This is written for Cinnatart's kiss meme over on LJ.

Massive love to Magnolia822 for her bitching beta skills. She built it up better, stronger and faster.

We all know I own nothing.

When Merlin looks up and clocks the late arrival at the Thursday night A.L.B.I.O.N gamer meet, the last person he expects to see is Arthur Pendragon. The boy in question casts his eyes over the already assembled crowd, sticking momentarily on Merlin. Merlin sees him falter before gathering himself and sweeping towards Kilgharrah for an assignment.

Kilgharrah – the same man who had referred to the formidable Morgana as 'The Witch' after her character change and caused her to flounce A.L.B.I.O.N for D.R.U.I.D, a rival gaming group officiated by an impossibly young-looking boy who rarely spoke - merely nods at Pendragon and hands him a piece of paper. When Arthur's eyes sweep the crowd again, resting a fraction on Merlin, Merlin realises he's staring and turns back to his team.

Merlin gets on with his game but finds it hard to shake off the awareness of Arthur's presence. They both go to the same school, but their paths have never crossed; Arthur the 'head' of the cool crowd, and Merlin the 'head' of the misfits crowd, as much as they have one.

Unusually, both groups are roughly the same size so neither has the upper hand over the other. They tend to circle each other warily but, other than small isolated incidents, they rarely bother with each other. Arthur Pendragon turning up in what Merlin thinks of as 'his' domain is a complete left-fielder.

"What was with you tonight?" Will demands as they congregate outside after Kilgharrah finally kicks them all out with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a pointed cough. Merlin, who is staring down the street at Pendragon's retreating back, jumps in surprise.

"What? Nothing," he snaps, caught out and defensive because of it. Will raises his hands in supplication and backs off. Freya raises an eyebrow. Merlin shrugs and tries for a smile, feeling off-kilter and unsure.

The next day Merlin makes his way to the corner beneath the football stands that he always retreats to on his free period before lunch. He ducks his friends after third period Chemistry, the only class he has on his own, and they've stopped asking where he disappears to whilst they're gathering in the common room.

It's not that Merlin doesn't love his friends, of course he does, it's just that sometimes he likes time without them orbiting him the way they do. They're all fiercely independent, a character trait that often leads to fractious tempers within the group, but even Freya defers to Merlin and it's not something Merlin is particularly comfortable with.

Lost in thought, Merlin misses the approaching footsteps until they shuffle into his sanctuary. His head snaps up and it's Arthur Pendragon standing at the opposite corner of the stand, about thirty feet away, frozen mid-step and staring at Merlin. A long moment passes and Merlin can see the tiredness in Arthur's face, wonders briefly if maybe Arthur needs the same break he does, before he deliberately turns away and resumes reading his book. Merlin hears Arthur shift uncertainly before it all goes quiet. He waits a few minutes before taking a surreptitious glance and, yes, Arthur is sitting against a the far post, legs stretched out in front of him, head tipped back, eyes closed. His face is peaceful. For some reason, Merlin finds he has to hide a smile as he turns back to his book.

For the next few months, Merlin and Arthur share both Thursday night A.L.B.I.O.N meets and a fourth period hide-out. After some initial uncertainty, Merlin finds he's quite comfortable with Arthur's presence in these parts of his life. Whilst he's not deluded enough to think of them as friends, there's something peaceful about Arthur's silence, and about the fact that he neither needs nor wants anything from Merlin. Merlin finds himself relaxing around Arthur in a way he never relaxes around his own friends. He tells himself it's stupid, and it is, but there you go.

As it turns out, Arthur is a proficient gamer and swiftly becomes the best Warrior Knight in A.L.B.I.O.N, a fact that has pisses Will off no end. When he rants about it, Merlin merely shrugs and declines to comment because, secretly, he finds it fascinating and not a little bit arousing, the latter thought making him jittery down to his bones.

It's not that Merlin has a problem with his sexuality. He and Freya have shared some heated snogging sessions, and he and Gwaine have shared a little more than that on occasion - mostly handjob's in locked bedrooms at crowded parties - it's just the Arthur Pendragon part that's giving him hang-ups.

Arthur is, well, Arthur. Merlin knows that's stupid and not even a reason to boot, but it makes his skin hot inside to think of Arthur in a sexual situation and Merlin's never had that before, not even when he's been in a sexual situation. It's an odd rush, disconcerting and thrilling, and it makes Merlin more introverted than he already is. His friends don't understand what's going on, and Merlin can't explain it to them without revealing far more than he wants to, so the mood in their group is fragile at best.

At A.L.B.I.O.N that Thrusday, Merlin is surprised to find Arthur already there when he enters the cafe, flanked by Freya and Will. He's positively shocked when Arthur walks right up to their group and seats himself next to Merlin, in Will's usual spot.

"Hey!" Will cries, angry, and Merlin sees Freya dead-leg him out of the corner of his eye. He knows her motivation. Their team is one of the best; Merlin is the top Wizard in A.L.B.I.O.N and they land in the top three every session. But Freya is fiercely competitive and Merlin knows, with Arthur on board, she's eyeing the top spot. Arthur doesn't say anything as he settles in Will's seat and readies himself for the battle ahead, and Merlin stays quiet too, listening to the frantic beat of his heart in his ears.

It takes them a while to figure out the other's gaming style. There are a few frustrating trial and error missions in which Arthur rushes headlong into situations without properly assessing the dangers, and as a consequence Merlin acts prematurely and often rashly in an attempt to counter him. Arthur huffs every time Merlin makes a mistake and Merlin's knuckles grow white every time Arthur fails to consult with the team before doing something foolhardy but, slowly, they adjust to each other.

It quickly becomes clear that, when each allows the other to do what they're good at, the Wizard and the Warrior Knight make a formidable team. Merlin notices Arthur shifts closer as the evening progresses until their shoulders are brushing every time one of them moves. Merlin feels like his blood is fizzing, and he fights hard to keep his head in the game. In the end, they place second.

They pack up together, slower than the others, and walk out, side by side, straight into one of Will's rants.

" bullshit, and you!" Will's face is puce as he rounds on Arthur. "You lost us more time than you gained us, rushing back to 'save' everyone without asking if help was needed."

Merlin is already cringing, expecting the worst, but Arthur's face is serious when he dips his chin and meets Will's angry stare head-on.

"I'm sorry that you feel you didn't need the help during that ambush," he says, his voice low with authority, "but the team needed you to get us through the villages, and I didn't have time to vote on whether we went back for you or not."

Will's face is still bright red, but his mouth his hanging open and no words are coming out, which Merlin counts as a win. He's known Will his whole life, and anyone who can head off one of his tantrums is worth keeping around.

"Besides," Arthur continues, straightening up and looking dead at Merlin, who freezes like a doe in headlights, "Never leave a comrade behind."

For some reason the words, and Arthur's unwavering gaze, has blood rushing to Merlin's cheeks. Arthur looks at him for a few moments longer, then he turns to Freya and Will with a dazzling smile that Merlin is fairly sure would melt his kneecaps if it were ever turned on him, and with a "see you next Thursday," he's gone.

"He's such a prat!" Will snaps, but Freya is looking at Merlin with an oddly analytical expression, and Merlin can't quite meet her eyes.

The next morning on his way into school, Merlin is caught up from behind and swung around in a dizzying arc. His feet are shaky as he's returned to the ground, and then Gwaine is at his back, hands warm and heavy on his hips and breath warm and shiver-inducing on his neck.

"Merlin," Gwaine murmurs, his voice sultry but his eyes twinkling with playfulness, "Missed you at the last party."

"Uh, yeah," Merlin stutters back, acutely aware of Gwaine's proximity in the crowded schoolyard. Gwaine seems to pick up on his discomfort, stepping back and throwing a friendly arm around Merlin's shoulders. Unfortunately, now that Gwaine is standing next to him and not in front of him, Merlin has an unimpeded view of Arthur's frown directed straight at them.

"You at Cenred's this weekend?" Gwaine's voice is both hopeful and salacious, and Merlin doesn't miss the way his eyes drop to Merlin's mouth, but he's squirming under Arthur's unwavering stare. He slips out from under Gwaine's arm, who gives him a confused look for a second before bouncing back to cheerful.

"Maybe I'll see you there?" Gwaine calls, walking backwards towards the cool crowd, eyes still on Merlin. Merlin shrugs and practically runs into the school building, desperate to escape both boys.

He's sitting in his usual spot under the stands during fourth period when Arthur stomps in and throws himself to the ground. Merlin's noticed from recent observations that Arthur lives his moods, as does everyone in his proximity. Merlin ignores the dark air emanating from the far end of the stands, concentrating on his chemistry revision.

"How do you know Gwaine?" Arthur's voice is aggressive, like he's looking for a fight, but Merlin is more startled that he's broken their unspoken pact of silence.

"What?" he asks reflexively.

"Gwaine," Arthur snaps, "How do you know him?"

"Oh, uh," Merlin shifts under Arthur's relentless stare, "We've been to a few of the same parties and well, you know, he's Gwaine. Everybody knows him."

Arthur looks at Merlin hard before nodding curtly and turning his attention away. For the rest of the hour Merlin is tense, and he scrambles to escape as soon as the lunch bell rings.

At the end of the day, he finds Freya and Will waiting at the gate for him, along with an imposing-looking Arthur. Merlin never noticed how broad in shoulder and chest Arthur was before, but he dwarfs Will and makes Freya look positively waifish. His arms are crossed and his expression is shuttered, and Merlin finds himself dragging his feet.

"Merl! Arthur was just suggesting we meet up Saturday night to work on our strategy," Freya calls, clearly too impatient to wait for Merlin to reach them. "But I told him we were going to party that night?"

Even though they always went to Cenred's parties, Freya made it sound like a question, like it was Merlin's decision. He realises, stopping in front of them, that he and Arthur are about equal in height, yet Arthur makes him feel small for some reason.

"Uh, yeah," he says, addressing Freya, "We always go to Cenred's parties."

"See?" Freya says, tilting her chin up at Arthur, who's staring holes into Merlin's head, "We always go."

"Tuesday then," Arthur says in a voice that makes Merlin think of granite.

"Yeah," Freya says, looking from Will to Merlin, "My house is free Tuesday nights; we can meet there."

Will huffs, indicating he isn't happy but he'll go along with it, Merlin shrugs, and Arthur gives him a stiff nod before pivoting and marching off. Merlin stands, feeling a little like he does when his mum is disappointed in him, and really not sure why.

Saturday night, Gwaine turns up at Cenred's just like he always does. Unexpectedly, he has Arthur in tow.

"The princess wanted to see what all the fuss was about," Gwaine answers Freya's question, which had been directed at Arthur, whilst slinging an arm over Merlin's shoulders and pulling him close. Arthur scowls.

Gwaine spends a good portion of the evening trying to tug Merlin into quiet spots but for reasons he can't pinpoint, Merlin finds himself resisting Gwaine's usual charms. Eventually Gwaine gets the message and, with a confused shrug, turns his attention elsewhere which is why, an hour later, Merlin is watching a lascivious Gwaine tug a giggling Freya towards the stairs.

"Doesn't waste time, does he?"

Merlin jumps at Arthur's voice so near his ear and whirls around to find Arthur very much violating the unwritten personal space rule. He stumbles backward, and Arthur raises an eyebrow, a lazy smile playing around his lips.


"Oh come on, Merlin," Arthur says, leaning against the wall and effectively blocking out the rest of the party. "Even you can't deny he was after you earlier, and quite insistently."

Merlin opens his mouth to deny or retort, to say something, and Arthur leans closer still, an odd glittering in his eye that makes Merlin sweat at the nape of his neck, when Will stumbles up and promptly throws up at Merlin's feet.

"Shit!" Merlin yelps, and both he and Arthur try to jump out of splash-back range, with limited success. Merlin tugs Will up, and takes one look at his white face before hustling him to the door.

"Can you let Freya know I've taken Will home?" he calls back at Arthur, who raises a hand in salute.

"Don't forget strategy meeting on Tuesday," Arthur responds, and Merlin suppresses a shiver at the tone in his voice, which sounds like he's saying something else.

On Monday, Gwaine tries to corner Merlin, presumably to question his uncharacteristic skittishness at the party, but every time he gets near, Arthur materialises out of nowhere and heads him off. Merlin watches the interaction with bemusement and something else that he isn't willing to put a name to.

After that, Gwaine is still friendly but mostly keeps his hands to himself. Merlin, Freya, Will, and Arthur fall into a routine of Tuesday night strategy meets, during which Arthur pushes them all to their limits...and then some. Will inevitably loses his temper, Freya grits her teeth and takes it because she can see how much stronger it's making them as a team, and Merlin...well, Merlin finds his blood sings the more he battles with Arthur by his side, firm arm brushing his and muscular thigh bleeding heat through Merlin's jeans and into his skin.

Under the stands, Arthur returns to respecting their comfortable silence, until the day he walks right up to Merlin and sits down so that they're pressed back to back. Merlin is tense at first, but something about Arthur's solid body reassures him until it becomes just part of his day. They swap sandwiches over each other's shoulders, along with books, homework and, mostly in Arthur's case, strategy notes. Each time, Merlin finds himself grinning like the world is his own personal toy.

The Thursday they place first, Kilgharrah deigns to give them a solemn nod, which is as good as a solid gold star in the A.L.B.I.O.N world, and Freya whoops and punches the air all the way down the street. Even Will allows himself a small victorious smile.

Arthur grabs Merlin's arm, fingers curling around his bicep just as they reach the crossroads where they usually split. Merlin judders to an uncertain halt, only half turning toward the boy, trying to keep his shaking body under control.

"We were good tonight," Arthur says, soft and low, breath stirring the hair above Merlin's ear and making him want to whimper. "But we can be better. There are some strategies we can work on that'll make you and me a stronger unit. Come over to mine Saturday night?"

"Okay," Merlin agrees, mostly to get Arthur to let go. Arthur nods once and releases him, but even in his dazed state, Merlin doesn't miss the smile on Arthur's face, so reminiscent of Will's.

On Saturday, Merlin gets to Arthur's at seven. Freya and Will had been pissed he was breaking their long-standing Saturday night, and Merlin had stuttered out a lame excuse, reluctant somehow to admit to what he was doing in lieu of Cenred's party.

Arthur answers the door on the second ring, bare-footed and bare-chested in soft-looking jogging bottoms, and Merlin fumbles hard for an excuse to back away from the open door and run from all that inviting, clean-smelling skin.

"Are you coming in?" Arthur asks, in a tone that suggests it isn't the first time he's asked, and Merlin blushes so violently he worries he might pass out from it.

"Uh, yeah, I guess," he manages to stutter out, shuffling past Arthur, who's still standing in the doorway.

Arthur's house is ridiculous in its opulence. Merlin tries not to stare, but he can't help his gawking. He's aware of Arthur clearing his throat, and his attention snaps back to the blonde boy, who has uncomfortable written all over his face.

"Come on then," Arthur commands, voice sharp.

He's embarrassed Merlin thinks, and wonders when he learned to read Arthur well enough to tell the difference between annoyance and defensiveness.

Silently, Merlin follows Arthur's bare feet through a twisting corridor and up some stairs and through a door until he's standing in Arthur's bedroom.

"Fuck, your bed is huge!" Merlin blurts, the sheer size of the piece of furniture that dominates the space overriding the awkwardness of the moment. Arthur bursts out laughing, a rich baritone that has Merlin's spine tightening and his toes curling in his trainers.

"Pretty comfortable too," Arthur says, walking past Merlin to flop down onto the bed in question. Merlin stands in the middle of the room, feeling adrift until Arthur smiles and pats the space next to him.

Worried about controlling his reactions, Merlin eases towards him and pauses halfway to sitting down to kick off his shoes, before pushing back onto the most comfortable mattress he's ever had the pleasure of lying on.

"Holy shit," he groans, letting himself just sink down.

"Yeah," Arthur agrees, but his voice sounds deeper than usual.

They lie side by side in familiar silence, until Merlin realises the quiet is allowing his body to register other things. Things like the proximity of Arthur's exposed skin, the way the bed dips slightly towards his greater weight, and how everything smells overwhelmingly of Arthur.

"So yeah," Merlin starts to babble, trying to distract himself. "This strategy you want to..."

"Were you and Gwaine fucking?"

The bluntness of the question startles Merlin into silence, but the nature of it has his hormones surging. Only it's not Gwaine he's thinking about this time... Merlin can feel his heartbeat throbbing at his temple, and in his throat, his blood rushing to his face, and to other parts of him, and he panics, feeling unsure and impossibly young.

"I don't know what you..." he starts, trying to rise from the mattress that seems to want to trap him there next to Arthur's alluring body, feeling shaky and close to tears until a warm hand on his chest presses him back down.

Arthur is there, hovering above him, face slightly anxious but eyes filled with empathy, just holding him there. Merlin tries to breathe around the overwhelming urges pulsing through his muscles, and he trembles beneath Arthur's touch.

"Merlin," Arthur murmurs, and Merlin's heart jumps at the sound, full of longing and promise, "You and Gwaine..."

"We snogged a bit," Merlin says, feeling like the confession is being wrenched out of him, "a few handjobs...but nothing else."

Arthur's whole face relaxes, and he grins at Merlin, so blindingly that Merlin is grateful he's already horizontal. The hand on his chest has begun to massage in slow circles, blunt nails dragging over Merlin's t shirt in a way that leaves him breathless.

"I just," Arthur starts, "I wasn't sure if you were into boys. I just needed to know."

Arthur is moving closer, and Merlin closes his eyes and tries not to hyperventilate at each press of heat and muscle and Arthur against his body.

"Merlin," Arthur murmurs again, voice fond and wanting all at once, and Merlin gasps in air at the touch of lips against the corner of his mouth.

This isn't his first kiss, not by three years, but it feels more significant than any that's come before. Arthur's mouth is tender yet insistent as he explores Merlin's lips with small licks and gentle tugs. Merlin can feel his heart hammering in his stomach as Arthur presses closer, hot all down his front, using the tip of his tongue to encourage Merlin's lips to part. Merlin is too frozen with arousal and indecision to respond.

After a few seconds, Arthur pulls back and looks at Merlin with something close to mortification on his face, and Merlin realises he has to man up before he loses his chance with Arthur Pendragon.

As Arthur is moving to pull further away, Merlin forces his arms up and around Arthur's neck, losing a groan at the feel of the solid muscles there. Arthur pauses, looking down, unsure, but Merlin tugs at his neck, determined now.

His stomach is tight and full of anxiety, and his cock is heavy and full between his legs, but he's determined to push past the fear and humiliation of wanting this so badly to actually get it.

Arthur willingly lowers himself with a quiet moan, which turns not so quiet when his hips connect with Merlin's and their mutual arousal becomes apparent to them both. Arthur allows Merlin to pull his head closer, until their lips are just touching and Merlin can feel his own trembling.

Arthur smiles against Merlin's mouth and tilts his head, still allowing Merlin the control. It's this small capitulation that lets Merlin to find the courage to slip his tongue past Arthur's lips and into his mouth.

The kiss lingers on into the evening, sometimes frantic, sometimes soft, and almost overwhelming except for the fact that it's Arthur - who sits in silence with him and games alongside him - whose mouth is moving against his own, whose body is heavy and reassuring on top of him, whose hips are rocking a gentle but insistent rhythm against Merlin's.

When Arthur groans into Merlin's mouth, shuddering all over, Merlin eases him through it, stroking Arthur's tongue with his own and letting his fingers trail the straining muscles of his back. The kiss, and the fact that it's Arthur, and Arthur's orgasm-loose body pressing down on him, pushes Merlin to follow swiftly. Arthur keeps Merlin's mouth open, pressing his tongue inside as Merlin goes slick and sweet inside, gasping against Arthur's grin.

"First proper kiss?" Arthur asks afterwards.

"First one that's mattered," Merlin replies, earning himself another.

Thank you for reading and feel free to leave me your thoughts.