Merlin was bored. Train rides to and from Wales were always boring, but this trip in particular was creeping by so slowly that Merlin wondered if his watch had actually stopped.
Gwen had been sending him excited texts all day and most of them were about how nice Lance's lips were, and how good he smelled. Merlin was happy for her - and a little stunned and jealous that her biggest fantasy had somehow come true while he was still waiting in limbo - but he could only read so many texts about Lance's perfectly soft hair before he felt like his brain was going to start melting out of his ears.
He opened up the book he was trying to read and immediately got distracted - for the dozenth time - by the bookmark. Arthur's note was tucked neatly between the pages, his tiny, messy writing a strange contrast to the perfect type of the book.
Call me when you get back to London.
There were less than two hours until the train would stop in London.
Merlin took out his mobile and started a new text, but it took him several minutes to figure out exactly what he wanted to say and how to say it, even though it was a simple message.
This train ride is slowly killing my soul.
He set his phone down on the next seat, on top of Arthur's note, and tried to concentrate on his book.
It took nearly five minutes, but eventually Merlin's mobile beeped with a response.
From Arthur: I can relate. This has been the longest week of my life.
Merlin squirmed in his seat. He knew Arthur wasn't trying to be cruel, but he also knew that he was likely entirely responsible for Arthur's long week.
I'm sorry. Do you want to come over for dinner?
From Arthur: Come over to mine. It's my turn to cook.
From Arthur: Of course. I'm CFC's most eligible bachelor. What kind of date would I be if I couldn't even offer toast in the morning?
Are you making toast for dinner?
From Arthur: No. Chilli?
Extra spicy, please. No meat.
From Arthur: Are. You. Vegetarian.
For the most part. I only eat chicken. And a tiny bit of fish now and then.
From Arthur: What if I make fish chilli?
Is that a thing? It sounds horrible.
From Arthur: It is a thing, actually. I have no desire to make it though. Vegetarian chilli it is. What time?
Train gets in at 6. How much time will you need?
From Arthur: It'll be ready by 7.
I'll be there.
Merlin waited a few minutes for Arthur to respond, but no more texts came. He set his mobile back down on top of the note and went back to his book, but it was no use. He stared at the same page for the rest of the train ride, wondering if this was meant to be a date.
By the time he got back to his flat, Merlin was more nervous than he had been for a date in years. He was glad that he had another hour to get himself together.
The first thing he did was decide on an outfit; his favourite shirt was dirty so he had to settle for a different one, and his favourite jeans were wrinkled from being haphazardly tossed into his suitcase but he couldn't bring himself to chose another pair. After that was decided, he took a shower to calm his nerves and wash off the smell of traveling all day.
A few minutes after seven o'clock, Merlin was finally knocking on Arthur's door. Arthur opened it after a moment and Merlin was hit with the overpowering, mouth-watering aroma of freshly made chilli.
Arthur smiled shyly and Merlin stifled the urge to hug him.
"Perfect timing. I've just filled up our bowls. Come in." Arthur stepped aside and Merlin entered his flat.
"You cleaned," Merlin said before he could stop himself. It was impossible not to notice, though. There wasn't a single stray magazine or item of clothing to be seen in the living room.
"Yeah, I... well, I got bored," Arthur said quietly.
He led Merlin past the couch to the table that was sitting in front of the large wall-length windows that looked out over London.
"I hate your view," Merlin pouted. "It's so much better than mine."
Arthur grinned. "Yeah, your view is shit."
Merlin nudged Arthur's arm with his elbow and Arthur's face turned slightly pink.
"I'll get the bowls," he said before turning and practically running into the kitchen.
Merlin took a deep breath and sat down at the table. He traced the stripes of Arthur's woven placemats with the tips of his fingers until Arthur came back out with their food.
"This smells insane," Merlin said when Arthur set down a bowl full of chilli in front of him. It was still steaming and there was shredded cheese melting over the top.
"Thanks, I think." Arthur grinned and went back into the kitchen, coming out a minute later with another bowl, this one filled with tortilla chips. He sat across from Merlin and looked down at the meal he had prepared. "Well... I can't claim to be quite at your level of kitchen mastery, but I've been feeding myself for several years and I haven't died yet, so... I hope it's at least passable."
"If it tastes anything like it smells, you have nothing to worry about."
Arthur smiled nervously and reached for a chip. Merlin wasted no time in digging into the chilli, even though it was still quite hot. It was deliciousand Merlin couldn't help but think about what it would be like if he and Arthur were a couple; they could cook for each other or cook together and have all their friends over for dinner parties.
Merlin took a sip of the red wine Arthur had poured them and tried not to dwell on futures that might never happen.
"How was your week?" he asked.
Arthur shrugged. "Fine. About the same as every other week, really. How was Wales? Did your follow-up lecture go well?"
Merlin nodded and started explaining about everything he had done while in Wales, with Arthur silently eating and nodding his understanding. That continued for most of dinner, until Arthur filled their bowls with seconds and started talking about his family and what it had been like growing up under the care of such a rich sports mogul.
"Morgana's your step-sister, right?" Merlin asked after Arthur had finished describing a fight she and Uther had had when she'd run an unfavourable story about Camelot Football Club in her paper.
Arthur popped a tortilla chip in his mouth and chewed it slowly. "She's... she's my half-sister, actually," he explained after a minute. "We were raised as step-siblings, more or less. My father made it clear that she had been adopted. But... when we were teenagers, we found out that he had actually had a secret affair with her mother. It's not the only secret affair he's ever had - not by a long shot - but as far as we know, Morgana and I are his only children."
"Sounds complicated," Merlin admitted. "My mum never had any secret affairs. Or regular affairs for that matter. She hasn't dated anyone since my dad."
"But, didn't you say he left before you were born?"
Merlin nodded. "Yeah. I guess she's just not that interested in finding someone else. She seems happy, though, so I try not to worry. She's got her job and her friends and her pets... she wishes I was closer, of course, but what mother doesn't. Oh - sorry."
Arthur shook his head. "It's fine. I'm really very used to it."
Merlin frowned. "That's... sad."
Arthur shrugged. "I've had almost three decades to get used to it. There's not much you could say about mothers, living or otherwise, that would upset me."
"I'll take your word for it. That's not a theory I want to test."
Arthur laughed and drained the last of his wine. "I'm sorry I don't have anything else to offer. I didn't think about drinks until the last minute and this is all the red wine I have."
"Don't worry about it. If we get desperate, we can always go over to mine. I bought some Welsh wine we could try out."
"That sounds really good, actually."
"Yeah? Well, let me help you clean up-"
"No," Arthur said quickly. Merlin paused, halfway out of his seat. "Leave it. I'll get it later."
"Are you sure?"
Arthur stood and nodded. "Of course. I've already put all the food in the kitchen away. The dishes can wait."
Merlin grinned. "All right, then. You'll have to excuse the mess in my living room, though. I sort of tore apart my suitcase as soon as I got home, trying to find clean clothes to wear."
Arthur laughed and followed Merlin into the hall, locking his door behind them. "Trust me, messes do not bother me."
"Oh. Right." Merlin shot Arthur a grin over his shoulder before opening his flat and letting Arthur inside. "I'll get the wine," he said, slipping into the kitchen before Arthur could offer to help.
He pulled the bottle down from the top of the fridge - it was the only item he had unpacked and put away as soon as he got home - and poured two large glasses. He sipped it briefly, wondering if what had happened at the hotel was finally going to come up in conversation now that they weren't eating, or if they were going to keep dancing around it. He would bring it up himself if he had any idea what to say about it.
Merlin took the wine glasses out to the living room and handed one to Arthur, who had been standing near Merlin's largest bookshelf, admiring all the little figurines he had collected over the years.
"This is really good," Arthur said after his first taste.
"It is," Merlin agreed. "I've never had it before but my advisor recommended it."
Arthur nodded and leant back against the bookshelf. "I love wine," he said in a low voice. "I haven't been this relaxed all week."
"Was it... has it been that bad?" Merlin asked, wondering if this was going to be it.
Arthur shrugged. "It was just long... very long. I didn't sleep very well and... well, Lance is a nosy bastard who wouldn't stop trying to ask me about you."
"About - me? Why?"
Arthur shrugged again and sipped at his wine, avoiding Merlin's eyes. "He... he was sort of the one who convinced me to go to your hotel that night."
Merlin almost dropped his wine glass in surprise. "You came out to him?"
Arthur shook his head. "No. He knows, though. He guessed."
Merlin didn't care how Lance knew; all that mattered was that he did know. Someone other than Merlin knew about Arthur - knew who Arthur really was and truly accepted and supported him - and that was a huge step forward. It was more than Merlin had expected - more than he had any right to expect - and the shock and joy of the surprise spurred him into action.
He set his glass down on the bookshelf as he pressed his lips against Arthur's. Arthur gasped and wrapped an arm around Merlin's waist quickly, his other hand blindly searching out a shelf for his own glass.
It was every bit as good as Merlin had remembered, though he had been trying hard all week to forget what had happened at the hotel. Arthur's lips were an odd combination of hard and soft; he kissed like he wanted it so badly but wasn't sure he if could have it. He kissed as though he had never kissed anyone before, or as though this were the last kiss he would ever have. He kissed like he wanted Merlin and Merlin knew that it was true. Merlin could feel Arthur's cock hardening already, and he could remember how hard Arthur had been at the hotel. Merlin remembered how nervous Arthur had been, how easily he had come, how greedily he had sucked Merlin's cock.
Merlin groaned and laced his fingers through Arthur's hair, holding Arthur's head in place and pressing their bodies close together. The bookshelf rattled in protest but Merlin ignored it in favour of sliding one of his hands under Arthur's shirt so he could hold on to Arthur's warm side. Arthur's hands settled on his arse, pulling him closer and slotting their hips together.
Arthur was strong and solid under Merlin's hands, and Merlin wanted more. He ran his hands over Arthur's sides and his lips over Arthur's neck, trying to find the spots that made Arthur squirm and moan. Arthur finally rewarded him with a loud gasp when he curled his tongue just behind Arthur's ear.
"That's - yeah," Arthur groaned when Merlin did it again, his fingers tightening their grip on Merlin's hips.
Merlin continued learning Arthur's body through his mouth until Arthur was breathing raggedly and rolling his hips against Merlin's in tiny, quick circles.
"Can we - do you want..."
Arthur trailed off and Merlin rested his forehead on Arthur's shoulder for a moment, trying to remember how to breathe. Arthur's voice was low and rough, and the sound of it sent a jolt of need straight to Merlin's cock.
"You have no right to be so gorgeous," he whispered to Arthur's collarbone.
Arthur huffed and ran his hands up Merlin's back until they tangled in Merlin's hair.
"You have the strangest pillow talk."
Merlin grinned and planted a small kiss on Arthur's Adam's apple. "I can be quiet, if you like."
"No, I like - ah!" Arthur's breath caught in his throat as Merlin pushed a hand up his shirt to tug on his pierced nipple.
"I really like this," Merlin said, running his fingertips over the small metal balls on either side of Arthur's nipple. "And the tattoos on your ankles."
"I like yours, too." Arthur tugged at Merlin's shirt until Merlin lifted his arms and let Arthur pull it off over his head.
Arthur's fingers were warm and sure against Merlin's bare skin and Merlin bit his lip, remembering the way Arthur's hands had been shaking that night at the hotel.
"Did you want to go in my room?" Merlin asked as Arthur's fingers traced the long, knotted branches of the tree on his side.
Arthur nodded and, leaving one hand on Merlin's tattoo, practically dragged Merlin into the bedroom. Merlin grinned and waited for Arthur to throw him on the bed or shove him against the door, but Arthur just smiled and took off his own shirt.
Licking his lips, Merlin stepped closer to run his hands over Arthur's broad, tan chest. It was dusted with soft blond hair and freckles from years of running around under the sun.
"You lift weights?" Merlin asked, trailing the contours of Arthur's muscles.
Arthur nodded and snaked his hands around Merlin's neck, pulling Merlin in for another kiss. Merlin sucked roughly on the tip of Arthur's tongue and Arthur groaned shakily as he staggered back. They gripped each other tightly, trying to stay upright as they moved across the room toward the bed. Finally, they reached it and Arthur sat heavily on the edge. Merlin leant down as Arthur stretched up, neither one willing to part lips.
Slowly, Merlin sank down to his knees between Arthur's legs until Arthur was the one leaning down to carry on the kiss, his hands cupping Merlin's face.
"I could kiss you for a year," Arthur said when they finally pulled away from each other.
"But there are so many other things we could do with our mouths," Merlin said, giving Arthur a wide grin.
Arthur's eyes widened in surprise as Merlin reached for his jeans and undid them swiftly. He lifted his hips to help Merlin pull his clothes down, and then Merlin was kneeling before a naked, blushing, erect Arthur Pendragon.
Merlin licked his lips and Arthur let out a tremulous moan. His hands were clenched tightly in the duvet and his toes were already curled and pressing into the hardwood floor. It was thrilling to see someone so strong and tough being so vulnerable and open - just for Merlin.
Merlin gave Arthur a small, reassuring smile before he ran his hands over Arthur's thighs. Arthur's muscles tensed in Merlin's grip and Merlin's cock twitched in his jeans from the sheer strength beneath his hands.
Merlin gently pushed Arthur's legs farther apart and Arthur moved closer to the edge of the bed, his cock straining and already leaking with precome. Merlin eyed it appreciatively, taking in the details he had missed during their first quick tryst. It was perfectly wide and it curved up slightly, showing off the red, sensitive underside of the head. Arthur held his breath as Merlin leant forward to tongue at that spot.
"Oh, God," Arthur said on an exhale. His knuckles were white around the covers and his thighs were trembling slightly as he held them open.
Merlin wanted to go on teasing Arthur until his jaw went numb, but the more times he slid his tongue over that same spot, the more laboured Arthur's breathing became, until Merlin couldn't bring himself to make Arthur suffer any longer. He stretched his lips around the head and sank his mouth as far down as he could.
Arthur groaned out a few nonsensical syllables, his legs stretching out on either side of Merlin. Merlin put his hands firmly on Arthur's thighs as he bobbed along Arthur's cock, trying to make sure that Arthur wouldn't lose control completely and start bucking wildly into his mouth. He loved getting his mouth fucked like that, but he didn't want to go there with Arthur just yet. He wanted to ease into things, for both their sakes. Arthur was practically a virgin and Merlin was already too far gone not to get hurt if things went badly, but he did like going slow.
Merlin pulled off for a moment and Arthur let out a shaky sigh.
"Are you remembering to breathe?" Merlin teased, looking up at Arthur's flushed face.
Arthur nodded, looking pained.
Merlin swirled his tongue idly around the head of Arthur's cock for a moment and Arthur whimpered quietly. Several beads of precome surfaced and Merlin lapped them up, keeping his eyes on Arthur's tense face. He knew Arthur was close and he wanted to make this first blowjob memorable if he couldn't make it last.
Arthur sighed when Merlin sat back on his haunches for a moment and then groaned obscenely when Merlin started sucking on two of his own fingers.
"Fuck, you're like a wet dream," Arthur whinged, grabbing his cock and stripping it quickly.
"Don't come," Merlin demanded, taking his fingers out of his mouth.
Arthur's hand tightened around his cock for a moment, but he let go and fisted Merlin's hair instead. His grip was painfully tight, but Merlin just smiled and let him guide Merlin's mouth back to his cock.
Merlin sucked roughly on the head for a moment and Arthur's hips lifted off the bed. Merlin moaned around Arthur's cock, relieved that Arthur had finally stopped the innocent routine and had started going after what he wanted. And since what he wanted was Merlin's mouth, Merlin was more than willing to give it to him. Merlin ignored the pain of his own aching cock, trapped inside his jeans, and focused only on Arthur and how natural it felt to be in this position - on his knees with his lips stretched around Arthur's cock while Arthur's fingers grabbed at his hair.
Merlin pushed at Arthur's chest until Arthur got the hint and leant back. He propped himself up on his elbows and Merlin looked up through lashes and fringe.
"Shit," Arthur breathed, rocking his hips slightly to meet Merlin's mouth.
Merlin slid his slick fingers over Arthur's balls and Arthur made a choked sound, but then Merlin slipped his fingers lower and Arthur positively wailed. Merlin had planned to stop after that first hint - to ask if it was all right, if it was something that Arthur wanted and could handle, if it wasn't too much too soon - but Arthur started coming before Merlin's fingertips had even reached their goal.
Merlin licked and sucked and swallowed as Arthur cried out and jerked through his orgasm. His hand was still clenched tightly in Merlin's hair - the edge of his thumb ring pressed roughtly into Merlin's scalp - so Merlin stayed put, breathing around Arthur's twitching, softening cock until Arthur let out a tremulous sigh and relaxed his fingers enough for Merlin to move.
Giving Arthur's cock one last kiss, Merlin sat back and took in Arthur's limp, flushed, fucked-out body. He was beautiful in his sleepy contentment, and Merlin had to fight to quell the bizarre pride that swelled in his chest at the sight.
Merlin moved to wipe his mouth, but Arthur sat up in a flash and kissed him hurriedly. It was wet and desperate and almost reverent; Merlin was breathless by the time Arthur pulled back, a drop of his own come on his lower lip. Merlin licked it off gently and Arthur closed his eyes with a sigh.
"I'm sorry I keep coming so quickly," Arthur said, his voice tight and his cheeks pink. "I'm not used to being with someone I actually... want."
Merlin shook his head quickly, the bizarre pride bursting uncontrollably behind his ribs. "Don't apologize." Arthur still looked unsure, so Merlin rubbed his hands reassuringly over Arthur's thighs. "We'll work up to the 6-hour tantric fucks, okay?"
Arthur laughed and covered Merlin's hands with his own, before standing and pulling Merlin up with him. He pressed one of his hands hard to Merlin's cock and Merlin bucked into the warm pressure.
"Can I..." Arthur bit his lip and frowned.
Merlin leant in close and brushed his nose against Arthur's. "Do you want to take off my jeans?"
Arthur's silent laugh was a huff on Merlin's cheek. "Obviously. I was trying to ask if - if you like what you did to me."
Merlin pulled back a little. "What?"
Arthur's eyes flittered restlessly across the room, seemingly unable to look at Merlin, but he set his jaw in determination. "The fingers thing. Do you want... me to do that to you?"
Merlin's cock throbbed against Arthur's palm as he kissed Arthur roughly. He tingled all over at the thought of Arthur inside him in any way.
"If you want to," Merlin managed, speaking into Arthur's mouth as Arthur's hands worked quickly to rid Merlin of his remaining clothing.
Arthur nodded and shoved Merlin's jeans and pants to the floor. Merlin clung to Arthur, letting him take control and do what he wanted. It took Arthur a moment, but eventually he turned them and advanced on Merlin until Merlin had no choice but to walk backwards and sit on the bed.
"Budge up," Arthur said, pushing at Merlin's legs.
Merlin crawled backwards up the bed until he could put his head on the pillows and Arthur descended on him. Arthur jerked Merlin's cocked roughly as his tongue traced every line of Merlin's tattoo.
Merlin moaned breathlessly, loving the drag of Arthur's thumb ring on his cock. He moved a hand to Arthur's hair when Arthur started kissing the side of his ribs, trying to direct Arthur's mouth elsewhere. Arthur ignored Merlin's suggestive tugs and nipped roughly at a leaf on Merlin's tattoo. Merlin squirmed and reached out to grab Arthur's wrist.
"You have to slow down," he pleaded, the familiar warmth of an inevitable orgasm already settling low in his stomach.
Arthur smiled sheepishly and loosened his grip as Merlin made him slow his rhythm. "Sorry."
He kissed a trail across the tattoo, over Merlin's hip, and down to Merlin's cock. Merlin tossed his head back and tried not to think about how Arthur was trying to suck the orgasm right of out him. Arthur clearly needed to work up to fingering him, and Merlin wanted to last long enough to experience it. He ran his fingers through Arthur's hair and used the leverage to control the speed of Arthur's bobbing mouth, but he couldn't control Arthur's tongue. It was swirling and teasing and licking and driving Merlin slowly out of his mind. He knew that Arthur had next to no experience giving blowjobs, but apparently Arthur was a fast learner and Merlin had a hard time holding back. He wanted to thrust up into Arthur's perfect mouth and beg for more, but he also wanted to slow down and wait for Arthur's fingers; it took a lot of effort to let that part of him win.
"Stop," he rasped when Arthur's tongue moved down to his balls. "Stop, stop."
Arthur looked up, his lips red and dripping wet and swollen. Merlin tugged roughly on Arthur's hair until Arthur shifted up for a kiss.
"Stop teasing me," he whispered, lifting his hips and sliding his cock against Arthur's. "You're hard again."
Arthur nodded and sat up. He sucked two fingers into his mouth and used his other hand to stroke himself lightly. Merlin closed his eyes and bit back a whimper. The image of Arthur, shagged out but still hard and still wanting, wanking and covering his fingers with slick spit was too much to handle. Merlin's cock throbbed angrily, wanting release, and he bit back a groan of frustration.
The bed shifted around his slightly and Merlin opened his eyes to see Arthur hovering over him uncertainly.
"Do I just..."
Merlin took Arthur's hand and guided it between his legs as he spread them and bent them at the knee. Arthur watched with a slightly dazed expression on his flushed face, his other hand still working slowly over his cock. Merlin closed his eyes again and inched the tip of one of Arthur's fingers inside himself, giving both of them time to adjust to the sensation. When he heard Arthur taking a deep breath, Merlin added his second finger and let go of his hand.
Arthur immediately crooked his fingers and Merlin gasped, eyes flying open and landing Arthur's face.
"Is this good?" Arthur asked quietly, his eyes wide and focused on Merlin's arse.
Merlin nodded and tried to fuck himself on Arthur's fingers, unable to keep still for even one second longer. "Yes - keep going. Keep them moving."
Arthur leant down to lick lightly at Merlin's cock as he started rocking his fingers. The drag of Arthur's skin was rough and there wasn't nearly enough spit or lube to ease the way, but Merlin didn't care. It felt good - too good. He groaned and reached down below Arthur's mouth to give his balls a sharp tug. He had been on the edge of coming for so long, but he was still unwilling to let the encounter end.
"Merlin," Arthur moaned and pressed his forehead into Merlin's hip. His breath came in ragged pants over Merlin's skin.
"Fuck, Arthur," Merlin whinged, pulling on his cock as the last of his restraint slipped away.
Arthur sucked roughly on Merlin's hip as his fingers moved faster and harder, and then they pressed right against Merlin's prostate and Merlin was coming before he could even take a breath. He arched off the bed, pulling Arthur with him, as his vision blurred and his ears roared with his rapid heartbeat. He came on his stomach and his chest and his neck and even, somehow, in Arthur's hair.
A moment passed as Merlin came back to his senses and he opened his eyes again. Arthur was sitting up, stroking himself without finesse. He came all over Merlin's front with a low groan and his fingers, still buried inside Merlin, jerked and shuddered with the rest of his body. Merlin gasped and bucked against the almost painful pressure as Arthur's fingers pushed up against his prostate.
Arthur pulled his hand away from Merlin and collapsed sideways, landing next to Merlin on the bed. He panted into Merlin's arm, one of his legs hooked over Merlin's.
"I hope you don't think this is too pathetic," he said, his voice muffled by the sheets and Merlin's damp skin, "but I had no idea sex could be so good."
Merlin closed his eyes against the mad grin that spread across his face. His heart beat excitedly, the bizarre pride from earlier trying to push its way out of his chest.
"It's not pathetic," he assured Arthur.
Arthur took a deep breath and inched further up the bed until he could drape his arm possessively across Merlin's front. He immediately removed his arm and sat up, pulling a face.
"My arm is covered in come."
Merlin snorted. "Your arm? My whole torso is covered in come!"
Arthur glanced down at the mess covering Merlin's front. "Is it always this messy?"
Merlin tried not to laugh at the question. "I guess it depends on what you do."
Arthur nodded and tried to clean off his arm with his other hand, then wiped that hand on Merlin's stomach.
"Do you... do you like getting fucked?" he asked as his fingers drew strange patterns over Merlin's front. "Or do you..."
Merlin brought Arthur's hand up to his mouth and licked it clean, pretending not to notice Arthur's half-choked off moan.
"I like getting fucked," he said simply. "A lot, actually." Merlin pressed a kiss into each of Arthur's fingertips before letting go of his hand. "What about you?"
Arthur shrugged, his lips twisting with indecision. "It... intrigues me. Although... the other way intrigues me more."
"The other way?"
"Getting to do the fucking," Arthur explained slowly.
Merlin grinned, his spent body thrumming in interest, and sat up to kiss Arthur's cheek. "Well, we'll have to explore those options sometime in the near future, then."
Arthur nodded stiffly.
"Do you have to get home?" Merlin asked a moment later, his lips still against Arthur's cheek.
"If you want me to."
"I don't," Merlin said quickly. "You can stay. Just..."
"Hm?" Arthur prompted, his arms coming up to encircle Merlin's waist in a loose hug.
Merlin closed his eyes and told himself to trust his instincts. Arthur wasn't looking for a string of meaningless fucks. There was something between them; he was sure of it now.
"Just don't be gone again when I wake up."
Arthur pulled Merlin tightly against him, the half-dried come smearing over his own chest. "I'll be here," he promised.
Merlin let the embrace linger for a moment before pulling back, unable to stop himself from grinning. "Good. Come get in the shower with me?"
Arthur nodded, looking slightly dumbstruck, and let Merlin pull him off the bed and across the flat, into the bathroom.
Arthur woke up with a strange pressure on his forehead. He shifted slightly, hoping it wasn't Matilda trying to wake up to let him know that she'd peed somewhere unfortunate to get back at him for some unknown offense.
After a few more moments, Arthur realised that there was not a cat paw or cat tail on his face. He opened his eyes in a panic and saw Merlin looking fondly down on him.
"Oh," Arthur said stupidly, wondering for a second why Merlin was in his bed. Then he blinked and remembered that he was in Merlin's bed and that he'd come no less than four times the night before, which was something he hadn't done in years.
"Good morning," Merlin said cheerily. He was sitting up next to Arthur, looking immensely pleased with himself.
Arthur felt his face carefully, still not sure what the pressure was from. He touched something cold and hard and completely foreign.
"What... what is on my head?" he asked, fighting the urge to grab it and fling it across the room.
Arthur sighed in relief and plucked the lizard off his face. It squirmed in his grip, its legs running pointlessly in the air. Arthur handed it back to Merlin as he pushed himself up into a sitting position.
Merlin set the lizard on the bed between them and ran his fingers down its long, colourful, spotted back.
"Is that how you usually wake up the men you sleep with?"
Merlin giggled adorably and Arthur couldn't stop himself from leaning forward for a good morning kiss. Marie Antoinette interrupted it by scrambling up to sit on Arthur's knee.
"If he goes for my balls, I'm tossing him on the floor," Arthur said seriously, watching the lizard carefully.
"Heartless," Merlin said, shaking his head.
"I've had a few too many close calls with Matilda's claws."
Merlin winced and Arthur lay back down. Marie Antoinette scampered up to sit on Arthur's chest before Arthur could even stop it from happening. He petted the lizard's tail cautiously, not wanting to startle it into running up his face again. It stayed calm and still, looking at him with vaguely curious eyes.
"Tell me a secret," Merlin said suddenly, lying down on his side next to Arthur, pressing their bodies together and draping his arm across Arthur's stomach.
"A bigger secret than the whole gay thing?" Arthur brought his free hand up to cover Merlin's and Merlin laced their fingers together.
"Yes," Merlin said into Arthur's shoulder. "That one's not a secret anymore, at least not to me. Tell me a new one."
"I'd like to be a sports photographer after I retire from football."
Merlin pinched Arthur's palm. "A new one."
"You know all my secrets," Arthur said. He had tried for teasing but it had come out serious, because it was true.
"Not all of them," Merlin insisted. "Tell me something you've never told anyone else."
Arthur laughed. "Merlin-"
"I am so serious," Merlin said. "If you don't tell me a secret then I will put Marie Antoinette on your balls without hesitation."
Arthur gripped Merlin's hand tightly. "You'll do no such thing. Let me think for a minute."
"You're a closeted celebrity," Merlin pointed out. "It shouldn't be so hard for you to think of a secret."
"Thanks," Arthur muttered.
Merlin pressed a kiss to Arthur's shoulder. "I mean that in the nicest possible way."
"I'm sure you do." Arthur licked his lips and stared up at the ceiling, trying to think of something interesting. "I could tell you about the... clichéd gay realisation I had when I was a teenager. Is that enough of a secret?"
"All right. So, when I was... probably 16 or so, I realised that I had a bit of a flirting problem."
"You didn't know how?" Merlin guessed.
"Oh, no. I knew exactly how to flirt. I mean that I had a flirting obsession. I flirted with everyone - young, old, attractive, ugly... male or female. I really liked the attention and I really liked it when people liked me."
"No one said anything about you flirting with blokes?"
"Not really. I tried to make it clear that I was only doing it to shock people. I was being a rebel, you know? That's what I told myself, too. Besides, no one really played along enough for it to be a noticeable thing."
"When did you... realise?" Merlin prompted.
"When someone started playing along," Arthur said quietly. He thought about the fit, witty, dark-skinned, dark-haired boy who had flirted with him on Camelot's youth team. The boy had looked not unlike Elyan, though Arthur wasn't going to share that detail with anyone. The boy had grown up to be a major player for another popular club and when their teams played against each other, he and Arthur only acknowledged each other with brief waves and curt nods. The past was behind them and neither of them could risk trying to sneak in a quick fumble just to relieve their pent-up homosexual frustrations.
"Who was it?" Merlin asked when Arthur had been silent for a long moment.
"It's not important. Anyway, if I told you his name you wouldn't recognise it. At least... I assume you wouldn't. You said you don't follow the sport."
"Is he famous?"
"Reasonably. He's a very good player."
"Is he on your team? Your football team, I mean."
Arthur chuckled. "No. We were on the youth team together. I flirted and he flirted and... eventually it went just a bit too far and we ended up... sucking each other off a few times."
"In the locker rooms?" Merlin teased.
"No. Well... once. Maybe."
"The time in the locker room was handjobs. The blowjobs were in my car or... in his garden when we were a bit high."
"Ooh, sex and drugs? You were a rebel."
Arthur laughed and pulled Merlin's arm tighter around his middle. Marie Antoinette shifted slightly but stayed put over Arthur's heart.
"We got signed before it got serious," Arthur said, finishing up the story. "He's married, now."
"Do you think he's bisexual?"
"I have no idea," Arthur admitted. "Honestly, I try not to think about it. It's in the past and it doesn't really matter much. He clearly hasn't told anyone, so I just... sort of pretend it never happened."
Merlin was quiet for a minute, his fingers brushing over the hairs on the back of Arthur's arm.
"So, being blown by your teammate in a garden helped you realise you were gay?"
Arthur laughed at how absurd it sounded. "Basically."
"And you've hidden it until now?"
"Um... yeah. Yes."
Merlin snuggled closer and put his head on Arthur's chest, forcing Marie Antoinette to wiggle onto Arthur's other shoulder.
"It's not your fault," Arthur said quietly.
"I know. I just didn't know what else to say."
Merlin nuzzled Arthur's collarbone and Arthur took a deep breath, trying not to think about what being with Merlin would mean for his future. He just wanted to focus on this quiet moment and how it felt to be wrapped in Merlin.
"So... I'm not like... the first gay bloke you've known since then, am I?" Merlin asked, his voice soft.
"Not by a long shot. Though, you're definitely the cutest."
Arthur could feel Merlin's lips curling into a smile against his bare skin. "Have you ever fancied anyone else?" Arthur drummed his fingers on Merlin's arm at the thought of spilling that particular secret and Merlin lifted his head curiously. "I think your heart just tried to run away."
Arthur forced a smile. "I fancied that physio last year."
Merlin laid his head back down. "Oh, right. You did mention that. Was he gay?"
"I'm pretty sure. He flirted with me a little bit... well, he flirted with everyone a little bit, but... no one else on the team is gay. Not that I know of, anyway. Though, I guess..." Arthur shook his head, unwilling to follow that train of thought. "Anyway, it was really hard not to flirt back with him, especially when he... well, he was really good at massages."
Merlin's shoulders shook in silent laughter.
"Anyway, he... it was really bad," Arthur said shortly.
Arthur nodded. "It was stressful. I hadn't liked someone that much in years. Plus... you know, it was a bloke. And we worked together, which just made it impossible to ignore. I was under a lot of pressure - it was my first season as captain - and I just sort of... let it all get to me. I had a bit of a breakdown."
Merlin frowned and squeezed Arthur closer. "Why?"
"I didn't know how to handle it," Arthur said simply. "There wasn't anyone I could talk to about it. Most people assumed it was just a result of being captain, but it wasn't. It was the physio. He was everywhere and he was gorgeous and I couldn't have him. I started hating myself for being this way and... and forcing myself to hide the fact that I am this way. I stopped eating."
"I'm okay, now," Arthur said quickly. "I mean, it's not... it's still difficult. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't skipped a few meals since I started getting to know you."
Merlin pressed his face hard against Arthur's shoulder.
"You don't have to worry about me," Arthur insisted. "I'm nowhere near as bad as I was last year. Plus, now I have people to talk to before I start starving myself... you, Lance... it's good. I'm good."
Merlin nodded. "Good."
Arthur tightened his grip on Merlin and lay in comfortable, comforting silence for a minute.
"So, that was a lot of secrets," he finally said.
Merlin shifted up and rested his chin on Arthur's chest. "Any more?"
Arthur ran his hand through Merlin's messy hair. "I donate all the money I make from modelling to gay charities."
Merlin burst into inexplicable laugher. Arthur shoved him off and sat up, forgetting about the lizard who fell, squirming, into his lap. Arthur snatched it up before it could accidentally swipe his balls and placed it on Merlin's head.
"Why is that so funny?" he asked, trying not to be offended.
Merlin pushed Marie Antoinette onto the pillow and sat up to give Arthur a long kiss.
"It's not funny," he whispered. "You're perfect."
"Now that is funny," Arthur said, pulling away. "I tell you that I had an eating disorder due to gay stress and you tell me that I'm perfect?"
"No, you tell me that you donate huge amounts of money to gay charities and then I tell you that you're perfect. Do they know it's you donating the money?"
Arthur shook his head. "It's done anonymously."
Merlin kissed Arthur slowly and sweetly. "I think it's lovely. You're a good man."
Arthur couldn't hold back a smile. "I do try."
They kissed again but were interrupted by Arthur's grumbling stomach.
"I should go eat," Arthur said against Merlin's insistent lips. "And I should probably feed Matilda, too."
Merlin pressed another brief kiss to Arthur's lips before sitting back. "Yeah, I should go running... try to get some work done this afternoon."
"How often do you go running?" Arthur asked, his fingers trailing over Merlin's thighs.
"I try to go two or three times a week, if I can convince myself to get up early enough. Some weeks I only manage on Saturday mornings."
Arthur hummed in response and leant forward to nuzzle Merlin's neck. He didn't want to leave.
"Do you want to come to my game tomorrow?" he asked, his lips dragging across Merlin's collarbone. "I can get tickets for you and Gwen and everyone."
Merlin slid his fingers into Arthur's hair and tugged until Arthur leant back. "Sure."
"Who do you think will want to come?"
"Gwen, definitely. Elyan... Freya and Morgana, probably, as long as you don't mind."
"I don't mind. I'll get five tickets, then."
"Perfect." Merlin sprawled back out on the bed and watched as Arthur went around the bedroom, picking up and putting on his clothes from the previous day.
"I'll drop the tickets off in the morning," he said, leaning down to kiss Merlin's cheek.
"See you tomorrow."
Arthur took one last look at Merlin stretched gloriously naked across the bed, Marie Antoinette perched on one shoulder, before forcing himself to go back to his own flat.
Merlin made sure to sit next to Elyan during the game on Sunday. Elyan's enthusiasm for watching live football was explosive and contagious and exactly what Merlin wanted. He didn't want to think about the fact that he was having secret gay sex with Camelot's star and he didn't want to field awkward questions from his overly curious friends. He just wanted to get swept up in the excitement of the match, and Elyan helped him do just that. Although, Merlin did draw the line at buying a Camelot scarf.
Freya and Morgana spent most of the game ignoring everything around them and discussing a concert they had been to the night before. Merlin found it a bit odd, especially considering that it was Morgana's brother on the pitch and her father up in the executive seats. However, despite apparently not paying any attention to the match, she did cheer just as loud as Elyan when Camelot made a good run down the line.
Gwen, sitting on Merlin's other side, talked his ear off about Lance every chance she got. He wanted to ask her - teasingly, of course - "What about Gwaine?" but he knew that her response would be "What about Arthur?" and he didn't want to go there.
Lance scored the only goal of the match, and it didn't come until the final minutes of the second half. Arthur was the first one to congratulate him and Merlin watched the scene on the pitch with an uncontrollable grin. Arthur leapt onto Lance's back and Lance actually ran a few steps, carrying Arthur easily and pumping his fists in the air. Then Gwaine and Leon flung themselves onto Lance as well, and the whole group toppled to the ground, laughing and cheering.
Elyan shouted himself hoarse but was unflappably cheerful on their way back to the car park. Everyone piled into Morgana's car and agreed to go to the Dragon for a round of celebratory drinks.
Merlin pulled out his mobile and spent most of the ride texting Arthur.
From Arthur: Say it like you mean it.
OMG YOU PLAYED THE BEST FUCKING GAME OF YOUR LIFE HOLY SHIT I CAN'T EVEN BREATHE I THINK I LOST MY VOICE FROM CHEERING SO MUCH YOU ARE A FOOTBALL GOD AND I WOULD GET DOWN ON MY KNEES AND SUCK YOU OFF IN THE LOCKER ROOMS IF YOU WEREN'T SURROUNDED BY SCARY SECURITY GUARDS.
From Arthur: I'm sure we could work something out.
From Arthur: Yes. I. Am.
I don't share well.
From Arthur: I'll keep that in mind. Are you on your way home?
I was. I got lost at the stadium, though. I think I'm in the locker room. There are a lot of huge naked blokes and they're staring at me like they're very, very hungry.
From Arthur: Cannibal Football Club.
Come save me.
From Arthur: Not sure which locker room you're in, mate. The one I'm in only has chickens.
From Arthur: Yes. Chicken Football Club.
Merlin snorted with laughter and Elyan raised an eyebrow, peering into Merlin's lap. Merlin tucked his mobile away in his pocket.
"Who are you texting?"
"Who do you think?"
"I'm not really sure, to be honest. Everyone you know is in this car."
"How do you think I got us these tickets, then?"
Elyan's eyes lit up. "Sexting?" he asked in a stage whisper.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "No. We're talking about cannibals and chickens."
Merlin shrugged happily and turned to look out the window, watching London speed by. His pocket didn't buzz again until they were settled at the back of the Dragon with beers already in their hands and several baskets of chips on the way.
From Arthur: Home?
From Arthur: Can I come?
From Arthur: Can I bring Gwaine and Lance?
Merlin glanced at Gwen and considered asking her permission, but she was deep in conversation with Morgana about some story she was working on for the paper.
Definitely. Bring condoms, too. I see an orgy in our future.
Arthur didn't respond to that and Merlin spent several long minutes panicking and actually praying that Lance or Gwaine hadn't accidentally seen his text.
Luckily, Arthur and his teammates showed up before Merlin could get too paranoid. All three of them came into the Dragon wearing sunglasses and didn't take them off until they had found extra chairs and settled themselves at Merlin's table.
"You look like the Mafia," Merlin said flatly as Arthur finally removed his glasses.
"I am the Mafia," Gwaine said confidently.
"That explains the accent," Lance teased.
Merlin laughed and did a quick round of introductions before the waitress came over to take more drink orders. Their group got a lot of looks from other pub patrons and Merlin was sure it wasn't just because there were 8 of them packed together in a small space; they were sitting with three famous footballers and people were noticing.
Arthur looked adorably nervous, sitting across from Merlin and between his two friends. He kept sneaking glances at the door, as if he were worried that someone would burst in and ruin all the fun. He chatted easily with everyone though, even Merlin, and Merlin couldn't help but be relieved that he wasn't panicking or closing off.
Gwen spent a few minutes looking guiltily between Lance and Gwaine, until Gwaine started trying to flirt with a thoroughly nonplussed Morgana, which left Gwen to flirt freely with Lance. Merlin watched them carefully, taking in the way they were angled toward each other and looking at each other with bright eyes and wide grins. They were both trying so hard to make a good impression. It was adorable and slightly heartbreaking; Merlin wanted that with Arthur. He wanted to be able to take a sip of Arthur's beer. He wanted to be able to jokingly feed Arthur a chip in front of everyone. He wanted to flirt with Arthur, and not just in the privacy of their own homes.
Merlin hadn't wanted or needed to hide his sexuality for so long that he had forgotten how to do it, and it wasn't something he wanted to remember.
He chanced a glance at Arthur and saw that Arthur was watching Gwen and Lance, too. Arthur's expression was sad and jealous, and Merlin knew that those feelings were mirrored on his own face. He knocked his foot against Arthur's and Arthur started slightly, his gaze snapping to Merlin. Merlin smiled innocently and popped another chip in his mouth.
Arthur's eyes narrowed in a challenge that Merlin eagerly accepted. They played a risky game of footsie under the table, each trying to push the other one to go further without getting noticed. Merlin actually managed to slip one of his shoes off and run his toes along the inside of Arthur's thigh. Arthur blushed so much from it that Merlin offered him a chip as an apology and resolutely kept the rest of the game to below the knees.
It wasn't as blatant as Lance and Gwen batting their eyelashes at each other, but it was enough for now.
More rounds were ordered and Merlin let himself zone out, thinking about what the future might be like with Arthur. If Arthur ever came out - to his family, to his team, to the fans - and if Merlin was still involved with Arthur, then Merlin's life would change drastically. There would be articles and interviews and paparazzi and awkward tabloid photos. It would be huge.
Merlin had never considered himself ripe for celebrity. He was gangly and too nerdy and awkward to carry on normal conversations with strangers. He had his small group of friends and that was all he had ever really wanted. But Arthur's life was so much more complicated than that.
Arthur nudged Merlin's knee with the toe of his shoe and Merlin blinked and looked up, wondering how long he had been thinking. Arthur gave him a small, private smile and Merlin decided to stop thinking about the future and to start focusing on the way that Arthur's ankles were locked with his own.
Arthur tried to get out of the locker room quickly, but George and Leon, the vice-captain, cornered him before he could sneak off home. George had wanted to check-in with them about the upcoming FA Challenge Cup match, but the conversation devolved into team gossip and mild insults about Mercia.
It was half an hour before Arthur was allowed to make his excuses and return to the locker room to grab his things. He was halfway to the door when he was stopped again, this time by Lance.
"Are you stalking me?" Arthur asked blandly, pushing past Lance and making his way out of the locker room.
Lance followed him. "It feels like it. You've been avoiding me."
"I've been busy," Arthur lied.
"Too busy to talk to your best mate?"
Arthur glanced over his shoulder. "My - I've just been busy."
"Hence the stalking." Lance jogged for a few steps to catch up with Arthur as they reached the car park. "How are things with Merlin?"
"You know it's not actually any of your business, right?"
Lance shrugged. "I guess, but I'm still interested. And considering how much effort it took to get you to talk to him in the first place, I feel that I deserve to know how it went."
"I'm not sure that makes sense."
Lance dropped his bag on the ground and sat on the front of Arthur's car. "Come on. You used to talk to me about your girlfriends all the time. Why should it be different with Merlin?"
"Because he's not my girlfriend," Arthur said dully, shoving his bag at Lance.
Lance grunted and shoved it right back. Arthur stumbled at the force of Lance's push and flung the bag into his backseat.
"Is he your boyfriend, then?"
Arthur leant against the side of the car next to his, not caring whose it was. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "I guess that means no, but we're definitely... something. I'm just not too clear on the details."
"And you're okay with that?"
"I think so," Arthur said, staring down at his trainers. "I don't think we need to rush into anything. This is pretty new... for both of us, though for very different reasons."
"But he fancies you?"
Arthur nodded, biting back a smile.
"Good. I'm happy for you."
Arthur looked up and took in Lance's calm, content expression and genuine tone. Lance truly didn't care that Arthur was with another man; he only cared that Arthur was happy.
Something snapped into place in Arthur's mind and he paused for a moment, overwhelmed. True and loyal friends would want Arthur to be happy, regardless of who exactly it was that made him happy. And everyone else - everyone who would care that it was Merlin - didn't matter. Arthur didn't need to count any bigoted, unsupportive people as friends, and even if they had to stay in his life because of football, he could take the high road and be the bigger person and accept them anyway, even if they didn't accept him. He just wanted to be happy, and he was pretty sure that he could be happy even if people didn't like who he was with. People already disliked him for much pettier reasons; he could handle a bit of homophobia. He'd been handling it for years, although rarely to his face and never because anyone actually knew he was gay.
Lance's brow furrowed and Arthur blinked, snapping out of his thoughts.
"I'm happy for me, too," Arthur admitted. "For once. I forgot something inside." He started walking backwards toward the clubhouse, waving at Lance. "Go home and take a proper shower - you reek!"
"Go home and take a proper shower," Lance called after him, jumping off the hood of his car. "You're ugly!"
Arthur laughed and gestured rudely before turning and running back into the training ground. He ran straight to Uther's office, unwilling to stop for even a second in case he changed his mind.
"Is he in there?" he asked the secretary.
She nodded and started to say something, but Arthur barged past her desk and into his father's office.
Uther was poring over some paperwork, looking bored and tired.
"Arthur," he said, glancing up in surprise. "Do we have an appointment?"
"No. But I have to tell you something and if I don't do it now then I never will." Arthur closed the door behind him, ignoring the way that the secretary was practically falling out of her seat to get a glimpse into Uther's office.
"Is something wrong?" Uther prompted when Arthur turned back around.
"No," Arthur said again. "There's nothing wrong. I'm just - I'm gay."
For a moment, all Arthur could hear was his own heart pounding in his ears. Uther's office was silent and still and Arthur waited. He waited for Uther to scream or cry or disown him or call him disgusting and disappointing. He waited for a reaction of any kind, but Uther continued sitting at his large desk, a perfectly blank expression on his face.
"What makes you say that?" he asked calmly.
Arthur had to laugh at the absurd question and Uther frowned at the way the loud noise echoed in his office. "The fact that I like having sex with men."
Uther closed his eyes, flinching slightly. "Arthur-"
"I'm not looking for approval," Arthur said quickly, confident that he didn't need it or want it, even if Uther was going to give it. Uther didn't look destroyed and honestly, that was enough for Arthur; it was more than he had ever expected. He strode across the room and rested his hands on the back of the chair in front of Uther's desk. "I just needed you to know. I'm... there's a man and I think... if I have to be out and proud in order to be with him, then I will be. I'm not going to come out to the team or the press or anything just yet, but I will at some point and I thought you should know."
"Is this new?" Uther asked, his eyes opening and glaring darkly at his son.
Arthur shook his head. "I've known for a very long time who I am and what - and who I want. I thought I had to hide it but I was wrong. For the first time in my life I am actually close to being happy with someone and I don't want to lose that just because of what I've chosen as my career. I don't care what you have to say about it, but I thought you should know. As the owner and... and as my father, you deserved to know."
Uther studied his son for a long moment and Arthur refused to break eye contact. He looked worried and sad and more tired than Arthur had seen him in years.
"Who else knows?"
"No one. Well, Lance knows, but he's the only one... for now."
"And this - this man?" Uther's face was tight, his eyes narrowed and his lips a thin line.
"Obviously he knows. And maybe a few of his friends, but they won't tell."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because they're my friends too," Arthur said simply.
Uther rubbed his eyes and let out a long, defeated-sounding sigh. "You may go."
"Go," Uther said sternly, returning his attention to the paperwork on his desk.
Arthur slumped and retreated to the door, wondering if that was the end of their personal relationship. It had been in shambles for years but that didn't mean that Arthur wanted it to end - it didn't mean that Arthur didn't love his father. There had been a glimmer of hope for a moment when Uther didn't immediately lash out at Arthur, but it was gone now and all that was left was Uther brushing Arthur aside, as he always did.
Arthur paused for a moment with his hand on the doorknob and turned to look at his father, trying to read the man's body language. His shoulders were tight and his grip on the pen in his hand was loose - he was only pretending to be reading.
When he didn't hear Arthur leaving, Uther looked back up.
"You'll always be my son, Arthur," he said quietly. "But we are going to hire a damn good publicist."
Arthur nodded, his throat too tight to say anything, and left without waving goodbye to either Uther or the secretary.
Merlin was scribbling in a notebook, trying to get his fingers to catch up with his mind before he lost his ideas. His advisor was asking for a draft of a new chapter of his thesis and he didn't have much to show yet. He had two or three weeks before he needed to send anything, but he knew he needed to crack down on his research habits. He had been distracted lately and he needed as much time as he could get, especially because he wrote better by hand and it took a long time to type up all of his ramblings.
His train of thought came to an abrupt halt in the middle of a sentence and Merlin slumped back in his chair, tapping the tip of the pen against the edge of his desk. He stared at his notebook, waiting for something to come to him, but there was nothing. His mind was blank except for the thought that he might run into Arthur in the hallway upon his return home.
Merlin dropped the pen and scrubbed his hands over his face. He needed a quick break, something to refresh him, and then he would get back to work.
Turning his attention to his computer, he checked his email and the weather and the news. Nothing caught his attention and he found himself typing "Arthur Pendragon" into the search bar before he could think better of it and stop himself. There were a few fan sites that he avoided, but he pulled up some biographies and scanned them quickly. They all said told the same story - that Arthur was a life-long Camelot player who grew up in the youth league and was signed to the first-team at an early age, and had been improving by leaps and bounds each year. Some biographies mentioned his mother, Ygraine, who had been the director of communications for Camelot Football Club before she died due to complications from Arthur's birth. Most focused only on Arthur's father.
Next, Merlin scrolled cautiously through Arthur's Twitter. He didn't know what he was expecting to find, but somehow he was surprised to see how much Arthur interacted with his fans. He answered questions, asked questions of his own, played along with jokes, told anecdotes from practices and locker rooms and trips to away games. He was funny and friendly but there wasn't a single hint at his personal life. His Twitter was football-centric and there was no mention of former girlfriends or family members or even Matilda.
After a moment of squeamish debate in his own head, Merlin ran an image search. Most of the pictures that came up were of Arthur on the pitch in the middle of a game, his face twisted in concentration and his sweaty hair flapping in some gravity-defying way. Some of the pictures were of Arthur at press conferences, looking serious and professional. Others were of Arthur hugging his teammates or shouting at referees or dressed in a devastating suit and standing next to a stone-faced but handsome man that Merlin knew had to be his father. There were pictures of Arthur's modelling campaigns and pictures of Arthur looking slightly drunk outside of clubs and pictures of
Arthur with beautiful women.
"Working hard or hardly working?"
Merlin jumped in surprise and nearly fell out of his chair. He clutched at his rapidly pounding heart and glared up at Arthur, who was standing casually in the doorway to Merlin's office with a wide, shit-eating grin.
"That's a terrible joke," Merlin panted. "How the fuck did you find me?"
Arthur held up his mobile. "Internet. I looked up the address of the only French archives in London. The front door was unlocked, so I just wandered through until I saw you. You should get a security guard or something."
"We don't have a lot of break-ins." Merlin quickly closed out his internet browser, trying to appear innocent.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, nodding at the computer.
"Oh, um... working."
Arthur cocked his head to the side. "You're blushing."
"I'm not," Merlin protested.
"Were you looking at porn?"
Arthur laughed and stepped further into Merlin's office. "Why else would you be blushing?"
Merlin picked up his pen and tapped it against his notebook. "Did you just come from training?"
"Don't change the subject. What were you looking at?"
Merlin shrugged and tried to go back to writing in his notebook, but all he could think about was the way Arthur was staring at him and waiting for an answer.
He sighed and drew a doodle of a cat in the corner of his notebook. "I may have been looking at pictures of you."
Arthur tossed his head back and laughed. "Why?"
"I got bored," Merlin admitted. "And I was... curious."
"Did you find anything good?" Arthur asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Not really. You're not very photogenic."
Arthur laughed again and stepped closer to run his hands over the edge of Merlin's desk. "You have this whole office to yourself?"
Merlin nodded, glancing around the tiny room. There wasn't much in it - it was too small for anything other than his desk and a few chairs and shelves - but it was his.
"It's nice," Arthur said quietly, sounding distracted.
Merlin noticed the tension building in the office and watched Arthur for a moment, taking in his restless fingers and his bitten lips and his darting, unsure eyes.
"Are you all right?"
Arthur shrugged with one shoulder and slowly dragged his gaze up from Merlin's desk to Merlin's face. "I... I came out to my father."
Merlin dropped his pen in surprise. "You - what?"
Arthur nodded, his brow furrowed. "Yeah. I told him."
"What did he say?" Merlin asked, pushing out of his chair and rounding the desk to wrap Arthur in a hug.
"He said that I'll always be his son," Arthur said into Merlin's neck. His hands were clutching at the back of Merlin's shirt and Merlin could feel them trembling slightly.
"That's good," Merlin assured him, rubbing his back gently. "Isn't it?"
Arthur nodded. "I think so. It's probably the best possible reaction he could have, to be honest."
Merlin pulled back slightly and rested his palm on Arthur's cheek. Arthur tilted his head, leaning into Merlin's touch.
"I'm really proud of you," Merlin said, his eyes on Arthur's soft pout. "I know that sounds ridiculous, but I am."
"Thanks. I... I guess I'm proud of myself, too."
"What made you do it?"
Arthur covered Merlin's hand with his own and laced their fingers together as he moved their hands to his chest. "I was talking with Lance about us - about you, I mean. And I sort of realised that... I mean, I've known for years that I wasn't actually happy and I sort of knew that I wouldn't be until I started being honest about myself with other people, but I had this moment of urgency and I just... I just did it. I knew that if I kept putting it off that I would lose my nerve and nothing would ever happen, so I went up to his office and just sort of... blurted it out."
Merlin traced Arthur's lips with a fingertip and Arthur's lips pursed, pressing a small kiss to Merlin's finger. Merlin replaced his finger with his own lips and Arthur sighed with relief. Arthur's arms wrapped tightly around Merlin's back and Merlin drew out the kiss, not wanting to separate himself from Arthur's mouth.
"Do you have a lot of work?" Arthur asked, his words muffled by the lingering kiss.
"Good." Arthur pushed Merlin against the desk and kissed him heartily, fingers already working to undo Merlin's trousers.
"We can't do this here," Merlin hissed when Arthur pushed his pants and trousers down off his hips.
"Is there anyone else here?" Arthur asked sensibly, his expression innocent and curious.
"Then there's nothing to worry about."
Merlin gripped Arthur's hips tightly, knowing he wouldn't be able to think about anything other than this encounter for as long as he would have this office.
"Please," Arthur breathed just below Merlin's ear. "Please."
Merlin nodded and gasped as Arthur dropped to his knees and nuzzled Merlin's half-hard cock in an unbearably affectionate way, as if Merlin was something precious to be treasured and memorised. Merlin tangled his fingers in Arthur's hair and tried to breathe as he got achingly hard in record time.
"Fuck, Arthur," Merlin moaned when Arthur swallowed his cock to the root as if he'd been doing it for years.
Arthur hollowed his cheeks and pulled back with such a maddening slowness that Merlin was practically choking on his own tongue.
"You're a nightmare," Merlin muttered when Arthur finally reached the head of his cock and licked around it with teasing swirls.
Arthur pulled off Merlin's cock and sat back on his haunches, looking up at Merlin with a frown. "Really? When you did this for me I said you were a wet dream. And you call me a nightmare? How is that fair?"
"How is it fair that you're talking so much when you should be doing other things?" Merlin gestured meaningfully at his crotch.
Arthur rolled his eyes and sat perfectly still; he was a picture of patience.
Merlin groaned and reached out to card his fingers through Arthur's hair. "You're perfection," he said in a low voice.
Arthur's eyes lit up as he grinned and moved closer to shower light and teasing kisses over Merlin's balls. Merlin took a deep breath and waited, but Arthur contented himself with touches that weren't nearly enough until Merlin fisted Arthur's hair and tilted his head back.
The sight of Arthur on his knees between Merlin's legs - his head pushed back and his usually bright blue eyes dark with arousal and his lips wet and already swollen red and parted just so, as if he were silently begging for Merlin to come all over his face - was too much. Merlin let out a deep groan and pulled Arthur's head back down until he could push his cock past those ready lips.
Arthur moaned eagerly around Merlin's cock and Merlin closed his eyes, resigning himself to the fact that Arthur was going to make him come embarrassingly soon. He gripped the edge of the desk behind him with both of his hands, trying to keep himself from slumping onto the floor or thrusting wildly into Arthur's mouth.
Arthur's tongue flicked mercilessly against the extra-sensitive spot on the underside of Merlin's cock and Merlin's knees buckled slightly. He clung to the desk, gasping and rocking his hips until Arthur sucked so hard that it hurt. Merlin came in the moment between an inhale and an exhale, his breath caught in his throat and his cock pulsing hotly in Arthur's mouth.
"Oh my God," Merlin panted when he could breathe again, moving one hand to Arthur's shoulder to steady himself as Arthur continued licking him until his cock was soft and no longer twitching with surprisingly powerful aftershocks.
Arthur sat back, his face flushed and his lips impossibly wet and red, and looked up at Merlin with wild, needy, possessive eyes.
Merlin grabbed Arthur's shirt and pulled him up for a kiss. They stumbled as they switched places, Arthur's hands tangling through Merlin's hair and Merlin's hands fumbled unnecessarily with the drawstring of Arthur's track pants.
There was a distant bang and the sound of someone coughing, and Merlin and Arthur froze mid-grope.
"Fuck," Merlin hissed. He tucked himself back into his pants and pulled up his trousers quickly. "It's the cleaning guy," he explained. "It must be 6 o'clock." Arthur paled and Merlin kissed him gently. "Don't worry."
"Um." Arthur looked down and Merlin followed his gaze. Arthur's erection was tenting the front of his track pants in an extremely obvious way.
"Oh," Merlin said dumbly. He stared at it, completely distracted, until there was another, closer bang and Arthur tensed. "Sit in my chair," Merlin suggested. "I'll get my things ready to leave."
"You aren't staying until 7?" Arthur asked.
Merlin shook his head. "Not tonight. Go sit." He pressed a hard kiss to Arthur's lips before starting to clear off his desk.
Arthur settled in Merlin's chair and busied himself with his mobile.
"Good evening, Mr Emrys." Anhora, the elderly cleaning man, stepped into Merlin's office and headed for the rubbish bin, but stopped when he saw Arthur sitting in Merlin's chair.
"This is Arthur," Merlin said, eager to break the tension. "He was just stopping by. Arthur, this is Anhora. He does our cleaning."
Arthur lifted himself off the chair slightly, half-standing but still hidden behind the desk, and shook Anhora's hand. It was obvious that Anhora recognised Arthur and wanted to say something, but he stayed silent as he collected the trash.
"You don't usually have visitors," he said finally, just as it looked like he was about to leave.
"No," Merlin agreed stupidly. "I... he's giving me a lift," he invented. "We're neighbours."
Anhora eyed the two of them carefully and Merlin could see Arthur sinking lower into the chair, his face burning.
"Goodnight," Merlin said when it became clear that Anhora wasn't going to leave without prodding.
Anhora narrowed his eyes but left without anything more than a wave and a nod.
Arthur slumped back in Merlin's chair, limp with relief. "Do you think he heard us?"
Merlin shook his head and leant across his desk for a kiss. "Drive me home?"
"Of course." Arthur grinned and, blushing ever so slightly, took Merlin's hand and led him out of the archives and over to his car. Merlin beamed the whole way, unable and unwilling to try to control the mad grin on his face.
When they reached their floor, Arthur half expected Merlin to kiss him goodnight and go home to do more work or make dinner. His erection had flagged somewhat in the car on the way home, though Merlin's heated looks had kept him half-hard for the whole trip.
"Are you - oomph." Arthur grunted as Merlin pushed him against his own door and kissed him senseless until he was fully hard again and his cock was straining against Merlin's thigh.
"Can I come in?" Merlin asked with a mischievous grin.
Arthur nodded breathlessly and turned to fight with his lock for a moment. When they were finally inside, Merlin wasted no time in removing all of Arthur's clothes. Before he even knew what was happening, Arthur found himself completely naked and standing in front of a very clothed Merlin.
"Well, this isn't fair," Arthur complained, crossing his arms over his chest.
Merlin grinned and turned, shedding items of clothing as he made his way toward Arthur's bedroom. Arthur locked his door quickly and followed to find Merlin sitting on his bed up near the pillows, marvellously long and thin and naked.
Arthur crawled on top of him, pausing briefly to give his half-hard cock a firm lick, and kissed him until they were both panting and practically clawing at each other. Merlin was writhing beneath Arthur, seeking friction, and it was driving Arthur slightly out of his mind.
"You're such a tease," Merlin complained, reaching down between them and wrapping his fingers around both of their cocks.
Arthur watched Merlin's hand for a few seconds, biting his lip and remembering the first time he and Merlin had shaken hands - back on that strange morning when they had been teamed up to play Taboo - and he had noticed how long and thin Merlin's fingers were. They had been striking then, but now they were pulling on both of their cocks with a firm, expert grip. Arthur dropped his forehead onto Merlin's shoulder and tried to control his breathing; he didn't want to come yet.
Merlin's other hand came up to the back of Arthur's head and Arthur almost cried out at the feeling of being wrapped in Merlin and held by Merlin and shielded from the rest of the world by Merlin.
"You have no idea what you do to me," Arthur rasped, dragging his lips from Merlin's shoulder to Merlin's ear. Merlin's hips twitched slightly and Arthur licked up the shell of Merlin's ear before he continued. "I want you so badly - I've wanted you for so long. Fuck, you're gorgeous and I want - I want..."
Merlin's fingers tightened briefly around their cocks but then he let go and kissed Arthur. It was tense and desperate and too full of teeth, but it made Arthur groan and start rutting against Merlin's hip anyway.
"What do you want?" Merlin gasped when Arthur tore away to suck on his neck.
Arthur moved down slightly and chose a spot just below one of Merlin's prominent collarbones; he kissed it lightly before wrapping his lips around the skin and sucking hard enough to leave a bruise. Merlin moaned and arched up against him, fingers scrambling across his back for something to hold onto.
"What do you want?" Merlin asked again, his voice hoarse and wrecked and rough with desire. The sound went straight to Arthur's cock, which throbbed and leaked precome over Merlin's thigh.
Merlin grabbed Arthur's hair and pulled him up. "What. Do you want."
Arthur could feel his eyes widening at the crazed expression on Merlin's face. "I want you," he managed. "I want - I want to fuck you."
Merlin tossed his head back on the pillow and thrust his hips up against Arthur's a few times, groaning.
Arthur sat up quickly and braced his hands across Merlin's thighs, knowing he would come if it he let Merlin hump him like that for any longer. Merlin was panting beneath Arthur on the bed, his face flushed and his cock hard and red and dripping. The dark lines of his tattoo were in stark contrast to his pale skin and Arthur couldn't stop staring at it. Arthur slid his hands up to Merlin's chest and brushed his fingers over Merlin's nipples, relishing in how solid and warm Merlin was. Arthur was strong, but Merlin was strong, too; he ran and he did yoga, and his body had sharp angles and defined muscles.
"Please," Merlin whinged, his back arching off the bed and into Arthur's touch.
Arthur slid his hands down to Merlin's thin waist and narrow, straight hips.
"You want... are you sure?"
Merlin nodded. "Please tell me you have lube."
Arthur grinned and rolled to the side of the bed to root around in his side table. He found condoms and lube and sat back up with them, remembering what he had found in Merlin's side table.
Merlin reached out and ran his hands over Arthur's thighs. "What?"
"Your... do you..." Arthur bit his lip and stared down at the supplies in his hands. "You had a lot more exciting things in your nightstand."
Merlin propped himself up on his elbows. "I forgot you saw all that," he admitted.
Arthur shrugged and twisted open the lube. "Do you want... anything? Because we can go across the hall and get something, if you need."
Merlin struggled to sit up with Arthur straddling his thighs, but he managed and pulled Arthur in for a hard kiss. "No, I don't need that. Those are just for fun - for sometimes. I only want you."
Arthur pushed Merlin back onto the bed, something new and unnameable flaring in his chest. He poured lube over his fingers and pushed Merlin's legs apart.
Merlin moaned happily when Arthur pushed his first finger in easily.
Arthur tried to go slowly, to give them both time to cool down and come back from the edge, but Merlin wasn't have any of that. He was fucking himself enthusiastically on Arthur's fingers, trying to get Arthur to move faster. Arthur couldn't help but comply; it took no time at all for him to have three fingers shoved inside Merlin's arse and he was thrusting and twisting and curling them all, trying to get Merlin to beg for it.
It didn't take long.
"Stop teasing me," Merlin panted, his hips twisting up off the bed as Arthur's rhythm slowed. "God, you're terrible."
Arthur laughed and pulled his fingers out. Merlin groaned and fell limply onto the bed, already looking completely fucked out.
"If you don't fuck me," Merlin said, reaching out lazily and trailing his fingers across Arthur's balls, "then I am walking out of your flat naked and going back to my own and fucking myself on a huge vibrating dildo."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "I don't believe you."
Merlin groaned and tugged roughly on Arthur's balls. "Please."
Arthur nodded wordlessly and busied himself with the condom and more lube. When he was ready, he settled himself between Merlin's legs and tried not to think too hard about what he was about to do.
Merlin flung his legs up and around Arthur, hooking his knees over Arthur's shoulders and dragging himself into Arthur's lap. Arthur gaped down at Merlin, who was grinning.
"Fuck me, Pendragon," he said in a low, teasing voice.
Arthur choked out a laugh and grabbed his cock, pressing the tip of it to Merlin's slick hole, which was on full display for him.
Merlin pushed forward impatiently and Arthur couldn't stop the groans that fell past his lips as Merlin's tight muscles relaxed for a second to allow him in and then gripped the head of his cock with impossible heat.
It felt nothing like being with a woman, but Arthur halted that train of thought immediately; he didn't want to think about women or anyone else he had ever been with. He was with Merlin now and Merlin was the only one who mattered.
"Come on," Merlin breathed, digging his heels into Arthur's back.
Arthur held on to Merlin's thighs hard enough to leave bruises and slid the rest of the way into him. Merlin moaned and shifted, his arse squirming in Arthur's lap and his muscles massaging Arthur's cock in a strange and overwhelming way.
Finally, Merlin stilled and let out a satisfying groan that had Arthur's hips twitching to start moving.
"Good?" Arthur asked, surprised by how rough his voice was.
Merlin nodded, his eyes half-closed.
Arthur sucked in a deep breath through clenched teeth and, still grasping at Merlin's thighs, began rocking his hips. Merlin immediately started sighing and panting in pleasure, and the sounds spurred Arthur on to thrust quicker and harder until Merlin was moaning loudly and gripping Arthur's sheets.
"Fucking - unh, ah!" Merlin whimpered and reached for his cock, stroking it quickly and without much rhythm.
Arthur groaned at the sight, hot tension coiling low in his stomach as his release built, and leant down for a kiss. Merlin folded easily in half and cried out as Arthur smashed their lips together, his hips rocking frantically against Arthur's.
"Arthur," Merlin moaned into Arthur's mouth. "I can't - I'm so - oh, God, Arthur - Arthur, Arthur, Arthur."
Arthur pressed his face hard into Merlin's neck and came hard to the sound of Merlin chanting his name like he needed it. His rhythm stuttered and then stilled as he pushed hard into Merlin one last time and stayed there, gasping harshly as his body thrummed.
Merlin arched off the bed, bringing Arthur with him, and fell back on it with a groan as he came over them both. Arthur cried out as Merlin's arse contracted around his cock and sent shocks of harsh pleasure through him.
"Fucking hell," Merlin wheezed a moment later, still stroking his softening cock.
Arthur sat up gingerly and Merlin's legs flopped back to the bed with a bounce. He pulled out slowly, watching Merlin's face tensing and relaxing again once they were separated.
"Come here," Merlin said, pulling lazily and pointlessly at Arthur's thigh.
"Hold on." Arthur got off the bed and pulled off the condom on his way to the bathroom. After tossing it in the trash, he ran a washcloth under warm water and returned to his bed, finding Merlin in the same position as he'd left him.
"God, you're sweet," Merlin whispered, playing with the hair at the back of Arthur's neck as Arthur gently wiped off his front.
Arthur cleaned up Merlin's hand, cock, and arse before hurriedly rubbing the washcloth down his own front and tossing it onto the floor. He fell on top of Merlin and rolled them onto their sides, wrapping his arms and legs around Merlin and nuzzling Merlin's neck.
"Easy," Merlin whispered, hugging Arthur close.
Arthur breathed in deeply and waited a few beats before kissing a trail up from Merlin's neck to his lips. The kiss drifted and softened and lingered and drifted again until Merlin pulled back.
"So, that was really good," he said cheekily, smiling widely.
Arthur laughed and loosened his grip on Merlin, letting them both roll onto their backs.
"Yeah," he agreed, staring up at the ceiling. "That was really, really good."
Merlin slipped his hand into Arthur's and tangled their fingers together. "This has been quite a night for you."
Arthur nodded. "I guess so."
"Do you want to go celebrate?"
Arthur turned his head to look at Merlin's eager face. "Celebrate what?"
"Coming out to your father," Merlin said, squeezing Arthur's hand. "And having gay sex."
Arthur licked his lips, trying not to laugh. "What sort of celebration are you suggesting?"
"Greasy food and good beer."
Arthur sighed and rolled onto his side, bringing his and Merlin's hands up to his lips. He pressed a kiss to Merlin's fingers and brushed his thumb over Merlin's.
"I don't want to share you with anyone else," he admitted, watching Merlin's lips curve slowly into a smile. "I know that's stupid, but-"
"It's not stupid. It's..."
"Stupid," Arthur supplied.
"Romantic," Merlin corrected. "If you want, you can come over to mine and we can have dinner and wine there."
"Do you really feel like moving?" Arthur asked. He was perfectly content to stay there on his bed with Merlin all night, chatting about nothing until they fell asleep.
"No," Merlin admitted. "But we should probably eat."
Arthur nodded, knowing there was no way that Merlin was going to let him skip out on dinner that night. "Can we just order Chinese and eat naked in bed?"
Merlin laughed and pressed a wide, smiling kiss to Arthur's lips. "I would say yes, but I don't think the delivery boy would be too pleased if we answered the door naked. Besides, that would be messy." He sat up, yawned, and turned to look down at Arthur. "But we can order Chinese and eat half-naked on your couch and watch a movie, if you want."
Arthur sat up and kissed Merlin's bare shoulder. "Yes, I want that," he whispered.
"Do you have menus?"
Merlin gave Arthur a short kiss before slipping off the bed and heading toward the kitchen, still naked. Arthur watched until he was out of sight and collapsed back on the bed with a grin and a sigh. The last few hours had been a strange whirlwind but now that he had a moment to himself, he realised that he hadn't felt so happy and so himself in years, if ever.
"Am I supposed to guess what you want?" Merlin asked, leaning in Arthur's doorway.
Smiling, Arthur got up and followed Merlin into the kitchen to decide on dinner.
Arthur woke up the next morning with his mouth full of Merlin's hair. Still half-asleep, he turned his head the other way and took a deep breath that didn't smell like sweat or shampoo. He licked his lips and buried his face in the pillow, waiting to drift off again.
"Time's'it?" Merlin's voice drifted over from the other pillow.
Arthur forced himself to open one eye. His vision was too blurry to make out the alarm clock, so he blinked a few times until it cleared.
Merlin let out a low, rumbly groan before rolling out from under Arthur's arm. Arthur sighed into his pillow and closed his eyes again, hoping for just a few more minutes of sleep. He wasn't ready to get up and go to the club. He wanted to stay in bed with Merlin and pretend that the rest of the world didn't exist.
"I have to shower," Merlin said, sounding like he would rather do anything else in the world.
Arthur counted slowly to five to give himself several pointless more seconds of rest before shifting onto his back.
"Why isn't it Sunday?" he mumbled, rubbing his hands over his face.
"What's Sunday?" Merlin asked around a yawn.
"My day off." Arthur arched his back off the bed, stretching. His limbs tingled and he stifled a yawn of his own.
Merlin curled up on his side and rested his head on Arthur's middle. "It's too early for life."
Arthur chuckled. "We could shower together. That might make the morning more bearable."
Merlin pressed his nose into one of the dips between Arthur's abs. "You're sexy."
Arthur smiled and ran his fingers through Merlin's messy hair. "You're not really awake yet, are you?"
Merlin mumbled something unintelligible to Arthur's navel.
Arthur closed his eyes and tried to stay conscious. He knew they should get up and set about their daily business, but he didn't actually want to suggest it.
"You smell like sex," Merlin said just as Arthur was nodding off again.
"That's rather your fault," Arthur mumbled. He forced himself to open his eyes and saw Merlin looking up at him, grinning.
"I suppose so. Very well, I take full responsibility." Merlin moved up to press his whole body against Arthur's side. He gave Arthur a quick kiss on the lips and another one on the nose. "Good morning."
Arthur slipped his arm around Merlin's shoulders. "Good morning."
Merlin moved in for another kiss and Arthur pulled him closer, letting it deepen until Merlin placed a hand on Arthur's chest and pushed away.
"I don't think we have time for that," he said, smiling knowingly.
"We have time," Arthur protested. "I can stay in bed until 7, as long as I don't keep procrastinating after that."
Merlin leant forward as if for another kiss, but seemed to think better of it. He rested his head on Arthur's shoulder instead and let his fingers play with the barbell in Arthur's nipple. Arthur tried not to react, but tension coiled in his chest and spread down to his half-hard cock.
"I thought you said we didn't have time for that."
Merlin moved his hand away and shot Arthur a guilty smile. "Sorry." He pressed a quick kiss to the side of Arthur's neck. "How long have you had that pierced?"
"A few years, I think. One of my ex-girlfriends suggested it."
"Really? And you went along with it?"
"Yeah. I figured, you know, if I didn't like it then I could just take it out after we'd split. But... I did like it. So, I kept it."
Merlin hummed and nodded, his fingers tracing patterns between the freckles on Arthur's chest. It was something girls had done before and Arthur had never really thought much of it, but now he was watching Merlin with fascination. He wanted Merlin to have all of him, to see all of him; he wanted Merlin to be the one person who knew his body, the same way he wanted to be the one person who knew Merlin's body and all of it's small details.
"What was it like, dating all those women?" Merlin asked quietly.
"Boring. And... and terrible. I felt terrible leading all those girls on like that, pretending that I liked them, pretending... pretending to want them. I can't even remember half their names at this point because there have been so many of them." Arthur closed his eyes as Merlin's fingers stilled on his skin. "I was a horrible person."
"People have done worse things than dating women they weren't really interested in," Merlin said soothingly.
Arthur shook his head. "I lied to all of them. They deserved better."
"Maybe. But it's in the past and you can make up for it by learning from your mistakes and only dating people you care about from now on. Besides, it's never too late for apologies."
Arthur took a deep breath and nodded, curling his fingers through Merlin's hair. "I guess you're right."
Merlin pressed another kiss to Arthur's neck. "Do you want to hear some of my secrets, now that you've told me all of yours?"
"Not all of mine," Arthur protested. "I'm sure I have some left."
"Save them for a rainy day. It's my turn."
Arthur chuckled and rested his chin on the top of Merlin's head. "Okay. Tell me your secrets."
"I had syphilis once," Merlin said calmly.
Arthur lifted his chin and tugged on Merlin's hair until Merlin turned to look up at him. "What?"
"Just the once," Merlin said, smiling innocently. "I got a penicillin injection and it cleared right up."
"How did you get it?" Arthur asked warily.
"I had sex."
Arthur rolled his eyes and pushed Merlin off him. Merlin laughed and immediately cuddled back up to Arthur's side.
"It was my first year in Paris, at my master's program. I was sleeping with this guy and he didn't know he had it and we didn't necessarily make the safest choices, so..." Merlin shrugged. "Anyway, like I said, penicillin fixed it and it's like the whole thing never happened."
Arthur drummed his fingers on Merlin's shoulder. "What did the bloke say?"
"He apologised," Merlin said, laughing quietly. "There wasn't much else he could say. He didn't do it on purpose but he was still embarrassed. He wouldn't have sex with me for weeks, even after we were both clean."
Arthur's fingers stilled and he fought not to drop his hand away from Merlin's shoulder. "Wait, you stayed with him after he gave you syphilis?"
Merlin shrugged. "Yeah. Like I said, he hadn't done it on purpose. I really liked him so there was no reason not to stay with him. It was just a mistake. I was to blame as much as he was."
"But you weren't the one with syphilis."
"No," Merlin agreed. "But it's not like he killed anyone. It was just a bit of a rash."
Arthur pulled a face at the unwanted images flashing through his mind. "Merlin-"
"I mean, after you've suffered through syphilis together, things can only get better."
Arthur had to laugh at Merlin's optimism. "All right, so you stayed with him through syphilis. How'd you break up, then? What's worse than syphilis?"
"It wasn't anything bad," Merlin said quietly. "I just left France. I came back here. Neither one of us wanted a long-distance relationship, so we ended it."
Arthur tensed. "You said you got it during your first year."
"You were with him the whole time you were there?"
Merlin propped himself up on one arm and gave Arthur a long, serious look. "You're jealous."
"I'm not," Arthur lied. "I just..."
Merlin smirked. "You are, too. You're jealous of the bloke that gave me syphilis."
"I'm definitely not jealous of that," Arthur mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. "What was his name?"
"Julius. He was very rugged. He ate raw eggs for breakfast and chopped down trees with his bare hands."
"I know, I'm hilarious." Merlin moved up for a quick kiss. "You know you have nothing to be jealous of, right? That was years ago. Besides, he gave me syphilis."
Arthur cracked a small smile. "You're right. That was a bit irrational."
"Yeah, but it was sort of... sexy, almost. I can't even remember the last time I managed to make someone jealous."
Arthur turned onto his side and pulled Merlin in for a long kiss, trying to erase all other partners from either of their memories. Merlin's fingers tangled themselves in Arthur's hair and tipped his head back until his neck was fully exposed. Arthur groaned as Merlin started sucking a trail just under his jawline.
"Fuck the club," he rasped as Merlin's hand pushed into his pants. "I'm staying here with you."
"We'll be quick," Merlin promised, pumping his hand over Arthur's cock.
Arthur tried to pull off Merlin's pants but his mobile rang, startling them both. He grabbed it off the nightstand to check the screen, fully intending on ignoring it if it was anyone other than George.
"Who is it?" Merlin asked, his hand slowing down.
"You should answer it," Merlin said sensibly. He pulled his hand out of Arthur's pants and sat up, looking annoyingly unaffected by what they had just been doing.
Arthur sighed and answered the call. "Yeah."
"Hey, can I come up?"
"What?" Arthur glanced over to see Merlin taking off his pants. He raised an eyebrow in question, but Merlin just smirked and started stroking himself quickly. Heat prickled across the back of Arthur's neck and his mouth went dry as he watched.
"I'm close to yours," Lance explained. "I've got breakfast and coffee. Can I come up?"
"I'll be there in five." Lance hung up before Arthur could respond.
"What'd he say?" Merlin asked, his voice low and raspy.
"He said he'll be here in five," Arthur said, unable to tear his gaze from Merlin's hand.
"We'd better hurry then," Merlin said sensibly. He straddled Arthur's thighs and settled his weight down on them, his hand picking up speed.
"Fuck," Arthur breathed, reaching for his own cock. He tugged on himself roughly, desperate not to get interrupted by Lance's imminent arrival.
Merlin moaned, his eyes on Arthur's cock, and started thrusting his hips into his hand. He was twisting his hand with each pass over the head of his cock, and his other hand was curled around his balls. Arthur could imagine his fingertips pressing into the sensitive skin behind them, or maybe even into his own arse.
"Merlin," Arthur groaned through his teeth and came in a rush, his hips jerking under Merlin's weight.
Merlin shifted up slightly, his hand a blur over his cock. Arthur watched and continued stroking himself lightly, drawing out the pleasure as long as he could.
Arthur's doorbell rang loudly and Merlin gasped in surprise before coming all over Arthur's chest.
"Oh God," Merlin panted, slumping back down on Arthur's thighs and giving his cock a few last tugs. "Sorry."
"You're apologizing for what, exactly?"
"He's here," Merlin said breathlessly. "And you're covered in come."
Arthur glanced down at his chest and burst out laughing. Merlin gave him an odd look but Arthur just shook his head and reached up, pulling Merlin down for a kiss.
"Get dressed and answer the door," he whispered against Merlin's lips. "I'll be out in a minute."
Arthur nodded and Merlin grinned brightly and gave him another kiss before getting off the bed. He slipped on his pants and went out to the living room to find the rest of his clothes. Arthur stayed on his bed for a moment to catch his breath, but then he heard Merlin open the door and he had to make a quick escape to the bathroom before Lance saw him.
He took a thirty second shower, dried off quickly, and pulled on the first clean clothes he could find. When he made it into the kitchen, Lance and Merlin were chatting easily and eating scrambled eggs out of a plastic container.
"Morning, Sunshine," Lance teased, holding out a fork. "Dig in."
Arthur helped himself to the eggs and sausages that Lance had brought and listened as they continued their conversation about Gwen. Apparently Lance had stayed at hers last night.
"I should go," Merlin said once the eggs were all gone. "I need to shower and put on different clothes."
Arthur started in on the fruit salad as Merlin shook Lance's hand and thanked him for the breakfast.
"I'll see you around," Merlin said to Arthur, his lips quirked in a small smile.
"You'd better," Arthur teased.
Merlin grinned and kissed Arthur on the cheek, but Arthur pulled him back for a proper kiss, not really caring that Lance saw. The kiss lingered a little longer than necessary and Lance actually cleared his throat before they pulled away. Merlin was blushing and Arthur couldn't help but go in for another quick peck.
"Bye. Have a good day."
Merlin grinned, looking a bit breathless, and waved as he left to go across the hall. Arthur watched the door for a moment, feeling Lance's eyes on him.
Finally, he turned back to the fruit and popped a few pieces of pineapple into his mouth.
"So," Lance said, the grin evident in his voice. "That seems to be going well."
Arthur shrugged as nonchalantly as he could and forced himself to look up and meet Lance's teasing gaze. "Fairly well, yeah."
Lance beamed. "Good."
Arthur nodded and filled his mouth with more fruit to stop himself from smiling. He could definitely get used to mornings like this.
"Are you ever going to thank me, by the way?" Lance asked as he passed Arthur a cup of coffee.
Arthur knew he wasn't talking about the breakfast. "Maybe someday."
Lance laughed and shoved at Arthur's shoulder. Arthur shoved him right back, no longer able to hold back his smile.
On Friday night, after dinner and several rounds of drinks at the Dragon under Kilian's wide-eyed scrutiny, Merlin followed Arthur up to his flat, shoved him onto the couch, crawled into his lap, and kissed him.
"You have a match tomorrow?" Merlin asked, trying to keep his voice calm and unaffected as Arthur's hand made its way into his pants.
Arthur hummed in agreement and licked up Merlin's neck.
"What are you-" Merlin cut himself off with a gasp when Arthur's fingers twisted over the head of his cock. "What are you doing after?"
"You," Arthur said simply.
Merlin tried to laugh but Arthur tightened his grip and it came out as a moan.
"I was thinking you could - fuck - come to the Unicorn with us."
Arthur's hand slowed until he was simply holding Merlin's cock. He kept his gaze down until Merlin lifted his chin gently.
"Us?" Arthur asked.
Merlin frowned at Arthur's wounded expression. "Me and Freya and... well, probably Morgana."
"And Elyan and Gwen," Merlin continued, talking over Arthur. "Gwen even invited Lance."
Arthur stiffened and drew his hand out of Merlin's pants. "She what?"
Merlin shifted off Arthur's lap and sat next to him instead. "She invited Lance. He said he'll come... said it'll be fun."
"Good for him," Arthur muttered, staring down at his knees.
"It's just a club," Merlin said slowly. "Gwaine was there and no one noticed or cared. No one is going to care if Lance if there. No one is going to care if you are there."
"You don't understand."
"You could help me."
Arthur shook his head and Merlin sighed.
"I'm not going," Arthur said flatly.
"Do you think you'll ever want to?" Merlin asked before he could stop himself.
"I doubt it."
Merlin sighed again but decided to let it go. Arthur had taken a lot of big steps recently and maybe he just needed to slow down for a while. Coming out to his best friend and his father was one thing but going out to a gay club was a different thing entirely, and Merlin could respect that. He could accept that he had pushed for too much too soon.
"Do you mind if I go?" he asked gently, reaching out to play with Arthur's hair.
Arthur leant away from Merlin's hand. "I don't care," he said moodily. "Go. Find someone... else to dance with. Someone out and proud and not a complete cock."
"You're not - that's not what I do there."
Arthur shrugged. "Maybe you should just leave. I have a game tomorrow. I need sleep."
"I'm not leaving," Merlin protested. "Not like this. I'm not mad at you, Arthur. I completely understand-"
"You don't understand!" Arthur exclaimed as he got to his feet. "I'm not mad at you either. I'm mad at me. Just leave - please."
Merlin watched helplessly as Arthur moved toward his bedroom.
"Arthur, don't - come on, it's not-"
"I can't," Arthur said with a pained look, his hand on the doorknob. "I can't do this tonight."
He shut himself into his room and Merlin heard the lock clicking into place.
Merlin waited for a few minutes, sitting dejectedly on Arthur's couch and trying not to literally kick himself for pushing his stupid Unicorn invitation on Arthur way too soon.
He picked up one of the fortune cookies that were still sitting on the coffee table from the other night and turned it over in his hands a few times, thinking about that night and how nice it had been to fall asleep next to Arthur and wake up next to Arthur and how that was something he could really see himself getting used to. Merlin pulled off the wrapper, cracked open the cookie, and read his fortune.
Fear and desire - two sides of the same coin.
It made him want to laugh as much as it made him want to cry and scream, so he just sighed and turned the fortune over to scribble a note on the back.
I'm sorry. Have a good game tomorrow. Call me any time.
He slipped it under Arthur's door and went back to his own flat. He wanted to call someone to come over and get drunk with him, but Freya was with Morgana and Gwen was with Lance and Elyan would ask too many questions. Instead, he curled up on his bed with Marie Antoinette and watched old French movies until he fell asleep.
Arthur was beyond exhausted by the time he finally crawled into bed on Saturday night. The game that morning had been long and difficult; they had gone into extra time and unfortunately Valiant had been the one to finally score and break the draw. Of course, that meant that he had been absolutely unbearable in the locker room afterward. Then Arthur had gotten pulled into a press conference with him and forced to smile and talk about Valiant's strengths.
When Arthur had gotten home, he had forced himself to eat a slice of toast because he'd skipped breakfast, but then he skipped dinner as well and spent the rest of the day playing furious, mind-numbing video games.
He had tried calling Merlin - to apologize or explain or just say hello - but Merlin hadn't picked up. Arthur knew, rationally, that it was just because Merlin was at the Unicorn and probably didn't hear it ring or didn't want to pick up because of all the loud music, but that didn't make it hurt any less. Merlin was out having fun with his friends - with Arthur's friends, too - and Arthur was home alone, miserable.
It had taken a lot of effort to avoid Lance before and after the game, especially because Lance so clearly wanted to chat with Arthur about their plans for the night, but Arthur had succeeded in shrugging him off every single time. He hadn't felt good about it, though; in fact, he had really wanted to talk to Lance about what going to the Unicorn might actually be like for them. He just hadn't been able to bring himself to do it, not when he and Merlin were at odds.
Arthur really did want to go to the Unicorn, at least in theory. He wanted to grind against Merlin's arse in the middle of a writhing crowd of hot, sweaty strangers who were all getting off on the close contact and pounding music. He wanted to be able to go out places with his boyfriend - if Merlin was in fact his boyfriend - but he was too scared. He wasn't ready to face public judgement like that. He had only just come out to the people he knew and while he was planning on coming out to the rest of the world at some point, it wasn't going to happen any time soon.
When Merlin hadn't picked up, Arthur had taken a long shower and curled up under his covers, wondering if Merlin was capable of ever understanding. Their lives were so different and Arthur knew it was selfish to ask Merlin to be with him and support him while he came out, but he wanted it so badly.
It took Arthur almost an hour to find a comfortable enough position to fall asleep, and of course once he was finally starting to drift off, there was a loud chorus of knocking on his door.
Arthur stayed where he was, hoping it would stop if he just ignored it. It was probably just some drunken neighbour.
He sat up in a flash and ran to the door in his briefs. Merlin was standing out in the hallway, covered in glitter and holding the lizard tank.
"Can I come in? This is very heavy."
Arthur stepped aside speechlessly and watched as Merlin struggled through the door and set the tank down on the coffee table with a loud clunk.
"I'm really drunk," Merlin admitted, stumbling back over to Arthur and wrapping his sparkling arms around Arthur's middle. "And I'm really sorry about last night. And I just really want to cuddle."
Arthur clenched his fists in the back of Merlin's shirt and relaxed into the hug. "You don't have anything to be sorry for," he said quietly.
Merlin sighed into Arthur's neck and Arthur shivered at the gust of hot air over his skin. "Can I sleep with you tonight?" he asked in a small voice.
"I don't mean sex," Merlin said seriously.
Arthur smiled. "I know."
"Okay. I smell like the club, though."
"I don't mind," Arthur said honestly. He took Merlin's hand in his and led the way to his bedroom, where he helped Merlin out of his tight clothes.
"I really missed you," Merlin mumbled as he crawled up Arthur's bed. He landed with his face in the pillow and lay there limply while Arthur pulled the covers out from under him and placed them over his glittering body. "Last night," he continued, speaking into Arthur's pillow. "And today. And tonight."
Arthur slid into bed next to Merlin and petted his hair gently. "I missed you too."
"You shouldn't close yourself off like that."
"It's not fair."
"I know. I'm sorry."
Merlin turned to look at Arthur and Arthur could see that most of the glitter on his face had already rubbed off onto the pillowcase. "You are?"
Arthur nodded and drew his thumb along the line of Merlin's jaw. "Yes."
Merlin smiled brightly and Arthur mirrored it without effort. "I really like you, Arthur."
Arthur closed his eyes against the feelings - the same unnameable ones from the other night, when Merlin had said, "I only want you" - bursting in his chest. "Why?"
"Because you're beautiful," Merlin said simply. "You try really hard to be a good person and you can admit when you miss the mark. Not everyone can do that. You're kind and you're funny and you're unlike anyone I've ever met before. Your life is so strange but you handle it so well and you're really, really pretty."
Arthur opened his eyes. "Pretty?"
"Your blue eyes," Merlin said softly. "And your Roman nose."
"My - my Roman nose?" Arthur asked, laughing.
"Yes," Merlin said seriously, tracing the length of Arthur's nose with a fingertip. "And your lips - God, your lips. They're so wide and chapped andperfect for sucking cock - fuck, you have no idea."
Arthur laughed again but was cut off by Merlin kissing him, wet and messy.
"Wow," Arthur said, pulling back and licking the strange taste off his lips. "What the fuck did you have to drink?"
"I don't know," Merlin admitted. "Morgana chose all my drinks. They were mostly blue."
Arthur shook his head. "You should know better than to let Morgana choose anything."
Merlin shrugged. "True. Okay, it's your turn."
"My turn for what?"
"To tell me why you like me."
"How do you know I like you?" Arthur teased.
"Because you called me."
Arthur frowned. "You - you saw my call?"
"Of course. Not right away, but I came straight home as soon as I did."
Arthur sighed and closed his eyes again. "Fuck, Merlin. That - that's why I like you."
"Because I come when you call?" Merlin asked, his voice light and teasing.
"Because you're insanely loyal and nice even when you don't have to be." Arthur forced himself to look at Merlin, who was watching him with wide, curious eyes. "And because you play board games with your friends every weekend."
"You like me because I'm a nerd?"
Merlin grinned, apparently pleased by Arthur's answer. "Do you like me because I wear glitter?"
"Do you like me because I let you fuck me?"
Arthur laughed and shook his head. "Well, it certainly doesn't hurt."
Merlin yawned loudly into Arthur's pillow and Arthur watched more glitter rub off. "Do you like to be the big spoon or the little spoon?"
It took Arthur a few seconds to realise what Merlin was asking. "Oh. Um. I... I don't know. I'm pretty much always the big spoon. Girls don't usually... offer to do that."
"That will change one day," Merlin said, turning onto his side and slotting his back against Arthur's chest. "And when that day comes, I will spoon the shit out of you."
"Sounds painful." Arthur wrapped one arm tightly around Merlin, pulling him closer.
"It won't be. I promise."
"I believe you."
"Good, because I'm very drunk and when I'm very drunk I only speak the truth. I also demand to be the small spoon. I hope you don't mind."
Arthur chuckled and slid one of his ankles between Merlin's. "I don't mind."
"Will you tell me about your tattoos?" Merlin asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. "Strength and honour."
"I got them when I joined the first-team. I... I thought they were really meaningful at the time."
"They are. You are full of strength and honour. I would vouch for you."
Arthur grinned into Merlin's hair. "Thanks. I do try."
"You do try. And that's why I like you so much. We've been over this already."
"Yes, we have."
"Do you want to know about my tattoo?"
"Yes." Arthur trailed his fingers over it, even though he couldn't see it because they were under the covers.
"I got it in France, when I was doing my masters. I used to go to this park near the university and sit under this one tree all the time, and one day this random man came up to me and handed me a drawing he had done of me sitting under the tree. I took it to a tattoo artist and told him I wanted it on my side, as big as he could make it, and I wanted it with words on the leaves."
"What do they say?"
Merlin paused and Arthur waited for a long while, wondering if Merlin had fallen asleep.
He whispered the words in French first, slowly and rhythmically. Arthur wondered if it was a poem and what the words meant in English. Were they about the tree? Or about being somewhere far from home?
"They have no memories, no plans," Merlin translated quietly. "Time takes shape painlessly around them. Their sole landmarks are the taste of the moment and the markings on the walls."
Arthur let the words float over him and found them strangely calming. He rolled the words around slowly in his head, letting the meaning sink in. "That's beautiful."
"It's from a movie," Merlin explained. "A French movie. We should watch it."
"We should," Arthur agreed. "But first we should sleep."
Merlin hummed in agreement and snuggled back against Arthur. "Goodnight."
Arthur rested his forehead against Merlin's hair and closed his eyes. "Goodnight."
Arthur woke up to the sounds of Matilda's incessant, hungry meowing and Merlin's deep, rumbly snoring. He listened to them both for a moment as he waited for his eyes to start working properly in the dim room. Finally, he sat up and dropped his feet onto the floor. That seemed to satisfy Matilda because she ran off into the kitchen to wait by her food bowl.
Arthur stood and stretched lazily, turning to look down at Merlin. His face was mostly obscured by the pillow, but Arthur could see his mouth hanging open slightly. His bare arms were flopped ungracefully in front of him. He didn't look nearly as delicate as he had the first time Arthur had seen him sleeping on the night Arthur had read him the Phantom Tollbooth. With the exception of his still wondrously long eyelashes and his glittery eyelids, he simply looked like a man who was sleeping off a long night of drinking.
Matilda let out a particularly threatening meow and Arthur left his room to feed her. He stroked her gently as she ate and she completely ignored him and it all felt very normal. But then Arthur saw the lizard tank on his coffee table and he realised that as long as Merlin was around, his life was never going to be anything like "normal" ever again. The thought made him smile.
Arthur took Marie Antoinette carefully out of his tank and brought him into the bedroom. He wiggled in Arthur's grip so Arthur kept one hand underneath him, making sure that if he broke free he wouldn't fall to the floor.
Merlin was sitting up in Arthur's bed, looking bleary and disoriented and strangely beautiful.
"Oh my God, I brought the lizard," Merlin said groggily as Arthur sat down next to him.
"You brought the whole tank, mate." Arthur set the lizard down and he waddled around on the rumpled covers for a while until he came to rest on Arthur's pillow. "How are you feeling?"
"I feel a lot better than I taste." Merlin smacked his lips and grimaced.
"You can brush your teeth if you'd like," Arthur said, gesturing toward the bathroom. "I've... got some extra toothbrushes." Merlin raised an eyebrow and Arthur shrugged. "I know how that sounds but it's the truth."
Merlin laughed and pushed himself off the bed with a groan. When he came back a few minutes later his face was washed mostly free of glitter, but his hair looked even messier than it had before.
"Do you just buy a new toothbrush every time you go out?" he asked, flopping back down on the bed and stretching out comfortably.
Marie Antoinette was still staking claim on Arthur's pillow, so Arthur rolled onto his stomach next to Merlin and propped himself up on his elbows. Merlin reached out and ruffled his hair gently.
"I got glitter all over your sheets," he said guiltily.
"The sheets can be washed."
"They definitely should be." Merlin let his fingers slide along Arthur's jaw before he dropped his hand onto the bed. "Thanks for letting me crash here last night."
"It wasn't a problem at all. It was quite enjoyable, actually."
"I talk a lot of rubbish when I've had that many girly drinks."
"You talk a lot of rubbish when you're dead sober," Arthur pointed out.
"Well... yes. I guess that's true." Merlin smiled slightly and ran his fingers up and down Arthur's arm. "How was your game?"
"It was shitty," Arthur said honestly. "We won in the end but it was a miserable fight."
"Did you score?"
Arthur shook his head. "No. I was... unlucky."
"How's your season going?"
Arthur couldn't help but laugh. "It's so weird that you don't know."
"It's weird that you expect me to know," Merlin countered.
"It's going really well," Arthur said slowly. "Even though yesterday was terrible, we still haven't lost a match so far. I'll... I'll do better next weekend. I should have been more focused. I wasn't being very professional."
"Lance said you were really aggressive."
Arthur sighed and let his head drop for a second. "You talked to Lance about it?"
"He talked to me about it," Merlin explained. "At length. I didn't really listen to most it, but I think the gist of what he said was that you played a very angry game and also that you refused to talk to him."
Arthur nodded. "Yeah," he admitted. "That sounds about right, unfortunately. It definitely wasn't the easiest game of my life."
Arthur turned onto his back and rotated his body until his feet were hanging off the side of the bed and his head was resting on Merlin's stomach. Merlin immediately laced his fingers through Arthur's hair and started massaging his scalp lightly.
"I guess I should probably tell you that Lance isn't very good at keeping his mouth shut when he's drunk. I tried to tell him to be quiet but he didn't listen and..."
"Everybody knows?" Arthur asked, his stomach dropping.
"Well, Gwen definitely knows. She spent a long time shouting at me for it, but she was pretty drunk as well. I think Elyan probably knows, but he pretty much knew from the beginning."
"She and Freya were gone by that point, I think. They're... really into each other."
Arthur sighed and ran a hand over his face, trying to imagine what Uther's reaction would be if he ever found out that both of his children had same-sex tendencies.
"You should tell her, though," Merlin suggested. "She'd probably rather hear it from you than from one of our drunk friends."
"I guess," Arthur mumbled. He didn't relish the thought of coming out to Morgana. He was sure she would gloat and be unbearably annoying.
"She won't care," Merlin pressed. "She'll react better than your father, anyway."
Arthur nodded. Merlin had a fair point there. "Well, other than Lance blabbing to everyone, did you have fun last night?"
"It was a good release," Merlin said slowly. "I worked on my thesis for twelve hours yesterday."
Merlin laughed and Arthur's head shook with the vibrations of his stomach. "Yeah, it was a lot. It was good, though. I caught up on some old things and worked ahead on some new things. It was very productive but I definitely needed to get drunk afterwards."
"Mission accomplished then. You were very drunk."
"Was I that bad?"
"No. You just kept telling me that you were very drunk."
Merlin laughed again. "I told you I talk a lot of rubbish when I'm drunk."
"Yeah, but it's pretty adorable," Arthur admitted.
"I am not adorable," Merlin protested.
"You wear glitter on your cheekbones, Merlin. You're adorable. Accept it. Own it. Be it."
Merlin curled himself forward to plant an upside-down kiss on Arthur's lips. "You're adorable, too."
"I know I'm adorable," Arthur said haughtily. "That is old news."
Merlin settled himself back on the pillow and continued playing with Arthur's hair, humming quietly to himself. Arthur closed his eyes and smiled.
"I'm sorry I pushed for you to come to the Unicorn," Merlin said after a while. "That was pretty insensitive."
Arthur shrugged. "It wasn't insensitive. It was just... a little too fast. Gwaine and Lance can go out to gay clubs and dance with girls because they're straight or dance with blokes because it's a joke. I don't know how to do that. I don't want to know how to do that. If I go out, I want it to be with you and I'm - I'm not there yet. I want to be, but I'm not. I need... I need to be able to do this at my own pace. Otherwise it'll turn into a huge mess like it did last night and I'll just be this aggressive starving person and that's not who I want to be. I know I overreacted last night, but I reallywant to dance with you - I just can't yet and you can feel free to cut me off any time here."
Merlin reached out his free hand and Arthur took it in his own and rested them on top of his chest.
"We can go as slow as you need," Merlin said, his voice low and sure. "All you have to do is tell me it's too much and I'll back off. I can be patient. I'll... I'll work on being patient. But please don't ever tell me to go out and find someone else to be with."
Arthur nodded quickly. "I won't. I'm sorry. That was a terrible thing to say."
"No," Merlin said softly. "It was just unfair. I want to be with you, regardless of how out you are. We're both learning here... I've never had a famous or closeted boyfriend before."
Arthur's throat went dry and he licked his lips nervously. "Boyfriend?"
"If you want," Merlin said, sounding just as nervous as Arthur was feeling.
"Yes," Arthur said quickly. He brought their hands up to his lips and kissed the side of Merlin's thumb. "I want that more than anything."
Merlin laughed in relief. "Good. Me, too."
A comfortable, happy silence fell between them as Merlin's fingertips brushed over Arthur's thumb ring. Arthur thought back to the drunken night on Merlin's bed when he'd gotten hard from just that; he couldn't help but smile at the memory. He'd convinced himself quickly that Merlin hadn't meant anything by it, yet here they were.
"Tell me about your ring," Merlin said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Arthur watched as Merlin pulled off the ring and set it on his own thumb instead. It was too big but the sight of his ring on Merlin's hand made Arthur grin.
"It was my mother's," he explained. "It belonged to her grandfather, and then her father, and then... and then me."
Merlin slid the ring back onto Arthur thumb and laced their fingers together. Arthur played with Merlin's fingers for a few minutes, until he noticed the freckle just on the outside of Merlin's index finger knuckle. He straightened out Merlin's finger, then bent it slightly.
"It's like an elephant trunk."
"What?" Merlin asked sleepily.
"Your finger. It's like an elephant trunk."
"I... um. What?"
Arthur pointed out the freckle. "This is the eye. And your finger is the trunk."
Merlin made a pained sound and bent forward for another upside-down kiss. "You are far too much, Arthur Pendragon."
Arthur grinned and sucked Merlin's finger into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the knobbly knuckles.
Merlin moaned quietly in Arthur's ear and Arthur slowly slid his finger out and pressed a kiss to its tip.
"Can I make you breakfast?" Merlin asked.
Arthur blinked in surprise. "Oh - shouldn't I be making you breakfast? Wait, isn't it Sunday? Don't you have people coming over?"
Merlin sat up, gently guiding Arthur's head to the bed. "I cancelled it after I got your call last night."
"Because I knew that in the morning I would rather be here than across the hall."
"Are you sure they don't mind?"
Merlin grinned and kissed Arthur's forehead. "They don't mind. Can I make you breakfast?"
"I think I'm supposed to be making you breakfast," Arthur pointed out again.
"But I want to make you crêpes."
"You make crêpes?"
"If you want me to."
"That sounds perfect, actually."
"Great!" Merlin plucked Marie Antoinette off Arthur's pillowed and carried him out of Arthur's room.
Arthur stayed where he was for a moment, trying to comprehend how lucky he was that he'd accidentally found someone like Merlin. When he could hear Merlin making noise in the kitchen with pots and pans, Arthur got up and snuck into his gym. He grabbed his camera and slung it securely around his neck.
He found standing Merlin in the kitchen, whisking together some batter in a bowl. He looked perfectly natural there, cooking in only his pants.
Arthur snapped three pictures before Merlin turned around, his eyes narrowed.
"Exactly what do you think you're doing?"
"Taking pictures of my boyfriend," Arthur said cheekily. "He's got a great arse."
Merlin rolled his eyes and went back to whisking, but Arthur could see his smile. Arthur took a few more pictures of Merlin's preparations before he set his camera down. He leant against the wall and watched Merlin stacking crêpe after crêpe onto a plate.
"Do you have jam?" Merlin asked, glancing at Arthur over his shoulder.
Arthur pulled a few toppings out of his fridge and set two places at his table. Merlin brought out the plate of crêpes a moment later and before Arthur even knew what was happening, the entire stack was gone.
"Okay, those had no right being so delicious," Arthur complained, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his stomach.
Merlin finished off his last crêpe and mirrored Arthur's posture. "I am an excellent chef."
Arthur laughed and shoved at Merlin's shoulder. "And so modest, too."
"Naturally. Oh - oh my God! Look!" Merlin pointed excitedly at the windowsill.
Arthur glanced over and saw Matilda resting with her head on Marie Antoinette's back, one arm lying possessively across his tail.
"What... what is that?" Arthur asked.
"Are they cuddling?" Merlin asked, his voice shaking with laughter.
Matilda looked absurdly enamoured of the lizard in her possession, while Marie Antoinette looked supremely unconcerned by the whole situation, as always.
"What is that?" Arthur repeated, shocked by the display.
"Inter-species romance?" Merlin suggested.
Arthur shook his head. "Our pets are insane."
"Our pets are in love," Merlin said, only barely managing to get the words out before he burst into a fit of giggles.
Arthur watched the cat and the lizard canoodling in the windowsill for a few more seconds, but then he had to look away. It was too absurd that his cat - his cat, who hated everyone except him and, inexplicably, Merlin - would fall so quickly for something as hard and scaly and distinctly uncuddly as a lizard. Merlin's lizard, to be exact.
He grabbed the dishes and brought them into the kitchen to start washing. Arthur expected Merlin to follow, but he didn't and after a few minutes the flat was filled with soft music from the last record Arthur had listened to.
When he emerged from the kitchen, Arthur found Merlin standing by the stereo system next to his telly, fiddling idly with the dials.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, walking over.
Merlin looked up at him and grinned. "You said you wanted to dance with me."
Arthur laughed nervously. "What?"
"Dance with me." Merlin held out his hands and Arthur took them hesitantly, letting Merlin pull him close.
"This is a bit silly," Arthur said, setting his hands on Merlin's waist as Merlin's arms curled around his neck.
"No, it's romantic," Merlin corrected. "Just go with it."
"Is this the sort of music they play at the Unicorn?"
"No," Merlin said simply. He stepped closer and leant his cheek against Arthur's, humming along with the song.
Arthur slid his arms around Merlin's middle, holding him tight as they swayed together to the slow music. He imagined dancing with Merlin like this in public, at some gala or charity ball or mutual friend's wedding. The thought was terrifying, if only because it was surprising how badly he wanted it.
"I think I want to come out to my team," he said quietly.
"Yeah?" Merlin asked, his voice soft and calm in Arthur's ear.
"Yeah. Not - not now. Not that soon. Maybe by the end of the season. Maybe."
"That sounds like a good goal," Merlin said, pulling back slightly to look at Arthur. "Don't rush things."
"I'm not. I won't."
"You should talk to Elyan," Merlin suggested. "He knows what it's like to come out to a football team. He might have advice or something. In any case, I know he wants to help. And it can't hurt to talk to someone who's been there before, right?"
Arthur nodded, the realisation finally sinking in that he didn't just have Merlin and Merlin's support - he had all of Merlin's friends as well. They all wanted to support him and for the first time, he actually wanted their support. He wanted to talk to Elyan about dealing with homophobic teammates. He wanted to talk to Lance about how to come out to George.
He thought about Lance and Gwen and how stupidly happy they were starting to be together, and how stupidly happy they could be in public. He thought about the few specks of glitter still on Merlin's eyelids and about how wonderful it would be if only he could be so free.
"I'll talk to Elyan," he said.
Merlin looked at him for a moment, then leant over and switched the stereo from the record player to the radio. A fast, catchy song with a thumping baseline came on and Merlin grinned wickedly, turning around and pressing his arse to Arthur's crotch.
"Um," Arthur said stupidly, holding onto Merlin's sides.
Merlin swayed his hips suggestively and Arthur followed along, laughing until Merlin turned around and kissed him.
"What I wouldn't give to do this with you elsewhere," Arthur said, sliding his hands over Merlin's arse.
"Feel free to kick me out if this is too much too soon again, but the Unicorn has a costume ball once a month."
"So?" Arthur asked slowly.
"So... I could paint your whole face. I could get you a mask. No one would even be able to tell it was you."
Arthur bit his lower lip and considered Merlin's nervous, eager, sweet face. He did want to dance with Merlin at the Unicorn. He wanted to take Merlin out and show him a good time and show the world that he was taken. He wanted them to be a normal couple who did normal things, like going out dancing. He wanted to take his boyfriend to the gay club around the corner.
Merlin's whole face lit up as he grinned. "Okay?"
Arthur nodded, realising that he would do just about anything to see that expression on Merlin's face more often. "Okay."
Merlin kissed Arthur, long and hard and searching, and Arthur leant over and switched the stereo back to the record. Their kiss slowed and stilled until they were breathing against each other's lips simply because they didn't want to pull back. Arthur moved one hand to Merlin's hip and took Merlin's hand with the other, lacing their fingers together and hiding their hands between their bare chests.
They swayed together, keeping time with touches and glances and kisses, until the music faded out and all they had was the rhythm of their hearts and breaths, and they danced on.