The red-eye from Bristol to Istanbul had been a killer on Merlin's sleep schedule, and Elyan's snoring in his right ear hadn't helped matters.
He groaned, resisting to wipe his sun-burnt face. The air here in this part of Europe was unbearably thick with summer; and of course, Arthur needed to bring his team of mates to the first world opener of the Turkish Republic's national sport, and apparently the first to welcome other countries.
It was so important to represent the UK and make friends with other worthy competitors of blah blah blah look at me I'm Arthur Pendragon, the rich, spoiled prat.
With the faint quirk of a smirk, that was quickly melting off his face… along with his entire bloody face, shitting hell… Merlin lugged up the twin sports-bags a couple inches from the grassy arena before letting them drop unceremonious beside his feet, and accidentally on a big toe.
He cursed, shooting Morgana a defeated look as she tutted sympathetically in his direction, turning. Not too much sympathy, though; Morgana was far too busy enjoying the view.
"Bit like heaven, isn't it?"
At least she had an brolly to shield her fair skin—however, it didn't look like one of those fancy sodding couture designer ones, worth more than several of Merlin's pay packets.
Sweat trickled down the back of his neck, gathering between his shoulder-blades and under his armpits. Even getting rid of his favorite bandanna and jut putting on a lightweight t-shirt was less than helpful. "This entire thing is—" Rubbish hung on Merlin's lips, waiting expectantly.
He had completely neglected the view unlike Morgana, not just the array of half-naked men glistening under the harsh, afternoon sun, but Arthur's mates as well. A well-greased Lance and Gwaine playfully butted heads, leaning over and practicing their wrestling stances, hands roaming over defined muscles and clutching each other.
Morgana's grin was all sin.
"You were saying, Merlin?" she said conversationally, giving Gwen's little, ugly-flowered brolly a slow, fanciful twirl.
Blinking once, twice, Merlin pressed his lips together meaningfully.
"We should find seats," he announced, grinning back.
A wince overtook Merlin's cheery features. Damn it all.
"I nearly forgot," he muttered wistfully, picking back up the sports-bags. "I'm still working."
Being a hired hand to a rich, spoiled prat was truly on the mark of rubbish. Maybe he could slip away later from Agravaine's persistently watchful eye.
By the other end of the outdoor arena, Arthur tapped his foot impatiently, removing his sunglasses as soon as he spotted Merlin coming.
"What are you, deaf? I've been calling you for the past two minutes."
"Two whole minutes? Oh, no." Merlin faked a surprised gasp, but kept his voice deadpan. "Should I fetch a stretcher? The salts? Maybe a nice pillow for your bruised ego."
The studiously blank expression from Arthur did not waver.
"You know, I could still have you sacked for being an utterly incompetent git."
"Be my guest, I could finally sleep on weekends. God knows I could use the break from looking after your sorry arse," Merlin said, starting to grin. Arthur's own lips twitched up. The blond man nodded to Percy who quickly handed him a stainless steel jug. Which then was handed to Merlin.
He curiously peered into it. Oil, pleasantly light-smelling and gleaming, sloshed about within.
Merlin said, with an indignant scowl and eyebrows furrowed, "What? I'm not taking off my shirt and rolling in the mud with you lot."
Percy snorted out a laugh. Arthur, on the other hand, rolled his eyes.
"You? You would hardly last the first few moments competing with those gangly limbs of yours," he said. Merlin took the criticism with a slightly chewed tongue.
Arthur's polo stripped over his head, exposing those fit, summer-tan chest muscles that Merlin definitely hadn't caught himself daydreaming about on occasion. Nope. Definitely not about raking his fingernails over that nest of blond hair, about pushing his lips down his firm sternum, mouthing over his abs, and—
"Oi," Arthur said, snapping his fingers centimeters from Merlin's nose. Nearly jolting him with a scare and allowing Merlin's fingers to lose the grip on the jug before hastily balancing it.
"I need you to use the oil on me. Legs, arms, everywhere. Don't cock it up, Merlin; I'm starting in ten minutes."
The heat must be getting to him because Merlin's brain was short-circuiting far too many times he'd like to admit today.
Arthur couldn't really mean… THAT, ah.
Keeping a neutral, closed appearance, Merlin lifted the jug, focusing on doing what he was instructed and tilting the lip until a thick coating of olive oil cascaded down Arthur's broad, golden shoulders and his back. "The front, too. Hurry it up." Arthur's words sounded an inch more patient than he usually would be, gentler in tone as well (like his useless companion was acting more startled stoat than ordinary human being).
A loud, restrained exhale came from Merlin, jaw tightening as his eyes caught the dark material of Arthur's kisbet starting to damp-cling to the skin underneath, the calfskin pants drawing up against the swell of ass and Arthur's thighs. Morgana was a stinkin' liar—this wasn't the least bit heavenly. This was pure torture.
Yes, Merlin had peace with his demons earlier that year and accepted that Arthur was out-of-bounds. His hot-headed employer at thr Clarent Group would insist on roping Merlin into stupid charades like this, or sometimes popped open a bottle or two of wine in Merlin's flat. They would sit on the dirty floor of Merlin's kitchen, Arthur complaining about the week or how Mordred from the other agent company would keep threatening to buy them out, or they would swap experiences about their own families and friends.
Arthur was… a good friend, sometimes.
But, sometimes, Merlin wanted more than a sometimes.
"That's good enough," Arthur said suddenly, frowning and pushing the steel jug away. Merlin stepped out of his path with facile ease, giving a lingering side-stare to the wandering man before sighing to himself, scuffing the heel of his sneaker to the dry, crackling grass.
… But what did a hired hand know?
The rules of "yağlı güreş" weren't very hard to remember. Down your opponent before they you, long enough for a referee to make the call. By "down", it meant shoving your hand into the seat of the other bloke's specially tailored pants and holding their neck down.
This was absolutely worth a bugger plane ride into the country.
To be expected, Percy was doing pretty well in the ranking, built strong and large from years of footie and college wrestling.
Gwaine was undefeated as well, but Gwaine was also very clever on his feet and slippery-tongued, enjoying riling up his prey before striking, physically slippery now with heaps of oil.
Arthur's third and final round proved more effectual, having almost lost the first one against a bigger Turkish pehlivan. Merlin stood off by the sidelines, arms crossed and worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. His head began to ache fiercely in another passing hour, heart threading fast.
Lance nudged Merlin's rubs, patting the side of his own face with a clean towel from Merlin's shoulder. "You haven't done anything, Merlin, and you look exhausted."
"Gee, thanks," Merlin said dryly, but didn't have the energy to return any soft hits. Or pretend to make an irritated face.
The corners of his eyes were swimmy, probably from the increasing amount of heat, but at least he wasn't sweating anymore. Merlin could see where Arthur was digging his elbows to the grass, rolling his new, greased opponent and grappling wildly for control with him.
Lance untwisted the cap to his water bottle.
"Here," he offered and Merlin waved him off, ignoring the raw tickling in the back of his throat, as well as the immediate touch of dizziness that followed.
"Don't need it."
"You likely do. You don't look very steady on your feet, mate."
"I don't," was all Merlin got out before doubling over and promptly vomiting up his breakfast of a handful of airline peanuts. He sort of lost where his sense of up was, and where his legs had gone, and settled down into comfortable, cool darkness until he heard Arthur's voice.
"What the HELL happened to him?"
It must have been Lance's arm keeping him upright—wherever "up" was anymore. Merlin thought it might have scattered off, looking for that water bottle he regretted not drinking.
"Think it's heatstroke. He's burning like mad, Arthur."
"Idiot," Arthur growled, his warm breath close to Merlin's neck, and then it was Arthur's arms this time, wrapping around him.
A flare of pain struck Merlin's temple, weakly roiling his stomach.
The darkness lulled him again.
Hospitals were the same no matter where you went, Merlin discovered—dodgy and smelled funny.
The taxi drive to the hotel with Gwen was tense, as she buried her fists in her skirt and avoided his glances.
Gwen eventually broke down, as Merlin figured she would, crying and awkwardly hugging him, but left him to his room. Somehow, Merlin shouldn't have been surprised to find Arthur lounged out on a chair like he belonged, feet on the coffee table. The blond man straightened up as Merlin quietly locked the door behind him.
"What did the doctors say?" Arthur asked, those blue, wide eyes examining his roommate. As if expecting a horrible, unexplained deformity.
Merlin presented out an extra-large water bottle, half full.
"Should be fine in another day," he said. "What happened to the match…?" Merlin almost didn't want to know, especially at the puckered expression.
"I disqualified myself."
"… S'rry," Merlin whispered. It was really the only thing he could think of to respond with.
"You should take better care of yourself."
Merlin sneered, roughly slamming down his bottle and throwing his wallet onto another table. "Believe me, I've heard the lot from my Mum, and Morgana, and Gaius, and your mates, and Gwen on the ride in…" He ticked off absently with his fingers, mumbling with his back to Arthur, "I cocked up. I got it."
He shouldn't feel so weirdly emotional, eyes beginning to sting noticeably, but Merlin was so tired, and passing out had been scary, and if Arthur was going to throw a fit all night—
A hand fell to his shoulder, gently maneuvering him to face Arthur.
"Merlin…" Arthur's left hand came to rest on an opposite shoulder, squeezing benevolently.
"I'm not upset about that," he explained. "It's that you were hurt, do you understand?"
The deliberate gaze between them did not break as Merlin shook his head a little, eyes rimmed teary. "I got dehydrated. That was my fault."
Both of Arthur's hands squeezed, longer and kinder than the first time. And Merlin savored the touch, half-smiling when Arthur said grouchy, letting him go to rap Merlin's skinny arm with his knuckles, "Don't do it again. Or I'll have you sacked for good."
"I'll try to remember."
"See that you do."
A voice on the other side of the hotel door muffled out, "Did you two kiss and make up yet or do you need a couple more minutes—?"
Merlin let out more of a barking laugh than deciding to sneer again, wiping the back of his hand over his smile-crinkled eyes. Arthur marched over to that door, yelling into it, "Gwaine, if that's you, you're going to get punched in the bollocks!"
"No need to get violent, princess. I was just checking on Merlin."
"He's going to fine, unlike you when I open this door."
"S'alright! I'm heading to bed, Gwaine!" Merlin called back.
"Rubber johnnies are your friend, mate! Trust me!"
"What does that make you then?"
Arthur clicked the lock and forcefully tossed open the door, only to find Gwaine had retreated, sprinting for the other end of the corridor. He swore under his breath, scrubbing his fingers into his hair. "I really am going to sleep, though," Merlin told him, grin fading a little in its enthusiasm. "Try not to kill anyone?"
" …I'll try to remember," Arthur echoed him, lips tugging up.
"What will you do?"
"Watch some foreign telly. Can't be as bad as they're making it."
Merlin shrugged, stepping around the side-table for the open bedroom to the far left of the room. "Just inform me if the place is on fire," he said.
Arthur frowned, sinking back into his chair. "Don't jinx it, Merlin."
"It was a good match today, even if we lost."
"Morgana said you enjoyed yourself." Arthur's tone remained casual enough that Merlin's heart wasn't leaping out of the confines of his ribcage. "I wasn't sure what she was implying."
"Well. I don't really hide the fact that I'm gay, Arthur. And that I may have a mild weakness for fit men covered in oil."
"Does that include me as well?"
This time something more determined wriggled past the stoicism to Arthur's expression and Merlin kinda wished he was blacking out right now.
"I… wait, why?" As if there was a hidden accusation to Arthur's question, a prickle of annoyance worked up Merlin's spine. "Just because I'm gay, it doesn't mean I'm going to jump every half-naked man I see," he snapped, and it may have been outright defensive, but to hell with Arthur.
"You really are an idiot, Merlin."
Arthur was clear across the front room, in seconds, and pressing the other man against the paint-chipped door frame, Arthur's palm to Merlin's collarbone. Arthur's eyes were too blue up close.
"I've tried everything, but…"
Merlin narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the dread growing in Arthur's words.
" If… inviting me to this sporting event was your way of coming out to me," he said, a slow realization creeping embarrassingly hot over him, "then… I guess, that makes sense about Mithian. Turning her down. She was essentially perfect for you."
Arthur's thumb swiped over a patch of dark stubble to Merlin's jaw.
"You don't know anything," Arthur mumbled, somberly.
Merlin rested his head back to the door frame and gripped Arthur's hip to him, hard with one hand. Feeling where it was all tendons—no unnecessary fat, no excess, no fucking imperfections because Arthur was always like that.
Arthur was so perfect it was disgusting, muscles and manners and handsome, million-watt smiles. Arthur had to invade Merlin's thoughts and dreams like an unwanted guest, like when he made himself at home on Merlin's kitchen floor, one of the business jackets Arthur owned pooling green under him—sucking and fucking and thrusting him against the edge of Merlin's cubicle desk, covered in scotching-hot, wet kisses instead of olive oil.
And so what, Merlin didn't know anything?
"Enlighten me, you great arse," he muttered, lighter blue eyes glittering with malice, and Merlin's smirk cruel. Even when Arthur's mouth crashed to his, teeth clacking noisy. The older man released a tiny, broken whimper into Merlin's opening lips, dragging fingers into tufted, black hair. Merlin groaned, crowding their hips together to buck up. God, yes—
Merlin inhaled, backing Arthur's hips out while still grasping, leaning his head out of the mindblowingly wonderful kiss.
He wasn't about to halfway a friendship-not-a-friendship whatever they had. "You've been talking in riddles all night. And that's not fair. I want to know what the hell you want from me, Pendragon," Merlin said, staring back evenly but stubborn, at the irritation on Arthur's face.
"It wasn't about coming out," the other man admitted, low. "Or Mithian. Or about me." Arthur tilted his head back and ground his hands over his face, features softening. "Or the bloody match. You've been here at my side for five years, Merlin. Working with me. Being there for me, by choice. You were there when my Father passed, and I never thanked you for that."
Merlin's insides squirmed at the memory, that terrible evening spent next to Uther Pendragon's hospital bed.
There had been no warning for it. Uther suffered a massive blood clot to his brain, after a short operation. It had been one of the rare times in their lives that Merlin had seen Arthur bawl like a child. He didn't blame Arthur for refusing to step foot into another hospital. Not after losing both of his parents to those sterile, color-blank rooms.
"All that time… I've been trying to figure that out." Merlin looked up again, mouth thinned, as Arthur continued, "What drew you to me."
A glow of warmth kindled in Merlin's chest, as he chuckled.
"I couldn't remember my key-code to the office's printer the first day," Merlin recalled, thoughtfully. "You threatened to take it to my head. And I threatened civil assault."
Arthur nodded, solemn but appearing to be reining in the smallest traces of an amused smile. "But you stayed," he pointed out.
"Well, that was my mistake, I think."
No more genuine cruelty. The atmosphere around them felt eerily relaxed, and the barest scent of olive oil clung to Arthur's skin.
"Really, don't kill Gwaine," Merlin said, breathing against the solid column of Arthur's neck. "He's just more observant than the rest of them."
The other man sighed loudly onto Merlin's hair, though he suspected it was staged reluctance.
Alright, it wasn't a complete lie.
This was a bit like heaven.
BBC Merlin is not mine. Oh boy was this fun. Personally, I would love to see Turkish oil wrestling prompts in every fandom I love. BEST SPORT EVER INVENTED. There is some terminology: (pehlivan) means "wrestler". (Yağlı güreş) just means "Turkish oil wrestling" in the national language. (Kisbet) is the official pants which are hand-stitched lederhosen. Again, this is the best sport that was ever invented and if you wanna watch it in action, go look up videos. Go. Thank you for reading and any comments/questions are deeply appreciated!
I'm making a partial dedication to Marlena for her constant encouragement and her title suggestion: "iD ONT KNOW MAN ITS JUST GAY AND FEELY AND THEYRE COVERED IN OIL".
"Other/Other Turkish Oil Wrestling Modern AU
So... an AU where the Knights are famous wrestlers? Or a fic where one of them learns about this sport and insists they all give it a try?
Think about it, Percival pouring oil all over himself or Merlin oiling Arthur up. Something. Anything. The fandom demands such a fic exist. It really, really does."