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[SATURDAY - THE LONGEST LINE MERLIN HAS EVER SEEN.]


The line of people queued outside the side entrance of Camelot curls around the curb and stretches on into forever.

It’s daunting, endless, and horrible - like the Celine Dion discography his mother has downloaded on her iPod, Merlin thinks. He shifts on the balls of his feet and hunches his shoulders, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. They’re his best pair, no holes or stains like a lot of his others, pressed down with an iron and worn with a nice button up shirt - an attempt to garner a casual-professional look, something that he rarely has to do. He spares a few glances at the people in line around him, huffing a little when he realizes he might as well not have bothered. There are a few people dressed in full suits, but a majority of the potential employees are wearing t-shirts and jeans. Not to mention most of them are teenagers.

Which isn’t to say that Merlin is old. Hell, twenty-one isn’t old. He thinks it’s a perfectly lovely age, thanks.

He’s at his prime, he likes to say. Besides, there are people in line that definitely look older than him. So he tells himself to shut up about it - and tries to find something else to think about.

Which makes him realize how damn cold it is.

He wraps his arms around himself and rubs up and down, a slight scowl on his face.There’s a flyer in his back pocket, and for lack of anything else to do, Merlin pulls it out. He unfolds it, trying to press it flat as best he can.

The paper is a gaudy shade of neon pink, probably of the sort that tends to gather dust in the back of copy rooms until someone is determined - or perhaps fearless, and possibly daft - enough to use it as an advertising gimmick. Not that that’s how Merlin acquired it - no, this little piece of eye-shocking beauty was a gift from his dear ol’ friend, Lance.

Lance, being an absolutely perfect person (unless one counts being handsome and gallant as a downside . He might’ve been exaggerating, but Merlin has always had a slight crush on Lance’s stellar looks.) had pulled it out of nowhere, it seems, and showed it to Merlin a couple of nights ago when they were out drinking.

Lance is already employed at the park as an intimidating security guard, so it was a wonderful coincidence that Merlin had complained to him about needing another job over a drink and a small bowl of peanuts when Lance had just gotten out of work.

Unfortunately, though, Lance isn’t on duty today - so it’s just Merlin. Alone in the long line.

Great.

*


Five hours later, he’s somehow gotten to the front of the line without dying or giving up in exasperation. But really, after all that time, he can’t help but wonder if the line itself served as some sort of clever mind game. Is it their initiation test? Are they filtering out those who don’t really want the job from those who are determined to get it? (It’s just a theme park, not Battle Royale, Merlin thinks to himself.) Has Merlin, just by managing to not give up and leave the line, actually proven his worth? Will they just congratulate him for passing their test, shake his hand, and offer him a job?

Once he gets to the front and is handed a large packet of paperwork, he learns that this is not the case. It’s an interesting theory, nonetheless.

By the time that Merlin finishes filling out all those fantastic forms - he’s informed that the job choices are limited due to an excess of applications. And for a split moment, Merlin panics that they’ll give him a really terrible job. Like official puke-cleaner. Or worse, one of the people that has to follow after the horses that trot around the park and clean up any horse droppings.

Merlin can’t quite put his finger on it, but he has quite the aversion to having to muck up after horses.

*


Interviews are terrifying.

This is a fact. Merlin drums his fingers anxiously against his knee, reciting random spells in his head to steady himself and physically force the magic that thrums beneath his skin to not do anything.

Merlin finds himself sitting at a small picnic table on the inside of one of the backstage warehouses. His knees knock together as one of the supervisors - Leon, a friendly but intense looking man with a small cut on his cheek from what Merlin figures was a rushed shave in the morning  - scribbles notes and checks things off on his sheet and smiles whenever the other looks up and their eyes lock.

Leon asks him general questions -  Like why do you want to work here? Have you worked for a theme park before? Or what skills can you bring to our work place? - and he tries to answer them without making himself look like a complete moron. He hopes he succeeded. Leon looks pleased with his answers, and Merlin feels himself let go of the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

Earlier, when they were telling him about the positions he could apply for, they had said the words ‘theater attendant’ and Merlin had immediately agreed to apply for it. He isn’t exactly sure what being a theater attendant in an amusement park entails - but he’s spent some time as a theater kid in highschool. (Being promiscuous in the props/wardrobe room with a good amount of time on what had been affectionately dubbed the ‘make out couch’ being part of that package.)

Not that he’s pursued a career in theater, or entertainment - no, he’d followed his gut and studied to expand his natural proficiency for holistic medicines - but the little experience he had makes him feel like he’ll have a chance at not completely failing.

Leon sets down the pen with a smile on his face, and holds his hand out. Merlin glances down at the hand and then back up at Leon with a hopeful expression.

“Merlin Emerson - nice name, by the way - we would like to offer you a job as a theater attendant. Are you interested in working with us?”

Merlin’s smile would have split his face in half if possible, because if anything is worth waiting in line for five hours, it’s the feeling of victory that rushes through him as he takes Leon’s hand. He sucks in a breath and then exhales, the breath leaving his lungs in an exhilarating, pleasant sort of way, and says:

Yes.”

*


Later that day, he gets piss drunk to celebrate - and it takes Lance all of his fantastic security guard training to make sure that Merlin doesn’t end up dancing on any tables. There’s an undisclosed amount of manhandling Merlin away from the karaoke stage, and then more manhandling into the cab that brings Merlin home.

When Merlin wakes up the next day, it’s to a pounding headache and a gross feeling of bile in his mouth. He’s also thanking all the powers in the universe that Lance is his best friend when he notices the tall glass of water, the two painkillers, and the note on the counter telling him there are two hot pockets in the microwave if he gets hungry.

They aren’t roommates; neighbors, more like. Lance lives in the apartment straight across the hall - a room with a view about ten times better than Merlin’s picturesque image of the parking lot. Lance’s financial situation is slightly better than Merlin’s - if only just so, so he actually has a proper one bed/one bath while Merlin has himself a studio.

Lance and Merlin have talked about moving together, but then looked at how long their leases lasted and decided to come back to that in a year to see if they still feel like it.

Still though, there might as well be a passageway that links their places - Merlin has, more than once, stumbled in rumpled and sleep-drowsy to Lance’s bathroom to borrow shaving cream when he’d run out of his own. And Lance is used to puttering around Merlin’s place, crashing on Merlin’s exceedingly comfortable couch and reading whatever magazine finds its way onto Merlin’s mess of a coffee table.

They have copies of each other’s keys, as it were.

If Lance weren’t as straight as a flagpole, they could’ve been something good.

[TWO WEEKS LATER, ANOTHER SATURDAY - INAPPROPRIATE HORSE JOKES.]


Orientation is, to say the least, dull.

A full eight hour event, Merlin is thrown into group bonding activities with random people that he is most likely not even going to interact with, considering their different stations and departments. But he plays along, giving (what he hopes) is a friendly smile and makes conversation with whoever is there.

Merlin is sort of a people person - but then again if they all had a big whopping secret like he did - the whole whoops I can defy the laws of physics with my mind thing - then maybe they’d be sort of people persons as well.

It isn’t really the case of him disliking people - Merlin likes people as much as the next guy, and is quite known for his optimism back home -  but there’s nothing wrong with being nervous and a little on edge, especially in large crowds. With a lot of possible witnesses if he accidentally uses his magic or something. Hundreds. Maybe more than a thousand.

Did he mention he’s nervous?

(All things considered, Merlin expects Gaius to pitch a fit when he hears about Merlin applying to the Camelot theme park. But Gaius surprises him by supporting his decision, saying something about finally teaching Merlin some control and then asks him to pass the lavender oil.)

But then Orientation takes a violent swerve away from boring and into dangerously mischievous when he meets Will.

They become fast friends when Will casually comments something under his breath about the horses that would be trotting around the park and Merlin chokes on the water he’s drinking from a tiny paper cup.

Conversation ensues, and Merlin finds out that Will is a rehire, and through some stroke of unfortunate circumstance has been forced to attend orientation although rehires aren’t required to. It’s apparent that Will doesn’t mind - as long as he gets paid for his time, he’d be okay with anything it seems. A year older than Merlin, he is a cynical polisci major who is, like Merlin, living on take out and microwave meals in a dingy studio apartment complex.

And regardless of Will being a little bit of an asshole - in a harmless way, Merlin decides - they bond over horse jokes and join together in solidarity over shitty college living standards.

Unfortunately for Merlin, his new friend works in ride-ops. Which after a fifteen minute conversation has Merlin convinced that his fears about having people’s lives in his hands are completely ridiculous and that operating a ride is probably the easiest job in the park. It includes pressing buttons, checking seatbelts, and telling people to sit their fucking asses down and to stay down.

Nicer than how Will phrases it, Merlin assumes, but all of Will’s talking almost makes Merlin regret his job choice.

Almost.

Well, regrets and pessimism be damned. He is going to embrace his job as a Theater Attendant and he is going to damn well like it.

(If he doesn’t, he’ll file for a department switch, or just quit altogether. He doubts that things will ever really get down to that.)

There is a pattern that usually happens whenever someone meets Merlin - and it usually goes something like “Is your name really Merlin?” or “ Merlin ? Like that old wizard? With the beard?” or “What were your parents thinking?” - but as fate would seem to have it, his new job at Camelot brings a very new, very different reaction.

An example would be Morgana Fey, who is a couple rungs of power above Leon, and head of the entire Entertainment department.

It is the end of Orientation, people are starting to shuffle towards the exit of the park, and Will has suddenly stopped talking as he looks over Merlin’s shoulder. Merlin turns, wondering what could have possibly shut up Will like it did.

He’s only known Will for a short period of time, but he has a feeling few things can do that. And what he sees, well. Morgana strolls into his life like a woman on a mission, her heels clicking against the pavement as she gets right up in Merlin’s face.

Is it true?” she asks, the smile on her face gorgeous and terrifying but mostly gorgeous. Merlin resists the urge to take a few steps away, but still leans back slightly. He swallows, extremely unprepared for the impromptu close up. Her question registers a brief moment later, and he finds his brows raising up into his hairline.

“Is what true?”

Morgana smiles even wider, showing him the clipboard of all the theater attendants. He glances over it, noticing his name has “!!!” scribbled next to it in pencil and then looks back up at her. He still doesn’t understand, and she frowns a little before sighing.

“Your name. Is it really Merlin?”

Oh.

Merlin turns red, a hand going up to scratch behind one of his ears, “Yeah. It is. My mum thought it would be funny.”

Or fitting, more like - because apparently when he was less than a month old, he’d farted, his eyes had shimmered gold, and Mr. Bear had flown across the room. Something like that.

Not that he’s going to tell her that, but Morgana seems satisfied with his answer, nodding her head once as her grin turns almost feral.

“You’re definitely working in the Cit,” she says.

Merlin must look even more confused, so she continues, looking like he is a new puppy that has just peed on the carpet and she his patient owner.

Citadel. You know, Citadel Amphitheatre? I can’t wait to see Arthur’s face.” Merlin opens his mouth to ask her who Arthur was - but she’s already click-clacking away, speaking into the little walkie-talkie radio that was clipped on her hip earlier.

Well.

Alrighty then.


[A SATURDAY - MERLIN DOESN’T REMEMBER THE FIRST DAY OF TRAINING, AS IT WAS BORING AS FUCK.]


Learning safety measures, protocols, and legal matters suck.

Merlin bemoans these six hours of his virile youth lost - spent, wasted in a cold auditorium. Orientation had them walking around, looking at the park and engaging in things that were pretty useless - but the first day of training is a dull and boring experience of going over everything in the handbook while sitting down. It’s as if he’s in stuck in a classroom.

He wishes he had Will to complain to, but Will isn’t in his department. He doesn’t meet anyone since it isn’t like he’s allowed to talk, considering he should be listening. And he would. But he’s already gone through the handbook and read all the conditions and terms.

It is a long six hours.


[A SUNDAY, ON TO THE SECOND DAY OF TRAINING - SAINT GUINEVERE.]


If asked, the best thing to come out of the entire training session is most likely meeting Gwen Smith.

“Hey, Merlin right? I’m Guinevere. Everyone just calls me Gwen, though.” She points at the magnetized ID that is clipped to the waist of her jeans.

(Second best thing was walking through the employee entrance the day before only to have Morgana and Leon give him a brightly iced donut when he’d forgotten to eat breakfast. Complimentary sugar rush, Morgana had said.)

Gwen is a petite, lovely looking girl with long, curly locks and some of the softest looking skin Merlin has ever seen - and she is, in Merlin’s eyes, his savior. Possibly because she’s a rehire - three seasons! - and is very patient in helping Merlin understand the workings of being a theater attendant when he is clearly out of his depth. She also has a brother that works in Security alongside Lance, and Merlin thinks that’s pretty darn cool.

If it starts with her just being nice to him - Merlin is thankful that it ends them being friends. Maybe not as fast as with Will - it would have to be hard to top a friendship started by horse jokes, if Merlin has to be honest - but it’s good nonetheless.

Gwen, he finds, is a little awkward in the way she stumbles over her words when she talks to him about herself - but when she’s explaining the way things work or the fastest routes to different areas of the park, she’s direct and clear and Merlin could kiss her for it.

Metaphorically, of course.

“That would be weird though, wouldn’t it be? We’ve only known each other for a few hours,” she says, wrinkling her nose playfully. Merlin laughs and nods his head.

“You’re right. I’ve apparently forgotten all my manners and boyhood courtship techniques, haven’t I?”

Gwen snorts and pat Merlin on the forearm, “Don’t worry, if you're so keen to woo me, you can buy me lunch in the Hovel later.”

“Hovel?” Merlin sounds confused - and Gwen’s mouth opens in a small ‘o’ of surprise.

“Sorry! The employee cafe. Hovel’s just the nickname we’ve given it. Well, not us - but previous employees. It’s been called that ever since I started.”

Merlin finds the corners of his lips tilting upwards, “I’m not sure if I want to eat at a place called ‘the hovel’.” Gwen waves her hand at him, flippant as she shakes her head.

“The food is fine. Just don’t eat the meatloaf.”

Merlin sighs dramatically, his shoulders slumping with it, “It’s always the meatloaf, isn’t it?”

Gwen stares, laughs, rolls up her Employee Welcome Packet and smacks his arm.

[A WEEK LATER, A WEDNESDAY - THE OFFICIAL FIRST DAY OF... WORKING.]


Cleaning. There is a lot of it.

Apparently, their first task as official employees is to deep clean the Citadel Amphitheatre before the park season starts, which is the host of Camelot’s most popular show - the Adventures of King Arthur. And it’s also damn huge.

Merlin stares down at the push broom being thrown into his hands with a certain sort of growing displeasure, staring out at the rows and rows of metal outdoor benches. Merlin figures it won’t be that bad, though. There are five of them working that day - him, Gwen, and three others whose names Merlin feels ashamed to admit he’s forgotten. He frowns. He’ll figure that out eventually. Gwen misreads his frown for being about the cleaning, and pats him on the back as she walks by with her own push broom.

“It won’t be too bad. Trust me. This is just the deep cleaning phase,” she says, smiling at him. Merlin smiles back with a laugh.

He shakes his head and gives her a thumbs up, “Don’t worry. I’m okay with physical labor. I’m stronger than I look, after all.” She gives him a look that tells him she doubts that, and he just wiggles the fingers of the hand that isn’t holding the push broom in her direction.

*


He’s working twelve to six today -  and it’s around the three hour mark that he gets the second splinter of the day from the wooden handle of the push broom. Merlin sucks the spot, momentarily putting down the broom to pull the (thankfully) small sliver of wood from his skin and goes right back to working.

The sound techies turned on music that blasted through the speakers an hour or so ago - catchy, upbeat tunes that have Merlin sweeping in time to them and grinning every time he looks up and catches Gwen’s eye. He meets one of the others, a girl named Elena who’s probably clumsier than he is. But Merlin finds she’s hilarious - even when she’s telling him about an injury she’s still recovering from that prevents her from applying for her previous job, which was riding one of the horses around the park.

Merlin raises his eyes at this, but Elena waves it off.

He doesn’t quite know what to say to her about that - and then again, maybe he doesn’t need to say anything. She looks happy enough as is, so he goes back to cleaning down his aisle.

Merlin concentrates on sweeping the floors, only slowing when he notices the music stopped. He looks up, and up on stage, there are a few guys strolling in.

They’re laughing and shoving each other - and Merlin sucks in a breath because they’re attractive. They’re probably the actors in the show. Merlin vaguely remembers Leon mentioning something about rehearsals starting at three. He considers it a personal affront to his own bisexuality to not check any of them out.

The first one that walks out looks like he’s probably Lance’s evil but equally-maybe-hotter twin. His hair is longer, the grin a bit more rakish, rogue - he looks like he’s probably be one of the blokes in the Abercrombie advertisements, where clothes are shed like second skins and the oil is spread liberally.

Merlin might have a little trouble not having a crush.

The second is a tall man - hair buzzed and - well, aside from his face, the first thing Merlin notices are his sleeves. Or lack thereof. Usually, Merlin wouldn’t pay much attention - but this man has nice arms. Insanely nice.

Merlin feels that this man could do that lame joke about tickets to the gun show -

(“Hey, have you bought your tickets yet?”

“To what?”

“To the gun show .” Proceed to bring arms up, flex biceps. Joke completed.)

- and Merlin would probably purr and say something like “No, but I’d like to.” which would lead to all sorts of debauchery that he shouldn’t be thinking about at work.

Merlin thinks that he’s probably going to have trouble focusing on work if all his co-workers are this attractive.

The third, however - makes Merlin stop his brushing altogether, and Merlin knows there’s going to be problems.

This is how Merlin Emerson meets Arthur Pendragon.

*


Actually, the statement above is incorrect.

This is not how Merlin Emerson meets Arthur Pendragon.

Because really, he (Merlin doesn’t know his name’s Arthur yet) is too busy to notice Merlin staring at him like he’s the goddamn Holy Grail.

The man is attractive, but the first one, the one with the long dark hair and broad grin - is more of what Merlin pulls at bars and outings, takes home and spends a night with tussling around in his bed; and the blond isn’t... that.

He’s got a sort of boy band look about him, Merlin gauges, and the slightly tousled dishwater blond hair is cute, but not Merlin’s type. He’s not the kind of person that should make Merlin’s heart skip a beat, his breath catch in his throat, his palms sweaty - but he does.

Merlin manages to stop staring at the blond guy long enough to get back to sweeping like his life depends on it. He can’t help but glance every few minutes, seconds - it really doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense at all. Then again, it was his body that mostly dictated his first attraction to men and not just women - so he supposes if it wants to do a 180 degree turn and fancy a blond bloke, then who is he to fight it?

(He can’t help but feel that there’s something more to the way he feels pulled to him, something deeper than sexual attraction. And well, Merlin thinks that’s several sorts of poppycock and waves the thought from his head.)

[THE NEXT DAY - ANTICLIMACTIC, IT IS.]


He wonders if he’ll see the blond guy again - but as luck would have it, the actors (or knights, as everyone calls them since that’s who they play) don’t have practice until later on in the evening. After Merlin’s shift ends. Which is a little bit before six.

Merlin ignores the ache that festers in his chest. Sighing, he picks up the pushbroom and tries to sweep away any thoughts of golden hair and broad shoulders. He supposes not every day can be interesting.

[SUNDAY - PARK SCHEDULES ARE STRANGE, TODAY ISN’T THE FIRST DAY.]

 

[PSYCH, IT ACTUALLY IS.]


A week later, it’s another Sunday, and therefore the official first day of the park.

It’s only March - and for now, Camelot only opens it’s doors on the weekends. When April hits, Gwen tells Merlin they’ll be scheduled more hours. So for now, his theater attendant job is a one day a week gig. If it wasn’t for the job he already has with Gaius, Merlin decides he’d be living in a box. Or camping on Lance’s couch, most likely, because Lance would never let him live in a box. Even if it were a nice one.

Merlin clocks in, shucking on his bright blue peasant shirt (themed uniforms, because Camelot never does anything half assed.) and swings open a door.

As far as Merlin understands, the pre-show is the fifteen minute period of time before the show starts, in which audience members slowly filter in and make their way down the steps. He and the other theater attendants on duty - Gwen, Elena, and a shy, pretty girl he hadn’t seen on the previous days named Freya - split up. He and Gwen are partnered together, and they are to stand at the foot of the stage at the steps leading up to it to make sure no one runs onstage. Merlin asks Gwen if there are any stories of that actually happening, and she makes some suspicious tittering laugh noise that Merlin assumes meant she’ll tell him someday.

But not today.

Freya and Elena are assigned to the top of the steps to indicate the locations of stroller parking, gather viewers, answer questions, and direct people down the stairs to seats - all while keeping count of people attending. They have little stop-watch sized metal clickers that they press each time a civilian walks down the steps or stands and watches from above.

It’s all rather efficient, if one asks Merlin.

(But no one ever asks Merlin, of course.)

He bumps his hip against Gwen’s as they walk out of the break room behind stage, and she cocks a brow up at him.

“They keep saying today is the official first day - I thought it opened yesterday?” he asks. Gwen shakes her head and fixes her nametag with idle fingers.

“No, today’s the first day we’re open to the public. It was a private event yesterday.”

 

Merlin grins, before waggling his brows.

“Celebrities? Politicians? Royalty?”

“No,” she laughs, “Not exactly. Board members and company figureheads. Way up the payroll list. The actual owners of the park.”

“I’m picturing a bunch of stodgy old men in suits screaming their heads off on rollercoasters - it’s not working.” She would’ve smacked him on the arm for that, but she has the professionality not to do that when people are present.

“They bring their kids, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Merlin nods his head, “ - wait, you said ‘actual owners’ of the park? Elaborate, will you? Because it sounds like some shady, undercover corporate takeover sort of thing.”

“Yes. Actual owners. And shut up, it’s not dramatic at all. Technically, the city’s name is part of this park’s full name - Albion’s Camelot - but the park was bought by the Pendragon Corp. a few years back. That’s why you see ‘Pendragon’ in little letters along the bottom of all the pamphlets.”

“Pendragon.” Merlin deadpans, staring at Gwen, “Like... King Arthur Pendragon? Arthurian legends Pendragon?”

Gwen shakes her head at him, “Well - no, those are just legends, as far as anyone knows - but apparently the head of Pendragon fought tooth and nail for this place. It’s actually a bit vain, I think. Buying a theme park - even if we’re pretty profitable - just because your surname matches.”

“A bit?” Merlin whistles, brow cocked. Gwen presses her lips together before acquiescing.

“Okay. Maybe a lot.”

“That’s more like it.”

Merlin chats with Gwen as people filter down the steps of the amphitheatre, some jumping down the stairs and some slow like molasses. He keeps a cautious watch as children barrel down the stairs. Merlin finds himself almost jumping forward into action every time a toddler loses their balance, only just managing to stay upright. He also watches as their parents titter with amusement, and Merlin wants to smack his forehead.

“Aren’t they afraid their kids are going to just... I don’t know, fall over?” Merlin says to Gwen, the smile never leaving his face as he looks out at the steadily growing crowd. It was one of the first things he learned was necessary - smiling. And pointing with your whole hand, because the two fingered point is a Disney thing. Or whatever, Merlin just does what he’s told.

“Most of the time they’re fine. There’s procedures and other things we’re supposed to do if a child falls and injures themselves, but,“ she pauses, tilting her head to the side, “usually the parents just pick up the kid and walk away.”

Nodding, Merlin fiddles with a frayed corner of his tunic. “Less work for us?” Gwen smiles a little, shrugging.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

After that, Gwen drifts off to another side of the stage, because they can’t just stand around talking the entire pre-show.

Oi, Merlin!” A voice calls his name, and the now-familiar sound of the costume chainmail clinks on stage. As Merlin looks to the source, the voices of the crowd swelling in volume as Gwaine struts into view - dressed in the Camelot reds and linked metal, looking every bit a noble knight of Camelot. He waves out at them and beams. Merlin can’t help but smile as well, walking to the edge of the raised stage and looking up at Gwaine.

He’s only known Gwaine for a short time - but he’s clicked with the man. There’s just something about Gwaine that just seems to make all conversations flow like Merlin’s imbibed a bottle of wine. “You’re not supposed to be out here.” Merlin says, his expression wry with amusement as Gwaine tosses his hair.

“Leon sent me out. He wants to know if you have any idea where Morgana left the shearing scissors.”

Merlin crosses his arms instinctively to think, before suddenly uncrossing them because Gwen warned him about posture. (She said he slouched. He does not. Most of the time.) There was a project or something or other Morgana had been working on in the breakroom last time hed been working, and he remembers her setting them on Leon’s cabinet.

“I’m pretty sure she left them in Leon’s office,” he says, and Gwaine nods his head and stands upright just as a man with a kid and a camera steps forward. The man looks up at Gwaine.

“Could we possibly get a picture?” Gwaine frowns a little, before kneeling down again to look down at the little girl and giving her a small, kind smile.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go and make sure my king is ready for the quest.” The girl looks sad, her blue eyes tearing up and Gwaine, always quick thinking, looks at Merlin, “ But, how would you like to take a picture with my friend Merlin here?” The girl looks at him with a bright expression, and Merlin awkwardly waves a hand.

The father seems pleased with this, and Gwaine salutes Merlin before standing and walking back behind stage. Merlin bends down onto one knee to look at the little girl.

“Hey there,” he says, a little tentative but friendly all the same, “what’s your name?”

“Annie!” she pipes, a high trill. Merlin offers his hand for a high five, which, like most other kids, she returns with enthusiastic fervor.

“Well, hullo, Annie! I’m Merlin. Just a peasant, y’see.” She giggles at that. “Feel like taking a picture?” Annie nods her head, blond tresses shaking with the motions and in this moment, Merlin is reminded of Elena. He puts one arm around her shoulder and they both turn to look at Annie’s father.

He puts on his biggest smile, the cheesy one where his eyes crinkle and his ears stick out horribly - when something attracts his attention and he looks up.

And he sees what he didn’t expect to see - who he didn’t expect to see.

Arthur.

Arthur is beautiful, the light of the sun hitting his back from the top of the stairs. His posture is straight, his shoulders pulled back as he laughs at something Morgana says. Merlin is unnerved, his heart beating faster than what seems healthy as he watches the two stand near each other, and Merlin realizes with a start that the way Arthur is dressed is wrong.

So his mind supplies a memory, illuminated by the very same light, the bright Pendragon red cloak falling from his shoulders, the shine of chainmail and the glint of a crown perched on his head. It’s so different from the outfit they have Arthur wear on stage - the red is the same, but this feels... real. Natural. Right.

He doesn’t realize his mouth is slightly open in awe, eyes wide as he unknowingly witnesses two different worlds at once.

The noise of a shutter brings reality crashing back down around him, and with a deer-in-the-headlights expression, he looks back at the man with the camera. The man is looking at the image he’s just taken on a small screen, and Merlin can tell he’s probably a bit displeased. His hand on Annie’s shoulder is shaking, but he takes a deep breath.

Arthur shouldn’t even be here. Isn’t it his day off? The understudy - who’s name Merlin doesn’t even know - is the one performing today, not Arthur.

“Sorry, sorry! I got distracted! Try again?”

He smiles again, not as big but good enough, and pointedly refuses to look back up until the picture has been taken. As much as he wants to, which is a lot. And there’s an ache in his chest that Merlin really doesn’t like.

Eventually, he does look up.

But Arthur is gone.

 

*


Merlin rubs his palms together under the sink, washing his hands of the strange, dirty feeling he gets from using the broom. It’s something he’s getting quite intimately acquainted with considering how often he finds himself using cleaning tools, especially after that little boy puked all over the front few benches. Projectile vomiting - it’s never pretty.

On the second day of operations, too. Merlin wonders if this plus that weird freak out vision thing he’d had earlier is some kind of universal hint that this season would be bad - or maybe it’d be unpredictable?

Unpredictability can be a good thing.

Let’s stay positive.

Either way, Merlin scrubs soap between his fingers until it foams and watches as the suds disappear down the sink. He looks up to grab the a paper towel from the dispenser when he notices a cat crouched in the open doorway of the bathroom. He pauses and stares.

The cat stares back.

Merlin wipes his hands quickly and turns around, smiling a little and crouching down. “Hey there. Are you supposed to be in here?” He smiles, reaching a hand out, trying to express his harmless intent.

It - Merlin doesn’t want to call it a girl or a boy, just in case it has delicate cat sensibilities that will end up with Merlin being scratched or something - looks old. Sleek, light brown fur with darker patches around his haunches - it has the look of a housecat, but the air of a stray. There’s a collar around its neck. No, Merlin realizes as he looks closer, not a collar - a ribbon.

A gold ribbon, the same shade as its eyes - which is another weird thing, because Merlin has seen cats with yellow eyes. But this is definitely gold. Pure, molten gold - the same shade Merlin knows his own eyes turn when he uses his magic. Merlin wonders if it’s just an interesting coincidence, but by the sudden strange crackling sensation in the air, he decides it probably isn’t.

And then it speaks.

“Ah, young warlock. It is good to see you again.”

Merlin freezes. Stares. The cat stares back. He raises a hand to his head, sticks his pinkie in his ear, and wiggles it around. He wonders if a blockage of ear wax has spontaneously appeared and is messing with his hearing.

“Uh.”

“It has been far too long. These years have been - young warlock? Where are you going?”

Merlin drops his hand, turns military style on his heel and marches outside the opposite exit. The cat gets to its feet and follows after Merlin.

Young warlock, stop walking away,” he - oh god the cat’s a he - sounds like an adult trying to talk to a child, “We have much to talk about.”

“You’re a cat,” Merlin says, refusing to look down as the cat trots to keep up with him, gold eyes flickering up at him. That kid - the one that vomited, it must’ve been a stomach virus. Merlin has probably contracted it. He’s delusional. That’s got to be the only explanation. This is too weird to be magic; magic is, is - well it isn’t talking animals. There was that time with the Sidhe in the meadow but that was different. This is a cat. Animals aren’t supposed to be able to talk and even if they are, Merlin is most definitely not supposed to hear them.

“My real form is a dragon.” says the cat, as if it was a normal thing for Merlin to be having a conversation with a cat. A fucking cat.

Merlin looks down at the cat, a near hysterical tone in his voice, “What does that even mean?”

The cat just cocks it’s head in amusement - no, no. Not in amusement - that shouldn’t be fucking possible, Merlin shrieks in his head.

“You are handling this much better than you did last time.”

Last time?” Merlin nearly hisses, stopping to look down, “This is the first time a cat has ever spoken to me!”

“I believe you threatened to shoot me with one of your human guns - that was less than a century ago. The first time we met you were much calmer. More pragmatic, curious even. Though I must admit,  your reactions now are much more entertaining.”

Merlin throws his hands up in the air, wondering if smacking himself against a wall is against company policy. He settles for looking down at the cat with what he hopes is not panic.

“Why are you talking?”

“Is that not what one is supposed to do when one wishes to communicate?” The cat sounds calm, but something in Merlin tells him that he’s doing it to piss him the fuck off. It’s kind of working.

“Oh, fine. What do you want?”

“I am here to tell you of your destiny, young warlock.” The cat's voice swells up with conviction and Merlin’s brows shoot up into his hairline.

“My destiny?” He asks.

The cat nods, tail swishing and flicking as if it has a mind of its own behind him. “Yes, you are one half of a coin, and the other half is very near. It is only a matter of time before the events are set in motion, and you and the young king will travel that path together.”

“... what? Are you talking about Arthur?” Because Arthur’s the only king he knows - then again, Arthur’s not really royalty, regardless of sharing his name with a famous ruler.

“Arthur is your destiny, without him there will be no future.”

Merlin rubs a temple, “That sounds absolutely crazy, and if I weren’t already a bit magic, I’d probably be checking myself into an insane asylum.”

“The once and future king will always have need of his sorcerer.”

“You do know that he’s just an actor, right?”

“Perhaps in this lifetime, young warlock.”

“Are you sure I’m not going crazy?”

“None of us can escape our destiny.”

“Hell, am I sure I’m not going crazy?”

Merlin is damn ready to walk off again, because he’s seriously concerned about what the hell was in his coffee this morning and whatever effect working at this place has on his on his apparently delicate psyche.

Merlin!” Gwen calls out his name, breaking their privacy, “Are you done yet? Come on, we’ve only got another twenty minutes for lunch.” She walks around the corner, smiling when she sees Merlin with the cat, “Oh! I see you’ve met Kilgharrah.”

“You’ve met him too?”

Has Gwen talked to him? Does this mean she’s magic as well? He wants to know if the cat - Kilgharrah, is always this confusing when Gwen laughs and goes over. She bends down a little and strokes him gently between the ears, and Kilgharrah purrs.

“Of course! Almost everyone in the department has. He’s our resident mouser, been here ages.”

Kilgharrah gives Merlin a look, actually nods his goddamn head, and Merlin resists the urge to adopt a dog.

*


If one were to ask Merlin what happened, he wouldn’t be able to tell them anything other than ‘he was being an ass’. Because that’s definitely what Merlin remembers. Not all of the details - but enough of the facts. There was another employee involved, a gigantic mess - courtesy of Arthur, and then Merlin tripping over something. Merlin swears he tried to be diplomatic, but apparently with good looks come great prattish, arrogant qualities - and it’s been a long day, and his patience is no more.

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

Arthur’s words register vaguely, and Merlin just crosses his arms and looks up at Arthur’s pinched expression.

“I don’t know how long you’ve had this job, but you do know you’re not actually King Arthur. So you might as well stop acting like an asshole, yeah?”

As he stands and exits the empty backstage room, he tells himself fuck destiny.

*


“Arthur Pendragon.”

Merlin is typing a message to Gaius on his phone when he hears Gwen speaking to him. He looks up and blinks.

“I’m sorry, what?” Gwen continues to patiently stare at him.

“Arthur Pendragon.”

Merlin’s brows cinch, wondering if there’s something he should be privy to but isn’t, “.... Yeah?”

Gwen looks at him like he’s hopeless, and Merlin feels something sink in his stomach at her expression.

“Look, Gwen, obviously I’m not going to get it until you tell me - “

Pendragon.” Gwen pulls up a pamphlet from the nearby table and points at the fine print. Pendragon Corp. Merlin pales.

“What? Oh, hell - did I - no, he couldn’t have been - oh fuck.” Merlin has to sit down. Gwen sits next to him, pats his hand sympathetically.

“I called my boss’s son an ass, didn’t I?”

“I’m afraid you did, Merlin.”

Shit.”

[NEXT SATURDAY - FALLING FOR YOU. HAHA. NO.]


Merlin would be afraid for his job, but he’s already decided that if calling Arthur an ass when it was justified gets him fired - then forget this place. He’ll move to France and get a job at Parc Asterix, fuck the language barrier. He tells himself this fiercely, and assuredly, even as he shifts back and forth on his feet. They’re practicing the show one more time, because even if all the shows for the day are done, Leon likes to pretend he’s a drill sergeant. He watches from his place at the bottom of the stage’s stairs as Gwaine and Percival stand at attention, swords at the ready, and as Arthur poses with gusto at the empty amphitheatre from center stage.

It’s the ending bit, where Arthur has “defeated” the bandits, and delivers a short monologue. Cheesy, Merlin thinks - but it’s a family show, and it could be worse.


 

 

 

 

“Onwards, for we fear nothing and no one!”


And this is when everything goes wrong.

“Onwards, for Camelot!”

Arthur unsheathes his sword, pointing it out at the crowd with a triumphant, brave, invincible grin on his face - and in the silence of that last phrase, the snapping of a wire is eerily audible. The lighting fixture above Arthur - a large spotlight that they rarely use sways, before there’s another snap snap snap as the weight is too much for the old, remaining wires.

Merlin feels his magic surge within him, and he’s moving faster than he thought possible to run to the front of center stage. He jumps up, grabs Arthur by his outstretched arm and yanks him forward, off the stage.

Just as the spotlight crashes at the spot Arthur stood milliseconds before, pain rips through Merlin’s shoulder and knocks the breath out of him when armor-clad Arthur is sprawled on top of him.

It’s silent, before he lets out a low moan of pain and he hears Leon start shouting instructions to people around them.

In a daze, Merlin notes that the reaction time for the paramedics is quite impressive.

He watches as they help Arthur up and onto one of the stretchers, even though he seems to be able to stand. Merlin lies there before briefly registering that people are lifting him up and placing him in a stretcher as well.

Well, they didn’t need to do that. He’s pretty sure he can walk. His shoulder hurts a little tho-

Merlin gives surprised shout as they suddenly reset his dislocated shoulder. His eyes well up with tears, and if he says “fucking shit” out loud, he doubts anyone will fire him considering the circumstances. They take him to the First Aid Station, and, well, he may be sore for a while, but for the next week or so, everyone is telling him he’s a goddamn hero.

Except Arthur never actually thanks him for it.

At least he doesn’t get fired.

[BREATHE, BREATHE, BUT AIR WILL NOT COME.]


The employee-only barbeque is marks the third week of April and the opening of their attached Lakes of Avalon water park extension.

It’s a two day event; half the usual employees work one of the days, and then get to have it off the next to play around in the park - because someone has to work while everyone plays, Gwen tells him. Merlin and Gwen are free - as well as a few of the other people Merlin has become acquainted with in his duration of working there.

Freya didn’t want to go, which even with Gwen and his gentle insistence, Merlin had mostly predicted. Will can’t go, and he’d sent Merlin an angry but light hearted text to Merlin’s phone earlier that morning. Elena has her own group of friends for the most part - and Merlin thinks he saw her on one of the water slides earlier. He’d waved. Lancelot is still doing his security guard duty - being the saint he is, he volunteered to do both days.

Merlin sees him walking around every so often, looking dashing in his uniform. It’s quite amusing to see the slight red blush on his face every time he and Gwen make eye contact. The memory of having he and Lancelot meeting up with Gwen at one of the bars over the weekend is still fresh in his mind. Just like the way Lancelot fell over his feet from the moment he saw Gwen - and if Merlin didn’t like Gwen as much as he did (and not in that way), he might have been jealous. He takes visceral pleasure in every chance he can get to tease them about it on both sides, because Lancelot and Guinevere - how fucking funny is that ?

Gwen tries to pull the ‘Merlin and Arthur’ card, but Merlin usually just tells her that he saved Arthur, not met him once and promptly fell in love. He doesn’t mention the fact that Arthur never thanked him for it - not that he does things expecting to be thanked. It’s just, it would have been nice. But if he mentions it to Gwen, he knows she’ll go over to Arthur and force him to say it - and that’ll be a thousand shades of awkward on both their parts.

Speaking of Arthur, he’s here too - not that he and Merlin have talked much since the incident. Other than the cursory ‘hey’ or nod of acknowledgement backstage, that is. And that’s fine with Merlin; less interaction with this ‘destiny’ bullshit, the better. Merlin doesn’t mean to make sure to know where Arthur is for the most part, tossing glances in the other’s direction every so often - he just does.

He chastises himself for it every single time.

This destiny business has nothing to do with him. And even if Merlin has resigned himself to wanting to keep an eye on Arthur, he’s dwindled down his reasoning to ‘I’ve saved his life once, and I’m just making sure my injuries weren’t for nothing’. Because really. Kilgharrah is wrong. He’s just a student who’s strapped for cash that happens to be able to do things no one else can.

That time on stage - saving Arthur from the light fixture - that was just him doing the right thing. It was a one time thing.

Destiny apparently has other thoughts.

Like most of his life recently, it all happens so suddenly that even Merlin doesn’t understand it.

He’s carrying a small paper basket of fries over to where Gwen’s sitting on a towel, free hand shoved into the front pocket of his college hooded sweatshirt. She’s got on a light purple bathing suit that he thinks she looks quite cute in, and he’s wondering how many jokes he’ll be able to make about Lance looking smitten before it gets old. And then he gives himself a satisfied smile, because they’ll never get old.

Arthur - shirtless and in swim trunks - is tossing a football around with some of his friends, the knights included, near the edge of the wave pool.

Merlin wonders if that’s against some kind of safety policy, playing with a football or running around, but he figures someone else will reprimand them. He’d rather not have to deal with Arthur. But then Arthur starts running back to catch one of Percival’s throws, the ball whirling through the air and -

Arthur catches it, his grin easy and wide - but the ground is wet and he’s in flip flops, and he takes a few steps back to steady himself. He accidentally bumps into one of the lifeguard chairs, and it starts to shake, wobble, sway.

Arthur doesn’t notice anything amiss, just tosses it back to Percival who catches it. Percival smiles, laughing and opens his mouth to call out something before he (and Merlin) both watch as the tall, heavy chair tips towards Arthur, begins to fall -

That’s not supposed to fall that way, not if Arthur bumped into it. They’re bolted to the ground, there are metal supports. That could crush him - Merlin’s mind thinks as he tenses, watches Arthur wave his arms at Percival like an idiot.

“Toss it back, Perce!” he says, and Merlin wants to scream get out of the way , you idiot. Percival looks horrified, and Gwaine calls out something like look out -

Several things happen at once.

The basket of fries drops to the floor, spills out on the pavement. He starts to run forward, flip flops slapping against the bottoms of his feet as he makes a beeline straight for Arthur - and his eyes flare on instinct, the familiar burn of magic exploding out into the world and -

- everything slows down enough for Merlin to tackle Arthur out of the way -

- and straight into the deep end of the wave pool.

They almost hover for a moment - when Merlin’s magic snaps them all back to normal speed like a rubberband. The water is a shock, like a slap - rushing to meet them and swallow them up. Merlin is pretty sure he can hear the crash the chair makes as it falls to the ground. He wants to tighten his grip on Arthur. He opens his mouth to say you idiot, that could have killed you.

But instead, he gets a mouthful of water that he chokes on. He splutters, coughs - his head goes above the surface for a quick, strained gasp, but a generated wave crashes over him and he loses his grip on Arthur.

The next wave pulls him back under, another badly timed breath has him sucking in even more water and leaving less space in his lungs for the already diminishing air. The chlorine burns his eyes, the hoodie he’d been wearing is heavy on his skin.

It gets pulled and tugged with each wave that passes. No matter how small or how big, the swaths of fabric seeming to just suck him down and hinder his movements even more. But for a brief moment he breaks to the surface again.

He hears voices, maybe people yelling, even past his own gasps for breath and horrible, feeble kicks to stay afloat.

He needs someone to figure it out.

(He hadn't even thought twice when he saw Arthur's life was in danger. He hadn't thought twice about slowing down time. Hadn't thought twice about tackling Arthur into the water. Hadn't thought twice about saving Arthur's life again. He hadn't thought about it at all, really.)

He needs someone to help him.

(He hadn't thought about all the years he's lived in a small town nowhere near any body of water. Hadn't thought about the years he's never spent learning how to stay afloat in community pools. Hadn't thought about learning a skill he thought he'd never have to use.)

He needs someone to realize that Merlin can’t swim.

*


There’s screaming going on - “Turn off the waves, turn off the waves!” - and it sounds a bit like Gwen. He has a moment to feel bad about scaring her in a distant sort of way before a lifeguard pulls him out, their arms wrapping around him and yanking him to safety. And he coughs up some water and feels shaken but alive. It’s a bit of a blur as someone, probably a paramedic, checks him over, ignoring his litanies of ‘I’m fine, really’s. A security guard helps herd him into the back of a white staff van like a sheep. Merlin’s eye vaguely register the concerned looks of people from outside the van before the doors close and the only light is muted through the tinted windows. He sighs and leans back into the seat, closing his eyes.

A towel has been wrapped around him, and as he becomes more and more aware of himself again, he notices someone’s presence at his side. He turns to the left, and is surprised to see that it’s Arthur.

When did Arthur even get into the car? Probably before him. Arthur’s wrapped in his own towel, his hair dripping into his face in wet locks. The thought is unexpected, but Merlin wants to brush them out of his face, but at the same time, he thinks they look strangely charming there. Almost like something he’s seen before. Which is ridiculous, Merlin knows. But what’s also ridiculous is that Arthur’s staring at him.

Merlin blinks, says, “Uh - “ and it’s like a spell is broken, and Arthur’s looking away. His mouth twists into a frown at that, and his hands clench into the towel. His voice aims for sarcasm, but ends up bitter. “Well, if that’s how you treat people who save your life more than once, I’ll stop trying then, shall I?”

Arthur’s head jerks to look at Merlin, eyes wide and mouth dropping open as if to say something when the van comes to a stop. Merlin doesn’t look at him, just reaches forward to open the door to the van. One of the paramedics that had ridden with them (hell, Merlin hadn’t even noticed him there either) helps Merlin down. They escort him inside the little building that he’s only been in once before through the employee entrance. And that was also because of Arthur, he notes with a rueful sigh.

The walls are still cream colored, with bright posters plastered onto them. Pamphlets and boxes are placed atop the other hygienic looking counters and a row of chairs sits along one wall. Not that he actually expected any change since the last time he was here. Merlin is led through down one of the main hallways, distinctly aware of Arthur following along after them.

Call Me Maybe - that fucking song, Merlin swears it’s following him everywhere - filters through the open door to the First Aid Station, loud enough to just be heard down the hallways and to the room they’re in but quiet enough that it isn’t irritating. Merlin pulls the towel they’d given him around his shoulders a bit tighter. His stomach feels a little queasy, the taste of chlorine pungent in his mouth. His hair has dried off mostly since they dragged him out of the pool.

The paramedic gestures for them to sit in two of the chairs in the room and tells them that he’ll be back in a moment. When Merlin sits down, Arthur immediately takes the seat next to him. Which is strange, and Merlin is fine with letting them bask in awkward silence or whatever - when Arthur speaks.

“Thanks.” He says it so fast, Merlin’s not sure if he was actually speaking.

“What?” Merlin asks, and glances over at him. Arthur’s hair is shorter, and when he runs a hand up through it, it sticks up at the front. It’s a funny image, and Merlin would say something about it were they actual friends. Arthur looks almost embarrassed, face tight and awkward.

“I said...” Is this that hard for Arthur? Merlin starts to laughs, and Arthur looks put out. “Why are you laughing?”

Merlin just shakes his head, locks of his drying hair flopping against his face.

“You’re absolute shit at thanking people, aren’t you? I shouldn’t even be surprised after what happened the first time. Or rather, what didn’t.”

Arthur frowns, his face turning scarlet, before the frown takes on a more sheepish, amused tilt. He leans over the space between their seats to jostle Merlin with his shoulder, “Shut up! I was trying.”

“Don’t overexert yourself, sire.” Merlin wrinkles his nose, adopting his most pompous expression.

Instead of another insult, it pulls a laugh out of Arthur.

Half an hour of careful checking over later, they walk back to the party together. Their shoulders are not quite brushing, and the mood is more pleasant than he thought it could possibly be after a near death experience.

[THE MIDDLE OF MAY, AND THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT.]


“Contrary to what you may think, Arthur - I’m not your manservant. ” Merlin grumbles a little. During his lunch break, he’d stumbled back into the break room where Arthur is alone and struggling to remove his breast plate.

Merlin steps into Arthur’s space anyway, and like he’s done it a thousand times before (when in reality the number is twice) undoes all the little flaps and straps that hold Arthur’s armor to his body. He helps tug it off of him, and while Arthur doesn’t smell exactly like a flower garden, Merlin finds himself not minding much. The rest of his armor is quickly shed and scattered over the floor.

Probably a fire hazard.

“You’ll always be my manservant, Merlin.” Arthur snorts, and neither of them notices the slip. Merlin huffs, grabbing a towel off of the bench and tossing it at Arthur’s face. Arthur grabs it thankfully and wipes away the sweat from his neck and face. Merlin would bet anything that the armor gets almost unbearably hot, and it isn’t even the peak of summer yet.

“I’ll just go muck out your horses then, shall I, sire?” he says, crossing his arms and giving a petulant frown.

Arthur laughs at that, wrapping the towel around his neck before stepping out of the breeches. He’s wearing uniform dinosaur boxers - which all of the actors wear under their costumes and Merlin thinks is sort of hilarious - and collapses onto the couch. He looks tired. But Merlin should expect that - all of the actors usually do after a show. Especially with all the running and choreographed fighting they have to do on stage.

Even Cedric - a.k.a. “Cornelius Sigan”, the big baddy of the show - is stuck and swathed with thick layers of velvet cloaks. Cedric is a bit of a flirt and a prick off stage, but Merlin still feels bad for him.

Merlin doesn’t have to do it, but he finds himself stepping over to the mess of armor Arthur made and picking up pieces, placing them carefully on the shelves where they’re kept.

He glances over at Arthur, who has one eye crooked open when he hears Merlin moving around, but still makes no attempt to move. He does, however, mumble something that sounds suspiciously like “manservant”, and Merlin holds back a smile.

Oi. You just looked tired. Sorry for helping.” he teases, but Arthur’s expression softens a little.

The past month has been kind to their friendship - the park opening up during the week has them working together even more, and a casual camaraderie has established itself firmly in their lives. Merlin wonders if one of them should breach that coworker-friendship they’ve got going on and bring it into the real world - but he’s not going to rush anything. He’s already gone to lunch with Gwen and Freya several times.

He might suggest something in the future, but if Arthur wants to hang out with him outside of work, that’ll be all up to Arthur. Maybe it’s because Arthur gives Merlin a weird funny feeling in his stomach. It’s attraction - no doubt about it. It coils low like a pleasant buzz whenever they’re together, whenever that brilliant smile of Arthur’s is focused on Merlin.

It had been a slow progression - Arthur isn’t much of a touchy person, and frankly neither is Merlin - but after the last month, Merlin can’t help but notice that Arthur touches him all the time. And it’s probably in a friendly way, because Arthur isn’t a stranger to Gwaine hopping up on his back suddenly, or Percival wrapping him in a headlock.

The way Arthur is almost gentle with Merlin makes him wonder about his feelings behind it, especially because of the way Merlin feels whenever they brush - even through clothes. It’s almost electric, and Merlin can’t say he’s gotten used to it. Maybe accustomed, expectant - to the point where he likes it, craves more.

Arthur smiles at him as he stands, stretching his arms over his head.

Mhmm,” he hums. Merlin watches (not stares, he swears) as Arthur heads to the mini-kitchen they’ve got backstage. Arthur turns as he reaches the doorway and leans against the doorframe, arms crossed.

“Feel like sushi, Emerson? I brought some for the cast.”

Merlin grins and walks over to him, nudging his elbow into Arthur’s side as walks past.

“Sure, but don’t think I don’t see how it is. You’re buying my silence with food. Clever.”

Arthur’s brow cocks in confusion as he follows Merlin over to the walk-in fridge, tugging it open and stepping inside.

“Buying your silence?” he asks. Merlin nods his head sagely while he steps in after, before a smile grows on his face.

“So I don’t tell all of your loyal fans what a prat you really are behind the scenes, of course,” says Merlin, and Arthur scoffs. The door closes behind them and Merlin leans against the back of it. Arthur’s grabbing the party-sized container of sushi (a few of them already missing. Gwaine.) and starts picking them up with chopsticks and dropping them onto a plate.

“If they were really my loyal fans, they’d know not to listen to a word that comes out of your mouth. Lies and slander, s’what it is!”

Merlin snorts and goes over, reaching and plucking one of the california rolls from the tray and sticking it in his mouth. The action has him directly at Arthur’s side in the small walk in fridge, and Arthur’s shoulder briefly bumps into Merlin’s chest.

Arthur thwacks Merlin with the pair of chopsticks, “Oi! Hold on, Merlin. At least dip it in soy sauce.” He turns his head to frown at Merlin, and Merlin stops chewing for a moment when he notices how fucking gorgeous Arthur looks in the dim light of the fridge. His hair’s getting a little long, and it’s long enough to curl a bit over his ears and Merlin realizes he wants to reach over and tuck a piece of hair behind Arthur’s ear. Maybe kiss his cheek, tilt Arthur’s face to his and kiss his lips.

Oh, he thinks. He might be a little smitten. Arthur tilts his head and looks at Merlin strangely, the corners of his chapped lips pressed down.

“Y’alright, mate?”

Oh, shit.

Not a little smitten.

Maybe a lot.

Merlin swallows the sushi, nodding his head and taking a few steps back out of Arthur’s personal space, “Yeah, sorry.”

He scurries out of the fridge, prepared to just book it out of there - when he stops and turns on his heel. Merlin looks expectantly at Arthur, holding the fridge open with his foot. He’s surprised to see that Arthur has a slightly stunned surprise, as if Merlin’s sudden absconsion from his personal space was an affront to him or something.

“Well, are you just going to stand there? You’re letting out all the cold.”

He gives Arthur a smile, softer than he means to, and tilts his head against the fridge door. Arthur grin at him is beatific as he exits the fridge. Merlin follows him out into the break room, flops on a couch with Arthur. Ten minutes into their lunch, Merlin has dared Arthur to eat a fingerful of wasabi and watches as Arthur frantically chugs a cup of water.

Merlin laughs, obnoxious and loud - and recently discovered lovesickness aside, Merlin thinks that maybe “destiny” or whatever isn’t going to be too bad.

As long as there aren’t any more pools involved.