Arthur woke with a groan. His head was pounding violently as the sunlight somehow managed to seep beneath his closed eyelids to stab into his brain and increase his suffering. With a pitiful whine, he rolled over and buried his head into the pillow, the scent of Merlin soothing him.
Arthur sat up, cursing at the sudden rush to his head. Ignoring the shrieking protest from his aching brain, he opened his eyes, blinking against the vicious sunlight, and took in his surroundings. Rather than waking on the sofa as he'd first assumed he had, he found himself in Merlin's room. The bed was empty save for him, but the indention on the pillow next to him was evidence that Merlin had spent the night next to him.
How had he got there? He remembered meeting with his father and the subsequent tantrum he'd thrown in the car as well as the pub he'd spent most of the night drinking in. After the pub, his memory got fuzzy. He vaguely remembered stumbling into the house and bursting into Merlin's room. The next thing he could recall was climbing into bed with him and telling him...
"Bloody hell," Arthur rasped, dropping his head into his hands as he winced at the painful scratch of his throat.
Once he finished wallowing in self-pity and abject humiliation, Arthur gave his face a last scrub and swung his legs over the side of the bed. A glimmer of light caught his eye and Arthur smiled gratefully as he saw a glass of water and two Paracetamol on the bedside cabinet. Apparently Merlin wasn't too upset with him over the late-night highjacking of his bed.
Taking the medicine, Arthur drank down every last drop of water, grateful for the cool liquid as it soothed his abused throat. He waited a few minutes to gain his bearings and rose feeling slightly more prepared to face the fallout of his drunken stupidity. The smell of sausages had Arthur's stomach growling before he even made it out of the bedroom.
"Morning," Merlin said cheerfully from his place at the stove as Arthur shuffled into the kitchen. Arthur stared in wonder at the sight of eggs frying in a pan and beans bubbling merrily in a saucepan next to it.
"Thought you might be in the mood for a fry-up this morning," he said as he delicately turned the eggs. "You like your eggs runny, right?"
"I...yeah," Arthur answered. He fought against the sudden visceral urge to tackle Merlin and kiss the small smile curving his lips. What happened last night could be excused as a drunken mishap; if he kissed Merlin now, he'd have nothing to blame it on. Arthur stepped away and set about making a pot of coffee to distract himself.
"How are you feeling? And where is my car?"
Arthur shot a quick glance at Merlin and looked away again, focusing on pouring his coffee. "All right, all things considered. I left it in the pub car park. I'll fetch it for you later if you like."
A silence fell and Arthur watched as Merlin filled two plates with the requisite eggs, beans, toast and black pudding. He smiled gratefully as he noted the extra bacon and sausage Merlin allotted him. Gulping at his coffee, Arthur took a moment to wonder if they were going to talk about last night or just ignore it. Should he wait for Merlin to bring it up or should he speak first?
"Merlin, erm," Arthur paused as Merlin looked up and met his eyes. "Where're Morgana and Gwen?"
Way to wimp out, you prat. Arthur thought to himself. Merlin shot him a look that suggested that he knew that wasn't what Arthur had meant to ask, but answered anyway.
"Gwen went home with Lance last night and Morgana left early this morning to go shopping. In her words she was 'going to indulge in her lustful shoe fantasies as a reward for a hard week's work'. Between you and me, I think she has a serious shoe addiction."
"Among other things," Arthur said with a snort as they sat at the table. "I'll look into some sort of rehab for her. Shoe Shoppers Anonymous."
Merlin let out a chuckle and silence fell again as they tucked into their breakfast. With a full belly and a bit more coffee, Arthur began to feel human again. Unfortunately, having a clear mind had thoughts of the day before rushing back with a vengeance. Again his father's words echoed in Arthur's head. As if sensing the direction of Arthur's thoughts, Merlin broke the silence.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," Arthur answered automatically. The last thing he wanted was to talk about his father when his head was aching and his stomach was still unsettled. Merlin seemed to accept it, nodding and turning his attention back to his plate, glancing occasionally at Arthur. They finished their breakfast in relative silence with only the occasional taunt or tease. Arthur didn't try to bring up sleeping together again.
Just as they finished cleaning up, Morgana swept through the front door, her arms laden with bags.
"Jesus, Morgana, it's a wonder you have enough money to pay the rent with the amount of footwear you buy," Arthur chided, smirking as she fumbled a bag.
"And it's a wonder you still have bollocks with a smart mouth like that. Now be a gentleman and help me or you won't have."
Arthur rolled his eyes at her threat, but went to help her, hefting most of bags and heading toward her bedroom.
"I'll just get the rest from the car, shall I?" Merlin asked, heading outside without waiting for an answer.
"He's so well trained," Morgana said fondly as she followed Arthur into her room. "Just leave them there on the bed. I'll sort them later."
Arthur arched a brow at the order, but complied.
"Speaking of beds, I noticed you found a new one last night."
The last of the boxes fell to the ground with a clatter as Arthur straightened with a violent blush. "What? You. I don't know what you mean."
Morgana smirked, obviously taking delight in Arthur's discomfort. "Oh, please, Arthur. You weren't exactly quiet when you stumbled oh so gracefully down the hall last night. I poked my head in this morning and saw you two snuggling. It was really was quite sweet."
"Nothing happened and I'd appreciate it if you'd let it go," Arthur insisted, glaring fiercely.
"Nothing happened? God, Arthur, what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?"
"Honestly, what is wrong with you? You go around for weeks flirting, playing footsie and making eyes with each other and you still haven't managed to tell Merlin that you like him?"
"I don't like him! I mean, I do, but not like that," Arthur protested feebly, his heart pounding with the blatant lie.
"Uh huh, and I'm sure you crawl into all your platonic friend's beds and cuddle them like you're never going to let go," Morgana replied with a roll of her eyes. She continued, cutting him off when he would have protested again. "Honestly, Arthur, can't you see he likes you, too?"
"What? He...no. We're just friends and he's got Will, anyway," Even Arthur couldn't deny the derision in his voice when he said Will's name.
"I repeat, people who are just friends do not spend the night together like that and Will hasn't been around for months," she pointed out.
"Well, maybe he's just really busy lately."
"Men," Morgana scoffed in disgust. "You're being deliberately obtuse, but whatever. It's not my happiness you're fucking with. It's your own. I will say this; you've got a chance, but Merlin isn't going to wait around forever. If you know what's good for you, you won't let it pass you by."
Before Arthur could think of a response, Merlin came through the door laden with bags and boxes.
"All right, I think I got them all," he said with a smile. It fell a bit when he noticed the tension in the room. "Everything okay?"
Morgana smiled brightly. "Of course, duck. We were just discussing Arthur's stupidity."
Merlin's smile returned, taking on that familiar impish quirk. "So, lots to talk about then?"
"Oi!" Arthur piped up, throwing a pillow at his head. Merlin ducked with ease, a chuckle falling from his lips. Arthur's heart skipped a beat and Morgana caught his eye, raising a brow. He sent her a glare in return.
"You know, it's still early and it's a gorgeous day," Morgana said suddenly, her voice sweetly innocent in a way that had Arthur narrowing his eyes in suspicion. "Why don't we go down to Southend?"
"Southend?" Arthur repeated incredulously. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been there, let alone the last time Morgana had. She was more prone to London fine dining and extravagant shopping sprees than seaside walks and fun fair attractions.
"Yeah, we could go to Adventure Island, ride the rollercoasters and whatnot. Just have a bit of fun."
"I've not been in ages," Merlin said, his gaze shifting to Arthur, "It could be fun."
"I suppose," Arthur said hesitantly, still trying to work out Morgana's angle.
"Brilliant! I'll give Gwen a call and see if she and Lance want to go. We can swing by and pick them up on the way."
With that, she lifted her mobile and kicked them out of her room, demanding they be ready to go in thirty minutes. Or else.
Thirty-five minutes later, Arthur sat with his knee pressed against Merlin's in the back of Morgana's BMW as the five of them made their way to Southend-on-Sea.
Fifteen minutes at the theme park and Morgana's motivation for their little outing became clear. At every chance she got, Morgana pushed Merlin and Arthur together; no matter the ride they went on, Arthur found Merlin at this side. Their legs pressed together on Rage, their hands brushed as they were lifted out of their seats on the Sky Drop and Arthur found himself being squished into the corner of their shared cart on the Scorpion. When they drove the Dodgems, Morgana used her's to bump Arthur's car indiscreetly toward Merlin.
Arthur was torn between irritation at her unsubtle pushing and happiness at the look of child-like joy in Merlin's eyes everytime he smiled. It wasn't as if Arthur didn't appreciate Morgana's efforts - he could hardly complain when they gave him a valid reason to touch Merlin – he just couldn't stand the smug and knowing expressions she kept shooting his way.
Morgana topped the afternoon off by insisting they all ride the Ferris wheel. When Arthur had pointed out the odd number of people, she'd simply smirked and sent a flirtatious smile to the bloke standing just ahead of them. Five minutes later, she slid into a basket with him and Arthur found himself sharing one with Merlin. It was quiet after the excitement of the rollercoasters and Arthur felt himself relaxing and simply enjoying the warmth of Merlin pressed against him. They sat in comfortable silence, their basket swaying gently as they watched the slowly sinking sun.
"This is nice," Merlin said with a soft smile on his face.
"Yeah," Arthur replied, shooting a smile back. His heart stuttered in his chest as he realised just how close they were sitting. The basket was small, but not necessarily small enough to warrant their proximity. Suddenly, Arthur wanted nothing more than to thank Morgana for her interfering ways.
Swallowing hard, Arthur leaned forward slightly, watching as Merlin's eyes widened in surprise and then shuttered slightly in what might have been anticipation. Just as he'd gathered enough courage to close the distance, the ride jerked to a stop. The jarring movement broke the moment and the atmosphere turned awkward as they waited for the operator to lower their basket.
When they were finally let out, Arthur followed Merlin to the exit where the others were waiting, a small pout on his face. Morgana arched a brow at him and his pout deepened. She rolled her eyes and turned to the rest of the group with a bright smile.
"So, where to next?"
"We hate to ditch you guys, but Lance and I were hoping to take a walk down the pier and watch the sunset. Maybe get a hotel room or something," Gwen said, blushing lightly at the last.
"Oh, you should," Morgana urged, shooting her a meaningful look. Gwen's lips quirked into a tiny smile, her eyes flicking between him and Merlin and Arthur knew if she hadn't been in on Morgana's scheme before, she was now. "You deserve a night away, after all."
"Yeah, don't worry about us," Merlin said earnestly, clearly oblivious to the devious exchange of womanly wiles. "Have fun."
"Thanks, Merlin. We will," Gwen said. Lance said his goodbyes and, with one last conspiratorial glance at Morgana, Gwen followed him toward the pier.
"And then there were three," Merlin said.
"Actually," Morgana interjected with a sweet smile, "Mark and I really hit it off."
She paused to shoot her Ferris wheel man a saucy wink. He beamed like an idiot and Arthur had to fight not to roll his eyes. Morgana had a gift for wrapping men around her finger and this one was clearly already a goner.
"He wants to take me to dinner and maybe hit the club after and I simply couldn't refuse."
"I'll bet you couldn't," Arthur muttered.
"Will you two be all right getting home?" she asked Merlin, ignoring Arthur entirely.
"Sure. We'll get the train. You go have fun," he answered.
"Brilliant. I'll probably be out all night, so don't wait up."
Shooting Arthur one last pointed look, Morgana turned and collected her date and headed out of the park. Arthur watched her go with exasperated fondness. She really was a piece of work.
"So, it's just you and me," Merlin said, his voice cutting neatly through the silence.
"Yeah," Arthur said, fighting the urge to shuffle awkwardly. It wasn't as if they hadn't already spent loads of time together just the two of them, but this was so obviously a set-up that even Merlin couldn't mistake it for anything else. They stood there for a few moments, both seemingly at a loss as to what to do next.
"How about the arcades?" Arthur suggested suddenly, butterflies assaulting his stomach at Merlin's boyish grin.
"Brilliant! I can kick your arse at air hockey."
Arthur scoffed as they headed for the Golden Mile of arcades. "As if. I am the undisputed king of air hockey. All shall bow before me!"
Thirty minutes and five losses later, Arthur was pouting and blaming his defeat on some nonexistent defect in the table.
"Obviously the air pumps harder on my side. It's the only way to explain the amount of times you scored when shots didn't even come close!"
"Uh huh, I'm sure that's the only possible explanation," Merlin said sarcastically, his eyes alight with humour.
"Come on! You saw how that last shot went! The puck just stopped," Arthur insisted, his arms gesticulating wildly at the offending table.
"You're a really bad loser, aren't you?"
Arthur simply pouted some more, grumbling about faulty equipment and smug prats rubbing it in. His mumbled complaints only served to make Merlin smile wider and his dimples peek out. The sight went a long way in easing Arthur's trampled pride. Arthur could handle Merlin beating him if it meant he smiled at him like that.
"Just don't let it go to your head," he replied, nudging Merlin with his hip. A sudden flash of light caught Arthur's eye just over Merlin's shoulder. He straightened and tilted his head to stare at the odd machine in the far corner of the arcade. "Hey, what's that? I don't think I've seen one of those before."
As if drawn by a cord, Arthur crossed the room to stand in front of the machine. He felt Merlin come to stand next to him, his soft 'wow' lost to Arthur as his eyes took in every detail. It consisted of long glass case supported by a stand of gilded gold that trailed up the edges of the glass, coming to a flourished point at the top. Inside the case was a carved, iridescent gold dragon with shimmering red eyes. The carving was exquisitely detailed, but it was its eyes that caught Arthur's attention. They seemed almost intelligent. Alive.
"Kilgharrah," Merlin said, reading the name etched across the top of the machine, "None of us can escape our destiny. Hey, you know what this reminds me of? Zoltar Speaks."
Merlin's voice broke Arthur's trance and he turned from the dragon to frown at him.
"Zoltar Speaks. You know, from the film Big," Merlin explained.
"Never saw it."
"How can you never have seen Big? It's classic!"
Arthur arched a brow, silently bidding Merlin move past his indignation and get on with his explanation.
"Anyway, basically the main character finds the machine and uses it to make a wish. When he wakes up the next morning, the wish has come true. Although," Merlin mused as he inspected the words just above the coin slot, "this one looks like it's a fortune-telling machine rather than a wish-granting one."
"Strange," Arthur murmured, caught by the dragon's eyes again.
"Here, I'll buy you your fortune," Merlin said, slipping a coin into the slot, "maybe it will help distract your from your ignominious defeat."
Arthur spared a moment to make a face at him before he wrapped his hands around the levers sticking out of the front of the machine. He twisted them each around once and watch in fascination as the Dragon's wings flapped and its head bobbed almost menacingly. Its eyes flared brilliant red a second before a tiny card popped out of the base of the machine near the coin slot.
With a strange feeling of trepidation, Arthur reached down and lifted the card.
"What does it say?" Merlin asked, coming around to read over Arthur's shoulder. "Destinies entwined, like two sides of the same coin; you have found the half which completes you.. Well, that's odd. It doesn't really sound like a prediction. What do you think it means, 'two sides of the same coin'?"
"I don't know," Arthur answered, but his gut was telling him he did. The other half of his coin was Merlin. It sounded ludicrous in his head, but he couldfeel it.
"Do you think it's talking about finding your soulmate or something? Isn't that usually what fortune tellers usually try to predict?" Merlin suggested, an odd smile on his face.
"Maybe," Arthur said absently, his gaze locked on Merlin's and Morgana's words ringing in his ears alongside the fortune. This was his chance. "Listen, what do you say we get out of here? We'll have the house to ourselves. We could catch the train back, pick up some takeaway and watch crappy zombie movies or something."
"That sounds..." Merlin broke off as his mobile received a text. Shooting Arthur an apologetic smile, he checked it. Arthur watched with trepidation as Merlin's expression turned conflicted.
"Everything okay?" he asked hesitantly, not actually sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Yeah. Um, yeah, it's fine. It's just Will. He wants to meet up," Merlin answered, not quite meeting Arthur's gaze.
Arthur felt his heart drop into his stomach like a lead stone. Except, lead stones don't crumble when they land and he was pretty certain that his heart just had. "Oh, right. Well, you'll want to go, right? I mean, it's been a while, after all. Don't let me get in the way."
"You want me to go?"
"Well, I'd hate to interfere with your 'shag time', you know," Arthur said with a smile that probably looked more like a pained grimace. "It's getting late. You should go. I'm going to hang about a bit longer."
Arthur shifted under the intensity of Merlin's gaze, feeling as though he was being stripped down to the bone and everything he was trying so hard to hide was being laid bare.
"Right. I guess I'll see you then," he said hastily, eager to get away from Merlin before he figured out just how not okay he was with the whole situation. Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked away. He thought he might have heard Merlin call his name, but he ignored it and disappeared into the crowd.
Arthur kept walking until he was back at Adventure Island and the arcade was small in the distance. He wandered around the park for a bit, wallowing in his misfortune. Morgana had been right. His chance had been there and he'd missed it. Will was back. Merlin would go to his house and Will would kiss him and touch him and...
Arthur growled out loud at the mental images that assaulted him, making a young girl stare at him in shock. He ignored her as she edged away muttering something about 'psychos' and stared down at the crumpled fortune still in his hand.
Two sides of the same coin...
"Yeah right," Arthur scoffed bitterly, tearing it and letting the two halves drift to the ground.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Arthur hunched his shoulders against the sudden chill in the wind and headed for the train station. He spent the entire hour-long journey rehashing the events of the past forty-eight hours and came to the conclusion that this was the worst weekend in the history of weekends. This train of thought continued through his walk home from the station and right up until he climbed the steps up to the house.
Arthur frowned as he saw the sitting room lights shining brightly through a crack in the curtains. Figuring Morgana had changed her mind about the bloke she'd pulled, he slipped his keys back into his pocket and walked through the door. The second he looked up, Arthur froze. There was a stack of DVDs on the coffee table next to a veritable feast of Chinese take away. Morgana hated Chinese.
"Hey, you made it. I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
Arthur's shock doubled as he watched Merlin come in from the kitchen carrying a pair of forks and a welcoming smile on his face. Unable to find words just yet, Arthur just stared. Merlin shifted under his gaze, his smile faltering a bit before brightening as he waved the cutlery.
"Thought we could use forks after what happened with the sticks last time. That was pretty embarrassing," he said with a nervous chuckle.
"That wasn't my fault," Arthur replied automatically.
"Of course not. I'm sure the noodles simply had a vendetta against you."
"Well, if I remember correctly, it was an issue with your grip."
"No. I mean why are you here?"
Merlin's face fell, hurt showing in his eyes and Arthur could have kicked himself.
"That's not what I meant," he amended quickly, "I just mean...why aren't you with Will? I thought you were going to meet him."
The line of Merlin's shoulders relaxed and a small smile quirked the edge of his lips. "I'd rather be here with you."
He said it as if it were the simplest thing in the world. As if Arthur should have known and really, he probably should have. Arthur could practically feel his heart mending at the confession, growing until if felt as if it would burst from his chest. It took him a moment to realise that he was standing there grinning like an idiot rather than doing what he'd been wanting to do for weeks; kissing Merlin.
"Anyway, so I got the takeaway; sweet and sour pork's your favourite, right? And, um, I rented pretty much every horrible zombie movie I could find at the video store..."
Arthur stopped his rambling monologue by cupping the back of his neck and finally, finally, slanting his lips over Merlin's. Merlin tensed for the barest hint of a moment before melting into the kiss with a soft moan that rose chills on every inch of Arthur's body.
"God, I'm an idiot," Arthur murmured against Merlin's lips, letting his hands slip down to grip Merlin's hips
"It's about time you admitted it," Merlin said with a smirk. He let out a delightful little gasp as Arthur nipped at his neck in rebuke.
"And you are a cheeky fucker," he retorted. "At least I've finally found a pleasant way of shutting you up."
Before Merlin could reply, Arthur took his lips again. He licked eagerly into Merlin's mouth, tracing every inch and drinking down the gorgeous little whimpers Arthur drew from him. Arthur slid his hands up under Merlin's hoodie, ghosting his fingers over the warm flesh of his stomach. Merlin let out a soft gasp at the touch and suddenly, Arthur was being pushed backward onto the sofa.
"Wow, you're quite forceful when you want to be," Arthur said. He'd been aiming for teasing, but somehow the words had come out husky and deep with want. Merlin smirked as he straddled Arthur's lap, bringing their groins in contact in the most delicious way.
"When I know what I want," he replied, arching his hips to grind their trapped erections together. Arthur groaned, his hands lifting automatically to Merlin's hips to hold him in place as Merlin leaned in for another searing kiss.
Just as they developed a rhythm, a shudder went down Arthur's spine.
"We can't do this here," he said, gasping softly as Merlin's lips teased at the spot just behind his ear.
"Sure we can," Merlin purred, "The girls are gone for the night. We've the house to ourselves."
"Not exactly," Arthur said, jerking his head at the cat perched on the arm of the sofa. Mordred was watching them with an intense look that made Arthur feel as though more than just his chest was on display.
"Honestly, Arthur, he's a cat. It's not like he'll know the difference."
"I don't care. I can't do it with him watching us."
"You're ridiculous," Merlin said, his lips quirked into a fond smile as he slid off Arthur's lap and held a hand out to him. Arthur took it and let Merlin pull him off the sofa and out of the room, sparing one last glare for the voyeuristic kitty.
The second the bedroom door was shut, Merlin was kissing Arthur again, pulling him toward the bed. In a matter of moments, Arthur found himself naked and pressing Merlin into the mattress. He pulled back to admire the sight of Merlin spread out beneath him, flushed and with kiss-swollen lips, looking for all the world like he would devour Arthur at any moment.
"Fucking hell, you're beautiful," Arthur breathed, the truth of it hitting him like a revelation.
Merlin blushed and looked away for a moment before pulling Arthur back down for another mind-numbing kiss. "You're not so bad yourself," he mumbled as his hands slid down to cup Arthur's arse. The contact made Arthur's eyes roll up in his head as it forced their cocks to slide together, the wetness from the heads making the friction silky and utterly brilliant. And to think he'd almost missed this because he'd thought Merlin had wanted Will.
The thought had Arthur sobering suddenly. Did Merlin see him as another Will? Maybe some sort of convenient switch because they had easy access to one another?
"I'm not Will," Arthur blurted recklessly. He could have smacked himself for his utter lack of tact.
Merlin pulled back with a frown, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he stilled beneath Arthur. "What?"
Arthur took a deep breath and prayed he wouldn't fuck this up any more than he possibly already had. "Look, I just mean that I'm not looking for a fuck buddy or an easy lay. If we do this, I want it to be real. I want it to be us. Not as friends. As something more. Two sides of the same coin."
Arthur felt his face flush as the words from the fortune fell unbidden from his lips, but he held Merlin's gaze, unable and unwilling to look away. He watched as Merlin's frown slipped from his face to be replaced by a brilliant smile.
"I didn't have any intention of letting you be anything else," Merlin said, running his hand through Arthur's hair and down to cup the back of his neck. His smile turned impish as he tightened his grip and pulled Arthur down to him until their lips were just shy of meeting. "Now are you going to fuck me, or not?"
Merlin punctuated the question with an upward thrust that drew a gasp from Arthur.
"Very forceful," Arthur murmured with a breathless chuckle."Show me how."
Merlin talked Arthur through basic stretching and preparation, his moans of encouragement going straight to Arthur's cock and before he knew it, Merlin was sliding a condom down Arthur's length and guiding him in.
Arthur had been with plenty of people in his life, but being with Merlin was like nothing he'd ever experienced. Not because he was a man - though that was definitely something new and wondrous in and of itself – but because the moment Arthur slid inside of Merlin, he felt something click into place. Beyond the unbelievable pleasure of the tight heat that gripped him, there was an unmistakable feeling of coming home. This was where he was meant to be; who he was meant to be with. Merlin was his destiny.
...the half that completes you.
The rush of emotion that crashed over him left Arthur trembling as he began to move, his eyes locked on Merlin's. Every moan, every gasp, every sigh made his heart swell until he thought he would burst with the pleasure of seeing Merlin come apart beneath him. Time seemed disjointed; both slowing and quickening with every thrust. It seemed they made love for hours, and yet, in minutes, Arthur felt himself teetering on the edge. He stayed there for a breath of a moment, Merlin's blue gaze, dark with lust, pinning him on the precipice before he tumbled over, crying out as he lost himself in Merlin.
Later that night; after they'd wrapped themselves in their respective Snuggies at Arthur's insistence ("I will not have the demon cat ogling your bits."), they sat on the sofa and devoured the reheated takeaway with relish. They bickered over the merits of Shaun of the Dead versus Zombieland before finally settling on Shaun of the Dead ("A classic British zombie spoof always trumps an American one, even if the American one features a cameo by Bill Murray."). They made it halfway through the movie before a fight over the last spring roll degenerated into another round of spectacular sex.
"Okay," Arthur said, panting heavily as he waited for his heart to settle, "I revise my opinion. This is officially the best weekend I've ever had."
"Yeah?" Merlin asked softly up from his place on Arthur's chest. "Even with what happened with your father?"
Arthur sighed at the reminder, but nodded. "Yeah. Even with that."
"Do you want to talk about it, now?"
Arthur had already opened his mouth to say 'no' when he realised he did want to talk about it. At least with Merlin. "It was an ambush."
Merlin shifted against Arthur's chest and propped himself on one elbow to look down at him, showing Arthur he had his full attention.
"Vivian was there. She'd gone running to him when she finally got the hint that I wasn't going to give in to her. Basically it was some sort of intervention. He thinks I'm just being stubborn or holding out for more money. That I just 'need the right incentive to do as I'm told'. He offered me a raise and a promotion."
"And you turned it down," Merlin said, approval blatant in his words.
"Of course I did. God, you should have seen his face. He was so smug, so sure of himself. Like he was so confident he'd figured me out," Arthur let out a humourless laugh. "He seemed genuinely shocked that I turned him down. It's amazing that after twenty-seven years, I'm still a mystery to him. Vivian told him about Albion, you know. Do you want to know what he told me? He said he was ashamed of me."
Arthur's gaze lowered, his voice cracking around the words, unable to hide the hurt that they had caused.
"He's the one who should be ashamed," Merlin fairly growled, cupping Arthur's chin and turning his head, gently forcing him to meet his fierce blue gaze. "Do you know how many people in your situation would have had the strength to even try to make it on their own, let alone have had the courage to say 'no' in the first place? You are brave and strong and you have nothing to be ashamed of."
"Not in his world," he answered with a broken smile. "In Uther Pendragon's world, a man's worth is measured by the things he has; what he's earned for himself. After all, he built Camelot Industries from the ground up. For someone like that, working in a coffee shop isn't much of an achievement."
"And what about you? What do you think?"
"I think I've done all right and obviously I don't think there's anything wrong with working at Albion," Arthur replied. He frowned thoughtfully. "I suppose I just want to do more, you know?"
"You still can," Merlin said, his thumb stroking lightly at Arthur's jaw. "Look at what you did for the cafe. Your redesign has not only replaced the funds we lost, but brought new customers out of the woodwork. We're doing brilliantly because of you."
"It wasn't anything major," Arthur protested, "just a simple bit of marketing strategy."
"But it's something that Gaius and I would never have thought to do," he insisted, his eyes lighting with excitement. "What about doing something like that?"
"Yeah. I mean, there have to be loads of businesses who could use a revamp. I bet they'd pay handsomely to have someone come in and revive their business."
"Like a consultant?" Arthur supplied, turning the idea over in his mind.
"Exactly! Arthur Pendragon, Marketing Consultant. You could start your own company."
"I don't know," Arthur mused, worrying his lip. "Do you really think I could?"
"Of course! You'd be brilliant at it."
"I don't know anything about starting a company."
"I bet Lance would help, after all, he started his shop," Merlin pointed out. "And you'll have me."
Arthur's heart turned over in his chest at the conviction in Merlin's face; his absolute confidence in him. It was incredibly humbling and elating all at once. He realised in that moment just how much Merlin meant to him. How much he loved him.
"All right," Arthur said past the sudden lump in his throat.
"Yeah?" Merlin asked, a grin spreading on his face.
"Yeah. Let's give it a go."
Four months later, Excalibur was up and running. Arthur already had a small string of clients in his portfolio and with the feedback he'd been getting, he had a feeling the list was only going to grow. The work itself was a dream. Arthur got to go into tired businesses and inject new life into them. He got to be creative and innovative on a daily basis and it was doing wonders for his confidence.
It had been a gruelling few months, but Arthur had had plenty of support along the way. Lance had been a godsend; helping Arthur through all the messy bits of setting up his business with his usual smile. Gwen and Morgana had been eager to help as well, pitching ideas for logos, business slogans and offering to give him a hand canvassing local businesses.
Through it all, he'd had Merlin. Merlin had held him up when he thought he was going to collapse beneath the pressure; always there to tell him when he was doing well and never afraid to tell him when he was being a prat. He'd become Arthur's advisor as well as his friend and lover. Without him, Arthur was certain he never would have succeeded.
The only thing Arthur regretted was not being able to share that success with his father. Despite having said goodbye, there would always be a part of him that longed for his acceptance and love. He had thought several times about calling Uther to tell him about Excalibur, but he'd always backed out; afraid of being mocked and facing yet another rejection.
Arthur had pretty much given up all hope that his father would ever forgive him for his perceived slight. Which is why when he found Uther on the other side of Morgana's door a few weeks before Christmas looking both pained and sheepish he'd simply frozen like a deer headlights.
"Father. What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Arthur. I wanted to talk to you," Uther said, shifting in a way that, were he anyone else, Arthur would have described as nervous. "Is Morgana home?"
"Er, no. She's on a date, actually."
Uther nodded distractedly. "Indeed. Well, I suppose that will make things easier for now."
Arthur frowned slightly, but said nothing. He still hadn't quite got over the fact that his father was standing on his doorstep. After a few more moments of silence, Uther arched an expectant brow and Arthur started out of his shock enough to open the door wider.
"Sorry. Please, come in," he said, stepping aside.
"Arthur, who is it?" Merlin called as he made his way out of the kitchen. He paused as he looked up, his brows rising in mild surprise before he affected a polite smile. "Oh, I see."
"Merlin, this is my father, Uther Pendragon. Father, this is Merlin Emrys," Arthur introduced, leaving off the bit about Merlin being his boyfriend until he could suss out the reason behind Uther's sudden visit.
"Pleasure to meet you," Merlin said, extending his hand. After only a moment's hesitation, Uther finally reached out to shake it, acknowledging Merlin's pleasantries with a firm nod of his head.
There was an awkward silence before Merlin turned to Arthur, arching his brow in silent question. Arthur nodded and gave him a subtle smile.
"Right, well, I've a few things to pick up at the shop before I can finish dinner. If you'll excuse me."
Arthur watched him move to the coat rack, searching in vain for his coat.
"Take mine," he said with a small smile. Merlin returned it in kind and pulled Arthur's jacket off the hook. Arthur's eyes followed his movements fondly as Merlin donned his winter hat, unable to look away until Merlin slipped out the door. When he turned back, Uther was watching him with calculating eyes. Clearing his throat, Arthur gestured to the sofa.
"Shall we sit?"
They sat in awkward silence for a few long moments, neither one sure what to say.
"Would you like some tea?" Arthur asked, belatedly remembering his manners.
"No, thank you," Uther answered curtly, "I'll just say what I came here to say."
Arthur waited, perched on the edge of the sofa and fighting the urge to fidget. He was beginning to think his father had changed his mind when Uther finally began to speak.
"I have been the Managing Director of Camelot for many years now. I've worked hard to get where I am; put in endless hours of sweat, blood and devotion to make the best of myself that I possibly could. My company's success so often depended on my gut instinct for survival and it has rarely failed me. As such, I'm unaccustomed to having my judgement questioned," he said with a pointed look. Arthur felt his ire rise and, anticipating Uther's next words, readied himself for an argument.
"However," Uther continued before Arthur could open his mouth to speak, "I am not infallible. I have, on rare occasions, had the rather unpleasant experience of being in the wrong. While I am not fond of such times, I like to think myself man enough to admit when they come about."
Arthur simply stared, not quite able to believe what he was hearing.
"What I'm trying to say is that I was wrong about Vivan."
"You were wrong?" Arthur parroted, wondering if he'd heard correctly.
"After you left, Miss Turner seemed to have a rather extraordinary change of heart. I won't go into all the details, but suffice to say, her sudden amorous intent toward me had me considering your words. I did some digging and it turns out Turner Industries has been insolvent for month. They were hoping to rectify their losses by bringing Camelot into the mix. It's obvious that when Vivian saw that she could not get you to comply, she decided that she would attempt to seduce me."
Arthur bit back the urge to say 'I told you so'. He knew how hard it must have been for his father to lower his pride enough to show up there, let alone actually admit to being wrong about something.
"In any case, I should have been more thorough in investigating the match."
"You should have let me make my own match," Arthur corrected gently, not wanting to start a row, but not quite willing to let his father think what he'd done was all right. "I'm not used to having my judgement questioned, either."
Uther arched a brow and studied Arthur closely before inclining his head with the barest hint of a smile. "No, I don't suppose you are."
Arthur felt the tension drain out of him as he realised that his father wasn't going to fight with him. There'd been far too much of that already and he was rather enjoying the tentative reconciliation had sprung up between them.
"I should have known...dear God, what the bloody hell is that?"
Arthur started at his father's uncharacteristic outburst and turned to see Mordred sauntering into the sitting room, flaunting his stylish red sweater with his usual evil glare.
"I'm told it's a cat," Arthur said wryly
"That is most certainly not a cat," Uther replied, grimacing as Mordred turned the full weight of his demon gaze on him.
"Thank you! That's what I told Morgana."
"Why is it wearing a jumper?"
"Because Merlin is a soulless bastard who enjoys rubbing salt in my wound," Arthur answered easily.
"Merlin, huh?" Uther mused, his gaze turning thoughtful as he regarded Arthur. "I'd wager he is also the one who sent me this."
Arthur watched as Uther pulled a familiar business card out of his coat pocket.
"That sneaky little tosser," he murmured as his eyes tracked over the word Excalibur emblazoned on the front.
"It seems he wanted me to see what you've been up to. I must admit, my curiosity got the better of me, so I had a look."
"And?" Arthur prompted tentatively, unable to stifle the hope that rose within him.
"And after a thorough investigation of your fledgling company, I have to say that I've never been more proud of you," Uther said, his tone lending credence to his words.
It was all Arthur could do to stay in his seat rather than indulging in a more overt display of affection that would have left them both feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Instead, he beamed at Uther, unable to say anything save for, "Thank you, Father."
Uther inclined his head. "It was praise well earned, though you have been sorely missed at Camelot. I don't suppose there's any use in trying to tempt you back?"
Arthur shook his head. "I'm afraid not. I'm quite happy with Excalibur."
"As well you should be. Do let me know if I can be of any help. I happen to know a few things when it comes to starting a business."
"Thank you, father, I'll keep that in mind," Arthur said with a nod. He couldn't believe this was happening. It seemed so surreal having his father sitting on his sofa and not only approving of his choices but expressing pride in him. It was like some sort of miracle.
Uther's expression closed off, turning calculating again and Arthur had the impression that he may have spoken too soon.
"Given the fact that he sent the card as well as what I gathered from your little exchange earlier, would I be correct in assuming this Merlin is more than just a friend?"
"He's my partner."
Uther's expression tightened slightly. "I take it you don't mean in the business sense."
"I'm in love with him," Arthur clarified, happy to say the words aloud despite Uther's inevitable disapproval.
"I thought as much," he said, pursing his lips. "I can't say that I approve."
Arthur opened his mouth to argue.
"But," Uther continued, "given my recent record regarding my judgement on that aspect of your life, I suppose I have no room to speak. Besides," his expression softened just a bit, "the way he looks at you reminds me of Ygraine."
Arthur's breath caught in his throat. His father never spoke of his mother. Her death had been too much for him to handle and he'd shut himself away from it. Arthur knew almost nothing about his mother, save for rumours of her beauty and how much his father had loved her. That he was comparing Merlin to her showed just how evident his love for Arthur was. Not even Uther could deny it.
"He loves you."
"Yes," Arthur managed, barely able to speak past the lump in his throat.
Uther nodded. "Then I suppose I shall just have to get used to it."
Uther stayed just long enough to have a cup of tea before leaving with a reminder to ring him should he need business advice. Arthur agreed and watched as his father slid into his car and drove away.
Merlin returned only minutes after Uther's departure with a tentative smile on his face. "So, how did it go?"
Arthur smiled. "Unbelievably well."
He told Merlin everything that had been said, sparing an arched brow when he made mention of Merlin's hand in his father's visit. Merlin blushed, but refused to confirm it save for a comment about fate occasionally needing a tiny push. Arthur let it go; how could he possibly be upset when the end result had got him his father back?
"He asked about you, of course."
Merlin arched a brow. "Oh? What did you tell him, then?"
"The truth," Arthur answered with a smile, "that you are sneaky little tosser."
"And that I'm completely and utterly in love with you," he added, pulling Merlin close to nuzzle at his neck. The skin beneath Arthur's lips heated even as Merlin scoffed and gave a half-hearted attempt to shove him away.
"Don't even try to butter me up, Arthur Pendragon," he warned, his smile evident in his tone. "It's not going to work."
"Come on, Merlin. Give us a kiss," Arthur purred, nudging Merlin's nose with his.
Merlin rolled his eyes, but complied, leaning forward to brush his lips lightly over Arthur's in a teasing gesture. Arthur moaned softly and pressed closer, deepening the kiss as his hands slid beneath Merlin's hoodie under his coat.
Merlin allowed it for a few moments before breaking the kiss with a breathless chuckle.
"I have to finish dinner," he said, brushing one last kiss across Arthur's lips as he pulled away.
Arthur pouted, but allowed him to go. "Fine, but you're making it up to me later," he said with a playful slap to Merlin's arse.
"Forgive me for wanting to feed you," Merlin replied with a snarky smirk as he moved to take off his coat. His expression cleared suddenly as he reached into the pocket of the borrowed coat and pulled out a square of paper. "I almost forgot. Look what I found on my way to the shop."
Arthur smiled curiously and reached out to take the paper from Merlin. His heart stopped as he saw what it was. There, in his hand, was the card from the fortune-telling machine. The card he'd torn into two halves and left skittering away in the breeze in Southend-on-Sea.
"I'm surprised you kept it," Merlin said as he moved away and into the kitchen.
The sound of plates being shuffled met his ears, but Arthur couldn't tear his gaze away from the little card. His fortune was still there in swirling print. Smiling to himself in bemusement, Arthur turned the card over and took in the drawing of the dragon, somehow still so lifelike, even in print. Arthur drew his thumb over the words that curled just beneath the dragon.
None of us can escape our destiny.
A muted crash met his ears, followed by a low curse and a call of, "I'm all right!"
Arthur's smile widened and turned fond. He couldn't escape his destiny, but really, why would he want to?