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How the Other Half Lives

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Tired and preoccupied, Merlin was on his way back to the homeless teen hostel where he lived when he heard a little boy’s voice: “I ain’t done nothing!”.

Merlin heaved a sigh. His pal Dalton was in trouble again. He hustled in the direction of the voice.

Dalton was a fancy name for a scruffy little kid whose mum was too overwhelmed with her two jobs and five older brothers and sisters to pay attention to her youngest. Merlin had taken him under his wing, mostly because Dalton had glommed onto Merlin like glaze on a donut. Merlin didn’t mind, because Dalton was pretty good company and to tell the truth, Merlin was often lonely. He hadn’t made any friends at the hostel. It was hard to know who to trust and everyone was out for themselves.

Trouble was, Dalton had a habit of liberating people’s belongings, which was likely the cause of the current altercation. At the corner shop, Merlin came upon two teenage boys who shoved Dalton up against the brick wall so his small feet dangled in their ragged trainers. Dalton kicked and screamed and protested his innocence, but the boys were clearly irate.

Merlin wanted to get back to the hostel so he could do his homework. He was in a special course for drop-outs who wanted to take A-levels and his every breathing moment was taken up with revising. He wanted to become a doctor eventually and he had a long way to go. But Dalton needed help.

“What’s going on here?” Merlin demanded, trying to make himself sound bigger than he actually was.

All three boys looked at him, Dalton with relief and embarrassment, his assailants with irritation.

“None of your business,” the taller of the two boys said.

“This punk tried to steal my wallet,” the shorter boy said, getting in Dalton’s face and practically spitting at him.

“What you going to do about it?” the taller one said, looking Merlin up and down before continuing to harass Dalton as if Merlin wasn’t even there. Dalton glanced wild-eyed at Merlin, his bravado failing for once.

“Come on, he’s only eight,” Merlin pleaded. “Pick on someone your own size, why don’t you?”

The taller boy, hair teased into an impressive quiff, smirked and abruptly let go of Dalton, leaving his pal to keep Dalton pinned to the wall with beefy hands. “You’re gonna regret saying that, mate.” The boy took a couple of steps toward Merlin, his hands fisted. Merlin tried to avoid fights as a rule, but he wasn’t afraid to get in one if necessary, even though he wasn’t particularly good. He crouched down and shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet. Adrenaline sizzled in his muscles. But quick as a flash, the tall boy landed a punch to his face.

Pain burst in Merlin’s eye and he stumbled back, clutching at it. Dark spots swam in his vision. “Ow! Fuck.”

The shorter boy laughed and the tall boy threw him a self-satisfied grin when Merlin recovered enough to grab his shoulder and hit him in the solar plexus. The boy let out a grunt and glared at Merlin with dead fish eyes. “Forget the kid, Harry.”

Harry dropped Dalton with an almost gleeful expression. As he stalked over to join his friend, Dalton grabbed the back of his shirt to pull him back. Harry shook him off like dandruff and Dalton fell on his face on the rough pavement.

“Merlin!” Dalton cried. “Run!”

Now it was two against one. As the boys circled him, Merlin was undecided whether to fight or flee. These boys were better fighters and had a lot more muscle, not to mention his eye hurt and he could feel blood trickling down his cheek. He didn’t want to leave Dalton. But he couldn’t very well carry him and he didn’t think the kid could keep up with him if it came to a flat-out run.

All at once the corner shop proprietor, a rotund man with a turban, burst out of the store. “Take it somewhere else, boys. You’re blocking my customers. I’ve got the police on speed dial.” He held up his mobile to show them and flicked at the screen.

Harry and his friend looked at each other and lowered their arms. The tall one squinted at Merlin and made a rude gesture. “This isn’t the end of this, poofter. We know you’re at that hostel. And we’re keeping an eye on your pet here too.” He nudged Harry’s arm. “Come on.” They strutted away a few steps, then Harry lit a cigarette and threw it at Merlin, walking backwards and laughing. It hit Merlin on the arm but the lit end didn’t touch him. “Better get back to your books, bum boy.” He slapped his friend on the back and they jogged away.

Merlin’s eye throbbed and he wiped his bloody face on his sleeve. At least they were gone and Dalton was safe.

“You okay, Merlin?” Dalton asked, looking up at him.

He wasn’t really sure; he felt dizzy and a bit woozy. His blood still sang from the encounter. But he said, “I’ll be fine. You need to get home.”

“Why?”

“Your mum’s probably looking for you.”

“No, she isn’t. She lets me do what I want.” He kicked at a piece of crumbling pavement, then picked up the cigarette Harry had thrown.

Merlin sighed. No point in lying to Dalton. He grabbed Dalton’s hand and headed in the direction of his flat. “Well, I’m taking you home anyway. Those boys might come back to look for you. Besides, I need to keep you out of trouble. Why’d you choose those two to pickpocket? You need to learn to use your head.”

Dalton ignored him and held up the cigarette. “Can I have this?”

“No.” Merlin grabbed it and threw it far into the street.

“You’re no fun.”

“Is that why you want to hang out with me all the time?”

Dalton swung their hands. “Somebody needs to teach you the ways of the street. It’s a jungle out there and you need protecting.”

“I do, do I?”

“Yeah. You know about King Arthur and the Round Table? We read about him in school.”

“Sure.”

“Well, I’m like one of his knights. I go around saving people, with swords and stuff.”

“Are you saying I’m like a damsel in distress? I’m wounded, Sir Dalton, wounded to the core.”

“Well, you’re a Merlin in distress.”

Merlin was quiet for a moment. “Actually, you’re right about that, Dalton. But hopefully I won’t be for long. I’m studying for a big test and if I pass, I might get to become a doctor.”

Dalton looked up at him. “A doctor? Really? Doctor Merlin. I like the sound of that. I think you’d be a great doctor. Would you be a doctor for kids?”

“Maybe. Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. Got to pass the test first.”

“Doctor Merlin and Sir Dalton. We could save people together.”

Merlin laughed, even though his eye was hurting more and more. “We’d be a great team. As good as any other doctor/knight team in the kingdom.”

 

He delivered Dalton to his building and, after some scathing rebuke from Dalton’s mum, who somehow blamed Merlin for all the scrapes her son got into, he finally continued on his way home to the hostel. His rucksack felt like it weighed as much as Dalton. His face hurt and it was still bleeding, which was worrying but he didn’t have the energy to visit the A & E. Gwen could probably patch him up. He’d suffered worse.

Red let him in when he buzzed the hostel door. Merlin must have been holding everything in as he walked home because as soon as he got inside, the injury felt a lot worse. He pressed his hand against his eye and he could feel the sticky, congealing mess of dried and fresh blood. It probably looked worse than it was. Annoyingly, some stranger who looked like he’d gotten lost on the way to Eton or Oxford, all smooth, clean clothes and shining blond hair, forced paper towels on him while Red hovered and looked concerned through his scraggly 50’s era Fidel Castro beard.

“I’m fine,” Merlin said, shrugging them off. “It’s nothing.” When he saw the amount of red on the paper towels, however, he felt a tad faint. He was grudgingly grateful when the blond guy pulled him over to the sofa and sat him down. He looked to be a couple of years older than Merlin and surveyed him with a mixture of curiosity and shock as he sat down next to Merlin, the bloodied paper towels crushed in his hand.

“Who are you then?” Merlin blurted out.

“I’m Arthur. I’m...visiting.”

Definitely posh. “Visiting?” Merlin couldn’t help noticing the way Arthur’s t-shirt clung to his muscled chest. But otherwise, everything about him put Merlin right off. “Or do you mean slumming?”

Arthur threw him a self-deprecating grin. “I suppose you could put it that way. My dad thought I could use some education in how the other half lives. Thought I was skiving off too much.” Arthur looked down at the paper towels, then back at Merlin. “Just here for the night.”

Merlin touched his face again and brought his hand away to see if it was still bleeding. There finally seemed to be less seepage. “Yeah, you definitely look like you’re in the wrong place.”

“I’d say so.” Arthur snorted.

Merlin found himself smiling at Arthur because he really did look absurdly out of place. Yet there was something curiously charming about him, even more so when Arthur’s face started turning pink under Merlin’s scrutiny.

 

Merlin took a shower, relieved to get the blood and grime off, then pulled on a t-shirt and shorts and went to brush his teeth. That idiot Arthur was there, brushing his teeth in front of the mirror. His duffle bag was splayed open on the bench over to the side, wallet in plain sight. This irked Merlin. He hesitated, tempted to leave it there and teach the prat a lesson when it inevitably got stolen, but his better side prevailed. Noting the packet of lube sticking out provocatively, he chucked the wallet at Arthur’s (nicely muscled) back.

“Hey!”

Merlin enjoyed Arthur’s annoyed glare. “You should be more careful of your stuff,” he said. The guy seemed to have no idea of the kind of people who stayed here. Out of nowhere, images of Arthur using that lube rose in his mind.

“If you need to get rid of that lube, I can help out.” Fuck, where did that come from?

Arthur caught Merlin’s eye in the mirror, then turned around slowly. “Is that right?” He leaned against the sink, his hips thrust out.

Merlin cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, I mean, it looks like you should clean out your wallet, and someone around here might need it, and well…” Merlin’s face was hot. He didn’t know what he was saying and he was suddenly incredibly irritated with this annoying, smug prat. “Why are you here, anyway? I know, your daddy sent you, but it’s not like you’re Prince William or something.”

Arthur shifted and he set his jaw. “Not to babysit assholes like you, that’s for sure,” he said, then turned to start brushing his teeth energetically.

Merlin fumed and bolted out of the bathroom. At least the guy was only here until tomorrow.

 

The next day he went to his classes as usual, glad to have a day free of drama. Maths was the one subject that always caused him trouble. He frowned as the teacher went through the problems, wondering why his answers were so different. He heaved a sigh and wrote down the correct ones. He’d have to review it all when he got back to the hostel. He needed to master this material if he was going to become a doctor.

That night when he started to get ready for bed, he opened his duffle and found a box of chocolates. Not the cheap kind you could buy at Boots, but nice ones in a silver gilt box with fancy script. Weird. Then he remembered Arthur and the incident with the wallet and the lube. He felt all hot again, with that ridiculous combination of excitement and embarrassment and suspicion that Arthur aroused in him.

He opened the box, just to see what expensive chocolates looked like. His heart raced when he saw a pile of crisp pound notes. Not even singles: tens. Several of them. What the fuck.

Merlin shoved the top back on the box. He didn’t want anyone to see that. It would be gone in the wink of an eye. Why did Arthur give him a box full of money? What did he want from him? Merlin put the box back in his duffel to keep it from prying eyes and zipped it back up. He’d have to keep a good eye on it until he was able to give it back to Arthur.

That night he couldn’t get to sleep, the duffle clasped against his chest. He kept replaying the scene with Arthur in the bathroom over and over in his mind, seeing Arthur turn when Merlin mentioned the lube, and the glint in his eye. His stomach roiled when he thought of the money inside the box of chocolate. It was so much. The more he thought about it, the more angry he felt, at Arthur’s presumptions and what they meant.

 

Merlin stoked his anger throughout the next day with thoughts of throwing the money in Arthur's entitled face as soon as he saw him. Arthur had said he'd be at the hostel until evening. He stuffed the bills in his pocket to keep them safe, the big wad a constant reminder as he tried to concentrate on his school work. After classes were over, he found Arthur in the kitchen peeling potatoes.

He stalked up to the twat and shoved the money in his face. "What's this? Prepayment for services rendered?"

Arthur demurred. "No, nothing like that. I just wanted to help out. It's not a big deal."

“Not a big deal? Are you serious?”

"Look, Merlin, just buy something you need, new shoes or clothes. Please."

Merlin squinted at him. People didn't just give out that kind of money to strangers on a whim. “I don’t get it. You have to take it back.” He thrust the money into Arthur’s hands and Arthur tried to push it away. Their hands touched around the pile of crumpled bills. Arthur’s were wet and cold from peeling potatoes. His eyes swept up and down Merlin’s body, and Merlin couldn’t move, pinned in place by the bolt of heat that rushed up his spine.

Confused by his feelings, he furrowed his brow and said, “Just because I live here, doesn’t mean I’m for sale.”

Arthur looked offended. "You don't have to do anything for it. That’s not why I gave it to you. I’m just trying to help. I’ve got plenty.”

Merlin was still suspicious. “But…” He looked away from Arthur’s too-blue eyes. “Don’t you...I mean,” he took a deep breath. “I thought maybe because I mentioned the lube, you thought… Aren’t you…” Merlin stopped talking, feeling ridiculous. He blurted out in frustration, “The next thing you did was give me chocolates. And a huge wad of money.”

A look of comprehension passed over Arthur’s face. "Oh. Oh god, no. I bought those to give to the house manager, thought they might smooth the way. But Gwen’s a little too upstanding for that.” Arthur wiped his hands on a towel. “Really, Merlin, you must think I’m a class A jerk. Believe me, I don’t have to pay for sex. Not that I wouldn’t want to...well, with you, um,” he trailed off, his eyes meeting Merlin’s.

“Er, yeah, I agree. I mean, I feel the same.” Bollocks, he was messing this up. They stared at each other for a moment, then Merlin looked down at the cash. He really wasn't in a position to refuse. His anger was fizzling. “So, you’re really just giving this to me? No strings?”

Arthur grinned. “Yep. And as far as anything else, well. You need to focus on passing the A levels, I hear.”

“Yeah,” Merlin said faintly. “Okay. There are definitely things I need.” He looked down at his trainers, one of which was held together by duct tape, and pocketed the money.

 

The next week he was surprised to see Arthur at the hostel again. "What're you doing here?" he asked.

"Well, I volunteered to tutor the residents in maths and Gwen assigned me to you. She said we seemed to get along."

"Really?"

Arthur scratched the back of his head. "I may have encouraged her in that direction. I said you mentioned you were having difficulty in maths."

"I thought you said the money was string-free."

Arthur put up his hands. "It was, it was. I swear." He put a hand on his chest. "It really is genuine, Merlin. I just want to help. I'd love to see you become a doctor some day and I want to help you get there."

Merlin scrutinized him for a moment. The situation still made him uncomfortable. He’d kept some of the money by after buying a few dearly needed items. He supposed he could still give it back, although it would be painful. “I’ll think about it.”

“Alright, well, I hope you decide to do it.”

They stood there awkwardly shifting and avoiding each other’s eyes. Arthur cleared his throat. “I better get to it, then. I’m tutoring another kid right now. So I’ll be seeing you around?”

Merlin didn’t say anything, just scrunched up his mouth and grudgingly nodded. It had been so long since anyone had done something nice for him, he had a really hard time believing Arthur’s intentions were sincere.

 

Another week went by and Merlin bumped into Arthur as he was returning to the hostel one evening. “Hyperbolic functions,” Merlin said. "I don’t get it.” Maths class had been torture that week. “Can you explain it?”

Arthur’s smile was a tad self-satisfied. "Of course. Business major. Got to know that stuff or my dad would have my arse."

Merlin nodded. "Okay. Good.”

 

Merlin was surprised at how much he enjoyed the tutoring sessions with Arthur. Despite his fears, Arthur seemed like a good person at heart and Merlin had grown to like him during the time they spent together. Arthur was surprisingly patient in explaining hyperbolic functions and anything else Merlin needed help with. Merlin made good progress and he started to enjoy maths more than he ever had.

One day Arthur surprised Merlin by inviting him over to the flat he shared with his sister, Morgana. On the weekends, Merlin didn't do much besides study or visit his uncle (who was also homeless), so he gladly accepted the invitation. Plus he was curious about where Arthur lived.

Arthur’s flat was a typical university student’s, except for the fancy entertainment center and gleaming espresso machine in the kitchen. They played Wii, which Merlin had never played before. Arthur got grumpy when Merlin beat him at Mario Kart. They had beer and curry, and moved on to Rock Band.

Merlin badly wanted to trust Arthur. He was easy to like, and Merlin couldn’t ignore how attractive he was, or the spark between them. So far Arthur hadn't tried anything on or pressured Merlin in any way, but Merlin still waited for the other shoe to drop.

Fuzzy-headed after two beers, with no idea how much time had passed, Merlin said, "What time is it, anyway?"

Arthur looked at his watch. "Oh my god. It's way too late to get you back to the hostel. I'll have to call Gwen. How do you feel about staying here tonight?"

Merlin felt a flush creep up his neck. "That's fine."

"I'll take the couch and you can sleep in my bed."

The thought of a nice soft bed in a room alone without the snoring, smelly company of a bunch of other teenage boys was heavenly. He glanced sidelong at Arthur. "Is that what you really want? I don't mind sharing.” In fact, he was desperate to. All night they’d been brushing up against each other on the couch and had ended up with their thighs almost pressed together, leaving Merlin horribly turned on. “You do all these things for me, and you don't want anything in return. It’s hard for me to believe."

Arthur sighed. "I told you Merlin, I don't want anything more." He paused. "Well, that's not exactly true." His gaze caught Merlin’s and Merlin held his breath. "I just want you to pass those A-levels. That's my payment, right there. All right?"

Merlin’s shoulders fell. If Arthur didn’t want something more, he wasn’t going to press, even though he was disappointed. "All right."

 

Merlin slept better that night than he had in years. Arthur's bed was luxuriously comfortable and the flat was so quiet it was almost eerie. The bedside clock said 6 am when Merlin woke from a dreamless sleep, feeling refreshed. Arthur was still dead asleep on the couch. In the bathroom he examined Arthur's toiletries, fascinated at the variety. Liquid sand exfoliating cleanser? Then he spied the bubble bath in a corner of the tub. He opened the top and sniffed. Grapefruit. It smelled amazing.

He couldn't remember the last time he had a bubble bath. He opened the tap and turned the knob to hot and waited for the water to heat up before plugging the drain. It took a while for the tub to fill and the whole time he listened intently for sounds of Arthur getting up. He didn't really think Arthur would mind, but he still felt self-conscious.

When the tub was full, Merlin lowered himself into the citrusy bubbles and let the hot soothing water envelope him. Ahhhhh. Bliss.

He was about to nod off when he sensed a presence. He opened his eyes to see Arthur leaning against the doorframe watching him.

"Didn't take you for a bubble bath kind of bloke," Arthur said, grinning.

Merlin sank lower under the bubbles. "Sorry. My mum always put bubbles in my bath," he said. "I missed it."

"That grapefruit stuff is fantastic, isn't it? Always puts a smile on my face." He leaned over and inhaled, then scooped up a handful of bubbles and blew them into Merlin's face. Then he tweaked his nose and left.

Thank god for the bubbles because Merlin had a raging hard-on.

 

From then on, Arthur periodically took Merlin out to the cinema or for pizza. It was a bright spot in Merlin's otherwise grinding existence. He felt increasingly close to Arthur and he seriously didn't know if he could make it in this celibate state until he passed his exams; if he passed them. Merlin became aroused just being near Arthur and it was increasingly difficult to concentrate on the tutoring sessions.

Then came the day he got permission to sit for the A levels. It hadn't been a sure thing, since he wasn't at a traditional school and his education had been lackadaisical since he’d become homeless in the wake of his mother’s death. After Gwen gave him the news at dinner, he couldn't wait to tell Arthur. But Arthur didn’t pick up his phone. Brimming with excitement and excess energy, Merlin decided to walk all the way to Arthur’s flat and tell him in person.

But Arthur wasn't home, the plonker. Merlin sat on his front step, pondering whether to wait. He dithered for about fifteen minutes and was about to leave when Arthur and two mates came lurching down the pavement.

"Merlin!" Arthur cried loudly.

Merlin hesitated, uncomfortable with the situation, not knowing Arthur's friends and preferring to tell Arthur privately.

One of the friends said, "Arthur, this one of your friends from slumming? He looks like a rent boy.”

“Shut up, Gwaine,” Arthur said. “You’re drunk.” His own voice was sluggish and thick.

All thoughts of sharing his good news with Arthur fled.

“Hey, bum boy, wanna suck my cock?" Gwaine gestured to his crotch and laughed.

Coldly, Merlin said, the words coming out of his mouth with no forethought, "No, but Arthur does. Don't you, Arthur? Why don't you tell your friends how you tried to bribe me?"

Arthur's mouth fell open. Merlin turned away from his shocked expression and hurried down the street. That posh prat, he’d been a fool to trust him. Should’ve known better.

He escaped into a deserted park across the street, ashamed to feel his eyes pricking with tears, blindly careening down the dark path. His throat was clogged with disappointment and hurt. He’d been so happy to share his news with Arthur, the first step toward a new life. This was just a reminder of how far apart they really were, the different worlds they came from. They could never really be friends, much less something more.

Within moments, hurried steps came up behind him. Arthur grabbed Merlin's shoulder and whirled him around. "Merlin, wait."

Merlin wrenched his shoulder out of Arthur's grasp. "Get your hands off of me."

Arthur flung his arms away as if burned, his face stricken through the blur of drunkenness.

"Don't look at me like that. He's your friend," Merlin said.

"I know. I'm so sorry, Merlin. We're old friends, have been for ages. He's an obnoxious drunk, there's no two ways about it." Arthur came closer and wiped Merlin's wet cheek with a gentle finger.

Merlin scrunched his eyes closed in embarrassment. "Don't," he said.

"Merlin," Arthur said softly, pulling him in by the waist. "I'm so sorry."

Merlin stiffened against Arthur’s arms, not wanting this right now, unwilling to forget what had just happened. He turned his face away. “Arthur, forget it. I just want to go home.”

Arthur didn’t let go. Merlin could smell his aftershave and feel the warmth of his body. “No. Tell me why you’re here. Is everything all right at the hostel? Did something happen? You didn’t get in a fight, did you?” Arthur looked Merlin over.

“Everything’s fine. More than fine. That’s why I came, because they’re going to let me take the A levels.”

“Merlin!” Arthur hugged him tightly. “That’s wonderful.” Arthur beamed at him and held Merlin’s face in both hands. “You did it.”

Merlin softened, unable to resist Arthur’s enthusiasm. This was why he’d come, after all. He needed to share the good news with someone who knew everything he’d been through. “Well, I still have to pass the exams.”

“Yeah, but I know you’re going to pass. I’m totally confident of that. Especially with that whiz of a tutor you have.”

Merlin held back a grin, then finally met Arthur’s gaze. As they looked at each other, Arthur's hand slid around the back of Merlin's neck to tug him even closer. Merlin let out a shaky breath, almost a shiver, and closed his eyes, his resistance melting away as he realised Arthur was finally - finally - going to kiss him.

Arthur's mouth softly closed on his. Merlin opened his mouth to Arthur's and Arthur made a small noise in his throat. At the same time Merlin put his arms around Arthur and they pressed together, chest to chest. Merlin moaned softly as Arthur's tongue met his, all warm and wet. He clung to the back of Arthur's jacket and Arthur tilted his hips forward so Merlin could feel the length of his body, leaving him breathless.

When they parted for air, Merlin whispered, "If this isn't real, I swear..."

"It's real, Merlin." He squeezed Merlin's shoulder. "It's just...I really want to wait until you pass the exams."

"What if I don't pass?"

"You will. I'm sure of it." He sifted a hand through Merlin's hair and Merlin leaned in towards him, yearning for more.

Arthur put a hand to Merlin’s chest. "I mean it, Merlin. After the A levels."

"You are a very strange and cruel person."

 

The day of the exams finally came. Merlin was nervous, but if he could make his way on the streets this long, a few days of sitting and answering questions should be a cinch. As promised, Arthur steadfastly refused to kiss him, merely ruffling his hair and reassuring him he'd be brilliant. Merlin wasn't so sure, but he didn't have to be brilliant, he just had to pass. When it was finally over, Arthur took him to his flat and Merlin passed out on the sofa before they could even play a celebratory game of Mario Kart.

A couple of hours later, Arthur woke him up, waving a piece of pepperoni pizza in his face.
"Figured you needed some sustenance."

Merlin groaned. "You woke me up so I could eat? You are a wicked, wicked man." But then he grabbed the slice and devoured it and three more. "Guess I was hungry."

"Come on." Arthur pulled him up by the hand and led him to the bedroom.

"Does this mean you've changed your mind about waiting until I've passed?"

Arthur scowled at him. "No, it doesn't."

Merlin groaned again. "You are an utter twat."

Arthur threw his pillow at him. "It just means you're sleeping in here where it's comfortable while I sleep on the sofa."

"Again? Arthur, this is ridiculous." He pulled Arthur in close. "Stay here with me. We don't have to do anything. We'll just sleep." He twined their fingers together.

Arthur bit his lip, thinking. "I don't think we can actually just sleep. Do you?"

Merlin flopped back dramatically on the bed. "Argh. You are altogether too noble, Arthur Pendragon." He looked up at Arthur and hugged the pillow to his chest. "You better be the best lay ever, after all this time."

Arthur drew his bare toes along Merlin's bare foot. "Oh, I will be."

 

The wait for the A-level results was excruciating. Merlin's life was in limbo: he couldn't make plans, he didn't know what he'd be doing next year, and he couldn't take it to the next level with Arthur. It was driving him crazy and he was batshit horny besides. He took it out by beating Arthur at Wii games and being obnoxious about it, then blaming Arthur for the state he was in.

"If you weren't so bloody honourable, I wouldn't be like this," he said, throwing a crisp in Arthur's face.

Arthur threw the remote at his head.

"Ow! Abuse! I'm calling the police," Merlin said, with a grin.

Arthur tackled Merlin and brought him down on the couch in a flurry of tickling. "I'll show you abuse, you....you..." He stopped for a moment and looked down at Merlin, whom he had pressed down into the cushions. He buried his hand in Merlin's hair and parted his lips. Merlin stared at Arthur, hoping he'd do something. His breath came faster as Arthur lowered his head and brushed his lips against Merlin's. Arthur's lips were soft and full.

Merlin opened his mouth, anticipating Arthur's tongue. Instead Arthur pulled back and said, "No, no. I said I wouldn't until you passed and I meant it."

Merlin unceremoniously tossed him onto the floor.

 

Merlin exited the tube station and oriented himself, trying to find 150 Picadilly, the address Arthur had told him to go to when Merlin gleefully announced he’d passed his A Levels.

It was the Ritz Hotel, not the ordinary restaurant or pub Merlin had assumed it would be. His stomach flipped with nervousness. He’d never been anywhere so fancy. He walked up to the entrance feeling like an intruder, half expecting a uniformed personage to throw him out on his heels at any moment. Arthur wasn’t anywhere to be seen, so he found a phone in the lobby and called his mobile.

“Arthur?”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the lobby of the Ritz! Isn’t that where I’m supposed to be? Where are you?”

“Come up to room 1610.”

Up the elevator and down a lushly quiet hallway Merlin went, his heart thumping with anticipation, eyes goggling at the gilt and mirrors and fashionably dressed people. At 1610, he stopped and before knocking, took a deep breath, smiling to himself. The door opened as soon as he knocked, an arm drew him inside and the door slammed shut. Before he knew what was happening, Arthur had him shoved against the wall and their lips locked in a kiss. Merlin blindly grabbed for Arthur and all he felt was...skin. Miles of soft, lovely warm skin stretched over firm muscle.

“You’re naked.”

“No wonder you passed the A levels, with such keen powers of observation.”

Merlin’s hands moved of their own accord, eager to explore. “Mmmm,” was all he could manage. Arthur was indeed completely naked, and just as anxious to share as Merlin was to partake. After all this time, the months of pent-up desire and worry about his exams, it was sheer bliss. Once he discovered Arthur’s glorious arse and shortly thereafter, his equally fantastic cock, it took about a second for Merlin to come.

“Oh god, I’m sorry,” he said, leaning against Arthur, who wiped up Merlin with a thick hotel towel.

Arthur kissed him. “No worries. If everything goes according to plan, that’s just an opener.” He gestured to a white-clothed table laden with silver platters and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket beaded with water. “First we’ll eat, then we’ll have the ‘main course.’” He winked.

“Cheesy.” Then Merlin saw the bed, approximately the size of Versailles. “Oh, wow.”

“Congratulations, Merlin. I’m so proud of you.”

Even after everything, Merlin turned pink. He wasn’t used to such praise. “Thanks. This is amazing. And thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Well, I think you could, but maybe I did help a little.”

“A lot.” Merlin ran and jumped on the bed. “Sure this is big enough?”

“I’m not sure they come any bigger.” Arthur poured two glasses of champagne and brought them over. Merlin was already taking off his shirt. “To deferred gratification,” Arthur said, handing Merlin a glass.

“Weirdo. To never having to think about hyperbolic functions ever again.”

“I’ll drink to that.” They clinked their glasses and sipped.

Merlin carefully placed his glass on the side table, and catching Arthur’s eye, slowly unzipped his trousers, then shimmied them off his hips. He made rather a production of it. Arthur’s mouth fell open, the glass still dangling from his hand. “Better put that down before you drop it,” Merlin murmured. “Wouldn’t want to sully these fine sheets.”

Arthur’s mouth snapped shut. “Er, right.” He put the glass down.

“Why don’t you take these off for me?” Merlin indicated his pants.

“You’re not hungry?” Arthur eyed the food.

“It’s a little late to get nervous, isn’t it?”

“Not nervous, just thought you’d be hungry.”

“I’m hungry...for other things.” He looked at Arthur’s crotch.

“Who’s cheesy now?” Arthur crawled on his hands and knees over Merlin splayed out on his back. His cock grazed Merlin’s thigh and Merlin grew harder. He sucked in a breath as Arthur hovered over him, hair hanging down over his face and his arm muscles tensed. Merlin looked at him carefully, taking him in - the small imperfections of his face, the V of his collarbones - and drew a hand down Arthur’s chest, lingering on his pecs then following the narrow line of hair to his crotch. He gripped the silken length of Arthur’s cock, making him moan and close his eyes.

Arthur dropped his head to Merlin’s stomach and began mouthing his cock through the cotton of his underpants.

That was the last thing Merlin was aware of until he drifted back to reality awhile later, sticky and sated.

"I can't believe you kept this from me for all this time," he muttered into Arthur's chest.

"Tell me the truth, would you have gotten through all those tutoring sessions with this distraction?"

"You have a point." He stretched out along Arthur's side, reveling in the soft bedding. "We need to make up for lost time. Let's eat." He downed the rest of his champagne, thinking he could get used to this.