The heat from the oven washed over Merlin as he pulled out the tray of blueberry scones and a tray of raspberry scones, leaving two trays of multiple biscuits still baking inside. He gave the scones a cursory glance, making sure they hadn’t lost their shape while baking and placed the trays on the counter to cool for a few seconds. Breathing in the smell of freshly baked scones, Merlin smiled to himself and dropped the towels he used to take out the piping hot metal pans beside the trays. He then reset the timer for the biscuits and went to grab two cooling racks and a spatula from another counter where he had set out danishes to cool earlier. He set the racks down next to the trays and quickly transferred the scones to the wire racks.
Because this was all part of Merlin’s routine, he moved quickly and swiftly around the kitchen. Once in a while Merlin would have to dodge Percy, who was baking the breads and muffins on the other side of the kitchen, when he went to grab new ingredients. Percy wasn’t one for chatting so early in the morning, so Merlin listened to the radio playing music in the background as they both worked. Sometimes the music was muffled by the electric mixers or the sound of the timers going off, but Merlin liked swaying to the songs and singing to himself as he worked.
Noticing the time, 6:45a.m., fifteen minutes to opening, Merlin began turning on the coffee machines, prepping the tea, and setting out the finished products. He set the cooled danishes and first batch of cooled scones out along the muffins and bread Percy already placed on display. He then went back and grabbed the croissants and coffee cakes. Merlin continued to move back and forth as Percy did the same, filling up the display and quickly prepping the next round of batter for when the stock inevitably ran out.
One last buzzer went off before opening. Merlin grinned as he took out the sticky buns from the oven; it was one of his favorite pastries to make, and of course eat. The smell of cinnamon filled Merlin’s senses as he began cutting up the individual rolls. He flipped each of them onto a clean platter and then drizzled the leftover remnants of pecan and cinnamon glaze over the top. Letting the glaze set, Merlin went to put the dirty dishes in a stack with the others. Percy would start washing them once Merlin opened, as they didn’t have many customers until the hour hit.
Percy was standing next to the sticky buns, staring longingly at the treat. “Are you sure we aren’t allowed to eat the specials?” Percy asked Merlin when Merlin returned from the dish room
Everyday Merlin had a special, a pastry made only for that day and since today was Wednesday, it was sticky bun day. Mondays were reserved for pumpkin spiced bread and Thursdays were for strawberry rhubarb coffee cake, and the list went on. Usually it was the same every week, but if Merlin was particularly inspired, he’d maybe change one of the days for a new creation.
Merlin laughed. “You know the recipe, you can make this at home anytime you want,” Merlin replied. He then grabbed the tray and moved out to the front room and placed them on the food warmers. As much as Merlin didn’t like heat lamps, he needed to keep the buns warm for the customers
“But mine never taste the same,” Percy complained, leaning against the entryway to the kitchen. “You have that secret ingredient in it that I can never figure out, no matter how many times I try. And Gwaine thinks that yours are better, even though he’ll try not to admit it.”
Merlin turned and grinned cheekily at Percy. “That’s why it’s called a secret ingredient.”
Percy rolled his eyes, but smiled nonetheless. The large man turned around and walked away towards the dish room.
“Morning, Drea,” Percy greeted. Merlin turned his head towards the doorway to see Drea walking through the kitchen door.
The blond girl turned back and called out, “Morning!” She turned towards Merlin. “Good morning, Merlin, mind if I grab a cup of tea before starting?"
Merlin smiled at her. “Go ahead.” Merlin turned and quickly double checked all the pastries and the display signs. “How’s your morning so far?”
Drea huffed as she put hot water into her paper cup. “I woke up late and was so close to missing the bus. I practically sprinted to the bus stop ‘cause I saw it coming down the road and that bus driver does not like waiting or stopping for anyone, he hates everyone, I swear. So I almost got run over by some chav who wasn’t looking where they were going.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here in one piece,” Merlin conceded.
“Me too,” Drea agreed with a smile as she started to head back toward the kitchen to prepare more batches of dough and mix. “Scared me shitless though.”
Merlin went around and made sure all the surfaces around the counter were clean and the three small tables were cleared off. Mostly everything else was already prepared because Merlin would do it before closing the day before, so all that was left was to turn on the radio in the shop and unlock the front doors.
By flipping the small ‘Closed’ sign over, the shop was now open for the day.
Merlin’s shop was called Alice, formerly owned by his Uncle Gaius who named it after his late wife and handed ownership over to Merlin the year before. Merlin never once thought to change the name of the shop, his Aunt Alice was loveliest woman he had ever met (beside his own mother of course) and he had been coming to the shop since he was a boy himself. Changing the name would have been an insult to his aunt’s memory as well as an insult to the loyal customers who had been going there for years.
Alice was a little bakery that resided near the business sector of central London. This meant that the majority of Merlin’s customers were businessmen and woman, but Merlin didn’t mind. Most of them had a secret sweet tooth under that diet crazed ideal and Merlin had no problem catering to their needs. The shop was nestled on the corner of a major cross street and near a tube stop. It was an ideal location, and Merlin was pretty sure that that was the reason why the bakery was still open.
Inside, the shop had a homey feel. The room was rectangular, the longer wall having the kitchen placed behind it. There were only three small tables, each with two wooden chairs. The two cream colored walls were covered in paintings and photographs from local artists and were switched out every few months. There was a small self serve counter stocked along the side wall with sugar packets, milk, and honey. Running along one of the walls was where Merlin worked, standing behind the display case, putting food into paper bags, filling up paper coffee cups and ringing up orders.
Merlin settled into his workstation. He began opening bags so that it’d be easy to slip in the pastries and he double checked the coffee pots and hot water tap for the tea.
It wasn’t too long before Merlin got his first customer. It was a regular, Mr. Kilpin, who always stopped by for his morning scone and coffee before sitting at a table for almost half an hour before heading off to open up his own shop.
Just after eight, Forridel came into work. She was a mother of two and worked in the bakery for part time, just so that she had something to do during the day as well as get extra income for her family. She mainly worked the till, often claiming that she didn’t have the patience to deal with indecisive customers, but she was always a sweetheart to everyone. Forridel was quick with the till and always spot on with her change.
Merlin greeted old customers and new ones as he moved behind the counter effortlessly, packaging pastries and conversing with each customer. Percy worked diligently alongside him during the morning rush and they moved around each other easily. It had become second nature for Merlin to know where Percy was standing and moving to next, a major improvement from when Merlin first hired Percy two years ago. Back then they had often bumped into each other and had elbows knocking into unwanted places.
The morning rush died down a little after 9:30 and Percy used this time to restock the shelves with what Drea had put in the ovens when they told her an item was running low. Drea put some of their afternoon items in the ovens and Percy helped her make more pastries while Merlin and Forridel took care of the customers.
Merlin smiled when a girl with brown hair pulled back into a low ponytail walked into the shop. “Morning, Sefa,” he greeted her as he went to grab a small box. “The usual Wednesday special?”
Sefa grinned back at him with a small dip with her head. “Of course,” she replied.
“Your boss’s in luck, there’s one left over,” Merlin said. He opened the small container and scooped the last sticky bun into it. He then grabbed the pan with a nearby towel and poured the remaining filling on top. “Extra filling, just because he flatters me with his constant need for it.”
“He’ll just complain that you want to make him fat.”
“Well, I’m obliged to fill the sweet tooth of a man in need,” Merlin countered smoothly and put the box into a bag. “And what can I get for you? Blueberry muffin or the chocolate croissant? Oh, how about you try the raspberry danish?”
Sefa laughed and shook her head. “I think the usual blueberry muffin will be fine today, Merlin.”
Merlin grinned and shrugged. He bagged up the muffin and teased, “Just trying to get you out of your comfort zone.”
“Maybe next time.”
Merlin smiled one last time at his regular customer who came in every Wednesday and Friday and passed her on to Forridel.
The rest of the day moved on the same. With Percy and Drea’s help, Merlin set out dishes for the lunch rush when customers were looking for a dessert or a snack for later. The éclairs were flying out the window as were the lemon tarts. Sometimes it was Merlin’s peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies that would sell the best or the slices of coffee cake, but Merlin usually ran out of most of the stock after the lunch rush. The left over pieces would be wrapped up and stored for the next day, but the pastries that couldn’t be saved, Merlin usually took them to the nearby soup kitchen and sold it at half price or took them home if there were only a few left.
Percy and Forridel were gone by three and Merlin closed up the shop with Drea at four. Percy, Forridel, Drea, and Merlin were the only ones who worked in the shop. Gaius worked on Saturdays to keep himself busy and wasn’t particularly ready to give up the shop. But whenever one of them needed the day off, Merlin would enlist the help of Gwen, one of his best mates, who knew all the recipes by heart. Gwen was a painter who created her own schedule and was usually more than happy to take over for a day or two every now then.
Since there were no leftovers that day, Merlin was able to make it on the tube before the majority of the workers left for the day. The carriages were still full up to the point where Merlin had to stand and make sure that his arms were always clamped to his torso, but it also meant that he would have space to take an extra step with each sway of the carriage made. There was nothing Merlin hated more than completely falling into someone else.
It was only a fifteen minute ride from where Merlin worked to his shabby little flat. Some people might describe Merlin’s place as a hole in the wall, and it kind of was, but Merlin loved it. It was cheap, in a not completely terrible area, and just small enough to fit his meager amount of belongings. There were days when the heater wouldn’t work or the water wouldn’t get warm, but it was the first place Merlin was able to rent out with his own money, no roommates or family members to lean on, just himself, and that made him feel more grown up than he probably was.
The moment Merlin stepped through the door, out of breath after climbing three flights of stairs (the lift wasn’t working again for the second time that month); Gary was twisting himself around Merlin’s legs and meowing loudly. Merlin sighed, knowing why his orange tabby cat was greeting him this way. Gary had run out of food.
“Sorry, Gary,” Merlin apologized to his cat; he had forgotten to fill up Gary’s bowl before he left. It was known to happen on occasion, when Merlin was running late or didn’t get the proper amount of sleep, he’d forget to refill Gary’s bowls with food and water, making him feel like a bad pet owner until Gary would forgive him and curl up on his lap, making it impossible for Merlin to move.
After setting up Gary with his food, Merlin went through his routine of changing into a pair of sweats and relaxing in front of the telly. He sank into the lumpy couch and flipped through the channels, hoping to find something good on, but knew that the better shows wouldn’t come on for a few hours. He wanted to lie down and take a nap, like he did in his uni days, but he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night if he did. So Merlin settled on watching The Walking Dead on Netflix from his laptop.
Halfway through an episode, while Merlin was debating what he should eat for dinner, his phone rang. Merlin who didn’t have enough money, or frankly didn’t care enough, to buy a smart phone still had his beaten up flip phone for the past four years which played the preset annoying robotic music only instead of a song of his choice.
Merlin scrambled from the couch and took the few steps into the bedroom. He fussed around with the pair of jeans he had worn until he found his phone in the front pocket. The small screen in the front told him that it was Freya calling.
Merlin flipped his phone open with a flourish. “Hey, Freya,” he greeted as he trotted back over to the couch and flopped back down.
“Hi,” she replied and Merlin could practically hear the smile in her voice. “So I think I’m craving Chinese tonight.”
“Frey, you crave Chinese almost every night.”
“It’s not my fault Seaside’s fried noodles are so delicious,” she moaned through the phone.
“That’s the MSG talking.”
“Well then, MSG is delicious.”
“I’m sure your arteries will thank you for that comment.”
“At least my stomach will love me.”
“Until you start making a hole in it.”
“Merlin,” she protested with a bit of a whine. “Stop making me feel bad about eating the noodles.”
“Don’t feel bad about eating the noodles. Their noodles are amazing, but they are not for everyday consumption. How about curry instead?”
There’s only the sound of traffic coming through the speakers for a moment before Freya replied back, “Alright. The usual?”
“Yes, please.” Merlin grinned into the phone.
“Okay, I’ll be there in half an hour. Bye.”
Merlin closed his phone and tossed it over to the other side of the couch. He settled back into watching the rest of the episode. He was about ten minutes into the next episode when the buzzer went off.
Quickly Merlin put the show on pause and ran to buzz Freya in. He unlocked the door and went to get his wallet to pay Freya for his half of the meal. The door opened when he was pulling out a few bills. While recounting his money, Merlin called out, “Hi!”
“Hey,” Freya greeted back.
Merlin went back to the living room to see Freya carrying a white to go bag in one hand and her purse hung over her opposite shoulder. Merlin moved to close and lock the door behind her.
“Ugh, I’m starving,” Merlin stated as he gave Freya a hug.
“Me too. All I had for lunch was a salad,” Freya complained.
Merlin pulled back and handed Freya his money. She took it wordlessly as Merlin replied, “I had a sandwich from Roy’s.
“Lucky. All the girls are eating salads and vegetables for lunch, so I feel bad if I start eating anything else in front of them because all they do is stare at my food.”
Freya sat down on the couch and started pulling out the containers as Merlin went into the kitchen to get them drinks.
“You know you should shove the fact that you can eat practically anything and still stay thin in their face,” Merlin joked as he sat down next to Freya.
Freya laughed. “They’d no doubt plan my demise behind my back.”
They both dug into their curry while continuing to talk about their day and their coworkers.
Freya didn’t come over every week. She worked at a veterinary office and was often wiped out every time work got out. But there were the odd days when work wasn’t all that taxing, or it was Friday, that she’d find time to hang out Merlin and her other friends.
Besides his best mate from home, Will, Freya was the person he knew the longest in London. They met this freshman year in uni, and while they didn’t become the best of friends until after they graduated, Merlin always felt some sort of kinship with the other girl. She was very understanding and easy to get along with as they had many of the same interests. If he wasn’t gay, Merlin was pretty sure they’d be almost married by now.
After they finished eating and throwing the empty containers in the bin, Merlin poured them both a small glass of wine and settled back on the couch.
“You never answered my text on Saturday by the way,” Merlin said. He fake glared at Freya who grinned sheepishly.
“Eunice told me about this pub a few streets from the office, The Rising Sun,” Freya said casually, “so we went on Saturday with her husband. It was pretty packed, but not overly so like Duke’s, you know. You could still find a table and everything. Cheap drinks, gay friendly, small dance floor, and karaoke nights on Fridays on the second floor.
Merlin stayed quiet and picked at the fraying seam of the couch. He knew what Freya was hedging at.
“I thought it would be nice to go there this Friday, since you don’t have to open on Saturdays. We haven’t gone out to a pub in a while.” Freya let the proposal hang in the air as she took a sip from her glass.
Merlin hadn’t been out anywhere of significance in months. He took the usual trips to the store and went to restaurants with friends, but these outings were routine and usually kept within a few hours. It allowed Merlin to only interact with his friends and strangers for only just a few moments. It didn’t require him to be too social or rub elbows with someone he didn’t know for an extended amount of time. And, ultimately, nor did it require him to think about how utterly single he was
Merlin wasn’t the type of person who was averse to putting himself out there. He didn’t mind, he knew that sometimes you had to embarrass yourself and get rejected, but that wasn’t his problem: Merlin was utterly tired of being used by others. He was tired of not being enough for somebody and getting his heart broken into unrecognizable pieces.
So Merlin stayed inside. He put himself in situations that were familiar and where he was in control. All because he didn’t know if he could handle fancying someone again, only to have it being taken advantage of or not be returned like he thought it was.
“I dunno,” Merlin mumbled in order to give Freya an answer. He scratched an eyebrow which portrayed that he was slightly uncomfortable.
Freya eyed her friend and with a sigh she shifted in her spot so that she was turned more toward Merlin.
“Just come out for a few drinks,” she said soothingly. “We’ll stay for a few hours and leave whenever you’d like. You don’t have to go out on the pull or talk to anybody. Just us…and maybe Gwaine and Percy because Gwaine has been complaining that he hasn’t gotten you drunk in ages.”
Merlin grinned. “Then definitely not,” he joked.
The joking tone made Freya laugh. “So I’ll take that as a yes?”
Sighing, Merlin shrugged loosely. “Just for a few hours right? And then we’ll leave?”
“I promise,” Freya agreed, a large grin breaking out on her face.
“So…you think you might be bi.”
“Yeah. I mean, I think Matt Nielsen is really hot, but you know I think Claire Waters has an amazing rack, so I figured that makes me bi, right?
Merlin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Will seemed obstinately straight, always commenting about girls and asking why Merlin would prefer dicks to tits. The comments always served as a reminder to Merlin that Will was off limits and that he shouldn’t think of him in any way except as friends. But that never really worked well.
It was because of Will that Merlin realized that he was gay. As soon as both of the boys hit puberty, Merlin found that he was attracted to his best mate. It led to many sleepless nights where Merlin stayed up berating himself for falling a bit for his best mate and days where Merlin had to stop himself from staring too long.
But this confession gave Merlin hope.
“How did you know that you were gay anyway?” Will asked, pulling Merlin from his thoughts.
Merlin rolled over on his bed, one arm hanging down along the side, to look down at Will who was flipping through a video game magazine on the floor.
He shrugged, mainly to himself. “I dunno, just kind of knew. You were always raving about girls and I just didn’t feel the same. Realized it was boys that did it for me.”
Will grunted and flipped to another page. Merlin watched him as he skimmed through the pages with his cheek squished up against the bed.
Suddenly, Will perked up and looked at Merlin. “I have a brilliant idea.”
The idea did turn out to be brilliant, Merlin thought, at the moment, because snogging your best mate who you had a small crush on for four years was more than fine.
After protesting the idea (more for appearances sake because Merlin knew that their friendship was so tight that if this didn’t work out they’d still be friends, maybe not as close as before, but they wouldn’t cut each other out of their lives; or, on the second thought, maybe he was just thinking with his dick) and before breaking down and agreeing, Merlin sat up slowly on the bed as Will plopped down next to him. Merlin’s hands shook slightly when he realized what was coming next, so he clenched them into fists. His heartbeat sped up when he saw Will start leaning in toward him and their knees pressing against each other; he didn’t know if he was ready for this.
Merlin had never kissed anyone before, in a small town with just over a thousand people; it was hard to find another boy who swung his way, even though statistics said that it’s highly probable. He always thought that he’d have to wait until university to find someone.
The kiss was awkward, more so on Merlin’s part than Will’s, Will had at least kissed a girl a few times before. Merlin didn’t know what to do with his mouth or his hands or if and when he should bring his tongue into play. Actually, the question was more of how he should use his tongue because he never really understood what was so great about another person’s tongue wiggling around in your mouth.
After a minute or so of Will pulling back and giving Merlin little tips like tilting his head or sucking a little bit harder when he took one of Will’s lips between his own, Will pulled back completely.
Merlin’s eyes opened slowly, afraid of the look of pity or rejection on Will’s face. The kiss wasn’t what he expected his first kiss to be like, especially since it was with Will. He wanted to live in this moment of the frantic beating of his heart and sweating of his palms a little while longer before reality set in.
“Not so bad, I guess,” Will said with a shrug. He grinned sharply. “I guess we’ll just have to try it out a bit longer before I make my decision.”
Merlin’s smile spread slowly across his face as he registered the words.
From there on out, whenever they were bored or horny and no one was home at either of their houses, they’d kiss until their lips were puffy and red. And down the line, groping over clothes started getting involved which led to frotting and poorly done handjobs and blowjobs.
Merlin was living in bliss when he didn’t think too hard about the turn in their relationship. He never pushed Will for more than he was willing to give, but Merlin was always secretly disappointed that they never went out on dates. When they went out into town it was only as mates, Will still checked out other girls, and now boys, and wasn’t hesitant give Merlin his opinion. Will even asked a girl out in front of Merlin. Every time something like this happened, Merlin felt something twisting low in his stomach. It made him restless at night, but he would tell himself over and over that they made no commitment to each other. Will was free to do as he pleased; he had no idea of Merlin’s feelings for him so it wasn’t like Will would know to be sensitive to Merlin’s feelings. As far as Will was aware, they were just friends with benefits and that title made Merlin’s chest hurt.
It had been a surprise to Merlin, when going into his final year of secondary school, that Gemma Marcello caved in to Will’s advances. It was unexpected in the sense that Merlin distinctly remembered Gemma telling Will off every few days or so the previous year, but Merlin didn’t claim to know the female mind very well.
After that, the ‘benefits’ stopped, which Merlin respected, but Will hadn’t said anything to Merlin. He didn’t acknowledge that something was going on between them that could possibly develop further, and this hurt because Merlin had found himself growing a little too attached to Will and what they were doing.
So the first few weeks, Merlin avoided Will and Gemma together as best as he could and moped around his house. His mother, Hunith, tried to get him to admit what was wrong, but Merlin was too embarrassed. Merlin couldn’t admit that he had become too invested in a relationship that was going nowhere and that he felt used for sex and experimentation by his best mate. The situation hurt and every time Merlin saw Will there’d be a twinge in his chest.
Mostly Merlin was mad at himself for being too eager to be with Will in any possible way he could, for believing that he’d be okay when it all stopped. He was an idiot to think so.
By the time Merlin was able to overcome his misery, he had received his letter from UCL and knew he would be parting ways from Will by the end of the summer. He was finally able to talk to Will like normal and not feel like someone had punched his chest when he saw Will and Gemma kiss.
Merlin’s only hope was that he wouldn’t put himself through a situation like that again when he went to uni.
“Merlin! It’s been ages, man!”
Merlin got the air knocked out of his lungs when Gwaine embraced him in a tight hug. Merlin patted his friend’s back lightly with what little arm movement he had.
“Good to see you too, Gwaine,” Merlin said with a grin, once he was able to breathe when Gwaine pulled away. Gwaine winked at him as he slapped him on the shoulder.
Merlin smiled a ‘hello’ at Percy who was standing behind Gwaine.
“Freya, my lovely,” Gwaine then exclaimed as he wrapped up Freya in a hug as well.
“Hi,” she replied into his shoulder. She then moved over to Percy to say ‘hi’ to him and give him a hug as well. Merlin smiled to himself about their difference in size, Freya’s head was basically smashed against the center of his chest.
“Thanks for coming,” Freya told them as they moved toward the pub.
“Thank you for getting Merlin here,” Gwaine countered, making Merlin rolled his eyes amicably.
The group of friends walked down the road toward the pub. The Rising Sun was painted horizontally along the top panel of wood. There was music pumping out the door whenever it swung open and there were a handful of people scattered about outside.
Merlin felt his heart pounding a little faster as they neared the door. It was irrational, but Merlin was nervous, pubs were unpredictable; people were unpredictable. Freya wrapped her arm around his, and Merlin felt marginally better, but still slightly worried.
Inside the pub, the lights were dimmed considerably. The interior was made of mostly dark wood with the bar along the left side and a small dance floor in the back near where a DJ was set up. There were booths along the right wall and tables in the middle scattered between support poles. In the back there was a set of stairs where Merlin guessed led to the second floor.
True to what Freya said, the pub was full, but there was still room to move and breathe. She led them through the throngs of people towards the staircase. Merlin glanced behind him to see Gwaine swaying along to the beat as they passed the dance floor and Percy pushing him along. He turned back forward and chuckled.
Upstairs had the same basic set up as below but the lights were brighter and there was a small stage on top of the miniature dance floor for karaoke instead. There were less people on this level and Merlin could spot open tables unlike below.
Merlin avoided looking at anyone as Fryea pulled him toward a square table closer to the bar, but near the windows on the far side of the room.
As they all settled down in seats, Gwaine remained standing. “First round on me, what’re you having Freya?” he asked, pulling off his jacket and hanging it on the back of the chair.
“No, it’s okay, I’ll get my own,” Freya protested.
“Me too,” Merlin chimed in.
Gwaine waved them away with a grin. “You’ll never get this chance again, take advantage while you have it.”
They all laughed as Freya thought it over. “Just a vodka cran then, please,” she told Gwaine who nodded toward Merlin
“Guinness for me,” Merlin said.
Gwaine smiled and then shook Percy’s shoulder. “Come help me carry the drinks.”
Percy rolled his eyes, but got up smoothly with a smile toward Gwaine. “I thought you were good with your hands,” Percy joked. “Can’t carry four drinks at once?”
Swatting Percy’s ass lightly, Gwaine nudged him toward the bar saying, “I’m just saving their talent for later, if you’re lucky.”
Merlin watched them walked away bickering all the while as Gwaine unsubtly slipped his hand into Percy’s back pocket. He sighed heavily.
Freya rubbed his arm and Merlin glanced at her. “You’ll find your Prince Charming…and hopefully he’ll have a best mate who needs a girlfriend,” she said with a laugh. Merlin laughed along with her.
The mention of Prince Charming led to a discussion of Disney movies where Freya claimed that The Aristocats was the best and Merlin countered with the classic The Lion King. They were still squabbling when Gwaine and Percy made it back to their table with their drinks. The conversation then turned into a good-natured argument as Gwaine and Percy argued for their favorites.
“Oh, God, someone’s drunk,” Gwaine laughed as he turned around in his seat to get a look at the middle aged man who was butchering Living On a Prayer and stumbling around the stage.
“I’d like to see you try and sing in front of a bunch of strangers,” Freya replied.
Percy hung his head in his hands when Gwaine started to grin wildly. “No, no, no. Oh, no, Freya, don’t,” Percy chanted.
“Is that a challenge I hear?” Gwaine asked.
Merlin laughed and told Freya, “You know he’ll do it. He’s completely shameless.”
Freya sighed and leaned forward, when Gwaine did nothing but stare at her with his eyebrows raised in questioning. “Fine, I’ll give you a tenner if you sing a song of my choosing,” she said.
“Only if I know the words,” Gwaine replied.
“I’m sure that won’t be a problem.”
“Deal.” Gwaine held his hand out and Freya shook it.
“Now get me a song book and a sign up paper,” Freya demanded cheekily.
Gwaine grinned as he ran off toward the DJ who was running the karaoke.
Percy and Merlin turned on Freya, giving her suggestions on what Gwaine should sing. Anything from Britney Spears to Adele was thrown out in hopes of embarrassing Gwaine.
When Gwaine came back with the song book, Freya had quickly flipped through the book, ignoring any suggestions from the boys. Suddenly, she grinned as she took the pen and paper from Gwaine.
“You’ll love this one,” she cried as she wrote down the information.
With an eat shitting grin, Freya handed the paper to Gwaine who immediately started laughing, his head hanging back. Percy tried looking over his shoulder, but Gwaine immediately held the paper against his chest. He then tried to grab it out of his hands, but Gwaine squirmed away.
“What is it?” Merlin asked with laugh, feeling left out on the joke.
“You’ll see,” Gwaine replied before he took the paper and booklet back up to the front.
The two boys turned on Freya. “What did you give him?” “I really hope it was Miley Cyrus or something.” “You do know you’re going to lose.” “Are you really not going to tell us?”
Gwaine came back and said, “He said it’ll be a bit of a wait.”
This gave Merlin and Percy time to try and guess what the song was.
During the wait, Merlin began to really relax and feel good about the outing. He polished off two pints and was slowly making his way through a third one. Merlin missed this, he missed hanging out with his friends and drinking a few beers as they all got a little silly from the alcohol. He realized that he needed to make more time for nights like these.
Their conversation stopped when Gwaine was called up over the speakers. Gwaine laughed as he stood up. The three at the table cheered as Gwaine made his way to the front.
None of them could stop smiling as Gwaine took the stage next to the telly with a wireless microphone in hand. Percy took out his phone and began recording.
Merlin waited in anticipation for the song to start. He wasn’t disappointed when he heard the first line of the song and Gwaine being to sing.
“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want…”
Merlin broke down in laughter as Gwaine got into singing Spice Girls. He was off key, but he got the rhythm and lyrics, so he made up for it. Percy was almost shaking so much from laugher that he couldn’t hold up his phone and Freya was busting up into giggles as Gwaine flipped his hair around.
When the song came to an end, the room broke out into applause, more cheers than some of the previous singers, not counting the one girl who seemed to be able to belt out Amy Winehouse almost shit-faced. Gwaine took a bow and winked at the crowd, or maybe at Percy, Merlin didn’t know.
“That was fantastic,” Percy told Gwaine once he got to the table. He wrapped a large arm around Gwaine’s waist as Gwaine leaned down to plant a kiss on Percy’s lips.
“Thanks,” Gwaine replied grinning. He then bragged as he slid into his seat, “I believe someone owes me ten pounds.” Percy reached beneath the table and squeezed Gwaine’s knee.
Freya looked at Gwaine like she was unimpressed, but her lips betrayed the look and she went into her purse to pull out the money she owed him.
“I think you enjoyed that too much,” Merlin said before taking a drink from his glass.
“I enjoyed it very much,” Gwaine agreed. “I think you guys should do it, too.”
Merlin scoffed. “Yeah, right,” he replied. “I’m never getting up there, thanks. I can embarrass myself enough without announcing it to the whole room.
“C’mon, Merlin,” Gwaine whined. “It’s supposed to be fun."
“Here,” Freya said as she handed Gwaine the money.
“Thank you.” He pocketed the money with a grin. “More beer money.”
Suddenly, Merlin was hyperaware of a stranger stopping by their table, standing to Gwaine’s right, and lightly tapping Gwaine on the shoulder. The man was tall, broad shouldered with golden hair and strong jaw. He was the type of man who was good looking and knew it. Merlin immediately turned his eyes downward.
“That was great,” the man said to Gwaine once Gwaine turned toward him. “I’ve never heard Spice Girls sung by a bloke, usually it’s a lot of girls just laughing through the whole song.”
“Tah, mate, but I gotta give a performance if I’m doing it for a bet, y’know,” Gwaine replied.
The man grinned with crooked teeth on one side that most definitely did not endear him to Merlin.
“Yeah? What’d you win?”
“Just a tenner, but better than nothing.”
“I feel like you would do it without a bet going on.”
“I would actually,” Gwaine laughed and gestured at Freya, “but she bet me so I had to accept.”
“I agree,” he replied. “I can never back down from a bet either.”
There was a beat of silence as the conversation seemed to stop and Merlin hoped the man would use this time to say his goodbye and walk away, but, of course, hope was never on Merlin’s side.
“I’m Arthur by the way,” he said as he stuck his hand out to Gwaine. “I’m here all the time and I’ve never seen you lot here before.”
Gwaine shook Arthur’s hand. “Gwaine, and yeah, it’s out first time here,” Gwaine replied. He pointed at Percy, “This is my boyfriend Percy.”
Arthur smiled as he turned his hand toward Percy. “Arthur,” he said as they shook hands.
“This is Freya,” Gwaine said directing Arthur to the only girl at the table. He waited for them to shake hands before Gwaine pointed towards Merlin. “And that’s Merlin.”
Merlin barely noticed when Arthur’s grin widened slightly; he was more focused on the large hand placed in his eye line. Merlin’s eyes trailed up from the hand, up the defined arm past the curve of the shoulder and over the expanse of Arthur’s neck. Merlin hesitantly made eye contact as he reached out to shake Arthur’s hand. When their hands connected, Arthur’s palm almost burning against Merlin own, Arthur’s smile softened and he seemed to hold onto Merlin’s hand longer than the rest. After Merlin’s hand was returned, Merlin immediately shoved it under his other arm to keep them crossed over his chest.
“Merlin,” Arthur repeated, mainly to himself, before saying, “I’ve never met a Merlin before."
Merlin nodded slowly. “Well, now you have.”
“Are you named after the bird or the wizard?”
Merlin’s mouth thinned. He had been made fun of for his name a few times, it was childish and annoying. “Does it matter?”
It didn’t take long for Arthur’s grin fall and change into confusion. Arthur shrugged. “I was just wondering. I was named after King Arthur myself, and I was just going to say it would be perfect if you were named after Merlin the wizard, then that would mean that we were destined to meet.”
Merlin’s eyebrows rose steadily. “Destined.”
“Yeah, destined,” Arthur confirmed with a nod. “Do you not believe in destiny?”
“Can’t say that I do,” Merlin replied.
Arthur smiled almost predatorily, “Well, maybe I can change that.”
Merlin’s cheeks heated up under Arthur’s stare and he shifted in his seat knowing that his friends were watching him and listening in on the conversation, listening in on Arthur flirting with Merlin. Merlin himself could barely believe that a man who looked like Arthur would take the time to flirt with Merlin let alone give him a second glance. Merlin knew that he wasn’t much to look at.
There was a moment that passed where Merlin did nothing but stare at Arthur in slight shock and Arthur stared back.
Gwaine broke the silence, like he usually did. “It was nice meeting you Arthur,” Gwaine said as he stood up and pulled at Percy’s arm. “But Percy and I are going to check out downstairs.”
Arthur tore his eyes away from Merlin’s to say goodbye to the two boys. Merlin glared at Gwaine’s back for ditching him at a time like this.
Freya took this opportunity to lean over to Merlin. She leaned close to his ear. “Let me know if you wanna go, okay?” she whispered. Merlin nodded as she leaned back.
After Gwaine and Percy left, Arthur gestured at Gwaine’s chair and asked them both, “May I?”
Freya looked at Merlin for his answer. Merlin studied Arthur for a moment before nodding. Arthur grinned at Merlin as he took a seat across from him.
“So, Merlin,” Arthur started as he leaned forward onto his elbows, “do you have a boyfriend?”
Merlin, who was taking a sip of his beer, almost choked from the straight forward question. Slowly, Merlin put down his cup and cleared his throat. “No. And I’m not looking for one either. Just in case you’re implying that we’re destined to be together.”
“I never said that I was looking for boyfriend, not to say the opposite either,” Arthur replied. “But I just wanted to make sure because I’m pretty sure Percy was going to punch me in the face before he realized that I wasn’t into Gwaine and I didn’t want your boyfriend coming around to hit me for coming on to you.”
Merlin huffed. “I don’t even understand why you’re hitting on to me in the first place.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Cause you got a nice arse,” he said bluntly.
Merlin’s eyes widen slightly and stuttered, “Umm…thank you?”
Shrugging like it wasn’t a big deal, “You could gain a few pounds though. You look like you'll fall over any minute now.”
Merlin’s embarrassment quickly turned to anger, but before he could reply, Freya piped up, “Piss off, just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you can pick on Merlin for being skinny.”
“I’m not fat!” Arthur cried. “This is all muscle, I’ll have you know.”
“Doesn’t look like it to me.”
Arthur turned to Merlin, a look of astonishment on his face, “Are you going to let a girl fight your battles for you?”
“When she’s kicking your arse, of course I am,” Merlin instantly replied.
“She’s not kicking my arse.”
“She would if you let her.”
“You two are impossible,” Arthur said before he went on a tirade about his harpy of a sister and somehow ended up sitting at their table for another fifteen minutes chatting and trying his best to flirt with Merlin, who avoiding looking back at him like the plague and definitely didn’t notice his charming smile thank you very much.
When Arthur finally left, saying that he had to get back to his friends, Merlin turned to Freya and said, “Well that was interesting. I definitely didn’t think that was going to happen.”
Freya merely rolled her eyes.
Merlin met Edwin during his second semester of his freshman year in a sociology class. Edwin was a fellow curly, blond haired freshman who lived two floors below and had an extreme interest in bugs. He was smart, if a little too laid back and boring for Merlin’s taste, but Merlin liked the way his eyes lit up whenever Merlin remembered something Edwin had said about his favorite bugs. Merlin enjoyed talking to Edwin and learning things from him that he would never know in a million years.
It was Merlin who worked up the courage to ask the other boy out. He was more than ecstatic when Edwin said yes. They dated for three weeks before Merlin asked if they were officially a couple, Edwin had shaken his head fondly at Merlin and told him that of course they were, and Merlin became embarrassed because he didn’t know how these things worked.
They went on dates and had sex whenever they could find the time between schoolwork, Merlin’s job in the cafeteria, and classes or when one of their roommates were gone.
Merlin barely batted an eyelid when Edwin asked for money for food. He only asked for a five and Merlin figured that Edwin would pay him back whenever he got cash from the bank.
A week later, Edwin asked for ten pounds.
“What do you need ten pounds for?” Merlin asked as he opened his wallet and handed over two fives.
“Oh, food,” Edwin replied belatedly. “My parents have been strapped for cash lately.”
Merlin nodded in understanding. “Do you want me to go food shopping with you next time?”
“No, it’s alright. I only need a few things.”
After a while it became habit for Merlin to give Edwin money for food every week or every few days.
One day two weeks from summer break, Edwin asked Merlin to drop off some money at his dormitory and said that if his roommate Ross wasn’t in, he could just slip it in under the door.
Ross happened to be in when Merlin stopped by.
“Hey, I have some food money for Edwin,” Merlin said after Ross opened the door. “He told me to drop it off.”
Ross looked confused and replied, “Food money? Edwin pays for food off his card like everyone else does."
“Well, he goes to the store, right?”
“Not that I’m aware of…oh, no.” Ross sighed and leaned his head against the door. “I think you should come in for a minute.”
Merlin frowned deeply as he shuffled by the other boy. He stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, unused to being in there without Edwin’s presence.
Ross closed the door behind him and leaned back on it. “So you’ve been giving Edwin money every week, huh?”
Merlin nodded. He asked slowly, “Is that a problem?”
“Merlin…I’m only telling you this because you seem like an alright bloke and I don’t have any idea as to what you see Edwin, but Edwin hasn’t been using that money for food. He’s been using it to buy pot.”
It took a second for Merlin to realize what Ross had said and Merlin’s stomach dropped. “What? No. How do you know that?"
With a sigh, Ross pushed off the door and invaded Edwin’s privacy by going through his drawers until he pulled out a clear, air tight container. Inside there were multiple little baggies of weed and beside it were the notes that Merlin had given him the week before.
“I don’t understand why he would…” Merlin muttered in shock. “He told me he needed the money for food.”
Ross shook his head. “He said once that his parents don’t give him any access to his accounts. So I wondered where he got the money from,” Ross explained quietly before putting away the container to exactly where he had found it the first time out of curiosity.
As he ran his hands through his hair, Merlin shook his head said, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I’m sorry,” Ross said softly. “I thought if it was you giving him the money, you knew what it was for.”
Closing his eyes and shaking his head, Merlin took a deep breath to say, “No, I…I had no idea. I never thought that he was using the money for anything other than food.”
There was silence as Ross let Merlin grasp the situation. Merlin felt like an idiot. He felt dumb and betrayed. How could he have not seen this? How did he miss the faint smell of weed that wafted off of Edwin’s clothes? How ignorant did he have to be to not register the different moods he often found Edwin in?
Merlin felt like running his head through the wall.
“Thanks, Ross, for telling me,” Merlin finally said once he got his mouth to start working again.
He headed for the door, but paused before leaving. Merlin turned back to Ross who was getting back to his homework at his desk. “Don’t tell him I came by?”
“Of course not,” Ross agreed before they said their goodbyes and Merlin left and fled back to his dorm.
Once he got back to his dorm, Merlin buried himself in his bed and ignored all the texts he received from Edwin. He was angry and miserable. He felt like a walking checkbook with what little money he had, only there to use at Edwin’s disposal. In the beginning, Edwin maybe had a little interest in him, but as soon as Merlin had given over the first note, the relationship had changed. Merlin was a piggybank and Edwin was a leech, staying around only for the reward of money.
Merlin broke up with Edwin that night, trying to stand tall and not break down in front of him. He demanded all of his money back, but knew that he wouldn’t see a pence of it.
There was nothing very attractive about Cedric. He was just about as skinny as Merlin was, but with slightly greasy hair and a lopsided smile. But Cedric was charming when he had introduced himself to Merlin in the commons. He seemed confident in his ways and wasn’t at all shy to give his opinion; Merlin liked that.
Merlin had set up a small study table for when Cedric walked up to him and began talking about a mutual class they shared together. Cedric had pointed out a book on Merlin’s table and they ended up talking for an hour before Cedric asked Merlin if he would help him out with the coursework. Merlin agreed.
Soon after that they met up twice a week at the local café and they would go over the homework for that week or study if there was a quiz.
Merlin was surprised when Cedric started flirting with him. At least, Merlin thought it was flirting; he didn’t have very much experience in the flirting department. But much to Merlin’s disappointment, it didn’t go any further than the flirting. They never met up outside of the café and never sat together in class. Merlin wasn’t very sure if he really liked Cedric in that way, but he knew that it wasn’t an impossibility. Ever since Edwin the previous year, Merlin was determined to find someone who actually liked him.
It was only about three weeks after they started meeting up that instead of working together through the problems, usually taking up to two hours, Cedric said that he needed to cut the meetings short due to other obligations and just wanted to see what Merlin wrote in order to get an idea of what he needed to do.
Merlin offered to move the meetings to a different time, but Cedric protested. So Merlin handed over his work and let Cedric look it over. He frowned when Cedric copied down a good portion of what he wrote, but didn’t say anything.
The next time, Cedric did the same thing, but this time he asked Merlin out on a date before he left. Merlin said ‘yes’ and grinned for the rest of the day.
Their date was a simple dinner at a local restaurant. Conversation flowed easily between them and Merlin laughed for a good portion of the date. They even went for drinks afterward and Cedric continued to entertain him with funny stories.
That night Merlin went home with a kiss on his lips and the ghost of fingers pressing against his skin.
The next few times Cedric cut their meetings short and copies what Merlin writes, but he asks Merlin out for a date that night or buys him a coffee in apology.
“Mr. Emerson,” Professor Bautista called after class one day, “can I speak to you for a minute please?”
With his heart pounding in his chest, Merlin made his way to the front of the room. “Yes, Professor?”
His professor smiled wanly as he pulled out two copies of their previous homework assignment and placed it on the table between them. Merlin recognized one as his and almost immediately as he sees the handwriting on the other packet, Merlin notices Cedric’s handwriting. His stomach drops.
“I was reading over the assignments the other day and realized that many of Mr. Crowe’s sentences were exactly the same as yours,” Professor Bautista said slowly. He pushed Cedric’s homework toward Merlin and he picked it up. Merlin’s eye flitted through the paragraphs of Cedric’s answers and recognized many of Merlin’s sentences that were copied almost word for word. There were some differences, yes, but they were not enough to be convincing.
“I don’t know if you and Mr. Crowe work together or you let him borrow your homework,” the professor said gently, “but I do not take to plagiarism lightly. If I see this happening again I will take it to the Dean, am I clear?”
Merlin swallowed and nodded quickly. He shakily put the papers back down on the table.
“Good, I’ve already spoken to Mr. Crowe before class, and he’s had the same warning, I hope I don’t see anything like this cross my desk again.”
“You won’t, I’m sorry,” Merlin said.
The professor gave Merlin a long look before nodding and dismissing him.
Once the feeling of being terrified passes, Merlin sought Cedric out. He was confused as to why Cedric would do something so stupid. Anyone with a brain would know to rewrite everything, but Merlin knew that he only had himself to blame. He shouldn’t have been handing Cedric his homework in the first place. Just because Cedric gave him attention and seemed like he liked him didn’t mean that Merlin had to hand his homework over without question.
Merlin had texted Cedric and met up with him outside the café.
“Hey,” Cedric greeted as he walked up to Merlin. He leaned in to give Merlin a kiss, but Merlin stepped back and turned his head to the side. “Alright then. Is this about the homework?”
Merlin rolled his eyes and spat out, “Of course it’s about the homework. How dumb are you to not even change up the wording? I’m not going to get kicked out of uni because of you.”
Cedric sighed, his arms flopping at his sides. “I’m sorry, okay? I just forgot to do it until that morning, so I was a little rushed to get it done. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“Yeah, it won’t happen again,” Merlin said darkly. “I’m not giving you my homework like that again.”
At this, Cedric began to get angry. “Why not? I told you I’d be more careful next time.”
“Sorry, but I’m not risking it.”
Cedric threw his arms up. “Fine then. It was nice knowing you, thanks for the waste of time.”
Then Cedric brushed past Merlin and began walking away. The last sentence clicked through Merlin’s mind and Merlin rushed after him.
“What the hell does that mean?” Merlin asked, trailing after Cedric until he stopped and faced Merlin.
Cedric replied acidly, “It means we’re done. Why would I want see you again if you’re not going to let me see your homework?”
Merlin’s shoulders dropped as what felt like a bucket of ice fell over him. He searched Cedric’s face for any trace of regret of saying those words; there was none.
“So you’re saying you only went out with me so that I would give you my homework,” Merlin fumed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Why else did you think I met up with you in the first place?” Cedric scoffed. “Because I liked you? Because you’re hot?” At the mocking tone, Merlin curled in on himself and turned his stare to the floor. “And yeah, I asked you out because I felt sorry for you and could see that you were practically gagging for it.”
Tears began to sting at the back of Merlin’s eyes, but he held them in. It was humiliating, standing in the middle of the pavement and getting degraded by a man that resembled a rat. Merlin knew that he wasn’t very good looking, but he had hoped to hell that he was considered better looking than Cedric.
“You’re such an arsehole,” Merlin finally said, shaking his head. “Stay away from me.”
At that, Merlin walked away, his speed increasing as the pain in his chest grew and Cedric’s words repeated themselves in his head. Merlin felt disgusted and low, he shouldn’t have put any faith in Cedric in the first place, but it wasn’t like boys were lining up around the block for him.
Now once again Merlin went back home to his flatshare with Gwen and buried himself in his bed, feeling used and dejected.
Merlin did not think about Arthur during the week. He didn’t think about his laugh or his smile or the way his voice sounded all proper and posh. He also didn’t think about the way Arthur’s eyes were trained to his whenever he looked up.
To get Arthur off his mind, Merlin threw himself into his baking. Over the weekend, since he didn’t work on Saturdays and Alice was closed on Sunday, he baked two pies, a set of oatmeal raisin cookies, and some cake pops. When Freya stopped by on Sunday to hang out for a few hours, she made questionable looks at Merlin’s creations, but didn’t say a word as to why there were so many baked goods. Merlin was relieved when she took a pie and the cookies off his hands to bring in to work the next day.
When Monday rolled around, Merlin tried to avoid Percy as best as he could without making it seem like he was avoiding him, even though Percy was the least likely of his friends to pester him about Friday night. He concentrated on making each pastry to perfection when he was usually able to make them on autopilot.
Merlin wasn’t surprised on Wednesday when Freya came over again, but this time bearing the noodles from Seaside that she wanted the previous week. Together they ate the noodles while watching The IT Crowd off his laptop.
He also wasn’t surprised when she brought up going to The Rising Sun again that Friday.
“No, no, I can’t,” Merlin protested, his mouth still half full of food.
“Is this because of Arthur? You don’t even know if he’s going to be there again.”
“He will, you do remember him saying that he’s there every Friday right?”
Freya rolled her eyes. “If he’s there every Friday night, then he must not have much of a life outside going to the same pub every single weekend.”
“Still, I really don’t want to risk it.”
“Come on, Merlin, he really wasn’t that bad,” Freya complained. Merlin scoffed and shoved more food in his mouth. “Sure he kept flirting with you, but he didn’t push it. He even included me in the conversation in order to not make you feel awkward. How nice was that?”
“Oh, yeah, real nice of him,” Merlin said sarcastically.
“Merlin. Stop it."
Merlin sighed and slouched further into his couch. He poked at his noodles while Freya sat with him in silence.
When he thought about it, yeah, Arthur was pretty nice in that respect, even though he was honestly a real prat otherwise. And although Merlin kept shutting him down whenever he could, Arthur didn’t back down, but even though Arthur wasn’t getting anything, he didn’t push for a major reaction. Arthur was harmlessly flirting with him; it was more of a teasing flirtation with barbed words and insults. Arthur didn’t ask for Merlin to fall into his arms, he didn’t offer a drink or push Merlin into going out with him; Arthur had sat and talked; only talked.
“I’m just not ready to be in any kind of relationship,” Merlin admitted.
Freya smiled gently. “I know, but there’s no harm in flirting and telling him to back off when you need him to.”
“I know. I just,” Merlin started to say, but cut himself off when he remembered Arthur’s crooked smile and golden hair. He closed his eyes and groaned as he tipped over, mindful of the plate of noodles in his hands. His face was squashed against the seat cushion when he moaned, “He’s too hot for me."
Freya giggled as she reached over and took Merlin’s noodles out of the way to place them beside hers on the coffee table. “Is that what you’re worried about? That’s he too good looking?”
Merlin sat back up. “Freya did you see him?” Merlin all but wailed. “He was like some sort of sun god with all that hair and smiling. I cannot go out with a man like that. He should be out pulling blokes that look like Gwaine and Percy, not me.”
Freya’s smile from earlier had morphed into a frown. “Merlin, you’re gorgeous, I don’t know why you’ll never see that.”
Sighing, Merlin ran a hand through his hair and leant his head back. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m just afraid that Arthur’s doing this for shits and giggles.”
Freya grasped Merlin’s hand in hers. “You know, I have never seen a bloke look at you like that before.”
With a snort Merlin said, “What? Like a lion stalking its prey.”
“No, like the way Lance looks at Gwen,” Freya corrected. “You know that look, where his whole face brightens and it seems like there’s nobody else in the world but her in his eye sight.”
Merlin knew that look; he knew it all too well. He shook his head in objection because there was no possible way that Arthur looked at him like he had hung the moon and the stars. Not after only thirty minutes of talking. “No, you’re wrong; Arthur looked nothing like that at all.”
“He did! You wouldn’t know because you spent half the time avoiding looking at him. And why would I lie about that? You know I wouldn’t get your hopes up like that.”
“Because that would mean that he likes me and Freya, nobody likes me.”
“Don’t be daft, I’m sure –”
“No, Freya,” Merlin cut in. “No one in my life, ever, has liked me for me. They have all wanted something, whether it was money or to get to someone else or some other shit, no one has actually genuinely liked me. And it’ll be the same for Arthur, he’ll just use me and throw me away once he gets what he wants.”
“Maybe Arthur’ll be different.”
“He won’t,” he said, convinced.
“Then don’t date him. Just relax and flirt a bit. You need that. You can be friends at least.”
Just then Gary jumped up onto the couch between the two of them and sat himself down on Freya’s lap. Freya cooed and scratched his head. Gary had a love of sprawling over Freya whenever he could. Merlin thought it was because he could smell the other animals on her and was only trying to gain more attention from her because he certainly never did that to him no matter how many times he tried to get him to sit on his lap.
Merlin sighed as he played with Gary’s tail that was waving from side to side. “Maybe next week instead?” he asked hopefully.
“That’s fine,” Freya smiled. Freya squeezed Merlin’s hand again and whispered, “I just want to see you happy.”
Merlin smiled at her and leaned over so that he was resting his head on her shoulder. The subject of Arthur and The Rising Sun wasn’t brought up again in favor of watching Roy walk topless through an office building.
Merlin didn’t think it was such a bad trade off.
The next week flew by fast, but it seemed as though every week since he graduated uni went by fast. When Friday came, Merlin was a bundle of nerves. If Merlin was completely honest, the attention that Arthur gave him was flattering. He knew that he wasn’t going to give in to Arthur’s advances (if he was even there that night), but the thought that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that Arthur legitimately liked him, made Merlin’s insides squirm and his chest flutter.
Then the thought struck him. What would happen if Arthur was there, but didn’t approach Merlin like he did before? What if he figured that Merlin wasn’t worth the time and didn’t pay Merlin any attention? The idea made his heart sink, but he forced himself to not think like that. He didn’t need Arthur’s, or anyone’s, attention to make him feel better about himself (but who was he kidding really).
The next thing Merlin knew, he was muttering to himself as he decided what clothes to wear, telling himself that he didn’t want to date Arthur, that Arthur didn’t like him no matter what Freya said, and that Arthur, really, wasn’t interested in him at all, he just a naturally friendly person who happened to flirt a lot with random strangers. Merlin didn’t know if he believed himself or not.
Merlin dressed himself comfortably that night and tried to make it look like he didn’t make any more effort than he did for his wardrobe two weeks before. He wore the same black jacket, but chose a blue plaid button up and swapped his usual blue jeans for his tighter black ones. So maybe it did look like Merlin made more of an effort with his clothing, but it was nothing that Merlin wouldn’t normally wear for a night out. He told himself over and over that he wasn’t dressing up for Arthur, he just didn’t want to be worrying about his appearance all night.
After changing his clothes, Merlin met up with Freya at her place and from there they walked to the pub.
“Yes! Gwen said she and Lance are coming tonight,” Freya said without looking up from her phone. Merlin assumed that she was reading a text that just came in from Gwen.
“Really?” Merlin asked excitedly. “I haven’t seen them in weeks.”
Merlin had texted both of them sometimes, but of course it didn’t match up to seeing them in person. Merlin knew that they were both busy with their jobs and planning for their wedding. The fact that they were coming out also surprised Merlin because the couple were not the kind of people who enjoyed staying out late, hanging around a bunch of rowdy drunks. They were the kind of couple who like adventurous trips or quiet nights in. Merlin was always slightly jealous over what they had.
“Yup, I told Gwen about the place and she said that she needed a break from the wedding planning,” Freya explained. “And you know Lance will always go where Gwen does.”
“The two for one deal,” Merlin joked.
The pair made it to the pub minutes later and on the way they had received the text from Gwaine saying that they had grabbed a booth on the second floor already. From the outside, it seemed that there was the same amount of people as last week, which helped calm Merlin’s nerves a bit more. Now he only steeled himself for whether Arthur would be there or not.
As the two of them made their way through the pub with Jessie J as their soundtrack, Merlin made sure to keep his eyes averted to either the floor or the booths, he didn’t want to accidently catch Arthur’s eye and have to awkwardly acknowledge that he remembered who Arthur was. Merlin managed to succeed in avoiding anyone’s gaze as he followed Freya through the maze of tables and bodies of the second floor to a half circled booth in the middle. In the booth, with two pints of half drunken beer, Gwaine was sat practically in Percy’s lap and whispering in his ear, despite the amount of room at the table.
“Save it for the bedroom, Gwaine,” Merlin laughed as Gwaine pulled away from Percy to give them hugs.
“The world is my bedroom,” Gwaine replied cheekily as he hugged Merlin.
“Don’t be gross,” Freya chided before she gave Percy a hug.
“And please don’t let this lead to a conversation about where you’ve had sex public,” Merlin then said, his face scrunched up in fake disgust.
“I’ll leave that up to your imagination,” Gwaine replied with a wink. He then turned to hug Freya.
After they all greeted each other, Merlin and Freya went off to the bar to grab their drinks.
While waiting for a bartender, Freya nudged Merlin and sang, “Arthur’s here.”
The comment made Merlin want to look around, but he forced himself to keep his head forward and his eyes on the bartenders in hoped of flagging one of them down.
“Oh, really. That’s nice,” he said nonchalantly.
“Don’t play dumb,” Freya chided. “He’s here with three others. Two girls and one guy, the same ones as last time I think, although I didn’t get a good look last time while we were leaving.”
“Good for him,” Merlin said as he managed to waive down a bartender. “I’m just going to ignore him until he makes his presence known…If he makes his presence known.”
“You know he will.”
They both then got their drinks and went back to the booth, Merlin’s eyes resolutely staying on the path back. He congratulated himself on a job well done for keeping his eyes in check. Merlin inwardly cursed Freya when she slipped into the seats first in order to sit in the middle next to Gwaine, leaving him the end seat and vulnerable to other people, or in other words: Arthur.
As they talked, Merlin made sure to keep his eyes on his friends and once in a while let them stray towards the person who was murdering a good song. Some time had passed and Merlin was beginning to relax into his pint and with his friends when he heard Arthur’s voice.
“You guys are back,” Arthur said joyfully with a beer in his hand. “Didn’t see you here last week.”
Merlin glanced at Arthur who stood at the foot of their table. He was as gorgeous as last time, wearing a red shirt that highlighted the color of his artfully tousled hair.
Arthur smiled at all of them, but when Merlin met his eyes, his smile brightened. The look made Merlin quickly look down at the table and focus at picking at one of his nails.
“It was a long week last week,” Freya replied for the table.
“I know what you mean, I feel like every week is going to kill me,” Arthur agreed with a laugh.
“Ay, mate, you wanna sit?” Gwaine asked as he began pushed Percy closer to the edge. The suggestion made Merlin glare at Gwaine who only wiggled his eyebrows in response as he scooted closer to him, making Freya begin to move closer to the center of the table.
“Oh, no, I’m fine,” Arthur protested weakly. Merlin hesitated for a beat before finally beginning to move closer to Freya, sitting so close that there was room for two where he originally sat.
“No, c’mon, we already moved,” Gwaine laughed.
Chuckling, Arthur put his hands up and said, “Alright, alright, I’m sitting.”
“Good man,” Gwaine replied as Arthur set his beer down on the table and slid into the middle of the space, leaving a generous amount of room between Merlin and himself. Merlin didn’t know if he was happy or disappointed that he didn’t move any closer. In the end it didn’t really matter because Merlin still would have felt nervous about his proximity.
“Any chance of hearing Spice Girls tonight?” Arthur asked, grinning.
“I think I’ll skip that song tonight,” Gwaine replied.
“You should sing Barbie Girl this time,” Freya suddenly exclaimed.
“Oh God, no. That is the worst song in the history of songs.”
Arthur leaned forward, pointed at Gwaine, and said, “Actually, you know what would be the perfect song for you? I’m Too Sexy.”
The whole table started laughed. “That’s totally your song,” Percy agreed.
“It’s perfect, really,” Merlin laughed. Merlin glanced at Arthur to see him grinning at him. Immediately, Merlin looked away as he felt his cheeks heat up.
Freya asked Arthur, “Have you ever done the karaoke?”
Arthur laughed, “A few times yeah, especially when I’m drunk enough. My step sister, Morgana,” he nodded toward a table in the middle, “can get me to basically do anything once I’ve had enough. She’s conniving.”
“What’s the most embarrassing song she made you sing?”
“Party in the USA definitely,” he answered immediately. Merlin grinned at the thought and couldn’t help chuckling to himself as he imagined Arthur moving his hips like yeah.
Hearing Merlin laugh, Arthur turned toward him and teased, “You would’ve loved seeing that, wouldn’t you, Merlin?”
Merlin rolled his eyes as he replied, “I’m just imagining you trying to dance along and falling over.”
At that moment, Gwen ambled up to the table smiling brightly with Lance a step behind her who waved at everyone and gushed, “Sorry for being so late, Lance couldn’t find his – Arthur?”
Arthur had turned around when Gwen had started talking and froze for a moment before exclaiming, “Guinevere! Oh my God, hi!” Arthur scrambled out of his seat as Gwen laughed and beamed at him.
Merlin watched, interested in how Gwen knew who Arthur was.
Arthur kissed her on the cheek and wrapped her in a tight hug as Gwen asked, muffled against his chest, “How are you? I haven’t seen you in years!”
He pulled away and said, “I’m doing fine. And you?”
“Great, I’m getting married,” she replied with a large smile and wiggled her ring finger in front of Arthur.
Merlin traded grins with Freya. They all knew how excited Gwen still was from their engagement three months ago, she boasted about it to people who didn’t know whenever she could. If it was anyone else it would have been annoying, but Gwen was so genuinely happy and sweet about it that it was hard to be annoyed at her for being happy.
“No way, congratulations!” Arthur grinned.
“Thank you!” She then turned to Lance to introduce him to Arthur. “This is my fiancé, Lance. Lance, this is Arthur, I went to school with him.” Arthur and Lance smiled at each other as they shook hands. When Arthur leaned back, Gwen asked him, “How do you know my friends?”
Arthur put his hands in his pockets as he glanced at the four confused friends at the table who were starting to understand how Gwen knew Arthur.
“I don’t, really. I met them here two weeks ago and I’ve got to talking to them a bit,” Arthur replied before perking up. “You should go say hi to Morgana, she’s here, too.”
Gwen lit up. “Is she? Where?” She glanced around the room.
Arthur jerked his head before grabbing his beer. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Quickly Gwen turned to the table and gave her friends a pained look. “I’m so sorry, guys; I haven’t seen Morgana since before uni. I’ll be right back, I promise,” she apologized.
“It’s alright,” Freya replied and waved her off. “We understand.”
“I’m really sorry,” she apologized again.
“It’s okay, Gwen,” Merlin assured her smiling.
With one last smile, Gwen turned away from the table and grabbed Lance’s hand. Merlin watched as Arthur led them through some of the tables to where three people sat. There was a tall man with dirty blonde curls, a brunette with her back to them, and a long black haired girl with a strong jaw. It was the black haired girl who had squealed a bit and stood up to wrap Gwen in a hug.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Gwaine commented before downing the rest of his beer.
“It’s a small world,” Percy added on.
The four of them fell into conversation as Merlin kept an eye on Gwen and Arthur who were in the corner of his eyesight. He watched how happy Gwen looked and tried to look away when Arthur tipped his head back to laugh.
Merlin was about to get up for another drink when Lance came back to their table.
“Hey,” he greeted with an easy smile. “They wanted to know if you guys wanted to join them.”
Looking over at the table, Merlin saw them shuffling around, pulling another two tables against theirs, and grabbing more chairs to accommodate everyone. Honestly, Merlin didn’t want to go over. Arthur’s new presence was enough to shake up his life, he didn’t know how he would react when three more strangers were introduced to him and he would have to interact with them. Or maybe, he would be able to stay in the opposite corner from them and not have to talk to them at all.
“Sure,” Freya agreed easily.
“Only because you asked so nicely,” Gwaine grinned.
Slowly, Merlin made his way over to the other table, making sure that he was behind Freya at all times, using her like a human shield, which she probably would not like if she heard Merlin saying something like that.
When they approached, the three strangers were sitting in their original places as Gwen sat to Morgana’s left, Lance next to her and Arthur sitting next to the brunette. Merlin should have seen it coming when they were walking over, but as they began to sit down, of course Gwaine chose the seat at the head of the table and Percy naturally chose the empty seat between him and Lance. This left two seats open between Gwaine and Arthur, Merlin inwardly groaned at Freya in front of him because he wouldn’t be able to push past her without looking like a douchebag and he knew exactly which seat she was going to take. Merlin scowled at Freya for taking the seat next to Gwaine.
Glaring slightly at his friends for putting him in this position again, Merlin slowly slid into his seat next to Arthur, careful to keep his seat a respectable distance away from the other man.
Arthur was the one to introduce them all to each other saying, “Mithian, Leon, and Morgana, this is Merlin, Freya, Gwaine, and Percy.”
Morgana grinned, “Ah, so you’re Merlin, my brother won’t shut up about you.”
Pained, Arthur complained, “Must you really?”
Morgana looked at Arthur innocently, “What, he deserves to know that you talk about him all time. He is cute though, I’ll give you that.”
“I agree,” Mithian said, “for once you found someone who doesn’t look like a complete twink or gym rat. I’m impressed."
Merlin, who was steadily turning beat red, asked confusedly, “Thanks?”
“Shut up, you two,” Arthur grunted, “You’re making me look so great.”
“Oh, please,” Mithian replied, “We’re just complimenting your sudden change of taste in men.”
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose as a light blush stained his cheeks. “You guys, are embarrassing, I don’t know why I hang out with you two.”
“Because no one else can deal with your shit,” Leon had spoken up.
Arthur frowned and then nodded like he was conceding the point.
“He’s a real princess isn’t he?” Gwaine said from the end of the table.
Morgana laughed, “Yes, he is."
Glaring at Gwaine, Arthur scoffed, “At least I don’t swish my hair around everywhere.”
“That’s because it’s nowhere near as glorious as mine,” Gwaine replied, beaming and shaking his head to move his hair around.
From there the conversation turned into hair tips and complaints about hair and styling. And since half of the table didn’t care, the others started talking about what annoyed them most about hair styles. In the end they ended up talking about Gwen and Lance’s wedding and Merlin had no idea how they got onto that topic.
It was then that Merlin stood up to go to the bar for another pint. He was already pushing his seat in when Arthur said that he would join Merlin. This caused Merlin to eye Arthur subtly as he waited from him to get out of his seat. Merlin had done his best to avoid looking at Arthur or getting into conversation with him. It was easy not to look since they were sitting right next to each other, but it was hard not to talk to the other man when he was directing comments his way.
Together they made their way to the bar without conversing and Merlin was doing his best to keep his nerves calm, because Arthur was harmless and he wouldn’t force himself onto Merlin. That just wasn’t the type of man Arthur was, and Merlin was infinitely grateful for that. It was just a little flirting, Merlin could handle that; maybe.
As soon as they got to the bar, Arthur began to talk, saying, “Sorry, my friends can be a little embarrassing sometimes.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Merlin replied and drummed his fingers on the bar. “My friends do the same to me all the time. Although I’m sure you deserve it more than me."
“Oi! I’ll have you know I do nothing to deserve it.”
“Oh, so you don’t behave like a prat all the time? I have yet to see that yet.”
“I’ve been perfectly nice,” Arthur said leaning his side against the bar so that he was facing Merlin. “I don’t know how everything I do can be misconstrued as being a prat.”
“Believe me, you’re doing that perfectly well. It must come to you naturally.”
Arthur chuckled and Merlin could feel his breath hitting his arm, making the hair raise slightly. “Are you this tough on every bloke who flirts with you? Because for some reason I feel like I might be the only one.”
Although it was said jokingly, Merlin could hear the hurt in the tone. Merlin felt responsible for putting that feeling there for a man who seemed like he was confident in everything that he did.
“You’re just special,” Merlin teased halfheartedly with a shrug of his shoulders. Merlin looked at Arthur to see him studying his face rather intently. Not being able to stand the intense look, Merlin looked away in hopes of catching the bartender’s eye.
After a few moments, Arthur squinted and finally said, “Special in the ‘I’m just humoring you’ sort of way or special in the ‘I actually like flirting with you, but I don’t want to go any further with you’ sort of way. I have to admit both are very disappointing.”
Merlin stared at Arthur who looked a little smaller than usual and Merlin couldn’t help think that it was him who made Arthur look like that. It was him, who made Arthur unsure and insecure, and the feeling was terrible, but Merlin couldn’t give in. He knew he wasn’t able to no matter how hard he tried because just the thought of being someone’s ‘boyfriend’ again made him slightly sick. He just wasn’t ready for it.
“Um,” Merlin said eloquently. He wondered if this was time to be straightforward, and figured if he didn’t say it now, he would never find the courage to admit it when they weren’t already on the topic. “The second one, I guess. I mean, like I said last time, I’m just not really looking for a relationship of any kind. Really it’s not you that’s the problem.”
Arthur frowned. “Bad break up?”
Merlin stiffened slightly and gripped a bit harder at the bar. “Something like that, yeah,” Merlin muttered just loud enough for Arthur to hear over the music.
“Well, I’m sorry about that,” Arthur said as he easily waved down a bartender. They both gave their orders and while they waited Arthur spoke again, “We can be friends at least though, right?”
Something warm settled into Merlin’s stomach at those words. Merlin smiled softly as he nodded. “Friends is fine. Although why I’d want to be friends with such a dollophead is beyond me.”
Arthur elbowed Merlin lightly in the arm, who yelped and rubbed the spot where he was hit, and he rolled his eyes. “Dollophead?” he repeated scandalously.
“Yes, I think it describes you perfectly.”
“It’s not even a real word.”
Their drinks were placed in front of them and before Merlin could hand the bartender his money, Arthur told him, “Put it on my tab, Paul."
“What? No,” Merlin protested, holding his money out to the bartender. “He’s not paying for my drink.”
“Let the man buy you drink,” Paul replied, grinning as he went back to till to charge the drinks to Arthur’s tab.
Arthur grabbed the two beers and began walking away. Merlin called after him, “Arthur!”
Arthur grinned at Merlin over his shoulder. “We haven’t got all night, Merlin.”
Stuffing his money back into his wallet and trailing after Arthur, Merlin muttered to himself, “Insufferable prat.”
Merlin wouldn’t say that he was completely angry when he was run over by a bicyclist who wasn’t watching where they were going. He was more embarrassed of the fact that he had released an unmanly yelp and fell backward, splashing coffee all over himself, in front of handfuls of other students. His cheeks burned as he heard the chuckles of the other people around him.
Only one person had come to his aid.
Merlin looked up from where his coffee was burning through his shirt and into his skin (thankful that it was on just this side of hot) and nearly died in mortification. Standing above him was probably the most good looking man to ever look his way and talk to him. He was tall and fit with short, thick brown hair. Merlin was pretty sure that tall, dark and handsome was defined by him.
“You okay?” the stranger asked again kindly.
Realizing that the man was taking to him, Merlin snapped out his daze and babbled, “Yeah! Yeah, I’m fine. Wonderful. Just great.”
He smiled and chuckled, and Merlin would swear for the rest of his life that he didn’t swoon like a teenage girl at the sight.
“Do you need a hand?”
When Merlin didn’t respond right away, he was still quite stunned, the man leaned over and thrust his hand out toward Merlin. Wordlessly Merlin grasped it with his own, careful of not spilling anymore of what little coffee he had left on his way back up, and reluctantly let go of the man’s hand when he was upright again.
“Thank you, that was nice of you,” Merlin said as he dusted off his backside and pulled at the stain on his shirt.
The man shrugged while grinning at Merlin. “It’s no problem. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Merlin smiled bashfully, contentious of the fact that he had coffee spilled all over his front. “I’m fine, again, thank you,” he replied. “I don’t think I was watching where I was going.”
The other man shrugged and glanced at the direction the bicyclist biked off to. “He shouldn’t have been speeding through the campus either, I don’t think.”
They stood there awkwardly for a few seconds as Merlin just smiled at the man. When the other man shuffled under Merlin’s gaze, Merlin knew that he looked a bit crazy.
“Oh, sorry, I’m Merlin,” Merlin greeted and put his hand out.
“Lance,” he replied and shook Merlin’s hand. Merlin smiled wider.
When it looked like Lance was going to step away to leave, his mouth opening slightly, Merlin blurted, “Coffee?” Lance raised his eyebrows and Merlin mentally slapped himself in the face. “I mean, do you want to join me to get more coffee? I seem to be in need of another one.” Merlin gestured to his torso and looked down at the large stain. “And some napkins apparently.”
Lance chuckled as he glanced at Merlin’s shirt. “Um, sure, I could go for some coffee,” Lance replied.
Merlin beamed and led the way to the café he left only ten minutes ago. Along the way he learned that Lance was a year ahead of him and a history major. They joked around and bad mouthed bicyclers even though Lance himself rode a bike once in a while. Conversation was easy and Merlin found himself interested in everything that Lance had to say.
Lance was probably the nicest man Merlin had ever met. He was also generous and sweet and actually flirted back at Merlin’s own clumsy attempts. Merlin was sure that he was half in love with Lance by the time he had to leave for class.
Before they split, his heart in his throat, Merlin had asked for Lance’s number. Merlin felt elated when Lance gave it over without a fuss, and was even happier when he found that Lance didn’t give him the wrong one on purpose. He was always afraid of that.
Merlin went back to his flat and all but gushed to Gwen about Lance for the next day. Gwen was happy for him.
Two days later, Merlin invited Lance to a party he and Gwen were going to that night. Merlin dressed in his best jeans and fitted button up that he rolled the sleeves up on. This time Merlin was determined to speak to Lance without spilling a drink down his front.
Two hours into the party, Merlin was tipsy and there was no sign of Lance. Merlin had been roped into a drinking game by the host that lasted half an hour. When he was finally relinquished, steadily on his way to being drunk, Merlin spotted Lance and grinned widely to himself.
Lance was looking good as he did last time, and Merlin was definitely having dirty thoughts about him as he made his way across the flat, but was brought up short when he saw who he was talking to. He was talking to Gwen, and although this wasn’t usually a problem, Merlin recognized the look on Gwen’s face. It was the same look she got when she had first met her ex-boyfriend Chris or when the hot bloke from Tesco’s flirted with her, she was smitten. His heart sank into his stomach when he saw the similar look on Lance’s face, a look that wasn’t directed at him when they met, and suddenly he wasn’t feeling too well.
Slowly moving across the room, Merlin walked up beside them and pasted on a grin. “Gwen,” he said, trying to make it seem like he wasn’t drunk yet. “I see you met Lance.”
At hearing his name, Gwen’s face fell. She looked almost heartbroken, but it was strange when Lance looked vaguely guilty and hung his head.
“Oh, right, Lance,” she replied and smiled weakly. “We were just talking a bit.”
Merlin nodded and sighed, resigned. He tried to convince himself that it was alright, Lance didn’t owe him anything and Gwen obviously hadn’t known who she was talking to.
No one spoke, and Gwen and Lance tried avoiding looking at each other or Merlin. Merlin felt like he wanted to throw up, but it wasn’t from the alcohol.
“Okay, I’m just going to go home, and you two can keep on talking or flirting or whatever you were doing before I got here,” he stated and spun around to leave. He maneuvered through the busy flat, hearing Gwen call his name behind him.
For the rest of the weekend, Gwen looked regretful whenever they were in the same room, but Merlin had mostly tried to avoid her as best as he could, hiding in his room for the majority of the weekend. Gwen had known how he felt about Lance, even though he hadn’t talked to him for more than two hours, and she knew how hard it was for Merlin to find someone who was nice and good for him. He knew that he was going to get over it soon, because it would have been ten times worse if he had actually dated Lance only to find that he had better chemistry with his best friend. But he wanted to spend the weekend licking his metaphorical wounds.
On Tuesday, Merlin was surprised when he ran into Lance on campus again.
“I’m afraid I wasn’t completely honest with you,” Lance confessed after stopping Merlin on his way home.
Merlin frowned as his stomach started to slowly clench. “What do you mean?”
Lance cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. “I sort of knew who Gwen was before I met her at the party. When you mention your roommate Gwen was an art student, I knew who she was because I sort of had a crush on her. She was in one of my art history classes last year and I always wanted to talk to her, but I was a coward because I think she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and didn’t think she’d ever look at me, y’know?”
He paused and scratched at his chin. “I thought I was over it until you mentioned her,” he continued. “And when you said that she was going to be at the party, I wanted to go and see if there was any hope of being with her. I honestly didn’t expect to hit it off with her, I really didn’t, because it was just a fantasy, and reality never matches up right? You’re a great guy and any bloke would be lucky to have you, but…I’m just more interested in Gwen. I feel really shitty and I’m sorry if it felt like I led you on because that wasn’t my intention. I like you, Merlin, I really do, but…”
“You just like Gwen better,” Merlin finished, his throat tight, because this was worse than he thought before. He thought that Lance met Gwen and maybe it was love at first sight, but it wasn’t true. Lance had used Merlin to get to Gwen. Just like Edwin used him for money and Cedric for grades, he was just a tool to be used to further someone else along for their own needs and it hurt.
“It’s alright,” Merlin lied with a small, fake smile, and shrugged his shoulders in a ‘what can you do’ gesture. “Gwen’s great, I’m sure you two will be good together."
A smile flicked across Lance’s face before it quickly vanished. “Thank you, Merlin. And, again, I’m sorry.”
Merlin nodded mindlessly before making excuses about needing to go to class and instead headed home. He curled up in bed and called Freya who’d help him feel better.
By Saturday, he was able to look Gwen in the eye, listen to her apologies, and try to put it all behind him. But it never really worked that way for him.
Merlin and Freya were situated on opposite sides of the couch in Gwen and Lance’s living room, both on their laptops to help Gwen plan her wedding. Gwen sat on the floor, across from the couch and her own laptop on the coffee table. All three were searching for a suitable wedding reception close to the church they had already planned upon.
Gwen never wanted to hire a wedding planner, even though it might be a little more stressful without one; she was content on planning everything with the help of Lance and her friends. Merlin had already offered to make their wedding cake with a large discount attached to it and help find the perfect caterer, he was sure Gaius knew of a good one through his connections. And Gwaine promised to find a suitable wedding photographer since he was going to be in the wedding party and would be required to be in the photos, otherwise he would have done it himself.
With a few suggestions of a possible reception space, all three stopped eventually as Gwen told them everything she had decided upon so far.
“At least you have your color scheme decided,” Freya conceded after Gwen bemoaned the fact of finding the perfect floral arrangements.
“Yeah,” she replied sitting up from her slouch against the coffee table. “Are you sure yellow is a good accent color for the purple?”
“Gwen, you’re the artist, not us,” Merlin said.
“Right, right, I just don’t want to mess it up you know,” Gwen said.
“You’re doing great,” Freya consoled. “I would’ve torn my hair out by now.”
“How was your date last night?” Gwen asked, completely changing the topic after being reminded of Freya’s love life
“Oh yeah, George,” Merlin tagged on with a grin. He nudged Freya’s knee with his toe.
Freya rolled her eyes and shrugged lightly. “Probably won’t see him again. I mean, he only talked about his hobby of collecting swords and polishing them all the time. I’m all for collecting and doing something you enjoy, but don’t talk about it for the whole date,” Freya complained.
“So he talked about polishing his sword all night?” Merlin teased, laughing and Gwen joined him while Freya choked.
“Oh my God, Merlin,” Freya cried and reached over to shove at Merlin’s shoulder repeatedly, pushing him into the arm of the couch.
Lance chose that moment to walk in through the front door.
Gwen smiled at him. “Hey, how was the meeting?”
“Great,” Lance answered. He slipped off his loafers and walked over to the small group. “I should be able to get a hand on those texts for a few days in a week or so. How about you guys?”
“We found a few places,” Gwen said and handed him the short list they had made. “We can check them out next weekend."
“Sure.” Lance handed back the paper. “We should probably get ready to go to dinner."
“Oh! Right.” Gwen perked up and turned to her friends. “We’re meeting up with Morgana and Arthur for dinner to catch up a bit. We haven’t had the chance to yet. Pubs aren’t the best place for long conversations. You two are welcome to come if you don’t have plans."
Merlin and Freya looked at each other, having a silent conversation.
Merlin had gotten on well with Arthur for the past few weeks that he had seen him. Arthur kept to his promise and stayed friendly, but Merlin noticed that Arthur paid him extra special attention and gave him as many friendly touches as he could. It was nice, but it scared him, so Merlin did he best to ignore it and continue on living the way that he had been for the past year.
Morgana was also nice to Merlin, even though she was intimidating. He had a feeling that she made most people feel like they were meant to serve her whenever she stepped into the room. She had a fierce attitude, but a kind heart.
Having nothing planned for dinner that night, Merlin shrugged at Freya, letting her know that he truly didn’t care either way.
Freya smiled at him before turning to Gwen and nodding. “Sure.”
After texting Morgana, letting her know about the new additions, together they walked a few blocks to the nearest tube station and took a ten minute ride across town.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Merlin felt a little underdressed compared to the couple that just walked in wearing slacks and a dress. He was mollified though by the fact that their group was similarly dressed. Wearing clothes that could be seen a little better than casual.
They walked into the restaurant and Lance told the host they were meeting up with two people who were mostly likely already sitting down. The host knew whom they were talking about and led them into the dining room.
Merlin spotted Arthur and Morgana sitting at a table set up for six. Morgana sat at the head and Arthur sat to her right. They looked perfectly dressed as always; Merlin was sure that Morgana never stepped out of the house in less than her best.
Morgana broke out in a smile when she saw them approach causing Arthur to turn his head. Arthur met Merlin’s eyes and grinned widely. They all greeted each other, Arthur taking the opportunity to bring Merlin in for a hug. It was friendly and Arthur didn’t linger before doing the same to Freya.
Arthur and Morgana returned to their seats and the rest followed suit. Merlin couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed when Freya took the seat opposite Morgana to leave him next to Arthur because it was something that she did on a regular basis and now Merlin was more than used to sitting next to Arthur for long periods of time now.
Immediately Morgana began grilling Gwen about her life after they split for uni. Merlin, Lance, and Freya got to chip in some stories whenever Gwen prompted them. In turn, after ordering, Morgana told them about what she did and Arthur did the same after her. They both talked about how no matter how much power their father had, he insisted that they both climb the ladder like the other employees did, just because he was the CEO didn’t mean they got any favoritism.
“Wait, your father is Uther Pendragon?” Merlin asked Arthur and Morgana as all the parts added up in is head. His eyebrows were high on his forehead. “The creator of the Camelot?”
Both Arthur and Morgana seemed to completely pause in their movements, their eyes tracking Merlin.
“Yes, he is,” Morgana replied smoothly.
Merlin felt like he was being put through a test, especially by the way Gwen was worriedly looking at him.
After a few seconds, Merlin nodded like it wasn’t any big deal that he sitting next to the heirs of one of the biggest companies in Europe, or one of the richest. Though it did explain why Arthur was an ass sometimes.
“Cool,” he said before giving them his thoughts on the company. “You do know how ridiculously priced your computers are, right? You can build a PenBook from scratch and still get the same price as a PC.”
Merlin was aware how Morgana and Arthur began to relax after his statement.
“It’s not just the specs that make up a computer, Merlin,” Arthur argued. “It’s the design, the platform, the driver, not the pieces used to put it all together.”
“I still think it’s overpriced,” Merlin stated. “It’s like you’re making your product a symbol of status even though it’s a computer.”
Arthur smirked. “You’re one of those people who hate Camelot products on principle aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Merlin quipped, smiling toothlessly.
A beat of silence passed before Lance asked, “So how long have you three known each other?”
Morgana smiled. “Since we were about…seven, I think, Arthur was nine. We all attended the same Junior School before Arthur and I went to public school. We stayed in touch then since our schools weren’t far apart and saw each other a lot."
“Our house was almost like Gwen’s second home,” Arthur joked.
Their food was brought out then and Merlin was more than ready to dig into his shrimp scampi.
While they ate, Arthur kept conversation with Merlin, asking him about his week, his bakery, and if he had any other plans for the weekend.
“You watch Breaking Bad?” Arthur asked excitedly after Merlin confessed that he was going to marathon all four and a half seasons when he had the chance before the last few episodes aired.
Merlin grinned and nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, I do. I love it. I’m so sad that it’s the last season though.”
Arthur returned to his food, nodding in agreement. “I’m only near the middle of season three at the moment. Maybe when I finish we can watch season four together,” he suggested, his eyes firmly staring down at his plate.
Merlin tensed slightly before deciding friends could do that. Friends could watch TV shows together, alone.
“Yeah, sure,” he found himself agreeing. “Let me know.”
Arthur smiled then and Merlin couldn’t help but smile easily in return. “Great."
The dinner went on smoothly and Merlin enjoyed himself. He tried his best to snub the fluttering in his chest whenever he knocked elbows with Arthur and got to know him better than he had most nights when they had met with friends and boisterous strangers surrounding them.
When the meal was over, Morgana and Arthur took over the check and split it between them, despite the protests at the table. They made their way outside and down the road to a quiet pub for after dinner drinks. Together they huddled around a small table, Merlin’s knee pressing against Freya and Arthur’s on either side of him.
It was three pitchers and two hours later that the group left the pub for home. The air was chilly and Merlin wrapped his coat tighter around himself to hold onto the warmth of the drinks.
They walked in pairs down the road and Merlin wasn’t surprised when he was walking alongside Arthur, Gwen and Lance in front of them and Morgana and Freya leading the pack.
“So you said you didn’t grow up in London,” Arthur said after they walked for a bit in silence.
Merlin nodded, “Yeah, I grew up about two hours outside the city in this small town called Ealdor. It’s barely on the map.”
“Did you like it there?”
“It was nice and I didn’t dislike it necessarily,” Merlin replied, “but I just don’t think I fit in there.”
“And do you here?”
Merlin shrugged. “Better than I did in Ealdor, but I don’t think I really fit in anywhere. I have my friends and everything, but I don’t always think that makes you comfortable or make it feel like home. Sometimes I still feel like an outsider.”
Merlin, surprised at how much he had admitted, looked over to Arthur to see him looking at him intently. He blushed under the scrutiny. He truly hadn’t meant to say that much, but Arthur seemed so interested in him and what he had to say that it all spilled out.
“I understand,” Arthur said suddenly and seriously, nodding. He looked forward. “I hope you find your place.”
The words made Merlin smile and duck his head. “I’m sure I will.”
A few more paces down the road, the group began to split and say their goodbyes, but before Merlin could slip away, Arthur gently grabbed Merlin’s forearm.
“Hey, maybe I could get your number?” Arthur asked a bit hesitantly. Merlin could see that he was being a bit hopeful as well. “You know for when I catch up on Breaking Bad and I can call you or something.”
The fact that Arthur wasn’t acting like his normal annoying self in order to get Merlin’s number made him smile softly. “Only for that reason?” he teased while nodding. He held his hand out for Arthur’s phone.
This made Arthur straighten up and turn back to his standard attitude. “Of course,” he replied and dug out his phone. He unlocked it and opened up the contact application. “Why else would I want to talk to you?”
“Because I’m handsome and charming,” Merlin said jokingly as he took the phone from Arthur’s hand, which of course was the latest Camelot phone on the market, the Excalibur 3.
“I think that’s just a bonus.”
Merlin’s thumbs hovered over the phone as he realized what both he and Arthur had just said. He looked up at Arthur to see him smiling, but it wasn’t in a teasing way, it was almost fond. Merlin’s pulse raced before he tilted his head back down and forced his fingers to move properly.
There was nothing good about being reminded of Arthur’s initial intentions toward Merlin. And although he had agreed to be on friendly terms only, Merlin knew that Arthur would take any opportunity to hint that there was always a chance to take things a step further. The truth was that Merlin wanted to, when he truly thought about it. There was nothing more Merlin wanted than to get back out in the field and have a fully functional relationship, but he would think back on his past history and be reminded that he didn’t have the best track record.
Merlin pushed those thoughts away and finished entering in his number. He called himself from the phone and fished out his own phone as it lit up with Arthur’s number. He ended the call and handed back the phone. “There you go.”
“Thanks,” Arthur replied as he pocketed the phone. “I guess I’ll see you later, probably at The Rising Sun, yeah?”
On the way home, Merlin was in his own world. He was grilling himself, wondering what he was so afraid of. He knew that he needed to get over this fear that every bloke was out to get him, that he wasn’t worth loving, but it was hard. It seemed like it was a battle every day to think positively about himself. He wondered if there would ever be a time he’d get over it, be back to his optimistic self where he’d tell himself that he’ll find someone better the next time around. He hadn’t felt that way in what felt like years.
Merlin barely noticed it when he and Freya got off the tube and back onto the street, leaving Gwen and Lance behind. He was walking in a daze as Freya slipped her arm through his and led him down the street.
When they were halfway to Merlin’s, he finally realized that Freya was taking him home. “Freya, why are you taking me home?” he asked as he looked down at the girl. “You live in the opposite direction. I’m supposed to be taking you home.”
Freya rolled her eyes and patted his arm. “Because I’m the girl? No, Merlin,” she replied. “I’m taking you home because you were perfectly fine all night until Arthur said goodnight to you. So we’re going to go inside, I’m going to make some tea, and you’re going to tell me what you’re thinking about.”
“But Freya –”
“No buts, Merlin.”
Merlin harrumphed and kept quiet as he let them into the building and into his flat. Freya made good on her promise as he curled up on the couch and she made tea. He didn’t chide her for doing his duties when she refilled the Gary’s food and water bowl while waiting for the hot water like usually did, he didn’t like her doing his chores for him even though she didn’t mind.
When the tea was prepared, Freya gave Merlin his mug as she sat down in the seat next to him with her own cup. They sat in silence for a bit blowing on the hot liquid and taking careful sips.
Freya leaned forward and placed her cup on the coffee table when she deemed it time to talk.
“So what’s going on with you?” she asked gently. “It’s about Arthur again isn’t it? Did he do something wrong?”
Merlin shook his head as he stared down at his cup. He thought of how he could put what he was thinking about into words. He wasn’t sure Freya would understand, he never really spoke too much about what happened after Mordred or how he felt coming out of that relationship. At the request of Gaius, Merlin had seen a therapist for a few weeks to appease his mother and uncle’s worries when he broke up with him. The therapy had helped a bit, but he wasn’t sure if he would ever be fully okay.
After noticing that Merlin needed someone to confide in, Freya made more of an effort to be around for him. Merlin returned the gesture, but he obviously wasn’t needed as much as she was.
“He didn’t do anything, he was fine. Perfect even,” Merlin replied.
“So then what’s eating you?”
Merlin sighed and closed his eyes. He breathed in the smell of his tea, hoping that he could clear his thoughts and give him all the answers that he wanted.
Merlin took another drink and copied Freya’s motions of placing the cup on the coffee table.
“I…like Arthur,” Merlin admitted.
Freya smiled. “Surprise, surprise."
“Shut up, Freya.” He grumbled, smiling and weakly punched her leg.
“No really, Merlin, that’s great.”
Merlin sobered. “Is it though?”
“Yeah,” she said eagerly and leaned toward Merlin. “It means you’re moving on.”
Merlin nodded at her words and wrung his hands. Silence passed as Freya waited for Merlin to say something, anything.
He took a deep breath and gathered the courage to say, “I’m scared. I’m really fucking scared that he’ll be another Mordred or Cedric or even Gwaine, because I don’t want him to be. He could break me. He could.”
Freya bit her lip, deciding what to say. She didn’t have any experience with what Merlin was going through. She handled animals and their physical problems, she didn’t handle other people’s emotional needs, but she did her best for Merlin.
“What would falling in love be if it wasn’t a little scary?”
Merlin snorted. “You could say that again. I was always under the impression that it would be like walking on clouds.”
It was Freya’s turn to snort. “Only when you’re thirteen and thought love wasn’t some horribly, sticky, complicated thing full of emotions.”
He sighed and tilted his head back. He stared up at the ceiling and said, “I don’t want to be this scared. I want to be excited and happy that someone like Arthur would be interested in me, but I can’t. I know I should be. The old me would be delighted, we probably would be together by now, but…”
“You’re more cautious now,” Freya finished and Merlin nodded. “And you have every right to be.”
“How do I stop being scared?” he asked quietly.
“You don’t,” Freya said immediately and Merlin flinched slightly. “I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, the fear will always be there, if it weren’t, that would mean that it doesn’t mean anything to you, but it does. Arthur means something to you and that’s why you’re more scared that you possibly would be about anybody else.”
Merlin was quiet as he processed her words. Maybe she was right. Falling in love wasn’t meant to be a walk in the park. It was supposed to be messy and full of feelings that you couldn’t explain. But it didn’t excuse that fact that he could be like any number of his exes.
“And if he turns out to be like Mordred?” he asked hesitantly. She ran a hand through her hair, frustrated. She wanted to help her friend, but she didn’t know if she was making things better or worse for him.
“I don’t know, I’ll probably chop off his balls for you,” she answered straight faced.
Merlin chuckled and smiled at the ceiling, making Freya smile and laugh before she became serious again, “It’s a risk you’ll have to take. I’d like to think that Arthur isn’t anything like him, but none of us really know him all that well. So maybe take time to get to know him better? Hang out alone with him; see what he’d be like in a private setting. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with, of course, but maybe if you hang around with him long enough you’ll see his true colors. No matter how much of a prick he came off to us the first time we met him.”
Merlin looked at her and took in her advice. What she said could be possible. Maybe he could hang out with Arthur and see what it would be like to date him or even take things slow. There were a number of things that he could do, but he was just so dead set on Arthur not being right for him that he didn’t even consider just simply getting to know the man better. At the first sign of attraction, Merlin had completely shut down and let fear take over him. It was time for him to fully move on from his past.
“Yeah,” he finally said. “Maybe I’ll do that.”
Merlin worked at Alice every day the shop was open after graduating. While at uni, during the summers, he had worked at the shop, but hadn’t learned much past making the food, which he liked to do best. Gaius had kept him in the kitchen until he could recite and make each recipe with his eyes closed. Now that he was out of uni, with a business degree under his belt so that he could handle running the shop, Gaius was training him more on the background details, preparing him for when Gaius decided to retire (although Merlin doubted Gaius could ever fully retire, his uncle was much too attached to the place).
Merlin’s twenty three when he finally perfected his talent of being cute and charming. It brought in more tips for himself and Forridel, and Merlin learned how to flirt better. It’s also when he meets Gilli, a regular who stopped by half an hour before closing a few days of the week, always choosing a new pastry or two to try out. Gilli was a little strange looking with blue eyes that were a little too close together and ears that could rival Merlin’s own. But Gilli was awkward and sweet and that’s what drew Merlin in.
It took two months of shameless flirting on Merlin’s part, and pure obliviousness on Gilli’s, before Gilli clued in on what Merlin was doing every time he stepped into the shop. When Gilli put on a brave face and asked Merlin out on a date. Merlin grinned from surprise, before agreeing.
The relationship went on for a good three months, but it was nothing exciting. The sex was average and Gilli himself was kind of boring although nice. Merlin thought that maybe Gilli had some hidden depths, but it seemed he didn’t when Merlin tried to get into heavy discussions. Gilli seemed to only ask questions that were related to his job and wasn’t interested when Merlin wanted him to hang out with his friends.
Merlin knew it was near the end of the line for their relationship when he decided to let Gilli into the kitchen to show him how everything worked. He figured that Gilli had asked a lot of questions about what he did and how he baked so well that it seemed okay to bring him back into the kitchen.
“And this is where the magic happens,” Merlin announced when he walked into the kitchen, his arms open and Gilli a step behind him. It was a Saturday, which meant that it was a bit slow, at least slow enough for Merlin to leave the floor, and Gaius wasn’t in to yell at Merlin for bringing a non-worker into the kitchen.
Merlin began giving Gilli a tour of the place, pointing out the mixers and the freezers and the other large equipment. Gilli looked wide-eyed, glancing everywhere and taking everything in.
They were outside the office door when Drea poked her head into the kitchen, “Merlin, someone’s asking for you.”
Seeing Drea’s apologetic look, Merlin sighed and told Gilli, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Don’t touch anything okay?” Gilli smiled tightly as Merlin turned and bounded through the door to the front room.
Merlin went out to the front to find a customer complaining of how dry his bread was and that he should have not been charged the price for what he received. Inwardly Merlin rolled his eyes; he was more than positive that it was moist because he had one just a few hours ago on his break. In the end, Merlin apologized and gave him another pastry on the house.
Merlin kept a pasted smile on his face as the man finally left the shop and mumbled some choice words to Drea about him. She laughed while Merlin made his way back into the kitchen.
He frowned to himself when Gilli wasn’t in sight, he walked by the loo and found it empty, then he noticed that the office door was open when he was sure it was closed. Slowly he moved toward the open door and was silent when he heard Gilli’s voice.
“…all here, Dad,” Gilli said into his mobile. “I’ll call you after I take the pictures. I have to take them before he gets back.”
Merlin peaked around the corner of the door to see Gilli flipping through Gaius’ cookbook. The cookbook had the list of ingredients and recipes of each item they made, but it didn’t list any of the secret ingredients, Gaius never wrote those down in fear of something like this happening.
Before Gilli could snap any pictures with his phone, Merlin took a deep breath and steeled himself for the confrontation as he stepped forward through the door.
“What are you doing?” Merlin asked, his voice hard.
Gilli jumped and dropped his phone onto the desk. He quickly scrambled for his phone and held it tightly in his hand. “N-Nothing. I just saw that this was your recipe book and was interested in how you made things,” he fibbed. “You’re stuff is always delicious.”
Merlin’s lips thinned. “Is that why you’re planning on stealing my aunt and uncle’s recipes?”
“No, of course not.”
“Stop lying to me,” Merlin replied, his voice rising as he took a step forward. “Why did you tell your dad you were going to take pictures of our recipes? What do you need them for?”
Gilli geared himself, pulling his shoulders back. “My dad owns Phillip’s Bakery down on Pulley Street, you know the place?” At Merlin’s nod, he continued, “We’ve been slowly losing customers over the last few years and we’ve done everything to try to get our profits up. Changing our supplies, advertising in the papers, everything. We even tried out new recipes, but nothing worked. Even our online ratings were going down, but we saw that Alice’s never wavered, so we decided to see if we could recreate your stuff. We couldn’t and when you flirted with me, I figured it was my chance to get close enough to see some recipes.”
Merlin stood silently and stared hard at Gilli. There was no sign of guilt. It seemed that Gilli didn’t feel bad about what he had done.
“Did it never occur to either of you to ask?” Merlin inquired. “Maybe we could have given you old recipes that we don’t use anymore or helped you make new ones. But instead, here you are, stealing them instead. I can’t believe you.”
At Merlin’s accusations, Gilli dipped his head slightly and shuffled in place. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Merlin believed that he might be slightly sorry, but not fully, Gilli didn’t truly believe that what he did was wrong. “Just get out and don’t come back.”
After Gilli left, not before glancing at the recipe book still open on the table, Merlin sunk down into the office chair and rested his forehead against the cool surface of the desk.
Admittedly, he didn’t feel bad about the break up, that was already something looming on the horizon, but felt sick of the fact that once again, someone used him. The fact that it he brought it on himself made it worse. He shouldn’t have flirted so much, made himself look desperate, but he had honestly thought that something could happen. Merlin didn’t count on Gilli having ulterior motives.
During the week after Merlin gave Arthur his number, he found himself glancing at his phone from time to time, willing for it to ring. While at work, he’d trick his mind into thinking that his phone was vibrating and check to find that there were no missed calls or messages.
By Wednesday, Merlin had lost hope that Arthur would contact him that week. He felt silly thinking that Arthur would take advantage of the fact that now that they had exchanged numbers they could talk more. Sure, he could take the first step and talk first, but it was Arthur who had wanted Merlin’s number and not the other way around, so really Arthur had to take the plunge – at least that’s how Merlin reasoned it to himself.
When Friday rolled around, Merlin was exhausted. One of their ovens seemed to be malfunctioning and they couldn’t call anyone in to fix it until well after ten in the morning. They ended up cutting back on how many pieces of each item they made in order to keep their amount of variety available. It was a stressful situation.
All Merlin wanted to do was go home and crawl into a ball and sleep until the next day, but it was only early afternoon before closing and he was just waiting for the clock to strike four.
Since it was Friday, the store wasn’t very busy at that time of day. They had about one customer every ten minutes, which was pretty terrible, compared to normal.
Merlin’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He expected it to be Freya to confirm their dinner plans before going out. Instead he heart leapt into his throat when it was Arthur’s name appearing on the screen. He couldn’t open the message fast enough.
Are you still going out tonight?
Merlin was a little disappointed that he was only asking about his plans that night, but it was nice that he was asking at all. He had missed a few Friday night get togethers in the few months they’ve met due to being tired and tonight felt like one of those nights, but ever since his resolve to make things better for himself, he wanted to hang out with his friends and see Arthur.
yeah, i’ll b there around same time as usual. u?
Of course. I told you I’m always there Friday nights…well mostly.
He walked around the shop, making sure everything was in order for the crew the next day as he waited for Arthur’s reply. Drea was cleaning up the kitchen as Merlin took care of the front of house.
Merlin scrambled for his phone when he heard it buzz a few minutes later.
Lol. Don’t know if you noticed, but I’m a workaholic and if Morgana doesn’t drag me out, I never would get out.
Merlin didn’t really know that, but he wasn’t surprised. Arthur seemed like the type who would work himself sick if it was needed. Merlin didn’t think it was healthy for people to work like that, and he could only imagine the amount of stress he inflicted upon himself because of his position in high profile company.
do u really need 2 work that much?
There’s always something to do.
not even u can run a whole company by urself
I can try.
yea right. dont u have better things 2 do than work all the time?
Not really. We need to work on your texting. You’re not 15 anymore.
Merlin laughed and looked at the time which had finally reached four while texting Arthur. He locked the front door and flipped the sign. He opened up his phone again and tried to think of the proper response to lighten up the conversation. Merlin didn’t know why Arthur wouldn’t have anything else to do besides work; he imagined Arthur would have loads of friends to hang out with whenever he wanted.
Maybe his impression of Arthur wasn’t completely right.
U mean dis aint da propa way 2 txt?11!? im shocked!!1
Shut up, Merlin. I’ll see you tonight.
The response came almost immediately and he could practically hear the way Arthur’s tongue wrapped around the letters of his name in his head. It made him shiver.
Merlin shook his head as if it would automatically clear his thoughts away and made a cheeky reply.
c u lol
That night, even though everyone was there as usual, Merlin made himself more open to one on one conversation with Arthur. He liked to think it was noticeable enough because Arthur barely looked away from him unless someone drew him away. Merlin hoped that the light tint on his cheeks would be attributed to either the beer he was drinking or the heat of the pub.
Merlin tried his best to get to know Arthur better on a friend level, find out his likes and dislikes. He found that Arthur’s favorite band was Muse and his favorite movie was Gladiator because he always wanted to wield a sword like Russell Crowe did. Merlin liked both of those choices, but his favorites were Artic Monkeys and Dead Poets Society.
Somehow they ending up talking about whether or not Man of Steel was a flop, Merlin thought it was boring and Arthur thought the opposite, when Arthur said while laughing, “Don’t be such an idiot, Merlin, Man of Steel was great.”
Merlin had frozen. It felt like his heart had literally stopped beating and his ears cut off all sound around him while old words reverberated in his ears like they were being said right before him.
‘You’re such an idiot, Merlin.’
‘Merlin, you’re an idiot if you can’t do this right.’
‘You’re a fucking idiot.’
Idiot, idiot, idiot.
Merlin tried to not think about it. He tried to ignore the words, but he couldn’t, it was like a blast from the past that he couldn’t stop.
“Merlin? You okay?"
His spine had straightened and his hands clenched from where they sat on his lap. Merlin closed his eyes and drew in a deep, shaky breath.
Merlin licked his lips his lips and forced himself to say, “Don’t call me that.” It didn’t come out any louder than a whisper, and in the loud room Arthur was forced to come closer. He had an arm over the back of Merlin’s chair as he leaned in to hear better. Merlin could feel the heat of his body and it made him paralyzed even more.
Arthur had pulled back slightly at that and asked gently, “Say again? I didn’t catch that.”
“Don’t…” he said lowly. He lifted his head and bravely looked Arthur in the eye. He said louder over the rapid beating of his heart. “Don’t call me an idiot. Please don’t ever call me that.”
For a second, Arthur looked shocked before it changed to understanding. He nodded rapidly.
“Yeah, of course. I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean it like that, okay?"
Merlin smiled wanly and nodded along loosely, not really believing it.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Arthur said, trying to make up for what he said.
“I know, it’s okay,” Merlin replied, trying to make Arthur forget about it and move on. He was embarrassed that he couldn’t control his reaction to such a little word.
After that the conversation was slightly strained. Arthur tried to get back to the easiness of the conversation from before, but Merlin couldn’t seem to get back into it. He was still stiff and uncomfortable.
Gwaine, who was sitting next to Merlin this time around, had finally noticed about ten minutes later that something had happened. Arthur was staring sullenly down at his pint and was faced forward compared to being turned toward Merlin like before, and Merlin was hunched in on himself and stayed focused on his lap.
Gwaine broke away from his conversation and leaned over to Merlin, grabbing his hand lightly with his own to get his attention.
Merlin looked up at Gwaine and he could see the vacant look in his face.
“You wanna go?” he asked. A corner of Merlin’s mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile before he nodded once.
Gwaine nodded in reply before turning to Percy, whispering in his ear, “We need to get Merlin home.”
Percy turned away from Leon and glanced briefly at Merlin before nodding in agreement.
“Hey, guys, sorry, but I got an early shoot tomorrow,” Gwaine announced to the table. A few of the people protested, but understood. “I know, I know, you’ll all pine away while I’m gone. I’ll see you all again in a week. Oh, and we’re taking Merlin home too. He has to go into the shop early tomorrow too.”
He stood up with Percy as people began to say their goodbyes and pulled up Merlin alongside him who was doing his best to get his limbs moving in a semblance of being fine.
Merlin pasted on a smile for everyone as he said his goodbyes. He avoided Arthur who seemed to be doing the same. Freya gave him a look of concern and he shook his head at her to tell her that he didn’t want to talk right then. Morgana looked at him speculatively, but didn’t say anything either.
He was silent as he followed Gwaine and Percy to the tube station, as it was still early enough to catch a ride back home. The couple didn’t bother Merlin as he brooded, mentally slapping himself in the face at his reaction to Arthur’s meager words.
Arthur hadn’t meant them in the way that Mordred did. Arthur was joking around, teasing. Mordred’s was a thinly veiled insult. They were different, but Merlin couldn’t stop himself from the automatic flinch from the word and the hurt it drudged up every time he heard it. It was a reminder that he a lesser being, someone that needed to be coddled and looked after because he was useless. Consciously, Merlin knew that he wasn’t, but it was a long time after Mordred before he could say it and mean it.
Gwaine and Percy accompanied Merlin home. They made themselves comfortable on Merlin’s couch as they opened bottles of beer and watched a re-run of Masterchef. Gwaine and Percy talked between themselves as Merlin stayed quiet and listened to them with his eyes glued to the telly.
He was used to dealing with things on his own ever since he was growing up. With only his mum, who worked long hours, and Will, who he couldn’t talk to all the time, to rely on, it was odd to know that he had friends who were willing to wait around for you to be ready to talk or even just sit there quietly. It wasn’t until recently that Merlin realized how lucky he was that he had this. Most people didn’t, and he wasn’t going to take it for granted again.
Half an hour later, Merlin was feeling better, much more in control of himself, but slightly embarrassed.
“You don’t have to stay you know,” Merlin told the other two from his spot on the end of the couch. He watched as Gary slinked out of the open door of his room and walk out his eye line into the kitchen.
Percy smiled kindly and said, “Don’t worry about it, Merlin, it’s nice to be doing something different for a change. We haven’t hung out here in a while.”
Gwaine nodded. “I forgot how comfortable your couch was. Remember when I passed out on here and you had to push me off of it after I woke up because I wouldn’t move?”
Shaking his head and smiling slightly, Merlin snorted. “You were threatening to piss all over it because you didn’t want to get up to use the loo, of course I pushed you off."
“I’m still surprised you could push me off with those arms of yours."
“You always underestimate how strong I am,” Merlin teased.
Gwaine grinned at him and squeezed his shoulder. “I never underestimate that for a second, Merlin,” he said seriously, a hint of a smile on his face. “So you good now? Want to talk or anything? I can call Freya, I know she’s better at this thing.”
“No it’s alright, I’m fine now,” Merlin replied. He curled up and partially hid his face in his hand. “I was just being dumb.”
“Nothing you do is dumb.”
“No, it was. I overreacted over nothing.”
“What happened then? Percy and I’ll pass judgment then and most likely say that you weren’t being dumb.”
Merlin sighed and bit his lip partially before saying, “Arthur just was just kind of teasing me and said something that reminded me of Mordred and I froze. I didn’t mean to and I know Arthur didn’t mean it in the way Mordred did, but it still made me feel shitty for a few moments there.”
Gwaine reached over and squeezed Merlin’s forearm. “That’s not dumb at all, it’s completely understandable,” he said.
“Gwaine’s right,” Percy agreed. “Sure it’d be great if you didn’t react at all, but you’re only human, Merlin.”
Merlin smiled thinly. Their comments were comforting and it helped Merlin reassure himself that it was okay to react in that way after what he had been through. Over time maybe he could get over it, but it had only been a little more than a year since he had last seen Mordred, and year obviously wasn’t enough to reverse the affects Mordred had on him.
“Thanks guys,” he said to his friends.
“Don’t mention it,” Gwaine replied. He paused before saying, “No, actually mention this to Freya. She doesn’t think I have a sensitive bone in my body.”
Merlin chuckled, “I’m sure she’d be delighted to know that you do.”
Thankfully Gwaine changed the subject after that and they started talking about one of Gwaine’s repeat clients who was a drama queen.
Freya texted him then, asking him if he was alright. Merlin texted back saying that he was fine and he talked it out with Gwaine and Percy. He tried not to snort when Freya had some choice words about Gwaine’s ability to rarely talk about anything that didn’t contain an innuendo.
An hour later, Gwaine and Percy left, telling Merlin to contact them if he needed anything else.
That night Merlin curled up in bed, allowing Gary to sleep on the bed with him, which he didn’t usually allow, and tried not to think about the confusion and guilt on Arthur’s face. Merlin knew he had to make it up to him somehow.
The next day, in the early afternoon, Merlin played with his phone, writing out texts before deleting them, then going into his contacts and hovered his thumb over the talk button. He knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know the best way to say it. Did he call, did he text, maybe induce some stalker skills and find his address for snail mail or a surprise visit?
Merlin rolled his eyes at himself and flopped back along his couch. He was being ridiculous. Taking a deep breath, Merlin flipped back open his mobile and moved his fingers to bring up Arthur’s number. He hesitated a moment before steeling himself and calling him.
The dial tone rang and Merlin resisted the urge to hang up immediately and pretend it never happened. He gripped the phone tight with a sweaty hand and tried to keep his heart rate steady.
It’s just a phone call, it’s nothing to freak out about, he thought to himself.
The ringing continued for a while and Merlin didn’t know whether he was going to be relieved or disappointed that Arthur didn’t pick up. But as soon as he was about to hang up, the ringing stopped.
“Hello?” Arthur answered hesitantly.
“Hey,” Merlin replied back and squeezed his eyes shut when his voice came out an octave higher than normal.
There was a pause before Arthur said, “…Hi.”
Merlin laughed softly to himself. It was nice to know that he wasn’t the off-footed one here. “I’d ask you what’s up, but I was the one who called first.”
He heard Arthur’s huff of laughter over the speaker and it made him smile. “You did and I can honestly say that I’m surprised.”
Merlin stayed quiet for a moment as the fingers of his free hand tapped his stomach. “Surprised that I called in general or that I called after last night?”
“Both, I guess. I still want to apologize for last night and –”
“No,” Merlin cut in, shaking his head even though Arthur couldn’t see it. “You really have nothing to apologize for. You didn’t know…even I really didn’t know that I was going to react that way either. I’m sorry if I scared you or made you feel bad or anything. I didn’t mean to."
“Well, you have nothing to apologize over either. So I say we’re both sorry and we move on. How about that?”
Merlin smiled slightly. “Yeah, alright.”
They were both silent, and Merlin thought it would be awkward, but it wasn’t, it was nice. He could faintly hear Arthur breathing and moving things in the background.
“What are you doing now?”
“Work,” Arthur grunted.
“But it’s the weekend.”
“I’m a workaholic, Merlin, that means I work on the weekends.”
“Nothing in the business world is so important that it can’t wait two days.”
“Every day of the week is important at Camelot.”
“Really? So what’s so important this time?”
“We’re getting ready to break into the North American markets. And then after that the Asian and Australian. It takes a long of time, lots of planning and paper work.”
Merlin hummed in understanding. “Yes, but you can’t do it all by yourself.”
“No, I can’t, but my…”
Merlin waited for Arthur to continue, but when he didn’t, Merlin prompted him, “But your?”
Arthur sighed and replied irritated, “But my nothing. Can we talk about something else now or do you want to keep nagging me about my life?”
Merlin rolled his eyes. Arthur getting defensive over his work wasn’t very unexpected, Merlin knew that he loved Camelot and what he did, but he was confused as to why he was running himself into the ground for it.
“Sounds like someone needs a break,” Merlin said. He took a breath and extended the proverbial olive branch by asking, “How about we go get some coffee right now or something.”
Arthur was silent; Merlin couldn’t hear him breathing or shuffling papers around. Merlin then realized that it sounded as though he was asking Arthur out on a date, which he wasn’t. He just wanted to hang out alone with Arthur more, like he planned.
“As friends, of course,” Merlin hastened to add, a blush on his cheeks and suddenly glad he didn’t see Arthur in person. “Friends are allowed to get coffee together you know.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Arthur finally replied. “I can pick you up if you’d like and we’ll go somewhere near you?”
Merlin gave Arthur his address and told him to park outside his flat so that they could walk to the café. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable with Arthur seeing his flat, he just wanted to make it clear that they were only going for coffee and a short chat. They weren’t going to linger in his flat so that Merlin could fantasize about what could happen. He didn’t want to be put into that position, so he kept it safe, and Merlin felt that Arthur understood.
In a flurry, Merlin changed out of his sweats and baggy shirt and into something a bit more presentable. He tried his best to flatten his hair and checked himself in the mirror ten different times. To keep himself busy, he began washing his dishes, waiting for his phone to ring with a text.
It was a little over half an hour later when Merlin’s phone finally went off, just as he was washing the last mug. He quickly rinsed off the cup, put it in the strainer, and dried his hands on a towel, before picking up his phone and checking the message.
Merlin shoved the phone in his pocket without bothering to reply and slipped his shoes on. He patted his pockets to make sure he had everything he needed. Nodding to himself, Merlin left his flat, locking the door behind him, and made his way down to the street.
As he stepped out of the building, Arthur looked up and smiled at Merlin. Merlin smiled back, his pulse quickening. Arthur looked great as usual. There wasn’t a hair out of place and his clothes were form fitting and flattering.
“Hey,” Merlin greeted once he was standing in front of Arthur.
“Hey,” Arthur said, his smile turning into a smirk. “You’ve got a lot of…whatever this is.” He reached over to pluck off some cat hairs off Merlin’s jacket.
Merlin looked down at his jacket that he had pulled off the couch and realized that there were some cat hairs sticking to the fabric. “Cat hair,” Merlin replied, embarrassed, as he tried to pick off as many as he could quickly. “I forgot to brush it off.”
Merlin nodded in the direction of the café and began walking, Arthur falling into step next to him.
“I didn’t know you had a cat,” Arthur said.
“Yeah, his name’s Gary. Well originally it was Kilgharrah, but I decided that he need a nickname and Gary seemed to fit. Are you a cat person? Or a dog person.”
“Dogs, but I like cats, too.”
They continued talking about the merits of a having a cat versus having a dog for a pet, which somehow trailed into talking about the big cats in the wild, as Merlin led them down the street.
It was a nice day, though on the cold side with a few threatening looking clouds, making Merlin do up the zip to his jacket and huddle in for warmth. Their arms would brush every now and then, touching only by the fabric of their jackets, and Merlin was suddenly glad for the pieces of clothing separating them. He was afraid it would have been too teasing and intimate otherwise.
A few minutes later they came upon Merlin’s local café. The smell of coffee blasted them in the face when they stepped through door and inside was warm and semi-full of customers. Together they made their way to the counter and ordered their own drinks, Merlin firmly refusing Arthur’s offer to pay.
“If anyone should pay, it should be me,” Merlin told him. “I asked you to come.”
Arthur huffed and smiled slightly. “Alright, we’ll pay separate then.”
They paid for their drinks and settled down at an empty table.
“So, is there anything else you do besides work?” Merlin asked, blowing on his coffee in attempt to cool it faster.
Arthur snorted. “Not really. I wake up, go to work, go home, work out if I’m not too tired, eat dinner and then go to sleep.”
“What did you use to do for fun?”
“Anything, everything,” he answered. “I went out all the time, played footy on the weekends, saw films and plays.”
“Do you miss doing that?” Merlin asked, wondering why and when all that had to stop.
Arthur shrugged. “Sometimes, but then I realized I had to get more serious about my job. I can’t do that if I’m concentrated more on my social life.”
Scoffing, Merlin replied, “You don’t have to give up on everything just because you want to concentrate on work. You can balance it out; like work hard during the weekdays, but use the weekends to have fun.”
“It’s not that easy,” Arthur said, shaking his head.
“I actually thought it was quite simple.”
Arthur’s mouth thinned into a hard line. “Not when your father is your boss and expects more from you than other employees,” he admitted.
Merlin should have realized that Arthur was feeling pressured by his father, it made sense. But his father should have noticed what he was doing to Arthur, shouldn’t he?
“Can you tell him that he’s overworking you?”
Arthur leveled Merlin with a look. “You don’t know my father.”
Feeling that Arthur was starting to get aggravated with the conversation, Merlin changed topics abruptly.
“Right,” Merlin said after taking a sip from his cup to test the heat before taking a bigger mouthful. “So favorite dessert.”
Suddenly Arthur grinned. “Are we playing twenty questions? Because I feel like it should be my turn.”
“Well that was your first question wasted. Now answer mine.”
“No way! That didn’t count as my question.”
“Yes it did, you phrased it as a question, thus it is a question.”
“Merlin, you’re completely rubbish at this game.”
“Don’t blame me for your wasted question.”
“I’m not playing anymore.”
Merlin couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped him. “Stop pouting.” Cause you look damn cute when you do.
“I don’t pout.”
“Yes, you do. Your lip sticks out and everything,” Merlin replied gleefully. He almost blushed at the thought of reaching over and pushing the lip back to its rightful place. Arthur’s lips were delectable, just like almost everything else about the man.
“Shut up, Merlin."
From there the conversation was easy, fun, and full of bantering. There was a little flirting thrown in there, but it was overshadowed by the intent to get to know each other better. Arthur had finally answered his question by saying sticky toffee pudding and Merlin told Arthur about his mother and Will. Arthur hadn’t asked about his father, but he gave up the information anyway, telling him how his father had left to travel before his mother even knew she was pregnant and had no way of contacting him. He at least had a picture of his father, Balinor, put away with all of his other old photos. Merlin asked is Arthur genuinely like working at Camlelot, and Arthur asked how he got into baking. In retrospect, their conversation could be seen a date material, but Merlin figured that most friends knew this information about each other.
Merlin felt giddy, like he wanted to run down the block, screaming at the top of his lungs about this man who seemed to enjoy just sitting and talking to him. Arthur was attentive and rarely ever looked away from Merlin, interested in everything Merlin had to say. For a few hours, Merlin felt special and he wondered what Arthur saw in him. Merlin didn’t think he was all that, but Arthur seemed to think differently and it was mind-boggling.
It was dinner time when the two men left the café, barely breaking their conversation on the way back to Merlin’s flat.
The walk back went by quicker than earlier, and before he knew it, Merlin was standing out front of his complex with Arthur in front of him. In any other situation, Merlin might have invited Arthur up for a drink or some dinner, but he felt that he needed to draw the line somewhere.
They stood and talked for a few minutes more before Arthur glanced at watch and said, “I should get going, I have to meet my father for dinner soon."
“Oh, sorry, I’m babbling away here, don’t let me keep you,” Merlin replied hastily.
“Don’t worry, Merlin,” Arthur grinned. “Talking to you wasn’t completely terrible.”
Merlin tilted his head. “Thank you for your seal of approval, I can rest easy tonight.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said before quickly stepping forward and surprising Merlin with a short hug.
“Yeah, later,” Merlin said after he could get his mouth to function and his arms to quickly embrace Arthur back.
Arthur pulled away and Merlin could still smell his shampoo lingering around him. Merlin didn’t think it was possible to be weak-kneed, but he soon found out that it was achievable when Arthur smiled brightly, showing off his endearingly crooked teeth, so close to his face. Somehow Merlin found himself smiling back as Arthur clapped him on the shoulder and moved away.
Merlin abruptly raised his hand in a wave like a lunatic. “Bye.” Merlin watched Arthur walk away and forced himself to not stare at his bum. It was a difficult task and Merlin felt like he should win an award for resisting as much as he did.
Merlin walked back up to his flat in a daze, repeating the evening in his head and smiling like a loon at nothing. As soon as he entered, he slipped of his jacket and his shoes. He walked over to the couch here Gary was resting and quickly scooped him up before flopping onto the couch in a lazy sprawl.
Merlin found that he was still grinning. He tried to smother it in Gary’s hair, but found it wasn’t helping.
He announced to Gary and the empty flat, “I’m so fucked.”
Merlin’s sweating and grinning at Freya as they move away from the bar and back into the fray of the crowded club. They get back to the tall table where Percy is standing where he’s talking to a man he didn’t recognize and set their drinks down.
Percy had only been hanging out with Merlin, Freya, Gwen, and Lance for about a month now, not long after he had been hired at Alice. He had been in London for a few months and hadn’t made many friends, so Merlin had invited him out with his own friends. Although he was quiet at first, Merlin had been able to get Percy to open up during the mornings to find that Percy was funny and not as dim as he looked when he smiled.
Percy didn’t seem to be bothered by the anonymous man and Merlin immediately knew from his body language, that he’s trying to hit on Percy. Merlin didn’t know if Percy was gay or not, that never really came up during their time together, and Merlin didn’t have an infallible gaydar to rely on. When Percy first came in to interview with himself and Gaius, Merlin appreciated his looks, but after a while of working with him, Merlin knew that even if Percy swung his way, they probably wouldn’t work out.
The unknown man was more than attractive in Merlin’s opinion, long hair that curled against his neck, straight nose, close trimmed beard, and roguish grin, all attributes that put most models to shame when paired along with his perfect facial structure. When the man in question noticed Merlin appreciating his looks, Merlin looked away and blushed heavily. He was probably one of the fittest men Merlin had ever seen.
Before Merlin could engage Freya in conversation, who was watching the dance floor where Lance and Gwen had disappeared off to fifteen minutes before, the stranger introduced himself.
“Hi! I’m Gwaine,” he shouted over the loudness of the music, sticking his hand out to Merlin.
Merlin grinned and shook his hand, feeling flustered when Gwaine winked at him. “Merlin. This is Freya.” Freya smiled and shook his hand as well.
Gwaine turned to Merlin beside him. “Percy was just telling me how he works with you,” he prompted, getting Merlin to talk about Alice and ask Gwaine questions, which turned into downright flirting a few minutes later. Merlin was flattered and hopeful, a bloke that looked as good as Gwaine never looked twice at Merlin (if he didn’t think about Lance), so he tried his best to be confident and desirable.
Gwaine asked him to dance and led him out on the dance floor by the hand. There were so many bodies that it didn’t matter that they were two men dancing together. Gwaine kept a hold of Merlin’s hand as they danced as the other rested on his hip. Merlin wasn’t the best dancer around, but he could hold a beat, and of course Gwaine was graceful, pulling Merlin in to dance close before shimmying away, twirling Merlin around to bring Merlin’s back to his chest and roll their hips together.
Merlin didn’t get laid that night, but he gave Gwaine his number and felt that it was in the cards.
A week later Gwaine invited Merlin and his friends out for a drink, saying that his own friends ditched him for a night in.
Merlin showed up with Freya, Gwen, and Lance in tow and Percy, having developed a cold the day before, stayed home. When Merlin told Gwaine this, his smile faltered just enough for Merlin to notice before he was grinning again and jumping into a tale of something that happened earlier that week.
Again, Gwaine flirted with Merlin, touched his arm numerous times, knocked their knees together, and breathed against his neck when his whispered something in Merlin’s ear. It was nice; to feel as though someone was truly interested in him for whatever reason it may be.
Later that night, after Gwen and Lance went home, and Merlin and Gwaine walked Freya to the night bus, Merlin made what could only seen as an obvious invitation by inviting Gwaine back to his place for another drink. Merlin blushed furiously and bowed his head when Gwaine only grinned before saying he had to wake up early.
It was Thursday when Merlin saw Gwaine next. Merlin felt his cheeks heat from embarrassment of their previous encounter when Gwaine stepped into Alice after the morning rush. Gwaine’s eyes landed on Merlin before moving away, glancing around the counter.
“So I hear your pastries are the best around,” Gwaine said as he sauntered toward the counter, resting his arms on the steel top and leaning lightly against the glass covering.
Forridel, making a new batch of coffee behind Merlin, snorted, making Merlin huff and will away the color on his cheeks.
“Good morning to you too, Gwaine,” Merlin replied with a smile. He forced himself to stay back and not mirror Gwaine’s pose. “So what brings you here?”
Gwaine shrugged. “I was in the area.”
“Oh really?” Merlin asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. “I didn’t know they had fashion sets around here.” Gwaine was a fashion photographer, something he confessed he only did for the money. He preferred taking pictures of landscapes and nature, but it didn’t pay as well.
In response, Gwaine laughed. “They don’t, but it was a special case. Some sort of line catering to business women or something,” he flippantly replied. “Didn’t pay much attention to the reason, not what I was there for.”
Merlin tipped his head to the side and said, “You sound so passionate about your job.”
“Didn’t you know it was my goal in life to play who got a nose job almost every day?”
“I’m sure your younger self is jumping with joy.”
“You bet he is.”
Merlin chuckled. “So what can I do for you?”
“I was craving something kind of sweet; all I had for breakfast was some juice they had for the models this morning.”
Before Merlin was able to reply, Percy came in from the kitchen, carrying a tray of éclairs.
Gwaine brightened. “Percy, long time no see, mate.”
Percy who wasn’t paying attention when he walked behind the counter, looked up at the sound of his name. Percy smiled pleasantly as he set down the tray on the back counter.
“Hey, Gwaine, how are you?"
“Better, now that you’re here,” Gwaine replied, winking. Merlin smiled slightly at the line, but his eyes flickered down toward the floor, unsure. He wringed his hands together before keeping them busy by tidying up the paper bags.
“Sure,” Percy said, smirking with disbelief. He continued working, pulling out the old tray of éclairs and placing the leftovers on the backside of the new tray.
Merlin moved to help a new customer who came in, but kept an ear on Gwaine and Percy’s conversation.
Gwaine was flirting his ass off, more than he did with Merlin, and Percy seemed to humor him, but didn’t make an attempt to flirt back. Merlin was ultimately confused, a bit put out, and if he was honest, annoyed.
What was he thinking? Gwaine was hitting on Percy when they met. He only moved on to Merlin because he probably looked like he was easy and Percy wasn’t giving in. Also, why wouldn’t Gwaine pick Percy over him? Merlin was skinny, pale, and had obnoxious ears and Percy was perfectly sculpted with the muscles to match. Merlin felt like a fool, flirting and throwing himself at Gwaine, who probably only played along to not hurt his feelings.
Merlin sighed to himself, resigned, and instructed Forridel to go on break, taking over her position. He tried his best to ignore the two men along the counter and the growing ache in his chest as he cleaned up around the till.
Never good enough, Merlin. Just never enough, he thought to himself. He turned away toward the back counter. Closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing away the clench in his throat.
Merlin felt a tap on his elbow and his head jerked up. Percy handed a bag filled with a pastry over. Merlin glanced up to see a blush on Percy’s cheeks; he had never seen Percy blush before.
“For Gwaine,” he said with a nod toward Gwaine. Merlin glanced over and quickly looked away when it was clear that Gwaine was checking out Percy’s ass. “Croissant.”
“Thanks,” Merlin replied and turned around to ring it up.
“See you, Gwaine,” Percy said before returning to the kitchen.
He didn’t look up as he pressed the necessary buttons on the till and Gwaine’s presence appeared in front of him.
Gwaine leaned on his elbows across the low counter. “He is so hard to read, man,” Gwaine said. “I swear he’s gay, but he keeps playing dumb. He not playing hard to get, I know boys who play hard to get, Percy just acts like he doesn’t know what I’m doing. He is gay right? You’d know that, yeah, you work with him.”
When Gwaine had started speaking, Merlin had frozen, his hand hovering over the pad of the till. His suspicions were confirmed, but what could he exactly get angry at Gwaine about? Gwaine didn’t lead Merlin on, shag him or say anything about a relationship. On Gwaine’s end it was only flirting, and Merlin had exaggerated it to something that it wasn’t. The clench in this throat was back and there was something sinking in his stomach.
“I don’t know,” Merlin replied lightly, avoiding looking Gwaine in the eye. “I don’t make it a habit of butting into my employees’ personal lives. That’ll be one fifty.”
Gwaine quickly handed over the money and Merlin slid over the bag in exchange. As Merlin punched in the amount and popped the cash drawer open, Gwaine said, “How can you not hit on that, Merlin? He’s massive. And hopefully massive everywhere if y’know what I mean.” Gwaine laughed at his own joke and Merlin chuckled along weakly.
“Yeah, I’m sure he is,” Merlin responded, barely managing to keep the sarcasm and hurt out of his voice.
Unfortunately, Gwaine had noticed and while Merlin slowly put away the bills into the drawer. “Hey…don’t – Merlin,” Gwaine stammered as Merlin pushed the drawer shut. Merlin looked up to see the pity on Gwaine’s face and tried his best to give him a reassuring smile. Merlin was sure he failed.
“I’ll see you later, Gwaine,” Merlin said and turned to straighten out the food.
Gwaine grasped his wrist lightly before he could walk much further saying, “Hey, hey, hey. Come here, Merlin.” Reluctantly, Merlin faced Gwaine and tried to make it look like everything was fine.
“Merlin, you’re great, really, you’re fit as hell, but –”
Merlin interrupted. “If this is an ‘it’s not you, it’s me speech’, I really don’t want to hear it.”
Gwaine leveled Merlin with a look. “It’s not. Just listen. You’re the type of person who deserves to be with someone who’ll give you the world. Believe me, you don’t want to be saddled with a bloke like me, I’d only bring you down.”
“I think I should be the judge of that.”
“I agree, but just not this time,” Gwaine replied smoothly and squeezed his wrist. “Besides, I think we’d be really great friends. I never really had a best mate, you know that? People get sick of my shit real quick.”
The corner of Merlin’s mouth twitched. “How do you know I won’t be the same?”
Gwaine grinned. “Just a feeling.”
After a few seconds of Gwaine smiling at him, Merlin couldn’t help but smile. Yes, he was still smarting from the rejection, but maybe he did gain a good friend out of it.
“So, help me out,” Gwaine said, letting go of Merlin’s wrist and standing up straight. “Let’s be wingmen.”
Merlin snorted. “I don’t think I’d be too good at that."
“Never know until you try.”
It turned out that Merlin wasn’t a very good wingman, but he got Gwaine a date with Percy, and counted it in his favor.
Hump day was not Merlin’s favorite day of the week, for some reason he liked Mondays better than Wednesday, maybe it was because he loved going into work, but my the time Wednesday came around Merlin would wizen up and realize waking up at the crack of dawn is not delightful.
Merlin went through his usual routines of the day, joking around with Percy in the kitchen, and trying to get some inventory done. The morning went on as usual, there were no customer complaints or disasters like when the oven wouldn’t properly work. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, until Arthur walked in through the door.
Merlin had just finished bagging a scone when Arthur walked in wearing a navy business suit. He didn’t notice Merlin right away, but was looking around the shop as he made his way toward the counter.
“Arthur?” Merlin said, grabbing Arthur’s attention.
Surprised at hearing his name, Arthur’s head snapped towards Merlin. His eyes rounded before smiling. “Merlin!”
Merlin beamed. “What are you doing here?”
Merlin rolled his eyes, but his grin didn’t waiver. He leaned forward and crossed his arms over the top of the display case. “Funny. I haven’t seen you in here before.”
“I’ve never had to, my assistant usually comes in to get me food, but she’s sick today.”
“Oh, right, I forgot that you have minions to do all the leg work for you,” Merlin teased.
“I treat my minions well, Merlin. I even pay for their food,” Arthur replied.
“Free food is a good way of bribing someone to like you.”
“I’m not bribing them, I’m being a generous boss.”
“Sure you are,” Merlin smiled. “I didn’t know you worked around here.”
“Yeah, just a few streets over,” he said. “I didn’t know you worked here. But then again, I never knew the name of the place until I asked my assistant where it was, so if you said the name I probably wouldn’t have known it anyway.”
“Alice. The best bakery in London,” Merlin replied, raising his arms up.
“Couldn’t agree more. You have the cinnamon roll thing that I’m addicted to and for some reason only sell on Wednesdays,” Arthur said, glancing around the display case looking for the item in question.
Merlin perked up. “The sticky buns?” he asked and pointed toward the tray under the heat lamp.
Arthur looked in the direction he pointed and grinned. “Yes! That. Can I get one of those?” Merlin chuckled and went to the tray, grabbing a box on the way.
“Are you the one that makes them?” Arthur asked interestedly as he followed Merlin along the counter.
Merlin, who had turned toward the back counter to package the second to last bun, said distractedly, “Yup.” He scooped out some extra filling because it was for Arthur and he belatedly hoped that Sefa’s boss wouldn’t mind.
“I swear to god, Merlin, I would do anything you ask me to if you could make those everyday,” Arthur practically moaned as Merlin turned around with the box in his hand. The concept of Arthur moaning and the complement (something rare coming from Arthur) made Merlin blush. “Though if you did make them everyday, I’d be forced to eat them everyday, and then I’ll just get fat and all my working out would be for nothing.”
“You’d get tasty sticky buns to eat everyday,” Merlin said as he bagged the box. “Working out or sticky buns. Pick your poison. I’ll be biased and say sticky buns.”
“I just might have to agree with you. So how much do I owe you?” Arthur asked, digging his wallet out.
Merlin grinned and barely noticed when Forridel moved away from the till. He moved over and rang up the item. “Three twenty.”
Arthur handed over a fiver, saying, “Keep the change.”
“Thank you,” Merlin replied genuinely with a smile and placed the change in the tip jar. He then slid over the bag to Arthur and berated his heart for stuttering when their fingers brushed.
“I’ll see you Friday?” Arthur asked after picking up the bag and taking a small step back away from the counter.
“Good.” Arthur smiled and nodded before turning and walking out of the shop. This time Merlin had no compunction about staring at Arthur’s arse.
A low whistle brought Merlin out of his reverie. He looked at the kitchen door to see Forridel and Drea smirking at him. “What?” he asked.
“Good work, Merlin,” Drea giggled with praise. “He’s so hot.”
Merlin blushed heavily. “Shut up.” He then shooed the girls off to work in order to stop them from interrogating him about Arthur.
It didn’t dawn until later that day that Arthur was Sefa’s boss. Merlin had sent Arthur a text saying: tell sefa i hope she gets better
Of course. Why am I not surprised that you know her name?
i kno the name of all my fav customers. esp ones with a boss whos got a sweet tooth ;)
Over the next few weeks, Merlin talked more to Arthur than he did anyone else. They would often text and once in a while they would call, but texting was simpler. Merlin was able to drag Arthur out on the weekends to make sure he wasn’t overworking himself and Arthur never complained. Well, he did complain, but Merlin could tell that he truly didn’t mind.
Merlin noticed that they were dating without actually saying that they were dating or anything more than friends. It was frustrating that Merlin felt like he couldn’t take the next logical step that needed to be taken weeks ago, but he was frightened of what could happen once they did. He thought everything would fall to pieces, so he kept the status quo, even though it felt like Arthur was slowly getting irritated with it.
Their friends often left them to their own devices when they hung out as a group on Friday nights, letting them bicker in the corner.
Merlin found it harder to resist Arthur when he started getting bolder, leaving small touches to his lower back when he ushered Merlin forward, resting his arm on the back of his seat when they sat next to each other, and finding every excuse to touch Merlin without pushing the envelope. On the other hand, Merlin wasn’t being so subtle in his tactility either. It wasn’t until after he did it that Merlin realized he would not longer hesitate in pulling Arthur along or squeezing his arm and knocking their shoulders. It came naturally.
It all came to head one night, almost six months after meeting Arthur, that Merlin knew that Arthur wasn’t going to make the first move. Arthur was waiting for Merlin, remembering his unspoken promise to only be friends because Merlin wasn’t ready. Merlin realized that he would never truly be ready and even though the next step seemed easy to most (seemed easy when he was younger), it would feel like jumping off a cliff.
Merlin was tired, but not dead on his feet, and was looking forward to seeing Arthur later. It was Saturday and he had to work and cover Drea’s shift because she was sick. His body was used to sleeping in a bit on the weekends to make up for waking up early during the week so he knew he was going to go to bed early that night.
After work, he changed into another set of clothes that weren’t tinged with flour and text Arthur saying that he was leaving work and made his way over to Arthur’s place in Primrose Hill, an area where Merlin never ventured to in his life except once to visit the park. Since they organized it a few days before, Merlin had time to look up the tube route and directions to his house. It took about fifteen minutes to get there by tube and another five to walk there.
Merlin looked down at his paper with the written directions and address and made sure the brick house he was standing outside of was the right house. Living in Primrose Hill and working where he did, Merlin wasn’t surprised that Arthur’s house was large enough to fit his flat inside four times over, but he also knew that Arthur could probably afford to live in an even larger house.
Taking in a deep breath, Merlin forced himself to walk up the stairs and ring the doorbell.
Merlin didn’t have to wait long before the door swung open, revealing Arthur in a set of comfortable looking sweats, an old jumper, and bare feet which made Merlin want to turn round and bury his face in his hands. Some things in life weren’t fair, and someone looking that good when they weren’t even trying was one of them.
“Hey, you found it,” Arthur said smiling. He then moved out of the way and let Merlin in.
“Yeah,” Merlin replied as he stepped inside. “I’m not sure that I should be surprised that you basically live in a mansion though.” He slipped off his shoes and followed Arthur into the house.
“It’s not that big, Merlin.”
“I’m sure a majority of the population would disagree with you.”
Arthur led him into the living room where he told him he could put down his bag. From what he could see of the house so far, it was very modern and clean. The living room had the largest television he had ever seen in a house with nice looking couches facing it. He could spy the kitchen that was lavish with a center island and bar.
Ignoring his last statement, Arthur said, “There’s a toilet just on the other side of the stairs if you need it. Do you want something to drink? I got beer, juice, water…
“No, I’m good."
Merlin chuckled at Arthur’s eagerness of being a good host.
“What?” he asked confused.
Merlin shook his head. “Nothing.”
Arthur rolled his eyes, pretending to be annoyed, before he turned and began setting up his laptop that was connected to his telly.
Merlin glanced around the room, taking in the small touches of the stacks of movies to the books and picture frames on the bookcase, before settling down on the side of the soft, dark couch that was infinitely more comfortable than his own.
Merlin grinned when Netflix flicked onto the screen. They were finally getting around to the Breaking Bad marathon that Arthur wanted to do since he had finally finished it two weeks earlier. They only planned on watching half of the season as it was late, but Merlin would have enjoyed watching the whole season in one sitting. He hoped that they could get through it quickly enough to watch the season finale soon after it aired. Merlin then realized he was really too invested in this show.
“Ready?” Arthur asked, looking back at Merlin and he nodded in reply. Arthur hit play and the marathon began.
After watching two episodes, Arthur paused for a few minutes to get them water and use the toilet. When he came back he asked, “Want to order some dinner?"
Merlin shrugged. “Sure.”
“What would you like? Indian? Thai? Chinese? Italian?”
“Thai’s good,” Merlin replied with a small grin in order to stop Arthur from listing off everything in the area.
Arthur nodded and went into the kitchen. Merlin stood up and followed him, getting a glimpse of a breakfast nook and a small patio and garden in the back. Arthur pulled out a menu and handed it over wordlessly. Merlin took it and looked at it to see if anything stood out to him as Arthur went and grabbed his phone.
“Pad Thai, medium,” Merlin said when Arthur came back into the room.
“Okay,” he replied before calling the restaurant to give them their order. “It’ll be here in about thirty minutes. Let’s watch while we wait.”
They started the third episode and Merlin tried his best to assure Arthur that he’s going to love Jesse if he wasn’t already in love with him. Arthur snorted and asked, “Have a thing for blond hair and blue eyes?”
Merlin scoffed, “You can barely tell Jesse’s blond.”
“Ah, so you do,” Arthur said gleefully.
“I didn’t say that!”
“But you didn’t disagree. It’s okay if you find me attractive, Merlin, a lot of people do. I’d be concerned if you didn’t.”
Merlin glared at Arthur. “I’m surprised your head fits in this house with how big your ego is.”
Arthur opened his mouth to reply, but the doorbell rang. Merlin reached to find his wallet in order to pay for his half, but Arthur waved him off.
“Don’t worry, I got it. Do you wanna pause it though?” Arthur said as he stood up and rushed to the door before Merlin could dispute him.
Sighing, Merlin stood up and quickly paused the show, waiting a few seconds before Arthur came back in with a bag in hand. Arthur placed the bag on the coffee table and began pulling out the containers, placing Merlin’s in front of his spot. Arthur nodded at Merlin to start playing the show before digging into his food.
Merlin pressed play and went back to his seat. He opened up the containers and grabbed a fork before saying, “Thank you for dinner.”
“No problem,” Arthur replied simply after swallowing his bite. They then went back to their food and show, silent for the remainder of the night unless one of them wanted to point something out or asked a question.
Merlin felt himself drifting off somewhere around the fifth episode. He tried his best to stay awake, but his brain simply wasn’t interested in something he’d seen three times before already. He fought to keep his eyes open, but they slowly shut against his will.
Later, he doesn’t know what woke him up, but he opened his eyes and looked toward the telly to see Arthur shutting down his laptop. Suddenly, Merlin took in a deep breath and sat up to wake himself up more.
“Oh, God,” he said softly, rubbing his face with his hands. “I’m sorry I fell asleep.”
Arthur quirked a smile at Merlin over his shoulder before closing his laptop. “Don’t be sorry. I didn’t want to wake you,” Arthur replied as he walked back over to the couch and sat down, closer than he had been earlier and turned to face him. He was close enough that Merlin didn’t even have to try to reach over to touch him if he wanted. “Not like you haven’t seen this before anyway.”
Merlin grinned sheepishly. “I think that’s why I fell asleep. This couch is really comfortable."
“That’s why I got it,” Arthur said chuckling. “It’s perfect for sleeping.”
“I might have to steal it,” Merlin whispered playfully, leaning forward.
“Good luck,” Arthur whispered back, trying to hide the laughter in his voice. He leaned a little closer without Merlin registering it. “I’d like to see you carry this out the door.”
Merlin scoffed and stated normally, “I wouldn’t carry it, I’d bribe Percy and Gwaine to do it and politely ask Lance.”
“You’re so sure that they’d help you steal my things.”
“Positive, especially if it includes getting free food or drinks.”
“I’ll just bribe them back.”
“You can’t bribe my friends.”
“They’re my friends, too.”
Merlin’s mouth hung open for a second in a loss of how to reply before saying childishly, “They were mine first."
Arthur then did that annoying smirk where he looked like the smug prat that he was and Merlin’s brain promptly melted. He wanted to blame it on being tired, or his just waking up, but he knew it wasn’t that.
Merlin couldn’t say when their faces got so close. It seemed like one second there was a respectable space between them then all of a sudden his body wanted to meld into Arthur’s.
Rationally, Merlin was ready to kiss Arthur, he really was, but his body just didn’t seem to be responding to his brain. They were already leaning toward each other, every second feeling like a lifetime as the space diminished.
Merlin could feel his heart beating out of his chest under Arthur’s wary stare as he moved closer. He could feel the steady puffs of Arthur’s breath against his face and his eyes glanced to Arthur’s lips that were glistening as if Arthur had licked them with his tongue already. Thinking about it made Merlin do the same before he closed his eyes and his body froze, ready for Arthur’s lips to meet his.
The kiss never came. Instead, after a few beats of waiting, Merlin felt Arthur’s forehead resting against his and his nose brushing against his own like a hello. Merlin turned in towards it, doing the same as Arthur’s hand came to rest against the side of his neck and his thumb brushed against his jaw. Their head’s moved back and forth briefly as if they wanted their lips to touch, but wanted the other to make the first move. So instead their noses rubbed and pushed against one another in the resemblance of a kiss.
Finally his movement stopped, and Merlin relished in the feeling of Arthur’s hand against him and his face pressed against his own. It was oddly intimate for something that wasn’t. Merlin felt his pulse racing along with his unsteady breaths and his hands slightly shaking from where they seemed to have clutched to Arthur’s shirt.
Merlin slowly opened his eyes to see Arthur’s already open and boring into his. Arthur’s grip tightened slightly to keep Merlin’s head in place as he turned his head and brushed his lips against Merlin’s cheek in a lingering kiss. Merlin’s cheek burned from the light touch.
Arthur pulled back to rest his forehead against Merlin’s and closed his eyes. He whispered, “I should take you home.”
Before Merlin could reply, Arthur pulled away, leaving Merlin feel almost bereft as Arthur got up and went upstairs.
Merlin closed his eyes and tried to compose himself. He was torn between freaking the fuck out and running up the stairs after Arthur.
He didn’t get much time to contemplate what to do before Arthur made his way back down in a pair of jeans and a jacket on. Merlin hurried to gather his belongings and get to the front door.
The ride back to his flat was silent with only the radio in the background to fill the space between them. The silence didn’t help Merlin because all of a sudden the thoughts in his head went from we almost to kissed to Arthur didn’t want to kiss me.
It was a stupid thought because Merlin thought that Arthur did like him, and when you liked someone, you kissed them at any opportunity you could, but Arthur didn’t. Merlin had missed his chance because Arthur didn’t like him anymore. Maybe all his pushing to just be friends sealed his fate, because Arthur only now thought of him as a friend and nothing more. The kiss would have been for pity or because Merlin was there and willing; Merlin was glad Arthur didn’t kiss him then, if it were for that reason.
Arthur pulled up outside his building, and Merlin sat and stared at it for a moment.
“I’ll see you later, “ Arthur said.
Merlin glanced at Arthur to see him staring straight ahead. Feeling rejected, Merlin rasped, “Yeah” before scrambling out of the car as quickly as he could, his bag slipping off his shoulder as he shut the car door behind him.
He didn’t look back as he ran inside the building up to his flat. He didn’t turn on any lights or take off any of his clothes as he burrowed into the sheets of his bed, breathing heavily through the heavy weight on his chest.
Gary jumped up on the bed, surprising Merlin briefly, before head butting against his arms. Merlin sighed and pulled Gary into his chest, glad that his cat at least wanted him.
For the rest of the week, Merlin didn’t text Arthur nor did he get any texts in return. He evaded Percy’s questions, asking him what was wrong, and buried himself into his work, trying to come up with new recipes.
He skipped that Friday night hang out with the excuse of a stomachache and stayed in instead. He received a concerned text from some of his friends hoping he felt better soon, and Merlin was glad that Percy kept his mouth shut about his mood for the time being. He knew that Percy would tell Gwaine soon though.
He was surprised when Arthur texted him though.
You alright? Freya said you’re sick.
yea, just a stomachache
Ok. Feel better. Let me know if you need anything.
Merlin sighed as he stared down at his phone. He had to remind himself that Arthur only wanted to be friends. Everything he did from now on was in friendly terms and nothing more.
Out of everyone to confront him, Merlin was surprised when it was Lance.
He had opened his door Tuesday night to find Lance standing alone bearing a peace offering in the form of Gwen’s chicken casserole.
They hung around in the kitchen making small talk as Merlin ate standing up against the counter. Merlin was waiting for Lance to bring up the topic and wasn’t surprised when a few minutes later Lance said, “Percy said you’ve been acting weird.”
When Merlin doesn’t reply out of spite, Lance continued by saying, “Arthur has been acting weird too. According to Morgana at least.”
Merlin swallowed around his bite of food uneasily. “What makes you think the two are related?”
Anyone else would have given Merlin a look of impatience, but Lance kept his cool, which was probably why out of all his friends Lance was the one to be voted to talk to him. Merlin fleetingly wondered if Freya just didn’t want to deal with it anymore and pawned him off to someone else.
“I never said they were,” Lances countered. “Do you think they are?”
“No, why should they?”
Lance shrugged amicably. “Because you two talk a lot, maybe he said something to you or you said something to him. Anything really.”
Getting irritated of Lance beating around the bush, Merlin said, “Nothing happened between us okay? And I mean that. Nothing happened.”
Lance was quiet for a moment before asking, “Did you want something to happen?”
Merlin paused before ignoring the question and going back to eating silently.
“C’mon, Merlin, you need to talk to someone. I’m just here to listen and help if I can,” Lance said gently.
Merlin ignored him again, but Lance had the patience of a saint and leaned back against the counter to wait Merlin out. Merlin ate in silence, determined to not look over at or talk to his friend.
After finishing the food, Merlin washed out the container and dried it. “Tell Gwen it was delicious as always,” Merlin said as he handed the container back to Lance.
“Merlin,” Lance said.
“What? What do you want me to say? That we almost kissed, but Arthur didn’t want to kiss me? Well, there you go, we almost kissed. Happy?"
Lance looked confused. “What do you mean Arthur didn’t want to kiss you? Did he say that?”
Merlin gritted his teeth. “In not so many words, but I gave him the perfect opportunity and he didn’t.”
“You gave him an opportunity to kiss you, but he didn’t take it.”
“Did you have an opportunity to kiss him?"
Merlin crossed his arms and shifted uneasily. “Well, yeah.”
“So why didn’t you kiss him? I thought that you’d want to.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Because I –“ he started before he stopped himself. It was because he was coward. He was all talk and no walk. He was saving his own arse from potential heartbreak that required falling, just like every other relationship did.
Lance pushed himself off the counter and moved to stand before him. “Arthur is waiting on you, Merlin, but he isn’t going to wait forever. I don’t care what you’re thinking, because you’re ready for him. Okay?”
Merlin, who had hung his head while Lance was speaking, nodded before looking up and smiling grimly. “I’m being stupid about this aren’t I?”
Lance shrugged. “We all have our days.”
It was Thursday when Merlin finally got the nerve to text Arthur. The day before he had resisted the urge to ask Sefa how Arthur was doing, because he knew that she might say something to Arthur if he asked, so he kept quiet.
He played it cool with his text and pretended like the almost kiss never happened.
free 4 a drink tonite?
Merlin waited an agonizing five minutes in the kitchen of Alice until his phone buzzed. He rushed to get the message open.
Sure, usual place? 6?
yea, ill c u there
For the rest of the day, Merlin ignored his nerves and the looks his colleagues gave him as he kept his hands busy all day. He tried to rehearse how he was going to approach Arthur, but knew that it would all go out the window the moment he saw him.
Merlin closed the shop and hurried home. He took a quick shower and changed into decent clothing. He had a few moments to spare so he checked his email and took out the trash. When he knew he wouldn’t be drastically early, he left his flat and slowly made his way to The Rising Sun.
It was ten til six when he got there, it was only half full compared to usual. He looked around the ground floor for a head of blond hair and a set of wide shoulders, but didn’t find any, so he moved up to the second floor and scanned that room as well. Finding that Arthur wasn’t there, Merlin went to the bar and ordered himself a pint and got Arthur’s usual order as well. He settled in at a small table against the wall, near the empty stage.
He kept his eyes glued to the table or on the entrance looking for Arthur. It wasn’t long before Arthur arrived, unnoticed by Merlin.
“Is that for me?”
Merlin looked up to see Arthur standing by the table. It was a complete contrast of when he first met Arthur, who had stood tall and confident as he approached their table, compared to now, standing there hesitant and awkward.
“Yeah. Stella, right?”
Arthur smiled slightly as he sat down across the table from Merlin. “Yeah.”
Merlin tried his best to make his smile not show his nerves, but it seemed to have failed as Arthur’s own smile dimmed a bit.
“How was your day?” Merlin asked politely.
Arthur shrugged lightly. “Same as usual. I might have to fly out to Canada in a few weeks to look at some properties though.”
“Oh, for how long?” Merlin asked, perking up a bit. He was always interested when other people traveled far, because he never got past Ireland and France.
“Just a week, sometime in September.”
Merlin nodded. “I hope you have some fun while you’re there. I know you need it.”
Arthur smiled slightly. “It’s not a vacation, Merlin.”
“Why not? You need one. It’s not like you’re going to be working all day over there.”
Merlin relaxed into the conversation and he could tell that Arthur did also. There was still some tension between them, but now, at least, they could speak normally like they used to.
He was about to ask Arthur if he wanted to go to dinner when someone stopped by their table.
“I thought I recognized those ears.”
For a moment it seemed as though time had stopped around Merlin and threw him backward. He would never forget that voice or the way it made him feel with every word that spilled out. Merlin’s heart and stomached seized up before settling down as he reminded himself that he had nothing to be afraid of. He couldn’t hurt him now. He was stronger than him and his toxic words.
Something must have shown in his face, because Arthur’s relaxed expression had hardened quickly before looking at their visitor.
“Can I help you?” Arthur asked rudely.
“No, actually, I just wanted to catch up with my pal, Merlin here.”
Merlin flinched visibly when the man’s hand landed on his shoulder to give it a lightly squeeze. Of course, Arthur had not missed it.
“I think you should leave before I get someone to kick you out,” Arthur informed him, his voice full of authority. “And get your hand off him.”
He smiled mockingly as he lifted his hand off Merlin’s shoulder and Merlin felt like there was an invisible weight lifting off him along with it. He was able to raise his eyes from the table to see Arthur glaring heavily at the man.
“Got yourself a new boyfriend, Merlin?” he asked lightly, his eyes never leaving Arthur, but Merlin could hear the intent behind his voice.
“Go away, Mordred,” Merlin finally said, his voice firmer than he felt.
Mordred looked down upon Merlin, his voice jeering when he said, “So the idiot finally learned how to speak.” He turned to Arthur, “Funny how easily I broke him of that.” Merlin flushed and went back to looking at the table, not wanting to remember what Mordred did to him, how easily he let himself be manipulated. And now Arthur would know.
There was a security guard by the door who was eyeing their table, Arthur quickly motioned to him as he stood up and got toe to toe with Mordred.
“If I ever see your face around here again,” Arthur threatened lowly. “I’ll be sure to knock your teeth out.”
Mordred smiled sardonically, “All for someone as worthless as Merlin? I don’t think so.” The security guard had arrived and began pulling Mordred away from the table by his arms. “He’s not worth it.”
Arthur stayed standing, watching as the security guard escorted him down the stairs.
Merlin couldn’t pull his eyes off the table. His hands were clench on top of the table. He felt petrified that Arthur now knew that he was damaged goods and got a glimpse at his ugly past. He tried to reign in the hurt and insecurities that Mordred brought up just by simply showing up and opening his mouth, but couldn’t. Merlin’s throat closed up as his stomach clenched and he closed his eyes. He felt the need to be alone, but knew that Arthur wouldn’t leave him alone now after what happened.
It was the first time he had seen Mordred since they had broken up. He thought he’d never have to see him again, but he realized that he was lucky this whole time that he had never ran into him.
Merlin vaguely registered Arthur saying his name, but didn’t open his eyes. He felt something brush his hands. He was proud when he didn’t flinch because the pressure increase and Merlin realized that Arthur was grasping his hands and gently trying to pry them open.
“Merlin, he’s gone now,” he said tenderly. “He’s not going to hurt you anymore. He’s gone.”
Merlin nodded, telling Arthur that he heard him, but he still wasn’t ready to face reality. Arthur stayed quiet, holding Merlin’s hands and running his thumbs over the back of them soothingly.
Moments later, Merlin felt himself calm down. He repeated Arthur’s words in his head. He’s not going to hurt you anymore. He’s gone. Over and over, until he finally believed him. He didn’t need Mordred, he didn’t depend on him.
He opened his eyes slowly, his vision going haywire for a second before fixing itself after he blinked a few times. Merlin slowly looked up at Arthur who was gazing at him concernedly.
“Hey…you okay?” Arthur asked hesitantly. Merlin unable to resist, even in this state, raised an eyebrow. Arthur winced and admitted, “Okay, stupid question.”
“You think?” Merlin retorted.
Arthur grinned widely. “You must be doing better than I thought if you can still insult me.”
“I’ll still insult you when we’re dead.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s possible.”
“You’ll see, I’ll get it done.”
Arthur’s continued to smile as he held his hands. And Merlin could now focus on the full affect of it, the roughness of the palms and the heat of them wrapped around his. It was nice, and for the moment, he felt safe.
But then he suddenly felt embarrassed of how he acted around Mordred and blushed hotly.
“I’m sorry about that,” Merlin told Arthur, his eyes dropping to the table.
Arthur nodded seriously. “Nothing to be sorry about."
Shrugging, Merlin said, “That was my ex if you hadn’t gather that already.”
“I got that, actually.”
Merlin nodded and looked at their hands, Arthur’s thumbs still not stopping in their movements.
“You’ll tell me about it, right?” Arthur asked suddenly. “Not right now of course, but soon?”
Heart in his throat, Merlin nodded.
There was a new bar tender at Handel’s, the local pub Merlin frequented with his friends. His name was Mordred, he was cute in Merlin’s opinion, and always seemed to make his drinks stronger than his friend’s, which they moaned about constantly and always tried to go to the other bar tenders when they could.
For the past three months, Merlin was getting used to getting his usual drinks from Mordred and having conversations while he waited, and he was slightly surprised when one Friday Mordred wasn’t working. He chalked it up to switching shifts or taking the night off and put it in the back of his mind.
The next week there was no Mordred, and Merlin asked James, the bar tender, where he was.
“He doesn’t work here anymore,” James replied as he poured Merlin his beer.
“Really?” Merlin asked, surprised. The last time they had talked, Mordred seemed happy with his job. “Do you know why?”
James glanced around before placing Merlin’s full glass in front of him and leaning forward to whisper, “Word is that he was fired on suspicion of stealing money. Y’know, like taking orders and not entering it into the system, pocketing the money. Never saw him do it myself, but that’s what people are saying.
Merlin frowned. “That’s terrible. Well, thank you, James.”
James nodded at Merlin before moving on to another patron.
After that, Merlin didn’t think of Mordred much, only being briefly reminded of the man whenever he stepped into Handel’s. It was almost a month later when he randomly ran into Mordred in the middle the of shampoo aisle at Tesco’s.
“Merlin! How’ve you been?” Mordred asked, smiling.
Merlin smiled back, surprised at seeing him. “Good. You?”
“Not bad,” he replied, grabbing a bottle off the shelf and placing it in his basket. “Are you still hanging out at Handel’s?”
“Yeah, the other bar tenders don’t pour me as much alcohol, but…” Merlin trialed off with a sheepish grin, shrugging.
Mordred laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s because I think you’re cute.”
The casualness of the admission almost made Merlin choke on his own spit. No one had ever really told Merlin that he was cute; he figured that he was average looking, not too ugly, definitely not beautiful. Gwaine and Lance frequently told him that he was good looking, and Merlin brushed it off thinking that maybe they said it only because they were his friends. But Mordred was practically a stranger that he only talked with once a week for a few moments and it hardly warranted a statement like that.
“I always regretted not asking you out when I had the chance,” Mordred admitted as Merlin steadily blushed harder.
“Yeah, but it was sort of frowned upon to do any fraternizing with the customers while on the clock. You could flirt, of course, but you couldn’t hit on anybody, don’t want people to feel uncomfortable with the staff.”
Merlin nodded along as Mordred explained himself, his mind whirring with the information that Mordred had wanted to ask Merlin out. Merlin bit his lip to prevent himself from smiling like a loon.
“Makes sense,” Merlin agreed after he found his tongue.
Mordred nodded once before saying, “Lucky for me, I finally get another chance.”
Merlin opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but Mordred continued on smiling, “Would you like to meet up for coffee or a drink sometime?"
Merlin’s mouth snapped shut as he stared at Mordred finally comprehending what Mordred asked him. This wasn’t what he had expected when he left his flat in search of more biscuits and toiletries.
“Yeah, sure,” Merlin finally replied, nodding.
“Great,” Mordred grinned. He dug out his mobile from his pocket. “Let me get your number and I’ll text you.”
Merlin rattled off his number and went on with the rest of his night with a hop in his step and smile on his face.
Time with Mordred passed by quickly and four months later Merlin knew that he was in love. Mordred took care of him, cooked him meals and brought him little presents. So Merlin did his best to be perfect for Mordred. He made sure his flat was spotless when he came over and always had his favorite beer stocked.
But there were times, despite how hard Merlin worked at keeping Mordred happy, he would mess up. He’d get a meet up time messed up or forget to text or call him when he got home from meeting up with his friends. They were honest mistakes, but Merlin always felt guilty, he felt like he wasn’t being a good boyfriend whenever he did that.
Merlin attempted to make Mordred’s favorite dish, grilled salmon, to make up the fact that he forgot that Mordred didn’t like tomatoes the last time he made pasta.
Although Merlin was a master with baking, cooking was something Merlin never mastered. He could get by, but he was no executive chef. That night though, Merlin felt like his salmon was perfectly cooked and seasoned with nice grill marks, he was proud of his outcome. Merlin served Mordred with pride.
Merlin dug into his own plate and smiled at the taste. He looked up expectantly at Mordred who had also taken a few bites of his plate.
“I’ve had better,” Mordred commented, his face pulled slightly in disgust. “I can’t believe you bake things for a living if you can’t even cook well.”
Merlin’s smiled had dimmed before nodding at Mordred’s comments. “I’ll try harder next time,” Merlin replied, and he would, he’d always try his best to make Mordred happy.
That night they cuddled up on the couch. Mordred was running his fingers through Merlin’s hair, trying to tame the unruly locks.
“You shouldn’t leave your flat with your hair like this,” Mordred scolded. “You look like you can’t properly take care of yourself.”
On reflex, Merlin brought his hand up to smooth down his hair, but Mordred batted his hand away and Merlin went back to relaxing against Mordred’s shoulder.
“Good thing, I’m here,” Mordred continued, “Or else you’d look terrible.”
“Yeah,” Merlin sighed with a smile.
They sat there for another hour before Mordred started touching Merlin with intent. Merlin went pliant under his hands, loving the feel of Mordred running his hands down his sides and holding onto his hips. Together they stripped on the couch, stopping once in a while to touch and kiss. Mordred was slightly rough, he never seemed to think twice of tugging and pushing Merlin into position, using his hands to make sure everything was perfect for him. Merlin didn’t mind because he wanted it to be good for him, Merlin was happy when Mordred was happy.
Mordred opened him up quick with slippery fingers and Merlin bit on his lip to stop any noise from escaping, digging his heels into the couch and Mordred’s shoulder. When Mordred deemed Merlin ready, he rolled on a condom and began pushing into Merlin. Mordred only waited long enough for Merlin to get used to the stretch before pulling back and thrusting. He was quick, rolling his hips at odd moments and hitting Merlin’s prostate once in a while, making him want to cry out.
At one powerful thrust, Merlin did just that. He tried to smother it, but Mordred did it again and Merlin couldn’t stop himself from moaning.
“Oh, God,” Mordred said, his hips still for a moment and glaring down at Merlin. “Shut up, you sound like a bad porn star.”
Merlin nodded frantically as his head cleared enough to only be dimly aware of his own neglected erection laying against his stomach as Mordred chased his own pleasure.
“Good,” Mordred said before slowly starting to move again. “No one likes hearing a dying cat while they’re fucking.”
Merlin took a deep breath and turned his face into the back of the sofa, hoping it would help him stifle any noises that wanted to escape.
Soon, Merlin became expert of holding himself back during sex, it was second nature to grind his teeth, bury his face, or bite his lip. He wanted to be good for Mordred, because he loved him. Mordred loved him and that’s all that really mattered to Merlin.
A month or two down the road, Merlin knew things were getting serious with Mordred. Due to his lease ending and not having enough money to cover rent by himself on his meager part time salary, Mordred moved in with Merlin.
Merlin threw a little party at his flat to celebrate moving in together. He only invited his usual group of friends and a few of Mordred’s that he had met. He even invited Mordred’s best friend Kara, even though no matter how hard Merlin tried to get her to like him, she never warmed up to him.
Merlin had a good time even though it was a tight fit to get everyone into the flat, especially with the extra belongings Mordred brought along, taking up more space. By the time everyone had left near two in the morning, after eating the majority of food and drinking everything in sight, Merlin was beat and tipsy, but happy.
Gwen and Lance had helped Merlin clean up a bit before they left, leaving the dirty dishes soaking in the sink to be cleaned after Merlin got over his hangover. There were two trash bags full of trash and bottles sitting by the door.
Before Merlin closed the door behind the couple, Gwen put a hand on his arm.
“Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?” Gwen asked quietly. “Moving in together so soon.”
Merlin frowned minutely. “We’ve been dating for sixth months and we love each other, why would this be a wrong step?”
She gave him a strained smile, the look he recognized when something was bothering her, and squeezed her hand around his arm before dropping it. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” Gwen said. “Just…are you happy, Merlin?”
Merlin shifted his stance, starting to get annoyed, and replied, “What are you trying to get at? Of course I’m happy. I have a boyfriend that loves me enough to move in with me. What’s the problem?”
“No problem,” she quickly assured him. “It’s my job as your friend to ask these things. I’m happy if you’re happy, alright?”
“Got it. Thanks, Gwen."
Merlin stepped forward and drew her into a hug before moving on to Lance who was standing quietly behind her. “I’ll see you two later."
“Of course,” Lance agreed as Gwen smiled sadly.
They said their goodbyes and Lance put his hand to Gwen’s lower back and guided her down the hall. Merlin closed the door and locked it behind them.
“I told you they don’t understand,” Mordred said suddenly, materializing by Merlin’s side.
Merlin sighed and started heading toward the bedroom to go to bed, Mordred following a step behind him.
“They’re my friends, they’re just looking out for me,” Merlin replied once in the room.
“Yeah, well, they must not be very good friends if they’re asking you how happy you are. If they were your friends they’d leave you alone about it,” Mordred said, sitting at the foot of the bed. “My friends sure aren’t nosy like that.”
Merlin turned his back and busied himself with getting a fresh pair of pants out of his dresser. He said angrily, “Don’t talk about them like that. We’re close, they care about me.”
“No, Merlin, I care about you. I love you and make you happy don’t I?”
At that, Mordred stood up and turned Merlin around, crowding him against the dresser that dug into his lower back. He gripped Merlin’s hips and nosed at his ear and asked again lowly, “Don’t I?”
Merlin nodded immediately. “Yes, you know you do.”
“Good. That should be enough for you don’t you think? I mean, you’ve barely even seen your so-called friends in the last two months, always claiming they’re so busy to see you. Can’t you see that they’re a bunch of liars?” Mordred said lightly against Merlin’s cheek.
Merlin closed his eyes briefly, feeling angry at Mordred’s accusations towards his friends.
“My friends aren’t liars,” he breathed.
“You sure about that?"
Mordred hummed and pulled back, but didn’t let go of him. “You’ll see I’m right next time you want to hang out with one of them. They’ll make excuses and you’ll see why you shouldn’t doubt me.”
The next week, Merlin asked Freya if she wanted to see a film that weekend and a got a rain check instead. Something in his chest tightened sharply before it soothed itself away. He didn’t need his friends, he had Mordred, and that’s all that he really needed wasn’t it?
So Merlin slowly started distancing himself from his friends, screening calls and conveniently forgetting to answer text messages. At work, he told Percy he was just busy with Mordred, which wasn’t far off from the truth, he hung out with Mordred and his friends (including Kara who still didn’t like him) whenever Mordred would invite him along. Most nights he just stayed home, usually with Mordred, sometimes not. Mordred wouldn’t come back until late, even though he got off work before dinnertime usually. Merlin didn’t question it because it didn’t matter what he was doing; he came home to Merlin. And it was the best thing, Merlin felt, he ever had.
Merlin hadn’t told anyone that he had seen Mordred again. It was something he wanted to deal with by himself and Merlin was finally starting to realize that he really was stronger than he thought he was. Mordred only had so much power over him if he let him. Sure there would be times that he’ll become insecure or flinch from a memory, but his recovery time would be faster and easier to get through.
Merlin knew he couldn’t make any advances on Arthur until he told him about Mordred, but he pushed it off for a few weeks. He was glad that Arthur didn’t say anything to his friends or push him to tell him anything either as he was still gathering his wits.
Arthur was a bit more excessive with his touching and his ‘mother hen’ mode as Leon had put it once, always checking up on him and making sure he was alright. Merlin didn’t mind, if anything it reinforced the fact that Arthur was different from his past boyfriends. He wouldn’t say that Arthur loved him, but Merlin knew that it was pretty close.
It was almost a month after the Mordred incident on a Wednesday night that Merlin asked Arthur over so that they could talk. Arthur had shown up promptly and looked around his flat eagerly, finally getting a peak at where he lived. Merlin was amazed when Arthur didn’t comment on the size or the poor quality of it before sitting down on the couch.
“Ah, I can see why you love my couch now,” Arthur said, resettling himself.
Merlin snorted and smacked him on the shoulder, “Shut up. I got this cheap for seventy-five quid.”
“You definitely paid too much,” he joked.
Merlin curled up on the other end of the small couch, bringing his knees up to his chest. Arthur turned to him and brought a knee up to lay flat against the couch.
“So, you wanted to talk,” Arthur prompted. Merlin could see that he was just as uneasy about this as he was by the way he tapped his fingers against his leg.
“Yeah,” Merlin replied before hesitating. “About Mordred. You wanted to know about him.”
Arthur nodded. “Whatever you want to tell me about him.”
Merlin played with the fraying seams on the couch like he always did as he thought about where to start. He could do this, he could tell Arthur because he wouldn’t judge him for it. Merlin swallowed thickly before nodding to himself and began to talk.
He told Arthur all about Mordred. He talked about how they met and how nice Mordred was in the beginning. He admitted to how he just wanted someone to love him and Mordred did, so he fully gave himself over without thinking for himself or realizing that what was going on was wrong. He talk about how Mordred manipulated him into believing that he’d be useless without him in his life, about how he didn’t need his friends or family, or how all he was there for was for Mordred’s own desires. He told Arthur of how after some time Mordred finally got enough control over Merlin, that he believed that everything Mordred said was true because Mordred loved him and that was all he needed in his life, someone who loved him.
“He cheated on me once,” Merlin confessed, his voice starting to go hoarse form all the talking. “At least once of what I know of. We were at this pub with some of his friends and this bloke comes over and practically sits in his lap and asks him if he could do that thing with his tongue again that night…Mordred laughed him off, but he didn’t say no or tell me that the guy was joking. I didn’t even question it either, that’s how far gone I was. I was tricked into believing that him being with other guys if he needed to be with them wasn’t a problem. He’d come home to me. That’s who he was serious about, the one he came home to.”
Sometime during the talk, maybe after it became apparent that Merlin was going to tear a hole in the couch, Arthur had taken his hand between his like he did at The Rising Sun. Now he squeezed it and muttered, “That fucking asshole, I swear I’ll kill him the next time I see him.”
Merlin squeezed his hand back and laughed to himself. “You’ll have to get in line behind my friends. They’ve already called dibs on his body.”
“I’ll fight them for it. I’ll win against them.”
Merlin smiled slightly and leaned his head against him knee, just enjoying sitting and holding Arthur’s hand even though he was talking about the last thing he ever wanted to even think about.
“How did you get away?” Arthur asked.
A flicker of a smile passed over Merlin’s face, “My mum.” He thought back to when he saw her for the first time after over a year and a half because Mordred had convinced Merlin that going to see his mum wasn’t worth his time and effort.
“She came and dragged me out of the flat, screaming bloody murder at Mordred. I didn’t know what to do, she had appeared out of nowhere, and I didn’t even think she knew where I was living at the time. But she took me home for a few days and knocked some sense into me and got Will, my mate there, to do the same. I was still under Mordred’s thumb a bit, I’d answer his calls and texts then, but I was beginning to realize that it wasn’t healthy, our relationship, and that I had to break it off with him. So the last time he called me while I was at home, I told him that I wasn’t going back to him…He flipped his shit. I had to change my phone number and get Gwaine, Percy, and Lance to grab my stuff from our place. I crashed at Freya’s and began to see a therapist for a bit before getting back on my feet enough to get this place and make it to work without it feeling like a chore.
“And that’s it. That’s the whole Mordred fiasco in one sitting.” Merlin huffed a laugh at himself trying to make light of what he just confessed in the past hour.
“I’m so proud of you,” Arthur said seriously as Merlin shook his head bashfully. “Really, I am. Not a lot of people could do what you did. I’m glad you got out.”
“Me too,” Merlin smiled.
They were silent and Merlin stared at their joined hands, wondering if he’d ever get over the fact that they were even holding hands in the first place.
“After Mordred, I became paranoid about relationships. If you didn’t notice,” Merlin admitted. “I thought that everyone was like him or like my past relationships, out to get me and use me for something that they wanted…I thought you were going to be like that. Because if great blokes like Lance were like that why couldn’t you? But you weren’t. You’re not like them at all.”
Merlin looked up to see Arthur looking at him hopefully and Merlin knew he had to make it right. So he leaned forward as he licked his lips, never letting go of Arthur’s hand, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips against Arthur’s in a chaste kiss. He pulled back slightly and leaned his forehead against Arthur’s, knocked their noses together like they had done earlier. He almost fell over when Arthur swooped in for a kiss again, making Merlin lose his breath and his knees shake, before pulling away.
Merlin opened his eyes to Arthur grinning and Merlin could help but mirror it.
Arthur’s stomach growled and Merlin laughed. “Don’t laugh, I didn’t get a chance to eat before I raced over here,” Arthur complained.
Merlin calmed down and stood up, stretching his cramped limbs and regrettably letting go of Arthur’s hand. “Come on, let’s get some food.”
Arthur stood up and followed him out of the flat, grabbing his hand the moment they stepped out on the pavement.
That Friday they decided to keep their dating status on the down low. After dinner on Wednesday, Arthur had asked him out on a date that Saturday and Merlin had readily agreed. They held hands as subtly as they could underneath the table, but of course someone had seen.
“Something you two want to tell us?” Morgana drawled from across the table, nodding at their arms.
“Not particularly, no,” Merlin replied, grinning.
“Oh? So you’re not holding hands under the table then?” she asked innocently. The table went quiet after the question.
Rolling his eyes, Arthur lifted their joined hands and said sarcastically, “Oh, no, you’ve caught us. You get an award.”
There was a moment of silence more as Arthur stared down Morgana across the table and Merlin glanced nervously at his friends before they all erupted with cheer. There was a range of questions from when it happened to comments about how they were glad they finally stopped dancing around each other. Freya had cried happily and practically launched herself at Merlin with a hug.
Merlin couldn’t keep the grin off his face for the rest of the night and finally felt free to lean against Arthur when he wrapped his arm around the back of his chair.
He was finally happy.
Arthur was probably the best boyfriend in the world, Merlin mused, even though he was biased on all counts. Even though he was a jerk and a bit of a hard ass, he was impossibly sweet at times and horribly attentive.
They had been going out for over a month, having TV show marathons and taking trips to museums around London since Merlin had never been. Merlin had never been happier with someone in his life.
The only problem was their lack of sex life. He knew that it was perfectly normal for some couples to not have sex, or wait a while to have it, but they had been practically dating for eight months and both of them were sexually active. Merlin was sure that Arthur was starting to have blue balls, but Merlin still shied away a bit when it came to sex because he could still hear Mordred in the back of his head telling him how pathetic his moans sounded and how he was a useless as a sack of potatoes, forcing him to do all the work.
So when they were alone and snogging on any surface that Arthur could push Merlin up against, Merlin still kept his noises in check and tried his best to find what pleased Arthur the most. He had the feeling that like before, Arthur was waiting for Merlin to make the first move. And Merlin was finally going to make that move that night.
They were nearing the end of the season finale of Prison Break when Merlin made his move. He turned his head from where they were cuddled up on Arthur’s couch and placed soft kisses along his neck. He sucked lightly on his collarbone and ran his tongue back up to his jaw to nip underneath it.
Arthur sighed and turned his head obligingly as Merlin made his way up behind Arthur’s ear.
“You can’t wait five minutes before this is over?” Arthur teased, turning his head and making Merlin pull away.
“Nope,” he replied, placing a kiss on Arthur’s chin before moving to his lips.
Arthur immediately began running his tongue along the seam of Merlin’s lips before licking it open, tangling his tongue with Merlin’s. Merlin held back his moan as he twisted around to slide into Arthur’s lap. Arthur ran his hands along Merlin’s sides and slowly ran them underneath Merlin’s shirt, making Merlin shiver at the contact.
Arthur sucked on his tongue and ran his own against the roof of Merlin’s mouth before pulling away to pay attention to the column of Merlin’s neck. Merlin breathed heavily as Arthur focused on Merlin’s pulse point, a place that always made Merlin go boneless.
Merlin shifted forward and slowly grinded himself down onto Arthur’s lap, feeling the beginnings of Arthur’s erection against him. Arthur’s hands moved down to his hips and held them tightly in their grip. “God, Merlin,” Arthur muttered before attacking Merlin with a hard kiss.
Arthur rolled his hips against Merlin’s arse and pushed Merlin’s hips forward so that they grinded into his stomach. Merlin bit his lip as Arthur continued to rub against him slowly and shifted his own hips to match Arthur’s.
“Off, off,” Arthur said, pulling at Merlin’s shirt. Merlin complied quickly and threw the shirt behind him, sucking in a quick breath as Arthur started kissing down his chest and his hands shifting to caress his stomach and his chest in long strokes.
Arthur pulled away from kissing Merlin’s chest and said, “You’re so gorgeous.” His hands running up Merlin’s chest and his thumbs catching on Merlin’s nipples making Merlin hold back a moan.
“C’mon, you too,” Merlin said after Arthur had his fill of looking and pulled at Arthur’s shirt. Arthur rushed to pull of his shirt off and tossed it.
Merlin did the same as Arthur, exploring his chest with his hands, feeling the coarse hairs on Arthur’s chest underneath his palms and circling Arthur’s nipples lightly. Merlin began moving his hips again. Rubbing down against Arthur before moving forward to give himself relief.
Merlin had never felt this wanted during sex. Usually his partner would kiss him a bit before getting down to it. He never took the time to explore Merlin’s body the way that Arthur was doing now. It sealed the thought that he was never going to give Arthur up for anything.
Arthur ran his hands up to Merlin’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss as they continued to grind. Their hands explored each other’s bodies, finding the places that made Arthur curse (his nipples being sucked) and Merlin squirm (a suck to his adam’s apple).
“Kneel up,” Arthur said abruptly, pulling at Merlin’s hips so that he was kneeling over him. Merlin was slightly confused, but he blamed that on being so aroused at the moment that he didn’t question Arthur. He’d do anything Arthur wanted to..
Arthur began pulling at Merlin’s pants and Merlin realized what he wanted. Merlin started helping him, unzipping his jeans and slowly pulling his pants out of the way. Merlin’s wanted to hide from the way Arthur was staring at Merlin’s cock sticking out obscenely from his pants. But then Arthur wrapped his hand around Merlin and slowly started to jerk him off. Rubbing at the tip to spread the precome that had gathered and push it down his length.
“You’re fucking perfect,” Arthur muttered, sliding down slightly. He then pulled Merlin’s hips forward slightly. Merlin scrambled to comply, his cock becoming level with Arthur’s mouth as he moved closer.
Merlin came from the sight alone of his cock pushing past Arthur’s lips. He closed his eyes and bit his lip harshly as Arthur swallowed him down. The wet heat of Arthur’s mouth made him want to cry out, so he twisted his fingers into the couch as much as he could. When Arthur paid attention under head of his cock and pushed his tongue into the slit, Merlin cried out.
Immediately Merlin said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”
Arthur pulled off and Merlin almost whined. “I like it when you do that,” he said, his voice rough. He kissed the tip of Merlin’s cock and rubbed Merlin’s hips before saying, “I want to hear you, okay? I liking knowing that you’re feeling good. Don’t hold back.”
Merlin looked down at Arthur and nodded quickly.
“I’m not Mordred, I like hearing you,” Arthur said before sucking Merlin back down.
The abruptness made Merlin gasp. Arthur continued to suck him off as best as he could from the angle, bringing his hand in to play with Merlin’s balls and stroke the part of Merlin he couldn’t get into his mouth. Merlin did as Arthur said because he trusted him, he moaned when Arthur swirled his tongue over the head of his cock and cried out when he unexpectedly deep throated him for a moment.
“I’m gonna come,” Merlin babbled, focusing on not coming so fast or easily. “Arthur, shit.”
Arthur pulled back, but continued to pull at his cock as he sat up. He pulled Merlin a little closer to his chest as he leaned forward and sucked along his hips. “Come on me, come on my chest,” he whispered into Merlin’s hip.
At his command, Merlin hit his peak, coming messily all over Arthur’s chest like he wanted. Arthur stroked him through it until Merlin began to wince. He sat back and ran a finger through the come on his chest.
Being reminded of Arthur’s erection pushing at his trousers, Merlin rushed to get the zip down and his pants out of the way before wrapping his hand around Arthur’s thick cock, jerking him off quickly with the help of his own come and Arthur’s as it slowly beaded at the tip of his cock.
Arthur tilted his head back as he shoved up into Merlin’s grip. Merlin leaned forward and brought one of Arthur’s nipples into his mouth. His sucked and bit lightly at it. Arthur cursed heavily above him as a hand tightened in his hair.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Arthur chanted before coming hard. His come getting all over his chest and pooling over Merlin’s hand.
Merlin was pulled quickly into a bruising kiss before he was pushed away slightly in favor of breathing.
“I’m sure this wouldn’t be best time to say I love you would it?” Merlin asked hesitantly.
Arthur’s face lit up, despite it already being red and slightly sweaty, and he grinned. “Anytime is great, but I already knew that.”
Merlin rolled his eyes and moved to get off Arthur’s lap, but was pulled back in before he could get anywhere. “I love you too,” Arthur said seriously.
Merlin grinned widely before moving in to kiss Arthur again enthusiastically. They soon went to take a shower, something that took twice as long because they couldn’t stop touching each other long enough to get properly cleaned. And from there they went to bed, wrapped around each other, talking until they drifted off.