Merlin should have been studying for mid-terms, but was he? No. His friends had decided that, since it was such a beautiful, sunny autumn day, they should take a drive into the country and go to a corn maze. A big one, apparently, just like they have in America.
One of these days Merlin would learn how to say no to Gwen, but today was not that day.
Now Merlin was in the far backseat of Gwaine’s mum’s 56 plate Nissan Serena squashed between Arthur and Leon trying to pretend that he didn’t suffer from claustrophobia. And trying even harder to pretend that he was not, in fact, in love with his best friend, Arthur, beyond all reasonable doubt. Because the right side of Merlin’s body was pressed solidly against Arthur and Merlin was starting to suffer from oxygen deprivation. He could feel the shape of Arthur’s bicep against his skin, for crying out loud.
Merlin closed his eyes and pretended to sleep, having no energy left whatsoever for the loud, chaotic conversations that swam around him. Gwaine and Percy, who were in the front seat, were singing aloud to radio music only they could hear. Morgana and Gwen, stuck with Lance in the middle row of seats, were talking about Gwen & Lance’s recent engagement, and Lance, Arthur, and Leon were talking about football. So Merlin closed his eyes and leaned his head back, trying to remember Latin conjugations ahead of his mid-week exam.
“Is he sleeping?” Leon asked, disbelieving.
“He can sleep anywhere,” Lance said.
“He’s like a cat,” Gwen laughed.
“Here, we’ll test it,” Arthur said, clearing his throat, “The Hobbit movies were better than the book.”
Merlin did not react, but it took every ounce of his self-control. What a stupid thing to say! The films were enjoyable in their own right, sure, but they were nothing at all as wonderful as the book.
“He’s sleeping,” Arthur said, a quiet laugh in his voice, “if he were awake he’d have clawed my face off.”
Merlin thrilled at being so known by Arthur, his heart racing. The conversation picked back up again as they drove further into the countryside, Merlin suppressing a smile as his head lolled to rest brazenly on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur’s arm moved against him and the tips of Arthur’s fingers came to rest on Merlin’s thigh. Merlin prayed they would arrive soon at their destination. He was giving himself a headache from holding all of his emotions in so tightly.
When they finally got to the maze they found that it was, indeed, large enough to tempt even the most jaded of American tourists. There were stands selling hot chocolate or spiced apple cider, and doughnuts absolutely swimming in powdered sugar. There were bean bag tossing games, a giant slide which deposited you into a ball pit filled with corn kernels instead of balls, a pick-your-own-pumpkin patch, and the maze.
The maze. It was huge. Merlin’s stomach dropped out every time he looked at it, at the two attendants at the entrance handing out maps for those people who were too frightened to enter without one. Forget a map, Merlin wanted GPS co-ordinates. He tried to keep his breathing even. He tried to joke and laugh and play with his friends, all of them enjoying this break from the pressures of their third year of Uni. But all he could think about was getting lost in the corn maze, surrounded on all sides and unable to get out.
“Hey,” Arthur said, barging against Merlin’s shoulder, “you ready?”
Arthur was holding up one of the maps. The others had already entered the maze, but Arthur had stayed behind to make sure that Merlin was coming. Wouldn’t want to miss the fun, would you?
“Now or never, yeah?” Merlin sighed, looking with dread at the towering corn stalks. In all fact, they couldn’t have been more than a few inches taller than Merlin himself, but his fear made them taller.
“Come on,” Arthur laughed, and he reached down and grabbed the back of Merlin’s elbow in a friendly, excited way. Merlin followed him to his doom.
It was just as bad as Merlin had thought it was going to be. Every few feet there was either a dead end or a choice of which direction to go in. Some dead ends were actually tight spirals of turns that made you nearly dizzy before presenting you with nowhere else to go so that you had to go back through the spiral and start again. He and Arthur were separated from the others within minutes, and Merlin clung to Arthur’s arm silently begging him not to leave him alone in here.
“Merlin, are you alright?” Arthur asked, suddenly noticing that Merlin was not laughing along with him. Merlin was, in fact, trying very hard not to panic. They had reached the end of one of the spiral-like dead ends, and all Merlin could see was Arthur’s face and the towering walls of the corn maze. He tried to breathe deeply, but all he could smell was dust and his own sweat, which made his fear worse.
Arthur grabbed both of his shoulders, shaking Merlin lightly to get Merlin’s attention. Merlin focused on the blue of Arthur’s eyes, and the shape of his cheekbones, and the sharp edge of his jaw, the tight, concerned line of his lips. Merlin, only thinking that he wanted to feel safe again, please, just to feel safe and not frightened, buried his face in the side of Arthur’s neck, wrapping his arms around Arthur a little wildly. Arthur’s hands came protectively around him, one across his back and down to his hip, and the other stretching up and buried in Merlin’s hair. Arthur held him silently until his breath calmed.
“You should have said you were afraid,” Arthur said gently when Merlin had backed himself out of the embrace, feeling embarrassed.
“I didn’t want to ruin it for anyone,” Merlin admitted, his face on fire. Of course, it had to be Arthur that he made a fool of himself in front of. Arthur who was always so brave and reckless. Arthur who was afraid of nothing.
“I have a phobia of rabbits,” Arthur said, and the statement was so incongruous that Merlin laughed, “I’m serious. I watched Monty Python’s Holy Grail when I was too young and every time I see a rabbit I think of big, sharp, pointy fangs and all that fake blood. I’m terrified of them.”
They looked at each other. They were still touching though there really wasn’t a reason to anymore. Merlin didn’t feel nervous or excited, he just felt content. He hadn’t felt content around Arthur since he’d realised he was in love with him.
“Thank you,” Merlin said, smiling.
Then, and Merlin was never sure how exactly it happened, (over the years they would both claim credit), but he and Arthur were kissing. Soft, and gentle, both feeling vulnerable but somehow invincible, they kissed, arms wrapped protectively around each other. Arthur’s mouth tasted like spiced apple cider and sweet like powdered sugar. They kissed, oblivious to everything except each other until Merlin’s phone began to ring and they finally broke apart.
“Where are you? Is Arthur with you? Are you in the maze still? Are you lost?” Gwen said, sounding a little panicked. In the background, Merlin could hear Lance and Percy offering to re-enter the maze and find their, apparently, lost friends. It was difficult for Merlin to pay attention, because, at the loss of having Merlin’s lips to kiss, Arthur had taken Merlin’s hand to his mouth and was currently kissing the inside of his wrist.
“We’re not lost, we got, um, distracted. Honestly, Gwen, we’re fine. We’ll find our way out. Have some hot chocolate, we won’t be long,” Merlin said, exhaling sharply as Arthur bit one of his knuckles gently. Arthur looked ravaged. His hair was messy, and his lips were swollen, his face red. Merlin ended the call and put his phone away. Arthur reclaimed Merlin’s lips then, not letting Merlin explain that they needed to go because the others were waiting. They continued kissing, Merlin feeling slightly desperate, dizzy and giddy with happiness. They pulled apart and laughed, Merlin resting his forehead on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur kissed his neck, burrowing his nose under the collar of Merlin’s coat. Merlin struggled to draw breath again, but not out of fear.
“They’ll send Percy in after us,” Merlin warned as he arched his neck and felt Arthur’s lips close over his Adam’s apple, “he can probably see over the walls, Arthur.”
Arthur relented with a dramatic sigh, resting his own head on Merlin’s shoulder this time. Merlin gripped the back of Arthur’s neck, something he had wanted to do since the day they met. He couldn’t believe this was happening.
“I think,” Arthur breathed heavily, “for my sanity, you’re going to have to sit on the other side of Leon on the way home.”
“What do you mean?” Merlin asked as he let Arthur lead him from their corn maze dead-end, Arthur’s hand tightly wrapped around his own.
“Your body, Merlin, it was too close. I nearly lost my mind on the drive down here. Your head on my shoulder, your hair against my chin,” Arthur said, and Merlin stopped them, pulled them into an alcove and kissed Arthur again, wanton and ruthless, “It was all I could do not to touch you there, in front of everyone. Not even knowing if you felt the same.”
“Your fingers,” Merlin said, angrily, leaning back in to capture Arthur’s bottom lip and kissing him again, hard and fast, “were on my thigh.”
Arthur laughed, head thrown back, both hands clasping Merlin’s. When he looked back at Merlin his eyes were on fire, “I know,” he purred, pulling Merlin to him so their bodies touched from shoulder to ankle. Merlin let out a sound that could only be interpreted as raw lust, and Arthur laughed again, enjoying the tease, taking the lead again as they walked out of the maze.
It was growing dark by the time they got back to their friends, who had taken Merlin’s advice to not be worried, and were gathered around a picnic table enjoying their hot chocolate and doughnuts. He and Arthur approached the table smiling, hands held.
“See? I told you there was nothing to worry abo- hang on,” Gwaine said, launching himself off the picnic table and coming towards Arthur and Merlin, looking into both of their faces, his eyes narrowed, “they’ve been SNOGGING!”
“About bloody time!” Lance called, his arms around Gwen, who was beaming.
“You,” Percy said, shouldering Morgana happily, “owe me £5.”
On the way back, Merlin sat in the last row of seats, between Leon and Arthur. Leon kept glancing at them and laughing to himself, and Arthur kept his hand on Merlin’s thigh for the entire drive home.