A/N: This was written for the hs_merlin fest over at LiveJournal.
"Hey, Merlin, pass me another peg would you?" The wind whips at Gwaine's hair as he speaks. He raises a muddy hand and pushes the damp strands off his forehead.
They couldn't have worse weather for camping really, Merlin reflected. It was just fucking typical that after two weeks of sunshine it would decide to rain, today of all days.
He reaches for one of the metal tent pegs and chucks it over at Gwaine who catches it deftly with a grin. "Cheers, mate."
The wind gusts again, the rain stinging Merlin's face as the tent fabric ripples and flutters. He pegs his corner down tight, pushing it deep into the soil, hoping it will hold.
"Well done, boys, nearly there," Mr Owens pauses to check their handiwork, then rustles away busily, clad in top to toe waterproofs.
Merlin just glances across at Gwaine again who gives him a sympathetic grin of shared suffering.
Their spirits lift a little once the tents are up, and the group retire to the scout hut for lunch. With food inside him, Merlin feels a little more positive about the prospect of an eight mile hike that afternoon.
He looks around at the others, watching from the edge as always. Merlin has never been one of the in-crowd but that doesn't usually bother him. Something about him keeps people at a distance, some difference about him that they seem to sense. But Merlin's a master at blending into the background, putting up a subtle shield of invisibility that stops people taking any notice of him. In this way he's managed to live a quiet life at school, rarely included but not a victim of bullying or even much teasing. He's mostly just left alone and that suits him fine.
He watches Gwaine as he throws his head back and laughs at something that Arthur Pendragon says. The dark boy flicks his now dry hair out of his eyes and slaps Arthur on the shoulder, a casual gesture of friendly affection. Merlin finds Gwaine fascinating. He's so confident, so sure of himself.
Merlin watched as Gwaine arrived, new at school for the sixth form, and was accepted effortlessly. He made it look so easy to be popular. If he wasn't such a genuinely nice bloke it might have made Merlin feel a little resentful or envious. But Merlin can't do anything other than like him, because he's kind and funny, but also weirdly flirtatious sometimes in a way that makes Merlin feel hot all over.
The prospect of sharing a tiny tent with him for a night is a little bit more exciting than Merlin's happy with, if he's honest. He couldn't believe his luck when Mr Owens paired them together.
The weather lets up a little for the hike. It's still unseasonably cold for late April, and the wind is strong and gusty, but the rain eases and Merlin's relieved when his trousers dry out a little.
They fall into a straggly line as they walk. Merlin enjoys the view as they climb higher. He looks back down at the lay-by where the minibus is parked. It looks comically tiny now, and the few cars that pass it on the road are like colourful beetles, crawling along far below.
"Alright, mate," Merlin is jolted out of his solitude as Gwaine catches him up from somewhere behind, falling into step beside him.
Gwaine always makes the effort to include Merlin when others have long given up on him. Merlin is absurdly grateful, if a little bemused. They have little in common, but Merlin's always surprised how easy it is to talk to Gwaine. They just slip into easy banter about nothing in particular and it's kind of soothing. But the looks that Gwaine occasionally flashes Merlin from under his eyelashes are something entirely different. He confuses Merlin, makes him wonder if he's misreading everything, is just seeing what he wants to see in the other boy's face.
When they stumble back into the scout hut in the evening they are all exhausted, but high on the energy of being back at base, finished for the day.
Merlin's feet ache and he has a blister coming on his left heel. He kicks his boots off and sprawls on a chair, lifting his foot up and peeling his sock off to inspect the damage.
"That looks nasty," Gwaine hisses sympathetically. "Better get a plaster on that."
"I'll live," Merlin grins. He's just happy that there's no more walking to do.
They manage to get a campfire going after dinner. Mr Owens is determined not to be defeated by the weather.
"It's not proper camping unless you have a fire," he insists.
Nobody argues, after all - who doesn't love a good campfire?
They sit around, poking it with sticks, unable to resist piling on more wood, trying to make it burn hotter, brighter. The wind has dropped a little and the rain holds off long enough for them to burn marshmallows and char the outside of some sausages. The smoke makes Merlin's eyes sting, the unpredictable breeze meaning that no matter where you sit around the circle you can't quite escape it. He can smell it on his hands, almost feel it coating his skin. It smells of outdoors and warmth, something primal and instinctively appealing.
Eventually the rain starts up again and they're driven to bed as the drizzle turns into larger drops, soaking them suddenly and making them scatter for shelter. They use the basic washing facilities in the scout hut before turning in for the night. The toothpaste on Merlin's breath feels sharp and fresh, surprising compared to the woodsmoke ingrained in his hair and skin.
He crawls into the tiny space of the tent and finds Gwaine already lying there, like a fat chrysalis in his sleeping bag. Merlin props his torch up to give himself enough light to change by, wriggling out of his damp jeans and into some tracksuit bottoms. He keeps his t-shirt on, not wanting to give up the warmth of it next to his skin to change into anything different. He catches Gwaine's eye as he wriggles awkwardly into his sleeping bag.
"You warm enough?" Merlin asks him.
"Yeah, not bad now I've been in here a minute," Gwaine's teeth flash in the torchlight as he grins.
Merlin switches his torch off and shifts around, getting comfortable on the slightly inadequate foam mat. Luckily the grass under the tent is quite thick, so the ground isn't too hard. He lies on his back and listens to the sound of the rain beating down on the tent, the dull roar is almost soothing, like white noise. Merlin yawns; he doesn't think he's going to have too much trouble falling asleep.
"I hope you don't snore," Gwaine's voice comes out of the darkness, teasing.
"Not that I've been told," Merlin replies.
"I used to sleep-walk when I was younger," Gwaine remarks. "Used to get up in the night and pee in weird places, my mum's wardrobe, down the stairs... stuff like that."
Merlin bursts out laughing. "Seriously? And now you tell me this?"
"It's okay, I haven't done it for years, not since I was like... twelve or something."
"Well that's slightly reassuring I suppose," Merlin snorts.
"I promise I won't pee on you in the night," Gwaine chuckles. "Scouts honour."
"You're not a scout," Merlin points out.
"Yeah... well I promise anyway."
They fall silent for a while. Merlin is still feeling chilly, so he turns onto his side and curls around himself, snuggling deeper into his sleeping bag. Just as he's starting to warm up and feeling the heaviness of sleep crawl over him he hears Gwaine again.
"Good night," he replies, smiling into the darkness.
"Bollocks, buggery, fuck!"
Merlin is pulled from slumber by loud cursing and the sound of Gwaine flailing around next to him.
"Whassup?" Merlin grunts, fumbling around to find a torch. "You okay?"
"My fucking sleeping bag is soaked through," Gwaine is sitting up now, scowling in the dim light from Merlin's torch. "Oi, stop shining it in my eyes will you?"
"Sorry," Merlin redirects the beam of light at Gwaine's sleeping bag. Sure enough the fabric is dark and shiny with moisture. "But how...?" Merlin's brain is still catching up with the situation.
"I think the tent's leaking on my side," Gwaine grumbles. "I must have rolled off my mat and was all pressed up against the side and the water wicked through." He shifts in his wet sleeping bag and winces. "My fucking pyjamas are wet through too. Jesus!"
"Fuck," Merlin says helplessly, still holding the torch aloft. "Do you think we should wake one of the teachers and see if they've got any spare blankets or anything?"
The rain is still lashing down on the outside of the tent and Gwaine shivers visibly as he shrugs. "I don't know... maybe?"
"Or," Merlin swallows, self-conscious. "You could always just share mine if you want... I mean... if you go outside you'll just get even colder, and if we share you'll warm up pretty quick." He feels his cheeks flame and is glad that Gwaine won't be able to see the colour rise in his face. He's just trying to help out a mate, it's freezing outside and pissing down with rain. He doesn't really want to send Gwaine out in it if there's no need.
Gwaine shudders from the cold again, teeth chattering as he chuckles. "Are you sure about that? I'll have to strip off, because I don't have any dry clothes left. Mum told me I should pack more, I wish I'd listened to her now."
"I'm sure I'll cope," Merlin replies, face still hot. "Get over here before you freeze to death."
He lies back down and tries not to ogle as Gwaine strips down to his pants. He's pretty fit, lean with a dark line of hair on his belly that draws Merlin's eyes down to the bulge in his boxer briefs. He looks away hurriedly, belatedly questioning the wisdom of his generous offer to share his bedding.
Fitting two teenage boys into one mummy sleeping bag proves to be a challenge. Merlin unzips it a bit while Gwaine wriggles in behind him, jamming his knees into the back of Merlin's thighs.
"Ouch," Merlin complains.
"Sorry," Gwaine's breath is warm on Merlin's neck as he moves in closer. "I am going to have to kind of snuggle up to you if this is going to work at all, you realise?"
"Uh... yeah, I suppose," Merlin huffs, trying not to jump as Gwaine throws an arm around his chest and presses up close behind him.
Once Gwaine is settled, Merlin draws the zip back up as far as he can, but can't quite get it all the way due to the combined width of their shoulders. They leave it open at the top and just tuck it around themselves as much as they can.
"You okay there?" Gwaine murmurs, barely audible over the sound of the rain. "Hope I'm not making you cold."
"I'm fine," Merlin assures him. It's true that he's not cold; his whole body seems to be radiating heat and he can feel that his cock has got hard at some point in the proceedings, and is now caught uncomfortably in the fabric of his clothes. But there's no way that he can adjust it without Gwaine noticing.
Merlin lies still and tries to calm himself down, focusing on breathing slowly and feeling the heat building between them as Gwaine warms up and stops shivering. His arm relaxes over Merlin's chest and becomes heavier and Merlin wonders whether he's dozed off. But then Gwaine shifts slightly, cuddling closer and Merlin gasps a shocked breath as he feels the hard line of Gwaine's cock against his arse.
"Sorry," Gwaine's mouth is right by his ear, his breath warm and moist and deliciously ticklish.
He doesn't sound very sorry.
There's a long pause and Merlin holds his breath. And then one of them moves, or maybe both of them. Merlin isn't sure who instigates it, and actually he doesn't really care, because there's definite movement happening. Gwaine's erection is rubbing against his arse and his hand is slipping slowly but deliberately down Merlin's chest and stomach. Merlin lets out the air in his lungs with a mortifying whimper as Gwaine cups his prick through his clothes and finds out that Merlin is hard too.
"Fuck... yeah," Gwaine whispers, hot in his ear as his hand curls around Merlin and starts to rub. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah," Merlin presses into his hand. "God... yeah."
And then Gwaine's hand is plucking at the waistband of his trousers and boxers and burrowing in to find Merlin's bare cock and it's suddenly very much more than just okay. They settle into an awkward rhythm for a couple of minutes, Gwaine's hand working as he grinds his own erection into Merlin's arse. But then Merlin twists around, wanting to feel Gwaine's dick in his hand, not through three layers of clothing.
"Oof," Gwaine protests as Merlin elbows him in the stomach.
"Sorry," Merlin gasps. "I just wanna..."
He shoves his hand into Gwaine's pants, and Gwaine shuts up pretty quickly and wraps his hand around Merlin again now they're face to face.
Gwaine's cock is hot and silky in Merlin's hand and they stroke each other slowly at first, foreheads pressed together, sharing each other's breath. And then Gwaine shifts slightly, pressing his slack mouth against Merlin's and sucking on Merlin's lower lip. Merlin kisses him back, messy and inexperienced and desperate, wanting so much.
Gwaine breaks away from Merlin's lips and licks down his jaw, sucking on his pulse point as his hand starts to move faster. Merlin can feel his pre-cum leaking, slicking the movement and he runs his thumb over the head of Gwaine's cock, finding that he's wet too. He feels lost, overwhelmed by the sensations flooding through his body. As Gwaine sucks harder on his neck and bites down, Merlin's cock jerks in his hand and he comes, spurting in Gwaine's fist. Gwaine moans against Merlin's skin and shudders as he comes too, warm wetness seeping through Merlin's t-shirt.
There's a moment of stillness as they lie, panting. And Merlin starts to freak out, because what the fuck just happened? He's never done anything like that with anyone before and now here he is, face to face with Gwaine and covered in jizz and he has no idea what's supposed to happen now.
But just as he feels the panic rise, Gwaine moves, grabbing the front of Merlin's already-sticky t-shirt and wiping both of their hands with it.
"Eww," Merlin protests.
"Take it off," Gwaine murmurs, pushing it up, helping Merlin pull it over his head.
And then Gwaine's arms are around Merlin, pulling him close and he buries his face in Merlin's neck, his lips moving softly over Merlin's skin. Merlin doesn't know what to do with his hands, he wants to hug back but he's paralyzed by anxiety and uncertainty.
"You're freaking out aren't you," Gwaine words are muffled by Merlin's shoulder.
"Um... yeah. A little," Merlin admits, tentatively letting his palms open against the smooth skin of Gwaine's back.
"There's no need," Gwaine sounds very sure.
And Merlin wants to ask him what he means, what he wants from Merlin; because Merlin wants all sorts of things from Gwaine but he's not sure whether they're on the same page at all. But before he can articulate any of that Gwaine is kissing him again, soft and sweet and searching, and Merlin just melts into it and decides that talking is overrated.
They kiss until they get hard again, and by the time they've brought each other off for a second time and kissed some more, they're both hollowed out with tiredness. At some point during the night the rain has finally stopped and they can hear the birds beginning to sing outside as they finally fall asleep, wrapped tightly together in Merlin's sleeping bag.
"Wakey, wakey! Rise and shine!"
Merlin jerks awake spluttering, his mouth full of Gwaine's hair, as Mr Owens' footsteps pass their tent, his cheery morning greeting cutting into Merlin's slumber like a blade. Gwaine stirs in his arms and lifts his head off Merlin's shoulder to peer at him through bleary eyes, but his smile is as bright as ever.
"Morning," he says, meeting Merlin's eyes. Merlin feels his cheeks flush hot.
"Hi," he mutters, suddenly achingly aware of every inch of Gwaine's bare skin pressed up against his own. Merlin shed his tracksuit bottoms at some point during the nighttime shenanigans and they're both clad only in underwear.
Gwaine shifts and presses a kiss to Merlin's jaw, his stubble scratchy, breath a little stale. He grinds against Merlin's leg a little and Merlin can feel Gwaine's morning erection, stiff and hot through his pants. It makes his own cock throb a little.
Merlin licks his lips nervously. "Um... we should really..." he trails off.
"Yeah... I know," Gwaine sighs. "He'll be back again if we don't show our faces soon."
They peel themselves apart reluctantly and Merlin tries not to look at Gwaine as they both ferret around in search of some clothes that aren't soaking wet or covered in spunk. Once they're both dressed they stare at each other for a moment and Merlin forces himself to hold Gwaine's gaze.
"So, last night," Gwaine begins. Merlin braces himself for being told it was a one-off, a mistake, an experiment, not something that's going to happen again. "That was pretty awesome," Gwaine smiles, looking uncertain. It's not an expression that Merlin's ever seen on his face before.
He swallows hard and feels his face split into a tentative smile back. "Yeah... well... I thought so, yeah."
"So, maybe we could hang out next week?" Gwaine suggests. "And by hang out, I mean do more of that."
Merlin laughs then, shocked into giggles as a jolt of fierce happiness shoots through him. "Yeah, okay."
"Right then," Gwaine moves to unzip the tent. "I don't know about you but I'm fucking starving. Let's go and get breakfast."
Merlin drifts through the morning in an exhausted glow, the memory of last night curled warm and comforting in his chest. Whenever he catches Gwaine's eye and they share a little secret grin he has to tamp it down, to stop himself from grinning like an idiot.
They pack up and take the tent down before the morning trip to a local mining museum. Gwaine sticks close to Merlin throughout, chatting easily as though nothing has changed. But Merlin knows that everything is different now.
They sit side by side on the minibus on the way home and Merlin thrills at the warm pressure of Gwaine's thigh against his own as every bump in the road jolts them, knocking them together. Merlin starts in surprise as he feels Gwaine take his hand and lace their fingers together.
"Is this okay?" Gwaine asks, leaning close, speaking quietly.
Merlin flashes a glance around the minibus. Arthur and Percival are sitting on the seat adjacent to theirs, currently oblivious. But Merlin's pretty sure someone will notice if they sit there holding hands.
"Yeah," he grins, daring, squeezing Gwaine's fingers gently and Gwaine smiles back.
Merlin figures that there are worse ways of drawing attention to himself.
A/N: Thanks for reading! If you liked this, check out my other fic on my profile.