Arthur sat in his chair with his elbows resting on the desk and his face buried in his hands. He was done for. He knew it, and there was no going back. There was a knock on the door and he groaned.
"I am afraid this is kind of important." Gwen, Arthur's assistant marched into his office, even though she knew Arthur didn't want to see anyone. But that was the thing about Gwen; she never really listened to Arthur. He didn't know why he still kept her around.
"What is so important? That bloody reporter followed me—"
"I know. That's why I'm here."
Arthur looked up from his desk and stared at Gwen. "Please don't tell me you're going to give me a lecture—"
"Of course not. What you do on your own time is your business. However, our business..."
Arthur groaned again and sat back in his seat. He knew she was going to mention his father in less than five seconds.
"Uther has asked me..." There it was. "He wants me to set you up with an agency to help clear the image."
"Clear the image?" Arthur didn't understand what she was going on about.
"Mr Pendragon feels that if you were seen in public with a figure, someone equally prominent to the Pendragons, then perhaps the media could put this entire ordeal behind us."
"Frankly, Gwen, I really don't care what Mr Pendragon thinks," Arthur snapped. Technically, his father was the reason Arthur was in this mess in the first place. Why should he listen to him now?
"I didn't really peg you as the type—"
"Please don't start." Arthur stood up from his chair and grabbed his coat. "Who is this prominent being I'm supposed to meet?"
"His name is Merlin Emrys. He's Mr Gaius' godson. You know—"
"The world renowned surgeon and the man whose research the Pendragon Industries is funding?" Arthur didn't need to ask, but he did anyway. Gwen nodded, looking impressed. Arthur sighed louder than he'd meant. "Fine, is this Merlin Emrys aware of—?"
"Yes. He's not thrilled about it either, but it seems it's all a matter of favours. He'll do anything for his godfather, and his godfather owes your father a lot of favours, so..."
"So he's going to be my companion for a while, and we'll be a very prominent couple," Arthur said dryly. He really didn't need a fake boyfriend. Of all the things he needed right now, this was not one of them.
"I need a drink."
"Merlin is usually at the Avalon Bar and Grille on Thursdays. Why don't you go ahead and—"
"Honestly? Tonight?" Arthur was not in the mood for this. He'd hoped he could start revamping his image from Monday not then and there. "Fine." He rolled his eyes and handed his mobile to Gwen, so she could put in the restaurant's address.
When he entered the place, Arthur was impressed with the decor. This Merlin Emrys definitely had decent taste. He spotted an empty spot at the bar and headed for it. He still wasn't sure what this Merlin looked like, and figured he'd find a forty something year old business man with a stiff suit and a smart phone and take it from there.
From what he knew of Mr Gaius and his associates, they were all business, all the time.
Arthur plopped himself at a seat at the bar and asked for a single malt whiskey. The bartender smiled at him as he handed him the drink. Their eyes met for a moment and Arthur realised the bartender probably knew who he was. Annoyed with himself, Arthur turned around in his seat, assessing the room.
"Hi." Arthur turned to his right and saw a man, around his age, maybe a few years younger, beaming at him.
"I'm sorry, I'm waiting for someone," Arthur answered, his tone annoyed. The man who'd just said hello to him was attractive. Really, incredibly, attractive. And Arthur was annoyed because he was waiting for someone.
"I didn't realise a 'hello' was such a chore," the man said and turned to sit next to Arthur. Arthur watched him intently. The man, with hair dark like the night, and eyes blue like the ocean, simply nodded at the bartender and the other man handed him a drink.
Evidently, it was someone who frequented the bar.
"So you're a regular?" Arthur asked.
"Oh, are we talking now?" the man raised both his eyebrows, but continued to look into his drink.
"As you said, saying hello isn't such a chore," Arthur answered. "Besides, I was more annoyed at the chore I'll have to do later, than now."
The other man let out a snort. Arthur reckoned his statement did sound a bit wicked.
"I hope they'll pay you good money for it," the man said and took a sip of his drink.
Arthur turned around to face the bar again and placed his drink on the counter. "I'm Arthur, Arthur Pendragon."
"Oh, I know who you are," the man said, still not looking at Arthur.
"Of course," Arthur said and turned away from the mystery man. "Half the world's children are dying of hunger and the people only care about some rich brat going to a whorehouse."
The man placed his hand on Arthur's shoulder and Arthur turned to look at him again. Bloody hell, this bloke was hot. "That's not why I know you. I'm aware of the news but—"
"But what?" Arthur asked, impatiently.
"I'm the one who's going to save you." The man smiled softly and took another sip of his drink. Arthur had no bloody idea what this man was going on about. He offered his hand to Arthur to shake before speaking again. "I'm Merlin, and I'm here to rescue you."
"What?" Arthur all but screamed his response. "You're Merlin Emrys?" The man nodded. "You're the prominent entity, with the golden image and the charm to keep the press at bay?"
"Try not so sound so shocked," the other man said. "You can just call me Merlin."
"Merlin," Arthur whispered in disbelief. "I thought you were some—"
"Some what?" Merlin raised an eyebrow.
"Some older man with a business suit and a Blackberry. I thought you'd be drinking high-end Scotch and take me under your wing as a padawan, only to let the press believe that I was in a stable relationship, and serious about my image, my career—"
"I'm all of those things. Just not...older." Merlin grinned at Arthur, and Arthur narrowed his eyes.
"I'd like to see some identification," Arthur demanded. He still didn't believe the other man.
Merlin shook his head as though he was amused, and removed his wallet from his jacket pocket. "Here," he said, handing a small identification card to Arthur. "I try to stay out of the press the best I can, and I don't dress like an entrepreneur. I like my business to speak for itself. But now—"
Arthur was staring at Merlin as he spoke, watching his mouth move, and following the movement of his chin with his eyes. He noticed Merlin pause and swallow thickly.
"But, we are ready for our company to go to the next level, our product to begin competing in the international market. So I need to be out there, and what better way to be instantly famous than to attach yourself to—"
"Someone notoriously infamous for parties, and—"
"Exactly. Your image needs to be restored and mine needs to be formed. It really is just a great opportunity for the both of us and it helps that we'd make a handsome couple." Merlin pointed at the mirror behind the bar and Arthur got to see the two of them together for the first time.
The man was right. He was bloody gorgeous and Arthur—well Arthur knew what he looked like.
"I have to ask though," Merlin said, grabbing Arthur's attention away from the mirror. Arthur turned to look at Merlin again, listening to whatever he had to say next.
Merlin hesitated for a moment. "Come on, spit it out already," Arthur snapped.
"Why did you need to go to a prostitute?" Merlin all but whispered his question. "I mean, you could take your pick from—literally anyone in the room. Honestly—"
Arthur felt his face getting red as the back of his neck started to heat up. He grabbed the back of his neck and rubbed it gently. He caught Merlin staring at him, mouth half open. "I...Erm...It's not what people think and it's not something I care to discuss..."
"Fair enough," Merlin said. "Can I get you another drink?" Arthur nodded, and Merlin gestured to the bartender.
They stayed at the bar for most of the night and towards the end, Arthur saw Merlin take out his phone and text someone. "Can I give you a lift anywhere?" he asked Arthur.
"Er...sure," Arthur answered. "I live—"
"You can tell the driver." Merlin got up off his seat and placed his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "Ready to go?" Arthur nodded. He didn't remember paying the tab, but it seemed that they were all set. Merlin must have taken care of it, and Arthur cursed himself for not paying more attention.
"I'll get the drinks next time," Arthur said to Merlin as they walked out of the restaurant. Merlin laughed, but didn't respond. A few moments later, they were in the back of a black Mercedes and Merlin was telling the driver Arthur's address.
"How do you know where I live?" Arthur asked, resting against the left side of the car, trying to keep his eyes open. He'd had more to drink than he usually did, but for some reason Merlin was making him nervous.
"Our families are friends, it's not that hard to find out where you live," Merlin answered.
"You're an interesting bloke," Arthur observed. "I think it'll be good fun to pretend to be your boyfriend. I probably would have dated you if we didn't have to pretend. I mean—not that I—" Arthur straightened up. "I'm not pulling you."
Merlin laughed again. He had this weird infectious, condescending type of laugh that Arthur couldn't place a finger on. Did he find Arthur entertaining or ridiculous? "I know. I would like it if we became friends, regardless of the fake relationship."
"Indeed," Arthur answered and rested his head on Merlin's shoulder.
The next day when Arthur woke up, he was in his bed, still dressed in the clothes from the night before, and had a note stuck to his mobile.
"It was an interesting night. Let's get lunch today. Send me a text after you wake. - M."
Arthur ran his thumb over Merlin's handwriting and smiled to himself. He wondered if Merlin could really turn out to be a good friend, someone Arthur could share his secrets with. He seemed like a genuine bloke. It was at least worth a try.
Six Months Later
"I can't believe the auditors want to review the files for the most annoying clients," Arthur huffed as he looked over a spread sheet from six years ago to make sure the numbers added up. What mattered about taxes from six years ago, anyway? They'd been audited three years in a row and were always on top of all their accounts.
"I can't believe Uther's asked you to work on your birthday," Gwen stated as she picked another file and sat with her highlighter, looking as though she was ready to do some damage.
Arthur laughed. "I can. I'm just bummed that I'm already late for dinner with Merlin." Arthur didn't have to look up to know that Gwen was grinning at him.
"Things are going well, then?" she asked.
"You know we are just friends," Arthur answered, rolling his eyes.
"Right, that's why you two are so inseparable, practically living in each other's flats, and going on holiday together." She giggled as she turned a page and marked something.
"You know we have to do that for show. His business is doing well, and we had to go to France for the launch. Besides, we stayed in separate beds, thank you very much."
"And whose idea was that?" Gwen asked.
"Mine." Arthur furrowed his brows.
"Maybe you shouldn't have suggested that. Who knows where that could have led?" Gwen closed the file and looked at Arthur, her arms crossed.
"Now why would I do that, Gwen?"
"Who knows where it would lead? You two are clearly perfect for each other, and you like him. Maybe you should make the first move!"
"Even if I did like him...which I do not," Arthur stressed, lying through his teeth. "I'm sure he doesn't feel the same way about me. We are just friends."
The truth was, Arthur was madly in love with Merlin, but he was sure Merlin saw him as nothing more than a friend; nothing more than a business deal. They'd hold hands, even kiss on the cheek in various public events, but the moment they were behind closed doors, Merlin would let go of Arthur's hand in a heartbeat. Sometimes, Arthur tried to linger, but Merlin would never catch on. Probably because he wasn't interested.
"I think that's enough for today," Gwen said. "We can catch up on the rest in the morning, and you can make your dinner with Merlin."
Arthur was so glad to hear Gwen call an end to the night. He'd wanted to do it an hour ago, but he knew that once she was in the zone, it was hard to get her out of it.
"Great, do you want to come with? Have a drink?"
"I don't know… it's your birthday, Arthur..."
"Yeah, so come and have a drink!" Arthur insisted. He wasn't a fool. He knew that everyone was planning a surprise birthday party for him. He just had to pretend that he had no idea.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Merlin was waiting by himself. Arthur had been wrong. There was no surprise party. He was slightly disappointed, but was still glad that Merlin had waited for him. Merlin, Arthur, and Gwen had dinner together and the entire time, Arthur could feel Gwen smiling at the both of them. He knew his cheeks were turning red from the embarrassment and the pressure. As it was, he was nervous being around Merlin, who always kept his cool, and now Gwen was staring at him for his reactions.
After dinner, Arthur requested Merlin give Gwen a lift home; he had to "run an errand." Merlin frowned for a brief second, then agreed. They said their goodbyes and Arthur headed where he usually did every Friday night. Except, the night of his birthday wasn't a Friday, but he'd promised that he'd stop by.
An hour later, Arthur was home. He opened the front door to his flat and almost had his heart sink into his stomach when over thirty people jumped out at him in the dark and yelled, "Surprise."
He was correct after all; he was going to have a surprise party, just not at the restaurant.
"Uther said his assistant will take care of the rest of the tax files, and that you can have tomorrow off," Gwen told Arthur after he'd caught his breath.
"This is why you were spending so much time with me?" Arthur asked, slightly annoyed, and slightly impressed at Gwen's ability to keep a secret. "And you!" Arthur turned to Merlin. "I had no bloody idea."
"I know, that was kind of the point," Merlin answered and Arthur pulled him in for a hug. After Gwen left the two of the alone, Merlin turned to Arthur. "So it was good?"
"What was good?" Arthur asked, confused.
"Where you go every Friday night, where you went tonight. You were safe?" The look of concern on Merlin's face made Arthur's heart melt.
"I know it's not my business. I just want to make sure you're happy." Merlin smiled at Arthur and gently squeezed his shoulder. Then he turned towards the hall and joined in on the festivities.
The party was in full swing, and Arthur got too drunk too fast. The entire night, he kept looking towards Merlin, who never glanced back at him. This wasn't normal Merlin behaviour. Usually, Merlin watched whatever Arthur was doing, and vice versa. But, Arthur reckoned, this party was not a 'media social event,' but a party at Arthur's place. No one from the media was there. Why would Merlin pretend there? They were amongst friends, and Arthur's closest friends, Gwen, Leon, Percy, and Gwaine all knew that his and Merlin's relationship wasn't "real." It was just a publicity scam.
It was just a publicity scam to everyone, but Arthur. Arthur, who was madly in love with Merlin. Merlin, who was standing in the corner of the room, flirting with Cenred. Cenred, who was a total wanker.
Arthur marched over to the corner of the room where he saw Merlin and Cenred, and pulled on Merlin's arm. "I have to talk to you," Arthur demanded and Merlin nodded at him. Merlin turned to say something to Cenred, but Arthur didn't give him a chance. "Now." He dragged Merlin across the hall to his room and closed the door behind them.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked.
"What's the matter, Arthur?" Merlin asked in return.
"You're flirting with Cenred, at my party!" Arthur didn't mean to sound so petulant, but he couldn't help the way his tone came out.
"We were just talking—" Merlin sounded annoyed. "He's got some connections in Netherlands, and we were going to go there next to do a marketing event—"
Arthur snorted. "Right."
"What?" Merlin snapped
"I'm sure he's going to take you to the Netherlands to market your product." Arthur shook his head. He knew he was being obnoxious, but he couldn't stop himself.
"What is your fucking problem?" Merlin roared.
"I don't have a fucking problem," Arthur answered. "I just don't appreciate that you—my supposed boyfriend—are flirting with someone outside the circle who doesn't know—"
"I wasn't flirting with him. And, why do you care if I flirt with someone? We aren't really boyfriends, anyway. We are meant to break up eventually. And I'm not the one who still goes to a fucking whorehouse every week. Instead of — Instead of —"
"Instead of what?" Arthur spat.
"Instead of just asking me to fuck you. If you want to have sex, why don't you just ask me? I'm here, fucking day in and day out, with you. God, you don't even see it. How much I want you—"
Before Merlin could finish his retort, Arthur's lips were on his. Merlin immediately wrapped his arms around Arthur and kissed him back. Arthur's hands travelled down to the small of Merlin's back and poured all of his longing and need for Merlin into that kiss. Merlin moaned into Arthur's mouth, and Arthur grabbed Merlin by his arse, lifting him, and Merlin wrapped his legs around Arthur’s waist.
Their erections brushed together as Merlin jerked his hips, continuing to be held in Arthur's embrace. Arthur groaned with need and stumbled back towards his bed, eventually falling backwards and continuing to hold onto Merlin for dear life. He was so afraid to let him go, as if releasing Merlin would cause him to disappear.
"Fuck. Need you. Arthur." Merlin panted in between their kisses as he began grinding on Arthur's cock, earning himself a satisfying moan.
"Trousers," Arthur breathed, and he began to unbutton Merlin's jeans as Merlin's hands drifted down to Arthur's trousers. Arthur took off his shirt next, and they'd both barely managed to take their trousers off when Arthur began sliding their cocks together.
Merlin moaned Arthur's name repeatedly. "I can't wait...more..." Merlin gasped, grabbing Arthur’s cock and stroking it. It felt incredible, and Arthur followed Merlin's lead and began to tug on his cock. They kissed again, tongues refusing to part, as they wanked each other off on Arthur's bed.
"Harder, Arthur. Faster," Merlin insisted, jerking his hips towards Arthur, fucking his hand.
Not long after, both men were coming, and Arthur grabbed the back of Merlin's neck with his left hand to pull him in for a kiss. "Merlin...I...I..." he gasped against Merlin's lips, trying to find the courage to say the words. He hadn’t felt so content in a long time.
"Yeah?" Merlin asked, dropping small kisses onto Arthur's mouth, then his cheek, trailing down to his neck.
"I love you," Arthur whispered. Low enough as though he was sure, that if Merlin didn't feel the same way, it would be as though it never happened.
"I know. I know that you think that I'm spoiled and selfish, and I probably owe you a huge explanation, but—"
"I love you too, Arthur," Merlin answered, before claiming Arthur's lips again and pressing their bodies together. Arthur nuzzled into Merlin's neck, holding him close. He loved feeling Merlin against him; his warm body provided his heart a sort of satisfaction Arthur didn't know was possible. "We should get back to your party," Merlin said.
Arthur groaned. "Do we have to?"
"Yes. We should at least be there if people are starting to leave."
"Will you stay?" Arthur asked, feeling more insecure than he thought possible. What if Merlin didn't want to stay? What if Arthur didn't get a chance to explain himself?
"Yes. Of course, I'll stay." Merlin smiled at Arthur and gently let go of him. Arthur inadvertently whined at the loss of his touch and Merlin grinned some more. "You're not used to not getting things your way, are you, Pendragon?"
"Have we met?" Arthur replied teasingly. "I keep what I want."
"Well, let's hope you want me," Merlin said.
Arthur grabbed the box of tissues sitting beside his bed and quickly cleaned himself and Merlin up before getting dressed. Five minutes later, they were back at the party, pretending as though nothing had happened. Even though they were sure that everyone knew what had happened.
An hour later, the last of the guests said their goodbyes. Cenred offered to give Merlin a lift home; Arthur only glowered at him, even as Merlin held Arthur's hand and politely declined Cenred’s offer. Gwen was the happiest out of everyone as she left.
"Tell me everything tomorrow! Call me!" she told Arthur, and followed Lance out the door.
When they returned to the bedroom, Arthur was more exhausted than he'd have liked to admit. He was sure Merlin understood, because they quickly changed out of their clothes and Merlin pulled him into bed, holding him.
Arthur turned to face Merlin. Even in the dark, he could feel Merlin's eyes on him. He edged them closer together, under the covers, their bodies only slightly separated through the thin cloth of their boxers.
"I don't go to the whorehouse to have sex," Arthur whispered, stroking Merlin's back gently with his fingers.
"Oh..." Merlin said in return. His tone wasn’t surprised nor did he sound like he was comforted by Arthur’s statement.
"My sister..." Arthur paused for a brief moment. "A while back she got into the wrong crowd, and started doing drugs and got arrested a few times. My father, he—he stopped supporting her. Cleaned out her bank account—he wanted nothing to do with her. So she resorted to prostitution. I found out where she was and I went to see her. Asked her, begged her to come back, but she's too stubborn. So I used to go visit her, then this reporter started following me and I didn't want my father to—"
"So you let everyone believe that you're some sort of a sex addict—"
"And you go to see your sister every Friday?"
"Yeah, I give her money. She refuses to take it so I schedule an appointment with her and pay her two hours’ worth of—whatever. She's been trying to get clean, for me."
"Oh, Arthur. I'm so sorry. I have been such an idiot!"
"No, you haven't." Arthur kissed the top of Merlin's head. "You've been pretty perfect, actually. You knew where I was going for six months and you didn't say anything..."
Arthur felt Merlin shrug. "I just thought I wasn't your type."
"Merlin, you're a complete idiot. Do you know that?" Arthur asked and Merlin only laughed at his response. Eventually, Merlin turned around and both men fell silent, spooning, as Arthur continued to kiss the back of Merlin's neck. Arthur loved feeling Merlin against him; he felt it was a feeling he would never get enough of. He pulled Merlin closer, as though whatever contact he was getting wasn't enough.
"When we travelled together...and I always reserved the rooms with two beds..."
"Oh, I hated that so much."
"Of course. Since the first day, Arthur, I wished you'd asked me to stay in bed with you."
"You did?" Arthur was genuinely surprised.
Merlin laughed again. "Yeah. Except the first night I was here, you did ask me to stay in bed with you, but you were so pissed, I figured you wouldn't even remember in the morning."
"I didn't," Arthur answered truthfully.
"I know…and since then I wished for the day you would ask me again."
"Now, I will. Every day."
There's a remix of this story called: Friday On My Mind. You should check it out.