here waiting for the punch line.’

Merlin held out a hand towards a nearby pile of armour and other gear, and lifted it all into the air. Spun each item around individually, while also revolving the whole lot together in a large circle. Gently lowered it all again.

‘Party tricks?’ Arthur suggested, though he obviously knew it wasn’t.

‘No. Magic. Powerful magic. At your service, my lord.’

By now everyone at the training grounds had realised something momentous was happening. They were quiet, waiting to see how this would unfold.

Merlin asked, ‘Are you going to have me summarily executed, as your father would have done? Or do you want to know more? Do you want to know the possibilities? Make your own decision?’

Arthur grimaced in real annoyance. ‘Is there any limit to your insolence? You’re insulting my father, and trying to force my hand. Kings don’t take kindly to that sort of thing, you know.’

‘You’re a bigger man than that.’

‘It’s just as well for you that I am. Very well. Sir Dinadan!’ he called. ‘We’re going to try something different today.’ Arthur stood as Dinadan walked over, and muttered to Merlin, ‘Get yourself into some armour, for God’s sake.’

‘I won’t need it.’

‘If you’re hurt –’

‘I won’t be.’ Merlin assured him, a bit cockily, ‘And I won’t hurt your knights, either.’

Arthur glowered. ‘Be it on your own head, then.’ But the king was worried.

Soon Merlin was standing in the middle of the training field, facing Sir Dinadan himself for his first match. Presumably Dinadan and Arthur weren’t quite sure what to expect, so they had decided to match Merlin against the best, and perhaps end this as quickly and painlessly as possible. Well, Merlin could have ended it quickly and painlessly by knocking the lot of them out in one sweeping blow, but he wasn’t going to take the easy path. He needed to make a point about what he was capable of, but it wasn’t in his interests to humiliate these men. He needed to give them a fair shot.

Dinadan obviously felt there was no honour in being armoured when fighting a man in regular clothes, so he had stripped down to his shirt, jacket and britches. He approached Merlin warily, circled him, and eventually swung a blow at Merlin’s left arm with the flat of his sword. Merlin deflected it.

Dinadan quickly followed up with a low swing to his legs. Deflected again.

A direct thrust to Merlin’s torso, which again had no effect.

A bold slicing swing, this time aimed at Merlin’s throat – it would have taken his head off had it fallen true. Merlin slowed down time just long enough for him to duck under the blade, then with a gesture twisted the sword out of Dinadan’s hands, arced it up through the air, and let it fall point–first into the ground. It stuck there quivering.

Dinadan roared and ran at him. Merlin knocked him onto his back with a surge of power to the chest, just enough to flatten him without winding him. Held him pinned down.

For a moment Dinadan lay there glaring up at him. But eventually he lifted his hands palm–out in surrender. A buzz of excitement ran around the ground.

Merlin glanced at Arthur, who was literally sitting on the edge of his seat. Then he said to the knight who was getting back up to his feet, ‘Send me your next man, Sir Dinadan. And if I beat him, too, then it doesn’t have to be one at a time after that. But I want to fight them all. Do you understand?’

Dinadan also glanced at Arthur. When he didn’t receive any contradictory orders, he nodded agreement. But before he headed back to the other knights, he asked, ‘Merlin. Are you on our side?’

‘I’m on Arthur’s side. Until the day I die.’

‘For the love of Camelot!’ Dinadan swore. And he grinned in delight.

By the time Merlin was done, he had an audience not only of knights and their hangers–on, but of people who’d come down from the town and the castle to see what was happening. Morgana and Gwen were there, along with Gaius. Behind Merlin, a hundred swords and daggers and knives stood planted in the ground where he had sent them flying as he disarmed each of his opponents. He stood there for a moment savouring the feeling of finally being known. Known and feared. There was excitement in the air but there was also wariness and fear, despite Dinadan’s efforts to convince anyone who’d listen that having a powerful warlock fighting for Camelot was the most incredible thing ever. Perhaps soon Merlin could turn the fear into respect.

Well. Merlin had just defeated the knights of Camelot without even raising a sweat, and as promised no one had been hurt. The only knight left was King Arthur himself. Merlin slowly walked over to him now. Despite the large audience, no one was near the king. Dinadan was the closest, but he knew Arthur was safe so he kept his distance.

Arthur sat there with his own sword across his knees, watching Merlin with opaque blue eyes.

Merlin walked up and then knelt at his feet. ‘Your majesty, I am your humble servant.’

Humble?’ Arthur repeated with faint irony. ‘I suspect not.’

‘Do with me as you will. I am yours until the day I die.’

‘That won’t be today, if that’s what you’re asking. I won’t have you executed, Merlin.’

‘Thank you, my lord.’

Arthur considered him for a moment, but then eventually sighed and sat back. ‘I don’t know quite what I’m going to do with you, Merlin. You’re going to have to let me think about this.’

Part of him wanted to quibble, but he knew it was better to just let Arthur get used to all this in his own time. ‘Yes, sire,’ Merlin murmured.

‘All right. We’ll talk. Later.’ Arthur stood, and sheathed his sword. ‘I’ll talk with Gaius, though I’m sure he’ll take your part.’

‘Yes, sire. Thank you.’ Merlin remained on his knees. ‘In the meantime, sire… I’m sure you’ll agree that I’ve won the tournament today. And so I would like to claim my reward.’

Arthur shook his head as if in disbelief, and turned away from Merlin, from their audience. Gazing off at the trees on the far side of the grounds. Was he thinking about the summer afternoon he’d lain naked and sated down there by the brook? ‘There won’t be any more such rewards. That was… a prince’s foolish indulgence. I probably shouldn’t have done it even then, but I’m a king now. Everything’s different.’

Merlin disagreed. ‘You’re still Arthur. Some things don’t change. And I very much want to take you to your bed right now, and make love with you.’

God…’ Arthur folded his arms across his chest, and kicked uselessly at the grass. A filthy oath poured from his lips. But then eventually he said, ‘Damn you, Merlin. We’ll go back to the castle. We’ll see what happens. But I really don’t think that –’

Merlin smiled. He’d already won. But he murmured, ‘Yes, sire,’ very obediently, and stood up to follow his king. He saw Gaius on the sidelines looking impressed, Gwen startled, and Morgana amused; Merlin nodded to them, but didn’t leave Arthur’s side. The crowd parted for the two of them, and then once they’d passed everyone burst into furore of gossip.

The first thing Merlin did when they reached the king’s chambers – Uther’s old rooms – was lock the door.

The second thing he did was walk up to Arthur and kiss him. Merlin curved his hand around Arthur’s nape, and he pressed his mouth to Arthur’s, and when the king seemed about to protest, he ran the tip of his tongue along Arthur’s lower lip, then bit at it gently. Arthur groaned a little, and surrendered to the kiss, accepting it though not really returning it. After another moment or two, Merlin broke away, though he stayed close. ‘Arthur…’ he murmured.

‘It never starts like that,’ Arthur said, voice too brittle to be sardonic. ‘You of all people should know as much.’

‘Yes, sire. But as you said, everything’s different now.’

You said some things don’t change,’ he countered.

‘This is one of the things that changes,’ Merlin said, again pressing his mouth to Arthur’s. ‘I’m going to be kissing you. Probably a lot.’

Arthur shot him a glance. ‘I consider myself warned.’

Merlin began pushing Arthur’s coat back off his shoulders. ‘One thing that won’t change is you getting naked.’ He shook his head and grinned at his king, his friend, his love. ‘You look very beautiful naked, my lord.’

Arthur harrumphed, but lifted his arms readily enough when Merlin began drawing off his shirt.

‘But I’m going to get naked, too,’ Merlin continued. ‘Sorry. I’m not as beautiful as you, but I guess you won’t really mind about that.’

‘It’s as well I have beauty enough for both,’ Arthur tartly responded. However, when Merlin drew off his own shirt, Arthur didn’t seem uninterested in what was revealed.

‘Boots,’ Merlin said, bending over. He’d undressed Arthur like this a hundred times or more; Arthur leaned a hand on Merlin’s back for balance, while lifting one foot and then the other to have his boots tugged off. This time, however, Merlin then rested a hand on Arthur’s shoulder while he dragged off his own boots as well.

Which left them in their britches. Merlin stood there in front of Arthur while he used both hands to begin unlacing the king’s britches, looking right into Arthur’s eyes with a happy smirk; usually he was very discreet at this stage, keeping his gaze and even his face averted. Once Arthur’s britches were unfastened, Merlin worked on undoing his own. Then he nodded down at Arthur’s. ‘You can do that bit yourself.’

‘Not that I suppose I have any secrets left to show you,’ Arthur commented. But he obeyed, and they both pushed down and then stepped out of their britches and linens and socks at the same time.

Arthur was as hard as Merlin had ever seen him, his red–gold cock jutting up out of dark–gold curls, and his balls hanging heavy below. The king flushed with embarrassment, though he stood tall, and he muttered, ‘Apparently some parts of me know that it’s tournament day.’

Merlin grinned, and suppressed all the jousting jokes that sprang to mind. Instead he just said, ‘My bits do, too.’ And Arthur looked, and seemed interested enough, impressed enough. So Merlin stepped towards him, and wound his arm around Arthur’s waist, and crushed them both together – and their cocks clashed, hot and hard and wonderful, until they found a natural arrangement, pressed side by side as the two men held each other close. ‘I’ve been wanting this for so long, Arthur,’ Merlin murmured. ‘Forgive me if I don’t last.’

Arthur sniffed with anticipated disapproval.

‘I’m sure I’ll last longer the second time,’ Merlin said.

‘You know how this goes, Merlin,’ Arthur blustered. ‘You only get the one shot.’

‘No,’ Merlin softly replied, ‘that’s another thing that’s changing. I’m going to be with you every night and every day, and we can make love any damn time we feel like it. Duties permitting. But none of this once–a–month business for us.’

‘Merlin, you can’t just dictate your own terms like this –’

‘Yes, I can. I’m a powerful warlock, remember? And anyway, I love you. I think you’re going to love me, too, if you don’t already. So, everything changes.’

There were tears in the king’s eyes, though they didn’t fall. ‘You said I’m still Arthur.’

‘Everything changes, and everything stays the same.’

Arthur was pretty much out of arguments. ‘Does that make any sense to you?’ he complained.

‘Yes. Now, come to bed.’

Merlin was moving over his love, slowly and devastatingly thrusting cock against cock. Kissing Arthur every now and then, gnawing at his nipples, one arm wound under Arthur’s waist, and the other massaging his hip, his thigh. So far, he’d managed to last; the motivation to do so came from wanting to drive Arthur mad with need.

Arthur was strung out beneath him, lost in sensation that was too much and too little all at once, his hands running blindly down Merlin’s back, over his butt, trying to force a faster, harder rhythm. Eventually those blue eyes opened, and Arthur begged, ‘Please. You know what I want.’

‘We’re not going to do that all the time, Arthur.’

‘Why not this time? Please. You know how it is for me.’

For a moment, Merlin almost felt sorry he hadn’t just gone with it in the first place. But it wasn’t just a matter of dictating his own terms, especially not at this stage. He admitted, ‘I don’t think I’d do you much good. The way I’m feeling right now, I think I’d come before I was even halfway in.’

‘Merlin…’

‘Here.’ And he shifted them both over onto their sides just a little, so he could reach under Arthur and gently press his thumb inside the man. The penetration was easy enough, but then Arthur groaned and clutched his body right around Merlin’s thumb. Pushed his hips up, so his thighs were taut. Merlin slipped his other arm down from Arthur’s waist to under his buttocks, propping him up off the bed. Increased the rhythm and the pressure of his thrusts, of his cock and of his thumb. ‘There, Arthur, there…’

‘Yes… Merlin… God…’

Biting at the man’s throat, his mouth, his nipples. Letting Arthur’s hands guide him to greater efforts still. Trying to think only of Arthur, and Arthur’s needs, for his own demanded his complete and utter oblivion. ‘Arthur, please… soon…’

‘Yes… Yes! Merlin!’ And it had worked – Arthur was bucking up against him, his seed pulsing out, and Merlin tumbled after him at last, crying out in a relief that felt more like the most delightful kind of agony.

They lay there together afterwards, in each other’s arms. Catching their breath. Dozing. Holding on.

‘Is this another thing that’s going to change?’ Arthur asked. He looked beautiful, and content, and pink–gold with health.

‘The cuddling?’ Merlin pressed a kiss to Arthur’s mouth. ‘Yeah, I’m going to be cuddling you. Probably a lot.’

‘I see,’ said Arthur. ‘Then it seems that all is truly well.’

And for once Merlin let him have the last word.

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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20 responses to “Reward System”

  1. avatar Ale says:

    OMG!!! I love your fic SO MUCH!!!

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Hey there, Ale! Thank you so much for commenting. You make my heart bounce around very happily. :-D

  2. avatar Christina says:

    Oh wow, I loved this! Thank you for sharing! *fans self* Totally random, but I was totally rooting for some Arthur/Lancelot/Merlin action in that one scene. Lol.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Hee! I’m so glad you loved this one. :-D And I think Merlin was rooting likewise!

      Thank you for commenting…

  3. avatar firewolfsg says:

    (utterly, utterly frustrated at work so sneaking a peek while the boss is out)

    Wonderful fic! I’ll have to remember to hunt this down again when I’m home and have time to savour it.

    Why Arthur, a different knight every month? And Merlin helping him to clean up after the sex XD~~

    Loved it! Especially when Merlin thought it was finally his turn to make a decisive claim once and for all. Absolutely love it!

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      firewolfsg – Thank you so much! I have to admit I was rather pleased with how this one did seem to actually work… Thank you for commenting – I really appreciate it! :-D

  4. avatar Alz says:

    Love this. But as I’ve mentioned, I love all your writing, so, whatever right? ;)

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Alz – Thank you again! I really do appreciate you taking the trouble to say ‘love this’. It means a great deal to me. :-D

  5. avatar Beck says:

    Wow, wonderful piece of work. I love how you are able to depict emotions so subtly and especially the way you’ve written the Arthur/Merlin interaction. Beautiful writing. :)

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Beck – Thank you so much for your kind comment! I’m really pleased that you enjoyed this fic. :-) Your compliments about my writing are very welcome. :-D

  6. avatar cunitia says:

    Since I found you here… I think I will not sleep tonight!
    This was so utterly beautiful… it made my heart jump…*melts*

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      cunitia – Hello, my sweet. I’m so happy that you’re reading my fic… Aw, ‘utterly beautiful’…? I’m just happy to make your heart jump, hon!

  7. avatar lizee says:

    hnnnnnnnnnn!!!<3 slow, sweet and achingly beautiful. perfect buildup to a hot hot hot ending

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      lizee – Thank you so much! I’m so glad you liked this one. I have to admit I wasn’t exactly expecting people to call this particular fic ‘sweet’ or ‘beautiful’, but I am so very glad that you did! I appreciate your comment. :-)

  8. avatar Anty says:

    “He stood there for a moment savouring the feeling of finally being known.”

    Still love this whole fic and this moment in particular!

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Anty – Thank you, hon! I’m so glad that this fic is still working for you. And that moment, too! I’m delighted that’s the moment you’ve chosen as best. ♥

      Sorry for the delay in replying, but my computer time has been patchy lately, and this server seems to have been likewise! :-(

  9. avatar Katherine says:

    Ugh, fantastic! The characters were very in character for such an out of character scenario, if that makes sense. :D

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Katherine – Hee! Um… thank you? :-DDD I’m glad you enjoyed it, hon, even if it’s all widly improbable. ♥

  10. avatar Lola says:

    This was amazing. Hot and sweet and wonderful.

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