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It was halfway through his second term at university that Arthur first talked to Merlin.

Camelot Tech had been both an exciting and overwhelming experience so far, and it was only at this point in the year that Arthur felt he was getting his bearings a little. He was helped (and occasionally hindered) by the fact that his older sister Morgana was already a second year here and occasionally willing to dispense some wisdom when she wasn’t teasing him to within an inch of his life.

Most of her friends were from Magic Soc but they’d been welcoming and friendly to Arthur – the kind of petty cliques that divided magic and non-magic folks in school seemed to have been outgrown at uni level. He’d made some good friends in his halls too, like Elyan and Leon, but it was nice to have the option to hang out at Morgana’s house when he felt a bit homesick.

It was good to have ready-made friends too because he hadn’t really clicked with anyone on his course yet. He was dual honours so he flitted between French and Business classes, feeling a bit left out on both sides. He’d chosen the French Film module for his second term, hoping he might encounter some slightly less stuffy students there than the ones he’d met in the language labs.

He did. He’d met Merlin. And now friendship was no longer the first thing on his mind.

From the very first class, when Merlin had answered a question about Truffaut and Arthur had turned in his seat to see a boy with piercingly blue eyes and temptingly soft lips, he’d been slightly smitten. Hearing Merlin venturing his opinions (good ones as far as Arthur could tell, he wasn’t exactly a New Wave expert yet) over the next few weeks in that gorgeous soft voice of his only confirmed Arthur’s crush, and he found himself missing whole segments of class discussion in favour of staring at Merlin and imagining those lovely lips doing something else.

But it had taken him over four weeks to even start a conversation with Merlin. It seemed the other boy was quite shy – the very act of answering a question from their tutor Helen sometimes made him blush, and he tended to rush off at the end of classes rather than join in the general chatter. Arthur had managed to pin him down a few times but the conversation never really got past which course he was on (Film Studies) and which halls he lived in (Jerwood House) and where he came from originally (a village so small Arthur had never even heard of it). Arthur wasn’t giving up but short of tripping Merlin over after class and forcing him submit to social activity, he wasn’t sure what else he could do.

Until the morning he showed up to the 9am screening of Rififi and only Merlin was there.

“Guess most people had a late one,” Merlin said sheepishly, waving the DVD case.

“Apparently so,” Arthur said, somewhat thrilled that Merlin had spoken to him unprompted. Perhaps he was less shy when it was one on one.

“Helen left me in charge of the DVD so I’m probably gonna watch while I’m here, but you don’t have to-”

“No,” Arthur said quickly. “I want to. May as well make use of the big screen.”

And the first bit of alone time he’d had with Merlin since the start of term. Merlin smiled at him and Arthur took that to be a positive, emboldening him enough to sit down at the table next to Merlin. Merlin started the film and flicked the lights off, nearly tripping over a chair on his way back to sit down. Arthur tried very hard not to find it endearing, and failed miserably.

It was a pity Rififi wasn’t a romance film. The dark of the room had made the whole situation more intimate somehow, and Arthur couldn’t help wishing the film matched the mood. Last week’s screening of Breathless would have been better, or maybe the upcoming Jules et Jim? Arthur didn’t actually know what that one was about but it was presumably a gay romance from the title.

Speaking of gay romances, something like Call Me By Your Name would be perfect to watch with Merlin. Fine, it wasn’t on the syllabus, but they spoke a bit of French in it! And it had certainly been sexy enough to make Arthur’s jeans a little tight when he watched it in the cinema.

Arthur zoned out for a while, indulging in a pleasant little fantasy in which he and Merlin were swimming in lakes in northern Italy, soaking up the hot summer sun, eyes meeting over a late night cigarette...

He only tuned back in when Merlin touched his arm and sent a shiver of electricity zipping through him.

“Want one?” Merlin whispered, offering the bag of Maltesers.

Arthur brushed against Merlin’s hand as he dipped into the bag, entirely intentionally. Was it his imagination or could he see the hint of a smile on Merlin’s lips?

When the film was over, Merlin turned the lights back on and Arthur blinked self-consciously.

“So… what did you think?”

“Interesting visuals. Could have done without the domestic violence,” Merlin said, wrinkling his nose.

“Agreed,” Arthur said, and then they just stood there looking at each other for a moment.

“Well… nice watching with you,” Merlin said, one part awkward and all parts adorable. “I guess I’ll see you next w-”

“Wait! My, uh, my mate’s having a house party Friday. Maple Street, behind the town hall? You should come.”

“Oh. Uh, I…”

“Just casual,” Arthur said quickly, hoping Merlin didn’t say no. “Few drinks, bit of music, probably some hardcore discussion of stylistic innovation in Godard’s early work.”

Merlin laughed then, eyes crinkling.

“That how your house parties usually go?”

“Oh yeah, you know, get the lads round, get the beers out, get a critical debate started about new wave influencers. The usual.”

“My mates back home were all nuts for German Expressionism,” Merlin said, straight-faced. “Couldn’t move for the discourse some nights.”

“Ah, sounds like you’ve had some mad ones,” Arthur said with a wink. “You’ll fit right in.”

“Alright,” Merlin said, after a moment’s consideration and Arthur internally fist-pumped. “But if anyone mentions Italian neo-realism, I’m off home.”

Arthur laughed and took Merlin’s phone to tap his number in. He definitely didn’t imagine the hint of a smile when their hands touched this time.

 

***

 

Arthur didn’t need to ask Morgana and her crew if they were going because everybody showed up for Gwaine Greene’s parties – a gregarious third year who was legendary on campus for his booze filled blowouts. Arthur may have exaggerated a little to Merlin when he said it was casual, but there was always at least one room with a more chilled out vibe. Said room tonight was the conservatory, where he and Elyan found Morgana and Sefa perched on a sofa together giggling.

There was no sign of Merlin yet. Arthur did a quick round then came back to sit down, cracking open a beer. He’d texted the address earlier and Merlin had texted back a thumbs up so Arthur was pretty confident he’d show up. It was just a matter of waiting till then.

He felt a little buzz in his stomach that had nothing to do with the alcohol he was drinking. The prospect of talking to Merlin in a relaxed environment, getting to know him better… well, anything could happen. It wasn’t for no reason that he’d worn his favourite boxer briefs tonight.

They chatted a while about various things, having to raise their volume slightly as the conversation next door in the kitchen got louder. Arthur was half tempted to go and look but he’d seen that slimy second year Cenred there earlier and Arthur preferred to avoid that creep whenever possible.

Mordred appeared at Arthur’s elbow just after ten, gratefully accepting the beer that Sefa proffered without a word.

“Bless you, I’ve been in the computer lab for nine hours straight,” he said, shrugging his coat off.

“Nerd,” Arthur said unsympathetically.

Mordred shoved him and Arthur nearly spilled his beer on Morgana, who shot him an acid look.

“Careful, little brother, Gilli taught me a spell for boils in Magic Soc last week.”

“Ooh, speaking of,” Mordred said. “Nervous Fresher’s here. Saw him through the window.”

“No way!”

Morgana clapped her hands together.

“I didn’t know he ever left the house.”

“Who’s Nervous Fresher?” Elyan asked.

“Super cute little first year who keeps chickening out of coming into Magic Soc,” Morgana said. “We keep smiling and waving at him but he always bolts.”

“Probably scared of the sight of you,” Arthur said, earning himself a poke to the ribs.

Anyway. We should talk to him tonight.”

“Do we even know his name?” Sefa asked.

“Merlin, I’m pretty sure.”

“Merlin?” Arthur said, suddenly alert. “Pale guy, dark hair?”

“Sounds like him. You know him?”

“No. Yes. He’s in my French Film class and we talk occasionally.”

Arthur felt warm suddenly and he ducked his head, trying to sound casual.

“I actually told him to come along tonight.”

“You’re blushing,” Morgana sing-songed.

“I’m not!”

“You are a bit mate,” Elyan said and Arthur scowled.

“Et tu, El?”

“You fancy him?” Sefa piped up.

“No! God! I barely ever spoke to him, like I said.”

His friends just grinned at him like extremely irritating Jack O’ Lanterns.

“You can go say hi, if you want,” Mordred said.

“I do not want,” Arthur said, even though he very much did. But he’d have to be a bit more subtle about it now, unless he wanted to be teased even more. “Can we please change the subject?”

Luckily he was saved by a sudden raucous whooping from the kitchen.

“Someone’s having a good time,” Morgana said drily.

“Ugh, I know why,” Mordred said, suddenly looking disgusted. “Cenred brought some Elix.”

Arthur’s eyebrows shot up. He wasn’t naïve, he knew people at university took drugs, but he’d never actually been around it before. Not that it would have any effect on him even if he had the inclination to try it – Elix only affected people with magic.

“Where d’you think he got it?”

“There’s a dodgy guy at Magnum in town that sells it,” Morgana said and Arthur cut her a suspicious look. She rolled her eyes.

“I took it once, Arthur, ages ago. It’s not an experience I care to repeat.”

“You took Elix?” Arthur said, unable to keep the reproving tone from his voice. None of the others seemed surprised except Elyan; he guessed it was something his sister had confided to Magic Soc already.

Once. With Alvarr.”

Arthur grimaced at the mention of Morgana’s useless ex-boyfriend.

“What was it like?” Elyan said curiously.

“Nice at first. Like you just feel really relaxed and like you’d be up for anything. But the comedown’s horrible. I spent the whole next day feeling like shit. And…”

“And?”

“Well, it’s designed to make you suggestible, isn’t it? That’s how they originally used it in the Purge. I dunno, that feels creepy to me. Alvarr didn’t pull anything because he’d taken as much as I had, but if someone else had been there… they could have made us do anything.”

Morgana shuddered slightly and Arthur understood the feeling. There was a reason Elix was so highly restricted, and it was all down to how dangerous having no control over your own impulses could be.

“I’m steering well clear,” Mordred said and Sefa raised her glass in agreement.

“I’ll stick with vodka.”

“Well, you guys are pretty much the only magic users at the party,” Arthur said. “So I guess Cenred’s out of lu-”

The word died on his lips, a horrible thought occurring to him.

Merlin was here too.

He didn’t even bother making an excuse to his friends, spinning round immediately and heading for the kitchen. There was a frustrating amount of people in his way and his heartbeat quickened as he pushed through, the sound of laughter and jeers growing louder with every step.

The crowd thickened at the kitchen door and Arthur had to force his way through. They were all looking the same way and Arthur found himself tense with anticipation, hoping against hope he’d got it all wrong and Merlin was in another room altogether, entirely safe from harm…

He sidestepped a knot of people and suddenly, he could see everything.

Merlin was on his hands and knees on the floor, surrounded by a circle of laughing people. His eyes were unfocused and his face was entirely vacant, as if wiped of expression. He was also wearing nothing but boxer shorts.

The sight froze Arthur to the spot.

“Make him eat the catfood,” a voice in the crowd shouted gleefully.

“Get him to wash my car!”

“Make him hump your leg, Cen” someone yelled and there was a chorus of approving laughter.

Arthur unfroze. He pushed his way violently to the centre of the circle, ignoring the cries of protest. Cenred was in the middle, bending down towards Merlin, and Arthur shoved him back as hard as he could, knocking him to the ground.

“Get the fuck away from him, all of you,” he snarled out, breath coming hard and fast.

“Who the hell are you?” Cenred said, trying to scramble to his feet. Arthur didn’t let him, shoving him back to the floor.

“Hey, leave off, man,” someone in the crowd said and Arthur spun round, enraged.

“You’re sick, the lot of you,” he said, voice rising in fury. “This is assault, you do know that?”

A few grins began to fade.

“He drank it,” one said weakly.

“Did he know it was spiked?” Arthur demanded.

The shamefaced mumblings told him all he needed to know. Meanwhile Cenred had taken the opportunity to get back up, keeping a wary distance from Arthur.

“Who are you, the fucking fun police? It was just a joke, Magic Boy’s enjoying it as much as anyone else.”

Arthur moved furiously but someone got there first, punching him right in the face.

“You prick, Cenred,” Morgana hissed, rubbing her knuckles. “Call the police, El.”

Elyan was already on his mobile. Cenred picked himself off the floor for a second time and bolted out the back door. Arthur started forward but Morgana held him back.

“Let him go, I know where he lives. The police’ll find him.”

She was right. Merlin was more important right now.

Arthur turned on the rapidly dispersing crowd again.

“His clothes. Now,” he spat and someone handed them over, an apology on their face. Arthur didn’t want to see it, as far as he was concerned they should all be arrested along with Cenred.

He was about to say so when the big light snapped on and Gwaine walked in.

“What’s all the shouting about?”

His gaze dropped down to Merlin and he frowned.

“What’s going on, mate?”

“He’s been spiked with Elix,” Arthur said angrily. “Is this the kind of party you throw, mate?”

His temper eased a little to see Gwaine looked genuinely shocked.

“No!”

Gwaine looked around at the crowd of people and then stood up on the table.

“Everybody out, now! Party’s over, fuck off home!”

His voice made it clear how serious he was. Students hurriedly began to disperse, until the kitchen was empty of all but Arthur and his friends.

“I’ll go check upstairs,” Gwaine said and strode out.

“Police and paramedics are on their way,” Elyan said and Arthur nodded his gratitude.

Then he knelt down next to Merlin, who barely seemed to have blinked in all the chaos.

“Merlin,” he said softly. “It’s Arthur.”

For a second Merlin didn’t react and then a dopey grin spread across his face.

“Arthur,” he said happily. “You made it.”

“Do you know where you are?”

Merlin frowned a second.

“At- at a party.”

Then he beamed again.

“A second year made me a cocktail. I was so nervous about coming tonight. I hate crowds. And I couldn’t see you anywhere. But he was really nice to me.”

Arthur’s heart clenched.

“Would you like to put your clothes back on?” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.

Merlin looked confused.

“I don’t know.”

“You have to tell him to do it, Arthur.”

Arthur looked up to see Morgana, tears glistening in her eyes.

“Until it wears off, he’ll only respond to that.”

Arthur nodded, a lump in his throat.

“Put your clothes on, Merlin,” he said as gently as possible.

Merlin nodded readily and reached out for them. Arthur looked away. Morgana was right and yet it felt horrible to do that, to suggest things to someone who had no choice but to obey.

Once Merlin was dressed Arthur carefully told him to stand and come into the living room. He cleared the sofa of beer cans and cups and sat Merlin down. Merlin was in unusually chatty form, the Elix clearly having conquered his shyness, and Arthur tried to make the most innocuous small talk possible. He didn’t want to ask Merlin a single personal question, no matter how generic seeming, lest he answer something he wouldn’t normally want to.

It was a relief on more level than one when the paramedics arrived.

“Has he taken anything else?” the woman asked as the man checked Merlin’s eyes. “You won’t be in trouble but you do need to tell us.”

“Just the Elix,” Arthur said. “Will he… will he be alright?”

His fear was clearly showing because she spared him a tired smile.

“Right as rain in the morning, most likely. They’ll need to keep him in overnight though.”

“Can I come to the hospital?”

“You won’t be able to stay in his room-”

“Please.”

She nodded, giving his arm a quick pat.

Merlin talked for most of the way to the hospital and then suddenly turned pale.

“I don’t feel well,” he said and began to throw up.

Arthur panicked but the paramedic moved him aside with calm assurance.

“His magic’s reacting to the foreign substance, trying to bring it up,” she said as she helped Merlin lean over a plastic bowl. “It happens to some magic users.”

It didn’t make it any easier to watch. Merlin kept vomiting until nothing came up and he looked so miserable and ill that Arthur wanted to find Cenred at his house immediately and beat him to a pulp.

But instead he said soothing things and held Merlin’s hand when he could and sat beside him on the orange chairs in A & E until a doctor took him back to be treated.

It felt like an age before a nurse returned and told Arthur that Merlin was stable and just needed to stay overnight to be monitored.

“You might as well come back in the morning, he’s sleeping now,” he said kindly.

“No, I’m staying,” Arthur said stubbornly and the nurse just smiled and procured him a pillow from somewhere.

The hard plastic chairs didn’t make the best bed but Arthur was worn out and he managed to doze off until Morgana and Elyan showed up around six am.

“We told the police everything, they’ve probably already picked Cenred up,” Morgana said.

“I hate him,” Arthur said with feeling. “And I hate everyone who stood around laughing too.” It made him sick to his stomach.

Elyan squeezed his shoulder.

“You stepped in at the right time, Arthur. He’ll be okay.”

Arthur hoped so with all his heart. If nothing else, he intended to be there to help make sure of it.

 

***

 

Merlin’s mother Hunith came to pick Merlin up from the hospital a few hours later. Merlin had been talking to the police before that, and Arthur barely got the chance to say anything to him before Merlin was in the back of her car, looking pale and exhausted but blessedly free of the drug’s effects. Hunith thanked him profusely and he wrote down his phone number and pushed it into her hand.

“Let me know if he needs anything – class notes or- or just a mate.”

“Of course,” she said. There were bags under her eyes and he remembered how far away Merlin’s tiny village was, how she must have driven for hours to get here. All to find out her sweet shy son had been hospitalised by the cruelty of other people.

She gave him a wobbly smile and got in the car. Arthur watched them drive away, wondering if Merlin would even want to come back to university after this.

The thought made him want to cry and he scrubbed at his eyes. Elyan found him like that in the car park and called an Uber for both of them back to their halls. He fell into bed when he arrived and his last conscious action was to send Merlin a text telling him to feel better soon.

Merlin didn’t reply until Monday morning and his answering message was brief. Arthur couldn’t gauge much from it but he tried not to overthink it. If Merlin didn’t want to come back, that would be his choice, even if it seemed so horribly unfair.

He was surprised then when Hunith rang on Tuesday to let him know Cenred had been charged by the police and Merlin would be returning soon. She went on to ask Arthur to collect notes from his lectures.

“I know you don’t do the same course but it would be a big help,” she said. “Merlin doesn’t seem to know anyone on his course.”

Arthur heard her take a shaky breath.

“He hasn’t met many people at university yet, actually. I was so pleased when he first mentioned you.”

“He mentioned me?”

“He did. I know Merlin can be a bit shy, so I was glad when he said he’d been chatting to you.”

“He’s good to chat to,” Arthur said and he could almost feel Hunith smile down the line.

He felt briefly glad when he got off the phone, that Merlin was coming back, that he’d deemed Arthur worthy of mentioning to his mother. Then a second later he felt almost crushingly sad, that it seemed Merlin didn’t have a single other friend to take notes for him.

That would change when Merlin returned, Arthur vowed. He wouldn’t be feeling lonely again if Arthur had anything to do with it.

 

Merlin returned the Monday after, which Arthur didn’t know until he saw him in the French Film lecture. Arthur waved but Merlin took a seat up front, and stared straight ahead the entire class, back rigid.

The second Helen let them go, Merlin shot off his seat and out the door. Arthur scrambled to pack his bag and hared after him, catching him just outside the building.

“Merlin!”

Merlin turned hesitantly.

“Hi.”

He wasn’t meeting Arthur’s eyes.

“I didn’t know you were back.”

Merlin nodded, his face expressionless.

“Did you hear Cenred got expelled?”

Merlin flinched and Arthur felt like it had been the wrong thing to say. He coughed, casting his mind around for a subject change.

“Well… I got those notes off your other lecturers for you.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“Yeah, that module on Film Noir looks really cool.”

“It is,” Merlin mumbled, eyes fixed firmly on the ground.

Arthur bit his lip, unsure of what was happening or why.

“So… I don’t have them on me. But I can drop them off at your halls later? Around six?”

Merlin looked vaguely frantic for a second and then nodded reluctantly.

“Right. Well. I’ll text you when I get there,” Arthur said awkwardly and Merlin nodded again.

Then he was gone.

Arthur frowned. What had that been about? Why would Merlin be so strange around him? Unless-

Unless he thought Arthur had been a part of it all. Arthur didn’t know what Merlin remembered from that night. Maybe he thought Arthur had set it all up, had invited him to the party just to help spike his drink.

Arthur felt ill. It made sense, he was the one who’d sprung the party on Merlin after all. Perhaps Merlin thought Arthur had only come to the hospital out of a sense of guilt. Or maybe he didn’t think Arthur had set it up but he blamed him all the same, for inviting him to a place where Cenred could take advantage…

Arthur couldn’t stop going over all the possibilities in his head, each worse than the last. He spent the afternoon in a state of anxious anticipation until half five rolled around and he set out for Jerwood House, determined to set the record straight.

Merlin opened the door to his room cautiously and Arthur hated how wary his eyes were. He stepped in and stood awkwardly by Merlin’s desk, taking in the film posters on the wall, the neatly made bed. His own bedroom walls were covered in photos from various freshers’ nights he’d been on, as well as stupid notes that Elyan and Leon had stuck up. Merlin’s room looked much less lived in, somehow.

“Um. Here you go.”

He placed the folder of papers down on the bed.

“I just photocopied my notes for French Film so sorry if the handwriting’s really bad.”

“Thank you,” Merlin said quietly. “That’s really… thanks.”

He still wasn’t making eye contact. Arthur had planned what to say on the way over but suddenly his mouth just started moving of its own accord, unable to bear the look on Merlin’s face.

“I’m so sorry Merlin, I know you’re angry and I understand why, but I swear I didn’t know that would happen! I’m not friends with Cenred, I didn’t invite you to set you up, and I know you probably hate me anyway because you wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for me but-”

“Arthur!” Merlin said, sounding alarmed. “Arthur, stop.”

“I’m so sorry, please believe me,” Arthur said, voice breaking slightly.

“Why are you sorry?”

“It was my fault-”

“Arthur, no, of course it wasn’t! I know you had nothing to do with what happened.”

Arthur paused.

“Really?” he said in a small voice.

“Yes,” Merlin said emphatically. “You… you were the one who got me out of there and took me to the hospital. I’m the opposite of mad at you, why would you think that?”

“You… you won’t look at me properly and you ran away earlier and I just…”  Arthur bit his lip. “I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to talk to me anymore.”

“No, Arthur, you’ve got it all wrong.” Merlin looked desperate. He took a deep breath and finally met Arthur’s eyes.

“I’m not mad. I’m… I’m ashamed.”

“What?” Arthur said, caught off guard.

Merlin looked down, his eyes filling with tears.

“I remember everything. I took my clothes off, I-I barked like a dog for them. I would have done anything they asked…”

His face crumpled.

“And you… you were there and you saw, like everyone saw, and I can’t face you or anyone because I’m so humiliated-”

A sob escaped him and Arthur moved on impulse, taking two steps forward to wrap his arms around Merlin. Merlin tensed a second and then relaxed, letting himself be held. Then he buried his face in the crook of Arthur’s neck and began to cry in earnest.

It seemed to be what he needed. Arthur could feel Merlin shaking against him and he tightened his grip, one hand running up and down Merlin’s back in an attempt to soothe him.

They stood like that for nearly a minute before Merlin withdrew, wiping his eyes.

“God, now I’m crying on you, I’m such a mess,” he said, embarrassed all over again, and Arthur shook his head.

“You are not a mess,” he said fiercely. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” Merlin said sadly.

“Look, this wasn’t like some uni hazing thing,” Arthur said, ushering Merlin to sit down on the bed. “It was literally a crime. Remember that girl who got spiked last term in Walkabout? No one laughed at her, did they? Everyone was appalled.”

“The way I acted…”

“Firstly, I’ve done worse on a night out, ask my sister,” Arthur said and Merlin gave him a watery little smile. “Secondly, Gwaine already Facebooked everyone on the party event, look.”

He searched on his phone and then held up the post for Merlin to read. It was essentially a furious screed making it clear that anyone involved in the spiking was unwelcome at any further parties and anyone sick enough to find it funny would have him to answer to.

“Gwaine’s basically the boss of this campus, no one’s gonna make fun of you ever. And look at all the angry comments below. Cenred’s getting called every name under the sun and rightly so.”

Merlin peered at the comments for a while and a little colour seemed to return to his face. Heartened, Arthur nudged him.

“Gwaine also messaged me like eight times to check how you were so I should probably warn you that he might forcibly adopt you as a friend.”

“But he’s so cool.”

“You’re cool!” Arthur said, slightly too enthusiastically, and Merlin rolled his eyes. “No I mean it, you’re like super smart and you know all this stuff about film and you’re really interesting and…”

Arthur trailed off, feeling his cheeks flush.

“You think I’m interesting?” Merlin said and he was looking embarrassed again, only this time it seemed to be in a pleased way.

“Yeah. I mean…” Arthur steeled himself. “I was sorta asking you out when I invited you to the party.”

“Oh. Oh I-” Merlin looked entirely flustered.

“No, no, it’s cool,” Arthur said, stomach sinking. “You don’t have to feel the same way, it’s no big deal-”

“No! I- I do. I just didn’t think you would.”

Arthur’s heart leapt. Merlin was looking at him through his lashes, a sweet smile on his face.

“I think you’re, um, interesting too.”

“See now, you make it sound like an insult,” Arthur said, grinning broadly. He was suddenly feeling light as a feather.

“You said it first!”

They sat there smiling at each other for a moment and then Arthur dared to lean in and kiss Merlin on the cheek.

“So, you wanna order in pizza and watch a film? And this is a date, to be absolutely clear.”

“Yes please,” Merlin said with a dimply smile.

“Oh and what are you doing tomorrow?”

“You’re keen.”

“Hush up,” Arthur said, swatting at Merlin’s arm. “I meant, Magic Soc meets on Tuesday and my sister reaaally wants you to actually come in instead of hovering outside.”

Merlin stiffened a little.

“Oh. I don’t know if I can-”

“Merlin,” Arthur said firmly. “They won’t laugh at you. They like you and they want to get to know you and your magic, okay? Though if you teach Morgana how to change my hair colour, I’ll never forgive you, because she’s been trying to learn that one for years.”

Merlin laughed then, unclenching a little.

“I guess I can give it a go.”

“Good, because then you’re coming over to my halls on Thursday to play FIFA with me and Elyan,” Arthur said shamelessly.

Merlin groaned.

“Are you my boyfriend or my social planner?”

“Boyfriend,” Arthur said, loving the sound of it in his mouth. “But I can do a bit of both.”

“Alright, alright, but we’re spending Friday alone. Oh and Arthur?”

“Hmm?”

Merlin tipped him a wink and a strange tingling feeling ran across his scalp. He sat up to look in the mirror across the room and found he was sporting a new, very blue, hair style.

“You and Morgana are gonna make my life hell, aren’t you?”

Merlin laughed.

“Probably.”

Arthur tackled him to the bed and started ruffling his hair in revenge.

“Truce, truce!” Merlin called, breathless with laughter. “We need to decide what we’re watching tonight. And you can forget about Italian neo-realism.”

“Hmm,” Arthur said, settling back onto the pillows with a contented sigh. “I don’t suppose you have Call Me By Your Name?”