Pushed To My Limits (To Make Me Better)
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin blew on his hands as he stood to the side of the ice rink and waited. The Albion ice hockey team were still out on the ice training even though it was already twenty minutes past the end of their booking. Merlin stretched out, trying to keep his muscles warm while the ice hockey team wasted his time on the rink.
Five minutes later, he removed the safety covers from his skates and skated out into the middle of the rink. He planted himself in the blue centre ring and folded his arms over the Tardis on his jumper. A broadly muscled man skated towards him swiftly. Merlin planted his toe in the ice and stared the other man down until he stopped in a spray of ice in front of Merlin.
The man, blonde hair revealed as he threw his helmet off, glared at him. "What are you doing here, idiot?"
"Trying to get onto the ice during my booking."
"Yes, you clotpole, you were supposed to be off the ice thirty minutes ago."
Four other men had skated over to stand behind the blonde. One of them looked up and over Merlin's shoulder to the clock on the wall. "He's right, Arthur."
Arthur looked over his shoulder and glared at the man behind him.
"Kilgharrah is normally much better with the time," one of the players behind Arthur, obviously the clotpole, said.
"We'll get straight off," another of the men said.
Arthur didn't look overly happy about it but he nodded and started off the ice.
"You know you could apologise for wasting my time," Merlin threw at Arthur's retreating back. The blonde paused and then one of his teammates pushed him along.
"We're very sorry for the inconvenience," one of Arthur's teammates said before skating away.
Merlin took a deep breath and started skating around the rink to warm up again. He skated for a few minutes and then slowed to a stop in the middle of the ice. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply and caught the beat of the song in his head before he started skating his routine for the Olympics trial. The rest of the room fell away, Merlin wasn't cold, he couldn't hear anything, he didn't see anything beyond the imagined path he needed to take next. He finished the routine and ran through some of his harder practice moves until his wrist started vibrating – five minute warning. He slowed down, skating his muscles into a warm up. He should have had another half hour on the ice but he wouldn't steal someone else's time just because the ice hockey team were inconsiderate.
Merlin didn't see Arthur, or the rest of the ice hockey players, until the official unveiling of the team a couple of months later when all of the selected athletes were called together and officially named for the Albion Winter Olympics Team. Merlin was standing on one side of the platform, Morgana tall and imposing as the unopposed star of the figure skating team, and the rest of them standing slightly behind her. Arthur was standing with his team at his back – there was something familiar about the way Arthur was standing; it reminded Merlin of Morgana next to him.
There was supposed to be a party after the announcement where the athletes were meant to mingle and get to know one another ready for their time in the athlete's village but this would be Merlin's last chance to spend time with his mother before the Olympics when she was flying to Russia to see him compete. This might be Merlin's last chance at the Olympics, his third. He could probably go on to another one but he just wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life when these Olympics were over. He slipped away from the press conference and hopped a train up to Ealdor to see his mother.
"I was just watching your press conference," his mother said, instead of a greeting. "You were the most handsome one there."
Merlin smiled, his mother always said that, or told him that he was the best on the ice no matter what else was happening. She had always been his greatest supporter. She had sent him to ice skating lessons when he was young because his father had been a skater, speed though not figure. Merlin had just loved how beautiful figure skating was no matter how fast he was on the ice, and he had been fast. Then his mother had called an old friend, Gaius, who had agreed to train Merlin as a figure skater. Merlin had two Olympic gold medals and a fistful of medals from other figure skating competitions but it wasn't making him happy like it had when he was a kid. Hell, it wasn't making him as happy as it had been a year ago. A year ago he'd been thinking about pushing onto the Olympics in 2018. Now, Gaius kept giving him the eyebrow of doom whenever Merlin looked less than enthused to be out on the ice. He knew his mother was worried about him as well.
He was hoping that something in Sochi would reawaken his enjoyment about being on the ice.
Merlin spent the rest of the weekend with his mother before he boarded a plane to Finland where he would be doing the rest of his training. Morgana, Gwen, Will, and the rest of the figure skating team would be with him, under Gaius' training. Merlin took to practicing late in the evening, long after everyone else was off the ice. He could see the looks that everyone else was giving him. Gwen's eyes were soft and worried while Morgana had the hard look of someone who'd sensed weakness and Will looked like he wasn't sure what to think. Gaius kept looking at him with worry and then giving him the eyebrow of doom more than Merlin had ever received it – even when he'd been caught almost naked with Gilli at the ice rink when he'd been a teenager.
Merlin skated the routines he would be performing over and over but he couldn't find that same joy he had had before.
"What's wrong with you?"
Merlin screamed and dropped his skates, clutching his hand to his chest looking at Morgana wildly. "What are you doing here?"
Morgana stood up from the bed gracefully and walked over to him. "You're not skating the same."
Merlin folded his arms over his chest. "Pardon?"
Morgana waved a hand at him. "You're still the best skater we've ever seen but you're not the same."
"I know you let me be the big name of the figure skating team but we all know you're the star."
Merlin smirked. "That doesn't sound like you, Morgana."
She smirked at him. "I'm still the best female figure skater in the world."
"That's the Morgana we love."
She walked over to him and gripped his chin between her fingers. "What happened?"
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know."
"You don't have as much fun with it anymore."
"I don't know."
She glared at him. "Then we'll have to do something about it."
Merlin huffed out a laugh. "If anyone is capable of something like that it would be you."
"Mordred is a good skater, Merlin, but he's not as good as you."
"So, this is all about the continued supremacy of the Albion Winter Olympics team?"
"Of course, sleep well, Merlin, we've only got a week to go and I want our team to walk away with all of the gold."
"I think the Essetians, Russians and Americas would have a problem with that."
Morgana laughed and walked away. "I don't care."
They flew out for Russia a few days later, with assignments for their rooms in the athletes' village. Merlin let himself into the room, his roommate nowhere to be seen and put the photo of he, with his mother, Gwen and Will next to the bed before he worried about anything else. It had been taken years ago when they were all training as teenagers until Gaius – before he'd become the Head Coach for the Figure Skating team of Albion. That had been an amazing time, before things had grown truly competitive.
Merlin was just unzipping his bag when he heard the door open behind him. He left his bedroom to go out into the main room of the unit and found Arthur standing just inside the door.
"What are you doing here?" they said at once.
Merlin groaned. "You're my roommate?"
Arthur sighed. "Apparently."
"I hope you're a more considerate roommate than you are rink user."
"Our coach normally calls us off the ice."
"It's called a clock, maybe you should learn how to read one."
Arthur glared at him. "I know how to read a clock."
"You could have fooled me."
Arthur glared at him and folded his arms over his chest. "Who do you think you are? It was an accident."
"It was inconsiderate."
"It was an accident, which you insulted me for."
"You're the captain, right?"
"Then you're the one who should have been watching the time."
Arthur's face turned mulish but then he shook it off. "Who are you?"
Arthur's face twisted. "Figure skating?"
"I didn't recognise you, with the stupid hair."
Merlin glared at him. "My hair is not stupid."
"And that's nothing on your ears."
Merlin turned around. "Just keep to your damned room."
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
"Arthur," his father said, briskly.
"I expect a gold medal in this case by the end of February."
"Will there be one?"
Uther didn't look like he believed Arthur but he never did. "Good, I hope I'm not flying all the way to Russia just to see your sister win."
Arthur nodded, knowing that Uther wouldn't dare give this rousing speech of encouragement to Morgana.
Arthur's phone vibrated in his pocket but he knew he couldn't do anything about it in his father's presence. The moment it stopped it started again and Arthur had to stand and excuse himself to the bathroom when it started ringing for the third time. He answered the phone in one of the many spare rooms of the house.
Arthur felt like the middle of his chest had just been punched out.
"What happened? How long will he take to recover."
"He isn't injured. He's been arrested."
Arthur slumped back against the wall behind him. "I'll call my family's lawyer, what was he arrested for?"
"Public indecency, he was running from the room of a woman whose husband had just come home."
"Fuck, he's going to get investigated by the selection committee."
"He hates Gwaine, Leon, even though he's the best fucking goal scorer we have my Father won't help."
"I'm sorry, Arthur."
"I'll call Geoffrey now, just go and keep an eye on him – tell him to keep his mouth shut."
"Already did," Leon said. "Bye, Arthur."
Arthur took a deep breath and called Geoffrey before he took the time to use the bathroom even though he didn't really need to and made sure his mask was on when he walked back into the room with his father.
They had an awkward dinner before Arthur slipped out of the house and drove home so tense he couldn't breathe properly. The moment he was back in his apartment he stripped off the suit he wore and hung it up. He changed into something slightly less constricting and left the apartment again to go and see what was happening with Gwaine. He wished the other man could just keep it in his pants for another couple of weeks then they'd be in the Ukraine training and Arthur could keep an eye on him. There was a reason Arthur insisted on being Gwaine's roommate for any team trip, no one else seemed to be able, or inclined, to keep the long haired lothario in line.
Gwaine was still in the cell, redressed, and a grin that Arthur didn't find at all repentant.
"Do you want to miss out on the Olympics?" Arthur hissed.
Gwaine rolled his eyes. "They aren't going to kick me off the team."
"You were arrested."
"He was detained," Geoffrey's voice drew everyone's attention to the door. "He is going to receive a formal reprimand and he will be arrested if he's caught again but luckily everyone out there wants some gold and it's the first time he's be caught."
"In Albion," Arthur added. "Gwaine, you're on lockdown until the games start."
"No," Arthur said, voice harsh. "You are going to be on your best behaviour because we are two weeks away from the Winter Olympics and we are representing our country at the games. We need to be serious, and we need to start now. No more women, no more men, no more anything but the ice, the puck and the damn skates."
"Arthur had dinner with his father tonight," Leon said, eyes on Gwaine.
"Right," Gwaine said, "I'll be on my best behaviour."
Arthur nodded. "When can we get out of here?"
"The police are coming back to release him now."
"Geoffrey, let me know what I owe you."
"You father already knows about his detainment," Geoffrey said, "he called me."
Arthur swore under his breath and then straightened his back. "I'd still prefer to receive your bill myself."
"I'm not charging anyone for tonight," Geoffrey said, stepping back while the officer, in his Camelot red uniform, walked in and released Gwaine.
"I'll see Gwaine home," Leon offered, as soon as they were standing outside.
"Training at 6am tomorrow." Arthur told them.
Both Leon and Gwaine nodded without saying anything and then left.
"Good luck in Sochi, Arthur."
"Thank you, Geoffrey, and thank you for tonight."
"I knew Gwaine's father, they were a lot alike."
"I wouldn't tell Gwaine that."
"I didn't plan to. I'll see you when you get back."
Arthur thanked Geoffrey again and headed home.
The next morning, he looked at his team and let out a huff of breath. Kilgharrah was standing behind him, all ready to confuse them all with his philosophical coaching style but Arthur would get the first word.
"We are two weeks, a fortnight, fourteen days, three hundred and thirty-six hours, twenty thousand one hundred and sixty minutes, away from the Winter Olympics. Every one of you has been part of a winning ice hockey team whether it's the Albion Championships or the European league but not one of you has earned an Olympic gold medal. The team was close four years ago and I know you all want it, every single one of you wants to walk away with gold, another silver isn't going to be good enough, it isn't going to assuage that ache in your stomachs that needs gold like the goblins our forbearers feared. We are Albion Knights, we are the best team in the world and we need to step this up to another level. Some of you are with me, you can almost taste that gold but we have two weeks left to be strong and determined. Two weeks of pain and deprivation until we have a chance to stand on top of Canada, Russia, the Americans and prove to Essetir that they were lucky four years ago but Albion are here and we will dominate."
"Should we start clapping?" Gwaine asked.
Arthur glared at him.
"Suicide runs, Gwaine," Kilgharrah said, over Arthur's shoulder.
"How many until you see the destiny that is before you?"
Gwaine sighed but skated to the end of the rink and began skating the runs.
"Gwaine is lured by the flesh and each of you will need to overcome obstacles to make it to the top. You shall have to find your cohesive centre if you wish to realise the potential that lives in each of you."
Arthur knew Kilgharrah was widely believed to be the best ice hockey coach in the world but he was also a strange, strange man.
They started their training session and Arthur pushed the rest of his team harder than normal, one eye on the clock to make sure that annoying kid from a more than a month ago didn't have another reason to call him out on a mistake.
His father was sitting on a bench as soon as they came off the ice. Arthur hung back, watching his teammates walk away, under his father's disapproving stare.
Kilgharrah stopped next to him. "Arthur, you have five minutes and then you need to be in the locker rooms for your warm down and physio."
Arthur nodded and Kilgharrah walked away without looking at Uther once.
"Your left winger needs to watch his stick."
Arthur nodded, he wouldn't be telling Lancelot that.
"And your goaltender leaves the left hand side of the goal open more than he defends it."
"Percival is left handed."
Uther didn't comment.
"Did you come to critique us?"
Uther stood up. "If I was here to critique we would be talking about the sloppy footwork and the fact you couldn't score off the second string goaltender."
Arthur tightened his shoulders and forced himself to look at his father.
"I'm here to discuss what happened last night."
"We had dinner."
"Don't be obtuse. Gwaine, your pet project was arrested."
"He was reprimanded."
"Only because Geoffrey stepped in for him."
"What about him?"
"He's a terrible representative for the country."
"The people love him and he's a good person."
"Tell that to the husband of the woman he was sleeping with."
"He didn't know she was married, he might be a lot of things but he doesn't knowingly sleep with other men's wives or girlfriends."
Uther obviously didn't believe him. "That is not what my advisors are telling me."
"Yes, well, none of your advisors actually know him, do they?"
"They are well informed."
"He's the best goal scorer in Albion."
Uther looked even more displeased at that. "He shouldn't be representing this country."
"He's the best goal scorer in Albion," Arthur repeated, "who should be, if not him?"
"Someone who won't tarnish our reputation."
"Gwaine is going to get the team gold."
"You should be the reason you get gold."
"I play a team sport."
Arthur remembered that old argument, that old pain of disappointment when it became clear, even to Uther, that his dream of gold from Morgana and Arthur in figure skating pairs was never going to happen. Ice hockey wasn't figure skating, it wasn't the sport that had brought his parents together, it wasn't good enough for a Pendragon. Arthur had been allowed to start only because he was deemed, by a dozen of the best figure skating judges in the world, to be completely unsuited to figure skating pairs and that training would make him good but never great. The suggestion had been for Morgana to train to be a solo skater and she hadn't looked back since. Arthur had fought hard to make his name on the ice rink, to prove that he wasn't useless just because his body was never going to be graceful enough to do triple lutzes. His father wasn't happy that his son wasn't going to be winning a figure skating Olympic gold medal but he did expect Arthur to bring home a gold medal regardless.
"We are going to do Albion proud."
"I expect more than that."
"Arthur," Kilgharrah called out from the entry way to the locker room, "our captain is needed."
"I won't see you again until the Olympics," Uther said.
"Not until after the final."
Uther inclined his head and walked away.
Arthur was looking forward to the Olympics being over if only so that he wouldn't have to participate in anymore rousingly inspirational speeches with his father for four years. Uther didn't care what they did at the European level only what happened at the Olympics. Arthur insisted on five am training sessions, mandatory extra strategy meetings, double viewings of videos of the other teams. His team didn't like him but, as he pointed out, they were in the Ukraine and they weren't allowed to do anything else so they might as well prepare.
A few days before the opening ceremony, the team flew to Sochi, taking their room assignments for the length of the games. Arthur could tell his roommate was already in the room but he honestly wasn't expecting the man who walked out.
"What are you doing here?"
Arthur frowned at him, obviously the guy who'd reprimanded him on the ice but he wasn't as young as Arthur had believed, might even be a few years older than Arthur. There was also something familiar about him, like Arthur should have known who he was.
"You're my roommate?" the guy definitely didn't seem happy to have been paired with him and Arthur wasn't exactly pleased either. He would much prefer it if his mistakes could be forgotten and not shoved in his face by some guy who didn't think he could read a clock.
"Who are you?" Arthur finally asked, trying to pull the conversation away from his inconsiderate behaviour.
It hit Arthur before Merlin had even finished talking because of course Arthur knew him. Merlin was everything that Uther had expected Arthur to be, he was absolute magic on the ice and he made it look easy. "Figure skating?"
"I didn't recognise you, with the stupid hair." Arthur wanted to sew his mouth shut even as he listening to what he was saying. Merlin's hair was a disaster though and between that and the big ears he looked a lot softer and goofier than he did on the ice when he was dominating the world of figure skating.
Merlin glared at him. "My hair is not stupid."
"And that is nothing on your ears."
Merlin turned around. "Just keep to your damned room."
Arthur groaned. "Sorry."
Merlin froze and turned around. "What?"
"I shouldn't have said what I did about your hair, or ears, though they are a little too Dumbo for words…I shouldn't have said that."
"Who are you?"
"Arthur." Arthur shoved his hand out into the space between then and deliberately didn't mention his last name. "Ice hockey."
"And I would like to start over."
"We are going to be living together for the next fortnight."
Merlin squinted at him and then nodded. "We are. I suppose we can start over then, Arthur."
Arthur attempted a smile. "I'm going to go and unpack."
Merlin turned back around. "I haven't finished unpacking myself."
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Of course he would get stuck with the rude arse from the ice hockey team. Who was wrong, there was nothing wrong with his hair, he smoothed it down, even if it did sometimes look like he hadn't brushed it. He touched his ears and frowned down at his unpacked bag. His ears were nothing like Dumbo's. He shook himself off and went back to unpacking.
He had two days before his first event and he needed to focus on himself, he would just be polite to Arthur and forget about it. He knew he needed to go out and get a feel for the terrain and where everything was located before the official tour later that afternoon. He had booked time on the ice tonight, the latest one he could get, and then he needed to have a good sleep. Merlin shook the thoughts away and pulled his black Doctor Who jumper on along with a scarf, then the Albion red jacket before he headed for the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob and debated...then turned around and stood in the doorway of Arthur's rooms. The blonde was tucking his official uniform into the cupboard as Merlin watched.
Arthur seemed to sense Merlin's presence and turned around.
"I'm going out for a walk, to see everything for myself before the official tours." Merlin wondered what on earth had prompted him to come and see Arthur. There was nothing so far that should have prompted him to put himself out for the blonde and yet he just couldn't have made himself leave. "Would you like to come?"
Arthur looked down at his half unpacked suitcase and then nodded, grabbing his own jacket and other warm clothing. "Sounds good."
They walked silently for a few minutes, the mountain rising in front of them as they walked between the different venues. Merlin wasn't entirely sure what to say to Arthur, they'd only met once, but he knew he should say something.
"When do you start training on the ice here?" Arthur asked, before Merlin could think of something to say.
"Tonight, I have the last slot on the ice, ten."
"That's late to skate."
"I know," Merlin said, with a smile. "I've been a little off and I like late skating."
Arthur nodded as though it made sense to him and Merlin wasn't even sure what made him tell Arthur he'd been off.
"It's always good to try something different if things have been strange."
"That's what I've been trying to do."
They stopped in front of Fisht stadium and Merlin looked up at the Faberge inspired dome and thought about the last few months.
"Since we're both on the Albion team I feel I have to ask, how do you think the ice hockey is going to go?" Merlin asked, wanting to change the subject.
Arthur looked pained and then shook his shoulders out. "I think we are going to win."
"Gaius keeps telling me that belief is part of the battle."
"Our coach, Kilgharrah would say something about belief being the launching pad for destiny in a stunning partnership with hard work and skill."
Merlin laughed. "He sounds interesting."
"Oh, he is," Arthur said.
They kept walking, enjoying the layout of the Olympic park. When they returned they went their separate ways with their respective teams for the rest of the night; both of them just a little more comfortable with one another. Merlin decided that even though Arthur could be a little rude he was also interesting.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
It was a few minutes before ten when he used his athlete's pass to get into the ice rink. He found a place in the shadows and got comfortable so that he could watch Merlin skate.
He had loved figure skating when he was a kid, it was a time when his father didn't look at him with disappointment but with the hope that he was going to be enough like his dead mother that Uther wouldn't be as lost in grief anymore. Arthur still hated Morgana for dragging him to that psychiatrist and even though Arthur had refused to say anything it had still been an eye opener.
Arthur had been so crushed when it became clear he didn't have the skill or the body for figure skating. He didn't remember his mother and the only things he had of her were the old tapes of her routines with his father. After he stopped figure skating even those went away. Though, now, with the wonder of the internet, he had them all, bought and downloaded and always there for him. Arthur shook the thoughts of her off. He might not have continued with figure skating but he had kept up with the sport. Morgana never would have let him get away with not watching her.
He had been just convincing his father to let him pursue ice hockey more seriously when Merlin had been at his first Olympics. Morgana hadn't even competed in Turin though she had watched it avidly, still living with them at the time, and Arthur had watched Merlin, scrawny and pale skating out onto the ice and nailing every damned turn and jump. Morgana had been blown away, told him she would make sure to meet him, and Arthur remembered being awed. He'd seen Merlin skate on the television since then, he could so rarely actually get to see his sister skate in person. It was a little surprising that he hadn't recognised Merlin as he made a habit of watching the other man skate.
He didn't tell Morgana about that guilty pleasure in case she dragged him back to the psychiatrist.
Arthur was excited at the chance to see Merlin skate in person. He knew he shouldn't have snuck into the rink and watched without permission but he wanted to see if Merlin was honestly as good as he always looked. Merlin was wearing the black hooded jumper again, beanie on his head, as he skated out onto the ice. He warmed up slowly, skating around and going through the steps Arthur still remembered from his time training to be Morgana's partner. Then Merlin really started to skate, flying across the ice, jumping and spinning. Arthur could see that something about how he was skating was different but he was still invigorating to watch. Merlin skated around the edge of the rink slowly before he seemed to make a decision and started gaining speed, leading up to a jump. Merlin twisted into a lutz and Arthur was expecting a triple when Merlin twisted a last time and then came done on his skate beautifully and skated on. Arthur would have expected that goofy grin he remembered from competitions on television at the move but Merlin didn't seem to have even noted that he'd pulled the move off. Arthur sat back while Merlin warmed down and wondered what had changed since the last time Arthur had been able to watch Merlin skate.
They saw one another a little the next day but Arthur couldn't get the skate he'd seen out of his head every time he looked at Merlin.
Morgana tracked him down finally while Arthur was sitting down to eat lunch.
"Hello, stranger," she said, dropping down into the chair next to him.
"You haven't come to see me since you arrived."
"I arrived yesterday."
"And now it's today and I had to chase you down."
"My team is skating tomorrow."
"And I'm skating the night after."
"And you'll be at both, right?"
Arthur smiled into his sandwich. He wouldn't miss the chance to see Merlin skate again but he had to make Morgana work for it. "I need to prepare for our first match."
"You can take a couple of hours off."
"Uther would disagree."
"Uther is not the greatest judge of anything except making money."
"Tell me how you really feel."
"There are some children here, not suitable."
Arthur nodded. "I'll come and see you skate, I can't guarantee anything else."
"I have double checked the schedules and you should be able to come to all of my events."
Arthur had checked the schedule too and he should be able to go to all of the figure skating events. "What about the ice hockey."
"Of course I'll be there," Morgana said, suddenly serious.
Arthur blinked at her. "Thanks, Morgana."
She sighed. "You know, other families don't feel that they have to thank their family members for offering support."
"We've never been a regular family."
"No," Morgana conceded.
"Of course he is, has to ensure you deliver that gold medal and everyone remembers that we're his."
Arthur didn't argue with her, not really believing he could.
"He contacted me, I agreed to a meal when everything was over." Morgana informed him, she sounded like she was meeting Putin and really not happy about it.
"That's going to be fun."
"Hopefully we can keep him distracted by the gold."
"I have to go, I told Gwen I'd eat with her."
"You can both eat with me."
Morgana smiled and stood, she leaned over and kissed him on the head. "I'll be right back."
Arthur frowned at her but a few minutes later Lancelot joined him and moments after that Gwen and Morgana sat down. Arthur introduce Gwen and Lance to one another and the two dominated the conversation for the rest of the meal. Arthur couldn't help but smile at the two sweetest people he knew making doe eyes at one another.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin would have to rush from the team figure skating to the opening ceremony but at least he would get to be there. He was skating for Camelot in the Figure Skating Team Event for the men, Gwen and Will were skating later – in the pairs and Morgana would dominate her event the next day. Merlin knew Mordred wanted to be skating, he could almost feel the daggers in his back as they skated together to warm up. Mordred was young, seemed so much younger than Merlin had been when he started even though he had been a year younger at his first Olympics. Merlin had been sixteen and the most pathetically scrawny ice skater around. But he'd won gold. He hadn't been hugely popular with the rest of the figure skaters that year, coming from relative obscurity to beat all of the medal favourites with his 'magical' routine. Merlin came back again at twenty looking much less like a joke but by then he'd won two world figure skating championships and two silvers, he was the favourite. He went in knowing he could win gold, expecting to win gold, and he'd come home with a gold medal from Vancouver knowing he was going to try and make it three for three. Then he'd fucked his knee up but he loved skating too much to walk away from it and he'd fought his way back to better shape than he had been in. Two more gold medals at World Championships and something changed…he'd lost the joy he normally felt on the ice. Even when it was hard, even when he hated the jump he couldn't nail and the routine he couldn't master he'd loved it – he remembered being on ice before he could remember anything else. He didn't want to drag himself out of bed to run and train. He just didn't enjoy it as much anymore but he didn't know why. He wanted to though, wasn't ready to give it up, wasn't ready to take that job with the sports channel, wasn't ready for any of this to stop. He knew, though, that he just wasn't skating the same at the moment.
Merlin wasn't sure he would win this time – not like he had last time. Normally, he was so bone deep sure of his abilities that he didn't think he could lose and he so rarely did. Merlin skated off the ice, leaving Mordred out there alone and went to do the rest of his preparation.
"Merlin," Gaius said.
"I'm warmed up, Gaius."
"I can put Mordred in."
Merlin turned to his mentor, friend, almost Grandfather, and smiled. "He's not as good as me."
"But he wants it more."
Merlin shook his head. "I want it."
Gaius said nothing, one of his eyebrows lifting questioningly.
"I'm going to place first, Gaius," Merlin said, making that a promise to himself.
Gaius nodded and stepped to the side. Merlin went and continued his preparation before he had to go to the change rooms and dress.
He pulled the bright red Camelot shirt over his head, the rhinestone dragon on his back made him smirk whenever he caught sight of it. He sat down in front of the lockers and pulled his lucky charm out of his wallet. It was a photo of him, about three, with his mother and father – just a week before his father died, out on the ice. His skates had been bigger than he was; always a little too slim. He could barely remember his father but there were videos, interviews and competition videos they pulled out whenever Merlin was competing or he was interviewed, though he avoided that like the plague. He tucked the photo, between layers of his costume to protect it and stood up to go out and join his team. Morgana looked terrifyingly fierce, Gwen was happily chatting to the team from Canada with no thought to the fact she was going to be competing against them later and Will was standing at the back next to Mordred who looked sullen. Merlin spotted Freya and her new pairs partner and couldn't keep the smile off his face as he walked over to speak to her. Will appeared at his elbow almost immediately, smiling stupidly at Freya. Will couldn't help but smile at his stupid friend as he flirted awkwardly with Freya. Freya smiled at him sweetly as she and Merlin caught up, as though the two of them wouldn't be caught sneaking out of the other's room for the next two weeks. Merlin liked watching them, his own private soap opera, though he did wish they would work it out and he could avoid listening to Will dissect everything Freya had said after the Olympics were over.
They were informed they needed to go out to the ice so they collected together, took the Albion red items from Gaius and walked out to cheers from the crowd.
Merlin was the fifth to skate, he smiled when the cameras were on him though he was listening to a Doctor Who audiobook the whole time, ignoring the scores of everyone else until he came out after his last warm up and then skated out onto the ice. The roar of the crowd surprised him and he saw Arthur, and his team, sitting with a crowd of Albion athletes. Merlin looked away from them and to the judges but he felt the little frisson of excitement, the thump of his heart so deep and heavy he could almost hear it and he couldn't help but smile as the music started and he began to move. The routine took hours for only lasting a little over two and a half minutes. He skated off the ice to sit in front of Gwen and Will who were holding the flag.
Gwen reached down and hugged him. "You were amazing, almost like the old you."
Merlin hugged her back but didn't say anything.
His score wasn't the best he'd ever had and he only ended up in second place behind Alvarr but it had felt better than any skate he'd done in months. Merlin couldn't help but smile while he warmed down on the other rink.
"You're pretty good," Arthur said, as soon as Merlin stepped off the ice.
"You're not supposed to be back here."
Arthur shrugged. "Morgana informed me I should be nicer to you."
Merlin smirked. "Then you'll be very nice to me."
"I don't have to listen to her like everyone else does."
"She's my sister, I'm immune."
"You're Morgana's brother?"
"I've never seen you before."
Arthur shrugged. "Just came to tell you, you were good out there."
"Know a lot about figure skating?"
Arthur turned and walked away, throwing over his shoulder, "I'm related to Morgana."
Merlin couldn't help but laugh as Arthur disappeared.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
Arthur watched Merlin secure the flag and smile at the Russian man helping him.
Arthur couldn't really believe that he hadn't recognised Merlin, that first time on the ice was understandable – he'd been wearing a black hoody and beanie so there hadn't been much to see other than someone who was having a go at him.
He could feel the nervous energy coming off most of the other athletes and Arthur felt it, this was his first Olympics, he'd been injured just before the Vancouver games, much to his father's disappointment. Arthur shook the thought off and watched the people around him, checking on all of his teammates around him, except for Gwaine who was off chatting up one of the lugers. Arthur just hoped she wasn't engaged to the bruiser for another ice hockey team like last time.
They were called and the athletes came together ready for Merlin to start walking, leading them out into the stadium.
Arthur wanted to tell himself he wasn't sure why he couldn't keep his eyes off Merlin but he knew. Between the fact Merlin was gorgeous in spite of the stupid ears and wild hair and the fact that Merlin was amazing at what he did Arthur was interested. He knew he shouldn't be, it was a terrible idea and a distraction he didn't need but he liked the stupid figure skater.
Arthur made sure to keep his distance, quite ready to completely ignore his attraction and do whatever he needed to to keep Merlin at a distance.
"Why do you keep staring at him?" Morgana asked.
Morgana smacked the back of his head. "Merlin."
"He's my roommate."
"I know, he told me you were incapable of telling the time."
Arthur huffed at her. "Aren't you supposed to be off terrifying the new ice skaters?"
"I'm doing that tomorrow on the ice. I love this team event. I get to terrify them before we even get to the individual competition."
"You were them once."
Morgana stared him down. "I grew up with Uther, I was never them."
Arthur tilted his head to concede the point.
"So, you're attracted to my Merlin?"
Arthur turned slightly away from her and folded his arms over his chest.
Morgana sighed menacingly at his back and then slipped away from next to him.
"You don't look anything alike," Merlin said, coming to stand next to him a few minutes later.
"We take after our mothers, thankfully."
Merlin turned and looked at him questioningly. "Morgana won't tell me who her father is, she only ever talks about him."
Arthur nodded. "They don't get along, I think she'd…" Arthur cut himself off and frowned, he had no idea why he was about to say that. He glared at Merlin as though the older man had somehow forced him to talk.
"That's the impression I got," Merlin said, filling in the gap.
They stood next to one another silently for a few minutes watching the opening ceremony. Arthur was surprised how comfortable he was standing next to Merlin. It boded well for them living together for the next two weeks. Arthur should have known it wouldn't last.
Arthur groaned and turned to look at Cenred, striding towards him.
"Pendragon?" Merlin asked.
"Have they let you out, Cenred?"
Cenred laughed but his eyes slipped past Arthur to look at Merlin. Arthur wanted to step between then but he didn't move. "Merlin Emrys."
"Hi, I'm sorry have we met?"
"No," Cenred stepped closer, "but I've seen you skate. You're good." Then Cenred winked at Merlin.
"What are you competing in?" Merlin asked, shifting on his feet.
"Oh, yes, I can't wait to meet Albion on the ice."
Arthur tensed, his father had not let him forget that his injury cost his team their gold medal in Vancouver. Logically, he knew they may have lost if he'd been there but the was better than his second string.
Merlin looked between them. "I think we're supposed to stay with our countries."
Arthur knew he must be obviously tense if Merlin had said something.
"I just wanted to check in on Arthur, but," Cenred smiled at Merlin lecherously, "I think I'd prefer to talk to you."
"I promised I would take Arthur to Morgana," Merlin said, stepping up next to Arthur.
"Next time then. I might have to go and see her myself," Cenred said, and then turned and walked away. "At least one Pendragon who doesn't get everywhere on their father's coattails.
Arthur stepped away from Merlin's side and stamped down on every word he wanted to say. Cenred smiled at him and walked away.
Arthur froze with Merlin behind him, knowing what was coming.
"You're Arthur Pendragon."
"I'm aware," Arthur said.
"You're a Pendragon?"
Arthur tensed and nodded.
"That explains so much about Morgana."
Arthur felt his hands loosen. "It does."
"Your family are descended from the kings of Albion, you're royalty."
"Your father is going to be elected President next year in the elections."
"He certainly believes so."
"Morgana's father is Uther Pendragon?"
"Wow. And, oh, you really didn't want me to know that, did you?"
"I don't like to tell anyone."
"They assume he bought my place on the team," Arthur admitted, since Cenred had already dropped that particular bomb.
"He wasn't an ice hockey player."
Arthur looked at Merlin with surprise. "Do you think that would stop anyone from thinking he has influence over the selection committee."
"But you know better."
Arthur would worry, his father was so determined to have gold for his children, the silver Morgana had from Vancouver simply wasn't good enough, except that Uther still didn't even like to admit that ice hockey was a worthy sport. Arthur had to wonder if Uther would even feel that it was a worthy sport when Arthur had the gold medal.
"I do," Arthur conceded.
"Then fuck the rest of them."
Arthur stared at Merlin with surprise.
"I was a kid with a single mum who was only able to skate because of a family friend who has a kind heart. I was sixteen the first time I won gold and all of the people who were supposed to have been in contention for that medal weren't shy about their displeasure. I had to work hard to prove to them I wasn't just a one hit wonder."
"You won the next three World Championships."
Merlin looked at him with surprise. "How do you know that?"
"My brother knows a lot about figure skating." Morgana said, coming from behind Arthur to throw an arm over his shoulders.
"I should, we grew up together," Arthur said, shrugging Morgana's arm off his shoulders.
"Has Arthur told you that he and I were supposed to be the world's best figure skating pair?"
Arthur glared at Morgana, keeping his eyes away from Merlin.
"No, he hadn't."
"We were going to be the next generation of Pendragons to dominate figure skating." Morgana continued.
"You're last name is le Fay."
Arthur couldn't help but look at Merlin after that comment. Morgana laughed. "How true. Merlin. Will wants a photo of the figure skaters."
Morgana made a face at him and then shook her head. "Of course not, are you coming?"
"Yeah. See you later, Arthur."
Arthur nodded and said his goodbyes before he watched Merlin and Morgana walk away.
The next morning, Arthur tied his shoes and stretched in the lounge room of the apartment he and Merlin were sharing. The door burst open behind him and Merlin came in, chattering on his mobile phone. Merlin stopped when he saw Arthur and smiled brightly before saying goodbye and hanging up. Arthur was happy to see him, given how badly they started their acquaintance Arthur honestly found the time he was spending with Merlin to be some of the best he'd ever had while at a competition.
"Are you running again?"
Arthur nodded, stretching out his quads.
"After this morning?"
"We play in two days."
"But how many times do you really need to run a day?"
"Twice, plus training, plus team meetings, and I'm going to start watching old Japan games tonight."
Merlin let out a huff of breath. "Do you want to live past the Olympics? Because that schedule is going to kill you."
Arthur shook his head. "I do it at all our competitions. I'll be fine."
Merlin tilted his head and looked at Arthur silently, his phone still held in his fingers. "Right, I'm coming with you then."
"I want to run, let's run. Give me a minute to change."
Arthur stared at the back of Merlin's head as he walked away. Arthur stood there dumbly until Merlin came back out in workout clothes and stopped in front of him to stretch.
"Why are you coming with me?"
"You're more motivated than I would believe, it's obsessive, and I've been to three Olympics, you've run twice every day since we met, you sit there and watch old tapes of your games and other games, then you actually start training on the ice. I do all that but you don't seem to do anything else."
"I have to win gold."
"We all want it."
"No," Arthur said, stretching out, striding long, pushing himself further away from the city and into the training runs, "I have to win."
Merlin didn't say anything else, just stretched out his long legs and matched every one of Arthur's strides.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
He sat down for breakfast with Will the morning after the Opening Ceremony. Merlin was listening to Will complain about Freya even though the other man should have been more focussed on his skate that night.
"She left me with bloody blue balls."
"She's competing tonight."
"So am I!"
"Then maybe you shouldn't have been sneaking around her room on opening night."
Will waved his spoon, a drop of milk falling onto the table. "I perform well after sex."
"I don't know if I believe you."
"And she kicked me out just after I'd gotten her bra off; it was one of those horrible sports contraptions too."
"Yeah, yeah, you're gay and have no experience with bras. They are so much harder than jocks."
"I believe you." Merlin said, focussing on his own breakfast.
"Though I'll take bras over backsides any day…except, maybe for a little spanking."
"I'm happy for you, but, I don't need to know that, and neither does the Australian at the other table."
Will twisted around and waved at the blonde Australian sitting at the other table. She smiled and waved back at him before going back to her own breakfast.
"Maybe you should stay away from Freya until after your competition is over."
"Why? Gwen's over making doe eyes at your roommate's teammate."
"I doubt she'll get as distracted as you will."
"He does seem to be distracting her pretty intensely."
"And Freya twists you in knots every time."
"She's worth it."
"Every time we compete you do this and then when she leaves you at the end and you hate her until the next time." Merlin pointed out, not for the first time.
Will smirked at him. "It's our thing."
"It's not healthy."
"But, she's worth it." Will said, again. "If you know what I mean."
Merlin shook his head at Will and went back to his breakfast.
The next night, the Albion team were sitting together, all of them ready to skate with the exception of George and Rose who were the ice dancers for the team and wouldn't perform their free programmes until the next day when Morgana did hers.
Morgana was sitting next to him, posed and ready to dominate the short programme field. She would accept nothing less.
He had watched her in Vancouver, younger than him but fiercely sure of her own skill. Morgause had been a force to reckon with on the ice, always had been. But that year, Morgana pushed Morgause further than anyone else ever did and their routines and scores had been amazing, less than one point between them, between gold and silver, and there would always be contention when something was that close. Morgause was here again, though her form wasn't as good as it had been at the last Olympics. The woman touted to oppose Morgana was Nimueh, also from Essetir. Morgana didn't look worried, she looked deadly. She always reminded him of an assassin and he honestly thought that in another life she would have made a terrifying Bond villain.
Merlin was always going to be pleased that Morgana was on his side.
In complete opposition to Morgana was Gwen, universally agreed to be the nicest woman in figure skating. The upside being that she was also a spectacular skater. The competition in the pairs figure skating was much closer than in the men's competition. Mithian and Ewan were in excellent form, Tristan and Isolde, being the oldest competitors, were perpetual favourites, and William and Sophia were in with a chance thought they were more possibilities than true favourites.
Whereas, Merlin was the favourite, he knew that – his mother would never let him forget it, but he knew that he wasn't at his best. Merlin was excited to see the skating today. More than he was excited to compete.
He could see Arthur and Lancelot sitting in the Albion section. He couldn't work Arthur out – he understood that same fierce determination he saw in Morgana, that same unwavering need to win and belief that they could. There was something darker in the way Arthur went at winning. Merlin wondered if the other man would even take a break from training to watch events if it weren't for Morgana. Merlin would love to know what his team thought. Merlin shook himself and turned back to the ice. Russia was about to skate and he really should be watching them; Arthur was taking up too much of Merlin's downtime. Merlin couldn't deny Arthur was much nicer to think about than his own struggles on the ice. But, Merlin was here to win and thinking about Arthur wasn't going to help him achieve his goals.
When Morgana had skated, outskating every other person on the ice, as expected, she sat on the bench to wait for her scores with the regal mask she always wore. It had earned her the nickname of the Ice Queen and Morgana had taken delight in using the nickname to her advantage.
She had extended Albion's lead but Essetir were too damned close so Gwen received a stern pep talk by Morgana which she simply smiled through before hugging Morgana and grabbing Will's hand to walk him out of the public area and back to the other rink for their warm up. They came out and Merlin could tell that they were enjoying themselves, Gwen stumbled slightly coming out of a turn but other than that they did a wonderful performance and Merlin happily held the flag behind them with William. It wasn't in Morgana's persona to hold the flag, and as such she had decreed that she wouldn't. Merlin had laughed at her but even Gaius agreed that the fear she instilled was a worthwhile aspect of her programme. Merlin didn't care; he would stand behind everyone in the team if it meant they were happy and knew they were supported.
Merlin had a long wait between Gwen and Will's routine, earning third place though Albion were still on top overall, and his own. He took the opportunity to eat an apple and then the team went to have another talk about strategy. Merlin wanted Albion to win, he wanted another gold medal, but, honestly, they could all do the maths without Alice talking down to them all. Merlin slipped out early to 'warm up' and found Arthur, and his teammates, milling around.
"You keep sneaking back into the competitor's areas." Merlin said, coming to stand next to Arthur.
"I am a competitor."
"Not in the figure skating."
Arthur's face twitched and Merlin wondered what he was thinking.
"I didn't expect to see you here," Merlin said, changing the topic.
Arthur scoffed. "Morgana was skating."
"But, she's done."
Arthur's face darkened slightly and he tensed. Merlin wondered if he could say anything that wouldn't upset Arthur tonight.
"I'm glad you're here, it's always nice to have people I know in the crowd."
"There are other athletes here."
"And my Mum."
Arthur looked at him sharply. "You're Mum's here?"
"'Course, she always comes when she can. She doesn't think I know but she works nights doing data entry for a little firm in Ealdor so that she can afford the flights and accommodation. I wish she didn't have to but…I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"I'd like to meet her," Arthur said, before his entire body locked up and he stepped back.
"She would love to meet you, she loves Morgana – though she will try and feed you."
"She loves Morgana?"
Merlin smiled brightly. "It's very hard to play the snobby, haughty card with my mum."
Arthur nodded once, sharply. "I should let you get to your warm up."
Merlin shrugged. "I'm trying to avoid Alice's statistics."
Arthur let out a small laugh but it wasn't particularly humourous. "You're competing in half an hour."
"But, I'm one of the last competitors."
Arthur frowned at him.
"I am taking this seriously."
"You're right, I should be going, I'll see you later, Arthur."
"Bye, Merlin." Arthur said quietly.
Merlin changed and pulled his skates on to start warming up, he threw himself around the rink as soon as his muscles were warm, skating hard and fast around the very perimeter so that he wouldn't get in anyone else's way. He could see Mordred skating in the middle, as it was standard for him to warm up as well – just in case. He could see the looks from some of the other male competitors and he slowed down, throwing himself into a couple of jumps and then went back to skating around the edge of the rink. He didn't know what it was about Arthur that made him feel restless one moment and calm and happy the next.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
"You came," Morgana said, deliberately not smiling.
"I was commanded. Uther's in the audience too."
"I know, he didn't smile once."
"Neither did you." Arthur pointed out.
Morgana's lips twitched. "I noticed you aren't sitting with him."
Arthur looked over Morgana's shoulder. "I'm sitting with the other athletes.'
"I know." She was silent for a few heartbeats. "Are you staying to watch Merlin?"
"I think I can spare the time."
Morgana looked at him like she knew how avidly he would be watching, as though she understood that he would be here even if she wasn't. Then she patted his cheek and walked away.
"Who is the hottie on the Albion team?" Gwaine asked, coming to talk to Arthur as they walked back towards the official skating rink.
"You've met Morgana before and I will not protect you from her if you hit on her again."
"Not her, the guy, the one who made you all tense and fierce."
"Merlin Emrys, he's a figure skater and she made me tense."
Gwaine laughed. "It was him that made you tense; you knew exactly what I was talking about. Is he the one we watched the other day?"
"Nice form on the ice."
"He won gold at the last Olympics."
They made it back to their seats and Gwaine was distracted by the woman sitting with the Russian team.
"Is he your athlete crush?" Gwaine asked, when the skating had resumed. He landed heavily next to Arthur, jostling him over while the skater from Canada completed his routine.
"What?" Arthur asked, turning to look at Gwaine properly and ignoring the skating happening in front of them.
"You know…your athlete crush, you've seen them compete and you are a little in love with how they do their work. For instance, I have a crush on Michael Phelps."
"But he's American."
Gwaine smirked at him. "I don't care, he could be from Essetir and I'd still ask him for a shag if we met."
"And is Merlin yours?"
Arthur ignored the question to turn back around to the skaters in front of them.
"Gwen said Merlin's a great man." Lancelot threw into the silence.
"Well," Gwaine said, "if Gwen said."
Lancelot turned on Gwaine and glared at him. Gwaine held his hands up in surrender.
"He's lost to us all," Gwaine bemoaned, but Arthur just smiled at his teammate.
"And skating next for Albion is double Olympic Gold Medallist, Merlin Emrys." The announcement could be heard again in Russian and Arthur let out a shaky breath while his stomach twisted into knots. He clenched his hands and reminded himself that he had no vested interest in the outcome of this skate beyond wanting the gold. Merlin didn't mean anything to him. Except…Arthur couldn't really lie to himself about how much he wanted to see that enigmatic little smile when Merlin nailed a big move or how much he wanted to see the lightness in Merlin's entire body after he placed first.
Arthur kept thinking about the practice he'd watched without Merlin knowing. He couldn't get it out of his mind. He wanted to see Merlin make that jump in competition. He wanted to see Merlin win and it was ridiculous. He shouldn't be here, he had more taped games to watch and he was writing his speech for before the first game. He should be back in their rooms taking advantage of the quiet to get more preparation in. But, not even the look Uther was giving him could make Arthur get out of that seat.
Merlin started skating, the music beating out of the speakers as he began to move.
Arthur tried to watch it objectively but he couldn't. Merlin skating swept him away, it always had. Watching Merlin skate was watching someone amazing do the thing they loved the most. It was joy in motion.
Arthur could feel that it wasn't quite right, though, he couldn't see it, couldn't point to anything that was wrong.
Regardless, for the length of the programme he was lost and the music ending felt like leaving a dream.
"God," Gwaine sighed, "I don't know which of you is more love struck. I just hope one of you gets laid."
It took Arthur too long to realise Gwaine was talking about him. He was too focused on Merlin, though he could barely see him from their seats.
The scores came out, Merlin in first place with a stunning score, and then Arthur allowed himself to look up at the giant screens and take in Merlin's happy, tired face.
The rest of the skating was a blur.
Uther was waiting for Arthur when he and his teammates finally walked out of the arena. Arthur watched as Leon, Lancelot, Elyan and Gwaine suddenly began walking closer. Arthur appreciated the thought but knew his father would see it as weakness.
"I'll see you all tomorrow morning at practice," Arthur said, splintering off from the group.
"Arthur," Leon said.
"Get a good night's rest. I'm going to make you all work hard in the morning. 6am."
"Arthur," Elyan said, "we're here. Maybe we should dial it back a little bit."
"I'm not dialling it back until I have the gold medal," Arthur informed them.
"If then," Gwaine muttered, but by then they were close enough to Uther for him to hear them so his team said their goodbyes and walked away.
"Arthur," Uther said, curtly.
"Should you be here when you have preparations to make for tomorrow?"
Arthur shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to hold in the gnawing doubts those words instilled. "Morgana was competing."
"Morgana finished hours ago and would understand your need to practice. Her performance tonight proved that there can never be enough practice."
Arthur felt hot annoyance in his stomach and wanted to defend Morgana. He held his tongue, not wanting to have an argument about Morgana when she could fend for herself. He still needed to do some prep when he got back to his rooms and a disagreement with Uther would just make it hard to concentrate.
"She asked me to be here to support her," Arthur said instead. "Though, I would have come anyway. I will be at all of her skates."
Uther didn't said anything but his fierce expression said a lot. "I will see you at her events then."
"I have to sit with the Albion contingent," Arthur said. He shifted on his feet, hoping he could slip away now but froze when he saw the person standing behind Uther. He could feel his face go ashen as he looked into the embarrassed eyes of Merlin watching them.
"I will also be at your games," Uther said. "Luckily, they do not conflict with Morgana's."
Arthur felt his face flush at the implication of those words; if they did conflict, then Morgana, and figure skating, would win.
Uther must have realised something was off because he turned around and instantly his posture morphed into the one he employed when he was The Politician.
"Merlin Emrys," Uther said, striding over. "Excellent skating tonight, you do Albion proud with your skill."
Uther held out a hand and Merlin's eyes flickered to Arthur before he reached out to shake back.
"Merlin," Arthur said, stepping forward, "this is my father, Uther Pendragon."
"Mr Pendragon, I hope you enjoyed the skating tonight. Morgana was spectacular, you must be so proud."
Arthur knew what Merlin was doing, knew that his father would never argue with Merlin even if he wanted to. Uther may believe that he was the best figure skater that ever lived but he knew talent and respected any opportunity to use it for his own gain. Uther would be thinking about how to get Merlin involved in his campaign if he won gold.
"You know Arthur," Uther said, mild surprise in his voice.
"We're roommates," Merlin said, smiling brightly.
"Perhaps you can give him some skating tips," Uther said, "you skated very technically out on the ice."
Arthur looked down rather than at Merlin after his father's words.
"I've seen Arthur skate," Arthur looked up at Merlin sharply, surprised, "and he certainly doesn't need any advice from me. I must get to the physio and my after performance routine. Arthur, I'll see you later?"
"Goodbye, Mr Pendragon."
"It was a pleasure."
Merlin smiled but didn't return the sentiment. He turned a brighter smile on Arthur and then walked on.
Arthur felt his stomach tighten as he turned back to his father.
"Take advantage of being his roommate, Arthur."
Arthur was about to say something, though he wasn't sure what, when Uther's mobile started ringing. With an absentminded goodbye Arthur was alone.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin walked out the back and straight to Morgana, staring down at her.
"I just met your father," Merlin told her.
"He was talking to Arthur."
Morgana twisted around, away from the physio's hands and looked at him. "How bad?"
"I...I..." Merlin shrugged half-heartedly, not sure what it was supposed to mean. "I have no frame of reference."
Morgana's face shut down for a moment and then she sat up.
"Is that why he does it?" Merlin asked, not letting her speak. "Is that why he trains more obsessively than anyone I've ever seen?"
Morgana studied him for a long time though it was probably only a collection of heartbeats and then nodded though she said nothing.
"I'll go and see him as soon as I'm done with Alvarr." Morgana said, moving back down so that Alvarr, their physio, could work on her muscles.
Merlin nodded and walked away but he couldn't get what he'd heard out of his head.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
Arthur walked back to his rooms quickly, grabbing some fruit in their little kitchen area and then moving directly to his room and the recordings of China he had on his computer. He sat down and started to watch, noting any possible weakness in their game. He'd done it before but he might have missed something.
He wasn't sure how long had passed when there was a knock on his door. His banana was gone but that didn't tell him anything as he walked to the door.
Morgana was standing on the other side. Arthur stepped back to let her in.
"You are aware that you're not allowed to be in a male athlete's room."
"Please, you're my brother and Merlin's gay so there can be no question about propriety."
Arthur knew the beat of happiness he felt at hearing that Merlin was gay was a bad sign.
"What are you doing here, Morgana?"
"I heard you had a talk with Uther."
"He told you?"
"He was worried about you and don't think I've missed the flirting. If you treat him badly I'll do something horrible to you."
"I'm your brother; you're supposed to be warning him off."
Morgana laughed. "Merlin is a pussy cat, he wouldn't hurt you."
"Whereas, I am a terrible person who would crush his soul."
"Despite Uther's best efforts, you are not a bad person, Arthur."
"Thanks." Arthur said, not really meaning it.
Morgana let out a breath and walked past him to sit on the couch. "What happened?"
"And since you came back you have been…?"
"Studying China's recent matches."
Morgana stared at him.
"Our opening match is tomorrow afternoon."
"I'm aware. I've already informed Gaius that I'm going to your match. As it turns out every member of the figure skating team, except Mordred, is coming along too. Your support of us has been noticed. Though, I think, Merlin might have already had you on his radar."
"Morgana," Arthur warned.
"Are you going to tell me that you aren't interested?"
"I'm here to compete and win."
Morgana stared at him silently.
"I missed out in Vancouver; I have two weeks to make up for it."
"You don't have anything to make up for, Arthur, you were injured."
"I should have been there."
"Yes, you should have, but these things happen."
"I remember the phone call after the incident," Arthur said, defensively.
"Winning gold isn't going to fix your relationship with Uther."
"I know," Arthur bit out, sharply. "But, I want it."
"Do you? Or have you been told to want it?"
Arthur looked at her closely. "Why are you here, in Sochi?"
"To win a gold medal that I am going to hang off my mirror in my bedroom to prove to myself that I could do it."
"You started for the same reason I did," he pointed out.
Morgana nodded. "As much as we both hate it, we are his children."
"He hates ice hockey."
"He hates that I'm not under his roof or his thumb anymore. He is never going to be happy with anything we do. If you'd been the perfect pairs partner and we had have won twenty gold medals he wouldn't be happy because he never dealt with your mother's death and I am a constant reminder that he is human and weak."
Arthur slumped back into the chair. "Why did you come here again?"
"To make sure you weren't working yourself into psychosis because of your conversation with Uther."
"Thanks for that, I feel so much better."
"Just because the Olympics are on doesn't mean life stops."
"But this only happens once every four years."
"Albion are ranked number one in the world for ice hockey. You are a part of that. That can never, never, be taken away from you, Arthur. An Olympic gold medal won't change your life."
"Maybe not, but I want it anyway."
Morgana smiled. "Good. Then go out and get it and forget about Uther and flirt with Merlin but please, please, don't have sex with him until after his events are over."
Arthur rolled his eyes at her. "I'm not having sex with him."
"But, you will."
"Morgana, I think you need to leave."
"Because I don't want to talk to you anymore." Arthur said, hating that sickening feeling in his stomach he always got when Morgana told him a truth he didn't want to hear.
"Will you leave the China videos alone?"
Arthur stood up but refused to say anything else, herding Morgana to the door.
"I'll see you at tomorrow?" Morgana asked, stopping at the door.
"My game should be over with enough time to get to yours. You shouldn't be there."
"I am coming."
Arthur looked at her. "It's too close to your skate time."
"I'm coming, if I have to leave early I will but I will be there, Arthur."
"Thank you, Morgana."
She leaned forward to press a kiss to his cheek before she turned and left him.
Arthur made sure to be in bed before Merlin opened the front door. He could hear the other man hovering in the living quarters before he had a quick shower and went to bed himself. Arthur assumed he wouldn't see as much of Merlin over the next few days; the men's hockey was starting and Merlin wouldn't skate again until after the pairs in three days.
The next morning, Merlin was up before Arthur, wearing his own warm up clothes.
"I'm aware," Merlin said, stretching out his arms. "I need to move after the event last night."
Arthur nodded and grabbed a banana.
"Are you running?" Merlin asked.
"Our training starts at six."
Merlin smiled at him. "Good luck for today then, I'm coming down with the rest of the ice skaters."
Arthur nodded and slipped out of the door without saying anything.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin was rugged up, there was no lycra creeping up his backside, he was wearing comfortable underwear and he was warm, this was his favourite way to be next to the ice. They were waiting for the Albion and Chinese ice hockey teams to come out and start. Merlin wriggled on his seat and Gwen laid a hand on his knee.
"What?" Merlin asked, turning to look at Gwen.
"They will," she said, with complete assurance.
Merlin looked at Gwen questioningly.
"I'm nervous too, but they are going to win."
She tilted her head and patted his knee again.
The teams were announced before Merlin was able to say anything else to her. He turned to watch the game, his eyes on Arthur as he skated out to his starting position.
He watched Arthur through the entire game, stomach in knots and fingers clenched in between Gwen's.
"I don't remember it being so violent," he whispered, during the half time break.
"No," Gwen agreed. "Lancelot better be safe."
She smiled at him and then they were back for another round, Arthur and Lancelot being bodily shoved into walls or stick checked as they skated for more than just the win.
They got the win and the moment it was over Merlin's body sagged, unrepentantly glad that that was over and he would only have to watch another few games before the Olympics were done.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
Merlin was stretching when Arthur came out the morning after his first game to go for a run.
"What are you doing up at this time of the morning?" Arthur asked.
Merlin adjusted his jumper, the same black one that he always seemed to wear during practice or training, and then looked up at Arthur. "I thought I might come out running with you again, if that's okay."
"How did you know I'd be going running?"
Merlin looked at him, one eyebrow slowly creeping up. "You go twice a day, every day, except, thankfully, for days when you compete."
"I've been told to only go for a short run this morning." Arthur said, warning Merlin that he wouldn't get the same level of work out that Arthur normally did.
"Someone has the power to make you slow down?"
"Owain is our team doctor and told me that I should be more gentle on my knee tonight after some of the hits I took last night."
Merlin face twisted. "You were slammed into the wall a lot last night."
Arthur laughed. "Apparently the Chinese don't like to lose, who knew?"
Merlin didn't laugh back.
"I was wearing padding, Merlin, I'm fine, just a couple of bruises."
Merlin nodded and turned back to stretching out. Then he bounced up and looked Arthur, his face clear. "We ready to go?"
"Yeah," Arthur said, opening the door and leading the way out. Owain had told him not to push himself today so he started out slow, giving Merlin a chance to push if he wanted to, but the taller man just stretched out his legs and met Arthur's stride. They ran a wide loop around the Olympic park and back to their apartments.
"What are your plans for today?" Merlin asked, drinking water with his eyes on Arthur.
"We're playing against Slovakia tomorrow, I'm going to watch their last match against Russia and see how they played. Then I'm going to take my notes to our team meeting this afternoon."
"And tonight?" Merlin asked.
"I'm watching Gwen and Will perform."
Merlin smiled at him brightly. "I suppose I will see you at the rink then."
Arthur knew he could nod and agree and Merlin would step away but he didn't want to let the other man leave just yet. "What about you, training?"
Merlin shook his head. I'm going to go and have a skate later but I'm spending my day watching some curling."
"I love it," Merlin said, joyfully. "I think it may be my very favourite of the winter sports."
"Curling?" Arthur asked, again.
"Have you ever watched it?"
Arthur made an aborted shrug and then shook his head. "No."
"Then you are missing out on so much." Merlin said with a smile. "Do you want the shower first?"
"No, you go," Arthur said. "I need something to eat."
Merlin smiled at him brightly and tugged off his jumper, leaving it lying over the back of the couch. Arthur turned around and found himself something to eat while Merlin had his shower. He came back out in the Albion outfit and grinned at Arthur.
"Try not to overdo the watching, you don't want to end up with square eyes."
Arthur frowned at Merlin who just laughed and started for the door.
"I'm heading to the curling. I'll see you later, at the ice rink?"
"Yeah," Arthur said, "have fun."
Merlin smiled at him and left. Arthur went into the bathroom and was immediately hit by the smell of Merlin's body wash or deodorant. Arthur took a step back and sighed, he was completely screwed. He went back in and closed the door behind him before he had his own shower and settled down to study the Slovakian team's performance.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin sat with the rest of the Albion team that had come out to support their curlers and wished he could have asked Arthur to come. He knew he was pushing himself into Arthur's way and he knew he shouldn't. Arthur was beautiful, and damaged, and Merlin knew it was going to be a bad move if he got anymore enamoured with Arthur. He liked the weird little parts of Arthur that he could see which distracted from the gaping need to impress his father by winning a gold medal. There was the obvious way Arthur worked harder than anyone else on his team – just to make sure they were all prepared and the fact that he had chosen a team event when it would have made more logical sense for him to go after an individual sport so that his chances of gold depended entirely on him. Arthur would have made a good speed skater, he had the type of body that could gain muscle – Merlin had taken after his mother more than his father and never would have been able to build up the muscle mass needed to skate competitively.
Merlin tried to push Arthur out of his mind and focus on the curling. It didn't work.
He thought about the fact that Arthur was an obsessive overachiever when it came to his preparation and training but that he would stop to see Morgana compete. It was a sign that Arthur honestly placed his family higher on his priority list than just the duty he felt to his father. He had heard Arthur's conversation with Uther and could tell that he would never get the support and approval he was looking for from his father. Maybe that was why Arthur thrived as a member of a team. Merlin had watched them, seen the way they all had one another's backs, knew for a fact that Leon and Percival had asked about Gwen to make sure she wasn't toying with Lancelot. It didn't make sense for them to be so cohesive when they were the team put together for the Olympics so Merlin had asked around and it turned out that they had skated together on and off over the last few years. Arthur and Leon had skated together as children, Lancelot had been part of their team for a month or so before he and his family had moved to Spain for a couple of years and then when Lancelot came back he was drafted onto the Camelot team with Arthur. Then Lancelot had gone to the Nemeth team where he'd met Percival. Gwaine was the newest member of the group since he played for Caerleon and was apparently the son of the greatest player that had ever played for that team. The five of them, along with a few other players, were apparently all friends outside of competition even when they ended up having to face off against one another in the national Albion competition.
The Albion team was announced for their match against Sweden, the number three ranked team, so Merlin forced himself to focus.
Then a body sunk down next to him, he turned to find Leon staring at him.
"Aren't you having a team meeting?"
"It starts in a half hour, for now I was looking for you."
Leon nodded and then looked unsure and didn't say anything. He turned to watch the Albion team until a few minutes later another body landed on Merlin's other side. Merlin turned to find Gwaine sitting there smirking at him.
"What?" Merlin asked, worry sinking into his stomach.
"Leon lost the bet so he was supposed to come and talk to you but we all know he's a little bit of a softie so I was sent in as backup."
"Back up for?"
"Talking to you." Gwaine continued.
"Gwaine, you haven't actually answered any questions."
"We've noticed that Arthur seems to be spending a lot of time with you."
"We are living together." Merlin hedged.
Gwaine scoffed at him.
"Arthur really wants to win gold," Leon said.
"And he is single-minded," Gwaine continued.
"Again, I've noticed, are you going to get to the point?"
Leon and Gwaine exchanged a look and then turned to look at Merlin.
"He is a great man," Leon said slowly.
"Are the two of your warning me off?"
Gwaine laughed. "God, no, Arthur getting some would be good for all of us. Amazing, I think he needs a month of wild, crazy, gay sex just to release all the knots he puts in his own back."
Merlin let out a huff of laughter.
"You'd probably have to-"
"Gwaine!" Leon reprimanded, and Gwaine stopped talking.
"We just want you to understand Arthur."
Merlin relaxed back into his seat and smiled at them. "From what I have seen so far, he loves his sister even though they have a tense relationship with Uther and he is incredibly dedicated to winning gold which I'm beginning to think might be as much for the rest of the team as it is for him. How am I doing?"
Leon smiled at him gently and Gwaine slapped him on the back.
"If it doesn't work out with Arthur we should hook up after the ice hockey final."
Merlin frowned at Gwaine and Leon reached around him to slap the brunette around the head.
"What?" Gwaine asked.
"I'm not sleeping with you," Merlin said. "And I'm not sleeping with Arthur."
"Yet," Gwaine said.
Merlin didn't respond. He hadn't decided if he would do anything about the spark between them and he was getting a talking to by two of Arthur's teammates already.
"You both do realise that we are nothing but roommates."
"He's been seen running with you."
Merlin let out a bark of laughter. "Really?"
"You think the two runs a day is intense?" Gwaine said. "This is the first time he hasn't manipulated the room assignments to make us share. He likes to keep an eye on me."
"If what Morgana's told me is true," Merlin said, smiling at Gwaine sweetly, "you need watching."
Gwaine huffed at him and then his mobile beeped. "That's Arthur."
"We'll see you at the figure skating," Leon said, hand on Merlin's shoulder.
"Yeah, we'll be holding Lance's hand while Gwen skates. I foresee an Autumn wedding. I'm already planning the buck's night."
"Of course you are," Leon said, dragging Gwaine away.
Merlin smiled at their retreating backs and returned his attention to the curling. He found it easier to focus on the performance in front of him even while a part of his mind was thinking about when he would need to fit in a skate on the ice and when he would need to leave here to talk to Will before his short programme. Merlin almost missed the winning end for the Albion team but one of the skateboarders jostled his elbow bringing him back in time to see the win and stand to scream his excitement. Albion made themselves heard and the athletes down on the ice turned up to them to wave.
Merlin couldn't shake the happy smile as he left the curling to walk over towards the ice skating rink. He saw Uther Pendragon and changed direction only to walk into Arthur.
"Come on," Merlin said, without thinking. He grabbed Arthur's hand and pulled the blonde through one of the doors into an athlete's only section of the rink.
"What are you doing?"
Merlin opened his mouth to explain and then realised how stupid his reason was and flushed. "I saw someone I…that was a bit ridiculous, sorry." Merlin let go of Arthur and took a step away.
"I thought you were at the curling."
"We won our match," Merlin said. "What about your team meeting?"
Arthur looked annoyed. "Kilgharrah copied my notes for the rest of the team and then told us that we should be seeking that which completes us like the other side of our coins. I don't know what he means but he threatened us with benching if I made them all come to a team meeting in our room."
Merlin laughed. "I think I like Kilgharrah."
Arthur shook his head.
"So, what are you doing now?" Merlin asked.
"I was going to go and study our game to see what improvements we need to make."
"Are you aware that they have a little cinema at the Athlete's village showing movies made about winter sports?"
"We're going, come on."
"Merlin, I really need to-"
"Arthur," Merlin interrupted. "I watched your game, with the exception of a suggestion not to get slammed into the wall so much I don't think you can learn anything more and some downtime would be good."
"You were coming to do a practice skate."
"I was coming to bug Will," Merlin said, lying. "We should go; I don't have anywhere to be until just before Will skates. I have to go and have a word with him."
"Suggestions for what he should do?"
Merlin smiled and shook his head. "Oh, no, we have a pre-skate thing we do. It's quite stupid and completely superstitious but we've been doing it since we were kids."
"You've known him that long?"
"He was skating with Gaius when I started and we've been best friends ever since."
"He's a complete pain in the arse but I love him like he was my brother. So, are you going to come with me?"
"I have things to do."
Merlin nodded and stepped back. "I understand. If you have better things to do I will just go alone. I'll see you at the skating, later?"
Arthur looked torn for a couple of minutes and then he nodded and smiled at Merlin. "What's on?"
"I have no idea," Merlin admitted, sheepishly. "It was something of a last minute idea."
"Then we'll go and look and if something decent is playing I will stay, if not, I'll go and watch last night's match."
Merlin shook his head, awed and worried by Arthur's single-mindedness – and himself for pushing again, before they turned and walked through the rink and back to the Athlete's Village. They were starting a session of The Cutting Edge in twenty minutes so they both grabbed some things to snack on before they went to watch the movie which managed to amuse them both. As soon as it was over they went back to the Figure skating in time for Merlin to sneak in and see Will while Arthur went to the Albion seating.
Merlin slipped into the room with Will and the other man beamed.
"I am not."
"You are too," Will said.
"I can leave."
"Please," Will said, and yanked Merlin over.
Gwen laughed at them both and watched as they did their pre-competition thing and then she pushed Merlin out, very sweetly, so that the two of them could do their own final preparations and talk their way through the routine.
Merlin hugged Gwen tightly. "You go out there and do your best."
"I'll see you later."
Gwen hugged him back and then Merlin slipped out. He could have gone and sat with the other figure skaters but he wanted to sit with the rest of the Albion team and really enjoy this so he went out and found a spot in the small sea of red. Arthur motioned him over as soon as he saw Merlin. They sat together for the event with Lancelot on Arthur's other side looking surprisingly nervous.
"Does he normally get attached so quickly," Merlin asked, whispering into Arthur's shoulder.
Arthur shook his head. "I've never seen him like this before. But, if it were to be with anyone, Gwen is worth the attention."
"You know her well?"
"We went on two terrible dates before I accepted that I was definitely gay and bisexuality wasn't an option."
"She never said anything."
"I'm not surprised, it wasn't anything. We've seen one another over the years since she and Morgana are so close but we just forgot about it."
Merlin nodded and settled down to watch. He was surprised at what Arthur had to say as the pairs came and went.
"She needed to use her back leg more." "He needs to work on his lines during his spins." "She landed too heavily on her heal – he should have slowed before he put her back on the ice." "He needed to give her more height on that triple twist." "He's coming out of that death spiral too quickly…yeah, she's fallen over."
"You really do know more about figure skating than I expected," Merlin said, halfway through the routines.
"I keep telling you, Morgana's my sister. I bet your mum knows just as much as I do."
"She knows a lot but she can't call it like you can."
Arthur didn't say anything but he did tense and Merlin decided to leave it alone.
"So," he said, to the rest of the ice skaters around them, "are you all ready for your game tomorrow?"
They all darted glances at Arthur and Merlin wondered if he'd put his foot in it again.
"We are going to win," they all said, almost in sync and Arthur smiled.
Merlin grinned back at them and focussed on the skating.
The next afternoon, Merlin was sitting between Morgana and one of the aerial skiers watching the ice hockey match between Albion and Slovenia. Arthur seemed to be taking even more hits than he had at the previous game but he was skating better than the time before as well.
"He's a really good skater," Merlin muttered, to Morgana.
"Yeah, I always wondered if those 'experts' were full of crap."
"No," Merlin said, without thinking. "The two of you would never have been well suited to pairs figure skating."
"Why do you say that?" Morgana asked, innocently.
Merlin rolled his eyes at her. "You already know, your respective heights, his body shape, the fact you are suited to being an individual skater."
Morgana smirked at him. "You've never seen him skate without a stick in his hand either."
"It wouldn't make a difference."
"I know, but he would have tried until the end of time."
"Given the score maybe it's a good thing he changed to ice hockey."
Morgana laughed but Merlin kept thinking about her comment – he had never really seen Arthur skate.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
Arthur walked into the apartment to find Merlin almost vibrating on the couch.
"Come on." Merlin said, the moment he spotted Arthur.
"You don't have anything to do, and I have an idea."
Arthur sighed, he wanted to go back over his notes again but something about Merlin's face made him want to agree.
"Grab your skates." Merlin said, reading his expression perfectly.
"I can tell you were about to agree. Grab your skates."
"Come on, have a little fun."
Arthur nodded and went to grab his skate bag. "Are you going to tell me what we're doing?"
Merlin shook his head and led the way. When they got to the figure skating training ice Merlin sat down to start pulling his skates on.
"You're skating tomorrow."
"Should you be going on the ice without your coach then?"
Merlin shook his head. "Get your skates on, Arthur."
Arthur dropped down and laced up his skates. The moment he was done Merlin pulled Arthur out onto the ice and smiled at him brightly.
"Are you sure about this?" Arthur asked, again.
Merlin shrugged. "I keep hearing about you skating and I want to see it when you're not shoving guys who are a head taller than you into the wall."
Arthur laughed. "Those are my favourite people to shove."
Merlin twisted to a stop and pulled himself up to his full height – a little taller than Arthur. "Do you have Napoleon complex?"
Arthur shoved Merlin, watching as the other man allowed himself to just float back. Merlin smiled and twisted to start skating, streaking away from Arthur. Arthur had no choice but to follow him. Their skates weren't the same and couldn't do the same things. Regardless, Arthur had never thought he would have a chance to skate with Merlin. He wished he had figure skates.
Merlin smiled as he skated. Arthur had never actually seen someone who looked that happy while they were skating. It wasn't something he could see on the TV and he never would have known about it if they weren't so close. It was barely an expression, just an overwhelming feeling of happiness and Arthur wondered how anyone who did something for hours a day was possibly still so in love with what they did.
"You really love to skate," he said, circling around Merlin.
"I always have, it hasn't been as fun over the last couple of months but something about the Olympics is reminded me of how very much I love being on the ice. Do you enjoy it?"
"Sometimes, sometimes I just want to be doing something else."
"I think you can love something and still want a break every once in a while. Are you taking a break after the Olympics?"
"Yeah, both the Albion and the international seasons are over so I'll get about a month off before pre-season starts."
"I was trying to work that out before the games started." Merlin said.
"Now, I'm still trying to work it out."
Arthur thought about that, he couldn't imagine Merlin walking away yet. He wasn't sure why he opened his mouth to speak but he did. "I came and watched you that first night."
Merlin looked at Arthur, cocking one of his eyebrows.
"On the ice, I came and watched you on the ice that first night."
Merlin smiled at him widely. "And?"
"I saw your quadruple lutz."
Merlin's face changed slightly and Arthur wasn't sure if he should have said anything.
"It was spectacular; I've never seen someone do one so flawlessly."
Merlin's smile was small but happy.
"Are you doing it in your routine tomorrow?"
Merlin shook his head and skated away.
"Why not?" Arthur asked.
Merlin turned around and looked at him. "Would you do it, if you were me?"
"Yes," Arthur said, without a pause.
"Even knowing how hard it is to land in competition."
"You could do it."
Merlin's face twisted into confusion. "Why?"
"I've watched you skate, mainly on TV admittedly. Morgana and I watched you in Turin. I watched you from my recovery bed in Vancouver. I've watched all of the World Championships you've been in. I have seen you skate and you are amazing."
Merlin swallowed thickly and Arthur let his skates slid, moving back from Merlin. Merlin didn't say anything, turning around and skating away from Arthur, he skated around the curve of the rink and headed back towards Arthur, moving as he did to, letting Arthur know that he was about to move into a jump then right in front of Arthur he twisted out and completed the most beautiful quadruple lutz Arthur had ever seen. Arthur's gasp of surprise and delight was loud in the almost silent rink.
"Like that?" Merlin asked, coming to stop in front of him.
Merlin smiled, bright and wide and Arthur wanted to kiss him. He didn't, though he did return the smile.
"You know," Merlin started, skating around Arthur until Arthur moved and joined him. "My father was a speed skater."
"So when I was little I used to skate. I think Dad would have liked me to have had a go at speed skating but I loved jumping."
Arthur smiled at him. "You're good at it."
"Gaius said it was because I was slight but tall."
"My father asked a huge number of figure skating experts to observe Morgana and I skate when we were about ten. They said I would never be a good enough figure skater to make it to the Olympics. They said the only hope for a gold was for Morgana to skate with someone else or alone, so, she started training to be an individual skater."
"They told you that?"
"No," Merlin said, "they told my father."
"And he told you?"
"He had to explain why I wasn't going to be training with Morgana anymore."
"What did you do?"
Arthur twisted around and skated so that Merlin couldn't see his face. "I started playing ice hockey. I'd always liked it but I wasn't allowed to play much. Leon was a friend and we played together. I was allowed to play more since I wasn't figure skating anymore. By the time I was thirteen the team at my school wanted me to play first string and I haven't stopped playing since."
Arthur didn't turn around to look at Merlin's reaction and they were both quiet for the rest of their time on the ice.
As they pulled their skates off Merlin looked at Arthur. "Once the Olympics are over I'd like to see how you figure skate."
Arthur laughed. He didn't tell Merlin he still had a pair of figure skates or that he would go to ice rinks in his downtime and skate. "Maybe."
Arthur shrugged and they walked back to their accommodation.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin crawled into bed that night and gave some thought to having to skate the next night in his short programme. He had his routine down, he wasn't playing it safe but he wasn't aiming for anything like what Arthur had suggested earlier. He could understand Arthur's point, could see that it was what Arthur would do in his position. Arthur would throw everything he had at the medals; he already was. And in part he was right, Merlin might only get one skate but he could make it the most spectacular skate anyone had seen in Olympic competition or he could do what he knew would be safe and easy and get him close to the gold medal.
He fell asleep, remembering the feeling of skating close to Arthur on the ice, but unsure whether he agreed with what Arthur had said.
He woke the next morning and had a good breakfast, he went for a jog, Arthur at his side, not aiming for anything more than thoroughly warming his muscles. Then he went back to their room and relaxed, had lunch, talked to Gaius before he went to the ice rink and pulled on his warm up clothes to run through a few jumps.
He had Arthur on his mind but didn't risk the quadruple lutz when the competition was so close. Four year of preparation came down to two routines over two nights. It wasn't worth the risk.
He knew he didn't need another Olympic gold medal but he found himself wanting it, wanting it more than he had in a long while. He had come in half expecting it, resigned to the fact that he was the favourite, ranked number one in the world, that if he skated to the best of his abilities and didn't fall or do something stupid like injure himself then he could walk away with a third Olympic medal. He had three now though; Albion's figure skating team had won him that third gold medal and he wanted a fourth. He sat in front of his locker after warming down, looking down at the picture of him with his mother and father and could honestly say he wanted it. He wanted it more than he could believe. He thought about putting another gold medal on his wall and he could see it, he could picture it, below the enlarged copy of the photo in his hands and he could see himself telling his grandkids about being a three time Olympic gold medallist in the men's individual figure skate. He would tell them how he also won the very first gold medal awarded in a figure skating teams event. He knew he shouldn't think like that, though everyone did. The letdown if he fell, if he was injured, if he just didn't have what it would take to win would be too much and he would sink into the same loss spiral that always came after a big event for the people who competed but didn't come away with the first place medal. He hadn't wanted it when Sochi had started, at least, not like this.
Something had changed though and he knew what his mother would say, the insane romantic that she was, that Arthur had something to do with it and in a way she might be right but Merlin knew it was more than that. He could admit that Arthur was pushing him; the blonde's work ethic had reminded Merlin of what the Olympics actually meant.
The Olympics weren't just about getting the gold medal. Merlin had been at the top of his particular discipline for so long he'd forgotten that the whole point of the Olympics was to push people to be their very best. Merlin had struggled with some things over time but figure skating was one of the most natural things he'd ever done. Once he'd started figure skating he hadn't had a reason to ever want to do anything else or want anything more. Arthur had reminded him that resting on his laurels, even if they would get him gold, wasn't what being an Olympian was all about. He should be striving for something more. The longer Merlin spent with Arthur the more he realised he'd been approaching all of this wrong and that was why he wasn't loving it as much as he used to. He had grown complacent rather than constantly striving to be more and prove himself again – to improve the sport he loved while he was the best in the world.
He knew the quadruple lutz wasn't the way to go with the short programme but he could push himself on his jumps making sure he was pushing the technicality and difficulty of the jumps he was doing. He had been practicing a number of different jump combinations as he always did and he decided he would push himself. He smiled as he stood up to go and find the physio and run through his preparations.
He skated out, halfway through the line-up and couldn't resist smiling as he stood and waited. The music started and he began – skating hard and as he went into the first jump – his quadruple axle. He pushed himself faster, harder, leaping into the air and getting even more height than he needed and then nailed the landing. He slid into the flying camel and then down into a sit spin before he did the flair skating that they needed before he lined himself up for his combination, skating hard to land the quadruple salchow followed by the triple lutz and the triple toe. He skated the rest of the routine, his body burning and telling him to stop or to slow down but he pushed harder into the last element – his toe change spin and then he skated to the stop. The crowd erupted in noise as soon as he stopped and he couldn't have stopped the broad grin that took over his face if he'd tried.
Merlin bowed, collected something that had been thrown on the ice and then skated to Gaius who was looking at him with his eyebrow sky high.
"That was good," Merlin panted.
"That," Gaius started, "was what I have been waiting for you to do for a long time."
"I remembered why I was here."
Gaius smiled at him. "About time, we have a score to see."
"I don't care," Merlin said, and believed it. He wanted the gold but the way he felt – exhausted and sore was nothing against the euphoria of what he had just done – how much further he had pushed himself.
"Good." Gaius led the way, handing Merlin a bottle of water as soon as they were sitting.
"I'm doing the quadruple lutz tomorrow night."
Gaius raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything while Merlin smiled and waved at the cameras. He ended up in first place, by a wide margin, with a world record score, and he couldn't stop smiling as he went to warm down and be seen by the team physio. Morgana, Gwen, and Will were waiting for him.
Gwen threw he arms around him. "That was amazing."
Merlin smiled and hugged her back. "It felt amazing."
"I haven't seen you push yourself that much in years," Morgana said.
"I know, and I'm feeling it."
"You should get to the physio then," Gwen said, but she didn't let him go, hugging his arm as they walked to the Albion area.
Merlin went through his warm down routine with Will next to him.
"I know it's hugely different to me, but was it really so noticeable?"
"I've known you since we were four."
Merlin smiled. "I forgot that I was supposed to be pushing."
Merlin smiled and skated off the ice to eat something small and let the physio beat his muscles into relaxation and then followed her advice to go back to his room and sleep.
Arthur was waiting for him the next morning, dressed for a run. "Are you coming?"
Merlin wondered if this was now a thing between them and then smiled. "Just a gentle run?"
"Of course, I'm playing this afternoon."
"You were amazing last night." Arthur said, quietly.
Merlin smiled widely and ducked his head. "Thank you."
"I can't wait to see what you do tonight."
Merlin looked at Arthur but didn't tell him about his plans, just led him from their rooms and out for a long, looping, slow run. They parted then, Merlin to eat a good breakfast and relax and Arthur to go and prepare for his game. Merlin wasn't going to be able to be there to watch this time but he would be able to see some of it on the television between his own preparations. He knew Arthur would be at his routine, he'd told Merlin as much before he left, and Merlin hoped that it would be a good end to both of their days.
/ / / From the Men's Free Final Commentary of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics with Alator Catha \ \ \
"Merlin Emrys, son of the amazing speed skater Balinor Emrys, is the next skater to take the ice. He is in first position after the short programme and looking to take out his third gold medal in the individual event. Albion took the gold in the inaugural team's competition earlier in the week. Merlin is the journeyman of the Albion ice skating team. He went to his first Olympics at sixteen and was a surprise gold medallist. He followed the medal up with the next four world championships and another gold medal in Vancouver four years ago. The twenty-four year old damaged his knee two years ago but he's come back and won another world championships since then. He has dominated the sport since Turin and came into this Olympics as the favourite. However, anyone who has been watching Merlin over the last eight years can attest to the fact that something is different about his skating in the last nine months. Technically, he is still the best skater on the ice and he should win the gold medal but he does have competition; including the young skater from Albion in Mordred. His skating last night in the short programme was without a doubt the best skating I have seen from him in this competition, or in fact in his career, and the whole figure skating world is looking forward to seeing what he is going to find in his impressive skill set for tonight.
"He is striking in his usual Camelot red with a dragon on his back. And everyone in the rink is holding their breath, they know that what they are about to see could be history in the making and even if it isn't Merlin Emrys is still the best figure skater than anyone here has probably ever seen.
"He's going into the triple lutz, which should be followed by…Oh my God…Merlin Emrys just completed a quadruple lutz, inarguably the most difficult legal move in figure skating today…and, yes, that's been followed by a triple toe and a beautiful double toe. This is history in the making, without a doubt, no one in this rink has ever seen anything like this. Emrys landed all three of those jumps amazingly, perfectly, and we're about to see his spins. I love to see a skater hold their positions, showing the lines of each position before moving into the next figure. Merlin is skating better than I have ever seen him and the stadium is silent except for the click of camera shutters and the sound of skate on ice. There are thousands of people in this stadium in awe of the programme that Emrys is skating tonight. He's about to go into his next triple jump…the triple lutz, completely beautifully and that is one of the things that makes Emrys the skater than all figure skaters want to emulate, he nails his landings with more precision than any other skater that's been on the scene in a number of years. Look at the line of his leg on that spin. Emrys has one last jump in his programme and if he lands it then we have just seen the gold medal performance. If he doesn't, we might have seen it regardless. And he landed it, adding a double toe to it and spinning into the centre of the ice for the end of the routine.
"And you can hear the crowd, the moment the music stopped the entire venue erupted into cheers, without a doubt they know they have seen history here tonight and if you didn't know who was on the ice anyone would think that a Russian had just won the Olympic gold medal but the score would have to be a mere technically at the moment. The smile on Emrys' face is so bright and wide that he knows he had won the medal. The Albion team is screaming for their second gold medal in the figure skating programme to join the silver earned by the pairing of Gwen Leodegrace and William Ami two nights ago. Emrys is finally leaving the ice and you can see the young skaters rushing around to collect up the bouquets that have been dropped for him. We are just waiting for his score now.
"I doubt any of the skaters left in tonight's schedule are looking forward to following that. And we have the score, that is a new personal best for Emrys and the highest score ever awarded to a male figure skater. We have just seen figure skating history made tonight and the person on your screens is the three time Olympic gold medallist and with this behind him will Emrys make it four and go to South Korea?
"Any doubts I had earlier about Emrys' heart being in his skating were well and truly banished by that performance. I am stunned at the skill and execution of this programme."
"The next skater is Edwin Muirden and I wouldn't want to be him. Every other skater is skating for silver tonight."
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
"Explain this to me," Lancelot said to Gwen.
"What am I explaining," she asked.
"Arthur said that Merlin's performance last night was the best performance he'd seen in years."
Gwen nodded enthusiastically. "It was amazing and I think he's going to do something no one has ever seen before tonight."
"I don't really understand how what he did was so much more than the others, apart of course from the fact he didn't fall."
"It was the difficulty of what he did," Arthur explained. "Like the difference between shooting for goal with a goaltender, shooting with the goaltender and both defensemen, or shooting while you are the only member of your team on the ice."
Lancelot stopped and thought about that for a moment and then nodded. "I'm assuming he was the last one."
"Yeah," Gwen said, "and I'm not ashamed to admit that Will and I are the middle ones."
"You were amazing," Lancelot said, smiling at her sweetly.
Gwen smiled back at him and then Merlin was announced and Arthur stopped paying attention to any of them.
"That was different," Gwaine said.
"That was the best figure skating I have ever seen," Arthur responding. He couldn't believe that Merlin had taken his advice – that he had listened to what Arthur had suggested. He wanted to go down there and tell Merlin how much it had meant to him but he couldn't. It wasn't something he could do even though he wanted to. They weren't anything but roommates; they had barely even met before the Olympics started.
"I'm going down to see him," Gwen said standing up.
Arthur watched Merlin, not the screen but the actual man, and tried to work out why he would have skated a move he'd been so against two days ago. Arthur had known he could do it, was capable of what he'd seen tonight but he hadn't actually seen Merlin push himself that hard in years. It couldn't be him; it couldn't have been Arthur's suggestion. If it was then…Arthur shook his head. Merlin was the best figure skater in the world and he'd proven that, that was all it was.
Arthur stood up and left his seat, ignoring Gwaine's words, walking back to his room silently. He went into his room and closed the door behind him. If Merlin came back that night Arthur didn't hear him but the next morning Merlin bounced out of his room with a stupid grin on his face.
"Did you see it?"
"Of course," Arthur said.
"You were right, I'm so glad I took your advice and did the quadruple lutz. Thank you."
"I…you did it because of me?"
"You reminded me to throw everything at the ice and just push until I didn't have anything left and I have been holding onto that jump for years. Now, I've given it everything and I have a gold medal and two world records."
Arthur looked at Merlin, the bright light in his eyes and the complete relaxation in his body under that silly Doctor Who jumper. He had had some effect on what Merlin did, it was ridiculous.
"Are we running?" Merlin asked, stretching up.
Merlin smiled. "I like running with you, so, are we running?"
Arthur nodded without saying anything and they headed out into the frigid Russian air.
/ / / Merlin \ \ \
Merlin sat on his hands during the next ice hockey game he attended with Morgana, Gwen, and Will. They were playing Russia and Merlin was nervous. Not even the left over buzz from the night before and the gold medal, that made him one of the few skaters in the history of figure skating to achieve three Olympic gold medals, was diminishing the way he was feeling. Merlin had decided, somewhere between being hugged until he couldn't breathe by his mother and going to bed this morning, that he was going to go after what he wanted off the ice too. And he wanted Arthur, as soon as Arthur had his gold medal he was going after exactly what he wanted. Merlin was excited about what was coming. He had spent a few minutes that morning wondering if he was being presumptuous but he knew that there was something there and he was going to go after it. Merlin respected what Arthur was here to do though, so he could wait…impatiently.
The two teams came out and the whistle made Merlin's stomach twist. He watched as Lancelot was slammed into the wall just moments into the game and Gwen gasped next to him. From then the game was hard and fast and vicious.
Halfway through the second period one of the Russians, a gigantic man, slammed Arthur into the wall after he scored a goal.
Merlin grabbed Gwen's hand when Arthur fell and didn't get up.
"What's he doing?" Merlin asked.
"He'll be fine," Morgana said, her voice slightly weaker than she would want it to be. Merlin turned to look at her and realised that he wasn't the only one with one of Gwen's hands in their grip.
"Yes," Merlin agreed.
"He has taken worse hits, I'm sure," Gwen said.
"He's getting up," someone behind Merlin said, and he swivelled around to look. The random woman was right and Arthur was moving, sitting up. There was a medic standing next to him and they helped Arthur stand up, after a stumble. They moved off the ice, someone else coming on to take Arthur's place but Merlin didn't care. His eyes stayed on Arthur until the other man disappeared from view.
"I'm going to go and see him," Morgana said, standing up.
Gwen stood and hugged Morgana tightly. "Let us know?"
Morgana looked at Merlin. "Of course."
Merlin could see Uther walking away from his seat as well while the game in front of them started again.
Gwen's hand tightened around his.
"You know, we've never even…I think he's interested but…it's a bit silly isn't it."
"Do you think Lancelot and I are silly?"
"No," Merlin said, firmly, "but, you and Lancelot have at least talked about your feelings."
Gwen smiled at him. "I've finished my Olympics."
"So have I."
"And Lancelot wants to win but he doesn't think like Arthur does."
"Arthur is…I didn't tell you about what I saw the other day."
"Between Arthur and his father?"
"Morgana's told me enough."
"He can't see how amazing they both are and Arthur wants to please him so badly."
"Don't you want to please your mum?"
Merlin laughed. "You've met my mum; she'd be pleased if I was a baker."
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know."
"But, you still want to please her."
"Then you probably understand it," Gwen explained.
Merlin sighed. "But, Uther's not happy with them, he'd barely even happy with Morgana and she's going to win a gold medal."
"You don't know that."
"I have faith."
Gwen smiled at him, silently pleased at his faith in Morgana. "The point, is that Arthur needs to focus, he only knows how to focus on this. Do you care for him?"
Merlin knew it would be insanity to even give a name to the way he felt about Arthur – it was impossible, they had only known one another for a week and a half, so he just smiled and nodded.
"Do you believe he is interested too?"
"Did I tell you Gwaine and Leon came to have a 'talk' with me?"
"Do you think he's interested?"
"Yes," Merlin admitted.
Gwen smiled at him widely. "Then you and Arthur are going to have your chance to have that conversation and to work things out after he wins gold."
"We've known one another for just over a week," Merlin said, disbelief in his voice.
"So?" Gwen asked, with that voice she had that made everyone believe that she had faith in them and if she had faith in them then the world was right. Merlin didn't know how she did it but he was so thankful for her ability.
Merlin wrapped an arm around Gwen's shoulder and hugged her tightly. "Thanks."
"Who cares how long you've known him, if something is there then it's there."
Merlin's hip vibrated and he pulled away from Gwen with a jerk.
He's got a mild concussion and a few bruises but he's fine.
Merlin showed Gwen the message and smiled brightly. Merlin turned back to the ice, not quite as interested in the game now but he wouldn't leave Gwen for anything now.
The Albion Knights won the match, hard fought though it was, and Merlin and Gwen sat in their seats for another few minutes before they started to move. He walked her back to the Athlete's Village and then went to his own room, not sure if Arthur would be there. He wasn't and Merlin went into his room to find his kindle before he settled on the couch to read. Gwen's words had confirmed the decision he'd made – he wouldn't push until after Arthur's event but he wasn't going to pretend that he wasn't interested or that he could possibly go to bed before he'd seen Arthur for himself.
He'd almost fallen asleep when the door opened finally and Arthur walked in with Morgana at his side.
"Oh, good," she said, when she saw Merlin, "I'm leaving him with you; he's a pain in the arse when he's injured. Don't let him do anything more strenuous than having a shower until tomorrow when I come and get him to see the doctor again."
"Okay," Merlin said, not even pretending he wasn't going to look after Arthur.
"The doctors have cleared him to sleep without any problems, if he develops a fever or throws up call Owain." She handed Merlin a slip of paper with his number on it.
"I don't need to be looked after," Arthur protested.
"I think you have proven again and again that that isn't true, so be nice to Merlin."
"You need to go and rest," Merlin said, standing up and smiling at Morgana. "You only have another day before your short programme."
"Yeah," Arthur said, voice repentant. "Thanks for bringing me back, I'll see you tomorrow."
Morgana leaned forward to press a kiss to Arthur's cheek and then pressed one onto Merlin's cheek as well. "I'll see you both tomorrow."
Merlin turned to look at Arthur, a little pale, obviously tired, and his body wasn't as strong as it had been moments before when Morgana had been in the room.
"What do you want?" Merlin asked.
Arthur looked up at him. "You don't have to look after me."
Merlin smiled at him, letting a little of his affection seep out into his expression. "I want to."
Arthur smiled back tiredly. "I want a shower, I always feel cold after being with Owain. I think they turn the temperature down."
"I can do that alone."
"Obviously," Merlin said, smiling.
"Okay," Merlin said, settling back on the couch to read while Arthur went into the bathroom.
When Arthur came out, looking exhausted, Merlin waited until he had settled in bed before he took himself to bed and fell asleep.
The next morning, Arthur woke later than Merlin was expecting and came out of his room moving like he could feel every bit of the hit from the night before. Arthur got himself breakfast and sat down next to Merlin on the couch.
Arthur nodded. "Just stiff, I think I'm going to have to exercise it out."
Merlin laughed but Arthur looked at him with seriousness.
"I mean it. Maybe a light jog."
Arthur looked at him for a long moment. "What?"
"You have a concussion; you're not allowed to go for a jog."
"Of course I can."
Merlin shook his head, dumbfounded. "You were slammed into a wall last night by a giant Russian who gave you a concussion. You have to look after yourself."
"My muscles are tight; if I don't stretch them out I'm not going to skate as well tomorrow night."
"You're skating tomorrow?"
"Of course, it's the last match of our draw."
Merlin was stunned, he knew Arthur was determined but he hadn't realised that Arthur would actually put himself at risk to skate and win.
"I thought you already had the points needed for the next round."
"So, shouldn't you be taking a break and letting your brain heal?"
"I'm the Captain," Arthur said, like it explained everything.
"But…you have a concussion!" Merlin repeated. He couldn't work out why Arthur didn't understand how important that was.
"I know, but it's just a jog, stretch out my muscles and then I'll feel better."
"Or you'll end up seeing a doctor."
"I have to see Owain anyway."
Merlin stood up and looked down at Arthur with utter disbelief. "You aren't allowed to go out and jog."
Arthur stood up, wavering slightly on his feet before he firmed, and looked at Merlin. "I am allowed to do anything I want."
"I'm fine to go."
"No," Merlin said, knowing he needed to stop and approach this differently. "You know better than this. I know you desperately want to win but injuring yourself isn't the way to get a medal."
"I know my body."
"Obviously not, you could barely stand without feeling light headed."
Arthur's face darkened and Merlin felt dread sinking into his chest. "You have no say in what I do, Merlin, I'm a grown man and I know what is best for me."
"You're just my roommate," Arthur said, arms folded over his chest. "Don't act like you're anything more."
Merlin opened his mouth to say something but Arthur grabbed his coat and walked out. Merlin sat back down on the couch heavily, head in his hands. He knew that was the worst possible way he could have handled that situation but he hadn't known what else to do with faced with such pig-headed stupidity. Merlin rubbed his face and sighed – he'd well and truly fucked that up, he knew – not that he really believed that Arthur wasn't an utter clotpole for thinking he could go for a jog the morning after a concussion.
Then his mother called.
/ / / Arthur \ \ \
Arthur fumed as he walked out of the door; he was a grown man and he certainly didn't need Merlin telling him what was best for him. He made it all the way to the Medal Plaza before he realised he was a stupid idiot. Of course, going for a run with a concussion with a stupid idea.
Arthur had seen the difference in Merlin after his short programme, he could see that something changed in the way Merlin was skating but then when it was all over Merlin had started looking at Arthur more. Arthur knew what Merlin's expression meant and he knew that the possibilities that had been between them from the beginning were real, tangible probabilities now. And, it terrified him.
Arthur wasn't used to the open, affectionate way that Merlin had cared. The way he simply didn't want Arthur to do something because he might hurt himself. Arthur was used to the way his teammates watched out for him but they would never stand in his way. Merlin had stood in his way and Arthur didn't quite know what to do with the way Merlin had looked at him – that soft, caring, silent expression wasn't something that Arthur had any experience with. He didn't know how to deal with someone who was telling him what to do simply because they cared.
He went for a walk, meandering over to the ice rink where he knew Owain would be – early for his check-up but not really caring. He couldn't go back to Merlin yet and he knew he shouldn't really be out alone either.
Owain glared at him as he walked into the medical section and then grudgingly walked him through an examination.
"You won't be able to skate tomorrow night."
"Owain." Arthur said, annoyed.
"Do you want to skate the match after that?"
"Then you will sit on the bench for all of the match tomorrow and you will smile like you enjoy it."
"I don't like you."
"You are a terrible liar. Now, go back to your room and let Merlin look after you."
Owain rolled his eyes. "Because your relationship with him is such a secret?"
"We aren't in a relationship."
"Then what are you?"
"I don't know," Arthur admitted.
Owain walked over and slapped Arthur on the arm. "Stop being a moron."
"What do I need to do to get back on the ice for Tuesday's game?"
"Rest today, go for a slow walk this afternoon with company. Tomorrow morning come and see me and we will make a decision from there. If anything, anything, changes then you call me."
"Okay," Arthur agreed, reluctantly.
"Good, now get out of here…wait, who walked you here?"
"Oh, for…sit down." Owain called Percival to come and escort him back to his rooms.
"How are you feeling?" Percy asked, the moment he walked into the room.
Percy smiled and they started walking back to Arthur's rooms.
"I thought Merlin was keeping an eye on you."
"We had a disagreement about how much I should do with a concussion," Arthur admitted, there was something about Percival that made it easy to talk to him.
Percival nodded but said nothing else while they walked.
"We'll see you at training tomorrow, Arthur," Percy said, leaving him at the door. "Remember, sometimes the things that are more important than gold come when you don't want them to."
Arthur stared at Percival as the tall man turned and walked away. "Stop spending so much time with Kilgharrah." Arthur shook his head and turned around to walk into the rooms he was sharing with Merlin.
Merlin wasn't in the living room but he could hear him moving around in his room. Arthur made his way back slowly and then froze, heart beating wildly, when he saw Merlin tucking shirts into a bright red Albion duffle.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked, looking at the bag sitting on Merlin's bed.
"Mum has another couple of days and she asked me to go to Finland with her. I don't have any reason to stay anymore." Merlin said, never turning around to look at Arthur. "After all, there's no reason to stay and support my roommate."
Arthur stepped back, twisted and walked to his room. He knew this was his fault, knew that what he'd said earlier was the reason Merlin was leaving – Merlin had made that very obvious. He closed his bedroom door behind him quietly and sat down on his bed. He looked down at his hands, the calluses on his palms and the red that came from being out in the cold. He didn't know what to do. He didn't want to lose Merlin if there was even the chance that he'd actually found someone as amazing as the other man seemed to be and yet…and yet, this was his dream and Merlin was a distraction. Merlin kept Arthur from devoting every minute to his training and preparation. Arthur needed to concentrate and he couldn't focus completely if Merlin was here because Merlin was distracting.
Now, Merlin was leaving. Arthur thought about the days when he didn't see Merlin, missing him on the morning run and wanting to tell him things. He knew it was insane and stupid and completely, and utterly, ridiculous to have come to depend on Merlin's company so much so quickly but Arthur didn't want to lose it.
He had to ask himself if Merlin leaving would actually make it easier to focus.
He stood up and walked out of his bedroom before he'd even given himself time to completely make the decision.
"I want that medal and I will spend all my time focussing on my preparation," Arthur said, the moment he made it to Merlin's doorway. "But, don't go."
Merlin turned around slowly, the stupid Dr Who jumper in his hands. "That's the most terrible offer ever."
"But it's true." Arthur said, smiling at Merlin weakly. "I need to do this, I need to win but…I really don't want you to go."
"I promised my mother some time in Finland."
"Two days, one night, then I'll be back."
Arthur couldn't say anything, wasn't sure what to say so he smiled at Merlin who threw him the Dr Who jumper at him and grinned back stupidly.