Author's Note: (Whoops, this was posted back in April and I just realized I forgot to post it here. DOH! It's Arthur/Merlin AU written for glomp_fest.)
Arthur found the note sitting atop a pile of his clothing, which had been neatly folded and stacked on the dryer in the communal laundry room.
I dried your clothes for you this time, but please keep in mind that others need to use the facilities. Also, that yellow shirt is heinous. I recommend burning.
Arthur scowled at the supercilious tone of the words. He crumpled the note in his fist. It hadn't been his fault, exactly. He still wasn't used to doing his own washing. Barnes House was the most prestigious house on campus, but the Matron was well known to be a bit on the barmy side. She was older than dirt and stubbornly refused to wash linens or undergarments. There was no chance of ever being rid of her, either, since she was the Dean's mother.
Arthur hefted the stack of clothing and headed for his room. He hadn't meant to leave his clothes in the washer. Lance had burst into his room and dragged him outside for an impromptu football game. It was hours later when Arthur remembered his washing and ran downstairs.
He dumped his clothing on the bed and frowned when the stack toppled, exposing his favourite yellow shirt. Granted, it had seen better days. The gigantic smiley face in the centre was beginning to crack and peel and the black words that said HAVE A NICE DAY! were fading at the edges.
"There is nothing wrong with this shirt," Arthur muttered. With that thought, he hurried to his desk and snatched up a pad of Post It notes. He scribbled, Thank you for drying my clothing; you are far too kind. That shirt is a classic and makes people smile.
He hurried downstairs and tacked it on the announcement board just above the dryer where the prat wouldn't miss it.
Arthur completely forgot about the laundry notes until four days later, when he remembered he needed to wash his rugby socks—separately from everything else, lest he turn the whole batch pink—and discovered a new note on the board.
I'm quite certain they smile, but they are probably laughing at your poor fashion sense. Sorry to break it to you.
Someone else had written below the words in red ink: LOL PWNED!
Arthur snatched the note and balled it up before tossing it at the bin near the door. It bounced off the rim, forcing him to pick it up and throw it away properly. He was in an irritated mood once he finally pressed all the right buttons to get his socks washing and made his way outside. If he wasn't late for his first class it would be a miracle.
His frame of mind did not improve when he exited the wrought iron gate and found himself tangled in several twists of nylon lead and a leaping bundle of fur. He stumbled and would have fallen if not for arms wrapping around his waist to hold him up. Arthur clung to a pair of slender shoulders and stared into wide blue eyes.
"Oh my god! Shady, stop that! I'm terribly sorry. Here, lean on me and I will untangle you. I'm very sorry, she's a bit excitable." Arthur regained his footing and watched in amazement as the dark-haired fellow knelt at his feet and began to unwind the green lead from Arthur's shins, still babbling apologies.
Arthur swallowed hard when the man's cheek brushed his thigh and he realized it had been a bloody long time since anyone had been in such a suggestive position, a thought brought home even more forcefully when the stranger lifted his eyes to Arthur's and smiled. Bloody hell, he was adorable, even with those ridiculous ears, and Arthur found himself smiling back.
The man shortened the lead on the bouncing dog and kept a tight grip as it strained to reach Arthur, front paws flailing in the air as it whined pathetically. "Um… I think she likes you. Sorry, again!"
With that, the stranger pulled the dog away and walked quickly in the opposite direction, giving Arthur a moment to admire his arse in the tight blue jeans he wore. The red hoodie seemed too large for his slight frame.
"Hey!" Arthur called. The man turned to look at him and nearly toppled over when the excitable dog raced around his legs, tangling him in the lead just as it had done to Arthur.
Arthur laughed and the man grinned. "I'm Arthur!" he yelled.
The man lifted a hand and let go of the lead only to step on the end and stop the black dog from bolting. "Merlin!" he called.
Arthur turned and jogged in the opposite direction, smiling madly. Arthur and Merlin. What were the odds? It was such a random encounter; he would probably never see the bloke again. Still, he could always hope.
Two weeks later, Arthur bolted upright from a dead sleep with the knowledge that he had, once again, left his bloody clothing in the washing machine.
He crawled out of bed and hurried downstairs in his pyjamas, hoping the note-writing wanker had not found them. Of course, luck was against him.
I see you still have the ugly shirt and have not yet discovered the dryer. For your edification, it is the large white machine next to the washer, which you obviously have located.
Some enterprising soul had taped a paper cup to the board and it was randomly filled with pencil stubs and leaking pens. Arthur grabbed a black marker and scrawled FUCK YOUon the bottom of the note. He felt immediately better, but then he looked at his neatly folded clothing and crumpled the note with a sigh. The man was a prat, but he was still doing half of Arthur's laundry, so Arthur supposed he should be a bit nicer.
He grabbed an expired flyer from the board, tore a square from it and wrote on the back. Stop dissing my shirt. Also, ha bloody ha. I am glad you find yourself amusing.
He pinned it to the board, took up his pile of laundry, and went back to bed.
He was leaving the library with a stack of books when he ran into Merlin. This time he held the leads of four dogs. Arthur goggled at them.
"Hi!" Merlin said with a grin and tugged valiantly at the leads wrapped around his right wrist. It looked to be a losing situation—the leads were attached to two very large dogs. A mastiff? And possibly a golden retriever. The other two dogs were smaller and seemed less determined to drag Merlin down the sidewalk.
Arthur thought it would have been more prudent to balance the dogs, but he said nothing other than, "How many pets do you have?"
"Me? None!" Merlin gave a jerk to the leads, but the mastiff was undeterred and jammed his nose into Arthur's crotch. "Oh god, I'm sorry, Benjamin, heel!" Merlin blushed and Arthur stepped out of reach of the dog's sniffing nose, feeling his own cheeks going red.
"Yes, greetings to you also, Benjamin. Pardon me if I don't reciprocate." Arthur raised a brow at Merlin. "None, you say?"
Merlin grinned. "Dog walker."
"People pay you to walk their dogs?"
Merlin nodded. "Yeah, I like animals and I have a couple of side jobs for food money." He shrugged and looked away, possibly embarrassed. Arthur took in Merlin's slightly tatty jeans and too-large (possibly second-hand) hoodie, and felt suddenly self-conscious about his name-brand jacket and expensive trainers.
"You go to St O, then?" Arthur asked.
Merlin nodded. "Yeah, Poly-sci."
Arthur said nothing, but he watched Merlin with growing respect. Arthur was studying Political Science, as well, but only the best students got placed in Caine's class. Even his father's clout couldn't persuade Caine to accept Arthur. Not with his grades. He wasn't failing anything, god forbid, but he wasn't exactly a top student, not with rugby and rowing and fencing taking up so much of his study time.
The dogs bolted, jerking Merlin nearly off his feet. He stumbled and broke into a run, trying vainly to haul them back. "Bye!" he called over his shoulder.
Arthur grinned after him and wished he had asked which house Merlin lived in.
To Arthur's mortification, he forgot about his washing two days later. This time it was a simple case of falling asleep while studying, due in part to a late night out with Leon, who had the constitution of a draft horse and always managed to make Arthur feel like a lightweight.
He staggered downstairs to discover his socks and boxers in a wet heap atop the dryer. The note read only, Sorry, I warned you. Fab pants, though.
Someone had added, You want what's in his pants – admit it!
And another: Fondling his underthings? – KINKY!
Arthur wrote, FUCK OFF, YOU WANKERS. He put his damp, slightly mildew-smelling, clothes back in the washer and set them to wash again. The prat could at least have tossed them in the dryer. It was a bit embarrassing that he'd been recognized by his drawers—the yellow shirt had not been in this load. He wondered at the identity of the note writer. Not many straight boys would have written fab pants. Arthur thought he had already sussed out most of the gay boys in the house. Not that Arthur was particularly gay, he simply believed in giving all people an equal chance when it came to sex, and cock was just as nice to fondle and suck as tits when it came right down to it.
He set his alarm and later transferred everything to the dryer, and then went down even later to take the blasted things outof the dryer (for once). He found a second Post It note attached to the first one.
You found the dryer! Impressive. A smiley face had been drawn beneath the words with an addendum. (I know you like smileys. Have a nice day!)
Arthur scowled as he folded his boxers and matched up his socks. He took a red marker and wrote I hate you.
On his way out the door the next morning, he paused and went down the hall to the laundry room out of curiosity. A large sadface had been drawn next to Arthur's words. Someone else had written, Oh no! Trouble in laundry love land! and another had scrawled, Kiss and make up, lovebirds!
Arthur bit back a laugh and shook his head, feeling strangely light-hearted. He lived with a pack of idiots, that much was clear.
Arthur may have made up an excuse to lurk outside of Professor Caine's class around the time that Merlin's class was letting out, despite telling himself repeatedly that he was being an idiot, as well as the fact that he'd had to miss a Chemistry lecture in order to make it across campus in time.
He made a show of tying his shoes as students began to file out of the room, although he finished tying one and had to start on the other before Merlin made an appearance. Arthur got to his feet and pretended surprise when Merlin stopped in front of him.
"Hey!" Arthur said with a grin. "Strange to see you dog-free."
Merlin smiled. "Yeah, they frown on that in class."
They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment and then Merlin said, "Well, I'm off to sweat my way through Latin."
"Fancy that. I'm going to the library. I was just over here dropping off a note to Professor Daniels for a housemate," Arthur said, lying through his teeth, but the library was in the same building as Language Arts and Morgana would take notes for him in Medieval Literature, even though he would have to pay her for it, probably with something gruelling like accompanying her on some hellish shopping adventure and then purchasing her yet another pair of shoes.
"Great!" Merlin said and buying shoes seemed like a very small price to pay to have that smile directed at him.
They walked out into the balmy afternoon and headed across the neatly-trimmed grass. Students were sprawled everywhere, enjoying the warm weather. Some had books open while others were mostly unclothed and seemed determined to get some rays. Others were passed out, blissfully asleep.
"You live on campus?" Arthur asked.
"Yeah. Barnes House," Merlin replied and Arthur stumbled with surprise.
Merlin paused and held out a solicitous hand to grip his elbow. "Yes. You all right? I know walking is difficult at times."
"Oh, you're a comedian. How do you like Barnes House?" Arthur could hardly believe Merlin lived in his own house, although the place was admittedly huge with two sprawling wings and dozens of rooms.
"I don't spend much time there, but it's nice when I am. Except for this complete wanker who can't manage to put his clothes in the dryer."
Arthur stumbled again, this time going completely down, landing on his palms and gouging one knee into the turf.
Merlin knelt beside him and put a hand on his back. "Oi! Are you all right? I thought you looked like the sporty sort, but you're a bit on the clumsy side, aren't you?"
Arthur flung himself to his feet and stepped away, trying to reconcile the smiling, friendly dog-walker with the sarcastic, note-writing prat who kept leaving obnoxious notes atop his neatly folded clothes. He kept from yelling, "You!" accusingly, but only just. Instead he kept backing up until he was several steps away from Merlin, whose face had gone puzzled.
"I just remembered. Something I need to do!" Arthur said lamely. "See you later." Then he turned and jogged away, ignoring the look of what seemed to be disappointment on Merlin's face before he bolted.
"I can't believe I thought he was sweet," Arthur complained for the sixth time as he contemplated the foam atop his pint and waited for it to settle.
Leon smirked at him and tapped his glass with the bottom of his own. "Cheer up, mate. You barely talked to him. You got out early, so your opportunity cost will be low."
"My what will be whatnow?"
"Your opportunity cost. See, you'll never choose this lad now, because he's an obvious wanker, so when you settle on someone else, the opportunity cost of this particular fellow will be low and you'll be congratulating yourself on your wise investment."
"I never understand half of what you say, Leon," Arthur complained.
"Economics, mate. It's simple."
"Screw economics. I say get even," Gwaine said.
Arthur turned to frown at him. "Get even how?"
"You say the bloke fancies you? Ask him to the party this weekend and then dump him in front of everyone. Tell him you wouldn't go out with him if he was the last man on earth. And mention his small penis."
"What if he doesn't have a small penis?" Arthur asked, thinking he wasn't quite inebriated enough, because thinking of Merlin's penis, small or not, was not conducive to thoughts of revenge.
Gwaine smacked him on the shoulder with a backhanded whack. "He's hardly going to whip it out in order to prove it, now is he? Think, man!"
"Ask him out and then publicly humiliate him?"
"Yes. That will teach him to mess with a man's things."
Gwaine jumped on the horse and ran with it, concocting scenario after scenario until Arthur got bored with listening to him and simply drank his pint and tried not to think about Merlin's innocent-looking blue eyes.
As luck would have it, Arthur ran into Merlin the next morning, not far from Barnes House. Merlin was walking only three dogs this time; one of them was the same excitable black mass of fur that had originally bound Arthur's legs.
"Morning," Merlin said without his usual smile. He pulled the leads as if intending to give Arthur a wide berth. He stepped completely off the pavement and onto the grass, dragging the dogs with him.
Arthur felt suddenly guilty. Obviously Merlin was acting cold because of Arthur's abandonment, but then Gwaine's goading came back to him. Arthur had been the wronged party. He hadn't intentionallyforgotten his laundry and he hadn't meant to run off the previous day, either. Merlin was nothing more than a moody, sarcastic little sod and Arthur would do well to forget him.
After a bit of judicious revenge.
"Merlin!" Arthur called as the man started to move away, half-dragging the dogs, who seemed only to want to leap on Arthur.
Merlin seemed to curl into himself, but he stopped moving and looked back at Arthur.
"I'm sorry I rushed off yesterday. I wanted to ask you something and I'm afraid I got cold feet."
It seemed to be the right approach, for Merlin's features seemed to soften and he wrapped the leads around his forearms in order to take a step closer.
"Is it that terrible a question?" Merlin asked with a teasing timbre.
Arthur swallowed down his second thoughts and forced a smile. "Maybe. See, my friend is having a party this weekend and there is this girl…" Merlin's face closed up again and his lips thinned at the mention of a girl, so Arthur quickly went on. "Well, I think she likes me, you see, and I don't like her that way, so I was thinking… I was thinking of asking you to come with me to run interference. By pretending we were a couple." Arthur managed the last two lines in a rush and then took a deep breath.
"You want me to pretend to be…?"
"My date, yes." Arthur nodded. "Unless you have a problem with that. If men aren't your type, or whatnot."
"Are they your type or is this just a joke?" Merlin's tone was wary and Arthur didn't miss the quick tightening of Merlin's fists around the leads. He wondered if Merlin had been in many fights. With his slender frame, he hardly looked capable of defending himself. Arthur pushed away a sudden, strange urge to punch in the faces of anyone who had dared to threaten Merlin. Because he is mine to punish, Arthur decided grimly, thinking back on the condescending tone of the laundry room notes.
"I like all types, mate," Arthur said with a grin. Merlin seemed to relax and he gave Arthur a tentative smile.
"Where and when?"
"Friday at nine. I'll meet you in front of…" He was about to say Barnes House, but he didn't want Merlin knowing he was the "laundry room wanker" so he quickly adjusted it to, "…the Fountain. At 8:45? It's a short walk from there. Casual, not fancy dress, so you don't have to come as Julius Caesar, unless you really want to."
Merlin snorted. "All right."
"All right?" Arthur repeated. He had been almost certain that Merlin would refuse and foil his twisted plan for revenge. The fact that Merlin had so quickly accepted gave him a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Um… you want my number, then?" Merlin asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, of course," Arthur said and fished his phone from his back pocket. Merlin recited his number and Arthur dutifully put it into his phone. Then he forced a smile and said, "See you Friday, then?"
"Friday," Merlin replied and his smile was brilliant. Arthur fled, already beset with twinges of guilt.
Arthur was tempted to text Merlin several times during the week and cancel, but the thought of Gwaine's disappointed needling always made him put his phone away. Damn Gwaine and his subliminal evil. Arthur always seemed to do stupid things whenever Gwaine was involved.
When he finally got round to texting Merlin, it wasn't until 8:30 Friday night. Still on, then?he sent.
Yeah, I wasn't sure if you were up for it, but I'm here.
Arthur winced. Apparently Merlin had noticed Arthur's avoidance. He had taken care not to run into Merlin at all during the week, lest his resolve weaken further. He walked briskly across campus until he reached the fountain where Merlin waited, parked on the stone edge of the water feature with his legs stretched out. He got to his feet when Arthur approached and smiled, looking only a little nervous.
"Hi," Arthur said and then reached out a hand, feeling momentarily awkward at the gesture.
Merlin took it and his nervous smile turned genuine. "Hi, I'm Merlin. I'll be your date for this evening."
Arthur relaxed and grinned back, shaking Merlin's hand formally as his eyes travelled over the man. Merlin looked nicer than usual. He wore a muted blue shirt with deeper blue pinstripes and dark blue jeans that hugged his slender legs. The oversized hoodie was gone, replaced with a grey athletic jacket that looked new.
"Can I have my hand back?"
Arthur dropped his hand, embarrassed, and quickly asked, "Shall we go?" He tucked his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and started walking without waiting for Merlin's response. Merlin fell into step beside him.
"So, what house do you live in?" Merlin asked. "I don't think I asked before."
Arthur had no intention of answering that question, so he pretended not to hear and covered it by pausing and turning in a circle. "Let's see, the party is in Seabold House, which is... beyond the auditorium?"
"Isn't that one next to the Greenhouses?" Merlin corrected.
Arthur snapped his fingers. "That's right," he said as though he hadn't been there a hundred times. Gwaine's house had a party every weekend and sometimes even weekdays. "Should we cut through the garden?"
Merlin shrugged. "Why not?"
As they walked, Arthur launched into a series of questions about Merlin's classes, keeping up a running dialog that avoided all talk of houses and laundry rooms until they reached the loud thumping that indicated Seabold House was throwing a boisterous party.
"We're here!" Arthur said and reached out his hand to clasp it around Merlin's. Arthur arched a brow questioningly, giving Merlin one last chance to back out, silently hoping he would take the out and flee, but Merlin only gave him a fleeting smile and nodded.
Arthur swallowed, took a deep breath, and plunged into the sea of humanity spilling out the doors of the house. It was crowded and ridiculously loud. Arthur was stopped several times by people in various states of inebriation; obviously some of them had started drinking much earlier than others.
They entered the dining room, where the table had been pushed back against the wall and all the chairs removed to make room for the glut of people crowding the beer keg that dominated the centre of the table. A stack of clear pint cups beckoned and Arthur pulled Merlin forward, more than ready to ease the growing knot in his stomach with copious amounts of alcohol. He stopped short when he spotted Gwen.
Merlin leaned close to speak in Arthur's ear. "What is it?"
"That's her. Near the door. Blue dress." Arthur let go of Merlin's hand only to drape an arm across his shoulders and pull him tightly against his side. Merlin responded by curving his arm around Arthur's waist.
"This okay?" Merlin asked, tucking his face against Arthur's neck.
"Yeah, great," Arthur replied, feeling his pulse beginning to spiral out of control. Whatever cologne Merlin had used was invading his senses and doing terrible things to his libido. Dammit, why did Merlin have to be a prat instead of the adorable, entirely too-kissable man he seemed to be whenever Arthur was near him in person?
Gwen spotted Arthur and hurried over, beaming. Her smile faltered and died when she saw Merlin.
"Hi, Gwen!" Arthur said cheerfully. "Have you met Merlin?"
Her eyes narrowed and skimmed over Merlin. "No, I haven't," she said in a glacial tone.
"Delicious, isn't he?" Arthur asked and then reached up to graze his fingers over the edge of Merlin's jaw. He had intended only to tip Merlin's head up and stare lovingly into his eyes, but to his surprise Merlin's lashes fluttered and fell shut just as his mouth opened slightly, as though begging for Arthur to kiss him. All the guilty feelings in the world could not have prevented Arthur from doing so at that moment. He touched his lips to Merlin's and the entire party seemed to fall away.
Merlin's mouth was pliant, and his lips were dry until Arthur swiped his tongue across them. They parted and Arthur tasted nothing but Merlin, no flavours or sweets or things recently eaten, just Merlin, as if he'd been expecting Arthur to kiss him and wanted nothing to spoil the taste.
Gwen cleared her throat and Arthur broke the kiss reluctantly to glance at her. If he'd thought her expression cold before, it now approached Ice Age. Arthur was impressed; her acting classes were paying off awesomely.
"I see," Gwen said through clenched teeth that she relaxed with obvious effort. "Good to meet you, Merlin."
"Good to meet you, too," Merlin said and offered his hand. Gwen took it with a dainty-fingered grip that nearly had Arthur snorting with laughter.
"Well. I'm off to find Morgana," Gwen said and hurried away through the crowd. Arthur made a mental note to find her later and thank her for her stellar performance.
"That went well?" Merlin asked.
About to respond, Arthur's thoughts derailed at a loud cry.
"Merlin!" Arthur's date was enveloped in a bear hug that wrestled him out of Arthur's grip. "What are you doing here? You never come to our parties, you old stick in the mud!"
Merlin smiled at Gwaine while Arthur tried to process that Gwaine was hugging Merlin. The universe seemed terribly and inexplicably wrong.
"I forgot you live here. I keep thinking you are still in Becksley," Merlin replied easily.
Gwaine seemed to notice Arthur for the first time and he grinned at him in a not-quite-inebriated fashion. "Arthur! How goes the…?" At Arthur's glare, Gwaine's jaw snapped shut. He looked from Merlin to Arthur and back again, eyes widening almost comically. "Arthur. Kitchen. Now. Merlin, we will be right back." With that, Gwaine grabbed Arthur by the arm and practically dragged him into the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" Arthur demanded.
"You didn't tell me Merlinwas the one you were planning to avenge yourself on."
"You didn't ask!"
"Well, you can't. You can't humiliate Merlin. The plot is off. You'll have to come clean." Gwaine sounded adamant, which was so unlike Gwaine that Arthur was nearly gobsmacked. Gwaine never exempted anyone. He was an equal-opportunity prat.
"Who are you and what have you done with Gwaine?"
"I'm not joking. Hurting Merlin would be like… like torturing baby bunnies. He's utterly harmless. In fact, you have to be mistaken. He can't be your laundry room tormenter."
"Gwaine, he admitted to it himself!" Arthur frowned. Or had he? He had only mentioned that some "wanker" in his house could not manage to put his clothes in the dryer. Merlin did not necessarily have to be the note writer. He could simply be one of the amused onlookers.
"Am I interrupting?" Merlin asked, poking his head into the kitchen. "Gwaine, are you trying to steal my date?"
Gwaine gave Arthur a level stare and then snorted at Merlin. "Arthur is not, nor will he ever be, my type. And really, he shouldn't be yours, either. Don't you know what a complete donkey he is?"
Arthur's, "Oi!" was lost in Merlin's, "Well, we've only spoken a couple of times, but he seems nice."
"Seems nice," Gwaine muttered and gave Arthur one last look, as though the bloody plan hadn't been his to begin with. "Don't take any shit from him, Merlin, and if he does anything to piss you off, he'll answer to me, all right?"
"Um… yeah, okay." Merlin's smile seemed uncertain and when Gwaine went out he looked at Arthur with a frown. "That was weird. Did that seem weird to you?"
"Has Gwaine ever been notweird?" Arthur asked dryly.
Merlin chuckled. "Point. So… lager?" He nodded his head toward the dining room.
Arthur nodded and followed Merlin out, afloat in a sea of uncertainty. He had come here fully intending to ditch Merlin and go home alone, but now that plan had been turned on its arse. Merlin filled two plastic cups from the keg and handed one to Arthur, who gulped half the contents of his gratefully. Merlin's brows rose. "Thirsty," Arthur explained.
Arthur spent the next hour determinedly chugging alcohol in an attempt to get plastered and forget about the fact that Merlin thought he was here with Arthur as a foil to keep Gwen away. Gwen who had disappeared after her performance, giving Arthur no more reason to drape himself over Merlin and indulge in more kissing. To make matters worse, Gwaine had appointed himself Merlin's keeper. Each time Arthur tried to engage Merlin in conversation, Gwaine would shoehorn into the dialog and then continue it, dredging up amusing story after amusing story. Merlin did not seem to mind, laughing encouragingly at Gwaine's tales and practically ignoring Arthur, who sulked in what quickly became an excessive amount of lager.
Arthur grew more and more disgusted with Gwaine's overprotective cockblocking. Arthur wasn't planning to do anything to precious Merlin, for fuck's sake. Arthur was no longer bent on revenge, so Gwaine didn't need to go all mother hen. Merlin was perfectly capable of looking out for himself, except possibly from large bullies and the homophobic pricks from the polo team, but luckily there did not seem to be any of either sort at the party. Girls frequently approached Arthur and asked him to dance, but he wasn't in the mood, especially when Merlin would nod encouragingly, giving tacit approval for Arthur to abandon him. Arthur began to wonder if Merlin had a crush on Gwaine.
"Good luck with that," Arthur muttered. Gwaine was far more straight than bi and he kissed like a steamroller, according to various not-particularly-confidential but very reliable sources. Arthur had never cared to find out.
"Did you say something?" Merlin asked, leaning close and reminding Arthur how much he had enjoyed kissing Merlin and would very much like to do it again, a prospect that seemed to be getting farther and farther from the realm of possibility with every passing moment.
"I'm going to go on home," Arthur said and jerked a thumb towards the door.
Merlin got to his feet, possibly to accompany him, but Gwaine snared Merlin's wrist. "Merlin! You can't leave so soon!"
Arthur gave Gwaine a venomous glare that promised later retribution, and then he pushed his way through the crowd and out into the night air. He walked briskly, feeling more than a little sick from too much alcohol on an empty stomach. Too much alcohol and not enough Merlin. Fucking Gwaine.
Despite being disgustingly drunk and rather tired, Arthur had a hard time sleeping. Part of it was the battle waging between his stomach (trying to purge itself of too much drink) and his brain (trying to convince his stomach to man up and stick it out), and the rest was due to his inability to stop mentally replaying the sodding kiss with Merlin.
When he finally got some sleep at a ridiculous hour of the morning, it was fitful and filled with bizarre dreams consisting of Gwaine and colourful pie charts. Arthur blamed Leon for the latter.
He crawled out of bed sometime before noon, barely, and picked up last night's clothing from the floor. He shrugged into them and staggered out of his room, intending to use the loo, but it was locked up tight. Several minutes of hammering led to the realization that some complete arseface had locked the door from the inside and then climbed out the window. It happened at least once a month and required a visit from the maintenance staff to unlock the door.
Arthur grumbled curses and headed for the stairs. The floor below had a loo in the same location, but the window had been tightly stuck for the past 20 years, despite all attempts to force it open. His head thumped with every riser and his stomach complained. He needed to pee, then liquid, then food. Also paracetamol. Not necessarily in that order with the exception of the first thing.
A gasp caused him to raise his head and he blinked at the man at the base of the stairs for a moment, thinking he must certainly be a figment of his imagination.
"Arthur?" Merlin asked.
About to ask what he was doing in Barnes House, Arthur belatedly remembered Merlin lived there, although the location of his room was a mystery. "Yeah," Arthur managed and mentally cringed at the knowledge he had to look like death warmed over.
"Thought you were going home last night," Merlin said. Was his tone disapproving? "Looks like you found a better option, yeah?"
"Option?" Arthur repeated, not grasping Merlin's meaning.
Merlin shrugged. "Hope you had fun. I guess Gwaine was right." He lifted a hand. "Well, bye. I'm off to work. See you around."
Merlin disappeared around the edge of the stairwell and Arthur suddenly got it. Merlin didn't know he lived in Barnes House, so he assumed Arthur had got lucky with one of the residents. It didn't help that Arthur was wearing the same clothing from the night before and had to look like he hadn't slept a wink.
"Merlin, wait!" he cried. He pounded down the stairs and then had to clutch at the newel post as a wave of nausea descended on him along with a renewed thumping in his temples. It was too late, anyway. Merlin was gone.
Arthur swore all the way to the loo and then all the way back to his room where he retrieved toiletries and found an available shower to scrub himself in. After donning some clean clothing and drinking three bottles of water from his mini-fridge, he devoured the two Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars he'd been saving in his desk drawer.
After that he felt slightly more human.
Then he texted Gwaine. What did you tell Merlin about me?
Of course the prat didn't answer. He'd be sleeping it off until 6pm, his usual Saturday ritual. Arthur debated going over and dumping a pitcher of ice water on his head.
Instead he typed a text to Merlin. I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't haveThat made him pause. He shouldn't have what? Shouldn't have plotted to be cruel to Merlin just because he was sarcastic about dealing with Arthur's wet clothing (if it was even him)? Shouldn't have let Gwaine monopolize him all night? Shouldn't have huffed off in a drunken rage? All true, but not exactly something he could put in a short text.
He deleted it and tried again. I'm sorry about last night. Can I meet you somewhere? I'll understand if you tell me to fuck off.
So much time passed he had convinced himself that Merlin was planning to blow him off completely, but then his phone buzzed. He snatched it up. I'm working at Deli-Casey's. You can stop by if you like.
Arthur grabbed his jacket and bounded out the door.
The sandwich shop was a brisk walk in the spitting rain. The previous day's lovely weather had apparently stepped aside for more typical British precipitation. Arthur's hair was damp by the time he pushed open the glass door and joined the queue standing before the glass counter. Arthur caught only a glimpse of Merlin, wearing a white apron over his t-shirt and a paper hat on his head with Deli-Casey's logo front and centre. Merlin didn't seem to notice him and Arthur stepped back behind the burly football fan whose arm was curled around his gum-smacking girlfriend.
Arthur slowly made his way to the counter—the place was always busy on weekend afternoons—and Merlin's eyes widened in surprise when they finally fixed on him. To Arthur's relief, he smiled. "Hi, what can I get you?"
Now that Arthur was standing before actual food, his stomach rumbled at the thought of consuming it. "Chicken Pesto?"
Merlin nodded. "Good choice." Without asking about any of Arthur's other preferences, he set about building a sandwich and wrapped it up before sliding it down the line. "My break's in ten minutes," Merlin added as a bored-looking girl took the paper-wrapped meal and punched buttons on the cash register before telling Arthur his total.
Arthur took the sandwich to a rickety white metal table and sat down. He thought about picking apart his food to see what Merlin had done with it, but he was cognizant that Merlin was watching him, so he decided to have a bit of (hopefully not misplaced) faith. He took a bite. One bite led to several in rapid succession and he had to pace himself in order to not inhale the thing. While normally not a fan of cucumber, it seemed to compliment the chicken and bits of tomato to perfection, with just enough pesto and yoghurt to flavour it without being overpowering. It was brilliant.
Merlin sat down across from him just as Arthur popped the last bite into his mouth. The white hat and apron were gone, leaving Merlin in jeans and a plain black t-shirt. Merlin grinned. "Acceptable, then?"
"Delicious," Arthur mumbled as he chewed and then chugged the last of the water in the bottle he had brought along. He glanced around at the crowded place. There were only a few tables, and more people seemed to be entering than leaving. "How long is your break?"
"Ten minutes. Busy time of day, you know."
"Want to walk?"
Merlin nodded, so Arthur got to his feet and wove through the crowd to escape. The rain seemed to have mostly stopped; presumably Merlin had better luck with the elements.
"How many jobs do you have?" Arthur asked as he chose a random direction and headed down the pavement.
"Three. I got into St Octavian's on scholarship, plus Mum scraped and saved for… well, my entire life. So anything extra I have to pay for. But I don't mind working."
Arthur felt immensely guilty for taking his education for granted. Most of the time it was nothing more than a drunken lark. He kept his grades up mostly to avoid a lecture (or twenty) from his father, but he already had a job lined up for him after uni. His father would make sure of that. Arthur would certainly never have to walk dogs or slave in a sandwich shop.
"So," Merlin said after a long silence broken only by the crunch of their footsteps on the pavement, "You wanted to see me?"
Arthur stopped walking. "Yeah, I wanted to… Look, Gwaine is an arse. I've known him a long time and whenever he's not being an impossible drunken prat—" Merlin's face closed up and he didn't meet Arthur's eyes. Arthur drew in a sharp breath. "Oh god, do you like Gwaine? I mean are you into Gwaine that way, because he's, well…" Arthur frowned, trying to think of a nice way to admit that Gwaine was utterly and completely wrong for Merlin, not just because he was Gwaine, but because Merlin was Merlin, and mostly because Arthur wanted Merlin, dammit, and there, he'd admitted it, at least to himself.
"No!" Merlin said and Arthur blinked at him, thinking for a moment that he'd spoken aloud and Merlin was denying him. Thankfully, Merlin went on with a laugh. "No, I am definitely not into Gwaine that way. He's just a great friend."
Arthur nodded and examined a loose thread at the base of his jacket zipper. He pulled at it absently. "Good. That's good."
"Why?" Merlin asked after another long moment. "Would it bother you if I liked Gwaine that way?"
Arthur shook his head. "No! No, of course it—Yes. Yes, it would."
To his relief, Merlin was smiling again. "Really? And why is that?"
Arthur held his breath and took a step closer, invading Merlin's personal space. Merlin did not step back; he didn't move at all. Arthur leaned closer still. "Because one kiss was not enough, Merlin," he said and pressed their lips together.
To Arthur's pleased surprise, Merlin's fingers curled in the edges of Arthur's jacket and drew their torsos together, holding on as if he had no intention of letting Arthur go anytime soon. Their mouths opened as one and their tongues twined together, neither fighting for dominance, but merely sliding over and around one another pleasantly.
It was glorious. Arthur wanted it to go on and on. He wanted to push Merlin up against hard surfaces and do more than kiss, or possibly (judging by the grip on his jacket) have Merlin shove him up against hard surfaces, both options seemed brilliant, and snog the rest of the weekend away. But there was too much unresolved. Arthur ran his tongue over the ridges at the top of Merlin's mouth, eliciting a moan that did evil things to Arthur's determination, tugged at Merlin's lips with his teeth for a moment, and then pulled away.
Merlin's eyes were wide and dazed-looking. "I've still got about five minutes."
Arthur groaned. His hands were lightly gripping Merlin's hips. He moved them resolutely to Merlin's shoulders and then said, "As much as I would like to do more of that for every remaining second of your break, I came here to confess."
Arthur nodded, hating the shutters that seemed to drop down over Merlin's eyes, but he supposed it was his punishment for not being open to begin with. He only hoped he wasn't making a mistake. He let go of Merlin and took a step back in order to take the pull of his jacket zip and tug it down.
A hint of a smile touched Merlin's lips. "You're really a stripper and you're going to take it all off?"
The thought was disturbingly erotic, but Arthur scowled at him. "Merlin, I am trying to be serious and bare my soul, here."
"I think I'd prefer you bare something else."
Arthur choked. "If you don't stop that, you're not going to make it back to work, or anywhere else for a few days."
"Oh, where will I be, then?" Merlin's teasing tone nearly had Arthur pouncing on him again, but then his jacket was open and Merlin's eyes were widening. "Oh, my god."
Arthur's cheeks burned. "Yeah. It's me."
Merlin was silent for a moment, as though needing time to rewrite everything he thought he knew about Arthur. "That really is the worst shirt in the—oh no. I called you a wanker, didn't I?" Merlin's cheeks burned. "Or some idiot who can't put his own clothes in the dryer? Or something worse?" Merlin's babbling continued apace with his thoughts, apparently. He gasped. "And that means—"
"Yeah, we live in the same house. I kept dodging the question when you asked me because I didn't want you to know it was me…"
"So you really did go home last night?" Merlin looked away, as though embarrassed that the question had escaped, but Arthur couldn't be happier.
"I went home, alone, and cursed Gwaine for monopolizing you all night, and felt like punching myself in the head for not dragging you off somewhere and doing wicked things to you and… Well, whatever Gwaine told you might not be that far from the truth, but I'd really like it if you gave me a chance and made up your own mind."
"Are you asking me out?"
Arthur's bit back a sardonic comment. "Yes, Merlin, I am asking you out."
"I don't know. I'm not sure I want to be seen with a man willing to wear that hideous shirt in public."
"There is nothing wrong with this shirt," Arthur growled, but he smiled as he said it and stepped back to Merlin again and captured his mouth, determined this time. He discovered it was difficult to kiss someone who was laughing and after a moment he couldn't help but halt the attempt as his own chuckles burst forth. "Will you stop that?"
"Sorry. You might be able to convince me, after all. I'll be done at four." With that, Merlin gave him one last grin, turned, and jogged back to the shop. Arthur watched him until he waved and disappeared through the door, and then he pumped his fist in the air with a silent whoop of joy and headed home.
In the end he decided not to wear the smiley shirt, but he knew he would never get rid of it now. It was obviously his lucky shirt.
Arthur kissed Merlin lingeringly and trailed a hand down over his flat abdomen, heading for the loose waistband of Merlin's jeans. His white t-shirt had been shoved up and Arthur had spent the last quarter hour worshipping Merlin's lovely nipples, until Merlin's gasping cries and eventual rutting against Arthur's side made him eager to move on. He had planned to take things slow, but Merlin seemed to have other ideas.
It had been two full days, during which he had taken Merlin to a semi-casual dinner, walked a ludicrous number of dogs with him, played Frisbee in the rain, and snogged him against every available surface on campus.
Arthur's phone buzzed while Arthur's fingers were busy pulling at the zip of Merlin's jeans. "Want to check that for me?" he asked, giving Merlin a heated look to prove he had no intention of stopping what he was doing.
Merlin swallowed and picked up the phone from the bedside table. "It's a text from Gwaine. It says, 'Have you seen Merlin?'"
"Tell him I haven't seen all of Merlin, but I'm working on it."
Merlin laughed and then gasped when his jeans opened and Arthur pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the hardness revealed, clad in blue and green plaid-print boxers. "Fab pants," he said, echoing Merlin's laundry room note of days past. Merlin's fingers moved over the phone. "What are you telling him?"
"I said you can't text at the moment because your hands are wrapped around my cock." Merlin looked down and raised a brow. "Don't make me a liar."
Arthur bit his lip to cut off a laugh and obediently shoved Merlin's pants down to curl his fingers around Merlin's cock. He examined it closely (long, mostly straight, veryhard) and gave it an experimental lick, causing Merlin to make a delightful sound.
"Good boy," Merlin said. His voice was rough and husky.
Arthur dragged away the restrictive clothing and took Merlin deep. He had never been fond of sucking cock, but it was somehow different with Merlin. The sounds he made, for one thing, and the gentle hands in Arthur's hair, not tugging or guiding, just there...
"I think I'll tie you up and keep you forever," Merlin commented. Arthur had to close his eyes at how not disturbinghe found the idea. He made a mental note to revisit that conversation later.
Arthur's phone buzzed again, but this time it was ignored as both were lost in Merlin's gasping cries and quivering spasms.
In the laundry room below, a Post It note on the board displayed assorted scribbling.
I'm not drying your clothes again, you know.
If you do mine, I'll do yours.
Are we still talking about clothes?
I was definitely not referring to clothes.