The train was sweltering, Merlin should just have walked. He should have seen this coming. It was never a good idea to take the Underground on such a hot day. What had he been thinking? It wasn't that long of a walk. He was four stops from home, and it was already standing room only. He should not have taken the Underground.
Before the train became too crowded he stood and wedged himself into the corner at the very end of the carriage, right beside the door. That way when his stop came it wouldn't be so bad.
At the next station, approximately seven thousand feral rugby fans boarded the train. Merlin closed his eyes and groaned. Twickenham was after his stop. He tried to get off, deciding he would walk, but the doors were closing.
The man standing directly next to him was blond and muscular, wearing an England Rugby top. He was vaguely familiar in the way a lot of complete strangers seemed when you travelled the same Underground routes regularly, and Merlin decided that he must have seen him on the train before, at some point.
The best part, as far as Merlin was concerned, was that he was very, very handsome. If you were going to be pressed bodily up against a stranger on the tube, it was nice if they were good looking. He glanced at Merlin with an apologetic look as the train shuddered and he nearly lost his grip.
At the next station, even more people boarded the train.
"For fuck's sake, could they not have waited for the next train? I'm sorry about this," the man said as he was pushed against Merlin even more. It was extremely awkward because the man was gripping the support above them and Merlin's face was now uncomfortably close to this stranger's armpit.
"Look," Merlin said, indicating the handhold lower down. It would mean that the stranger basically had his arm around Merlin, but that was preferable to Merlin having a faceful of armpit.
The man nodded and moved his hand, his inner wrist brushing against Merlin's hip. Merlin swallowed. Why hadn't he just walked?
As the train started up again a shout came down the carriage, "Hey Princess, ya dead?"
The man smiled and looked over his shoulder, shouting back to the pack of rugby fans in the centre of the carriage. Merlin watched the skin of his neck go taut, a bead of sweat trickling slowly down to his shirt collar.
"Yah, man," he shouted back, and they all laughed. His face turned back towards Merlin.
"Princess?" Merlin said, eyebrow raised. He'd never seen anyone so overtly masculine in his life, except perhaps his rugby friend who was tall enough that he was having to duck in the centre of the carriage.
The man shrugged and smiled then leaned in towards Merlin and whispered, "I'm gay."
Merlin was appalled. "I am, too, but my friends don't call me princess !"
"Oh, no, they've called me princess since we were kids. That was just information I wanted you to have."
Merlin could feel himself blushing, and the blond man smiled knowingly. The next bump of the train jostled them together again, and Merlin was more aware of the stranger's body than he had been before.
"Do you ever read those missed connections bits in the paper?" He asked. Merlin shook his head. "No, I thought not."
"Oh, it's just that I've been looking for you."
"What do you mean?"
But of course, Merlin knew. He thought the stranger looked familiar. It had been months ago, on a late-night train, and they had sat opposite each other. The eye contact had been heavily intentioned, but Merlin had chickened out and bolted two stops before his own. He had spent the next few weeks nervously scanning the train looking for the blond but hadn't seen him again. Merlin's face burned with the memory.
"That was so long ago," Merlin said, an apology. He had forgotten exactly what the stranger looked like. How could he have done that?
They locked eyes again, and the train shuddered to a halt, the door beside them opening. No one got on or off, and the air that rushed into the carriage was hot and damp. Merlin had no idea which station they were at, nor did he care.
"It's nice to finally meet you, Merlin. I'm Arthur."
The train started and it was Merlin pressed against Arthur this time. Arthur shifted his hand off the support and gripped Merlin's hip, causing Merlin to inhale sharply.
Arthur's eyes were trained on his lips, and Merlin's heart was racing. He was pretty sure he was about to kiss a stranger on the Underground. Arthur's grip tightened and his eyelids lowered, a smile on his lips.
The train slowed to a halt though they were between stations. Merlin gripped the top of Arthur's arm, his fingers curling around hard muscle. He felt as though he couldn't draw a proper breath, the air between them was heavy. He could feel a bead of his own sweat tracking down his neck and Arthur's eyes followed it.
The lights flickered and the other occupants of the train groaned in annoyance. Arthur licked his lips and leaned forward, his blue eyes fixed on Merlin's own. Merlin nodded an ascent, an acceptance that they were really doing this, and as the train lights flickered again and died, Arthur's lips met his.
Their kiss was filthy and desperate from the first moment, both of their mouths open hungrily, their tongues racing to touch and taste and explore. Their bodies were pressed firmly together, one of Merlin's legs nudging between Arthur's. They were both sweaty and where their bare skin touched it was damp, but not unpleasant. Arthur's hand had slid to the small of his back where he gripped Merlin's shirt in his fist. Merlin's hands locked on Arthur's shoulders, enjoying the feel of the tense muscles below his fingers.
Merlin had never kissed anyone on the Underground, but the idea that there were twenty people who could easily see them was equally arousing and terrifying. The fact that it was dark, and that other strangers were pressed against them and probably understood what was happening made Merlin's whole body ache.
"Hey, Princess, ya dead?" Arthur's friend called from the middle of the train. The lights flickered again and he and Merlin disengaged with a series of swift kisses. Arthur was breathing heavily and he was smiling like he'd just won something he'd been wanting for years.
"Ya, man," Arthur shouted back as Merlin was pushed against him by the motion of the restarting train.
"So," Merlin said, clearing his throat. Arthur's hand was spread flat against the small of his back, their hips grinding together, "you're going to the rugby, yeah?"
"I was," Arthur said, licking his lips. The eyes of the strangers around them kept darting towards them and away again, quickly. Merlin knew he was flushed, his eyes round with desire. "What are your plans for the rest of the day?"
"Home," Merlin said, conscious that he may have missed his stop, "flatmate's working, so I'm on my own."
"On your own," Arthur drawled, biting his bottom lip as if considering something. Then he looked around them until he spotted a curly-haired youth in an England Rugby top a few feet away. He got the kid's attention and asked, "you headed to Twickenham?"
"Fancy an upgrade?" Arthur dug his ticket out and showed it to the kid.
"That's a VIP box ticket, mate."
"Yes, I know, but I'm not going to the rugby today," he turned to Merlin and smiled, "I have other plans."
"I can't take this!" the kid sais, clearly gutted, "I'm meeting friends."
"Oh, well," Arthur laughed, "it was worth a try."
"I'll take it," a short, beautiful girl said, reaching her hand out, "I'm going on my own."
"Well, now you're going with them," Arthur said, pointing as best he could at his friends, then he whistled loudly, drawing the attention of practically everyone on the train. "I've changed my mind, I'm not going to the rugby. You're taking-"
"You're taking Gwen instead. Ok?"
His friends turned questioning looks on him as the train pulled into the station. The announcer said the station name, and Merlin was glad to hear it was his. The friend who had been checking up on him periodically looked at Merlin with wide eyes, then nudged his tall friend with an elbow.
Arthur handed his ticket to the girl, "they're all nice guys, I promise. But you've got to watch the one with curls, he bites."
Merlin took Arthur's hand and pulled him from the train just as the doors started to close. Arthur backed him up against the station wall and kissed him again like he couldn't wait a single second longer. Merlin felt the rush of air as the train departed and he pushed Arthur off him, breathless. The air on the platform was stale and dusty, and Merlin longed to be above ground.
"How far is your flat from the station?"
"It's a five-minute walk."
Merlin felt dazed and slightly insane. He had never invited a stranger back to his flat. He had never done anything like this before at all. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to.
"How long will it take if we run?" Arthur asked. Merlin thought about how hot it was, and about how his flat had no air conditioning. Then he thought about how much he wanted to be kissing Arthur, and about how badly he wanted to be doing more with Arthur. Then he took Arthur's hand again, and they ran.