Friday, May 11, 2012
Merlin dashed out of his room in a disheveled blur. His shirt was buttoned wrong, he only had one sock on, and he couldn't find his tie.
Arthur was standing calmly by the stove, already dressed in a perfectly pressed suit and a perfectly straight tie. He was making breakfast - scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee - and humming to himself.
"Have you seen my tie?" Merlin asked, running his hands all over the kitchen table. He flung Arthur's newspaper to the floor and nearly upended several potted cacti.
"No, Merlin," Arthur said with a long-suffering sigh. "I have not seen your tie."
"Can I borrow one of your good ties?" Merlin asked, sneaking up next to Arthur to sniff at the eggs. "I have a really important meeting this morning."
"No. Last time you borrowed a tie, it got set on fire."
"Technically, that was Will's fault," Merlin pointed out.
"The answer is still no."
Merlin rolled his eyes and retreated from the kitchen to continue his search, mumbling to himself about how Arthur was the worst flatmate in the history of flatmates.
"I can hear you," Arthur said in a bored voice. "Do you want breakfast or no?"
"What I wantis to find my tie," Merlin shouted from where he was on his hands and knees by the couch.
"Maybe you should look into purchasing another," Arthur said sensibly, coming into the living room with a mug full of coffee for Merlin. "Only owning one tie isn't exactly working out for you."
"I don't want to buy another one. I want to find the one I already have."
"Come and have breakfast. Maybe you'll remember where it is after you've eaten."
Merlin glared up at Arthur, but got to his feet anyway. He dusted off his knees and took the mug from Arthur with a hum of thanks.
"Are you going to be all right on your own tonight?" Arthur asked, grinning. "You won't burn down the flat trying to make dinner or anything?"
"I'm perfectly capable of cooking without setting things on fire," Merlin protested as he followed Arthur back into the kitchen. "Do you have plans or something?"
"I've got a date," Arthur explained. He slid some scrambled eggs onto a plate and handed them to Merlin.
"Who's the lucky lady tonight?" Merlin snatched a piece of toast just as it popped up from the toaster before sitting down at the table.
"Her name's Mithian," Arthur said, shrugging.
"And who set you up this time?" Merlin asked with a knowing smile.
Arthur gave him a dangerous glare and said nothing.
"He probably means well enough," Merlin said kindly. Arthur set down a tub of butter on the table and Merlin made quick work of smearing some all over his toast.
"My father does not mean well," Arthur grumbled. He sat down across the table and stared mournfully down at his plate of scrambled eggs and toast. "He means for me to get married."
"Someone should probably tell him that people don't really do arranged marriages these days," Merlin said around a mouthful of toast.
Arthur gave him a pitying look before digging into his own breakfast.
They ate in silence until the food was gone and they were left with only their lukewarm coffee.
"What's your meeting for?" Arthur asked, looking at Merlin over the edge of his coffee mug.
"Funding," Merlin said grumpily. "Some big corporation wants to give us money, so I have to go meet with them and explain exactly what our organization does and why we're the most effective nonprofit they can fund and show them where their money would go... stuff like that."
"That's good, though, right? You've been complaining about low funds for months."
"Yeah, it's good. I just hate meeting with those big corporate types. You know me, I get intimidated. They're so fucking professional all the time. And I'm... well, I'm me."
"You're good at your job," Arthur said sensibly. "I'm sure you'll impress them."
"Well, I won't be able to impress them if I can't even bother to show up in a tie." Merlin set down his coffee mug and went to check between the couch cushions.
"You could always buy one on your way to work," Arthur suggested as he gathered up their dishes.
Merlin lifted up the middle couch cushion and uncovered a remote. He grabbed it and looked at it carefully. It only had one big red button and it didn't seem to have a battery compartment.
"What's this for?"
Merlin heard the dishes clang as Arthur set them down in the kitchen sink.
"What's what for?" Arthur asked, coming back into the living room.
"This remote." Merlin held it up. "What's it go to?"
"Probably one of your weird sex toys."
"Ha ha ha," Merlin said dryly. He pointed the remote at the telly and pressed the big red button.
Merlin held out his hands and screamed a spell. He could feel the magic bursting forth from his very core. He shook with the force of it, and then the ceiling on the other half of the council room collapsed. He glanced over at Arthur, who looked deeply shaken but was still fighting with a soldier. Arthur knocked the solider over the head with the butt of his sword and then stared incredulously at Merlin.
"Did you just use-"
Arthur trailed off and looked slowly around the castle. Merlin looked too, taking in the old stone walls and the collapsed wooden table.
"Is this - what is this?" Arthur asked, running his hands over his armour. "Where's my suit?"
A loud crash came from somewhere behind the debris of the collapsed ceiling.
"We should go," Merlin said as he looked around for an exit. "Here's a hallway." He bolted for it and Arthur followed behind him, armour clanging loudly. Merlin ducked into the first room he reached and scanned it quickly, hoping desperately that no one was hiding and waiting to attack.
Arthur waddled awkwardly into the room, trying his hardest not to make any noise. He closed the door behind him and turned to look at Merlin with a panic-stricken expression.
"We're going to die, aren't we?"
Merlin shook his head with no conviction.
They stood still for a few moments, listening to the sounds of a violent battle coming in through the windows. Merlin tried his hardest not to look around the room, but he couldn't help himself. Everything was so familiar. He could imagine the dresses that were hanging in the cupboard, and he could rememberthe smell of burnt window curtains.
"Where are we?" Merlin finally asked, unable to stay in his thoughts any longer.
"I think the more appropriate question might be 'when are we?'" Arthur lifted up his sword and inspected it closely. "Look at all the stuff engraved on this."
Merlin gulped and let his fingers trail along the back of a chair. "Arthur, does this... does this place look somehow, um... familiar to you?"
"In a Disney castle sort of way, sure," Arthur said, still admiring his sword.
"No, I'm serious." Merlin glanced over at the large bed. "This... this is Morgana's room."
Arthur snorted. "You think my sister lives in this room?"
"Lived," Merlin said, knowing he sounded absolutely crazy. "Past... past tense. And I... I did magic."
Arthur barked out a loud laugh. "You did not!"
"I did!" Merlin insisted. "I made that ceiling collapse."
Arthur rolled his eyes in amusement, but Merlin could see the moment when the memories clicked into place in Arthur's head. Arthur blinked and his smile faltered and then he looked at his sword again.
"Wait..." Arthur frowned intensely at his sword, almost as if he was waiting for an explanation to appear on its silver blade.
Merlin stared down at his hands and flexed his fingers. They had been warm and tingling when he'd done the spell. He rubbed them together, but they stayed cold and magicless. He could feel the magic humming and buzzing somewhere inside of him, but he had no idea how to release it again.
"I'm getting the weirdest deja vu right now," Arthur said quietly, staring around the room as if he was seeing it for the first time.
"I told you," Merlin said without any bite.
"We must have hit our heads or something," Arthur said reasonably.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "That's not what happened. You were there! I found that remote and-"
"Am I wearing a crown?" Arthur asked loudly, his hands feeling the elaborate gold band on his head.
"Focus!" Merlin shouted, but it was no use.
"I am, though!" Arthur said triumphantly as he lifted the crown off his head to inspect it properly. "Am I King?" He grinned at Merlin. "Are you my Court Sorcerer?"
Merlin shrugged helplessly. "I guess, maybe, yeah. We should find that remote."
"This is the weirdest dream." Arthur put his crown back on and slipped his sword back into its sheath.
"I really don't think it's a dream," Merlin said quietly. He checked his clothes for pockets but found none.
"Right, because finding a magical time travel remote under our couch cushions is a much more logical explanation."
"Shut up," Merlin muttered, trying to remember if he'd dropped the remote in the other room. "I'm being serious."
The door burst open and Arthur clumsily tried to pull his sword back out. Merlin's mouth dropped open when he saw Arthur's co-worker and oldest friend, Leon, side-step into the room with another sword at the ready.
"Your Majesty!" Leon said, sounding immensely relieved.
Arthur gaped at his friend, utterly bewildered. "Yes?" he asked, clearly uncertain if Leon had been addressing him.
Leon eyed Merlin suspiciously. "Are you safe?" he asked Arthur.
Arthur glanced curiously at Merlin, then looked back at Leon. "I believe so."
Leon frowned slightly. "Sire, I... have you known all along?"
"What?" Arthur asked stupidly.
"No offense, sire, but you seem remarkably calm given the circumstances."
Merlin saw Arthur's knuckles go white from gripping his sword so hard.
"The, um... the circumstances..."
Leon turned impatiently to Merlin. "Has he been injured?"
"No, he's just a bit slow," Merlin said before he could stop himself.
Leon's lips twitched. "I see."
Arthur looked between his two friends and then pouted. "Can someone please explain to me what the hell is going on here?"
Leon's brow furrowed in concern. "Morgana and Mordred are attacking Camelot," he said slowly. "And... well, Merlin..." He glanced guiltily at Merlin, clearly not wanting to say whatever it was that Merlin had done.
Merlin looked down at his hands again and was hit with a gut-deep sense of panic that made him want to run from the room. Magic was supposed to be a secret. Arthur clearly wouldn't care - Arthur probably wouldn't even believe it - but this medieval version of Leon was obviously worried.
"Spit it out, mate!" Arthur said when Leon continued to hesitate.
Leon gave Merlin a confused glance before turned back to Arthur. "Well, Merlin... he used magic, sire. To - to save your life."
Merlin bit back an 'I told you so.'
"You can't be serious," Arthur said blankly, looking between Merlin and Leon again.
"I saw it with my own eyes," Leon said apologetically.
"Shit," Arthur muttered, giving Merlin an appraising look. Merlin bared his teeth.
Leon watched them making faces at each other for a moment and then cleared his throat. "Yes. Well, if that's all, I suggest we get out of these chambers and into the woods. Some of the other knights are at the old castle with the round table. We should be safe there."
"Right." Arthur looked uncertainly at Merlin. "Should we go?"
Leon looked back from where he was already standing by the door. "Sire?"
Merlin nodded at Arthur, unable to think of any other plan. Arthur nodded back at him, then gestured for Leon to lead the way.
Getting to the old castle involved a lot of running and hiding behind things, even when they were out of the castle and moving through the woods. Leon gave whispered updates to Arthur every chance he got, but Merlin could see in Arthur's face that Arthur wasn't registering any of the news. So-and-so was killed. So-and-so was missing. So-and-so was defending the townspeople. So-and-so should be waiting for them at the round table, if they weren't intercepted and killed on the way.
After what felt like hours, they finally reached another castle. It looked impossibly old, but Merlin still somehow felt like he had seen it before. Leon led them through countless hallways, but it all seemed familiar.
When they reached the round table, Merlin wasn't quite surprised to see his former flatmate Gwaine reclining in one of the old wooden chairs. Gwaine grinned at their entrance and stood to greet them.
Merlin and Arthur tried to be polite and listen to Leon and Gwaine exchanging strategies for how to save Camelot from an army that sounded far too big, but eventually they stepped into a dimly lit hallway, away from their friends.
"I'm getting a really bad feeling about this," Arthur whispered. "This place, I mean. I feel like... like something really bad is about to happen."
"Me too," Merlin said, relieved that he wasn't the only one with a sense of foreboding. "We really need to find that remote."
Arthur licked his lips nervously as Merlin started checking for pockets again. "You really think we... jumped back in time?"
"Yes," Merlin said shortly. "We're not dreaming. I mean, look around. This place, these clothes - it all feels so familiar, in the most unnerving way. I don't wantit to be familiar... it just is."
Arthur nodded. "So, how do we... I mean... I really don't fancy staying here."
"Me neither," Merlin agreed, patting himself down. "I feel like I should do a strip search of myself or something."
"Maybe you should," Arthur said in a low voice. "I'll go distract them."
Merlin rolled his eyes as Arthur moved back into the round table room. He undid his belt and started removing his clothes, careful to listen for signs of Arthur returning.
"What's the plan?" Merlin heard Gwaine's ever cheerful voice.
Arthur's armour clanged and Merlin imagined that he was trying to sit down at the table.
"We're working on it," Arthur said vaguely.
"We?" Gwaine asked.
"Well, me and Merlin..."
Merlin winced as he dropped his shirt to the floor, wondering if it was out of line for the king to be strategising with sorcerers.
"So, you're not going to execute him?" Gwaine asked warily.
Arthur gave an offended scoff. "Why would I do that?"
"Well, he's... he has magic."
Merlin cursed in his head as he stepped out of his trousers. Apparently it wasout of line for the king to strategise with sorcerers.
"Oh. Right," Arthur said quietly.
"But you won't hurt him?" Gwaine asked. "Or banish him?" he added protectively.
Merlin smiled slightly and slipped off his boots. The remote clanged to the floor and he snatched it up quickly.
"Good." Gwaine said, sounding relieved. "Where's Guinevere?'
"No, she's - well, I thought maybe you would know. Last I heard, Elyan went to find her and bring her here."
Merlin redressed himself quickly, wondering how many more of his and Arthur's friends were in this time. He had thought he'd heard Leon mention a few familiar names on their way to this castle, but he hadn't quite believed it at the time.
"Good," Arthur said vaguely.
Merlin stepped into the room and saw Arthur and Gwaine sitting at the table. Leon was gone.
"Arthur!" he hissed.
Arthur stood and walked calmly over to the hallway, and Gwaine did not follow.
"Can we leave yet?" he asked once they were farther down the hallway and out of Gwaine's sight. "I don't like it here anymore."
"You're like a child," Merlin said, rolling his eyes.
"Did you figure out how to get us home?" Arthur asked, ignoring the jibe.
"Yes." Merlin grinned and held up the remote. "It was in my boot."
"Of course it was," Arthur said dryly. "Just hit the button and get us out of here."
Merlin's finger hovered over the red button. "Ready?"
Gwen had a glass of champagne in one hand and a long cigarette holder in the other. She took a long drag off the cigarette, exhaled over her shoulder, and then turned to smile sweetly at Merlin.
"I know you've managed to, well, sway men before, but I really don't think Arthur is... swayable."
Merlin shrugged, determined not to let her deter him. "He's too lovely to give up on so easily. I just need more time."
Gwen laughed. "You've got it bad, don't you? This isn't like you."
Merlin opened his mouth to respond, but found he had no words to say. He glanced around the room he was in, trying to figure out where he was and, more importantly, why he wasn't back at his and Arthur's flat. As far as he could tell, he was in some sort of parlour room. There were dozens of other people spread out across the room, each more beautiful than the next. The men were in finely tailored trousers and tight white button-down shirts with the sleeves rolled up. The women were in brightly colored dresses, some of which had swirling floral designs and some of which were covered in long fringe.
There was a bar in the far corner and that was where Merlin's wandering eye finally landed on Arthur. Arthur was leaning back against the bar and surveying the room with interest, as if he wasn't bothered in the slightest by the fact that the remote hadn't worked. Arthur picked out Merlin in the crowd and shot him a wide grin.
"Would you excuse me?"
Merlin walked away from Gwen without waiting for a response, but he could hear her calling out "Shameless!" after him.
He weaved through several small clusters of people, careful not to bump into anyone or draw attention to himself.
Arthur offered him a cigar when he reached the bar, but Merlin shook his head.
"Where are we now?" Arthur asked before taking a puff of his own cigar. "And why is everyone looking at us?"
Merlin glanced behind him and saw that at least half of the party guests were watching him and Arthur closely. Most of them looked amused, and Gwen was smirking at him.
Merlin turned back around and fought not to blush. "Don't worry about it," he said quickly.
"I have a right to worry," Arthur said, looking at someone behind Merlin. "Morgana's in a flapper dress."
Merlin glanced over his shoulder and saw Morgana approaching Gwen. She was in a rather showy dress, and she also had a long string of pearls around her neck, and a large white feather sticking out of her hair.
"I'm guessing we're in the 20s," Merlin said, turning back to Arthur.
Arthur was eying Merlin from head to toe, and he looked impressed. Merlin blushed and looked down at himself. Unlike most of the other men in the room, Merlin had a sweater vest on over his shirt. He was also wearing white trousers.
"You look good," Arthur said appreciatively.
Merlin could feel himself blushing even deeper. "Thanks," he muttered. He slipped his hands into his pockets and was relieved to feel the remote resting against his right thigh. "I still have the remote. I don't know if it's safe to use again."
"You're suggesting that it's safer just to stay here?" Arthur asked skeptically.
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know."
Arthur sighed and set down his cigar in an ashtray. He looked around the room for a moment, then dropped his gaze to the floor. "I'm getting deja vu again."
Merlin turned to see if there was anything in the room that was familiar to him, but all he could see was Gwaine kissing someone who looked suspiciously like their friend Lance.
"This is a very strange party," Merlin said, forcing himself to look away.
"Why is Leon winking at me?" Arthur asked, sounding alarmed.
Merlin caught sight of a giant clock on the wall and felt his heart stutter slightly. "Now I'm getting deja vu," he said, squinting at the pendulum.
"Maybe we should have a drink," Arthur suggested.
"But we've only just had breakfast," Merlin pointed out.
Arthur stared at him for a moment, then doubled over in laughter. Merlin watched and couldn't help but join in Arthur's raucous laughter.
"Now, now," Morgana appeared at their sides with a mischievous smirk on her face. "You're not actually flirting with Mister Emrys here, are you?"
"Mister Emrys?" Arthur looked at his sister as though she had lost her mind.
"I knew you'd like him," Morgana chided, then turned to Merlin. "You should show Arthur your photographs."
"My - my photographs," Merlin said slowly. Something clicked into place in the back of his mind, but he still couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Your portfolio's still upstairs," Morgana said as she backed away. "Go show off." She turned around and immediately struck up a conversation with Gwaine and Lance, who had finally stopped necking.
Arthur watched her for a few seconds, then turned his attention back to Merlin. "Should I be concerned that Morgana is trying to set us up?"
"I wouldn't think about it too hard. Wouldn't want you to hurt yourself."
"So witty," Arthur said, rolling his eyes. "Come on, let's go find your portfolio."
Merlin followed Arthur out of the parlour. They walked through two rooms before coming to a grand staircase.
"Where are we going?" Merlin asked as they started climbing the steps.
"Somewhere private so we can use that remote to get the hell out of here," Arthur said in a low voice.
Merlin pulled the remote out of his pocket once they'd reached the first floor landing. "Ready?" he asked.
"No, wait!" Arthur grabbed Merlin's wrist to stop him from pressing the red button. "I want to see your photographs."
"But I don't know where they are," Merlin protested as Arthur started off down the hall. "They could be anywhere."
"I think..." Arthur ducked into a room, then stuck his head back out a moment later. "In here."
Merlin sighed and followed Arthur into the room. There was a thin folder lying on a low table in the middle of the room.
"How did you know?" Merlin asked, sitting on the couch near the table.
Arthur sat next to him and picked up the folder. "I think this might be my father's manor."
Merlin raised his eyebrows. "Holy shit. You're even more loaded in the 1920s than you are now. Er, I mean, than you are in the future."
Arthur opened the folder and started looking through the photographs. Merlin kept his eyes on the remote. He tried to find the battery compartment again, but it was still missing. The remote was one smooth piece of metal, with the one exception of the red button.
"These are good," Arthur said after a few minutes. He passed the portfolio over to Merlin.
"Thanks, I guess," Merlin muttered. He traced his fingers around the edges of the folder. "This is so weird."
"Tell me about it. It felt like I'd seen all those photos before."
Merlin took a deep breath and opened his portfolio. The first picture was of the clock in the downstairs parlour room. A strange memory crept into his mind and suddenly he could picture himself behind a camera, focusing the lens, making sure the lighting was just right, shooing Morgana out of the frame.
"I remember taking these," he said, his voice barely a whisper. He turned to the next photograph and was hit with another memory.
"Yeah?" Arthur asked, curious.
Merlin nodded and closed the folder. "This is getting more insane by the minute. Are you ready to leave?"
"Yes." Arthur took the portfolio back from Merlin and held onto it for a moment, then hesitantly put it back on the table. "You should try to keep this sense of fashion, though," he said teasingly. "If we ever get back home, I mean."
Merlin rolled his eyes and hit the red button.
Merlin held his breath as the stadium went silent. He watched as Arthur leapt off the pitch and did a truly gravity defying bicycle kick. Arthur jumped, kicked, spun, and then stayed hovering in mid-air as the football soared through the air and went into the goal.
Merlin got to his feet and screamed with the rest of the crowd. He looked up at the dozens of floating screens to watch the other players' reactions. Lance did an upside-down cartwheel, Percival and Gwaine knocked each other over with the force of their chest-bumps, and Arthur stayed hanging in mid-air, looking panic-stricken.
Merlin blinked up at the screens. Arthur looked truly horrified. Merlin sank back into his seat, unable to drag his eyes away from Arthur's face.
Arthur appeared to be some sort of futuristic football star, while Merlin was clearly just a fan. Merlin tried not to panic, but he couldn't think of any way it would be possible to find Arthur in this situation. Surely the security at the stadium would prevent him from sneaking into the locker rooms, but if he waited until the match was over, he might never find Arthur again.
Merlin checked his pockets and breathed a bit easier when he felt the remote still safely tucked against his thigh. He wondered if it would still work if Arthur wasn't right next to him. He really had no idea how the remote worked, but if it was based on proximity, then he ran the risk of sending himself to another time and leaving Arthur in the future.
Merlin put off making a decision for as long as possible. He watched the match and tried to figure out exactly how football worked in the future. The pitch was much bigger than usual, and the uniform shorts were much shorter. There were extra balls floating aimlessly around the pitch, and every once in a while the goalie would step forward to punch them away. The goals appeared to be black holes, and there were far too many players on the field.
When Merlin had a headache from trying to work out the new rules (and when he couldn't stand to watch Arthur bumble around the pitch in an embarrassingly confused daze), he finally looked away from the match.
To his surprise, Freya was sitting next to him.
"Were you staring at their thighs again?" she asked, grinning.
Merlin was so glad to see her that he almost threw out his arms to hug her, but he managed to stop himself. He settled for a wide smile.
"Merlin?" she asked, her smile fading slightly.
"I asked you a question."
"Oh, sorry!" Merlin could feel his ears burning. "What was it?"
"I was just wondering if you had zoned out because you were fantasizing about Arthur Pendragon's thighs again."
Merlin's mouth dropped open indignantly. "I was not-"
"Oh, yes you were. Get over it."
"I would never-"
The stadium erupted in cheers again. Merlin looked up at the screens and saw Elyan's goal being replayed over and over again, from every angle. One of the screens showed Arthur floating awkwardly in the penalty area. He was clapping and looking around at the crowd, searching for something.
Merlin turned desperately to Freya, suddenly remembering where he was and that he needed to figure out how to get himself to Arthur.
"Do you think there's any way to meet the players after the game?"
Freya laughed. "Short of stalking them, no."
"Damn." Merlin closed his fingers around the remote in his pocket.
"No offense, but I really don't think you would ever be able to pull someone like Arthur Pendragon, anyway."
Merlin frowned at her. "I don't know whyyou think I'm trying to pull him. I just want his autograph."
"Yeah," Freya snorted. "On your dick."
Merlin stood up quickly, fighting back a blush. "I need the loo. Excuse me."
He shuffled awkwardly past the other fans in their row, then finally made it to the stairs. He wandered around for a bit, checking every door and hallway and stairwell. Short of flinging himself onto the field, he couldn't figure out how to get himself near enough to Arthur.
When there were only five minutes left on the clock, Merlin locked himself into a toilet stall and took out the remote. He pressed the button with his eyes closed, hoping for the best.
"I think he'll be good for you," Gwen said with a shrug. "He's serious and organized and really focused on his career."
Merlin scoffed. "Are you suggesting that I'm not those things?"
"I'm just saying that sometimes opposites attract and that Arthur is, well... attractive."
Merlin opened his mouth to laugh, but caught himself before the sound came out.
"Wait, did you say Arthur?"
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Have you been listening to anything I've said?"
"Sorry, yes," Merlin said quickly, his mind reeling. He checked his pocket as subtly as he could - which was not very subtle considering he was sitting on a couch with Gwen - and felt the remote against his leg. He desperately hoped it had worked.
"So," Gwen prompted, sounding slightly exasperated. "Will you have dinner with him tonight?"
"What kind of dinner?" Merlin asked skeptically. He had a horrible sinking feeling.
"I don't know," Gwen said impatiently. "Italian?"
"No, I mean, like... a date?"
Gwen rolled her eyes again. "What the hell is wrong with you? Yes, like a date! That's rather the point of being set up, isn't it?"
Merlin crossed his arms. "But I'm not... he's not..."
"Not what? Single?"
Merlin sighed and shrugged. "I don't know. Nevermind. When's this dinner?"
"I'll phone him," Gwen said, shuffling over to the edge of the couch and picking up Merlin's phone. "Go find clothes."
Merlin tried to protest, but Gwen shooed him away, so he got off the couch and tried the first door he came to. It was the bathroom. He closed the door quickly and glanced over his shoulder to make sure Gwen hadn't seen his mistake. She was busy dialing, so he moved to the next door.
This room was cozy and had a decorative theme of far too many earth tones, but Merlin could tell it was his room. He felt strange comfortable and at peace in this room. He found the closet quickly and riffled through the clothes there.
There were far too many ugly sweaters for Merlin's tastes, but eventually he settled on a forest green one.
"The fuck year is this?" Merlin asked himself as he held the sweater in front of his chest and looked in the mirror. He could tell the sweater was going to be extremely tight.
Merlin tossed the sweater on his bed and took a closer look at himself in the mirror. His hair was longer than he usually cared to wear it, and the jeans he was wearing had a very high waist and very wide legs. He had a denim button-down shirt tucked into them, and he felt utterly ridiculous.
Merlin dug through the chest of drawers, looking for a better-fitting pair of jeans and trying not to think too hard about what he was dressing for.
He hated to label these experiences as reincarnations, just because it sounded so absurd, but he didn't know what else to call them. Almost more worrying than the fact that he was living through snippets of his own reincarnations was the fact that, in some of these reincarnations, he and Arthur seemed to be... gay.
It wasn't as if Merlin had never thought about Arthur that way before. They had been best friends for ages and people had been teasing them about their closeness for just as long. Of course it had crossed his mind, what it would be like if he and Arthur got drunk and accidentally kissed, what it would be like if their friendship evolved into something more.
There was definitely a difference between thinking about it or being teased about it and actually doing it, though. More importantly, Merlin was straight. And Arthur, well... Arthur was as straight as it was possible to be. He went through women like he went through pairs of socks. Merlin went out with women, too, but not nearly as many and not nearly as frequently. His last date had been over six months ago, while Arthur's most recent date had been on Monday, and he had another one planned for that night.
Merlin sat down on his floor as the realization hit him that he and Arthur might not get back to their own flat - to their own time - before Arthur's date. They might not get back to their own time ever. Especially if Arthur had been left in the future and Merlin had traveled on without him.
"You all right?"
Merlin looked up to see Gwen standing in his bedroom doorway. He stood up quickly and forced a smile on his face.
"Yes. Just looking for clothes."
"I like that sweater," Gwen said, nodding toward the green one on the bed. "You look really good in it."
Merlin ran his fingers over a pair of jeans he hadn't realized he had been holding. He unfolded them and held them up for Gwen to see. She nodded, grinning widely.
"Perfect. You'll knock him dead."
"Not sure I want that," Merlin muttered, tossing the jeans onto the bed next to the sweater.
"Trust me, Arthur is more nervous about this date than you are. You should be grateful that I did such a good job of chatting you up."
Merlin licked his lips. "Thanks, I guess."
"Just relax. He may be rich, but he's also a really nice person." She handed him a slip of paper. "I wrote down the address of the restaurant he wants to meet you at. It's an Italian place near his work. You've got two hours, so try not to be late."
"I won't be late," Merlin said, mildly offended.
Gwen smiled knowingly. "Sure you won't."
"I won't," Merlin insisted. He glanced down at the address. He recognized the street name, but had no idea where his own flat was or how to get anyway from it. "What do you want to do?" he asked, looking back up at Gwen. "Until I have to leave, I mean."
"I want to go meet up with Lance. Youprobably want to shower and fix your hair."
"What's wrong with my hair?" Merlin asked, glancing in the mirror again. It was too long, but that wasn't anything he could fix on his own.
Gwen smiled innocently. "Nothing. Just wash it." She stepped forward and hugged him tightly. "Don't be nervous. Just have fun. Keep an open mind. He's really quite charming."
"All right." Merlin squeezed her, then let go and waved as she let herself out of his flat.
When she was gone, Merlin went on a search to figure out when and where he was. He found a newspaper in the kitchen that gave the date as Friday, May 11, 1973. Merlin gulped as he scanned the headlines without taking in a word. His mind was reeling at the thought that he and Arthur had probably been bouncing through time to various Friday, May 11ths.
Deciding not to dwell on it at the risk of making his brain leak out of his ears, Merlin abandoned the newspaper and went in search of a magazine or bill or anything that would give him his own address.
After a few minutes, he came across his wallet, back in his bedroom. His license gave his address, but Merlin's heart sank when he didn't recognize the street name. He was still in London, but he knew he must be in a neighborhood that he was unfamiliar with.
He checked the wallet for money and it looked like he probably had enough for at least one cab ride, so he decided to call a cab to take him to meet Arthur. He figured that would probably be easier than trying to find the nearest tube stop, or trying to figure out if he owned a car (and which car was his, if he did).
After he had established where and when he was, Merlin felt slightly more at ease. He still didn't know which Arthur he would be meeting for dinner - his Arthur or genuine 1973 Arthur - but he couldn't do anything about that. He was tired of fretting, so he took a shower to distract himself.
When he was clean, dried off, and dressed in the clothes he had picked out, Merlin decided to go ahead and call for a cab. He knew he would be probably be early to the restaurant, but he didn't particularly care. He just felt that he had to get out of his flat in order to stop worrying and wondering about Arthur.
He found a phonebook in the side table next to his couch and called a cab company, then went to wait outside. The neighborhood looked thoroughly unfamiliar at first, but the longer he stood there, the more he recognized. It was unsettling and he was honestly tired of being so unsettled.
"I am not meant for time travel," he muttered, staring down the street and waiting for a cab to turn on it.
The words hit his ears a second later and he couldn't help but laugh at himself. He supposed he should be having fun. After all, it wasn't every day that he (or anyone else he knew) got to have an adventure quite like this.
After a few more minutes, a cab finally pulled up in front of him. He got in and gave the address of the restaurant, and then sat contentedly in the back seat for the ride. He stared out the window and watched all the pedestrians and their silly 1970s fashion. He knew he fit right in, but he still felt ridiculous in bell-bottoms.
He was twenty minutes early to the restaurant, but he went inside, anyway.
"Good evening, sir," the maitre d' said, giving Merlin a stern frown.
Merlin blushed slightly as he realized he was very underdressed for the restaurant.
"Um, hi," he said, fighting the urge to turn and walk out. "I'm meeting someone, but I'm a bit early..."
"Are you Mister Emrys?"
"Oh," Merlin started slightly. "Yes."
Merlin followed, trying not to stare at all the other well-dressed patrons. The maitre d' led him to a small table near the back of the restaurant. Arthur was sitting there, dressed in a suit and smiling wildly. He stood to shake Merlin's hand.
"Hi," Merlin said, taking his hand back and immediately slipping it into his pocket to clutch at the remote.
"Sit, please," Arthur said, gesturing toward the chair across from him.
Merlin sat slowly and then Arthur followed suit.
"Are you..." Merlin trailed off, not entirely sure how to phrase his question. He had assumed he would immediately be able to tell which Arthur he was dealing with.
"Yeah," Arthur said, laughing a bit. "I think so."
"You think so?"
Arthur smirked. "You are so not dressed for the occasion, mate."
"Occasion?" Merlin repeated dumbly, looking down at himself.
"Our first gay date," Arthur said in a low, cheeky voice. "Unless you want to count the portfolio moment as a date."
Merlin grinned and slumped slightly in his chair, overwhelmingly relieved that he had found the right Arthur. "I definitely wouldn't count that as a date." He ran his fingers over the glass table and sighed. "Fuck, Arthur. You nearly gave me a heart attack."
"This place is way too classy for that sort of language," Arthur teased.
"I don't care. I thought you were going to be stuck in that futuristic football game forever just because of my stupid rash decisions."
Arthur shrugged. "Well, there's no point in beating yourself up over it now. At least we know the remote works even if we're not together."
"What if it hadn't, though?" Merlin pressed.
Arthur shrugged again. "I don't know. What if?"
Their waiter interrupted them to introduce himself and hand out menus. They muttered their thanks and looked over the selections. Merlin couldn't helped but raise his eyebrows at the prices.
"How did you find out about this place?"
Arthur's lips quirked but he didn't look up from his menu. "I've been here before."
"You mean... in our time?"
Arthur nodded and then looked up at Merlin. "What wouldyou have done? If the remote hadn't worked, I mean. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried out there on the pitch. I didn't know where the hell you were. Then suddenly I was in an office building and dictating a letter to some old lady with a typewriter."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Always the rich corporate type."
"What would you have done, though?" Arthur asked again.
Merlin smiled guiltily. "I probably would have kept jumping around in time until I found you again."
Arthur nodded. "So... so you reallythink we've been traveling through time? You don't think it's a dream or a trip or anything?"
"Well, I've never dropped acid, at least not in my own lifetime, and I'm pretty sure we were both awake when I found the remote."
"What if you never woke up this morning, though? What if this is your dream from last night?"
"What if this is your dream from last night?" Merlin countered.
Arthur frowned. "Oh."
"See? It wouldn't matter. But, it's not a dream, so we don't have to argue about it. We have memories of these places. We've... we've lived through these moments before. It's like we're time traveling through our past lives or something."
"And our future lives, apparently," Arthur added.
Merlin nodded in agreement. "Apparently. Did you get deja vu in the future?"
"No. I got it pretty bad at the office earlier this afternoon. I'm working for my father and he called me to his office. I was walking down the hallway and on the way I realized that I already knew what was going to happen. And then I got to his office and it did happen."
"What's your job?"
"Something in finance," Arthur said vaguely.
The waiter came back to take their orders, then left again with their menus.
Merlin glanced around at the fancy restaurant, then forced himself to look at Arthur. "So... Gwen set us up on a date."
To Merlin's surprise, Arthur blushed. "Yeah."
Merlin bit his lip nervously. "I'm sensing a bit of a theme here."
"But no one was setting us up in the future," Arthur pointed out quickly. "Or back in that medieval castle."
"I guess that's true."
"Let's just eat our dinner," Arthur suggested. "Time traveling on an empty stomach is hard work, and we can always discuss our past gay lives another time."
Merlin smiled and agreed.
After they had finished eating, Arthur excused himself to the loo, and Merlin followed a few minutes later. They locked themselves into a stall and Merlin tried very hard not to think about what that would look like to anyone else who came into the loo. He fumbled slightly when he tried to pull the remote out of his pocket, but Arthur caught the remote before it fell and handed it back to Merlin.
"Thanks," Merlin muttered, then pressed the red button before Arthur could see how hard he was blushing.
Merlin groaned and gripped his cock a bit tighter. He was getting closer and by the looks of it, so was the bloke on his computer screen. The blond man looked to be in sheer ecstasy, and he wasn't even coming yet. He was arching off the pristinely made bed, his free hand scrambling for purchase in the sheets, and he was red-faced and glistening.
The man let out a whimper and Merlin moaned in response, struggling to keep his eyes open. The man licked his wide, red, wet, swollen lips and Merlin grunted and moved his hand faster over his cock. He imagined what those perfect lips would be like against his own, or over his nipples, or around his cock.
Merlin licked his own lips and thrust up into his hand. Arthur was sofit, and the lighting in the porn studio was doing all the right things to Arthur's muscles.
Arthur groaned, loud and long and low, and the noise went straight to Merlin's cock. Merlin knew he should probably stop. He knew that wanking over Arthur was probably not the best decision. The problem was that he didn't wantto stop. He was so close and he so desperately wanted to come. He wanted to see Arthur come, too.
Merlin's thighs were tingling and trembling. He wasn't going to stop, but he also wasn't evergoing mention this to Arthur. Even if Arthur mentioned the porn star reincarnation, Merlin decided then and there that he would never admit to getting off on it.
Arthur bit his lower lip to muffle a cry and then came all over his broad chest. Merlin let out a needy pathetic sound that was embarrassing even to his own ears and brought himself off quickly, watching the thick ropes of come shooting out of Arthur's wide cock.
When he was still jerking through the smaller waves of pleasure that came after his orgasm, Merlin sat up and looked around for the first time. He was in a large studio flat with brick walls and nice hardwood floors. The computer screen, which was showing Arthur sitting on the bed and panting, was floating above his bed. Merlin glanced around for the rest of the computer, but he couldn't find anything.
He knew he must be in the future again, but he didn't care to find out when. The remote was sitting on his nightstand, so he grabbed it and pressed the red button before he had even fully caught his breath.
"Are you joining me?" Arthur asked, moving toward the old cabin.
Merlin shook his head and stayed put by the horses. "I don't want to overwhelm him. He probably doesn't get many visitors. I'll stay out here and watch the horses."
"I have never met anyone who is so scared so often. Scream like a big girl if there's any trouble."
Merlin tried his best not to roll his eyes. "Don't worry-"
Merlin glanced away from Arthur and noticed the cameras and the dozen or so people standing around and watching him struggle with the horse reins. He glanced down at himself, trying to reconcile the medieval clothes with the modern technology. Arthur was dressed in chainmail again, a sword hanging at his side, and he was staring at Merlin with an increasingly confused expression.
"CUT!" Someone behind the nearest camera shouted. "Reset, please. Colin, do you need the script?"
The woman directed the question at Merlin, so he shook his head without understanding what she was asking or why she had called him Colin.
Arthur edged toward Merlin as everyone else bustled around them.
"What the fuck is this?" he asked, his voice panicked. "Were there cameras the first time?"
Merlin shook his head. "No. I don't..." He looked around, trying to find any sort of indication as to what year they were in. "I don't understand what kind of reincarnation this is. I mean... this is the same as the first one, but... we're... acting?"
"Places," the woman called out.
Merlin lowered his head behind one of the horses. "We have to get out of here," he whispered.
"Try your boot again," Arthur suggested, glancing over the horse's neck at the cameras.
Merlin bent down quickly and found the remote tucked neatly into his boot.
"Got it," he said, straightening back up.
"Bradley!" the woman snapped. "I called places. Stop flirting."
"Who the fuck is she talking to?" Arthur hissed. "Press the damn button!"
Merlin did so, just as the angry woman was making her way toward them.
Merlin threaded his fingers through Arthur's hair and gave it a sharp tug as he arched into Arthur's thrusts.
"Yes, Arthur," he breathed into Arthur's ear. "Yes, oh - oh!"
Arthur let out a low and gravely groan as his hips picked up pace. He nuzzled Merlin's neck, kissing and nipping and licking at straining chords of Merlin's throat.
"Yes, yes," Merlin chanted, lifting his hips to match Arthur's rhythm. "Yes, yes - ye...sss..."
Arthur's hips stuttered and then slowed. Merlin released Arthur's hair gently, but Arthur kept his face hidden in Merlin's neck.
"Oh my God," Merlin muttered as Arthur pulled out slowly.
Arthur sat up and looked up at the ceiling. "Um."
"Oh my God!" Merlin said again, pulling his legs up to his chest as he shifted up against the pillows. He looked around and saw that they were in a hotel room.
"Sorry," Arthur whispered, his eyes still on the ceiling. "Um. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologize," Merlin said. He could feel his face heating up. "I mean, it's not... you didn't... um."
Arthur licked his lips and got off the bed. Merlin tried not to stare as Arthur searched the room. After a few seconds, Arthur tossed a shirt at Merlin, and Merlin scrambled to put it on.
"I guess there is a bit of a... pattern with these, um... incarnations," Arthur said as he picked up a pair of trousers.
Merlin shrugged and pretended to be interested in the candle flickering on the bedside table. "When do you think we are?"
"Fuck if I know," Arthur said, handing Merlin some pants.
Merlin dressed quickly, ignoring his still hard cock and trying his damn hardest not to pay any attention to Arthur's persistent erection.
"I guess this is pre-electricity," Arthur said, sitting down gingerly on the edge of the bed.
"There's a briefcase." Merlin pointed at where it was leaning against the wall near the door, then got off the bed to inspect its contents. He pulled out a few blank pieces of paper and found a few letters addressed to Arthur.
"It's yours," he reported, riffling through some more papers. "There's... wait, is this poetry?" He looked over his shoulder and smirked at Arthur.
"It'd better not be," Arthur said indignantly.
Merlin grinned and turned back to read the poem. The verse was flowery and filthy and uncomfortably familiar.
"Fuck," Merlin muttered as the realization sunk over him.
Merlin folded the paper and moved it to the bottom of the pile he was holding. "Nothing."
He heard Arthur moving around behind him, and then Arthur was crouched down next to him.
"It's your poetry isn't it?" Arthur teased.
"No. I do not write poetry," Merlin insisted.
"Let me see it."
"Absolutely not," Merlin said firmly.
"Come on," Arthur nudged Merlin's shoulder with his own. "Obviously it was meant to be seen by me. You gave it to me. I'm your secret gay lover, aren't I?"
Merlin scoffed, but then had the breath knocked out of him by Arthur tackling him to the ground. They wrestled for a moment, Merlin trying his best to hold on to the papers in his hand, or at least rip them up before Arthur could get to them, but Arthur was stronger and quickly managed to take the stack of papers.
Merlin pushed Arthur away and stared down at the floor, blushing, as Arthur read over the sexually explicit declaration of their love.
After a few painfully long moments, Arthur cleared his throat.
Merlin covered his face with his hands. He wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.
"It's porn," he muttered. He could remember writing it late at night, his head a mess of feelings and lust, and his heart aching to be close to Arthur during every waking moment.
"It's lovely," Arthur said quietly. "I think... we must have really been in love, whenever this is, wherever we are."
Merlin lowered his hands slowly and looked at Arthur's earnest expression.
"Don't give me that look," Arthur said, blushing and shoving the poem back at Merlin. "You're the one who writes filthy poetry about me."
Merlin tried to protest, but all that came out was, "Should we talk about this?"
"Talk about what?" Arthur asked, getting up and moving back over to the bed. He sat down on the edge again and gave Merlin a long and searching look that had Merlin squirming on the floor. "Talk about what?" he asked again when Merlin had said nothing.
Merlin shrugged, wishing he could take the question back. "I don't know. This... this eternally gay thing we have going on."
"Oh." Arthur licked his lips slowly and moved his gaze to the wall behind Merlin's head. "What is there to talk about?"
Merlin looked down at his poem. "Well..."
"Clearly there's - I mean there's something, you know... between us." Arthur spoke in a tight voice that was devoid of all emotions besides embarrassment. "And apparently it's been that way for... decades. Centuries, even. And I guess... it'll keep being that way for a long while into the future."
Merlin forced himself to look up at Arthur. "But we're... I mean - I'm not... you're not..."
Arthur's eyes snapped to Merlin's and they held each other's gaze for a moment that seemed to last for an hour.
Then Merlin blinked and the moment was gone.
"Um," he said stupidly, looking back down at the poem.
"We should go," Arthur mumbled.
Merlin looked up to see Arthur staring down at his feet. Merlin stood and looked frantically around the room, searching out the black metal of the remote. He saw it sitting next to the candle near the bed and made quick work of grabbing it and pressing the button before either of them could say anything else.
Arthur's eyes were wide and bright with panic, but his voice stayed steady and calm as he spoke. "If this is the end... well, I'm glad you're here with me, Merlin."
Merlin tried to smile, but couldn't quite force himself. "You know I'll do everything I can to save you."
Merlin looked down at his clothes. "We're back here again," he said stupidly.
"Are there cameras?" Arthur asked, glancing around.
Merlin shook his head. He was sure they were alone. They were in some tiny, cold, dark corner of the old castle, huddled close together.
"No cameras," he said, but something that sounded like an explosion drowned out his voice.
Arthur startled and looked around frantically.
"I guess the battle is still going on," Merlin said unnecessarily.
"Who was it Leon said was attacking?" Arthur asked, shifting so that he could pull out his sword.
"Morgana and Mordred, I think," Merlin said, trying to remember back to their first visit to this place and time. "Isn't he the kid your sister babysat all last year?"
"Yeah, I think so," Arthur said, holding his sword pointlessly in front of himself. "What the hell is he attacking for?"
"I don't know," Merlin whispered as his heart rate started picking up. "Fuck, I'm getting the worst feeling about this, Arthur."
"I know, me too," Arthur said, his voice shaking slightly.
"I don't think this battle ends well."
"Maybe we should leave," Arthur suggested.
"What if we just end up back in the 20s again? What if we just end up circling through time for the rest of our lives?"
"I don't know. We probably will just end up in the 20s again... unless you figure out how to work that thing properly."
"Properly?" Merlin snapped. "There's only one button!"
"Let me have a look."
Merlin rolled his eyes but went to pull the remote out of his boot, anyway. The only thing his fingers could feel was his own leg. He quickly pulled off both boots and his socks, but there was no remote. He patted himself down, ignoring Arthur's groans.
"This is just great," Arthur complained. "Now we're stuck here. What if we die?"
"Well, considering you don't actually know how to use that sword and I don't actually know any spells, we probably will die," Merlin grumbled, still running his hands over his body in search of the remote.
"I guess you can't save us with magic then."
"Not unless you have a spell book handy." Merlin gave up his search and leaned back against the wall. "Fuck."
They sat quietly for a few minutes, the silence only broken by the occasional sound of an exploding or collapsing wall somewhere above them.
"Strange the way Gwaine phrased it before," Arthur said suddenly.
"He said that you 'have' magic. Not 'used' magic, not 'know' magic, but 'have' magic. Almost like it's-"
"A part of me, yeah," Merlin interrupted. "It is." He looked down at his hands, remembering again how warm they had been when he had cast that spell to bring down the ceiling. "I can feel it. I just don't know how to... access it."
"Pity there's no magic in our time."
Another loud explosion broke into their conversation.
"Fuck, that one sounded closer," Merlin whispered.
"Do you think anyone knows where we are?"
"I don't know. I kind of doubt it. I think..." Merlin bit his lip, not wanting to say it.
"I think it's almost over," Arthur said quietly. "The battle, I mean. I think this is how it ends."
Merlin started patting himself again, desperate to find the remote and get them out of this corner.
Arthur grabbed Merlin's wrists and stilled his hands. "Hey," he said gently.
Merlin could do nothing but grip Arthur's wrists in response. "We're going to die."
Arthur shook his head and slid his grip down until he was holding Merlin's hands. "We're not going to die. We've never died, not really. We've been together for centuries, over and over and over again. We're clearly meant for each other in some sort of epic destiny type of way. Even if we do die, it's only for a little while. We'll see each other again soon."
Merlin looked into Arthur's sincere face and took a deep, steadying breath. He was sure that Arthur was right. There was no need to panic. They would simply be reborn and somehow, someway they would be connected in their next lifetime.
The ceiling above them shook with another explosion and Arthur's grip on Merlin's hands tightened as his eyes grew huge with fear.
Merlin surged forward and pressed his lips to Arthur's in a messy, desperate, needy kiss.
Arthur dropped Merlin's hands in favor of cupping Merlin's face. They closed their eyes as the walls around them fell down and the world went black.
Merlin dropped the remote in surprise and quickly looked up to check for Arthur. Arthur was still standing by the kitchen in his perfectly pressed suit.
"Did that just happen?" Merlin blurted out.
Arthur looked between the fallen remote and Merlin a few times before nodding. "I... I think so? Yes?"
"I didn't imagine it?"
"And it really wasn't a dream?"
Arthur's confused expression turned into one of annoyance. "You'd better hope not, considering how many times you told me it wasn't."
Merlin stared down at the remote. "Holy fuck."
His mind reeled as he replayed each lifetime in his head. They had been kings and sorcerers, photographers and football stars, actors and lovers.
Merlin looked back up and nearly gasped at how close Arthur was suddenly standing.
"You can borrow one of my ties," Arthur said quietly.
"Okay," Merlin muttered, unable to tear his gaze from Arthur's lips.
Arthur ran his fingers over Merlin's collar and Merlin gulped. His own hands hung limply at his sides, but his fingers were tingling with the need to touch Arthur.
"I can go find one for you," Arthur suggested, looking uncertain.
Merlin inhaled sharply as his hands moved to the back Arthur's neck of their own accord, and then he was kissing Arthur again. Arthur's arms snaked around Merlin's waist and pulled him closer so they were pressed hard against each other.
Arthur's mouth opened against Merlin's and Merlin slid his tongue against Arthur's, teasing and coaxing until Arthur finally responded by pushing Merlin down onto the couch and then climbing on top of him.
"Arthur," Merlin breathed, his back arching off the couch as Arthur's tongue dipped into his ear. "Oh, fuckfuck-"
Merlin bit his lip to keep from moaning when one of Arthur's hands snuck between their bodies to palm Merlin's half-hard cock.
"Don't know why we never did this before," Arthur muttered, rocking his hips against Merlin's thigh.
Merlin leaned up for another kiss but they were interrupted a second later by Merlin's mobile ringing in his pocket.
"Oh my God," Merlin said, pushing Arthur away so he could sit up. "I have work. I have a meeting. An extremely important meeting."
Arthur frowned. "Oh. Right. I... I have work, too."
Merlin stared hard at Arthur, then burst out laughing. "We're insane, aren't we?" he asked between giggles. "We've actually lost our minds."
Arthur grinned and stood, then pulled Merlin up, too. "We're not insane," he said calmly, taking Merlin's hand in his. He lead Merlin to his room, then had to drop Merlin's hand to pick out a tie. "We're just going to go to work and pretend like this morning was normal and the same as every other morning."
Merlin said nothing, just watched nervously as Arthur held up a few ties and compared them against Merlin's shirt.
"Your shirt's buttoned wrong," Arthur pointed out.
"I'm a mess," Merlin muttered. He made quick work of unbuttoning his shirt, but Arthur pushed his hands away before he could rebutton it.
"Let me," Arthur said gently. "You've got to look your best to impress those corporate types."
"Don't remind me."
Arthur buttoned Merlin into the shirt, then slipped his fingers into the waistband of Merlin's trousers to tuck the shirt in. Merlin watched carefully, somewhat unsure how to navigate the situation or any conversation they should have been having.
Arthur slipped the tie under Merlin's collar and tied it perfectly, then stepped back to look at his work.
"Can I take you out for dinner?" he asked, surprising Merlin.
"I... I thought you had a date?" Merlin asked. He regretted the words as soon as he'd said them.
Arthur stepped closer again and fiddled with the tie some more. "I can cancel," he said quietly. "I'd rather eat with you."
Merlin struggled to keep from grinning. "Are you suggesting that we go on a date? Together?"
Arthur nodded happily and raised his eyebrows expectantly. "If you'd like."
"I'd like," Merlin said, not entirely caring that he'd answered too quickly and too keenly.
Arthur grinned, his eyes lit up with excitement. "Good."
"Good," Merlin repeated before he leaned into another kiss.
Arthur's hands moved to Merlin's waist, holding him there as their lips and tongues explored each other again.
Merlin's mobile went off again and he pulled back reluctantly. "I really have to go," he said apologetically, backing out of Arthur's room.
"It's all right." Arthur followed Merlin out to the living room. "You've only got one sock on, though."
Merlin muttered a string of curses under his breath, then disappeared into his room for a moment. He came back out with two socks on, but Arthur quickly pointed out that they didn't match.
"Fuck," Merlin said, staring down at his feet.
"Just put your shoes on," Arthur said calmly, nudging Merlin toward the door. "No one will notice."
Merlin put his shoes on quickly, then grabbed his suit jacket.
"I'll see you for dinner?" Merlin asked as he shrugged it on.
Arthur nodded and leaned in to catch Merlin's lips in a goodbye kiss.
"See you for dinner," Arthur called out as Merlin raced out the door.