Gwaine is used to being the new kid, really, he is. He’s had fifteen years of being shuttled from place to place, never staying anywhere long enough to put down roots. He’s used to it, used to being that guy who everyone stares at and makes fun of and then pretends doesn’t exist. Making friends is out of the question; there’s no point trying to forge relationships which’ll only be forgotten when he has to move on.
(It’s not that he can’t make friends because he can, when he tries. He likes to think he’s kind of charming when he wants to be, he just... doesn’t want to be. He learned a long time ago that it’s so much easier to leave when you have no reason to stay, so he never lets himself find a reason.)
So he’s used to being the new kid, he just hadn’t thought he’d be reacquainted with the experience so soon.
Gwaine’s lost track of the number of schools he’s attended over the years because they’ve all been pretty much identical, no distinguishing features to mark them out, but he has a suspicion Camelot won’t be the same. It’s kind of old-fashioned-looking with wrought-iron gates and sprawling towers and, to be honest, it looks more like a castle than a school, and a damn fancy one at that.
Gwaine raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. A comprehensive is still a comprehensive, no matter how fancy it tries to looks on the outside. He shoulders his way past a group of kids lingering by the gates and heads inside, skirting around the playground to the front office.
“I’m Gwaine,” he tells the receptionist when she gives him a questioning look. “I’m new and I was told to come here to see the headteacher.”
“Right,” she says, nodding. “Take a seat; he’ll be with you shortly.”
Gwaine obliges, slumping in the nearest hard-backed plastic chair by the headmaster’s office. He’s only been there a few minutes – impressive; teachers usually don’t care how long they keep students waiting as long as they’re not kept waiting in return – before the door opens and a head pops out.
“Gawaine, isn’t it?” the head says, pointy teeth bared in an approximation of a smile that cracks his wrinkled skin.
Gwaine tries not to wince as he gets to his feet. “It’s Gwaine, actually,” he corrects. “Hi.”
“Gwaine, of course. I’m Mr Kilgharrah,” he says, gesturing for Gwaine to follow him into his office.
He sits down, leaning back in his chair to survey the room so he doesn’t have to listen to Mr Kilgharrah’s rambling. The headteachers’ offices are always exactly the same and he’s unsurprised to note this one is no exception, but it’s still better than listening to whatever Mr Kilgarrah’s saying. Gwaine tunes in momentarily and catches him saying something about him coming here to fulfil his destiny before immediately tuning back out again.
He gives a start when Mr Kilgharrah says, “Any questions, Gwaine?” but only shakes his head.
“Good,” Mr Kilgharrah says, pushing two pieces of paper across the desk to him. “Here is your timetable and a map of the school to help you get around. I’ll escort you to your first lesson, though, just to make sure you don’t get lost.”
Gwaine takes the two pieces of paper and stuffs them in his bag before hurrying after Mr Kilgharrah. His first lesson is Chemistry with Mr Gaius, a wrinkly old man with stringy white hair and an eyebrow that seems to have a mind of its own as it rises on his forehead at Gwaine and Mr Kilgharrah’s entrance.
“Mr Gaius!” Mr Kilgharrah greets him, smiling widely. “This is Gawaine-”
“Gwaine,” Gwaine corrects, rolling his eyes.
“-and he’s a new student at Camelot.”
“There is little point in you bringing him to me now, Mr Kilgharrah,” Mr Gaius says dryly, eyeing Gwaine. “The lesson’s nearly finished.”
Mr Kilgharrah looks startled. “Is it? I hadn’t noticed.” Mr Gaius rolls his eyes and the headteacher smiles, that pointy-teeth one he aimed at Gwaine earlier. “So how was your summer?”
Mr Gaius just looks at him. “My fiancée left me.”
“Ah,” Mr Kilgarrah says, wincing. “My carpal tunnel came back?”
“I win,” Mr Gaius says with a wry smile. He turns to Gwaine, adds, “Please, sit down, you’re making me nervous hovering there like that.”
Gwaine does, taking the only free seat in the class on the third row beside a pretty boy with bright blue eyes peeking out from underneath messy dark hair. The boy mouths a hello when he sits down and Gwaine is so shocked by the acknowledgement of his existence that by the time he realises he should probably respond in some way, the boy’s already looked away.
At lunch, Gwaine makes his way to the canteen and sits down at an empty table near the middle, pulling out a sandwich he made this morning, along with an apple and a Snickers. Another thing that never changes is school dinners; they’re always airing on the side of inedible and ridiculously overpriced to boot, so he stopped bothering with them years ago.
He glances up as he bites into the sandwich and catches sight of the pretty boy from Chemistry, walking down the aisle with a dark-haired girl. Gwaine glances back down at his food, frowning, but the next second there’s a crash and a burst of cruel laughter and a boy’s voice, loud and indignant – “Hey!”
The pretty boy’s helping the girl to her feet, glaring at a group of laughing boys sitting at the table behind Gwaine. The girl’s tray is on the ground, food splattered everywhere, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what happened. Gwaine’s jaw clenches.
“Got a problem, fairy boy?” one of the meaner-looking boys sneers.
Something flashes in the pretty boy’s eyes, dark and furious. “Just leave her alone, Cenred. She’s never done anything to you.”
“What are you gonna do if I don’t?” the boy called Cenred challenges, his voice low and dangerous as he stands up.
He’s about the same height as the pretty boy but he’s bigger where it counts and there’s a nasty twist to his mouth as he stares down the other two. Gwaine sees the pretty boy step in front of the girl and glance around as if seeking assistance. It’s no use; the half of the canteen not ignoring them are watching in sick fascination. They’re alone.
Cenred draws his arm back and Gwaine’s on his feet before he can think it through, grabbing Cenred’s arm and holding it fast by the side of his head.
“What the fuck?” Cenred demands, struggling to get loose. “Let go of me, freak!”
Gwaine says, very calmly, “Okay,” before twisting Cenred’s arm behind his back and shoving him away. Cenred staggers forward and loses his balance, sprawling into the table across the aisle. Gwaine isn’t given long to revel in his victory, however, because Cenred gets up almost instantly and charges at him, clumsy and unskilled.
Gwaine steps neatly out of the way of his fist but it lands square in the face of someone standing behind him, who squawks with the pain and immediately lashes out, catching the pretty boy with his arm. The pretty boy stumbles back and lands in a heap on the floor, taking half a dozen innocent bystanders along with him.
It’s over pretty quickly after that; the teachers who’d been ignoring them until that point suddenly descend upon them, grabbing Gwaine, Cenred and the pretty boy and pulling them away, out of the canteen.
Mr Kilgharrah looks understandably angry when they’re deposited outside his office, but his face softens when he sees the pretty boy who started it all.
“In trouble already, eh?” Mr Kilgarrah says with a long-suffering sigh. “What am I to do with you?”
The pretty boy gives an unapologetic shrug and, huh, Gwaine wouldn’t have pegged him for the troublesome type. Mr Kilgharrah motions for Cenred to follow him into his office and for the other two to take a seat.
“Sorry,” the boy says suddenly, glancing down at his lap where his hands are twisting themselves into knots.
Gwaine frowns, loosening his tie so he can breathe more easily. “For what?”
The boy winces. “For getting you in trouble,” he says, but Gwaine shrugs.
“Not your fault,” he reasons. “I didn’t have to get involved.”
“So why did you?” the boy asks, biting his lip. Gwaine tries not to stare at his mouth. “You don’t even know us.”
“I don’t have to know you to know there was no way it would’ve been a fair fight,” Gwaine says evenly. “You were outnumbered, you didn’t stand a chance.” He shrugs again. “I s’pose I just kinda liked the look of those odds.”
“You won’t last long in Camelot with survival instincts like that,” the boy informs him, shaking his head solemnly, but Gwaine can see a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He suddenly wants to see him smile for real, to see if it lights up his pretty blue eyes like he thinks it will.
“I don’t really last anywhere long,” he replies, matter-of-fact. “Kind of a wandering soul, me.”
“That’s what Freya said, and she’s been here years,” the boy says wryly, then bites his lip like he’s said too much.
“Freya, the girl you were with?” The pretty boy nods and Gwaine smiles, flicking his hair back off his face. “She your girlfriend?”
The boy looks startled. “What? Oh, no,” he says quickly, “we’re just good friends.”
“Right,” Gwaine says, tamping down the grin that’s suddenly threatening to split his face in two. “So, uh, what do they call you, then?” He needs something to call him in his head other than pretty boy, though to be fair, it’s quite an accurate description and one he certainly isn’t going to forget in a hurry.
The boy looks at him shyly, says, “Merlin.” His cheeks are pink like he’s embarrassed, though Gwaine doesn’t know why he would be.
“Pleasure to meet you, Merlin,” he says, hoping the other boy can’t see how much he means it. “I’m Gwaine.”
Before he can say anything else, Cenred appears, scowling at the two of them, and shoves his way past them to get out.
“I’ll have you in here next, Emrys,” Mr Kilgharrah calls.
Wincing, Merlin gets to his feet but he’s only taken a few steps towards the office before he turns back around to Gwaine and says, hesitant, “See you around, yeah?”
“Yeah, see you around,” Gwaine says quickly, and Merlin beams at him, bright and sudden.
Gwaine sits there for a few moments after Merlin’s left, stunned. So much for not finding a reason to stay, he thinks, something tight unfurling in his chest, but he’s not sure he really minds.
“How was your day?” Gwaine’s mum asks him when he gets through the door.
He shrugs, dumping his bag on the floor so he can go and curl up next to her on the sofa. “Okay.”
“Did you make any friends?” she asks hopefully, sliding an arm around him to pull him close.
“Nope.” He settles into her side, lets her stroke his hair. Sometimes she forgets he isn’t five years old any more, but he hasn’t got the heart to remind her.
“Oh, right. Did anything interesting happen?” she asks, her body tensing like she’s almost dreading his answer.
He considers for a second, then says, matter-of-factly, “I got in a fight, but apart from that it was pretty boring.”
“Gwaine,” his mum sighs, shaking her head. “We’ve talked about this.”
“Mum,” he parrots, “it wasn’t my fault. Some arsehole was picking on this guy and a girl who were about half his size put together. What was I supposed to do?”
His mum sighs again, rubs a hand over her face. “Did you get in trouble for it?” she asks eventually, and this time she definitely looks like she’s dreading his answer.
“Nah, don’t worry,” Gwaine assures her with a smile. “The guy who started it all did, but Kilgharrah just said being punished wasn’t part of my destiny or something and then told me not to get in trouble again again.”
His mum smiles weakly back. “Good. That’s good. We can’t afford to move again, you know. I want to stay here. I want you to be happy here.”
“I will be,” he promises, like he always promises her, but there’s no lie in his voice, this time.
The next morning in form, someone pokes him between the shoulder blades when he sits down. He turns around, eyebrow arched in challenge, and the boy behind him blushes.
“You’re Gwaine, right, the new kid?” Gwaine nods warily; the boy’s sort of staring at him and it’s starting to creep him out. “I was just- I mean, I saw you and- you have amazing hair,” the boy blurts out. “Why did you make me cut my hair last year, Gwen? It could have been glorious.”
The girl sitting next to him, Gwen presumably, laughs at the look on Gwaine’s face. “You can’t pull off long hair like he can, Lance,” she says, not unkindly. “Short hair suits you better.”
Lance pouts at her. “But look at his hair, Gwen. Look at it. That is the hair of a god. There are probably sonnets about it.”
“Uh,” Gwaine says, bewildered, “I’m pretty sure there aren’t, mate.”
“The beauty of her hair bewilders me,” Lance starts, and Gwen groans, “pouring adown the brow, its cloven tide swirling about the ears on either side and storming around the neck tumultuously. Or like the lights of old antiquity through mullioned windows, in cathedrals wide, spilled moltenly o’er figures defied in chastest marble, nude of drapery. And so I love it.”
Gwaine raises his eyebrows, impressed. “Does he do that a lot?” he asks Gwen.
“All the time,” Gwen says, shaking her head. “Lance has a poem for every occasion. I’m Gwen, by the way,” she says, smiling warmly at him, “and he’s Lancelot, but you probably figured that out already.”
Gwaine nods. “You don’t look like a Gwen, though.”
Gwen raises an eyebrow. “What do I look like, then?”
Gwaine cocks his head to one side, thoughtful. “Esmerelda,” he says decisively. “You look like an Esmerelda.”
Gwen bursts out laughing and Gwaine smiles, something warm settling in his chest. He’s pretty sure Camelot is going to be nothing like the other schools he’s attended but he isn’t so sure that’s such a bad thing, any more.
“Have you seen what Elena’s wearing?” Lancelot says absently, staring at something out the window. “I don’t know if it even qualifies as a belt, let alone a skirt.”
Gwen stops laughing abruptly. “Only the Royals could get away with such blatant disregard for the school uniform and turning up twenty minutes late to school,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s ridiculous.”
Gwaine leans over, frowning. “The Royals?” All he can see is a brunette and two blondes, a boy and a girl, strolling casually into school like they’ve got all the time in the world.
“They’re teen royalty,” Lancelot informs him with a touch of what might be glee. “If Camelot were OK!, they’d be on the front cover every week.”
“That one there,” Gwen says, pointing to the blonde girl wearing, yep, a skirt that barely covers her arse, “that’s Elena Gawant. She’s seriously one of the stupidest people you’ll ever meet. Lance sat next to her in English last year.”
“She asked me how to spell castle,” Lancelot says, shaking his head.
“And that’s Morgana le Fay,” Gwen continues, nodding at the dark-haired one next to her with the truly impressive chest. “She knows everything about everyone.”
“That’s why her boobs are so big,” Lancelot says seriously, “they’re full of secrets.” Gwaine bursts out laughing and Lancelot grins before adding, “She’s also disgustingly rich because she got adopted by Uther Pendragon, the multi-billionaire.”
“Speaking of Pendragons,” Gwen says, “the boy’s Arthur Pendragon, Morgana’s step-brother. He may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing arsehole but in reality, he is so much more than that.”
“He’s the king,” Lancelot confirms. “The other two are just his little princesses.”
“Wow,” Gwaine says, slowly. “You really don’t like him, do you?”
Lancelot’s arm snakes around Gwen’s waist, squeezing, and she laughs. It sounds kind of forced, and Gwaine can’t help the frown that furrows his brow.
“You could say that,” she says, her eyes clouded with something Gwaine can’t read. “He’s kind of a prat.”
“Yeah,” Gwaine says, nodding, “I’m getting that.”
At lunch, Gwen and Lancelot wave him over when he makes his way inside the canteen. They’re sitting near the rear end of the room so he has to manoeuvre his way around several tables before he gets to them, throwing half-hearted excuse-mes and sorrys over his shoulder.
“This place is ridiculous,” he mutters when he sits down, plonking his bag on the spare chair next to him. “It’s like everyone sits in their own little packs.”
“They do,” Gwen says, laughing. “You’ve got the newbies, the dragon lords, the nobles, the trolls, the scary druids, the cool druids, the Knights of the Round Table-” She breaks off to point at a group of pretentious-looking people sitting at a circular-shaped table. “-the unfriendly Sidhe hotties, the girls who want to marry rich guys, the girls who don’t want to marry any guys at all, the wannabe squires, the sorcerers, the sexually active bards-”
“Huh,” Gwaine says, head cocked to one side. “You have really weird cliques, you know.”
Gwen just shrugs and continues, gesturing to herself and Lancelot with a grin, “-the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst.” She points at a table behind them and Gwaine turns to look. It’s Arthur, Morgana and Elena’s table. “Beware of the Royals,” she says, utterly serious. They’ll eat your soul if you let them take it.”
“Christ,” Gwaine says, shaking his head. “This is like something out of a bad teen movie.”
Lancelot just laughs, says, “You have no idea how right you are.”
Gwaine frowns but Lancelot doesn’t elaborate, just goes back to eating his lunch. Gwaine shrugs and he’s about to bite into his own sandwich when he feels a hand on his shoulder. Stiffening reflexively, he looks up at the owner of the hand through narrowed eyes.
“Hello there!” Elena says, beaming at him. “I’m Elena. Arthur wants to see you.”
Lancelot’s eyebrows go up. Gwaine frowns. “Does he, now?” he says carefully.
Elena’s head bobs up and down. She hasn’t stopped beaming at him. It’s slightly unnerving.
“Okay,” he says, eventually, getting to his feet. He might as well go, see what Arthur wants with him. He didn’t think the boy even knew who he was; it’s not like they’ve had any lessons together yet and Gwaine’s done a pretty good job of staying under the radar of everyone except Gwen and Lancelot so far. “Take me to your leader.”
Elena takes him by the hand and starts tugging him away from the table. Lancelot makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a stifled snort and Gwaine throws a glare at him over his shoulder before letting himself be led to Arthur’s table.
“You wanted to see me?” Gwaine says, sceptical, when they stop in front of it and Elena slides into the seat opposite Arthur.
“Here, sit down,” Arthur says, gesturing for him to take the seat opposite Morgana. Gwaine does, nodding at her when she smiles at him.
“I saw what you did yesterday, for Merlin,” Arthur continues, and Gwaine looks at him, surprised. How does Arthur know Merlin? They don’t seem like they’re anywhere near each other on the social food chain. “That was really good of you to step in.”
“Thanks,” Gwaine says, still cautious. Arthur doesn’t really seem like a selfish, back-stabbing arsehole but it’s probably too soon for him to judge. “Just, uh, doing my bit.”
“You’re new, right?” Arthur says, smiling at him, wide and kind of predatory. “That’s why I’ve never seen you before.”
“Yeah, I just moved here from Mercia,” Gwaine replies. “I’m from Ireland originally, though.”
“If you’re from Ireland,” Elena asks, frowning, “then why aren’t you a leprechaun?”
Gwaine stares at her. He has no idea what the appropriate response to something like that is.
“Oh my god, Elena,” Morgana chides, shaking her head, “you can’t just ask someone why they’re not a leprechaun.”
Arthur’s studying him, eyes narrowed with concentration, and when Gwaine looks up and meets his gaze, he smiles.
“Give us a second?” he says. “There’s something we need to discuss.”
“Sure,” Gwaine says, shrugging, and the three of them turn around, whispering quietly.
When they turn around, Elena is grinning and there’s a smirk on Morgana’s lips. Arthur’s face is unreadable, though.
“We want you to know that we don’t do this very often,” he says, carefully, “but we want to invite you to sit with us tomorrow.”
“On Wednesdays we carry plastic swords,” Elena says, turning her wide grin on Gwaine.
Gwaine arches an eyebrow. “Is that a euphemism for something?”
Elena frowns. “What’s a euphemism?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Actual plastic swords,” he clarifies, “sheathed if at all possible, hanging from your belt. Jumpers are only allowed on Fridays, hair can’t be tied back on Thursdays and ties can only be longer than a handspan on Mondays.”
“If you break any of these rules,” Morgana says, seriously, “you’re not allowed to sit with us. Like, if I were wearing a jumper today, I’d be sitting over there with the sorcerers.” She nods to the table Merlin and Freya are sitting at and makes a face.
“I’m wearing a jumper today,” Gwaine points out. He wore it yesterday, too, and he was planning to wear it every day for a very long time. He likes jumpers.
“We’ll let you off since you didn’t know the rules,” Morgana assures him with a smile, like this is something Gwaine had actual concerns about. “But not tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay?” Gwaine says, frowning. He’s still not entirely sure what’s going on here. “I should go. It was, um, nice to meet you all.”
“See you tomorrow!” Elena says, waving enthusiastically at him as he gets up to leave.
Waving back, Gwaine turns and heads out of the canteen. He laughs softly to himself, shaking his head, and stops in front of where Gwen and Lancelot are waiting for him.
“What happened to you?” Lancelot asks, lightly, but his eyes are serious. “We thought they might have tried to feed you to the trolls or something.”
Gwaine shakes his head. “I’ve been invited to sit with them tomorrow.”
He explains what happened and Gwen bursts out laughing.
“Oh my god,” she says, between giggles, “you have to do it and then you have to tell us all the horrible things they say about people.”
“Okay,” Gwaine says, shrugging. He was planning to anyway just for the crack but now he has an actual reason to. “I need a plastic sword, though. Have either of you got one?”
“No,” Gwen says, like this is a stupid question to ask, the same time Lancelot beams and says, “Of course!”
Lunch with the Royals is... well, it’s an experience. When Gwaine sits down, Elena coos over his plastic sword (which got him in trouble with three separate teachers and nearly earned him a detention; this better be worth it) and Arthur gives him an approving nod.
“I love your necklace,” Morgana says, leaning forward to lift it off his neck, “where did you get it?”
Gwaine startles. “Uh, thanks. It was my dad’s. My mum gave it to me when he died.”
Morgana lets it fall like she’s been burned, her eyes wide. “Oh my god, I am so sorry,” she says quickly, but Gwaine only shrugs, a casual forget about it gesture. “It is a really nice necklace, though.”
“Please,” Arthur snorts, “it’s a piece of cheap tack you could probably find any- ow!” He glares at Morgana, who’s glaring back just as fiercely. “What the fuck, Morgana?”
She sighs. “I apologise for my step-brother,” she says. “The concept of tact is completely alien to him.”
Gwaine shrugs again, like he doesn’t care. It is a piece of cheap tack you could probably find anywhere, but it was his dad’s. It’s the only thing Gwaine has left of him.
“And the concept of honesty seems to be completely alien to you,” Arthur retorts. “What a wonderful pair we make.” He sighs, scraping his chair back as he gets to his feet. “I need another burger. Elena, you coming?”
“Sure!” Elena chirps, obediently following Arthur as he elbows past several disgruntled-looking people to the front of the queue.
Morgana leans forward the moment the two of them have disappeared from view. “So, Gwaine,” she asks, smirking at him, “any girls caught your fancy yet?”
“Nah,” Gwaine replies, matter-of-factly. “Not really my thing.”
Morgana frowns. “Fancying people?”
“Only when people are girls,” Gwaine says with a grin, and Morgana arches a perfectly-pencilled eyebrow.
“Oh, I see. Don’t worry,” she says smoothly, “we don’t judge. I’m bi myself, and Arthur...” She breaks off to smirk. “Well, I suspect Arthur just isn’t fussy about where he puts his dick.”
“Lovely,” Gwaine says, trying not to gag at the completely unwelcome image that flashes into his head. “He isn’t into bestiality or necrophilia, is he?”
Morgana bursts out laughing. “Not as far as I know,” she says, eyes dancing, “but you could always ask him.” Gwaine actually does gag then and she grins. “So have you seen any boys you like, then?” He shrugs, but Morgana isn’t willing to let him off that easily. “Come on, you can tell me. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Are they? “Uh, sure,” he says warily. “I s’pose there is a guy. His name’s Merlin?”
Morgana’s mouth drops open. “Merlin. Merlin Emrys?” Gwaine nods in confirmation and she shakes her head, firmly. “No, no, you cannot like Merlin. He’s Arthur’s ex-boyfriend, he’s off-limits.”
Gwaine’s eyes widen in shock. “Wait, what? Merlin went out with Arthur?”
Morgana pats him on the shoulder, misinterpreting his reaction entirely. “It’s okay,” she assures him, “I won’t tell Arthur. It’ll be our little secret.”
“Right,” Gwaine says dubiously, remembering something distantly about Morgana and secrets. He thinks it has something to do with boobs, but he can’t really be sure.
He doesn’t get to say anything else, though, because then Arthur comes back with Elena and Morgana sits back, her conversation with Gwaine completely forgotten as she smiles at Arthur.
Arthur doesn’t let him leave until the late bell’s rung and Gwaine is very nearly late to Chemistry. He skids into the classroom just as Gaius is reaching his name in the register, and he offers the teacher an apologetic smile as he takes his seat next to Merlin.
“So,” Gwaine says, when Gaius has turned his attention to the equations he’s writing on the board, “you dated Arthur Pendragon? Would’ve thought you’d have better taste, mate.”
Merlin glances over at him, surprised. “How’d you know?” he asks, cautiously.
Gwaine plonks his bag on the floor and sits down, flicking his hair back off his face. “I sort of hang out with him and his friends now?” (At least, he thinks he does. He’s only had lunch with them once; he’s not sure that’s enough of a declaration of friendship.) “Morgana mentioned it.”
“You’re in no position to lecture me about taste, then,” Merlin snorts. “I did wonder why you were wearing a plastic sword when I saw you earlier. Nice to know some things never change.”
“I think it’s cool,” Gwaine says, patting the sword dangling from his belt. “Makes me look badass.”
Merlin shakes his head at him, but Gwaine can see the smile crinkling his eyes. “Clearly we have very different definitions of the word ‘badass’,” he comments wryly, but then he frowns. “Hey, your tie’s too long, it needs to be a bit more-”
Merlin leans forward and takes the strip of fabric, gently tugging it down to rearrange it to his satisfaction, his brow still furrowed in concentration. Gwaine watches him, heart thumping hard against his ribcage. He didn’t think it were possible, but Merlin is even prettier up close, cheekbones thrown into sharp relief by the harsh overhead lighting, lashes casting delicate shadows on his cheeks. The world beautiful flits dangerously across Gwaine’s mind but he shoves it aside.
“There,” Merlin says eventually, glancing up at Gwaine to give him a satisfied smile. “You’re just like one of them, now.”
Gwaine smiles weakly back and tells himself he’s imagining the edge to Merlin’s voice.
“So,” Gwen says, leaning forward to prop her chin on her hands, “what did they say?”
Gwaine rolls his eyes. Gwen all but forced him and Lancelot to come back to her house after school so they could talk about Arthur, Morgana and Elena – he refuses to refer to them as ‘The Royals’, even inside his own head; it sounds so stupid – and he’s beginning to wish he’d stood his ground instead of following Lancelot’s lead and giving in so easily.
“Why do you care so much?” he mutters, shifting uncomfortably. “I thought you didn’t like them.”
“I don’t,” Gwen says, huffing a little, “but they must have said something interesting.”
Gwaine snorts. Interesting is not the word he’d use to describe any of the stuff Arthur, Morgana and Elena come out with.
“They bitch more than anyone I’ve ever met,” he informs them, shaking his head. “Seriously, you can’t walk past them without them making a snide comment about you. I didn’t think people could be that petty.” He chews the inside of his lip, then says, “They’re not awful, though. Elena’s nice, if a bit dim-” Lancelot snorts at this, but Gwaine ignores him. “-and Morgana seems kind of cool. Wouldn’t want to get on her bad side, though.”
“What about Arthur?” Gwen asks. Gwaine doesn’t know what the edge to her voice is supposed to mean, so he pretends he doesn’t hear it.
“The princess is a prat,” he says matter-of-factly, “but I’ve met worse.”
Gwen nods but she doesn’t push, which Gwaine is grateful for. “So are you going to hang out with them again?”
“Probably,” he says. “Arthur invited me to his house this weekend, and I think Morgana likes me.”
Gwen cocks her head, curious. “What makes you say that?”
Gwaine shrugs. “Dunno, just a feeling. By the way, did Arthur and Merlin ever go out together?”
“Yeah,” Lancelot confirms, “for nearly two years. Took everyone by surprise when they broke up since we all thought they were going to be together forever, the way they were going. They’re still sort of friends, though, so who knows.”
“Huh,” Gwaine says, eyes narrowing. “I see.”
A sly grin curves on Gwen’s lips. “You like him, don’t you?” Gwaine just shrugs, ducking his head to hide his smile. “You do!” she exclaims, sounding positively gleeful. “Oh, that is adorable. Are you going to ask him out?”
“Can’t. It’d be breaking the sacred rule of the bro code,” he says, shaking his head mock-mournfully. “I guess it’s just not meant to be.”
Gwen rolls her eyes. “You know that’s all bullshit. Arthur isn’t even your friend.”
Gwaine shrugs. “Not yet,” is all he says.
There are a number of perks to being attached to the most popular clique in school. Everyone seems to know Gwaine’s name, judging by the sheer number of people who call out some variant of, “Hi Gwaine,” and wave at him when he passes them in the corridors. People he’s never even talked to seem to just know things about him, like the fact that he only lives with his mum because his dad died when he was a baby and that he got into a fight with Cenred on his first day of school just to help out a couple of sorcerers.
(It’s a new experience for him, being noticed, being known about, being liked. He’s not sure how he feels about it yet.)
Another perk, it turns out, is exclusive invites to parties.
“Hey,” Arthur says, one day when they’re heading out of school, “I’m having a Halloween party this weekend. Fancy coming?”
Gwaine shrugs. “Sure. Is there a theme or can we dress up however we want?”
“Uh,” Arthur says, looking a little taken aback, “we don’t usually bother with costumes.”
Gwaine’s mouth drops open in horror. “But the costumes are the best part of Halloween! How can you not bother with them?”
“I’ve said that so many times before,” Morgana pipes up, shaking her head. “Arthur thinks costumes are for kids, don’t you, Arthur?”
Arthur flushes at the condescension dripping from her tone. “They are,” he mutters. “Only kids dress up for Halloween.”
Gwaine rolls his eyes. “Where’s your sense of fun, Arthur Pendragon?”
Arthur deliberates for a few moments, then says, “Fine,” sort of resigned, like this is an argument he’s had before and only barely won. “We’ll have costumes. But there’ll have to be a theme, mind. I’m not letting people come however they like.”
Morgana beams at him, then turns to Gwaine and pulls him into an entirely unexpected hug. “You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to convince him to have a costume party for Halloween,” she says, still beaming. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Gwaine says, smiling back at her. He’s only a little bit surprised by how much he means it.
“I was thinking I should invite Merlin,” Arthur says, almost absently. He turns to Gwaine. “You’re friends with him, aren’t you? Do you think he’d want to come?”
Gwaine shrugs, but something about the way Arthur’s looking at him is making him uncomfortable. “I don’t know,” he says cautiously. “I suppose?”
Arthur smirks. “Do you want him to come?”
Gwaine feels his face go red. “I don’t know what you mean,” he says, but he can’t keep the defensiveness out of his voice.
“Oh, come off it, Gwaine,” Arthur scoffs, “like I don’t know how much you want him.”
Gwaine darts his eyes to Morgana, who suddenly can’t meet his gaze. The betrayal must show on his face because Arthur rolls his eyes.
“I could tell already,” he says, not without a touch of condescension. “It’s not like you’re at all subtle.” He eyes Gwaine, gives him a speculative once-over, then says, “I could talk to him for you, if you like. Put in a good word.”
Gwaine gives him an incredulous look. “Yeah, okay,” he says, shaking his head.
“No, seriously,” Arthur insists, something like sincerity in his eyes. “We’re friends, right? Friends do shit like this for each other. And you and Merlin could be good together. I think he’d like you,” Arthur says thoughtfully. “You’re just his type.”
Gwaine arches an eyebrow. “What, roguishly handsome?” he jokes, but he doesn’t think Arthur’s answering laugh is down to him.
“Dangerous,” he says, but he’s striding ahead to catch up with Morgana before Gwaine can ask him what that’s supposed to mean.
Hey, all! Arthur’s doing his party a little differently this year because we’ve finally convinced him to let us dress up. Thanks, Gwaine! The theme is Arthurian Legends, so feel free to come as anyone you like except Arthur, Merlin or Morgana because they’ve already been claimed by yours truly.
Hope to see you there,
Arthur, Morgana and Elena
Gwaine gets a few strange looks on the three buses he has to take to get to Arthur’s house, but it’s Halloween; he’s far from the strangest thing anyone’ll see tonight. He makes a big show of bowing to the bus driver when he gets off the last bus, thanking him loudly in a terrible attempt at old English, and gets more than a few laughs and some scattered applause for his trouble.
He’s still grinning when he gets to Arthur’s house and the door’s opened by a familiar-looking girl wearing a long blonde wig and a lilac dress. Gwaine bows to her too, wondering absently who it is under the wig. She’s familiar enough that he knows he’s seen her somewhere before but he can’t remember where, and it’s bothering him for a reason he can’t quite explain.
“Greetings, fair maiden,” he says, with a ridiculously over-exaggerated wink. “Wouldst thou happen to be the beautiful Queen Guinevere, perchance?”
Guinevere rolls her eyes. “Cut it out, Gwaine,” she says, in a voice that is uncomfortably familiar, and also entirely too deep to belong to a girl. Gwaine frowns. “It’s me.”
Gwaine’s mouth drops open as realisation dawns, sharp and sudden. “Merlin?” he exclaims, and, yes, now that he looks, really, properly looks, he doesn’t know how he didn’t see it before. Merlin’s eyes are lined with black and his lashes are even longer than usual and there’s something red smeared across his full lips and prominent cheekbones but it’s still him, underneath it all. “What are you- what are you doing here?”
“I was invited,” Merlin says, rolling his eyes. “Like you, presumably.”
“But you- you’re- you’re-” Gwaine gestures helplessly at him, unsure what it is he’s trying to say.
Merlin shrugs his shoulders, leaving them hunched up somewhere by his ears. “Wearing a dress,” he finishes flatly. “Yeah. You got a problem with that, Gwaine?”
“No, no, not at all, I- I just-” Gwaine breaks off, still sort of flailing. “You look great,” he says, and it’s nowhere near what he really wants to say – you’re gorgeous like this, fuck, you have no fucking idea – but it’ll have to do.
The line of Merlin’s shoulders relaxes again as he smiles. “So do you,” he says, giving Gwaine an appreciative once-over. “Sir Lancelot, right? I love the chain-mail.”
“I don’t,” Gwaine grumbles, grateful for the change of subject. “It’s so heavy, it hurts like a bitch.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me about pain,” Merlin retorts, gesturing to himself. Gwaine lets himself look, just for a moment, so he can see the way the dress curves over Merlin’s mostly flat chest, pulling him in at the waist before flowing out over his hips to the ground. “I am never wearing a corset again. It’s not worth it.”
Gwaine licks his lips, forces himself to look back at Merlin’s face. “I don’t know,” he says, as lightly as he can manage, “it does great things for your figure.”
“Not worth it,” Merlin repeats. “I should’ve just borrowed one of Freya’s bras and stuffed it, would’ve been so much less hassle.”
“Sounds like you’ve done this before,” Gwaine says, hoping Merlin can’t hear the shake in his laugh.
“Well, yeah,” Merlin shrugs, like it isn’t a big deal that he apparently makes a habit of wearing girls clothes. Gwaine gulps, but he isn’t given long to dwell on this thought before Merlin grabs him by his sleeve and steers him inside.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he says, “this lot are boring me senseless.”
“Aren’t they your friends?” Gwaine asks warily.
“They’re Arthur’s friends,” Merlin corrects, tugging Gwaine down the hall and through a door that appears to lead to the kitchen. “They only put up with me because of him. They wouldn’t give me the time of day if they had the choice.”
He grabs a packet of crisps out of one of the cupboards and rips it open, scowling at something Gwaine can’t see. He holds out the packet to Gwaine after he’s taken a handful but Gwaine just shakes his head.
“I give you more than the time of day,” he reminds Merlin.
Merlin’s face softens into something like a smile. “You’re different, though,” he says, and for some reason that makes Gwaine want to grin stupidly at him. “You’re not like the others.”
“Yeah?” Gwaine says, biting his lip hard.
“Yeah.” Merlin downs a glass of something that looks like Coke but is probably laced with alcohol. “Come on, we better join the party before Arthur notices we’re missing.”
Merlin trudges away from the table with one last forlorn look in its direction and Gwaine follows. They bump into Arthur on the way out who is, predictably, dressed up as King Arthur.
“Wow,” Arthur says, his eyes trailing over Merlin’s body in a way that makes Gwaine want to punch him in the face, even though he knows he has no right. “You look amazing, Merlin.”
Merlin rolls his eyes, but he isn’t doing a very good job of hiding his smile. “Bet you’ve said that to all the Gwens,” he says lightly.
“Nah,” Arthur says, with a smile like he actually means it, “only the really pretty ones.” He turns to Gwaine, says, “Hey, Gwaine, you don’t mind if I steal him for a little while, do you? We have to catch up.”
Gwaine grits his teeth and forces himself to smile, because there’s nothing else he can do. “Sure,” he says, “just as long as you give him back.”
Arthur smirks at him as he throws an arm around Merlin’s shoulders, casual. His eyes are hard and sharp but there’s something else there, something... triumphant. Gwaine narrows his eyes, but Arthur’s already tugging Merlin away.
If this is his way of putting in a good word for Gwaine... no, he’s not going there. Arthur said he’d do it and Arthur’s a lot of things but from what Gwaine has seen, he’s not one to go back on his word. Gwaine just has to trust him.
Grimacing, Gwaine follows in their wake because the house is sort of huge and he doesn’t really know where to go, not because he wants to keep an eye on them or anything. They head for the living room, packed with people Gwaine mostly only half-knows, but they all acknowledge him with a smile or a wave or, in some cases, an actual verbal greeting.
There’s a familiar-looking someone in the corner with ash grey hair tumbling out from under a wizard hat jammed on their head, a few blonde strands peeking out from underneath. They’re wearing what looks like a charcoal robe, the hem brushing the floor, and the outfit’s completed by a pink sparkly wand poking out of one of the pockets. Merlin, Gwaine thinks, and can’t help but smile.
As Gwaine approaches, the someone starts waving frantically. “Hi Gwaine!” they say, grinning at him, and Gwaine grins back and stops in front of them.
“Hey, Elena. Love the costume,” Gwaine says, eyeing her outfit appreciatively. “Very authentic-looking.”
“Thanks!” Elena says, pushing a clump of scraggly grey hair out of her eyes. “So, are you having a good time?”
Gwaine shrugs. “Sort of, I s’pose. You?”
“Not really,” Elena says, matter-of-factly. “Morgana’s too busy getting off with someone to talk to me and Arthur always ignores me at parties, so.”
Gwaine feels something in his chest clench, almost involuntarily. “Isn’t there anyone else you can hang out with?”
“There’s you,” Elena says, giving Gwaine a tentative smile that he doesn’t hesitate to return. “Most people don’t like me very much. They think I’m stupid.”
“You’re not stupid, Elena.”
“I am,” Elena says, nodding. “My teachers think it’ll be a miracle if I get any GCSEs at all. I’m failing almost everything.”
“Come on, there must be something you’re good at,” Gwaine reasons.
Elena scrunches her nose with the effort of thinking. “I’m good at horse-riding, I suppose?” She brightens suddenly. “Ooh! I can lip-read, my old nanny taught me how.”
Gwaine lips hitch upwards of their own accord. “Oh yeah? What’s Arthur saying?”
He inclines his head towards the opposite side of the room where Arthur and Merlin are deep in conversation, Arthur’s hand on Merlin’s arm. Elena follows the line of his gaze and frowns.
“Some things never change,” she says, brow still furrowed. “Gwaine really does like you, you know.” Elena flicks a curious look at him, but Gwaine only shrugs. “It looks like Merlin’s laughing.”
Merlin is laughing, his head thrown back and his shoulders shaking. Gwaine isn’t sure whether to be offended or not, isn’t sure what it’s supposed to mean.
“Do you like him?” Elena reads, and Gwaine goes entirely still. Merlin doesn’t nod, doesn’t shake his head. Whatever he says, it makes Arthur smirk. “Don’t blame you,” Elena continues.
What does that mean? Gwaine cranes his neck, trying to catch a glimpse of something that’ll give him some kind of clue as to what Merlin just said.
But then Arthur’s leaning forward and fitting his mouth against Merlin’s like that’s where it belongs, pulling Merlin in closer to him with both hands, and Merlin isn’t struggling or protesting or pushing him off. He’s- he’s kissing Arthur back, and Gwaine can’t remember how to breathe.
“And now Arthur and Merlin are kissing,” Elena says, after a beat.
“Yeah, I saw that part for myself, thanks,” Gwaine retorts, but his voice comes out weaker than he means it to. His hands are clenching and unclenching at his sides, aching to grasp hold of something. “I can’t- shit, I have to go, sorry, I just-”
He makes a break for the door, cursing himself under his breath with every foul word he knows. He glances back before he reaches it, though, and that’s a mistake.
Arthur is staring right at him over Merlin’s shoulder. When their gazes lock, Arthur drops him a slow, lazy wink that makes Gwaine want to tear him to bits.
Gwaine pivots on his heel and storms out of the room, barely refraining from slamming the door shut behind him.
Gwen and Lancelot are watching a horror film when Gwaine turns up at Gwen’s house. They jump apart when the door bangs open and he storms in.
“I want to destroy Arthur Pendragon,” Gwaine says, fiercely, choosing to ignore the way his friends had been curled up together on the sofa, their bodies very close together. That’s none of his business, whatever that is. “He’s a bastard.”
“He is,” Gwen agrees. “Don’t tell me you’re only just realising this.”
Lancelot gives her a look before he turns to Gwaine and fixes him with a gentle smile. “What happened?”
Gwaine flops down next to them on the sofa. “I was an idiot,” he mutters, rubbing a hand over his face. “He said he’d talk to Merlin for me. I should have ignored him, I should’ve just done it myself.”
“What did he do, Gwaine?” Gwen asks, softly.
“He kissed him.” Gwaine’s voice breaks in the middle and he hates himself for being so pathetic. “He fucking kissed him right in front of me and then he winked at me, like he knew, like he fucking well knew what he was doing.”
Lancelot curls an arm around his waist and squeezes, a light, gentle pressure that Gwaine can’t help but lean into.
“You really want to take him down?” Lancelot asks, his voice as soft as his touch.
Gwaine just nods. He doesn’t trust himself not to say something completely stupid right now.
“It’s going to take work,” Gwen says, thoughtfully. “And dedication to the cause.”
“Trust me,” Gwaine says with a grim smile, “I’m dedicated. Just tell me what I need to do to destroy this fucktard and I’ll do it.”
Gwen nods. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Arthur and Merlin are all over each other the next day at school. At lunch, when Gwaine slides into the seat opposite them, Arthur – who has Merlin all but sitting in his lap, for Christ’s sake – looks up and smirks at him. Gwaine really, really hates that smirk, especially when it’s aimed in his direction.
“You really need a haircut, Merlin,” Arthur says, still looking at Gwaine. He pushes his hands through Merlin’s messy hair, back off his forehead. “You’d look dead sexy without this in your face. Gwaine,” he says, tone deceptively innocent, “tell him he’d look sexy with short hair.”
Gwaine doesn’t want to do as he’s told – he’s never liked taking orders, especially from people who think they’re better than him – but he’s being offered a free chance to ogle Merlin without any repercussions and he’s not about to turn that down. He stares at Merlin hard, taking in the way his dark hair curls at the tips towards his temples and brushes the tips of his ears and the point of his chin. His gaze flicks lower, only once, to see the way Merlin’s cheeks are stained pink, the same shade as his lips, but he drags his eyes back up again before they get stuck on the sliver of tongue that keeps darting out between them.
He doesn’t even really have to consider Arthur’s order; he knows the response that’s expected and the response he’s going to give.
“You’d look sexy with short hair,” Gwaine says decisively, kind of proud of how steady his voice is, “but you look even sexier with it the way it is.” (He kind of thinks Merlin would look good with no hair at all, to be honest, but that’s another thing entirely.) “I vote no hair cut.”
He returns Arthur’s scowl with an innocent smile, hoping it hides the way he’s cheering inside, especially when Merlin blushes and mumbles a thank you. Two can play at that game, Arthur Pendragon.
Arthur corners him after school, that predatory smile on his lips again as he backs Gwaine up against a wall. Gwaine shifts, just a little, testing how much freedom Arthur’s afforded him, but he doesn’t really think that’s what Arthur’s here for.
He’s only half-right.
“No hard feelings, right Gwaine?” Arthur says, mock-concerned. “I did try and talk to Merlin about you but he really wasn’t that interested.”
Gwaine shrugs, his grip on his bag strap tightening. “No hard feelings,” he says. His voice sounds steadier than he thinks it should. “I hope you two’ll be very happy together.”
“We are,” Arthur says, smiling, but it’s different this time. “Anyway, I have to go, I have rugby practice. See you around, Gwaine.”
He gives Gwaine an approximation of a genuine smile before turning and walking away, whistling softly under his breath.
Gwaine waits until Arthur’s disappeared around the corner before turning and punching the wall. The skin across his knuckles splits open but the pain is worth it.
Camelot apparently takes Christmas very, very seriously. Gwaine comes into school about three weeks before the end of term to find that it’s been transformed into some kind of winter wonderland, the walls draped with tinsel and streamers and mistletoe, a Christmas tree in every corner.
Lancelot’s on Christmas card duty, which means that he’s sat behind a table by the office every lunchtime, collecting fifty pence off everyone who deposits a card in the bright red, papier-mache letter box beside him that he painted himself.
“I don’t get it,” Gwaine says, one break time. Him and Gwen generally keep Lancelot company; it’s pretty boring sat behind a table by yourself, and it’s not like they have anything better to do. “Why would anyone pay to send a card to someone when they could just deliver it themselves?”
“It’s tradition,” Gwen says, sneaking a toffee from the box that’s meant to be for people who send more than five cards. Lancelot bats her hand away, trying to glare at her, but he’s not very good at being angry. “People give cards to their friends, people give cards to people they fancy, people give cards to people they barely even talk to but were nice to them, once upon a time.” She shrugs. “It’s just kind of nice, really.”
“Huh,” Gwaine says, thoughtful. “Hand me two of those cards, would you?”
Lancelot does, eyeing Gwaine warily. “What are you doing?”
“Plotting,” Gwaine replies, uncapping a pen to write a message in the cards. He tilts his chair back to show them to Gwen, who frowns for a moment before realisation dawns and she bursts out laughing. Lancelot holds out his hands for the cards, and he laughs too when he reads them.
“You, Gwaine,” he says, shaking his head, “are a mean, mean boy.”
Gwaine grins. “I know,” he says, folding up the cards and depositing them in the letter box. He hands Lancelot a pound coin and leans back in his chair, still smiling to himself.
“How’s it going with the Royals, by the way?” Gwen asks. “They driven you insane yet?”
Gwaine shrugs. “Nearly. I don’t think Elena’s going to crack, no matter what we do. Arthur’s already kind of a dick to her pretty much all the time and she seems to just put up with it. Morgana, though...” He taps his fingers against the table, a thoughtful rhythm. “Her and Arthur are close, really close.”
“Yeah,” Gwen agrees. “They always have been. Morgana’s always cared about Arthur.” Her gaze flickers to the letter box, considering. “She’d be really hurt if she thought he didn’t care about her too.”
“Exactly,” Gwaine says, grinning, but it feels strange stretched on his lips.
They’re in English when Lancelot comes in, dressed in a ridiculously oversized Father Christmas costume with a black sack slung over his shoulder. Gwaine stifles a laugh at the sight of him.
“Ho ho ho,” he chortles, winking in Gwaine’s direction. “Have we all been good boys and girls this year?”
Gwaine rolls his eyes, grinning as he leans back in his chair and watches Lancelot give out people’s cards.
“Cenred, two for you,” Lancelot says, handing over his cards. “Nimueh? Four for you, Nimueh, you go, Nimueh! And, uh, Gawaine? Do we have a Gawaine here?”
“It’s Gwaine,” Gwaine says, raising a lazy hand.
“Oh, Gwaine, here you go, two for you,” Lancelot says, winking at him. Morgana frowns and sits up but he continues, “And none for Morgana le Fay, bye!”
“Who’re your cards from?” she demands when Lancelot’s left the room, leaning over to peer down at the first card Gwaine’s carefully slitting open.
“Merry Christmas,” Gwaine reads. “Thanks for being such a good friend. All the best, Arthur.”
“Arthur sent you a card?” Morgana exclaims, her eyes wide with incredulity. “Why would he send you a card and not me? I’m his step-sister!”
Gwaine shrugs as innocently as he can manage. “No idea,” he lies. “I think Elena’s got one off him too, though, so he’ll probably send you one as well.”
Morgana huffs a little to herself before turning away. Hiding a smirk, Gwaine slits open the next card, figuring it’s from Gwen or Lancelot or both of them together. He’s stunned when he reads the messy, Merry Christmas, Gwaine. Hope it’s a good one. Merlin x
He tucks the card back in his back and hopes the smile on his face isn’t as obvious as it feels.
Arthur sits next to Gwaine at lunch. Gwaine doesn’t miss the way Morgana’s face crumples when Arthur slides into the seat beside him instead of the one beside her. She glances away when he offers her an apologetic smile.
“Your hair’s tied back,” she says suddenly. “It’s Thursday.”
“Ah,” Gwaine says, lifting a hand to the ponytail he tied his hair into earlier. “I had to get it out of the way for Art, forgot to take it down again. Sorry.”
“Be that as it may,” Morgana says primly, “you can’t sit with us.”
Shrugging, Gwaine grabs his lunch and makes to get up, but Arthur puts a hand on his shoulder and presses him back down.
“Come on,” he says, “those rules aren’t real.”
Morgana narrows her eyes. “They were real that time I wore a jumper,” she reminds him, frostily.
“Because that jumper was disgusting,” Arthur says matter-of-factly. Elena lets out a giggle, stifling it behind her hand when Morgana turns a glare on her.
“It’s fine,” Gwaine says, shifting uncomfortably. “I’ll go sit with Merlin and Freya, it’s fine.”
“You’ll sit here,” Arthur says, his voice hard. He hasn’t taken his eyes off Morgana. “If Morgana has such a problem with you then she can find somewhere else to sit.”
“Fine,” Morgana snaps, her eyes flashing. Gwaine doesn’t think he’s imagining the way her voice is shaking.
Gwaine watches her stride away, over to the Knights’ round table. She doesn’t turn around, doesn’t give them a second glance, and Arthur snorts.
“Don’t know what her problem is,” he says, shaking his head. “Probably getting her period or something.”
Gwaine just nods.
“Why should Arthur just get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get crushed under him?” Morgana reads, clutching the edges of her piece of paper so tightly her knuckles are turning white. “Lancelot is just as good-looking as Arthur, right? Lancelot is just as clever as Arthur, people like Lancelot just as much as they like Arthur, and when did it become okay for one person to be in charge of everyone else? That’s not what Camelot is about! We should totally just kill Arthur!”
Gwaine sits back in his chair, satisfied, and sneaks his phone out of his blazer pocket to text Gwen. cracked the stable o’ hos, he types out, just the man candy to go. He’s smiling when he puts his phone away, but there’s a weird feeling in his chest that won’t shift.
Gwaine doesn’t see Merlin for days; Arthur keeps him to himself as much as he can and he’s not hanging out with the rest of the Royals as much, now. Gwaine’s kind of given up on seeing him at all before they break up for the holidays when he bumps into him on the second to last day of term, coming out of the maths block toilets after Arthur.
Ignoring the familiar tug of jealousy in his chest, Gwaine hurries to catch up with them and calls out, “Merlin!” smiling when Merlin stops and turns around.
“Here,” he says, rooting in his bag for the package he knows he stuffed in there this morning. He hands it over, smiling when Merlin’s eyes go wide.
“You didn’t have to-” he starts, but Gwaine cuts him off.
“I wanted to,” he says, shrugging like it’s nothing.
Merlin bites his lip. “But I didn’t get you anything.”
“You got me a card,” Gwaine reminds him. “Anyway, this isn’t anything special. Just something to say thanks.”
Merlin beams at him and Gwaine smiles back, helpless. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” Gwaine says, suddenly shy. “Really.” He glances up, chuckling when he sees the sprig of mistletoe positioned helpfully above their heads. “Hey, look.”
“Mistletoe,” Merlin says, laughing softly. “How about that.”
“Merlin!” Arthur yells, doubling back to glare at the two of them. “Come on, we have to go.”
“Wait a sec,” Merlin calls back, not looking away from Gwaine. He leans forward and brushes his lips across Gwaine’s, barely more than a chaste little peck, before he pulls away and smiles. “Merry Christmas, Gwaine.”
“Merry Christmas!” Gwaine calls back, but Arthur’s already dragging Merlin away, tossing a glare over his shoulder in Gwaine’s direction.
Grinning, Gwaine turns around and heads the other way. All in all, he thinks, it’s been a pretty good start to the year. He only hopes the rest of it’ll go as well.
(He sort of doubts it but hey, a boy can hope.)