Merlin had barely even had a chance to open his mouth when Arthur looked him up and down briefly, sniffed, then said, “No,” and slammed the door in his face. Merlin scowled at the peephole and knocked again.
Inside, there was a faint scuffling, and the door opened again. “What?” said Arthur, exasperated.
“I’m here about the room,” said Merlin. He held up the ad, printed off a flathunting website, and tried to look hopeful.
“I know,” said Arthur. “I said no. Now, go away.” He slouched against the door frame and looked expectant. Merlin held his ground.
“You can’t turn me down before you even ask for my name,” he said. “Can I at least see the flat?”
“No,” said Arthur. “You can’t come in unless I invite you.”
Merlin glared. That was a sore spot. “You could invite me.”
“Hell no,” said Arthur. “Why are you still here?” He started to slam the door again, but Merlin stopped it with his foot.
“Look,” he said, “Look. This isn’t exactly ideal for me either, but I’m out of options and I bet you are too.”
“What makes you think that?” said Arthur.
“Your ad’s been up there for, what, three months?” said Merlin. “Face it, no-one wants to live with you because you’re – you know, and no-one wants to live with me because I’m – well, you know. And it’s this or go back to living with my brother, or be homeless. And I can’t be homeless, I can’t even be outside during the day…” He trailed off. Arthur had raised an eyebrow. “Besides, you’d hardly even notice me. I’m nocturnal.”
“I am not,” said Arthur, “having a vampire in my flat. You’ll be loud and you’ll make everything stink.”
“Are you saying I smell?” said Merlin.
“Yes,” said Arthur. “Yes, I am.” Merlin scoffed. “You do!”
“Can you please just think about it?” said Merlin, digging about in his pockets. “I have references. They’re a bit old, but they’ll do, right?”
“I’m not having you in here,” said Arthur. “You’ll probably kill me in my sleep. No, thanks.”
“Don’t be disgusting, you’re – ew. That would just be gross. Besides, I’m on the wagon. Promise.” He held up his wrist, showing off his ID bracelet. “Sixty-three years and counting.”
“I said no,” said Arthur.
“What, so you’re scared, then?” said Merlin, changing tack. He was really getting desperate now – another month with Gaius and his experiments and his fridge full of mutant frogspawn was going to drive him insane, he swore.
“Of you?” said Arthur.
“You are, aren’t you?” said Merlin. “You’re too scared to even be around me. That’s just pathetic.” Arthur scoffed. “You’re all bark and no bite, hiding in your flat.”
“You’re ridiculous,” said Arthur. But his grip had tightened on the door. Merlin was perceptive like that.
“Well, at least I’m not a hairy mutt,” said Merlin.
“How dare –” Arthur stood up straight.
“I wouldn’t want to live with you anyway. You probably have fleas.”
“Oh, you – you come in here and say that!”
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Merlin, pushing past him into the flat. Arthur slammed the door and spun, glaring at him. “Sorry. Just wanted to see inside.” Merlin looked around – tiny kitchen, television in the corner, battered furniture, a whole stack of boxes. It was a mess. He itched to tidy it all up. It would do, though.
“Get out of my flat,” said Arthur. “I – I uninvite you! Now leave!”
“You can’t uninvite me,” said Merlin. “You invited me in. Deal with it.” Arthur let out a frustrated growl. “Down, boy.”
“Shut up, Edward Cullen,” said Arthur. Merlin hissed. “You’ve seen it, right? And now I’m asking you to leave. I’ll get back to you.”
“Okay, look,” said Merlin. “You’ve been looking for a flatmate since you moved in, yeah?” Arthur nodded, slowly. “So how much longer do you think you can afford to pay the rent on your own for?” Arthur’s scowl merely deepened. “You need someone to pay the other half of the rent. I need to live somewhere that isn’t full of frogspawn and radioactive waste. See my point?”
“Frogspawn?” said Arthur.
Merlin winced. “Don’t ask,” he said. “I’m just saying, I don’t think either of us can afford to pass this up. So what do you say?”
“You’re moving out?” said Gaius that evening, blinking in confusion at the sight of Merlin packing. Which was strange, cause Merlin had already told him as soon as he’d got home. He had a frog in one hand and the little eyeglass he’d been using to inspect it in the other.
“Yep,” said Merlin. He shoved the last of his clothes in his suitcase. “I told you three hours ago, remember?”
“You did?” said Gaius. He shuffled over and inspected Merlin’s little pile of bags. “But why?”
“I told you that too,” said Merlin. Gaius still looked confused. “I just need my own space, alright?”
“But we’ve lived here forty years,” said Gaius. “It’s home, Merlin.”
“Twenty-three years,” Merlin corrected. “And nothing lasts forever.” He buckled up his suitcase and dumped it on the floor. “Look, I’m sorry, alright? I’ll come and visit you lots and if you ever answered your phone I’d call you. I’ll even keeping cooking your dinner if you like. I just need to live somewhere where the fridge isn’t full of jars of frogspawn.”
“Those,” said Gaius stiffly, “are a necessary part of my experiments!”
“Yeah, but every time I go to make dinner it’s like thousands of tiny eyes are looking at me,” said Merlin. “It’s sorted, okay? I saw the flat, it’s nice, my flatmate’s a bit of a twat but I can handle it.”
“Well, if you’re sure, I suppose,” said Gaius. “I understand.” He went back to inspecting his frog with calculated indifference.
Merlin gritted his teeth. “Don’t be like that,” he said. “This house is full of frogs.
“No, it isn’t,” said Gaius.
“You’re holding one right now!” Merlin protested. Gaius shoved his croaking handful into his pocket, muttering to himself.
“It’s important scientific research, you know. I’m sure it won’t be long until my next breakthrough!”
Merlin thought back to Gaius’s last ‘breakthrough’, and shuddered. “I don’t think so. The plumbing’s still not working after the last one.”
“It’s not my fault if the plumbers are incompetent, Merlin,” said Gaius.
Merlin ignored him. “Look, it’s for the best, alright? It’s closer to work and there’s proper carpets, and yeah, okay, the guy’s a werewolf, but –”
“You’re going to live with a werewolf?” said Gaius. “That’s not like you at all.”
Merlin sighed and took his head in his hands. “Fine. I’ll stay.” Gaius beamed. “On one condition.”
“Oh?” said Gaius. “What’s that?”
“Stop with the bloody frogs,” said Merlin. Gaius looked crestfallen. “Didn’t think so. I’m leaving at the end of the week, okay?” Gaius continued to look crestfallen. Merlin dropped the bag he’d been holding, walked over, and hugged him tight. “I’ll only be a few streets away. You’ve got my number if you need me. Besides, now you can put whatever you want in my room and I won’t be around to complain.” He thought for a moment. “So long as it isn’t another time machine. Those never end well.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Gaius with a sigh. “It’ll be so strange not having you here.”
It did not take him long to finish packing – he really didn’t own that much stuff for eighty-five years. Most of the house was too full of Gaius’s equipment to fit much else. He was done by the end of the next day and then he had to live out of boxes and bags and count down the hours until he could live somewhere frog-free.
Arthur glared at him when he showed up at the front door, but handed him the key nonetheless. “Empty room’s yours,” he said, gesturing down the hall. “Make yourself comfortable.” He shambled back into the living room.
“Thanks for the warm welcome!” Merlin shouted after him. When he got no response, he sighed and began dragging his suitcases through into the bedroom.
Bags in a heap on the floor – there was no furniture except the bed, he’d have to deal with that some time. He drew the curtains tight, taped the to the wall – he’d forgotten to close them properly once or twice, it had got a little messy. He might have to ask Arthur to put in some better blinds.
Once he was done ‘unpacking’, he walked back through to the living room and found Arthur draped across the sofa.
“All moved in!” he said.
“That’s good,” said Arthur.
“I can give you the first month’s rent now if you like,” said Merlin.
“Tomorrow’s fine,” said Arthur. He was staring at the switched-off television almost pointedly.
“Anything else I should know about the flat?” said Merlin. No response. “The area? The neighbours? “Arthur frowned, then swivelled round to face him.
“There’s a ghoul in the basement. She’s quiet but it smells really weird sometimes. The guy across the hall is a shaman or something, so if you hear someone singing, that’ll be him.” Merlin nodded. “And the family upstairs is Latvian.”
“Latvian? Really?” said Merlin. Arthur had already turned away again. “Huh. Well, I’m going to go buy breakfast. You want to come?”
“No,” said Arthur.
“Okay,” said Merlin. “Good.” He really didn’t want to spend too much time with Arthur – he smelled funny and he was probably hairy and he had a general sense of wrong-ness about him. Which was a pity because Merlin would probably have thought he was fit if he weren’t a, you know. Except he didn’t. Because he was. You know. Besides, he was going to the King’s Coffin down the road, and he couldn’t be seen in there with a werewolf. He’d never live that down.
Vampire pubs were kind of like gay bars, only with a smaller proportion of gay people and a higher proportion of vampires, but mostly they were just pubs, except they sold blood as well as beer and they didn’t have any windows. It was only seven o’clock, so only a few really early risers were about, but he settled down in his usual booth to wait for his friends anyway.
Merlin knew a lot of vampires. He didn’t like most of them, but he knew them. Unfortunately, most of the early risers tended to be the ones he didn’t like.
Like Val, who leapt into the booth with a disturbingly broad grin, and said, “Merlin! You’re up early.”
Merlin swallowed his mouthful of blood. “Yeah. Well, I was moving and I had to be there pretty early or my flatmate would be asleep.”
“You still living with humans?” said Val. “You’ve got to get with some bros, man. One of my mate’s got an extra coffin in his crypt down at the cemetery, you could –”
“No, thank you,” said Merlin. “And yeah. Humans. Mostly.”
“Only mostly?” said Val, still grinning.
“Yeah. I mean, he’s pretty much a human. Except for, you know.” He gulped. “Werewolf.”
“You’re living with a werewolf?” said Val, grin dying at last. “What the fuck, Merlin?”
“It was that or frogs, alright?” said Merlin.
“The fuck?” said Val, confused. “Hey, give me your address, yeah? Me and some of the lads can come meet him.”
“What? No,” said Merlin. “No. He’s a prat and he’s kind of gross but I’m not going to let you beat him up.”
Val snorted. “Still on the wagon, then? You’re going soft. You need some real food.” He leaned over the table and bared his teeth. Merlin shuddered and finished his breakfast as quickly as he could.
“I need to,” he said, leaping up, “get back there. So I can unpack. And stuff. See you around, yeah?” He dashed for the door.
“Hey, think about what I said, yeah?” said Val. “Always happy to help.”
Arthur was already in his room when Merlin got back – maybe asleep, though it was a bit early for that – and aside from a brief glimpse or two, Merlin didn’t see him for the first couple of days. Not until Arthur came in from work late one evening while he was making his breakfast, stopped in the kitchen doorway, and stared.
Merlin stopped what he was doing and stared back. “Yes?” he said.
“Are you eating blood and cereal?” said Arthur.
“Yes,” said Merlin. “It’s good. Crunchy.”
“That is,” said Arthur, “completely disgusting.” His eyes flicked to the cereal box. “Are those my Shreddies?”
“Yeah,” said Merlin. “Didn’t think you’d mind.” Arthur leapt into the kitchen and snatched the box away.
“I don’t share food,” he snapped. “Not with you. Got it? You want Shreddies, you can buy your own damn Shreddies.”
“Alright,” said Merlin. “Calm down. Do you want these ones back as well?” He held out the bowl. Arthur recoiled. “Didn’t think so.”
“And don’t use my dishes either,” he said.
“I’m not,” said Merlin. “I have my own.”
“Just for future reference,” said Arthur. “I’m not eating off anything you’ve got blood on.”
“It’s only pig,” said Merlin. “You should try it. You might like it! You’re a carnivore, right?” He grinned. Arthur scowled.
“No,” he said flatly.
“You’re very grouchy today,” said Merlin. “Would it help if I rubbed your tummy? Or are you always like this?” Arthur rolled his eyes and stormed away into the living room, slamming the door shut behind him. “I left the rent for this month on top of the fridge!” Merlin called after him.
Silence. Then a click and the hum of the television. Merlin shook his head and tucked into his breakfast.
Arthur was a prat as well as a werewolf. He said as much to Will and Freya when he saw them after work, tucked into a corner in the Coffin.
“Isn’t that kind of redundant?” said Will, and snorted.
“I’m sure he isn’t that bad,” said Freya.
“He is,” said Merlin. “And he has no sense of humour. Like, at all.”
“At least he’s quiet, though,” said Freya. “Does he smell? They smell, don’t they? I haven’t met that many werewolves.”
“It’s not so bad when you’re not in a room with him,” said Merlin. “He leaves hair all over the bathroom, though.”
“Okay, okay,” said Will, leaning forward. “You know what you should do, right? You should, like, buy a collar and a lead, and then you can take him out for walkies!” He cackled.
Merlin laughed. “Oh, he’d hate that,” he said.
“You shouldn’t provoke him,” said Freya. “He might get violent.”
“I can totally take him,” said Merlin. “He’s only a werewolf. The full moon’s not for weeks.”
“Well, still,” said Freya. “You shouldn’t be so nasty to him.”
“Oh, come on,” said Merlin. “He deserves it. He called me Edward Cullen!”
Freya giggled. “Alright,” she said. “I take it back. He deserves whatever you can throw at him.”
Val wandered past then, with a coarse, cheerful, “Alright, Merlin!”, his friends trailing behind him. Merlin knew all of them. He knew almost everyone at the bar too, except for a few giggly human girls who thought trying to pick up a vampire guy was, like, the coolest thing ever rather than a good way to get their throats ripped out. There was Gilli, sitting by himself at a table, Sophia and her friends gossiping over silly-coloured cocktails and blood shots, Aredian hanging upside down from the rafters with his cape dangling, the great hulking troll barman, all the people from his support group – if he was going to be completely honest, living with Arthur wasn’t so bad, because if nothing else it was nice not to be hanging around the same people all the time.
But that was only if he was being totally, brutally honest, which he wasn’t. “I’m thinking I might keep flathunting,” he said. “Just in case, y’know? I don’t want to stay with him longer than I have to.”
“I heard Myror had space in his crypt,” said Will. “You could go live there.”
“I’m not going to live in a crypt,” said Merlin.
“You sure?” said Will. “It’s not so bad. No windows.” Will had a basement flat, lucky bastard.
“It’s just so hammer horror,” said Merlin. “Besides, those things are filthy.”
“Suit yourself,” said Will. “But don’t come crying to me when you get fleas or some shit like that.”
Merlin rolled his eyes and went to the bar to order another pint.
Arthur continued to avoid him for the next week and half. Not that Merlin really minded (and he didn’t stop taking his cereal from time to time either, just to show him).
He tried to furnish his room with a mixture of the more portable stuff from his old place and things he ordered online, except it all came flat-packed. Merlin had very little experience in putting furniture together. He and Gaius didn’t buy new things very often, and most of what they had was from the old, sensible days when furniture came pre-assembled.
His initial plan was to have Will and Freya over to help out – because it would be amusing, at least, even if it didn’t accomplish much – except that hit a slight snag, because it turned out vampires couldn’t invite people into flats. Even their own flats. That was how he came to be knocking on Arthur’s bedroom door at half past midnight on a Saturday evening, while Will and Freya stood and grumbled in the hall. He knocked, and waited, and knocked again, until there came an irritated grunt that might have been a ‘come in’. Merlin assumed it was and opened the door.
“Arthur?” he said, peeking inside. The lamp switched on, and Arthur sat up, all shirtless and hairy and not even a little bit sexy.
“Wha,” he said, rubbing at his eyes.
“Can you come invite my friends in?” said Merlin. “It doesn’t work when I do it.”
“You what friends?” said Arthur.
Merlin sighed and shook his head. “Me. Friends. Vampires. Flat-pack furniture.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Arthur. “But I’m going back to sleep.” He slumped back down and rolled over to face the wall.
“Arthur!” said Merlin. There was no response. He walked over, took hold of Arthur’s bare shoulder, and shook him roughly. “Just come and tell them they can come in, alright?”
“Your vampire friends?” said Arthur, glaring up at him. “Hell, no. One’s enough.”
“They’re my friends,” said Merlin. “They’re on the wagon too, don’t worry. I need their help putting my furniture together.”
“Piss off,” said Arthur. “No more vampires. The flat stinks of vampire as it is. And get out of my room, will you?”
Merlin glanced around the room. It was very sparse, he realised. Just a bed and a wardrobe and a battered-looking laptop in the corner. Arthur had even less stuff that he did.
“I’m not leaving till you invite them in,” he said.
“Fine,” said Arthur. “Stand there and watch me sleep, Cullen.”
Merlin poked him. Arthur pulled his quilt up around him and switched off the light. Merlin switched it back on.
“Stop being such a prick,” he said. “You don’t even have to get up, just say that Will and Freya can come in. That should work.”
“No,” said Arthur.
“Look,” said Merlin. “Just put on a shirt so they won’t be horrified by your epic hairiness and come invite them in.”
Arthur flung off the covers and sat up. “I do not have epic hairiness!” he hissed. Merlin motioned at his chest. “I always had this much hair! Even before I… changed.”
“Whatever,” said Merlin. “You’re hairier than is normal.”
“No, you’re just a hairless wonder,” said Arthur.
“I have chest hair,” said Merlin. Arthur raised an eyebrow. “I have chest hair! Look!” He started to unbutton his shirt, but Arthur held up his hand.
“I do not need to see your chest hair!” he said. “That’s just… ew. Put it away.”
Merlin undid another button. “Only if you come invite my friends in.”
Arthur folded his arms. “No way.”
A couple of minutes later, Arthur was in the hall, rubbing his eyes and clad in a worn football shirt.
“Is this him, then?” said Will loudly. Freya shushed him, gesturing at the other flat, then giggled. (Yes, they might have started their night of furniture-assembling with a drink or two, what of it?)
“Yes, this is him,” said Merlin. Will looked Arthur up and down, and opened his mouth. Thankfully Freya intervened before Will could blow his chances of getting into the flat altogether.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “Sorry for waking you up. Can you invite us in, please?”
“Come in,” said Arthur sulkily. “If you really must.”
“It’s lucky you were in,” said Will once they were inside, the door closed behind them. “Haven’t you got anywhere better to be on a Saturday night?” He grinned. Arthur scowled.
“So,” said Merlin. “You can go back to bed now, and we’ll get on.”
Arthur folded his arms. “I’m awake now,” he said. “I might as well stick around to supervise.”
“You don’t need to do that,” said Merlin.
“I know,” said Arthur. He gestured towards Merlin’s room with a pleasantly forced smile.
He spent the next half an hour or so slouched in the doorway, while Merlin and Will puzzled over the instructions and the tiny screwdrivers and Freya sat and ate crisps and laughed at them.
After their third attempt at getting the drawers in without the whole thing falling to bits, Arthur finally spoke.
“You’ve got the runners on backwards.”
“Oh, what would you know, wolfie?” said Will.
“Suit yourself,” said Arthur with a shrug. “It won’t work otherwise.”
“I told you he was a prick,” Merlin muttered. Will nodded in agreement, then said,
“Just leave us to it, yeah? Go entertain yourself.” He balled up the Swedish half of the instructions and tossed it out the door. “Good dog! Fetch!”
Merlin chuckled, but his grin died away as Arthur stood, impassive, face cold, then silently turned and walked away.
“That was really rude, Will,” said Freya. “He can’t help being a werewolf.”
“Got rid of him, though, didn’t it?” said Will.
“Yeah,” said Merlin. “Good for you.” He crouched down and tried starting with the bottom shelf this time. It worked admirably.
Once his room was all sorted out and furnished in shiny pale wood – and a little plastic coffin, a house-warming gift from Freya – things were more or less normal. He went to work every night, he came home, he made sure Gaius ate properly at least once a day, he slept during the day, because he was a vampire and that was what vampires did; Arthur did whatever it was that werewolves do all day. They ran into each other very occasionally, early in the morning and late at night, and no matter how friendly Merlin tried to be, all Arthur ever did was glare and grunt (and really, ‘Rex’ and ‘Fido’ were great nicknames; Arthur should be proud of them). A full moon came and went, and Arthur vanished for a few days, then came back looking pale and tired.
And despite all the time the flat had been occupied, the living room was still half-full of boxes. That, Merlin assumed, was where all Arthur’s things were, the non-essentials, and it was a mess. He was embarrassed to have people over. It was blindingly obvious to him that Arthur needed more storage space and maybe more chairs. Mostly he needed to unpack.
Merlin was rummaging through the boxes early one morning after work when Arthur caught him. He’d found a box full of framed photos and obnoxious desk ornaments, and another full of baffling kitchen supplies, when the light switched on and there was Arthur, shirtless and sleepy again, standing in the doorway.
“What are you doing?”
“Unpacking,” said Merlin. “This is getting ridiculous. You need more furniture in here so you’ll have somewhere to put stuff.”
Arthur marched over and snatched away the box Merlin was holding. “Leave my stuff alone,” he snapped. “I’ve got it how I like it.”
“It’s all in boxes!” said Merlin. “All over the floor! It’s a mess!”
“That’s how I like it,” said Arthur. “If you move it around I won’t be able to find anything. Now get out of my living room.”
“You need to make a trip to IKEA or something,” said Merlin. “I’d go with you but they don’t open at night. Bastards.”
“I am not,” Arthur snarled, “going to IKEA!”
“What, are you one of those people who hates IKEA?” said Merlin. “It always looks like fun to me. Not that I’ve ever been, I bought all mine online.”
“I don’t hate IKEA,” said Arthur. “I work there, alright? Just drop it.”
“You work in IKEA?” said Merlin.
“This is my living room,” said Arthur. “It’s my space and my stuff and you keep out, yeah?”
“Do they give you free meatballs?” said Merlin.
“What?” said Arthur, baffled.
“If you work at IKEA, do you get free meatballs?” said Merlin.
“What? No,” said Arthur. “Shut up!”
“Can I share your meatballs?” said Merlin.
“They don’t give me meatballs!” Arthur shouted.
“Alright, calm down,” said Merlin. “Bad dog. Sit!”
Arthur closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and Merlin could hear his heartbeat. Ew. “If you,” he said slowly, “make one more doggie joke, I will punch you in the fucking face, do you understand?”
Merlin laughed. “Oh, get a sense of humour,” he said. “Can I at least stack your boxes up properly? They’re driving me nuts. It’s a vampire thing.” He was almost proud of how much it irritated him, because he’d never been bothered by mess and things being out of place before. The other vampires thought he was a slob. Perhaps he was finally starting to be normal. It was probably being around a werewolf that did it.
“If it bothers you that much,” said Arthur, “then stay out of here, yeah? Keep to your own room.”
“But the television’s in here,” said Merlin.
“Get your own,” said Arthur. He grabbed Merlin by the shoulder and dragged him towards the door. Merlin let himself be led, because really, it wasn’t worth fighting back.
“You really are a massive prick, you know that?” he said once they were back in the hall. Arthur glared. Merlin sighed and went back into his room without another word. He slumped down on his bed, amidst his pyjamas and the tangled sheets that he hadn’t bothered to tidy.
Later on that night – or early in the morning, to be more precise, because the sun was up already – Merlin was edging his way to the kitchen for dinner, trying to avoid the windows. Arthur was up already (or perhaps he just hadn’t got back to sleep) and he was sitting at the table, midway through breakfast. The blinds were wide open, sunlight streaming onto him, lighting him up all golden. Merlin stood in the doorway and glowered.
“Hey,” he said, “could you close the blinds?”
“No,” said Arthur, taking a mouthful of coffee.
“I’m trying to get my dinner,” said Merlin. “I can’t come in with the blinds open. That would be bad.”
“I know,” said Arthur. “I just don’t want you coming in here.”
“But I’m hungry,” said Merlin.
“I don’t care,” said Arthur. “I don’t want you in here.”
“Can you maybe just pass me some stuff out the fridge, then?” said Merlin.
“No,” said Arthur. “Go hungry.”
“Bastard,” said Merlin.
“Not my fault you can’t come in,” said Arthur. “I didn’t ask for a vampire flatmate, did I?”
“Is this about last night?” said Merlin. “Cause I didn’t mean to wake you. Honest.”
“I don’t care that you woke me,” said Arthur. “You wake me up all the time. You’re not as quiet as you think you are.”
“What, so you’re sending me to bed without my supper?” said Merlin. “Wanker. Just let me get at the fridge, yeah?”
Arthur put down his coffee cup and turned to face Merlin. “No.” His tone was final. Merlin scowled and retreated back into the shadows, stomach grumbling.
When he woke up that evening, hungry and irritable, there were two voices coming from the kitchen – Arthur’s, of course, but also a woman’s voice with a lilting accent. Merlin lay back and listened for a while, frowning, wondering whether or not he should interrupt, but he was hungry and Arthur probably deserved a sleepy, pyjama-clad vampire breaking up his date. He shambled out into the hall and stopped in the kitchen doorway.
The woman was gorgeous, long dark hair and pale skin, and also completely human. She smelled delicious under the perfume. Not that Merlin thought about how people would taste. Much. She and Arthur were eating dinner at the kitchen table. Arthur seemed to have cooked. Merlin was not aware that Arthur cooked. Other than all the blood, the fridge was mostly stocked with ready meals. Neither of them had noticed Merlin.
“Hi,” he said, cheerful. Arthur started, then groaned.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”
“Hello,” said the woman. “You must be Merlin. Arthur’s told me about you.” She gave Arthur a pointed look that obviously meant something very specific, because Arthur gave her another one back and spread his hands.
The looking continued for half a minute or so before Arthur sighed and said, “Merlin, this is my sister Morgana.”
“Hello, Morgana,” said Merlin. Not a date, then. Pity. He’d been so looking forward to interrupting. “Nice to meet you. Don’t mind me. Just getting breakfast.” He slipped into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
“Breakfast?” said Morgana. She was holding a wineglass. Merlin hadn’t known Arthur owned wineglasses. They must have been packed in one of the boxes.
“I’m nocturnal,” said Merlin, fetching out a bag of blood.
“Oh, of course,” she said. “I’m sorry, I haven’t really met any vampires before.”
“Really?” said Merlin, decanting the blood into a mug. “You should do it more often, we’re lots of fun.” He smiled. Morgana smiled back, but kept eying the mug full of blood warily.
“I’ve certainly heard some interesting things,” she said. She sipped her wine.
Arthur looked from Merlin to Morgana and back again, then leapt to his feet and dragged Merlin out of the room so suddenly that blood spilled over the side of the mug and spattered on the linoleum.
“Hey,” said Merlin. “What –”
“Shut up,” Arthur hissed once they were outside. He dragged Merlin straight across the hall into the living room. “Just shut up, alright? And stop flirting with my sister!”
Merlin blinked. “I wasn’t flirting,” he said.
Arthur scoffed. “Oh, you were so flirting!”
“So what if I was?” said Merlin. He sipped his blood and smiled.
“It’s messed up, alright? You’re like ninety!”
“I’m eighty-five!” Merlin hissed, affronted.
“Whatever,” said Arthur. “You’re old and it’s creepy.”
Merlin frowned. “So you think I’m old and creepy?” he said.
“Yes,” said Arthur. “You’re creepy. You’re a creepy old man who shouldn’t be perving on girls like that and checking out their necks like you want to – urgh.”
“I’m on the wagon!” Merlin protested.
“Sure you are,” said Arthur. “That doesn’t mean you don’t think about it, though, does it?”
Merlin didn’t answer, because Arthur had a point, as unpleasant as it was. Prick.
“Maybe you just can’t handle that your sister might like me,” he said.
Arthur shoved him, suddenly enough that Merlin actually stepped back, taken by surprise. “You stay away from her,” he snapped. “Alright?”
Then he was gone, storming back through to the kitchen, leaving Merlin alone and seething.
Of course, after that he just had to start plotting revenge.
“You should do the thing with the collar and the leash,” said Will later that night at the Coffin.
“That would be mean,” said Freya.
“Also it would require too much participation on his part,” said Gilli, who had come over to join them as soon as he heard that they were plotting vengeance.
“True,” said Merlin. “It’d be kind of kinky, though.” Will snorted into his drink.
“You could buy him a doggy bed to sleep in,” Gilli suggested.
“Or a chew toy,” said Will.
“Didn’t you already do toys, though?” said Freya. “It’d get repetitive. Not that I’m helping you with this, of course,” she added hastily.
“Something that doesn’t require me spending money would be good,” said Merlin. His job didn’t pay that well, and blood wasn’t cheap.
“Revenge isn’t cheap,” said Gilli. “If you don’t want to spend any money, why don’t you just set Val on him?”
“Because then I’d have to pay all the rent,” said Merlin. “Or he’d throw me out of the flat. One or the other.”
“Well, maybe you should leave, then,” said Gilli. “It would make a point.”
“It would make him happy and me miserable,” said Merlin. “Come on, guys, I need ideas. I’m all out.”
“My friend Elena has a dog,” said Freya. “Or, well, she did, her flatmate ate it. I told her not to move in with a bogle, but she didn’t listen. I think she’ll be glad to have someone take some doggie stuff off her hands.”
“I think we have a plan,” said Merlin. He smiled.
It took a few days to put into action, of course, to decide what to put and where. Merlin left for work on Wednesday evening with a sense of victory, that he had finally managed to put Arthur in his place. He was still smiling when he came back early Thursday morning.
But the moment he stepped through the front door, it was as if he had walked into a wall of red-hot needles, prickling him all over, forcing him back out into the hall. He stood and gasped, clutching his throbbing head, then tried again, because he knew that sensation, he did, but he hadn’t felt it in years, and it simply wasn’t possible. The same thing happened again. He reached out with one hand, tentative, and as soon as it crossed the threshold there were needles jarring up his arm.
“Arthur!” he shouted. “Arthur!”
Arthur appeared, poking his head around the living room door. “Oh, you back already?” he said.
“What the fuck did you do?” said Merlin.
Arthur grinned and stepped out, right up to the threshold of the front door, close enough that Merlin could’ve reached out and touched him. “I went and spoke to the shaman guy across the hall,” he said, “and had him do an un-inviting.” He gestured at the doorway. “My flat is now a vampire-free zone. Great, isn’t it?”
“You can’t do that!” said Merlin, appalled. “I live here.”
“You don’t count,” said Arthur. “You’re a vampire. You don’t live anywhere.”
Merlin stared. Arthur stared back. “Is this about the doggie bowl?” Arthur nodded slowly. “Oh, come on! That was a joke!”
“It wasn’t funny,” said Arthur.
“I thought it was funny,” said Merlin. “We all did. Not my fault you’ve got no sense of humour.”
“Yes, of course,” said Arthur. “I’m sure all your vampire friends think insinuating that I’m your pet dog and that I eat dog food is the height of wit, don’t they? What was it going to be next, a collar?”
Merlin looked at his feet and shifted awkwardly. “Well, I guess when you put it like that it doesn’t sound so funny.”
“I’m glad we agree,” said Arthur.
“But I understand that now, so you can invite me in again?” said Merlin, looking up. Arthur shook his head. “What about all my things?”
“I guess they’re mine now,” said Arthur.
“You’re stealing all my stuff?” said Merlin. “You bastard! You –”
Arthur smiled grimly and began to close the door.
“You can’t do this!” said Merlin frantically. “The sun’ll be up in half an hour! Where am I supposed to go?”
“I’m sure you’ll find somewhere,” said Arthur.
“But I’ll get toasted out there,” Merlin wailed.
Arthur shushed him. “You hear that?” he said. Merlin scowled. “That’s the sound of me not caring. Bye now!”
The door slammed. Merlin stared at it, aghast, then pounded on it. “Arthur!” he shouted. “You bastard! You can’t do this to me! I live here! I’ve already paid my rent up till the end of the month! You owe me three more weeks!” He paused, just in case, then resumed pounding. “Come on! Let me back in!”
After a few minutes of pounding, the door across the landing opened quietly. Merlin swung around and glared. “This is all your fault,” he snapped, then blinked. The shaman was a tiny wizened old man with reading glasses perched on his nose.
“I think you’ll find you brought this on yourself, young vampire,” he said. “You’re the only one who can fix this now.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to fix this,” said Merlin.
“Oh, but you must,” said the shaman. He closed the door again. Merlin gaped.
“And since when am I ‘young’?” he called. There was no response.
The sun was just rising over the rooftops when he knocked frantically on Gaius’s front door, jacket pre-emptively held over his head. It took Gaius far too long to answer – it wasn’t that small a house, after all, and his hearing wasn’t great, and what if he was still asleep? He’d open the door to find a Merlin-shaped smudge of ash on the doorstep. Fuck.
Thankfully Gaius opened the door just as Merlin was beginning to feel the crackling heat of the sun on his wrists, and stood blinking at him, a frog peering out of his dressing-gown pocket.
“Merlin, what on earth –”
“Let me in let me in let me in,” Merlin gasped out, pushing past Gaius into the safety of the house.
Gaius shut the door and gave him a moment to compose himself. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” said Merlin, checking his hands and the back of his neck. “Just about made it.”
“What happened?” Gaius asked.
“Arthur uninvited me from the flat and stole all my stuff,” said Merlin. “And then he wouldn’t let me back in, so I thought I should come over here but I guess I misjudged how soon sunrise was. Ow.” He rubbed his neck again. “Can I stay here for a while?”
“Of course,” said Gaius, beckoning him into the kitchen. The blinds were still firmly down over the windows, Merlin noticed. They always were when he came over, but he’d assumed Gaius put them up sometimes, when he was alone in the house. Maybe he’d gotten too used to the darkness to go back.
“I’ll get us some tea, shall I?” said Gaius, waving the kettle. He deposited the frog from his pocket onto the kitchen table, right beside Merlin’s usual chair. Another one hopped out from amidst the stacked dirty dishes. Two more were wandering the shelves. It was a cluttered, froggy mess, and it felt like home.
“Any progress with the frogs?” said Merlin.
“Oh, any day now, I’m sure!” said Gaius brightly. He spooned tea into his special tea-maker, a mess of cogs and springs and dials and other assorted bits and pieces. Merlin winced and prepared to duck. The tea-maker could be a bit temperamental sometimes.
There was an ominous rattling and gurgling, but eventually two serviceable cups of tea were produced. Merlin sipped his grimly. He was hungry, but he didn’t think he’d left any blood at Gaius’s. Or none that he hadn’t already drunk, anyway.
“So what did you do?” said Gaius.
“I didn’t do anything,” said Merlin. “What makes you think I did something?”
“Well, last time you were here you said you were going to have your revenge on Arthur for calling you old and creepy, and now you’re uninvited from the flat.”
Merlin took his head in his hands. “It was just a joke. Not my fault he didn’t think it was funny.” He sighed. “There might have been a doggie bowl. And some dog food. And possibly chew toys.”
“So basically you brought this on yourself,” said Gaius.
“Did not,” said Merlin. “Well, maybe a little. But he didn’t have to be such a prick about it!”
“I suppose not,” said Gaius. He stood up to refill his mug.
While his back was turned, a frog appeared on the table with a faint whooshing sound and a green blur. Merlin jumped, almost spilling his tea.
“What’s that?” said Gaius.
“I don’t – I thought you said you weren’t getting anywhere with the frogs?” said Merlin. He stared down at the magically appearing frog. It croaked.
“I haven’t, yet,” said Gaius. He turned around.
The frog vanished again – or no, it didn’t, it hopped up onto the shelves in a blur, then back again, just as fast. “There!” said Merlin. “Did you see that?”
“See what?” said Gaius. He looked down at the frog. “Oh, yes. I call that one Michael. He’s quite cute, isn’t he?”
“Okay,” said Merlin. “Just watch him really closely, alright?” Gaius stared at the frog intently for half a minute or so. Nothing seemed to happen, and for a moment Merlin thought perhaps he’d imagined it – he was very stressed, after all – but then the frog was off again, all the way to the front room and back in the blink of an eye. “There, you see?” he said, triumphant.
Gaius was looking at him quizzically. “What are you getting at?”
“You really don’t see it?” said Merlin.
“See what?” said Gaius.
“Your frog,” said Merlin, “it has, like, super-speed. Or something.”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Gaius. “I’d have noticed if it had, I’m sure.”
Merlin stared at him in disbelief. Then comprehension dawned. “Oh,” he said. “Oh God. You really can’t see it, can you? Your eyes are too slow. And I have vampire vision.” He pointed at the frog. “Trust me. Super-speed!”
“Oh, stop teasing, Merlin,” said Gaius. “You know how long I’ve been working on this project. It’s not funny.”
“I’m not teasing!” Merlin protested. Gaius raised an eyebrow. “I’m not! I swear!” He pointed at the frog. “You’ve made a super-frog! An actual frog with super-powers!”
Gaius rolled his eyes and turned back to his tea-maker. “Oh, grow up, Merlin. You’re supposed to be the oldest, you might act like it.”
“Whatever,” said Merlin, pushing his chair away from the table and abandoning his tea. “I’m going to bed.”
“Are you hungry?” said Gaius. “I’ll stop by the butcher’s later, shall I?”
“Thanks,” said Merlin, pausing in the doorway. “I mean – yes. That’d be great. Thank you.”
He went to work that night grumpy and sleepy and still seething a little. Working in a call centre meant that being grumpy and sleepy and seething tended to damage your performance quite badly, but it was a slow night, at least.
He stopped by the Coffin after work for a drink – and no, he didn’t give Arthur’s building a longing look as he passed, that would be silly – and almost walked into Gilli as he stepped through the door.
“How did the revenge go?” said Gilli, gaze as intent as always.
“It went okay at first,” said Merlin. “But then he had me uninvited from the flat, stole all my stuff, and turned me out on the street right before sunrise.”
“I see,” said Gilli. He considered this. “I think I should like to meet this flatmate of yours some time.”
“Well, you can’t, because he’s not my flatmate any more. No thanks to you!” Merlin stalked away towards his usual booth.
“What did I do?” Gilli called after him. Merlin ignored him.
Will wasn’t around – probably still at work, he worked late sometimes – but Freya was there, sitting and looking at him expectantly.
“Well?” she said.
“Arthur’s uninvited me from the flat,” he said glumly. “And you too, I think. Not sure. And he took all my stuff! And then the sun came up and I almost got toasted!”
“Oh, poor baby,” she said, taking his hand. “Are you okay?”
“Just a bit scorched,” he said.
She was silent for a moment. “So he uninvited you?”
Merlin nodded. “There’s a shaman across the hall, he did it. It fucking smarts.”
“He was really angry, then?” said Freya.
“I guess,” said Merlin. “I told you he had no sense of humour!”
“You must have really hurt his feelings,” said Freya, guilt edging in to her tone. “Did you at least say sorry?”
“Yes,” said Merlin. “Well. Sort of.” Freya raised her eyebrows. “It was just a joke!”
“I told you not to do it,” she said.
“You gave me the doggie stuff!” said Merlin.
“Well, yes, I did do that,” said Freya. “But I also told you not to do it. Anyway, you should go and say sorry properly. Then he might let you back in.”
“He’s not going to let me back in,” said Merlin. “He’s a massive prick and I don’t want to live with him anyway.” He slumped down over the table. “I liked that flat. It was a good flat. Wanker.”
“I’ll buy you a drink, shall I?” said Freya. Merlin grunted in reply. She swept away towards the bar.
“I’d offer to let you come stay with me instead of Will,” said Freya when she came back. “But the plumbing’s all buggered up; there’s a kelpie in the pipes again. You’ll just have to make do, I guess.” Merlin nodded in agreement. “And go and apologise to Arthur.”
The worst part was, he really did want to apologise. He wanted to say that he was sorry and that he’d never meant to hurt Arthur’s feelings and that it had been a stupid joke, and he didn’t want to say it just because he wanted the flat back. He wanted to apologise just because. Perhaps he was just a nice person that way, because Arthur didn’t deserve it, not really. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been a total dick as well. He’d been rude and generally unpleasant ever since Merlin had moved in.
After the first two nights of being back at Gaius’s and evicting frogs from his bed every morning, Merlin couldn’t ignore the sick twist of guilt in his stomach any longer. He called Freya.
“Am I a horrible person?” he said.
“Well, no,” she said. “Though I guess that comes with the vampire territory a little, doesn’t it?”
“It doesn’t have to,” said Merlin. “I bet Arthur thinks it does now, though.” He groaned.
“Don’t be like that,” she said. “Does it really matter what he thinks?”
“He has all my stuff,” said Merlin. “And, I don’t know. I care what he thinks, I guess.”
“You did get all vengeful when he said you were creepy,” Freya agreed. “We should never have encouraged you.”
“I have to go see him, don’t I?” said Merlin.
“Yes,” said Freya. She hung up the phone.
It took Merlin another day and night to work up the nerve and figure out what he should say, but eventually he was standing outside Arthur’s door – his door, it had been – still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, because he’d left as soon as it was dark. He took a deep (and entirely unnecessary, because he was a vampire and all) breath, and knocked.
Arthur opened the door and peered at him, clad in a faded t-shirt and worn jeans and only one sock. He didn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry, alright?” said Merlin. “I was a total prick to you, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry about the doggie bowl and I’m sorry about all the times I told you to sit and called you Fido. I just – I really didn’t mean to upset you. It was supposed to be a joke.” Arthur didn’t respond. “I’m really sorry. And I’ve given it a lot of thought, and it’s probably best we stop living together, now, before we end up killing each other or something, so – could you maybe let me have my stuff back? Please?” Arthur still didn’t answer. “You don’t have to invite me in. You can just pass it out to me.”
Arthur stared at him for a long, long moment, then stood back a little and held the door open. Merlin frowned, uncomprehending, and Arthur rolled his eyes. “Come in, Merlin,” he said.
“What, seriously?” said Merlin.
“I said it, didn’t I?” said Arthur. “You can come back in now. Sorry for throwing you out like that.”
“I probably deserved it,” said Merlin. He stepped into the flat.
“Yes, you probably did,” said Arthur, closing the door behind him and wandering away into the living room.
There was a collection of beer bottles building up on the coffee table. That was new. And the boxes were in even more of a mess than before. Arthur sank down on the sofa heavily. It creaked.
“So am I living here again, then?” said Merlin. Arthur peered up at him.
“If you like,” he said. He looked exhausted and rather miserable, and Merlin toyed with the hem of his t-shirt.
“Are you alright?” he said. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings that badly. Honest.”
“It’s not you,” said Arthur. “Or, well, it is you, but it’s not just you. It’s – this.” He gestured at himself. “This whole thing.” Merlin looked at him blankly.
Arthur stood up. “My life,” he said, “was great. I swear to god. I had a great flat with a proper view and a lift and a beautiful car and I was all set to inherit the family business when my father retired, and I had a gorgeous girlfriend as well as all that, and then it was just… gone. This thing happens and suddenly my father disowns me, I lose my job, I can’t afford to pay rent on the flat any more, I have to sell the car, my girlfriend doesn’t want anything to do with me any more, and the next thing I know I’m stuck in this shitty flat working at fucking IKEA just to keep eating, and I have this – thing. In my blood.” He aimed a punch at the nearest wall. It collided with a crack that made Merlin flinch. “So yeah. The last thing I need is some vampire and his friends making fun of me.”
“I’m sorry,” said Merlin. “I didn’t – I didn’t realise. I didn’t think. It’s been so long, since I was – human, I guess I just forgot what it was like to change.” Arthur snorted, his face turned away towards the wall. “It could be worse, though.” Arthur turned to face him, eyes narrow. “I mean, there are worse places to work than IKEA. Trust me. And there are worse people to live with than me.” Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Honest! Me and Will used to live next door to a banshee. I swear, it was the loudest six months of my life.” Arthur blinked, then began to smile. “Then one time he got laryngitis and it was quiet for two whole weeks, it was the best…” He laughed, and Arthur laughed too, then slid back down onto the sofa. Merlin joined him, perched tentatively on one end.
“Are we okay?” he said.
“No,” said Arthur. “Not really. But I need someone to pay the other half of the rent, and I guess you’ll do.”
“Right, then,” said Merlin, getting up. “I’ll make myself useful, shall I?” He gathered up the empty beer bottles in a great clinking armful and carried them away to the kitchen. Arthur stayed silent behind him.
Arthur had been in his room – there was a faint smell of werewolf over everything, and the clutter wasn’t quite as he’d left it – but Merlin couldn’t find it in himself to complain. He lay down on his bed instead and called Gaius to tell him that he was moving back out, and then Freya, who was modestly smug about the whole thing.
Arthur was still in the front room when Merlin left for work an hour or so later, but he didn’t disturb him. His position as flatmate still felt too unstable to risk upsetting Arthur again.
He wasn’t working the next night, and he’d promised Gaius he’d cook for him, since he’d left again so suddenly, so he settled down in the kitchen to make lasagne. Gaius was very fond of lasagne.
Merlin was just fetching it out of the oven when a light clicked on outside and Arthur wandered into view in the doorway, rubbing at his eyes. “Wuh?” he said.
“Did I wake you?” said Merlin, awkwardly oven-glove-clad. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I was trying to be quiet.”
“No, you were – I think it was the smell,” said Arthur. “What are you doing?”
“Making lasagne,” said Merlin. He set it down on top of the stove.
“It’s four in the morning,” said Arthur. He was shirtless again. Apparently he just didn’t sleep with his shirt on.
“Yeah, so it’s the middle of my day,” said Merlin.
Arthur blinked. “I always thought vampires ate blood,” he said. “You’re weird.”
“I like lasagne,” said Merlin. “But it’s not for me. It’s for my brother.”
“Your brother?” said Arthur. “The one you used to live with?”
Merlin nodded. “If I leave him to himself he lives off crackers and tea and sardines,” he said. “I’ve always cooked for him. Ever since our mum died.”
“How old is he?” said Arthur.
“Nearly seventy,” said Merlin.
“And he’s your… younger brother?” said Arthur.
“He’s the baby,” said Merlin. He poked at his lasagne. “I think this is done, don’t you?”
“I think so,” said Arthur. “It smells delicious.”
Merlin thought for a moment. “You want some?” he said.
Arthur looked as if he might be going to refuse, but then he said, “Yeah, alright,” and sat down at the kitchen table. “I’m awake now anyway.” He watched Merlin set out some plates, then said, “So why’d you move out?”
“Hmm?” said Merlin.
“If your brother needs looking after,” said Arthur. “Why’d you move?”
“Because the house was full of frogs,” said Merlin. “And nuclear waste. And… other things.” Arthur looked confused. “He’s trying to create super-powered frogs. He’s a bit odd.”
“Sounds it,” said Arthur.
“Anyway, he lives right around the corner. I see him most days. Or every night, I suppose. I kind of miss living with him sometimes, but I just couldn’t stand his experiments anyway.” He served two portions of lasagne and sat down opposite Arthur.
“Sounds like you’re pretty close,” said Arthur.
“He’s the only family I have left,” said Merlin.
“How long ago were you… turned?” said Arthur.
“Sixty-three years,” said Merlin. “And five months.” He paused. “And two weeks.” He took a forkful of lasagne. “You?”
Arthur stared down at his plate. “Just under a year,” he said. His shoulders slumped.
“Look on the bright side,” said Merlin. “If you’d never been turned you’d never have met me.” He grinned. Arthur snorted.
“What a loss that would have been,” he said. He dug into his lasagne. “This is really good.”
“I know,” said Merlin. “I’ve been honing it.” Arthur smirked. “So you cook?”
“I used to,” said Arthur. “I don’t really bother any more. Don’t have the energy for it.”
“You should cook more,” said Merlin. “You never seem to do anything.” Arthur narrowed his eyes. “You just come home from work and sit in the living room all evening. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“It’s not my fault,” said Arthur. “Most of my friends don’t want to see me any more.”
“Well, you need better friends, then,” said Merlin.
“Shut up, Merlin,” said Arthur.
“I thought you wanted to talk to me?” said Merlin.
“I wanted your lasagne,” said Arthur. “I like lasagne.”
They ate silently for a while. Once Arthur was all finished, he sat back, stretched, and said, “So. You’re on the wagon?”
“Yes,” said Merlin. He gestured with one hand, showing off his bracelet. “Yes, I am.”
“Were you ever… not on the wagon?” Arthur asked.
Merlin winced. “Let’s not talk about that.”
“No, I want to know,” said Arthur.
“It was a long time ago,” said Merlin. “And it was only for a few months, anyway. I kind of panicked, after I realised what had happened to me, and I made some mistakes.”
“Pretty big mistakes,” said Arthur quietly.
“And then I decided I should use my powers for good and started going after criminals,” said Merlin. He frowned. “Though in my defense they still had the death penalty back then.”
“But you have killed, though?” said Arthur.
Merlin shifted in his seat. “Actually, no. Or I don’t think so. I’m not sure. It was a long time ago,” he said. “Mostly either they fought back and won or I just… couldn’t finish it. I was never cut out for that sort of thing. It just made me feel sick, y’know? So after the first two months I went home to my family and cried and apologised and my mum cried all over me, and my sisters cried and Gaius cried too, but he was just a little kid so he cried most of the time anyway.” He smiled at the memory. “And then she made me rice pudding.” He paused. “I haven’t had rice pudding in years.” Arthur was looking at him strangely. “What?”
“You’re a very odd vampire,” said Arthur.
“Oh? How many have you met?” said Merlin. Arthur just shrugged. “Thought so.”
Arthur finished the last few bits of his lasagne and pushed the plate away. “I’m going to go back to bed now,” he said. “Early start tomorrow.”
“Right,” said Merlin. “Sleep well, yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Arthur. He wandered away, his back smooth and perfect in the moonlight. Merlin stared, then shook himself. Werewolf. Werewolf. Ew.
Of course, the flat had truly been made a vampire-free zone, not just a Merlin-free zone. Will and Freya couldn’t come in, nor could any of his other friends. Merlin found himself sheepishly knocking on Arthur’s door in the middle of the night yet again when he wanted to have them over.
“Mer-what?” said Arthur as Merlin peered into the bedroom.
“Can you come invite my friends in again, please?” he said. “I’m sorry. Didn’t think this through I guess.”
Arthur’s eyes fell closed and for a moment Merlin thought he’d gone back to sleep, but then he groaned and dragged himself upright. “Alright,” he said. “Alright. I’m coming.”
It wasn’t just Will and Freya this time, though. It was Freya’s friend Elena, and Owain, and Gilli had tagged along too. Arthur blinked at all the vampires crowding into his flat and folded his arms across his bare chest.
“Good evening,” said Freya. She looked a little awkward in Arthur’s presence, as did Will, surprisingly. The others seemed mostly oblivious. Merlin wondered if perhaps this had not been such a good idea.
Arthur waited till they were all settled down in the living room, then said, “Well, I’m going back to bed, then.”
“Alright,” said Merlin. “We’ll try to be quiet, yeah?” Arthur nodded and began to turn away.
Then Owain spoke up. “Why don’t you come join us?” he said. “It’s not that late, is it?”
“It’s almost three and I have to work in the morning,” said Arthur. “Good night.”
“Nah,” said Will, a glint in his eye. “We want you to come join in. It’d be a laugh, wouldn’t it?” Arthur bristled.
“Did you like your doggie treats?” said Elena.
“He hasn’t eaten them,” said Will. “They’re in the kitchen still. Didn’t you see?”
They were as well. Arthur hadn’t thrown them out, Merlin had been wondering why.
“Oh, don’t you like them?” said Elena.
“He’s probably just not been a good boy,” said Will. “Is that it? Do you need Merlin to feed them to you, Fido?” The other vampires chuckled.
“Will –” Merlin started.
“Piss off,” Arthur snapped.
Will held up his hands. “Someone’s grouchy.” He turned to Merlin. “Maybe you should get him neutered, eh?” Arthur’s shoulders were heaving. Merlin took his head in his hands.
“You say one more word and I –” he growled, but Will interrupted him.
“Oi!” he said. “Bad dog! Sit!” Arthur fell silent as if in disbelief. “Good. Now roll over!” Arthur didn’t response. “Play dead –”
“Oh, for – Will, shut up,” Merlin shouted.
“What?” said Will.
“Leave him alone,” said Merlin. “It’s not funny. Stop it.” He glanced at Arthur, who was staring at him, eyes wide. After a moment, he turned and walked away, slamming his bedroom door behind him.
“Oh, now who’s got no sense of humour,” said Will, slumping back on the sofa.
“That was too far,” said Freya.
“I thought it was funny,” said Gilli.
“So did I,” said Elena. “Honestly, Merlin, he’s just a werewolf –”
“Yeah, well,” said Merlin. “He’s also my flatmate and I’d rather he didn’t totally hate me. So leave him alone, or else he’ll have us all uninvited again.”
Silence fell awkwardly across the room. Then Will said, “Bloody werewolves,” and everyone snickered and agreed, and Merlin had to hold back a groan of frustration.
“I don’t need you looking out for me, you know,” said Arthur early that morning when he ran into Merlin making his dinner in the kitchen, the blinds down snugly over the window.
“Hmm?” said Merlin.
“Last night,” said Arthur. “I can handle myself.”
“Against a whole room of vampires?” said Merlin, squeezing a bag of blood into a saucepan to warm it up.
“You know what I mean,” said Arthur. “Also your friends are a bunch of pricks.”
“They’re not so bad,” said Merlin. “They just don’t like werewolves.” He fetched a spoon out of the drawer and tucked in.
“Maybe you need better friends too,” said Arthur.
“Maybe.” Merlin shrugged.
Arthur had actually put a shirt on for once, a faded blue one that hung loose on his frame. He looked good in blue. He looked good in most things. Not that Merlin ever thought about how good Arthur looked. Maybe he would have done if Arthur were a vampire or a human, but werewolves were weird and gross and that was all there was to it.
“Why don’t you like werewolves?” Arthur asked suddenly.
“Well,” said Merlin. “Why don’t you like vampires?”
“Because you drink the blood of the living,” said Arthur. “It’s vile.” He paused. “And you smell all wrong.”
“And you’re hairy and disgusting and you smell like wet dog all the time,” said Merlin. “Goes both ways, see?”
“Well, we don’t kill people,” said Arthur.
“I’ve known plenty of people who got killed by werewolves,” said Merlin. “And I don’t kill people either. None of my friends do. Well, maybe Gilli, but he’s not really my friend, he just hangs around sometimes.”
“You can’t help what you do on the full moon,” said Arthur.
And he was right – it was silly and irrational, but it was a goddamn instinct. It was under Merlin’s skin, that sense that werewolves were all wrong, that they were diseased humans that he had to stay away from and not touch their blood, ever. He should have said something along those lines, but all he came out with was, “I guess, yeah,” and, “I’m going to finish this in my room.” He wandered away, clutching his dinner in both hands.
Merlin was woken up the next evening by something tickling his nose. He grumbled sleepily, rolled over, and opened his eyes. Something stinging trickled into them, and he blinked it away frantically with a yelp.
Arthur was standing over him, clutching a little tub in one hand, looking smug. Merlin stared up at him in confusion, then looked at his hands. They sparkled back at him. When he shook his head more glitter sprinkled across his pillow.
“Did you just pour glitter all over me?” he said.
“Yep,” said Arthur.
“What – why?” said Merlin.
“Why’d you think?” said Arthur.
Merlin scowled and lunged for the glitter. Arthur dodged out of his way and threw more of it in his face.
“Will you stop that?” said Merlin, half-rolling out of bed. “It’s in my eyes! It hurts!”
“Oh, grow a pair,” said Arthur. “I thought vampires were supposed to be tough.”
Merlin made another, more successful, grab for the glitter, and managed to pour it all down the front of Arthur’s t-shirt; Arthur snatched it back and tipped it over his head. The ensuing glitter-fight was thankfully brief, because there wasn’t all that much left, but by the time it was over there was glitter spread across most of his room.
“Look what you did!” said Merlin. He punched Arthur’s arm.
“Ow,” said Arthur. “You brought this on yourself. I didn’t do anything.”
“You poured glitter everywhere!” said Merlin.
“Yeah,” said Arthur. “Suits you. You look very pretty, Cullen.”
“Stop calling me that,” said Merlin. “I stopped calling you Fido, didn’t I?”
“You’re right,” said Arthur. “I’m sorry. You’re too ridiculous to be Edward Cullen.” Merlin lunged for him again. Arthur dodged, laughing.
“I am not ridiculous!” said Merlin. Though it was hard not to feel ridiculous when you were covered in glitter, really.
“Oh, come on,” said Arthur. “You’re clearly a pathetic excuse for a vampire. You pour blood on cereal and you wear bright colours all the time and you have the most awful ears I’ve ever seen.”
“What’s wrong with my ears?” said Merlin. “I like my ears.” He paused. “And what do you know about vampires, anyway?” And alright, maybe Arthur had a bit of a point there. That he was currently managing to make being covered in glitter look good didn’t help.
Arthur just shrugged in response. “Anyway, I was just waking you up to tell you that you got a letter today.”
“You couldn’t just have waited for me to get up?” said Merlin.
“Glitter was more fun,” said Arthur. “See you around.” He strutted out of the room, still radiating smugness, and Merlin scowled.
“You know, I’m not sure I like Chinese food,” Gaius said a few nights later, hovering in his kitchen while Merlin tried to cook sweet-and-sour for dinner.
“We went to China,” said Merlin. “And you ate the food, and you liked the food.”
“Well, yes,” said Gaius. “But that was in China. It wasn’t Chinese food then, it was just food.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Merlin. “It’s the same food wherever you eat it.”
“Well, my digestion isn’t what it was,” said Gaius darkly.
“Don’t you want some variation?” said Merlin.
“No,” said Gaius flatly. He adjusted his glasses and folded his arms.
“Fine,” said Merlin. “But this is what I’m cooking, so – Jesus Christ!” Michael the frog appeared right beside the cooker with a faint whooshing, and Merlin jumped, almost upsetting the whole pan. “Did you see that?” he said, pointing with his spoon. “You must have seen that!”
“Seen what?” said Gaius, then, “oh, it’s Michael. Hello, Michael.” He picked Michael up in both hands and smiled. Michael croaked, all-innocence.
“This sort of thing,” said Merlin, “is exactly why I moved out.” He shuddered and turned back to the cooker.
“I’m trying out something new at the moment, actually,” said Gaius. “A different angle to super-powers.”
“Oh, really?” said Merlin. “What sort of angle?”
“Oh, you’ll see,” said Gaius. He had his mysterious face on, so there was really no point trying any more. Merlin turned the stove off and began to serve dinner.
“Put the frog somewhere else, yeah?” he said.
“Oh, really,” said Gaius. “They’re part of the family.” He set Michael down beside his plate. Michael croaked and vanished again. Merlin rolled his eyes. “How’s Arthur?”
“He seems alright,” said Merlin. “He’s still not talking much. It’s the full moon in a few days, I think that makes him grouchy. Grouchier, anyway.”
Gaius looked pensive. “Full moon, hmm?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Merlin said.
“It must be very hard for him,” said Gaius. He lifted his cutlery and poked at his dinner suspiciously.
“Well, he doesn’t have to be such a prick about it,” said Merlin. “He keeps making Edward Cullen jokes.”
“What jokes?” said Gaius.
“Never mind,” said Merlin. He started eating. “The other day he poured glitter all over me while I was sleeping!”
“Honestly,” said Gaius, shaking his head. Merlin was about to nod in agreement, when Gaius said, “You two. You might as well be pulling each other’s pigtails.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Merlin.
“You know exactly what I mean,” said Gaius, because Merlin did. “You talk about him every time you come over here. You only do that when you’re infatuated.”
“I am not infatuated!” said Merlin. Gaius raised an eyebrow. “He’s – he’s a bloody werewolf! It’d be gross. Like, bestiality. Or something.”
“Only one night out of the month,” said Gaius. He smiled.
“You’re putting me off my dinner,” said Merlin. “Eurgh.” He pushed his plate away.
“You’re missing out,” said Gaius. “This is very good, you know.”
It was light outside when Arthur shook him awake, sunlight seeping into the bedroom despite his best efforts. Merlin pulled the covers over his head and groaned. “M’sorry. G’way. Sleeping.” It was two o’clock in the afternoon, he shouldn’t have to deal with this.
Arthur shook him harder. “I’m not just trying to annoy you,” he said. “Your brother’s here, he wants to talk to you. He says it’s urgent.”
Merlin peered out at him from under the quilt. “Gaius?” he said. Arthur nodded. “What did he want?”
“He didn’t say,” said Arthur. “He just waved his hands around a lot. He wasn’t very coherent. He said something about a breakthrough?”
Merlin blinked. Then he understood. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, no. Not again.” He threw the covers off and scrambled out of bed.
“What?” said Arthur. “What is it?”
“I’ll deal with it,” said Merlin. “Don’t worry.” He hurried away. Arthur followed him a moment later, whether out of genuine concern or just curiosity Merlin wasn’t sure.
“Alright,” he said when he reached the kitchen. “What did you do?”
“Ah, Merlin!” said Gaius cheerfully. He was beaming away, midway through unpacking his battered satchel onto the kitchen table. Merlin frowned. He had expected more fear and screaming and possibly mutant frogs. “There you are! So sorry to wake you.”
“Gaius, what did you do?” said Merlin. “Please tell me you haven’t burned another house down or something.” He rubbed his eyes. He was too tired for this.
“Oh no, nothing like that,” said Gaius. “I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough and I needed test subjects right away, before it decays.”
Merlin stared at him, confused. It took a moment for his sleepy brain to process what he’d just heard. “No,” he said. “Oh, no. No way. Remember what I said after last time?”
“Oh, come now, Merlin –”
“Don’t you ‘come now, Merlin’, me!” said Merlin. “What did I say, Gaius? What did I say after the rabbit incident?”
Gaius sighed. “You said you’d never be my guinea pig again, as long as you lived.”
“Exactly,” said Merlin. He folded his arms. “Whatever that stuff is, you cannot test it on people. I won’t allow it.”
“Well, fine,” said Gaius. “Be that way.” He turned away. “Arthur? How about you?”
“What?” said Arthur, starting. He’d been lounging in the doorway, smirking to himself. “What have I got to do with anything?”
“Well, it would work on you too,” said Gaius.
“No, thanks,” said Arthur.
“It’s perfectly safe,” said Gaius. “I’ve found away to reverse supernatural genetic changes, it should only –”
“Gaius, just leave it –” Merlin began, but Arthur shushed him.
“I’m listening,” he said.
“It should be able to restore your DNA to its unaltered condition,” said Gaius. “It targets the supernatural genes to engage in an enzymatic sub-molecular cleansing –”
“Yes, alright,” said Arthur. “Are you saying it would make me – that it would put me back the way I was?”
“Well, the effects would only be temporary, of course,” said Gaius.
“How temporary?” said Arthur.
“A day at the most,” said Gaius. Arthur’s shoulders sagged. “But if I can find test subjects, then in the near future –”
“Alright,” said Arthur. “I’ll do it.”
“No, you won’t,” said Merlin. He turned to Gaius. “No, he won’t.”
“Yes, I will,” said Arthur.
“You don’t want to do that,” said Merlin. “You have no idea what it’ll do to you. It’s not safe.”
“It’s perfectly safe, thank you,” said Gaius.
“Gaius, look,” said Merlin. “You’re my brother and I love you very much, but you’re really bad at this. Okay?”
“Stop trying to put off my test subject!” said Gaius. “I’ve been working on this all week!”
“It was bad enough when you killed all the frogs,” said Merlin. “I am not letting you inflict whatever it is you’ve made on people.” He folded his arms.
Gaius scowled and turned to Arthur. “Please ignore him. He’s always losing faith in me.”
“Duly noted,” said Arthur. “Don’t worry, I’m still up for this.”
“I am not –” Merlin gave up on Gaius and tried Arthur instead. “Look, just think about what you’re doing. You have no idea how much this could fuck you up.”
Arthur shrugged. “What have I got to lose?” he said.
“You don’t mean that,” said Merlin. “You don’t want to do this!”
“I want my life back!” Arthur snapped.
“Fine,” said Merlin. He turned to Gaius, who was inspecting his collection of little bottles. “You know what? I’ll do it. Leave Arthur out of this.”
“You will?” said Gaius. “Excellent! Two test subjects!” He smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Could one of you possibly lend me a saucepan?”
Merlin rolled his eyes and pleaded toward the ceiling.
Gaius was still clattering about in the kitchen half an hour later, his work punctuated by frantic mumbling and flashes of light and puffs of fishy-smelling smoke. Merlin and Arthur had relocated to the living room to keep out of the way.
Merlin was pacing up and down (and he’d always thought people didn’t actually do that, but he was just too restless to stay still). “Oh, God,” he said. “Oh God. Oh God.”
“Will you stop that?” said Arthur, slouched on the sofa. “You’re making me anxious.” He switched on the television and began to flick through the channels, eventually settling on the football. Merlin snatched the remote away and turned it off. “Hey!” Arthur snapped.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” said Merlin, gesturing with the remote. “You don’t know Gaius. Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating,” said Arthur.
“He burned down our house,” said Merlin. “Twice. He blew up the washing machine, and the fridge. He made a mutant… thing that they had to get the army in to deal with. His first batch of super-frogs exploded, and there’s still stains all over the walls. He ripped a hole in the fabric of space-time and now we can’t go in the attic any more, because it’s out of sync with the rest of the house. He’s a menace. He’s going to get us both killed.”
Right,” said Arthur. He sat back against the sofa and smiled. “You don’t have to do it, you know. I’m sure he won’t mind. I mean, you’re only his brother, it’s not like he cares that you don’t trust him or anything.”
Merlin sank down onto the sofa with a whimper. “I hate you so much.”
“I know,” said Arthur.
There was one last loud bang from the kitchen and a tinkle of breaking glass. A tense, silent minute later, Gaius pottered in, carrying a tea tray with a green glass bottle and two shot glasses he must have stolen from Arthur. “All done,” he said. “Are you ready?”
“No,” said Merlin. “No really.”
Gaius just smiled and began to pour the… whatever it was into the glasses. It was a dull, metallic blue, with a thick, syrupy consistency. It took a lot of shaking and muttering to fill the two glasses. “There, now,” said Gaius, setting the bottle down.
“Are those my shot glasses?” said Arthur absently.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Gaius. “I’ll wash them for you.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Arthur.
“Oh, so he’s allowed to use your things,” said Merlin. He stood up and backed away from the tray. “This is a terrible idea. I’m not drinking that stuff.” Gaius looked crestfallen.
“Don’t worry,” said Arthur. He stood up and selected one of the glasses carefully. “I’m still in.”
“We might both explode!” said Merlin.
“Or we might not,” said Arthur.
“If either of you explodes I’ll pay to have the room cleaned,” said Gaius brightly.
“Oh, that’s so comforting,” said Merlin. He took the other glass and stared down at it glumly, stomach churning.
Arthur was sniffing at his. “It smells like fish,” he said. “Why does it smell like fish?”
“Ah, well, it’s made from salmon brai –”
“Never mind,” said Arthur, holding up a hand. “I really don’t want to know what went into this.” He lifted his glass as if he were toasting Merlin, said, “Cheers, then,” and downed it.
And that, Merlin supposed, was that. He couldn’t back down now. He raised the glass to his lips and drank the vile stuff as quickly as he could, then gagged, one hand covering his mouth.
“It tastes like burnt rubber,” he said, still choking slightly. “It smells like fish, how come it tastes like rubber?”
“I’ve no idea,” said Gaius. “Do you feel any different?”
“Not really,” said Merlin. On the other side of the room, Arthur was frowning down at his glass, as if he’d expected more than just a mouthful of foul, slimy goo as well. Other than the taste – which had spread all the way to the back of his throat, it would be stuck there for days – he felt fine. “I feel fine,” he said.
Gaius turned to Arthur, who shrugged. “It tastes disgusting, you should do something about that.” He set his glass back down on the tray.
“Oh,” said Gaius. “Oh, well. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.”
Merlin opened his mouth to agree – or perhaps to dissuade Gaius from trying again, he hadn’t decided yet – when he felt something at last.
It started as a slow, spreading heat in his guts, then a burning stabbing pain that had him doubled over, a searing agony that sent him crumpled to his knees and oh jesus fucking christ what had he done.
He had to breathe. He needed to breathe so badly, for half a minute all he could do was gulp down lungful after lungful of air, there was no room to think, no room for anything but desperate breath after desperate breath, his lungs straining and aching, every inch of his skin on fire. He slumped down still further, lay on his side on the floor, his breaths slowing. He could feel his stuttering pulse racing under his skin, and it suddenly dawned on him just what that meant.
He was alive.
Gaius loomed over him, hands clutching his shoulders frantically. “Merlin?” he was saying. “Merlin, are you alright?”
“I can’t – fuck,” said Merlin. “Gaius, what did you do?” He closed his eyes and focused on breathing. His heart was beating in his chest for the first time in sixty-three years, and it hurt. It hurt quite a lot. And it felt incredible. He clenched his hands into fists, relishing the feel of blood flowing under his skin – he’d felt this before, he’d felt it for twenty-two straight years. How had he not noticed how amazing it had felt?
He felt Gaius’s fingers on his neck, searching out his pulse, then a gasp that was somewhere between shock and relief. “Well, I didn’t think that would actually work,” said Gaius. “Are you alright?”
“It hurts,” Merlin gasped out. Gaius pulled him up and wrapped his arms around him, hugging him close, with a sound that might have been a sob, because Merlin was alive, he was alive.
The moment was broken by the sound of Arthur retching. “Don’t mind me,” he said, voice hoarse. Gaius let go of Merlin, muttered apologies, and hurried to check on Arthur. Merlin blinked and rubbed at his eyes. It looked like Arthur had thrown up at least once.
It was hard to tell, though, he realised as he dragged himself upright. His legs were shaking, and his senses had all dimmed. The room felt like a blur around him, every sound muted, and he could hardly smell anything at all.
After a moment, Arthur sat back on his heels and wiped at his mouth. “I’m fine,” he said to Gaius. “I think. I’m fine. I feel better now.” He stared down at his own hands, at his body, then turned and stared right into Merlin’s eyes, and Merlin almost lost his breath again.
Arthur was human. He had to be. Whatever it was that had repulsed Merlin so – the beast, the infection, the thing – was gone, and how he was just a ridiculously gorgeous human, looking up at Merlin with a brilliant, infectious joy in his eyes. He surged upright and near-threw himself across the room, arms wrapping around Merlin, pulling him into a hug so tight his lungs screamed at the effort of breathing.
“Can’t breathe,” he gasped out. Arthur let go of him and drew back (or mostly, anyway, his hands stayed on Merlin’s waist).
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” said Merlin. “Just. Lungs. I haven’t used them in a while, it’ll take a bit of getting used to.” Everything hurt still.
“Right,” said Arthur. “That. Makes sense.”
He stared at Merlin, eyes bright. Merlin stared back.
After a moment, Gaius cleared his throat, and they broke apart, backing away from each other. “Well, I think we can call that a success,” he said. He looked at Arthur, who was looking at the wall, suddenly all awkward, then at Merlin, and said, “Should I leave?”
“No, you can stay,” said Merlin. “It’s fine.”
“I think perhaps I should leave,” said Gaius. He fetched his bottle off the tray and tucked it into his pocket. “I’m terribly sorry about your kitchen window. I’ll pay for it. Do you want me to clean up?”
“No,” said Arthur. “I’ll handle it.” He was staring down at himself again, as if still not quite able to believe what had happened to him. “It’s the least I can do. I – thank you. For this.”
Gaius blinked, then suddenly became very flustered. “Yes, well,” he said. “I should –” He hurried out of the room, then in again a few seconds later. “Could I possibly have a blood sample?”
Two blood samples, a lot of frowning and complaining and a half-hearted attempt at clearing up the mess in the kitchen later, they were seeing Gaius out the front door. Merlin stopped just short of the threshold out of habit while Arthur and Gaius went ahead down the path. He hadn’t been outside during the day in, what, sixty years? Well, maybe once, but it hadn’t ended well.
He took a few deep breaths – his lungs hadn’t quite stopped burning yet – and stepped forward into the sunlight.
He flinched on reflex and almost went straight back in, because it just felt so strange, but after he’d had a moment to adjust, it was…
Warm. Not that warm, because it was only spring, but still warmer than he remembered. It prickled up his arms, making his hair stand on end – his skin looked so pale, had it always been that pale? It looked normal in the dark. He took another few fumbling steps down the concrete path through the middle of the garden (or, well, the bedraggled lawn with a picnic table shoved in the middle, none of the tenants were big gardeners).
The grass looked so very green. His vision was worse, and yeah, that was driving him nuts already, but it was almost worth it to see actual colours again. Night-time got so grey after a while. The grass was bright green and the concrete beneath his feet was a dingy off-white and the car that trundled down the road as he watched was scarlet, and the sky, when he tilted his head back, was blue.
He didn’t know how long he’d been just standing and staring when Gaius called, “Good-bye, Merlin, I’ll see you soon.” He staggered slightly, startled.
“So how does it feel?” said Arthur.
Merlin looked up at the sky again. “I forgot how good this is. It’s been so long.”
Arthur followed his gaze. “Lucky it’s a nice day. British weather and all.”
“I don’t mind,” said Merlin. He steeled himself and turned to look at the sun itself. It was so bright it made his eyes sting.
“You’ll go blind if you do that,” said Arthur.
“Worth it,” said Merlin, shading his eyes. He stood quietly for a moment, savouring the feeling of sunlight on his skin. He’d probably never feel it again after today. The last time he’d felt it, he’d just taken it for granted. He hadn’t known it would be the last time, after all. Stupid.
“So, um,” said Arthur after a while. “We should probably go back inside and do something about the kitchen.”
“What?” said Merlin, dragging his gaze from the sky reluctantly. “Oh, come on. That can wait. You don’t know how long this is going to last; you can’t waste it cleaning!”
“Well, fine,” said Arthur. “What do you think we should do, then?”
“What’s this ‘we’?” said Merlin. “Since when do you want to spend time with me?” Arthur looked away, suddenly awkward all over, and Merlin hastened to add, “Not that I don’t want to. Spend time with you, I mean.”
“What are you going to do?” said Arthur.
“I’m staying right here,” said Merlin. He sat down on the doorstep and smiled up at Arthur.
“Fine, then,” said Arthur, sitting down next to him. “I’ll keep you company, shall I?” He paused. “Don’t you want to go somewhere else? There’s a park down the road.”
Merlin shook his head. “I don’t trust this stuff not to wear off at an awkward moment. That would not be pretty. Trust me.”
“Fair enough,” said Arthur. He poked at the grass with his toe. They were silent for a moment.
“Oh, God,” said Merlin. “I’m supposed to be working tonight. I can’t go to work like this!” He stretched out his shaking hands by way of demonstration.
“Like anyone’ll notice,” said Arthur.
“Half the people I work with are vampires,” said Merlin. “And half the other half are werewolves.”
“Oh. Alright, then,” said Arthur. “Where do you work, anyway?”
“Night shift in a call centre,” said Merlin. “There’s not that many options when you can’t go out during the day, really.”
“I guess not,” said Arthur. “You’ll have to call in sick or something.”
“It’ll look weird,” said Merlin. “Vampires don’t get sick very often.”
“Call in human, then,” said Arthur.
Merlin laughed. “You don’t have to stay here, you know,” he said. “If there’s somewhere you’d rather be today.”
“I’m fine here,” said Arthur. He slid down onto the path and lay back on his elbows, staring up at the sky.
“You’re much less grouchy when you’re like this,” said Merlin. “Does being a werewolf make you grouchy? Or are you just grouchy because you’re miserable?”
“I’m not miserable,” said Arthur.
“Your living room’s full of boxes and you won’t unpack them,” said Merlin.
“I unpacked some!” said Arthur. “I got my kitchen stuff out.”
“Yeah, then you put it back in the box,” said Merlin. “This is going to wear off pretty soon.”
“I know,” said Arthur.
“Just don’t get too used to it or anything,” said Merlin.
“I won’t,” said Arthur.
“I mean, I don’t want you to be too upset when you have to go back,” said Merlin.
“It’s alright,” said Arthur, very seriously. “I’m tough. I can handle it.”
“If you’re sure,” said Merlin.
“I handled it the first time, didn’t I?” said Arthur. “Three bloody weeks in a hospital bed, and I handled it just fine.”
“Sounds… messy,” said Merlin.
Arthur snorted. “How was it for you? Changing?”
“Surreal,” said Merlin. “I got… attacked. I guess.”
“You guess?” said Arthur.
Merlin swallowed. “Attacked. Seduced. It’s all the same thing, really. For us.” Arthur frowned. “Anyway, she cornered me in an alley when I was coming home from work and said a lot of stuff about eternal youth and power or something like that, I forget. I was pretty out of it. Then she turned me, and then she just sort of… swanned off.”
“Did you ever see her again?” said Arthur.
Merlin nodded. “I ran into her in a vampire bar in the sixties. It was really awkward.” Arthur laughed. “Anyway, I think I sort of staggered home and died on the doorstep. I must have scared the hell out of my mum, I don’t even know. Then I woke up a few hours later, freaked out, ran off, and I think I told you the next part already.” Arthur hmmed an affirmative. “What about you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Arthur quickly. He turned away, shifting about on the rough concrete of the path.
“Come on,” said Merlin. “I told you mine.”
“I didn’t ask you to start sharing,” said Arthur.
“Yes, you did,” said Merlin. “Come on. Spill.” He poked Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur didn’t respond. He was looking pointedly away, at the wire fence. Merlin’s grin faded. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said. “I mean, I guess it was more recent for you, right?”
“Right,” said Arthur. He shivered. “I don’t want to think about that right now. Let’s not talk about that.”
Merlin gave his shoulder a little squeeze. Arthur shrugged him off, but he smiled, so Merlin nudged him again, and again when Arthur nudged him straight back, and after that, things escalated through prodding and tickling until Arthur tackled him around the waist and dragged him off the step onto the straggly grass.
“Will you stop that?” said Arthur, once he had Merlin pinned on the lawn, fingers hot on his wrists. His tone was probably supposed to be annoyed, but he kept laughing.
Merlin squirmed and wriggled his way free and rolled them over. “No,” he said. “It’s fun.” Arthur scowled at him. His t-shirt had ridden up, revealing a strip of stomach and a few curls of blond hair. The sun was hot on the back of Merlin’s neck. Maybe he’d burn. He smiled at the thought, and that must have irritated Arthur, because he reached up and tickled Merlin under the ribs, sending him tumbling laughing onto the grass. Arthur held him down again, expression smug.
“There,” he said. “I win.”
“Alright, fine,” said Merlin. “You win.” He rolled his eyes, as if to say how childish. Arthur tickled him again, and he squirmed frantically. “I mean it! I surrender! I surrender!” Arthur kept at it a little longer, until Merlin was writhing beneath him, then sat back, smiling. Merlin hadn’t seen him smile that warmly before.
“I always win,” he said. He was framed in the sunlight, his hair lit up like a golden halo, and Merlin’s new heartbeat fluttered, and alright, perhaps he was a little infatuated.
Or possibly a lot infatuated.
They stayed out in the garden until the evening, watched the sunset together – and if Merlin cried a little Arthur was polite enough not to comment – then went back inside.
“We might still be… you know. In the morning,” Arthur said.
“I’m surprised it’s lasted this long, to be honest,” said Merlin, staring down at his miraculously unburnt hands. “What d’you want to do now?”
“I dunno,” said Arthur. “Are you hungry?”
And Merlin was hungry, properly hungry, not just craving blood. It was actually quite exciting. “I could eat,” he said.
“Pizza?” said Arthur. He rummaged through the kitchen drawers for a takeaway menu. “I’ll order pizza. What do you like on your pizza?”
Merlin shrugged. “Anything’s good,” he said, then, “Everything. Won’t make any difference tomorrow.” He thought for a moment. “Can we get cheesecake? I’ve never had cheesecake, it always sounded too weird. I mean, cheese. In a cake.”
Arthur came back with a fistful of colourful flyers. “Cheesecake, then,” he said. “Okay.” Arthur was still cheerful – Merlin suspected he was ignoring the fact that his humanity was going to wear off again in a couple of hours, but so long as he wasn’t glaring at everything, it was all good.
While Arthur was dialling, Merlin wandered down the hallway to his bedroom, then stopped short as he passed the bathroom, catching a glimpse of movement inside. He leaned inside, switched on the light, and stared at himself.
He’d avoided mirrors at first, because not being able to see himself in them was just creepy, but he’d got used to it eventually, and now, sixty-odd years in, looking at his own face was just weird. He lifted a hand and waved, just to check that it was definitely him, then stepped closer.
He was still in the bathroom when Arthur hung up the phone, turning his head back and forth, trying out different angles, mostly unnerved and a little appalled. He’d forgotten what his own face looked like, how stupid was that?
“Are you alright?” said Arthur, poking his head around the doorway.
“Is that really what my ears look like?” said Merlin. “Or is the mirror making them bigger?”
“No, they’re pretty massive,” said Arthur. Merlin clutched at them in horror. Arthur laughed. “Have you really not seen yourself since –”
“Well, no!” said Merlin. He rubbed at his face and scowled. “I really didn’t miss this past.”
Arthur peered over his shoulder, face all frowny. “You look fine,” he said.
Merlin dragged his fingers through his hair. It stuck up at many different angles. He groaned and forced himself to turn away. “I should stop,” he said. “I shouldn’t get used to this, y’know?”
“Probably not,” said Arthur. “I ordered the pizza. C’mon.” He touched Merlin lightly on the shoulder and left the room. Merlin snuck another glance in the mirror before following.
They ended up on the sofa with the television on in the background – he wasn’t even sure what they were watching, Arthur had flicked through the channels for a bit but he hadn’t seemed to care that much – and some beer that Arthur had dug out of the fridge, and the pizza.
“Oh God,” said Merlin around a mouthful of cheese. “Oh, God.” The sauce was dripping hot down his chin.
“You get that on my sofa, you’re paying for it,” said Arthur.
“M’sorry,” said Merlin. He swallowed his mouthful. “I’m sorry. It’s just. Food.” Arthur looked confused. “It’s like, all your senses get stronger but taste almost goes away, y’know? Except for blood. Everything except for blood you can hardly taste at all.” He took another bite and whimpered. His taste buds were singing. It was so good it almost hurt.
“And yet you still took my Shreddies,” said Arthur, poking Merlin’s knee with his toes. His feet were bare.
“That was for the texture!” said Merlin, mouth full again. He finished his first slice and started in on another.
“You’ll make yourself sick at that rate,” said Arthur.
“Don’t care,” said Merlin, breathless. “Worth it.”
The beer went to his head way faster than he expected, and by the time he was halfway through the pizza his pace had become sluggish. He slumped back against the sofa cushions. Arthur was still watching him quietly.
“You’re weird,” he said.
“Shut up,” said Merlin. “You don’t understand. I haven’t eaten properly in sixty years. Wanker.” He slid down to the side, leaning on Arthur, and Arthur actually let him. He even twisted around a little, let Merlin rest his head on his chest, as if he were a comfy pillow.
“What does it feel like?” he said. “For you? Changing back?”
“It was weird,” said Arthur. “I thought you were right at first, you know? I thought I really was going to explode, or turn inside out, or something. Then it was just… gone. The wolf. It just wasn’t there any more. I mean, this close to a full moon it’s always there. Like a monster trying to break out. It’s fucking horrible.”
“I get that,” said Merlin.
“Yeah,” said Arthur. “I guess you do.” He paused. His fingers brushed Merlin’s hair, as if stroking. “You want some cheesecake?”
“I could go for cheesecake,” said Merlin. It was in the fridge, though, and that meant one of them would have to move. It took another ten minutes or so before Arthur finally pushed him off and went through to the kitchen, leaving him all by himself on the sofa. He felt strange. Sort of… tingly. And cold. He rubbed at his bare arms and shivered.
The fridge door slammed, and then Arthur was back, bearing cheesecake and spoons. He offered Merlin a slice as he sat down.
Merlin poked at it. It wobbled. “It’s not really cake, is it?” he said.
“I guess not,” said Arthur. “It doesn’t really taste of cheese, either.” Merlin wrinkled his nose. “It’s delicious, I swear! Look.” He took a spoonful – the spoon went through it smoothly, with a delightfully satisfying squishing sound – and held it out. “Try some.”
Merlin stared at him. Apparently Arthur was trying to feed him now. That was a little strange. And possibly sexy. Perhaps Arthur was a little infatuated too. It wasn’t as if Merlin hadn’t wondered if Arthur might just feel the same way, but he’d always dismissed the idea as unlikely at best, because Arthur hated him. Arthur had always hated him.
But then again, he supposed he’d always hated Arthur too. He leaned forward and did his best to eat the cheesecake, despite the awkward angle. Arthur’s stare was suddenly dark and intense as Merlin drew back.
“You have,” he said, “strawberry. On your face.” Merlin licked at his lips. “No, here –” Arthur’s thumb brushed his chin, wiped the strawberry up towards his mouth, onto his lips, and Merlin’s tongue brushed his fingertip as he licked it away.
“You were right,” he said, a little breathless – and this wasn’t good, it could not be good for his lungs. “S’good.”
Arthur toyed with the spoon, then said, “Oh, fuck it,” and kissed Merlin firmly.
For a little while Merlin was too stunned to move, but then that was silly, really, he’d have probably wanted this for ages if Arthur hadn’t been a werewolf. He kissed back, tongue brushing Arthur’s, hot and wet and soft and alive, so fucking alive that he had to be closer. He surged forward, legs straddling Arthur’s hips, and kissed him again, and again, slow and hard and it was a little clumsy and it tasted of pizza but it was so so good.
Arthur groaned, hands clutching at Merlin’s shirt, and rolled them over, straight off the sofa onto the floor with a yelp and a thud, then kept on kissing him, his lips working down Merlin’s neck.
“You know,” said Merlin, breath hitching as Arthur found a sensitive spot. “I’m supposed to be the vampire, not you.”
“You have a really nice neck,” said Arthur. “I like your neck.” He drew back and smiled down at Merlin, all spread out on the floor. His hair was a mess and his eyes were wild and blue, and he said, “Want to take this to the bedroom?”
“We could do that,” said Merlin. “Do you want to do that?” Arthur kissed him again, as if to say oh god yes.
Arthur’s bedroom was as bare and immaculate as ever, and Merlin felt a little bad for throwing his clothes all over the floor, but he couldn’t help it. He tugged off his shirt and his belt, and then Arthur kissed him again, skin hot against Merlin’s as their bare chests pressed together, and he had to feel more of it, he had to taste it. He kissed his way down Arthur’s neck, his shoulder, ran his tongue across his nipples – a gasp from Arthur – then lower, down his flat stomach, dipping into his navel. Arthur groaned, his hips bucking forward, so Merlin sank to his knees with a sigh (his lungs were burning again, oh God, his lungs, his heart) and worked the straining zip of Arthur’s jeans open with shaking hands, tugged them down and took Arthur’s cock into his mouth.
“Fuck,” said Arthur, voice hoarse. His hands twisted in Merlin’s hair and clung on as Merlin sucked him in deep, then drew back and wrapped a hand around him, teasing at his foreskin, and Arthur was all desperate gasps and high-pitched sounds, urging Merlin on, hips jerking back and forth, fucking in and out of Merlin’s mouth.
The suddenly he said, “Oh. Oh, God,” and, “stop. Merlin, you have to – oh God, stop.” His hand tugged at Merlin’s hair, pulling him away, and Merlin duly reeled back.
He wiped at his mouth, heart sinking, and said, “M’sorry, I –”
“No, it’s just – not going to last,” Arthur said. “It’s too much.”
“Humans,” said Merlin. “No stamina.”
“It’s been a while, alright?” said Arthur as Merlin got to his feet, blood prickling back into his legs.
“How long’s a while?” he said, hands sliding around Arthur’s waist. Arthur looked away. “What, since you were turned?”
“Well, yes,” said Arthur. “I mean. My girlfriend – and I haven’t met any new people since then, so –”
“You met me,” said Merlin, kissing him gently.
“I guess I did,” said Arthur against his mouth. “Come on, then.” He dragged Merlin over to the bed so suddenly that he yelled and flailed a little, throwing Merlin down on his back and straddling him, hands stroking his chest.
“Ow,” said Merlin.
“Oh, grow a pair,” said Arthur. He drew back a little to kick off his jeans, and Merlin took the opportunity to wiggle away and orient himself properly against the pillows. Arthur prowled after him.
Merlin stared up at him. Arthur raised an eyebrow. “You’re naked,” said Merlin eventually, because he couldn’t think of much else to say. His brain was rapidly turning to mush.
“Yes,” said Arthur. “Yes, I am. You’re not.”
“No,” said Merlin, as Arthur began to unzip his jeans. “I have. Trousers.”
“Mmhmm,” said Arthur, tugging them down and tossing them away. “Now you’re naked.” He kissed Merlin again, sloppy.
“M’not,” said Merlin. “I’ve still got my socks on.”
“As good as naked,” said Arthur, breath hot against his neck.
“We can’t do this with socks on,” said Merlin. He squirmed, trying to reach his feet, but Arthur was pinning him a little. He hated wearing nothing but socks, it felt all wrong. “It’d just look silly…”
“I kind of like it,” said Arthur. His prick brushed against Merlin’s. “Suits you. Sort of sexy.”
“You think?” said Merlin. His legs fell open. Arthur’s fingers skimmed along his thigh.
“Hell yeah.” Arthur’s hand wrapped around Merlin’s cock, squeezing gently, and started to stroke, and Merlin’s head fell back against the pillows. For a moment or two he just lay there and let Arthur jerk him off, because fuck, and oh god yes and so good (and if he was going to be honest, it’d been a while for him too), but then it sort of occurred to him that he should do something, so he worked a hand down to reciprocate.
Arthur groaned, and buried his face in Merlin’s neck, and his grip slackened for a second, then tightened again, speeding up, and Merlin lifted his legs, wrapped them around Arthur’s waist, socks waving in the air, because he just had to be closer, closerclosercloser, right fucking now.
Arthur’s hips were bucking now, he was almost there, he had to be, so Merlin shifted his grip up to the head of his prick and rubbed his thumb across the tip of it, squeezing oh so gently, and that did it, Arthur yelled, tensing up all over, muscles everywhere, and then he was coming all over Merlin’s chest, and Merlin’s eyes fell closed, thighs clenching tight around Arthur’s waist as he came.
Arthur was all shaky above him, breath coming in little panting bursts. His hands were everywhere, stroking up and down Merlin’s legs, his chest, as if he couldn’t bear not to be touching him everywhere at once.
Merlin’s heart was pounding in his chest, so hard he thought it might be going to rupture from the strain, but he honestly didn’t care, because it felt fucking fantastic.
“Hey,” he said, taking hold of Arthur’s hand. “Hey. Feel this.”
“Wha’?” said Arthur.
“No, you have to feel this,” said Merlin. He pressed Arthur’s hand against his chest, right over the spot were his heart was beating away wildly. “There. You feel that? Do you feel it?”
“Yeah,” said Arthur, fingers flexing against Merlin’s skin. “Yeah, I feel it.”
“I haven’t,” said Merlin. “Not for so long.” And Arthur’s gaze was so bemused, and perhaps a little bit awed, that all he could do was throw back his head and laugh – because yeah, it’d wear off in a few hours and maybe he’d regret doing this if he couldn’t go back, but right now he wouldn’t have it any other way, not for the whole world.
Arthur slumped down beside him, one hand still resting on his chest. They were quiet for a while.
“I’m still wearing my socks,” said Merlin, lifting one foot for inspection.
“Hmm?” Arthur raised his head slightly. Perhaps he had started to drift off.
“My socks,” said Merlin. “Still wearing them.”
“Oh,” said Arthur. “So?”
“They don’t even match,” said Merlin. One was bright blue and the other was white with red spots. Arthur just grunted. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
Arthur pushed himself up a little and looked him in the eye. “Merlin. I don’t care if your socks don’t match.”
“You sure?” said Merlin. “Because, well… they almost never match. I’m lazy that way.”
“I don’t,” Arthur started, then stopped. “I just – mismatching socks and ridiculous ears and all, yeah?”
It sounded like a promise, almost. Merlin opened his mouth to reply, but there were too many words – he wanted to say you’re wonderful and I’m sorry and do you mean it? or maybe will you mean it tomorrow? or maybe even I love you. He very nearly settled for just yeah, but then that felt all wrong, so in the end he just kissed Arthur, and Arthur kissed him back and snuggled up alongside him, and everything seemed to be alright (for the time being, at least).
Merlin was woken up the next morning by a growing, prickling heat along his back and his shoulders. At first he just squirmed and buried his face in the pillows and tried to ignore it, too sleepy to realise what had happened, but it rapidly turned from prickling to burning, smouldering, and he forced his eyes open.
The sun was coming up, and they hadn’t closed the curtains before they fell asleep. He threw himself out of the bed, made a frantic dash for the shaded part of the room, then crouched there, shuddering, reaching back awkwardly to check for burns.
After a moment, he stood up – slowly, in case he drifted into the sunlight again – and stared at the bed. Arthur was lying curled over on his side, still fast asleep, hair falling over his eyes, and he was a werewolf again. It was unmistakable. He was – and they’d – and now they were – he wrapped his arms around his chest and absolutely did not blink back tears.
It was stupid, he couldn’t just stand around until Arthur woke up – and besides, he should go somewhere where he wasn’t at risk of burning and dying. And he needed to shower, because he was still covered in the remains of their – activities.
He tip-toed out of the room, shut the door carefully behind him, then padded down the hallway to the bathroom. It was so quiet in the flat that the rush of water from the shower seemed deafeningly loud (he was worried that it would wake Arthur, but perhaps not, he was quite a deep sleeper). He sat down on the floor and stripped off his socks, then rubbed at his back again, wishing he could take a look in the mirror.
He made a point of using Arthur’s body wash, because he’d almost got burned alive and he felt as if he were owed something for it, at least. Besides, it was pineapple-scented and delicious.
The water was very hot against his skin. He was already cooling down again from the day before. He rested his head against the tiles and pressed one hand against his chest, just in case, but there was nothing.
He stayed in the shower for a good half hour, until the hot water began to run out, then wrapped himself up in a towel and snuck out again. He’d meant to just go straight back to his room, but he’d only just got out into the hall when Arthur appeared in nothing but a pair of pyjama bottoms, rubbing at his eyes. He stopped dead when he saw Merlin.
“Oh, there you are,” he said.
“Here I am,” said Merlin. He was dripping water on the floor. Arthur hated when Merlin got water on the floor, and he half expected Arthur to say something, but he didn’t.
“You know,” he said instead, with a touch of laughter that was a little bit frantic. “When I woke up and the sun was out and you were gone, I thought for a moment that you’d, I don’t know. Vaporised or something.”
“Oh,” said Merlin. “No, I’m fine. Just a bit scorched. There’d have been a lot more mess if I’d – you know.”
“I’m glad,” said Arthur. “That you didn’t get vaporised.”
“That’s good,” said Merlin. “I mean – I’m glad. That you’re glad.”
“Well, I’m glad that you –” Arthur stopped and frowned. “This is going to be unspeakably awkward, isn’t it?”
“Probably,” said Merlin.
“Perhaps we should just, I don’t know –”
“Never speak of this again?” Merlin suggested. Arthur nodded.
“I mean,” he said. “I mean – you know what I mean. It’d been a while, and I was all –” He gestured vaguely.
Merlin nodded hastily. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ll just – shall I?” He backed down the hall into his room and shut the door.
And that was it, then. They’d both been in far too good a mood and there had been alcohol, and it was done and could not be undone, but they would just forget all about it, and it was for the best, he was sure. Besides, Arthur was a werewolf again, so he had absolutely stopped being attractive.
It occurred to Merlin that he might possibly be in denial, but he dismissed the idea as being altogether silly.
Freya and Will found him in the Coffin that evening, sitting slouched over a table, still gripping his glass, and silently joined him in the booth.
“Freya,” said Merlin as she slipped an arm around his shoulders. “Freya. Freya. Freya.”
“What’s wrong?” she said. “Is this about Arthur?”
Merlin scowled. “Why would it be about Arthur?”
“Because it’s always about Arthur,” said Will. “You never shut up about Arthur.”
“I talk about things other than Arthur all the time,” said Merlin, slurring slightly. “I get upset about other stuff! All sorts of stuff. Not always Arthur. Arthur is nothing to me.”
They were silent. “Well, is it Arthur?” said Freya eventually.
Merlin slumped down again. “Yeah,” he said. Freya stroked his back. Will patted his shoulder.
“So what did he do this time?” said Will.
“It’s not him,” said Merlin. “Well, I guess it’s both of us. This thing. Happened. And now it’s all a mess.” He waved his hands, forgetting that he was still holding the glass, and that the glass was still half full. Whisky splashed across the table. Freya took the glass away.
“What sort of thing?” said Will. Merlin groaned and turned his face towards the table. “Oh God, tell me you didn’t shag him!”
“I didn’t,” said Merlin. Will looked horrified. “I didn’t! Well, maybe a little. But only a little!”
“Oh, that’s just not right,” said Will. “That’s – gross, Merlin! He’s a werewolf!”
“He was human when we had sex!” said Merlin. Will looked baffled. “Did I not get to that part?”
“What,” Will said. “I don’t want to be around you right now, okay? Just – ugh. Talk to me when you’re not covered in werewolf germs.”
“I showered!” Merlin protested, but Will was already up and working his way out of the booth. “Fine!” Merlin snapped. “Abandon me! In my hour of need! Some best friend you are!” Will didn’t answer. Merlin sighed and clutched the whisky bottle closer. “I guess you’ll have to be my best friend now, whisky,” he slurred. “You won’t abandon me. Will you?” Freya snatched it away. Merlin whined.
“You’ve had enough already,” she said. “And aren’t you supposed to be working tonight?”
“Oh, probably,” said Merlin. “I missed last night as well. Bugger.” He paused, staring at his hands. They seemed to be moving slightly on their own. “How did you know I was here instead of work?”
“Gilli texted me,” said Freya. “He said you were drinking yourself into a stupor and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet.”
“M’not,” said Merlin. “M’wallowing in a mire of depression.”
“Yes, I know,” said Freya. She showed him her phone.
merlin drnkin himself into stupor, is only 9 30, thnk hes wallowin in mire of depression, cum help!!
Merlin looked at the bar. Gilli stared back at him, anxious. “He’s really weird.”
“So what exactly happened?” said Freya.
“Gaius did some science stuff and turned us both into humans and we had sex,” said Merlin. “And cheesecake. But not at the same time.”
“Huh,” said Freya. She lifted her phone and began texting again.
“What’s that?” said Merlin.
“Nothing,” she said, too casually. He made a grab for her phone. She dodged. “Elena just owes me twenty quid is all. On a completely unrelated bet that I happened to recall just now, of course.” Merlin glared. “I’m sorry. You’re a bit obvious sometimes.”
“You don’t think it’s gross, though?” said Merlin.
“Well maybe a little,” said Freya. “But if you really like him…”
“I do,” said Merlin. “He’s weird and it feels weird but he’s just so… Arthur. And I want – I don’t know what I want.” He snuggled up against Freya’s shoulder. “Freya, what do I want?”
“How should I know?” She petted his hair. “That’s up to you. Do you want to be with Arthur?”
“I think so,” said Merlin. “I can’t stop thinking about him. It’s been going on for ages, I just didn’t want to think about it till now.”
“Well, then,” said Freya. “It’s obvious what you have to do, isn’t it?”
Merlin blinked, and thought for a moment. Then an idea blossomed in his brain. “You’re right,” he said. “It’s so obvious. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before!”
Freya smiled. “There, you see?” she said.
“Yes!” said Merlin. “I have to find Arthur a mate!”
Freya’s smile faded. “I – what?”
“He’s obviously lonely,” said Merlin. “He hates vampires, he wouldn’t want to date one – I need to find him someone else and then he’ll be with them and I’ll be able to stop thinking about him and move on, and everyone will be happy!”
“Merlin, I don’t think that’s quite what I –”
“Another werewolf,” said Merlin. He sat upright. “A male werewolf. Cause, well, I know he likes men because he slept with me, and if he gets with a woman they might have cubs or something and that’d be weird.” He shuddered.
“I give up,” said Freya. “Do what you like. It’s your love life.”
Merlin hugged her. “Thanks for all your help,” he said. “This. Needs celebrating.” He clambered to his feet and tottered towards the bar. “I’ll buy you a drink, you want a drink?”
“Merlin, no,” she said, trying to tug him back. “You’ve had quite enough.”
“M’grown man,” he said. “I can drink whatever I like.” He reached the bar and began to leaf through the cocktail menu.
After that he didn’t remember all that much until he woke up early the next evening, tucked up in his bed – it couldn’t have been that bad, he reasoned later, because he’d got home at least. Though that didn’t occur to him at the time, because he was too busy crawling to the bathroom to throw up.
He woke up again a while later on the bathmat, feeling a little better, and dragged himself upright, then felt quite guilty because it looked as if Arthur had been in and cleaned and then he’d come in and been sick. Also he could have sworn that his socks had still been on the floor where he’d left them. He supposed Arthur must have moved them, and staggered through to the kitchen.
Arthur was washing dishes when he came in. “Evening,” he said. “You look awful.”
“Yeah,” said Merlin. “Have you seen my socks?”
“Socks?” said Arthur.
“The ones I was wearing when – that thing we don’t talk about happened,” said Merlin. “I left them in the bathroom.”
“Haven’t seen them.” Arthur finished the dishes and pulled out the plug. “Do you want some coffee or something? Do vampires drink coffee?”
“I’m good.” Merlin opened the fridge and hunted for breakfast. “I have to go to work. I’ve missed two nights in a row, it’s getting silly.”
“Yeah, I saw that you had fun last night,” said Arthur.
“Fun.” Merlin clutched his bag of blood to his chest. “Yeah. I had fun. With my friends. I think there were cocktails.”
“Cocktails are fun,” said Arthur. “Should I leave you to it?”
“If you like,” said Merlin. “I don’t mind.” He wondered if perhaps he should tell Arthur about his plan, to see what he thought, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise. And anyway, if he played it right Arthur might not ever have to know at all.
“I’ll just go, then,” said Arthur. He left the room.
Merlin’s Shreddies were almost finished, so he took Arthur’s, with great enjoyment.
Arthur was in the kitchen just as Merlin was leaving for work, so he decided to put the first stage of his plan into action (and yeah, it was a drunken plan, but it was his only plan, so it wasn’t as if he had a choice). He had to be stealthy about it, of course. He tip-toed down the hall and stood flattened against the wall, digging his phone out of his pocket as quietly as he could, then leaned around the doorframe, peeping in. Arthur was at the cupboard, his back to the door. It was probably safe.
Merlin just had his phone upraised when Arthur said, “You know I can smell you, right?”
Merlin almost dropped his phone. “Well, yeah,” he said. “I mean. I wasn’t doing anything. It’s not like I was trying to hide or anything.” Arthur still wasn’t looking at him, so he lifted his phone again.
And then, of course, just as he had his finger on the button, Arthur turned to face him. “What are you doing?” he said.
“Just trying to find a signal,” said Merlin. “I have. An important text. To send.”
“Are you trying to take my picture?” said Arthur.
“No, that would be silly,” said Merlin. “Why would I need to take your picture and be stealthy about it?”
“That’s a very good question,” said Arthur. He folded his arms and glared, and Merlin really should have tried to come up with an excuse, but he was already running late and Arthur was managing to make glaring sexy, somehow, so after a moment’s consideration, he thumbed the button, taking his photo as quickly as he could, then dashed out into the hall while Arthur was still blinking from the flash.
“See you later, then!” Merlin called. Arthur started to shout after him, something that started with what the hell was that, but Merlin shut the front door behind him, cutting Arthur off.
“Gwaine!” he said, pouncing on his co-worker just as he finished a call.
“Me?” Gwaine blinked and adjusted his headset.
“I need to talk to you,” said Merlin. Gwaine raised his eyebrows. “Don’t look so surprised!”
“It’s just you’ve said, what, half a dozen words to me since I started working here?” said Gwaine.
“Well, yeah, but –”
“And three of them were ‘shut up, werewolf’,” said Gwaine.
“That was in the past,” said Merlin.
“It was three weeks ago,” said Gwaine.
“I’m sorry, alright?” said Merlin. “Really, I am. I was being a prick, I get that now.” He pulled up a chair and sat down. “I need to talk to you. See, I have this friend.”
“Oh yeah? Tell him to see a doctor.”
“What?” said Merlin.
“They can give him some antibiotics and it’ll clear right up,” said Gwaine with a little grin.
“I – no!” said Merlin. “It’s not about – I’m a vampire, we don’t even – I really do have a friend, alright? And I need you to do me a favour.”
Gwaine looked at his watch, and then at the phone, then said, “Alright. Sounds more interesting than work, at least.”
“I need you to ask my friend out on a date,” said Merlin. Gwaine looked dubious. “He’s a werewolf, just like you!”
“What, so cause we’re both werewolves we’ll get on just like that?” said Gwaine. “No, thanks.” He reached for the phone.
“No, hear me out,” said Merlin. “It’s not just that. He’s blond and sexy and you’re Irish and sexy – and yeah, I think you’re sexy, let’s not get into that.” Gwaine raised an eyebrow. “I have a picture on my phone!” Merlin groped in his jacket pocket. “Look!”
Gwaine took his phone and inspected the picture. “He’s alright, I guess.”
“Alright?” said Merlin, snatched the phone back. “He’s bloody perfect! He’s all… blond. And muscled. And his eyes are just beautiful – and sometimes when the light hits him just right he looks like a Greek god –” He broke off. Gwaine looked amused. “What?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to date your friend?” said Gwaine.
“What? No!” Merlin thrust his phone back into his pocket. “God, no. He’s nice and all, but – I don’t date werewolves! It’d be weird. And gross. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a werewolf! I get that now. Just not my scene, you know?” Gwaine did not look convinced. “Alright, look. He’s not been a werewolf for that long and I don’t think he’s coping very well, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know any other werewolves. Like, at all. He’s lonely.”
Gwaine considered this. “Alright, fine,” he said. “I’ll give it a shot. But not for you. For your friend. If he’s really as lonely as you think he is it sounds like he needs the company.”
“Thank you!” Merlin beamed. “Thank you so much! You have no idea how much this means to me.” He leaned forward. “But we need to be stealthy about this. If he thinks I set it up he won’t go for it.”
“So you didn’t ask him first?” said Gwaine. “I should have known. Bloody vampires.”
“Oh, whatever,” said Merlin. “He hardly ever goes out, but he works in IKEA, so you might be able to find him that way.”
“So you want me to go and wander round IKEA until I find one guy, then start up a conversation and persuade him to go out with me?” Merlin nodded. “That’s kind of ridiculous, you know.”
“Is that a no, then?” said Merlin.
“Nah, I’m up for it,” said Gwaine. “I love a challenge. Send me his picture, will you?” Merlin fetched his phone out again. “Besides, I need a new bookcase, so I might as well.”
After that, Merlin didn’t hear anything from Gwaine for a couple of days, until he was woken up one afternoon by a text message – am in IKEA, target accquired.
He couldn’t sleep after that, of course. He sat up waiting for another message until it was dark outside and Arthur came home. Merlin sat and listened to him wandering around the kitchen making his dinner until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He went through to see.
“Hi,” he said.
“Oh, hello,” said Arthur.
“Back from work?” said Merlin.
“Apparently.” Arthur gestured at himself, then went back to cooking.
“Did you have a good day?”
Arthur paused and frowned. “Since when do you ask about my day?”
“I’m not allowed to try new things?” said Merlin.
“Not if they’re none of your business,” said Arthur. Then his face softened. “But yeah. I did.”
Merlin waited to see if he would go on, but he didn’t. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Not particularly,” said Arthur.
“I’d tell you about my day but I mostly just slept,” said Merlin. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. “Did you sell much furniture?”
“I guess,” said Arthur.
“Eat any meatballs?” said Merlin.
“Will you shut up about the meatballs?” said Arthur, but he laughed.
He was in a good mood, then – even aside from the cheerfulness, he only cooked properly when he was in a good mood. That was a good sigh. It had to be. But Merlin couldn’t ask. That would give the whole thing away. “I can’t help it,” said Merlin. “I like meatballs.”
“That’s nice for you, I guess.” Arthur fetched out a bag of rice. “Are you just going to sit there and watch me cook?”
“No,” said Merlin. “I can’t. I need to get ready for work.”
He had to speak to Gwaine.
Gwaine was nonchalant as ever when Merlin arrived, munching on some early evening biscuits. “Oh, hello,” he said as Merlin approached.
“So how did it go?” said Merlin.
“Oh, it went great,” said Gwaine. “Got a nice new bookcase. I’m very pleased with it.” He brushed crumbs off his fingers and put on his headset.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Did you ask him out, though?”
“I got his number,” said Gwaine. “I’m seeing him Friday. He seems like fun. Bit uptight.”
Merlin relaxed, inside and out. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.” He thought for a moment. “Oh! Buy him cheesecake. He likes cheesecake.”
“Duly noted,” said Gwaine, waving him away. “I have work to do, yeah?”
Arthur did not tell Merlin that he was going on a date. Merlin waited all Wednesday and Thursday to see if he’d mention it, but he didn’t. Which wasn’t all that fair, really, because something had happened, even if they weren’t talking about it. He had a right to know if Arthur was dating someone, surely.
When he woke up on Friday evening, Arthur was still in the flat, wandering around in his bedroom. The door was standing open, so Merlin peered inside.
Arthur was shirtless, going through his wardrobe, selecting his shirts one by one.
“Why are you always topless?” said Merlin.
Arthur started, then scowled. “I’m in my bedroom!” he said. “What are you doing in here?”
“The door was open!” said Merlin.
Arthur selected a shirt and began to button it up. “What do you think?” he said.
“You going somewhere?” said Merlin. Arthur shrugged. “You hardly ever go out.”
“I have a date, actually,” said Arthur.
“Oh,” said Merlin. “Who with?”
“No-one you know,” said Arthur. Merlin tried not to grin. “Anyway, we’re meeting in an hour.”
“That’s great,” said Merlin. “Have a good time!”
Arthur finished with his shirt and ran his fingers through his hair. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Course not,” said Merlin. “Why would I mind? I don’t mind.”
“It’s just,” said Arthur. “That thing happened.”
“What thing?” said Merlin. Arthur was still fussing over his hair, and making a mess of it, so he walked over and tried to flatten it down.
“Stop that,” said Arthur.
“I’m helping,” said Merlin. He smoothed Arthur’s hair down. “You were getting it all over the place.”
“You’re such a girl,” said Arthur as Merlin adjusted his shirt collar.
“Well, at least you’ll look nice,” said Merlin. “For your date.” His fingers lingered on Arthur’s shirt. “So what are they like? Your date?”
“He’s alright,” said Arthur. “He’s very talkative. Irish.”
“Irish is good,” said Merlin. “I went to Ireland once. It was nice.”
“I’ve, uh, never been,” said Arthur. He shifted slightly, then took Merlin by the wrists and moved his hands away. “That’s getting a little weird.”
“Right,” said Merlin. “Sorry.” He stepped back. “Well, have a good time.”
“I’ll try,” said Arthur.
“Don’t do anything silly,” said Merlin.
“You’re not my mum,” said Arthur. “I’ll do what I like.” He checked his watch. “Time to go. I’ll see you later, yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Merlin. Arthur gave him a little wave, grabbed his phone, and left the room. He re-appeared a moment later.
“Don’t stay in here while I’m out,” he said. “I don’t want you going through my things.”
Merlin scowled. It wasn’t like they hadn’t been intimate enough already. “What things?” he said.
“Just get out, will you?” said Arthur, taking him by the shoulder and dragging him towards the door.
Once he was gone – out on his date with Gwaine, sexy Irish Gwaine who would sweep him off his feet and probably marry him some day – Merlin decided that he didn’t particularly want to spend his night off hanging around in an empty flat waiting for Arthur to come home, and went round to Freya’s.
Except Freya had Elena over, and they insisted on feeding him ice cream and being all girly, and he couldn’t leave without being rude. He was trapped. Trapped!
“You know,” said Elena. “This plan of yours was really daft.”
“Was not,” said Merlin. “It’s genius. Arthur has a boyfriend, so now I have to be over him.”
“Yes, sweetie,” said Freya, who was curled up at one end of her worn, fuzzy sofa, with a bowl of strawberry ice cream. “That’s exactly how this works.”
“They’ll be in the restaurant by now,” said Merlin. “D’you think they’re having a good time? Maybe I should text Gwaine.”
“I thought you were done with this?” said Freya.
“It’s like I said,” said Elena. “Daft. This is why I don’t date men, they’re all mad as hatters.” Freya hummed in agreement.
“I’m going to text Gwaine,” said Merlin. He was halfway through his message when it occurred to him that he might be interrupting. “Is that a bad idea?”
“Yes,” said Elena and Freya in unison.
Merlin sighed and ate his ice cream. It was cold and had cookie dough in it. “This isn’t working as well as I hoped.”
“Well, no shit, Sherlock,” said Elena. She climbed up onto the sofa and squeezed herself in between him and Freya. “Now you’ve made yourself jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” said Merlin. “I’m not into werewolves. Like, at all.”
“You clearly are,” said Elena. “Remember that guy in the eighties? You were so into him.”
“Well, I didn’t notice he was a werewolf until after we’d made out!” said Merlin. “He was wearing a lot of body spray. Anyway, that was different. That was the eighties. We all did daft things. You were dating guys in the eighties!”
“And eating them,” said Freya. Elena elbowed her. “Well you were!”
“Do you think they’ll have sex?” said Merlin. Gwaine was probably really good at sex. Merlin had had a lot of practice, true, but Gwaine was all smooth and charming, it had to transfer to the bedroom.
“Oh, ew,” said Elena. “Werewolf sex. Let’s not talk about werewolf sex. Gross.”
“Arthur’s not gross!” said Merlin, then winced.
“Well, he was human when you had sex with him,” said Elena. “But c’mon, two werewolves!” She giggled. “Fur flying everywhere. Howling at the moon –” Merlin dripped half-melted ice-cream on her shirt accidentally on purpose. She yelped.
“Maybe we should find you someone to date,” said Freya. “That’s the best way to get over someone.”
“Gilli’s totally into you,” said Elena.
“He’s kind of creepy, though,” said Freya.
“I’m not dating Gilli,” said Merlin.
“What about Owain?” said Elena. “Ooh! Or Sophia. She’s gorgeous.”
“I don’t know, maybe,” said Merlin. “She’s still feeding, though, I don’t know if I could do that morally.”
“Owain, then?” said Freya. “We could ask him out for you!”
“I’ll think about it,” said Merlin. He set his ice cream aside and hugged one of Freya’s furry pink cushions to his chest. Arthur and Gwaine. On their date. Eating cheesecake. Arthur feeding Gwaine cheesecake. Kissing goodnight. It was all for the best, he knew that.
“Finish your ice cream,” said Elena. “You’ll feel better. Promise.”
“It’s all melty,” said Merlin.
“There’s more in the fridge. Ooh! We have chocolate fudge brownie! Shall I get you some?”
“I’m okay,” said Merlin. “I just. I wish none of this had ever happened. I should never have moved out in the first place, I should have just stuck it out with the frogs. Then I’d never have met him at all.” He let his head fall back against the sofa cushions and sighed. “This is stupid. You’re making me all girly and feeding me ice cream.”
“Would you rather we took you to a strip club?” said Freya.
“Oh, let’s do that instead!” said Elena. “It sounds like fun.” She squeezed Merlin’s knee. “Want to go see naked ladies dancing?”
“That sounds pretty good right now,” said Merlin.
“Right,” said Elena. “Come on, then, let’s get you smartened up.”
And then, of course, there was a strip club, and then another strip club, and then there were shots, and eventually they ended up back at the King’s Coffin, because that was where they always seemed to end up, and everything seemed to be going alright.
Until, of course, Merlin came back from the bathroom and found Freya and Elena in the middle of a rather intense make-out session in the corner of the booth. So intense, in fact, that they didn’t even notice he was standing beside them until he cleared his throat. Twice.
“Oh,” said Elena. “Sorry.” Freya giggled.
“I think I’m just going to leave now,” said Merlin, backing away from the table.
“No, don’t go,” said Freya. “I’m sorry, I just –”
“It’s fine,” said Merlin. “I’ll leave you to it. Have fun. I’m going home.”
The walk home was dark and gloomy. Arthur was in his room when he got back – the light was on, and he was moving around – and Merlin almost knocked, to find out how it went, but then thought better of it.
He went back to his own bedroom and called Will instead.
“Will?” he said.
“Yeah?” said Will.
“Are you speaking to me again or are you still pissed about the werewolf sex,” said Merlin.
“No, we’re good,” said Will. “You okay?”
“I just wanted to check,” said Merlin. “You’re still single, right?”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a long time. Then, “Merlin, I’m very flattered and all, but seriously –”
“No, I was just checking,” said Merlin. “I’m not asking you out. I just. It’s not just me, right?”
“I’m still single,” said Will. “What’s this about?”
“Apparently Freya and Elena are a thing now,” said Merlin. “Or they were making out, at least.” Silence again. “Will? You still there?”
“Huh? Nah, it’s just Owain owes me twenty pounds now.”
Merlin considered this. “I hate you all,” he said. “You are no longer my friends. You’re dead to me.”
“Deader than usual, you mean?” said Will. “Fucking drama queen. See you at the Coffin tomorrow after work, yeah?” He hung up. Merlin scowled at his mobile, then tossed it on the floor. The battery popped out and skittered away under the wardrobe.
He didn’t see Arthur that morning, because he fell asleep before going to get his dinner, and when he woke up and got his breakfast Arthur was still at work. At IKEA. Where he’d met Gwaine.
Merlin had never been to IKEA, and he was still quite sleepy and hungover, so all of a sudden he found himself picturing it as full of hundreds upon hundreds of sexy Irishmen, all vying for Arthur’s attention, but that was just silly. One of Gwaine was enough.
Arthur still wasn’t back when he left for work, and by the time he arrived Gwaine was already in the middle of a phone call, and then another phone call, and another, so all in all Merlin didn’t manage to speak to him until he went to the kitchen for a break. And even then he had to put his caller on hold.
“Well?” he said.
“Well what?” said Gwaine around a mouthful of chocolate biscuit.
“How did it go?” said Merlin. “Was there cheesecake?”
“Yeah, it was alright,” said Gwaine. “Had a good time. He’s a nice guy. Don’t think we’ll be dating, though, he’s not my type.”
“What? No!” said Merlin. “No, you have to date him. You promised me!”
“I promised I’d ask him out,” said Gwaine. “I didn’t promise to marry him. Calm down, yeah?”
“But he likes you!” Merlin protested. “He fussed for ages over that date. I saw!”
“Nah, we talked about it already, actually,” said Gwaine. “We’re just going to be friends.”
“Look,” said Merlin, groping in his pockets in desperation. “I will give you a tenner to ask him out again!”
“Oh, hell no,” said Gwaine, holding up his hands. “I’m not whoring myself out for you like that!”
“You don’t have to sleep with him!” said Merlin. “It’d be very platonic.”
“Okay, look,” said Gwaine. “This whole thing, yeah? It was a little bit creepy, and now it’s starting to get seriously messed up. Drop it, yeah?” Merlin toyed with his wallet. “Besides, I’m pretty sure Arthur’s majorly into someone else, so I don’t stand to gain much from dating him.”
“What? Who?” said Merlin.
Gwaine stared at him. “You’re either completely oblivious or in deep denial,” he said. “Bloody vampires. Just ask him out, alright?”
“No,” said Merlin. “No! I’m not interested in him. Maybe I was for a while, but I’m over him now.”
“Yeah, well he’s not over you,” said Gwaine. “He kept talking about you.”
“What, really?” said Merlin. “What did he say about me? Was it good things? Or did he just complain? Because he complains about me all the time, I swear –”
“Oh, will you be quiet?” said Gwaine. “I’m not one for playing matchmaker, but seriously, you two are so ridiculous you have to be made for each other. Give it some thought, yeah?”
By the time Merlin got back to his desk, his caller had hung up, which was not going to look good. He called Will instead. “Should I date Arthur?” he said.
“Merlin, I’m trying to work,” said Will. “And you do what you like. Just don’t spread werewolf germs about, you’ll give everyone rabies.”
“You’re really not very helpful,” said Merlin.
“I know,” said Will. “Fine. I’m sick of you pining like a big soppy. Go date him, I don’t care. I’ll see you at the Coffin later.”
Merlin thought about calling Freya, but she would be working too, and his brother would be asleep (and he almost never answered his phone anyway).
So. He was by himself.
Merlin went to the Coffin after work as usual. He sat in the usual booth, with his usual friends, and tried his damnedest not to think about Arthur.
He couldn’t just ask him out – they were flatmates, they’d be stuck living together afterwards and things would get even more awkward than they were. And besides, the other vampires would probably ostracise him for seeing a werewolf. It just wasn’t done. The only logical thing to do was to end it properly and find somewhere else to live. Maybe move back in with Gaius for a while until he could find a new flat.
But on the other hand the thought of leaving Arthur ached like his newly-human lungs struggling to breathe.
“I don’t even know what I see in him,” he said to Freya. “He’s a total prat. I can’t stand him half the time.”
“Well, that’s how most relationships work anyway, so perhaps it’s for the best,” she said, patting his arm.
It was almost dawn when Merlin got home, slightly drunk, but mostly confused and miserable. He was fumbling with his keys when the door across the hall opened, and a voice said,
Merlin swung around. It was the little old shaman. “Yes,” he said. “It’s me. I live here. I’m around a lot.”
“Mmhmm,” said the shaman. “Well, young vampire, you’re in quite the predicament, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not,” said Merlin. “What the hell do you know about my predicament? I’m not in a predicament. I’m fine.”
“You’re denying yourself, young vampire,” said the shaman.
“Will you stop calling me that?” said Merlin. “I’m hardly young. I’m eighty-five. I’m probably older than you!” It was hard to tell. The shaman could have been anything between sixty and a hundred and ten.
“In the grand scheme of things, you’re young indeed,” said the shaman with a sigh. “These are matters of destiny.”
“Destiny?” said Merlin, eyebrows raised.
“A half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole,” said the shaman. “As the ocean needs the shore, the sky needs the earth, the moon rises when the sun sets; the earth may shake, the ocean may rock, the sky may thunder, but all things must come to pass. You cannot hold back the forces of kismet. You are but cogs in their design. Without both, everything will fall apart.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Merlin.
“You are but one side of a coin!” snapped the shaman, waving his hand as if this made everything clearer.
“No, I’m still not getting it,” said Merlin.
“Young vampire,” said the shaman slowly, “stop acting like a child and do what your heart tells you to do.”
“My heart doesn’t do much of anything any more,” said Merlin.
The shaman rubbed a hand across his eyes in exasperation. “Just tell him how you feel, alright?” He muttered something about literally-minded imbeciles who can’t appreciate the art of metaphor and slammed his door.
Some things, Merlin mused, were worth taking risks for.
When Arthur got home that evening – half past five, same time every night – Merlin was waiting for him. He dashed out of the kitchen as soon as he heard the front door open. “Arthur!” he said.
Arthur jumped. “Don’t pounce on me like that,” he said.
“I’m not pouncing,” said Merlin. He looked Arthur up and down. “Your shirt says IKEA.”
“Yes,” said Arthur. “It’s my work shirt. And I need to change out of it, yeah?” He tried to walk down the hall to his room, but Merlin stopped him.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he said. “We need to talk.”
“What, right now?” said Arthur.
“Yes,” said Merlin. “I spent all day psyching myself up to do this and I’ve hardly slept and it’s now or never.”
“Alright, fine,” said Arthur. “What do we need to talk about?”
“That thing we agreed not to talk about,” said Merlin.
“I think we agreed not to talk about that for a reason,” said Arthur.
“Yes, but it was a stupid reason,” said Merlin. “Look, I – you’re an utter prat, you know that?”
“I don’t like the way this conversation is going,” said Arthur. He crossed his arms.
“No, I mean – you’re a prat. And you’re often obnoxious. You’re just so – you.” He paused. Arthur had a very strange look on his face. Try as he might, Merlin couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps he was just very confused. “And, I don’t know. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. And moping. There was ice cream for a while. And a strip club.”
“Do I really need to hear about the strip club?” said Arthur.
“Probably not,” Merlin admitted. “It’s just, people kept telling me I’m going about this all wrong – I mean, Gwaine said – and even that creepy shaman guy –”
“Wait, you know Gwaine?” said Arthur.
“Yes,” said Merlin. Then, “No! I mean – that’s not important right now. What’s important is – is –” Arthur was definitely confused by now. “Did any of what I just said make sense?”
“Not as much as I’d have liked,” said Arthur.
“Fine,” said Merlin. “You know what? I give up.” He took Arthur by the bright blue collar of his work shirt and kissed him firmly.
For maybe half a second he thought Arthur wasn’t going to kiss him back, and panicked accordingly, but then Arthur’s hands were in his hair, his mouth soft and open, and it was sweet and gentle, then almost desperate, his grip tightening. They stumbled back, hit the front door with a dull thud, and kept going until they could hardly breathe.
And it was different. Of course it was. Merlin’s heart was as still in his chest as ever, and Arthur felt strange under his fingers, all hot and prickly and smelling of werewolf, wrongwrongwrong and sosogood all at once.
By the time he drew back – just a little, just enough to talk, he couldn’t bare to be more than a few inches away, and the air between their lips felt hot and damp and it was as if they were still kissing – he was shivering all over.
“You,” he said, “taste really weird.”
“You’re so cold,” said Arthur.
“Fancy warming me up?” said Merlin.
“I’ll have a go, yeah,” said Arthur.
It was strange, as if they were too caught up just kissing and touching to do anything else or even take any clothes off. They ended up in a tangled heap on Arthur’s bed, all entwined, all lips and hands and fingers and tongues, and Merlin wasn’t sure how much time passed, all he could think was finally, finally, finally.
Eventually, after what could have been hours, Arthur pulled back a little and said, “M’sorry, I pushed you away, I shouldn’t have – so stupid –”
“S’okay,” said Merlin, kissing him again. “I was stupider. You don’t even want to know how stupid.” Arthur’s lips were tugging on his ear now, his tongue dipping inside, which was probably at least a little gross for him, but Merlin didn’t care, because it felt wonderful.
“I’m going to take off your clothes,” Arthur whispered, “and then I’m going to ravish you.” Merlin laughed. He couldn’t help it.
“You are absurd,” he said, lifting his arms to take off his shirt. “And I don’t deserve it – I meant it, I was so stupid, I should tell you –”
“Later,” said Arthur. He sucked messy kisses down the lines of Merlin’s neck, down his chest, and Merlin lay back against the pillows, limp all over.
There was an awkward bump underneath one pillow, though, he realised through the haze of pleasure – Arthur was unbuttoning his jeans now, fuck. He groped under the pillow with one hand anyway, hardly even thinking about it. His fingers brushed something soft and familiar.
He tugged it out and stared at it. Recognition came slowly – Arthur was unzipping his jeans and opening them up – but yes, it was definitely his socks. One blue, one red and white.
“M’socks?” he said. Then, less succinctly, “Arthur, why are my socks under your pillow?”
“What?” said Arthur, looking up.
“My socks?” said Merlin, propping himself up on one elbow and waving them at Arthur. “I found them. Why were they under your pillow? I left them in the bathroom.”
“Oh,” said Arthur. “Oh! Right. Your socks. There’s a – perfectly reasonable explanation. For that.” He cleared his throat. “See, I found them. And. You said you’d been looking, so I kept them for you. So I could give them back. When you came home.”
“You kept them,” said Merlin. Arthur nodded. “Under your pillow.” Arthur nodded again. “In your bed. Where you sleep. My socks. That I was wearing when we –”
“Yeah, alright, don’t rub it in,” said Arthur.
“Were you pining for me?” said Merlin. He wasn’t sure whether to be gleeful or sympathetic.
“No!” said Arthur.
“You were!” said Merlin. “You were pining! You were so pining!”
“Oh God,” said Arthur, burying his face in Merlin’s jeans. “Please shut up now.”
“It’s okay,” said Merlin. He ran a hand through Arthur’s hair, petting him. “I pined too. I even pined in a strip club! Which is, in fairness, the most fun kind of pining, but – ah.” Arthur had recovered while he was talking, tugged his underwear down and taken his cock into his mouth quite abruptly, and that sort of thing tended to kill one’s capacity for coherent speech. Merlin said something like arthfhahslfipsh and sank back down against the pillows, eyes falling closed.
Of course, Arthur was a frightful tease, as always, and he stopped far too soon, gave Merlin one final lick from base to tip, then let him go and began to take off his own shirt.
“Don’ stop,” said Merlin. “Please? I – oh, god.”
“Vampires do this like normal people, right?” said Arthur once he was shirtless, working to take Merlin’s jeans off properly.
“I guess,” said Merlin. “How do normal people do it?”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Arthur. He took off Merlin’s jeans, then his socks, aiming for completion this time.
“Just don’t stop,” said Merlin. “I’m so – fuck.” He took hold of Arthur’s shoulders, then his hair, and tugged him down for another kiss. “I don’t want you to stop. Ever. We’re just going to keep going.”
“Until we die of exhaustion?” said Arthur. He unbuttoned his own jeans.
“Or starvation, whichever comes first,” said Merlin.
Arthur was naked above him, straddling him, and Merlin ran his hands up his sides, over his ribs – his chest was heaving, and Merlin could feel his pulse racing through his skin the way vampires always could, and he wanted so badly that it hurt.
Arthur rolled them over with a barely contained growl, and they kissed again, and again, getting rough and desperate, and Merlin was rutting up against Arthur’s thigh, frantic, he needed this and going by the noises Arthur was making he wasn’t much better.
Merlin buried his face in Arthur’s neck, kissed it shakily, then harder, harder, he needed it, he needed to bite something, and oh fuck –
Arthur cried out as Merlin’s fangs broke his skin, then came, hips jerking upwards wildly, long and hard, leaving him gasping (or maybe sobbing).
Merlin drew back, dripping blood across the pillows, and said, “Sorry,” mostly just sheepish.
Arthur touched his fingers to his neck. “Ow,” he said. “I suppose I should have expected that.”
“Do you mind?” said Merlin.
“Oh, probably,” said Arthur. Merlin slid off him and curled up on his side, hand covering the bite marks on Arthur’s neck.
“You taste really weird,” he said. “I’ll try not to do it again. Promise. It’s not that deep, it’ll be fine.”
Arthur rolled over to face him, tugged him close. “This is why dating a vampire is a bad idea, I suppose. I think I can handle it.”
“Are we dating now?” said Merlin. “I mean, we’re already living together, so we’ve skipped a few stages there. And, well, I can’t go outside during the day, so that’ll be awkward. And –”
“Shut up, Merlin,” said Arthur. “We’ll deal with all that tomorrow. Let’s not think about it tonight.” He stroked the back of Merlin’s neck, fond.
Merlin smiled, and nuzzled at him. He felt warm all over, and a little dreamy, and perhaps this was a terrible idea, perhaps vampires and werewolves were meant to stay well apart, but really, he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
(Besides, Arthur hadn’t actually tasted that bad.)
The next few hours brought dinner – blood and Chinese food and cheesecake – and more of the sex, and napping curled up against each other, Arthur’s breath hot on Merlin’s rapidly cooling skin, keeping him warm.
The next week was a little less pleasant (though only a little), bringing explanations –
“Wait, so how do you know Gwaine?”
“I work with him. I kind of talked him into asking you out.”
“But I met him at work!”
“Well, I kind of told him where you worked and gave him a photo so he’d be able to find you.”
“I was being stealthy!”
“Oh, you can’t talk. You kept my socks under your pillow, you creepster!”
– issues of logistics, because Merlin was asleep all day and Arthur was asleep all night, unpleasant reactions from friends (or vampires Merlin knew, anyway) –
“That’s just sick, Merlin.”
“A werewolf? Really?”
“Look, if you’re that desperate, I have this friend, she’s a bit fugly but –”
“Don’t breathe on me, I don’t want to catch it.”
– but they’d come around. Or if they didn’t, well, Merlin didn’t like most of the vampires he knew anyway.
Merlin met Morgana under more favourable circumstances –
“I’m just glad Arthur’s finally met someone. He’s been so lonely since –”
“Yes, that’s enough, Morgana.”
“Even if you are a vampire. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a vampire, it’s just – well, you make an odd couple.”
– And Arthur was formally introduced to Will and Freya, who were genial, if a little edgy –
“Look, mate, I’m sorry about all the dog jokes, yeah? I was just messing with you.”
“What, you don’t want to shake hands?”
“I’m good, thanks.”
– And Arthur and Elena got along splendidly, once they got over the initial awkwardness.
And then quite suddenly it was their one-week anniversary. A milestone, of sorts. They had to do something to celebrate.
“I’m not sure we’re ready for this,” said Arthur, lingering in the living room doorway.
“We have to do it some day,” said Merlin. “C’mon. We’ve been living together for ages, I’m sure we can handle it.” Arthur pulled an uncertain face. “What, are you scared?”
“Of course not,” said Arthur.
“Alright, then,” said Merlin. He lifted the instructions and stared down at the flat-pack furniture spread out on the floor. “Just so you know, I’ve only done this once before, so I don’t really know what I’m doing, but you’re an expert, right? I mean, you work in IKEA. So, y’know. You can do it and I’ll just direct.”
“I hate you very, very much,” said Arthur. “Hand me the screwdriver, will you?”
Merlin handed him the screwdriver. “This might be more fun with beer.”
“Trust me,” said Arthur. “Alcohol and flat-pack furniture do not mix.” He tore open the first box.
Merlin watched anxiously as the furniture went together, piece by piece – it was as baffling as he remembered, every bit of shiny wood identical to the others, all tabs and slots to be inserted, and tiny screws and twists of metal all over the floor.
But then, finally, but for a few stray bits of polystyrene scattered across the carpet, it was done – a new armchair and a bookshelf and a sideboard and a proper table for the television rather than an upturned box, and everything was put away, and the living room finally felt like a proper room.
They sat down together, backs against their new bookcase, a beer each.
“That was tiring,” said Merlin.
“Oi!” said Arthur, elbowing him. “I did all the work.”
“I was supervising,” said Merlin. “It’s very important.”
“You held the instructions and shouted at me to turn everything longways,” said Arthur. “Face it, I did everything.”
“Oh, whatever,” said Merlin. He held up his beer bottle. “Cheers!”
Arthur toasted him, an amused little smirk on his face. “Cheers.”
They drank quietly. “I was right, though,” said Merlin. “You did need new furniture.” Arthur made a non-committal sound. “Admit it. I was right!”
“If you say so,” said Arthur, his tone making it clear that he was quite definitely not admitting it, thank you very much. Merlin elbowed him hard.
“Just admit it!” he said. “Come on, give me this. I’m hardly ever right!”
“You might,” said Arthur. “Have said certain things that had a certain logic to them that influenced my decision. Slightly.”
“I told you to buy furniture and you bought furniture,” said Merlin, poking his belly. “You’re totally my bitch now!”
“Shut up, Merlin,” said Arthur.
“You’re my bitch!” Merlin crowed. “Good dog.” He petted Arthur’s hair. Arthur swatted him away.
“I hate you,” he said.
“Well, I hate you too,” said Merlin. He twisted his fingers in Arthur’s hair and pulled him in for a kiss, and it got deeper and wetter and hotter.
They ended up christening their new chair, with great glee, their beers forgotten on the floor.
All in all, it was a very successful one-week anniversary.
(And many more.)