First of all, I want to thank binglejells for the preliminary Brit-pick and beta, and for all the info on Britiish Universities. And I would like to thank soupyfirefly for the final draft beta/Brit-pick.
Secondly, there is a very short definitions list at the end of the story, for anyone who isn't familiar with some of the computer-esqe terms that Merlin uses.
Thirdly, I disclaim ownership of any of the Merlin characters. I am only borrowing them for the duration of this fic.
Table of Contents
“You’re taking psychology?!”
Arthur dropped his eyebrows into what he hoped was an appropriate scowl and turned the full force of the look on Morgana, who was currently sitting on his bed – his as of yet unmade campus room bed that was three times narrower than any bed he’d ever slept in, including his crib as an infant.
“Why yes, Morgana. I am allowed to make my own life choices.”
Morgana’s laugh was once described by one of her boyfriends as similar to twinkling bells. That boyfriend was not, of course, the target: she was laughing at Arthur. When she laughed at Arthur her laugh sounded more like that of an evil witch gloating over her eye of newt. He’d told her that once and she’d chastised him, saying she may be into the whole magic scene but she wasn’t about to cut up a helpless little reptile for some stupid spell. He’d replied that newts were in fact amphibians and not reptiles, to which Morgana huffed, threw her arms up and called Arthur hopeless and particular and Arthur forgot what they had been previously talking about anyway.
The laugh she used now was her ‘eye of newt’ laugh and Arthur didn’t like it.
“Don’t you have your own things to unpack?” he grumbled as he neatly folded his jeans and delicately laid them in the drawer he had previously labelled ‘trousers’.
Morgana flipped her hand through the air in some sort of dismissive gesture which she obviously assumed he understood. “I’d much rather annoy you. Much more fun.”
Arthur pulled his red silk shirt from one of his boxes and smoothed out the wrinkles before placing it on a padded hanger and tucking it in the wardrobe between his other red shirts and the few pink ones he owned. He chose to ignore her. Ignore her and she’ll go away. That’s what all the advice columnists used to say before Morgana found out he was writing to them. Ignoring her did not stop the teasing that went on for years afterward. Arthur hadn’t sent a letter in to a magazine since.
“Besides, Gwen’s in her room with Lance and I thought I’d give them some private snogging time before he has to leave.”
“Of course,” Arthur grumped, folding his blue briefs and setting them atop the rest of his briefs in his drawer tastefully labelled ‘undergarments’. The boxer pile was still woefully small and he briefly panicked that he’d forgotten the rest at home before he realized that if he had, he could just ring his father and tell him he was stopping by later that evening to pick them up. Well, he wouldn’t say specifically that he’d forgotten his pants, but Uther Pendragon never really paid that much attention to the dealings of his son (or step-daughter for that matter), except to chastise him for being rubbish at absolutely everything, so he probably wouldn’t even notice his son was home anyway.
“Well, I need some private time too, before I slaughter you for insolence,” he snapped. Morgana was fondling his football trophy from last season. Fondling it. The nerve! Her nimble fingers traced over the delicate lines of the figure on the top, the pad of her thumb swiped across the engraved little plate with his name on it. “Seriously, Morgana, leave now.”
Morgana just laughed again, the same way she had before, and swept off the bed, pausing only to admire Arthur’s impressively organized wardrobe. “You’ve a green shirt in with the blacks,” she said off-handedly and slipped from the room like a summer breeze, only Arthur thought of her more like a hurricane whose sole mission was to seek and destroy his entire mental well-being.
He tried to ignore her parting comment. He even managed to find a sizable collection of his black socks and order them according to the purity of the black before the small niggling worry turned into full blown anxiety and he just had to check his wardrobe.
There was no green shirt in with the blacks. There were no black shirts in with the greens. There were no shirts in any sort of wrong order. The string of curses that fell from his tongue was hostile and possibly suggestive of violence and might have continued to go on for quite a while longer had someone not elbowed him in the side and said: “Oi, my mother’s here. Stop cursing like a bloody sailor.”
And that was how Arthur Pendragon made the (rather unfortunate) acquaintance of one Merlin Emrys.
Merlin, Arthur soon discovered, was a slob. His mother had no sooner placed a chaste goodbye kiss on his too-pointy cheekbone when Merlin began whirl-winding around the room, excitedly causing as much upheaval as he possibly could under the guise of unpacking.
His underwear drawer was actually a mix of whatever fit – scarves and socks and a heap of video game controllers. It was devoid of any actual underwear though, and Arthur wondered where he was going to store those anyway, if he even had any, which Arthur was seriously beginning to doubt. His wardrobe was organized in a haphazard collection of trousers thrown over shirt hangers, and shirts lying crumpled on the floor after sliding off their hangers.
“My godfather – Gaius – wanted me to take medicine, but I told him computers were the way of the future,” Merlin chirruped happily, completely oblivious to the whitening of Arthur’s knuckles. “Mum said I could take whatever I wanted as long as it made me happy.” He turned his impish smile on Arthur and Arthur felt like putting his fist through it. He didn’t say anything to his new roommate.
Merlin was undeterred.
“I don’t know anyone here,” he said as cheerfully as though he were telling Arthur about his imaginary weekend with Claudia Schiffer and not his impending social isolation. “I’m thinking about attending that Fresher’s event at the Students’ Union. How about you?”
Arthur stared at him with what he hoped was an expression of disgust but knowing himself it was more like bewilderment.
“No,” he said finally when Merlin’s sparkling eyes wouldn’t look elsewhere.
“Oh,” said Merlin. He then threw his blankets in a huge bundle on his bed and sprawled in them without bothering to lay them flat. “Well, if I meet any arrogant, self-loving prats, I’ll be sure to send them your way then.” With that, Merlin Emrys ended the conversation by opening a magazine with a disassembled computer featured on the front.
The only time Arthur knew how to be subtle was when his father was lecturing him and he had to refrain from rolling his eyes. Merlin was not his father and Merlin was not lecturing him. Merlin was ignoring him. His annoyingly cheerful, sloppy, scrawny roommate of twenty minutes was ignoring him in favour of a magazine about computers. Morgana would never let him live it down.
“Er,” said Arthur and quailed slightly when Merlin cocked an eyebrow. “That is, I mean. My step sister and her best friend.”
Merlin closed his magazine and squirmed into a seated position on the bed, crossing his legs as he went. In the process, the sheets – that had been so casually tossed on without any regard to form or order – tangled around him and lifted off the corner of the mattress. Arthur cringed. Merlin grinned.
“Do you know how to speak in full sentences, or is it just swearing then?”
Arthur wanted to hit him over the head with his beloved football trophy, even if it meant cleaning up the blood afterward, as unsanitary as it actually would be. “I’m dining with them tonight. I will not be able to attend the event.” Again Merlin raised his eyebrow but this time when he smiled a dimple appeared and Arthur choked on his own saliva for a second. “You’ll have to tell me how it goes.”
Merlin’s smile almost ballooned out of control and even though he returned to his magazine a short time after (in his extremely messy bed) he didn’t look pouty or annoyed. He looked so happy, in fact, that he grinned his way through a pack of crisps – still on his bed – and didn’t even sulk when it turned out the crumbs were ground irrevocably into the pillow.
Arthur on the other hand was privately preparing for a very long year.
“Such a strop, Arthur,” Morgana said and poked Arthur in the chest. Gwen raised a pair of plaid trousers and gestured at them until Morgana noticed and nodded. Whatever secret communiqué they had between them was lost to Arthur and not just because he was in a temper: He wasn’t anyway, but there was no telling that to Morgana. She was utterly absurd about her accusations.
“Have you even talked to him yet?”
It was Gwen this time and she looked shy and sweet, just like always. Why couldn’t he share a campus room with someone like her? Someone neat and gentle and quiet. For that matter, why had he chosen to share at all? Besides the obvious argument Morgana put forth that it would be fun, and that Uther could guarantee them a room.
“I asked him to desist the other day.”
Morgana turned a bland, disappointed mother-like expression on him. “What did you ask him to desist doing?”
“He was clacking away at his computer at two in the morning.”
Gwen coughed. Or maybe stifled a laugh. Arthur was giving her the benefit of the doubt.
“Arthur,” Morgana said (and Arthur was stoically ignoring the patronizing tone). “You need to compromise on some things. You share a space now. And not everyone goes to bed at ten o’clock every night.”
When his family behaved like that, Arthur concluded he would much prefer having enemies, no matter how clichéd that sounded. He was being bullied and harassed enough by people who were supposed to love him, or at least tolerate him. His father had pulled through, Arthur supposed, by getting him a place in the halls, but then he’d defeated half of the purpose by getting Morgana in as well.
“He’s annoying. His things are all over the floor.”
This time Arthur did not give Gwen the benefit of the doubt. In his defence, the laugh wasn’t even slightly muffled but hearty and out right.
“Oh, Arthur,” Gwen said. “Just remember it could always be worse. You should be glad Merlin hasn’t stashed a year’s supply of weed all over the flat.” She made a face, as though she had personal experience with this even though it was bloody unlikely that Gwen would even know someone who’d ever smoked up, let alone have extensive contact with a regular stoner.
“Oh, that’s right! Wasn’t Lance’s flatmate last year just dreadful?”
“He was, all day long so high he didn’t even realize he was getting robbed until the next day!”
The girls broke down into hysterical giggles. Arthur scowled and stomped out. He might have made sure to slam their door extra hard.
Arthur knew he would have been able to handle an alcoholic, even if coming home and finding vomit on the carpet became a daily occurrence. He knew he’d be able to deal with a nymphomaniac – or well, the male equivalent – as long as they developed a communication system that told Arthur not to enter the room while the risk of being exposed to very traumatizing sexual acts was high. What he could not tolerate, in any way, was Merlin Emrys.
Even if the mess of Merlin’s clothes all over the floor (did he even use the other three drawers he’d been given?) and the pages and pages of notes all over the desk, and the tangle of video game controller cords that leaked out of the top drawer and snagged at Arthur every time he walked by, even if none of these things existed, Merlin would still be too much to handle.
For starters, he lived off a solid diet of Coke and crisps. The days he did go to class, he did so with his hair still flattened on one side from sleep and yesterday’s clothes still on. That was when he actually went to class. Most days, Merlin seemed to just sit around the room in his boxers – he had brought underclothing, Arthur found out. He just kept them on the floor, kicked under the bed – and a t-shirt and clack away at his keyboard, which he did well into the night and sometimes even well past dawn.
“I’m off to the pub to watch the football game,” Arthur said in the second week, after Morgana threatened to disown him if he didn’t at least try to be nicer to Merlin. “You’re welcome to come.”
Merlin just turned those stupidly bright eyes at Arthur, grinned cheekily, and asked: “Are you going to sudo suggest I come or do I have a choice in the matter?”
To which Arthur said “Pardon?”
Merlin shrugged and said “Maybe next time. I’ve some work to do, and then I have a date.”
Arthur told himself he was relieved Merlin turned him down. He was glad he didn’t need to share his mates with an organizationally-challenged geek. Arthur sulked the entire game and wondered how Merlin’s date was going.
Afterwards, and to perhaps try to lift his mood, Owain tried getting him very drunk and Pellinore tried throwing increasingly inebriated girls at him. Arthur let one snog him until he felt a little sick and then pushed her off to vomit in the toilets. He didn’t come back out until Morgana came stomping in and threatened to murder him and dispose of his body by throwing it in the Thames – which: gross.
“What’re you even doing here?” he had complained.
“You’re a complete fool, you know that?” Morgana had said and pointed at the guy standing at a urinal. “And you can stop staring. I’m helping my brother not choke on his own vomit, not to mention his social inadequacies.”
“Step-brother,” Arthur had protested weakly. Morgana glared at him. Arthur shut up.
Morgana returned him to his room which was both blessedly and sadly empty. The on button of Merlin’s computer did its slow blinking thing it did when it was sleeping (or napping as Merlin called it). Arthur watched the lazy on-off pattern of shadows against the wall as Morgana stripped him of his shirt and his trousers and tossed him on the bed.
“I think traditionally it’s your girlfriend who is supposed to undress you at the end of the night,” she said, pulling the blanket up to his chin and gently pressing her palm against his forehead. “You really are a lost cause, aren’t you Arthur.” He chose to ignore the obviously rhetorical question and closed his eyes.
When Arthur woke up a few hours later, Morgana was gone and Merlin’s computer was off. In the pale glow of the street light filtering through their window, Arthur could just make out the lump that was Merlin, bundled and twisted in his own bed. Arthur felt a small note of satisfaction. At least Merlin’s night didn’t seem to end any better than his had.
I’m sorry your date didn’t go as well as planned. May I recommend alprostadil? My suggestion would be Caverject but there are other less expensive brands available.
I D ten T error.
PS. Get a life, stop hacking mine.
Your dopamine levels are showing. You’re clearly delusional. I am not ‘hacking’ your life. Stop being so bloody paranoid. And ask your doctor about being put on a chlorpromazine supplement. It’s been known to help alleviate schizophrenic symptoms.
WHERE personality = ‘prat’ AND IQ < 10
Oh wait, that’s you. Now stop leaving me these stupid messages or else I’ll hack into your computer and permanently freeze your Internet Explorer (who seriously uses that anymore? Honestly.) on lemonparty.org. I hear you’re into that sort of thing.
Of course, Arthur had to check out this acclaimed lemonparty.org. He waited until Merlin had gone to…wherever he went every Tuesday night. Later, he wished he’d never been so curious. Even later, as he tried eating his meal of too-tough steak and undercooked beans which he’d attempted unsuccessfully to make, he wished that old men had more discretion than to allow themselves to be photographed like that. Later still, when Merlin had come swooping into the room still wearing his girly red scarf wrapped around his neck, Arthur wished Merlin wasn’t always so happy when Arthur was clearly suffering the side effects of posttraumatic stress disorder.
“Did you have fun at your geek party?” Arthur asked, trying for innocent and only managing to sound slightly constipated.
Merlin laughed. “Oh yes,” he said, dropping his scarf and his coat and his jumper on the floor by the bookshelf they shared. “We sat around and instant messaged each other in leetspeak.” This, of course, went right over Arthur’s head but he wasn’t going to admit it. Instead he tried to figure out if Merlin was being serious or sarcastic and ended up staring blankly at him as he traded his faded jeans for a pair of even more faded sweats. He traded his shirt for nothing at all and stood in front of Arthur, bare-chested and snapping his fingers in Arthur’s face.
“I know my embarrassingly sparse amount of chest hair may seem fascinating to you, but you staring at me is making me uncomfortable.”
Arthur feared he might have blushed so red even his favourite shirt would seem washed out.
October began on a warm front. Or well, warmer front. Jackets were traded in for light hoodies as the students tried to absorb the last tantalizing bit of what used to be summer. Arthur was distressingly shocked at how insane some of the girls were – miniskirts? Really? It wasn’t even that Arthur minded the brave flashes of leg, he just didn’t go seek it out, like Owain did when he lurked at the bottom of the South stairs in the Sciences building. A few of the guys had gathered on the green to toss about a Frisbee, panting and sweating from showing off, and slowly losing the layers until most were wearing just a t-shirt. Arthur was among them. Arthur refused to take off his jumper.
Apparently Merlin was among the girls and their inappropriate amount of cleavage. Arthur had never thought of Merlin as a ladies’ man, despite the disturbing amounts of dates he seemed to go on, but there he was on the other side of the green, surrounded by giggling girls and their scarlet-women ways. His cheeks were pink, whether from the sun or from the attention of the ginger perched on his lap, Arthur couldn’t tell.
“Earth to Arthur,” Pellinore snapped and Arthur glanced down to see the Frisbee lying on the grass at his feet, where it had landed however long ago.
“He’s not even good looking,” Arthur grumbled and Pellinore raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. The next time Arthur looked at the little gaggle of girls (plus Merlin), Merlin wasn’t laughing anymore. His blue eyes were trained on Arthur. Arthur tried to pay more attention to the game at hand.
“I know this bloke taking some sport course at Loughborough,” Merlin said when Arthur let out another excruciated groan. “I can give him a bell and see if he knows what you did to yourself, if you’d like.”
Arthur glared at his hapless roommate and tested his shoulder. The pain was unbearable. He shouldn’t have let the game escalate. He didn’t have anything to prove. Really, what did it matter that a guy could throw a Frisbee the whole length of the green? And what did he have to show for it? Nothing but a bloody painful shoulder, that’s what.
“You know, not all my friends are total geeks. Will is studying sports rehab.”
Arthur snatched the ice pack from the bed table where it was leaving a little pool of condensation and possibly ruining the wood.
“Yes, I saw your ‘mates’ today. I’m sure they’re all very knowledgeable in sports.”
Merlin actually looked a little hurt. He cast one last look at Arthur before bending his head over some complicated reference manual about HP or PhD or something acronym-sounding like that. Fifteen minutes later, when Arthur was taking the icepack back off his shoulder, Merlin shifted in his seat and, without looking up, said: “You know, I’m not friends with the girls because of what’s in their knickers.”
Half of campus got food poisoning when one of the local restaurants served bad meat. At least it had seemed that way to Arthur. In reality, it was possible that only a very small portion of the students actually got sick. He wasn’t about to get close enough to any of them to check. To be completely fair, it was the distributor’s fault but it didn’t really matter when people were busy throwing up or helping their flatmates avoid throwing up in inconvenient and difficult to clean places. Arthur was spared due to his complete obedience to his father (or rather, his unwillingness to be told off for never coming home for dinner, the purpose of which completely baffled Arthur because Uther spent the entire meal on the phone yelling at his minions anyway). Morgana had come home for the night too saying it was lonely now that Gwen had gone to spend the weekend with Lance.
Merlin hadn’t skipped dinner. He hadn’t been smart enough to notice that maybe the pork was slightly off. He wasn’t spared the horrible fate.
The first thing Arthur noticed upon re-entering their room Saturday morning was that Merlin was laying prone on the bed with an empty bin perched beside him and Dr. Who playing on his computer.
“You stink,” Arthur said, upon noticing the second thing, which was that Merlin and the room smelled like vomit. Merlin just smiled shakily.
“Food poisoning,” he said and then turned back to the TV show which was currently boasting robots of some sort talking to more robots, and the Doctor being rather witty even if Arthur never wanted to admit that he understood the jokes. “I’ll try to be quiet about my total misery.”
Arthur continued to stare at Merlin who was covered in a thin sheen of sweat and looking rather pallid. He was startled when Merlin said something else. “If you think this is bad, you should have seen me when I was delusional. Apparently the noises I was making were rather adult-rated.” Merlin grinned again and then threw up in the bin. “Ug.”
Arthur seconded that ug and without saying anything turned and swept from the room. The walk to the chemist took Arthur ten minutes. The discussion with the obviously untrained girl behind the counter took fifteen more. The resulting shouting match with the actual chemist took another three minutes. The walk back took eight minutes only because he walked a little faster and that had everything to do with having things to do, and nothing to do with wanting to get back to Merlin.
When he pushed open the door to his room for the second time that night, the smell of sick was just as strong and Merlin looked just as peaky, but the transformation of his face from dejected and miserable to cautiously-happy pulled at Arthur and he had to stamp down the itty bitty swell of emotion threatening to make him actually like Merlin.
Instead of smiling at Merlin, he threw the bottle of whatever he’d coaxed out of the chemist and was satisfied when Merlin almost caught it. “The totally inept and rude chemist said that should sooth your stomach a bit,” he grumbled at Merlin’s questioning look. Then, without saying anything else, he snatched the bin (now full of ‘ug’) and carted it away into the loo to clean it up.
Besides football, uni and avoiding Merlin, there was one thing Arthur did on a regular basis. Every third Wednesday of the month, the local church played host to a sort of floating soup-kitchen type thing. Volunteers in that week’s area would set-up, prepare and serve food to the needy and then clean up again. Arthur had been participating since he was twelve. Most of the people who came to eat knew him by name now.
He was tugging on his leather gloves when Merlin walked into the room. His gaze flickered over Arthur’s fur hat (Arthur stamped down the need to point out that it was a lot colder out than it looked), his coat, and his gloves.
“You’re going out then?” Merlin said, almost hesitantly.
“Yes,” Arthur said and tugged his left glove all the way on.
“Oh,” said Merlin but he didn’t move from the doorway.
“Nothing. I just… your footie team isn’t playing tonight, and you don’t usually go out on weekday nights.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes. He meant to say he had a life outside football and uni. He meant to lie and tell Merlin he had a date, despite Merlin being right about the week night thing and despite the nine o’clock class he had the next morning. Instead he opened his mouth and what fell out was: “You know what team I support?”
Merlin was silent for a moment before he shrugged as though the little details of Arthur’s life were open for public consumption, and knowing Morgana, they were. He’d have to ask her later if she’d made another one of those horrendous ‘fan’ sites about him again. “You have a date then, yeah?”
Again, Arthur’s mouth completely disobeyed him. There was nothing wrong with having dates. Merlin went on plenty, all the time. For some reason, though, he found himself denying it and then, to his utter horror, inviting Merlin along.
Merlin, to his credit, didn’t ask too many questions. He just slipped into his coat and tugged on his ridiculous scarf – blue this time – and fell into step beside Arthur. Apparently Merlin didn’t mind vague descriptions like ‘this thing I do sometimes.’ Arthur wondered if Merlin was wont to take sweets from strangers too. He’d have to lecture him about being too trusting and possibly inviting serial killers into their room while Arthur was sleeping and (only slightly) helpless.
Merlin didn’t ask until they were walking up the wide front steps of St. Mary’s Church, and instead of the W-T-F he sometimes said – and Arthur was still trying to figure out exactly what that meant – he simply said, “Is this your church?”
Arthur shrugged. It was where he’d been baptized but he didn’t go very often. His father was kind of scary in his disbelief of anything magical or mystical or even religious. Arthur sometimes wondered why his father even had him baptized anyway. “It was my mother’s church,” he said at last, to which Merlin nodded almost sympathetically and said nothing.
Merlin practically bounced down the steps and into the bitterly cold night. “Arthur!” he exclaimed from the bottom. Arthur was still at the top and trying not to appear bemused. “Why didn’t you tell me you did this? Do you know where they host it the other Wednesdays? We should go next week too!”
Oh dear lord, what had he done.
“It’s on the other side of town,” Arthur grumbled when he’d reached Merlin. Merlin’s cheer didn’t dissipate. His eyes still sparkled and he sprung with every step.
“No matter,” he said. “There’s always the tube.” He clasped his hands together and bumped Arthur’s shoulder affectionately. “That was brilliant. I mean, I volunteer with the women’s shelter but they have me doing more administrative things. I don’t get to work with the people. This, this was so fabulous. You’ll come with me next week, right, Arthur? You really should. It’ll be just so amazing.”
Arthur stopped walking and just stared. He wasn’t sure if Merlin was expecting him to comment on everything he’d just said, or if he was expecting a response at all. He thought maybe he should say something because Merlin was looking at him with a funny expression, but before he had that chance, a young woman appeared out of nowhere and pressed along Merlin’s side.
“Merlin!” she said somewhat cheerfully and Arthur watched Merlin’s expression change from whatever it was before to something more guarded yet still outwardly friendly.
“Liz, this is my roommate Arthur,” he said and hesitated for a tiny amount of time before he threw his arm around her shoulder.
Liz was not subtle. Arthur was going to have to speak to Merlin about the loose morals of his girlfriend. Far too trusting. Also, it was sort of nerve wracking to have someone undress him with her eyes. The coy smile and the flicker of her eyelashes were not endearing.
“I’ve homework to do,” Arthur snapped when Liz offered her hand to shake, and instead of shaking it, he stomped off to the sounds of Liz asking Merlin exactly what was wedged up his arse. He didn’t hear the reply. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to.
Gwen, bless her soul, was a lot nicer than Morgana, even if it had been his step-sister he’d been looking for. “What brings you to A block?” the sweet girl asked as she moved the single article of clothing from the chair so he could sit.
“I thought Morgana might like to accompany me for dinner at Father’s tonight.”
Gwen nodded knowledgably as though she understood Arthur’s reluctance to be alone in his father’s house. There was, after all, a reason both his children had decided to live in the halls instead of commuting the three minutes to campus, every day.
“Morgana’s on a date tonight,” Gwen said. Her fingers fluttered over the dying petals of the roses on her desk. Lancelot was always full of grand gestures. Arthur wondered what it was about pointless flowers that died anyway that made girls swoon and want to crawl into bed with completely lame men. “If you need a shoulder to cry on afterward, I’ll be here, though.”
Arthur considered being mortified at the implication that he might cry. Instead he just lined up Gwen’s pens on her desk so that all the tips were in a straight line and said: “That’s ok. I think I’ll just skip it. You’re more fun than Father anyway.”
“Well, I do enjoy your company,” she said. Then, being the awkward yet charming girl she was, she turned a delicate shade of pink and started stammering. “Not that I like you or anything. I mean, I do like you, I just don’t like you. In that I already have a boyfriend and Morgana’s told me too many things about you anyway. I mean, not that these things are bad, I just….”
Arthur grinned and shifted her bin until it was perfectly square in the corner. Neither spoke for a while, content to listen to the chatter of other students in the corridor.
“I’m sorry the room is such a mess,” Gwen said finally, nodding at the two textbooks laying open on her desk and the single sock that had missed the laundry hamper and was currently spread out on the floor. It had ducks on it, little yellow ducks with even littler red rain boots and open red umbrellas.
“It’s ok,” he said absently. “Merlin’s a huge slob. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to see the floor.”
Gwen had the decency to laugh, unlike Morgana who would chide him for being cruel and a complete and utter tosser. When she finished her delicate laugh – a laugh that didn’t remind Arthur of eyes of newts, or any eyes at all for that matter – she dragged Love Actually off the shelf and stuck it in her DVD-ROM.
Arthur might have inwardly cheered a little bit when the little boy finally got the girl at the end, not that he cared or anything, but it was pretty cute. Even he could admit that.
Morgana didn’t come home. They were halfway through Clockwork Orange (which Gwen kept making disgusted faces at, and Arthur could sympathize for once. Why did Morgana have such a drab movie anyway?) when Gwen’s mobile started buzzing on the desk.
“Morgana!” she cried and then went completely white. “Morgana, I can’t understand you.” Arthur paused the movie, his heart in his throat. “You have to tell me where you are.” Pause, then: “No, we’ll come get you. Stay there. Do not unlock the door.”
Arthur had his coat on even before Gwen gave him the address.
No matter how many times he tried, Morgana would not let him inflict any more damage on Edwin.
“Last thing we need is for you to be charged with assault and battery,” she grumbled as Arthur made one last half-effort to go back up to the flat and kick the guy’s face in. “Come, just help me home.”
Gwen was a silent figure against Morgana’s other side, never once saying anything, never once faltering in her steps.
“I’m going to kill him,” Arthur said at the front steps of the hall, only to catch a glare from Gwen. He said it again as Morgana snuggled into her bed and let Gwen sneak in the teddy bear she never admitted to sleeping with. He said it once more when Gwen ushered him out of Morgana’s bedroom to the sound of Morgana sleeping.
“Technically, he didn’t do anything we can prove, and if his body ends up in a bin liner behind an abandoned factory, I’m going to have to turn you in,” Gwen told him gently, still pushing him out the door.
With an argument like that, Arthur couldn’t disagree and when the flat door clicked shut behind him, he had no choice but to wander back to his own room.
Merlin was still awake when he arrived back. That wasn’t a surprise in of itself. He hadn’t gotten out of bed until sometime after mid afternoon. What was surprising, though, was the girl perched on Arthur’s bed, making glib comments at Merlin who was ignoring her with an uncharacteristically clenched jaw.
“Sophia,” Arthur said. “Get out.”
Merlin’s head swivelled so fast Arthur could actually hear the crack in his neck. His eyes widened and his finger stayed on the ‘c’ key for entirely too long.
“Oh, love, don’t be like that,” Sophia said with as much sweetness as she always used. “Come now, you can’t be still bitter about the pool incident.”
Arthur fought the blush valiantly, even though Merlin at least had the tact to look away and probably enough class to never mention it again. Then again, maybe not. He was Merlin after all.
“I’ve had an extraordinarily horrid night,” he snapped. His fingers closed over her stupidly expensive coat that was – neatly enough – hanging on the designated guest coat hook labelled ‘guest hook’. “I had to watch Hugh Grant attempt to dance and then I didn’t even get to see the end of Clockwork Orange because some idiot thought it would be fun to give Morgana rohypnol, even though he failed fantastically at it. So if you don’t mind, get. Out.”
Sophia wouldn’t be who she was if she wasn’t a spoilt, stubborn brat. Not only did she refuse to get out, she sprawled all over Arthur’s bed, putting her shoes all over his comforter and generally mussing up his sheets. She grinned cheekily as she slithered into the bed and wiggled around until her trousers dropped out the side. Arthur blanched. So did Merlin.
“Sophia,” Arthur said, through the horror of what was actually happening. Sophia was not only in his bed, but trouserless. Oh, and shirtless now too. She was wiggling some more and Arthur didn’t want to know if her knickers or her bra would be the next to fall. Luckily for him, not only was Merlin a complete slob, he was a meddling slob. One second Sophia was grinning triumphantly in Arthur’s bed. The next she was being bundled and pushed off the bed, all wrapped in Arthur’s sheets with her clothing close behind her. Arthur didn’t see what happened after that. All he knew was that Merlin’s footsteps and Sophia’s shrieks were disappearing into the bathroom and then about ten minutes later, Merlin came back carrying Arthur’s sheets but also very alone.
“She wails like a Banshee,” Merlin said taking the time to dress Arthur’s bed properly – actually tucking the sheets in at the foot like he liked them. He grinned a weird sort of grin the whole time. It didn’t really suit him, whatever this look was, but Arthur had to admit it did bring out the blue of his eyes.
“I almost shagged her once. Worse mistake of my life.”
Merlin laughed. “Yes, because it’s always a mistake when a girl spontaneously undresses in one’s bed.”
Arthur was not amused, which he told Merlin. Merlin laughed again and deleted his row of ‘c’s that was still taking up an entire line on his computer. “Arthur, I’m beginning to think you’re completely humourless as well as being a prat.”
“I’ll have you know she tried to drown me.”
“Was that before or after you almost shagged her?”
Instead of answering, Arthur went to bed. He couldn’t, however, forget that Sophia had been almost naked in the same sheets. And he couldn’t stop the image of her from morphing tragically and horrifically into Merlin. It was a good thing Arthur did not believe in the psychoanalysis of dreams. When he woke up later – stupid dreams making him restless – Merlin’s computer was off, but he wasn’t in bed. He was on his bed, but he was sitting on the edge, with his knuckles in his mouth and his shadowed and invisible eyes fixed somewhere in Arthur’s direction.
Arthur’s new dreams involved Merlin watching as Arthur half tussled with and half shagged Sophia. When he woke up, Merlin was finally sleeping and Arthur had a sick guilty feeling in his throat.
“I’ve a magic meeting, Arthur. Just like every Tuesday. You know this,” Morgana said loftily when Arthur begged her to please please come home for dinner that night.
“How important can a crummy magic meeting possibly be?” Arthur grumped. Morgana lifted her eyebrow and peered down her nose at him.
“More important than being bellowed at by Uther. Why don’t you ask Merlin to come with you? Isn’t he prone to accepting spontaneous invites? Except tonight’s probably not a very good night for him, actually.”
Arthur snorted. Merlin. Like that would go any distance to smooth things over. Not only would Father now know he skived off a business degree for a social science (“a soft science, no less!” Uther Pendragon had roared with all his might) but Father would think Arthur took to regularly hanging out with clumsy, sloppy, geeky womanizers who didn’t even know what table manners were. He did not need that kind of pressure.
“You’re still in the anti-Merlin camp, then?” Morgana asked and paused over her purse. “You know, you should give him a chance. He’s actually quite nice.”
Arthur had to begrudgingly agree. Despite Arthur’s constant degrading of Merlin’s habits, despite Arthur’s renewed insistence that Merlin not clack on his keyboard past one o’clock on a night when Arthur had to be up the next morning, despite…wait, what?
“You’ve met Merlin?”
The eye roll he received was worse than any of her sighs. “Yes, Arthur,” she said. “I’ve met Merlin. We’ve actually gotten to be quite good friends.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes. This sounded suspicious and with Merlin’s apparent track record with women and his steady stream of dates Arthur felt he needed to step in and save the day, or at least mention the possible risk of a broken heart. For all his efforts, though, Morgana actually laughed at him.
“Arthur, you twat. Merlin is not a womanizer and I am in no danger of being seduced by him, let alone having my heart broken, I assure you.”
Arthur just made a noise in his throat that could be interpreted as non-committal, or possibly a growl, depending on how perceptive one was. Clearly, Morgana was not perceptive.
“By the way Arthur, I’ve been meaning to ask.” She looked up from her purse, obviously giving up on the search for whatever it was she was looking for. “Did you tell Merlin about what happened with Edwin? It’s just, he phoned me Saturday morning and asked if I was alright.”
Life was not fair. Arthur glared. “I was cross and he was in the room when I got back. I might have mentioned it in front of him.”
Morgana patted him on the cheek and grinned. “Alright then, Arthur,” she said. She was halfway down the hall before Arthur even realized she’d left and when he followed her out, she paused only to turn around and call: “I’ll ask Merlin for dinner on Friday evening, yeah?”
Life really was not fair.
At the very least, Morgana brought Gwen along for dinner too. Uther glared at the two guests his children had brought along but said nothing that could be interpreted as outwardly rude. He also didn’t mention Arthur’s lack of ‘proper’ educational choices, which was a bonus as far as Arthur was concerned. Perhaps it was Uther’s lack of general politeness that made Merlin say he thought Uther hated him. It could also have been the fact that Uther tried his best to ignore him all evening.
“Oh, he hates everyone,” Morgana said later still as they all sat in Uther’s newly converted home theatre. “See, he’s so glad to get rid of Arthur, he even renovated his bedroom.”
Merlin’s eyes caught on Arthur and widened as understanding hit him. “This used to be your bedroom?”
Arthur just shrugged and took a mouthful of beer. Father could afford to never stock the bad stuff, and wasn’t above spoiling his children in that respect; and for that Arthur was glad, since he thought he might need a lot to finish out the evening. “I don’t plan on ever moving back in,” he said at last.
Gwen shook her head, letting her curls bounce a little. “I still think that’s horrid. You’re his son, Arthur.”
“Yes, well, his company owns the residence hall I live in, the university only leases it from him, so as far as he’s concerned I still live at home.”
“And besides,” Morgana said with that evil smirk of hers. “The maids don’t come and touch your stuff when it’s at uni.”
Arthur paled. Of course Morgana would bring that up. Of course Morgana would have to mention the one thing he never wanted anyone to know. Well, one of the things. There were others but he wasn’t going to dwell. It was unbecoming. Obviously, Gwen and Merlin would have to have curiosity gleaming in their eyes at Morgana’s little hint, so she had to be a good hostess and tell them.
Gwen snickered a little at the part about the pyjamas being folded the wrong way and Morgana had to take a calming breath before she continued about the pencil jar being moved a foot to the left. Merlin did not laugh at the description of Arthur’s consequent freak out. Instead he dipped his head and refused to meet anyone eyes as he spoke, softly yet very commanding.
“Morgana, that’s cruel.”
Everyone froze. Arthur felt slightly drugged. Maybe he’d drunk more than he’d realized.
“We shouldn’t be laughing at him for that. He’ll need understanding not ridicule if he ever wants to get over it.”
Arthur didn’t thank him until they were lying in bed and the campus was slowly settling down for the night.
“Well, you know,” Merlin said lightly and turned out the light.
Arthur made a detour on his way home from class, and ended up having dinner with Morgana, Gwen, and Lance, who was visiting Gwen for the weekend. Because of this, he was rather late returning to the halls that evening. He would have been later, but Lance was so irritatingly earnest sometimes and Arthur was feeling slightly awkward in the presence of such intense adoration. In any case, it was well after six when he stepped through his door and when he did, he wished he had stayed back with Earnest Lance and Cooing Gwen (and Stern Morgana).
Merlin was wearing tights. White tights. And a green tunic type thing, and a green pointy elf hat. He was also possibly wearing fake ears, but Arthur was too busy staring at the rest of the outfit to even comprehend that Merlin was trying to strap something on his back.
“A little help?”
Arthur’s feet stuttered into motion and he found himself holding the brown straps of what appeared to be the sheath of a sword. If the sword actually came out, they were all in trouble. Arthur didn’t think getting his head chopped off was an appropriate accident to go to hospital with.
“Merlin? What are you…?”
The only answer he got was a cheeky grin and the presentation of Merlin’s back.
“Just hold it against my back while I fasten the buckles, please?”
Arthur did as he was asked but he was still trying to figure out what was going on when Merlin bent at the waist and slipped his feet into a pair of knee-high brown boots. Arthur blushed and averted his eyes. Really, those ridiculous tights left nothing to the imagination.
“Link,” Merlin said, straightening finally.
“I beg your pardon?”
Merlin smiled and motioned at himself. “You asked. I’m dressed as Link.”
Arthur blinked. “Link?”
This time Merlin laughed. “It’s a theme party. Hero costumes are optional but its fun anyway, yeah?” Merlin kicked at a pair of crumpled jeans and a jumper that were lying on the floor – the remains of what must have been his regular outfit for the day. “Liz – you met her – is having a party. You’re welcome to come.”
Arthur was halfway between having snatched Merlin’s slightly worn jeans from the floor and folding them neatly when the words sunk in. Liz, that was the girl who was rather obvious and un-stealth-like about her affections.
Your girlfriend’s a hussy, he wanted to say. Then he almost said: why would I go to a stupid party with you? Instead, when he opened his mouth he ended up saying “I have nothing to wear.”
It turned out Merlin’s enthusiasm for inappropriate dressing up wasn’t contained to his own person. In less than a quarter hour, Arthur was crammed into one of his own suits and decorated with Merlin’s black tie.
“You really don’t have any plain black neck ties?”
“No, Merlin. If I said I don’t, then I don’t.”
“You’ll just have to wear mine,” Merlin had said and then Arthur had found himself with Merlin’s warm hands at his collar.
Ten minutes after that, and after Merlin had sorted through his ‘underwear’ drawer for his dark sunglasses, Arthur found himself being dragged down the corridor toward a party that he didn’t really want to go to in the first place.
“I didn’t even want to come,” Arthur said, when Morgana cornered him sometime around midnight. “What are you even doing here?”
Morgana was dressed up, surprisingly, like a ninja. Somewhere that was not near Arthur, Gwen was dressed like the good witch from Wizard of Oz. Lance was a knight – High King Peter from the Chronicles of Narnia books. It suited him. Although there were some times when Arthur just wanted to punch him in the neck for being just too valiant. For some reason, Morgana did not think a Man in Black was a suitable hero costume.
“Who doesn’t have a costume ready for Halloween?” Morgana shot back and poked at his tie. “That’s not even yours. Arthur, you’re hopeless.” She swayed a little on the last word and Arthur glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. Luckily for her dignity, everyone was busy getting as pissed as they possibly could. Merlin was, as usual, surrounded by at least four girls. He was not getting drunk. In fact, Merlin had only had one shot all night. Arthur had watched him very closely.
Morgana was opening her mouth again, possibly to chastise him although it was more likely she was going to vomit, when Liz appeared at her side, wearing a rather tiny Wonder Woman outfit and chattering happily about something or other. Her words were lost in a tangle of drunken slurs and Arthur’s embarrassing yelp when her tiny hands found his backside.
Liz laughed and squeezed again and said something about Arthur being too damn pretty for his own damn good and Merlin not sharing the wealth. Morgana swayed again, but when her voice clipped above the music pounding in their ears, it was absolutely acidic.
Whatever she said (it had been lost to Arthur) made Liz turn a brilliant shade of red. Before Arthur managed to even be adequately confused Morgana was turned back to him and poked him in the chest again. “You’d think Merlin could at least come up with a suitable glamour, at least,” she said. “I’ll ask him. Merlin!”
He hadn’t even wanted to come, he tried to explain again when Morgana grabbed his hand and weaved somewhat less than elegantly across the floor. “I have to be up early tomorrow,” he lied when Morgana tripped on nothing and he had to right her. Morgana glared at him and he hushed himself.
“Merlin, glamour, now!”
Merlin’s eyes were blue, so blue, in the orange glow of stupid Halloween lights. His face was wet from the ridiculous and marginally childish bobbing for apples game (that was probably supposed to be sexy but failed) going on and one of the girls was wiping away the water with her fingers.
Arthur watched as the girl leaned up and kissed Merlin’s cheek before wandering, or rather, wobbling off, to land in the lap of some other guy dressed as Harry Potter. Arthur scanned the room for Liz and wondered is maybe she wasn’t Merlin’s girlfriend after all. He would have contemplated this thought and its implications a bit further but Morgana lurched forward. Right after another garbled demand for a glamour and right before a pitiful moan, Morgana was sick in the apple barrel.
On the bright side, Arthur had an excuse to leave the wretched party. On the downside, Merlin looked like someone had kicked his puppy. Twice.
Morgana, Arthur decided, was a lousy drunk. She clung and whined and made no sense what-so-ever. It took him, together with Merlin, fifteen minutes to get her back to her room, and that was after all three of them had banged their shins at least once on unseen obstacles. It took another twenty minutes for her to struggle out of her costume to the repeated refrain of “don’t look, don’t look!”
By the time they’d finally left her tucked up in bed and sleeping with her teddy, they both decided maybe just going to bed would be a wiser course of action than returning to the party.
“What did she mean?” Arthur asked as they wound through the surprisingly empty corridors to their room.
“Hm?” was Merlin’s answer, and when Arthur looked at him, he still looked a little sad, a little disappointed.
“When Morgana was demanding a glamour, what did she mean?”
They rounded a corner. A group of older students dressed as Vikings stumbled past, two of them madly snogging and barely staying upright as a reward. Merlin waited for their giggles to fade into the background. “I’m not sure. Your sister’s a mystery.”
“Step-sister,” Arthur said. They paused outside their room. Merlin had the key tucked inside his belt and Arthur turned to look elsewhere when Merlin pulled the tunic tight against his chest to pull it out. “But, I mean,” he said when the lock clicked open. “What’s a glamour?”
Once inside, Merlin turned his back and it took Arthur a slightly alcohol-induced second to realise Merlin was asking him to help with the sword.
“It’s a spell that makes people think they’re seeing something they’re not,” he said and kicked off his boots with a pair of thumps on the opposite wall. His belt was next. The hat landed on Arthur’s alarm clock.
Merlin dropped onto the bed and wormed his way into the blankets. The affirming answer was muffled and sleepy when it came, and it was only then that Arthur realized he was still fully clothed.
“You mean you honestly didn’t know?” Merlin sounded shocked. His hand hovered over the pages of the book as though he was afraid Arthur would suddenly judge him. Arthur already had judged him (and mostly found him annoying and distressingly friendly). “I mean, how did you think I knew Morgana?”
Generally annoying people hung out together, didn’t they? Arthur was about to say he had no idea how they knew each other – even though insulting them was rude – when the question finally sunk in. He stopped flipping the football into the air and sat up so hard the ball rolled away from him and bounced under the desk.
“You know her from magic club?!”
Merlin raised his eyebrow a lot. It was a look Arthur had come to recognize as incredulous. He had decided long ago to stop being offended by Merlin and simply laugh at his facial expressions. Unfortunately that plan never seemed to work. This time when he raised his eyebrow, Arthur actually understood the full power of it.
“Oh,” Arthur said.
Merlin sighed, long and exasperated as though he was the one dealing with an idiot (he might well be, but that didn’t mean Arthur didn’t have to deal with his own idiot daily as well).
“I thought you knew,” he said. The book snapped shut with a dull thud and Arthur almost didn’t want to hear what Merlin might say after that. “Is this going to make things weird?”
Arthur snorted. As if living with Merlin had ever not been weird. If finding his dirty clothes all over the floor, and crisp crumbs on Arthur’s bed, and that one time something that suspiciously looked like some sort of eye-shadow powder crushed into the carpet, hadn’t already sent him running, a little magic wasn’t going to deter him.
“You’re not into all the fortune telling crap, too?” is what Arthur said at last. Merlin’s face broke out in a happy smile as he tried to explain to Arthur that it was actually called divination, and that it was a very sound yet complicated art, and that no, he focused more on incantations although he concocted the occasional potion if the situation called for it.
“So you’re like Willow then?”
Merlin stared at Arthur blankly for a long moment.
Arthur shifted uncomfortably and wished he still had the football to play with. At least his hands wouldn’t be fidgeting uselessly in his lap. “Er, you know, Willow from Buffy? The vampire show?”
Instead of elaborating on his magic by confirming (or not) Arthur’s question, Merlin smirked. “You know, your dad kind of looks a little like…”
“Ug, I know,” Arthur said and when he looked into Merlin’s eyes, the mirth shone unguarded.
Neuroscience sucked all the will to live right out of Arthur and before he knew it, he was staying up as late as Merlin just so he could try to cram all those Latinized names into his memory – not an image he needed, dear Lord, after the lesson on drugs and the brain. Merlin glanced at him over their pile of nutritionally-empty snacks and threw a pretzel at him.
“Oi!” Arthur yelped, scrambling to brush the crumbs off his bed. Merlin just laughed.
“You’re muttering again,” he said casually and popped a crisp in his mouth.
They didn’t speak again until sometime after midnight when a very pissed Owain appeared at the door carrying an additional case of beer in his hand.
“I’m sorry, Merlin,” Arthur said as Owain spun himself sick on Merlin’s desk chair – which yes, was actually quite fun, really. Well, the spinning part, not the sick part.
“It’s alright,” Merlin assured him later in the laundry room, as he shoved Owain’s vomit covered clothes in the wash.
“No, really,” Arthur said as he added the pile of Merlin’s clothes that hadn’t been spared the mess of Owain’s binge drinking aftermath. “I’m sorry.”
Merlin’s hand paused on Arthur’s shoulder. He clenched his fingers once, sending little shockwaves down Arthur’s spine. “What’s life without a few unexpected twists and turns, eh?”
“You don’t happen to know a spell…?”
“Really, because it would make it easier…”
“I said no, Arthur.”
Arthur sulked. He was never going to remember all the stupid parts of the brain, never.
“Are you sure?”
Merlin threw his pillow at Arthur. Arthur stopped asking.
“You never hang out with us anymore.” That was Pellinore. Owain was nodding fervently beside him, earnest and full of poorly concealed concern. Arthur leaned sideways so he could see past them and out the door, where Merlin hovered awkwardly.
His stomach twisted a little when Merlin’s eyes flickered between Arthur’s friends and then Arthur himself. He made a little motion with his head, which Arthur took to mean ‘I’ll be getting out of your hair for a while so you can have your private discussion with your very frightening friends because I’m just that awesome of a roommate.’ What it probably meant was ‘I’m going to shag some random girl for a while.’ Arthur preferred his own interpretation. He did not need the mental images of Merlin doing increasingly inappropriate things in the tiny campus beds.
“See?” That time it was Owain. “You don’t even pay attention to us anymore.”
“We’re not trying to be girls or anything.” Pellinore again.
“But if this is some sort of OCD crisis, you gotta let us know mate.” Arthur waited until Owain stopped talking and then waited some more so that he could fully understand what they were implying.
“Are you implying I’m mental?” The door was still open but Merlin-less. Arthur felt strangely empty. “I’m fine. Just busy.”
“Yes, but I bumped into Morgana and she said you’re not busy!”
Arthur glared. Morgana was not made of win, no matter how many times Merlin said it, and really, what does that even mean? Morgana was made of mischievous fairy sprites. She was made of evil pixie pranksters. She was not winning anything except maybe the award for world’s worst sibling.
“Ok, we’ll go out tonight then,” he said abruptly and only had a moment to enjoy their shocked faces before they both started nattering at him all over again.
“But it’s Thursday!”
“And you have class tomorrow!”
“You won’t get to bed on time!”
“Arthur, are you ill?”
“Sorry mate, but I forgot my books.” The last came from Merlin, who was once again standing timidly by the door. “I’ll just be a quick moment…”
If Merlin had known he was about to be roped into eating horrid food and going to a horrid movie and then wandering around the horridly cold streets for hours, he probably would have forgone the books and actually gone for a shag instead of a study. As it was, however, Arthur just grinned and possibly smirked and said: “You fellows have met Merlin, haven’t you? He’s coming with us.”
The food wasn’t as bad as he had expected. The other two dug in with gusto, elbowing each other and laughing too loudly, as though trying to drag Arthur into the merry-making. They had cast nervous glances at Merlin at first but when it became clear that they weren’t going to get an answer out of him that didn’t involve video games or Lord of the Rings, they left him to his own devices and focused on Arthur.
“Do you not like it?” Arthur asked when Merlin poked at his dinner, cautiously and with a slightly disgusted expression on his face.
“What? Oh, no. I just think I saw it moving. The meat here is generally served dead, right?”
Pellinore exchanged a look with Owain. Arthur felt a flare of protectiveness heat his belly that only got worse when he realised Merlin didn’t know he was being silently mocked. He elbowed Owain, who let out an undignified squawk.
“We can order you something else,” Arthur suggested over the bizarre urge to brain his friends with neighbouring table’s champagne bucket.
Merlin’s smile was innocent and honest and totally trusting when he turned it on Arthur. “No, it’s alright. I’ll just share yours.” If Arthur heard the muffled snort from one of his friends, he ignored it.
Pellinore and Owain refused to warm up to Merlin. They shot him confused glances, and nudged each other every time he said something odd. Granted, he did go on an entire tangent about some encryption thing. Arthur had thought Merlin was talking about the plot of a movie until Owain made the same assumption and Merlin politely corrected him. Arthur wanted to kick his shins and make him stop talking. He wanted his friends to stop looking at Merlin like that. In the end, he just made sure he was seated in the middle during the movie, and fended off any snide remark directed Merlin’s way. Instead of getting an intervention from his friends, he ended up doing the intervening. It lacked fun.
It wasn’t until they were walking through the crowded pub district later that Arthur discovered Merlin had one trick tucked away.
They had run into a couple of blokes from their football team from over the summer and were chatting outside a rather crowded bar when it happened. One moment Merlin was hanging back and staring at everything with a cross between wide eyed amusement and an obvious desire to be elsewhere. The next moment he was gone. Arthur stopped mid-sentence.
Arthur was halfway through asking “Where the hell did Merlin go?” and was going to tack on a dire threat of bodily harm if they had purposely lost him, when he spotted the familiar tangle of black hair in a circle of girls. His head was thrown back, exposing his throat, in the laugh that made Arthur feel a little drunk. He had his arm looped over the shoulders of a blonde, had a ginger pressed against his side and – Arthur noticed – a girl with huge fake eyelashes had taken Merlin’s coat and was currently wrapped in it.
He wanted to shout at him for wandering off. He was going to, but Merlin chose that moment to glance over. Their eyes met and in the next smile, Arthur found himself drawn into a group of fawning girls. Liz was there and although she kept her distance, the other girls crowded round.
“Oh Merlin, is this your roommate?” one cooed – the ginger.
“He’s gorgeous,” he heard one say, and another agreed and asked if he was single.
Merlin laughed. “Sorry mate, did I worry you?”
Arthur tried to answer. He tried to snipe at him for possibly getting himself lost and maybe even murdered by jealous guys who didn’t appreciate their girlfriends being stolen. Instead, he just caught Merlin’s grin and returned it while his own friends came trickling over to join them.
Pellinore snagged a couple of phone numbers from Merlin’s circle of girls. Owain managed to set up a date for Saturday night. Neither of them disliked Merlin anymore. In fact, they started referring to him as the Great MGG, otherwise known as the ‘Great and Mighty Girl Guru’.
Morgana liked the Killers. Why, Arthur did not know. It was probably part of her rebellion, the kind that didn’t really make her all that bad in anyone else’s opinion, but made Uther see red. But that wasn’t the point. The point was, Morgana had the same five songs on repeat, and Arthur wanted to meet the lead singer just so he could shove a dirty sock in his mouth and possibly sew his lips shut afterward so he couldn’t spit it back out. He was tired of cryptic lyrics and singing that was more shouting than real singing, and Morgana dancing along – badly – to the same five songs.
“You’re the one hiding,” she said and gave him a pointed look when he tried to complain. To be fair, he was hiding, but that was beside the point. She was the one who offered up her room when Liz invited herself over for a homework session with Merlin. And even though she had been friendly and painfully obvious about not checking out either Merlin or Arthur, Arthur had decided he needed to be elsewhere until she left – which seemed like it would be sometime next month.
“Put your earphones in,” Gwen suggested when Arthur groaned and stuffed his head under her pillow. She spun her pen in her fingers and studied him from where she on the floor by Morgana’s desk. “You okay Arthur?”
“Um,” he said and glared at Morgana who was singing and rewriting class-notes all at the same time and how did she do that anyway? “I’m fine?”
Gwen didn’t accept it, or at least she didn’t want to. She stared him down for a while with soft brown eyes and a gentle curve of her mouth that was ready to pull into a smile or fall into a sympathetic frown at a moment’s notice. Arthur didn’t give. He just stared evenly back at her until she nodded once, just a quick jerk of her head down then up, and went back to her homework.
The song that was less yelling and somewhat pleasant the first sixteen times it was played (it lost its appeal after seventeen times and became downright obnoxious after thirty) came back on and Arthur did not want to know the lyrics, he didn’t, but he couldn’t help it. “Maybe I should just go back,” he said during the bridge. “I mean, maybe she’s left and he forgot to ring me?”
Morgana shrugged and grinned and didn’t really answer. Gwen twitched the corner of her mouth. “Maybe.”
Liz was still there. “Oh, sorry,” Arthur said when two heads glanced up at his arrival. “I was just, er.” He couldn’t think of an excuse.
Merlin saved him with a dopy grin and a slight toss of his head to shake his fringe to the side a little. “It’s fine Arthur. We’re just chatting now.”
“Oh,” he said again. “Okay.”
“Did you have fun with Morgana?” Merlin shuffled his fingers along the desk, picked up his pencil and tapped it a few times before dropping it beside his keyboard. Liz tucked her feet into Merlin’s sheets and leaned against his pillow, waiting for Arthur’s response.
“I,” he said. “It was…yeah. I guess.” He looked down at his trainers and wished the laces were untied so he would have an excuse to crouch down, to curl into a ball and go back to hiding.
“She still listening to the Killers?”
Arthur snapped his head up and met Merlin’s amused gaze. He laughed when he saw Arthur’s expression. “I take that as a yes. No wonder you came back early. L-O-L mate.”
Liz left before a quarter hour passed, leaving Merlin’s bed rumpled in an unfamiliar way, and an awkward silence in the room. Arthur sat gingerly on his own bed, leaning against the wall, and watched Merlin read for a while. His eyelids were growing heavy and he was vaguely contemplating sliding into a lying position when Merlin’s voice cut through the silence – loud and sudden.
“I’m going to hack into Morgana’s computer and delete all her Killers songs.”
Arthur blinked. In the space between closing his eyes and opening them again, Merlin had turned in his chair to grin cheekily at Arthur. “It’s your job to steal her CDs so she can’t just rip them all back on.”
Arthur was going to point out that she could just illegally download them again, but she would never do that anyway – not out of moral obligation, but because it was so petty and uncouth. He was also about to tell Merlin to sod off – he wasn’t going to risk Morgana’s vengeance over a few, admittedly painful, songs. Instead of voicing either thought, though, he let his eyes drift closed. He dreamed of being a jewel thief and breaking into Morgana’s campus room to steal her diamond that was shaped like marionette puppet. Merlin played the role of his technically savvy yet hopelessly clumsy partner. The black jewel thief outfit was maybe a little flattering on his lanky figure.
Morgana might have been upset by the sudden disappearance of her beloved songs but she was more than recovered by the weekend. When Arthur went to laze around on her bed for a while he made it as far as the threshold of her door before hightailing it back to his room. He might have been able to handle Mr. Brightside every twenty minutes but Dani California on repeat might just kill him.
He thought he caught a glimpse of Morgana’s smirk as he was fleeing. It was probable.
Arthur thought he was long past due for a haircut and he honestly didn’t know how it happened. His fringe kept falling irritatingly in his eyes and he was beginning to feel the soft rubbing of hair on the back of his neck – too far down to be comfortable. The only solution to this problem, then, was to go to the barber and have his ‘usual, only shorter’ cut. The barber raised his eyebrow as though saying ‘you’re late by an entire week, Arthur. Where have you been?’ but of course, the man said nothing and Arthur left little piles of his newly cut hair on the floor and a thick wad of notes in the barber’s hands.
It was a nice feeling – a fresh haircut. The wind brushed his neck and the tops of his ears felt chilled but free. All in all, he was feeling quite pleased with himself. He was practically giddy by the time he closed his door behind him. Throwing Cascada into his CD player, he tossed his head back. He whooped softly when his hair only moved marginally – no longer long enough to flop around so much. He did it again, then bent his head and whipped his head around rockstar style (what? Didn’t everyone test their hair that way after a haircut?). Arthur was mid-dance move when Merlin walked into the room and promptly dropped everything on the floor.
“We have tables for that,” Arthur pointed out and tried his very best to pretend Merlin hadn’t caught him doing something mildly (extremely) mortifying.
“Your hair!” Merlin said, toeing his books across the floor towards his own bed and leaving his scattered pencils where Arthur would undoubtedly step on them later. “You cut it.”
Arthur raised his eye brow at Merlin’s selective attention, or possibly his good grace not to mention anything. “Yes, unlike my sister’s Barbie dolls, when one is a living human one needs to maintain one’s hair.”
Merlin continued to look slightly shocked and Arthur was beginning to wonder if by missing his regular monthly cut, he had inadvertently ticked off his barber, thus earning himself a revenge coif. With what must of have looked like horror, he reached up to pat his hair, which he hadn’t bothered checking before leaving the barber.
Merlin crossed the floor hastily and closed his hand over Arthur’s, and Arthur tried not to catch sight of themselves reflected back in the mirror – too close together, too intimate.
“No, it’s…” Merlin said. He shrugged and dropped his hand. The absence of his heat when he moved away stirred the suddenly frigid air against Arthur’s skin and Arthur almost stepped back into him. “It looks nice.”
Merlin barked out a laugh. Raising an eyebrow teasingly at Arthur, he dropped into his chair and spun until he was facing his computer. “Would you rather I told you it looked horrid?” It didn’t sound mean or cruel, and when Merlin tipped his head in Arthur’s direction once again, his lips were curled in a small smile.
“Bloody useless,” Arthur grumbled.
“Can’t you feel my heart beat fast?” sang Cascada from Arthur’s speakers.
Sent: 1 December 2008, 5:23:05 PM
Subject: Arthur you will love this
you need to see this hilarious video. you"ll love it I swear. omg. just watch it.
“All those who live must some day die. It is our fate”
Sent: 1 December 2008, 5:25:38 PM
Subject: Re: Arthur you will love this
All Scottish food is based on a dare
Sent: 1 December 2008, 5:26:59 PM
Subject: Re: Arthur you will love this
lol, Arthur. your music is ftw. you know that right
“All those who live must some day die. It is our fate”
Sent: 1 December 2008, 5:28:01 PM
Subject: Re: Arthur you will love this
I do not know what “ftw” means, but my music is most certainly not.
All Scottish food is based on a dare
“It means ‘for the win’.”
Arthur glanced up from his computer screen to see Merlin grinning cheekily at him. If he’d wondered why Merlin was sending him an email instead of calling him over to just watch the stupid video on his computer, he would have been a little forewarned when Every Time We Touch blared from his speakers. Instead, Arthur had gone complacent in light of the upcoming Christmas break and hadn’t bothered to question it.
“For the win?”
Merlin’s grin softened to something a little more gentle. “It’s geek speak for something really awesome.” He tapped his thumb against his spacebar without really pressing down. “It’s a good thing, Arthur. I’m not making fun of you.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes at Merlin until Merlin put his hands up, palm out and laughed lightly as he surrendered. Arthur nodded and clicked on new message in his inbox. He laughed a few minutes later when Rick Astley came bubbling from Merlin’s computer speakers. Merlin laughed with him. Maybe Cascada was a little mortifying but maybe Merlin really was just teasing.
Arthur may have been caught flipping his hair to the beat of Cascada, but it was nothing compared to when he walked in and Merlin was wiggling his arse to Girls Aloud. Fortunately for Arthur, Merlin didn’t notice him standing in the doorway for an entire verse. Unfortunately for Arthur, Merlin seemed unfazed when they finally locked gazes. Instead of going a delicate shade of pink – Arthur’s preferred imaginary blush for Merlin, don’t even ask, okay? – Merlin grinned, jiggled his hips once more in a slightly uncoordinated attempt at dancing and then flopped onto his bed with a huge sigh.
“Wasn’t expecting you back just yet,” he said to the ceiling while Arthur unzipped his coat and lined his shoes up against the wall by the door. He toed at Merlin’s until they were at least upright but didn’t bother matching them up in their pairs. Merlin would just skew them again anyway.
“Tutorial ended early,” Arthur said.
Merlin nodded. His eyes were closed and if it weren’t for his rapidly rising and falling chest, Arthur might think he was sleeping.
“Man, I need more exercise,” he finally laughed and turned his head to stare right at Arthur. “I should not be tired after half a CD.”
“You can always work out with me.”
Arthur hadn’t known what he was going to say until after the offer had fallen out of his mouth. It was too late to call it back and he nearly panicked when he saw Merlin considering it seriously. “You’ll go easy on a work-out noob?” Merlin finally asked, and that’s how Arthur ended up with a workout buddy who could hardly lift a kilo.
Saying Merlin could lift a kilo was being generous.
To his credit, Merlin did get better faster. He still preferred the treadmill, though, so Arthur found more and more of his time doing aerobic activities instead of weight training. It was more relaxing anyway, jogging silently along-side Merlin, listening to their synchronized breaths and the matching pound of their feet against the conveyer belts.
Arthur enjoys long walks on the beach (except that he has issues with sand, and he’s a little afraid of fish – don’t ask). He does enjoy a romantic picnic as long as it’s set up in his father’s sunroom and not actually outdoors. He’s an avid footballer and fancies himself quite good. (click HERE to see him play. He’s number 1).
Arthur is studious and tidy and actually enjoys a nice night of fine dining and classical music performances. He is interested in someone with a sense of humour and a desire to try new things. He is seeking something more substantial than a one night stand. Please, only serious responses please.
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“So, indoor picnics?”
Arthur glowered behind the heat of his blush. That stupid London’s Bachelor’s site Morgana had submitted his name to had spammed his inbox enough that he’d had to ask Merlin to hack into the account Morgana set up and turn off the notification feature. Of course, Merlin only agreed to it if Arthur let him read the biography Morgana had written.
“I’ve had one indoor picnic and I was eight years old at the time.”
Merlin nodded knowledgeably and paused his fingers over the keyboard.
“You know, I could just delete your entire profile, if you want.”
Arthur shook his head. “No, Morgana would kill both of us.”
Merlin nodded and exited the browser window.
“Is any of it true then?” Merlin rolled his chair back over to his own computer and typed a few rows of what looked a lot like gobbledegook to Arthur. When Arthur didn’t answer right away, Merlin turned around and tipped his head. Arthur refused to admit Merlin looked a little like an adorable puppy. “Any of it at all?”
Arthur tried not to blush again, but the thing about embarrassment is that it did what it wanted, regardless of any dignity Arthur might want.
“The fish thing might be a little true,” he said at his toes. “And maybe the sand thing. And you know, picnics are kind of nice.”
Arthur waited for Merlin to make fun of him. When it didn’t happen, he peaked out from under his fringe and saw Merlin still looking at him with his stupid, annoyingly cute puppy face. Their eyes met and Merlin smiled gently before quickly turning it into a smirk. He twisted in his seat and began typing again before finally saying: “We’ll have to try that indoor picnic thing sometime. I’ve never done that before.”
Uther glared at Arthur over the top of his wine glass. Arthur twitched in his seat and wondered why Morgana didn’t have to come to each of these family dinners. Admittedly, they’d become less family dinners and more ‘glare at Arthur and ignore Merlin’ dinners since Arthur had begun dragging Merlin along more frequently.
“Er, pass the butter please? Sir?”
Uther continued to glare at Arthur but did push the butter a little in Merlin’s direction. It wasn’t close enough and Arthur felt Merlin tense and hesitate beside him.
“I updated my financial portfolio,” Arthur offered and nudged the butter a little closer to Merlin who tugged it the rest of the way toward himself. Uther raised his eyebrows a little before letting them fall back into a glower. “My financial advisor says it’s a strong, er, selection?”
Uther hummed his almost-approval and went to accept the phone from the butler who had answered it a minute earlier.
The moment he was out of the room, Merlin exhaled and crumpled toward the table.
“If that man were capable with murdering with his lack of glare, I’d be so dead right now.”
Arthur laughed tightly and nudged Merlin in the ribs. He’d been looking a little miserable lately and not his usually impermeable self. Arthur maybe felt a little bad about dragging him home for dinner twice this week.
“That man is my father, and he is capable of murdering with his lack of glare.”
Merlin raised his head enough that his eyes peaked over the fold of his arm. “That so?”
“Yes. In fact, he’s done away with several unfortunate men whom I can’t name or else I’ll have to kill you too, although I’d be forced to do so with my hands because I haven’t mastered the glare-lacking technique yet.”
Even though he couldn’t see Merlin’s mouth, he saw the grin slide into his eyes and grinned back, stupidly, until Uther swept back into the room and picked up his glare/ ignore routine right where he had left off.
“Most horrible date?”
Merlin shifted on the leather couch of Uther’s home theatre/Arthur’s previous bedroom which made a little noise as it rubbed against the exposed skin between his shirt and the waist of his jeans. The video game made loud exploding noises and Merlin proceeded to beat the crap out of whichever unfortunate cyber geek was stupid enough to play against him.
“My godfather’s niece. She dressed me up in her princess clothes, and painted my nails and made me play the mommy of her dolls. We were six.”
Arthur giggled even though he wasn’t even the slightest bit drunk. His beer was still mostly full except for the few sips he’d taken. Still, a heady, happy feeling had washed over him and he twisted his head lethargically just in time to watch Merlin’s smile fade into a contemplative mask as his thumbs flicked over the controller and another enemy ship got blown up.
“Your turn,” Merlin said without taking his eyes entirely off the game. “Most embarrassing thing Morgana has ever done to you.”
Arthur took another mouthful and let it swish around between his teeth while he tried to remember what had made his face turn the best shade of red.
“Come on, I told you what Mum made me wear my first day of school. No holding out on me.”
Arthur laughed loudly before clamping his hand over his mouth and hoping Uther hadn’t heard.
“Ok,” he said and smiled in the semi-dark of the room. They hadn’t turned on the main lights and Merlin’s face was only partially visible in the soft glow from the television. “So we were eleven and I fancied this girl Joanna, and Morgana invited her to my birthday party.”
Merlin pinched his mouth together. The game ended, or Merlin quit – Arthur wasn’t sure how those things worked. “Morgana set up a blog about your ever growing teddy bear collection. Inviting the girl you fancy to your birthday party is not embarrassing.” Arthur giggled again, both at Merlin’s pout and his complaint.
“No, but then she decorated the entire house with pink streamers and pink balloons and changed my cake order so that instead of a monster truck, I got a pink princess cake.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow and shifted on the couch again so that he was facing Arthur straight on.
“And then she told Joanna, in front of all my friends that my birthday wish was to become a little girl.”
Merlin just barely caught the whoop of laughter that would surely have had Uther banging on the door and shouting for them to keep quiet.
“Yeah, that’s pretty harsh. I guess you didn’t get your birthday wish then,”
Arthur took three gulps of his beer and bit his tongue for a second before smiling at Merlin. “I’m still waiting,” he said and tried not to let Merlin see how wide he was grinning behind the mouth of his bottle.
Arthur tipped his head back in order to see his father looming over him. From the bottom of his eyes he could see Merlin still laying out the carrot sticks and the sandwiches – cut in little triangles just the way Arthur liked them and with their crusts cut off. The juice was already out in plastic cups, as were the plastic forks and knives.
From the bottom of his eyes he could see Merlin still laying out the sandwiches –cut in little triangles, with their crusts cut off, just the way Arthur liked them- and the carrot sticks.
“Father,” he said evenly and tried to ignore the way the blanket itched under his palm.
“What are you doing?”
Merlin rose to his knees and handed over a paper plate laden with all the right finger foods.
“We’re having a picnic,” Arthur said and stuffed a pretzel into his mouth before he could say anything else.
Uther glared down at Arthur for a moment, glanced off to the right and then to the left, and then resumed his glare. “You’re in the middle of the living room.”
Arthur smiled benignly up at his father. “At least I’m not in your sunroom this time.”
Merlin grinned and took at bite of his little sandwich. Uther only glared for a moment longer before going into his office, presumably to yell at one of employees over the phone. At the moment, Arthur didn’t really care.
“Uther says you’re still doing that indoor picnic thing,” Morgana said over the fumes of her nail polish. Arthur wiggled his toes and grumbled when she swatted at his feet and told him to stay still. He wasn’t sure how he’d gotten roped into this. Probably because Morgana was very frightening and had enough information on him to make him do anything.
“I think it’s sweet,” Gwen said from over by her computer. Bend it Like Beckham played behind her and Arthur could only assume it was her way of trying to apologize for Morgana’s bullying. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he didn’t actually like the movie despite Keira Knightley and the football content.
Arthur never offered his opinion on the matter. He just waited for the polish to dry, then pulled on his socks and left before the big game at the end of the movie. He might have swiped her bottle of remover as he was leaving, but he denied it later when Morgana was meanly accusing about it him over the phone.
Sent: 24 December 2008, 8:55:14 PM
Subject: Je ne parle pas
The French are genuinely terrifying. Morgana is being courted by this horrid guy who only speaks at me in French and I do not understand. You have nerd friends in France, right? Do any know any wicked insults?
If Israelites come from Israel, then what come from Paris?
Date: 25 December 2008, 2:01:48 PM
Subject: Re: Je ne parle pas
Arthur, it’s Christmas. go spend the hols with your family.
“All those who live must some day die. It is our fate”
ps: ta mere suce des ours dans la foret
and don’t yell at me if he brains you because of this
Merlin had given Arthur his mum’s number before he left for Christmas. It was on a crinkled Post-It note. Merlin had scribbled some sort of shopping list on it earlier and couldn’t find any other paper (figures, with the state of his half of the room but Arthur politely didn’t mention it) and had crossed out the various items and jotted down the digits Arthur required.
Now Arthur sat curled up in the loo, sitting on the closed toilet lid and hoping and praying Morgana didn’t find him like this. On the other end of the line, each ring made his stomach clench. Finally, a sleepy female voice huffed what might have been a hello into the phone.
“Merlin? Is Merlin there?”
The same female voice made a questioning noise before a rustle told him the mouthpiece was being covered and he could dimly hear Merlin being summoned. He stomach did that uneasy little clamping thing and then Merlin’s voice was in his ear, cheerful and bright.
“Missed me, eh?”
Arthur couldn’t say anything. He clutched his mobile hard enough he thought the plastic might break. Holidays in France were so boring. Merlin was anything but.
“This is Arthur right?” Now Merlin sounded a little uneasy and Arthur wanted his throat to unclench enough to confirm it. “I mean, no one else is happily oblivious enough to ring at three in the morning. Arthur, you alright mate?”
Arthur bit his tongue. He’d forgotten Merlin’s mother may not keep the same hours as her son. “Sorry, sorry,” he muttered finally. “Bored, is all. Uther…” He breathed for a while, just listening to Merlin’s reciprocating breaths. “I’ll just…yeah. Hang up now. See ya.”
Merlin made some sort of protestation but Arthur thumbed the end call button and stared at his mobile until the light behind the keys faded and the screen flickered into sleep mode.
It vibrated against his night table when he was climbing back into bed. The screen flashed and the phone skittered a little across the smooth surface. The number on the display was Merlin’s. Arthur didn’t answer it.
Arthur knew Merlin had gone home for the holidays when he originally said he was going to do so. It had never crossed his mind to ask if Merlin was coming back anytime during the holidays for whatever reason. In short, he hadn’t expected Merlin to show up at his door on New Year’s Eve, wearing his red scarf and that not-so adorable denim jacket he sometimes wore (which was an outright fashion hazard but still managed to look fine on Merlin’s bony shoulders). The music pounding from the den drowned out whatever it was Merlin said, but he didn’t miss it when Merlin reached up and deposited something on Arthur’s head.
He decided he might want to check to see what it was the third time someone called him Princess Arthur.
“Oh no, put it back on!” Morgana said afterwards, while he still held the ‘happy new year’ tiara loosely between his fingers.
“You put him up to this, didn’t you?”
Morgana shrugged but danced away. Reluctantly, Arthur slipped the plastic trinket back on his head and pounded back another bottle of beer. He didn’t miss the brilliant smile Merlin sent in his direction, nor did it escape his notice that although Merlin was absolutely surrounded by very willing girls, he was politely holding them at bay.
It was a few beers and numerous shots later that Arthur finally worked his way through the masses of people surrounding Merlin.
“I’m not a girl, you know,” he told Merlin and hoped he didn’t slur too much.
Merlin grinned openly, too loosely to be anywhere near sober himself.
“Does this mean I can’t woo you?” Merlin asked and then took a swallow from his still half full champagne glass. Arthur definitely did not track the movement of Merlin’s Adam’s apple as it bobbed. He did not notice Merlin chasing the last drops from his lips with his tongue.
“I do the wooing,” Arthur informed him. Merlin nodded amiably, only swaying slightly as he pushed away from the wall and traced his fingers over the tiara now sitting lopsided on Arthur’s head.
“You might want to get on that then,” he said and then disappeared into the crowd. Arthur spent entirely too much time trying to figure out what Merlin could possibly have meant by that.
Arthur found Merlin again about ten minutes to midnight. A petite brunette was sitting sideways on Merlin’s lap, twisting her fingers through his hair and whispering who-knows-what in his ear (probably something filthy and horrid and Arthur just had to put a stop to it).
“Merlin, ditch the girl,” is what he said and if the girl looked offended or annoyed, Arthur simply chose to ignore it. Instead he dropped into the seat beside Merlin and leaned forward until their elbows knocked together and Merlin was cocking an eyebrow curiously.
“You should be more discrete about your shagging partners,” Arthur told him. Merlin, true to his nature, laughed in Arthur’s face.
“I’m not shagging Nimueh. She’s a bit of a bitch actually.”
It was Arthur’s turn to raise his eyebrow. “And she was wiggling around in your lap because…?”
Merlin leaned forward conspiratorially and half grinned. “She was trying to get a love potion out of me. She kind of fancies Uther. Or well, maybe she fancies his money…”
Arthur back-pedalled so hard he fell off the chair and when Merlin tried to help him up, Arthur’s drunken flailing just managed to pull him down as well.
“Arthur,” Merlin grunted as he shifted his hips in a way that both dug his knee into Arthur’s thigh and set a thousand butterflies loose in his stomach. “You’re drunk.”
Arthur could not deny that fact. In counter point, though, Merlin was drunk too, and their attempts to right themselves ended with them even more tangled on the floor and laughing so hard that they weren’t even trying anymore.
Merlin gave one more, feeble attempt and when that failed, he just rolled off to the side so that only their feet were still tangled.
“Your father doesn’t mind?” Merlin asked above the din and waved his hand absently in what Arthur took to mean ‘about the party’.
Arthur shrugged. “Father’s still in France or something. Maybe Switzerland. He doesn’t know about it.”
Someone shrieked something about turning the telly on, and then people were shouting numbers, some of them at random, though most managed to get them in the right order.
“You know,” Merlin said, “this is usually the part where you find a girl to snog.”
Arthur shrugged as best he could without getting up. “Don’t really like the girls here,” he admitted over the shouted “Four!” and the scattered various other numbers drunkenly tossed in at the wrong spot.
“Same,” Merlin said in the quiet between the “Two!” and the “One!”
Arthur smiled shyly. “Happy New Year, mate,” he said at last and thumped Merlin’s shoulder on his way to a standing position. He ignored the twist in his gut when everyone else was laughing and kissing and revelling in drunken celebrations. Instead, he just pocketed his tiara and slipped from the room.
They were in Uther’s home theatre (he wasn’t going to send Merlin off to spend the night alone wherever he was staying, especially not when Merlin was drunk and giggling. No, he’d just have to finish out his New Year celebrations in Arthur’s not-bedroom). Arthur had all but passed out in the huge leather chair that was really big enough for three people. Merlin had staggered the extra couple of feet to collapse in his usual place on the couch. Morgana had already stuck her head in for her customary teasing before she and Gwen disappeared down to her still fully intact bedroom to do whatever girls did on sleepovers.
“Merlin?” Arthur said again. Merlin groaned and tried to bury his head between the cushion and the arm of the couch.
“I’m sleeping Arthur.”
“No you’re not.”
Merlin groaned again and twisted on the couch until he was curled on his side, his arm tucked under his head. The moonlight glinted off his eyes, making them glow almost yellow. “I should be sleeping,” he said. Then, as an afterthought, he added, “And so you should. You get terrible hangovers.”
“Do not,” was his only slightly whiny reply, but Arthur knew it was a lost cause. “Merlin?” he asked again.
Merlin didn’t answer. Arthur could tell by the evening breaths that he was falling asleep.
“What was your first shag?” he blurted and was glad the darkness would at least cover his blush. Merlin didn’t move, didn’t even breathe for a beat.
“If I admit I’ve never, you know, had sex, would you finally let me sleep?”
Arthur hesitated. His head was still swimming annoyingly from too much alcohol and his elbow hurt from where he’d landed on it earlier. “Why?” he finally whispered, almost hoping Merlin was already sleeping and wouldn’t hear it.
“Because I’m tired.” There was a moment of silence and then Merlin was shuffling until he was propped up on his elbow and staring at Arthur across the suddenly too-small distance. “Because I want it to be somewhat special and I’ve never had the opportunity with someone who meant that much to me.”
“So all those dates…?” Arthur’s heart was beating altogether too quickly. The alcohol made his stomach sit uncomfortably in his throat.
Merlin sighed and flopped back down. “Most of them aren’t even dates, Arthur. I’m not really interested in the girls, you know, here at uni. Now go to sleep.”
Arthur wanted to say something else. He wanted to hear Merlin’s slower, intoxicated drawl. He wanted to hear all the reasons Merlin was still a virgin, if he’d ever almost ever, if he’d ever wanted to, even. He wanted to tell Merlin that his one and only shag had been so horrid that Kerri had told him they didn’t need to have sex to be a couple. She’d left for uni the next Tuesday. He wanted to tell Merlin that maybe he was right to wait until he could share it with someone special, who wouldn’t mind if their first go was all that dreadful. Instead, he watched him fall asleep and then drifted off himself. He dreamed of being naked and alone in Kerri’s little bed. He dreamed of being twisted in her sheets and of Merlin, his disappointed face shadowed and downcast, hiding in the corner.
Merlin had spent part of the holidays working at his godfather’s little shop, although Merlin refused to tell Arthur what exactly Gaius sold. It was Morgana who told him that it was some sort of holistic healing store, one that combined modern medicine with ‘the magics’. He wondered if Merlin was trying to be mysterious or if he was actually embarrassed by it.
“You spent the entire time skiing,” Morgana had snapped the third time Arthur wondered this aloud. “Of course he’s not going to be thrilled to admit he had to sweep floors and give little old ladies a month’s worth of ginkgo.”
Merlin was at his volunteering thing when she said this, or Arthur would have asked him right away if that was the case. Instead, he decided to bounce his football off the wall until Gwen (politely) asked him to leave, or to bounce it a little more quietly please. He chose to leave.
His room was still somewhat tidy. Merlin hadn’t had a chance to litter the floor with dirty clothes yet, and his controller cords were still tucked in his drawer and weren’t yet spilling out in the dangerous, grabbing way they had. Merlin’s books were scattered all over his desk, and Arthur’s desk too, and one was half under the bed. Arthur picked it up and set it on top of the rest of them, which he had shifted into an impromptu pile, making sure to slide a bookmark in place before he closed it.
With a little sigh, Arthur nudged the corner of the second book until it lined up with the first, and then proceeded down the pile until it was straight. He moved on to the pens that were threatening to roll off the desk and into Merlin’s slipper, which Arthur then gathered and placed beside it’s mate at the foot of Merlin’s bed. He fingered the edge of Merlin’s blankets and then tugged them, and then pulled them straight on the bed, and then crawled up the mattress until he could reach the pillow to square it properly in position.
It smelled of Merlin – of his shampoo, or his cologne or whatever it was that Merlin always smelled of – that slightly flowery yet suggestively earthy scent that sometimes made Arthur’s head spin. Arthur was surprised to realize that he maybe missed that when he was in France and then later after New Year’s, when Merlin went back to finish the holidays with his mother. He pressed his cheek into the cool cotton of the pillow case and inhaled until all he could think was Merlin. With a little sigh, he twisted his body so that he was lying on the covers and then inhaled again. One more deep breath and he was sleeping sprawled on Merlin’s bed and dreaming about putting Merlin in his suitcase and carting him all over the world with him.
It was dark when he woke up, but there was another person breathing in the room with him.
“Merlin? Wha?” The thin blanket pressing down on him wasn’t enough to keep the chills at bay and he shivered. He turned his head away from the spot of drool collecting under his cheek. He cast his gaze around for his clock and was surprised when the angle was wrong. Why was his clock over there?
“Merlin, is the window open?”
The breathing hitched and finally he heard Merlin cough, but again the angle was wrong and it took him a second to realize Merlin must have been over at the desks.
“Are you sleeping at your computer? I knew you were in love with it but…”
Merlin laughed, his voice gruff with sleep and a little dry.
“Well, I can’t exactly sleep in my own bed, now can I?”
Arthur kicked his foot out and gasped when it hit the cool air of the room. The disorientation was beginning to bother him. Since when was his sheet not tucked in at the bottom of his bed?
“Why not?” he asked groggily, as he attempted to turn to face Merlin. “If you’re tired, you should go to bed. Don’t you have an exam in the morning?”
Arthur counted Merlin’s breaths as he waited for a response. One, two, three, four. Finally: “Arthur…”
“No really, mate. You’re being kind of weird. Go to bed.”
Merlin’s breaths seemed to stop for a minute and Arthur’s eyes finally adjusted enough that he could make out Merlin’s form huddled in his chair and bundled in a hoodie – Arthur’s football hoodie. Huh. It was at least another four seconds before Merlin stretched and stood hesitantly,
“OK, don’t freak out then,” was all he said and then he was flattening himself beside Arthur’s body and straightening the blanket back over them, tucking them in together. Arthur froze. Merlin was tense beside him and Arthur had to school his breathing to not kick up in speed. Merlin shifted a little bit, just a little bit, and then their elbows were touching and suddenly Arthur realised exactly where he was.
“Not freaking out?” Merlin asked cautiously.
Arthur forced a laugh, forced the blush back down, even though Merlin couldn’t possibly see it in the dark.
“No. But next time I fall asleep on your bed, kick me the hell out.”
This time Merlin’ s laugh was almost genuine.
“You’re implying there will be a next time.”
Arthur didn’t say that he was considering it a possibility.
Empirically speaking, Arthur knew that Merlin and Will were close. He was the only friend Merlin ever talked about from home, and yeah, there was the fact that Arthur would wake up in the middle of the night to hear Merlin on the phone with him, talking in hushed tones with his hand over his mouth as if to stifle the sounds before they even reached the receiver. So yeah, Arthur knew. But he didn’t know.
“Will’s going to be staying for the weekend; is that alright?” was what Merlin had said on Thursday afternoon.
“You won’t even notice he’s here. He’s quiet,” Merlin assured Arthur Thursday night.
Then on Friday morning it was: “Thank you Arthur. Thank you thank you.” And then: “You’re the best Arthur.” Then even later: “Seriously, how is Morgana not constantly flailing about how awesome you are?” Arthur refrained from pointing out that Morgana did not flail.
On Sunday evening it was a different story. Arthur has spent the weekend at home, sleeping on the uncomfortable leather couch and sneaking away from his father’s glare. It wasn’t that he minded Merlin’s friend. But when Will looked at Merlin with an expression that said he might cry any second, Arthur high-tailed it out of there. So when Sunday came around, Arthur texted Merlin to find out when Will’s ride was leaving town and timed his return to campus for shortly after Will should have left.
Will was not gone.
Arthur turned the corner of the corridor, half whistling some lullaby Morgana’s mother used to sing sometimes, half listing all the things he’d have to disinfect now that someone else’s fingers had been all over them – Merlin’s keyboard, Merlin’s mouse, maybe the whole desk, just to be safe –.
Merlin maybe wasn’t always discrete, but if he’d been obvious about this, Arthur must have missed it, because although Arthur couldn’t see Merlin’s face – only his back, all thin lines and delicate bones – he could see Will’s face over his shoulder. And Will’s face…Will’s face was the image of pure contentment as he curled in Merlin’s arms, as he tipped his head and dropped what could only be a kiss on Merlin’s mouth. Or chin. Arthur was totally willing to believe Will was kissing Merlin’s chin if it would save his sanity a little bit.
Will’s eyes opened, then widened when his gaze caught Arthur’s. It wasn’t Merlin’s chin he had been kissing, not with the blush creeping across his face, not with the little meep that escaped his throat.
Arthur was frozen, still a good ten meters from where Merlin was gently extracting himself from Will and giving his hand one last squeeze. Arthur didn’t move as Will gathered up his bag and shuffled down the hall, moving away from Merlin and towards Arthur. He didn’t register the small pause when Will neared.
“You take care of him, you hear,” Will whispered, and then he was gone, around the corner and down the corridor. Arthur didn’t say anything; he was still stuck on the way their bodies had fit so perfectly together, and the way there had been no room for his.
Merlin was already standing at his desk with a spray bottle of disinfectant, when Arthur finally stepped through the door.
“I , er,” he said and wanted to mentally kick himself when Merlin offered up a small smile and wiped down the arms of his chair with a clean cloth.
“Have a good weekend?”
Arthur nodded dumbly, even though the weekend had been bordering on horrid. His hand was still on the doorknob. A brief image of Merlin cleaning that too flitted across his mind only to be replaced by the image of Merlin all wrapped up in Will. Merlin had been curled around Will, kissing Will.
“I didn’t mean to –,” Arthur said and then stopped. He cleared his throat, tried again. “Erm, did you –? Will –. Er.”
Merlin’s eyes were sad when he tossed the cloth in the bin (“You can’t reuse them Merlin! That’s just so disgusting!”). “Arthur –.”
The metal of the door handle was cool under Arthur’s fingers. It was smooth and grounding and didn’t hold any secrets.
“Will’s your boyfriend,” he said and almost flinched in perfect tandem with Merlin.
“But you were –.” Arthur stopped. Kissing, they were kissing, but Arthur couldn’t bring himself to say it. “I mean, it doesn’t bother me,” he said at last, when Merlin didn’t seem willing to say anything. “Who you shag is your business, right?” He was trying for light, trying for teasing and nonchalant. It came out kind of choked.
“No,” Merlin said again. “I mean, yeah, it is my business. But no, I’m not shagging…not Will…I mean; I told you on New Year’s, if you remember. And it’s not like… With Will, it’s not like that. We just…” Merlin stopped and Arthur wasn’t entirely sure of any of the things Merlin had been trying to say, didn’t understand any of the cut-off sentences, incomplete ideas. “Is this going to make things weird?” he said at last, making a motion between them and Arthur felt something flutter in his chest. Weird. Oh right. Right. No. Not weird.
“No, mate,” he said at last. Merlin’s smile was anything but easy, anything but happy.
Arthur tried to forget it. He really tried. The thing about trying to forget something was that the harder one tries, the worse one fails. Don’t think of Merlin and Will, he told his brain as he crawled out of bed. He almost succeeded too, but Merlin was still sleeping (predictably) and his hair was dark and tangled against his white pillow and his mouth was slightly parted, and Arthur had to wonder if Merlin had opened his mouth against Will’s.
Don’t worry about it; he tried to convince himself over breakfast. His toast burned while he was not thinking of Merlin and he remembered the time Merlin had set the toaster on fire, and he wondered if Merlin had ever set Will’s toaster on fire, and if Will might have behaved a little more charitably than Arthur had.
It’s not important, he reminded himself when Merlin’s computer chimed with an incoming instant message and Arthur glanced over, purely out of habit.
“sad here w/o u. tell arthur sry 4 me.”
Arthur wanted to know if Merlin had to apologize for Arthur’s hasty retreat on Friday, wanted to know what exactly Merlin had told Will about him.
It’s not like it even matters, he was telling himself later that night, when Merlin was shrugging out of his hoodie and his t-shirt rode up in the back for a second. Had Will touched that stripe of skin on Merlin’s back? Had Will possibly touched more? Had his fingers quested up the line of Merlin’s spine only to fan out across his shoulder blades, the shoulder blades that stuck out under his thin skin just like wings?
Morgana stuck her head through the doorway, effectively freezing that line of thought, and possibly Arthur’s brain, because when she dropped onto Arthur’s bed and asked how his weekend with ‘King’ Uther had been, Arthur opened his mouth and what fell out was “Merlin’s gay.”
“Oh,” Merlin said.
“Oh,” Arthur echoed, horrified.
“Oh,” Morgana tripled. “Oh. Oh Arthur, you didn’t know?”
Arthur’s eyes flicked to Merlin, who had his hand over his mouth. His eyes were huge, just giant spheres of blue, so scared and surprised. When Arthur looked back at Morgana, her face was caught somewhere between motherly gentleness and that very dangerous expression she wore whenever she knew something Arthur didn’t (and that knowledge was going to destroy Arthur’s sanity).
“You didn’t know,” she said again. Arthur resisted looking at Merlin. He resisted twisting from his spot beside Morgana and studying Merlin.
“Arthur,” she said. “Arthur, how did you not know?”
Arthur stopped resisting the desire to turn, the desire to stare at Merlin where he stood by the computers, washed in the blue glow. His hand wasn’t over his mouth anymore. It had moved around to the back of his neck and Arthur could tell from the clenched muscles of his forearm that Merlin was clutching at his own hair maybe in a desperate attempt to ground himself.
From beyond his range of view, Morgana snickered gently. “Arthur, honestly. Merlin gets a monthly subscription to Attitude. What did you think…?”
“Oh,” Arthur said. “I, er.” And all the little things he probably should have noticed before, all those little hints and tells came meandering across his mind, leaving a trail of goose bumps down his arms and a gnawing sensation in his stomach. He dropped his gaze to where his hands were clenched in his lap. When he raised it again, Merlin’s hand had dropped his hand to side and his eyes had lost the terrified expression. Arthur tried not to notice the way Merlin was still slightly trembling.
“Just so you know, I don’t care that you’re dating a guy.”
As far as intros went, Arthur was certain that was pretty smooth. His tongue hadn’t tripped over the words, or gotten tangled completely. His throat hadn’t closed up and choked off the sound until all that came out was a dry wheeze. It had been both traumatizing and embarrassing when that happened the first time Arthur tried this ‘talk’. This time, his voice had remained confident yet calm. The words had meaning but wouldn’t turn into some sappy girl chat about feelings and boys and makeup. Arthur thought that maybe Merlin didn’t agree with him regarding his concluded success.
“I’m not –,” Merlin said and dropped his book into his lap. He looked tired. The angles of his face were more pronounced, like he hadn’t eaten all week – and yeah, Arthur was aware that Merlin was skinny, but he didn’t usually look skeletal, did he? “Will’s just a friend,” he said at last. He passed his hand over his eyes. Arthur wanted to pry it off so he could look. He wanted to see Merlin’s eyes, see what they were saying. He wanted to see them sparkle the way they had only a week before, before Will came and kissed him; Before Arthur had seen.
“Look, Arthur,” Merlin said. He didn’t continue, but he did let his hand fall away from his face and there were his eyes, looking resigned. Diminished.
“It’s ok,” Arthur whispered.
Merlin sighed. “Will’s father died. A few years ago. At this time. It’s the anniversary of his death. Will’s just…fragile right now.” Merlin dropped his gaze. “It’s not…we’re not…I just wanted to be there for him, you know?”
Arthur did know, or had tried to know. The few times Morgana let the hurt show in her eyes, when she talked about her mother, or her father before Uther, Arthur tried very hard to feel the stab of pain or the dull throb of loss. The only thing he had in comparison was his own mother and she didn’t really compare at all, if he was honest. But he tried.
“Merlin,” he said and leaned forward on his bed, until he was halfway across the gap between them.
Merlin’s responding smile was timid, tentative.
“So you’re not dating Will?”
“And I guess Liz isn’t really your girlfriend.”
“Wha…? Arthur, no.”
“That’s good. I don’t really like her.”
“Is Merlin seeing anyone?”
Morgana was stretched out on the couch at Uther’s home. Gwen was visiting Lance again, and Merlin was out with the girls – which Arthur had suddenly realized was not the same as being on the pull – so the two of them were lolling about in the spacious, clean, space provided by Uther, who was blessedly out of town for the weekend.
“Arthur.” It was a warning. It couldn’t really be anything else. Arthur flipped in the chair so that his head was hanging off the side and the whole world was upside down.
“No, I’m just…curious?”
Morgana huffed. She was wearing her blue robe – the silk one – and it should have made her somewhat less intimidating. Instead, when she raised her martini and took a delicate sip, she might as well have been pointing a loaded gun at Arthur’s chest. Or rather, a loaded paint gun, because this was his new D&G shirt and it was white and paint would never come out of it. Come to think of it, neither would blood, but at least he’d be dead and therefore uncaring about the state of his clothing.
“Merlin’s single,” she said finally. Arthur felt his chest loosen marginally.
Merlin was drunk when Arthur changed his mind about staying at Uther’s and let himself into the room later that night.
“Erm,” he said when Merlin grinned sloppily up at him and wiggled his feet a little. “We need to get you down before you fall and crack open your skull.”
Merlin raised his arms, pointed them out toward Arthur. “Down?” he asked, plaintively, like hopping down from his perch atop the chest of drawers was too hard for him. It might have been. He didn’t seem exactly coordinated at the moment.
Arthur sighed and walked into Merlin’s space. The warmth of Merlin’s knees on either side of his body, the delicate weight of his thin arms around his neck, and the warm press of Merlin’s chest as he slid against Arthur and let him help him down – it was too much and Arthur almost felt his own knees buckle drunkenly despite being completely sober.
“Kay, you’re down now Merlin,” he said when Merlin didn’t remove himself from Arthur’s body. “All right, Merlin,” he said, pushing a little when Merlin didn’t respond. Merlin’s head fell against his shoulder and rolled until his cheek was pressed into Arthur’s neck. The little whimper he made might have been words. Arthur raised his shoulder a little and hooked his thumb under Merlin’s chin until they were eye to eye.
“M sleepy,” Merlin slurred and rested his forehead against Arthur’s. “Tuck me in?”
By the time Arthur had Merlin horizontal and half under the blankets, his arm was going a little numb from Merlin’s fingers. He’d refused to let go the entire time Arthur struggled with him, pressing his fingers into the muscle and causing little aches to burn with each heartbeat.
“Liz says. Morgana says,” Merlin whispered, pulling a little until Arthur was leaning over him, nose to nose. “They says. Say. They say. But I don’t want.” He closed his eyes for a moment and Arthur thought he’d gone to sleep. “I need you to say. Someday, right?”
Arthur didn’t answer. He didn’t know how. I’ll say it, he wanted to tell Merlin, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say. In the end he nudged Merlin over a little more until there was space for him as well, and curled up beside him as best he could with Merlin’s fierce grip unrelenting around his arm.
Merlin was irritatingly perky the next morning. And much to Arthur’s annoyance, he didn’t seem to have any recollection of the night before. He just grinned over at Arthur where he was still in Merlin’s bed and asked if he’d had nightmares.
Merlin had that weird program open on his computer when Arthur leaned over the back of his chair.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s a virus,” Merlin said and tapped in an odd string of letters. Arthur didn’t ask if Merlin was making it or disabling it. Sometimes he didn’t exactly want to know.
“I’m going out,” he said instead of asking for clarification. Merlin nodded. Arthur wasn’t entirely sure if Merlin had heard him or not. “Some footie friends are in town for the weekend. We’re going to grab a few pints.”
“Kay,” Merlin said and squinted at the monitor. His fingers flew as he tapped out new and confusing sets of letters and the lines danced and moved up and off the screen. “Have fun.”
Arthur paused. The invitation was ready on the tip of his tongue, ready to roll off and into the air, irretrievable and obvious. Merlin got along with Owain and Pellinore well enough. The other guys would warm up to him eventually. Instead, Arthur let his hand fall warmly on Merlin’s shoulder and squeezed once before nodding.
“Yeah,” he said, though Merlin was already distracted again. “Yeah, I will.”
Morgana was at her most terrifying when she was staring Arthur down, especially when he was slightly intoxicated and in danger of telling her things he probably ought not to. Unfortunately, when Arthur spotted her across the pub, sitting by herself in the corner, he was already too far gone to even hesitate before joining her.
He received her usual greeting for his troubles: a raised eyebrow. “Your mates aren’t exciting enough for you?”
Arthur shrugged. “No. Yes. I thought I’d sit with you for a while.”
They did sit, for quite a long while, too. The guys drank a little more, got a lot rowdier and generally made a nuisance of themselves until Pellinore fell flat on his face and Owain ended up being sick all over his own front. Arthur slouched in the chair when the eyes of his more sober friends swept the shadows and only sat up straight, dusting off the crumbs from the disgusting bar seats that had attached to his sleeves, when the last of his friends walked out the door.
“Arthur,” Morgana said warningly and Arthur suddenly worried their companionable silence hadn’t been so companionable after all.
“Were you on a date?” he asked, trying to school his face to something neutral in case she made him go home.
She sighed. “No.” There were a few more minutes of silence and then Morgana looked at him, really looked at him and said: “Arthur, spill.”
“I’m fine, Morgana. Can’t a guy spend time with his sister without an inquisition?”
Morgana raised both eyebrows this time. Somewhere on his left a barmaid dropped a tray of empty glasses and the shattering sound made Arthur flinch. The world slipped sideways and he decided he needed a least another pint before Morgana’s piercing gaze would stop making his skin crawl.
“Step-sister,” she said but let him drink his beer without saying anything else.
A short while later, (or maybe a long while – Arthur’s time judgement may have been off), Arthur twisted a little in his chair. “Merlin’s…” Arthur said and waved his hand around for a bit until he realised his gestures were lacking cohesion, and he dropped his knuckles to rap lightly and repeatedly on the table, stopping only when Morgana gently stilled him.
“He’s…?” she prompted.
Arthur let his eyes dance around the room, taking in the muted lights, and swaying bodies, and sticky floors. “He’s…he’s a bit…yeah?”
Morgana laughed and it was then that Arthur realised she was still cradling his hand. She turned it over and traced her fingers around and around in his palm. It was soothing.
“He is,” she agreed, and dragged her thumbnail along the length of his ring finger.
“You think so?”
Morgana smiled and pressed against the pad of his finger until it almost hurt, then released and rubbed it again, only to repeat the process. “I do.”
“But he’s a bit…disorganized.” Arthur tried to pay attention to the gentle pressure of his hand. Instead the air shifted and he had to close his eyes for a moment before he fell sideways.
“Arthur,” Morgana said at last, coaxing his eyes open. “Arthur, do you think you might like him?”
Arthur closed his eyes again. Finally, after Morgana released his hand and he could spread his fingers along the cool grain of the wooden table, and after he realised he was more than just a little drunk, he raised his head and stared at her defiantly. “Yes.”
Arthur studied the numbers of the rooms and decided that if they would just stop moving, he’d be able to find his room, thank you very much. But they didn’t stop moving and he couldn’t separate his room key from all his other keys because they kept getting tangled and damn it, it was all Merlin’s fault anyway! With a resigned sigh, Arthur slumped down in the corridor to sleep off the drunken stupor at least until he could find his own room.
It was a nice nap, filled with spinning dreams and wobbling thoughts and he was sober enough to be vaguely irritated when someone kicked his foot an indeterminable amount of time later.
“Arthur, you sodding idiot,” the voice above him said and then: “Are you that pissed you can’t even find the room?”
No, he wanted to snap. I’m just being polite, he tried to say, but all the coordination of his tongue had seemed to vanish and all he managed to get out was a mangled stream of vowels.
He could feel the exact moment when the speaker’s hands landed on his arms. The touch seemed to burn, even through his t-shirt and he tried to struggle out of the hold. His attempts obviously weren’t as effective as he’d thought they were because a dizzy second later he was standing and leaning heavily on the bony form of someone he thought he should know.
“Arthur, come on man. You need to work with me here,” the voice said and he felt himself awkwardly being dragged in a direction he didn’t care to name.
“Gerroff,” he grumbled and swatted somewhat lazily at the person’s arm.
“Just a few more steps, Arthur. Come on.”
“Narrrugh,” Arthur replied and collapsed as soon as the hands let him. He landed on something soft that smelled a little like the fabric softener he used and that’s all he needed to know before he fell back asleep.
When he woke up again the world had almost stopped its uneven tilting. He was still dressed – the leg of his jeans had ridden up enough to expose the bare skin above his sock – but someone had mercifully removed his trainers at least. The dull blue of computer light washed over Merlin’s half of the room. Arthur was content to watch Merlin’s long fingers dance across the keys, to watch him pause, frown and then start typing with such vigour that his fingers blurred in Arthur’s intoxicated vision.
The clack-clack wasn’t irritating, like it should have been. It was almost soothing. There was something about the uneven staccato that tapped across the surface of his brain that made him want to go over there and kiss each and every one of Merlin’s fingers. He might have said as much because Merlin hesitated, stopped, and when he looked over, his dark eyebrows were drawn in a confused little frown.
“There’s a glass of water by your bed,” was all Merlin said, but he didn’t turn back to his computer.
Arthur contemplated drinking it. He contemplated getting off the bed and going to sit on Merlin’s scrawny lap. He contemplated doing something, anything. Instead, he just lay there and felt slightly dull, slightly drunk, and very mad.
“You seemed to have fun with your mates, then,” Merlin said after too much silence. “I found you in the hall.”
Arthur nodded his thanks, or at least, he hoped he had. “I need to talk to you,” he said aloud.
“I’ll stop. Just hang on a second.” Merlin twisted in his chair to save and exit whatever geeky thing he was working on and Arthur had a sinking feeling that Merlin thought the talk involved their unspoken rule-system.
“No, you don’t have to,” Arthur whispered. “I mean, Morgana said I need to tell you something about me.”
This time Merlin raised his eyebrow. “You were drinking with Morgana? What happened to your footie mates?”
Arthur waved his hand in what he hoped was a dismissive gesture. His head still buzzed slightly and despite the little bit of sobriety sleep had brought, he was still painfully drunk.
“They’re unimportant. And maybe a little stupid. No matter,” Arthur said, fully intending to continuing.
“Arthur, how much did you drink, exactly?”
“A pint. Ok, a few pints.” Merlin raised his eyebrow again. “Bugger, I don’t remember! That’s not the point! This is the point. The very important point.”
“Go back to sleep. We’ll have this ‘important’ chat in the morning.”
This was not going well and Morgana was going to hang, draw and quarter him in the morning, he just knew it, even if he couldn’t rightfully remember why anymore. With a huge put-out sigh, Arthur tried to stand and promptly got his feet tangled in the damp towel Merlin had left there after his shower earlier, and fell down with an undignified thump.
He felt rather than heard Merlin’s laugh, then he felt Merlin’s breath on his neck as he helped him to his feet.
“Come on, Arthur. Sleep it off, ok?”
His eyes were so blue. Arthur wanted to touch them, wanted to know what they looked like when they fluttered open first thing in the morning, all puffy and red from sleeping. He might have said that out loud as well, because that frown returned and Merlin was trying to force him to lie back down.
“No, Merlin,” he protested weakly. The backs of his knees hit the bed and he sat down hard. “Morgana said I…She said you’re so annoying to me because…” Merlin wasn’t listening. He was busying stuffing Arthur’s fully clothed legs between the sheets and trying to tuck him in like a child. Arthur flung the blanket off in a dramatic flair only a Pendragon could manage and still feel remotely manly.
“Damn it, Merlin!” he snapped at Merlin’s wide eyes. “Morgana says I like you.”
Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t the low chuckle he got. Merlin placed his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and gently pressed him back down into the bed.
“You’re not so bad yourself, you know,” he said, pulling the blanket back up once more under Arthur’s chin. “Although you did have me fooled, what with all the scowling at me all the time.”
Arthur tried to pout, tried to frown. All it did, however, was pinch his eyebrows together and give himself foreboding premonitions of the epic hangover he was going to have in the morning. His horizontal position made him sleepy. He blinked and forgot to reopen his eyes for a moment. It wasn’t until he heard the shuffle of Merlin moving away that he tore himself away from the imminent dreams.
“It’s more than that, Merlin,” Arthur murmured as Merlin turned his back and tugged his shirt up and over his head. His skin was pale, almost luminous in the blue light of the computer. His spine was a perfect line that led in the two directions Arthur most wanted to touch. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to run his fingers through the dark hair at the nape of Merlin’s neck, or if he wanted to clutch at his hips and just hold him close forever. In the end, he could do nothing as Merlin shimmied down to just his boxers and climbed into his own bed, only pausing long enough to shut down his computer.
“Go to sleep, Arthur,” he said across the new darkness.
“I love you,” Arthur said in return and faded into unfamiliar dreams of finally kissing Merlin.
Merlin was gone when Arthur woke up. And ok, that wasn’t that unusual, maybe. Sometimes Merlin had to get up for things. Every now and again the magic club hosted a bake sale or a morning spell meeting, and Merlin sometimes picked up extra volunteer hours at the shelter. But he always told Arthur when that was going to happen. Sometimes Morgana felt she needed to inform Arthur too, so that he knew twice over, in case he was going to forget. Today, though, Merlin was just gone. All that was left was the Merlin-shaped indent in the rumpled sheets and yesterday’s clothes scattered around the room.
The clock happily told him it was almost noon, in bright glowing numbers, and ticked off the seconds as well as the minutes and hours. The low hum of Merlin’s computer and the faint rumble of voices drifting up from the street beneath his window blocked out the silence. It all made his head hurt. The brightness of the sun made his stomach churn and his eyes ache, despite the shades still being drawn tight against the day.
Gingerly, he pulled himself from the bed and stared down at the jeans he was still wearing. He’d lost a sock sometime during the night. It was probably wedged between the mattress and the sheets at the foot of his bed. With a slow sigh, Arthur tugged his shirt over his head, catching a whiff of alcohol and sweat as it passed, and tossed it in the direction of his laundry hamper, then clambered over to put it in properly when he missed. He paused then shimmied out of his jeans and his boxers until he stood naked between the beds, except for the one sock he still wore. His head was still pounding, and every little movement jarred it even more until he was seeing bright sparks of painful light with each intake of breath.
“Great,” he grumbled, collapsing on his bed. “I’m dying.” A slow resentful laugh escaped his throat and fell hard and empty in the still air of their room. “Dying,” he said again, just to hear the echo of his voice. “Dying.”
“You’re not allowed to die naked. That’s just awkward.”
Arthur closed his eyes. Merlin’s voice was too loud, too sudden. Even the quiet click of the door closing was too loud and reflected as bright pinpoints of pain behind his eyelids.
“Sorry mate,” Merlin said, softer this time. “That bad, eh?”
Arthur twisted on his side, pulling the blankets as far up as his waist as possible and trying not to be embarrassed.
“‘S really bad,” Arthur grumbled into his pillow. He jumped when Merlin’s cool hand skimmed over his shoulder blades. He twitched when Merlin’s fingers found the groove of his spine and traced down impossibly low on his back, but not far enough to be considered inappropriate.
“Nice,” he whimpered pitifully when Merlin’s other hand splayed out over Arthur’s lower back. Merlin’s first hand had inched back up to his neck, and then his fingers were edging into Arthur’s hair and dragging at his scalp. “Mmm.”
“You need to drink more water next time,” Merlin whispered gently. The dip of the bed told Arthur that Merlin was settling beside him, probably sitting cross-legged, but also maybe kneeling. Merlin sometimes sat on his knees, right? Arthur was pretty sure he moaned again when Merlin’s hand crept around his neck and his fingers rubbed at Arthur’s collar bone while his thumb pressed gently on his vertebrae. The last thing Arthur heard before he faded back into sleep was Merlin’s low chuckle and a small admonishment for drinking too much.
“Morgana,” Arthur said, and refused to believe that it maybe was a little whiney. “It’s not funny. Merlin’s going to make fun of me.”
Morgana’s voice drifted through the phone, laughing and light. “It wasn’t me. I swear on your father’s life.”
“You don’t even like my father.”
Morgana laughed again. “But he pays for uni.” She sobered a little. “Seriously, Arthur. I had no part in it this time.”
Arthur sighed. “Ok,” he said and turned to stare at the huge pink teddy bear sat in the middle of his bed. ‘I love you’ proclaimed the heart sewn between its paws. Arthur nodded even though Morgana couldn’t see him. “Ok.”
“Gwen,” Arthur said patiently despite the burning need to violently negate her inadvertent insult, “I’m not a fourteen year old girl.”
Gwen stared at Arthur for a moment, glanced at the CD in her hand then looked back to Arthur. Her sigh, when it came, was exasperated and annoyed, yet still insufferably sweet.
“Yes, Arthur,” she said, equally patiently, “I know. But your situation is entirely too depressing to not sit around and listen to sappy pop music.” When Arthur continued to glare icily at her, she rolled her eyes and jabbed him in the chest with the corner of the CD.
“Oh don’t be such a baby, Arthur. I hardly touched you.”
“Yes, and if I have a bleeding wound in my right pectoral that becomes gangrenous and requires amputation, whose fault will that be?”
“Just take it, Arthur. Listen to the bloody words, whinge a little. You’ll feel better.”
It was with great reluctance (and probably a huge sigh or two) that Arthur finally closed his fingers around the offending plastic. Gwen’s grin might not have been malevolent but Arthur wanted to think so. At least that way, if he got caught with the CD, he’d have someone to blame for the consequent misery.
Gwen, probably mistaking his look for something else (why did all his expressions have to come out wrong? Why couldn’t he be like Morgana and instil fear in the hearts of all with just a glance? Bugger), gently patted his arm. “Don’t worry,” she said soothingly. “I’ve disinfected it since it fell in the toilet.”
Arthur was on track three when Merlin came traipsing into the room. Miraculously, most of his things fell either on the desk or the bed (although his hoodie missed landing on the chair and ended in a crumpled heap on the floor), and when he turned to Arthur, his face was a mixture of bewilderment and mischief.
“Identity crisis, Arthur?” he asked, all smug and smirking and Arthur wished he wasn’t nearly so cute in that goofy grin.
Arthur threw his pillow at him. Of course, he instantly regretted it because now he had to rest his head on the cold mattress instead of his fluffy pillow.
“Recommended listening, courtesy of Gwen,” he grumbled over the smooth crooning and possible whining passed off as singing. “Believe it or not, Merlin, that girl can be quite frightening when she wants to be.”
Merlin just laughed and flopped on his own bed, belly down and cradling Arthur’s pillow to his chest. “You know, I haven’t heard this song since the time my cousin thought she was in love with the fellow who worked at the theatre,” he said.
Arthur raised an eyebrow.
“She gave up on him when she realized she loved the guy who rode the motorcycle who cracked his head open in a tragic accident. She traded him in for the guy she ended up marring. He’s a florist.” Merlin rolled into a sitting position, still hugging Arthur’s pillow, and tapped the CD cover and asked, “So which one do you fancy?” as though it was a normal course of conversation.
Arthur managed a (manly) sputter and managed to turn it into a glare. Merlin didn’t see. He was busy studying the five young men, who were far too good looking to be real anyway.
“I don’t fancy Westlife,” Arthur snapped only to be chuckled at by his insane roommate.
“Yes, but isn’t that what girls do while moping around to teenie bopper boy band songs?” His eyes sparkled as he studied Arthur playfully. “If you did fancy one, which one would it be?”
Arthur refused to answer on grounds of his dignity. Merlin seemed undeterred and tapped the cover once more. “I think I’d have to choose him,” he said around a smile that told Arthur his discomfort was not missed by Merlin. “I’ve always been a fan of the blond sporty type.”
“Merlin,” Arthur complained when it was apparent Merlin still expected him to answer the question (and to be honest, Arthur was still trying to digest the newest revelation), “they’re blokes!”
Merlin nodded solemnly. “I told you mine. I think its fangirl etiquette that you tell me yours.” Oh, for crying out loud. There was no way Arthur was playing along with this, but then Merlin flashed his dimple and that stupid, wide, friendly grin and it was a complete lost cause.
“Him,” Arthur said, jabbing his finger at the middle brunette and trying to ignore the way the dark hair and blue eyes and open easy grin kind of reminded him the tiniest bit of Merlin.
When Merlin finally tossed the pillow back, Arthur let it lay crooked across the head of his bed and stuck his feet off the other end, and restarted the CD at track one when it finally finished.
Arthur returned the CD to Gwen the next day.
“It didn’t work,” he said, as she took the cool plastic case from him and slotted it into the small space reserved for it in her neatly alphabetised CD collection, which Arthur privately admired every time he had the chance, although he would never admit it to Morgana.
“Ok,” she said, and Arthur wished her eyes weren’t quite so knowing as she said it.
“I’m going to be become a vegetarian,” Merlin announced. They’d just gotten back from their Wednesday night volunteering (the first Wednesday of every month was hosted in a tiny church so far away that Arthur had fallen asleep on the Tube and had woken up drooling on Merlin’s shirt. Merlin, graciously, hadn’t mentioned it) and they were still peeling off all the layers of wool and cotton, and in Arthur’s case cashmere, that kept them from dying of cold.
Arthur tucked his leather gloves in their spot in his wardrobe and studied Merlin sceptically. “Why?”
Merlin shrugged. “It just seems like the socially responsible thing to do.” His hair was sticking up from when he’d pulled his hat off his head, each strand a waving little tower of static electricity trying to lean away from the next one.
“It’s because of that programme you watched with Morgana, isn’t it?”
Merlin shrugged again. His shoulders were slumped a little, as though trying to hide from Arthur, but his chin was stuck out at a defiant angle. “The little baby cows looked so sad, crammed together like that, all ready to die.” Merlin did look pretty upset by it.
Arthur grabbed the edges of Merlin’s scarf, tugged until it slipped from his neck and into Arthur’s hands.
“So don’t eat veal anymore.”
Merlin sighed. “But then they just have to spend longer waiting to die.”
Arthur folded Merlin’s scarf and set it on Merlin’s pillow so that Merlin could throw it on the floor later, just the way he liked, and then they could both trip on it until it got kicked under the bed and was lost for three weeks. “So just buy that free-range stuff,” he suggested, and nudged at Merlin’s coat until it fell off his shoulder and Arthur could hang it up – that was not going on the floor. Arthur had to draw the line somewhere. “You know, the chickens and stuff that can run around in a yard? Eat that stuff then.”
Merlin’s eyes glittered, maybe hopefully. “Maybe?” he said. Then he grinned. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that. But only, like, chickens and stuff. No cows. Because baby cows are still too cute to eat.”
Arthur refrained from pointing out that baby chickens were pretty darn cute too. He refrained from reminding Merlin how much he’d cooed over the little cage of them when some farm animal exhibit set up a booth in the Student’s Union. Instead, he pushed on Merlin’s shoulder and grinned. “Yeah, besides, you could never give up your lamb and mint crisps you like so much.
Merlin cut Morgana’s hair, not because it was cheaper – which it was – and not because he was better than her regular salon – which he was not – but because she liked watching him do it with no hands. Arthur opened the door to two sets of scissors flashing around Morgana’s head, and clippings of her dark hair falling to the carpet. Merlin was standing to the side with his head tilted and his thumb between his teeth, a little furrow between his eyebrows to show that he was thinking.
“You’re cleaning that up, right?” Arthur asked, as he toed his shoes into a neat line beside the door.
Merlin waved his hand dismissively at Arthur, then addressed Morgana, who was watching closely in the mirror. “More off the fringe or not?”
Merlin did not clean it up. Arthur hauled the Hoover all the way down the hall and sucked up bits of hair that seemed indefinably disgusting, although had never seemed that way while still attached to Morgana’s head. When Merlin came slinking back in at quarter to one in the morning, Arthur tried to glare at him.
Merlin tripped over a pile of textbooks, stumbled against the corner of his bed and landed leaning against Arthur’s chest smelling of margaritas and Morgana’s Mac eyeliner. “Morgana wanted to show off,” he murmured into Arthur’s shoulder. “I’ll run a spell tomorrow to sanitize. Too drunk now to not blow something up.”
The heat of his mouth moving against Arthur’s shirt was damp and soaked through the fabric and into his skin.
“Hey, it’s alright,” he said against Merlin’s hair and Merlin tipped his head up to look at Arthur blearily. His eyes were lined in black circles that had started smudging and his smile was hopeful. Arthur soothed a hand up the line of Merlin’s spine. “Let’s just get you in bed.” Merlin’s smile bled from hopeful to downright brilliant.
The first time Arthur ever set foot in Gaius’s little shop, his eyes watered and his nose twitched. Merlin’s palm spread out between Arthur’s shoulder blades was the only thing that kept him from backing out of the shop and into the brisk fresh air of the street.
“Ten minutes, Arthur,” Merlin whispered in his ear. His breath was hot and Arthur had to suppress the shiver it caused. He pretended to be completely engrossed in the weird plant things hanging from the ceiling. Dried flowers and herbs of some sort were dangling in little bundles just above eye level. Beyond them was a shelf of weirdly clinical bottles with official looking labels. Arthur thought it looked like two time periods were superimposed on each other – like he was seeing the present through a translucent image of the past.
Merlin leaned forward until his chin was almost resting on Arthur’s shoulder, but not quite. “I’m just going to tell him how long I can work before I go back to Mum’s. Ten minutes, tops.”
Arthur nodded and traced his finger in the air just above a brilliant yellow flower that looked so delicate Arthur thought it might just disintegrate beneath his touch. He felt Merlin move away, felt the heat of his body leave, even though both were wrapped up tightly against the cold.
Merlin spoke to the elderly gentleman at the back of the shop, and when Arthur dared to peek from the corner of his eye, he could see Merlin’s smile. He could see the way Merlin’s eyes sparkled when he grinned. He also saw when the man – it must be Gaius – lightly cuffed Merlin on the back of the head. The laugh that followed was high and pleased and Arthur wanted to join in.
He didn’t though. He waited until Merlin came back for him. He waited for Merlin’s touch on his elbow and only then did he turn to face him properly.
“Arthur, come meet Gaius,” he said tearing Arthur from his pretend scrutiny of some prickly thistle thing. “He wants to meet you.”
If Merlin was lying, if Gaius didn’t actually want to meet Merlin’s friend, Arthur couldn’t tell. Gaius smiled and talked animatedly about the newest tincture he was working on that soothed nervous stomachs. He told Arthur Merlin’s embarrassing childhood stories and helped him tease Merlin about his perpetual mess. Merlin took it with a grin, but turned the tables when he teamed up with Gaius to tease Arthur about his dependency on disinfectant wipes.
They only left when a couple of teenage girls came in looking for a love potion or something. Arthur extended his hand to Gaius. Gaius ignored it and pulled Arthur into a warm hug.
“If you’re important to Merlin,” he whispered, “then you’re most certainly important to me.”
Morgana mentioned that you wanted this orb thing but it was too expensive. Don’t be cross, but I looked it up on E-bay and I might have purchased it for you. If it’s not the right one, tell me and I’ll find another one for you. I’d say don’t try to pay me back, but we both know you will so I’m telling you now that I think you’re silly. But seriously, don’t pay me back. (E-bay is surprisingly easy. Why didn’t you tell me this before?)
Merlin had a few friends over the night before everyone went home for Easter Break. Liz was there, as well as the ginger that liked to curl all around Merlin as though he was going to change his mind and maybe decided he did, in fact, want to shag girls and not boys. Morgana and Gwen where there too, laughing and giggling and drinking those pink girly things they liked. When the fifth girl appeared at the door with a pile of romantic comedies and general chick flicks under her arm, Arthur beat a hasty retreat into the corridor where he flipped out his mobile and informed Owain that he was coming over to hide in his room for a while.
It didn’t last long though. He couldn’t concentrate on the rude jokes and the talk of the summer’s football team they would be playing on. He knew Merlin and the girls had only had enough time to get through one movie before he found himself standing hesitantly outside his own door. The murmur of female voices occasionally rose and hid the hum of Merlin’s computer playing The Notebook. Morgana’s laugh broke the gentle drone and then Merlin’s cryptic shout of “Clear the passageway!” caused a riotous laugh from the whole group.
Arthur didn’t know these people. Well, except for Morgana, and Gwen. And while he knew Merlin, he didn’t know him in this situation. He didn’t know him with his friends when he was loose and happy, when he was completely outside judgement and when he didn’t have to pretend. Arthur didn’t know this Merlin, and when Merlin made an uncanny impression of Captain Jack Sparrow, Arthur leaned against the wall and let the sound of Merlin’s voice seeping into the hallway settle in his bones.
Romeo and Juliette ended with silence from within the room. Arthur’s arse was sore from sitting on the floor but the lethargy of stillness had overtaken him and he wasn’t sure he could even stand up anymore, even if he was brave enough to go in and face this new Merlin, this Merlin he’d never bothered to get to know. His watch told him it was past one o’clock. He’d sat through PS. I Love You, and wondered if Merlin’s face was as tear streaked as Gwen’s got when she watched that movie with him and Morgana. When Romeo and Juliette started Arthur let himself imagine Merlin’s dark eyelashes fluttering each time Leonardo DiCaprio said something sappy and perfectly romantic. He let himself imagine Merlin’s pained expression when Mercutio died. When the final shot rang out, Arthur shifted until his legs were stretched out in front of him. Not only was his arse suffering pins and needles, his knees were cramped and his ankles were protesting the angle he had held them in for the past two hours. He didn’t notice when the door opened. He did notice, however, the low gasp and then Merlin’s face appearing level with his.
“You could have come in,” he heard and then he saw the expression in Merlin’s face. He knew his expression. Maybe he did know this Merlin after all.
Arthur agreed and let Merlin drag him into the room where he was forced to endure Moulin Rouge with Merlin pressed all along his side on the too-narrow bed.
Uther paid his children to go away for a while during the second week of Easter Holidays. That’s what Arthur said when he rang Merlin in the last week of March. Merlin’s response was garbled, and sounded muffled by the pillow and Arthur called him a lazy slug, although, to be fair, it was only half past eight in the morning.
“Uther’s paying you to leave?”
“Yes. You’re to come with me.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. The tension in his chest that had been slowly building for the past week loosened a little bit. He imagined Merlin curled in on himself, buried beneath his mound of twisted blankets. He imagined Merlin rubbing his eyes and yawning. He could almost see the sleep-tousled hair and the pillow creases on his skin.
Arthur imagined the grin playing with Merlin’s mouth. He didn’t want to imagine it any more. He wanted it there. He wanted it real.
“Father’s rented a chalet in France for us. We’ll have lie-ins, we’ll go skiing. We’ll try not to break any bones, but I’m not making any promises. You are kind of clumsy. Please Merlin. Morgana is bringing Gwen. I can’t stand the giggling. Or the mocking.”
Again he was greeted by silence.
Finally: “Gwen would never mock you, Arthur. Don’t lie.”
The last of the tension drained away and he knew before Merlin said anything else that by the time they hung up, Merlin would agree. Just in case, though…
“I’m pretty sure the chalet has internet.”
Merlin sighed, but Arthur could hear the smile and when he closed his eyes, he could see the dimple that accompanied it.
“Father is paying for the whole thing, you won’t have to pay anything. Please Merlin.”
This time the sigh was followed by a muttered “Spoilt,” and then louder, “They will not have internet. You’re lying again Arthur.”
Arthur beamed. “So that’s a yes then?”
The grumbled affirmation was lost amid the rustling on the other end of the line. This time when Arthur closed his eyes he pictured Merlin laying on his back with the covers pushed down to his waist, his eyelashes a dark smudge against his too-pale skin. He pictured Merlin cradling the phone loosely against his sticky-out ear as he fought to stay awake. For Arthur. He was only awake for Arthur. Instead of the previous tension, his heart felt like it was leaping right out of his chest.
“Hopeless Merlin,” he teased, but Arthur knew it was really he who was hopeless.
The chalet was nice, nice enough that Arthur didn’t think he’d need to reclean it before touching any of the surfaces. Still, he wasn’t about to use the black light thing they sometimes did in crime shows. He did not need to know exactly where someone else’s body fluid had previously been released.
“You and Merlin get that bedroom,” Morgana called over her shoulder as she and Gwen disappeared into the other small room, the one closest to the bathroom.
Arthur turned to relay the information to Merlin, but Merlin had already found it. His suitcase was already lying haphazardly on its side between the two twin beds, and he was sprawled over the covers.
“Knackered,” Merlin groaned, when Arthur pressed his toes against Merlin’s foot.
“You’re on holiday, Merlin,” he said and flopped next to him so that their elbows were banging together and Merlin had to shift so the dip of Arthur’s body didn’t force them to roll uncomfortably close together. “You’re not allowed to be tired.”
“Bossy prat,” Merlin grouched, and flung his arm out to smack at Arthur’s chest. “Besides, this counts as my first lie-in, kay? You did promise lie-ins.”
Arthur felt the giggle build. It started from his belly and crawled into his chest. When it finally leaked from his throat and fell uninhibited from his lips, Merlin was breathing evenly beside him, blissfully unaware of Arthur’s ridiculous behaviour.
Gwen wasn’t only a sweetheart. She was a sweetheart who could cook. Arthur was awakened by the smell of something delicious – probably roast chicken and potatoes. Merlin had shifted during their short nap and was pressed along his side, uncomfortable and bony and warm, and Arthur groaned when Merlin twisted awake and pulled away.
Arthur nodded numbly. Beside him, Merlin was smacking his mouth, as though waking it up as well. He propped himself up on his impossibly thin elbows and grinned down at Arthur.
“Good thing Gwen can cook,” he said and levered himself off the bed and disappeared through the door. Arthur gave him a whole minute head start before he followed him into the kitchenette. Merlin was helping lay the table and laughing with Morgana about the time Arthur’s cousin Valiant had snuck a rubber snake into the bed and Arthur had a royal freak-out.
“It was realistic,” he grumbled, but smiled anyway and let Gwen’s fingers rub his arm soothingly.
“So, Merlin,” Gwen said and set the water pitcher on the table and watched as Merlin floated over a candle set to sit in the middle. “I haven’t been able to catch up with you yet. How have your holidays been so far?”
Morgana joined the conversation by grinning over her mocha cappuccino and eying Merlin hungrily. Merlin hummed quietly and blinked at the candles until tiny flames sputtered into existence. “It’s been fine,” he said at last. His eyes faded from gold back to their familiar blue.
“Just fine, Merlin?” Morgana’s eyes were glinting. Arthur didn’t need them directed at him to know she was somehow mocking him (or something. But wasn’t she always?). “Not fabulous?”
Merlin barked out a surprised laugh. “It is now,” he said at last and his eyes glowed yellow once again as Arthur felt the teasing poke along the back of his neck. “Just fabulous darling.”
Arthur swiped at the invisible finger prodding his neck, and even laughed himself a little. “Don’t let Owain hear you say that. He’ll revoke your girl guru licence.”
“I don’t ski,” Merlin said from his crumpled heap at Arthur’s feet. Morgana and Gwen were nowhere to be seen – probably having hot chocolate, or ogling the ski patroller they’d been following all day.
“I can see that.” Arthur wasn’t annoyed though. Despite having to stay on the runs meant for beginners, despite having children no higher than his knees whip past him, Arthur didn’t mind holding back. Besides, if he didn’t stay back to pick up Merlin every time he fell, who would? The ski patroller? No thank you. He could keep his French little paws off Merlin (were all French men perverts who hit on people Arthur would rather they not hit on? Seriously, it was getting annoying).
“Maybe you should just go on without me…” Merlin started at the same time Arthur grunted and started talking over him.
“I came here with you…”
“…so I don’t hold you back.”
“…and I’m not abandoning you.”
They stared at each other for a moment before Arthur reached down and tugged Merlin to his admittedly very unstable feet. “Try again, this time, try not to cross the toes of your skis over each other,” he said. Merlin got about a metre and a half before he tumbled again. Arthur just laughed and helped him back up.
The thing about holidays was that they passed far too quickly. One day they were arriving and unpacking and squealing about the snow – well, Gwen and Merlin were. Morgana and Arthur were far too composed for squealing of any kind. Then, suddenly, they were packing back up and arranging for a taxi to drop them at the airport the next morning.
“This was fun,” Merlin told Arthur sleepily once the plans were made and they were both curled in their respective beds. “Thanks for this.”
Arthur hummed and let his fingers scratch along the sheets of the bed. “I,” he said. Then: “Yeah, I…Yeah it was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Mmm,” Merlin said softly. “It’s going to be weird going back to Mum’s place. You know, without spoilt rich kids underfoot all the time.”
Arthur wanted to protest that he wasn’t spoilt. He wanted to protest that he wasn’t ever underfoot and that if anyone was underfoot it was Merlin with all his clothes all over the floor. Instead he let the true meaning roll over him and when he opened his mouth he found not a protest but a teasing question falling from him.
“Are you saying you’ll miss me?”
Merlin chuckled. When Arthur turned his head and looked, Merlin was curled on his side and staring across the small gap. His eyes were golden again.
“And Morgana,” Merlin said. “And of course Gwen.”
“But you’ll miss me most?”
Merlin laughed again. “You most of all.”
Despite the white tension of Merlin’s knuckles, he appeared perfectly calm. Even when the airplane hit turbulence and Merlin’s hand shot out and snagged Arthur’s wrist in a grasp so tight Arthur was sure his bones were grinding together, even then, Merlin’s face never lost his dreamy smile.
Arthur wondered if his face mirrored Merlin’s. The plane trembled again and Merlin’s grasp tightened. Arthur hoped it would bruise.
While Merlin’s mum smiled benignly, Uther glared at his children equally when they appeared through the arrivals gate. He glared at Gwen slightly more, but reserved his most scathing glare for Merlin who just smiled merrily back at him. Of course, the smile might have had something to do with the way Gwen was pressed along his front giving him hard hugs and little kisses on his cheek.
“Don’t be selfish Gwen,” Morgana said, almost laughing, as she elbowed Gwen out of the way and wrapped her arms around Merlin’s waist and tugged him close for a hug. She whispered something in his ear that Arthur didn’t catch but judging from the brilliant blush that stole across Merlin’s face, Arthur wasn’t sure he wanted to hear whatever secret they were sharing.
Then, before the blush had completely receded, Merlin was in Arthur’s face and closing the distance between them. They were both wearing far too many clothes for Arthur to feel anything, really – not the bones of Merlin’s hips that stood out a little too much when Merlin wore his boxers low, not the sharp edge where his ribs ended and his soft belly began, not the jut of his collar bones that seemed to frame his neck and throat. All he felt was the heavy press of Merlin’s too-thin body against his and the tightening of those gangly arms around his waist. When Merlin pressed his face into Arthur’s neck, when that final touch of skin on skin happened, Arthur wanted to jump and skitter. He wanted to whimper. Instead he flexed his arms and drew Merlin that little bit closer and turned his head to whisper in Merlin’s ear.
“I’ll miss you too, you know.”
I still maintain that you should have holidayed here with Gaius so that I would have some sort of outlet from the constant twittering of giggling girls. I might have even taken my leave of Father to visit you in the Shop, had you stayed in London. I am terribly bored and Owain and Pellinore are lousy friends who only want to be crass and talk about girls. Do you not know teleportation? You must have some sort of ability. Or perhaps you have access to a floo network. In either case, you simply must come back early, I insist. If not to save me from my sister stepsister, then to provide me hours of general tidying up after your messes simply to break the monotony of the Pendragon estate.
Sent: 4 April 2009, 3:09:38 AM
did you seriously send me a letter? in the post? you must be mad and delirious with boredom. i pity your horrible and wealthy lifestyle.
why don’t you come to visit me? mum would love a proper introduction without your father sneering at her.
“All those who live must some day die. It is our fate”
Sent: 4 April 2009, 10:24:28 AM
Subject: Re: [none]
My father does not sneer. And I would not fancy being a nuisance to your mother just to escape the tedium of my home life.
"Alzheimer"s Advantage #2: You can hide your own Easter eggs."
Sent: 5 April 2009, 2:43:21 PM
Subject: Re: [none]
stop being a sulky child. i"ll even book the train ticket for you unless you plan on driving. mum wants to meet you. you can bring morgana and gwen if you want.
“All those who live must some day die. It is our fate”
Arthur got off the train with too much luggage and no idea what he was even doing. Merlin was waiting for him on the platform with his sunglasses on and a bright scarf wrapped around his neck despite the unseasonably warm weather. Car keys flashed in the morning afternoon sun when he waved at Arthur. Arthur cringed.
Despite Merlin’s open invitation, Arthur had no desire to share his get away with Morgana and Gwen. It was the whole purpose of getting away, anyway, and now as Merlin jogged along the near empty platform (only one other passenger had gotten off at the station) Arthur was glad Morgana was not there to mock him for whatever breakdown he was about to suffer.
“Mum let me have her car to come pick you up,” Merlin chirped brightly as he tugged on one of Arthur’s bag as though expecting it not to weigh far too much. “She threatened to make me call a taxi but I gave her puppy eyes and she relented.” He gave up on the bag and snatched the smaller one from Arthur and began heading toward a small two-door car that would probably not fit Merlin, not to mention Merlin and Arthur and Arthur’s things.
Arthur felt a moment of regret that he’d not decided to drive his own car after all. It didn’t last, though. Once Merlin had kicked, shuffled and shoved all of Arthur’s things into the boot, he pulled the tiny car onto the even tinier country highway that lead to his home. Arthur had to concentrate very hard not to have a mild panic attack. Merlin took the turns too fast, shifted gears too late and wandered into the other lane so often Arthur was surprised they were both alive by the time they pulled up in front of a quaint cottage-type house.
It was like the little place in Scotland Morgana insisted they go a few years ago. Arthur had been stung by vicious stinging insects, tormented by the frogs in the garden, and sunburnt to peeling. Arthur had never wanted to repeat the experience. He looked warily at Merlin who had somehow managed to wrestle Arthur’s heavier bag out of the boot and was currently hoisting the smaller bag on his shoulder.
“Home,” he said with a smile that took over his whole face. Arthur forgot to be worried.
Hunith was amazing. She made bread from scratch and served tea with real honey – not the store bought kind but the kind from a honey comb that she’d gotten from a bee keeper who sold his wares during the summer. She also gave Merlin stern glares until he hauled all of Arthur’s things up the narrow stairs while she insisted Arthur stay in the kitchen and chat with her a while.
“Merlin talks about you endlessly,” she said once she’d sat him at the table and suitably fattened his belly with home-made pastries. “But I still know so little about you.”
Arthur spread his fingers on the table. His knuckles were pale and white against the aged wood, too smooth to be touching something so marked with time and history. “I, er,” he said and chewed on his lip.
There was a small touch on his jaw, and then gentle fingers were tipping his face up until he was looking into Hunith’s eyes – tender and sweet – and Arthur couldn’t hold back the tentative smile that spread across his face.
“He does tell me you’re not in to computers. What do you do with your time?”
Arthur blinked down then back up. “Football, mostly,” he said. “I play on a team with my mates in the summer.”
Hunith nodded, her eyebrows raised as if asking for more.
“Er, I guess I spend time with my step-sister, and I go home for dinner with Father sometimes?”
Hunith pushed the tea pot toward Arthur and let him pour himself another cup. “Merlin mentioned your father. He lives in London, then?”
Arthur nodded. He didn’t want her to ask why he’d chosen a campus room over living at home. He didn’t want to answer question about home at all. He opened his mouth to change the subject but Merlin beat him to it, his voice loud and jovial coming from the door in the corner.
“Arthur feeds the hungry with me, every week,” he said and plunked down in the mismatched chair opposite Arthur. “He was the one that told me about it.”
Hunith smiled and Arthur couldn’t help but notice the family resemblance, the same eager happiness and readiness to like people. “Merlin convinced me to go weekly instead of monthly,” he offered as Merlin shoved three biscuits in his mouth at once. Merlin’s smile was a little crumby.
Hunith laughed. “I’m glad you two boys are so interested in helping out.” She smiled warmly at Arthur once more, gave Merlin a gentle admonishment against eating too much sugar, and then she was gone, melted into the peaceful background of the house.
“What do you want to do now?” Merlin asked around his fourth biscuit. All Arthur knew was that he wanted to stay there forever.
Merlin’s bedroom was tiny but just as messy as their campus room had been. His bed was rumbled with a big pile of blankets twisted in the middle. The desk was cluttered with coke cans and empty crisp bags and what Arthur hoped was a clean sock. The laptop was on the bookshelf with a game controller sitting on the keys.
Merlin glanced up from where he was nudging a pile of suspiciously-wrinkled clothes into the corner.
“Where am I sleeping?”
Merlin glanced at the only bed – a tiny single and then at Arthur. Arthur waited and there, there it was, the round eyes and a startled little meep that fell from Merlin’s mouth.
“I forgot!” he said and flailed his arms. “Will just shares the bed with me and I forgot you’d probably need your own space! I’ll go ask Mum for some extra sheets, I can sleep on the floor, Arthur, I forgot to -.”
Merlin’s eyes didn’t lose their frantic, worried roundness. His mouth stayed open as if waiting for the right moment to keep rambling. It was disconcerting.
Arthur shrugged and sat on the edge of the bed, gingerly, shyly. “If you don’t mind, I mean,” he said to his knees.
The bed dipped beside him, tipping toward Merlin who now occupied the space to his right. Their arms brushed through the fabric of Arthur’s jumper and Merlin’s hoodie. Merlin’s long white fingers touched Arthur’s briefly before retracting to his own lap.
“Of course I don’t mind.”
Arthur thought it would be awkward, sharing a bed. He hadn’t purposely fallen asleep in bed with another person since Father had told him he was too old to be creeping into Morgana’s room. Admittedly, the first night was weird, and also extremely uncomfortable. Merlin’s blankets weren’t tucked into the bed and moved with each little shift of either boy. Merlin’s legs got tangled more than once with Arthur’s, and Arthur woke up with Merlin’s elbow jabbing into his ribs. The second night was better. They switched sides and Arthur found that by wedging Merlin between himself and the wall, he could make him hold still a little more. By the third night, Arthur was able to simply drop off into sleep without even being aware of the hot, soft body so very, very close to his own.
“Will says it’s not fair that I don’t share you,” Merlin announced over the full English breakfast Hunith had prepared for them. “He demands I take you round to his house.”
Arthur froze with his mouth full of egg. “Why?” he asked. Hunith gave him a light tap to the back of the head.
“Swallow first, talk second,” she said absently and Arthur continued to stare at Merlin (although he did swallow his breakfast before opening his mouth again).
“Will doesn’t even like me,” Arthur said. “I was rude the last time we met,” Arthur said. “He’s your friend,” Arthur said.
Merlin laughed. “We country folk are keen on second chances.”
Will threw rocks at a tree for a quarter of an hour while Arthur froze quietly and Merlin hopped from one foot to the other. To be fair, he’d offered them each a turn but Merlin declined due to his poor aim and Arthur had shuddered so hard at the thought of all the dirt on the rocks that Will hadn’t asked him again.
“Kay, you guys can tell me to stop,” he said at last. Then he quirked an eyebrow at Merlin. “Wanna go wreak havoc on the James’ farm?
Will’s mother was not happy when Old Man James came stomping up to the front door and demanded the boys unmake the three-story tree house that had seemingly cropped up in the space of an hour. He ranted that the tree was too tiny and too frail to hold such a monstrosity. He yelled that it was his property, damn it, and the boys could play on the Emrys property if they wanted to, never mind that they were both far too old to be told to go outside and play.
Will’s mom stared at the boys for a moment while James glared at them. “They’ll fix it,” she said evenly. “Go away,” she snapped at him, without taking her eyes off Will. Then, when the door clicked shut behind him, and his boots could be heard on the gravel path leading to the drive, she pressed her lips into a line and turned to Merlin.
Merlin shrugged, but he didn’t quiet manage the innocent look Arthur figured he was aiming for.
“I want it down before he gets back to his farm.”
Merlin shrugged again. Will said “it’s already down.”
“It was set to disintegrate as soon as he opened his gate,” Merlin said lightly, and Arthur remembered the light sheen of sweat that covered Merlin’s brow as he chanted the words necessary for such a trigger. He remembered the yellow hint that stayed in his eyes for minutes afterward. “It’s funny to see how upset he gets when it’s already gone.” This time his voice belied the smile that still refused to surface.
Will’s mother pinched the bridge of her nose. “Run along then,” she said at last. “Don’t want you to miss his reaction.”
Arthur looked back before the front door slammed. Despite the cross tone of voice she’d used earlier, her expression now was soft and fond. She winked at him and made shooing motions with his hands. Arthur decided he liked her. A lot.
Sent: 8 April 2009, 4:16:37 PM
I have decided to stay an extra day with Merlin and his mother. No need to tell Father. I did not inform him of my return plans and he does not expect me home at any specific time.
"Alzheimer"s Advantage #2: You can hide your own Easter eggs."
Sent: 8 April 2009, 6:19:25 PM
Subject: Re: Update
You’ve got it so bad. Gwen and I are laughing at your sorry arse. Have you kissed him yet? Or are you too chicken? hahahahahahahahahaha
Arthur no longer lost so desperately at Guitar Hero. Merlin still kicked his arse when they were really trying, but mostly they just stuck to easy levels and laughed when they got booed off the stage because Merlin got distracted by his stomach or Arthur dropped his guitar because he’d tripped over something on the floor while trying to dance. The night before Arthur had to leave, they were sitting on Merlin’s bed, as close to each other as the little plastic instruments would allow, just drifting through the game.
“Your mum’s nice,” Arthur said softly over the strains of some classic rock song neither actually knew outside of the game. “I wish my father was that cool.”
Merlin hit the blue button instead of the red button and said “Your father’s alright in his own way. You just have to give him a chance.”
The city was loud and dim and dirty, and Morgana ushered him into her arms for a full hug almost before he’d even gotten off the platform. Gwen had the car waiting for them on the road and Arthur knew he had to hurry, but when Morgana’s warm arms circled around him, he pressed into it and clung for a moment.
“You’re hopeless, Arthur,” she whispered into his shoulder. Arthur had to agree.
“Mum adores you,” Merlin announced upon bursting through the door and scattering his things all over the place. Arthur sat on the bed, clutching the plastic guitar, and refused to look away from the game lest he miss a note. It had taken him entirely too long to figure out how to work Merlin’s Playstation by himself. He was never going to admit that, though. “She said you simply must come visit over the summer sometime.”
Arthur finished the song to what him imagined was thunderous applause. He wanted to pretend to bow and prance across an imaginary stage. He wanted to rock out the way Merlin did when he did particularly well. Instead he set the guitar down and turned to look at Merlin.
“I think I’m going to stay in London for the summer though,” Merlin continued and plugged in another guitar. “I’m going to work with Gaius, I think.”
Arthur didn’t play the next game, let the notes slide right past him until Merlin paused it and looked over.
“You’re staying in London?” he said to Merlin’s questioning stare. “Where are you living? It’s expensive.”
Merlin shrugged. “Let’s play Arthur. You may be getting better, but I can still kick your arse if I want to.”
Arthur didn’t dispute it.
Something Owain had never quite gotten the hang on was revising for exams. They tried going to the library, they tried the café down the street from Arthur’s house. They even tried Arthur’s house, until Owain had gotten restless and smashed a lamp with a football. Uther kicked them out after that and said Arthur was not to bring any of his friends back (except that Emrys boy. At least he’s quiet.)
They ended up in Arthur’s room eating a bag of Merlin’s crisps and tossing a football between them as they each tried to cram as much information into their heads as possible. Owain twisted on the bed, rumpling the comforter before reflexively straightening it for Arthur. Arthur was curled on Merlin’s bed, the side of his face pressed into Merlin’s pillow as he silently recited the parts of the limbic system. His eyes met Owain’s and he shrugged with one shoulder.
“I need to get drunk,” was what Owain said before bowing his head over his book once more. Arthur didn’t think that was an accurate assessment of the situation. Owain was going to fail outright if he didn’t learn everything he hadn’t learned during the first two terms. And Arthur did not want to clean up after a drunk and sloppy Owain. That was his girlfriend’s job, but Owain had recently broken up with her and now he was Arthur’s responsibility.
“And laid,” Owain said and crumpled the empty bag of crisps. Arthur made a mental note to buy Merlin more before he noticed they’d eaten them all. “Speaking of which, you’ve been quiet on the potential shag front, Arthur.”
Arthur closed his eyes and turned his face until all he could see was black and all he could smell was Merlin. The pillow case needed to be changed but Arthur didn’t mind.
“No girlfriend,” he grumbled against the cotton of Merlin’s pillow. Some distant part of his brain registered the irony in Owain’s laugh. He ignored it. “Not into casual hook-ups.”
Owain’s fingers twitched against Arthur’s shoulder blade, for just a second, so brief Arthur might have thought he’d imagined it if it hadn’t been for the genuine sound of what came out of Owain’s mouth next.
“Maybe not a girlfriend,” Owain said, and this time the laugh that followed was neither ironic nor cruel. It was nervous and quiet; as though he was afraid he’d overstepped his bounds. “Is there no, er, person at all? Even for snogging, I mean, if you’re not interested in shagging.”
Arthur turned his face away from the heady scent of Merlin’s pillow and studied Owain’s face. His eyes were clear, no familiar haze of alcohol clouding them, nor gleam of athletic competition.
“You don’t have to, like, tell me anything personal Arthur. I just want you to be happy,” he said. For once Arthur believed him.
Are you going to stay with Gaius then?” Arthur asked over burnt toast and tea that was too strong. He missed Hunith’s snacks and meals but he wasn’t going to tell Merlin. Merlin had more time to build up a dependency on Hunith’s cooking and Arthur somehow felt his pain was nothing compared to that which Merlin was experiencing. It was lucky then, that Uther had let the boys use living room as a study space, even if his toaster was still a mean-spirited wanker.
“Arthur, I don’t know yet,” Merlin said without looking up. “I have to look around. Liz is getting a flat with a couple of her mates. I might go in with them.”
Arthur felt his stomach contract. “It’s expensive,” he said again, for the fifth time that week.
Merlin finally raised his eyes and grinned cheekily at Arthur. “More expensive than replenishing my snack supply after you and your friends get into it?” His mouth quirked and Arthur felt his face pale.
“I meant to buy you more,” he said weakly.
“Merlin kicked out under the coffee table they’d both used for their books and nudged Arthur’s foot.
“Arthur, I’m teasing.”
Arthur dropped his chin to his chest. The back of his neck felt hot. He knew if Morgana was there she would be pointing out the blush spreading over his ears and cheeks and neck. She wasn’t. “I really did. I just forgot.”
Merlin kicked at his foot again. “It’s ok. I secretly buy the beef and onion for you. No more cows for me, remember?”
Arthur laughed at that and kicked back and then just pressed his toes under Merlin’s and left them there. “I was hoping you’d forgotten all about that,” he said.
Merlin shrugged. He didn’t take his toes away from Arthur’s. “A sad baby cow stays with me forever,” he said seriously, even though his eyes sparkled with amusement.
They hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but in the end, the lethargy of the whole evening set in and Merlin’s head had nodded, then fallen, and his breathing evened out. The silence was only broken by Merlin’s occasional snore that his awkward position forced from his throat. After listening to it for half an hour, Arthur stretched until his back popped, then shuffled over to where Merlin was tilting against the front of the couch. His legs still sprawled under the coffee table but now his knees were bent and his ankles twisted and every now and then he would pull them back until his thighs hit the table legs, and he would whimper and stop.
Arthur rested his hand on Merlin’s shoulder. It was warm through his Pong t-shirt. Arthur didn’t want to let go.
“Merlin?” he whispered. Merlin tried to draw his knees to his chest again, was thwarted by the table, again, and then he dropped his face to nuzzle his cheek against Arthur’s hand – still on Merlin’s shoulder.
“Merlin, come on,” Arthur whispered and shook Merlin gently. “Let’s just go to bed, okay?”
Merlin’s eyes blinked slowly open and he peered up at Arthur.
Arthur glanced at the walk clock. “Just after midnight. Come on, let’s just go to bed.”
Merlin let himself be hauled into a standing position (after Arthur had manipulated his legs out from underneath the coffee table) but he balked when Arthur tried to usher him upstairs toward the home theatre.
“The chair makes your neck stiff,” Merlin mumbled and swayed. Arthur caught him around the waist and let Merlin settle against his chest. “You sleep on the couch tonight.”
Arthur used his foot to push Merlin’s toward the stairs. Merlin hesitated. “You always sleep on the couch,” Arthur said and used his other foot to push Merlin a little closer to their destination. Merlin still refused.
“But the chair is uncomfortable.”
Arthur sighed, and shrugged Merlin so most of his weight was held by Arthur’s arms. He pressed his forehead into the soft hair on the back of Merlin’s head. “How about we share the couch?” he asked. Merlin inhaled sharply, and when he finally released it, he shuddered and sighed.
“Sounds good to me,” he said and detached himself from Arthur to make his own weary way up the stairs and into what used to be Arthur’s bedroom.
“So I said we should ask if you and Merlin want to come in on it with us.”
Morgana looked at Arthur expectantly, as though he had had sufficient time to digest what she’d just said. He hadn’t. He continued to stare at her blankly. Morgana narrowed her eyes.
“You haven’t said anything to Merlin yet, have you?”
Arthur dropped his gaze. It was surprising how dirty his trainers had gotten since Merlin and he had started walking more places.
“Arthur,” Morgana snapped. “You said you were going to ask him. He can’t read your mind.”
Arthur studied a particular spot of red that was probably pasta sauce from dinner last night. Merlin had suggested the small Italian restaurant, had promised it would live up to Arthur’s high expectations. Merlin had even paid for both meals, despite Arthur’s protests. He claimed it was for all the times Arthur didn’t kick him out when he’d fallen asleep at Uther’s house. Arthur wasn’t sure that was the real reason.
“Arthur.” This time it was gentler – frustrated but still gentle.
“I just,” Arthur started, then paused. “He said he was thinking about moving in with Liz.”
Morgana sighed. “He also said he might live on Gaius’ couch,” she said. “He hasn’t made up his mind yet. Ask him.”
Pellinore and Owain were hogging the couch, kicking at each other to try to get more room out of the deal. Morgana was curled up on the huge wing-back chair that Uther usually claimed. Gwen was on the floor at her feet. Merlin was stretched out on his front on the rug before the fire. Arthur balanced the tray of mugs and just stared at the scene for a moment before intruding. Despite the text books and hand written notes scattered around, it almost looked serene. It looked homely.
Merlin glanced up from his laptop, on which he was practicing something that Arthur hadn’t understood the first three times Merlin had tried to explain it. “Tea?” he asked and his voice sounded so young, so hopeful.
Arthur smiled and brought the tray to the coffee table. He let everyone fend for themselves, letting them fight over which mug was the most full or appeared to have the most sugar. He did, however, snatch his own mug and the one he knew Merlin liked from the tray and when he settled, cross-legged beside him, Merlin took it graciously.
It had just the right amount of sugar in it. He’d made sure. He’d wanted honey, the way Hunith made it, but Uther didn’t keep real honey in the house.
“When is this exam?” Arthur asked, inclining his head toward Merlin’s screen.
Merlin sipped his tea and sighed as though it was heaven. Arthur privately felt thrilled. Outwardly, he just waited.
“It’s my last one,” he said between sips. “But it’s also my hardest and I don’t want to mess up.”
Arthur nodded. His own hardest was his first exam and Merlin had already taken pre-emptive action to distract Arthur from two potential panic attacks before they managed to start. Morgana had handled the third. This was the first time Arthur had heard Merlin sound even remotely worried about his exams.
“You’ll do great,” Arthur said softly, just loud enough that Merlin could hear him but quiet enough that Pellinore and Owain couldn’t hear him over the sounds of their bickering. “You always do great.”
Merlin smiled. When he inched his free hand forward to settle over Arthur’s where it rested on the floor (and Arthur hadn’t even thought about how unsanitary that was until that moment), Arthur flipped his hand and twisted their fingers together. “Thanks Arthur,” Merlin said, even softer than Arthur had been speaking before.
Morgana and Gwen had gone to bed long ago. Pellinore and Owain had gone back to the halls, probably go get drunk, but there was a possibility they were planning on sleeping. Or well, Pellinore might be. Owain was probably trying to get laid but it was unlikely he’d get anywhere. Merlin had absolutely insisted that Arthur sleep on the couch again tonight, claiming it was easily wide enough for both of them and the chair made Arthur insufferably cranky.
But now, as Arthur twisted on the cool leather of the couch, he was alone. Merlin had wandered off to go to the loo twenty minutes ago and Arthur was beginning to worry his father had murdered him and stuffed his body in a broom cupboard.
With a sigh that was unbecoming and a groan that was even worse, Arthur heaved himself from his (rather uncomfortable and lonely) position on the couch and turned down the hall toward the bathroom that Merlin preferred.
As he neared his father’s study, he saw a sliver of light seep from the door, which hung slightly ajar. A low mummer of voices broke the silence of the night and it took Arthur a moment to realise that was Merlin’s voice talking to his father. He edged closer, telling himself he was just checking to make sure Merlin wasn’t in mortal danger.
“…good friends lately,” Uther’s voice said and Arthur didn’t recognise the tone.
“He’s a good friend to have, sir,” said Merlin. Arthur did recognise that tone. He edged closer to the door in case Merlin’s nerves turned into outright terror and he needed saving.
“I’m glad,” Uther said. There was a pause and then Uther continued. “You seem to care a great deal about my son. I’m glad he found someone like you. His other friends are…” Arthur pictured Uther waving his hand the way Morgana did when she assumed Arthur knew what word she wanted but she didn’t want to say it out loud. He hadn’t known is father was ever reduced to such hand gestures.
“I, er, sir?”
Arthur wanted desperately to see what was going on. Instead he leaned his head against the wall and listened as Uther said “You’re a good boy, Merlin. I’m glad that you’re the one.”
Merlin made a noise in his throat, one Arthur thought might be agreement, or maybe confusion. He didn’t wait to hear what Merlin said after it though, so he never found out. Instead, he snuck back to the room and curled on the couch to wait for Merlin’s return. The air was cool and empty around him and he wanted Merlin to come back right now, and he wanted to ask what his father meant. He wanted to know why Uther never had a heart to heart with him.
He fell asleep amid a swirl of questions and the dreamland greeted him with images of Merlin dressed all in white, accompanied by Hunith and moving toward Arthur, who stood with his father. But no matter how far Merlin walked, the distance between them never closed and Arthur wanted to yank on Merlin’s wrist and just finally pull him close.
Merlin’s feet were cold when he pulled back the blanket and crawled in beside Arthur, shocking him from sleep. As the last dregs of the dream faded, Merlin shifted until his hand rested on Arthur’s belly.
Arthur raised his own hand to rest on top of Merlin’s, holding it in place.
In the darkness, Merlin sighed and lay his head down. “Didn’t mean to wake you,” Merlin whispered. Truth be told, Arthur didn’t really mind being woken.
Arthur watched as Merlin drank his third glass of orange juice in a row. He’d walked into the room to find Merlin in the middle of a pile of folded laundry. The desk was spotless and even the books on the shelf had been lined up according to author. Arthur didn’t have to check under the bed to know Merlin had tidied under there. The trainer Arthur had lost before Christmas was lined up with its mate alongside all the other shoes.
Now Merlin was just twitching in his chair and drinking orange juice. And tapping his finger against the desk.
Merlin’s eyes found Arthur’s, but they were too wide, too glazed, as though Merlin were high even though Arthur knew Merlin never touched the stuff.
“Merlin,” he said, moving to kneel in front of Merlin. He placed his hand on Merlin’s knee. “You’ll do fine.” Merlin nodded but it didn’t look like he’d even noticed. Arthur moved closer until he was between Merlin’s knees and his hand was resting on Merlin’s side. “You know this stuff inside out.” He reached his other hand up to cup Merlin’s cheek. “You’ll do just fine.”
Merlin let a small moan slip from his mouth. Arthur leaned forward until Merlin could rest his forehead against Arthur’s. “Fine,” he mumbled, so close Arthur could feel his breath across his face. “I’ll be fine.”
Merlin had gotten up to go to the bathroom four times that night. Arthur counted. The fourth time, when Merlin sat back down on his bed, Arthur pulled himself up and crossed the small space between them to where Merlin was still standing. The air was cold against his skin and Merlin was warm. Arthur pressed along his side, and let his arm slip around Merlin’s waist, almost as though his arm had decided to do so separately from Arthur’s will. When he felt Merlin relax, he gently pushed him down and under the twisted sheets, only pausing long enough to straighten them out a little. He then climbed in beside Merlin, wrapping his arm over Merlin’s stomach, and held him tight.
Merlin trembled for a while, fidgeted and squirmed. Finally, Arthur felt Merlin’s hand brush against his own, and he lifted his fingers so that Merlin’s could tangle with his. After that, Merlin settled, a little bit at a time, until his breathing maybe wasn’t as deep and even as it could be, but it wasn’t as rapid and shallow and startling as before either.
Arthur must have fallen asleep listening to Merlin breathe because he woke up alone. The clock told him it was still early and when he shifted to see if Merlin’s jacket was gone, or just him, he noticed the sheets had been pulled straight and tucked in at the bottom of the bed. There was also a note stuck to the wall by the head of the bed. Back soon, it said and even as Arthur was reading it, the door swung open and Merlin came in carrying two steaming plates of breakfast, just like Hunith made.
“I figured I should eat today,” Merlin said as he placed one plate on Arthur’s lap and sat down with the other, tucking his feet back under the blankets to brush against Arthur’s. “It’s not like I ate anything yesterday.”
Arthur didn’t say he knew. He didn’t ask if Merlin would be able to keep it down. Instead, he speared a sausage from Merlin’s plate. Merlin swatted at him but didn’t take it back. Instead, he rested his head on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Thanks mate,” he whispered so quietly Arthur wasn’t sure Merlin had even said it.
“Don’t live with Liz.”
Merlin looked up from where he was studiously making a mess to cover his random cleaning attack a few days ago. “What?”
“Live with me,” Arthur said. He wished he’d taken the time to put his books down, to take off his jacket and maybe his shoes. Instead, he stood in the doorway exactly as he had come in.
“Live with…” Merlin said and raised his eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Arthur said. “With me. And, well, with Morgana and Gwen. But with me too.”
Merlin stood. The fingers of his right hand were covered in crumbs and grease from his beloved crisps. The papers in his left hand fluttered to the floor around his bed. “You’re living with the girls?”
Arthur nodded emphatically. He placed his books on his bed in a pile but they fell over. He didn’t bother setting them back up. “Yeah. They asked me. Gwen said it’s too expensive for just two so Morgana thought she’d ask me.”
“She asked you.”
Arthur nodded again. “And now I’m asking you.”
Merlin frowned. He chewed on his lip, then went to chew at his fingernail only to realise how greasy his fingers were. He stuck them in his mouth for a moment and when he pulled them out they were clean but glistening. Arthur averted his eyes. “You actually told me, Arthur. That was not a question.”
Arthur nodded. He could fix that. “Will you, then?”
Merlin laughed at that, wiped his hands on his trousers. “The girls asked you,” Merlin said. Arthur nodded. He felt like those bobble headed dogs people stuck in their cars. “The girls didn’t ask me.”
“Oh.” Arthur was confused. “But, I mean, we’re kind of a package deal, right?” Merlin raised both his eyebrows. He gave a slight head jerk that told Arthur he was listening, despite his lack of understanding. “And Morgana kind of said you were invited too.”
Arthur scrubbed his hand over his face.
“She said you and I should live with her and Gwen. That’s what she said. Merlin. Please.”
It was only because Arthur was watching Merlin’s face so closely that he noticed the smile at all. It tugged at Merlin’s lips, then tucked itself into the corner of his mouth – small but still there. Arthur stepped forward and watched the smile blossom.
“Yeah, okay,” Merlin said. “Okay. That sounds good. Yeah.”
Arthur did his very best to not throw his arms around Merlin and hug him to within an inch of his life.
“You stole my bloody mascara, didn’t you?”
“I most certainly did not! I don’t feel the need to hide behind four inches of make up every single useless day of my life!”
“Yeah, your life is sodding useless, always pining away about Lance. ‘Oh how I miss Lance.’ ‘I do wish Lance was here.’ ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Lance could just be attached to my hip all the bloody time?’”
“At least I have someone to love me! Who do you have? Merlin’s bloody gay and Arthur’s your brother!”
“STEP-BROTHER! And what do you know of having friends? All you have is me and Lance!”
Arthur stared at Merlin, who was staring at the slightly open door. Arthur was certain his expression matched Merlin’s – eyes wide and horrified, mouth agape, skin beyond pale.
“Gwen’s yelling,” Merlin whispered, then bit his lip as though saying it out loud would make it worse. “And Morgana’s being cruel.”
Arthur flicked his eyes over to where the sound was seeping from the room and into the kitchen area. Their other flatmate was averting her gaze as she slipped past, trying to not get involved. Gwen was telling Morgana she was a vain wench. Morgana was retorting that Gwen had no personality. Then something shattered and Gwen came flying out of the room with her face in her hands, sobs falling from her lips.
Merlin looked desperately at Arthur for one long second before turning tail and bolting after Gwen, heedless of the fact that Gwen had disappeared into someone else’s room. Arthur bit his tongue. He was to soothe Morgana then.
When he entered the room, Morgana was curled on her bed, holding her teddy bear to her chest and spilling tears into her pillow at an alarming rate. Arthur sat on her bed and trailed his fingers through her hair.
“Can you believe it?” Morgana gasped between sobs, when there was enough space between them to actually breathe and then talk. “We’ve been friends our whole lives!” She shot up suddenly and buried her face in Arthur’s shoulder. “The horrible things she said!”
Arthur rested his hand on her back, traced circles with his thumbs. “You said some pretty awful stuff too,” he said.
Morgana sniffed. Her nose ran when she cried. Arthur pretended not to know this sort of thing. He didn’t want to know. He never wanted Morgana to cry.
“I did, didn’t I?”
Arthur rested his cheek on the top of her head. “Yeah, you did.” He let her tremble for a few moments longer, then: “Why? Why did you?”
He felt Morgana shrug against him, the slight rise-fall of her shoulders too small to really see. “We never fight.” Arthur waited for Morgana to give him a real answer. Ten minutes passed. Morgana wiped her face against his shirt a few times, smearing make up and tears and snot. Arthur just held her close.
“I guess it’s stress,” she said at last. “We’re both stressed out.”
“Maybe you should talk to her?”
Morgana nodded, making an even bigger mess of Arthur’s shirt. They didn’t move though. They just sat holding each other until the sun set and the room fell into shadow. When the last of the twilight drained away there was a shuffle at the door and a puffy-eyed Gwen stood timidly behind Merlin.
Arthur nudged Morgana’s chin. “Merlin and I are going to leave now. Talk, yeah?” He was afraid she wasn’t going to let go. She dug her fingers into his biceps and buried her face even tighter against his shoulder. Then finally, she released him and stood facing the door with her arms open wide. Gwen quivered and hesitated, but with a tender push from Merlin, she crossed the room and fell into Morgana’s embrace.
Arthur left amid a chorus of apologies and whimpers of forgiveness and if he noticed his shirt was a mess, well, Merlin’s was even worse so he figured it didn’t really matter.
Merlin was quiet when they got back to their room. It was the night before his last exam. He didn’t fidget, didn’t consume too much juice. He didn’t cry or shout or have any kind of nervous reaction at all. He did peel off his shirt and toss it into the dirty laundry. He stood at his open wardrobe and stared into it blankly before closing it without taking anything out. Arthur watched as Merlin went to stand at the window, his back straight and pale under the artificial light of the room.
“Hey,” Arthur said, carefully and quietly. Merlin still flinched.
“What’s up?” he said, even softer, though it didn’t stop Merlin from flinching again. Merlin didn’t answer. “Do you want me to leave? Or stay?” Merlin shrugged and Arthur watched the skin move over his bones. It was beautiful. “Merlin.”
Finally, finally, Merlin turned. He took one step, faltered, and looked off to the side at nothing. Arthur walked forward instead, until he could reach out and touch Merlin if he wanted to. He didn’t do it, though. He just waited.
“You didn’t freak out,” Merlin said at last. “I did,” he said. “Morgana and Gwen both did. You almost did, but you didn’t.” Arthur didn’t know what to say. He opted for silence. He was glad, because Merlin raised his eyes and studied Arthur’s face. “We all expected you to be the first. The first to flip at someone, or have a nervous breakdown.”
Arthur almost said ‘gee, thanks for the vote of confidence,’ but something in Merlin’s eyes told him to stay quiet.
“Uther asked me to look after you.” Merlin huffed out a dry laugh. It wasn’t cruel, but it lacked the jubilance that usually coloured Merlin’s everything. “I don’t think you need me. To look after you, I mean. You might be the most stable out of all of us.”
Merlin’s voice broke and he looked away, almost shyly. Arthur remained rooted to the spot as Merlin let the idea roll around, to grow and catch on Arthur’s insides. Not needed. Merlin didn’t think he was needed, didn’t know that Arthur needed him. In a surge of motion, Arthur was crowding against Merlin, taking away his personal space and giving, in return, everything he possibly could.
“You are so stupid,” Arthur growled into Merlin’s hair. “You have no idea. None. So, so stupid Merlin.” He curled his one arm around Merlin’s shoulder so tightly he could feel the sharp cut of his shoulder blade. His other arm was snug around Merlin’s waist. “How can you be so stupid about this when you’re so smart about everything else?”
Merlin let out a laugh that was muffled against Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur felt Merlin’s hands scrabble against his back then catch in the fabric of his shirt. He wished he’d had the sense to take it off, like Merlin had done. He didn’t want Merlin to have to be so close to Morgana’s tears. Merlin shuddered and Arthur curled himself tighter around Merlin, forgetting about his shirt.
“So stupid, Merlin,” he whispered.
The day of Merlin’s exam was too sunny. Merlin had found his way into Arthur’s bed sometime during the night and when his alarm when off, neither could reach it immediately to turn it off. It took some flailing, and more than one elbow to the face, before they managed to untangle themselves enough that Merlin fell out of bed and he could reach up to flick the off-switch.
“This is it,” Merlin said and twisted his hands where he sat on the floor between the beds. “Sink or swim time, right?”
Arthur reached down and laced their fingers together. “Swim time, Merlin. Swim like you mean it.”
Merlin squeezed his hand and laughed. “What does that even mean?”
Arthur shook his head and grinned down at Merlin. “I have no idea. But I do know you’ll do fine.” Then, before he could lose his nerve and back out, Arthur tipped forward until he was inches from Merlin’s face. He tipped a little more and his lips were pressed against Merlin’s.
The startled intake of breath from Merlin rushed against Arthur’s mouth and he pulled away just enough to see Merlin’s eyes. “Fine, Merlin,” he said and waited for Merlin to nod before letting himself fall from the bed to curl up in Merlin’s lap. He wrapped his hand around the back of Merlin’s neck and studied him for a moment. “You’ll do fine. Better than fine. You’ll do great. Because you are. Great. I mean. You’re great,” Arthur said and he waited just long enough for Merlin to grin and nod in agreement before he moved in and stole one more kiss – for good luck, he told himself.
Uther came in as Arthur was taping shut the last of his boxes. His eyes swept the room, passed right over Arthur who stood in the centre. He paused on the far wall. There was nothing on it except the painting Uther had bought Arthur one year when he wasn’t able to come home for his birthday, which Arthur had hung despite campus rules banning things being hung on the walls.
“I redecorated your room in hopes that you would not come home very often,” he said, softly, at last. “Not because I didn’t want you there, but because I wanted you to have a life independent from me.”
Uther let his hand rest on the topmost box of the nearest pile. That particular box contained all his winter ware, plus the few scarves of Merlin’s Arthur had found mixed in with his things.
“I wanted you to find yourself, maybe get over your phobias. I wanted you to live and experience life the way Morgana has. Test the limits and find your own boundaries.” He traced the edge of the flap. Arthur wanted to warn him about getting paper cuts from it, wanted to mention how Merlin had let out a startled yelp and then stuffed his fingers in his mouth not four hours earlier. He didn’t. He waited for Uther. Uther dropped his eyes from the wall behind Arthur’s head and finally settled his gaze directly on his son.
“You’ve done that now. You’ve grown up and become the man I knew you could be. And now I’m scared. I’m scared that I haven’t been the father you needed, that you didn’t know how much you mean to me. Arthur, you’re everything to me, and I never wanted to wait until you left me to tell you. I’m sorry I’ve taken this long.”
Arthur trembled. A shadow moved in the doorway. From the flash a red and blue, he knew it was Merlin, but he also knew Merlin wouldn’t linger where he was be an intruder. He would go find Morgana and Gwen. Merlin would give them the space they needed. Because Arthur took three steps and cross the floor until he was wrapping his arms around his father’s neck.
“I know, Father,” he whispered, when Uther finally hugged him back. “I know. And thank you.”
Uther squeezed Arthur, tightened his arms around his shoulders and clung a little more tightly. Arthur almost didn’t hear it when Uther’s voice – a little gruffer than usual – rumbled in his ear. “You take care of that Merlin boy. And let him take care you of.”
Arthur grinned. “Yes Father,” he whispered and buried his face in Uther’s shoulder.
Bits of scattered crockery littered the little kitchen. From the bedrooms, Arthur could hear bits of Morgana singing along to Coldplay and laughing with Gwen as they rolled out Gwen’s posters onto the wall of her new room. Arthur set the box of glasses on the table, beside the toaster and box of cooking utensils. There wasn’t enough room; the corner hung off a little bit. His fingers itched to push it, adjust it, until it was right, but then Merlin was behind him struggling with the box of his game consoles.
“I could have helped you,” Arthur grumbled, and eased his fingers under the side nearest him until he was supporting half the weight.
Merlin just grinned and guided Arthur around the half-unpacked boxes on the floor and into the living room where the TV sat waiting to be hooked up.
“The girls are going to make us do all the work, aren’t they?” is what Merlin said when they finally lowered the box to the ground (well, Arthur lowered his half. Merlin practically dropped his when his arms gave out).
Arthur shrugged. “Yes? Probably?”
Arthur nudged a box of oven mitts with his toe. Arthur didn’t know how they had gotten into the living room. It was clearly labelled kitchen on the top flaps, but it was probably Merlin who had brought it up and that would explain everything.
“That goes in the kitchen,” Merlin said.
Arthur laughed, bumped Merlin’s shoulder. “Leave it,” he said. “For now. We can get it later.”
The girls had gone out. Taking a break, they’d claimed before skipping lightly down the front stairs and disappearing into the night. Arthur didn’t blame them when he stood in the middle of the kitchen and surveyed the mess. The oven mitts (and why did Morgana need so many? She didn’t even cook) had finally made their way into the kitchen and the open box was resting on a pile of boxes that Arthur thought might belong in Merlin’s room. The dishes were mostly unpacked and ready to be washed in perfectly hot water with a dash a bleach, just to be safe. One can never be too safe.
The setting sun cast interesting shadows against the wall. When Merlin insisted their flat face west, Arthur had thought it was because the morning sun wouldn’t wake him. Now he kind of suspected it was because there was something tranquil about seeing the last bits of light when evening finally drifted into night.
There was a glow leaking into the hall from Merlin’s room. The low murmur of his voice was enough to tell Arthur that Merlin was on the phone, probably to his mother, but maybe to Will or Morgana even. A short burst of laughter caught his ear and Arthur wove between the boxes that turned the hall into an obstacle course. Morgana’s door was open when he passed and he could see her room was already in perfect order. Gwen’s was almost as pristine.
“No mate, don’t say that!” Merlin said from just beyond Arthur’s sight, followed by a chuckle, then “I take offence. I’m taking offence right now. Take it back.”
Will then. He smiled to himself. He took one more step, intent on invading Merlin’s room and maybe stealing the phone and saying a quick hello to Will. Instead, when his foot fell, it landed on something hard and something sharp and the gasp of pain that escaped his mouth was probably loud enough to wake the entire building.
Over the rushing in his ears, he heard Merlin tell Will a hasty goodbye and then Merlin’s untidy mop of hair appeared around the corner. Despite the tears blurring his vision, (not that Arthur was going to admit they were even there) Arthur could see the concern in Merlin’s eyes as he took in the sight of Arthur hopping on one foot and cradling the other in his hand. He was probably swearing too, because Merlin moved into his space until Arthur was forced to stand up straight and drop his foot in order to see Merlin’s face. “Oi,” Merlin whispered gently as he touched his forehead to Arthur’s. “Stop swearing,” he said and pressed his mouth softly over Arthur’s. “My mother’s coming soon.”
Arthur’s guide to Merlin-Language
Dear friends, it’s come to my attention that I am not the only one helplessly lost when Merlin opens his mouth and words fall out. To help alleviate the need for a dictionary, I’ve compiled a short list of things Merlin has said that has left me, as a normal human being and not a crazed computer fanatic, puzzled. I do hope this helps.
P.S. If you touch anything, can you please kindly use the disinfectant wipes provided to sanitize it before you leave? It is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Sudo: A command in Merlin’s Linux program that makes him like a super-user or something. He showed me a comic to explain. See if you understand better than I do.
leet: This one is actually pretty neat, although Merlin has forbid me from ever using it. It forms letters without actually using the letters! See? 4rthur l0v3s M3rl1n (Arthur loves Merlin)
IDtenT: write it like this: ID10T. (how is this different than leet? I do not understand Merlin. Do not.)
Lemonparty.org: Upon my advice, never, ever go there. It is a website of garish music and unclothed old men doing things that are probably not safe for children’s eyes, or anyone’s mental well-being.
Link: The adorable elf-thing (Merlin says he is not an elf, but he looks like one to me?) in that video game Merlin plays. What’s it called? Oh, Legend of Zelda.