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Merlin doesn’t know why he even bothers trying to argue with Arthur. Well, besides the fact that he thinks at this point in their friendship it might be expected of him, and that their dynamic would suffer if he didn’t. Or maybe he likes to put up these pretend barriers so that certain deep, dark, and hidden feelings didn’t become glaringly obvious. It was all useless, anyways. An act put on by two people who knew the game. Arthur always got what he wanted and Merlin would always go along with it.

“A road trip? Where would we even go?” Merlin says, furrowing his brow in the way he knows infuriates Arthur.

“What kind of a stupid question is that? We live in Europe, we’re within driving distance to half the world. We could drive to China, if we were so inclined.”

“You want to drive to China?”

“No, but we could.”

“And why should we?”

Arthur shrugs. “It’s the thing to do, isn’t it? Two young lads, fresh out of school, toiling around Europe before University and the rest of our lives can begin.”

Merlin frowns. It sounds like an Uther idea that has been planted in Arthur’s brain so long he think its his own idea, or even worse, that its expected of him.

“So you want to do it because it’s... poetic?”

“That’s more your thing, mate. I just want the experience.”

“My mother will never let me.”

“She will since you’re going with me, and she loves me.”

“How will I ever get the time off work?”

“Just quit your job, you’re moving to Oxford in two months anyways.”

“I can’t afford to just go gallivanting-”

“I can help you pay for the trip so you don’t need to dig into your savings, and before you go on one of your working class hero rants, Father gave me way too much money for this trip, he thinks I’ll be staying in five star hotels and eating at Michelin star restaurants the whole time or something. I’d rather just go with my best mate and stay in hostels and drink.”

Merlin knew it. He could smell Uther all over this plan. And now that he thought about it, he vaguely remembered Arthur saying something several months earlier about how Uther thought he needed to go out there and see the world, get some experiences, and see how the common folk lived before he started uni.

Merlin should have seen this coming, only he had a terrible tendency to tune out when Arthur began talking about his Father. He could never admit that to Arthur, though. They were meant to be best friends and from Arthur’s point of view it might as well have been treasonous.

“I’ll think about it,” Merlin replies flatly, hoping that Arthur understands what he really means is ‘no way in hell’.

“I’ll speak to Hunith about it.”

“No! You don’t need-”

“I know I don’t, but I want to. Pick you up after tutoring?”

Merlin nods. They part ways, Arthur going right to History, and Merlin going left to his Advanced Maths course. Merlin stays late on Thursdays to tutor students. Merlin enjoys it, plus it looks good on an application. Arthur doesn’t have football Thursday afternoons but he sticks around anyway, just to drive Merlin home. It’s nice considering when tutoring ends, he has to take a bus home which doesn’t come for 45 minutes. Not to mention he lives in the poor section of town and has to transfer buses halfway, it takes him almost as long to get home as it takes him to wait. It only takes 15 minutes for Arthur to drive him home, and it’s partially on the way to his posh estate on the outskirts of town.

Merlin remembers exactly when he met Arthur.

They were 12 and Merlin had just transferred into Arthur’s school due to his grades being “well above average”. Arthur was a jerk at first, of course, because he’s Arthur and even now he’s still a bit of a jerk. Merlin, who absolutely lacks any and all sense of self-preservation to this very day, stood up to Arthur as he bullied a student in their grade, a boy about as thin and weedy as Merlin, but much more meek.

They laugh about it now, but it was quite the drama at the time. It was Merlin’s first day and he didn’t realize who Arthur was, or that Pendragon meant something in this new school where names and breeding meant everything. Parents were called, tears were shed (mostly by Morris, the boy Arthur had been bullying) and Merlin and Arthur hated each other.

Until one day they just didn’t. Merlin can’t exactly pinpoint when it happened, it just did. One day they couldn’t stand each other and the next they got along just fine. They’d help each other out with homework, take the fall for one another, and Arthur became Merlin’s protector and even though Merlin would argue with his dying breath that he didn’t need one, he very secretly enjoyed it.

Arthur softened over the years, too. He could still be pig headed and brash, and way too posh, but he was soft hearted, kind, and loyal as well. He was the kind of best friend that Merlin assumed only existed in fiction, one that was there for you no matter what, knew everything about you, every deep, dark corner of your soul and still wanted to be in your life.

Well, there was one corner in Merlin’s soul that Arthur didn’t know about, but Merlin buried it deeper than any of his other secrets because more than anything else, it was an embarrassing cliche.

Merlin was the gay kid in love with his best friend.

 

 

 

A couple weeks went by and Merlin had nearly forgotten about the trip when Arthur dropped it casually into their conversation over their lunch break one Friday. Every Friday they had movie night, and every Friday they argued over what food to order.

“Besides, we’ll have plenty of time to eat pizza when we’re in Italy this summer.”

“Arthur…”

“Oh quiet, I’ve already discussed it with Hunith and she is one hundred percent on board. She thinks it will be good for you to get out and see the world. She called me ‘very generous’ in fact.”

“Of course she did,” Merlin deadpans. It is a well known and accepted fact by the both of them that Hunith adores Arthur. “You’re very insistent on this aren’t you?”

“What can I say, I want to spend as much time with my best friend before he goes off and takes Oxford by storm.”

“Before we take Oxford by storm, numpty.”

Arthur just smirks, infuriating, and shrugs. Merlin wants so desperately to argue of course you’re getting into Oxford, stupid, but on a rare occasion, he does know when to let things go.

 

 

 

If Merlin had any sense of self preservation, he wouldn’t be here right now. It is insane, absolutely foolish, to be spending a month, a whole month stuck in a car and various hostels with Arthur.

Merlin really must be an idiot.

He’d put up half-hearted protests a few times, like when Arthur had come over with a notebook and his laptop so they could plan their route. Or when they went to the mall to buy some new clothes and supplies to bring along. Or when they went to exchange money for Euros. He’d rolled his eyes a few times as they researched the locations they wanted to visit and marked down things they wanted to see and do, and hostels they could stay in (a few they booked ahead, in places it was hard to get last minute beds) which Arthur took on with all the glee and efficiency of a military general. The worst was when Merlin had to quit his job, Merlin and Arthur practically got into a yelling match, but of course Arthur had won that one, too.

Obviously, none of his attempts were enough because early that morning Arthur had shown up outside his house with his expensive SUV, which was already full of his stuff, and he helped shove Merlin’s stuff into the remaining open spaces. Arthur kissed Hunith goodbye right before Merlin said his goodbyes, and made all the usual promises to be good, to be safe, to take care of each other, to send regular text updates.

Several hours later they were at the Eurotunnel Shuttle, waiting to cross the English Channel over to Calais, and eventually drive over to Paris, the first stop of their trip. Arthur had won many arguments with his father, but Uther had insisted on getting his first hotel of the trip, and he refused to back down. So instead of a regular hostel, they were staying in Hôtel Rochester Champs-Élysées, a truly ridiculous hotel and Merlin didn’t even want to think about how much money Uther was spending on it.

It had been a quiet journey so far. It was early, so there wasn’t a lot of talking. Arthur had put on a playlist of songs Merlin loves, that he would normally accuse of being “indie shite” and was an obvious attempt to placate Merlin, but Merlin appreciated it nonetheless. Merlin became especially grateful that Arthur was driving when they made it into the outskirts of Paris and it became apparent the roads were going to get even more confusing as they continued on.

It was hard to stay salty. Paris is beautiful, and it’s sunny out. Arthur has been to Paris countless times, but Merlin has been only once on a school trip. They had therefore both agreed to skip the real touristy things they had both already done. Uther had apparently missed that memo as he had booked them a hotel in the heart of the city, right by the Champs-Élysées. The hotel, of course, had a valet, so they hauled their bags out of the trunk and Arthur handed the keys away to a very pristine looking man in a suit.

Since Arthur spent so much time in Paris growing up, he’s nearly fluent. Merlin lets Arthur handle the check-in, as it’s under his name, and Merlin lowkey enjoys when Arthur takes control, anyways. Plus he definitely likes hearing Arthur speak French. Merlin is enjoying a low hum of pleasure at the situation when suddenly he notices Arthur seems confused, and his French seems less smooth and more halting. There’s no mistaking it, Arthur and the hotel clerk are having a disagreement.

“What’s going on?” Merlin asks.

“There’s been a mistake in our booking.” Arthur explains with a sigh. The hotel clerk is now speaking rapid French on the phone to someone.

“We don’t have a room?” Merlin’s stomach flips. It’s way too early in this trip for bad things to start happening.

“No, there’s a room. Only there’s obviously been a mix up, Father only booked a single King sized bed.”

Merlin groans loudly. “That’s no mix up, your dad hates me. He probably thinks you were joking about bringing me along, or he thinks I’ll sleep on the floor like a dog or something. Don’t they have something with two beds?”

“Well, yes. They likely do, only they’ve received strict instructions from my Father about the level of care and service I am to receive and they don’t have any rooms left of equal quality.”

“This is so embarrassing, just call Uther and-”

Arthur turns and looks at Merlin like he’s insane for even suggesting it.

“I don’t think so, Merlin. I can’t let him win that easily. We’ll take the King, and I’ll make sure Father is fully aware we’ve shared a bed.”

Merlin feels his face flush at the implication, he’s still sputtering, trying to think of a response, when the clerk hangs up the phone, and resumes speaking to Arthur. He will never in a million years understand Arthur’s relationship with Uther.

 

 

They spend most of their first afternoon in Paris wandering. Arthur knows his way around easily, and they visit several of his favourite cafes, boulangeries, and bars. Merlin is somewhat of a lightweight, so by his third drink (a French 75) he is pleasantly buzzed. They have a wonderful (and expensive) dinner with champagne and dessert, and by the time they made it back to their hotel, Arthur insists they change and hit up a club of some sort.

“Something sexy,” Arthur insists. Merlin doesn’t think anything he owns is sexy, so he puts on his tightest black t-shirt and his black jeans that he thinks maybe give him the illusion of an ass even if he doesn’t really have one. Merlin doesn’t know who he is dressing up for, Arthur will probably drag him over to some straight bar and he’ll have to watch Arthur make out with girls all night.

Arthur gives him a once over and seems to approve of the outfit as he tugs them out of their hotel room.

“Where are we going?” Merlin asks after he’s lightly pushed into the back seat of a cab.

“Raidd.”

Merlin just noda. Doesn’t sound particularly gay or straight. They get dropped off on a non-descript street, and it isn’t until they walk about a block that Merlin notices it. It’s lit up bright purple and has several silver balloons declaring RAIDD amongst other garish decor, and a giant rainbow flag right over the main door.

Oh.

There is no mistaking that Raidd is, indeed, a gay bar. They get into the club quickly, as it is a bit early in the night for a huge lineup. The music, some kind of French techno, is already pulsing from the speakers. There is a decent crowd forming on the dancefloor, and everywhere Merlin looks there are shirtless men in booty shorts dancing. Not only that, but there are also several glass boxes around the bars and dancefloor where men seem to be getting drenched with water, droplets dripping down their six packs and soaking their briefs, putting everything on display.

Merlin feels like a country bumpkin, he’s never been anywhere remotely like this. He tugs at Arthur’s arm to get his attention.

“Why did you bring me here?” Merlin has to yell right into Arthur’s ear to be heard.

“I thought you’d feel more comfortable,” Arthur yells back. He orders them drinks and Merlin doesn’t even ask what it is, just slams it back. He needs fortification and he needs it now.

Several drinks later finds Merlin on the dancefloor. He had temporarily misplaced Arthur, who had to leave to find the toilets, and replaced him with a poor lookalike in the form of a different muscular blond man, possibly French. Merlin couldn’t be certain, they hadn’t exactly exchanged words. It was more like Merlin was pulled up against a hard and very appealing body and proceeded to grind back against the guy to the beat of the music. He allows the man to grope his front, it feels like he is trying to get Merlin’s shirt off by the way his hand wanders up Merlin’s torso, lifting the bottom of his shirt as he goes, but Merlin can’t bring himself to care. No one else is even looking at them and Merlin feels so fucking free, in a foreign country where no one knows his name.

Well, only Arthur does. Right around the same time the replacement Arthur starts to mouth at Merlin’s neck, the real Arthur turns back up. It is hard to read Arthur’s expression, what with the darkness, the flashing lights, and the alcohol, but judging by the way Merlin feels Arthur’s hand grasp tightly on his wrist, and by the way he pulls him away from replacement Arthur, Merlin has a pretty good idea how he is feeling.

It is kind of a joke between all their mutual friends, that Merlin and Arthur are dating in every way except the intimacy. Arthur certainly acts like a jealous boyfriend sometimes, but Merlin knows better. Arthur just thinks Merlin needs to be monitored constantly or he will hurt himself or get into some kind of trouble, and Merlin knows Arthur better than anyone else knows Arthur. If Arthur has any sort of inclination towards boys, Merlin would know.

Merlin doesn’t know if replacement Arthur is miffed or angry or anything, because real Arthur pulls Merlin right into himself. Their hips bump, and then slot together when one of Merlin’s knees slides between Arthur’s legs. The hand of Arthur’s not holding onto Merlin’s wrist slides around Merlin’s waist, and he didn’t realize his shirt had ridden up but it must have because Arthur is touching bare skin.

Merlin suddenly feels lightyears away from everything else happening in the room, because the places he and Arthur are touching, the hand on his wrist, the one on his bare lower back, their hips bumping, are infinitely more important. Arthur lets go of Merlin’s wrist and slides that hand around Merlin’s hip. Merlin rests his arms on Arthur’s shoulders, his hands toying at the hair at the back of Arthur’s head, and lets go. He loses himself in the pulsing beat, the sweat on the back of Arthur’s neck, how good it feels to have Arthur’s hands on the sensitive curve where Merlin’s hips turn into his back, and no one is looking because no one gives a fuck about who Merlin is, or who Arthur is to him.

They dance and they dance and they dance.

At some point Merlin gets turned around so he’s grinding back onto Arthur’s front, their hips lining up just as perfectly as they did before, and Arthur’s hands are still grabbing Merlin’s hips. Merlin gets tired, too, the booze going to his head, not to mention the long day of driving and walking. His eyes are closed and he’s grinding back half heartedly when Arthur whispers in his ear.

“Should we get back to the hotel?”

Merlin nods.

Arthur holds his hand as they leave the bar, dodging other grinding couples, and half naked men with six packs so perfect they look drawn on.

They run into replacement Arthur as they leave, he’s having a smoke outside the bar. He yells something in French at Arthur, though he doesn’t sound angry, more amused. Arthur laughs before he responds, reaffirming Merlin’s supposition.

“What did he say?” Merlin asks once they’re in the taxi Arthur hailed, and Arthur gave the cabbie the address of the hotel.

“He called me a jealous boyfriend.”

Merlin’s stomach twists.

“What did you say back?”

“I told him I wasn’t jealous.”

Merlin snorts.

“We both know that’s a lie.”

Arthur glares at him from across the dim cab.

“What would I possibly have to be jealous of?”

Merlin shrugs, and he swallows hard, trying not to let Arthur’s words ruin how great the night was for him, when he just let himself pretend Arthur wanted him back.

“Dunno, but the way you pulled me away from that guy certainly seemed like jealous boyfriend behaviour. From an outsider’s perspective, I mean.”

Arthur looks slightly pained. “Hunith released you into my care with the promise I’d look after you, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

Merlin nods, and decides to stop pursuing this conversation. It’s probably going to hurt him in the end, especially because Merlin is much too soft when he’s been drinking.

It’s not until they’re pulling up in front of the hotel that Merlin remembers they’re sharing a bed tonight, and Merlin doesn’t know if he can fucking bear it. It is a king bed, thank goodness. He should be able to curl up on his side and avoid any sort of unnecessary contact. He can do this.

 

Merlin’s body misses the memo. He wakes up the next morning, sun on his face, the faint echoes of a very small hangover just at the edge of his awareness. He needs a huge glass of water, headache meds, and a massive breakfast. He’s also unbearably hot. He realises quickly, the reason why he’s so overheated. Him and Arthur are pressed up, right in the middle of the bed. Arthur’s heavy arm is thrown over Merlin’s middle, and they’re...well. Spooning. Merlin is tucked right up close to Arthur, like they were at the club last night, only this time there’s a much more pressing problem. Literally, Arthur’s morning wood pressing insistently against Merlin’s arse. Merlin isn’t faring too well, himself, now that he’s awake enough to notice.

He tries to wriggle out, carefully and slowly, as to not rouse Arthur out of his slumber. It’s difficult, Arthur doesn’t seem to want to let go, and when Merlin manages to roll away a bit, Arthur tugs him back in with a moan.

This is normal and natural behaviour. Merlin tells himself. This happens to young guys all the time, and Arthur is probably dreaming of girls. And tits, or whatever it is straight guys are into.

Only it’s hard to remember that when Arthur is pulling Merlin in and...moaning again, only this time the moan is accompanied by a small thrust. Merlin is still trying to think of a way he can subtly roll out of this situation without embarrassing Arthur and making him uncomfortable when Arthur thrusts again, this time with a quiet grunt that makes something hot and uncomfortable grow in his stomach. This is wrong and Merlin needs to get out now. Merlin rolls away, forgoing any sort of subtlety. He feels Arthur jerk awake as he does so.

“Whassat?” Arthur mumbles sleepily.

“Just going to the toilets.” For a long time.

Merlin takes a long shower and um, deals with the problem. But he doesn’t feel good about it, and he feels slightly dirty even though he just took a shower. Arthur doesn’t even know what he was doing, and Merlin got off to it. How can he possibly face him after that? And yet, face Arthur he must. They are sharing a bed for another full day, and they’d be sharing a car and personal space for another 29 days.

When he finally leaves the bathroom, Arthur looks grumpy. Is it possible he knows what Merlin did?

“Took you long enough,” Arthur grumbles. “I’ve had to pee for the last ten minutes.”

That’s about all Arthur gets out before he huffs his way into the bathroom and locks the door behind himself.

That could have been worse.

 

 

They pass their day much like the first. After they eat a large breakfast of eggs benedict and mimosas, they wander, with many stops for eating and drinking. They traipse along the Seine, through the Jardin du Tuileries, and end up at the Louvre Pyramids. They’ve both been into the Louvre so they just mill about the pyramids, watching the other tourists and Merlin snaps a few photos of their surroundings, plus a few of Arthur looking modelesque. They have another ice cream, soft serve this time, and wander until dinner time, when they decide to stop at a fancy looking bistro Arthur has never tried before. It feels very laissez-faire in that way a Sunday often does, when you have absolutely nothing to get done and can freely enjoy the company of a person you feel comfortable with.

They share plates at the bistro, and a bottle of champagne Arthur won’t let him see the price of.

“Should we get an early night?” Arthur asks as they leave the bistro.

Merlin’s answer is a yawn.

By the time they make it back to the hotel it’s pushing 9pm, Merlin is warm from the lingering heat of the summer night and the buzz of champagne and everything feels so comfortable. They fall into bed together, both stripped down to their boxers. They lie on opposite sides of the bed, and Merlin falls asleep wondering if they’re going to drift together again.

 

 

It’s a ten hour drive to Barcelona, and Merlin is once again thankful that Arthur is the one behind the wheel. Merlin takes his duty as co-pilot very seriously, though. He hands Arthur snacks and his bottle of water when he needs a sip, and he plays music he knows Arthur will like (mainstream pop, mostly. Merlin’s not sure how he’s the gay one when Arthur is the one who loves Dua Lipa’s music) and he’s excellent company.

“Never have I ever... had straight sex.”

Arthur scoffs out loud, and Merlin watches as he turns red, resolutely staring out the front windshield, but doesn’t put a finger down.

“Arthur... you... you’ve had sex, right?”

Merlin watches in confusion as Arthur seems to be searching for the right thing to say.

“It’s just...never felt like the right time.”

Merlin’s jaw drops. It’s true that, despite their obvious BFF status, the one topic they never really discuss is sex. They used to talk about masturbating when they were younger, but then they just...stopped. Merlin assumed it was a curse of the straight/gay male friendship dichotomy. Their sex interests would likely never line up, and maybe talking about giving blowjobs and anal sex would freak Arthur out. He wasn’t homophobic at all but every straight dude has his limits.

“Don’t laugh but... I just always wanted it to be special and I just haven’t had that yet, the moment that feels special.”

“I’m not going to laugh. I just thought... you’ve had like four girlfriends and none of them?”

“We’ve done... things,” Arthur clears his throat. “Obviously. But we’ve never ah, gone all the way, as they say. Have you ever, um?”

“Oh! No, not all the way, like you said. I’ve done things, you know. With Will, with Gwaine.” Merlin doesn’t miss the way Arthur makes a face when he says that name. One of the many things they get teased about is how Arthur seemingly hates each of the guys Merlin has gone out with, or even just fooled around with, but there is something in particular about Gwaine that seems to rile Arthur up.

“I’m not even waiting for the right time it’s just um, gay sex is different I think. Like, going all the way is intense and is time consuming and not exactly easy, so…” Merlin trails off. Arthur is bright red, and looks like he would rather be anywhere else than right here in this car, having this discussion. “Anyways, it’s your turn.”

Arthur manages a grin. “Never have I ever gotten off to the thought of a teacher.”

“Oh, come on, that was one time!”

Arthur’s laughter is bright and contagious and Merlin feels himself fall just that little bit harder. Stupid Merlin.

 

 

Merlin leaves Barcelona three days later with a sunburn. Arthur, annoyingly, looks like a bronzed sun god. They drive Northeast, following the coast back into France into the seaside town of Nice.

Nice, it turns out, is just as colourful and as hot as Barcelona. They arrive around lunch time and Merlin is starving. After checking in to the hostel and ditching their bags and the car, they use the local bus system to head over to Saleya market. Bright tents are lined up in front of a row of pastel houses. Merlin and Arthur feed on local cuisine served up by some of the vendors: socca, pissaladière, and tourte de blettes. Afterwards they work off the meal by strolling along the Promenade des Anglais. Merlin resists the urge to hold Arthur’s hand the entire time.

They have cocktails with dinner, and then cocktails at a bar looking out onto the water; and by the time they’re at Waka Bar, a New Zealand inspired pub and dance club, Merlin is so drunk he doesn’t overthink it when Arthur pulls Merlin into his body again so they can grind on the dancefloor, surrounded by dozens of other sweaty bodies.

The next day they spend on the beach, a private beach because as much as Arthur pretends to not be a rich prat anymore, some habits are harder to break than others. They drink on the beach in fancy lounge chairs, Merlin slathered in so much sunscreen he’s slippery with it. They have to leave early the next morning for the four and a half drive to Milan, so they take it easy. Merlin spends the morning in a haze of hangover which easily slides into a drunken haze again.

Therefore, it’s not until the drive to Milan that he has the brainpower to really think about what has been going on between himself and Arthur. The possessiveness has always been there, but this level of physical contact is new and Merlin can’t figure out what it means. How can Arthur shy away from a conversation about gay sex and then proceed to drunkenly grind on Merlin for hours in a club.

“Sooo,” Merlin says. The music has been playing at a low volume and they haven’t exactly talked a lot on the drive. “I didn’t know you liked to dance so much.”

Merlin watches as Arthur shrugs. “You like to dance,” Arthur responds easily.

“I do, but you never danced with the group when we went out back home.”

Arthur nods. He’s quiet for a few seconds, like he’s thinking, before finally answering. “It feels different. We’re away from home, it’s just you and I. It’s like I can be someone different. Someone new.”

Merlin’s chest tightens because he’s felt the same way since they left England. Like he can be free to do what he wants because no one will recognize him. Merlin thinks that’s what Arthur is trying to say.

“Well, while I did like the old Arthur, I have to say I’m getting pretty fond of this one too.”

Arthur grins. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, he’s fun.”

“Can you believe we’ve been gone for just over a week?”

“Still three weeks to go,” Merlin says with a grin. Arthur is smiling too and Merlin feels light as a feather, like if he opened the window he could just float away with the breeze.

 

 

They spend a full sun and wine soaked week in Italy. Two days in Milan, two in Florence, two in Rome, and two in Venice. Even though they race around the country, filling their days with as much as possible, Merlin feels oddly relaxed and at peace. It’s a six hour drive between Venice and Salzburg, their next destination, and Merlin spends the drive feeling a sense of peace and quiet.

“Remember that guy at the bar in Florence?” Arthur asks quietly, not taking his eyes off the road.

It takes Merlin not even a second to recall. A really handsome statuesque man with curled dark hair, a five ‘o’ clock shadow and a striking grin who spoke mostly Italian and some broken English who had tried to hit on Merlin.

The guy wasn’t Merlin’s usual type, but Merlin couldn’t deny his attractiveness, so they had a short conversation, between the man’s broken English and Merlin’s terrible Italian, that was, until Arthur showed up.

“Ah! Arthur, this is Lorenzo,” Merlin introduced.

“I did not realise you had a boyfriend, signor. And one that is so handsome.”

Merlin opened his mouth to correct Lorenzo when Arthur slid an arm around Merlin’s shoulders.

“It’s nice to meet you, Lorenzo,” Arthur replied with a grin. The arm around Merlin spoke of his usual possessive behaviour but his tone sounded borderline flirtatious.

Lorenzo had bought all of them a drink, then Arthur bought them all a round in return. Two drinks turned into three, then a shot or two, which turned into a dance on the crowded floor.

It was friendly, at first, but then it got a little heated, somehow Merlin in the middle, both of them pawing at his hips and waist. At one point Merlin excused himself to go to the toilets. On his way back he caught a glimpse of Lorenzo and Arthur, pushed up against each other, Arthur grinding back into Lorenzo’s shimmying hips. It made Merlin’s mouth dry and at the same time, he had no idea what to do, or how to react. His body was immediately at war, his heart raging at the very idea that Arthur should be interested in a guy who wasn’t Merlin, but his libido was...very interested. He needed water.

By the time he made it back to the dancefloor, Arthur and Lorenzo had separated and were dancing more platonically with each other.

“Merlin!” Lorenzo greeted him, excitedly pulling him back in to dance. They spent the rest of their night with Lorenzo, and as they left the club he tried to convince them to come to his flat for a threesome.

Merlin was about to bow out but tell Arthur he could go ahead and spend the night with Lorenzo, but Arthur was already making excuses and guiding Merlin away with a hand on his lower back.

So, yes. Merlin remembers Lorenzo.

“Yeah,” Merlin says.

“He was hot, right? You’d consider him attractive?”

What the hell? Merlin thinks but he replies: “He was very attractive, only not really my type.”

It’s hard to see what’s going on through Arthur’s sunglasses and with him facing the road but he sounds confused when he says “not your type? What is your type, then?”

“I don’t know,” Merlin lies. “But not that.”

Merlin is suddenly reminded of a time when he first met Arthur, and Arthur was untouchable, unknowable. He seemed so much higher up than Merlin and Merlin could never have imagined understanding anything about him or how his brain worked. And now he feels a similar way, like he just can’t understand Arthur at all, not his motivation or his thought process. Merlin feels tired by it and he wants nothing more than to let the car rock him to sleep.

 

 

They fly through Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest and Krakòw in a flash of sight seeing and beer drinking. They see so many old buildings that when Merlin looks at his camera later, he can hardly tell which building was in which city. His sunburn has faded into a light tan, and he feels good in his skin. Sexy, even. He’s gotten a lot of attention from men and women on this trip, and it’s been a very big ego boost. And Arthur has been there through all of it, a protective arm around his shoulder.

Merlin loves Arthur more than he thought possible. And it’s starting to drive him crazy.

The point of this trip, Merlin had figured, was to sew some wild oats, as it were. Merlin didn’t really find himself romantically attracted to anyone other than Arthur, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun while he waited for himself to get over something that would never happen.

But Arthur was always there, and he wouldn’t let Merlin follow up on any of these guys that made eyes at him.

They have just checked into their private hostel room in Prague, and are unpacking when Arthur freezes, staring down at his iPhone. It takes Merlin, who is sitting on the floor, reorganising his bag, a few seconds to realise.

“Arthur? What's wrong?”

Arthur’s mouth gapes open for a few seconds before he finally answers. “I got in.”

“What?”

“Oxford.”

Excitement builds in Merlin’s chest. “You did?”

“Yes.” A beautiful grin spreads across Arthur’s face. “We’re going to uni together.”

At that Merlin launches himself off the ground and into Arthur’s arms. They laugh with joy, and Merlin feels such genuine excitement for the future he doesn’t know what to do with himself. And even through all that, there’s a tiny voice in the back of his mind saying you’ll never get over him, now.

 

 

They haven’t really gone clubbing much since Italy, they’ve mostly been frequenting beer halls and pubs, but Arthur insists, to celebrate, he says.

It’s a regular club, which is fine by Merlin, the gay clubs mess with his head too much. From the crowd it looks like a mix of gay and straight people. He notices the guy right away. He’s tall and broad shouldered, blond hair and blue eyes. He could almost be Arthur’s older brother, even though he tries not to focus on that. The guy sees Merlin too. They make eyes a few times, and Merlin can feel the flush of attraction heating his cheeks as much as the alcohol is. Arthur never strays far, but at one point Merlin sees him chatting to a woman, so with a frustrated determination, he crosses a few tables to approach the stranger.

“I’m Merlin,” Merlin says, leaning in close.

“Jonas,” the guy replies.

“You’re American?”

Jonas grins. “I get that a lot. I’m Canadian.”

“Buy me a drink, Jonas?”

“I’d love to.”

Arthur must be really into this girl because they’re still chatting as Jonas leads Merlin to the bar. They do a shot together before making their way to the dancefloor. Merlin leans back into Jonas’ wide chest, and it feels good. And it also feels good to grind back into someone who might actually want him. It feels good, too, to lean back until their lips can press together. It’s a bit of a strain on Merlin’s neck, but he soon forgets that when Jonas places one large hand on his jawline and Merlin can feel himself getting lost in the kiss when suddenly he feels a hand on his arm that doesn’t belong to Jonas.

Merlin breaks the kiss and sees Arthur standing in front of him, glaring daggers.

“What are you doing?” Merlin can’t even hear the words, the music is too loud, but he can clearly read Arthur’s lips.

Embarrassment floods Merlin, and along with it anger. Why the hell is Arthur allowed to chat up some girl at the bar but Merlin isn’t allowed to do the same?

At this point Jonas has disconnected himself from Merlin. Merlin looks back at Jonas, who yells over the music: “You have a boyfriend?” He looks mad.

“He’s not my boyfriend!” Merlin yells.

Jonas doesn’t look convinced. He rolls his eyes and is visibly angry when he walks away. Merlin turns back to Arthur feeling bloody murderous.

“Thanks a lot, asshole!” Merlin yells. He pushes past Arthur and heads for the exit. Arthur tries to stop him, he grabs his arm a few times and Merlin yanks it away. They’re about a block away from the club by the time Arthur successfully stops him.

“What is your problem?” Arthur isn’t shouting, but his anger is evident. It only serves to enrage Merlin more. The fucking audacity.

“My problem? What the fuck is your problem? You’re allowed to talk and flirt with some girl but as soon as I show interest in a guy I have to be wrangled away?”

“I wasn’t flirting with her! She was interested and I didn’t want to be rude but I turned her down. And you know I’m just trying to take care of you!”

“I don’t need to be dragged away from every man who is interested in me! If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were homophobic-”

“I’m clearly not!” Arthur is getting louder now.

“It’s not that clear, it seems like you keep trying to stop me from having any fucking fun at all on this trip. Why can’t I dance and kiss a guy just for fun?”

Merlin is barely done with his sentence when Arthur yells, so loud it startles Merlin a bit.

“Because I’m in love with you, you fucking asshole!”

People in the street stop and stare. Merlin’s mouth drops open.

“I love you,” Arthur says again, quietly.

“I-I don’t understand.”

“Which part?”

“You’re straight.”

“No, well. Maybe. I haven’t really figured out if there’s a label for how I feel but I know I like you.”

Merlin shakes his head. None of this is making any sense, and it is only making Merlin more frustrated.

“I know you like me, maybe you even love me. But I need more than that. I want a boyfriend who wants me. To kiss me, and other stuff.”

Arthur steps closer. “I want that. The kissing. The other stuff. I mean, I had four girlfriends I couldn’t go all the way with because I kept thinking about you…” Arthur trails off, flushing and clearly embarrassed.

“Why haven’t you said anything?”

Arthur shrugs. He looks away from Merlin, because he’s afraid to make eye contact when he’s vulnerable. The knowledge pulls at Merlin’s heart.

“I was confused. I’m pretty sure I’m not gay, but. The things I feel for you it’s like… when I look at you I see my entire future and you’re in every part of it. I see the shitty flat we’ll share as uni students. Late nights studying together. You’ll have to kiss me awake so I don’t get grumpy in the mornings. I see us graduating, and finding somewhere to live where we can both get jobs. I see us adopting a cat. I see all our friends hanging out at our flat. I see us growing old together, and me loving you more and more each day because how could I not? I want that future, Merlin. I want you.”

“You are such an asshole,” Merlin announces loudly, before launching himself at Arthur. They stumble a bit but Arthur steadies them before they can fall over. The kiss isn’t exactly perfect, but Merlin knows when he looks back at this moment he’ll remember it as the best kiss of his life.

People are still watching, but neither of them care.

“You’re a fucking sap, Arthur Pendragon,” Merlin murmers, his lips still touching Arthur’s.

“You love it,” Arthur replies, way too smug. Merlin has to pull him back into a kiss just to wipe the smirk off his face.

“Take me back to the hostel,” Merlin instructs. Arthur listens.

Thank God we have a private room, Merlin thinks, as they stumble up the streets of Prague, too busy trying to keep their lips together to bother walking properly.

 

 

A couple nights later, they go out again in Berlin. It’s some gay bar that a local they met recommended. The music is loud, the floors sticky, and the crowd sweaty. This time when Arthur pulls Merlin into himself on the packed dance floor, they share a long, heated kiss. It’s full of tongue and feels showy, like Arthur is staking his claim over Merlin in front of a club full of hot gay men. Merlin finds he doesn’t mind so much, anymore. He grasps Arthur tightly by the shoulder and hauls him in, deepening the kiss even further. Maybe Merlin can be possessive, too.