Disclaimer: Don't own Merlin.
"What do you want?" Merlin glared at the blonde, hands on his thin hips as he finally found the courage to face the large, muscular jock.
The male in question looked around him, as if wondering who Merlin was talking to, before turning his gaze back on the thinner, raven-haired boy. "Are you talking to me?"
"Don't act all innocent you arse." Merlin narrowed his eyes. "I'm not blind you know. You're stalking me."
The blonde straightened up, a scandalized expression marring his features. "I beg your pardon?"
"School, the hospital, the grocery store, the park, outside my home." Merlin counted down on his fingers. "You're there."
The stranger sputtered. "I don't know who you think you are that you believe yourself important enough to have me stalk you, but I'll have you know that I haven't noticed you until right now."
Those blue eyes narrowed on him, suspicious.
The blonde straightened, glaring.
"If thats true...then I apologize." Merlin didn't know if he could believe this bloke or not, but he kept suspicious, eyes slightly narrowed.
"Merlin!" Lancelot called, reaching them and bending, hands on his knees, panting. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting! There was an old grandmother whose grocery bag broke so I helped her pick up her fallen groceries and walked her to her flat. I tried calling you to let you know what was happening and that I'd be late, but your mum picked up saying you'd leant her your phone. I'm so sorry. It is dishonorable to have you waiting for me and I thought you'd feel as if I'd stood you up and..."
Anyone else who would have given Merlin this line would have been sent to hell in seconds.
But this was Lancelot, and Merlin knew that this wasn't a line.
Lancelot was incredibly noble like that, it was one of the things that attracted Merlin to him in the first place, and all the shorter, pale skinned boy could do was smile at the taller, tanned boy.
"Lance, it's okay." He tilted his head to the side, his hair falling into his face and hiding it slightly. "I guessed something like that had held you up. Don't worry."
Lancelot straightened and smile, his face slightly flushed from having run all the way there.
"Good god mate, you're really going to believe that pile of garbage?" The blonde Merlin had forgotten about scoffed, shaking his head. "You're either stupider than you look, or this bloke's a damned-."
"Excuse me, who are you?" Lancelot turned towards the blonde, eyes narrowed. "What right do you have to speak to Merlin in that way?"
"Merlin?" The blonde snickered, turning his gaze on the boy in question. "Is that really your name?"
Eyes narrowed, Merlin gave the stranger a look that he was sure clearly told the blonde explicitly to fuck himself, before turning to Lance. "C'mon, we should go."
Lancelot looked between Merlin and the stranger with narrowed eyes before taking the high road, as always, and nodding, smiling at Merlin. "C'mon mate. If we hurry we can still make it."
Merlin reached for Lancelot's arm and started pulling him away.
"What's this? Are you two on a date?" The blonde sneered from behind them. "You two a pair of fags?"
Lancelot tightened his hands into his fists, obviously wanting to go back and punch the stranger out. But once again he proved himself the better man and ignored the stranger, instead slinging an arm around a stiffened Merlin's shoulders.
Merlin struggled slightly. "What are you doing?" He hissed up at the taller boy. "He's gonna think-!"
"Let him." Lancelot glared, leading them away. "I'm confident enough in my masculinity to let some sort of closed minded snob'scomment make me feel uncomfortable with one of my best mates."
Merlin looked up at Lancelot and felt his heart clench. "You're amazing, you know that, right?" He stopped struggling, a small, sad smile on his face as he let Lancelot lead him away. "Gwen's lucky to have found someone like you."
Lancelot beamed with happiness at the mention of the love of his life. "Yes, well, I believe that I am the fortunate one. Having such a fair lady like my sunshine Guinevere. And I'll always have you to thank for introducing us. If it hadn't been for you-I would have gone my whole life without knowing what true love was."
Merlin's head ducked slightly, and it hurt him a little to keep that smile on his face. "You're welcome."
Lancelot chuckled, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "I only hope that one day you will find someone who can give you what Gwen gives me. You deserve to be in love."
Merlin couldn't help the bitter laughter escaping his lips. "I've been in love, Lance. I...it doesn't work for me." He shoved his hands into the pockets of his skinny jeans. "I always fall for guys who don't fall in love with me."
Lancelot's smile morphed into a slight frown. "Will and Edwin were idiots, Merlin. Don't close your heart just because two idiots couldn't see you were a good catch." He then grinned down brightly at his thin friend. "And you know what they say! Third time's the charm."
Merlin looked up at Lancelot's happy, handsome face, heart hurting even more. They were lying. Third time's worse than the others.
It was hard, seeing your best friend and the guy who'd fallen in love with...fall in love...but Merlin had known that he wouldn't be able to live without either in his life, and he'd decided to deal with it. He loved them both, and Gwen and Lancelot were made for each other. Even Merlin could see that, so he could be happy for them. Even if it was as if a stake was driven through his heart every time he had to watch them be all lovey-dovey with each other...or hear them gush about each other to him.
"So do you have anything in mind to get Gwen for your anniversary?" Merlin wanted to know, changing the subject.
"I'm terrible at picking out presents." Lancelot sighed, depression obvious. "Last gift I bought Gwennie was a book of the history of the Peace Corp." He bowed his head. "My darling angel did her best to assure me that she loved it, and she even read it, but I could see in her eyes that she was disappointed." Bringing a clenched hand to his chest, Lancelot raised his head, eyes narrowed in determination. "I vowed to never see that look in her eyes ever again."
Merlin looked at Lancelot and sighed.
Gwen was really lucky.
Lancelot was handsome, and sweet, and so devoted it was inhuman.
"You still thinking about it?" Merlin finally forced himself to look away from his friend. "About joining, I mean."
Lancelot sighed, running a hand over his hair. "Yeah."
Merlin took in a deep breath. "Have you talked to Gwen about it?"
Merlin closed his eyes for a moment. "Lance, you need to tell her. If you really are serious about joining the Peace Corp, she deserves to know."
"I know." Lancelot nodded, clearing his throat. "And I'll tell her...after our anniversary."
That was a fair trade. "Okay."
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the shopping center, trying to find just the thing that would make Gwen's eyes twinkle and that utterly besotted smile to twitch her lips.
And when, in the jewelry store, Merlin looked up from one of the necklaces he'd been looking at and saw that blonde arse from before sitting on a bench outside of the store, looking at the sports section of a newspaper...the dark haired male shook it off as yet another coincidence. After confronting the jock earlier he'd begun to doubt the suspicion he'd been harboring that he was being followed. Maybe, for some unexplainable reason, despite their being polar opposites him and the arse just had similar tastes in places they liked to go.
Though it was harder to explain away spotting the blonde outside of his home.
Maybe he has friends who live in the area.
Merlin's gaze went down...and landed on a necklace. "Lance. Look at this."
In seconds his friend was by his side, hand resting on Merlin's shoulder, gaze down on the object in question. "Merlin...you're bloody brilliant! This is perfect!"
Merlin looked up at Lancelot and couldn't help but smile when he saw the happiness on his friend's face.
Lance squeezed his shoulder in excitement and turned to happily tell the sales clerk that they'd found something.
Merlin looked up through the plate glass door once more, and found the bench empty.
No prat in sight.
See Merlin? It was only a coincidence.
Taking in a deep breath he shook off the feeling he was being watched.
No matter how many times he did this, Merlin couldn't help but always feel slightly self-conscious or wary every single time they met up. It wasn't that there were many remarks about him or his style, or that he was willing to change how he dressed or was for someone else, but Uther Pendragon was a very intimidating man, even when he wasn't trying to be. It was weird, really, that he was on first name basis with the owner of Camelot Records, but Uther had banned him from calling him Mister Pendragon from their first meeting. It hadn't been the nicest of meetings, considering that Merlin had accidentally run into the man and caused him to dump his coffee all over himself, and he was sure to this day that Uther Pendragon would have probably skinned him alive if it wasn't for the fact that his mother had been with him at the time.
Merlin made a face, uncomfortable.
Apparently his mother and Uther had had a thing some years ago, and while his mother had admitted to only thinking of it fondly as a summer romance, Merlin had been able to see the obvious emotions in Uther's eyes when he'd gazed upon Hunith. It'd been awkward and embarrassing, especially since Hunith had seemed utterly oblivious to Uther's feelings, and had been happily telling him about her remarriage. Uther Pendragon was a man of honor, despite his bastardy-ness (yes, Merlin had made up that word just for Uther), and that was something Merlin soon realized. Uther might still be in love with Hunith, but he was above poaching on another's wife, so he'd left her alone.
It was Merlin whose life he'd infiltrated.
It'd started out as a chance encounter that had somehow ended up in a lunch...that had somehow ended up in countless meetings and a sorta job.
"You're late." Merlin announced as he looked up when Uther slid into the chair opposite his. "Aren't you the one always telling me that tardiness is something American?"
Uther snorted, pulling out the menu and looking through the list, although since they ate there all the time he must already know it by heart. "It seems you forget that I own and manage a multimillion dollar, award winning record label."
Merlin raised an eyebrow. "Considering I'm one of your talent scouts, I find it hard that I could ever forget."
"Impertinent child." Uther scolded with no heat, eyes still on the menu. "I'll have to dock that from your paycheck."
Merlin snorted. "If you docked every single time I said something other than Yes Your Highness I'd be working for free."
"Now wouldn't that be a thought?"
Merlin smirked, leaning back in his seat and looking at his black fingernails. "I found a new group you might be interested. I haven't really heard them enough to be sure, but from the little that I've heard they're talented and have a growing following."
"What're the band called?" Uther asked, gaze still on the menu.
"Lady of the Lake." Merlin replied, pausing when the waiter came up to take their order.
When they'd finished ordering and had had the menus removed, Uther raised a curious eyebrow. "Every time we come here he tries to flirt with you. Is he your type?"
Merlin nearly choked on his sip of water. "What?"
Uther snorted, evilly amused by the boy's suffering. "Oh come on Merlin. I know your...orientation. And you're a healthy, college-aged boy. And single. It would make sense that you'd be on the prowl."
"You did not just say that." Merlin whispered in horror.
"I'm not blinkered, you know." Uther's chin raised. "I understand that this is the modern world and that being homosexual is accepted. And truth be told, my boy, if I could accept you considering that you were raised Catholic not much else could change that."
Merlin blinked, not sure what to say to that.
Uther had this strange gift of being nice and a bastard all at the same time.
"All I'm saying is that you should raise your standards." Uther continued on, acting as if this was the most normal conversation for him to be having. "You should let me introduce you to some young men I know. They come from good, respectable families, and..."
"Uther." Merlin choked, needing to cut the older man off before he embarrassed him enough to melt away to nothing. "While I thank you for your...acceptance...I don't need to be introduced to anyone. Really."
Uther raised an eyebrow. "Is that a fact?"
"Yes, it very much is a fact." Merlin nodded, nearly frantically.
"So you have a young fellow of your own?" Uther seemed suspicious. "Because I have no trouble with introducing you to the right kind of bloke."
This was just so horrifying.
"So, about Lady of the Lake." Merlin changed the subject abruptly, not caring how obvious he was being. "They're having a gig tonight in one of the clubs downtown. I'm going to go check them out and if I like what I hear I'll record something for you to see."
Uther nodded, graciously accepting the change in subject as his wine arrived. "How is Hunith?"
"Fine." Merlin nodded, always feeling a little awkward whenever Uther asked about her. "Pregnant, actually. She found out last weekend. It was a shock, as you can imagine."
Uther was tense, before he cleared his throat and sighed. "Her husband must be very happy. As must she. I am very content for her."
Merlin had to smile at Uther for that. "She's more freaked than anything else, she was sure she was going through menopause a little early and then she found out it was this instead. She'd psyched herself for the menopause, not for another kid."
"Well, she didn't do a terrible job by you." Uther replied in what was probably supposed to be a compliment. "I am sure this child will turn out just fine."
"So am I." Merlin nodded, smiling a thanks to the waiter when he brought them their food.
Uther waited until the server had left before clearing his throat. "Merlin, I must admit I had ulterior motives when I asked you to dine with me this evening."
Merlin looked up as he began to cut into his meat.
Uther sighed. "I have spoken to you in the past about my son, Arthur."
Merlin nodded, knowing the topic a sore and yet important one for the older man.
Uther had a very conflicted relationship with his only child, a boy a couple of years older than Merlin. Ever since his wife's death, Uther had admitted to distancing himself from his son due to the pain of looking at the child's face and seeing his mother...and when he'd finally tried to remedy the situation it had been too late, and it was Arthur who kept the distance between them. Arthur's teenaged years had been hell, by all accounts, and the rebellion hadn't stopped after he'd started university either. It was to the degree that Uther sometimes didn't hear from his son in months, something that pained the old man and yet he'd never admit it unless completely plastered.
"Is he okay?" Merlin asked, curious as to why Uther was bringing up Arthur.
Uther cleared his throat. "He's gotten into certain...trouble...lately. I had to use my connections to keep him out of it, and he has grudgingly accepted my terms."
"Your...terms?" Merlin narrowed his eyes, not liking the sound of this.
"He'd gotten himself into trouble with some loan sharks. Gambling is apparently a vice he must have acquired during the last couple of years. And apparently he has no skill at it whatsoever." Uther shook his head. "The amount he owed was ridiculous. I only agreed to pay it if he signed a contract."
Merlin shook his head.
Only Uther would have his own child sign a contract.
"Merlin, I want my boy to see what honest living is like." Uther raised his chin imperially. "And I want you to show it to him."
Merlin's fork dropped loudly onto the plate. "Excuse me?"
"I know this is much for me to ask, but I will pay for any bill he might cost you, and-."
Merlin's eyes widened. "You want him to move in with me?"
"You'll be a good example for him." Uther declared with certainty. "Fashion sense aside, you're quite decent. You're responsible, a good son to your mother, studious, you work...Arthur would do good to learn to be half of those things."
Somehow...somehow...by the time Merlin left the early dinner, he'd agreed to this ridiculous deal.
Not that he'd really had much of a choice.
Apparently somehow Uther had extra keys to his flat, and had informed him that Arthur was probably already unpacking as they ate dinner.
So, that was why Merlin hesitated outside of his own home.
Sighing and squaring his shoulders, he unlocked the door and before entering he could already see traces of the invasion.
Someone's converse were there next to Merlin's shoes.
Taking in a deep breath when he heard movement from within, Merlin entered and locked the door behind him as he took of his shoes and placed them next to the converse. He made his way in and paused, unable to believe what he was seeing.
There, dressed in nothing but ruby shorts, lying on the couch as comfortably as if he'd lived in this flat his whole life, was the blonde arse from earlier.
"Oh sod." Merlin cursed, unable to believe it.
"About time you came back, Merlin." Arthur snorted, hands crossed behind his head as he raised an eyebrow and looked at him. "I still can't bloody believe that that's your real name. Were your parents sadists? Were you teased and taunted as a child?"
Merlin's eyes narrowed.
"Though, I have to admit, I'm impressed you were alert enough to figure out I was casing this joint." Arthur sat up, body toned and golden. "When my father told me one of the conditions would be living with the son of one of his acquaintances I had to make sure you weren't some psychopath and that this wasn't some hovel." He frowned. "This will have to do."
A muscle jumped in Merlin's cheek.
"Cor, Merlin!" Arthur stood. "You're the worst host ever. You haven't even welcomed me yet. I thought father said you were mannered."
"Listen here you giant arse." Merlin growled, feeing slightly better at the surprise in Arthur's eyes. "You're going to listen to me and listen good. You're here because you're a royal fuckup and your father basically helped you invade my home. But that is what this is. My home. And while you're here you're going to follow my rules."
The surprise melted into anger. "You can't talk to me like that!"
"I'll talk to you in any way that I want." Merlin snapped curtly. "Because you're a guest and not master of this house. Get that straight. When you're not in your room, you're going to be wearing a shirt, you're going to be doing your share of chores, and anything else I feel you need to do at any given time."
"Who do you think you-?" Arthur hissed.
"Look here little prince." Merlin hissed, suddenly finding himself way too close to Arthur but not backing down. "You don't like the rules? You can leave. But you won't, because you can't, because you'll be fucked if you do. So if this little pissing contest is over, and the boundaries are more or less clear to you now, then fine."
"And if it's not fine?" Arthur growled, taking another step towards Merlin, not backing down. "What you going to do then, fag? Call your boyfriend to come and beat me up?"
Merlin hadn't realized he'd slapped Arthur until he felt the sting of his hand, and heard the sound echoing throughout the living room.
Arthur's face had turned from the blow, and a red blotch was quickly marring his cheek. The man didn't move though, as if shocked.
"If you ever use that word again..." Merlin let the sentence fall, feeling fury cause his breathing to accelerate and his face to heat up as his eyes darkened.
He knew that in a fair fight with Arthur he'd lose, but he didn't care right now.
Arthur was still silent, bringing his hand to his cheek. He turned to look at Merlin again, something odd and dark in his eyes. "You hit me."
"You deserved it." Merlin replied, some of the fury being replaced by wariness.
He couldn't understand the intensity of that look.
Was the blonde planning on murdering him?
Suddenly, Arthur chuckled in dark amusement. "No one's had the guts to hit me before."
"They should have." Merlin ran a hand through his hair.
"You're a feisty one, aren't you?" Arthur smirked, rubbing his cheek softly.
Merlin couldn't figure out when this had stopped being an argument.
Arthur lowered himself with feline grace down onto the couch once more, hands behind his head, grinning up at Merlin in a way that made the slightly taller male feel self-conscious. "So...what do you do for fun?"
Confused and not liking it, Merlin took in a deep breath. "Look, I'm all for living with you in a civilized manner, but I don't have time right now for a game of 20 Questions. I have to go check out a band for your father."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "You work for him?"
"Kinda." Merlin shrugged and turned to leave. "I have to go get ready."
"Am I dressing any particular way or are the losers still in the garage stage?" Arthur called from behind him.
Turning on his heel, Merlin frowned. "You wouldn't like the music."
"I'll decide that for myself, thank you very much." Arthur snorted.
"You won't fit in then." Merlin announced bluntly.
"Don't care." Arthur replied. "I'm not dying of boredom in your flat while you go out to hear a band." He snorted. "You don't even have cable. How do you keep from going utterly barmy?"
Merlin didn't have the patience to fight with the blonde again. "Okay, fine, whatever. Just be ready in twenty."
"When one's this naturally attractive, Merlin, you don't need much time primping." Arthur replied as if this should be obvious.
"Oh ruddy hell." Merlin whispered as he sought refuge in his room.
He and Arthur were going to kill each other in a couple of days tops.
Utterly depressed, he went to bathe.