Merlin was spectacularly drunk.
He was in his ‘bad day’ sweats, numbly scrolling through Twitter on his laptop at one in the morning as his mind got fuzzier and fuzzier.
He'd had one of the worst days of the year and decided to drown his sorrows in alcohol. He shouldn't have poured himself that last drink. Or the one before that. And probably the one before that as well.
But he didn’t know how else he was supposed to deal with the shit he’d had to endure in the last sixteen hours. He’d woken up with a headache and had to skip breakfast, which ended up making it even worse. A bus had splashed water on his pants as he’d ran for the tube station and then his boss had yelled at him in front of everyone. Being assistant to Nimueh was a struggle in itself but a straight nightmare when she was in one of her moods. However since Merlin hoped to make editor one day, he gritted his teeth and suffered quietly –no matter how badly he wanted to snap. Then he’d run into his landlord Mr. Killy on the way back, who’d harped at him about late rent and Merlin had finally reached home only to find that he’d forgotten to buy groceries.
He’d nearly burst into tears right there in the middle of the kitchen, until he saw the lone vodka bottle Gwaine had forgotten at Merlin’s flat two weeks prior and grabbed it before he could convince himself otherwise.
And now here he was, woefully scrolling through Twitter and feeling more and more wretched about himself as he saw tweets about people getting married and buying houses and landing their dream jobs and apparently everyone was happy and content and absolutely fucking fulfilled except for Merlin. The entire reason he’d logged into his old Twitter account was so he could feel good about himself by seeing some sad gits complain about their lives but it looked like the Instagram effect had spread everywhere.
Great, Merlin couldn’t even have a decent pity party for himself.
Merlin’s skin prickled with irritation at yet another happy couple and he quickly scrolled down to come upon pap pics from the Daily Mail. He rolled his eyes and enlarged the images to see who the unsuspecting victim was this time.
One look at that familiar blond hair and all air suddenly left Merlin’s lungs.
Prince Arthur touches down in Dublin for Ireland royal tour, the headline read.
Merlin stared at the screen.
There Arthur was, in all his glory, walking around Dublin Airport looking wonderfully dishevelled and soft after his flight, making Merlin's heart clench painfully.
Of course he looked fucking perfect and of course Merlin was hit with a wave of yearning. Because Merlin was pathetic and lonely and on the verge of tears after having one bad day. He wasn’t a member of royalty jet-setting around the world, leaving broken hearts in his wake.
Merlin wasn't sure if the alcohol was inhibiting or enhancing his emotions but suddenly he couldn't breathe with how much he longed for someone to hold him. He unthinkingly touched the screen and was idiotically disappointed when he met the cold static of electricity rather than Arthur's undoubtedly warm skin.
Before his embittered mind knew what he was doing, he was pulling up the ‘Compose Tweet’ option to spill out random, scattered thoughts about Oxford and table tennis and the birthmark below Arthur's collarbone and something about wanting to lick it.
He sent the tweet, feeling a twinge of catharsis and promptly passed out with his face pressed up against the keyboard.
Two months later
Merlin lifted his head from the article he was reviewing when Gwen squealed aloud.
“Prince Arthur’s back in the country!”
Merlin wondered when his chest would stop constricting at the sheer mention of the name.
“And we’re supposed to care?” Gwaine drawled from somewhere on Merlin’s right.
Gwen blushed and fumbled with her phone. “No. I mean, I was just saying. He was spotted on his way to Kensington.”
Merlin, not even remotely wanting to be a part of this conversation, returned to his work –except he found it physically impossible to read a single word instead of listening to Gwen and Gwaine talk.
Gwaine snorted. “These royals lift a finger and it’s front page news while I broke an impossible record at Nandos last week and nobody reported that.”
“That’s because you’re disgusting, Gwaine,” Elena quipped from behind her computer.
“You wound me, my love,” Gwaine pouted with a hand to his chest and Percy sniggered by the door.
Merlin barely noticed as Gwen walked over to him and perched on his desk, her eyes stuck to her mobile screen. Probably ogling Arthur’s new photos. Merlin couldn’t blame her.
“It says he’s starting a new charity in his mother’s name,” she relayed from the article. “For leukaemia patients.”
Merlin sighed, his heart giving a twinge of sadness.
Gwen noticed and looked over at him. “Merlin. Didn't you used to know him in uni or something?”
“Not really,” Merlin lied, averting his eyes. “Just saw him around a few times on campus.”
“Oh,” Gwen frowned. “I was sure it was more than that.”
Merlin shrugged, trying to desperately quell any and all memories of Arthur Pendragon.
But Gwen didn’t let it go and clutched Merlin’s arm excitedly. “So is he really that dreamy in real life or do they airbrush those pictures?”
Merlin swallowed nervously and gave her a tight smile. “I can't remember but yeah, I suppose he's a good looking bloke."
He secretly prayed for the conversation to end.
Gwaine chuckled incredulously. “A good looking bloke? Hell, I hate these posh types but even I wouldn't kick him out of bed.”
Merlin rolled his eyes and attempted to turn back to his article when Gwen tapped her foot against his chair and said from the corner of her mouth, “Don’t look but Percy’s staring at you again.”
Merlin’s heartbeat picked up and he fought the urge to turn back in his chair and catch Percy’s eye.
Percy had been dropping increasingly unsubtle hints towards Merlin for about three months now but Merlin just couldn't find it in him to indulge. He didn't know what was stopping him. Percy was a catch, anyone could see that and he was bound to be snatched up by someone equally amazing sooner rather than later if Merlin didn't start showing some interest.
But Merlin wasn't. Interested, that is.
Merlin's love life was a bit of a trainwreck anyway. He'd only been in two relationships in the past four years and neither of them had lasted longer than twelve weeks.
"I wonder why he hasn't asked you out yet," Gwen mused.
"Maybe he's not into me anymore," Merlin said hopefully. He would have really like to stop feeling guilty about not returning Percy's affections, even though he knew it wasn’t his fault.
"No, that's not it," Gwen replied. "He can't stop blushing whenever you talk to him and he was going on about you to Gwaine yesterday in the break room before he saw me."
"Really?" Merlin said, sitting up straighter. "What was he saying?"
Gwen grinned down at him. "Just that your eyes sparkle like diamonds and that your cheekbones are crafted by the gods themselves, not to mention your hair being ebony in the purest form. Rather poetic, isn't he?"
"Oh, shut up," Merlin scolded light-heartedly. "I know he didn't say that."
Gwen laughed. "Alright, he thinks you're fit and smart and he'd like to take you out on a date. We already know all that."
Merlin smiled bashfully, despite himself. "Right."
"So let him take you out on a date, Merlinnn," Gwen whined. "You two would be adorable together."
Merlin exhaled. "I'll think about it, okay? Now shoo, Nimueh would have my head if I don't submit this on time."
Gwen ruffled his hair before returning to her own desk and winked in Percy’s direction, who hurriedly left the room in a flustered huff.
Merlin checked to see if the coast was clear and surreptitiously pulled up the article on Arthur’s charity.
Arthur didn’t know why he agreed to this.
Either he had lost his mind or Morgana hypnotised him. Both were equally plausible.
He sighed tiredly as the make-up artist wiped his brow for the tenth time in the sweltering heat of the million lights projected around the blindingly bright studio.
“Morgana, is this really necessary?” he called out when he caught sight of his sister skittering behind the cameras. “I mean, really? Reading thirst tweets?”
She rolled her eyes and stalked up to him with her hands folded over her chest in what he could only assume was an intimidating gesture.
“I swear if you chicken out on me now, Arthur –” Morgana started threateningly.
Arthur held up his hands in surrender. “No, no. I’m here. I’ll do it. I might want to jump off a building later but I’ll do it.”
“It won’t be that bad,” Morgana consoled him. “You’re not Richard Madden.”
“Excuse me, my fans are just as filthy as Richard Madden’s!” Arthur snapped at her, the familiar ire of simply conversing with Morgana rising up in him.
Morgana smirked. “Good to know you’re on board. And you don’t have fans, people have been conditioned to like you because you’re part of the monarchy.”
“Shut up, Morgana,” Arthur mumbled, feeling less like the heavily media-trained Prince of Wales and more like a grumpy five-year-old.
“Listen, it’s a good way to promote the charity and put your face out there,” Morgana insisted seriously with a firm hand on his shoulder. “You do realise that you basically went off the map after coming out as bi three years ago aside from the occasional tours you’re forced to do? People are getting antsy, Arthur. Use your status as an LGBTQ icon and help me in reforming the overly conservative, traditionalist image we have. This will make you look more accessible, more relatable –it’ll appeal to the youth. Besides, Uther agreed and you don’t have a say in this anyhow.”
Arthur knew she was right, even if he hated it.
“Fine,” he conceded. “Let’s get on with it then.”
Morgana gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze and gestured a thumbs-up at the crew.
With everything set up, Arthur was sat on a fairly uncomfortable stool with a camera pointed at him and given a plastic bucket labelled ‘Thirst Tweets’ filled with small chits of paper.
He took a deep breath. All he was supposed to do was read them aloud, give appropriate reactions and he was done. It shouldn’t take more than half hour. Arthur could do this.
At first Arthur was shocked and scandalised but then he started to relax because some of these were downright hilarious, and he had to give it up for the creativity of the tweets.
He thought things were going rather well. He was coming off as witty and funny and he saw people smiling off-camera, which he took to be a good sign.
“And this is the last one,” he announced after some time, peering into the bucket. “Should be good.”
It was longer than the others and didn’t seem to be nearly as disturbing. He read aloud, “ ‘I’m so angry because Arthur Pendragon has no right being that hot, while also dominating table tennis matches at Oxford- ‘ ” Arthur paused, confusion curling in his gut at how familiar this felt, “ ‘ –and he especially has no right to strut around with that little birthmark under his collarbone that I would very much like to lick –‘ wait, Merlin?” he exclaimed, his eyes frantically looking at the username and profile picture. Sure enough, the display name was ‘Merls’. The icon was tiny but Arthur could make out the dark hair and the beaming smile, and his heart doubled its pace.
It was Merlin.
Arthur couldn’t breathe.
Of course. Of course it was him. There were only a handful of people who knew about Arthur’s birthmark and Merlin was one of them. Not only did Merlin know about it, but he’d also had the pleasure of ‘licking it’, as he’d so eloquently stated in his tweet.
“Oh, it’s a birthmark.”
“It looks like a tiny sword.”
“No, it doesn’t, you idiot.”
Merlin laughed and kissed it. “It’s cute.”
Arthur’s mind spun at the memory.
He snapped out of his reverie when he noticed the whir of activity around him, and realised that they’d cut the cameras after his exclamation.
People got busy with wrapping up and nobody was paying him any attention, until Morgana appeared in front of him with a concerned frown.
“Merlin?” she enquired.
Arthur’s throat felt too dry to speak and his hands were clammy. “Yeah, that –” he swallowed. “That last tweet was from Merlin.”
He was still holding the chit it in his hands and unfurled it to read it again. And again. And one more time. He stared at pixelated Merlin’s face until Morgana snatched the paper from his hands.
“Well, well,” she said with a smirk. “It is him. Looks like you’re not the only one who still holds a long-extinguished torch for someone.”
Arthur flushed, and shot her a glare. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m sure you don’t,” she cooed gleefully, shoving the chit in his hand again. “All right, they’ll edit the rest but you still have to shoot the ‘thanks for having me’ part.”
Arthur nodded, his stomach twisting with queasiness. “Let’s get it over with, I’m not feeling well. I may be coming down with something.”
Morgana patted him on the head sympathetically and went to have a word with the director.
Arthur pocketed the piece of paper with Merlin’s tweet, their only source of contact in the last four years. It seemed to burn a hole into his skin.
The video was posted on the official Buzzfeed YouTube channel two days later.
Arthur hadn’t expected them to keep the bit with Merlin’s tweet.
The internet promptly went up in flames.
Merlin buried his head into the pillow and willed for the incessant knocking to stop. It was Saturday. It was his day off. Nobody was allowed to disturb him on Saturday, especially not at the ungodly hour of –
He fumbled under the sheets for his phone to check the time, only to find it dead. He didn’t even know when that had happened. He’d been so exhausted the previous day that he’d fallen asleep at seven in the evening and he guessed that was about the time his phone had given out too.
He lifted his head to blearily look at the digital alarm clock by his bedside and groaned. It was nine in the morning. He’d slept for fourteen straight hours.
The knocking started again with increased vigour and Merlin buried his face in his hands for a moment before getting up and padding to the front door, his bare feet recoiling against the cold floor.
He peered through the peephole to be met with the sight of Gwen’s curly hair and opened the door with an irritated, “What?”
Gwen gave him a huge grin and said, “Merlin Emrys, you dirty little liar!” before pushing past him uninvited into his flat. Merlin closed the door and followed her, his brain refusing to work beyond ten per cent.
Gwen turned to face him and gave him a once-over. “Did you just wake up?”
Merlin nodded, heading to the kitchen to put on the kettle for some tea. God knew he desperately needed it for whatever Gwen was there for. “What’s up?”
Gwen pushed herself up the counter and observed him way too intensely for comfort. “Merlin, have you checked your phone at all in the last twelve hours?”
Merlin shrugged, bringing his favourite chipped mug to his lips. “No, sorry. The battery died some time ago. I haven’t switched it on yet.”
Gwen gave him a pitying look for some reason. “Oh, Merlin…you’d better do it now. There’s something you need to see.”
Merlin kept the cup down, a trace of fear curling in his gut. “What happened, Gwen?”
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, giving him a smile. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just –well –oh, what the hell –look.”
She tugged at his sleeve to pull him closer and got her phone out. She opened YouTube, played a video and shoved the device in his hands.
Merlin’s heart nearly gave out when he saw Arthur in it. That wasn’t even the worst of it.
The colour drained from his face when he reached the end and stared in horror as Arthur recognised the sender of that mortifying tweet, aptly going “ –wait, Merlin?”
The video ended and the next one started playing after a ten second pause.
Gwen was biting on her lip and looking at him with a mix of worry and anticipation.
Merlin didn’t know what to say. He silently handed her the phone and went to the living room. He needed to sit down. His mind was numb and muddled.
Gwen trailed after him and tentatively sat beside him on the sofa. “Merlin, are you okay?”
He turned his face toward her, probably looking as lost as he felt and her face crumpled. “Oh, love,” she said and wrapped her arms around him.
He soaked in her warmth and took a deep breath in an attempt to start thinking clearly.
“You said you weren’t close to him,” Gwen whispered.
Merlin sighed. “I’m sorry. We just –we had a falling out.”
Gwen nodded and rubbed his hand gently. “I understand.”
Merlin shook his head, sitting up straight and glancing at her with thinly veiled hope. “It’s not that bad, right? I mean, I probably can’t show my face to the Prince of Wales or my mother ever again but that’s not –well, it could be worse.”
Gwen averted her eyes and Merlin was hit with a wave of dread.
“You’d better switch on your phone. And check your Twitter account,” was all she said.
There were thirty missed calls and seventy two unread messages on his phone. Someone had found his thirst tweet and it now had over one hundred thousand likes and forty thousand retweets. Not to mention he had gained five thousand followers overnight and currently had seven hundred direct messages from strangers. #WaitMerlin was trending at number two worldwide.
Merlin’s day had just started.
It got worse at around three in the afternoon when trashy websites started publishing articles revealing his identity and calling him a ‘close friend of the prince’ from his Oxford days. They’d dug up some grainy shots of Merlin years ago, those from the couple of times he’d managed to end up being photographed in Arthur’s presence.
At four, a harried Hunith called him because the media had apparently hunted his childhood home down. Thankfully, they gave up pretty easily and left when they found out he wasn’t actually there and his mother kept refusing to answer their invasive questions.
Merlin was only grateful that his flat was rented under his Uncle Gaius’s name and not his own. He had never been so overwhelmed in his entire life.
At around seven in the evening, Merlin received a text message from an unknown number.
Merlin, this is Arthur. Can we talk?
Merlin wasn't convinced. After about fifty phony messages and calls and Merlin barely restraining the urge to throw his phone against the wall, he had learned to be wary. He almost blocked it without replying but then gave in against his better judgement. At least this one wasn't creepy and demanding sex from the off.
I'm sure you'll understand if I don't believe you, he texted back.
The reply was instant. That's fair. Let me call and I'll prove it.
No! Prove it on text first, Merlin responded.
Tell me something about me that only my close friends would know.
Merlin waited. When there wasn’t any new message in five minutes, he almost gave up hope but then his phone pinged.
You mixed coffee and energy drink in uni to stay awake during morning lectures.
Merlin stared at the screen, shocked. He had not expected that. He had not expected that at all.
It was true. Merlin did mix coffee and energy drinks in uni to avoid falling asleep and hardly anyone knew that. Not even his mother knew that.
Arthur did though.
Suddenly, the possibility of actually speaking to Arthur again after four whole years occurred to him for the first time and his body buzzed with nervous energy as his heart sped up.
He was not ready for this. He was not ready for this. He was not ready for this.
He jumped when his phone vibrated again.
Can I call now? the message read.
Merlin swallowed thickly. Well, he couldn’t refuse him now, not after receiving such solid proof of Arthur’s identity.
Yes, Merlin managed to type with trembling fingers, cursing himself on managing to end up in such a fucked up situation.
The phone started buzzing in his hands and Merlin gaped at it for a moment, before accepting the call.
And yes, it was Arthur's voice. It was distorted and slightly crackly and it sounded like he had a bit of a cold but it was Arthur. Merlin’s stomach gave a longing jolt at the sound because to this day, no one spoke Merlin's name quite in the same way he did.
“Hi,” Merlin greeted, rubbing a hand over his face.
“How are you?” Arthur asked, sounding just as nervous as Merlin felt.
Merlin huffed out a small laugh. “Not doing the best right now, incidentally.”
Merlin could almost see Arthur wincing on the other end. “Right,” he replied. “Stupid question. Look, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know they weren’t going to edit that portion out. I’ve made Buzzfeed take down the video but –”
“The damage is already done,” Merlin finished for him.
Arthur sighed. “Pretty much.”
“It’s not your fault, Arthur,” Merlin found himself saying. “I shouldn't have made that stupid tweet. The reaction you had was natural.”
“I know, but you must have been hounded by the press today. Are you okay?” Arthur asked, and Merlin’s heart fluttered a little at the concern in his voice.
“I’m fine,” he answered. “They did give my mum some grief but they’ve left her alone now.”
“Good, good. Oh god, I owe Hunith a huge apology, don’t I?” Arthur fretted.
Yes, Merlin wanted to say. For more than one reason.
“Merlin, we should meet. I don’t think we ought to be having this conversation over the phone,” Arthur suggested.
Merlin nearly flatlined at the prospect of seeing Arthur in person again.
“What?” he breathed.
“Just for a quick chat,” Arthur hastened to assure him. “So we can sort this nightmare out.”
Merlin didn’t know what he was thinking when he agreed. “Okay, let’s do it.”
“Alright,” Arthur sounded relieved. “Tomorrow? For lunch?”
Merlin nodded stupidly. “Sure. Text me the time and place, I’ll be there.”
They hung up shortly after that and Merlin just stared at his wall, having a hard time processing everything that had happened in the last day. His calm, peaceful, occasionally stressful life had turned topsy-turvy in a matter of hours and Merlin didn’t know whether he wanted to run or scream.
Arthur had entered Merlin’s life when he was eighteen.
They'd met shortly after Merlin had gone to Oxford on scholarship to study English. They hadn’t gotten along at all in the beginning. Will, his childhood friend, had freshly filled Merlin’s head with all sorts of anti-monarchy sentiments and Merlin couldn’t stand the sight of Prince of Wales strutting around with his posh friends like he owned the damn place.
They had bumped into each other in one of the ancient corridors, gotten into a small tiff over the matter and Merlin hadn’t hesitated to tell Arthur exactly what he thought of him. Even risking being sent to the Tower of London was worth it for the look on Arthur’s face when Merlin put him in his place.
No matter how much Merlin avoided him after that, Arthur always seemed to turn up right where he was and took great pleasure in tormenting him.
Merlin was convinced that he would despise Arthur forever, until that fateful afternoon in March when Merlin had pushed Arthur out of the way of a speeding car and broken his arm in the process.
Arthur’s bodyguards had been summarily fired but Arthur had visited Merlin in the hospital with flowers and a soft smile. The flowers had probably been forced into his hands by Morgana but the smile was entirely his own and Merlin had decided on the spot that he loved it.
They’d struck up an unlikely friendship after that and it wasn’t long before they were attached at the hip, becoming each other’s closest confidantes.
It hadn't taken Merlin much to fall hopelessly in love with Arthur. From late-night study sessions before exams to pub nights to video game competitions to poorly executed library meetings and hometown visits, Merlin had come to know and adore Arthur, who was noble and arrogant and compassionate and funny and intelligent and secretly insecure about himself.
They had teetered on the edge of something for two whole years. Merlin didn't fail to notice the part tender, part heated glances Arthur often sent his way and he wondered what was taking them so long to get it together.
It had all boiled over on the last night of uni at the batch farewell party when they'd found a dark, isolated corner and snogged each other senseless. Merlin hadn’t even had that much to drink but his whole body felt like it was on fire. He’d clung to Arthur desperately, heady with the desire and love he felt for him.
They'd somehow steered clear of Arthur's fan club and found their way back to Merlin's dorm, Arthur mouthing along his neck from the back as Merlin fumbled with the lock.
They'd ended up sleeping together and the memory of it was permanently seared into Merlin’s brain.
Merlin had woken up the next morning slightly hungover but giddy with the thought of new possibilities only for Arthur to break his heart and leave. Gone was the reckless, wonderful Arthur Merlin knew so well, to be replaced by the Prince of Wales shouldering the burden of a million responsibilities and obligations.
He’d mumbled some half-coherent apologies and explanations about not being out of the closet yet and something about expectations or duties or some other tosh like that, nothing of which Merlin’s addled brain could even begin to comprehend.
Merlin understood, of course. He wasn't that naïve to live under the delusion that he could have this, have Arthur. That one night was too good to be true anyway. Not that it changed the fact that Merlin was basically ruined for everyone else.
It had hurt too much to stay friends with him after that. He stopped returning Arthur’s calls, changed his number and moved to London to focus on his career. Arthur hadn’t tried to pursue him, and the tiny light of hope in Merlin’s chest fizzled out.
Merlin didn’t pretend that he didn’t have a slight tendency to keep tabs on Arthur occasionally but he had moved on. He had moved on from Arthur.
Merlin was over him.
Merlin was over Arthur Pendragon.
Arthur looked up from his very important task of rhythmically drumming his fingers on the table-top as Lance cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows towards the entrance of the café.
Arthur straightened up, his heart rate quickening. A few seconds later, he heard footsteps and then Merlin appeared before him, looking rumpled and windswept and somehow even more gorgeous than Arthur remembered.
“Good job blending in,” Merlin said as a greeting. “I wouldn’t have noticed you if Lance hadn’t pointed you out.”
“Tricks of the trade,” Arthur smiled at him as he stood up. “Hi, Merlin.”
“Hi,” Merlin smiled back, surprising Arthur by pulling him into a tight hug. “It’s good to see you,” he whispered.
“You too,” Arthur breathed, letting Merlin’s presence wash over him.
Merlin took the seat from across Arthur, facing the front of the café while Arthur had his back to it. They were in a little nook that Arthur had claimed as his own in Lance's quaint coffee shop. Leon, his bodyguard and best friend, rather enjoyed coming there too.
Lance had opened the café shortly after graduating when his job in the IT industry nearly drove him insane and he realised that he wasn’t cut out for the corporate world. Arthur was infinitely grateful for the epiphany because it had given him one of his favourite places in the world.
His spot was practically invisible if you weren’t looking for it but gave a perfect view of everyone else. Arthur often frequented it when he needed a quiet minute to himself and somehow, the image of Merlin fit seamlessly into his comfort corner.
“Didn’t have any trouble reaching here, did you?” Arthur asked.
Merlin rolled his eyes. “People don’t exactly recognise me. Gossip about you isn’t as important to the British populace as you seem to think so.”
Arthur glared at him, but the effect was ruined by his grin widening helplessly. God, he had missed Merlin.
“Shut up, Merlin,” he scolded lightly. “But rest assured, it will blow over soon. They just think you’re my friend.”
Merlin raised his eyebrows doubtfully at that. Arthur clenched his hands to stop himself from reaching over and brushing off the stray eyelash on Merlin's cheek.
“Fine,” Arthur conceded, turning his gaze away. “Tabloids are obviously making, err, non-platonic links between us but they don’t have anything concrete. They just think you’re a mate from uni and this is some elaborate inside joke. You’re in the clear.”
“I don’t care about that,” Merlin answered fiercely. “I know I’m not the one who’ll face more damage in this scenario. Are things okay on your end?”
Arthur blinked, taken aback at the concern. He cleared his throat. “Um, yeah. My father obviously did fly into a murderous rage at my unprofessionalism but it’s not nearly as bad as the Venice scandal.”
“What’s the Venice scandal?” Merlin asked, looking confused.
Arthur flushed. “Nothing –”
Merlin bit on his lip to keep from smiling and Arthur had to clamp down hard on the sudden urge to kiss him. But then Merlin pasted on a fake innocent expression and realisation dawned.
“You know what it is,” Arthur huffed, with a roll of his eyes. “Keeping tabs on me, Merlin?”
Merlin scoffed and averted his eyes. “Not on purpose but it doesn’t help when your face is plastered on newspapers every other day. I swear we are too obsessed with our royals.”
Arthur folded his hands and regarded him with a teasing quirk of his lips. “Speaking of obsession with royals, I heard you wanted to lick me.”
"Still a prat, I see," Merlin muttered, fighting back a fond smile.
"Still smitten with me, I see," Arthur shot back.
Merlin grew still, looking down at his hands as his smile fell. Arthur’s heart sank.
"I was, um –” he explained in a small voice. “I’m sorry about that. I was drunk and miserable and you showed up on my Twitter dash and I don’t know what came over me. I was just -I don't know, lonely."
Something squeezed at Arthur’s heart. He was about to open his mouth when Lance appeared at their side with two large mugs.
“Coffee on the house,” he grinned. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“No, of course not” Merlin said quickly, flashing him a brief smile.
“Well, you’re two of my closest friends and I’ve wanted to introduce you to someone for a while now who just happened to stop by right now,” Lance admitted, gesturing to someone behind Arthur’s back.
Merlin followed his gesture and his eyes widened.
“Gwen?” he exclaimed. “Lance is your mystery lover?”
“Merlin!” a sweet feminine voice cried. “What are you doing here?”
Arthur turned around to be met with the sight of a pretty, black woman with the warmest smile he had ever seen and sparkling eyes.
“So, you’re the one who’s got Lance all moony-eyed,” Arthur commented with a grin, offering his hand to her.
She blushed and shook it. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating, um –I’m not certain how to address you.”
Arthur laughed, endeared. “Arthur is fine.”
“Gwen, how do you know Lance?” Merlin interjected curiously.
“Elyan introduced us. How do you know Lance?” she questioned.
Merlin threw up his hands in disbelief. “We went to uni together, the three of us? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me Lance was your super-secret boyfriend.”
“I didn’t know you knew him!”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Is there anyone else in this café I know closely?”
“Yeah, actually,” Gwen said. “Percy’s sitting there with that red-headed bloke. We just came in to say hi to Lance on our way to run errands for Alator. On a Sunday.”
Merlin turned an interesting shade of red and Arthur turned to see a large, muscly man sitting with Leon who gave them a wave. His eyes lingered on Merlin and Arthur found himself instinctively stepping closer to him.
Merlin, being too busy making eye-contact with Percy, didn’t notice and only meekly waved back.
“Looks like I’m not the only one with a fan club anymore,” Arthur muttered under his breath. Gwen seemed to give him a strange look but she didn’t comment.
They all chatted for a few more minutes, during which Arthur couldn’t help but feel childishly petulant that they were hogging up all his Merlin time.
He’d met Merlin after four years, he deserved all of it that he could get.
After being assured that Merlin could call Arthur for anything paparazzi or media-related and given surprisingly thorough lessons on how to avoid/deflect them, Merlin and Arthur went their separate ways after another hug that lasted a bit too long to be friendly. Merlin felt oddly bereft without Arthur’s warmth.
He hadn't even reached home when his phone pinged with Arthur's text.
The arse had attached a picture of a Chihuahua on the street and written ‘Aw look, your best friend’
Merlin rolled his eyes, his mind flashing back to the memory of their early days in uni when Morgana’s Chihuahua Morgause had chased him across campus while Arthur had ended up with a stitch in his side from laughing and not helping Merlin at all. Merlin had been sulky for days afterwards when Arthur wouldn’t let him live down the incident, but also secretly pleased to get all that attention because of how stupidly besotted he was.
‘Haha there is no end to your wit, your pratness’ Merlin wrote back with a smile.
Arthur's reply came instantly. ‘You love it ;)’
Merlin exited Nimueh's office to the sight of an anxious pair in the form of Gwen and Percy.
They all stared at each other before Percy bit the bullet. “Well? What did she say?”
Merlin opened his mouth to speak but Gwen exclaimed, "Wait! Gwaine and Elena said to call them when you came out, they want to hear it too. Hold on, I think they’re having a quick snog near the Emergency Exit."
They all shared a mutual look of disgust before Gwen scurried off and left Merlin and Percy to deal with an awkward silence.
For some reason, Merlin couldn’t seem to look him in the eye.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to properly say hi at the cafe the other day," he said finally with an apologetic smile, feeling inexplicably guilty.
Percy chuckled. "No worries, I could see you were busy. For the record, I'm sorry for inappropriately coming on to you for months. I didn't know you were unavailable.”
Merlin’s head snapped up and he stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
Unavailable? Merlin had been entirely too available for the longest time in the history of the world.
"You and Prince Arthur," Percy explained slowly, as if it were obvious. "I saw you two at the café, Merlin."
Merlin shook his head in shock and disbelief. “What? N –no,” he stammered. "There was nothing to see. We're just friends."
Percy looked puzzled but then ultimately smiled and Merlin got the horrible impression that he was being pitied.
"If you say so," Percy said kindly, but Merlin could tell that he didn’t believe it at all.
Merlin felt the sharp sting of rejection even though he had been the one planning to reject Percy when the time came. Funny how life always worked out like that for him.
He vaguely wondered what Percy had seen to be so utterly convinced that Merlin and Arthur were romantically involved. The thought sent his mind spinning.
Gwen reappeared with a dishevelled Gwaine and Elena in tow, and they all looked at Merlin expectantly.
Merlin sighed. "Well, Nimueh wants me to sell my story and wants me to give her an exclusive piece on my relationship with Arthur."
Gwen gasped, bringing a hand to her mouth. "What? But we don't do trivial gossip columns at Camelot Magazine."
“Gwen’s right,” Elena added fiercely. “We’re not some trashy tabloid. This sort of thing is beneath us.”
"That's exactly what I told her," Merlin insisted, frowning. "Aside from how my personal life is none of anyone’s business, especially not hers."
Gwaine whistled, thumping Merlin lightly on the shoulder. “That can’t have gone over well. What did the witch say?”
Merlin shrugged, leaning tiredly against the nearest table. "She basically threatened me. Asked me to take a few days off and think about it. We all know that means."
Gwen bit on her lip nervously and touched his arm. “Oh Merlin, what are you going to do?”
“Not give her an exclusive, firstly,” Merlin answered wryly.
“No, of course not!” Gwen said. “But she could derail your career, you know what she’s like.”
“Can’t we lodge a complaint to HR about this?” Elena chimed in, looking angry and throwing a look of hatred towards Nimueh’s closed office doors.
“Ellie’s right,” Gwaine agreed. “She’s trying to coerce and threaten you into doing something she doesn’t have any right to demand of you.”
Merlin ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, she used her words very carefully. I’m not sure I can pin anything on her and if I do this, I’ll make an enemy of her forever.”
“Fucking bitch,” Gwaine growled and Merlin couldn’t help the smile that appeared on his face, his heart warming at his friends’ support and loyalty.
“Cheers to that.”
Arthur was surprised when he got the phone call. He picked up immediately.
“Merlin? Is everything okay?”
It was his mother’s death anniversary, which was always a morose and quiet day for him. He’d hardly known her but her absence felt most pronounced and painful on this day every year.
“Yeah, everything’s fine” Merlin answered. “I’m just checking up on you. I know today’s a hard day for you.”
Something fluttery and hot coursed through Arthur’s body, something akin to the warm feeling of being cared for, of being loved. Arthur craved it more than he ever admitted.
“I’m all right,” he replied thickly, clutching the mobile tightly to his ear. “Thanks, Merlin.”
“Of course,” Merlin said softly. “You know I’m here for you.”
Arthur hadn’t but a monumental weight lifted off his chest at the knowledge. He was glad for it, desperately relieved.
He would always want Merlin to be there for him, for Merlin to be around, for Merlin to be near.
Arthur would always want Merlin.
Merlin had nearly missed the ring of his phone, with his eyes glued to the T.V. screen and the volume turned up a few notches past acceptable.
But like everything related to Arthur, his phone call ultimately demanded attention. Aggressively and inescapably.
And now –now he was on his way up to Merlin’s flat for an emergency escape from the paps and Merlin’s relaxing evening had turned into a fluttery mess of nerves.
Three frantic knocks sounded on the main door and Merlin jumped despite expecting them.
He opened the door to a harried-looking Arthur, whose shoulders seemed to sag with relief at seeing Merlin.
"Oh thank god, I was hoping you still lived here." Arthur touched his arm. "I'm sorry for dropping in like this but the paps followed my trail somehow and I needed a place to lie low for a few hours.”
Then he remembered some of the manners he’d been taught in his rigid upbringing and took his hand back with a flush. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he added poshly and Merlin wanted to hit him over the head.
"You obviously are,” Merlin admonished, ushering Arthur in by his coat sleeve. "Come inside before the neighbours see you."
Arthur followed him inside and removed his scarf as he turned an eye around the flat. Merlin might have felt self-conscious about the mess but this was Arthur and Merlin knew how much of a slob he was without people picking up after him so he really couldn’t be arsed.
Arthur’s gaze settled on the paused telly screen and he raised his eyebrows at Merlin. “Harry Potter? Again?”
Merlin folded his arms defensively. “When a self-respecting man decides to do a Harry Potter marathon is his own business, Arthur.”
Arthur grinned and plopped down on the sofa. “I suppose I’ll have to join you then. Play Goblet of Fire.”
Merlin kicked at his foot as he settled on the other end. “I’m watching Chamber of Secrets.”
“Merlin,” he whined. “Play it. You know it’s my favourite and also the best movie of the franchise.”
Merlin scoffed and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “Absolutely not. The cinematic excellence of Prisoner of Azkaban begs to differ. Are you disrespecting Alfonso Cuarón?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Arthur mocked. “Now Goblet of Fire. I’ve had a stressful day, I deserve to see some dragons and mermaids.”
“If you think that excuse is going to work on me –” Merlin’s breath hitched as he felt Arthur’s fingers dangerously close to the most ticklish spot on his belly, “ –then I suppose you’re right.”
Arthur’s smirk was smug. “That’s what I thought.”
“You’re such a bully.”
Arthur didn’t disagree and leaned back with an exhale, his body relaxing against the plush sofa and Merlin fought back a smile. It was rare for Arthur to be off his guard like this –he always had his shield up with other people, had learned to be cautious but with Merlin, he had always been comfortable. With Merlin, he had always been himself.
Merlin kicked up a fuss while putting on Goblet of Fire and threw popcorn at Arthur’s head in protest, who just plucked them from his hair and ate them. Merlin rolled his eyes, ignoring the helpless fluttering in his stomach.
There were forty minutes left in the film when Merlin glanced at Arthur from the corner of his eye. Arthur looked tired and drowsy, curled in on himself with his blond hair sticking up in tufts.
Merlin took a shuddering breath and forced his eyes back to the telly. It’d been one month since everything had happened and somehow Arthur was still there. Merlin's mind spun a little at how easily Arthur had slotted himself back into Merlin's life, how simple it had been to fall back into their dynamic of fond bickering and teasing and light flirting. How right it all felt.
It worried Merlin as much as it gave him a rush of excitement.
He was afraid. He was afraid that he was on a dangerous path, that he was not as over Arthur as he'd previously thought.
Another discreet glance at Arthur was it all took for his suspicions to be confirmed.
Arthur: Should I invite him?
Morgana: do it pussy
Morgana: ur obviously dying to do it, idk what u want me to say
Arthur: I hate you
Morgana: maybe he’ll actually appreciate my art, unlike u
Arthur: Calling it art seems a bit ambitious :/
Morgana: brb asking uther to disinherit u
“It obviously is a date, Merlin,” Gwen insisted for the fifth time.
Merlin refused to admit it. “But he specifically said he was inviting me as a friend!”
Gwen, of course, had an explanation for it. “And? It’s so you wouldn't say no.”
Merlin frowned, balancing his phone between his ear and shoulder as he rifled through his clothes. “That seems counterproductive.”
Gwen groaned. “We’ve been talking about this for an hour. Do you want it to be a date, Merlin?”
Yes, Merlin said inwardly because of course he did. Who wouldn’t? It wasn't at all difficult to fall for Arthur Pendragon a second time.
“I don't know,” he said to Gwen. “Maybe.”
“Bullshit,” Gwen snorted. “I don’t know what mating ritual you two have got going on but it's obvious to anyone with eyes that you've got it bad for each other.”
Merlin gasped, nearly dropping the phone to the floor. “That's –that's not true!”
“Yeah, it is. Ten quid says you’ll end up having sex with him after this event,” Gwen stated flatly.
Merlin flushed a bright red. “No –I’m –you –Gwen –ugh fuck off,” he finally decided.
“Look, are we done here? Lance is here, he’s taking me out for a surprise dinner,” Gwen told him.
“How is it a surprise if you know about it?” Merlin asked.
“Because he isn’t subtle at all,” Gwen replied. “Bye now. Good luck!”
“Thanks for all the help that you didn’t give me,” he hissed.
Gwen hung up.
Merlin tugged at his collar again as he tilted his head to make sense of the painting in the large golden frame. It seemed to have simple, thick brushstrokes of different colours with a few wayward splatters of paint running across it. It was titled ‘Muse’. Merlin had no idea what it was supposed to mean or what the painting had to do with the title.
“I hope you realise that this is just an excuse for Morgana to display her hideous art and prove to me that people do want to buy it,” came an amused voice from behind him.
Merlin turned around and smiled at Arthur, who looked sinful in a dinner suit and was partially the reason Merlin was feeling so hot under the collar.
Arthur had invited him to a fancy fundraiser for his new charity being held at one of Morgana’s fancier art galleries. Disappointingly, Arthur had specified that Merlin would be coming just as a friend when Merlin had hesitated in giving his answer. However, Merlin didn’t know how to tell him that his hesitance only had anything to do with his discomfort with posh events rather than his unwillingness to be more than friends with Arthur. It was a well-established fact that Merlin would gladly jump Arthur’s bones in a perfect world.
But…but it was important to Arthur, so of course Merlin had come. The arrogant prat would never admit it but Arthur was clearly anxious and insecure about the fundraiser, if the way he kept finding Merlin for blatant moral support was any indication.
“But the proceeds will go to charity, so does it really count?” Merlin asked with raised eyebrows.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Hell if I know, I just go along with her drivel most of the time. It’s easier that way.”
Arthur’s hand brushed Merlin’s as he came to stand beside him, and Merlin restrained the urge to grab and hold it. If Arthur hadn’t said the friend line, Merlin might’ve even taken the plunge and done it, but he didn’t know where Arthur stood. Goodness, he didn’t even know where he stood. He was probably a touch too tipsy to have this conversation with himself.
"She'd be proud of you, you know," Merlin told Arthur in a low voice instead, holding sincere eye-contact. Arthur knew who he was talking about.
A soft, private smile curved Arthur's lips. "Yeah?"
"Absolutely," Merlin affirmed, finally taking his hand and giving it a squeeze before letting go. "I'm sure your father is too, in his own way."
Arthur huffed out a laugh and looked away. "I'm sure."
"He's not around, is he?" Merlin asked, turning his gaze to the room. "I think he hates me."
"He definitely hates you," Arthur confirmed. "Didn't you know?"
Merlin stared at him. "That the King of Great Britain personally hates me? No, Arthur, I didn't want to assume."
Arthur laughed and leaned closer, his eyes moving over Merlin’s face. "Don't worry, I like you enough for the both of us."
Merlin blinked, frozen on the spot.
That was flirting, wasn’t it? And the sweet kind too, not the type hidden behind insults which was usually Arthur’s brand.
"D –do you?" Merlin stuttered, slightly wrong-footed.
Arthur shrugged. "Unfortunately, yes. Too much for my own good," he said and to his credit, he didn't look entirely sober either.
Merlin swallowed nervously and blushed when the movement drew Arthur’s gaze to his throat.
“Oh,” was all Merlin could manage.
Arthur swept an eye around the room. The crowd had dwindled down to only close friends and acquaintances.
"It’s late,” Arthur announced. “Come on, I'll drop you home."
Merlin held up a hand. "Wait, what? No, Arthur, this is your night. I’m sure you have something better to take care of.”
"No," Arthur said flatly. "I don't."
“I can go home by myself,” Merlin insisted with a frown.
Arthur scoffed. “Please, I doubt you can walk in a straight line. Besides, I've given Morgana the reins for this thing and she knows what she's doing."
Merlin sighed. “Arthur.”
“Merlin,” Arthur mimicked, rolling his eyes and grabbing his wrist. "Shut up and walk.”
Merlin huffed in protest but liked the feeling of Arthur’s fingers curled around him far too much to complain anymore, so he gave in and silently followed him.
Merlin was slightly taken aback when Arthur abruptly dropped his hand as soon as they were outside. Merlin found out the reason soon enough, his heart sinking slightly.
There was a hoard of photographers outside the gallery, lying in wait. Of course. Merlin should have known. Surely Arthur didn't want to give them the wrong impression about them, especially after Merlin's scandalous, incriminating, stupid drunk tweet.
The realisation made Merlin bitterer than he wanted to admit, even if it did make sense and Arthur wasn't doing anything wrong. Merlin wasn't his boyfriend, no matter how hollow it felt to be acknowledging the fact.
The short drive was silent on the most part and Merlin acutely felt Arthur’s presence in the backseat of the sleek black car, the two of them only separated by a few tense inches. Merlin had the distinct impression that Arthur was watching him but whenever he turned his head, he was always looking intently out the window.
The buzz of alcohol started leaving Merlin’s body and a nervous energy replaced it.
Merlin had mostly sobered up by the time they reached his building. To his surprise, Arthur insisted on dropping him right to his doorstep and Merlin couldn’t do anything but acquiesce.
"I never asked,” Merlin said distractedly when they arrived at his flat and he started to shimmy open the ancient lock. “How did you know I lived here?"
Arthur coughed and stared down at his feet. "Well, uh, I might have looked you up after I came out publicly."
Merlin's heart thudded in his ribcage and he nearly fell inside his flat as the door unlocked.
He managed to gain his footing and whirled around to face Arthur. "What, three years ago? Why?"
Arthur rolled his eyes, a clear deflection technique. "You know why."
"No,” Merlin asserted. “Tell me."
Arthur sighed and crossed his arms defensively. "Because…because I couldn't stop thinking about you, all right Merlin? And I wanted to see if you wanted to give things a try again."
"We didn't give anything a try in the first place," Merlin informed him a bit sourly, then exhaled. “I didn’t –I didn’t know this. Why didn’t you contact me if you found out where I lived?”
“I wasn’t sure you would want to see me,” Arthur said softly, his eyes dark in the dimly lit corridor.
Merlin’s chest constricted. “Fair point,” he whispered.
They stared at each other for a few moments, somehow having ended up in each other’s personal space.
“Thanks for coming today,” Arthur said finally. “It meant a lot to me.”
“It –it was my pleasure,” Merlin replied, licking his dry lips.
Arthur’s eyes flicked down to his mouth and Merlin held his breath, instinctively swaying forward.
It’s a mistake, it’s a mistake, his mind screamed at him in aggressive chants but Merlin didn’t care.
Merlin just did not care.
Except Arthur stepped back.
Arthur fucking stepped back.
“Well, goodnight, I guess” he said, shooting Merlin a tight smile.
Merlin tried not to let it show on his face that his stomach had just dropped several thousand feet in disappointment and mumbled a hasty “goodnight,” before closing the door with a click.
He collapsed against the back of the door and exhaled loudly, closing his eyes in an attempt to process what had just happened.
Merlin hated Arthur. Merlin hated Arthur so much. What an utter arse.
Merlin jumped when three sharp raps sounded against the door.
His heart climbing up his throat, he opened the door with slightly shaky fingers.
Arthur stood there, looking emotionally wrecked but also oddly determined.
“Fuck this,” he declared, fidgeting with the silver ring on his finger. “I’m going to kiss you. Can I kiss you?”
"Yes," Merlin breathed, relief rapidly flooding his body. "Yes, please."
Before Arthur could make a single move, Merlin dragged him in by his tie and kissed him hard on the mouth. Arthur kicked the door close and Merlin pressed him against it.
Merlin had spent so much time replaying the memory of it in his mind that only a hazy version remained of what Arthur's kisses actually felt like. His recollection didn’t do it justice at all.
Arthur’s hands found Merlin’s waist in a bruising grip as he kissed him like his life depended on it and Merlin was gone. He was utterly and irrevocably gone.
Merlin made quick work of Arthur’s tie, tossing it carelessly on the floor before rucking up the hem of his expensive dress shirt and snaking his hand in to seek warm skin. Arthur gasped and wrenched his mouth away when his phone buzzed threateningly.
Merlin's chased after his lips, pressing even closer.
"It's –George. He –he’s –Merlin –he’s waiting –downstairs," Arthur managed to relay between feverish kisses.
Merlin drew back as the words finally registered in his lust-addled brain. "Oh."
Arthur was looking at him with a carefully hopeful expression and there was a silent question in his eyes. “What should I tell him?” he asked in a whisper.
Merlin’s heart thundered against his ribcage and he met Arthur’s gaze.
"Tell him to pick you up tomorrow.”
TROUBLE IN PARADISE OR NO PARADISE?
London: The Prince and his Oxford pal as well as rumoured lover Merlin Emrys seem to be discouraging dating rumours as they maintained a respectable distance from each other last night while departing the Prince's fundraiser held at Princess Morgana's renowned art gallery that was reportedly a huge success and amassed an amount of over £290,900. The charity was founded in the late Queen Ygraine's memory who lost her life to a rare form of blood cancer shortly after Prince Arthur's 4th birthday.
Emrys and Prince Arthur have reportedly reconnected after many years but unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything more going on between them. We regrettably cross out Emrys as a candidate for Arthur's first boyfriend after boldly coming out as bisexual three years prior, making him a celebrated LGBTQ community icon among the youth.
Sources confirm that the pair went their separate ways after the night ended, dashing our hopes for a secret, whirlwind romance. We can hear the hearts of all Merthur shippers breaking across the globe and we wholeheartedly sympathise.
Maybe the next one, eh?
Arthur was rudely awoken when an infernal noise blared from somewhere on his left and then groaned when a sharp elbow dug into his ribs as a body scrambled over him to turn off the alarm.
“Sorry,” came Merlin’s scratchy voice as he collapsed back on the bed.
“What time’s it?” Arthur slurred, feeling irritated at the bright light from the window turning the inside of his eyelids red.
“Seven,” Merlin answered, making the sheets rustle as he struggled to find a comfortable position.
“A.M.?” Arthur asked foolishly but he wasn’t to be blamed. He had no filter or functioning brain cells in the morning.
“No, P.M.,” Merlin replied sarcastically. “Climate change is making the sun rise in the evening now.”
Arthur opened his eyes and turned on his side to stare at him. “Someone’s grumpy in the morning.”
Merlin sniffled in a way that was not adorable at all and glared at Arthur. “Then don’t ask stupid questions. Also, you have a love bite on your neck.”
“Why are you making it sound like you weren’t the one who gave it to me?” Arthur countered, touching the sensitive spot on the juncture of his shoulder. “Thanks for that, by the way.”
"Your bed is fucking tiny."
"You weren't complaining last night."
"Well, I had my human pillow last night, didn't I?" Arthur said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“I have a name, you know,” Merlin retorted, but Arthur could hear the fondness behind his words.
Arthur rolled them over so Merlin was on his back and Arthur was looking down at him.
Arthur took in the sight of him. His black hair was stark against the white pillowcase, there were creases on his cheeks and his eyes were so very blue. Arthur’s heart gave a stuttering lurch.
"Yes, Your Highness?” Merlin whispered, with a teasing quirk of his mouth.
Arthur shook his head fondly and simply leaned down to capture Merlin's lips with his own. Merlin made a pleased noise and brought a hand to the back of Arthur's neck to tangle in his hair as Arthur ran his tongue along the seam of his lips.
Merlin's mouth parted under his easily as Arthur deepened the kiss and he shivered when Arthur trailed his bare side with light fingers.
"Merlin," Arthur murmured as he peppered kisses down his jaw.
Merlin suddenly froze and his grip on Arthur's hair went lax.
Sensing that something was wrong, Arthur drew back and looked over Merlin’s face with concern. “What happened?”
Merlin’s throat bobbed as he swallowed thickly. He averted his eyes. “This feels an awful lot like déjà vu, Arthur.”
Merlin’s eyes were fiery when they met Arthur’s. “I remember waking up exactly like this some four years ago, getting rejected and then having to walk out of your life. If this is just a repeat of last time –”
Arthur faltered. "No, I swear –”
“Because if so, I can’t do it and I don’t want to do it –”
“You nearly wrecked me the last time and I spent too much time hung over you and honestly –”
Arthur sighed, and fell on his back to cover his face with his hands. "I wasn't out four years ago. It was different."
Merlin propped himself on an elbow and studied him critically. "How have things changed?"
"I'm openly bisexual now," Arthur answered.
"That doesn’t answer my question," Merlin told him flatly.
Arthur found Merlin’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “I was an idiot four years ago and I wasn’t ready for you, Merlin but now…now, I don’t want to let you go again.”
Something in his words cracked Merlin’s cold exterior and his face softened. "Arthur, I know. Believe me, I do. I don’t want to let you go either but that was never the issue between us, was it?”
Arthur blinked. “What do you mean?”
Merlin seemed to have a moment of internal struggle before he took a breath and said carefully, “Have you publicly been in a relationship with a man?"
Arthur was confused. What did that have to do with anything?
He shook his head. "No but –”
"Because that makes it real, doesn't it?” Merlin interjected, looking painfully vulnerable. “Elevates you from just being a figurehead?"
Merlin’s meaning sank in and Arthur narrowed his eyes at him angrily. "Excuse me? I don't need to date men to prove I'm bi, Merlin."
Merlin nodded in agreement, beseeching Arthur to understand. "You're right, but you have dated men. Haven't you? Just in secret."
Arthur opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Something heavy settled over his chest.
Merlin was right.
Arthur had briefly dated Kay and Andrew but he'd never taken them out publicly like he'd done Mithian or Vivian, never held hands with them while walking down the street, never acted like a romantic partner with them outside the privacy of four walls. For all anyone knew, Kay and Andrew had been his purely platonic mates and nothing more.
And suddenly, Arthur understood. Merlin didn't want nor deserved to be someone's dirty little secret, hidden away to receive love and affection, to be fully himself only on certain terms, in certain environments.
Arthur’s head spun. Christ, was he secretly ashamed of the part of himself that liked men?
He startled out of his reverie when his phone buzzed loudly, undoubtedly George announcing his arrival.
Merlin apparently reached the same conclusion because he tenderly stroked Arthur's cheek with his thumb and smiled at him in such a resigned way that Arthur's heart sank.
"It’s okay, Arthur," Merlin said quietly and the worst part was that Arthur knew he meant it. "Come on, I'll walk you down."
Arthur pulled on his clothes in a stupor and followed Merlin out of his flat and down the stairs.
Hardly anyone was out, on account of it being so early on a weekend and the air was crisp. Merlin was huddled in sweatpants and an old, faded hoodie –blowing into his hands to keep the chill out.
Arthur’s car was waiting a few metres down the road and he wracked his brain for something to say to Merlin before he had to go, to make everything okay.
They both startled as an unmistakable flash of a camera went off nearby and they turned towards the sound to see a pap behind a bush across the road.
Merlin immediately stepped away from Arthur and curved in on himself, looking small. Arthur's stomach dropped at how wrong it felt to see Merlin like this.
Arthur wanted to hug him. He wanted to kiss him goodbye.
Arthur wanted to kiss Merlin goodbye.
All air rushed out of his lungs as he was caught by a moment of absolute clarity.
His heart quickened its pace as he grabbed Merlin’s hand and pulled him closer. “I'm going to kiss you now, Merlin.”
Merlin threw an alarmed look towards the pap with the camera and turned towards Arthur with wide eyes. “What?”
Before he could second guess himself, Arthur cut off any further protestations by softly pressing his lips to Merlin's and holding him by the waist.
He heard the flashing of the camera go off wildly before drawing away his mouth away from Merlin’s, who looked dazed and still had his eyes closed. Arthur smiled and pulled him to his chest, burying his face in Merlin's hair for a moment before releasing him.
"There. Done,” he announced. “I don’t think anyone can misinterpret that.”
Merlin stared at him for a moment before laughing in disbelief, loosening the anxious knot in Arthur’s chest.
"Putting on such a show for the paparazzi? You’re going to get disowned, you know," Merlin informed him, leaning in and stealing another kiss.
Arthur grinned. "Aw, don't get my hopes up.”
Merlin snorted, rolling his eyes. “Right, as if you could live without your estates and palaces.”
“I’m offended by how materialistic you think I am, Merlin,” Arthur retorted, the effect ruined by a smile that probably made him look utterly besotted. “Now, when are we going on our first date?"
Merlin was spectacularly drunk.
HR had gotten several anonymous tips accusing Nimueh of misconduct and resorting to threats and harassment to coerce employees into doing her bidding. After thorough investigation, a shocking number of cases had surfaced to prove her guilt and she had been promptly fired, making Merlin editor in no time.
He and Arthur had decided to celebrate with lots of sex, food and champagne and Merlin was rather in love with that plan.
However, it was ironic that Arthur was the jet-setting prince between them considering how useless he was after a little bit of travel. The fact was quickly corroborated when Arthur had tiredly promised him a good time and started to sloppily kiss him down the throat, only to ultimately end up falling asleep with his head on Merlin's shoulder. Merlin had rolled his eyes and stolen the rest of the champagne for himself, promising himself to exact retribution later.
Merlin indulged in an embarrassingly frequent habit and scrolled through Twitter on his phone, this time feeling ridiculously happy at seeing other people living loving and fulfilling lives. He was about to log out when he stumbled upon a Daily Mail post and sighed, wondering who the unsuspecting victim was this time. He opened the tweet to be met with pictures of Arthur and himself. He smiled at the zoomed in shots of Arthur’s protective hand on the small of Merlin's back and took a contented swig of his champagne, feeling the very same Arthur's hair tickle his chin.
Prince Arthur and boyfriend Merlin Emrys land in Paris, the headline read.