It was a perfectly normal Wednesday.
At least it was until Merlin sat down for breakfast, opened the paper, and saw the massive full-page advert for a ridiculously generous charity auction taking place the following weekend.
It wasn’t so much the auction that caught his attention. Nor was it the charity even though that was very worthy and a good cause. It wasn’t even the incredibly valuable work of art (some ugly statue from antiquity) that drew him in.
No, what caught Merlin’s attention and held him riveted was the picture at the bottom of the advertisement. Two identical twin brothers who were selflessly donating the statue. Twin brothers who were both the absolute spitting image of Merlin’s beloved king.
“Arthur,” he breathed.
Obviously one of the brothers had to be him. No doubt the kind-hearted soul who had sourced the valuable artwork and decided to donate it. It seemed that this Arthur was already trying to make a difference in the world even before he had teamed up with Merlin. How wonderful. And he was so smart, so handsome…
Merlin could hardly wait for that auction. The weekend couldn’t arrive quickly enough.
The charity auction was a ticketed event. A very expensive ticketed event. Merlin couldn’t see any obvious mention that the proceeds from the ticket would go to charity, but it went without saying that they would. The good-hearted Arthur twins had to be donating the quite extortionate ticket sales to the refugees that the auction was in aid of. Anything else was unthinkable.
Eagerly Merlin went inside. Almost immediately he saw a familiar figure in front of him.
Arthur turned around. He looked Merlin up and down in a way that could only be described as suggestive, finally looking at his face appreciatively.
“Keegan. Not Arthur.”
And that was when the other man turned to face Merlin as well. “Most definitely not Arthur.”
The two of them laughed together at some private joke. “Dear lord, who would want to be Arthur?”
But Merlin wasn’t listening. Because right there in front of him was Arthur in his latest incarnation. Or, to be more accurate, incarnations. Two identical posh twins.
“It’s been years,” Merlin sighed. “It’s so good to see you back.”
It had been twenty-nine years, two months and ten days since Arthur’s previous incarnation breathed his last. And twenty-nine years, two months and nineteen days since Merlin had last got laid. Not that Merlin was counting.
One of the twins raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think we’ve ever met, dear boy.”
“I’m sure I’d remember,” Keegan added, looking Merlin up and down once again. There was no denying the suggestiveness there. It hadn’t been Merlin’s imagination the first time.
The other one didn’t look too pleased. He flicked a finger dismissively at Merlin’s jacket. “Is that pleather? Dear lord!”
Merlin quite liked that jacket. He’d found it on a market stall in Camden. He pulled it a little tighter around himself. “I like it. God, Arthur, you really have turned out a magnificent snob this time even for you!”
Because that one, the one that wasn’t Keegan, he had to be Arthur. Merlin knew his own luck just too well. Besides, Keegan gave off a faint air of not being quite as bright as his brother. And for all the many things that Arthur had been down the centuries, he was never ever stupid.
“Deaf and poor!” The unpleasant Arthur snapped his fingers and a burly security guard started to lumber over. “What part of not Arthur do you not understand? And how did you get in here? Minimum requirements are a Camelot Bank Platinum level account, with… Oh.”
Merlin had reached into his wallet (also pleather but that was just tough. Better than having the skin of some poor animal) and held up the black plastic card with its ostentatious silver lettering in one corner. Stylish and pretentious, it marked him up as one of the wealthy.
“Ah,” the Arthur-who-was-not-Keegan’s face broke into a smile. “Well why didn’t you say so?” He stuck out his hand. “Webb Sherman, delighted to meet you. Marco,” he turned to the security guard who was now standing next to him glaring menacingly at Merlin. “Our new friend here… what did you say your name was?”
“It’s Merlin.” Merlin decided not to bother pointing out that he hadn’t actually given his name at all.
“Merlin! Excellent. Magical even!”
The two brothers sniggered to each other over that one. Merlin sighed. It wasn’t anything that he hadn’t heard before. Though this was painful. How had Arthur deteriorated so? Was it due to being split in two? Had his soul been ruptured? Merlin had to save him.
“Yes, our dear friend Merlin would like a drink. Do be a good chap and send the waiter over.”
Marco grumbled something and stomped off. Webb and Keegan continued beaming at Merlin.
“Well, why don’t we find you a prime spot to sit,” Webb offered.
“Yes, you should sit up here at the front,” Keegan added. “Then I can keep an eye on you. Make sure nobody steals you.”
“But you must excuse us,” Webb told Merlin, dragging his twin away. “We’re the main attraction.”
“We’ll see you later though,” Keegan promised with a wink. “Don’t run away now!”
Merlin did consider it. After all, he’d looked after Arthur quite enough in his long lifetime and these two idiots might just be a prat too far. Or a pair of prats too far. Perhaps he was due an incarnation off?
The waiter, a harried-looking young man in a shirt that already looked as if someone had thrown their drink on it, appeared in front of him. “Sir?”
“Whisky,” Merlin requested. “On the rocks.”
Webb and Keegan were up at the front laughing together at some joke. Keegan looked across at Merlin and winked, raising his own glass in a silent toast. Webb followed suit, though without the wink.
“Actually,” Merlin sighed, “better make that a double…”
He had a feeling that he was going to need it.
Merlin did not buy the statue.
He made a single half-hearted bid early on just for show, but as the statue had to be either fake or stolen he didn’t want anything to do with it. Some idiot with more money than sense paid a small fortune for it and they were very welcome as far as Merlin was concerned.
He was quite tempted to just get up and leave after the auction. The event might be labelled as being for charity but the more Merlin observed the brothers the less he believed it. At one point they’d staged a publicity shot with a bunch of refugees. It hadn’t escaped Merlin’s notice that they had immediately gone for the hand sanitizer after touching the unfortunate people.
They were, without question, the very worst incarnation of his beloved king that his destiny had ever seen fit to foist upon him.
Worryingly there were two of them to reinforce each other’s bad behaviour. He didn’t know where he was going to start with the long task of reforming them. They seemed ridiculously close…
“My brother Keegan and I are not collectors. We are lovers.”
There was a very long pause before Keegan found his cue card.
Well, unless Merlin was mistaken, art might well be a euphemism. It wasn’t an entirely unattractive thought, and Merlin spent much of the auction trying to block out the personalities and indulge in a happy little pornographic daydream in which he was the jam in an Arthur sandwich. Mmmm….
Perhaps he could magic them both mute or something?
It had to be Keegan as he had been the more interested of the two. Webb was talking to the auctioneer and looked as if he were arguing about something.
“Webb’s just sorting out our appearance fee,” Keegan explained.
“I suppose you need to cover the costs of the hand sanitizer,” Merlin sighed.
“Yes! Imported from France in a specially sealed unit. Can’t be too careful.”
Merlin groaned inwardly, the sandwich fantasy fading. They’d probably want to cover him in the stuff, and not for fun reasons either.
“No, you can’t. Well, it’s been fun…”
“Oh, you can’t go,” Keegan said. “I thought you could come back to Chez Sherman with us. We could… get to know each other better.”
“Wouldn’t my pleather jacket contaminate the place?” Merlin asked drily.
Keegan looked confused for a moment, but Webb had appeared by then.
“Of course not,” Webb assured Merlin, clapping him on the shoulder. “We have a receptacle at the door for such things…” He pulled back the collar of Merlin’s t-shirt and peered at the label. He promptly let go and grimaced at his twin.
“Tescos,” he sighed. “And they let him in here. That can go in the receptacle too.”
Merlin wondered whether by the time they’d checked all his clothes for suitability he would actually be left with anything.
“I’ll be half-naked!”
Keegan smiled delightedly. But Merlin didn’t miss Webb getting out the hand sanitizer again.
It might be a slippery night.
To give them their due, the twins knew how to entertain. Merlin was given a clean white linen shirt to wear, then treated to an amazing dinner with the food
pretentiously artistically arranged in the styles of various artists. The deconstructed salad in the style of Jackson Pollock was a bit much, but luckily Merlin wasn’t feeling particularly hungry anyway. And there was wine. The wine was making the brothers seem slightly less awful. Only slightly.
“You two seem very close,” Merlin commented over the after-dinner liqueurs. The brothers immediately gazed at each other far too fondly.
“Twins,” Webb told him.
“The family that plays together stays together,” Keegan added. Webb gave him a sharp look. “Ah, I mean…”
“I think I know exactly what you mean,” Merlin said, getting to his feet. Perhaps they really were both Arthur. In which case it wasn’t incest, it was just masturbation. That would excuse it. A bit. “I never had a brother.”
“We have,” Keegan (who had obviously had too much wine) assured him, exchanging a meaningful look with his brother. He then leaned very close to Merlin. “You could as well,” he practically purred.
“Obviously we’ll need you to shower first,” Webb put in quickly. “There’s a decon one in the basement that we use for… guests. You’ll find suitable attire there too.”
“I’ll take you,” Keegan added enthusiastically.
Well, Merlin supposed, that was the idea. Preferably both of them. At the same time. If only there was a way to silence them while they did it. He followed Keegan dutifully out, trying to recall a suitable spell.
Merlin was obviously going to go straight to hell for this. Or he would have done. If he wasn’t immortal.
Pity about that, he thought smugly.
Suitable attire turned out to be a pristine white t-shirt from Harvey Nicks, with a matching pair of… well, Merlin wasn’t quite sure what they were. Shorts, perhaps. But they were well-vented at the front and at the back there was a hole with a sort of material attachment that after some consideration Merlin decided had to be a sheath. The brothers really were determined not to contaminate themselves with him.
There was no way that he was wearing that contraption so he left it on the floor and put on his trousers instead. The t-shirt was perfectly normal so he wore that. It felt identical to the Tesco one that he’d been forced to leave at the front door and which had now probably been incinerated.
Merlin hadn’t risked the same fate for his jacket and had left that in the safety of his car. Assuming that his car wouldn't be towed away or something for lowering the tone of the Shermans’ vast estate.
Keegan had left him with strict instructions to ensure that he was totally clean, inside and out. Merlin had considered not bothering with the inside part of that instruction just to see the horror on the idiotic pair’s faces. But at least one of them was Arthur and despite how very disappointing they were this lifetime he didn’t really want to have to endure an entire mortal lifetime of abstinence.
And so he did as he was asked, then made his way back up through the house to the bedroom. Which, unsurprisingly, they shared.
He could hear them talking to each other as he made his way up the staircase. Every few sentences were punctuated with self-satisfied laughter. Merlin hesitated. Perhaps he couldn’t do this. Perhaps he should wait until Arthur’s next life and just write this one off as a horrible glitch. It wasn’t as if these two were going to be great rulers or anything.
“Do hurry up, Merlin,” one of them called. “We’re ready for our slumber party!”
Merlin rolled his eyes, and walked into the bedroom. Both twins were in matching silk pyjamas and robes. Their hair was still completely immaculate.
“You aren’t properly dressed,” one of them commented from the bed where they were both reclining. “Didn’t the shorts fit?”
Merlin just looked at him, raising an eyebrow because really? “No,” he replied and fortunately that was the end of that particular discussion.
They were without doubt the prattiest pair of prats that Arthur had ever been reborn into. It was impossible to see any trace of his beloved and heroic king. Webb (or was it Keegan? Merlin couldn’t tell) had turned on the giant TV and was flicking through the news channels. The other one appeared to be putting on a facepack.
Perhaps he really could skip his destiny, just for this one lifetime?
“Oh no,” the one with the TV groaned. He had a W monogrammed on his robe so was probably Webb. “Not again.”
“The statues?” Keegan queried. Half his face was covered in pale green gunk. Apparently it was possible for Arthur to look unattractive.
“No. Look, it’s Dudley do-right. Once more applying for sainthood. How tedious.”
Merlin looked over at the screen. There were scenes from what looked like the hospital tent of a refugee camp. Aid workers and traumatised children filled the screen. One of the workers was showing the film crew around and talking about the terrible tragedy that had unfolded there. He was pleading for money. A charity line was being scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
“Oh turn it off,” Keegan sighed. “I’ve heard enough of his drivel to last a lifetime.”
“Who is it?” Merlin asked curiously.
“The black sheep of the family,” Webb told him. “Our idiot brother.”
It would take something to be more of an idiot than Webb and Keegan, Merlin thought, but he kept quiet. The camera was turning to take in the man who was being interviewed. He was tanned from long hours working in the sun and looked incredibly tired and unkempt, but there was no mistaking his features.
“Yes, that’s Arthur. Now you see why we were so offended back at the auction,” Webb told him. “Instead of helping us here with the estate and keeping up the family fortune Arthur wasted money studying medicine and now spends his life living in squalor. He went overseas a few years back and lives on next to nothing. Look at him! That tan! That’s actual sunlight… imagine what his skin will look like in a few years!”
“Prune-like,” Keegan put in, and they both shuddered.
“The frightening thing is that someone might mistake him for us!”
“I’m sure that won’t happen,” Merlin told them.
They seemed to think that was a compliment. “We never see him. He’s always leaving messages telling us to send money. As if. He works for… ah, what was it? Doctors without money? Doctors without hygiene? Doctors without Gucci?”
“Borders,” Merlin growled. “It’s Doctors without borders.”
On the screen, Arthur had picked up a little girl who was crying. He was talking to her, trying to calm her down. She buried her face in his shirt, just wanting a cuddle. Merlin could see that he’d already gained her trust and was holding her protectively, shielding her face from the camera as best he could. That was Merlin’s king, no doubt about it.
“Ewww, disgusting,” one of the terrible twins groaned. “I’d burn that shirt.”
“You mean you’d ever be seen dead in it in the first place?” the other one exclaimed. “You horrify me, dear brother.”
How could he have ever thought that they were Arthur? Rapidly Merlin recast the sobriety spell that he had used on himself prior to driving over to the Sherman mansion. He had no intention of staying a moment longer than he needed to. Not when his destiny was busy saving the world and needed his help.
On the TV, Arthur was talking angrily to the camera, telling the story of the little girl that he was holding. She’d lost her entire family to disease and had barely managed to survive herself. They needed help, money, food and medicine. And most of all they needed the rest of the world to step in and give assistance.
“Oh my god, he’s got sweat stains under his armpits!”
“The shame. Couldn’t he have had plastic surgery before doing this? He’s a doctor after all. What else are they for?”
Again there was that mutual braying laughter. Merlin tore his gaze from the screen (the bulletin had cut to footage of the journalist instead) and glared at them both.
“I really am quite sure nobody would ever believe he was related to you two,” he told them again.
“That’s good,” Webb nodded. “He’s helped with that. He even took our mother’s surname instead of keeping ours. It makes it easy to pretend not to know him.”
“Arthur Pendragon,” Keegan added scornfully.
“Quite. How ludicrous,” Webb sniffed
And you’re Merlin,” Keegan added with a snort. “You should meet him…” he paused, obviously noticing that he no longer had any of Merlin’s attention and that Merlin was heading for the door. “Wait! Where are you going?”
“Oh well you know the saying, two’s company but three’s a crowd,” Merlin told them cheerfully. “I wouldn’t want to spoil your… er… perfect symmetry. Thanks for dinner, it’s been… um… interesting.”
“But…” Keegan began, then his brother nudged him sharply. It appeared to be a well-used method of telling him to shut up.
“Perfect symmetry. Yes. You’re so right. Off you go, there’s a good chap.” Webb was shedding his robe and pulling back the bedcovers. “Close the door on the way out.”
Merlin hesitated, because despite everything there was that side of him that really wanted to go to hell in a handcart because there were two Arthur clones who were clearly going to have sex as soon as he left. He was sorely tempted to cast an invisibility spell so that he could watch. Maybe film it on his phone because the idea of two Arthurs shagging each other was beyond hot.
Merlin resisted the temptation, closing the bedroom door behind him. Even then he could hear noises as he descended the stairs. And that was the definite sound of something hard slapping on flesh followed by a deep, appreciative moan. He started to turn back. Surely a little voyeurism wasn’t so bad…
But they weren’t Arthur, he reminded himself, and they were brothers and… no, it was too twisted even for a thousand year old immortal. Well, maybe not too twisted, and definitely delicious, but wrong.
There was another slap, followed by another groan of pleasure.
And there was that real Arthur out there all beautiful and heroic and doubtless unimpressed with anyone who had anything to do with his terrible siblings. Shagging them was probably enough to make someone persona non grata permanently.
Well… Maybe just one round wouldn’t hurt…
Merlin ran for the door before he changed his mind. The real Arthur was waiting for him. Far sexier than his brothers and he would be Merlin’s and Merlin’s alone.
It wasn’t a difficult choice.