Merlin had missed his train from college and found himself walking home. The sun was close to setting, and he knew he’d be late. The last thing he wanted was for Gaius to worry, so as soon as he passed a payphone he fished some change from his pocket and gave him a call.
“Hey, Uncle Gaius?”
“Merlin? What’s wrong?” Gaius demanded.
Merlin rolled his eyes and tried not to sigh. His uncle may have been getting on in years, but his hearing was still as sharp as ever. “Nothing Uncle. I missed my train, so I may be late for dinner. I just wanted to let you know.”
“Are you walking?”
“Of course I’m walking,” Merlin said, slight exacerbated. “I recall a certain someone asking me not to ride my vespa considering it is, and I quote, a death trap.”
“I still stand by that. Just be careful Merlin. There are many unsavory characters wandering the streets of London.”
Merlin was about to tell Gaius that he was over reacting when he noticed a group of guys wearing leather jackets across the road. “I will be,” he said quickly. “Look, I gotta go. Running out of time.”
He hung up before Gaius could say goodbye.
Hands in pockets. Head down.
That was what Lance and Leon always told him. Rockers always underestimated them, and that was their first mistake. The key was to look as unintimidating as they expected and then attack. Unfortunately Merlin didn’t have his switchblade with him thinking he wouldn’t have a reason for it at college. He just needed to start walking and get out of their territory. Easier said than done.
“Hey mate,” one of the guys called. They crossed the street and surrounded Merlin before he could make a run for it. “Got any cash?”
“No, afraid I don’t.”
“Now don’t be like that. We asked nicely, and the thing is, we know you do. We seen you use the phone. So how about you hand it over ‘cause we’re not asking again.”
The three other guys moved in closer as they cracked their knuckles and Merlin would have laughed if he wasn’t in immediate danger. It felt like he had walked into a gangster film.
“I really do hate to break it to you gents, but that was my last 5p.”
The leader simply shook his head. “Damn shame that is,” he said before motioning to the guy on Merlin’s right.
Merlin braced himself for the punch. He could hear the fist swinging through the air, but it never came. He looked up and saw yet another rocker but with different gang symbols. He had deflected the punch and was smiling, almost sweetly, at the leader.
“Well then. Arthur Pendragon. What do you think you’re doing?”
“I could ask you the same thing Cenred. You know this isn’t Black Magic territory, so I think you and your boys should leave.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when a Pendragon defend a mod,” Cenred muttered. He turned to his gang and added, “Alright. Let’s go.”
Merlin was quiet as they left, shuddering when Cenred turned around to shout “Wait until Morgana hears about this.” Then they were gone, and Merlin let out a long, wavering sigh. Arthur was still there, however, beaming. Merlin didn’t know what he could want – except maybe a reward. If so, he should have just let the others mug him. It would have been less embarrassing.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Merlin said when he admitted Arthur was definitely not going anywhere.
“I wish I could say I was being a good Samaritan, but it was mostly to get Cenred off my land. This part of town is run by The Knights of Camelot. He doesn’t seem to understand that,” Arthur explained. “Apparently neither do you. You’re welcome and all that. You should leave now, though.”
“Wow, you really are a prat,” Merlin muttered. “Don’t worry. You won’t be seeing me again. I wouldn’t walk through your precious land even if my life depended on it.”
Arthur had the nerve to look offended. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he yelled after Merlin.
“Considering “this part of town”, you’re the son of a rich prat,” Merlin replied over his shoulder. “You’ll take his place in the company someday after your rebellious phase and continue the line of prats.”
“You cannot talk to me that way. I better not see you again or you won’t be so lucky next time.”
Gaius had left the stew he made simmering on the stove. Merlin turned the burner off as soon as he walked into the flat cursing his uncle under his breath.
“Everything alright?” Gaius asked. He had suddenly appeared in the doorway. Merlin jumped despite his best efforts not to.
“Besides you possibly burning down the place and nearly giving me a heart attack, no. See. Told you I’d be fine.”
“You seem jumpy, that’s all.” Gaius gave Merlin the look – as if by some sort of magic he could read Merlin’s mind. He let the matter drop, though, and began busying himself with their dinner. Merlin had skipped lunch so he would have some money to go out, so his mouth was watering by the time he sat down. He started eating so fast he almost didn’t hear Gaius scolding him. “Slow down. You’ll make yourself sick.”
“Sorry. I can’t help it. You make the best stew in all of London,” Merlin said cheerfully. Maybe just a little too much so.
“You sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Just, uh, a lot of coursework to do over the weekend.” The lie came easy enough. Merlin had left home to study medicine in the city. It was his mother’s suggestion, and Gaius approve being a doctor himself. To save his nephew money, he set up his guest bedroom for him. Merlin was thankful – to both his mother and uncle. Only sometimes he hated his studies. He knew he solely continued so he wouldn’t be sent back to that dead beat town. In London he had made friends and for once truly felt like he belonged.
“Work hard and get a good job,” Gaius said. It was his motto. Despite nearing retirement he still practiced at a small hospital. “Actually, that reminds me. That Gwen girl rang again. Perhaps you should ring back and tell her you can’t go out tonight.”
“Well, we’ve been planning this all week. If I go tonight I promise I won’t tomorrow. I’ll spend the whole day studying.”
“Alright, but don’t be home too late.”
Merlin bolted up the stairs after he finished eating. Checking himself in the mirror he was happy to find his suit still looked impeccable. He rang Gwen and told her he’d meet the gang at The Marquee by seven.
It appeared that it just wasn’t Merlin’s day, however. He missed his train once again and had to walk. Luckily he didn’t run into any wayward rockers. They knew to stay away from The Marquee unless they wanted to start a fight. When Merlin finally arrived, his friends had already secured a table and the one thing Merlin had been looking forward to all week.
“It’s about time,” Leon shouted as Merlin sat down. The music wasn’t even loud enough to warrant the volume, but he always became a bit rambunctious when on amphetamines. “Give us your coins then.”
Merlin dumped his lunch money on the table. “I know it’s not much.”
“We know you’ll return the favor another time,” Lance said. He pulled the bag from his jacket pocket and handed Merlin the Drimamyl. “That should keep you going all night.”
“Thanks.” Merlin tilted his head back and swallowed the pill dry. “Hey, can I also get one for later? I have to finish my coursework in the afternoon or Gaius will never let me out twice in one weekend.”
“You’re such a good nephew Merlin,” Gwen teased. “I mean, not like you aren’t usually. Gaius obviously loves you. We all do. Not me, though. Not like that, though.”
Leon laughed as Gwen ranted on. Merlin was trying not to blush. Where Leon was loud Gwen had trouble staying on track. Merlin was sure the others wouldn’t think twice about what she had said, but Merlin knew she was only clarifying she had no romantic feelings for her friend as if it might make him uncomfortable. Gwen had been the only one he ever admitted to that he was a homosexual. At first she refused to talk to him, and he never blamed her for being angry and confused. He had just been so tired of carrying this secret with him.
The Drimamyl started to kick in, and Merlin soon forgot why he even cared. They had the whole night ahead of them. They stayed at The Marquee until it closed at midnight and then headed over to their favorite café. Lance insisted on buying everyone’s coffee while Leon went to the jukebox and selected The Who. Gwen started singing along as she adjusted the strap of her dress. It had fallen down somewhere between stops. They sipped their coffee and Merlin talked about college as he often did early in the morning. Must be feeling sentimental, he supposed.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said, exhaling dramatically, his shaggy hair puffing out. He desperately needed a haircut. No money, though. He’d have to do it with Gaius’s sheers again.
“Well, you have to keep at it, don’t you?” Leon asked.
“I guess. It’s just that I don’t want to seem ungrateful, and I don’t want to leave London. Medicine isn’t all bad, but I would really love to do something creative.”
“We don’t want to lose you either,” Gwen said. She took a hold of Merlin’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “You just have to do what feels right. That’s what my brother Elyan did. Now he has a job he truly loves.”
Merlin was about to agree when he saw a familiar looking jacket on someone standing outside. “Knights of Camelot?” The question was barely above a whisper, but his friends immediately picked up what he had said.
“The rocker gang?” Lance asked confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Oh, just that they happen to be outside.”
The guy Merlin had spotted entered the café. He had to stoop to fit in the door. He held it open, then, and was followed by a girl who also sported the gang’s symbol and two more guys. One of them was Arthur. They settled down at a table like they belonged there and began going through the menus. Merlin ducked, hoping Arthur hadn’t noticed him in the sea of suits as he walked by.
“No time to hide Merlin,” Leon muttered. He and Lance pulled Merlin up from his seat. “Time to let them know they’re not welcome.”
Merlin accepted his fate and attempted to stand up tall. As they approached the group of rockers the entire establishment went quiet. It seemed as if even the coffee machines had stopped brewing so as to not break the silence.
“Morning,” Lance said eventually. Until then the rockers hadn’t acknowledge anyone else’s presence. One of them looked up once Lance spoke and smiled.
“Morning friend,” he said. To his credit he didn’t sound sarcastic or mocking in the least. “Name’s Gwaine. And who is this lovely lady?” His eyes drifted to Gwen, giving her a once over.
“None of your damn business,” she spat.
“Feisty. You, my dear, could give Morgana a run for her money.”
The others perked up then. The girl, Morgana, laughed and elbowed Gwaine in the side. “You always were upset you couldn’t keep up with me.”
The two started shoving back and forth. The tall one simply rolled his eyes and continued to read the menu. Merlin watched as recognition dawned on Arthur. His jaw nearly dropped and he actually pointed straight at Merlin as he shouted, “You.”
Everyone became quiet again, eyes locked between Arthur and Merlin. “Yes, me,” Merlin said.
“Are you seriously trying to intimidate us? After I saved your life, the least you can do is let us eat. Nowhere else is open at one in the morning.”
“You hardly ‘saved my life’ I’d say. In fact, I only should repay you with the kindness you bestowed upon me. So get out.”
“Merlin, you know this guy?” Lance asked quietly.
Arthur laughed and turned to the tall one. “Can you believe it Percy? Merlin? Your name is Merlin?”
“You get offended when the word ‘prat’ is thrown around yet you do nothing but support it.”
Arthur tried to stand up but Percy steadied him. It only caused him to grow angrier it seemed. “Alright Merlin. Here’s what I’ll do given one of those god forsaken scooters is yours. We’re going to race. I win and we get to eat breakfast here and you’ll pay. If you win we’ll leave.”
“You’re on,” Merlin said without a second thought. If he lost he wouldn’t have enough to pay for one piece of toast. The odds of him winning were incredibly slim. His Vespa was bought second hand and fixed up with third and fourth hand parts. He was determined, though. That had to count for something.
“Merlin.” Gwen stopped him before he could rush out the door. “What is going on?”
Merlin went through the events of the evening with intense clarity thanks to the amphetamine coursing through his system. He couldn’t find an answer, however. There was just something about Arthur.
Merlin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Arthur definitely came from money – it was clear by the state of his motorcycle. It looked brand new and was waxed regularly. There were leather saddlebags once again bearing The Knights of Camelot symbol and most likely filled with the mind numbing drugs of choice for rockers. Arthur didn’t have to skip meals or do odd jobs to have enough cash for the weekend, and he wasted it by smoking marijuana and drinking. Merlin didn’t have to see it to know it was true. All rockers were the same. Except Arthur was different in one way. Usually it was rockers who came from poor families, rebelling because they were tired of the class system. The mods were the money. Merlin and Gwen may have been middle class, but Lance and Leon came from prestigious families who could trace their lineage back nearly a century.
So Merlin and Arthur had one thing in common. They were outcast even in their group of friends. Merlin may have almost pitied Arthur if he wasn’t a prat and a rich one at that.
Merlin started his Vespa and gave his friends a reassuring smile. Arthur was already on his motorcycle after a quick hug from Morgana which he had tried to brush off. Gwaine stood between them holding a tattered bandana like a flag.
“Okay. Ground rules,” he said. His booming voice demanded the attention of everyone that had come out to watch the race. “No distracting the other racer. No riding into each other’s lanes. You get the idea. Up and down Main Street with the café door was the finish line. We know the stakes. Are you ready?”
Merlin and Arthur both nodded. Gwaine began the countdown, and as he shouted one, waved the bandana. Merlin accelerated and was surprised at how fast the scooter could honestly go. He had never had a reason to test its limits since he mainly ran in safe territory. More confident than he had been before, Merlin focused on the road ahead of him. It wasn’t until he had reached the end of Main and was turning around that he noticed how far behind Arthur was. His motorcycle was top of the line, but not very practical. The hulking machine was slowing him down. Merlin was going to win.
This change of events didn’t excite Merlin as much as he had expected it would. If he won, he wouldn’t have to pay for Arthur and his gang. However, the rockers would surely start a dispute. While Lance and Leon were strong they didn’t really stand a chance against Percy and Gwaine. The two looked as if they were born to fight. If Arthur won he would most definitely brag and Merlin would be annoyed to no end, but it was the smart thing to do. He had to let Arthur have his moment.
Merlin slowed down and pretended to kick his Vespa. Everyone would believe he was having yet more engine troubles. He watched Arthur pull ahead and cross the finish line. Gwaine whistled loudly as all the café regulars booed. Gwen met Merlin at the kerb.
“You would have won, really,” she said. “Bad timing for it to act up, huh?”
“Yes,” Merlin muttered trying to sound disappointed. Even though he would have to borrow more money, he didn’t feel it. Adrenaline was still pumping through him and he hadn’t had that much fun in months.
Arthur walked over to Merlin and all the spectators stilled. He looked ecstatic, grinning wide like a mad man.
“Come to gloat?” Merlin asked. “Or just to collect your winnings?”
“Actually we decided we could find somewhere else to eat,” Arthur informed him. Merlin was surprised. He thought Arthur would milk his victory for all it was worth. “So yes. I’ve just come to gloat.”
He leaned in close and Merlin suppressed a shiver when Arthur’s hair brushed against his face. “Well then, get on with it.”
“I know you threw the race,” Arthur whispered so no one else could hear. “I understand you don’t want bad blood between us. Fair enough. That’s why we’re going to leave now. I’d say I owed you one, but since I saved your life earlier, I think we’re even.”
Unsure how to respond Merlin just stared as Arthur got back on his motorcycle and rode off with The Knights of Camelot following.
Apparently everyone else decided to also call it a night, and the crowd soon dissipated. Only Merlin, Gwen, Lance, and Leon were left standing under the flickering streetlight.
“Merlin, what did he say?” Lance asked. He was getting onto his scooter, Gwen sitting behind him.
“He said… he said he wasn’t as big of a prat as I thought he was.”
Leon laughed and Lance just shook his head. Of course they wouldn’t believe it, but Merlin was starting to. Arthur Pendragon? There couldn’t be too many Pendragons in the phone book.
Merlin was used to sneaking in so he didn’t wake up Gaius. His uncle usually retired by nine, after spending most of his evening experimenting, and would be snoring in no time. Merlin couldn’t be too careful just in case, so he tip toed up the stairs as quietly as possible. He swallowed the second Drimamyl and pulled out his school books, a long night of studying ahead of him. If Merlin was able to get half of his work done by six, he could take a nap while Gaius would be getting ready for the day. After a few hours Merlin would ‘rise early’ and finish the rest before afternoon tea. It was a schedule he perfected, and Gaius hadn’t caught on. He dismissed any complaints about too much work as modesty. Merlin was actually an excellent student when he put his mind to it and that was easy when utilizing all twenty four hours of the day.
Before Merlin knew it the sun had started to rise. He put his school work away quickly, one thing left to do. He found the phonebook in a table drawer. Flipping through the pages he didn’t stop until he saw the first P. It only took seconds then to find the listing for one Pendragon, Uther. Apparently Arthur’s father owned a decent amount of the businesses in London, and therefore had their home phone listed as private. Luckily enough, though, he must have figured most would know where he lived so there was an address. Merlin could easily make it before Gwen rang about going out.
Gaius was not in the flat when Merlin woke up. Merlin changed out of his clothes from the previous night and into his nicest jumper and trousers. With Arthur’s address written down he headed out despite having no plan. Arthur had been kind, to an extent, but odds were he wouldn’t want to see Merlin again. If Merlin was being honest to himself he had no clue why he wanted to see Arthur either. Granted he was handsome, but he had been arrogant. Not like any of that mattered. Merlin had risked more than enough exposing his secret to Gwen. He wasn’t telling a complete stranger who was capable of beating him up that he was drawn to him for some reason. It was true that Merlin had felt something when Arthur had leant in. His breath against Merlin’s ear as he whispered.
The Pendragons’s house was, well, it wasn’t a house. It was a mansion surrounded by a fence at least fifteen feet tall. The main gate was open and a care was pulling out of the drive. Merlin could just make out a driver in the front and Morgana in the back. Another rocker living a double life. Merlin assumed she was most likely Arthur’s girlfriend and the others, Gwaine and Percy, were rich too. Arthur convinced them to start The Knights of Camelot with him. It would explain the boastful name. Merlin ran in as the gates closed behind the car, accidentally running right into Arthur.
Arthur looked confused and opened his mouth as if to speak several times before settling on asking angrily, “What are you doing here?”
“I honestly have no idea,” Merlin admitted. “I, uh, I guess I should say thank you. For everything you did yesterday. I take it back. That you’re a prat, I mean. You sort of are, but I think part of it is just a front. You have to be ruthless to take over Daddy’s business, obviously.”
“Shut up. You know nothing about my life.” Arthur studied Merlin, his hand tilting Merlin’s chin. It was the smallest touch, but Merlin couldn’t help jolting back. “Are you high?”
“No. I just took a pill. Doesn’t matter. I almost always talk this fast. And all over the place.”
“You are,” Arthur said. He looked disappointed. “You couldn’t come talk to me sober. You had to get high.”
“Listen. I do not ‘get high,’ alright? It was just one pill. A little pick me up. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unlike you drinking and smoking with your girlfriend every weekend, right? You know how much that slows you down?”
“I don’t smoke and I don’t have a girlfriend.”
It was Merlin’s turn to be confused though he should have been from the start. Coming to Arthur’s house had been a mistake, and he was only making a fool of himself. “What do you mean? I just saw Morgana leaving.”
“Morgana’s my half sister, moron.” Arthur laughed and playfully punched Merlin’s arm. “So now that you’re done accusing me of getting drunk with my sister in the middle of the day, I guess I should say you’re welcome. Need anything else?”
“No, I’m good,” Merlin said while backing up. “I’ll just go now.”
“I’ll get the gate.” Arthur walked over to a hidden control panel and hit a button. The gate opened automatically nearly knocking over Merlin’s Vespa in the process. “I’ll see you around Merlin.”
Merlin smiled. “Not unless I see you first.” He sped off careful to not go as fast as he had in the race. Knowing his luck it would break this time and Arthur would see.
Merlin had to talk to Gwen.
Leon had gone to a party for his cousin that night, and Lance was constantly offering to refill Gwen’s glass – always a gentleman. It was simple enough to get Gwen alone. Merlin slid across the booth as he could lean in to talk. He hadn’t taken any of the pills Lance had. The music seemed louder to him and he was surprised that the amphetamines actually gave him more of a sense of calm in the busy club.
“Something troubling you Merlin?” Gwen asked.
“It’s about Arthur.”
“From last night? You can’t dwell on that. He’s a right arse, but at least you both realized starting a feud would be pointless. I didn’t get to say this last night, but I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks Gwen,” Merlin said. The sentiment was unexpected and in the moment he wanted nothing more than to hug his friend. There was no time. He could see Lance being handed another bottle at the bar. “It’s not that. Sure, Arthur seemed rude, but he’s really not that bad. I saw him again this afternoon.”
“What? Where did you see him?”
“I went to his house. To say thank you.”
Gwen smiled fondly. “You fancy him.”
“No,” Merlin said. Perhaps too quickly. “That’s not it at all.”
Lance saved Merlin by returning with Gwen’s soda. “What are you two talking about? You’re not trying to steal my girlfriend, are you?”
Merlin laughed nervously at the joke. “No, course not.”
“Good because I was going to ask her to dance.”
Lance led Gwen to the dance floor leaving Merlin fiddling with an abandoned napkin on the table and trying not to think about Arthur. It was difficult not to, however, when the man himself walked into the club. He was not wearing his jacket or boots nor was the rest of the Knights with him. In fact, Merlin almost hadn’t realized it was Arthur. He was wearing a suit and looked quite comfortable in it. His tie looked short as if he had used an old school uniform tie to stay more true to the mod look. He scanned the club and, once locking eyes with Merlin, walked over to his table.
“Well, if it isn’t the royal prat,” Merlin said. He wasn’t sure if it was safe to joke with Arthur, but he had gone through all this effort for some reason. Merlin figured they were on good terms.
“Yes. Nice to see you too, you idiot. Aren’t you going to offer me a seat?” Arthur didn’t wait for an answer before sliding into Lance’s spot.
“Make yourself at home,” Merlin muttered.
“What was that?”
“I said do you want a drink?”
“Beer. If they even sell beer in this place.”
Merlin went to the bar and bought Arthur a soda. When he came back, setting the bottle in front of Arthur, he said, “If you don’t want to fit in…”
“Yes, of course. I suppose that means I shouldn’t ask how in God’s name you listen to this racket?”
Merlin laughed. “No, not a good idea. It’s The Small Faces. Don’t want to insult them. You’ll have everyone in the place at your throat. Even your suit won’t save you. Which is good. I mean, the suit’s good. You look great. As in it suits you, that is. No pun intended.”
Arthur had been taking a drink and started coughing. Unsure of what to do, Merlin handed him the now shredded napkin and patted his back. He was expecting Arthur to be angry when he recovered but instead he appeared calm. “You don’t look high. So you do ramble a lot, then?”
“Someone has to get the conversation started. So, what are you doing here?”
“I said I’d see you around.”
“Your friends know that you’re incognito?”
“No, though I suspect Morgana figured it out. She always could read me like an open book. I hate it. She didn’t say anything, though, so I don’t think she cares. Probably since last night she even said she liked it. That you stood up even when you didn’t have a chance.”
“Hey, in case you forgot I would have won if I didn’t let you.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Arthur said with a grin. “Now Merlin. You know so much about me. Where I live, who with, what my future career is. Yet I know nothing about you.”
“Not much to know. Merlin Emrys. Nineteen. I live with my uncle currently. Originally from Luton where I lived with my mum. Studying medicine at college.”
“I feel like you’re hiding something,” Arthur said. He downed the rest of his soda and pulled out 10p. He reached over and stuck it in Merlin’s jacket pocket. “That’s alright. I have time to find out.”
“What do you mean? And hey. I bought that for you. You don’t need to pay me back.”
“Use it toward gas, then. We’re going to lunch tomorrow. The Lion’s Head at noon. Don’t stay out too late.”
Arthur left The Marquee as he had entered – abruptly and unnoticed. Merlin stared after him stunned. Only a few minutes later Lance and Gwen returned informing Merlin it was almost midnight.
“Want to head to the café?” Lance asked.
“No thanks. I, uh, have somewhere to go tomorrow.”
The Lion’s Head was neither in mod or rocker territory. It was in a nice, quiet section of London Merlin had never been to in his year living there. The place was far from the diners Merlin and his friends went to but not quite a five star restaurant. He had a feeling Arthur’s father must have owned it and his suspicions were confirmed when the host seated Merlin at the best table.
“Mr. Pendragon wishes to inform you he is running late and to order anything you like. “He then handed Merlin the menu and left.
By the time Arthur arrived, nearly half an hour later, Merlin was finished with his soup. The waiter had insisted he tried it before they brought out his sandwich. He had tried to talk Merlin into getting something else as well, but Merlin knew Arthur was going to try and pay. He didn’t want to owe him anything, so he went with the simplest and cheapest thing. Arthur exchanged pleasantries with the waiter and told him, “I’ll have the usual Donny. Thanks.”
“Is this what you call fashionably late?” Merlin asked.
“Yes, sorry about that,” Arthur said. He sounded sincere. “My father kept me later than I anticipated. The meeting was only supposed to cover… Never mind. You don’t want to hear about that. I hope you weren’t too bored.”
“Oh, not in the least,” Merlin replied sarcastically. “I eat by myself in restaurants al the time. It isn’t depressing in the least.”
Arthur laughed. “Don’t make me throw a roll at you,” he warned.
Once their food came they discussed a wide range of topics while they ate. Arthur eventually opened up about the meeting with his father. He had known he was to work at one of his offices, but Uther had taken him aside to tell Arthur he was to start as manager in several months.
“Well, that’s good then,” Merlin said. Arthur would be starting out in a managing position instead of at the bottom, and yet he didn’t seem excited.
“Don’t get me wrong. It is. I just… I didn’t know it would be so soon. I feel like I didn’t have time to try other things. Not like Father would ever let me do anything else.”
“You’re an adult. You can choose what you want in life. He really doesn’t get a say.”
“We all can’t have the freedom you do,” Arthur snapped. He looked as if he regretted it immediately. Before he could apologize, Merlin held a hand up.
“I do have some freedom, yes. I could drop out of medicine any time I want. I don’t drop out not because I love it. I am good at it, but I’m not sure if it’s what I want. I don’t know what I want, though. So I keep at it. Plus, if I just dropped out period while I mulled things over, I’m not sure Uncle Gaius would continue to let me stay with him. I don’t want to leave London.”
“No, we certainly don’t want that. Then who would I have to save?” Arthur smiled even as Merlin stole his idea and threw a roll at his head. He picked it up from where it bounced onto the table and took a bite. “So we aren’t so different after all.”
“Besides you being a rocker,” Merlin pointed out. “By the way, how did that happen?”
“Oh for goodness sake Merlin. You possibly can’t be as stupid as you look. Guess.”
“Rebelling against your father, I’d say. Though it seems rather pointless if you’re still going along with his plan for you.”
“It’s something,” Arthur muttered. “Sometimes I think about running away from the city. Go to the country, and I don’t know. Start a farm maybe.”
“I hardly can see you doing manual labor,” Merlin said mockingly.
“Yes, but now I got you. Obviously you’ll come with me and do most of the work.”
“Prat.” I hardly sounded like an insult but more like an endearment. Merlin knew he was grinning from ear to ear and must have looked completely enamored. He no longer cared.
“I knew there was something about you,” Arthur said. Donny came with the check, and as Merlin predicted Arthur picked it up and waved Merlin’s hands away when he offered him money. “I invited you out. I’m going to pay.”
“You’re treating me like a date.”
The words were out before Merlin could stop and think.
Arthur simply laughed. The second time during their lunch, and Merlin could get used to the sound. “Shut up. Next time it’ll be on you, and I’ll be nice. You can pick the place.”
“Oh, you’re so kind,” Merlin mumbled sarcastically. Then what Arthur said truly sunk in. “Next time?”
“I like hanging out with you. Nothing against my friends, but Gwaine and Percy don’t make good conversation. They’re all about going out and making a big fuss, and you’re not like that. We can talk. So, who cares if you’re a mod? It is all a bit trivial.”
“You told me to get of your territory when we first met,” Merlin pointed out.
“And now you’re cordially invited back. If you want.”
Merlin thought about it. While he had to admit that choosing friends based on clothing style and music was, granted, a bit immature. Plus the other mods and rockers wouldn’t be as understanding. Arthur was right, though, about being able to talk to Merlin. Over one afternoon Merlin had been comfortable enough to open up concerning more serious matters than where to go that weekend.
There it was. He had come to a decision.
Merlin grabbed his keys and turned to Arthur. “Want to come to mine and listen to records?”
They fell into an odd sort of friendship after that. They did go out although they had to avoid both rocker and mod territory. Arthur continued to treat Merlin to lunches at various restaurants owned by his father while Merlin took him to record and book shops. He introduced Arthur to The Who, The Kinks, and even got him to admit The Small Faces were good. In exchange Arthur showed Merlin The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
“Listening to The Beatles reminds me of you sometimes,” he said one night. They were lying on Merlin’s floor while the I Want to Hold Your Hand single played. Merlin had just waited for Arthur to continue, sure he hadn’t meant that he wanted to hold Merlin’s hand. “It’s that our folks – that whole generation – thinks they’re mods, right? They wear suits and Ringo hangs out with Keith Moon. But their music is based in rock roots, so rockers like them. They can cross that line between the two cliques.”
“I don’t know a single mod who listens to The Beatles.”
Merlin did. He had never paid the band much attention before meeting Arthur, but he went out and bought the I Want to Hold Your Hand forty-five once he had saved up enough money. He also decided to let his hair grow out a bit and not only because it made Arthur smile and ruffle the locks as they got longer.
Occasionally Arthur would take his motorcycle and pick Merlin up from college. It was scary at first, riding behind Arthur and putting that much trust in him. Merlin might have mentioned once or twice investing in a sidecar, but Arthur declared that was no fun. So at least once a week, Merlin got to hold tightly onto Arthur as they sped down the streets of London. Once they got to Merlin’s flat, Merlin wouldn’t want to let go, but he would, inviting Arthur to stay for dinner.
Arthur did stay a few times. Gaius even liked him, saying he was a good friend for Merlin to have. Merlin wasn’t sure if his uncle was solely thinking of Merlin’s future for Uther did own a small private practice, but he honestly seemed to enjoy Arthur’s company as well.
They managed to keep their friendship a secret for a month and a half, but Merlin’s friends had been suspicious for some time when they caught Arthur and Merlin walking home from the cinema. Merlin saw them first and tried to discreetly redirect him.
“Come on Merlin. You know this is the fastest route.”
Arthur always spoke quite loudly, and Merlin saw Lance perk up and spot them from across the street. He pointed to them, alerting Gwen and Leon, and in seconds they had crossed the road and were standing in front of Merlin and Arthur.
“He bothering you again Merlin?” Leon asked. Lance still had his arm casually draped around Gwen’s shoulders, but Leon looked ready to fight.
Merlin started to protest, but Arthur interrupted. “I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Well, you see, Merlin is our friend, and he’s been acting distant lately. Probably thanks to you. So yes. It is our business.”
“Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to be friends anymore,” Arthur spat.
“No, that’s not it at all,” Merlin said. He put himself between Arthur and Leon hoping it would help. “I know I’ve been distant. It’s not because of Arthur. Well, it is but…”
“I bloody knew it,” Leon shouted.
“But it’s not like that. We… we hang out,” Merlin finished lamely. He realized he couldn’t put what it was like being with Arthur into words, or rather, he could but he’d sound lovesick. Sometimes it felt like Arthur was to, but Merlin wasn’t taking any risks and ruining their friendship.
“You’re friends with him?” Lance asked quietly. “So are you a rocker now?”
“No, I’m still a mod. It doesn’t matter, right?”
“But it does Merlin,” Gwen said. “You can’t be both.”
They left then without another word, but Merlin knew it wasn’t over. Word would spread, and not just between the mods. The rockers would find out. The Knights of Camelot would find out. A feud would be started. He and Arthur would have to prepare for the fallout.
Naturally Arthur disagreed. “Well, he said cheerfully. “That went well.”
The rockers got to the mods first. Merlin was leaving his biology class to find Percy and Gwaine waiting for him. Rather than cause a scene Merlin silently followed them to an alleyway. They had parked their motorcycles there. Quick getaway Merlin noted, and Arthur wasn’t around to ‘save his life’ this time.
“You seem like a decent bloke,” Gwaine started. “You know that we don’t really have a choice in this, however. You can’t see Arthur anymore.”
“This can be really easy too,” Percy added. “It’s not like Arthur is your lady. You’re just mates.”
Merlin couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, so the next part of the script is where you rough me up a bit just in case I won’t listen to you and then what? We’ll then have a vendetta against you. It’ll be a never ending cycle.”
“Sounds like you don’t want to be part of the cycle anymore. This could be your incentive to leave,” Gwaine said. He then pulled his arm back, fist connecting with Merlin’s face almost in slow motion. He instinctively closed his eyes, but he swore he could see the moment Gwaine’s knuckles bruised his eye.
Merlin went down, and he muttered “I was right” as Gwaine and Percy drove off. They were born to fight. Joining the ranks of rockers gave them a purpose – a reason to spare – and they didn’t have to wander the streets alone. Merlin could hardly blame them since that was the same reason he became a mod. Lance and Gwen were the only people who befriended him when he came to London.
Merlin forced himself to get up and wiped the dirt from his clothes as best he could. He slowly made his way back to campus hoping he hadn’t missed the train. He hadn’t expected to find Arthur waiting for him. He didn’t say anything about meeting him after class.
“There you are Merlin,” Arthur said when he spotted him approaching. “I was getting worried when you weren’t leaving with the rest of your class. Where were you?”
“Oh, just having a chat with some of your friends,” Merlin replied. He tried to keep his head down, but Arthur finally noticed something was of. He gently brushed his fingers under Merlin’s chin and coaxed him to look up. He gasped and moved his hand up to Merlin’s eye.
“How badly does it hurt?”
“Barely felt it,” Merlin said trying to make light of the situation. “He hit like an old man.”
“Who was it?” Arthur asked angrily.
“Arthur, look. It doesn’t matter. We knew this would happen. Instead of you going after then, we need to focus on making sure my friends don’t see me like this. Then they’ll go after your friends.”
“Them?” Arthur threw his helmet down and clenched his fists. “That’s not fair. How could they ever gang up on one guy? Then they’re no good than Cenred and the rest of the Black Magic scum. We can’t just ignore this Merlin.”
“Yes Arthur, we can. We have to. I don’t want a war to start because I couldn’t…” Merlin trailed off. He picked up Arthur’s helmet and handed it back. “Let’s get going. Uncle Gaius can take a look, but I’m sure all I can do is take some aspirin.”
“Oh my God, I’m sorry. Yes, let’s get you home.”
Arthur drove slower than he usually did, and at every red light they hit he’d glance back to make sure Merlin was alright. Merlin could feel a headache coming and he could barely shut his eye, but he already felt better. He felt safe.
There was a note on the kitchen table from Gaius when they arrived at the flat. Merlin read over it carefully and sighed as he crumpled up the piece of paper.
“He went over to a co-worker’s house for dinner.”
“Well, you can take care of yourself,” Arthur said. He went to playfully punch Merlin in the arm but pulled back quickly as if he’d been burned. He cleared his throat before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve covered black eyes in college by now.”
“I can take care of it. I just… I didn’t want to be alone.”
Now that the adrenaline had worn off Merlin had no trouble admitting that he was scared. Not just cared of being cornered again by Gwaine and Percy, but of how he had knowingly pitted everyone against each other and how he was hopelessly in love with Arthur.
“I’ll stay,” Arthur said.
Merlin knew it wasn’t a good idea, but he couldn’t bring himself to say so. He simply nodded and led Arthur to his room just as he had dozens of times before. It felt different this time, though. Once Merlin had taken a couple aspirin and returned, Arthur was lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling.
“I can make something to eat,” Merlin suggested. He was still standing in the doorway contemplating what to do next.
Arthur bolted up and crossed the room. “No, I possibly couldn’t let you. I know my way around the kitchen. I’ll make something.”
Merlin didn’t move preventing Arthur from passing through. “You can’t cook,” he pointed out.
“I’d try. For you.” Arthur gently touched the bruise forming around Merlin’s eye again before replacing his fingertips with his lips. Merlin hardly felt the kiss it was so light. Arthur pulled back and for the first time Merlin had ever seen he looked unsure of himself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s alright,” Merlin reassured.
“No, it isn’t. It’s not… right.”
“It felt right to me.” Merlin rested his arms on Arthur’s shoulders, clasping his hands together behind his back, the way he’d seen Gwen do with Lance. They were so close – closer than when Arthur leaned into whisper to Merlin on that first night. He was whispering again.
“My father would kill me.”
“I feel like your father would disapprove of anything you did as long as it was your choice.”
Arthur smiled. “You’re right Merlin. I knew you were smarter than you looked. I knew there was something…”
“Oh, shut up,” Merlin said. He closed the distance between then and kissed Arthur. It was soft. Chaste. It was still enough to speed up Merlin’s heart and make him feel like he was soaring.
“What are we going to do now?” Arthur asked. He looked scared but he didn’t attempt to move. Merlin took that as an invitation to hold him even tighter. He had no idea what they would do now. Everything had changed in one day and it was terrifying. All he wanted was to stay there alone with Arthur and not to have to face the rest of the world, but he knew they’d have to.
“We are going to finally do what we want,” he said. Arthur smiled again and leaned in for another kiss.
That Friday Arthur picked Merlin up from college and they shared dinner with Gaius. It was a typical night in for them although they usually didn’t so on Fridays. Fridays were reserved for Merlin to go to The Marquee with his friends. While Gaius and Arthur talked over coffee, Merlin rang Gwen and said he’d meet them at the club. The plan was simple. Merlin would show up with Arthur and tell his friends everything. Well, not quite everything. For now all he needed was for them to realize they could all get along. A different lifestyle shouldn’t prevent that. Gwen should understand.
While the plan was simple Merlin knew there was potential for so much to go wrong. His black eye was still noticeable and even if Gwen, Lance, and Leon welcomed Arthur with open arms they would go after The Knights of Camelot. It was more likely they’d beat both Arthur and Merlin.
Merlin was feeling stressed and he contemplated taking a spare Drimamyl he found in his room. Arthur didn’t like when Merlin popped pills, but it was going to be a long night. Merlin grabbed a glass of water from the bathroom and took the pill quickly. On the way back he picked up his jacket and keys.
“We’re going out Uncle Gaius,” Merlin said. “I won’t be out late.”
“I know Merlin,” Gaius said with a knowing smile. “You have fun. It was nice to see you again Arthur.”
“You too Mr. Emrys.”
Merlin swatted at Arthur’s shoulder. “Oi, stop kissing up to my uncle. We’ll be late.”
“No, we’re going to be late because you had to spend half an hour checking your suit in the mirror.”
Like the plan it was simple to act as if everything was alight. Merlin could tell, however, that Arthur was equally as nervous. He normally would have called him a prat for insulting his fashion sense – even in front of Gaius. He didn’t, though, and shoved Arthur’s jacket into his hands.
“If we don’t leave now it won’t matter whose fault it is,” he pointed out.
They had decided it would be best for Merlin to not ride with Arthur, so he went to get his Vespa out of the garage while Arthur waited. Then they drove off to The Marquee. When they arrived Gwen, Lance, and Leon were waiting outside.
“You heard then?” Merlin asked once he parked. Arthur pulled into the spot beside him. He was uncharacteristically quiet.
“The Knights spread the word,” Lance replied. “We figured you were up to something since you’ve been ignoring us all week.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Gwen asked. She looked as if it pained her to hold back her tears. The last thing Merlin ever wanted to do was hurt her. She had always been his best friend.
“I’m telling you now. I’m telling you that the fight? It doesn’t matter. Arthur and I don’t want you and The Knights fighting over us, but it’s not going to stop us from being friends if you do. Despite me being a mod and him being a rocker we get along. And we want you to try to as well. That’s what we came here to say. We, uh, we haven’t spoke to The Knights yet.”
“Merlin wanted to ask you first,” Arthur said taking over. “You three are much more reasonable then my gang. Even I can see that. If you say no, we won’t try to reason with them. We’ll just… we’ll leave you all be.”
“He’s important to you Merlin, isn’t he?” Gwen was wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her jumper but she was smiling. Merlin nodded and laughed as Gwen hugged him.
Lance and Leon appeared to not be keen on the idea. They stared at Arthur with disdain arms crossed as if to create a barrier between them and the enemy. Gwen stayed by Merlin and Arthur as they waited for one of them to speak first. Before they could pass judgment, however, The Knights of Camelot came barreling down the street and boxed everyone in with their motorcycles.
“What are you doing here?” Arthur demanded. The roar of the engines nearly drowned him out. As The Knights dismounted they turned the bikes of and surrounded Arthur.
“Cenred saw you and Merlin drive through Black Magic territory,” Gwaine said. “He had one of his boys follow you and then sent us word.”
“We already warned Merlin. We didn’t want it to come to this,” Morgana stated her voice wavering.
“You stay away from Merlin,” Gwen said. She stood in front of him protectively. She glanced over to Arthur and then yanked his arm forcing him to stand behind her as well. “You stay away from both of them.”
“Do you think I want to hurt my brother?”
“No, but I think you three should hear what Merlin and Arthur have to say. They make a convincing argument. Why should it matter that Arthur is a rocker? Merlin is friends with him, so I’m sure he and I would get along.”
Merlin gently squeezed Gwen’s shoulder and whispered, “Thank you.”
“You have been happier recently,” Morgana said to Arthur.
He looked to Merlin and then back to his sister and nodded. “I have.”
“I think you are all forgetting that these assholes attacked Merlin,” Leon shouted. “Yes, I’m mad at him for what he did – what he is doing – but he’s still my mate. So what I want to know is why we’re standing here talking when we should be settling this.”
Merlin tried to stop Leon. He pushed him back toward the entrance of The Marquee. He tried to reason with him saying “We are settling this. We don’t need to fight to settle things.” Leon wouldn’t listen. He had retrieved his switchblade and was advancing on Percy. Soon everyone was lost in a blur – arms flailing and legs kicking. Merlin ducked down quickly just as Gwen dodged a punch and Lance knocked over Gwaine. Merlin searched for Arthur in the chaos. He began to panic when he initially didn’t see him. Had he managed to get away? Was he hurt?
Merlin jumped when someone fell next to him. He twisted their arm behind their back before he realized it was Arthur. Arthur shouted and Merlin let go his hand come back covered in blood.
“Watch what you’re doing moron,” Arthur muttered.
“Trust you to still be a prat when injured,” Merlin said softly. He pulled Arthur’s sleeve back to inspect the wound. “What happened? How badly does it hurt?”
“Barely felt it,” Arthur said and flashed a smile.
“Don’t pull that with me. I only had a black eye. At least this doesn’t look too deep.”
“It isn’t. I’ll be fine. You go stop them. Then we can ride off into the sunset. In the direction of the nearest hospital.”
Merlin laughed nervously and made sure Arthur was safely propped up against his Vespa. He ran back to the brawling gangs to find they had stopped. There were a few bloody noses and several split lips, but they appeared to have given up. Gwen was holding Lance’s face as she checked a cut under his eye. Percy was patting Leon on the back saying, “You pack a mean punch for someone so short.” Gwaine and Morgana were sprawled out on the kerb but otherwise seemed fine.
“What exactly is going on?” Merlin asked.
“Your boys… Sorry m’lady. Your friends were too good of a match,” Gwaine said. “So we called a truce.”
“Don’t expect us to be inviting each other round for tea any time soon, though,” Leon added. This had Percy laughing. He slung an arm around Leon’s shoulder almost knocking him over.
“Oh, well. That’s, uh, that’s good,” Merlin muttered. “Gwen, would you mind ringing Elyan and ask him to bring the car round? I need to get Arthur to the hospital.”
Everyone shouted at once. “What?”
Once Gwen had rushed inside the club to use their phone Gwaine and Lance helped Arthur sit up while they waited. Merlin gave Lance both his and Arthur’s keys and asked him to park their vehicles outside his flat. Morgan had begun to fuss over Arthur even going so far as using one of her bandanas to tie around his arm.
Elyan drove Arthur and Merlin to the hospital and left when Merlin insisted they’d be fine. The wait in the A&E was long. Merlin refused to leave despite Arthur pestering him countless times.
“I’m not going to leave your side again,” he said.
“Oh for goodness sake, you’re being so overly dramatic. I’m going to be alright. Everyone is going to be alright. You don’t need to act like my prince in shining armor. We already got our happy ending. Besides if anyone was going to be a prince it’d be me.”
“So what does that make me? The damsel in distress?”
“No, I think you’re more servant material.”
“If you weren’t stabbed only an hour ago I’d hit you right now,” Merlin mumbled then added a “prat” for good measure.
“No you wouldn’t,” Arthur said beaming. “You love me too much.”
Merlin wanted nothing more than to kiss Arthur because he did love him. He wouldn’t have believed it two months ago, but he had fallen for the pretentious and proud rocker. They didn’t quite have happy ending yet. It would be difficult, but Merlin was ready to face those troubles – with Arthur by his side.
So instead of giving him a kiss Merlin checked the bandana to make sure it wasn’t soaking through. He kissed the tip of his finger so only Arthur could see and lightly touched the skin above the wound. “I do, you know,” he whispered.
“I know Merlin. I do too.”