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Danger Zone (The Being Safe is Overrated Remix)

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~*v*~

Sometimes Arthur felt like an island – a nice, sunny island, but nevertheless an island – uninhabited and far out in the ocean. At seventeen, Arthur didn't have a bad life. He knew he was smart and he knew he was good-looking, and knowing that probably made him a bit of a prat sometimes. But he was deeply loyal to his friends, had a quick smile and quite some skill on the football field, so that mostly compensated for it.

Now that he was starting his final year of school, people didn't grow tired of telling Arthur what a bright future he had ahead of him – first of all his father, who should know since he was also the school's headmaster. The future, though, seemed far away on this golden day in September. Something out of reach, almost like a different planet all together. It was the first day of school after a depressingly uneventful summer – well, uneventful for Arthur; his friends seemed to have had all the mad fun. It wasn't that Arthur was jealous or begrudged them their happiness, but standing outside the school's entrance, watching them all with their girlfriends once again, it was hard not to feel like the odd one out.

Lance and Gwen were a little further off under a birch tree, holding hands and making gooey faces at each other like always. Gwaine had just dragged Elena off around the corner for a probably too-indecent-for-public groping session – not that Gwaine normally cared much about making a spectacle of himself. And Leon was just this very moment getting out of the passenger seat of Morgana's bright red convertible, looking flushed and bright-eyed. Arthur grimaced. His best friend hooking up with his cousin – or not-so-secret half-sister – had been one of the more mortifying developments of the summer.

Arthur knew he was being grumpy. He just wanted to have all that as well – wanted to hold hands and feel his heart beating wildly in his chest, sneaking away to be snogged silly behind the gym. Somehow, Arthur had thought coming clean and coming out was all it would take. So at the end of last term he had told people – first his father and then his friends and then anyone who cared – that he was gay. His father had mumbled something about how Arthur at least would not be getting anyone pregnant, poured himself a stiff drink, and never spoke about it again. His friends had been surprised at first, a little awkward, maybe, but mostly supportive, and then went on to treat him like nothing had changed.

And nothing had changed – which was exactly Arthur's problem, because he was slowly starting to wonder whether he was the only homosexual boy in the universe.

As it turned out, Arthur didn't have to wait long to find out that he wasn't. Whether or not that solved any of his problems was an entirely different matter.

~*~

First class that morning was History with Mr. Kilgharrah, a man who looked ancient without looking old and always smelt of smoke even though no one had ever seen him with a cigarette. He was normally at least five minutes late, and so everyone turned around towards the door in surprise when it opened just as soon as the last bell had rung. It wasn't the old dragon who stood in the doorway, though; it was a boy Arthur had never seen before. He was scrawny but tall, with a dark mop of hair that didn't help much to hide his weird ears. Even dressed in the same uniform of black slacks and a dark blue blazer, he somehow managed to look more shabby and unkempt than anyone else. Arthur frowned. His father had not said anything about a new kid starting school this term.

The boy was still standing in the door, looking around the room with narrowed eyes, searching. If he was trying to find a place to sit he was definitely out of luck, because the only free seat was next to Valiant, and no one would dare to sit there – at least if they knew what was good for them. Valiant was an arse if Arthur had ever met one, but since he was one of the best defenders on the football team – and also the most brutal one – no one really dared to stand up to him. His father was also a big shot in the music industry which made Valiant popular in that extremely factitious way people had, to sucking up to those who they imagined rubbed shoulders with their unattainable idols.

Apparently the boy did know what was good for him because he didn't make a move towards Valiant's desk but remained in the doorway until Mr. Kilgharrah arrived a few minutes later.

''Ah, Mr. Emrys, there you are,'' he said in his deep, rumbling voice, taking the boy by the arm and pulling him to the front of the class. ''Let's see, where to put you?'' His eyes zeroed in on Arthur almost immediately, and they remained focussed on him even as he said, ''Mr. Knightley, you can sit with Mr. Black. I think Mr. Pendragon will be happy to help our new addition to settle in.''

Arthur raised his eyebrows but didn't comment any further; as the headmaster's son he was used to being pulled into this kind of crap. Leon made a face but gathered his things, putting them on the desk behind him and glaring at Valiant when the other boy didn't move to make room. Luckily, Leon was not easily intimidated, but Valiant was too occupied with staring at the new boy in disgust and then leaning forward to hiss at Arthur.

''I just hope that doesn't mean this loser bats for your team, Pendragon. It's enough to have one fag ogling us in the showers.''

Arthur stiffened. He had thought himself prepared for the word getting out about his sexuality, but this was the first time he had gotten any flak for it. Before he could think of something scathing to say, the new boy had plopped down in the chair next to him and leaned back to shoot Valiant a smile that had too much teeth to be friendly.

''Oh, you really don't have to worry,'' he said with fake cheerfulness. ''I only go for smart and good-looking guys. So, since you're neither, you're completely safe!''

Valiant went first white and then red like a tomato and he leaned forward over the desk, hand reaching out for the other boy. ''What did you just say, you little faggot?''

The new boy ducked his head, as if he was trying to reign in his temper, but there was a scowl on his face and Arthur would have sworn he had seen a golden glint in his eyes. The next moment, Valiant's chair shot backwards and the bulky boy fell on his arse, hitting his chin on the edge of the desk on his way down. Leon nearly jumped out of his seat in surprise and the rest of the class burst out laughing, even if they quickly calmed down again as Valiant stood up and glared at them.

''Mr. Black, if you are quite done with your gymnastics, I'd ask you to open your book on page twenty-five and start reading,'' Mr. Kilgharrah said without looking up. ''If I remember correctly, your marks weren't all that impressive last year.''

Valiant's face was nearly purple now, but he sat down and complied – not without shooting the new boy a hot glare and mouthing, ''You're dead, faggot!''

The newcomer looked completely unimpressed and turned to Arthur with a smirk. ''I really hate bullies, don't you?'' he asked, and all Arthur could do was nod.

''Yeah,'' he mumbled, still shocked by what had just happened. It wasn't like Arthur was an expert but, if he wasn't very much mistaken, the new boy had just used magic.

''I'm Merlin, by the way,'' the boy said, holding out his hand for Arthur to shake.

''Arthur.''

The boy smiled slyly and, not letting go of Arthur's hand right away, he said, ''Just so you know... what I said to him? About being safe? You're not.''

A shiver ran down Arthur's spine and he wasn't sure at all whether it was due to the fact that Merlin's eyes were very blue and his thumb was blatantly stroking along the pulse point on Arthur's wrist, or the idea that Merlin might have magic and, apparently, had no reservation to use it.

~*~

It hardly came as a surprise that Valiant didn't just forget what had happened, and neither did he let it go. After lesson, Arthur stood at his locker talking to Leon and Gwaine, when he saw that stupid git come up behind the new boy. A feeling of trepidation settled in Arthur's stomach, but before he could decide what to do about it, Valiant had already shoved Merlin face forward into the door of his locker, pressing his forearm against the scrawny boy's neck to keep him there.

Arthur couldn't hear what Valiant whispered into Merlin's ear, but he could imagine it well enough. He opened his mouth to tell the idiot to knock it off, but before he could, the taller boy was thrown backwards and landed on his arse once more. Merlin whipped around with a scorching hot glare, and this time Arthur could definitely see his eyes glowing golden.

There were gasps coming from all around him, and Arthur sucked in a sharp breath, too. Swallowing hard, he couldn't help but stare at Merlin. The other boy looked a bit like a demon with his pale skin and black hair askew, burning eyes and scowling mouth, and it made something dangerous flutter in Arthur's chest. He was so mesmerised that it took the snickers from the other students for him to realise that Valiant looked far more mortified than angry. That, and there was a puddle forming underneath him. Arthur gaped. Surely Valiant hadn't... bloody hell.

Then Arthur saw the smirk on Merlin's face and understood. Suddenly he felt sick. Yes, Valiant was a bastard, but there was something about Merlin using his magical powers in such a brutal and blatant way that made Arthur distinctly uncomfortable. He knew he should say something, but his mind was blank. His insides were churning with the emphatic embarrassment he felt at Valiant's humiliation and the strange and slightly mortifying desire that he couldn't suppress when he glanced at Merlin. Arthur was incredibly grateful when the warning bell for the next lesson rang, giving him an excuse to grab his bag and turned away, but he still felt a bit like a coward.

Math normally came easy to him but today Arthur couldn't concentrate on anything their teacher, old Mr. Gaius, was saying. His heart was still beating wildly and his mind was filled with thoughts of Merlin: the fact that he was a sorcerer, the shock of him being so open about it, not to mention the insinuations he had made towards Arthur earlier. Arthur didn't know how he felt about it all.

While a lot had changed in the last years in regard to equal treatment and non-discrimination of people with magical abilities, sorcerers still faced a lot of suspicion. Many people were worried about being enchanted without even realising it, while others claimed magic was unpredictable and therefore dangerous. And of course, there was always the religious factions who insisted it was an abomination and a sign of people being possessed by the devil or some such nonsense. So, while the laws against magic had long been abolished, most sorcerers still tried to maintain a low profile – something Merlin Emrys certainly didn't seem to bother with.

Arthur wondered whether he should warn Merlin. Because while magic was legal, using it against someone else in a fight certainly was breaking school regulations and, if Arthur's father got wind of it, Merlin Emrys might set a record for the shortest stint ever at Camelot High.

But when Arthur was called in to see the headmaster after lesson, he soon realised that any warning he'd thought to give would be coming too late. While he waited in the outer office he could hear his father's voice, slightly muffled, through the door, obviously giving one of his stern lectures.

''You've been given a chance here at Camelot High, Mr. Emrys,'' Uther Pendragon was saying with familiar coldness, ''because your uncle asked me to take you on as a personal favour and he is a trusted colleague and a friend. But if I hear about you using your magic ever again to harm a student of this school, you will be out of here before you can say 'equal rights movement'.''

''That's bollocks!'' Merlin's voice rang out, louder and laced with anger. ''He attacked me! I'm allowed to use magic to defend myself!''

''Mr. Black told me that you had previously used magic to push him out of his seat during History with Mr. Kilgharrah.''

''He was blathering homophobic bullshit!''

''I do not care what he said, Mr. Emrys. The use of magic, or any form of violence is not permitted at this school. Consider this your first and last warning. You may go now.''

A moment later, the door to his father's office burst open and Merlin stalked out, his face twisted into a scowl. The papers on the deserted desk of Uther's secretary fluttered about in a sudden gust of wind, even though the window was closed, and there was that glimmer of gold in Merlin's eyes again. It dimmed quickly, though, when he caught sight of Arthur. For a moment Merlin seemed to falter, and he raised his eyebrows, as if he expected Arthur to say something. But Arthur had no idea what he should say, really, and before he could think of something his father's voice came from inside the office, impatiently calling his name. He shrugged at Merlin, and the other boy shot him an unrepentant grin as he walked past him, his shoulder brushing against Arthur's.

The fleeting touch left a weird tingling sensation on Arthur's skin, and he glanced back at the door Merlin had left through with a frown as he entered his father's office.

''You wanted to see me?'' he asked distractedly.

''Yes. Please sit down. It'll only take a minute.'' Uther motioned to the chair in front of his desk and then laced his fingers, resting them on the papers in front of him. He studied his son with cool blue eyes for a moment. ''I assume you have already met our new student, Merlin Emrys?''

''Uh, yes.'' Arthur shifted in his seat a little uncomfortably. ''He's in my History class with Mr. Kilgharrah.''

Uther made a derisive sound in the back of his throat. He and the old dragon didn't see eye to eye on most things. ''Well, I want you to be careful around this boy, Arthur. He's a sorcerer and has proven himself to be quite powerful for his age. Gaius promised me he would behave himself – Merlin is his nephew – but I fear the boy might take too much after his father. Balinor Emrys was a known trouble maker. So just stay away from him, you hear me?''

Uther turned back to his paperwork, effectively dismissing Arthur, and he left with even more questions about the mysterious new boy running through his head, when he had already been occupying Arthur's every thought.

~*~

The next time Arthur saw Merlin was at lunch. Arthur was sitting with his usual group of friends – the girlfriends were mercifully absent for once – but unfortunately that didn't mean that he was spared from hearing all about them, in far greater detail than he had any desire to know.

''Elena does this thing with her tongue in my ear during... you know what,'' Gwaine was just oversharing in a stage whisper, stabbing at his chips which he had previously drowned in obscene amounts of vinegar. ''I swear she was put on this earth to drive me bonkers.''

''I'm reasonably sure you were already mad long before you met her,'' Leon said dryly, biting into his burger.

Gwaine only rolled his eyes. ''Well, let's just say she drives me to unprecedented levels of insanity!''

''Viv thinks the tongue in ear thing is, and I quote, yucky ,'' Elyan said with a frown that was one part amused and one part pained.

''Well, Elyan my friend, I'm sorry to say that the lovely Vivian isn't exactly the most adventurous of all the girls I've known. And if I say known, I mean--''

''Yes, Gwaine, we all know what you mean,'' Arthur cut in with an eye-roll.

Elyan shrugged. ''I'm fine with that. Not everybody feels the need to have sex in a tree, you know?'' He raised his eyebrows innocently, making them all laugh.

Gwaine, as always, was unfazed. ''Don't knock it till you've tried it.''

Elyan shook his head with a chuckle. ''I think I'll pass on that one, mate.''

''Suit yourself.'' Gwaine shrugged and turned back to Leon with a roguish grin. ''So, from what I've heard on the grapevine, Morgana isn't that faint of heart? Wanna share with the class, Leon?'' Gwaine waggled his eyebrows.

''For fuck's sake, you're talking about my cousin here, Gwaine!'' Arthur groaned out.

''I thought she was your sister?'' Gwaine asked, missing the point by a few miles.

''Which doesn't make it any better!''

''Also, a gentleman never tells,'' Leon interrupted them before Arthur could throttle Gwaine, but the smug grin on Leon’s face was actually telling enough. God, Arthur really didn’t need to have those images in his head.

''Hmph.'' Gwaine pouted a little and looked around the table for another victim, his eyes falling on Lancelot, who had been silent so far. ''Well, what about the lovely Gwen then?'' he asked slyly.

Lance's eyes lit up, and Arthur sighed inwardly, preparing for what was bound to become a lengthy song of praise to all the wonder and virtue that was Guinevere Smith. Just as Arthur was tuning out, going back to concentrate on his food, someone dropped his tray on the table with a loud clatter. The conversation stopped as everyone turned towards the newcomer and Arthur looked up to find a grinning Merlin standing next to him.

''Mind if I sit here?'' Merlin asked, not waiting for an answer before he pulled out the chair closest to Arthur and dropped down into it.

''Would you get up and bugger off if I said yes?'' Arthur asked, narrowing his eyes at him.

Merlin cocked his head, making a show of thinking about it before he answered, ''No, probably not.''

''You're the new kid, aren't you?'' Gwaine asked, looking Merlin up and down appreciatively. ''Merlin, right?''

''Yes.'' Merlin grinned at Arthur's friend. ''And you're Gwaine. I've heard all about you. I have to disappoint you, though. I've got my sights on Arthur already.''

Arthur choked as part of his sandwich went down the wrong way, and Merlin immediately started patting his back in a rather unhelpful manner.

Gwaine looked taken aback for about two seconds, but then he laughed out loud. ''I like you!'' he decided. ''And I appreciate the heads-up, but I'm spoken for these days anyway. Elena might look all innocent, but you wouldn't want to get on her wrong side, believe me.'' He paused, looking across the table with a small, devious smile. ''Now, Arthur here, on the other hand, is unattached and in desperate need of a shag.''

''Gwaine!'' Arthur growled, glaring at the obnoxious boy as he felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment. ''That's quite enough.''

Of course, Gwaine didn't heed the unspoken warning in his voice in the slightest. ''See? The princess has his knickers all in a twist. And while I'm not as well versed in the details of butt sex, I'm pretty sure you'd need to remove that stick from his arse first which, I'm certain, would do him a world of good.''

Arthur grit his teeth. He knew Gwaine was just being Gwaine, and normally Arthur would just throw a chip at him and tell him to shut up. But somehow the fact that Gwaine was teasing him like that in front of Merlin made all the difference.

''If you're quite done now?'' he pressed out through gritted teeth. ''Just because you've fucked everything in this school already doesn't mean you have to go and pimp your friends now. I can find my own shag, thank you very much!''

''I'm just trying to help!'' Gwaine held up his hands. ''It's not like you got any during the summer.''

''Gwaine-'' It was Leon who spoke up now, shooting Arthur a sympathetic look. Elyan and Lance had similar expressions of pity and somehow that only rankled Arthur more.

''Maybe that's because I have standards!'' he muttered darkly.

Glancing over at Merlin, he saw that the other boy had turned to face him and had his chin propped on his hand, smiling at Arthur with an amused twinkle in his eyes. Arthur frowned. He really wasn't sure what to make of Merlin's attitude.

''Thanks,'' Merlin said with a fleeting look at Gwaine just then before he turned his gaze back at Arthur, ''But I think Arthur and I are capable of sussing this out ourselves.''

Arthur shot him an incredulous look. ''Quite sure of yourself, are you?'' he asked, in his best posh and arrogant voice, but Merlin only kept smiling.

''Mhmm... I can be pretty convincing,'' he said, licking his lips suggestively.

For a second, while he tried to tear his gaze from that plush, soft looking mouth of Merlin's, Arthur would have nearly agreed. Only then he felt a tickle, like the warm touch of fingertips, running up his arm and curling around his neck. Blinking in surprise, he met Merlin's eyes and saw that they were sparkling with a soft golden light. Arthur drew back in shock and jumped to his feet, his chair sliding over the floor with a loud rattle.

''Don't touch me like that!'' he hissed at Merlin, before he grabbed the tray with his half-eaten lunch. His friends looked at him with varying expressions of confusion and surprise, but Arthur couldn't be arsed with explanations right now. ''I'll see you later, at practice,'' he said with a grimace and then quickly turned and walked away.

He grabbed the other half of his sandwich and dumped the rest in the garbage bin, then made his way outside to the school yard. He was furious at Gwaine because he couldn't keep his stupid gob shut and even more furious at Merlin, who apparently strived to confirm all the prejudices people had about sorcerers. That... that weird magical touch had made Arthur's skin tingle and send goosebumps all over his body before hot arousal had pooled in his belly. Had that all been Merlin's magic? Had Merlin made him feel that way? How much of the attraction and intrigue Arthur had felt for the other boy came really from himself and how much was Merlin's magic convincing him?

Arthur felt confused and still uncomfortably stiff in his school trousers. Maybe he should report Merlin, but something inside of him shied away from that idea. Then again, that, too, might just be part of Merlin's magic messing with his head. Arthur sank down under the old oak tree in the farthest corner of the school grounds, lost in thought as he munched the rest of his sandwich. He felt all restless and was glad he had footie practice later; physical activity always helped to calm him down. And he was definitely looking forward to making Gwaine run some extra laps as payback.

When the rest of the team arrived in the locker room, Arthur had already changed, leaning against the wall with his lips pursed and the ball loosely held in front of him. The others were shooting him wary glances, knowing damn well that, when Arthur was in a mood, he could be a bit of a bastard. On the other hand, Arthur had shaped them into a brilliant team. He was demanding but he was fair and a great Captain, and no one would have been stupid enough to complain. Well, apart from Valiant, but then he was rather stupid and even he could not deny that Arthur's methods worked.

Two hours later, when Arthur’s teammates left the pitch and stumbled into the showers, they were too exhausted to do much more than grumble under their breath how Arthur was the devil incarnate.

Arthur watched them go with a small smirk and then turned to stroll over the field, collecting the last stray balls they had used to practise their passing. He felt a little lighter but still not settled, and so he set off in a measured pace, running a few more lapses. As always, with the smooth rhythm of his steps and breathing, the world fell away and his mind cleared, but his thoughts still circled around the strange new boy.

Merlin was a mystery – not only the magic, but the way he seemed to push at people and their boundaries. He seemed unpredictable and volatile, and the way he had humiliated Valiant in front of the whole school had been almost cruel. It had been revenge, certainly, but executed with such cold precision that the thought made Arthur shiver a little. And yet, Arthur couldn’t stop thinking that there was something else, something in Merlin's eyes. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there were emotions lingering under the surface, hidden in the blue depths, and Arthur felt drawn to that even more than Merlin's sharp cheekbones and the wicked cupid's bow mouth.

When Arthur was finally done, exhausted and dripping with sweat, the sun was already sinking with a golden glow towards the horizon and the school grounds lay long deserted. So it took Arthur all the more by surprise when he turned around the corner of the gym and found Merlin leaning against the wall, slouching with his shirt tails hanging loose and his hands in his pockets. He was glancing at Arthur sideways from under his black fringe, a cocky smile playing on his lips.

''Well, hello there!'' Merlin drawled, pushing himself off the wall and stepping into Arthur’s way.

Arthur stopped, looking at Merlin warily. ''What are you doing here? School's long out.''

Merlin shrugged, gaze wandering over to the pitch. ''I've heard all about the school's awesome football team and their brilliant captain,''he said casually. ''So I came to see it for myself.'' Shooting Arthur a playful grin, he continued, ''And I have to say, I agree. You looked really good out there. I like your arse in those shorts.''

Taken aback by Merlin's forwardness, Arthur raised his eyebrows. ''Are you always this obnoxious?'' he asked, shaking his head disbelievingly, but Merlin only gave him an innocent look.

''What, can't a guy say what he likes? I thought this school was supposed to be all open and inclusive.''

Arthur narrowed his eyes. ''It is. And sexual harassment is not appreciated.''

Merlin let out a surprised laugh. ''You think I'm harassing you?'' he asked amused.

He took a step closer, right into Arthur's space, and now his smile became almost predatory. Arthur had to clamp down on the urge to move away but he firmly stood his ground, staring Merlin down with his best Pendragon glare. But apparently the other boy wasn't easily intimidated because his smile just turned wider and he raised his eyebrows at Arthur, as if in an suggestive challenge.

''Maybe you would like me to harass you?'' he asked, and suddenly the tingle was back, sliding up Arthur's chest, and then he was pushed backwards almost forcefully, right against the brick wall at his back.

Arthur shot Merlin another glare and tried to move away, but he was held in place by an invisible but firm pressure on his shoulder and hip. Arthur swallowed and nervously licked his lips. His heart was beating wildly and he tried to repress the part of him that apparently thought being manhandled like this was kind of hot.

''You're a sorcerer,'' he said accusingly.

Merlin raised his eyebrows. ''So what if I am?''

''Do you always use your magic like this?'' Arthur asked, unsuccessfully trying to break free again. ''To get your way?'' Anger was bubbling up inside of him once more, at the nonchalance with which Merlin used his powers, at his own helplessness, and his rampant hormones who seemed to respond to Merlin and his magic in completely inappropriate ways. ''What are you going to do now?'' Arthur pressed out with bitter fury. ''Force me to do what you want? I guess you don't mind bullies as long as you're not on the receiving end, do you?''

For a second, Merlin looked almost shocked. Then whatever had been holding Arthur withdrew so quickly it almost made him stumble. Merlin stared at him for another moment, lips pressed into a tight line and eyes unreadable. ''I just wanted to talk, '' he said with a shrug, and then turned away, leaving Arthur standing there, watching Merlin's retreating back with a confusing mixture of relief and disappointment.

~*~

With it being the final year of school, the teachers got right down to business and the amount of homework increased every day. The first football match of the season was also approaching fast, and Arthur set up extra practice to whip his team back into shape after the summer break. Days turned into weeks and, before Arthur knew it, the first month of the school year had passed.

Merlin seemed to have settled into the role of an outsider, somewhere in the no-man's-land between Valiant's clique of hangers-on and Arthur's own group of friends. There was no open hostility towards him – even Valiant had apparently learned his lesson – but most people kept their distance. There was just something about Merlin that put everyone on their guard.

He kept using his magic openly, mostly for little things like summoning a book or heating up his tea and, on one memorable occasion, to write out a chemical formula on the headboard without ever getting up from his seat. But when a girl from a lower form had approached him once, in the first week, asking him to do some magic tricks, he had glared at her and told her he wasn't a party clown, stomping off down the hall in a huff while locker doors kept slamming closed in his wake.

Even with those who dared to talk to him, like Gwaine, Merlin ran hot and cold, and in class he was out-spoken and almost wilfully contrary, which didn't endear him to some of the teachers. Arthur couldn't help but think that he had yet to meet the real Merlin – not that he wanted to. Arthur's life had been perfectly fine before Merlin Emrys had come along. It was just natural curiosity and wariness that had Arthur watching Merlin from time to time.

After the incident behind the gym, Merlin had stopped soliciting him quite so aggressively, but Arthur often found him lurking somewhere in his vicinity, smirking and shooting Arthur suggestive looks whenever their gazes met. Arthur would scowl and Merlin would grin, and his friends would snicker into their hands, which made Arthur want to rip his hair out in frustration. Even worse than the looks were the fleeting touches of magic Arthur was certain he felt brushing against him from time to time. They made a shiver run down his back and his cock harden uncomfortably in his trousers but, when Arthur would turn around, looking for Merlin with a hot glare, the most he would catch of him was his turned back.

It made Arthur feel constantly on edge and there had been more than one guilty wank in the shower or the dark of his room, thinking about the mysterious sorcerer boy. Afterwards, Arthur would feel even more confused and frustrated, because he had no idea why he felt like this: drawn to Merlin when he wasn't even sure he liked him. Was it Merlin's magic or was it just his own stupid hormones that were the cause of his obsession and the raging hard-ons he kept popping at the most inopportune moments?

''Why don't you just go and talk to him?'' Gwaine asked after a few weeks, throwing his hands up. ''It's giving me vicarious sexual frustration just watching the two of you!''

Arthur rolled his eyes. ''I'm so sorry that you can't live out your promiscuous urges vicariously through me, Gwaine, but as much as it might surprise you, the purpose of my life is not to entertain you.''

''Oh, you do entertain me, Princess, don't you worry. I'm just saying – as your friend – go and shag that boy already!''

''Maybe I don't want to shag that obnoxious, big-eared git,'' Arthur scoffed. ''Ever thought of that?''

Gwaine stared at him for a moment, then his eyes moved to a point over Arthur's shoulder and he winced. ''Yeah, keep lying to yourself, Pendragon. Also, you might want to tone it down a little. No need to let the whole school know, right?''

When Arthur turned around with a frown, he once more only saw Merlin's retreating back and his heart sank a little. Then again, it might be better this way, maybe Merlin would stop hanging around him so much now.

Only Merlin didn't. Arthur was trying his best to avoid the other boy and the weird mixture of guilt and temptation he presented, but there just was no shaking Merlin, even though he had started to scowl at Arthur where he previously had been smiling – if a little smugly. The change was strangely disconcerting, especially since Arthur could still feel the tingling touches now and then. It made Arthur tense all the time, as if a thunderstorm was brewing in his neck, and he knew something had to give soon, or he would certainly go mad.

~*~

The storm broke in a completely unexpected way for Arthur because it wasn't the situation with Merlin that came to a head, it was Valiant who finally went over the edge. It might have been that the humiliation he had experienced at Merlin's hand that first day of school sat deeper than Arthur had expected and, because Valiant didn't dare to go up against a sorcerer, he sought another victim.

Arthur had stayed after practice again, trying to run off the tension and sexual frustration, and he was tired and about done with the day. But when he stepped out of the showers and into the locker room, Valiant was waiting for him with two of his lackeys. Gilli was a new addition to the team this year, a left-back who had a tendency to slack off while over-estimating himself and had earned more than one dressing down from Arthur for it. The third boy, Cedric, wasn't even on the team and had no business at all hanging around in the changing rooms.

From the way the three formed a solid wall blocking his way, Arthur immediately had a sense of foreboding. There was a tension in the air, a confrontation looming that had the potential to get ugly. Arthur knew that, while he might be able to take on Valiant, he would definitely have the disadvantage if he had to go up against all three of them. The fact that he was naked apart from a towel loosely slung around his hips, while the others were fully dressed, only helped to emphasise his vulnerability.

''Have you been waiting for me? Or what are you still doing here?'' Arthur asked, trying to sound casual.

''Yeah,'' Valiant said with a mean glint in his eyes. ''I wanted to talk to you.''

Arthur raised his eyebrows. ''All right, let me get dressed and I'll meet you outside.''

''We want to talk now.''

Taking a deep breath, Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and subtly widened his stance. ''What's so important, then, that it can't wait a few more minutes?''

Valiant narrowed his eyes. ''What? Not going to get dressed, Pendragon? We can talk at the same time.''

Arthur shot him an ironic look. ''I'm fine, thank you.''

This seemed to knock Valiant off his stride and he frowned for a moment before he pulled himself up again to full bluster. ''Well... We don't like your faggoty training methods,'' he spat, putting his hands on his hips and making the muscles in his arms bulk out.

''They are the same training methods we used last year, which took us all the way to the championships,'' Arthur reminded him, not raising up to the bait.

''We didn't know you're a faggot then!''

Arthur did his best to hold on to his calm. ''Me being gay doesn't change their efficiency,'' he said sharply.

Valiant sneered. ''There's too much touching involved. We don't want to be groped by a homo.''

Arthur grit his teeth. ''I haven't ever partnered with you during any of them, and I don't plan to. So what, exactly, is your problem, Val?''

Valiant took a step closer, right into Arthur's space. ''We don't like having to watch faggots pawing each other either,'' he hissed.

''We? Cedric isn't even on the team – and shouldn't be in here, by the way,'' he shot the shifty boy a glare before he turned back to Valiant, ''Why don't you come out and say it, Val? This is you having a problem with me.''

''And if it is?''

Arthur raised his chin. ''Then, unless you can come up with any professional concerns, I suggest you get over it or step down from the team.''

''Oh no, Pendragon, I'm not gonna leave the team. But you should because there's no place for faggots!''

That's when the first push came, but Arthur had been expecting it and only stumbled a little before he found his footing again. Balling his hands into fists, he raised them in front of him defensively.

As if they had only waited for this signal to attack, all three of the boys stormed at him. Gilli wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, but he had a lot of brutal strength and Cedric proved enough of an distraction to throw Arthur off his balance They scuffled, and Arthur got a few good punches in, but in the end, it was him being pinned against the wall by five hands, completely starkers after having lost his towel in the fight. Valiant glared at him with triumphant fury and gripped Arthur's hair, banging his head against the wall with so much force that Arthur vision went black for a moment.

He was too disoriented to realise what was happening when he suddenly felt a gust of wind, and then there was a series of bangs as Arthur's attackers flew backwards, crashing into the lockers and slumping to the floor with a chorus of groans and curses.

Trying to clear his vision, Arthur blinked and caught sight of Merlin standing in the doorway. The other boy's eyes were glowing golden and the air was almost crackling with energy around him. Too dumbstruck, Arthur didn't know what to say, all he could do was stare at Merlin with his heart beating wildly in his chest, pumping so much adrenalin through his veins, he felt almost high with it. Merlin stared back and, suddenly, there was a gentle, tingling touch at the corner of Arthur's mouth, moving on to ghost over his left cheekbone. It felt good, like a soothing caress, and for a moment Arthur closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Merlin was gone.

Touching his fingers to his face, Arthur found a smear of blood, but there was no trace of an injury.

~*~

The next days were tense, with Valiant shooting him murderous glares whenever they crossed paths and Arthur struggling to find the best way to deal with it all. He knew that he should report what had happened. Valiant had definitely gone too far this time, who knew whom he would pick as his next punching bag to get rid of the excess frustration and anger issues he had. It would also have given Arthur a good reason to throw Valiant and Gilli off the team. They might not have tried to corner him again, but they had become a disruption, their hatred festering in their midst and spoiling the team's spirit, and Arthur had no illusions about them following his lead from here on out.

Valiant's father was the biggest sponsor of both the school and the team, though, and Arthur was well aware that it would be his word against that of Valiant and his buddies. Unless he wanted to involve Merlin, and he knew how that would end. The fact that Merlin had used his magic to defended Arthur would not endear him to Arthur's father, who was rather adamant about the use of magic and had made his opinion of Merlin perfectly clear. So that put Arthur in a bit of a bind.

Merlin, on the other hand, seemed to have turned the tables on Arthur and was now studiously avoiding him. Arthur had not even managed to thank him for his help, yet. To Arthur's chagrin, this proved to be even more frustrating than being practically stalked by the strange sorcerer boy had been before.

It was almost a week before Arthur finally felt it again. Resting under his favourite oak tree during lunch break, he was enjoying the last warm rays of the autumn sun filtering through the turning leaves when there was suddenly a gentle brush through his hair. At first, Arthur almost didn't recognise it, putting it down to the breeze sweeping over the grounds. Then a soft tingle crept up from his foot, winding around his leg and reaching up his thigh, and Arthur sat up with a start, looking around wildly. His eyes found Merlin almost immediately, standing a good ten yards away and staring straight at Arthur. A second later, it was as if he woke from a daze, shaking himself and quickly turning away, but Arthur decided that he had about enough. He jumped up and stormed after the other boy, catching him at the elbow and dragging him back around.

''What the hell do you think you're doing?'' he hissed, his heart racing from a strange mixture of frustration and arousal.

''What are you talking about?'' Merlin shot back defiantly, trying to pull away, but Arthur dug his fingers into the slighter boy's flesh, holding fast. In a way, it felt good to see Merlin squirm for once.

''You know bloody well what I'm talking about!'' Arthur growled. ''I'm talking about you creeping up on me like this, touching me with that... that... weird power of yours.''

Merlin's eyes widened. He looked almost a little frightened now and started to struggle even harder. ''Let me go!'' he spat. ''I haven't done anything to you!''

Furious that he wouldn't even admit to his actions, Arthur grabbed Merlin's other arm too, shaking him a little. The next moment, he was lying on his back in the grass, squinting up at a pale and shocked looking Merlin, who mumbled, ''I've got to go,'' before he turned and ran.

Arthur stared after him, getting up and dusting off his trousers with angry brushes, before he turned and stomped off into the other direction.

His righteous feelings of outrage didn't hold for very long, though. Soon enough Arthur remembered that he had been planning to thank Merlin for his help the other day. Instead, he had thrown accusations around - about something that might very well just be a figment of his imagination even. Merlin's mixed signals and weird attitude of secrecy and bluntness were obviously driving Arthur half mad.

When he didn't see Merlin all through the rest of the day and the next one, Arthur first thought the other boy had just gone back to avoiding him. But when Merlin didn't show up for their shared class of History, a nagging worry started to settle in Arthur's stomach, and so he went up to the teacher's desk after lesson.

''Mr. Kilgharrah?''

''Yes, Arthur?''

''I just wondered whether you knew the reason for Merlin Emrys' absence?''

The old dragon regarded Arthur with keen eyes for a moment. ''I'm afraid, Mr. Emrys is suffering some severe health problems. I don't know when he'll be able to attend school again. But since you've been so kind to ask, I'm sure you won't mind taking him his homework, would you?''

Mr. Kilgharrah didn't wait for an answer; he just pushed a bunch of papers into Arthur's hands before clapping him on the shoulder. ''It's good to see that the two of you are getting along,'' he said cryptically and also – obviously – incorrectly, but he left before Arthur could answer him and put him straight.

With a frown Arthur looked down at the class work in his hands and sighed. He supposed it wouldn't be too much trouble to drive by Merlin's house later that day.

~*~

Arthur got Merlin's address from his father's secretary. It was a little out of his way, outside of town, but only about fifteen minutes by car, so Arthur didn't feel like complaining. It was a beautiful sunny October day and, since he had his license for only a little over two months, taking a drive hadn't turned into a hardship, yet. He hummed along the music as he drove, his good mood only depleting a little when he parked in front of a small but well-maintained house with neat flower beds in the front yard. Suddenly, Arthur felt awfully nervous, remembering that Merlin and him hadn't exactly parted on good terms the last time they'd seen each other. Maybe Arthur could just give the papers to one of Merlin's parents and be off again.

Stepping out of the car with some apprehension, Arthur walked up the drive to the front door and rang the bell. He shifted a little on his feet and was just contemplating leaving the stuff on the step when the door was pulled open and a middle-aged woman with kind eyes and greying hair looked up at him, smiling questioningly.

''Yes?''

''Uh... Hello. My name is Arthur Pendragon, I'm in Merlin's class and I've brought him his home--''

The woman's eyes lit up. ''You're a friend of Merlin!'' she exclaimed much too happily for Arthur to have the heart to correct her. There was really nothing for him to do but obey when she pulled the door open the rest of the way, motioning for him to step inside.

''Come in, come in,'' she said and went ahead into what looked like a very cosy kitchen. ''Would you like some tea, dear? I'm afraid Merlin's still with the therapist.''

Arthur frowned. He had thought Merlin was having a cold or maybe a stomach bug, but that wouldn't usually require a therapist. Feeling awkward, he cleared his throat. ''Oh. Well, I don't know, I wouldn't want to intrude...''

''Nonsense. I'm happy to finally meet one of Merlin's friends. He's become so withdrawn after what happened.''

Not knowing what she was referring to, Arthur just nodded. He probably wouldn't describe Merlin as withdrawn so much as obnoxious, sneaky and probably slightly creepy, but that was certainly not something Arthur would tell his mother.

''I heard he was ill,'' he said diplomatically, mostly to fill the silence while Merlin's mother prepared the tea.

''Well, something must have upset him day before last. It's always worse when he gets upset. So we decided he should take a few extra sessions with the therapist until he felt better again.''

''Ah...'' Arthur fidgeted, looking around the room. His eyes caught on a framed picture hanging over the kitchen table. It showed Merlin and an older man who resembled him greatly, most likely his father. What shocked Arthur, though, was the expression on Merlin's face: it was open and cheerful, happy even. It was an expression that Arthur had never seen on the other boy's face and therefore seemed completely foreign.

''Ah, yes.'' Merlin's mum stepped up next to him, pressing a cup of tea into his hands. ''That's Merlin's father. It was taken only a few weeks before the attack.'' Her voice trembled and Arthur looked at her with shocked confusion.

Merlin's mother smiled at him sadly. ''He didn't tell you, did he? My husband... Merlin's father, he was very outspoken, advocating equal rights for sorcerers. A radical fundamentalist attacked him and he was killed. That was a little over six months ago. Merlin was with him that day, and he got injured as well. He survived but... he's not been the same since. The trauma of the attack and losing his father... anyone would have a hard time coping with that. But Merlin is a sorcerer, a very powerful one. His magic has always been fuelled by his emotions and it hasn't been easy for him to control it since. I thought he had greatly improved ever since we came here, though. I thought—.''

Suddenly, there was a crash behind them, and Arthur whipped around to see a pale and shaken looking Merlin standing in the door, blue shards of porcelain scattered on the floor at his feet.

''What are you doing here?'' Merlin asked, his voice trembling. He was staring right at Arthur and the fury in his eyes pierced Arthur like the blade of a knife. ''Are you spying on me now?''

Arthur blinked, taken aback. ''I— I brought you your homework.''

''And that allows you to sniff around in my life?'' Merlin balled his hands into fists and pressed his lips together. His eyes flickered with that golden glow again and it was as if the light in the room dimmed. Arthur threw a nervous glance out of the window, where the bright autumn day had given way to a dark gloom.

''Merlin—'' his mother started anxiously, but he didn't even seem to hear her.

Merlin's breaths were coming in harsh gasps, and his whole body shook. But his voice was sharp and clear as ice, making Arthur think of broken mirrors when he snarled, ''Well, now you know how much of a freak I really am! A renegade sorcerer who can't even control his magic. Why don't you run and tell your father, huh? He's been waiting for a reason to throw me out ever since I started at his stupid school.''

''What? Why would he—?''

''He told me that I should stay away from you! Well, guess what, I'd love to stay away from you if my stupid magic would let me!''

Arthur had no idea what Merlin was talking about, but it was clear that he was really upset. Arthur was unable to pull his gaze away from him. Merlin's eyes were glistening with unshed tears and sparkling with gold while his hair was standing on end as if by electrical charge; he looked beautiful and terrifying, powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Outside it had started to rain, heavy drops hitting the window panes, and there was thunder rolling in the distance.

''Merlin...'' Arthur started uncertainly, searching for words. ''I'm sorry, I—''

''You're sorry?'' Merlin choked out, tears finally spilling down his cheeks, and he wiped at them angrily. ''Why would you be sorry, Arthur? Fuck you! I don't need your pity!''

He turned around and stormed out, banging the front door behind him a moment later. Arthur looked at Merlin's mother helplessly. She had a hand pressed to her mouth and tears in her eyes.

''I... I think I'd better go now,'' Arthur mumbled awkwardly. ''I'm sorry... for all of this. Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Emrys.''

When he stepped outside, the storm had only increased, wind ripping leaves off of from the bending trees and the rain coming down in heavy sheets that had Arthur soaked from the short sprint to his car alone. The rational part of his mind wanted to reject the idea as preposterous, but deep inside he suspected that the wind and the rain was Merlin's doing, that it was his anger and misery that caused this havoc, and his heart ached for the other boy.

Shivering, Arthur turned the ignition and pulled away from the curb, driving slowly since he could hardly see the street in front of him through the rain pelting down on his windscreen. The wipers were barely able to handle the onslaught.

After a few minutes, the headlights caught on someone walking along the side of the road, and Arthur was grateful he'd been cautious because he might have run them over otherwise. The person was nothing but a blurry shadow, but Arthur's heart started to beat faster, a mixture of hope and agitation twisting in his stomach. He slowed down to a crawl beside the lonely figure, and saw that it was indeed Merlin stomping through the rain, his eyes focussed on the road ahead of him.

When Arthur let down the window, Merlin stopped and shot him an angry glare. His hair was plastered to his head and his clothes were sticking to his skin. The golden sparkle of magic was still burning in his eyes. For a moment the two just stared at each other silently through the falling rain.

Finally Arthur sighed. ''Get in, already, would you?''

Merlin just kept glaring. ''Why?''

''Because you're soaked.''

Merlin shrugged, mouth pulling into a mulish scowl. ''What do you care?''

''I feel like it's my civic duty to keep idiots from drowning themselves in the streets and catching pneumonia on top of that.''

''Thanks, but I don't need your help,'' Merlin spat, crossing his arms over his chest, which was clad in only a thin t-shirt. He was shivering but stubbornly raised his chin and looked off to the side.

Arthur sighed, running a hand through his wet hair in frustration. ''Look,'' he started, not really sure where he was going but unwilling to just leave Merlin standing in the rain like that. ''I... I'd like to talk to you. Properly. And I don't fancy getting out in that piss. So... would you please get in?''

Merlin scowled some more. But then the sudden, bright flash of a lightning threw the world into stark relief for a second and Merlin huffed, reaching out to pull the passenger door open. He flopped down into the seat with a wet, squishing sound but didn't look up at Arthur, his arms wrapped around himself defiantly. Although it was just as possible that he was simply cold and didn't want to admit it. Arthur gazed up at the sky through the blurry windscreen.

''Did you do that?''

''Hmm?''

''The rainstorm. It came on rather sudden.''

He glanced over at Merlin and found him staring down at his hands. Water was dripping from his dark fringe. ''Didn't do it on purpose,'' Merlin mumbled.

''Can you make it stop?''

The other boy choked out a bitter laugh. ''No. Wouldn't be much of a problem if it were that easy.'' Giving Arthur a challenging look, he continued more fiercely, ''But I won't hide what I am. My dad taught me to be proud of it. Magic... It's who I am. It's my heritage. I shouldn't need to feel ashamed for it.''

Arthur shook his head, looking at Merlin seriously. ''No... no you shouldn't.'' 

''So you really can't control it at all?'' he asked when Merlin didn't say anything else.

Merlin shrugged. His shoulders were even more bony in the wet t-shirt sticking to his frame. ''Sometimes. Not all of the time. Only when I... you know... feel too much shit and stuff.''

Judging from the tempest outside, Merlin was apparently feeling a lot of shit and stuff at the moment. It would have been a little frightening, if Merlin hadn't looked like a drowned, miserable cat, instead of the wild creature of magic he'd been, standing outside in the storm. Arthur had never heard of a sorcerer who could change the weather, though; Merlin had to be really powerful. Which brought up all kinds of questions that Arthur felt he really needed answers to, but had no idea how to phrase them.

''Was... Was that what happened with me?'' he finally asked apprehensively.

Merlin made a face and glanced up at him through his lashes. They were wet and stuck together from the rain. His eyes were very blue. ''It's... Actually, it's better with you,'' he said, as if he was reluctant to admit it.

''What do you mean 'It's better'?''

Merlin heaved a sigh and turned towards the window at his left, staring out into the darkness of the rainstorm. ''There's... like a danger zone around me,'' he said quietly. ''If I get angry or really upset... things just happen. But it's gotten better lately. Whenever you are there... my magic... It's like it's calming down, or maybe it's just distracted, I don't know. It likes you.'' He threw Arthur a wry look. ''Don't quite know why, think you're a bit of a prat myself.''

Letting out a surprised chuckle, Arthur ducked his head. From the corner of his eye, he saw Merlin turn back towards him, pulling one of his long legs up in front of him.

''I... I didn't mean to harass you,'' Merlin said, sounding a little rueful. ''I tried to rein it in, but sometimes I didn't even realise it was happening. My magic would just reach out for you as if by instinct.''

Arthur looked at him in amusement. ''You mean your magic likes to use me as a cuddly toy?''

''Well, that's a bit--''

''Or maybe rather a sex toy.''

Merlin narrowed his eyes. ''See? That, right there? A total prat. I don't get it at all!''

Arthur grinned; suddenly, he was starting to feel much more cheerful. ''Oh come on, Merlin,'' he teased. ''I'm just trying to understand how this works. Because it can't all have been your magic, can it? When you told Gwaine you had your sights on me? Or the thing about liking my arse? That wasn't magic. That was you.''

Merlin huffed and rolled his eyes. ''Okay. So I might have thought you were slightly attractive. That first day. Then, of course, I got to know you and realised how much of a clotpole you were.''

Arthur laughed. But there was still something niggling at the back of his mind that he couldn't let go. Squinting at Merlin, he worried his bottom lip for a moment. ''So... when your magic wanted to cuddle me or something...'' he started hesitantly. ''Would that have made me feel things?''

Merlin wrinkled his forehead in confusion. ''What kind of things?''

Shifting in his seat a little, Arthur felt a suspicious heat creeping up his cheeks. He had no idea how to explain this without making a complete fool out of himself. But apparently Merlin wasn't as clueless as he looked because he started to blink and Arthur could see the exact moment when the penny dropped because, suddenly, there was a wide grin spreading over Merlin's face.

''You... wait a second. Did it get you hot? Did you like it?''

Arthur coughed and spluttered a little. Opening his mouth, he was ready to deny any such thing but, when he saw Merlin's happy smile, he knew he didn't have the heart. Instead, he shrugged awkwardly.

Merlin's smile turned even brighter. ''It doesn't work like that,'' he explained after a moment, obviously feeling the need to reassure Arthur. ''My magic. It couldn't make you feel anything, even if I wanted to. And I wouldn't. I would never do something like that.''

The look in his eyes was hopeful, almost a little beseeching, and Arthur couldn't help but believe him. ''Then I guess that was all me,'' he said, rubbing at his bottom lip with an embarrassed grimace.

''Told you I'd be hard to resist!'' Merlin raised his eyebrows at him with a cheeky grin.

Arthur rolled his eyes and scoffed. ''You're totally not my type,'' he said dismissively, turning away to hide the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. ''Too scrawny. And your ears are ridiculous.''

''Yeah? That's too bad. Then you probably wouldn't be into it if I kissed you now, right?''

Arthur could practically hear the insolent grin in Merlin's voice, but when he glanced at him from the corner of his eye, the expression on the other boy's face made him falter. It had been unfamiliar before, but now he recognised it. It was the same open happiness he had seen Merlin display in the picture with his dad.

''Well...'' Arthur said, knowing he was defeated and not minding all that much. ''Your mouth isn't so bad, I guess.''

Merlin laughed. It was a happy sound, but the look in his eyes was still a little uncertain when he reached out and touched the tips of his fingers to Arthur's lips. ''I like yours, too,'' he whispered.

Arthur shivered. Merlin's fingers were cold but they still felt like they were searing Arthur's skin. He leaned into the touch, and then leaned into Merlin even further, until their lips brushed softly against each other and then more insistently, capturing and catching one another in growing urgency.

Merlin tasted of rain and something bittersweet that was full of promises and longing. His lips were cold too, but when he parted them, opening up to Arthur, his mouth was hot and glorious, like the sun coming out from behind the heavy clouds. Combing his hands into Merlin's wet locks, he pulled the other boy closer, mapping the cavern of his mouth with his tongue while trailing his fingers over the rain damp skin on Merlin's neck and jaw. He was eager to memorize every taste and every texture, wanting to wrap Merlin up and consume him and shelter him at the same time.

''Need to get out of these clothes,'' Merlin panted against his lips, and all Arthur could do was nod because, yes, that sounded like an excellent idea.

They pulled their shirts over their heads in unison and then smiled at each other, blushing with sheepish excitement before tentatively reaching out to touch and admire and explore. Merlin's body was slender, his long arms wiry and his hands almost graceful, and he wasn't shy at all. Running his fingers sensually up Arthur's arms and over his collarbones, he left burning tingles of his magic on Arthur's rain-cooled skin.

Arthur was desperately hard from that touch and the sight of Merlin alone, and he leaned in to capture Merlin's lips with his own again, letting his hand wander up to Merlin's chest, where a dark scattering of soft hair spread over his pectorals and circled his nipples. They pebbled under his touch, and Arthur felt the urge to bend down and lick at them just to see how they would taste.

When he did, Merlin moaned, clutching at Arthur's shoulders. Hmm... sweet and salty, Arthur thought, which seemed to fit Merlin and all the contradictions he presented.

''Do you like that?'' Arthur asked, his breath ghosting over the small nub, worrying it with his teeth a little, and Merlin swallowed heavily, nodding.

He turned to Merlin's other nipple, letting his hands glide down Merlin's sides to grab his hips and hold them firm. ''Should probably lose the trousers, too,'' he mumbled. ''Don't want you to catch pneumonia, remember?''

''Hngh,'' Merlin croaked, less than coherent, ''I believe you said it was your civic duty to prevent that.''

Shooting him a devious grin, Arthur unbuckled Merlin's belt and took hold of his arse, signalling for him to raise his hips, so he could pull off the jeans and boxers. Merlin bend down to slip out of his shoes and then turned around to Arthur again. Sitting in the passenger seat, naked and still a little wet, he was shockingly beautiful and Arthur's heart might have made a painful lurch just then.

Swallowing, he dropped his gaze down to Merlin's cock, which rose long and proud from between his legs, begging for attention. He licked his lips and shot Merlin a hesitant look, finding him watching Arthur with hooded eyes, while biting his lip in hopeful expectation.

It wasn't that Arthur didn't want to. The sight of Merlin's cock was actually pretty delicious and he was curious to touch and taste and do all the things he had only ever fantasised about. But the gear stick and hand break were in the way and there was no room to move and, really, this wasn't going to work like this.

''Back seat?'' Arthur asked with a wry smile, and Merlin grinned back, nodding eagerly.

He got up on his knees and then climbed into the back, mumbling a cheeky, ''Better get rid off your own pants while your at it!'' into Arthur's ear.

Arthur hardly registered the words, though, because he was struck dumb by the sight of Merlin's naked arse. Staring at the two pale globes, parted by a mesmerizing cleft running down to Merlin's balls, was giving Arthur all kind of ideas and he swallowed hard before he quickly wrangled his wet jeans and boxer briefs down his thighs and kicked off his shoes. Then he followed Merlin, who was stretching out on the back seat, propping himself up on his elbows, his long legs bent. He looked like a feast or a very delectable dessert with his pale skin and dark tousled hair and that long, pink cock, begging for Arthur to suck it.

''How do we...?'' Arthur asked hesitantly and Merlin smiled, scooting down a little.

''How about you come here and kneel over me?'' he asked with a lasciviously raised eyebrow, biting his plumb bottom lip – and, god, yes, Arthur wanted that mouth on his cock more than he had ever wanted anything.

Getting into position proved a little challenging on the narrow back seat, but once Arthur had his knees planted on both sides of Merlin's chest any awkwardness was soon forgotten. Merlin took hold of Arthur's hips, guiding him backwards and then there was a hot tongue licking up his balls all the way to his rock hard cock. Arthur shuddered, leaning forwards with a desperate groan. Merlin's own cock was right in front of him and he wrapped his fingers around it, giving it a few experimental strokes. It felt different than his own, but still close enough to be familiar.

''Ngh, yes, feels so good...'' Merlin moaned. ''But, Arthur, please... want your mouth... please...''

''Yeah? Want me to suck you?''

''Yes! Please, come on!''

Arthur was too eager to make Merlin beg any longer, but that didn't mean he couldn't tease a little. Opening his mouth he licked with one broad stroke from the base of Merlin's cock all the way up to the tip, swirling his tongue around the head, but not taking it in his mouth yet.

''Arthurrrr...'' Merlin groaned, bucking his hips desperately, but Arthur held him down with firm hands.

''Aren't you forgetting something, Merlin?''

''Yes, yes, I'll suck you too, you giant prat, but now come on, please!''

Chuckling, Arthur opened further and then sunk down on Merlin's cock as far as he could, pressing his tongue against the hot length of it and hollowing his cheeks, sucking gently. Merlin whimpered a little, but then took hold of Arthur's throbbing prick and guided it to his lips. For a moment Arthur just felt them brushing softly against the head, but then his cock was engulfed in a glorious, wet heat and he hummed in pleasure. In response to that, Merlin dug his fingers into his arse so hard it was almost painful. It was a heady mixture, though, the pain adding an edge to the pleasure and so Arthur didn't complain and just kept sucking, trailing one hand further down to cup Merlin's balls and then rub one finger along that smooth stretch of skin that led to his small, wrinkled pucker.

It became push and pull then. Arthur was working Merlin's cock with lips and tongue, and a firm grip around the base, bringing him to the cusp of orgasm, while Merlin grabbed Arthur's arse, parting his cheeks and started lapping at his hole. Arthur choked a little, half from embarrassment and half from a hot bolt of lust that shot straight to his cock, and started to massage Merlin's pucker more insistently until he could push one finger in to the first knuckle while he gently suckled on the head of Merlin's cock, pressing his tongue against the slit and lapping up the salty drops of pre-cum.

He felt Merlin shudder and sigh, his breath ghosting over Arthur's cock, and Arthur went down on him until he nearly gagged, sucking hungrily and digging his fingers into Merlin's arse. Merlin shouted and bucked and then he came, bursts of salty cum spilling over Arthur's tongue, and Arthur swallowed almost without hesitation.

He was breathless and still painfully hard when he let Merlin's softening prick slip from his lips with one last lick, and swallowed heavily when Merlin hummed a little, like a happy Cheshire cat, trailing one finger up and down Arthur's cleft.

''Merlin...''

''Yes, Arthur?''

Arthur hung his head with a desperate laugh. ''Come on, please..''

Merlin's chuckle was like a whisper against his skin, and it kept trailing further, up Arthur's side and over his chest, back down his thighs and towards his groin. It took Arthur a moment to realise that it was not Merlin's breath at all, couldn't be, but that it was his magic. That thought alone made Arthur harden impossibly further. He imagined Merlin, down between Arthur's legs, eyes glowing with that mysterious golden light and his heart sped up in anticipation.

It was like a dozen pairs of hands touching him, but Arthur felt secure in the knowledge that they all belonged to Merlin. They combed through his hair, pulling a little, and twisted a nipple, which pulled a choked moan from Arthur's throat. They trailed along his spine, and further down to his hole, massaged the cheeks of his arse and then, finally, grabbed his cock firmly, stroking it with just the right amount of pressure.

''Merlin... oh god, Merlin... what...''

Arthur didn't have the words, his whole body was thrumming with sensation and liquid fire was pooling in his belly like a star about to go nova. The need to come was almost painful now. He was certain that he had never before been this hard and desperate, and he was so, so close, but something was missing still, something he needed.

''Merlin, please, need you to touch me. You, Merlin... please,'' Arthur sobbed, beyond caring.

He was pushed on his side then, and Merlin wriggled out from under him, scooting up until he could wrap his arms around Arthur and press hot, hungry kisses to his lips. His magic was still tingling all over Arthur's skin, but it was Merlin's fingers, firm and warm, that wrapped around Arthur's length and stroked him, a little clumsily but perfect, and Arthur came with a choked cry, burying his face into Merlin's shoulder.

~*~

They lay entwined, after, chest to chest, and Arthur could feel Merlin's heart beating against his skin just like, he imagined, Merlin must be able to feel his. They didn't speak, just held each other quietly, listening to the rain drops falling outside, gentle and almost hypnotic, now that the storm had abated.

Trailing his fingers lazily through Merlin's hair, Arthur thought that this, them, wasn't at all how he had imagined falling in love would be. He had not expected it to be so all-consuming, almost burning him up from the inside out. Pressing a soft kiss to Merlin's lips and breathing him in, he realised that Merlin smelled like the rainstorm. Fresh and brisk, exciting and just a little bit dangerous. And yet, Arthur felt safe, completely certain that Merlin would never harm him. His magic liked Arthur and wanted him – because Merlin did.

''I should probably take you home,'' Arthur said after a while. ''Your mum must be worried.''

''Hmm,'' Merlin mumbled, casting a  reluctant look outside. ''Could you... I mean, would you maybe like to stay for dinner? I'm sure Mum wouldn't mind.''

Arthur looked down at him with an amused smile. ''So you and your magic can cuddle me a bit more?''

Blushing, Merlin pressed his face into the crook of Arthur's neck and elbowed him in the side. ''Prat,'' he said affectionately.

Arthur chuckled. ''I guess I wouldn't mind. And your mum seemed nice.''

''She is.''

''I'm sorry about your father,'' Arthur said quietly.

''Thank you. It's... been hard.''

''I know. And for what's it worth, I'm sorry about my father, too.''

''It's fine,'' Merlin sighed. ''I can understand where he's coming from. He thinks I'm dangerous, and he wants to protect you. Wants you to be safe.''

Arthur shook his head and, leaning over Merlin with a grin, pressed him back down into the seat. ''Being safe,'' he whispered against his lips, ''is totally overrated.''