Disclaimers & author notes – see prologue.
Thank you to casualtheatrics for the beta and for the cheerleading – you rock!
Warnings for this chapter: Contains explicit sexual content, homophobia, violence and alludes to past non-violent domestic abuse.
A/N: This is it folks, the last one. Thank you all so much for reading, adding to favourites and alerts and for commenting – I've had some wonderful comments and they've been very motivating.
Week 12 – The Final
Merlin had come to realise that long distance relationships totally sucked. He was living in Worcestershire; Arthur was in London and working long hours setting up a new branch of the company for his father. Merlin had had to jump back into his own business with both feet after so long away; and so far the only good thing he could say about his face currently being on TV once a week, and speculation appearing about his private life in the tabloids as though he was a celebrity, was that business had picked up. People were coming in and buying from his gallery because they'd seen him on the show. They were stopping him in the street asking him about the show, and he had to keep quiet, as in was in the show's contract, he wasn't allowed to talk to anyone other than close family – in his case, Will – about the show's outcome until his 'you're fired' moment aired, and then he could talk about anything that had happened up to that date, but not anything about the final.
He and Arthur, when they did find time together, couldn't go out in public. Merlin tended to go to London on the weekends because it was easier to blend in there, he'd shove a beanie on and if he was feeling particularly anti-social, he'd wear shades as well. Now that they were apart during the week, and occasionally longer because Arthur had to go abroad, being unable to go out in public together didn't seem to matter because, well, after any length of time apart, all they wanted to do was curl into each other.
It was plain old exhausting though, going to London most weekends and working long hours in the week. Train carriages and travel fatigue became Merlin's new best friends.
Back at the end of August, after the kidnapping and Merlin's firing, Arthur had heeded his father's insistence that he take time off work by saying he would take two weeks' holiday; Merlin had taken him home with him, and they had spent a week in Malvern in Merlin and Will's flat. Merlin had taken a great pleasure in showing Arthur the sights; they went for walks on the hills, shopping in Worcester, and spent an inordinate amount of time in bed – much to Will's amusement.
Arthur and Will developed an instant banter of mutual light-hearted insults and one-upmanship which culminated in a night in the pub with both of them trying to drink each other under the table. Will had won; Arthur had nursed a hangover for the whole of the following day.
After that, Arthur had suggested they spent another week in his place in Somerset, and Merlin had agreed instantly – he still had a temporary manager running his business at that point, so dropping everything was easy when he hadn't really picked it up since returning from London. All he had done since filming ended was take Arthur to his workshop and gallery to give him the tour.
The time came for Arthur to return to work and it had been a shock to the system when Arthur had declared that he really should go back. Merlin had known it was coming; but it felt like losing a limb when he had to catch the train to Worcester and Arthur had headed for London.
So now, months later, Arthur was stuck working this weekend and Merlin had the weekend to himself, if you could call it that – he'd been in his workshop all of Saturday and he'd promised Will he'd go for Sunday dinner with him at the pub up the road; his best friend had been complaining he didn't see enough of Merlin, even though they shared a flat.
They walked down to the pub companionably. It was mid November now, 'The Apprentice' had been airing for a few weeks and last Wednesday had been the already infamous 'Valiant' episode. They had kept most of the 'action' in, with some strategic editing removing some of Valiant's less pleasant comments, mainly the homophobic ones. The footage of him leaping over the table to attack Sir Uther was priceless. Luckily the cameras had not picked up on Merlin's magical intervention, although Sir Uther now knew who had saved him that day.
The day after the show aired the news had been strategically broken about Valiant kidnapping Arthur - Uther had given the press conference, saying that Arthur had been saved by a 'knight in shining armour' - a headline the papers went with when they ran the story but they had no actual details. The day after that they had somehow managed to get an interview with Valiant who claimed that he had done it because 'no one messes with me and gets away with it'. Merlin had worried that it all coming up again might trigger a reaction in Arthur but he was still surprisingly stoic and matter of fact about the whole incident.
Will went to the bar to order whilst Merlin found a table, ignoring the curious stares of the other patrons, used to it now that the show was airing and the local paper had taken to writing a column about Merlin's progress on the show. He was always amused by the little old ladies approaching him in Waitrose and telling him he was a 'lovely boy'.
When Will arrived at the table with their pints he was balancing a Sunday newspaper under his chin, which once he'd deposited the drinks on the table he threw down on the bench and sat beside it. "I didn't order lunch yet, I thought you might reconsider when you've seen this -" he picked up the paper and handed it to Merlin. "He's a fucking wanker and if I ever..."
Merlin tuned him out as he stared down at the page two of the paper, a picture of himself with Edwin, from around three years ago, adorned the page beneath the headline, 'Apprentice star is love cheat'. He gasped, his stomach churning at the photo sight of the photo, Edwin's arm possessively wrapped around his waist, Merlin's face the epitome of strain. The article then went on to talk about how Edwin had been madly in love with a young Merlin but had been left heartbroken when he'd found out he'd been cheating on him all along with Will.
It was all utter bullshit. Merlin took a deep breath and counted to ten. Edwin was nothing. He was no longer under his spell. "You've just been outed," he joked feebly to Will. "And you're not even 10% gay."
Will didn't smile; his concerned eyes on Merlin, "Do you want to go?"
Merlin looked around the pub then, and some people were staring at him as if waiting for his reaction to the newspaper article. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of leaving now. Bloody vultures. "No, go and order dinner will you? I'll be fine." He'd just give them all his favourite nose warts if they said anything to him.
He was, however, struggling to control the sudden surge of angry magic that wanted to explode and carve a path from there to wherever Edwin and his smug, arrogant face was and burn him alive. He wanted to peel the flesh from his bones and –
His mobile rang in his pocket, the giveaway ringtone that indicated it was Arthur the only reason he answered at all, "Arthur."
"Oh God Merlin, are you OK? I've just seen the paper and I'll be with you in an hour alright?"
Merlin's heart and his magic instantly calmed down at the thought of seeing Arthur soon.
"Will's there, right? I don't want you on your own."
"Will's here, we're in The Unicorn. I'm OK – but I'll be glad to see you." He hung up and then began to wonder where Arthur was that he could be in Malvern in just an hour.
Merlin only picked at his lunch, feeling horribly shaken up, leaving Will in the pub talking to one of the regulars about Formula 1 racing, and hastened back to the flat to meet Arthur. As he approached he saw Arthur on the pavement pretending to peruse the wares in the antique shop window. All he wanted was a hug to ease his tension. Will was great, all protective and threatening to head over to Edwin's and beat him to a pulp, and it was good that he cared – but Arthur could make Merlin feel better with just a look.
He sighed contentedly as he was folded in Arthur's arms, enjoying burying his face in his neck, breathing in his cologne before giving in to the pull and pressing his mouth to his in a searing kiss. His tension floated away.
"How did you get here so fast? There's no way you could have driven up from London in an hour," Merlin took Arthur's hand and led him up to the flat as he waited for his answer.
"I was already on my way when I called," Arthur said quickly – too quickly Merlin thought. He closed the door behind him and pulled Merlin into his arms immediately, his eyes scanning his face with concern. "I've spoken to my solicitor, we can definitely sue the paper for printing that defamatory piece of shit; Will too, implying that he's gay when he's not. I'll make sure that that – that -" he broke off and hung his head at Merlin's expression of horror.
"You're so cute when you're like this," Merlin smiled gently. "Let's not talk about him – yes, I'm fucking angry – but he's nothing. Karma has always worked for me." It had worked on Valiant and to some extent Cen, though Merlin had heard that Cen was now in the ARC – Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, in a programme to conquer his addiction to alcohol.
Arthur had footed the bill, and Merlin knew it was because he felt guilty for hitting him, after he'd heard about Cen's alcoholism. Arthur didn't know Merlin knew about that; but he hadn't banked on Cen writing to Merlin to apologise for his behaviour.
Merlin merely added it to the list of things he loved about Arthur; and thought it was highly amusing that Cen had fallen into Uncle Cill's prediction...'your truth lies in the ark.' Coincidence? Merlin didn't think so, not after Lance and Gwen.
He just hadn't worked out how Arthur fitted into his own prediction about horses and coins, but he didn't worry too much, he knew Arthur was 'the one', and he didn't need to make it fit; one day it would all fall into place he was sure.
"Will won't be back for ages and I'm feeling horny." Merlin grabbed Arthur by the collar and backed into his bedroom. "I want you to fuck me so hard I see stars."
God, this was like being back at school as being picked for the football team. There were eight of them, lined up, in the impressive top floor of the Swiss Re Building – otherwise known as 'The Gherkin' and under the watchful eye of Sir Uther, Arthur and Gaius – the two finalists, Gwaine and Leon, had to take turns to pick a member for their team.
It was finally the final, three months after the final two had been chosen. Those three months had felt like forever. Eight of the previously fired candidates had been brought back to assist the two finalists to win their – as yet unannounced – task. Lance, Gwen, Morgause, Nimueh, Mordred, Sophia and Freya were joining Merlin as one of the lucky eight.
It was weird for Merlin to be back in this environment, having to act as though he was just another returning candidate when he and Uther had become almost friends. He kept calling him 'son' and they spent a lot of time chatting pleasantly over dinner if Morgana and the kids were there too. The children absolutely adored Arthur and he them, and they loved Uncle Merlin's magic tricks. Merlin had not expected that turn of events; a few short months ago Uther had not known his only son liked men, yet here he was embracing his boyfriend into the family and making a real effort. He actually seemed to like Merlin.
"Congratulations to Gwaine and Leon for making it to the final week," Sir Uther announced. "Arthur will call heads and tails to decide who gets to choose first. Arthur?"
Merlin's eyes slid over to Arthur; raking him from top to toe with a suppressed groan of lust. He hadn't seen him in far too long. He'd missed him. For Arthur's part, yes, he looked fucking gorgeous – but Merlin could see the tiredness hidden underneath and the strain in his stance.
It just made him want to slink over to him and give him a big welcome hug. Instead he turned his attention back to the proceedings, which luckily enough, still meant watching Arthur as he called, "Heads or Tails?" and Gwaine jumped in and picked tails. Arthur flipped his hand over, "Tails it is."
"OK, Gwaine, you can have first choice," Sir Uther confirmed.
Gwaine's brown eyes swept the assembly of rejected candidates, slipping into a slight sneer as his eyes slid over Sophia. "Morgause."
Leon didn't need to look, "Merlin," he grinned, and Merlin happily went to stand beside his friend.
"Nimueh," said Gwaine.
"Gwen," Leon countered.
This left Sophia with no option than to join Leon's team, which she did, with a glower in Gwaine's direction. Merlin silently hoped she wouldn't cause any problems for Leon. He liked Gwaine, but he'd been rooting for Leon since he'd known his friend was in the final.
"Each of you will be given an exclusive venue and a £5,000 budget. You will be hosting a charity entertainment show of your choice at the venue and selling tickets for this; I expect a profit to be made on my £5,000 outlay because all profit will be going to charity. To help you along; I've arranged for a selection of special celebrity acts to be available to you and have their names should make a good selling point. You won't get a choice of which celebrities you get as you will take turns to pull the names from the hat." Sir Uther smiled what Merlin could only describe as his evil smile. "After this, one of you will be hired and the other will be fired. Any questions?"
Both Leon and Gwaine shook their heads.
"Good, now Arthur will be observing Gwaine," Sir Uther flashed a brief glance at Merlin. "Gaius will follow Leon. Now - get to work!"
Of course Sir Uther would put Arthur with the other team. He and Arthur couldn't work together now that their relationship was on the verge of being public knowledge.
Each team were allocated offices in building, "Bloody hell," Leon managed. "This is an architect's dream in here."
"Yeah, and did you know it was in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince?" he added, allowing himself a minor squee, which he considered he was allowed seeing as he and Harry Potter had a lot in common.
"I think it's gorgeous in here," Gwen sighed.
Sophia rolled her eyes, "Yes, yes, it's wonderful. Don't we have work to be getting on with?"
Leon's jaw tightened but he sat down and opened the info file they had been given. "Right, celebrities...hat picking time is tomorrow morning, so at least we should know what kind of event we are holding by then – once we've done that we can get tickets sorted." It was Monday morning; the event was to be held on Saturday night. "Hmmm, let's see – there are ten celebs to pick so that's five each – Michael Buble -"
"Guh!" huffed Sophia. "Boring!"
"Not boring to a lot of people!" Freya argued. "My Mum loves him."
"Miranda Hart," continued Leon.
"Really?" gasped Merlin. "I love her! I hope we get her."
"No – way – John Barrowman!" Leon threw the file on table. "We've got to get him... Oh God, this is so random, it's all just based on luck!"
"He's hot," Sophia said huskily. "I'll manage him if we get him."
Merlin laughed out loud at that. "He's gay," he told her.
"No – that was just for that program, what was it again – you know, the one about the aliens?"
"Torchwood," Gwen giggled. "And he's totally gay in real life. Not that it matters of course, there's nothing wrong with it -"
"Who else is on the list?" Freya asked Leon.
"Oh my GOD, Peter Kay!"
There was an excited chorus of 'no way'.
"If we get him that would be a real coup, people will be beating down the door for tickets," Merlin noted. "Leon – we have to get him." Merlin could use magic to make sure that name popped out of the hat...but cheating was bad karma, and he wanted Leon to win.
Leon had turned green again. He looked down at the list and almost swooned, "You're not going to believe this – Take That and Westlife!"
"Seriously? Freya snatched the list out of Leon's hands. "Blimey, you couldn't make this up! And look, Bill Bailey, Ross Noble..."
"Who?" asked Sophia. Everyone else rolled their eyes.
"...Al Murray," Freya pulled a face. "And the last one is Alan Carr. Oh, I adore him!"
"Oh heck, what are we going to do with them when we've got them?" sighed Leon.
Naturally, Merlin went on the coffee run at the first given opportunity; there was a Starbucks over the road. As he walked down the corridor to the lift, he glanced into another office and saw Gwaine and his team poring over their file, the camera crew to one side, Arthur leaning against the wall to the other, their eyes catching as Merlin passed.
Merlin raised an eyebrow and continued in his mission to reach Starbucks, joining the ridiculously long queue with a sigh. A few people glanced at him as though they recognised him, but on the whole he was ignored; 'famous' faces were ten a penny in this part of London, there were far more interesting people to be seen. The fuss had died down regarding the Edwin scandal after Arthur's solicitor forced the paper to print an apology, and launched a law suit against both the paper and Edwin.
"I never did buy your magic that caramel latte I promised all those months ago," said a voice in his ear. Arthur.
"I think after saving your arse from the evil kidnapper, you owe it a lot more than that!" Merlin leant back into Arthur, enough to feel him there, not enough to draw attention. "I missed you."
Arthur laughed softly, speaking in a low voice for Merlin's eats only, "Idiot, you know I can't stay away from you for long."
Merlin shrugged, unashamed. Arthur had been away for over a week, which meant two whole weekends apart, Arthur's flight schedule meaning they hadn't been able to meet up last night.
Now here they were, and Merlin ached for Arthur.
"Follow me," Merlin whispered then, leaving the queue and heading up the stairs to the upper seating area; all the time aware that Arthur had done as he was told and was right behind him. The upstairs was quiet, just a couple of teenagers sitting in the corner with only eyes for each other. Merlin grabbed Arthur's wrist and dragged him into the toilet.
OK, so the loo in Starbucks wasn't the most romantic place for a tryst with one's lover, but right then and there, Merlin didn't care. Over a week without Arthur had felt like a lifetime.
Keeping his eyes locked on Arthur's, he dropped to his knees.
When Merlin finally arrived back with the coffees no one batted an eye when he blamed the long queue for the amount of time he'd taken, well, Gaius's eyebrow nearly went into orbit – but Merlin could hazard a guess that he was probably in the know about him and Arthur and had correctly guessed what Merlin might have been up to. Of course the beauty now was, he could no longer get fired, so aside from fucking this up for Leon – which he had no intention of doing – he couldn't go wrong.
"I've made my decision," Leon told Merlin as he handed out the coffees. "We're having a comedy cabaret, and if we get one or more of the groups then we can mingle that in."
"Oh, sounds good – let's hope we get at least one music act – both of the bands will be a huge draw," Merlin said, privately hoping they got Take That rather than Westlife.
Leon nodded, his face tense. "OK, so until we know who we've got, lets get on with the logistical side of things and the budget – Sophia – can I put you in charge of sales, Gwen and Freya – decor – and Merlin could you look at the budget for me? Anyone got any ideas on the overall theme?"
Merlin took a huge swig of his caramel latte and picked up the calculator.
Merlin didn't know how they'd done it, but they had pulled it off. The event had to have a theme, whilst showcasing the acts that they had secured, which in their case the theme as 'chocolate'. The Chocolate Cabaret.
Leon had managed to get Hotel Chocolat to sponsor the event, for free, at short notice – it would be good publicity for them – so there was a welcome glass of champagne and chocolate fondues. The event was formal dress, with simply decorated tables, each seat being sold for £110 with 320 seats set out in the 'cabaret' style to encompass the stage.
They had sold all of the seats – how could they not with their line up? Merlin and Gwen had been in charge of getting the room sorted, planning the schedule for the evening, liaising with the sponsor, making sure the venue looked classy with the limited budget that they had. Leon, Sophia and Freya had been on sales. Merlin had worked out ticket prices based on some market research on other similar events, and then upped the price accordingly when Leon pulled Take That out of the hat. Then with Leon they had worked out how much reduction to give to group bookings so that the sales team could offer the discounts if things got tight.
There were no rules saying that a personal business contacts couldn't be used by the 'helpers' and Sophia worked for a large sales company; one email to a colleague there who had sent it on around the company and over half the tickets had been sold in one day. Merlin reviewed his original opinion that Sophia might be hindrance in the task.
Also out of the hat had come John Barrowman, Peter Kay, Bill Bailey and Miranda Hart. Getting Peter Kay as well as Take That was a real coup.
Thus, the evening was arranged that John Barrowman would compère; and at some point join in with Take That for one of their songs. Miranda Hart would be performing stand-up first, then Take That would come out to perform an acoustic version of 'Pray' and 'How Deep is Your Love'. After that Bill Bailey would do his thing, followed by two more Take That songs, 'A Million Love Songs' and 'Why Can't I Wake Up With You'. It had been a tough choice over the 'headline' because Peter Kay and Take That were both massively popular, but in the end, after much discussion, they had decided that Take That should headline because Peter could be on the stage whilst there was a certain amount of setting up required by Take That for the rest of their set, which could go on behind the scenes whilst Peter did his routine. Take That were not doing their massive all singing all dancing show, this was an intimate venue and it wouldn't have worked.
The whole event had been a nightmare to schedule. The show started at 7pm in the end, with champagne and chocolates from 6pm. The whole team had to play the role of hosts, making sure the guests were all happy, ensuring the waiting-staff were doing their jobs, selling raffle tickets for autographed merchandise and chocolate hampers.
Merlin would be amazed if Leon didn't win after this, it was perfect. Of course, he had no idea what Gwaine had laid on – he knew of course which acts he had, but as for any of the details, it was all top secret; even spending every night in Arthur's bed didn't get Merlin any closer to the details. Arthur was keeping it very close to his chest, and although Merlin was dying to know what the other team was getting up to, he loved Arthur all the more for his professionalism.
Heck, he loved Arthur, end of. Even if Arthur was up to something and it was bugging the hell out of Merlin trying to suss out what.
He just wished Arthur was here observing this event and not Gwaine's, because Merlin felt really proud of what they had achieved.
All the team could do now was hope that they had got the figures right; just selling all their tickets meant nothing if the other team had done the same but for more money, or if they lost out on the sales of the 'extras' – the bar, the food, the raffle and the chocolate.
The awful thing about this was that Leon wouldn't find out until the last episode of the show later in the month – which meant over a week's wait in limbo, almost in hiding, keeping quiet about whether or not they had been fired in the last week or if they had made the final. Everything about the outcome of the show was kept cloak and dagger until the day the show aired.
Merlin wouldn't see a camera crew again until it was his turn to go on 'You're Fired' next week.
The morning after the final, Arthur woke Merlin up with his lips around his cock, bringing Merlin to orgasm whilst he was still half asleep. They were still in the hotel, their last morning there before everyone returned back to normality.
"Can you ring for room service whilst I grab a shower," said Arthur, jumping out of bed, full of beans. Merlin groaned and pulled a pillow over his head. He was exhausted and it was Sunday morning, how could Arthur be so lively?
He heard the bathroom door close, and stuck out one arm, feeling blindly around for the phone to call room service. His hand closed over the room phone as Arthur's mobile began to ring, loudly. Merlin huffed and made a grab for it, intending to silence it. Somehow – with the stupid thing being a BlackBerry – instead of turning it off Merlin hit the answer button and heard a distant tinny voice saying. "Hello? Arthur?"
Hastily he brought the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Arthur, it's Owain?"
"Er – sorry – this isn't Arthur, he's, er – he's stepped out the room," Merlin covered, not wanting to announce to the world that Arthur was in the shower, as that would make it obvious that Merlin was in the same hotel room, and it was too early to go public.
"Right. Sorry! I'll just call back later then -"
"Can I take a message?" Merlin asked, still half asleep at this point.
"No, it's fine," said the voice. "He'll know what it's about."
"M'kay, bye," Merlin hung up happily and scrabbled around for the other phone so he could order breakfast. That done, he curled back up and fell back to sleep.
When Arthur woke him again breakfast had arrived and Merlin forgot all about the phone call.
They ate breakfast in bed and Merlin began to dread his inevitable return to Worcestershire later that afternoon. Being away from Arthur sucked, but Arthur hadn't said anything about it, it seemed that the long distance pattern was set. Merlin didn't want that, only seeing Arthur at weekends, he wanted to see him every day, sleep at his side every night.
"I know you've been away from your work a hell of a lot lately, but do you think you could take a long weekend this weekend?" Arthur said, running his forefinger around Merlin's belly button.
Merlin thought Arthur must have read his mind. "I'm filming 'You're Fired' the Tuesday after next so I might as well stay down here until then anyway," Merlin said, ignoring his nerves that protested at the thought of being interviewed in front of a live audience.
"No, that's not what I meant – I'm taking you away on Thursday. We'll come back Monday morning ready for the show."
"Oh, OK. Where?"
"You'll find out when we get there – bring your passport."
Merlin perked up. "Not fair! How will I know what to pack?"
"Normal winter clothes will do." OK, so they weren't going to Hawaii.
"OK. Oh – someone called Owain rang when you were in the shower."
Arthur flushed, "Oh? What did he say?"
Merlin narrowed his eyes, "Just that he would call back. Who's Owain?"
"My new PA. He organised the trip for me." Arthur looked shifty.
He was definitely up to something else; Merlin had been suspicious since Arthur's incredibly short journey time to Worcestershire from London the other week. Merlin only had to cast out a tiny shred of magic now to pick up on Arthur's feelings if he wanted to. He was up to something, and it wasn't this trip, but it was something good – Merlin could sense the intentions behind whatever it was.
"OK," he said, fighting back a grin. "Pack for a cold climate. Oooh – are we going to see Father Christmas in Greenland?"
"Welcome to New York," Arthur drawled in a fake American accent.
Merlin was still befuddled after falling asleep halfway into the journey...approximately five minutes after he and Arthur joined the mile high club in the bedroom in the Pendragon private jet. He'd expected he'd be flying somewhere because Arthur had told him to pack his passport, but he'd thought Dublin or Berlin; he'd never been to New York. "Seriously? Wow!"
"It's beautiful here this time of year," Arthur said, as he led Merlin down the jet's stairs. "The people of New York know how to do Christmas."
Merlin felt a surge of love for Arthur... New York. Oh my God.
The Starry Night by Van Gogh was in New York. "Tell me we'll have time to go to MoMA?" he asked Arthur excitedly.
"We've got time to do whatever you want to do."
Merlin took Arthur's hand and threaded his fingers through his. "Thank you Arthur, this is brilliant."
It was no surprise to Merlin that Uther owned an apartment in New York, which Merlin knew had to be worth more than his entire hometown, with a view over Central Park. New York was five hours behind London, so the night was early, and as Merlin had slept on the plane, he found he was full of renewed energy when Arthur suggested they go and find somewhere to eat.
They walked hand in hand on the sidewalk, both wrapped up in hats, scarves and gloves to keep out the bitter December chill, Arthur leading the way, "There a couple of good places down this way," he told Merlin. "Tomorrow I thought we could either do the tourist thing – Empire State, ice skating – that kind of thing. Or if you want, we could go to MoMA first and take it from there?"
Merlin grinned, wanting to do everything, "Can we go shopping? I want to see all the famous shop window displays on Fifth Avenue and – yes – let's go ice skating at the Rockefellar Center." Seeing all the lights on the taxi ride over had filled him with Christmas spirit. They could go to MoMA later as they would be here for four days.
Arthur laughed and squeezed Merlin's hand, "You're such a girl Merlin."
Merlin shoved all his worries about appearing on the 'You're Fired' show next week, vowing to enjoy the moment, enjoy Arthur.
Unexpectedly, it was Arthur who fell on his arse when they went ice skating and Merlin was the one who sailed around the rink like he'd been born in ice skates. Merlin almost pulled a muscle laughing at him as he fell on his backside over and over again.
As it was, this was their last full day in New York, and Merlin was worn out after going to MoMA, the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, Liberty Island and every other tourist trap in the city, as well as going shopping and spending more money than he'd care to admit on clothes he never knew he wanted.
"You're so supportive," Arthur complained as Merlin helped him to his feet for the fourth time. "How come you're so good at this?"
Merlin tried to regain his composure, "No idea, I fully expected to be the one going splat."
Arthur tumbled into Merlin's arms, his hands splaying over Merlin's hips. Their eyes met, and their mouths gravitated towards each other like magnets.
They had planned on eating out that night, but as it was, they barely made it out of their ice skates and back to the apartment in time. Arthur pinned Merlin to the back of the front door and released his cock from his jeans and –
Arthur's phone trilled. Arthur cursed, "I have to get this," he muttered, pushing away from Merlin reluctantly, nodding towards the lounge, indicating Merlin should get comfortable in there.
Merlin sat on the sofa and flicked on the fire with the remote, so fucking horny he thought he might explode, thinking he might distract himself by texting Will. Except for his phone was in his bag, on the floor in the hall.
Annoyed, he made his way back to the hall, his hand reaching out to open the door, wanting to be quiet because Arthur was on the phone, pacing the hallway.
"...no – no don't do that! Merlin doesn't know. No, he... Good – and he's not going to know. OK, OK, got it. It has to be done by Christmas though... OK, thanks."
Merlin froze, his hand on the door knob. What didn't he know? Who was Arthur on the phone to?
"Great, thanks Morgana, you're a star."
Merlin dashed away from the door and perched back on the sofa, his still hard cock causing him mild discomfort as he tried to arrange himself nonchalantly on the sofa. What had that conversation been about? He'd been trying so hard to let this play out, whatever it was that Arthur was plotting, but he was so damned curious.
Arthur came back into the room, tucked his phone into his jeans pocket and sitting down beside Merlin, "Sorry about that," he said, as though he hadn't just been having a conversation about Merlin not knowing something.
Merlin's magic knew Arthur wasn't up to anything bad, as did his instincts, but he couldn't help asking, "Oh, who was it?" trying to be casual.
"Just Owain, from the office," he lied, badly, and that was the moment Merlin could sense just how much Arthur didn't want him to know what he was up to yet, the flare of nerves that Merlin might discover him clear in Merlin's head.
"Still working even when on holiday?" Merlin deflected. Arthur had lied, Arthur was a terrible liar.
"I could have sworn I heard you call Owain 'Morgana'," Merlin couldn't stop himself from saying, watching Arthur carefully. "You're plotting something. I just wanted you to know that I know."
"Now, if you wouldn't mind finishing what you started in the hall earlier? I'm a man in need here you know," he gestured at his groin, removing the cushion he'd pulled over when he'd sat down earlier, to reveal his swollen cock jutting out from his open jeans, as Arthur had left him earlier.
He saw Arthur's eyes widen and his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, licking his lips. "Merlin what did I do to deserve you?" He leant forward and kissed Merlin slowly, twining his hands in Merlin's hair. Merlin straddled his lap, desperate for closer contact.
With one hand Merlin managed to divulge Arthur of his jumper. Arthur was making similar progress with Merlin's clothing. Merlin wriggled out of his jeans, removing himself from Arthur's lap to allow room for yanking off his remaining clothing before pulling Arthur down onto the rug in front of the fire. There he straddled him again, leaning down for another taste of his mouth, gasping into the kiss as Arthur ran his thumbs over his nipples, sending bolts of need down to Merlin's already desperate cock.
Merlin wrapped his longer fingers around both their cocks, fisting them together, loving the way Arthur's heartbeat quickened at the contact. "God Merlin," Arthur moaned. "Need you."
Merlin used his magic to float lube and condoms from the bedroom; more attuned with his powers in that moment than ever before – he'd simply thought about them and they had summoned themselves.
Arthur flipped him onto his back, sliding down Merlin's body, his hands parting his thighs as he slid his hands under his buttocks and sought out his entrance with his index finger.
Bending his head he took in the head of Merlin's cock, teasing circles around it with his tongue. "Nngh – Arthur – no foreplay, just – want you..."
Arthur released Merlin's cock and slid back up Merlin's body for a kiss, grabbing the lube as he passed. One long filthy kiss later and his lubed fingers were inside Merlin, but Merlin didn't want to wait, he was ready.
"Now Arthur, please," he begged.
Arthur knelt, replaced his fingers with his cock and began to edge his way inside Merlin. Merlin rolled his hips back and let his legs fall over Arthur's shoulders. He needed this. Needed Arthur. He reached out and closed his fingers over Arthur's hipbone as Arthur began to move inside him, watching the concentration on Arthur's face as he in turn watched his own cock moving in and out of Merlin.
"Merlin," he said, their eyes meeting. "Merlin I -" Merlin clenched himself around Arthur's cock, loving the expressions that chased over his face. Arthur's pace slowed, groaned, shaking his head. Understanding, Arthur picked up speed again, slamming into Merlin hard.
'I love you' was on the tip of Merlin's tongue, but he couldn't form the words, he was so close to coming, he could feel the orgasm building in his toes, working through his body, that any kind of coherent thought was beyond his capabilities.
Arthur twisted his hips, changing the angle, sending new waves of pleasure through Merlin, tipping him over, until it was too much and he came, hard, fingers digging into Arthur's hips, come exploding onto Arthur's chest.
When Arthur flopped down beside him Merlin got up unsteadily and went to get a damp cloth to wipe Arthur clean; when he returned to the rug, Arthur was asleep. Merlin cleaned him slowly before grabbing a blanket off the sofa and covering them both, settling down to indulge one of his favourite new pastimes – watching Arthur sleep.
Merlin was the third candidate onto 'You're Fired' after Gwen and Sophia. Arthur was in the studio audience. The three celebrity guests around the table with Dara O'Briain were Time Out editor Mark Frith, businesswoman Sarah Tremellen who set up the chain of shops Bravissimo, and comedian Hugh Dennis.
He waited in the dressing room for someone to come and get him, on his fourth coffee of the hour, scared half to death of what was to come, remembering his 'episode' at the shopping channel.
The news of himself and Arthur had come out in the paper that morning, unplanned. Some wily journalist had taken pictures of them in ice skating in New York, kissing passionately just before they had gone back to the apartment for their fireside sex. Luckily the journalist had not followed them back to the apartment with his telephoto lens.
Their 'story' – agreed long before now – for the sake of the media, was that they had got together since filming had finished at the end of August. Of course, anyone interviewing Cenred or Valiant might find themselves with a different story; but Merlin didn't think Cen would be a problem in the light of his apology letter. Valiant might be a spanner in the works, but he'd never had any concrete proof of his suspicions. Besides, he was in prison and not the most credible of sources.
Nevertheless, Merlin knew he was in for a serious ribbing because he'd met with Dara and the director earlier and been forewarned of what would lie ahead – so, couple that with being in front of a live audience having to answer questions about his performance and be mocked by the guest celebs - well, it was an understatement to say that Merlin was not looking forward to this experience.
"Merlin, you're up," Joe appeared in the doorway, smiling at Merlin like an old friend.
"Thanks Joe," Merlin almost whimpered, taking one last glance at himself in the mirror before following Joe. The production team had insisted on styling him as he had been when he'd 'modelled' so he had his 'just shagged' hair atop a fitted suit, worn with Converse. He felt like Doctor Who.
Joe told him to wait just off set, so he stood, his nerves and his magic clashing with one another; God he needed a hug from Arthur right now.
"Please welcome – Merlin Emrys!" Joe gave Merlin a little shove and he walked out onto set, waved at the audience with a smile and a fake confidence that he'd mustered up from somewhere deep down. Seeing Arthur in the audience a couple of rows back settled him some. Arthur winked.
It started with an inevitability that Merlin had known was coming, they talked about his successes on the show, his opinions of some of the less popular candidates and asked the celebrity guests if they'd thought Merlin's input into tasks was good. Hugh Dennis mocked him for his moaning during the marketing task and they showed a montage of him trying desperately to wiggle out of doing the modelling. That was followed by footage of him doing the photo shoot with Kraftwerk's 'Das Model' playing over the top.
Merlin joined in the laughter, carried away with the moment; even he had admitted that had been his whingiest moment on the show.
"Of course, the new and improved you caught the eye of more than just the industry experts," Dara said, and Merlin knew this was the moment. "There's the small matter of your romance with Sir Uther's son and heir; and this series – his boardroom adviser, Arthur. So, tell us Merlin, was it love at first sight?"
The audience cheered and wolf-whistled. On one of the screens off set Merlin saw the vision-mix to Arthur, who was flushed but grinning like a lovesick teenager.
Merlin decided to go with it. "Yes Dara, I do believe it was; it just took me quite a while to realise it."
"Well, as they say Merlin – and I'm sure with you being a photographer you will appreciate – the camera never lies," Dara smirked. "We've taken the liberty of putting together a little history of your romance. Are you ready for this?"
"Oh no," Merlin laughed, actually intrigued to see what they had done. "Bring it on."
The screens around the studio started to play another montage, this time with Merlin's 'live' face in the corner of the picture, recording his reaction. It was a combination of slow motion and real time clips, played out to the tune of 'Everything I do (I do it for you)'. Merlin tried not to squirm in his seat at the footage they had found of his interactions with Arthur, background shots of him looking longingly at Arthur – and of Arthur doing the same, as far back as the first task.
"Ah, this series has produced two happy couples, viewers – ain't love grand?" said Dara when the footage ended and Merlin was crimson red. "Arthur, love at first sight for you too then?"
Merlin face-palmed as Arthur's face appeared in the monitors, "Absolutely Dara; as the clip just showed, I took a shine to Merlin from day one."
"So, what does the future hold for the two of you?"
"It's still being written," Arthur said.
Merlin grinned. Once this week was over and he'd done his contractual appearances on breakfast TV and various radio shows, Arthur was taking a long Christmas break up in Worcestershire with Merlin. The final 'You're Hired' show, in which Merlin had to be in the studio audience for, was being filmed almost live on Sunday. The boardroom decision was being filmed the day before, with time for editing and adding to the final show ready to go out on Sunday night with 'You're Hired' straight after.
Merlin couldn't wait to find out the result and then grab Arthur to himself for two weeks.
The rest of the filming went in a blur, and Merlin was proud that he didn't pass out, swear or magically blow up Dara.
He just had to make sure he didn't do any damage to the bevy of photographers that had been stalking them earlier and were more than likely waiting for them outside the studio. Their big gay love affair was hot news this week; and coming on the back of Morgana's long lost sister revelation and Arthur's kidnapping, the press were in love with Arthur.
Merlin couldn't blame them.
Merlin sat in the studio audience between Gwen and Mordred. All of the original candidates were there, even Cen, with the obvious exception of Valiant. They had been watching the final show on a big screen for the last hour, and this was the moment of truth – Sir Uther was soon to announce who he had hired.
The silence was almost deafening as the audience watched with bated breath.
"Gwaine made £21,000 in ticket sales and £4,478 from the bar and food," Arthur announced. Gwaine's theme had been 'Winter Wonderland', and the party had been impressive.
Sir Uther nodded, impressed with the figures. "How did Leon fare?" he asked Gaius.
"Leon made £40,700 in ticket sales and an impressive £10,836 from the bar and sundries," Gaius announced, and the audience watching gasped. That was a big difference.
"Gwaine, you didn't charge enough for your tickets, nor did you sell them all," Sir Uther mulled. "Leon, you sold all of the tickets and made more money on the extras. Your strategy was good, your ticket prices were valid and competitive and the show was well planned. I'm impressed."
Leon was biting his lip nervously. Gwaine looked like he was going to the gallows.
"Gwaine, you've done well to reach the final and your numbers were good, your track record is impressive – however – Leon's take on the task had an edge."
Sir Uther pretended to ponder some more. "Gwaine," he took a deep breath, as did the studio audience. Merlin wondered if Gwaine might still win. "You should be proud of what you've achieved. Leon – you're just what I'm looking for – you're hired." The hiring finger was pointed.
The studio audience erupted.
Merlin sighed happily. There was a twinge of envy – how could there not be when he knew he could have been in the final? – but he was so happy for Leon, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke. Maybe now he'd find the confidence to make a move on Joe.
Leon Castle, winner of 'The Apprentice; 2010.
Merlin Emrys, winner of Arthur Pendragon! Merlin grinned, still clapping for Leon; never more certain he's made the right choice.
"Ugh, do we have to go for a walk now?" huffed Merlin. "I'm exhausted!" To demonstrate, Merlin flopped back onto his and Will's ancient sofa and covered his eyes with the back of his hand.
It was Christmas Eve and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground making the town look like a Victorian Christmas scene. At Arthur's insistence, Merlin had left the gallery in the capable hands of his staff with a nice Christmas bonus for their trouble. In his mind's eye he'd pictured curling up on the sofa with Arthur, some mulled wine and whatever sentimental crap film was on the telly. Now Arthur had apparently gone 'last minute shopping' and Will wanted to go for a bloody walk.
"Yes, we do," said Will in the voice Merlin only ever heard him use on work phone calls when he meant business.
Merlin knew better than to argue with that voice. He rolled his eyes and went to find his walking boots.
"Why do we have to drive somewhere to go on a walk?" he complained, getting into Will's beat up old van and putting on the seat belt.
"Because I said so," replied Will with a grin, and Merlin suddenly, instantly suspicious. It was that thing again; the thing he wasn't allowed to know about, whatever it was Arthur had been plotting for weeks now. Morgana was in on it. Uther was in on it. Arthur's PA was in on it. Obviously so was Will.
"OK, what's really going on?"
Will shrugged innocently. "Nothing, just a simple walk on Christmas Eve."
"Hmmm," Merlin sat back in the seat and looked out the window.
It was funny, when Merlin had first realised Arthur was up to something, the old Merlin might have been suspicious. He might have thought Arthur was cheating, or planning to break up with him. Maybe, for one small second the possibility had crossed his mind, but he'd only had to look at Arthur to reassure himself.
Arthur Pendragon was silly for him. Merlin didn't really know why, but perhaps it didn't matter anyway. All that did matter was that the man loved him.
Was Arthur throwing him some kind of surprise Christmas party? Maybe he'd hired New Model Army to do a special Christmas gig just for him? Maybe...maybe Merlin had no idea, but guessing was kind of fun.
Will headed the car over the other side of the hills towards the Herefordshire side and soon Merlin saw the signs for Colwall. If this was just a walk after all, then there was a very nice pub in the village that Merlin might try luring Will into later.
When Will turned off the road and followed a private driveway, Merlin's brows knitted together. "Will – where -?"
Will stopped the van next to where a couple of other cars were parked in front of an old Tudor looking black and white house, and Merlin immediately recognised Arthur's, Uther's and Morgana's cars among them.
Without saying anything Will unbelted and got out of the van, Merlin followed. The roof of the house was snow covered, as were the gardens. It was picture perfect.
Arthur appeared in the doorway of the house and walked slowly over to a confused Merlin, who was observing his every step, letting him take his hands in his and draw him close. "You knew I was up to something," Arthur said almost warily, watching Merlin closely. "Well this is it. I bought a house – bought us a house."
"I never expected this," Merlin found his voice, trying to take in every detail at once. "This is amazing. Though I disagree that this is a house, I'd go with huge posh mansion! Can we go inside?" He felt dizzy. This was like a celebrity 'Crib'.
"I thought you'd never ask," Arthur led Merlin to the front door and without using a key, opened it and Merlin let himself be pulled inside.
"Bloody hell," Merlin managed dazedly when Arthur had shown him room after room of 100% wow-factor, fully furnished, house - six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a cinema room, a gym, stables, offices and a whole extra house in the grounds. "You bought a house."
"I'm going to be working from home a lot more, starting up a few ventures of my own and I didn't want to do it someplace you're not." He still looked uncertain. "Are you OK with that? You'll move in with me?"
"Hell yes! Where is everyone? Where'd Will go? How long do you think it will take us to christen all the rooms?" Merlin threw out the questions. "Have we got time to start now before the guests come out of hiding?"
"They're in the pub," Arthur confirmed, pulling Merlin flush with his body and gripping his arse, grinding himself against Merlin to show him what a good idea he thought that was. "I'm supposed to call them when we're ready."
"Thank fuck for that," Merlin pushed Arthur back against the nearest door and backed him inside. Turning quickly to see what room it was he couldn't stop the erotic images that flashed into his mind when he realised this was the games room, with a snooker table taking pride of place in the centre. "God Arthur, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I think I am," Arthur said as it was his turn to back Merlin up before lifting him onto the snooker table so Merlin could hook his legs round his arse. "Unless you were thinking of actually...playing snooker?"
"Not a chance." Merlin pulled Arthur's face to his and kissed him.
"Merlin my boy, I'm glad you finally heeded my advice," said Uncle Cill a couple of hours before Christmas dinner the following day; he was one of many guests along with Gaius and Uther looking forward to enjoying Morgana's Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. "Arthur is your destiny, the other side of your coin, he completes you."
Merlin started to feel like he'd woken up in a cheesy Hollywood movie at the last line.
"I know," he replied confidently. "But Uncle Cill – what did you tell him that day?"
"Hasn't he told you?" the old man laughed. "Go to him now; he's waiting for you outside."
He'd never get a straight answer where his Godfather was concerned. Merlin rolled his eyes. "OK, I'll bite."
He grabbed his coat and left the house via the front door, scanning the foggy driveway for signs of his boyfriend, "Arthur?" he called.
"Over here." Merlin followed the voice and found himself in front of the stables, Arthur in front of an open door looking terrified as he stared up at a large black horse. He glanced at Merlin. "I don't know if I can do it."
"Do what? Get on the horse -?" Merlin gaped as realisation dawned. "Oh Arthur, you clotpole! Who told you about the black horse?"
Arthur looked guilty. "I got it out of Will when he came home drunk one night a few weeks ago."
"So you were going to get on this..." Merlin eyed the horse warily. "...massive horse and prove Uncle Cill's prophecy?"
"That was the plan, but I've totally failed!" Arthur looked genuinely worried.
"I think you're being way too literal about it."
"What do you mean?"
"Valiant's car was a black Bronco. That's a black horse, right? Or – at some point, if you want to be exact about it, I've no doubt you'll conquer that fear and be up on that horse in there." Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur and leant his forehead on Arthur's. "What was Uncle Cill's prophecy to you?"
"It wasn't really a prophecy as such; he said my destiny lay in the hands of someone very special, someone I had only just met, and that I had loved that person from the minute I first saw them."
"Me?" Merlin raised an eyebrow.
"Well of course you – oh, you're joking."
"So the horse -?"
"I wanted you to believe it too." Merlin could see Arthur's embarrassment.
"I do. Now. But I don't need the ramblings of an old man to tell me I love you Arthur."
Arthur's face broke into the happiest smile Merlin had ever seen and he pulled Merlin into a hug. "You love me."
"Well – duh," whispered Merlin into Arthur's neck.
Was it too cheesy? Let me know!