The reception is winding down, and Freya isn't totally sure where she's supposed to sleep.
Well, she's sure where she's supposed to sleep, but Vivian just sneaked upstairs with Percival so if Freya goes to the room she was assigned in Morgana's exhaustive plans, she's not going to get very much sleep at all. If this were a hotel, she would just beg to see if they had any other rooms, but it isn't a hotel, it's the very fancy Pendragon mansion, which means that while it may be large, it nonetheless has a finite amount of space for guests, and all the rooms are booked and double-booked.
Gwen and Morgana are still swaying on the dance floor, the last two there even if anyone would have forgiven the brides for ducking out early. Gwen is laughing about something, her face lit up and happy, and Freya glances away at the rest of the room, because Gwen is her best friend after Merlin and Freya doesn't want to feel melancholy at a wedding where she's a bridesmaid, like a stupid movie cliché.
Around the room, people are getting ready for bed, from what Freya can tell, and she's gritting her teeth against a yawn in sympathy with Elena's when there's a tap on her shoulder. “Sitting this one out?” asks Arthur from above her, smiling and offering her one of the glasses of champagne that must be tepid and flat by now.
“No thanks,” she says, both to the champagne and to any implied offers of a dance, and looks behind Arthur to find, of course, Merlin there as well. They're attached at the hip all the time these days, with the relationship so new.
Merlin frowns and puts a hand on Arthur's shoulder for a second before he comes to sit in the chair next to her, moving her shoes from where she guiltily stowed them as soon as she had the chance to stop with her bridesmaid duties. “You okay?”
“Just tired, and I think I've been sexiled, which has got to be the first time since college.” She sighs and leans on him for a second before she stops and remembers Arthur, still standing behind them. Arthur hasn't shown a sign of being jealous, not yet, but she and Merlin have historically not been the favorite people of each other's boyfriends and girlfriends, and she likes Arthur, respects him, even if to her he's mostly Morgana's stuffy brother.
When she looks back, though, Arthur mostly just looks amused and affectionate. “You're rooming with Vivian, right?”
“Yes, and she and Percival … I'm not sure what's going on, but I don't particularly want to be involved in it.” She frowns at the table. “I could go sleep with Elyan, maybe, if Percival is with Vivian he'll have bed space free.”
“Stay with us,” says Merlin, and then looks past her at Arthur. “That's fine, right?”
“No, it's not.” She shakes her head when both of them frown in unison. “I'd be invading your privacy. I wouldn't be invading Elyan's.”
“He's got a massive king-sized bed here, it's ridiculous, you wouldn't imposing at all.”
“Merlin.” She sighs and looks to Arthur for support, but he's just watching the two of them, still smiling a little. “I don't think it's your space I'll be imposing on. Elyan is the other bride's brother, they probably gave him a very nice bed. Especially if he was going to be sharing it with Percival.”
“I think our relationship will survive not having sexual relations for one night, Freya,” says Arthur, to her surprise. “And Elyan went upstairs an hour ago, while we are right here. If you aren't comfortable, then don't feel like you have to come, but you're welcome.”
Freya should say no. There are options, any number of friends whose doors she could knock on who might not be sleeping or who might be finished with that certain mood that weddings seem to inflict on couples. However, the thought of a night with Merlin after a very long day, laughing under the covers like they used to do on sleepovers, is too tempting to resist, and Arthur seems just as happy to have her as Merlin, who's smiling up at Arthur like he hung the stars for offering. She could say no, but she's tired, and there's only so much protesting she has the energy for. “Okay, then, I'll come with you. Are you getting ready to go up?”
“You and Merlin go,” says Arthur. “I've got to say one last goodnight to the brides, and I'll be right behind you.”
Merlin drags her to her feet like they're at a bar in uni and he thinks she's tipsy, even though she stopped drinking champagne after the cake was served. “Come on. Do you want to go to your room before Vivian gets too far into the foreplay and grab your pajamas, or do you want to borrow a shirt from me or Arthur?”
Freya considers Vivian's likely reaction to Merlin traipsing into their room behind her. She won't object to Freya's presence, or at least won't have a leg to stand on to object, but that doesn't mean she'll be pleased. “The latter, if you don't mind.”
“Not at all.” He puts his arm through hers, waving at Arthur, and at Gwaine and Elena and Lancelot, who are giggling over something while Mithian looks on in tolerant amusement, and starts towing her out of the room. She'll never quite be able to assimilate the fact that Arthur and Morgana have a ballroom in their childhood home.
Merlin seems to know his way around, judging by how little he hesitates whenever there's a twist or a turn to make in the hallways, and Freya feels like she's walked practically a mile by the time they're in what must be the usual residential area of the building. Arthur's room, when Merlin lets them in, is big and much more lived-in than the guest room Freya is assigned to. Their suitcases are tossed on the floor at the foot of the bed, which is massive and of course covered in red sheets, and the closet doors are ajar, revealing what must be boxes of furnishings Arthur never sorted through after uni. Freya thinks she recognizes the hideous lamp peeking out of one of them.
“So, this is it,” says Merlin into what Freya realizes must be an awkward silence, fidgeting his arm away from hers. “Your home for the night. Arthur, being the heir of the house, gets his own bathroom attached, so you can use our toothpaste or whatever. Shall I get you a sleep shirt?”
“Whenever, not just yet if you aren't ready to go to sleep right now.” Freya takes her phone out, gladder than ever that Gwen insisted on pockets for anyone involved in her wedding, even though Freya is pretty sure the big rectangle rather ruined the line of her pretty dress during the photographs. Everything new is pictures and snaps from other people at the wedding (Elena making faces at Gwaine, Lancelot's exhausted face from Mithian captioned “We need naps,” Vivian's happily scandalized face as she holds up a large package of condoms), and she texts Vivian to tell her where she is and puts the phone on a side table. “Mind if I wash my makeup off, though? It's starting to itch.”
“Absolutely. Bathroom's the door that isn't the entrance or the closet.”
Freya smiles at him because he's obviously making a joke and goes to the only door left. The bathroom is small, and littered with toothbrushes and shampoo bottles even though Arthur and Merlin have only been around for a few days. Both of them are unutterably messy, always have been, though both of them are very fond of complaining about the trait in the other. Freya meets her eyes in the mirror for a moment, surprised to find she's smiling, and then wets a washcloth in the sink and starts scrubbing it across her face. It doesn't get everything, and it leaves her skin pink and tender, but she feels cleaner afterwards, and by the time she's done Arthur is in the room too, the low sound of him talking to Merlin filtering through the bathroom door.
Arthur smiles at her the second she comes back through the door. He's helping Merlin off with his tie, and it feels like an embarrassingly intimate moment, even though she's taken Merlin's ties off plenty of times, because he's fond of his silly hipster scarves but can't seem to be able to take a tie off without cutting off his air supply. “Feeling better?”
“I wasn't feeling bad at all,” she assures him. Now that Arthur has his sleeves rolled up and Merlin's out of his tie and waistcoat her dress feels far too fancy, overdressed for the occasion, but there isn't much to do about that. “Just needed that off.”
“Are you ready for bed, or do you want to stay up a little longer?”
Freya holds her hands up. “I'm intruding, I don't get to make the decisions about what we're doing. If you two want to watch a movie or something I may fall asleep halfway through, but I don't have to go to sleep right now either.”
Merlin makes a face at her. “Great, helpful.”
Arthur rolls his eyes and finally extricates Merlin from his tie, kissing him quickly while he does it. At first, he was stiff about kissing Merlin in public, but she likes that he'll do it easily around their friends now, from the way it makes Merlin smile every time. “I probably couldn't stay awake through a movie either, I just wanted to know if I should be digging a shirt out of my luggage for you yet, that's all.”
Freya looks down at her dress, the dark red satin that makes her feel like a princess, all the more so since Arthur's room is fit for a king. “I don't want to wrinkle it.”
“Of course not.” Arthur is standing by the luggage, and he rummages down in one of the bags (it isn't falling apart, so she assumes it's his, but Arthur can sometimes be sentimental about his old things, like a red jacket he refuses to get rid of that he wore to pieces during his brief rebellious phase of uni) until he comes free with a t-shirt that must be his, from the size of it, and a pair of neatly folded boxers. “The shirt might not be long enough to cover you, so I thought I'd provide those as well. They're clean, I promise.”
“Have you got enough for the whole trip?”
“It's his house,” Merlin points out. “Somewhere in this massive pile must be a washing machine, which he'll make me find and use because he's afraid of them.”
“Bite your tongue,” says Arthur, but he's laughing. “I am not afraid of anything, you're the one who asked if the place was haunted the first time you stayed here and refused to sleep in a different room.”
Merlin's got a very special expression when he thinks Arthur is being very, very stupid, and Freya has to bite her lip against a smile when it appears. “Yeah,” he says slowly, “because I wanted to sleep with you.”
Freya slips back into the bathroom, since that makes Arthur stare, and shuts the door to change quickly. The dress goes over the shower rod, since she's certainly not going to brave the closet, and she puts on Arthur's clothes from there. They're soft and they smell like his aftershave and she feels like a little girl drowning in fabric once they're on, trying to keep the boxers from slipping off her hips.
Arthur and Merlin aren't kissing when she comes out, but they look as though they have been, and Merlin's cheeks are pink. “Next person can change, if you want,” she says. “I left the dress in there so it wouldn't wrinkle, tell me where to move it if either of you wants to shower tonight.”
“That can wait till morning,” says Arthur, and clasps Merlin's shoulder before he brushes past him, back to the luggage to grab something similar to what she's wearing, his own sleep clothes, or what he'll pretend are his sleep clothes when Freya is quite sure that Merlin said he usually sleeps naked.
Merlin, shameless as ever, takes off his shirt before he remembers she's there and looks at her questioningly. “Nothing I haven't seen before,” she reminds him, and sits on the edge of the bed, since there really isn't anywhere else to sit.
“True,” he says, and takes off his trousers as well, tripping out of the legs. Arthur is humming to himself in the bathroom, and Freya wonders if he knows how thin the door is or if he just doesn't care. “Did you enjoy the wedding?” He's got proper pajamas, alone among the three of them, because his circulation is terrible and he gets chilly while he sleeps in the middle of July in a tiny sun-filled apartment, never mind the end of summer in a huge drafty mansion.
“It was lovely, but really, with Gwen and Morgana involved, how could it be anything else? I still can't believe Gwen asked me to be a bridesmaid.”
Merlin, as quick into his clothes as he is clumsy getting out of them, sits on the bed next to her, arm around her shoulders. “Because you're wonderful, and Gwen is fully aware of that, and also because you look much nicer in sleeveless gowns than I do.”
Freya laughs, as she's meant to, and leans into the comforting weight of his arm. Arthur is still humming—he can't carry a tune to save his life, but he can keep a rhythm, and from that she thinks it's the song from Gwen and Morgana's first dance, some happy 40s number with a lot of crooning and brass. “I don't know, I think you could do it. Arthur would probably go mad with lust.”
“What would make me go mad with lust?” Arthur calls through the door, apparently completely aware of the thinness of the door.
“Merlin in a dress,” she calls back.
A second later, the door swings open. Arthur looks much more relaxed in his sleep clothes, and much more tired as well, but he still has a wicked grin for them. “I think he'd look very fetching. I don't think he'd fit yours, though, he's got all those legs. We could try Morgana.”
“The wedding dress?” says Merlin, grinning between them. “I think we should probably wait until they aren't newlyweds, she might not be too happy with us stealing it for illicit purposes.”
Arthur raises his eyebrows. “It's Morgana. The only purposes she would approve of are illicit ones.” He comes to sit on the bed too, on her other side, and she's surprised by the easy warmth of it. Arthur isn't free with his touches, with most people. “Hi,” he says to her, leaned in close.
“Hi.” She finds she likes being in between the two of them, even if it's a warm night and she doesn't really need the body heat. “Did you want to sleep, then?”
Merlin leans his head against hers. “We can put a movie on to get to sleep? I brought my laptop, might be a good way to wind down.”
“He has hideous taste in movies, let's not,” says Arthur, though he's smiling still. All the teeth have been taken out of their teasing since they started dating, and it's a nice sort of ache, seeing them like this, up close and alone. “Unless you want to, that is?”
Freya shrugs. “I could take it or leave it. Like I said, I won't be able to stay awake through a movie.”
“So we'll just talk,” says Merlin. “Like one of our old sleepovers all over again. Come on, let's get settled, and Arthur can turn out the light because it's his room.”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but he's already standing up, leaving her behind with a brief squeeze to her knee. “Fine, then, you two get settled, just be sure to leave enough space for me.”
Merlin crawls up the bed and beckons her up beside him, tugging her into the middle when she tries to go out to the edge. “We're not going to roll on top of you in the middle of the night, come on. We'll give you a good cuddle.”
Freya looks at Arthur, waiting for him to object, since it's his bed and his boyfriend, but he's just smiling fondly at the two of them, or at Merlin anyway, since it's a look she's only seen before directed at people he was dating. “You don't want the middle? I feel awful invading your bed and then sleeping between you.”
“Don't. You shouldn't feel bad in the least, we're glad to have you here.”
There's a certain amount of steel behind that, and Freya stops objecting to a good thing, just lets Merlin pull her into place under the covers, which have a higher threadcount than anything she's ever touched in her life. Her head falls in the crack between the pillows, when she's right in the middle of the bed, but Merlin pulls her a little closer, easy with his touch as he always is, so they're aligned together, torsos and legs touching. Arthur, when she looks, is still watching with that look on his face, before he shuts off the light and plunges them all into darkness. The curtains are open, so some moonlight filters through, and Freya and Merlin are silent and still while Arthur makes his way over to the bed, sliding in the other side. “Everyone comfy?” Merlin asks into the silence, when Arthur is settled on his side of the bed and Freya is starting to feel a little awkward, being the one cuddling with his boyfriend. She and Merlin are affectionate, but rarely this affectionate.
“Very,” says Freya, because physically she is. “This may be the softest mattress in the world.”
Arthur laughs and rolls over, into her, pressing up against her back like it's natural. “It's nice, sometimes I think about stealing it for my flat, but it wouldn't fit through the door.”
Merlin laughs, and it vibrates in her ribcage. “I don't think it would really stop you from trying, if you were that determined. The bed in your flat is plenty big, anyway. Big enough for—”
He stops, and Freya assumes it's something about sex for a moment, until Arthur shifts around a little, giving her an inch of space, and then says “Do we want to talk about it?”
Freya moves until she's free of them, propping herself up on her elbows, looking from one side to the other in the dark. Both of them, from what she can see in the blue light, are watching her. “Do you two need to have a private conversation?”
Merlin sits up beside her. “No, we need to have a conversation with you. We didn't mean to do it like this, but it's sort of necessary now.”
Freya frowns. Arthur is still watching her, still exactly where he was, but Merlin has moved to stare off the side of the bed, and neither of them is giving any clues about what they might mean. “Have I done something wrong?”
Now Arthur sits up. “No, God, nothing wrong, absolutely not. Merlin and I have something we want to ask you. And if it makes you uncomfortable, we'll sleep on the floor, and that's a promise.”
“Now I'm nervous.”
Merlin puts his arm around her shoulders, and despite the sudden strange turn of the conversation, it's still a comfort. “It's a good thing. Or we want it to be.”
“We want to know if you'd like to date us,” says Arthur, and when she turns to Merlin, he's nodding along, like Arthur means exactly what he can't possibly mean. “We both have feelings for you,” he continues, “and we want to give it a try, if you have any interest in it at all.”
“Date you,” she says, even though she knows she sounds stupid just helplessly repeating the words, and then she turns to Merlin even though she knows it isn't a joke, knows it's the kind of thing they would do to each other but not really to her. “You're serious.”
“We are, but if you need time to think about it, that's fine.” Arthur moves very slowly, slow enough that even in the dark she can tell he's going to put his hand on her knee and squeeze well before he actually does it. “I really hope you're interested.”
The thought of Arthur and Merlin, after their years of fighting and flirting and finally getting together, wanting anyone else is absurd, but she trusts them to be telling the truth. What to do about it is another matter: she had a crush on Merlin years ago, and she's always thought Arthur is lovely and attractive, but they've been for each other so long she's barely even considered the thought of one of them being for her, let alone both of them. “I'm not sure,” she says, because it's not a real answer but it's the most honest one she can give right now. “This is out of nowhere.”
Except for the nights when she and Merlin were spending time together and Arthur came along like it was a natural thing to do, or being the only one to dance with both of them at the wedding earlier besides the brides, except for flowers on her birthday from Arthur and a threat from Merlin to give her a kitten for Christmas. It was never romantic, not for her, but she can see … “It was low-key for both of us until we were together,” Merlin is saying, “but then we both started missing you, now that you weren't trying to be a buffer to keep the peace.”
“We can have a date or two, the three of us,” says Arthur. “Something casual.” As though he isn't the worst person she knows at doing anything romantic and casual. He told Merlin he loves him halfway through their first date.
He sounds hopeful, though, and even if Freya isn't sure if it's a good idea, if it can work out, she's sure that Merlin is one of her best friends and Arthur is dear to her as well. If they try, it could go well. If they all try. “What kind of dates?” she asks, and she's glad it's dark because she knows she's blushing.
“Any kind you like,” says Merlin. “You like breakfast. We could go out for breakfast.”
“Everyone's eating breakfast in the Pendragons' massive dining room to see Gwen and Morgana off on their honeymoon,” she reminds him. “And then we've got to get back to the city.”
“Dinner,” says Arthur, and when she turns to look at him she can see the shape of his smile in the moonlight. “Dinner is traditional, and we should all be back in town by then. Will you spend tonight with us and then have dinner tomorrow?”
“We won't have sex tonight,” Merlin adds hastily. “We'll just stay like this, with you in the middle, and in the morning—you haven't actually said yes yet, have you?”
“God, sorry, I'm just a little overwhelmed. Yes, I'll try a date or two. I can't promise anything, I haven't had time to get used to the idea yet, but how could I not try, given the offer?”
Within a second, they're both hugging her, wrapping her up in a tangle of limbs, and she thinks again she could stay there forever, only now it's an option. It's something they want, even if it wasn't what she was expecting. “Thank you,” Arthur says into her hair, and Freya shakes off her surprise enough to put her arms around them as best she can, with her limbs trapped with the rest of her body.
“I am so glad we decided to see if you were okay at the end of the reception,” says Merlin. “You don't mind sleeping with us, right? Just sleep.”
“That sounds really good.” To her embarrassment, Freya punctuates that with a yawn. “Really good, sorry, it's been a long day.”
Instantly, Arthur lays back down, and Freya joins him a second later, extricating herself from Merlin's arms as she goes. Arthur doesn't bother to leave space between them this time, and she should tell him it's too fast, that they haven't even had a first date yet, but he's warm and solid and she curls into him instead, and is glad when Merlin curves in behind her, pulling the covers up and then putting an arm over her waist so he can reach Arthur as well.
Freya would almost expect it to be hard to sleep, with the conversation weighing on her mind, but it's impossibly comfortable there between them, and it was a long day. They both whisper their goodnights, and she mumbles something in response, and then it's easy to fall asleep, held safe and warm between them.
In the morning, she wakes up to Arthur and Merlin talking quietly. Normally, she's a restless sleeper, but she's still exactly where she remembers being when she fell asleep, Merlin against her back, her head resting against Arthur's shoulder, so she can feel the vibrations whenever he speaks, his voice rough with sleep. She doesn't have the moment of denial she was expecting, just one of surprise that neither of them moved away in the night, that it wasn't brought on by the wedding and champagne and the certain kind of impulsiveness that strikes when the lights are out. “Morning,” she says, and only gets nervous when they fall suddenly silent.
“Hi,” says Arthur, and she lifts her head, because that tone was far too neutral. He's smiling, though, tentative and hopeful, and she can't see Merlin but his arm tightens on her waist, so he doesn't want to let her go. “Did you sleep well?”
“Much better than I would have slept with Vivian and Percival in the room.” She yawns and Merlin lets her go, lets her turn over so she can look at them both. “I should go up and get dressed before breakfast.”
“I think it's about half an hour till Morgana said we should be down,” says Merlin, watching her carefully. “Are we still on for dinner tonight?”
It should be harder, to say it when it's light out, but there they both are, tired and hoping and so close to her, and all Freya can do is say “Yes, of course. Pick me up at six?”
Merlin laughs, and she knows what relief looks like on his face, and it makes her wonder how long they've been holding on to this, waiting for the right moment. She thinks she'll ask, later. “We'll pick you up anytime you like.”
Freya thinks about kissing him, about leaning into him while Arthur watches and putting her mouth on his, like they did when they were drunk a few times, years ago. She thinks about turning and kissing Arthur instead, wonders how he would taste, if he would be gentle or rough. She thinks maybe she'll try both tonight. “Well, then.”
“You could stay a little while longer,” says Merlin, putting his arm around her again. “You're a quick change, and there's always a chance Vivian and Percival are having round two.”
The bed is warm, a little too warm now that the sun is up, and she's still groggy. Vivian will be wondering where she is, and the later she waits the more people will ask why she's out in the hallways wearing Arthur's clothes, but Freya can't resist settling back into the bed. “Just a little while.” She smiles, looks up at the ceiling. “Tell me about where you're taking me for dinner.”
“Anywhere you like,” Arthur says. “But there's a little place we found on our fourth date that I think you'd really like.”
Freya relaxes in between them, listens to the two of them talk about the restaurant knowing she won't remember any of it later. She isn't willing to guess yet how it will actually go, all three of them together, but if it's anything like this, she thinks it's going to be okay.