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“Dad, I want to go to Cambridge and read Physics. Applied Physics.”

 

Sir Uther looked at his son with something akin to astonishment. “You don’t need to read Physics, Arthur. You’re already rich as Croesus.”

 

Arthur Pendragon ran a hand through his blond hair. “I know, Dad, and I know you wanted me to stay here in London and read Economics at LSE so I can take over the business. But-”

 

“Arthur, you don’t even need to do that. You’re a natural business man – you’ve been working summers at Avalon since you start at Eton – you should take some time off. Enjoy yourself. Take one of those gap years - ”

 

Now it was Arthur’s turn to look astonished. “You want me to what, Dad? Sleep late, party hard? That’s insane.”

 

“No, seriously. You’ve never done anything- 

 

“Dad! I’m on track to take three firsts at Eton.”

 

“What’s the bloody use of all your Mum’s money, and mine besides, if you work yourself into some kind of breakdown at 25?” Sir Uther demanded. “Arthur. Take some time off when you’re done and have a good time. I know that’s what you want deep down. I don’t know why you kill yourself to get marks like that. Take a year and I’ll pay for a new college, if that’s what you want.” He continued in something of an aside to himself. “I never went to university and I’ve just been knighted, for god’s sake.”

 

“Dad, please,” Arthur pleaded. “I - ”

 

Sir Uther smiled then, a tired, sad smile. “I wish your mum could see you, you know. Just – just don’t go away and leave me too soon, then? I was looking forward to seeing you have a good time. Maybe even hang about with Prince Harry. He likes clubs, too. Parties. Women.”

 

Arthur could barely stop himself from rolling his eyes. “Dad, you want me to party and that’s… I don’t know, it’s just not me.”

 

“It is you. You’re young, rich, and handsome, and you’re Igraine’s only child. And you’d be ridiculous at reading Physics.” Famous actress, model, and socialite Igraine had married Uther when she’d made her own millions and was done with partying. She’d died when Arthur was very small.

 

Arthur closed his eyes, feeling as though he’d been stung. No matter how he tried, no matter how good his marks and how many goals he scored on the pitch – nothing ever got through Sir Uther’s mental picture of him as some kind of male Paris Hilton, running through girls, drinks, and clubs like kitchen towel. Sir Uther Pendragon persisted in seeing his son as some kind of struggling idiot at school, when marks had always been easy.

 

When he opened his eyes again, there was something new in them. Something hard and cynical. Something almost ugly. If his dad wanted him to party, then fuck it, he was going to party like a damned rock star and see whether that,  at last, would make some kind of fucking impression on his bullheaded father.

 

And if it turned out that Arthur was as good at partying as he was at physics, and partying paid better… and if it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as he let on, no one was going to know about it. Everyone would pay attention. Everyone.

 

 

*****

 

Two years later…

 

Merlin Emrys picked up the Gaurdian on his way into the station Friday. He had a bit of a trek across town to Euston Square and UCL, but he loved living in Notting Hill, with its neighborhood feel and bookshops that didn’t cater to students.

 

Several pages in and several stops later, he was looking at a splashy headline and a fuzzy picture that showed what seemed to be a famous Man U footballer and his WAG, who he thought he recognized from one of those awful reality programmes – probably Big Brother, which his friend Morgana watched religiously. That wasn’t the salacious bit, though – the photo showed the footballer with his hand between the legs of another man (with a black box over any contact, of course), while the man kissed the WAG. The headline proclaimed “Man U’s Smith Caught in Bisexual Video!” and the subheading proclaimed “Heir to Pendragon Fortune Named as Third Man in Porn Tape!”

Merlin snorted, but didn’t read the article. He couldn’t help notice, however, that Pendragon, in a set-in headshot, was very, very pretty.

 

Later, at lunch, Gwen and Morgana giggled helplessly over the details. “You know it was that bitch Heather who released the video. Wants to promote her career.”

 

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “With a sex tape?”

 

“A sex tape with Evan Smith and Arthur Pendragon? No one will ever forget her name now,” Morgana said.

 

“You can’t deny they’re both really fit, even in the grainy photos,” Gwen added, smiling.

 

“Yeah, they are,” Merlin said, taking a bite of his curry.

 

Gwen pulled out a flier. “So, dancing tomorrow?” she asked, though she knew the answer. The three of them always went out on Saturday unless it was almost term end and they had revising to do. As it was barely the beginning of the fall term, it was a given that they must go out.

 

Morgana grimaced at the flier. “Not that place,” she said. “Too many students.”

 

“We’re students,” Merlin said.

 

Morgana stuck out her tongue. “Let’s go to Albion,” she suggested.

 

Gwen rolled her eyes. “You always want to go to the poshest places, and we always stand in line for ages before we get in,” she complained.

 

“It’s worth it though, right, Merlin?”

 

“Albion’s… not a straight club, Morg,” he pointed out, evading her question completely.

 

“It’ll be nice for me and Gwen not to have to fend off a bunch of handsy bastards all night. Besides, we’ll help you pull,” she grinned, waving a fry at him.

 

“I do not need any help on the pull,” Merlin protested, but grinned back. “Ok, well, at least you can filter out the straight ones so there are no more TigerTiger Incidents.”

 

The TigerTiger Incident was legendary. When they’d first started at UCL, Merlin had gotten roaring drunk and had persistently hit on a gorgeous guy who turned out to be both straight and a graduate student in his department. It had been excruciatingly embarrassing for everyone but had since evolved into one of those stories that good friends reference without explanation.

 

They all sat, grinning and remembering, in a companionable silence that was finally broken by Morgana. “So, Albion, then? And next week back to TigerTiger.”

 

**** 

 

It was nearing midnight outside The Albion when a limo pulled up. Merlin, Gwen, and Morgana had been standing in the unmoving line for well over an hour. One of the bouncers opened the car’s door, and a tall, handsome man with too-long dark hair spilled out, grinning, with a bottle of something that looked like Kentucky’s finest bourbon in his hand.  Another man followed him, this one with a disreputable beard, and finally a third – this one blond, broad shouldered and possessing a very familiar face. “Isn’t he the one from the tape?” Merlin asked Gwen, who hadn’t taken her eyes off Whiskey Boy.

 

It was Morgana who answered. “You idiot, of course it is.”

 

“What are they doing here?” Merlin asked, not really expecting an answer.

 

This time Gwen did turn to look at him. “He goes to a different club every night of the week, when he’s not off to New York or LA to go clubbing there. Honestly, Merlin, I know you don’t pay attention to gossip and celebrities but didn’t you read the article today?

 

“No,” he answered, but the girls had turned to follow the trio into the door of the club with their eyes. Merlin just followed Arthur’s black-clad form until he couldn’t see him any longer.

 

****

 

The Albion incident wasn’t on par with TigerTiger, but certainly qualified as a small-letter incident all the same. By the time they got inside, they were all panting for a drink and Merlin pushed his way to the bar to oblige his girls. He took a shot whilst waiting for them to pour the girls’ wines – large ones – and mix his martini – extra dry. He shouldn’t have tried to carry all three drinks, although he’d drunk half the martini at the bar.

 

He was taller than most of the people in the room, but that didn’t stop him getting pushed sideways by some butch looking blonde woman who was intent on the bar. He bumbled into Arthur Pendragon, and he spilled about a quarter of what remained of his martini on Pendragon’s shoes.

 

Pendragon looked pained. “Do try to be a little less clumsy, you drunken idiot,” he said, cuttingly.

 

Merlin narrowed his eyes. “Don’t be a prat, mate. It was an accident,” he said, moving to push past Arthur.

 

“Do you know who I am?” Pendragon said, not allowing him to pass.

 

“Yeah. You’re the guy Smith was giving the handjob all over the Guardian this morning. Good for you and all, but my friends are waiting,” he all but yelled over the music, which had started back up.

 

If Merlin had turned to look, he’d have seen Arthur standing there as if frozen, a flush growing along his ears and something like disgust – or hurt – or both in his eyes.

 

****

 

Morgana and Gwen teased him mercilessly about the drunken raging that had poured out of him later that night. “Why do all the good-looking ones have to be prats? That arrogant arsehole acted like I should go to gaol for spilling a bit of gin on his precious shoes in a fucking dance club!”

 

“You want him, admit it,” Gwen had said, several days and several rehashing later, and Morgana hah laughed. “Honey. I don’t think even the two best fag hags in the world can help you pull Arthur Fucking Pendragon,” she’d said.

 

Merlin realized that if they’d known that he couldn’t stop thinking about Arthur they wouldn’t have laughed so much.

 

September slid into October, and one brightly moonlit Saturday night found Gwen, Merlin, and Morgana outside TigerTiger. They’d reached the front of the line when a stretch SUV pulled up to the curb and Whiskey Boy, Disreputable Beard, and Pendragon spilled onto the curb and swept into the club. This time, though, Whiskey Boy had hesitated, looking straight at them, and would have stopped if Pendragon hadn’t dragged him along.

 

It somehow didn’t surprise Merlin when Whiskey Boy found them inside. “Lance,” he shouted over the music, a friendly look taking them all in, skimming over Merlin with a strange look, and settling on Gwen. “Can I get you a drink?” he seemed to motion. She nodded.

 

When he returned, she leaned in and told him their names in his ear, and when she leaned back she was flushed, breathless.

 

Lance pulled both women on to the dance floor and Merlin was left alone.

 

Not, however, for long.

 

Pendragon was before him, then. Merlin didn’t smile in recognition, but Pendragon gave him a twitch of the lips before claiming Gwen’s vacated seat.

 

“I’m Arthur,” he yelled. Merlin cocked an eyebrow. “Sorry I was such an arse the other time.”

 

Merlin had about a nanosecond to decide what to do. Be an arse, or forgive the guy, who was after all one of the best looking blokes who’d ever apologized to him. He grinned. “S’alright! You’d had a shit day,” he said.

 

Arthur hadn’t heard, or at least he didn't seem to. He'd turned away from Merlin's grin, a flush spread across his face. Turning to look, Merlin saw two of the club’s employees heading their way, one with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot and the other carrying a clipboard and texting into her BlackBerry. Merlin shook his head but Arthur shouted, “On me!” before slipping away with the clipboard bearing man and disappearing.

 

Merlin wasn’t sure what to think. Apparently the very rich and very famous apologized with over-the-top gestures rather than words. When Lance delivered the women back to the table, they squealed their enthusiasm over Merlin’s perceived extravagance.

 

Merlin didn't know why, but he didn’t tell them Arthur’d bought the champagne.

 

****

 

Fall skidded into winter clumsily, with storms and cold, wet snow. Merlin unwrapped his stylish red scarf from around his neck in the medical physics building at school, sloughing off layers and settling in for a long one at the lab. He opened his email client and found a new message from Gwen.

 

To: M.Emrys@medphys.ucl.ac.uk

From: G.Findabair@english.ucl.ac.uk

LANCE FOUND ME

 

You will NOT believe this. Lance from like a month ago emailed me here. I guess Findabair stuck in his head! He wants us to come to Avalon on Saturday! Are you in?

 

-G.

 

 

Merlin was, and he lost no time in responding to this. Of course, being a good friend, he decided to Google this Lance. He knew only that the guy hung out with Arthur Pendragon… so being an excellent friend, he started there.

 

What he found was a lot of speculation online that Arthur and all his friends were gay, and posts containing any number of terrible phone pictures of them in clubs.

 

Not the most auspicious of results, anyway. But he also found out that Lance was the son of MP duLac and had apparently been at school with Arthur, so he figured he was probably alright. Maybe.

 

Still, Saturday night found them freezing their arses off outside Avalon, in a line, waiting for Lance and Dispreputable Beard, whose name turned out to be Leon. Merlin was in a rather foul mood due to the weather, but the two women were practically vibrating with excitement.

 

Lance and Leon arrived sans Arthur and slipped in line to wait with the trio. The bouncer recognized them, though, so none of them had to wait long.

 

Merlin found that both Leon and Lance were decent people. They got recognized by the bartenders and servers but weren’t shite about it at all.

 

Merlin was enjoying a glass of really good red wine in the VIP room that Lance and Leon had procured when Lance threw himself onto the couch near him. “I really like your friend Gwen,” he said, being both straight to the point and captain obvious at the same time.

 

“Good, she likes you too,” Merlin said. “Thanks for inviting us all out tonight, though. We’d worry,” he said, meaning himself and Morgana.

 

“So…” Lance said, gesturing to the room with his drink. “You and Morgana, then?”

He finished his drink in a single gulp.

 

Merlin almost laughed at the hopelessly hopeful look on his face. “No,” he said, laughing. “No, er. No girl at all.”

 

Lance smiled beatifically then, which Merlin did think was rather an overreaction. Lance, though, followed up his smile by grabbing and draining Merlin’s glass, saying “that’s bloody fantastic!,” and then dragging Merlin out of his seat with a nod to the doorkeeper to keep an eye on their things.

 

“Er, what?” Merlin asked over the music as Lance was dragging him down the hallway.

 

“Oh!” Lance said, looking shifty. “Good for, you know, good for Leon! I think he has thing for Morgana….” he trailed off as a song Merlin loved came blasting over the club speakers.

 

Merlin still wasn’t in the best of moods, but he could pretend with the best of them, so he danced like he meant it for almost an hour before heading back to his couch and his wine. Leon and Morgana were there, neatly wrapped up in each other. Merlin grinned.

 

“Oh my god, it’s so hot tonight,” he said.

 

Leon smiled. “Yeah,” he said, looking at Morgana.

 

Merlin laughed. “Where’s Pendragon?” he asked suddenly, a propos of nothing at all.  Morgana smirked at him from under Leon’s arm.

 

“Stayed home at the last minute. Think he has some kind of stomach bug,” Leon shrugged. “Went to bed early.”

 

Merlin was lost, picturing Arthur in bed for the rest of the night.

 

****

 

Lance and Gwen took it very slow, whilst Morgana and Leon seemed to move in with each other almost immediately. As winter settled over the city, though, the trio rarely went out to clubs and the two girls sometimes left Merlin in to revise and went out with their boyfriends. They never mentioned Arthur.

 

March was surprisingly warm, and Gwen and Morgana seemed to be bitten by the bug early. They dragged Merlin out one night, this time to Albion.  “But Lance and Leon…” he tried, and was rewarded with the knowledge that the boys would meet them all later. They had to go to some other club first.

 

They stood in line and were close to the front when a champagne colored stretch SUV pulled up. This time, Arthur Pendragon exited first, followed by Lance and Leon.

 

It was one of those moments you usually see in films. A breeze ruffled Arthur’s hair, and everything seemed to slow down. Merlin heard a roaring in his ears that drowned out all other sound. Arthur was wearing deep blue from head to foot and Merlin resisted the urge to whimper. What’s more, Arthur was staring straight at him, with a decidedly feral look in his eyes. It took hours for Arthur to cross the sidewalk and extend his hand to Merlin – not as you would for a handshake, but as a man asking for a dance might do. Merlin looked down briefly, confused. He met Arthur’s eyes. There was an indefinable something there that Merlin couldn’t decipher.

 

He looked down again at the proffered hand, wondering how many days he was going to stand there before any of this made any sense, until Gwen bumped him. He suddenly remembered where he was and realized Morgana was already wrapped around Leon and Lance had taken Gwen’s hand to help her over the barrier. Merlin jerked and took Arthur’s hand without thinking and suddenly he was over the barrier and inside Albion and Arthur was leading him through a parting crowd toward a VIP room and Arthur was still holding his hand.

 

They entered the VIP room, where two servers were pouring champagne into six glasses. “Sure of yourself, aren’t you,” Merlin said, but he knew Arthur couldn’t hear him over the thump thump thump of the music.

 

Arthur pulled him to a couch, slipping down beside him and said breath hot in Merlin’s ear, “I’d have been there that night if I’d known you were gay.”

 

Merlin gave him a wide eyed look. Arthur leaned back in. “You’re a hard man to track down. Ever since Lance told me you were gay I’ve been trying to run into you at every club in London.” Arthur leaned back then, and Merlin gave him an incredulous look.

 

“That’s not possible,” he said, and once again he realized that Arthur couldn’t hear him at all. He leaned in, slid one had around Arthur’s neck, smelled his hair, his cologne.  He let his lips skim Arthur’s ear lobe. “You could’ve asked your mates about me any time.”

 

Arthur turned his head so that his lips were close to Merlin’s ear. “I didn’t want to think about my mates and you at the same time,” he said. “God, you’re sexy.”

 

Merlin pulled away in some surprise then. Arthur grinned, and leaned back in. “You’re all long and lithe and black hair and blue eyes has always done me in,” he said, and nipped an ear. “Say you like me too, Merlin, please,” he continued, pressing a soft, close-mouthed kiss on the side of Merlin’s neck.

 

Merlin didn’t answer, because any answer would have been moot. Arthur was so close that Merlin knew he’d felt the tremor that raced through Merlin at the touch of those soft red lips.

 

Arthur laughed delightedly and downed a glass of champagne in one go. Merlin struggled, taking several large gulps as he was dragged out of the room by a laughing, smiling Arthur and onto the dance floor.

 

****

 

They’d only danced that night, but then they only danced with each other. For almost four hours, they had not broken contact, Arthur’s hands wrapped around Merlin’s hips, Arthur turning in Merlin’s arms to press his arse against Merlin’s pelvis, Merlin rewarding him with nipping kisses up the side of his neck.

 

The next Saturday was much of the same, except that all week they’d texted and emailed – never calling, since their schedules were so busy, what with Arthur’s incessant clubbing and Merlin’s course work.

 

They’d spilled out of the club onto the sidewalk, all half dozen of them, laughing and smiling all together. Arthur had an arm slung around Gwen who was telling him all about the TigerTiger Incident. Merlin was at Arthur’s other side, a hand in the small of Arthur’s back, not yet ready to relinquish the heady contact with his golden man.

 

The paparazzo who took the photo of the six of them had sold it to one of the tabloids, who had carefully cropped all evidence of Merlin, Leon, Lance, and Morgana out of the picture. When Merlin got to the lab, he found a copy of it on the large table where he usually dropped his stuff. Carelessly left behind by a fellow student, it was open to the photo. “PENDRAGON’S MYSTERY WOMAN” the headline screamed. The subhead noted Arthur’s previous “Bi-sexual Porn Escapades”.

 

He called Gwen.

 

****

 

Gwen was found out by the papers pretty quickly. One of the bartenders knew her name and didn’t know enough to keep his mouth shut. Gwen Findabair wasn’t that common a name, and she found herself hounded by the paparazzi for a couple of weeks. She furiously denied all involvement with Arthur for a week after the photo was released, but no one believed her until Lance’s Dad – an MP from Bournemouth – issued a press release identifying her as his son’s girlfriend. After that – the son of an MP from Bournemouth, no matter how up and coming in the party, not being nearly so newsworthy as Sir Uther Pendragon’s heir – the press left her alone. They went out that week as usual, but Arthur didn’t call after their third… well, their third date… any more than he had after the first two.

 

They feasted next on Morgana, who nipped press coverage of her and Arthur’s “relationship” in the bud by wrapping Leon around her at every turn. Morgana was the daughter of a very rich and powerful Scotswoman, and was rather used to the press – though not so much in London as back home in Edinburgh – and she knew how to handle it much better than Gwen.

 

Four dates… no, five, he counted – but Arthur had made no move to phone, to do anything more than press himself up to Merlin in dark and crowded clubs… and Merlin lived in fear that he never would. Merlin was beginning to get used to walking around clubs half hard.

 

****

 

This time, it was Merlin.

 

Leon and Morgana had left early, but Gwen and Lance and Merlin and Arthur were slipping out the club’s front doors when they were ambushed. And this time, Arthur had an arm around Merlin’s face and had glanced at him with a rather unmistakable look on his face just long enough for a photographer to immortalize it.

 

They were unaware at the time, though. They piled into the SUV, laughing about something or other. They were at S&M, a new club in Canary Wharf, and Arthur told his chauffer to drop Lance and Gwen at Gwen’s flat in Bloomsbury first.

 

Once they were alone, Arthur wasted no time, He pulled Merlin into his embrace, kissing him slowly at first, teasing him with his tongue, making Merlin arch into him in need. Arthur’s rumbling laugh accompanied the slow movement of his hands down Merlin’s sides, where he continued a leisurely exploration… until Merlin reached up to take his face in his hands. Merlin bit Arthur’s lip and assaulted his mouth in desperation, desperation to make Arthur want as he himself wanted.

 

“Oh god,” Arthur moaned, spreading his knees and pulling Merlin between his thighs. Merlin bucked against him, feeling Arthur’s burgeoning erection against his own. Arthur’s hands found their way to Merlin’s arse, where they circled and rubbed and urged. Merlin slipped his hands up under Arthur’s £200 tee shirt to brush his thumbs across Arthur’s nipples. Arthur broke their kiss to lick down the side of Merlin’s neck, both of them making keening noises of want and need.

 

They barely registered that the car had stopped moving and the driver had exited until the man had opened the back door and cleared his throat discretely.

 

“I –” Arthur started. He looked glazed and delicious in the low level lighting. Merlin put a hand to his mouth.

 

“Come up with me,” he invited.

 

Arthur shook his head. “I can’t tonight,” he said, “Though god knows I want to.” Merlin knew his disappointment was showing on his face, but Arthur continued. “I’ll call you tomorrow. Come to dinner with me. About 7, yeah? I’ll pick you up. Please,” he tacked on at the end, somehow refusing to meet Merlin’s eyes.

 

Merlin pressed a final kiss to his swollen lips. “Of course I will. It took you long enough to ask,” he reproached.

 

Arthur’s body language changed at that, and he laughed. “Go, then, and I’ll see you in, what … 15 hours?”

 

“Fourteen, but who’s counting?” Merlin said.

 

Standing on his deserted street, fumbling with his keys, he knew he was wearing the most ridiculous grin ever.

 

****

 

The photo hit the tabloids that Sunday morning. Merlin was woken from a … very pleasant dream about Arthur by the continuous ringing of his mobile. It was Gwen. “Thank god,” she blurted. “Have you seen the papers?”

 

“I’m still in bed,” he groused. “If it’s important I’ll go down to the newsagent and get one,” he said.

 

Gwen shouted, “NO! No, don’t go outside. Don’t even look outside!”

 

This, of course, made Merlin sit up in bed and peak through his bedroom window curtains.

 

His street was full of people. Well, not full so much as there were about a dozen people milling about, smoking cigarettes and fiddling with cameras.

 

“What the fuck is in the papers, Gwen?” he managed weakly, falling back down on the pillows.

 

“You, you and Arthur,” she said, with a hint of resignation. “They know about you. God, this picture…” she trailed off.

 

“What about it?”

 

“I can’t describe it…. it’s…”

 

“It’s what?”

 

“It’s really… obvious, Merlin.”

 

“Can’t be worse than your one,” he suggested reasonably.

 

“Go on the Mail’s website then. It’s on the front page.

 

Merlin slid out of bed and padded to his computer, opening the lid and listening to Gwen’s breath down the line as it started up. He opened a browser and googled daily mail.

 

The first hit was it. The photo that loaded showed Arthur gazing at him with a look that made Merlin’s breath hitch in his chest. Arthur was looking at him like he was the cream and Arthur was the cat, like he was a life saver and Arthur was drowning, like he was a prize Arthur had won in the national lottery. Like he wanted him. The headlines screamed “Pendragon Gay!” and “Secret Mystery Lover!”

 

“Shite.”

 

“Yeah,” Gwen said.

 

“SHITE, Gwen. What am I going to do?”

 

She didn’t say anything, and Merlin’s other line buzzed through. He glanced at the phone. “Damn it, Gwen, it’s Mum. I”ll call you later.”

 

Without waiting for a response, he’d picked up the call from his Mum.

 

“You didn’t tell me you were seeing anyone, honey,” she said, and Merlin could feel her hurt and bewilderment. “I’ve see the look on this boy’s face…”

 

“Mum, it isn’t – wasn’t like that until last night… we’ve just been, you know, hanging out.”

 

“Is he nice?”

 

Merlin smiled. “I think so. He’s hard to get to know, and really we just go to clubs and stuff. We’re supposed to have dinner tonight but I don’t know now….” he stopped, not knowing what to say.

 

“Maybe it would be a good idea to wait a bit. Till this tabloid thing calms down.”

 

“Maybe,” Merlin says, but his heart is screaming no.

 

****

 

It’s several hours later when Arthur rings. He doesn’t even pause for greetings. “I’m sorry, Merlin,” he says, sounding sad and sincere. “I didn’t want to drag you down into my mess of a life.”

 

“Too late,” Merlin says. “Unless you’re going to cancel tonight?” Merlin hates that he can hear the pleading note in his own voice and is sure Arthur does, too.

 

Arthur sighs.

 

“Are you sure about it? I’ve made a real shit storm of this, actually. They’ve been trying to find out since that damned tape got leaked whether I’m gay and this is going to be news for a few days, unless Lindsey steals another necklace or Momsen flashes her underage vag on stage again. And maybe even if those things both happen they won’t leave you alone.”

 

“Arthur, we live in London, not America.”

 

“But the paps will be there. Unless…” he leaves the question open, but Merlin knows what he’s asking.

 

“They’re already here. What do you want me to tell them?”

 

Arthur lets a long silence echo down the line. “What do you want to tell them?”

 

Merlin considers for a moment whether to tell the truth or laugh and leave it light. He decides, in a fit of ridiculous courage, to tell Arthur the truth. With a deep breath, he says, “I want to tell them that yeah, my boyfriend is fit and rich and ask them how the hell that makes me or you news, even on a slow day.”

 

Arthur doesn’t speak for a long time, or so it seems to Merlin. It feels like hours but Merlin’s mobile call timer belies this and Merlin knows it’s only seconds but… “Tell them that, then, baby,” Arthur says. “I’ll pick you up a little early, yeah? I can’t wait to see my boyfriend.”

 

“God, I want you,” Merlin says, breathily, almost without conscious thought.

 

“Good, because later tonight I want to show you my penthouse in Mayfair where we will not be interrupted.” Arthur rings off then, without another word.

 

****

 

Sir Uther Pendragon is livid. Arthur Pendragon is not. He’s sitting across from his Dad at the family pile outside London, and he’s grinning like the cat with the cream.

 

“Explain yourself then,” Sir Uther demands.

 

“Dad, I can’t, until you tell me what’s wrong. Are you angry because I’m infatuated with a man?”

 

“I don’t give a damn about that. But do you mean to tell me you have been making money clubbing? How is that even possible?”

 

Arthur sat back, surprised. “Dad, seriously. You don’t care if I’m gay?”

 

“Don’t give a damn, actually. But who gets paid to party? Did you think of this yourself?”

 

“I do. Lots of young, rich, beautiful people do, if they’re paparazzi worthy and draw crowds. Club owners will pay you a lot to make appearances. I’ve made more partying than Mum’s trust has paid out this year.”

 

If Sir Uther looked stunned, he had good reason. Igraine’s trust had paid out almost a half a million pounds that year. He reached for the good whisky and offered a glass to Arthur with shaking fingers. “You might be a socialite’s son, but you’re mine too. To one hell of a businessman!” Sir Uther raised his glass, and Arthur sipped his, feeling something inside him shift back into place.

 

****

 

The paparazzi had been somewhat surprised when the object of their curiosity had confronted them with a quirky grin and confirmed he was seeing Arthur Pendragon. Whilst Arthur was having a whisky with his Dad outside London, Merlin was smiling for the photos and disarming the paparazzi. This, as it turned out, was a great way to get rid of them – as they all swarmed off to file their stories and sell their photos before the others. By the time Arthur’s car had slid into the street, there were only one or two milling photographers. These were rewarded, however, by Arthur himself climbing out of the driver’s seat and throwing them a smile while waiting for Merlin to come down.

 

“Give us a kiss, boys,” said one.

 

Arthur laughed. “Not likely, Tom,” he said. “We’re on our way to dinner – wouldn’t want to muss my date’s lippy.”

 

Merlin blushed a little while Tom and the other photographer laughed, but was glad that they didn’t try to follow.

 

****

 

Merlin was impressed by Arthur’s flat, which contrary to expectations wasn’t filled with white surfaces, black leather, and chrome. It was in Mayfair, the top two floors of an old regency era mansion. It was decorated in warm reds, earthy greens, and a touch of brown; filled with squashy sofas and old, not-quite-antique tables and bureaus.

 

The dining table was set for two, but there didn’t seem to be any servants hovering about. Merlin quirked his eyebrow and nodded at the serving dishes set high with curries, chips, schwarma, and vegetable middle eastern dishes. Arthur grinned. “Had it delivered, and told my assistant to be gone when we got here. It’s just from my favorite local curry shop.”

“Looks like you ordered some of everything,” Merlin said, seating himself and pouring wine for them from the decanter on the table.

 

“Wasn’t sure what you’d like,” he replied.

 

Merlin gave him a look over his wine glass that told him exactly what he’d like. Arthur swallowed, and began to eat blindly.

 

Over dinner, they discussed politics, economics, and lots of other topics. Merlin found Arthur well read and intelligent, not something he’d sussed out while they were dancing. Arthur refused to let him help with the clearing away, and Merlin wandered into the lounge, looking idly at Arthur’s bookshelves. The Oxford Dictionary of Physics jumped out at him, and Merlin found several physics textbooks as well.

 

He was thumbing through one when Arthur came through from the kitchen and turned on the TV. “Talked to my Dad today,” he said to Merlin’s back.

 

“Really?” Merlin said, turning around. “Did he know… did you.. is he angry?”

 

“Doesn’t give a damn about me being gay,” Arthur said. “He was more surprised that I’ve been basically supporting myself clubbing for the last two years.”

 

Merlin was pleased and perplexed. “Who makes money clubbing?”

 

“Public appearances are lucrative,” Arthur said. “Not always enjoyable, but at least I met you,” he added.

 

“Didn’t you ever want to do something else?” Merlin said, and mentally cringed.

 

Arthur frowned. “Yeah, but Dad made me give up my place at Cambridge. I was going to read physics.” He looked at the book in Merlin’s hand. “He was determined that I’d take a gap year and hang out with the young and fabulous.”

 

“So you turned it into a business?”

 

“Dad refused to see me as anything but a pretty face, believe it or not. Three firsts at Eton didn’t change his mind. But my making more money than my Mum’s trust, making a business out of partying? He’s finally relented.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’ve applied to read physics at UCL this fall,” he said with a grin. “It’s not Cambridge but my boyfriend seems to like it, and I’m pretty sure three firsts will get me in…”

 

Merlin, having dropped the book and crossed the room in three long strides, cut him off there. 

 

He wrapped one arm around Arthur’s neck and another slid round to his lower back. Arthur moaned into the kiss, reaching up to snake both hands in Merlin’s hair. Merlin nipped Arthur’s neck, and Arthur whispered, “Oh, yeah, baby. You’re so sexy, god, just like that.”

Arthur’s whispered encouragement went straight to Merlin’s cock, and he slid a leg between the other man’s, nibbling his ear and sliding a hand lower to pull Arthur flush to him.

 

Arthur arched into Merlin, rutting against him. “Feel what you do to me,” he moaned. “God, I’ve wanted you for weeks.”

 

“You’ve got me now,” Merlin said. “Bedroom?”

 

Arthur had the good grace to look a bit surprised. “You sure?” he said, disengaging his arms, and pulling Merlin down the hall.

 

Merlin didn’t answer; he laughed and followed Arthur down the hall, kicking his shoes off as he went.

 

Arthur’s four poster bed was illuminated by the moonlight and muted rays from the bathroom. Before he could ask again, Merlin was pulling his shirt over his head, following it with his trousers. Arthur grinned, unbuttoned his shirt and tripped over his own feet trying to get out of his jeans. He fell, laughing, onto the bed, and Merlin settled on top of him, rutting into him, sliding their cocks together. Arthur’s tongue thrust up into Merlin’s mouth. “Want you, want you, too much,” Merlin moaned out, and Arthur responded by wrapping his legs around Merlin’s waist and flipping them over.

 

He kissed down Merlin’s stomach and pulled his boxers off. Merlin lifted his hips to help, and threaded his hand through Arthur’s hair. Arthur licked Merlin’s cock, which rose to meet his lips. “So responsive,” he whispered, “God, baby, I can’t wait to have this in me.” He hummed, and took Merlin’s cock to the base.

 

Merlin shouted his approval. It was all he could do not to cum then and there, looking down at Arthur and meeting his eyes through his fringe. Arthur looked so filthy that Merlin had to tell him so, tell him over and over what he was going to do to him.

 

When Merlin came, Arthur pulled off, cum dribbling out of his mouth. “Such a good slut, god baby, so good,” Merlin praised, over and over. “Anything, baby, anything,” he moaned. “Fuck me,” he invited, spread his legs, cock softening across his abdomen.

 

Arthur kissed his was up Merlin’s chest. “You should taste yourself, god, you’re amazing,” he said, and fucking Merlin’s mouth with his tongue. Merlin could taste himself; found himself thrusting up against Arthur’s cock in time with his tongue. Arthur reached into his bedside table for lube and a condom.

 

He worked Merlin open slowly, until he was begging to be fucked, mindlessly murmuring encouragement. Arthur nearly came when the head of his cock slid home, and had to hold himself above Merlin on shaking arms to regain control. Merlin, dissatisfied, tried to thrust up, to force Arthur further inside. Arthur gave in with a cry, filling Merlin completely and fucking him deep and hard. “God baby, such a good boy, so good, such a good cockslut, so hot, so tight, feel what you do to me, I can’t hold back, have to fuck you, want you to fuck me, god, baby,” and on and on, hitting Merlin’s prostate with every stroke, making him call out and cum again without even a hand on his cock.

 

Arthur came with a cry and collapsed on Merlin, kissing his face, eyelids, ears, mouth.

 

“That was amazing,” Merlin said.

 

“I love you,” Arthur, and then stopped, eyes widening. He burrowed into Merlin’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean… I don’t… I know it’s too soon,” he said.

 

Merlin laughed. “We’ve been dating for weeks,” he said. “Maybe it’s crazy, but I think I love you, too.”

 

****

 

They were splashed across the front pages of the gossip rags for a few weeks. Neither of them really minded – and the paps were pretty good about it, considering. Sir Uther’s total non-reaction wasn’t interesting to the press, and a happy couple rarely sells papers. They still went out and danced, the six of them, but it was down to once a month or so rather than weekly. They spent more time throwing dinner parties and widening their circle of friends, especially once Merlin moved into Arthur’s Mayfair flat.

 

It was still quite a trip across London to UCL, where Arthur was making a new kind of splash as a Physics undergrad and Merlin was doing a Master’s degree in biochemical engineering. And if they had their driver drop them in Bloomsbury, no one paid them much attention.