“Hello? Gwaine?” The voice on the mobile is very near frantic.
“No, mate, this isn’t Gwaine. You’ve got the wrong number.”
“Wait! Wait. I know this is Gwaine’s number! It’s in my mobile!”
Merlin doesn’t have time for this. He really doesn’t. “Evidently I’ve got this Gwaine bloke’s number now. I’ve been getting calls for him all day. Look, I’m sure you’ll clear it up. I have to go.” Merlin goes to end the call, fumbling in his jeans with his other hand for that bit of paper with Owain’s number scribbled on it. Or did he leave it in his jacket pocket?
“Wait! Please. Please. I’m…I’m desperate here.”
Something about the tone of the guy’s voice makes Merlin stop. He puts his mobile back up to his ear.
“Are you okay?”
Pause. “Not…exactly. Look, I know you don’t know me from Adam, but could you please come over here and help me?”
That’s how Merlin ends up outside a very posh house in the middle of the day, staring at the elaborate brass knocker on the front door. As instructed, he rings the guy back on his mobile.
“Okay, I’m here,” Merlin says, wondering if he’s crazy to be coming all the way out to Hampstead to help somebody he doesn’t even know. Could this be a joke of some sort? He looks about for hidden cameras.
The guy on the other end of the line sounds even worse than he did before. “Just come in. Hurry.”
Merlin tries the door. “It’s locked.”
“Are you hurt?” Merlin asks. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?” Of course, the guy could have called his own ambulance, but you never know.
“No! God, no. No. Just come around back, would you? You’ll have to climb the fence.”
“Please, just please do it. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m…I’m stuck, okay? This is really embarrassing. The alarms are all turned off, just hurry.”
Merlin sighs and hops down the brick steps, rounding the house, past the pristinely manicured shrubbery, to where a large, ornate fence surrounds a swimming pool. Who has an outdoor pool in London?
“This isn’t going to be easy,” he tells the guy on the phone, eyeing the fence with its evil-looking spears on top. There’s a noise on the other line-- half-whimper, half-groan--and Merlin sighs, resigned.
“All right. I’m going to have to put the mobile in my pocket.” He pauses. “I swear, this better be good.”
“Oh, I assure you,” the guy intones, voice dry, “it is.”
Shaking his head, Merlin shoves the phone into his jeans and makes a lunge for the fence. Never very athletic, it takes three tries for Merlin to straddle it successfully, barely avoiding being impaled in the privates by jutting wrought iron. A dog on the other side immediately starts barking, and Merlin emits a startled yelp.
“Trixie! Down!” a now-familiar voice yells, and Merlin looks across the expanse of the long, rectangular swimming pool toward the patio, where he can now see a figure staring at Merlin over one shoulder while standing in front of a glass sliding door leading to another pool, of all things.
Merlin looks down at the dog, one of those small breeds baring some very sharp-looking teeth.
“She won’t bite,” the guy calls to Merlin. “Jump down!”
Merlin does, fairly gracelessly, almost landing on Trixie, who runs away yelping, only to start up her yapping again from the safety of her dog house.
Merlin walks toward the guy, who he can now see is blond, fit, gorgeous, and also quite naked.
“So?” Merlin asks, looking him over. Nice arse.
The guy's sweating and looks a bit like he might pass out. Merlin moves to the side, taking a closer look, and suddenly realizes what the problem is.
“Wow, when you said you were stuck, you weren’t kidding! I’m Merlin, by the way.” Merlin crouches to get a better look.
“Arthur.” Arthur leans his forehead on the sliding glass door, in which he has somehow gotten his cock stuck. “Nice to meet you.”
Merlin grins, standing again. “So…let me guess. Got a bit too amorous with the door, and it got miffed at you?”
“Does it really matter?” Arthur snaps, and Merlin’s brows go up.
“Hey, I’m just trying to get a feel for the situation! Exactly how am I supposed to get you out of there?”
All anger seeps out of Arthur at once, along with most of the blood in his face. “I think the latch up top tripped shut.” Merlin sobers when he realizes that Arthur is indeed in some pain.
Arthur shoots Merlin a thunderous look, realizes he’s really concerned, and lets out a breath.
“No. It’s just pinched. But it really hurts, believe me, especially every time I try to reach the latch. Could you possibly?” Arthur points, and Merlin looks up at the latch in question.
“You must have had some boner when you were walking through that door,” Merlin can’t help but comment, leaning into Arthur as he reaches up to flip the latch open.
“Thank you, Merlin, I did, as a matter of fact,” Arthur shoots back sarcastically, and Merlin grins.
After the latch clicks, Merlin immediately reaches in and pulls the heavy door open. “Wow, good thing this didn’t snap shut.”
Arthur winces, hand instantly cradling his privates.
“Are you okay?” Merlin asks, following Arthur through the indoor pool area and inside the house.
“I think so,” Arthur says, walking with his legs wide apart.
“Let me get you some ice,” Merlin offers, looking about, mind boggled at the sheer extravagance around him. “Where’s the kitchen?”
Arthur points, and Merlin walks through a wide archway into a very spacious kitchen-- larger than Merlin’s entire flat-- with an island and state-of-the-art appliances, including a huge double-door refrigerator. He uses the ice-maker to fill up a dish towel and returns with it, handing it to Arthur, who immediately places it on his cock, sighing and leaning his head against the back of the long leather couch.
“Oh, God. I was afraid I’d be there all day. Maybe all weekend,” he sighs. “I don’t know when my sister will be home, and I didn’t exactly relish her being the one to find me.”
Merlin chuckles. “Well, glad I could be of help. You and your sister live here together?”
“We’re house and dog-sitting for my parents until they get back from Paris,” Arthur says.
Merlin again looks at the opulence around him. Must be nice, he can’t help thinking.
“Well,” he clears his throat and turns toward the foyer. “Mind if I go out the front door rather than hop the fence again?”
Arthur’s head comes up. “Where are my manners? --Merlin, did you say?”
“Let me pay you for your trouble.”
Merlin shakes his head. “No. No, no. I didn’t mind in the least. Well, jumping that fence wasn’t fun, but other than that…really. It’s okay. And I certainly took the piss with you enough when you were obviously hurting.”
Arthur looks stricken as he struggles to sit up. “I really would prefer it if you’d let me repay you in some way, Merlin. You really went out of your way to help me, a stranger, in a very odd situation.” He smiles a little, blue eyes sparkling. “This might have ended terribly for me-- If my cock had turned blue and fallen off, I would have been quite upset; I assure you.”
Merlin grins and shakes his head.
“Likewise,” Arthur adds, “if Morgana had found me first, she would have taken pictures and likely posted them all over the internet. You saved me, really, in ways you don’t even realize. Even not being Gwaine was a plus.”
Merlin’s lips twitch. “Yes, by the types of calls he’s been getting, I can rather imagine that.” He looks Arthur over and something occurs to him. “Say, if you really mean it…there just might be something you can do for me…”
“Anything,” Arthur states, moving the ice an inch to the left and sighing.
“Well, there’s this ghost tour tonight, and ... I need a date.”
Arthur frowns. “You want me to be your date?”
“Not only my date, but my very amorous date. I’m locked into going to this thing, and my very obnoxious ex will be there. He thinks he ended my world when he broke up with me several months ago. It’s going to kill me if I have to go to this alone. I’d been on the phone trying to find a plus one when you called me, and now I’ve really run out of time, which kind of is your fault. So, how about it?”
When Arthur doesn’t immediately answer, Merlin suddenly realizes he may have inadvertently insulted him.
“Oh, my God, you aren’t gay, are you? Sorry…sorry. I’m really shite at this kind of thing…”
“No, it’s okay,” Arthur interrupts. “I am, actually. It’s just…never mind. Fine. What time do we go?”
Merlin brightens. “You’ll do it, then? Brilliant! The tour’s at nine. Meet me at Bell’s Hill Burial Ground in Camden at 8:30. Sure you don’t mind? I mean, playing the part and all.”
“It’ll be fine,” Arthur replies. “Hopefully I’ll be able to walk by then.”
The entire thing happened so fast, Merlin hadn’t had time to consider how weird it was to be standing there talking to a complete stranger who was in the nude and icing his cock and balls at the time. Gwen points this out to Merlin later, but he’s too happy to have a fake date to the ghost tour to give it his full appreciation.
“So what does this bloke look like?” Gwen asks, sitting at the coffee table putting on her mascara, small compact mirror in hand.
“He’s blond, maybe an inch shorter than I am, fit. Blue eyes.”
Gwen turns and looks at Merlin. “Oi! And you asked him out? I’m impressed!”
“He’s doing me a favour, more like,” Merlin says, slipping a baby blue jumper over his T-shirt. “Or rather, returning mine.” He holds his arms out. “This look all right?”
“Oh, Merlin,” Gwen says, smiling in a motherly fashion. “You look very handsome. I’m sure this Arthur fellow will be utterly bowled over.”
Merlin shakes his head. “The point of this, Gwen, is to make Mordred see that I am not pining for him, not to snag a rich prat who somehow managed to get his dick stuck in a sliding glass door.”
Gwen frowns. “Oh, but you are pining for Mordred, and I would much rather have a rich prat than a self-important twat who treats me like crap. You were with him for almost a year, and he never even bothered to learn your middle name or where you’re from! You need someone special in your life who will treat you right.”
Merlin sighs and sits down on the couch to pull on his trainers. “I’m fine. Lance is picking you up, right? I need to go if I’m not going to be late. I don’t want Arthur thinking I stood him up and leaving.”
“Yes, he’ll be here. Go.” Gwen waves him away with her mascara wand.
Merlin finishes tying his shoes and races out the door, speed walking to the tube station. He winds up being five minutes late and releases a sigh of relief when he spots Arthur’s blond hair near the gates to the cemetery.
“Thank fuck, I was afraid you’d bolt when you didn’t see me,” Merlin says on a breath when he reaches Arthur, who looks like a model in a cobalt jumper over a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans that hug him in all the right places.
Arthur appears affronted. “I told you I’d be here. I wouldn’t go back on my word.”
Merlin smiles.“Well, of course not. Honour is probably encoded into your DNA or something. Anyway, thanks again.”
“I owe you, Merlin,” Arthur reminds him.
“Ah, that’s right. How’s…little Arthur?”
Arthur blushes attractively. Blond, blue-eyed blokes aren’t normally Merlin’s type, although Mordred’s eyes are blue. Many a time Merlin had stared into them, mesmerized, as they’d made love…He shuts down that train of thought immediately.
“Not accustomed to being called ‘little,’ thanks very much,” Arthur answers, and it’s Merlin’s turn to blush. “But all better.”
“Yeah. Well. I didn’t get a very good look at it, sorry. Shall we go in? The tour’s beginning to gather.”
“Wait,” Arthur says, grabbing Merlin’s arm. Merlin turns and looks at him.
“What is it? You aren’t afraid of ghosts, are you?” He gives Arthur a cheeky grin, oddly pleased at the look of annoyance that washes over the other man’s features at his words.
“No, Merlin, I am not. I just want to go over our story. I mean, are we going to talk to this ex of yours? Are we supposed to be on our first date?”
Every time Arthur says Merlin’s name like that, stressing the first syllable, Merlin gets a tingle low in his belly. It’s a little unnerving. He bites his lip.
“Oh, er, I see your point. No, I’d rather we’ve been dating a while.” He steps a little closer to Arthur, thinking quickly. “So, I live close to the market with my mate, Gwen. I own a bookshop there. Maybe that’s where we met? You were looking for a book?”
Arthur nods, taking Merlin’s hand and clasping it. “A book on reptiles.”
“Reptiles?” Merlin asks, distracted both by the feel of Arthur’s hand in his and by the sight of Gwen and Lance walking across the parking lot toward them.
“I work at the London Zoo,” Arthur tells him. “in the Reptile house.” Before Merlin can register this unexpected fact, Gwen and Lance are upon them, and he’s making introductions.
“Wonderful to meet you, Arthur!” Gwen gushes. “My, you two certainly look good together. You couldn’t have dressed more complementary if you’d called and discussed it.”
“We didn’t,” Merlin assures her. “And just so you two are in on this, Arthur and I have been dating a couple of months now and met at my bookstore.”
“We don’t plan to speak to Mordred,” Gwen says sourly.
Smiling, Lance puts a conciliatory arm around Gwen, squeezing her close. “Ready to be spooked?”
They enter the gates of the cemetery and join the tour.
“That’s him,” Merlin whispers into Arthur’s ear when he spots Mordred, arms around some twink. Arthur’s neck smells good close to Merlin’s nose. Both spicy and sweet.
Arthur turns to look. “Which one?”
“The one with the dark hair and deceivingly innocent features,” Merlin clarifies. “Not the twink. I don’t go for twinks.”
“That’s because you’re almost one yourself,” Arthur teases, and Merlin playfully knocks Arthur with his hip, feeling surprisingly easy with him considering they just met that day. But he did see Arthur' naked--that tends to take a relationship to a new level quickly.
Merlin misses Arthur’s first impression of Mordred as he’s distracted by Gwen's enthusiastic, swoony motions behind Arthur’s back as she mouths to Merlin that he needs to tap that. She finally stops when Lance catches her at it, schooling her features and blushing a little.
“How long were you with him?” Arthur suddenly asks.
“Eleven months,” and fourteen days Merlin adds the second part silently because he knows it sounds pathetic.
“Long time,” Arthur comments.
“Too long,” Gwen’s head pops up between them, and Merlin shoots her a venomous look.
“Okay, we’ve established that, Gwen, many times,” Merlin says.
“And he moved in with him,” Gwen adds. “Even though Mordred was absolutely awful to him. I think Mordred purposely broke up with Merlin before the one year mark so he wouldn't have to buy Merlin a gift.”
Merlin plants his palm on Gwen’s face, pushing her backward, effectively shutting her up.
“Mordred wasn’t her favourite person,” he says to Arthur.
“I gathered as much. Yet she seems to like me---therefore making her an excellent judge of character.”
Merlin rolls his eyes at Arthur and laughs, just as Mordred spots them and comes over.
“Merlin! You made it,” Mordred smiles, managing, as always, to appear guileless, and Merlin’s traitorous heart does a flip. Merlin can’t believe Mordred still affects him this way, when he knows, better than anyone, how Mordred is.
“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Merlin asks. In a smooth move that makes Merlin wonder for a moment if Arthur’s done this kind of thing before, Arthur moves behind Merlin, wrapping his arms around Merlin’s torso and resting his chin on his left shoulder.
“We made the reservations so long ago,” Mordred shrugs. “and what with the break up…”
Merlin just shakes his head, placing his hands on Arthur’s where they rest comfortably around his middle. He doesn’t miss Mordred’s eyes lingering there, although he doesn’t immediately acknowledge Arthur’s presence.
“Gwen…Lance, how are you?” Modred asks.
“I was better before you showed up,” Gwen replies in an undertone as Lance steps forward, reaching out to shake Mordred’s hand.
“Very well, thanks, Mordred, and you?”
“I’m brilliant! Started a new job last week, in fact. Kev? This is Lance, Gwen, Merlin—my ex, you know, I’ve told you, and…I’m sorry, we haven’t met.” Mordred finally meets Arthur's eyes.
Arthur reaches around Merlin to shake Mordred’s hand, keeping his arm around Merlin’s waist. “Arthur Pendragon.”
Well, that’s good to know, Merlin thinks, stifling a nervous giggle. He can’t believe he’d never asked for Arthur’s surname.
Mordred looks Arthur over, raising a brow. “Posh.”
“I’m Merlin’s boyfriend.”
Mordred’s eyes remain hooded, making it impossible for Merlin to read them. “Really? I didn’t know you were seeing anyone, Merlin.”
“How would you?” Merlin asks.
Mordred purses his lips.
“I hear about you all the time. A lot of my friends frequent your book shop.”
“Spies,” Gwen breathes venomously before Lances pulls her away.
“Kev and I are going to Club Albion after this. Why don’t you and Arthur join us?” Mordred grins. “We can catch up.”
Merlin glances at Arthur. “Oh, I don’t know about…”
“Of course we will,” Arthur says. “Merlin and I love to go clubbing.”
“Really?” Mordred looks at Merlin. “You never much cared for it when we were together.”
“Perhaps it was the company,” Arthur says, and Mordred’s eyes narrow. Merlin wants to kiss Arthur, he's so good at this.
The tour guide begins to speak and everyone quiets down. Arthur pulls Merlin closer, chin on Merlin’s shoulder again. Mordred pointedly ignores them, his hands stroking Kevin's chest and belly as they stand listening. Finally, the introduction is over and the tour begins.
As they walk through the dark cemetery, the guide giving brief, rather theatrical descriptions of who is buried where and how they died, Merlin casts subversive glances Mordred’s way. He sees his ex snuggling his date's ear and pressing a kiss to Kevin’s palm. Where in the world did Mordred pick the twink up, anyway? Merlin wonders. The kid's almost half Mordred’s age, and so fawning.
“Would you relax?” Arthur's warm breath hits Merlin’s ear. “You don’t look like you’re having any fun at all. It’s painfully obvious you’re still hung up on him. Do you want him to know it?”
Merlin looks at Arthur, shocked. “I am not!”
Arthur smirks. “Of course you are, although I can't figure out why. I know the reason I’m here. And don’t worry, I’ll make it good. But I’m telling you now; he’s not worth it.”
Merlin isn’t able to answer, because the group stops walking, stepping off the path to stand in the middle of a group of tombstones so the guide can tell them a gruesome story of a hanging.
Merlin isn’t listening at all. While a part of him watches Mordred cuddle Kevin, another part is completely distracted by the feel of Arthur’s thumbs moving over his hipbones. Arthur’s tugged him close to his body again, his firm chest pressed against him so that Merlin can feel Arthur’s every breath on the back of his neck. There’s a cold wind blowing, but Merlin finds himself suddenly hot, almost to the point of sweating. The whole thing's so intimate--more so than anything Merlin experienced with Mordred in their eleven months as a couple.
Merlin blinks, having forgotten for a moment where he is. He’s surprised to find he’s missed the guide’s tale altogether.
When the group moves on, Arthur pulls Merlin round, pressing their lips together in a soft kiss. Merlin automatically parts his, readily accepting the brief swipe of Arthur’s tongue, tingles running down his spine, before pulling back. He looks into Arthur’s eyes, the dark blue almost grey in the darkness, like murky waters.
Arthur smiles. “He was watching,” he whispers, and it takes Merlin a moment to realize what Arthur means by this. He gives a jerky nod, turns, and walks after the grouop, feeling suddenly off-kilter.
They remain side-by-side for the rest of the tour. Merlin doesn’t hear a word the guide says; his ears buzz, and his fingers seem highly sensitized where they entwine with Arthur’s.
When the tour’s finally over, Arthur announces, “I have my car. We can take it to the Albion.”
Merlin hesitates. "You sure you want to go? We don't have to."
Arthur grins. "I said I did, didn't I?"
“This is what you drive?’ Merlin asks when he sees the Volkswagen Golf parked in the lot.
Arthur raises a brow. “Not what you expected?”
“Frankly, after seeing your house, no.” Merlin slides into the passenger seat. The interior is tidy and smells of Arthur’s aftershave, and Merlin takes a deep breath of it as he buckles his seat belt.
Arthur starts the car and begins backing out of the space. “I thought I told you that was my parents’ house. My sister and I are house-sitting. I like to use the pool.”
“Naked.” Merlin smirks. “By the way, you didn’t say how the…incident…occurred.”
Arthur looks both ways and eases out of the lot. “No, I didn't.”
“Oh, come on. You must understand why I’m curious!”
Arthur sighs. “There isn’t a lot to tell, actually. I was there alone, so I decided to take a dip. I’d been sitting out in the sun a bit, had some…amorous thoughts…” he glances Merlin’s way, “and when I headed into the house, I must have hesitated or something over the threshold, and, I don’t know, bumped the door? The latch activated, and I ended up in the position you found me in. Thank God I had my mobile in my hand. Every time I moved, it hurt like the devil. Gwaine was the only person I could think to call.”
Merlin makes a sympathetic sound. “I really can’t imagine. I’m just glad I was able to help.”
Arthur smiles. “Me, too.”
“You were great back there,” Merlin says softly. “And going to Albion really isn’t necessary.”
“I have a confession to make,” Arthur replies, and Merlin glances over at him, watching the lights of passing cars play over his features. He’s really a very handsome bloke.
“I want to go to Albion because I’ve never been to a gay club before.”
Merlin’s been going to clubs since he was old enough to get into them. “Really?”
Arthur nods. “I—I’m not out.”
Stunned, Merlin sits in silence for a moment.
“Doing this for me is kind of putting yourself out there, so to speak. I see now why you hesitated.”
Arthur chuckles. “Yeah. I thought…well, that it might be time.”
Merlin thinks about that for a moment. “No one knows?”
Arthur shakes his head. “Only you.”
There’s a line to get into the club, and Merlin spots Mordred and Kevin a little closer to the door. When he and Arthur finally slip through and down the darkened hall into the interior of the club, which is crowded with people and pulsing with music, Arthur hands Merlin his I.D. “You dropped it back there,” he tells him, looking around the club with interest.
“Thanks,” Merlin slips it back into his wallet.
Arthur motions toward the bar. “Would you like a drink?”
“Sure, whatever you’re having will be fine.” Merlin can’t help but watch Arthur’s arse as he makes his way to the bar. He jumps a little at Mordred’s voice in his ear.
“Snagged yourself a rich boy, eh?”
“Exactly what makes you think he’s rich?” Merlin asks.
“Oh, just the way he talks, walks, stands…in short, just about everything. The guy’s got a trust fund as big as the Titanic. All that and the name Pendragon. I swear, Merlin, do you live under a rock? His daddy’s got his thumbs in more pies than you and I could count on both our hands.”
“Oh.” Merlin’s never been one to keep up with such things, but he isn’t surprised that Mordred would know. “Where’s Kevin?”
“Little twinks' room,” Mordred grins, standing close to Merlin.
“He doesn’t seem your type,” Merlin comments, stepping back, suddenly wondering what it is he really wants from Mordred tonight.
Oh, yeah, that’s it. He wants Mordred to be jealous. Right.
Mordred moves closer again, breath near Merlin’s ear. “Oh, I think you are, Merlin. You miss me, don’t you? I’ll tell you a little secret. Sometimes I miss you, too.”
“Excuse me,” Arthur cuts in, handing Merlin a mixed drink. Mordred backs away a step.
Arthur certainly plays the jealous boyfriend well, Merlin muses as he catches the stormy look in Arthur's eyes. His cock twitches in his jeans, and he dips his head to taste the cold, sweet drink.
“What do you do for a living, Arthur?” Mordred's voice rises to be heard over the din of the music and crowd. All around them, couples move to the beat, bodies undulating under colored strobe lights.
“I work with reptiles,” Arthur answers coolly, watching the dancers.
“Reptiles?” the corner of Mordred’s upper lip lifts.
Arthur looks at Mordred, never blinking. “Yes, believe me-- I know a snake when I see one.”
Mordred turns away first, and Merlin hides his smile in his glass.
Arthur takes a large swallow of his drink and then leans toward Merlin.
“Shall we dance?” It sounds a bit fancy and out of place, and of course Mordred rolls his eyes, but Merlin smiles and puts his drink down on a nearby table. They shed their jumpers and head to the middle of the floor, joining the throng.
Merlin has to admit—Arthur’s a good dancer, better than he expected. The way he moves his hips and arse makes Merlin rock-hard in his jeans, and every glimpse of bare skin is like a promise. Arthur holds Merlin’s gaze while they dance, and Merlin finds that extremely hot. When another bloke tries to cut in, Merlin tells him to sod off, and a grin splits Arthur’s face.
Had Merlin really thought blonds weren’t his type?
Two songs later, a slower piece plays, and Merlin and Arthur come together like magnets, bodies meeting hip to hip. They’re both dewy with sweat, and Merlin wraps his arms around Arthur, liking the feel of his firm body beneath his hands. They share each other’s breath, and Merlin can smell the cloyingly sweet drink that Arthur consumed.
“So, how do you like the club?” he whispers in Arthur’s ear, smiling at the way Arthur shivers in reaction.
Arthur moves his face just a little so that their eyes meet. “It’s definitely an experience.”
Merlin wants Arthur to kiss him. He wants it very badly. They stare at one another, bodies swaying to the beat of the music, thighs, arms, and occasionally groins brushing up against one another tantalizingly. Arthur has got to feel how much Merlin’s attracted to him; he can certainly feel Arthur’s sizable erection. Merlin leans forward and brushes his lips against Arthur’s, briefly catching the pouty bottom lip between his teeth before letting it go. He then rests his head against Arthur’s shoulder, suddenly too shy to see his reaction.
The song ends, and they reluctantly separate. Mordred and Kevin have set themselves up at their table, and Merlin’s surprised at the brief pang of disappointment he feels that he won’t be alone with Arthur. Isn’t the whole point of this night to make Mordred jealous? But somehow Mordred doesn't seem quite as important as he once did.
Kevin’s going on and on about the song that just played, which Merlin couldn’t name if his life depended on it. The kid’s draped himself around Mordred, who lounges in a chair, nursing a drink and staring at Merlin and Arthur as they take their seats at the table.
“You’ve let your hair grow,” Mordred’s non sequitur directed at Merlin takes a moment to sink in. Merlin realizes that Mordred’s had more than a couple drinks.
“Er, yeah. Some,” Merlin says, hand automatically going to the back of his dark hair, which he used to keep cropped fairly close to his head but now has allowed to grow out in unruly waves.
“I rather liked it short.” Mordred’s clipped tone is a little dismissive, signaling he’s displeased in general about things, something that, Merlin suddenly realizes, used to have the power to ruin Merlin’s evening entirely.
“Just as well you're not with him anymore," Arthur says. "He grew it for me. I love it like this.” Arthur combs his fingers through the hair at the nape of Merlin’s neck, and Merlin finds himself melting into the chair.
“So thick.” Arthur’s breath, tinged with sweetened alcohol, tickles the side of Merlin’s face. “Gives me something to hold onto in bed.” Arthur tugs gently at Merlin's hair. A steady pulse-beat sets up in Merlin’s groin.
Fuck. And the academy award goes to… Arthur Pendragon.
Mordred looks petulant. “It’s messy. Merlin’s always been the type who has to be reminded to do things, such as comb his hair.”
Merlin colours. Had Mordred always treated him like a ridiculous child when they were together? He seems to remember Gwen saying something to that effect.
Arthur’s chuckle sounds in Merlin’s ear, fond rather than judgmental. “That might matter, if I were his father. All part of his allure, if you ask me.” Arthur nips at Merlin’s ear, and Merlin leans his head to the side to give him better access.
Kevin makes an annoyed sound and leans toward Mordred, rubbing up against him like a cat in heat. Merlin feels rather sorry for the boy, who probably thinks a lot of sophisticated Mordred.
Mordred’s jaw locks, a cruel spark appearing in his eyes. “One thing I can say about Merlin…he was always a fantastic bottom…I'd pound his ass for hours.”
The words cut like a knife, and a buzzing in Merlin’s ears suddenly overpowers the loud music and conversation in the room. Memories of lazy Sunday mornings in bed, hot nights of fucking, and everything in between swarm Merlin’s mind-- all of them reduced to meaningless ashes in an instant. His eyes smart, and he thinks he might vomit. Merlin feels Arthur’s had tighten where it rests on Merlin’s shoulder.
Arthur withdraws his arm and seeks Merlin’s hand under the table, squeezing it hard. His laugh is mocking, tone of voice equally so as he says loudly, “Bottom? Merlin always tops me--fucks me clear into the floor. First time, I couldn’t sit for days without wincing.”
Heat, more from the picture Arthur’s words create than from anything else, seeps into Merlin’s face, and he watches as Mordred spills his drink into his lap and barks at Kevin as the boy tries to mop it up.
Merlin takes a large, fortifying swallow of his own drink, draining half the glass before setting it down again. Arthur’s grip tightens on Merlin’s hand, voice taking on the quality of hot, sizzling butter in a pan.
“I’ve never had sex so good.” Arthur turns his face toward Merlin, leaning in to run his lips and then tongue over the stubble on Merlin’s cheek. “I can’t wait until we get out of here.”
Merlin swallows, eyes lowering to the table, heart pounding. Slowly, Merlin brings their joined hands ever so slightly to the left so that Arthur can feel the outline of Merlin’s erection in his jeans. He both hears and feels Arthur’s sharp intake of breath against his face.
“My sentiments exactly,” Merlin agrees, turning and catching Arthur’s mouth in a kiss.
Mordred clears his throat, which is the last thing Merlin notices about him that night; Merlin’s hands coming up to frame Arthur’s face, thumbs brushing the stubble there, tongue pushing past soft lips to enter Arthur’s warm, wet mouth.
Then they’re fumbling to pick up their sweaters between kisses, tripping over their chairs and bumping into bodies on their way to the exit doors.
The cold air outside the club hits Merlin like at slap to the face, reality not far behind.
“You probably…” he begins.
“Shut up,” Arthur says, pushing Merlin up against the brick wall, fingers gripping Merlin’s hair and tugging his head back so that Arthur can nibble on Merlin’s neck.
“So, you weren’t just…”
The brick is cold against Merlin’s back and Arthur’s mouth hot and inviting.
Arthur moans and grinds his lower half into Merlin’s groin, effectively short-circuiting Merlin’s brain. Merlin grabs hold of Arthur’s hips, fingers digging into them a moment before inching around to grasp that delicious arse.
“Let’s go back to mine,” Arthur suggests gruffly, voice rumbling into Merlin’s neck, making him shiver.
The car ride there barely registers, as Arthur takes up a litany of dirty talk that keeps Merlin in a perpetual state of arousal.
“Want to suck your cock, Merlin, want to get it nice and stiff so you can fuck me. Would you like that?”
Hell, yes, he’d like that. He’d like that very much, thank you.
Turns out Arthur lives in a very average flat on a very average street in Camden. Merlin barely has time to register this before he’s got his jeans around his ankles and Arthur’s head bobbing over his lap.
Merlin’s on fire. He’s never had someone give him head who enjoys it so much. Mordred always acted as though it was a bit of a chore, and others liked it enough, but not like this—not like they were feasting upon him. Arthur invites Merlin to fuck his mouth, holding still and opening his throat, allowing Merlin to clutch at his silky blond hair and slide in and out of those pretty, red lips, wet with saliva. He licks and sucks at Merlin’s dick, holds Merlin’s balls in his mouth; hollows his cheeks out and creates enough suction to vacuum Merlin’s heart right out of his cock.
“I’m gonna…” Merlin warns, and Arthur lets him, all over his face.
“I’m going to make you hard again,” Arthur promises. “And then you can make an honest man out of me… fuck me right into the floor, so I can’t sit for days.”
“Oh, shit,” Merlin breathes, grabbing Arthur by the shirt which is somehow, criminally, still on his body, and kissing him fiercely, tangling their tongues together before undressing Arthur inch by tantalizing inch. Arthur’s skin is soft and smooth in places; in others, the hair amazingly crisp under Merlin’s fingertips. His nipples pebble beautifully against Merlin’s tongue, and Arthur emits the sweetest sounds Merlin’s ever heard, his hips thrusting eagerly at him, asking for more.
That Arthur’s a bottom is like a wet dream come true…a needy, demanding bottom, and all for Merlin. Arthur grasps at Merlin’s hands, wanting them here, here. Oh, and especially here.
By the time Merlin’s prepared Arthur, kissing him as he stretches him with lubricated fingers, Merlin’s impossibly hard again. His hands shake as he puts on the condom, almost dropping it twice, and Arthur laughs at him, eyes teasing. Merlin can’t help but smile, too, the tension easing a bit, and he slips the sheath over himself, squeezing his cock at the base and taking a deep breath.
Merlin stretches out on the bed, chest to Arthur’s back with one of Arthur’s legs pulled up over Merlin’s hip. After the initial, careful, ohsofuckinggood slide inside, Merlin’s cock feels like it never wants to be anywhere else. They share occasional kisses over Arthur's shoulder as Merlin thrusts, at first shallowly, and then more deeply, Arthur an angel in Merlin’s arms allowing Merlin to take the lead.
Merlin hasn't topped in a long time, and it takes a moment to find his rhythm, but when he does, and Arthur begins keening and making little oh! oh! noises with every thrust of Merlin's cock, tears come to Merlin's eyes--it's so good. Time suspends, Merlin floating on a rising cloud of sensation. Distantly, he hears Arthur moan and feels Arthur's heart pounding against the palm of his hand where it's pressed against solid muscle. Arthur's breath hitches and ropes of cum hit his stomach. Merlin thrusts again. And again, squeezing his eyes shut and burrowing his face in Arthur's silky hair as he implodes, body shuddering through its long release.
Too soon, it’s over.
Things aren’t as awkward as they could be after screwing the guy you asked to pretend to be your boyfriend to impress your ex.
Arthur makes cheese toast while Merlin uses the shower, borrowing Arthur’s shampoo that Merlin lathers into his hair while reflecting that this has been way more than he ever planned to take on. More than a fake date to make Mordred jealous. More than just a fuck. Merlin isn’t sure how to process it yet.
Arthur gives Merlin a pair of clean pants to wear, and they eat their toast companionably at the small kitchen table, Merlin looking around the reasonably tidy but small flat that's littered with books on reptiles and photos of Arthur's sister and parents, all of whom look imposing and untouchable. (The family even more than the reptiles.)
“So were you disinherited or something?” Merlin asks curiously, thinking of what Mordred told him about the Pendragons.
Arthur laughs. “Morgana and I don’t come into our money until we’re thirty-five. We’re supposed to prove ourselves first.” Arthur makes air quotes with his fingers.
“Interesting,” Merlin nods. “And you’re …into reptiles?”
“I’m interested in them, yes, but not primarily.” Arthur finishes off his toast and wipes his hands on a napkin. “I have a degree in zoology, and the job at the reptile house came open.” He gestures to the books. “As you can see, I’ve been doing a bit of research. I’ve only had the job a few months. But eventually I’d like to perhaps work with an environmental protection agency.” Arthur shrugs. “I don’t know for sure. I’m keeping my options open.”
Merlin nods, impressed. Arthur’s not turning out to be at all what Merlin thought him to be on first meeting, which is neither here nor there, since this is likely the last time Merlin will ever see him again. Disappointment, sharp and strong, slices through him, and he clears his throat, glancing at the clock over the microwave.
“I guess I’d better get dressed and catch the tube. I have to open the shop at ten in the morning.”
“I’ll drive you home,” Arthur offers. “I need to head back to my parents’ house in case Morgana pulls an all-nighter. Trixie has the doggie door to the back yard, but she gets lonely, and Mum likes one of us to be there.”
“Okay, thanks,” Merlin smiles, standing.
“So, you said you share a flat with Gwen?” Arthur asks, when Merlin shows him where to park.
“I do now. I lived with Mordred before. It was a huge mistake moving out of my place with Will. He got another flatmate, or I’d be back there now. But Gwen and I get on well, and other than having to listen to occasional heterosexual sex, it’s fine.”
Arthur chuckles. “Good, then.” He puts the car in park and looks over at Merlin, eyes sincere. “I’m glad you’re not with Mordred anymore. He seems like a real ponce.”
“I’m starting to realize that,” Merlin says, meaning it. “Thanks for everything. Be careful around the sliding door.”
Arthur smiles, and Merlin finds himself holding his breath, waiting. Arthur’s not out, and it’s unlikely that anything will come of this. But still.
“Goodbye, Merlin,” Arthur says, reaching out and squeezing Merlin’s fingers.
Merlin gets out of the car and doesn’t look back.
Two weeks later
“Why the sudden interest in reptiles?” Will asks, looking through the stack of books he’s just taken out of a shipping box. The late autumn sun streams through the plate glass window of Merlin’s book shop, almost blinding in its intensity.
Merlin shrugs. “No sudden interest. We just need some to complete our section over there in the zoology corner.”
Will chuckles. “You are so transparent.”
“What do you mean?” Merlin stops counting change and looks at his friend.
“You’re still mooning over that rich bloke who pretended to be your boyfriend on the ghost tour, aren’t you?” Will leans against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. “Give it over, Merlin. Why don’t you just go see him?”
Merlin deflates, not even attempting to keep up the ruse; Will knows him too well. “There’s just no point; he's not out. Plus, he knows where to find me if he wants me.”
Will studies Merlin for a moment. “What you need is a night out. Let’s go to Albion. It’s Friday--we can get good and pissed. Percy’s out of town, so you can stay over at mine.”
Merlin can’t think of a good reason to say no, so agrees, thinking it’s about time he makes an effort to move forward in his life rather than stagnating, mooning over one lost cause or another. Still, going to Albion, where he'd last been with Arthur, was going to be rough.
He spends extra time on himself that evening, choosing jeans that hug his hips at the lowest point, and a T-shirt that’s just a little too tight and tends to ride up, revealing his “trail of temptation,” as Will calls it. The shirt proclaims, Real boys kiss boys and is bright pink. He ordered it off the internet and likes the way it makes him stand out. He wants to stand out tonight. He chooses a pair of bright pink socks to go along with it and brushes on some lip gloss.
Gwen looks him over. “Wow. I haven’t seen you get this dolled up since you broke up with Mordy. Probably before. You didn’t dress up this way for him.”
Merlin thinks about this. “I guess I didn’t. He always bitched when other guys looked at me.”
“He’s such an arse, Merlin. I hope you realize that now,” Gwen says.
“I do,” Merlin crosses the room and takes her hands in his. “Really. I think that night with Arthur showed me once and for all.”
Gwen smiles. “Really? How so?”
“Well,” Merlin shrugs, letting go her hands. “Arthur just seemed to highlight all Mordred’s bad points. I haven’t thought much about Mordred since.”
Gwen leans against the wall, studying Merlin’s face. “Have you thought about Arthur?”
Merlin looks at her. “A little,” he admits. She stares. “Okay, a lot. But he’s in the closet, so I can’t go find him and out him. So.” He lifts his hands in a motion of surrender. “Are you and Elena coming with us?”
Gwen grins. “I think so. Lance has to work.”
“Okay, then hurry up and get ready.” Merlin shoos her toward her bedroom.
The club is packed and literally pulsing with the beat of the music. Merlin can’t help but see Arthur in every blond head he lays eyes on, even though he knows Arthur’s unlikely to be there. He and Will immediately go to the bar for something strong, wanting to get a buzz before the get on the dance floor, and Merlin’s soon moving his hips to the beat of the current song while sipping his Vodka martini.
“Gwen,” Elena says, flipping her long blond hair off her shoulder, “act like you’re attracted to me, would you? Last time, it got me all kinds of attention.”
Gwen rolls her eyes. “I’m not a lesbian, Elena!”
“I know it! But you’re good at acting like one, and this is a gay club!” Elena pulls Gwen closer and wraps an arm around her waist.
“Oh, fuck,” Merlin says.
“What?” Will asks, looking toward the dance floor where Merlin's staring.
“Mordred’s here. See? Dancing with that beefy Latino all in black.” Merlin turns away. “This is all I need.”
Will snorts. “Oi, Mordred can’t dance worth a damn, can he?” He begins to laugh. “He looks like someone’s jerking invisible strings attached to his limbs.”
Elena and Gwen start to giggle.
“Oh, my God, that's so what he looks like!” Gwen snorts her drink and chokes. Will puts his down and pounds her back repeatedly until she can breathe again.
Merlin reluctantly turns around and has to agree that Mordred looks ridiculous. Hadn’t Merlin once thought him a good dancer?
“He’s so drunk, and obviously trying to make a move on the guy with him,” Merlin says. “I don’t think it’s working. Shit, he just saw me. Fuck, let’s go dance.”
Will follows Merlin and they lose themselves in the crowd. Merlin can’t help laughing at Will gyrating his hips provocatively to the beat.
Five or six songs later, they make their way back to the bar, sweating and thirsty. Mordred's voice in Merlin's ear makes him jump. He'd completely forgotten about his ex being there.
“So Pendragon dumped you, then? Frankly, Merlin, I’m not surprised.”
Merlin almost chokes, spilling half the martini he just ordered onto the floor.
“Sod off,” Will tells Mordred, who only laughs and tugs Merlin's arm.
“Come on, Merlin, have a dance with me.”
Merlin pulls away. “No, thanks,:
“Aw, don’t be like that, Merlin.” Mordred wraps his arms around Merlin’s waist.
“Seriously, I’m not interested.” Merlin tries to move away, but Mordred’s arms lock tightly around Merlin’s middle, giving Merlin a claustrophobic feeling as though he can’t get a good breath. Merlin struggles, and then feels Mordred's erection against his arse.
Merlin’s feeling a little frantic in spite of himself. He doesn’t like being pinned. “Let go, Mordred, I’m not kidding!”
“You’re so feisty.”
Mordred’s breath is hot on Merlin’s face, and the strong smell of alcohol wafting off the other man, mingled with Mordred’s sweat and strong cologne, make Merlin dizzy.
“Why don’t we take this back to mine?” Mordred whispers in Merlin's ear.
“Come off it, Morded, let him go, or I’m going after the bouncer,” Will scans the crowded bar where absolutely no one is paying them any mind.
"Fuck off. Merlin and I want to be alone, don't we, Merlin?"
Merlin stumbles against the bar when he's abruptly released from Mordred's grip. He turns in time to see Mordred being escorted through the crowd by someone with blond hair wearing a black T-shirt, their arm wound tightly around Mordred’s neck.
“Was…was that Arthur?” Merlin asks incredulously, trying to see past all the people to the exit doors. He grabs Will’s arm and tugs him in their wake.
“I don’t know who it was,” Will says close to Merlin’s ear so he can hear over the next loud burst of music, “but he came up behind Mordy and got him with some kind of Vulcan death grip on the neck that made him drop you like a hot potato.”
They find Arthur just inside the exit doors, and Merlin takes a moment to look him over appreciatively. Arthur’s black T-shirt fits him like a glove, bringing back vivid memories of Merlin’s night with him and the defined pectoral muscles and soft skin under Merlin's hands. Arthur’s jeans are similarly tantalizing, ripped in places that make Merlin want to see more skin.
“Are you all right?” Arthur's eyes are concerned.
“I’m fine,” Merlin says. “Thanks for the help, but…how did you do it?”
“Pinched his vagus nerve so he’d let go, then grabbed him and tossed him out.” There’s a day’s growth of stubble on Arthur’s jawline, and Merlin really wants to touch it.
Merlin grins, slow and inviting, meeting Arthur’s eyes.
“Brilliant,” Will pronounces. “You’ve got to teach me where to find it. I was just about to run find a bouncer to peel old Mordy off Merlin but was a little afraid they’d be gone by the time I got back.”
Merlin rolls his eyes. “Please. I’m not completely helpless. I would’ve gone limp…he’d have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.”
Will nods solemnly. “Like a school girl.”
The three men burst into laughter at the image.
“Arthur, this is my mate, Will. The one I told you about.”
Will elbows Merlin teasingly. “Told him about me, did you? Say I was the one who got away?” The three make their way back into Albion.
Arthur smiles. “Something like that,”
Will manages to subtly disappear into the crowd by the time the next slow song begins, and Merlin finds himself in Arthur’s arms.
“I missed you,” he tells Arthur, heart pounding to be putting himself out there like that.
Arthur leans back a little so he can look into Merlin’s eyes. “Did you?”
Merlin nods. “You got under my skin.”
Arthur cocks his head. “Like a splinter?”
Merlin grins. “Maybe. I dunno. If splinters make you ache in all the right places, then yeah.”
Arthur’s face grows serious, and his eyes darken. Merlin hadn’t been wrong in remembering that the blue could turn grey and stormy. Arthur’s arms tighten a little around Merlin’s waist.
“I came out to my sister,” he states, eyes never leaving Merlin’s face.
“How did that go?”
Arthur licks his lips, and Merlin finds himself following the action with his eyes. “She was surprised but…not surprised.” He shakes his head. “I wouldn’t say she’s supportive, but she didn’t say anything negative either.” He shrugs. “It’s a load off my mind, anyway. I also told Gwaine.”
Merlin’s brows lift. “Gwaine of the mobile phone?”
Arthur laughs and nods. “He’s actually one of my oldest friends. He’s been very supportive, and he’s the one who suggested I come here tonight. He’s actually here with me.”
Arthur looks around. “Over there.” He points up to the ledge where a cluster of people stand talking. “The one with the beard.”
Merlin looks upward to see a roguishly attractive guy with a drink in his hand talking to a group of people. He meets their eyes and raises his glass. Merlin smiles at him.
“Looks like a nice bloke.”
“He is,” Arthur agrees. “He’s encouraging me to fully come out.”
Merlin looks at Arthur. “Is that what you want?”
“I think so.”
The song ends and something faster plays, but Arthur and Merlin continue to sway slowly to their own beat, bodies still pressed together.
“I’ve thought a lot about that night,” Arthur says, face so close to Merlin’s that Merlin can smell Arthur’s toothpaste.
“What about it, specifically?” Merlin moves his head just enough so that his nose brushes Arthur’s cheek.
He feels a puff of breath on his neck. “Little snapshots, like the whiteness of your belly and the dark trail of hair there, and the way your breath hitched when you came.”
Arthur’s words, combined with the way his thumbs find the strip of skin between Merlin’s T-shirt and jeans, make Merlin’s mouth dry and his knees weak.
“But mostly the way it felt to have you inside me.” Arthur places a careful kiss to Merlin’s cheekbone.
“How did it feel?” Merlin whispers in Arthur’s ear. He nips the lobe before flicking it with the tip of his tongue.
Arthur shifts his hips, brushing an obvious erection against Merlin’s.
Merlin moves, catching Arthur’s mouth in a kiss, lips snagging. He hadn’t allowed himself to remember how this felt ; it would have been too cruel, with Merlin becoming more and more certain with each passing day that he wouldn’t see Arthur again.
“Want to try a real date?” Merlin asks hopefully, and Arthur smiles.
There are a lot of things that tell Merlin that Arthur is worth a hell of a lot more than Mordred ever was as far as boyfriends go, but Merlin thinks his biggest clue comes on a quiet Sunday when he and Arthur sit together on the couch sharing the newspaper.
Arthur’s left hand rests on Merlin’s stomach, warm and comfortable against Merlin’s skin where his T-shirt rides up. He presses a long kiss to Merlin’s head.
“What do you say about a movie this afternoon, Merlin James?” he asks, pointing to the list of movies playing at a local theatre.
Merlin turns his head, looking up at Arthur with a tiny frown of curiosity. “How did you know my middle name?”
Arthur pauses to think. “I—looked at your driver license that night at Albion when you dropped it.”
“Oh.” Merlin continues studying Arthur’s face, a tiny prickle of joy dancing about in his mid-section. He purses his lips, fighting a grin.
“What?” Arthur asks.
Merlin shrugs lightly. “Do you happen to know where I’m from?”
Arthur laughs, bewildered. “Ealdor. And your mum’s name is Hunith... aaaand growing up you had a cat named Sparkles. Why? Do I win a prize or something?”
Merlin wiggles around on the sofa and wraps his arms around Arthur’s neck. “Something. And how long have we been dating?”
Arthur thinks a moment. “Three weeks...and four days?”
Merlin presses his forehead to Arthur’s. “Yeah,” he sighs. “Yeah.” He kisses Arthur’s nose. And cheek. And other cheek. And chin. Until Arthur catches Merlin’s lips with his and holds him tightly until Merlin sinks in.