Merlin had looked forward to leaving Ealdor ever since he was twelve years old, when he’d watched the school bully crush Gilli with the sole of his boot. Merlin was lying on the cold cement of the playground, arms and legs bruised from falling when he’d tried to intervene, Valiant sweeping him aside like he, too, was nothing more than a crushed ball of paper.
“Faggot,” Valiant sneered.
Merlin had hated Ealdor, then. He’d despised the smallness of the village, the oppressed atmosphere, the bigoted ignorance of its people. He had never felt so hopeless.
Then, before Valiant could land another kick to Gilli, a fist smashed into Valiant’s face, toppling him over and narrowly missing a dazed Merlin.
“Pick on someone your own size,” Gwaine spat (because Gwaine has always been ridiculously clichéd).
In that moment, Merlin, weak and bleeding and hopeless, had another wish: he wanted to be with this boy forever.
“Fuck my life,” Merlin groans, clutching his mobile, a desperate man. “Why can’t he just disappear? It would make everything so much easier. I think God hates me.”
“He made you gay, of course he hates you,” Will deadpans from the other end of the line; he’s living it up in Birmingham, getting arse-over-tits drunk so he can sleep with women he then thoroughly regrets in the morning.
Merlin ignores him. “He’s everywhere, I don’t know how he does it!”
“He’s stalking you, clearly.”
“He wouldn’t stoop that low.”
“But you would.”
“I am not stalking him!”
“I believe you.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“You’re right. I don’t.”
Merlin sighs heavily. “Honestly, Will, I am so over Gwaine. We broke up like three months ago. I didn’t see him all summer in Ealdor – tiny, tiny Ealdor – and now I’m in the biggest city in the country, and I can’t stop bumping into him!”
“At least you’re in different universities.” There’s the sound of a toilet flushing, but Merlin doesn’t even bat an eyelid.
“Still in London, though. Fuck, I’m never going to get rid of him.”
“Be strong, Merlin. God is testing you.”
“Well, I fucking hate God’s tests,” Merlin grumbles, and hangs up on his good-for-nothing best mate.
Gwaine was his for exactly eleven months, three weeks, and one day. They’d been friends since the episode of ‘Valiant beats up Merlin and Gilli, Gwaine beats up Valiant, everyone gets seriously bollocked by the head teacher’, but it wasn’t until Merlin’s seventeenth birthday that they’d hooked up.
Gwaine was always like a shiny gold star – everyone wanted a piece of him, and most of their peers had. Merlin was insanely jealous when Freya lost her virginity to Gwaine, glowing and happy and not even bothered that Gwaine then slept with Ewan a week later.
“He’s one of my best mates, but that’s not right,” Merlin had argued, but Freya merely patted Merlin in a manner not unlike his mother, and told him that she knew exactly what she wanted, that was what she’d got, and Merlin need not worry or fuss on her behalf.
When Merlin had finally, finally gotten his hands on Gwaine, he’d been flummoxed as to what to do next.
Merlin looked at Gwaine, at the beauty of the naked body beside him. “What do you mean?”
“Do you want to date?”
Merlin blinked. “Um. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“So you wanted to shag me and leave me, cheers,” Gwaine smirked, surveying Merlin’s nervous fidgeting.
“No! No, of course not. You know I’ve always wanted you.” Merlin averted his eyes, too embarrassed to watch the laughter dancing in Gwaine’s.
“Yes, Gwaine, you did.”
There was a loud sigh, which prompted Merlin to look up again; Gwaine was running a stressed hand across his face, rubbing stubble Merlin now knew was rough to the touch. “You’re my friend, Merlin. I didn’t want to hurt you. Hell, I still don’t want to hurt you, but I cocked up last night and I got fucking plastered.”
“It was funny,” Merlin offered with a slight smile.
“So were you, you were wasted.” Before Merlin could protest, Gwaine continued. “But honestly, Merlin... I want you, I’ve always wanted you, but even if we could – even if I could commit, there’s no way it’d last. We’re seventeen, man. We’re not going to stay together forever, so why ruin our friendship because of a few good shags and some great times?”
Merlin stared. He was silent for a moment, before exclaiming, “Oh my god, you’ve really thought about this.”
Gwaine met Merlin’s eyes, unashamed, and Merlin felt his heart beat faster. “Yeah, I have. You’re one of my best mates, Merlin.”
Merlin grinned, a smile that split his face in half with joy, and he threw himself at Gwaine, kissing him breathless.
“I trust you. Everything will be okay,” he whispered.
Of course, a week shy of a year later, Merlin realised he had been so naively wrong.
“We should end this now,” he found himself saying, the words foreign on his tongue, even though he’d thought them before so many times in his head, like a mantra.
Gwaine had nodded, smiling sadly at Merlin. He never said it, but Merlin could read the I knew it would come to this, didn’t I tell you? in his eyes.
Merlin wasn’t heartbroken, but it’s been hard, after a year of comfortable intimacy, comfortable trust and comfortable sex, to suddenly adjust to being alone. He loves Gwaine, but not enough to see them staying together through university, not with so many academic commitments and numerous other distractions. Merlin isn’t completely oblivious; he’d seen Gwaine’s eyes, the way they would wander from men’s jeans-clad butts to women’s buxom chests, even when they were together. Gwaine wasn’t meant to be held down, to surrender to one, and Merlin knew sooner than later it would’ve destroyed their relationship anyway, with or without university overwhelming them. He’d made the right choice; the hard choice, but the practical one, the right one. Merlin is nothing but realistic.
Anyway, he had been sure he would forget all about Gwaine once he hit university. ‘Plenty of fish in the sea’ could not describe one’s university experience more, Merlin had heard, and he had been looking forward to moving on from his secondary school.
That is, until Gwaine kept showing up everywhere during Merlin’s freshers’ week.
Whilst Merlin chose to study Medicine at University College London, Gwaine had gone to London School of Economics and Political Science. Merlin had hoped this would mean their circles would never overlap, but he had clearly been too hopeful.
“Merlin, darling, you really have to stop stalking me like this, it’s unhealthy,” Gwaine purrs, having interrupted Merlin’s night out with his new flatmates; he’s now draped over Merlin’s shoulder, a pint sloshing in his hand.
“I am not stalking you,” Merlin mutters more to himself than to his ex, Will’s smug voice echoing in his ears. This is Merlin’s local student pub, for Christ’s sake. Huffing as quietly as possible, Merlin tosses Gwaine at Percy, who seems to be his new best friend. “Sorry, I have to go. Look after him,” he says, and hurries out of the pub before Percy or Gwaine can object.
You are pathetic.
Thanks. I love you too.
Seriously though, Merlin, you’re at UNIVERSITY, go get laid. You need to cleanse Gwaine of your system. I can tell you from personal experience that it works a charm.
I hate you.
Tell Will I will punch him in the face the next time I see him for having the biggest gob ever.
That’s the spirit. Now go get ‘em, tiger.
“Everything all right, Merlin?”
Merlin looks up from where he’s buried in his mobile to see Gwen standing in the kitchen; he hadn’t even heard her come in, so engrossed in heatedly texting Freya.
“I need to get laid,” he announces without thinking, before flushing bright red. “Oh fuck, sorry, I didn’t mean to— that is— god, I should never think out loud, should I?”
Gwen watches Merlin fondly; having known each other for less than a week since moving into university accommodation, Gwen is so far Merlin’s favourite flatmate.
“Don’t force yourself to do something you’re not ready for,” she says gently, sitting down beside him at the dining table. “Not everyone can sleep around, and not everyone can get over their ex like that either.”
“But I am ready, Gwen.” Merlin looks miserable, turning his hair into a nest with his hands. “I just... I just want to move on, but I can’t, because he’s everywhere. It’s not that I don’t ever want to see him again, because we’re still friends, but how can I move on when he’s right in front of me every day? I’ve wanted to leave home and go to uni for so many years, and now all I can see is my past.”
Gwen puts a comforting arm around Merlin and pulls him into a hug. “You’ll have a great first year here,” she says firmly. “Let’s start by saving your freshers’ week; there’s one day left before it’s officially over, and I think we can definitely get you laid tonight, if that’s what you want.”
Merlin is tired, but he can’t say no to Gwen’s earnest face. It’ll be fun to spend time with her anyway, regardless of what happens.
They end up at a gay club, which is a first for Merlin; there had always been a simmering homophobia in Ealdor, and despite Merlin, Gwaine and Gilli being out and proud by the time they graduated secondary school, they had suffered many years of bullying and abuse from their peers, and sometimes even teachers. It was the main reason Merlin had chosen to study in London – he’d hoped to breathe a freedom and tolerance he had never been allowed at home.
The club is overflowing with people high on all sorts by the time Gwen and Merlin arrive, the music booming so loud that Gwen has to scream her drink order into Merlin’s ear. He battles his way to the bar, and several shots and many dances later, it appears that Gwaine is unlikely to ruin the rest of the night with an unexpected appearance.
With the help of alcohol, Merlin finds himself loose, inhibited, and completely carefree. He dances into the centre of the circle of sweaty students, Gwen lost to the fringes of the room where Merlin had last seen her being chatted up by a very attractive man. He doesn’t begrudge her separation – he’s well aware that the clubbing scene is not enjoyable for Gwen, and he appreciates her accompanying him tonight purely for his benefit.
Merlin’s thoughts have just returned to that of tonight’s goal of getting laid, when someone knocks into him heavily, causing him to fly forwards; he hits a solid chest, arms wrapping around him in reflex reaction, before he pulls away with a lopsided smile of apology.
“Sorry!” Merlin shouts at the man, taking in short blonde hair and a frowning pair of eyes; he realises a beat later that his extremely attractive saviour is actually glaring behind Merlin, rather than at Merlin himself.
“Watch it!” his saviour snaps, grip still steady on Merlin’s waist, and Merlin feels a rush of arousal from the contact.
“Thank you!” Merlin yells, not bothering to turn around; getting knocked about in a club is not to be unexpected, and this man is much more interesting. He lets the crowd push them closer together rather than pulling away, draping his hands boldly on his saviour’s broad shoulders.
The man stares at Merlin, his expression blank and unreadable under the strobe lights, but he doesn’t draw back either, letting Merlin move them to the beat of the music.
Slowly but steadily, Merlin feels muscles start to relax under his touch, so it catches him by surprise when suddenly the man leans forward, nestling his lips against Merlin’s neck. A shiver flares up Merlin’s spine as he feels warm breath along his skin, and when the man places chaste, dry kisses just under his ear, Merlin’s groans are lost to the music.
“Oh fuck,” Merlin breathes, pressing his lips on the man’s jaw, enjoying the feel of his clean-shaven face. “Fucking hell—”
He’s interrupted by the spontaneous meshing of their lips, his words swallowed as the man steals his breath, kissing him thoroughly, and Jesus Christ this is going so fast, but it feels amazing, and perfect, and hot, and Merlin hasn’t felt such want in years.
“I want to fuck you,” the man growls into his ear, and if he hadn’t already grabbed the attention of Merlin’s cock, he has now. It’s the first time he’s spoken, and his voice is all rough and drunk and ridiculously sexy under a posh accent.
“Yes, yes,” Merlin gasps, because he’s nothing but shameless when he’s wasted, and draws the man’s tongue into another wet kiss.
They’re fairly sombre and silent before the bedroom door closes. Merlin had sought Gwen out, giving her a rushed hug and grin goodbye, before being pulled out of the club and into the wet night, where the man hails a cab that takes them to a block of student flats.
The first thing Merlin notices about the bedroom is that it has twin beds.
“Don’t worry, my roommate isn’t coming back tonight,” the man reassures, toeing off his shoes, and Merlin follows his lead.
Merlin doesn’t waste time surveying the room, ignoring the mess that’s reserved for the other bed; he shoves the man into the door bodily, kissing and licking as he starts to undo shirt buttons. Sober Merlin would never be so aggressive or forward with a stranger, but then again, Merlin isn’t sober.
“What’s your name, by the way?” the man asks, panting as Merlin lets him pull his T-shirt over his head.
Words are neglected for some time after their introductions, Merlin eventually ripping Arthur’s shirt off with a viciousness he didn’t know he had. He doesn’t even stop to think when Arthur’s hands pull Merlin’s fly down, shoving his hand into his boxers and massaging his dick, that this is the first time he’s let anyone touch him since Gwaine. It feels too good to question.
“Jesus” Merlin hisses, arching into Arthur’s hand, previously cold and now thankfully warm and wrapped around Merlin’s straining cock.
“Didn’t I tell you my name is Arthur?” Arthur teases, and Merlin glares into smiling blue eyes.
“Don’t people tell you that line is old and unoriginal?”
“I have my hand on your dick, I don’t think you’re in any position to talk.”
Arthur has a point there, but before Merlin can argue against it anyway, Arthur thumbs the slit of Merlin’s cock; pre-come oozes out, wetting Arthur’s hand as Merlin’s legs nearly buckle with the pleasure.
“You are a pompous arse,” Merlin grits, eyes fluttering open to catch Arthur’s wide smirk.
“Talking of arse,” Arthur says, pulling his hand out of Merlin’s boxers and squeezing his butt, before smoothly pulling his jeans down. “Do you want to fuck or not?”
“You’re such a charmer,” Merlin grumbles, but nonetheless complies by helping Arthur divest his jeans. Soon they’re both naked, their cocks hard and freed, and Merlin is busy admiring Arthur’s body, wondering how the fuck someone this hot wants to sleep with him.
“Get on the bed then,” Arthur demands, stealing brief kisses and running his fingers up and down like feathers against Merlin’s side.
Merlin grumbles the whole way, but he makes himself comfortable on the bed as Arthur rummages in his drawers for condoms and lube. “Hurry the fuck up whilst I’m still drunk,” Merlin whines, giving his cock a bored squeeze.
“You’re a bossy little bitch, aren’t you?” Arthur snarks, but it doesn’t stop him from climbing on top of Merlin.
Merlin manoeuvres Arthur into position in front of him. “Come here,” he orders, and licks a wet stripe up Arthur’s cock, Arthur humming his approval. Arthur’s dick isn’t as long as Gwaine’s, Merlin’s mind supplies fuzzily, but he’s definitely thicker.
“As much as I want to watch you suck my cock, if you want me to fuck you, I wouldn’t go to town.” Arthur rasps the warning with dilated eyes, his hand weaved into Merlin’s hair and gripping hard.
“Can’t last that long, can you?” Merlin taunts, sucking at the head of Arthur’s dick and tasting the salty pre-come on his tongue.
“On the contrary, I want to fuck you so hard you’ll come crawling back to me. I want to last long enough to make you experience the best orgasm of your life.”
Merlin pulls off Arthur’s cock with a chuckle and looks up. “Is that a promise?” He doesn’t wait for Arthur’s answer, lying back on the bed and popping open the lube.
Arthur bats Merlin’s hands away as he makes to coat his fingers. “Let me.”
“I can do it.”
“I want to do it.” Arthur swallows, licking his lips. “I want to open you up.”
Pre-come continues to leak out of Merlin’s dick, and Merlin wonders if Arthur can make him come from words alone.
“Okay,” he nods, voice breathy. “Go on.”
The first cold finger Arthur slides into him feels as foreign as Merlin expects it to; he hasn’t had sex since Gwaine, which was over three months ago, and although it’s not been that long, Merlin can feel his body tightening with surprise at the intrusion.
“All right?” Arthur asks, when he finally has his index finger sheathed in Merlin’s arse; his eyes roam from the clutch of the hole to Merlin’s face, searching.
“Feels good,” Merlin says, slowly relaxing. “Can’t wait for your dick,” he adds, just to watch the flicker of lust in Arthur’s eyes.
Arthur adds a second, then a third finger, until he’s fucking Merlin with his hand, Merlin’s pants growing laboured and wheezy within minutes.
“I’m going to take you apart,” Arthur whispers, nipping at Merlin’s ear, and Merlin can’t stop a quiet cry at the thought.
“Oh just fuck me already, Arthur,” he whines, scrabbling for the condom and shoving it in Arthur’s direction. “Get on with it, you fucking tease!”
Arthur laughs, a low, gruff noise in the back of his throat, as he rips open the packet. “You’re sexy when you’re desperate,” he mocks, rolling the condom onto his cock and adding more lube.
“I’d be sexier if you fuck me,” Merlin bites back, but he lets Arthur manhandle him into position; Merlin’s legs are pulled over Arthur’s shoulders, and Arthur burns kisses along Merlin’s thighs until they tremble.
When Arthur finally fucks into Merlin, it’s as though puzzle pieces are shifting into place along the contours of Merlin’s skin. Merlin gasps out, a broken cry in his throat as Arthur slowly splits him apart.
Merlin’s drunk, Arthur is a stranger, and there is no room for romance here, but when Arthur moves and their eyes meet, Merlin’s skin feels like it’s on fire.
“Jesus, Merlin,” Arthur whispers, and Merlin has to bite his lip from moaning, hearing his name pitched dark and low like a secret. Arthur bends down, mouths at Merlin’s hairline, and breathes warmth onto his brow. “You’re so tight, fucking hell.”
“Arthur, Arthur.” Merlin’s hands scrabble for hold on Arthur’s neck, pulling him down into a bruising kiss as Arthur rocks his hips, Merlin trying with each thrust to arch up, to meet every push. “Yes, there, yes, harder,” he moans, tongue skimming the edge of Arthur’s ear, “harder.”
Arthur’s grip of Merlin’s thighs tighten as he soars above Merlin for a moment, and then he’s crashing down again, fucking into Merlin with determined grunts and damp hair falling into his face.
Merlin closes his eyes and lets the sensations overwhelm him; the connection between their bodies, skin on skin, Arthur splitting him apart on his cock, fucking him rough and hard, hitting that spot every time, so much pleasure erupting that all Merlin can do is gasp and writhe and moan.
“Are you close?” Arthur’s hand touches the tip of Merlin’s wet cock, and Merlin’s fingernails paint crescent moons in Arthur’s shoulder.
“Together,” Merlin grunts, forcing his eyes open to meet Arthur’s gaze.
“Fuck, Merlin,” Arthur groans, stealing a few breathless kisses, before sliding a hand along Merlin’s calf and fucking into him more, more, until the bed is shaking, and the room is loud with heavy breathing and the slap of skin.
As the crescendo builds, invisible strings drawing tighter and tighter, Merlin longs for Arthur’s fingers wrapped around his cock again. “Touch me,” he manages to say, holding Arthur’s jaw, feeling the sweat build at the back of Arthur’s neck. “I’m so close, come on, Arthur, come on.”
Arthur starts pumping Merlin’s dick with a hand wet with pre-come, and it doesn’t take more than a minute for Merlin’s grip to shake, whispering frantically, “Going to come, Arthur, shit, Arthur!”
Come spurts from Merlin’s cock, white rain falling on Merlin’s chin and spotting his chest. As he rides out the last dredges of his orgasm, Arthur pins Merlin down harder, and with two more thrusts he stills, groaning into Merlin’s knee, lips mouthing yes, yes, yes.
Both men are still for several minutes, catching their breaths. Eventually Arthur pulls out, and Merlin watches him with lidded eyes as Arthur knots the condom and throws it into the bin, before returning to hover over Merlin with a lazy, satisfied smile.
“Hi,” he whispers, and bends down to lick clean the few spots of come on Merlin’s chin.
Merlin threads his fingers through Arthur’s damp hair, his chest rising with chuckles. “Hello, you kinky bastard.”
They fall asleep amidst giggles and drunken bickering about which side of the bed to take, their limbs tangled together to fit the small space.
When Merlin wakes, it’s to blonde hair tickling his face and a dull ache in his head. Last night’s events come rushing back to him, and he feels his body thrum its approval, despite the headache.
Arthur is lying unconscious beside him, their skin meshed together, and Merlin feels strangely content, despite the freak-out that’s simmering along the wallpaper of his mind. He hadn’t expected a one-night stand to be so easy, even natural; the alcohol had helped, but even so, there’s no disputing the best sex of Merlin’s life so far was with a man he’d met for a few hours, rather than his ex-boyfriend for almost a year.
Eventually it gets too uncomfortable not to move, and when Merlin sits up and starts de-tangling his limbs, Arthur stirs awake.
“Hi,” Merlin says, biting his lip and looking down nervously at Arthur’s bleary-eyed stare. Now that the alcoholic, lustful haze has lifted, the morning light makes the situation much starker and more awkward than the night before. “Um. Good morning.”
Arthur scrunches his eyes closed and groans. “Shit. Shit, how much did I drink? Fucking Leon!”
Merlin blinks, speechless for a moment, before he starts scrambling out of bed, trying not to fall over naked. “I should go,” he babbles in embarrassment; he’s never done this before, but that’s the right etiquette – to leave, right?
“No, no, Merlin, sorry,” Arthur says immediately, a hand wrapping around Merlin’s wrist, and Merlin turns to look at him in surprise.
“You remember my name.”
Arthur looks affronted. “Of course I remember your name. I wasn’t that drunk! Although I did say and do some things I wouldn’t normally say or do...” He trails off, staring at the contact of his hand on Merlin’s.
Merlin cracks an awkward smile. “Me too... but I had a good time, Arthur.”
A grin blooms on Arthur’s face, one he’s clearly trying hard to temper. “Only ‘good’? Surely it was better than ‘good’.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Merlin instinctively bickers back.
Arthur retaliates by pulling Merlin down onto the bed again and nuzzling his neck, trailing dry lips along his pulse. Merlin lets Arthur drape his body over his again, enjoying the warmth despite almost falling out of the bed.
“Stay for a bit,” Arthur suggests tentatively, kissing Merlin’s shoulder as Merlin caresses Arthur’s waist.
Merlin doesn’t even think about his answer. “Okay.”
“I need some painkillers, though. Don’t know about you, but I’m hungover as fuck,” Arthur complains, dragging himself reluctantly away from Merlin and out of bed. “Drink?”
Merlin reclines in the bed, stretching his arms. “I’d love a cup of tea. And a toothbrush.” He licks his teeth and makes a face.
“I don’t have a spare one, but there’s mouthwash by the sink.” Arthur pulls on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt before leaving the bedroom with a grin. “Be right back, Merlin.”
Merlin lets himself laze for no more than a minute before getting up and collecting his clothes. He notes as he dresses that Arthur’s roommate has the same alarm clock as Gwaine – a neon-green block that Merlin had given him for his fifteen birthday. Merlin is pleased that looking at it doesn’t bring up pangs of loss and loneliness the way it once would have.
Merlin has just finished rinsing his mouth, spitting the mint-flavoured liquid into the sink, when the door opens. He doesn’t look up, concentrating on sweeping his hair into a more acceptable arrangement, and he feels a cheeky streak dictate his words. “So after tea and painkillers, how do you feel about round two?”
It’s not Arthur’s voice that answers.
Merlin jerks, mouth falling open in surprise as his eyes land on none other than Gwaine.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” Merlin gapes, taking in the ruffled clothes and evident sex hair; he’d be prouder of the fact that this doesn’t bother him, but what does bother him is that he can’t get away from Gwaine, even here.
Gwaine is still staring at Merlin like he can’t believe his eyes. “I live here!”
Merlin can only gawk. “Shit! Shit!” The green alarm clock makes sense now. With one last glance at the birthday present, Merlin immediately heads for the door that Gwaine is inconveniently blocking. “I need to go, Gwaine.”
Gwaine doesn’t move, and Merlin is forced to stand there, looking into his ex’s unreadable face. “Did you sleep with Arthur?” Gwaine asks quietly.
Merlin looks at Gwaine, exasperated. He doesn’t need to ask to see that Gwaine’s returned from a one-night stand, and he’s seen Gwaine so many times this past week with his hand on the backs and arms of men and women that he’s lost count.
“What do you think?” Merlin eventually replies, because he doesn’t know what to say; he can’t deny it, but he doesn’t want to confirm it with a ‘yes’ either.
There’s a long, uncomfortable silence, which breaks when Merlin decides enough is enough – he can’t take it anymore.
“See you around, Gwaine,” he mutters, and sweeps out of the bedroom without looking back. He almost forgets about Arthur, until Merlin sees him coming down the other end of the corridor, two mugs in hand.
Arthur’s brow furrows into a frown. “Are you going?”
“I’m sorry, I have to.” Merlin places a hand on Arthur’s arm and squeezes hard, trying to convey his sincerity. “Please believe me, Arthur, I’m not running away. I just... I really have to go. I’m so sorry.”
Merlin heads for the door before Arthur can argue otherwise.
Merlin goes straight to Gwen’s room when he gets back, collapsing into her bed with his face buried in the pillow.
“What happened?” Gwen asks in concern. She looks much too awake for someone who’d been out the night before, and Merlin wishes he could resent her.
“I slept with Gwaine’s roommate,” Merlin laments, turning over onto his back and covering his face with his hands in shame.
“Gwen, I have the shittest luck ever.”
Gwen comes to sit down on the edge of her bed, shoving Merlin’s legs closer to the wall. She smoothes her hands down his jeans and smiles sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Merlin. Did you at least have a good time, though?”
Merlin pulls his hands away and blinks at the ceiling. “That’s the worst part. It was the best night of my life.”
“Do you want to see him again?”
“Yes! Yes. Arthur’s gorgeous, and the sex was amazing. I don’t know, I barely know him, but we had such an instant connection; I was more comfortable with him than I am with Gwaine, and I’ve been friends with Gwaine since I was twelve.”
“Well, you should see this Arthur again, then.”
Merlin sits up, resting his head on Gwen’s shoulder as she continues to stroke his knee. “You should’ve seen the look on Gwaine’s face,” he murmurs, the memory brought to life behind his eyelids.
“That can’t stop you forever,” Gwen says. When Merlin doesn’t respond, she pulls away from him, forcing him to look at her. “Merlin, you’re eighteen,” she tells him solemnly. “You’ve got the rest of your life to live and so many more people to meet, and you can’t let the fact your ex-boyfriend is in your life affect the choices you make, especially the men you want to date.”
“I know,” Merlin sighs. “I know. God, I can’t believe I ran out of there without leaving Arthur my number or something. I don’t even know his surname.”
“You know where he lives,” Gwen points out with a smile. “You’ve just got to make sure Gwaine’s not around.”
“Which, judging from this week, is probably not going to be likely,” Merlin mutters, but he hugs Gwen gratefully anyway.
Merlin chickens out of visiting Arthur and Gwaine’s place for five days. He blames the start of classes – between meeting his fellow medical students and trying not to get too lost, he’s able to push the thought of his ex-boyfriend and one-night stand out of his mind. It’s not until Saturday afternoon that Merlin runs out of excuses to delay visiting any longer, and with a push from Gwen, he finds himself at the block of student flats.
It’s not that Merlin doesn’t want to see Arthur, because he wants to see Arthur more than anything; trying to forget the best sex of his life has proven to be difficult, especially when Merlin has woken up every morning since with persistent hard-ons. Rather, Merlin is terrified of confronting Gwaine, who he fortunately hasn’t seen since the week before. Thank goodness for some small mercies, because Merlin doesn’t feel ready to talk to his ex yet.
Students are always lax with security, and Merlin gets into the building easily without ringing any doorbells. After a flatmate lets him inside (“I’m... a friend of Arthur’s.”), Merlin stands in front of Gwaine and Arthur’s door, pushing his ear to the wood with no subtlety whatsoever to listen for movement and conversation – both of which appear to be lacking.
“Please someone be at home... The right person.” Merlin doesn’t feel brave enough to cope with being alone with Gwaine. He knocks on the door before he can talk himself out of it, and waits with his breath lodged in his throat.
When the door opens, surprise jumps onto Arthur’s face instantly.
“Hi,” Merlin says, his hand doing an awkward wave he wants to take back straightaway. He can’t stop staring at Arthur – at the cropped blonde hair and ridiculously angular jaw, at the stretch of skin he’s kissed. “Um. Is now a good time? I just want to... you know, talk about what happened last week.”
After an uncomfortable hush, Arthur wordlessly opens the door for Merlin to enter.
Taking Arthur’s stony silence as a bad sign, Merlin launches into the rehearsed speech in his head the moment the door closes, aiming his eyes at anywhere but Arthur’s face. “Look, I’m sorry for leaving, I had a really good time, and I’m not taking the piss when I say I want you to fuck me again, because last week was the best sex of my life, but I didn’t know you were roommates with my ex-boyfriend, who I broke up with in the summer, and I’m really over him, except he keeps showing up everywhere, and we don’t even go to the same fucking university, and my best mate thinks I’m stalking him, but I’m really not, but maybe God just hates me, because he walked in on us last week, and he looked like I’d punched him in the balls, even though that would make him a hypocrite, since he’s been sleeping around since the moment we came to uni, but it was still so bad, and I had to leave, I couldn’t face it, not when we’ve been friends since we were kids, and I will always love him in a way, but I really like you, Arthur, so...”
Merlin trails off, having run out of words.
“So yeah,” he finishes lamely.
Arthur stares at him blankly for a while, and Merlin is reminded of that moment when they had met in the club, looking into Arthur’s expressionless face, unable to read his thoughts. The uncertainty is off-putting and makes Merlin want to flee.
“Gwaine’s your ex?” Arthur finally says. “You’re kidding me.”
“I wish.” Merlin laughs weakly; his legs feel too much like jelly, and he can’t help but sit down on the edge of Arthur’s bed. “I’m just glad he’s not here right now.”
“He didn’t come home last night.”
Merlin shakes his head. “Of course he didn’t. I knew he’d enjoy being single. He was always like that before he dated me.”
Arthur sits down beside Merlin, their knees knocking together. Merlin looks up to see Arthur wearing the smallest of smiles. “I was the best sex you’ve ever had, huh?” he says lightly.
Remembering his rush of words, Merlin feels a blush bleeding from his cheeks to his ears. “Um...”
Arthur leans into Merlin’s space with a smirk that Merlin suspects he would normally accuse of cockiness, but right now ignites his libido, starting in the bottom of his stomach. “I can help you with that, Merlin,” he whispers, a hand sliding down Merlin’s thigh, along the inseam of his jeans.
“Good,” Merlin says, turning his face to Arthur’s, “because I’ve been dreaming about this all week.”
The first kiss is a little hesitant, the second is bolder, and the third one is hunger and filth, Merlin re-learning the contours of Arthur’s mouth, remembering the way Arthur curled his tongue, pushing against Merlin’s bottom lip.
Just as Arthur’s hand starts to caress a slice of skin on Merlin’s hip, just under his T-shirt, the door opens.
“For fuck’s sake,” Merlin hears Arthur breathe quietly as they pull apart. Merlin’s body is on red alert, meeting the gaze of the man standing in the doorway.
“Merlin,” Gwaine says evenly, less surprised this time. “Arthur.”
Merlin rubs his face. “Hey Gwaine.” He stands up, drawing away from Arthur. The moment is lost. “I’m going to go.” Before Arthur can protest, Merlin quickly jots his number on a pad of paper on the table, sending Arthur a look.
Gwaine is leaning on the door, eyeing up Arthur with a disapproving stare. When Merlin heads for the door, he turns to him. “Can we talk before you go?”
It’s the last thing Merlin wants, but he nods tightly, and with one last apologetic look at Arthur, he follows Gwaine into the corridor.
Merlin crosses his arms over his chest. “What do you want to talk about?”
“You don’t know him.” Gwaine is to the point, completely straightforward, like he always has been.
“Is there something about him I should know?”
“He’s an all-right guy, I guess, but you barely know him, Merlin. A one-night stand, fine, but what are you doing here? You can’t do fuck buddies, Merlin, that’s not you.”
Merlin feels anger curling into his chest, and he tries to control it; lashing out won’t help. “You don’t know what my intentions are, Gwaine. Anyway, isn’t that a bit hypocritical? It’s not even your place to say this to me.”
“You broke up with me, Merlin,” Gwaine reminds him, mouth pulled down in bitterness. “You did that for a reason. You know what I am, what I’ve always been.”
“So you can do whatever you want, but I can’t?” Merlin can’t believe the nerve. He’s not a child, and Gwaine of all people has no right to make him feel inferior.
“I’m saying you shouldn’t do this because of who you are, Merlin! You said we’d stay friends, but every time you see me, it’s like you want to run in the opposite direction.”
“That’s because you’re everywhere! I can’t even have sex without you turning up.” Merlin jabs a finger at Gwaine and Arthur’s room. “We can’t be best mates anymore, Gwaine; it doesn’t work like that after we’ve dated. It’d be easier if we’d just had sex and never...” Merlin struggles to think of the word for a moment. “It’d be easier if we’d never gotten involved. Because then I wouldn’t want to run to you when I know I can’t anymore, because you’re not mine. You’re... you’re the world’s, and I need to move on.”
Gwaine looks sadly at Merlin, and Merlin can see what Gwaine wants to say in his face.
“You told me so,” Merlin laughs mirthlessly, hanging his head. “Yes, I remember.”
“I will always love you, Merlin,” Gwaine says. “I never wanted to hurt you.”
Merlin brings himself to lay a hand on Gwaine’s arm, the feel of Gwaine’s T-shirt familiar under his touch.
The one and only.
I’m sorry about earlier.
Don’t be, as long as you still want to... hang out?
I live in Camden. My place in an hour?
Give me your address. I’ll be there.
Over the course of Merlin’s first term at university, he learns several things about Arthur:
1) Arthur’s 22 years old and studying a Masters at LSE in something to do with economics and politics (Merlin cares little for either, and had promptly distracted Arthur with an enthusiastic blow job).
2) Arthur’s incredibly bossy, arrogant, and swimming in old money, but he’s also compassionate, generous, and annoyingly persuasive.
3) Arthur’s the son of ex-Prime Minister Uther Pendragon.
“I’m sorry, what?” Merlin stares at Arthur as he pads around Merlin’s room, picking up his discarded clothes.
Arthur shoots Merlin a look of disbelief. “Pendragon’s my surname, how did you not make the connection?”
“I just... didn’t.” Merlin feels gobsmacked. He must look it too, because Arthur is in front of his face before Merlin notices, and leans down to kiss away his fish-like gape.
“I have to go to my lecture,” Arthur says when he draws back, apology written in his eyes. “I’ll see you later.”
As the door shuts behind him, Merlin hollers, “You’d better not be thinking of running for Prime Minister, because I’d flee the country!”
Other things Merlin learns about Arthur Pendragon:
4) Arthur may or may not be harbouring overly ambitious desires to become the next British Prime Minister... or the next Secretary-General of the United Nations... or even President of the United States, despite it being entirely impossible, because Arthur’s not even an iota American.
5) Arthur’s mother died giving birth to him.
6) Arthur is the best shag Merlin’s ever had.
They’ve been sleeping together at least three or four times a week for two months, Merlin muddling through his first-year lectures and Arthur breezing along his Masters in between seeing their separate group of friends and leading entirely different lives. Arthur likes sports and the stock exchange, Merlin prefers science and art galleries, but without fail, Arthur will end up in Merlin’s bed most nights.
It’s also been about two months since Merlin last saw Gwaine; after their chat, they hadn’t so much as texted each other. It’s not that Merlin has been specifically avoiding Gwaine – he’s just too wrapped up in his life to spare a thought for his ex-boyfriend. However, on a night out with a few of his friends at their local bar, he’s surprised when a sober and sombre-looking Gwaine slides into the end of their booth next to Merlin.
“Mind if I join you for a bit?” Gwaine asks, nursing a full pint of Guinness.
Merlin smiles and nods. He’s missed Gwaine, he realises, as he takes in the overly long hair and full beard. “Long time no see. These are my friends, by the way; from left to right: Gwen, Lance, Mordred and Elena. Lance also does Medicine, I live with Gwen, and Mordred and Elena are from the flat downstairs. Everyone, this is Gwaine, an old friend of mine from Ealdor.”
Merlin catches Gwaine’s eye as everyone says hellos and nice to meet yous; there’s no resentment to be detected, and Merlin is relieved.
They stick to small, safe topics at first – their degrees and workloads, their social haunts, their university’s failings, making new friends and discussing old ones. Gwaine’s always been a bit shit at keeping in contact, and Merlin brings him up to date on Gilli finally starting to feel like he fits in at Durham, Freya’s new flavour of the month, and Will’s suspected STI. Inevitably, though, the topic soon turns to the person they share in their lives.
“Arthur’s not home most nights, so I imagine he’s been staying at yours.” It’s not a question, but Merlin knows it’s there as Gwaine buries his face awkwardly in the Guinness he’s barely drank, which is insanely out of character.
“Yeah, it makes sense, seeing as I don’t have to share with anyone.”
“Are you guys together then?”
Merlin is startled by the question; and then he’s startled that he’s startled in the first place. When it hits Merlin in the face, he gapes at his ex-boyfriend, trying to form words that don’t seem to exist.
Eventually, he settles for, “Oh fuck.”
Merlin doesn’t expect it when Gwaine starts laughing, properly holding his stomach, his face creased and shoulders heaving. “Bloody hell, Merlin, you’ll never change. How are you so dense? I’d hate for you to be my doctor!”
It’s instinctive to punch Gwaine in the arm. “Dick!” Merlin recovers quickly, but despite locking his open jaw back in place, the realisation still thuds loudly in his mind.
Gwaine, knowing Merlin better than Merlin seems to know himself, places a reassuring but not at all inappropriate hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “He’s a good guy,” Gwaine says with a small smile. “Dickhead for a dad, I spent a whole lecture bitching about Pendragon, so don’t say I didn’t warn you, but... I think Arthur really likes you.”
Suddenly, Merlin is incredibly grateful for Gwaine’s friendship, and another wave of emotion hits him – this time sadness that, at one point a few months ago, he had wished he’d never see Gwaine again.
“He’s also a really anally clean bastard. Living with him is a pain in the backside,” Gwaine adds, and starts regaling Merlin’s friends with stories of how truly disgusting he can be.
When Merlin gets back to his flat that evening, after saying goodnight to Lance and Gwen disappearing into her room, he finds Arthur already in bed, wearing only boxers and a textbook propped open on his chest. Arthur’s fallen asleep, his face lax in slumber, and Merlin closes the door behind him as softly as possible.
After shedding his shoes, Merlin goes to sit on the bed; the movement wakes Arthur, and he smiles when he sees Merlin staring down at him.
“Hm. Yeah.” Merlin hesitates for a moment, and reading the perceptive frown in Arthur’s eyes, eventually continues. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Anything. As long as it’s not about game theory. It’ll take a better man to make you understand that.”
Merlin swats Arthur’s leg with a crooked smile.
“Do you... Do you think we’re in a relationship?”
Arthur blinks at the question. The dawn of understanding is slow, but breaks over his face with a widening smile. “Yes, Merlin, I do.”
“You consider me to be... your boyfriend?” Merlin says slowly.
“Yes, Merlin, I do.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me that?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Arthur sits up, putting his textbook to one side and turning to Merlin. “You’ve dated people before. What were you and Gwaine doing that’s different to what we’re doing now?”
Merlin pauses to consider this. “I went into a relationship with Gwaine thinking about how much I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life. I met you and you were the best shag I’d ever had, so I didn’t... I wasn’t expecting anything from you except for that.”
Despite Merlin’s words, Arthur is watching him with unhidden amusement.
“We sleep in the same bed most nights of the week. Half of my shit is in your room. I know all of your friends and you know mine. We have sex exclusively with each other. And you’ve even met Morgana, She Who Shall Burn In Hell; that’s a privilege only bestowed on the worthy.”
“I think I’m falling in love with you,” Merlin blurts out suddenly.
Arthur’s face is a vision of delight as he leans towards Merlin’s face. “Sure you don’t just want me for my cock, Merlin?”
“You’re a cock,” Merlin retorts, because he’s mature like that, and for goodness sake, he’s just confessed his newly-realised love to someone who isn’t taking it seriously at all.
“And I’m in love with you,” Arthur grins, and shuts Merlin up with a kiss that always takes them back to a dizzyingly drunken dance floor.