Title: A Prat By Any Other Name
Character/Pairing: Past implied onesided Merlin/Gwen, past Arthur/Gwen, past Gwen/Lancelot, Gwen/Morgana, Arthur/Merlin
A/N: 21th - Merlin, Merlin/Arthur: Reincarnation—"I'll miss you till I meet you." Dear OP: You should be thanking searains for this, because without her constant demanding for me to get into Merlin with her, this would've never happened.
He could hear the monologue in his head, with just as many trumpets and flourishes – and now, the Magnificent Merlin will show the power, no the Majesty of Magic!
Alliterativeness and dorkiness aside, it was a way to make a living. Or at least, a way to supplement a living. He might have been working children's birthday parties, but at least he wasn't a clown yet.
Thank heaven for small mercies.
He'd never done bird tricked, they were much too messy, but he'd gotten pretty adroit at other hat tricks. It'd really just started as one of things he did when he was younger and somehow, it became a career. Not that he wanted to be Houdini or bloody David Copperfield.
There just wasn't a place for wizards these days, and since there didn't seem to be any openings at Hogwarts – or any Hogwarts to begin with, he took on petty parlor tricks and the other kind of wizardry: computer repair. Being able to retrieve people's 'special files' (aka porn) from the depths of a crashed computer and then bringing it back good as new for under a three-hundred pounds, well that made them think he was some sort of swami or dare he say it – wizard.
Merlin did whatever he could to stay afloat. He still needed new sneakers as that jerk Arthur had put some sort of red paint hearts on his shoes, right on bloody Valentines's day too. That was of course, after the 'mysterious' event wherein a red sock etched with a gold A ended up in his white load making his dress shirts all turn a rosy color.
They went far back, as seemingly from the first moment Arthur set eyes on him, he took a great deal of satisfaction in making Merlin's life miserable. Of course, there was the slight advantage in that with Arthur around, no one else was allowed to bully Merlin. Arthur had punched out Gerard Gaveston who had thought to encroach on his territory. This resulted in Merlin being proclaimed 'Arthur's bitch' up until Arthur proved his manliness by scoring with several cheerleaders and finally, Gwen.
He'd barely heard the dinging of the shop's door open for job number three: working part time in a coffee shop. It wasn't a Starbucks, but an old Mom & Pop institute which was barely clinging on to the waves of Grande Double Lattes.. He lifted his eyes, a retort half on his lips for his most faithful – and annoying customer, when he found himself looking at Gwen. She broke into a big smile.
"Merlin, how have you been?"
Merlin looked up from hat trick he'd been prepping. There was Gwen smiling down at him. They'd been close in high school. He'd almost thought of marrying her, then that bloody creep Arthur had to steal her away. After the eventual breakup by them, Gwen had a brief rebound with a guy from another college named Lance, and then finally came full circle to a first love that Gwen hadn't even told him about (and they'd shared everything. Everything.): Morgana.
She looked different now, with shorter hair and an even brighter smile. He'd forgotten how warm her skin looked, like coffee. She wore an oddly medieval outfit, a peasant blouse with a corset-like vest and a dark green skirt, as if she'd gone to a one of those reenactments or a Renn Faire.
"Oh, Gwen– How are you? How have you been?"
She chuckled softly. "You're supposed to say first, silly. I asked you."
"Oh, well. I've been surviving. Recession killed the career I wanted and all."
Gwen rested her hand on the counter between them sympathetically.
"I'm sorry. Is there anything I can– "
"Oh no. It's a living. In fact, I think I'm about close to my next break."
Merlin laughed nervously and itched at his nose. He always did that when he was lying. He'd have gotten evicted if it wasn't for that mysterious donor who paid his rent, paid up right for the next seven months. When he asked the landlord, he'd only gotten a reply that it'd been a anonymous check.
He'd figured it was Gwen. Living with Lady Morgana meant that she got all the money she needed to adopt every last kitten and puppy in all of California Paying his rent would be easy for her, not that she'd ever admit it. She never talked about her good deeds, preferring to keep them quiet and bask in the warm glow in silence.
"I'm really grateful for that gift a while back. I would've been royally screwed without it."
"I'm sorry?" she said.
"Oh, I know. You like things secret. But I was really glad for your help."
He winked. "I'll keep this secret for you."
Gwen looked utterly uncomprehending, but she didn't seem to focus on it. "Er. Great. I'm glad it worked out for you, whatever it is."
"Yes. Enough about me. How about you?"
"I'm good," she said. "The ocean air has a good effect on her. It's very understanding place where no one heckles her for wearing flowers in her hair or being with me. I like it very much."
"I do hear that San Francisco is a beautiful place. Britain misses you, though," Merlin said.
I miss you.
"I have to warn you, that prat Arthur is in here a lot, so if you're still awkward about that, you might want to meet me later on when he won't be showing up."
"That was years ago. We don't hate each other, we just realized that we both were in love with different people."
"He spread that lie that you cheated on him with Lancelot!"
"That wasn't his doing per se. One of his friends, his 'posse' started that up out of a misunderstanding. By the time he'd found out the rumor had spread beyond his control."
"I wouldn't be surprised if he was lying," Merlin groused.
"He's an arse, not the Anti-Christ, Merlin," Gwen said.
"So says you," Merlin muttered under his breath.
Gwen smiled. "I might as well order something, otherwise I might get you fired from your job."
Merlin took a sly glance to where his boss had dozed off in the sunlight.
"He'll never know, but I won't say no, just to be sure we're both safe."
Gwen scanned the tiny menu. There wasn't much there, leaving it a peculiar shop as to be a coffeehouse that served very little coffee. The cookies were delicious, though.
"I can really recommend the chocolate chip. It's delicious."
He was just about to recommend the Macadamia-white chocolate when the bell rung in an insistent, with the door being pushed brusquely aside way that could only be one person.
Merlin prepared a retort, and Arthur looked about to say some prattish, smug thing before Gwen piped up and stopped them both.
"It's been a long time, Arthur," Gwen said.
Arthur nodded at her. "Is California well?"
"It's quite nice. Very warm...Morgana enjoys it quite well."
"Good to hear," Arthur said.
Despite their seeming civility, there was a trace of coolness there, even a sort of quiet one-upmanship between them. Even in their happier days they had been like this.
"So. I take it that you're still single and still haven't followed after what you spent all our time together pining?"
Arthur cleared his throat. "It's coming along."
"It's in the works, it just hasn't been the right time, yet," Arthur said.
"When's the right time? Another thousand years?"
Merlin hated these secret conversations Gwen was prone to. He'd seen it with Morgana and Arthur, and each left him feeling shut out, as if he was pressing his ear to the wall to catch snatches of conversation.
"Then I'll just leave you two alone to finish this meaningful conversation," Gwen said pointedly.
She left, Arthur looking very dazed in her wake. After a moment he shook his head and shuffled to the front.
"Coffee, please. Milk and two sugars and a cookie...chocolate chip is fine," he said.
Merlin had to do a double take to make sure this really was Arthur. He seemed thoughtful, even restrained. There wasn't a smug taunt to be found anywhere. He almost said who are you, and where is the real Arthur? until he remembered that lack of smugness was a good thing.
"Will that be all?" Merlin said.
"Yeah...that's all," Arthur said.
Ever since he saw Gwen Arthur had been completely low-key with no trace of his usual irascible self. Merlin couldn't help but think that Arthur must miss Gwen a lot to become this closed by just a small conversation with her. For a minute there all his anger at him fell away. The poor chap was heartbroken. Arthur left soon after that without even a word, and the thought stayed with Merlin all through the day. He's heartbroken over her, even now, even still.
As the night shift came on, Merlin emptied the last of the coffee grounds. He turned back only to find himself locked out. Damn it all. He'd talked to Boss about fixing that door. Considering that Boss had already locked the front up, there was little to do except go home. He'd just have to come in early the next day and wash down the coffee machine later.
It was then that he noticed that he wasn't alone. He lifted up his broom, as if to brace himself for an attack, but it was only Arthur that stepped into the light. His hands were in the pockets of his hideously expensive designer jeans. He wasn't smiling.
"Arthur! You merely gave me a heart attack. I thought you were a hooligan."
"And you'd do what? Use your kung-fu moves on me?" Arthur drawled.
"I see you're back to your same old ways."
Arthur shrugged, carelessly. "You expected any different?"
"You should tell her, you know," Merlin said.
Arthur looked perplexed. "Tell who what?"
"Gwen that you still love her. I don't know that it'll make a difference this late in the game, but...it'd be good to let the past rest."
"Let the past rest?" Arthur laughed, though it wasn't a mirthful laugh. "The past has been haunting me for twenty-some odd years and even longer!"
"What, twenty? You've only known her ten at the most, probably more in the vicinity of five!"
"It's not Gwen, it's you that's got me in stitches even since time began. Dammit, Merlin. You forgot back in 41 too. I had to chase you all around London during the Blitz. You're the magical one, why am I always the one who's doing the remembering?"
"...what?" Merlin said.
"I've summarized it enough times that you should have it memorized. I certainly do. A very long, long, long time ago we weren't just named after the legends. We were them. Also, we were lovers and sort of saved the world and then almost destroyed it—"
"...perhaps you didn't understand me the first time. What?"
"Just roll with it, ok? Now be bloody quiet, I'm trying to snog you," Arthur said.
"Wait, wait – you have spent this whole time making my life miserable because you believe we were the historical figures Merlin and Arthur and gay in some other life? You're batshit, that's what you are."
Arthur shrugged. "Pretty much, yeah. If you'd have had pigtails, I would've pulled them."
Merlin pointed at him, almost flailing as Arthur closed in. There was nothing but cold alley bricks behind him, and suddenly running didn't seem so appealing. The secret that Gwen had been alluding to, the reason why Arthur had failed in every romance and barely even tried had been him.
"Bloody hell, you're saying—"
"It's shut-up time now," Arthur said.
Merlin had never really thought to what it would be like to snog Arthur. Ok, maybe once, but that was a dream which was just a strange trick of his subconscious, which he frankly considered a nightmare. But here he was, getting snogged by Arthur right here outside his building. Against an hard, cold alley wall with trash cans not that far away. This had more tongue than he'd even had with a snog, and Arthur's hands were going south pretty damn quick. His mind was still stuck in too much of a what the flying fuck mode to notice that being snogged by that-insufferable-prat-otherwise-known-as-Arthur was feeling pretty good, and that his body seemed to respond to some crazy memory even if his mind was still confused.
Arthur had a pretty strong grip that now pinned him to the wall, which somehow turned out to be a huge turn on. Merlin wasn't sure how this happened, as it was the least likely to become a sexual fantasy of his, but Arthur's body against him felt fantastic. Warm and hard and oh, some part of him betrayed him and ground, arched back up into him.
Arthur stopped, only to smirk between gasps.
"At least one part of you remembers."
Merlin didn't say anything, just moaned. Oh bloody hell it felt good. And then he was a wizard, kissing a prince. Weren't princes always arrogant and insufferable? Wasn't it fitting?
"Wait, wait — what is this anyways?" Merlin gasped. Arthur stopped sucking at his neck like a bloody vampire long enough to give a terse, yet oddly succinct answer.
"Love. Destiny and all that shyte. You know the drill."
He glanced sideways at Arthur with his designer faded jeans and loose brown jacket with iQueen /I emblazoned over a brown t-shirt. He could sort of envision him in mail and a crown now, if he focused enough.
"You're still a prat," Merlin said.
"Yeah, well this prat is the one who got you into this state."
He ground their crotches together and Merlin barely bit back the moan. He couldn't remember ever being this turned on in his life.
"You'll eat your words once you're moaning my name in my bed," Arthur whispered hot against his ear.
"This really isn't lessening the prat-o-meter on you. In fact, I think it's going into prat overload," Merlin said.
"That's what you said last time."
Merlin grimaced. "Oh isn't that clever. You might as well inserted a 'your mom' joke in there. I'm going to remember all of this just to prove you wrong. In fact, I bet all those memories reveal that you were the one who moaned like a little bitch."
"Time will tell, Merlin," Arthur said in that cool, passing-you-by-in-aloofness way of his.
Well things might have changed, but one thing hasn't: Arthur was just the same insufferable ass he'd always been. Merlin was sure of that much and he couldn't remember a damn thing yet.
Oh well, they had plenty of time yet. Even if destiny was a bitch, he supposed there were worse things, and who knows – past him had to have stuck by Arthur for a reason. His touch seemed to be releasing memories, if only bodily memories. The rest would come eventually.
"Come on, let's go back to your place," Arthur said.
"My place?" Merlin said.
"I didn't pay seventh month's worth of rent to not get any use of it."
"Wait, you paid? I thought it was Gwen."
That might explain her confusion. Never in his life would he have guessed Arthur.
Arthur smirked. "Remember that time in school when you didn't have any lunch and some magically appeared in your locker?"
"And the mysterious valentines with 'Your Secret Admirer'?" Merlin asked.
"Gwen. She gave them to a lot of people she thought would be dateless and unhappy on silly little holidays like that."
Ouch. Well, he could never fault Gwen for being kind, though Arthur always managed to make it sound ten times worse than it was.
Arthur pushed off, and suddenly Merlin was left wanting and it was not a pretty sight, or feeling. He wrinkled his nose and mentally berated his body for giving in that soon. Maybe there was something to this destiny shyte, either that or he'd been in love with Arthur all along and his body was just informing him of this now.
Who knew, for love and hate weren't that far apart, really.