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Never a Dull Moment

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As Merlin passed the microwave for what felt like the fiftieth time, he had the irrational thought that the clock, with its annoyingly bright blue display, was mocking him. He slowed down his pacing and stared at it.

How could it possibly still be 7:15? Wasn't it just 7:15 ten minutes ago? Had the microwave stopped working? Was time just moving slowly? Had time stopped entirely?

With that last thought, Merlin shook his head hard and realized his anxiety might be making him a little paranoid and perhaps a little crazy.

He just needed to calm down and wait. Arthur would be home in fifteen minutes. It would be no time at all and then…

Merlin blew out a breath and slid his hand into his pocket and thumbed the cold, smooth surface of the silver ring that felt like it was burning a hole in his pocket.

His stomach started to churn and before he could have a full on panic attack, he dragged his feet across the white marble floor and plopped down on the brown leather couch.

Maybe waiting a little bit wouldn't be such a bad thing. He hated the thought of getting down on one knee and then spewing all over Arthur. It would certainly be a memorable proposal, but not exactly the memorable moment he was hoping to achieve.

As he looked around the room, Merlin was hit with a reminder that taking things slowly wasn’t exactly his and Arthur’s specialty. They’d moved into this flat only a month prior after only dating for six months.

The seven months they’d spent dating didn’t include the six weeks they’d spent pretend dating. Six weeks that had culminated in a fake proposal.

Merlin snorted at the memory of that night. If this proposal went anything like that first one, he was in for a really good night.

Sitting back, Merlin smiled widely, despite the crazy way their relationship started, he wasn't sure if he would change a thing about it.

~*~

Nine months ago

Merlin hurried up the steps to his building. He was trying to escape the incessant droning of his date, but unfortunately, Cenred’s long legs were able to keep up with Merlin’s quick pace, so Merlin had to continue to hear about the somehow arduous, according to Cenred, task of switching hair stylists. (An actual quote from Cenred, “My hair is my livelihood, Merlin. I can’t trust such an important duty to just anyone.” He had run his hand through his medium length brown hair and smiled. A move that Merlin was supposed to make him weak on the knees, but only had made him officially give up on the conversation and tune Cenred out.) “I have to narrow it down between this bloke Gareth, who answered my advertisement. He does good work and,” Cenred chuckled, “he’s got an arse I just want to take a bite out of.”

Merlin turned to give him a withering look, but whether karma was getting back at him for being rude or for agreeing to go out with a ponce like Cenred in the first place, instead he tripped and just managed to break his fall with his hand.

“Fuck,” Merlin muttered.

He looked up and to add insult to injury, the stupid git Cenred hadn’t even noticed. He only stopped at the door and turned back to give Merlin an impatient look.

Merlin winced as he shook out his hand and grumbled under his breath. He pushed the front door open. By the time he got to the front door, he debated just walking in and slamming the door in Cenred’s face. It was possible Cenred wouldn’t even notice.

Deciding not to be rude, Merlin turned around and immediately found himself boxed in by a leering Cenred.

Merlin cleared his throat loudly and tried to back away, but there wasn’t anywhere to go with his back against the door. Not only was Cenred’s stare unnerving, but the doorknob was digging into his lower back.

“So…” Cenred drawled.

“So…” Merlin nodded. “I guess that’s that then.” He awkwardly patted Cenred’s shoulder. “Goodnight.”

Cenred grinned and moved in for a kiss.

With reflexes he didn’t even know he had, Merlin ducked under Cenred’s right arm. He heard a loud thud and when he turned around Cenred was holding his hand over his nose.

“Bloody hell! What the hell do you think you were doing?”

Merlin grimaced as he saw blood starting to trickle down Cenred’s face. He recovered quickly and put his hands on his hips. “What the hell do you think you were doing? I told you I don’t kiss on the first date.”

Cenred dropped his hand. “I thought you were having a laugh. No one’s ever passed up one of my kisses.”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Well I suppose I should congratulate myself on being the first.”

“Very funny.” Cenred poked at his nose and hissed. “This really hurts. Do you mind…?” He gestured toward the door.

“Oh, right.” Merlin supposed he should at least help him stop the bleeding before he sent him on his way.

He fished out his keys and ushered Cenred inside. Merlin directly went to the kitchen and rummaged around the drawer and found an old flannel and started to fill it with ice.

When he left the kitchen, he found Cenred on the couch in the sitting room. He was glad it was black and Cenred wouldn't get any bloodstains on it.

“Here.” Merlin plopped the flannel filled with ice right on Cenred’s nose.”

“For fuck’s sake!” Cenred grabbed it from Merlin. “You could be a bit gentler. After all this is your fault.”

“Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t just stand there and let you molest me.”

“Well, far be it from me to interrupt such an interesting conversation, but is it possible for either of you to shut your gobs?”

Merlin whirled around and glanced at his very annoyed, and half-naked, flat mate Gwaine. He didn’t expect him to be home, especially on a Friday night.

“Sorry about all this.” Merlin said.

“Who the hell is that?” Cenred glared at Gwaine.

Before Merlin could explain, Gwaine interrupted. “I’m Merlin’s lover.”

Merlin’s mouth dropped open and he let out an undignified squeak.

Cenred looked from Gwaine to Merlin and back again. “His what?”

Gwaine sauntered further into the room and crossed his arms over his bare chest. “His lover. His partner. The one who gives him a good rogering five times a week.”

Merlin pinched the bridge of his nose. What the hell was he doing? Then he cocked his head to the side. But does it really matter as long as it gets Cenred out of their flat as soon as possible.

Gwaine winked at him and Merlin almost burst out laughing, but held it in when Cenred looked over at him.

“I thought you said you were unattached?”

Merlin shrugged.

Gwaine jumped in again. “Open relationship.”

Merlin smiled and nodded. Great thinking.

Cenred sighed and put the flannel down. He stood up and turned to Merlin.

Merlin was confused and then horrified at the slow grin that spread over Cenred’s face.

“I never turn down a good threesome.”

Of course the creepy wanker would be turned on instead of put off.

“Looking at the two of you I have very clear ideas on who should top,” he turned to Merlin, “and who should bottom.”

Merlin felt his whole body shudder violently.

Gwaine held up his hand. “I’m sure you do. Ordinarily, I’d love to hear every perversity that you could fill your pretty head in as much graphic detail as possible, but ultimately I get to decide who I share my Merlin with and I’m going to have to pass right now.”

“Why?” Cenred whined. He sounded like a schoolboy told he couldn’t have dessert after dinner.

“When I’m with another person, or persons, I have to know that I have the best hair at all times.” Gwaine ran his hand through his thick mane of hair.”

Merlin looked between the two of them. It had never occurred to him before how much they looked alike.

Gwaine pointed at him. “That’s why I'm so secure with Merlin. I mean look at him.”

“Oi!” Merlin glared at him.

“Your hair is just too good. I know it’s odd, but-”

“No,” Cenred interrupted. “I completely understand.” He sighed. “It’s a shame. It would have been fun.”

He picked up the flannel that was steadily melting and after one last sad look at Merlin and Gwaine, he left.

“God, what a dick!” Gwaine leaned over and let out a loud laugh.

Merlin scrubbed his hand over his face. “That did not just happen.” He shook his head. “What just happened?”

“Sometimes you just have to appeal to someone’s vanity and they'll do whatever you want. Works on me.”

“You would never fall for something like that. You are not that big of a git.”

“How sweet.” Gwaine put his hand to his chest.

Merlin sank down on the couch. “I don’t know what the bloody hell I was thinking. This whole night has been excruciating.” He laughed. “At least the ending was sort of fun - ridiculously daft, but fun.”

Gwaine came over and sat down next to him.

“I suppose a bright side is that I may have broken his nose and I didn’t have to sleep with him.” Merlin grinned.

“Yay, you didn’t get shagged.” Gwaine said in a clearly mocking tone.

Merlin just rolled his eyes, though for a second he started to second guess getting rid of Cenred in such haste.

“Personally, I would assume that the only benefit to going out with a bloke like that would be the blindingly good sex.”

“That’s not what I’m looking for.”

“Well, what are you looking for?”

“I…” Merlin started. He trailed off and put his head in his hands. “I don’t know.”

Gwaine patted Merlin’s knee.

“I went out with Cenred, despite a thousand reservations, because I wanted to do something different - to break the pattern of deadly dull guys I’ve been seeing.” Merlin rubbed at his eyes. “Somehow the date still ended up boring - just a very different type of boring. Maybe tonight was some sort of lesson and I should just stick to what I’m used to.”

Gwaine got up and headed towards the kitchen. “If boring guys are what you’re looking for, maybe you should give Mordred the funeral director another try.” He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer. He closed the refrigerator and leaned against the door. “Horrifically dull, but he always smelled interesting.”

Merlin wrinkled his nose. “I think I’ll pass.” He stood up and tugged on his hair slowly as he began to pace. “What if this it for me? I’m destined to keep dating a series of random men, with an occasional bout of meaningless sex?”

Gwaine took a swig of his beer as he walked back into the sitting room. “Right, I can tell by your mournful tone that what you’re describing is supposed to be a bad thing, but I’m really not hearing a downside.”

“Of course you wouldn’t. You don’t ever want to get married. You’ll be perfectly happy for the rest of your life having one night stands. And that’s fine, if that’s what you want.”

“Do you?”

“Do I?” Merlin paused in his pacing. “Do I what?”

Gwaine stood directly in front of him. “Do you ever want to get married?”

“I…” Merlin let out a long sigh. “I sort of feel like I have to.” He sat down on the floor and leaned back against the TV stand. “My parents have been married for thirty years. My grandparents for forty and my great-grandparents for fifty. It’s up to me to keep up the family tradition.”

Sitting down on the coffee table in front of him, Gwaine gestured towards him with his beer bottle. “No one has ever accused me of being a romantic, but that really doesn’t sound like a good reason to get married.”

Merlin let out a slight chuckle. “You’re right.” A small, wistful smile spread over his face. “You know in thirty years my mum and dad have never spent one day away from each other?” The smile dropped just as fast as it came and he swallowed. “Other than that brief period of time a few years ago.”

Gwaine looked up at him out of the corner of his eye and nodded slightly. He knew the unfortunate time Merlin was talking about.

Merlin cleared his throat. “They’re still so happy together and they never get bored. I don’t understand how that’s possible. How does being with the same person day in and day out not get tiring?”

Gwaine shrugged. “Sorry mate you’re asking the wrong person.”

“Yeah.” Merlin nodded. “Yeah.” He stood up slowly. “I’m knackered. I’m going to head to bed.” As he walked by Gwaine, he clasped his shoulder. “Thank you for your assistance, by the way.”

With a laugh, Gwaine stood up. “Happy to do it. It was fun being your pretend boyfriend.”

Merlin smiled. “Let’s just hope you never have to do it again.”

~*~

Merlin’s hands were shaking as he put his house key into the lock. Unlike nights before, he wasn’t shaking with anger - just the opposite. He was practically bouncing up and down because he had just received the best news at work. He, and his lab partner Gwen Du Lac, were just promoted to the senior research team after only working at the Avalon Laboratory for a year.

He’d called his mother on the way home and she had been beyond thrilled. Merlin was hoping to keep the good times going. Gwaine worked at the local bar, The Rising Sun, and Merlin wanted to hang out there tonight and get plastered on as many free drinks as possible.

When he got inside, he didn’t have far to look to spot Gwaine. He was seated on the couch in the sitting area. The telly was on and Merlin could see Hugh Laurie’s animated face doing a skit from A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Gwaine was chuckling, even though the television was muted. As he got closer, Merlin saw that Gwaine was looking down at his laptop.

“What are you looking at?” Merlin leaned over the back of the couch.

Gwaine seemed startled for a brief moment, but recovered easily. He pointed at the screen. “I placed an ad on Yelp.”

Merlin started to read it:

Angry at your family? Date me!

I’m a 28 year old with no high school degree and a loud, rusty bike that I drive everywhere. I am, of course, devilishly handsome and have the roguish look down pat complete with a scruffy beard. Currently, I am something of a job-hopper, mostly working as a bartender in pubs. If you’d like me to be your platonic date, but pretend as if I’m in a committed, serious relationship with you to torment your family, I’m game.

The ad continued on, but Merlin stopped and snorted. “That is brilliant, but why would you put it on Yelp? You’ll have loads of dodgy people pissed at you when they find out it’s just a gag.”

“It’s not a gag.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “You-that’s for real?”

Gwaine nodded.

“Are you mad?” Merlin stood up and walked around to face Gwaine.

“I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.” He set aside his laptop. “I was a good fake boyfriend for you the other night.”

“You were trying to help me.” Merlin threw up his hands. “You had a bit of fun and it was just supposed to be a one-time thing.”

“But why not keep doing it?” Gwaine got up and shrugged. “Like you said I had fun and I know there are other people out there that can use this type of service.”

“Do you actually think that many people will take this seriously?”

Gwaine picked up his laptop and walked over to Merlin. He scrolled down the screen. “I posted the ad an hour ago and I already have five replies.” He held up his hand. “And before you say anything, yes, they were five serious responses.”

Merlin leaned over and read through the comments.

“See, I’ll be helping people and it’s not hurting anyone,” Gwaine explained.

“You have a point.” Merlin sighed and closed the laptop. “But didn’t you just start seeing that girl...Elena?”

A big soppy smile spread over Gwaine’s face at the mention of her name. Merlin had never seen him react that way before. It was cute. Merlin would have said so, but he was sure that Gwaine would punch him in the ribs.

“I won’t really be dating any of these people. Besides,” Gwaine grinned, “she thinks it’s hilarious.”

Merlin shook his head, but couldn’t help smiling. “You should marry that girl.”

To Merlin’s surprise, Gwaine didn’t instantly groan at that joke/suggestion. He only slightly rolled his eyes and walked away.

~*~

“I’m sure he’s lovely, mum.” Hunith interrupted him and Merlin instantly felt bad when he rolled his eyes when she continued to try and sell him on the appeal of her neighbor’s best friend’s son Gilly.

Merlin truly loved his parents dearly, but the idea of fixed up by either one of them didn’t appeal to them in the least. It was always difficult turning them down because he didn’t like lying to them and he always ran out of excuses easily.

Though to give his mum credit, she didn’t try to set him up often. Oddly enough, it was his father who suggested men more often. Merlin knew it was just him trying to overcompensate for his reaction when he first came out.

“Mum, if I say I’ll think about it will you let it go for now?” Merlin sighed. “Yes, I really will think about it.” He opened the door to his flat.

After taking a quick look around, Merlin’s brows knitted together. Something was off. “I need to go, mum. I need to talk to Gwaine about something...I love you, too.”

Slowly, Merlin made his way around the room. It was unusually clean.

It wasn’t like Merlin was a total slob; he tried to keep the place as clean as possible. But while Merlin wasn’t a slob, the same couldn’t be said for Gwaine.

Even though he had shelf for them in his room, he would keep DVDs scattered across the coffee table (even porn.) There were cups practically on every surface. Also, assorted shoes were all over the floor in the sitting room - in such a tiny space Merlin found himself constantly tripping over them.

In the kitchen he would never clean up after himself - crumbs were everywhere. He would never take out the rubbish bin. That was always left up to Merlin, who with barely any time because of work, scrambled to get it out in time for rubbish pick-up.

The only reason he put up with him was because they’d known each other since primary school. It helped that he was charming, funny, a good cook, and a surprisingly good cook.

As he walked around their flat, Merlin saw none of Gwaine’s usual messes. There were no cups or shoes strewn about. The DVDs were in their cases under the TV stand. The kitchen was spotless - the rubbish bin empty.

Merlin trailed his hand on top of the counter and it actually squeaked. There was no dust anywhere; even Merlin didn’t dust.

He sniffed the air and could smell something delicious brewing on the stove. Merlin uncovered the pot, which was when Gwaine came out of his room. He leaned up against the kitchen counter and smiled.

Merlin put the lid back down. Gwaine had made Merlin’s favorite - rosemary chicken. Merlin turned towards Gwaine and crooked his eyebrow. “What did you do?”

He didn't mean to sound so accusatory, but Gwaine rarely and he usually did it if he wanted a favor or had done something really bad. The last time was because he’d an orgy at their flat while Merlin was visiting his parents.

It was probably why Gwaine didn't seem put out by Merlin’s question. He walked to the little dining area off the kitchen and pulled out a chair.

“Why don't you have a seat? You’ve probably had a long day.”

“Is it actually safe to sit down? You didn’t have another orgy, did you?” Merlin slowly inched toward the table.

“When would I have had the time?” Gwaine patted the seat of the black chair.

“So, no orgies?” Merlin sat down.

“No.”

“You didn’t do anything?”

“No.”

“And you don’t want anything?”

“Uh…” Gwaine went over to the stove.

Merlin rolled his eyes. “I knew it. What is it?”

Gwaine set out some plates and utensils down and then put a steaming chicken breast in front of Merlin. “You remember that pretend date I was supposed to go on?”

“Vaguely.” Merlin blew on the chicken.

“Unfortunately, it seems like I won’t be able to do it after all.” Gwaine sat down next to him.

“Alright.” Merlin drummed his fingers on the table. “So what do you want me to do? Do you want me to cancel for you?”

“Not exactly.” Gwaine bit his lip and just stared at Merlin.

Merlin picked up his fork. “Then I don’t know…” He glared at Gwaine and stabbed his fork in his direction. “You cannot be serious.”

“Please, Merlin. It’s just one pretend date. There’s no harm in going.”

“For you, perhaps.” Merlin got up, his chair scraping loudly against the floor. “I thought this was a weird idea for you. There’s no way I'm doing it. Why can’t you go?”

Gwaine looked down at the table. “At the time I agreed to the date I had forgotten that Elena has a concert that night. It’s really important to her that I be there.”

Elena was a violinist. Classical music was far from Gwaine’s favorite music. Merlin was surprised he’d agree to go to her concert, even though they had been practically inseparable the last week.

“I’m trying to be a good boyfriend,” Gwaine continued.

Merlin’s eyes widened. Now he knew this was serious. Knowing how much this meant to Gwaine, Merlin was almost tempted to agree.

“I can see that this important to you.” Merlin paused, but then shook his head. “I still don’t think I can do it. Why don’t you just cancel?”

“I tried.” Gwaine got up and went into the sitting room and came back with his laptop. “But he really seems desperate. I feel sorry for the poor bugger. Look at this e-mail he sent me.”

Dear Gwaine,

I don’t normally do this – I respect the fact that you have Priorities – but I’m going to set my dignity aside for a moment and beg you. I already said I’m going to be bringing a date, and showing up without one would be the ultimate humiliation at this stage.

I’m willing to compensate you for your time and services. Just name your price.

Merlin read it and instantly regretted it. Now, he felt sorry for him, too. Even though he didn’t know him, he couldn’t stand the thought of the man’s humiliation.

Merlin hung his head and let out a long sigh. “If I’m going to do this, I want to be compensated.”

Gwaine whooped. “Of course. I’ll set it up.”

Merlin shook his head. God, he really needed to learn to say no - and stick to it - more often.

He walked over to the kitchen table where Gwaine was already typing away. “So what’s this desperate bloke’s name?

“Arthur Pendragon.”

“Arthur Pendragon,” Merlin repeated. It was nice, very posh sounding. He hoped Arthur didn’t make him regret this hasty decision.

~*~

After meeting Arthur, Merlin came to two quick conclusions - one, Arthur was the hottest man he’d ever met and, two, probably also the biggest prat ever.

When they’d first met, Merlin had trouble even stringing a coherent sentence together. He kept staring at Arthur’s perfect blue eyes.

He didn’t miss the desperation in those eyes. Merlin tried to cut him some slack, but Arthur’s rude behavior made it impossible.

He never even offered Merlin a seat or barely exchanged any pleasantries. It was straight to business. He’d already e-mailed Merlin details of their - ridiculous - fake backstory, but kept insisting on going over it a million times, as if Merlin was an idiot.

He was condescending, dismissive, and controlling. Worst of all, despite that, Merlin still found him sexy as hell. Even moreso than before. After all this was over, Merlin was considering seeking professional help.

He truly, truly hated this. He hated lying and some of the lies Arthur wanted him to tell, especially about his parents, made him sick.

He hoped after this was over, Arthur was right, and they’d never have to see each other again.

The car ride to Arthur’s father's house was filled with awkward silence. He wanted to be polite and ask Arthur about his life, but Arthur was gripping the steering wheel so tight, Merlin was afraid speaking might spook him enough to jump out of his skin.

Arthur was listening to classical music, which Merlin ordinarily had no problem with, but right now it was just reminding him of Elena and Gwaine roping him into this idiotic situation.

He reached over and changed the station. Rock music started blaring out of the, no doubt, pricey speakers (it was probably the most expensive car Merlin had ever ridden in. The black leather seats were so slick and pristine, Merlin assumed it must be new or Arthur had never had another passenger before.)

“Excuse me!” Arthur protested.

Merlin was almost surprised he’d noticed.

“In case it’s escaped your attention, this is my car and that’s my stereo. I don’t think it would hurt you to get permission before randomly changing it.” Arthur barely looked at Merlin while admonishing him.

Merlin clenched his fists. “I’m so very sorry, your highness. Just think of this as me getting into character.”

“Character?” Arthur glanced over at him.

“I’m supposed to be this ultra-liberal, free-spirited hippie. I really don’t think he would be listening to Mozart.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I’m anxious enough as it is, I don’t care to listen to someone screaming at me.” Arthur exhaled. He turned off the music. “Silence should help you get in character just as well.” He gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Should we go over the details again?”

Merlin threw up his hands. “Oh, my God Arthur. We’ve already been over this. I'm not completely daft, even though you have me dressing like a complete idiot.”

“Fine.” Arthur gritted out.

“May I say you kind of look terrible.”

Arthur glared at him. “Thank you.”

“I just mean…” He sighed. “I don’t understand why you’re going to this trouble?”

“Look, Merlin, I already know how much you don’t approve of this. I don’t need your judgement. I’m sure someone like you had no idea what I’m going through.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m actually trying to pay you a compliment. You have a good job. You seem fairly intelligent and sane.” Arthur sighed. “Your parents are probably perfect and never question a single thing you do in your life.”

Merlin shook his head. “You don’t know anything about me. You didn’t bother to ask. My parents are wonderful people, but they are far from perfect.”

Merlin sat back in his seat and looked down at his lap. He swallowed down a rush of sadness. “When I came out to them, they both had trouble adjusting. My mum was sweet like she always is, but it was horribly awkward and she started treating me differently. Which was better than my father who couldn’t even look at me. My mum came around quickly, but not my dad. My mum had to actually kick him out of the house. They’d never been apart before. It was the longest month of my life and I know it was the longest month of hers.”

“How did you survive it?” Arthur whispered.

“Slowly. It took time and talking to each other and really hearing each other. My father couldn’t accept me automatically, but he loved me enough to try and make an effort.” Merlin chuckled. It was a mix of sadness and fondness. “It’s not perfect, but it’s gotten a lot better.”

Arthur stared intensely out the windshield.

Merlin scrubbed a hand down his face. “Arthur, I’m not telling you this because I want you to pity me. This doesn't mean I know exactly what you’re dealing with, but nobody's parents are perfect. You don’t have to do this to get back at him.”

Merlin looked around. He hadn't realized they’d stopped. They were parked in front of a gigantic mansion; it practically looked like a castle.

“Thank you, Merlin.”

Merlin whirled around. He wasn't sure he’d heard Arthur right.

“You didn’t have to tell me that and I appreciate that you did.” He glanced at the mansion. His entire body seemed to tense. “I know all parents aren’t perfect, but my father is different. It won’t take you but a minute with him to see that.” Arthur looked down at his lap. “That is if you still want to do this?”

Merlin considered his options, but then made the mistake of looking into Arthur’s eyes. They were so mournful and wide - it was like looking into the eyes of a sad cartoon character.

Merlin closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m still in.” He got out of the car quickly. The sooner they started, the sooner they could get this over with.

~*~

Somehow, it was worse than he had even imagined. Arthur had sadly been right. Uther was possibly the vilest person Merlin had ever encountered. It was so bad that Merlin knew that if he spent any more time with Uther he might genuinely be able to describe his feelings as hate and Merlin had never hated anyone. He couldn't even muster hate for Dolores Umbridge.

Merlin desperately wanted two things now: a shower and to ring his parents. Uther had somehow made Merlin feel invisible and like he wanted to incinerate him with the power of his glare. It was an immense relief to know he’d never have to see them man again. He glanced at Arthur out of the corner of his eyes and felt horrible that it wouldn’t be so easy for Arthur.

They were seated in Arthur’s car in front of Merlin’s building. Arthur just had to pay him and that would be all. Merlin knew his part in this was over, but he wanted to say something to Arthur, even if he knew it wasn’t his place.

Merlin turned in his seat. He picked at his trousers. “Arthur, you were right. I still have no idea exactly why you’re so angry with your father, but he’s certainly someone I can see being angry at for many reasons. And to think, I thought you were the biggest prat I’d ever met.”

Arthur bristled slightly, but chuckled. “Somehow, I think you think that’s high praise.”

Merlin put his head in his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. Just your father is clearly not a nice person. I only had to deal with him one night and I desperately wanted to escape.” Merlin hesitated. “I think that’s what you should do.”

Arthur crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What do you mean?”

“Just cut him out of your life. I know he’s your dad, but you shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of behavior. Being around someone like that can’t be healthy for you.”

Arthur smiled. “It really sounds like you care.”

Merlin looked away and rubbed the back of his neck.

Arthur looked out his side window. “I appreciate what you’re saying, Merlin. It even makes sense. I’ve thought about...so many times. But it’s a bit difficult cutting all ties with your one remaining parent.”

Merlin swallowed. He regretted saying anything. He didn’t want to make things more difficult for Arthur.

Arthur hesitantly reached out and awkwardly patted Merlin’s knee. “I really have to thank you, Merlin. I was doubtful, but you played your part perfectly.” He reached into his jacket pocket and handed Merlin a cheque for fifty quid. “You more than earned this money.”

Merlin debated taking the money. He felt so bad for Arthur, but Arthur was right. He had earned it. It would probably be more insulting to Arthur not to take it.

He took the money from Arthur. He stuffed it in his trouser pocket and then reached out for the car door handle.

“Take care, Merlin.” Arthur was staring at him with an inscrutable expression.

Merlin opened his mouth and closed it, before he finally sighed. “You, too Arthur.”

He got out and walked away without looking back, when he got inside he went straight to his room. Gwaine either wasn’t home or was asleep already. After sitting down, Merlin pulled out his mobile and scrolled down until he landed on Mordred’s name. Maybe boring was exactly what he needed right now.

Chapter Text

He hadn’t drunk much wine the previous night, but Arthur still felt hungover the next morning. He could barely drag himself to get up and go to work, but calling out sick wouldn’t fly, especially with Vivian now in charge.

Arthur’s lip curled in disgust just thinking of her. He really didn’t want to be dealing with her this morning. Thankfully, he hadn’t run into her on his way to his office. He had hoped to just sit in there for a bit and get his bearings; unfortunately his sister Morgana had other ideas.

She was waiting in his office. He really considered firing his assistant George. Then again, he knew how unstoppable Morgana could be.

Arthur poured himself some coffee as he struggled to keep his eyes open. Annoyingly, Morgana looked like last night hadn’t affected her at all. It was 6 AM and she was perfectly coiffed, with perfect make-up, and a perfectly eager expression. Sometimes he really loathed about her.

“I am brilliant, aren’t I?” Morgana crowed.

“What?” Arthur rubbed his eyes.

“I think last night was a smashing success and it was my idea after all.”

Arthur almost rolled his eyes, but refrained since the last time he did that in front of Morgana, she’d twisted his arm so hard, he’d had to write left-handed for a week.

Instead, Arthur saluted her with his cup. “Right. Congratulations to you!”

“I suppose you deserve some credit to, and of course, Merlin. He was absolutely wonderful.”

Arthur looked down at his desk. He didn’t want Morgana to see the smile on his face and misinterpret anything. “He did the job splendidly. It was like pulling teeth getting him to go along with everything, but at least everything worked out.”

“More than worked out.” Morgana grinned. “Uther was so upset after you both left. Catrina kept trying to get him to settle down, but he barely looked at her. It was magnificent. Mission accomplished.”

Arthur took another gulp of his coffee.

Morgana’s elated expression dimmed. “You don’t agree?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, you’re right. I did what I set out to do. It’s satisfying to know how unnerved father became, but...it just feels like a hollow victory.” He stared at his door. “I still have to deal with Vivian and all of this. It won’t affect father long-term.”

Morgana sat back in her seat. “Then perhaps you should take advantage of it. Let something good come out of it.”

“What could you possibly mean?”

“I mean, dense brother of mine, you should pursue Merlin. Ask him out.”

Arthur threw his head back and laughed. “No bloody way!”

Morgana stared daggers at him. “Why the hell not?”

“Merlin might have been playing the part of the annoying, overeager fiance, but I can assure he’s every bit as annoying when he’s not pretending.” Arthur clutched his coffee cup and hoped that sounded convincing - to Morgana as well as to himself. “We have nothing in common.”

“You don’t know that.” Morgana started. “You barely even know him. This is what dating…”

Before Morgana could finish her sentence, Vivian barreled into Arthur’s office. She had a stack of files in her arms and dumped them on Arthur’s desk. “I need you to go through all of that and report back to me on Mercia’s spending habits in every department for every month of last year. I need those figures for our meeting tomorrow.’

Arthur blinked up at her. “Shouldn’t you have done that already? It’s your deal.”

“And I’m your boss. So just do what you’re told, unless you don’t want to be here anymore and I could happily arrange that.” Vivian curled up her lips in a condescending sneer.

Morgana stood up. “Speak to my brother like that again and I may have to ruin this perfectly good manicure I paid good money for - though I assure you it would be worth it.”

She stepped closer to Vivian, who was trying not to cower, but Arthur could see her hands shaking.

“Perhaps I’d even be doing you a favor. You wouldn’t have to come up with another ridiculous lie for one of your many “elective” surgeries.”

Vivian scoffed. “Threatening violence, Morgana? You need some new material.” She turned to Arthur. “Get it done.”

She whipped her long, blonde hair as she turned around and strode towards the door. Once she got to the door, she turned back and leaned against it with a smug smile. “By the way, father is throwing a party in honor of my promotion. Isn’t he sweet?” She let out a dry chuckle and walked out, slamming the door behind her.

Arthur just stared at the door. Another party? Bugger! “What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

Morgana grinned. She looked far too triumphant for Arthur’s liking.” Looks like Merlin’s going to get to do a repeat performance. I can’t wait.”

Arthur dropped his head to his desk and banged it several times.

~*~

He had swallowed his pride and e-mailed Merlin and asked him to come to this next party. It took a lot of convincing, and more money, but Merlin finally agreed to come. He had also asked for Arthur to tell him what was really going on between him and his father. Even though he was reluctant, Arthur agreed. He asked Merlin to come two hours before the party, and to Merlin’s credit, he arrived even earlier than that.

He realized that he’d been unforgivably rude last time and offered Merlin something to drink before they got down to business. Merlin took a little tour around Arthur’s flat while Arthur got him some chai tea.

When Arthur came back out to the sitting room, Merlin was staring at the pictures on the mantelpiece above the fireplace in the front of the sitting room. There weren’t many pictures - and none of Uther - just a few with Morgana and with Morgana and her husband, Leon. Sadly, Arthur didn’t have many friends or family.

They sat down on the large, white leather couch in Arthur’s sitting room. Arthur nervously sipped his tea. He didn’t know why he was nervous to explain the situation. It was fairly straightforward, but Arthur had never been good at unburdening himself to people, especially strangers.

Merlin just sat calmly, with cup in hand, and waited for Arthur to talk.

Arthur cleared his throat. “You wanted to know what my father has done that is so terrible that I want to humiliate him?”

“Yes.”

“It might sound silly to you, but I’ve worked for my father for years and suddenly he passed me over and made my stepsister, Vivian, CEO of the family company.”

Merlin bit his lip and seemed to be pondering this. Arthur hadn’t known him long, but it was surprising that he seemed to be picking what to say so carefully. “That does seem unfair, Arthur, but is it really that much worse than your father not being able to accept who you are, that you’re gay. You seem more upset about the job than that.”

Arthur took a deep breath and exhaled. “That does bother me, Merlin. Of course it does, but it’s not really a surprise to me. What happened with Vivian, I just wasn’t expecting it.” Arthur rubbed at his eyes, “I suppose I should have been.”

“What do you mean?” Merlin put his cup down.

Arthur did the same. He couldn’t look directly at Merlin, but saw out of the corner of his eye that Merlin was looking at him very intently.

“All of my life, I’ve felt second best to my father, if even that. Morgana was the light of his life. He always doted on her. Even at an early age, Morgana always pushed back against him, and did her best to defy him at every turn - she didn’t go to the school he picked out, she didn’t marry the type of man she wanted, she was his opposite in every way. But it didn’t matter, she got away with everything. If I didn’t love her so much, I’d resent the hell out of her. But I know it’s not her fault. Perhaps it’s not even my father’s.” Arthur stopped abruptly.

Merlin leaned forward trying to get Arthur to look at him. “Why wouldn’t it be his fault?”

Arthur ignored his comment and plowed on. “I was always the opposite of Morgana. I tried to be just like our father. I did everything he wanted, the way he wanted. Every decision I made was because I thought it would change things, make things better. I’ve given up dreams for him. But nothing has ever worked. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that made him truly proud.”

It was excruciating getting this out, but a part of him was relieved to be talking about this with someone. Perhaps he shouldn’t belittle therapy so much.

“But I was his only son, the only one of his children who wanted to work for him, to one day lead his company. I think I was doing a great job, then Catrina came along and then with her Vivian. Two loathsome gargoyles that my father somehow thinks hung the moon. Vivian became the daughter and son my father always wanted. To top it off, now Catrina is somehow pregnant. I already get so few scraps of my father’s affection. I can’t even imagine how much worse it will be when his “new heir” arrives. He doesn’t need me anymore - not that he ever really did.”

Arthur dared to look directly at Merlin now. He wasn’t sure if he was annoyed or touched by the obvious sympathy shining in Merlin’s eyes. He didn’t want to be pitied, but he couldn’t explain it, but he liked Merlin caring about him enough to be moved by his story.

“I’m just so tired of it, Merlin. Pretending to date you - or this fabricated version - is the only small way I know to reach him, to make him see me and still care. Is that so wrong?”

Merlin moved closer. Arthur fought the urge to slink away. He didn’t know if he was attempting a hug or something else. Even though he had never been a touchy-feely person, Arthur thought that a hug from merlin wouldn’t be so terrible.

He couldn’t help feeling disappointed when Merlin just grabbed his hand instead.

“No, it’s not wrong.” Merlin dragged Arthur to his feet. “I’m ready to teach your father a lesson, how about you?”

Arthur just grinned from ear to ear and followed Merlin out.

~*~

 

Arthur snickered and almost spilled the rum he was pouring for Merlin.

“I’m sorry; I just keep picturing Vivian’s gobsmacked face when you claimed to not know who she was.” He snorted. “I’ve never seen her look so affronted.”

Merlin lips quivered and he looked as if he was fighting to stop a big smile from spreading.

They were in Arthur’s study/home office, having just arrived at Arthur’s flat after their second family dinner at Uther’s house. After Merlin’s wonderful performance the first time, Arthur wasn’t necessarily surprised that he was able to recreate it. What did catch him off guard was that Merlin topped that performance.

Not only did he undermine Vivian at every opportunity, but he made sure to make Uther squirm as much as possible. He chewed his food loudly and talked even louder. Also, he made sure to be as overly affectionate with Arthur as possible.

If Arthur wasn’t mistaken, Merlin seemed to have been having the time of his life especially by the end of the evening when he was playing drunk - or perhaps not playing as Arthur looked up and saw Merlin swaying a bit on his feet.

When Merlin “broke down” in Arthur’s arms, Arthur could barely contain his laughter. He didn’t think his father could look more confused if an alien came down from space and asked to mate with him.

Somehow that wasn’t even the best part. It had done Arthur’s heart good to see how protective Merlin was, especially every time Uther would start to praise Vivian.

He was feeling so good and hadn’t wanted the night to end. When he had invited Merlin up for a nightcap, he was almost embarrassed at how relieved he was when Merlin said yes.

Arthur handed Merlin the glass of rum and started to pour himself one.

“If the look on your father’s face is any indication, I think tonight was another rousing success.” Merlin said, raising his glass.

Raising his glass well, Arthur smiled. As he took a swig of his drink, he looked behind him at a painting on the back wall. It was of two small children playing on the beach with a sunset of the most vivid strokes of purple, orange, and pink. It reminded him of one of his happiest memories from childhood.

He walked towards it. “You see this painting?”

Merlin swallowed. “The one fake painter Merlin couldn’t have done on his best day?”

Arthur chuckled and stood in front of the painting. “Yes. I adore this painting. I bought it for over a thousand pounds. I would throw it out in a heartbeat, if I could have a snapshot of my father’s face when you said you wanted to move in with me, and just hang it right there.”

Merlin grinned and walked toward Arthur. “He almost choked. Is it wrong that I didn’t even feel the slightest bit guilty?”

Arthur quickly shook his head.

“He deserved it.” Merlin growled. “I can’t imagine he didn’t know what he was doing to you by forcing you to celebrate your stepsister’s ascending the throne. He didn’t have to praise her in front of you as well.”

Arthur was stunned at how fierce Merlin sounded. This wasn't just some performance he was putting on. Arthur could feel warmth spreading in his chest and he had to clench his fists to keep from reaching out to Merlin.

Merlin was biting his lip and looked away. He took a deep breath. “It must have been a nightmare growing up with him.”

Arthur cocked his head to the side and thought about it. “It certainly wasn't easy, though it wasn't all terrible. On my mother’s birthday every year, he would take us to the beach - it had been her favorite activity. I think he did it so we could be connected to her somehow...so he could be connected to her. We felt like a real family on those days.”

Arthur sighed. He hadn’t thought about that in a while. Without explanation, his father had stopped taking them to the beach when Morgana turned thirteen.

He shook himself and walked across the room. He had been feeling so good and didn’t want to depress himself. When he got to the mahogany desk on the other side of the room, he leaned up against it. He swirled his drink around and gazed down at the amber liquid.

After a minute, Merlin joined him. He cleared his throat. “You haven’t really talked about your mother. What-”

“I really would rather not tonight,” he touched the back of Merlin’s hand gently, “if that’s alright with you.”

He removed his fingers quickly. Merlin was staring down at where he’d touched him and Arthur could see his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed repeatedly.

Merlin laughed, but it sounded forced. “Your manners are improving considerably. Are you getting a little drunk?”

Arthur laughed genuinely. “I wasn’t drinking nearly as much as you.”

Merlin held up his hands. He giggled when some rum splashed on his hand. “I was just trying to get in character.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes. “Right,” he sounded heavily skeptic. “Of course you were.”

They shared a glance and a smile. Arthur noticed how Merlin’s eyes crinkled at the corners. Not for the first time, he found himself thinking how adorable Merlin was.

Merlin downed the rest of his drink and walked back over to the drink cart and poured himself another. He walked over to the expansive bookcase by the back wall.

“You have a lot of books.” He touched the spine of a few. “Quite a lot of Jane Austen. Are these your sister’s?”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Arthur huffed. “Is it impossible to believe those are mine? Men can appreciate her books, too.”

Merlin nodded. “I agree - men can. I just didn’t think you would be one of those men.”

Arthur leaned against the bookcase, getting closer to Merlin. “I am. I’m quite the romantic.” Perhaps he was a little drunk.

Merlin stared at him. He seemed a little nervous, but a slow smile spread over his face. “Is that right?”

Arthur nodded. “At one point, I thought I could do it professionally.”

“Be a romantic?” Merlin raised an eyebrow.

Arthur shoved Merlin’s shoulder playfully. “No. I wanted to be a writer. I fancied that I could follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps. I wanted romance and drama and comedies and tragedies...everything.” He exhaled loudly. “Just another dream I gave up for my father.”

He walked away and poured himself another drink, which he gulped down.

Arthur pressed the glass against his chin and didn’t even notice Merlin come up behind him.

Merlin reached out tentatively and touched his arm. “I’m sorry, Arthur.”

Arthur just nodded jerkily.

“It’s unfair that you had to give that up.”

“Well...I didn't give it up entirely.” Arthur’s eyes widened. He wasn't sure why he’d said that.

“What do you mean? Do you still write?”

He waved his hand. “Forget I said anything.” Arthur quickly strode toward the other side of the room and plopped down on the soft, plush couch in the corner.

“Why?” Merlin soon joined him and sat down uncomfortably close. “Do you still write? You don’t have to show me anything - though I would love it if you would.”

“It’s...it’s nothing. It’s just a small thing.” Arthur wished he would drop it.

“You weren't embarrassed to tell me you wanted to write romance, but you can’t tell me about this? Do you write fan fiction or something?”

Arthur faced away from him and sunk further into the couch with a groan.

Merlin sputtered. “Bugger it all, you do!”

When Merlin didn’t say anything for a while, Arthur finally spared a glance over his shoulder. He rolled his eyes when he saw the huge open-mouthed grin Merlin was sporting.

He turned fully toward Merlin. “Calm down, it’s not that momentous.”

Merlin still couldn’t stop smiling. He shook his head. “I beg to differ. This is brilliant! I don’t know why you’re embarrassed. Some of the best things I read are fanfic.”

Arthur sat up. “I agree. I’m not embarrassed exactly. It’s just not something I tell everyone I know.”

“What do you write?” Merlin clutched his arm. “Please tell me you write in the Marvel universe?”

Arthur sighed and then gave a small nod.

Merlin gasped. “Bruce/Tony?”

“Steve/Tony.”

Merlin wrinkled his nose. “That’s unfortunate.”

“Why is that?” Arthur sat back.

“Bruce and Tony have more in common. They just make sense,” Merlin explained.

“Oh, because they’re both scientists? If you think scientists belong together I guess that’s just another reason there’s no hope for the two of us.” Arthur meant it as a joke, but was surprised at how serious he sounded.

Merlin’s smile faltered. “I don’t think- that’s not what I meant. In real life, it’s different.”

Merlin’s piercing gaze unnerved Arthur. He forced out a laugh and briefly patted Merlin’s knee. “Relax. I was just having a laugh.”

Even though he laughed too, Merlin’s chuckle sounded unconvincing. He leaned his head against the back of the couch. “Perhaps if you let me see some of your stories I would come around to your side.” He batted his eyes.

Arthur threw back his head and laughed. “Nice try.”

“Come on. I'm sure it’s wonderful.” Merlin sighed. “You’ll leave me no choice but to figure out your author’s name.”

Arthur let out a derisive snort. “I’m sure that’ll happen. You don’t even know where I post.”

“There aren’t that many places. I’ll figure it out and then you…” Merlin yawned.

Arthur bit his lip to keep from smiling. He had an overwhelming urge to pinch Merlin’s cheeks, which made absolutely no sense to him.

“Even if you had enough brain power right now, you still couldn’t do it.”

“You want to bet?”

Arthur crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I’m already paying you 100 quid for tonight, now you’re trying to weasel more money out of me?”

Merlin pointed at him with a triumphant expression. “Ha! You know I’ll win!”

“Not likely,” Arthur said with over confidence. “So, if you win you get the pleasure of reading my beautiful prose.”

Merlin snorted. He sank deeper into the couch.
Arthur ignored that. “And if you win…?”

“Hmm…” Merlin closed his eyes and pursed his lips.

Arthur looked down and played with the button on his shirt cuff. When Merlin didn’t say anything for a bit, he shook his head. “Is it that hard to come up with…?” He trailed off when he turned to Merlin and saw that his eyes were closed.

He leaned in closer and stared at Merlin. He was clearly asleep. Arthur briefly wondered if he should wake him, but he figured Merlin was in no shape to drive anyway.

So Arthur left the room and got a blanket and pillow from the hall closet by his bedroom and returned to find Merlin had lain down fully and was resting his head against the arm of the couch. Arthur gently shifted Merlin slightly and eased a pillow under his head. He placed the soft white blanket over him.

He reached out tentatively and almost ran his hand through Merlin’s hair, but he pulled back and shook his head. “Stop being creepy,” he whispered.

Arthur stared down at Merlin’s peaceful face for another second before he tiptoed out of the room, shutting the light as he went.

Standing outside the room for a second, Arthur let out a small chuckle. Of course he would start to fall for his pretend boyfriend. He was starting to wonder if he wasn’t just a romantic, but an idiot as well.

~*~

Things were surprisingly not awkward the next morning. Thankfully, neither he nor Merlin had much of a hangover. But, unfortunately they both had to work, so Merlin had to leave almost as soon as he’d woken. He’d irritated Arthur a bit by complaining about the unsuitable nature of his couch for sleeping, which Arthur thought was a load of bollocks. He’d slept on that couch many times and his back was just fine.

It wasn’t until after Merlin left that realized he had paid Merlin for the previous night. Arthur smiled to himself knowing this meant that he had another excuse to see Merlin.

Arthur was finding that he was smiling a lot more than usual and he knew exactly why. For the first time in years, he wasn’t dreading the holidays. The colors red and green didn’t make him want to vomit. When he passed by carolers he didn’t have the urge to rip the songbooks from their and toss it in the rubbish. Actually, he found himself humming carols.

Though it did make him realize that he had another family dinner to deal with. He would be expected at his father’s for Christmas and partners were always invited. Arthur supposed he could make excuses for Merlin not being there, but he didn’t want to. A part of him really didn’t want to keep up with the charade, but he did want Merlin there. He wanted to see him again and he was really hoping Merlin felt the same way.

Unfortunately, Merlin turned him down. He decided to risk begging, though he was too nervous to tell Merlin he wanted to ask him out for real. He was crushed when Merlin remained firm on his refusal. He couldn’t help wondering if he would ever see Merlin again. Perhaps he’d misjudged things and Merlin hadn’t been feeling the same way as him.

His holiday cheer was rapidly fading. He should have seen what happened next coming.

As was becoming a habit, Vivian barged into Arthur’s office. Arthur was surprised she didn’t have something in her hand. She seemed to live to give him extra things to do.

“You were tardy again, Arthur,” Vivian announced.

Arthur scrunched up his nose. Yes, he was late the morning after his second “date” with Merlin, but it was probably only the second time that year.

“It’s becoming a habit as is your sloppy work.” She sighed and put both hands on his desk and leaned forward. “You’re sacked.”

Arthur blinked slowly. “I’m what?”

“Are you deaf as well as mentally impaired? You’re sacked. You no longer work here.” Vivian repeated as if she were talking to a slow child.

“You can’t do this.” Arthur stood up shakily. “This is my family’s company. My father-”

“I’ve already spoken to my father about this.” Vivian smirked. “He agrees with me that you don’t have what it takes to lead this company and you certainly don’t have what it takes to work here.” She turned towards the door. “Percival, Owain!”

Two security guards soon strode into Arthur’s office. Arthur of course recognized them both. He had hired them personally. They’d been working for the company for five years and even though Arthur didn’t socialize with many, he had gone for drinks with Percival a couple of times after work. It was as if Vivian was trying to pour additional salt in his wounds.

“If you don’t want to leave voluntarily, these two gentlemen will escort you out.” Vivian wasn’t even trying to hide her glee. “I’d prefer to save the company the embarrassment, but it’s your choice.”

Arthur wasn’t even sure if he could make it out the door; he was shaking with rage. But he was not going to give Vivian the satisfaction of further humiliating him. Looking down at his desk, he took in a few deep breaths and then gathered up his briefcase. He marched past Vivian without sparing her another glance.

“I’m sorry,” Percival whispered as Arthur walked past.

Arthur only spared a cursory glance up at him. He nodded once and kept walking.

If he had been thinking clearly, he would have just gone home but he couldn’t let this go. Not now. He quickly found himself standing in front of his father’s door. When Uther opened the door, Arthur instantly brushed past him and stormed inside.

“How could you let her do this to me?” Arthur shouted before Uther had even closed the door.

Uther’s brow furrowed briefly, before awareness dawned in his eyes. He stepped carefully towards Arthur. “Vivian terminated you.” He pursed his lips. “I apologize.”

Arthur opened his mouth to let forth an angry tirade, but stopped when he realized what Uther had said. He had really only come to vent. Never in a million years did he think his father would admit culpability. “You are?”

Uther clasped his hands together. “I spoke with her about this. She assured me she would wait until after the holidays to give you the news.”

“That is what you’re sorry for?” Arthur threw his head back and blew out a long breath. “Why am I surprised?”

“Calm down, Arthur,” Uther said in the most patronizing voice.

Arthur let out a low growl. “I am remarkably calm for someone who has just been betrayed by their own father.”

Uther rolled his eyes skyward. “Don’t be so dramatic, Arthur.” As if finishing the conversation wasn’t worth his time, Uther turned and walked towards his study.

Arthur was quick on his heels. “I’m not being dramatic. I’ve devoted my life to this company. I’ve spent every waking moment of my life for years making sure I was doing the best job I possibly could. I’ve given up any semblance of having a social life.”

“If that were truly the case, you would have never had the time to start seeing that...that...miscreant you’ve insisted on parading around,” Uther said, disgust dripping from his voice.

“This is about Merlin?” Arthur huffed.

Uther walked behind his desk. “It’s just another sign that you’re exercising poor judgement.”

It would be easy to just give in and tell Uther the truth right now. It probably wouldn’t change things entirely, though it might save his job. Still, it wouldn’t be worth it. Arthur didn’t want to give Uther the satisfaction. He was tired of giving into him.

Arthur looked up at his father, who was looking at him with growing impatience, and his entire body sagged. “If I said that Merlin truly makes me happy, would that make any difference to you at all?” His voice shook.

Uther pinched the bridge of his nose. “No. This isn’t about emotions, Arthur. This is business.”

“This isn’t business.” Arthur walked around the table and got in his father’s face. “You’re punishing me.”

“I have more important things to think about. I’m not concerned enough over who you choose to spend your time with to punish you.”

“I wasn’t talking about Merlin. This is…” His words stuck in his throat. “This is about mother.”

Uther held up a finger in warning. “Do not bring her into this.”

“I have to. You’ve been punishing me for my entire life for a decision that she made.” He felt on the verge of tears, but thankfully none came. “Mother knew that she had a heart condition, but she still wanted to have me. She chose me over you and that’s why you hate me. Isn’t it?”

Uther just looked at him with a steely gaze.

“Isn’t it?!”

Arthur looked down and saw his father’s fingers digging into his clenched hand. Uther took a step back. “You dare come to me and bring up your mother because you cannot handle a simple business decision? How can you wonder why neither I nor your sister thinks you belong anywhere in the company? If you cannot handle this decision with grace and a little smidge of dignity, then I cannot help you.”

Arthur continued to stare at his father. He was trying to stand strong, but felt wrung out and like his legs would give way at any moment.

“This conversation is over.” Uther gestured with his head towards the door. “You can show yourself out.”

Letting out a shaky breath, Arthur backed away slowly. He got to the door with strength he didn’t know he possessed. Before stepping out the door, he turned back to his father. He opened his mouth to say something, but realized there was nothing left to say. He snapped his mouth shut and departed.

~*~

After his confrontation with his father, Arthur thought about calling Morgana. He scrolled through his contact list and stopped at Merlin’s name. He realized he was really the only one he wanted to speak with. He sent off a quick e-mail telling Merlin what happened.

Even though he wasn’t expecting Merlin to respond, Arthur held out hope that he would. What he wasn’t expecting was for Merlin to arrive at his flat.

Arthur’s eyes widened and he stumbled back. “Merlin?” He briefly looked down at the bottle of bourbon in his hand and wondered if he was drunk enough to be hallucinating. Merlin reached out and touched his shoulder; definitely not a hallucination.

“I thought you might want to talk…” Merlin looked down at the bottle. “Or have someone to drown your sorrows with?”

Arthur grinned. “If I knew you were coming, I wouldn’t have started so early without you.”

He walked backwards into his foyer. Merlin followed him after closing the front door.

“Here let me catch you up,” Arthur said, slurring his words, on the way to the kitchen. He took out two tall glasses and filled them up.

Merlin was waiting in the sitting room when Arthur came out. Arthur handed him the two glasses. Merlin looked at the two glasses in confusion. “What about you?”

Arthur just held up the bottle. He plopped down on the couch across from where Merlin was seated.

Merlin furrowed his brow and put one of the glasses down on the coffee table. “I’m sorry that Vivian sacked you. Your father should never-”

“Did you know I killed my mother?” Arthur blurted out.

Merlin almost choked on his drink. Some liquid dribbled out of his mouth and he coughed.

Arthur sat up instantly. “I’m sorry. That’s not something you should just drop on someone like that.”

Merlin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Never mind that. What do you mean you killed your mum?”

“She died in childbirth - giving birth to me.” He didn’t know why he felt the need to add that last part. It should be fairly obvious.

“Oh, Arthur,” Merlin’s voice sounded so soft and filled with sympathy.

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry or anything like that. I’ve heard it all before. Anyway, I’m not really the one that deserves the sympathy.” Arthur took a swig from the bottle.

“How could you say that? You lost your mother.”

“I did.” Arthur nodded and looked down at the bottle in his hand, which was almost down to its last drop. He really needed much more to have this conversation. “But I didn’t know her. I never got the chance. My father is the one who really lost her - because of me. If you look at it that way, can you blame him for hating me?”

Merlin was up in an instant and at Arthur’s side. “I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think he hates you. If he hated you, would he be so concerned with why you’re dating?”

Arthur put his head in his hands and laughed. He looked up and at seeing Merlin’s surprised face, waved his hands. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s just...you don’t get it, Merlin. He doesn’t care who I date. Not really. He just doesn’t want me to embarrass the family name. This is why he’ll soon forget all about this and forget all about me - he’s already halfway there.” He half shrugged

Before he could take another chug from the bottle, Merlin took it out of his hands. “You’ve had enough.”

Arthur shook his head back and forth. “You’re right. I have had enough.” He closed his eyes and exhaled shakily. “My entire life has been this futile effort to make up for what I did, but how is that even possible? I can’t make it up to him, Merlin. I can’t…I failed.” He choked back a sob.

Merlin firmly, but gently took Arthur’s face in his hands. Arthur couldn’t look him in the eye. Merlin gently tilted his face up, and after a few seconds of valiantly trying to keep his tear-filled eyes down, Arthur looked up at him. “Listen to me, Arthur. You did nothing wrong. You were just a child. It wasn’t your job to make things right for your father. It was his job to look out for you, which he failed miserably. You are an amazing person, Arthur. And your father is a...how do I put this delicately? He’s a fucking cockroach.”

Arthur let out a startled gasp and then giggled.

A small smile spread over Merlin’s face. He stroked his thumb over Arthur’s cheek. “You don’t have to apologize being born. In fact, I think the world is much, much better for it.”

Arthur sucked in a breath. In that moment, he knew that Merlin wasn’t pretending. He didn’t just pity him. He truly cared for him. He could feel it and see it with the way Merlin was staring at him with such warmth and tenderness.

It might have been the combination of alcohol and the emotional highs and lows he’d experienced that day, but Arthur suddenly felt so overwhelmed and could feel tears stream down his face. He collapsed against Merlin with a sob and crushed his arms around his friend.

Merlin held him in arms and stroked his hand through his hair. “I’m going to that dinner with you, Arthur and I promise we’ll stand up to your father...together.”

Arthur held on to him tighter.

He wasn’t sure if Merlin was aware of it, but he’d started to rock Arthur back and forth. It was incredibly soothing. Arthur felt more secure than he had in ages and found himself falling asleep in no time.

~*~

By the time Arthur had woken up, Merlin was gone. He’d left a note assuring Arthur that he meant what he said and that he’d go to the holiday dinner with Arthur’s family.

Arthur felt happier than he thought it was possible, especially knowing he had no work to go to thanks to his horrible stepsister and father.

Over the next week, he started to come to terms with being unemployed. It started feeling like a blessing in disguise, especially since he was able to get so much writing done.

By the end of the week he was starting to feel a little nervous. He hadn’t seen Merlin at all. They’d only shared a few e-mails. Merlin had suggested that they go to the dinner separately. It started to worry Arthur that maybe Merlin wouldn’t show up after all. Maybe Merlin had been swept up in Arthur’s sad stories and had thought better of having anything more to do with his horrible family (Morgana being the exception.)

When the night of the dinner arrived, Arthur was feeling horribly depressed. He threw on whatever he could find in his closet, which was his outfit from the last dinner. It was a bit of a mess, but Arthur didn’t care.

It took him forever to get out of his car after he arrived, late, at his father’s. When he stood in front of the door, he kept thinking about his and his father’s last confrontation and wanted to vomit. Thankfully, Morgana had come to the door. She took one look at Arthur’s appearance and instantly appeared concerned.

“Oh, Arthur.” She sighed.

“I’m better than I appear,” Arthur lied. He touched her arm gently and stepped inside.

He made his way to the dining room. When he looked up, the first person he saw was Merlin. It was like every negative thing he had been feeling completely vanished as soon as he saw his smiling face. Merlin was dressed in a lovely suit with a blue tie which matched his beautiful eyes perfectly.

“You came.”

Before he could even take a seat, Merlin stood up and took hold of his hand. It felt good, but the nervous look in Merlin’s eyes confused him. That confusion remained as Merlin started speaking.

But when Merlin said, “we haven’t been together for long, but ever since I saw you for the first time, I’ve been head over heels for you” Arthur got a good sense at what might possibly be happening and he was completely bowled over.

He wasn’t sure what to do, what to say. Merlin was proposing and it was the craziest and sweetest thing anyone had ever done for him. To think about how Merlin was completely against this idea when they first started, but now came up with an idea like this all his own - it made him smile so hard his cheeks hurt.

Merlin pulled out a ring and got down on one knee. “Would you do me the honour of marrying me?”

Clearly, this was a fake proposal, but he could see how nervous Merlin was and it made Arthur’s heart ache with joy. Arthur took the ring box out of Merlin’s hands and gaped at it. He wanted to say yes. Not because it would be a great way to needle his father - though that was a wonderful bonus - and not because he actually wanted to get married. But he did truly want to have a future with Merlin, even if they just started out dating (for real this time.) When he said yes he truly meant it.

Arthur wasn’t sure who reached for whom, but suddenly he felt Merlin’s lips against his own and he melted. He started to move his lips against Merlin’s perfect mouth. It was the most intense moment of his life - it would have been absolutely perfect if he wasn’t slightly aware that people were gawking at them.

That thought flew out the window when Merlin moaned into his mouth. He crushed Merlin to him. He felt goosebumps all over. Everywhere Merlin touched him felt electrified. There would soon be an embarrassing problem if they didn’t stop, but Arthur couldn’t pull away. Thankfully, or not so thankfully since he could feel Merlin’s hardness against him, Merlin pulled away.

He could hear his father start to yell, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of Merlin. His father marched up towards them.

“Father-”

Merlin touched his arm and took over from there. The way he put Uther in his place...God, Arthur wanted to take him right there and then.

Just when he thought he couldn’t feel happier, Merlin took the ring out and nodded to him for permission, which Arthur gladly gave him. He put the ring on and then kissed every single one of his fingers. Arthur thought he might actually burst from happiness. He couldn’t let go of Merlin’s hand.

“I should thank you. If Arthur’s situation wasn’t the way it is now, I would’ve never had the courage to ask him.” Uther bristled, and Merlin said once more, in the sincerest tone, “Thank you.”

Arthur bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud. His father looked absolutely livid. It was glorious.

Arthur wanted to twist the knife. “Merlin and I are going to celebrate elsewhere, somewhere more…private.”

He practically dragged Merlin outside after that. They hopped inside his car and did a little more flirting.

Soon Arthur turned serious. There was so much he wanted - needed - to say to Merlin. “Merlin, what you’ve done...I just...Merlin, I-”

He was cut off when Merlin grabbed the back of his head and kissed him hard. He swept his tongue into Arthur’s mouth and swallowed his moans.

Merlin pulled back slowly. “Fuck me, then we’ll talk.”

Arthur could only sputter out bits of gibberish as he hurriedly started the car.

It was the longest car ride of Arthur’s life. Merlin’s hands were constantly wandering. It was like torture, but pleasant torture.

When they finally, mercifully, made it back to his flat they could barely keep their hands to themselves. Merlin was kissing him and ripping off Arthur’s jacket and shirt before they made it out of the narrow hallway to Arthur’s bedroom.

Arthur pushed Merlin up against the wall. He stuck his nose in the hollow of Merlin’s throat and ran his hand up Merlin’s body.

Merlin groaned and fumbled trying to get Arthur’s flies undone. Once he did, he stroked his down Arthur’s clothed erection.

Arthur grunted and bit down. He pulled back, worried. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Merlin grinned and licked his lips. “No.” He grabbed Arthur’s neck and kissed him thoroughly.

By the time Arthur got Merlin’s trousers open and had Merlin’s cock in his hand, Arthur was more aroused than he’d ever been in his life

Merlin wrapped his arms around his neck and thrust his tongue into Arthur’s ear. Arthur hastily unbuttoned Merlin’s shirt and carefully took his perfect new tie off. He slowly pushed Merlin’s jacket and shirt to the floor.

When Arthur grasped both of their cocks together it felt like pure bliss, except something felt off. It was incredibly hard - no pun intended but he let go and pulled away slightly.

Merlin looked confused.

“Don’t worry I want this.” He stroked Merlin’s cheek and kissed him quickly. “But I just don’t want this to be just some quick, awkward fumble. You’re worth more than that.”

Merlin’s wide smile as he looked up at him adoringly would remain in his memory forever. As would Merlin’s giggle, when Arthur scooped him up and carried him into his bedroom.

“You really are a romantic, aren’t you?”

Arthur just smiled and laid Merlin gently on the bed. He removed Merlin’s trousers and pants completely. He stepped out of his as he moved to the nightstand and took out a condom and some lube.

Merlin sat up as Arthur ripped the condom wrapper open with his teeth. Crawling onto the bed, Arthur pushed Merlin down and licked against Merlin’s lips until Merlin opened up for him. Their tongues stroked against each other lazily as Arthur rubbed their cocks together.

Merlin’s head fell back. “Oh, fuck!”

Arthur pushed back onto his knees and squeezed some lube onto his fingers. He leaned forward just out of Merlin’s reach and stroked one finger against Merlin’s puckered hole. Merlin gripped the sheets tightly.

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to hold back much longer, Arthur inserted one finger and after a bit, added another. Merlin was moaning so loudly, Arthur thought he might be able to come from that sound alone.

Reaching forward, Merlin pulled Arthur down on top of him. He bit down on Arthur’s bottom lip. “Now, Arthur! Please!”

Arthur certainly wasn’t about to say no. He reached for the condom by Merlin’s head, and with Merlin’s help, slipped it on.

He tried to go slow, but Merlin grasped his arse and pushed him in, until he was buried as far as he could go. Arthur pressed his forehead against Merlin’s. Merlin was so tight and when he looked down at Merlin, who had his eyes closed and mouth parted, he felt he could never see a more beautiful sight.

He thrust in gently wanting it to last, but knowing it wouldn’t be long.

Merlin wantonly moaned in his ear. “Faster!”

Arthur obliged and soon he was pounding into Merlin while Merlin wrapped his legs tightly around him, driving Arthur in deeper and deeper.

“Fuck, Merlin! I’m going to come!”

“Come for me, Arthur. Come for now!”

Arthur grunted one last time and then stilled. He felt himself coming into the condom.

Merlin wasn’t far behind after two punishing thrusts by Arthur.

They lay there for a minute, panting in each other’s arms. But then Arthur started to worry about crushing Merlin underneath him and rolled off. He got up and discarded the condom. He got a flannel and cleaned both of them up before sinking back down into the bed and pulling Merlin into his arms.

Merlin’s eyes were closed, but Arthur hoped he wasn’t asleep since he finally had figured out what he wanted to say to him.

“Merlin?” Arthur whispered.

Merlin turned around in his arms. “I’m awake.” He beamed up at Arthur and kissed him tenderly.

“Good.” Arthur sat up. “I know this probably isn’t the proper thing to do after the first time you’ve had sex, but…” He took the ring off and placed it in Merlin’s hand.

Merlin’s brow furrowed. “Did I do something wrong?”

Arthur hated how unsure Merlin looked and sounded. “No! Absolutely not!” He kissed Merlin’s forehead, the tip of his nose, and then his mouth. “I’m really happy. Blissfully happy even. I know that this started out as a pretend relationship, but it’s been so much more than that. I think you’re the first person in my life that I haven’t needed to pretend anything with. I can be myself with you and know that it’s good enough and you accept me. You don’t know how much that means to me.”

Merlin blushed and Arthur just wanted to kiss him all over.

“Because this means so much to me I want to do this right. No more pretending. I want us to be real. So, Merlin Emrys, will you not marry me and date me instead?” Arthur was so nervous; even though he had a feeling he had no reason to be.

“Yes.” Merlin laughed. He got up and held Arthur’s face in his hands and laid a sweet kiss on his lips. He leaned back and stroked his hand through Arthur’s sweaty hair. “It’s never going to be boring with you, is it?”

Arthur stared up at Merlin. “I don’t think so. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Merlin laughed. “It’s very good.”

~*~

For two weeks, Arthur lived in a blissful bubble where the only thing he did was explore Merlin’s body in every way possible and on every surface possible. When Merlin unfortunately had to work, Arthur relaxed for probably the first time in years and was able to write to his heart’s content.

Unfortunately, reality soon beckoned. Actually, it was Uther who beckoned. Arthur thought about blowing him off, but he had some things he needed to get off his chest.

Thankfully, when Arthur got there Catrina and Vivian were nowhere in sight (not that Vivian would be there since it was the middle of the day and she was probably busy running his father’s company into the ground.)

Uther was stiff and awkward. He looked Arthur up and down, sneering at Arthur’s casual outfit of plain navy jumper, black leather jacket, tan trousers, and black trainers.

He at least had the decency not to say anything, though the disdain was written clearly on his face.

They walked to Uther’s study. “Would you care for some tea?”

Arthur shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, thank you. I need to get home shortly.”

Uther cleared his throat and sat down. He pointed to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit.”

Arthur bristled at his tone, but sat down.

“Arthur, I know that you feel as I’ve been harsh with you in the past. It is just my way of making sure you live up to your full potential.”

It was hard for Arthur not to groan, since he’d heard this speech before. “It’s a bit hard for me to live up to my potential with you undermining me at every turn.”

“I understand that. I am willing to make an effort. I am prepared to speak to Vivian on your behalf. You will have a promotion and be vice-president of the company,” Uther explained.

“Working directly under Vivian?”

Uther nodded. “I know that this is something you desire. You have been rudderless for some time and I am willing to take partial responsibility for that. This way you can get back on track.”

Arthur leaned forward. “Back on track? Does that mean following your plan - including not having a fiancé?”

Uther took in a sharp breath and closed his eyes. “Yes.” He opened his eyes and glared at Arthur. “It shouldn’t be that difficult to sever ties with him. We both know that you were with Merlin to prove a point to me.”

Arthur sat back in his chair and scrutinized his father. Finally, he sighed. “You’re right.” Arthur chuckled. “You don’t even know how right you are.”

Uther narrowed his eyes in confusion. “I’m not following.”

“Father, the truth is that Merlin was never my boyfriend.”

Uther’s eyes bulged and Arthur snickered, which he had to cover for quickly.

“I was terribly angry with you and I wanted to get some sort of revenge and I knew how much my coming out would unnerve you, even more so if I was with someone who represented everyone that you hate. I hired Merlin to play the part and he did it brilliantly.”

At first Uther mostly seemed appalled, but a thin smile spread over his face. “So, you’re not...gay.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Yes, I am...gay.” Arthur mimicked his father’s tone.

“But Merlin isn’t your paramour?”

“He wasn’t,” Arthur corrected. “But what started out as a ruse turned into something...amazing.” Arthur couldn’t help the soppy smile on his face.

Uther stood up. “He’s just taking advantage of you for more money. Are you too blind to see that?”

Arthur stood up as well and leaned his hands against the desk. “How would you know anything about Merlin? You barely know anything about me. Father, for the first time in my life I’m with someone who truly makes me happy and cares about me. Merlin was barely more than a stranger and he showed me more kindness and respect than you’ve ever shown me.”

“Arthur, I swear if you bring up your mother again…” Uther growled.

“I won’t. I don’t know if you resent me because of my mother or not, but I’m tired of trying to make things right with you for something that isn’t my fault. I’m going to live my life, and ironically, I have you to thank for that.”

Uther’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t say anything.

“It’s because of you that I met Merlin. If you hadn’t signed off on Vivian firing me, I would have never been able to pursue something that I really love. You gave me my life back.” With that, Arthur turned and started to walk out.

“You will never see a drop of your inheritance if you keep this up, Arthur,” Uther shouted.

Arthur turned around inside the door frame and leaned up against the door jamb. He gave Uther a genuine smile. “Keep it. I already have everything I need from you. Good-bye, father.”

It was a long time coming and Arthur felt truly unburdened. He walked out with a spring in his step. As he walked to the car, his phone buzzed in his pocket and when he saw Merlin’s name and picture on the display, he felt like he could have floated the rest of the way. He couldn’t wait to tell Merlin what had happened.

Chapter Text

Nine months later

Arthur came home right on time. Merlin should have known not to be worried. Arthur was usually very punctual. Merlin had managed to calm down enough to get working on the laptop. He had edited the thing a million times by now.

They shared a smile and soon Arthur was leaning over the back of the couch and pressing his lips to Merlin’s.

“How was Mithian?” Merlin asked when they pulled apart.

After work, Arthur told Merlin he was planning on stopping by and visiting his new baby sister, Mithian. Even though things between Arthur and his father were never the same, Arthur refused to abandon his sister. It was just another reason why Merlin loved him so much.

“She’s delightful as always. I think that I have a way with babies. She was crying when I got there, but as soon as I held her she stopped. When I left, I could hear her starting up again.” Arthur took his coat off and frowned. “Poor thing. I think at two months old, she already knows her parents are a nightmare. Took me a lot longer than that.”

“That’s because Mithian is smarter than you are.” Merlin teased.

“Hilarious,” Arthur said taking a seat next to Merlin and pinching Merlin’s thigh. He looked over at the laptop. “What are you working on? Some kind of potion for work?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “I’m a scientist, not a wizard. You still don’t quite understand what I do, do you?”

Arthur just shrugged.

Merlin shook his head. “It’s not anything for work. You’re not the only one who can write for fun in this relationship.”

“I’m not writing only for fun. I’m working on the next great piece of British literature...if I could just-”

“Actually work on it and not your latest Steve/Tony opus?” Merlin interrupted with a cheeky grin.

“I can do both,” Arthur retorted.

“Apparently not.”

Arthur hit Merlin on the back of the head. As Merlin rubbed the back of his head, they looked at each other and laughed.

Merlin was mostly teasing. He loved Arthur’s fanfic and that he still made time for it and he knew how hard Arthur was working on his book. Getting to watch Arthur write, to see how dedicated and passionate he was about it, filled Merlin’s heart with joy.

“So, what is it that you’re working on?” Arthur asked again.

Merlin lifted up the laptop and put it Arthur’s lap. “See, for yourself.”

“Alright.” Arthur cleared his throat. “Once…” He slowly looked at Merlin with a sour look on his face. “Once upon a time…” He stopped again. “I can tell already this is going to be literary gold.”

It was Merlin’s turn to hit Arthur on the back of the head.

Arthur laughed and continued. “‘Once upon a time a dashing scientist met an overworked prat named Artie.’” Arthur’s lips curled up into a smile. “‘The prat was desperate and needed the brilliant scientist’s help in tricking his ogre of a father.’” Arthur sat back. “‘Brilliant’, ‘dashing’...and I don’t appreciate how often I’m being referred to as a prat.”

Merlin shrugged. “I’m sorry I have to be as authentic as possible.”

Arthur just shook his head while chuckling. He started reading it to himself.

While he was doing that, Merlin slowly slid his hand in his pocket and pulled out the ring.

“‘The scientist saved him with a fake proposal.’” Arthur started to read aloud again. “‘The ogre choked on all of his rage and bile and exploded.’ Well, that’s graphic, but no less than what he deserved. ‘The scientist and the former prat’ - former prat, that’s better.” Arthur smiled. “‘They went off to live their new adventure together. It was a blissful time. Six months later, the dashing, brilliant, funny scientist proposed for real.’”

Arthur squinted at the screen. “Proposed for real? What does that…?” He trailed off.

Merlin was on one knee with the ring in his hand. He was shaking, but tried to smile. “I know the story was rubbish, but I didn’t give you any warning last time and I didn’t want to do the same thing again.”

Arthur put his hand over his mouth and his eyes widened as he looked from Merlin’s face to the ring and back again.

“You know I kept this ring all this time because I had a feeling we would be back here again, which is crazy considering how we started, but somehow I knew. I was starting to think it would never happen for me, but I finally figured out how my parents have lasted all of these years. I always wondered how it didn’t get tiring being with the same person day in and day out, until I met you. Sometimes we’re just sitting at home and watching the telly and I look over at you and I get this rush of excitement and happiness because I know that I get to be with someone who I love and that loves me - who I can laugh with and myself with. I don’t think that will ever get boring, whether it’s six months, six years, sixty years from now. You are who I want to spend every day of the rest of my life with and I want to start that life right now. So...will you marry me?”

Arthur bites his lip as tears fall from his eyes. He wipes them and types something out on the laptop. He turns it toward Merlin.

Merlin leaned over and read it. “Yes, you idiot.” He looked up and grinned from ear to ear. “We’ll just edit out that idiot part later.”

Arthur threw the laptop onto the couch and launched himself into Merlin’s waiting arms. They laughed together and Merlin closed his eyes in relief and let a feeling of total bliss wash over him.

He pulled back and slipped the ring on Arthur’s finger. They both stared at it and then leaned in for a kiss. They made love right there...and then again in their bedroom.

Afterwards, as they lay basking in each other’s arms, Merlin stroked his fingers up and down Arthur’s arm. A strange thought occurred to him. “Arthur, this probably isn’t the time, but I was wondering who gets to tell Uther?”

They shared a quick glance and then both raised their hands.

“I do!”