Percival was walking down the hallway and seriously getting into the beat of the song when someone yanked his earbuds out, immediately stopping his groove.
“What the hell?” He yelled, spinning around to find whoever had snatched his earbuds.
His eyes traced the wires downward to where a girl was standing, giving him a smile that both got his heart racing and kind of freaked him out at the same time. “Oh, hey Lamia.” He said, flashing her his winning grin as he held his hand out for the earbuds. “Can I have those back?”
She gave him another look, raising a brow and looking as if she was considering it. Slowly, a playful smile spread across her lips and she twirled the wire around her finger. “That depends. What will you give me in return?”
See, Percival knew Lamia; well, he kind of knew everyone in this school, save for the incoming freshman. Camelot High wasn’t that big and at the very least you recognized everyone’s face. Lamia though, she’d had her sights on him since she broke things off with Elyan last spring. And if he were being honest with himself, he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it. That was just the thing with these cheerleader types.
“Tell you what,” he leaned down so that his face was next to hers. He definitely took note of that glossy sheen in her eyes and the way her fingers loosened around the cord.
“Mmhm.” She encouraged, her voice thick and sultry.
He raised a hand, gently running the back of his fingers down her jaw. “How about,” he gently cupped her chin. “I take a rain check.” Quickly, with the reflexes of someone who spent a greater part of his life practicing sports, he snatched the earbuds back from her and pulled away to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the early morning crowd.
“Percival!” She yelled incredulously.
“Lunch sometime, I promise!” He laughed as he turned the corner down the hall.
He swung by the main office to check his homeroom number, stopping to greet people as he went along, and chatting with the office secretary.
“I’m working, Percival.”
“A lovely woman like yourself shouldn’t work too hard.” He winked.
“Later Ms. Tregor!” He called over his shoulder.
Before the door slammed shut he could see the woman behind the desk was shaking her head at him, but she was smiling, so he considered that a success.
Finally, he made his way out into the quad where he could spy a group of seniors howling with laughter. He smiled, noting that they were at the same rickety metal table they’ve been hanging around since freshman year, when they all awkwardly tried to sit together after recognizing each other from football tryouts. He walked over and slid in beside Elyan.
Apparently Gwaine had just finished regaling everyone with one of his many misadventures because he looked accosted when Percival had popped in. “Perce! You’ve just missed my gallant retelling of my summer exploits with the beautiful Drea this summer.”
“If she is anything like any of the other girls you date, and I use that term loosely, then I imagine the punch line is a venereal disease.”
Gwaine managed to look affronted while Elyan, Leon and Lance broke into laughter.
“Why am I always the butt? Why don’t you pick on Percival?” Percival raised an eyebrow at this, but Elyan jumped ahead with a retort that set the boys off again. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear as if Gwaine had heard him as the boy in question was staring at something past their shoulders.
All four boys turned their heads to see what Gwaine was staring at. He seemed to be looking in the direction of the front gate where students were pouring into the school. Percival tried to pick out which one Gwaine was staring at, but most seemed to just be underclassmen that had to take the bus to school. The other boys seemed to notice this as well and turned to long-haired brunette (and really, he could be a shampoo model with that hair) for an explanation.
“Gentleman, do you see that beauty right there?” He pointed to where a girl, struggling with a pile of messy books, was laughing with a tall kid with messy black hair and cheekbones that could cut glass. He didn’t even know cheekbones could even be that sharp.
“Gwaine, I seriously hope you’re pointing to that fern and not my baby sister.” Elyan’s voice was starting to sound threatening.
“That’s Gwen?” Lance blurted out, voicing what appeared to be on all their minds.
The last time Percival had seen Gwen she had been the annoying eleven year old who never left them alone whenever they hung out at Elyan’s place. She had certainly grown up since then, shot up and out.
“Hate to break it to you, Elyan, but that there is no baby.” Gwaine looked like he had half a mind to wander over and flirt with her. Though, given that their last interaction with her had been rather juvenile (so they put Kool-Aid in her shampoo), he doubted the guy really stood a chance.
“Gwaine, I’m warning you. No, I’m warning all of you. Hands off my sister.”
“What about your sister?” Arthur popped in.
Arthur was always the last to show up in their ring of friends. He was senior class president, as well as being part of at least half a dozen clubs and sports that kept him ridiculously busy on top of maintaining his straight A average and keeping up with whoever was his girlfriend of the week. He was just the school’s golden boy and had probably earned half the trophies in the trophy case outside the principal’s office. Though, all the boys in their close circle could boast for at least one or more of those awards themselves. Even Gwaine, who spent more time in detention than in class.
“Eh, Elyan’s just got his panties in a bunch because we’ve noticed that his sister is damn hot.”
“Look for yourself.” Leon turned Arthur around so he could see for himself.
Arthur smirked and looked back at Gwaine, “Seems you’ve got some competition there.”
“What?” Gwaine asked, and looking over noticed that Gwen was now fixing the collar on the boy’s polo shirt and patting his chest. All the while smiling up at him with doe eyes.
“Eh, you win some, you lose some.” He shrugged.
“Really, after the fuss you made over it?”
“What about you, I don’t see you getting all worked up about that kid and your sister.”
They looked over again to where Gwen was walking away from the boy. He waved at her, goofy grin on his face before turning away and walking straight into a planter. Tumbling forward he landed straight in the dirt. He pulled himself up, looking sheepish but okay as the other students laughed and helped him out.
“Yes,” Elyan started, trying to stifle a laugh. “He’s clearly the one I need to worry about debauching my sister.”
“Yeah.” Gwaine said shaking his head, but voice full of amusement.
Percival was at his locker picking up the history book he had forgotten earlier. He was lucky he had a free period before practice because he was usually pretty beat afterwards and would have probably forgotten. He was whistling to himself, the same tune from this morning when he heard a locker slam and books dropping. He thought that was a little strange but didn’t think too hard on it when he heard voices coming from around the corner.
“We don’t little faggots like you running around our school.” He heard a cold voice sneer. He recognized the voice as belonging to Valiant, the guy had been on the football team before getting kicked off for in-school fighting. Though, you couldn’t really call beating up someone half your size a proper fight.
“I-I’m not-” He heard someone stutter out defensively. This voice he didn’t recognize, but judging from the sounds of things, the victim would be a good guess.
“Really? Could’ve fooled me with that fruity shirt of yours.” Having heard more than enough he shut his locker and headed to where the sounds were coming from.
Just around the corner from his locker he found that freshman kid he had seen with Elyan’s sister earlier and a few of the school’s punks. Valiant and Cenred, another trouble maker known for using his fist to settle things, were both getting into the kid’s space. The kid on the other hand was backed against the locker and looking terrified. Not liking where this was going Percival finally stepped in. “Hey fellas, we have a problem here?” He asked making a point to flex his arms.
Valiant dropped the kid, who sagged against the locker, and jerked his head at Cenred who nodded in return before turning to Percival. “Nope, just welcoming the new kid to school.” He said punching the kid in what was probably suppose to seem like a playful gesture, but the kids wince gave away.
Percival stuck around, and when the two bullies realized he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon they left without another word. After making sure they were gone he looked at the kid again, surprised to find the guy was practically shaking. “Hey, you alright?”
The kid’s head snapped up to look at him with wide, terrified eyes. He seemed to be scared off by eye contact because a second later he was staring at the ground. “M’fine.” He mumbled.
“Um, okay.” He said not buying it but not wanting to push either. It was pretty clear the guy was still shaken up. “Just ignore them, they’re punks, they’ll find any reason to pick on you. I don’t think your shirt’s that ba-”
Before he knew it he found himself talking to an empty stretch of locker as Merlin had darted away like a goddamn race horse. Percival blinked, looked around at the empty hallway and shrugged. If he came across that kid again he’d have to consider asking him to join the soccer team. They could use more guys that fast.
Percival walked into the locker room a little late. He was still thinking about what had just happened, and he was finding that the more he thought about it, the more he didn’t like it.
“Hey man, where’ve you been?” Asked Leon when Percival finally made it over to the guys.
“Yeah, you’re usually the first one here.” Added Elyan, giving Percival a concerned look as the boy was just staring at his shut locker.
Percival finally snapped out of his daze and gave his friends a sheepish look. “Sorry, just saw something pretty weird.” He said opening up his locker and pulling out his things.
“Principal Pendragon and Ms. Tregor getting it on?” Gwaine quipped, startling everybody.
“What? Ugh, no. That’s disgusting.” Percival groaned, trying to get the mental image out of his head. He liked Ms. Tregor and all, but her and Principal Pendragon doing the dirty was not something he wanted to think about. Ever. Actually, he probably needed to drink bleach now. Blech.
“I should say so.” Arthur snapped, his face pulling into an exaggerated look of disgust.
“Hey, everyone knows they have the hots for each other.” Gwaine retorted. The boys sans Arthur all nodded in agreement, albeit reluctantly.
Arthur looked incredulous upon seeing this. “Insane, you’re all insane,” He muttered before turning his back on all his friends.
Lancelot, ever the level headed one, remembered that there was a point to all of this. “So you said you saw something strange?”
Percival nodded. “Yeah, Cenred and Valiant were picking on one of the freshman,” No surprise there. “That kid we saw with your sister earlier.” He said, nodding to Elyan.
“Those two are creeps.” Gwaine interrupted. Everyone nodded in agreement, though.
Valiant and Cenred were both well known around the school and to their little group. Valiant had dated Morgana, Arthur’s sister before getting kicked off the football team. She dropped his sorry ass the second the word reached her ears of the whole ordeal. And Cenred had it out for Arthur since he seemed to hate anyone with the surname Pendragon on principle.
Percival nodded at Gwaine and continued. “Yeah, they really freaked him out too. Like, calling him some pretty nasty homophobic slurs kind of stuff.”
Lance shook his head in disapproval. “So wrong. Should we perhaps inform the principal?”
Leon nodded, “Yeah that kind of stuff isn’t cool, we can’t let it stand.”
The guys murmured their assent in this. Being part of the football team, they were all pretty popular guys, but they hadn’t always been. Most of them remembered middle school, being wiry, geeky, poor, stupid and so one and so forth. They remembered bullies, and they would never forget that kind of pain. Not to say that most of the people in this school were jerks, Percival thought most were really cool. It was just that exceptions, jerks like Valiant and Cenred made it easy to forget that sometimes.
“Like, they don’t even know if he’s gay. They were just picking on him because of his shirt.” Percival added, getting fired up the more he talked about it. Mob mentality was kicking in and with his friends backing him up and reiterating his thoughts, he was starting to get angry, but like, the righteous kind of angry.
“His shirt?” Arthur asked, reminding him of the conversation.
“Oh yeah, they said his shirt was fruity.” To be honest he still didn’t get that one.
“Why?” Apparently he wasn’t the only one.
“Probably because it was pink.” At this everyone looked to Gwaine.
“You noticed?” Leon asked looking a little incredulous. He had a point, aside from Percival, they had only seen the kid for all of two seconds this morning. Gwaine simply shrugged, choosing not to answer to that for once.
“That’s bullshit.” Everyone looked at Arthur who was finally facing them again, he looked outraged at the mere possibility of it. Then everyone looked down and realized it was probably also because of the pink t-shirt he was wearing.
The guys all laughed at this. Not because they would have minded if Arthur was gay, they were all too open-minded for that. It was just funny because Arthur had gone through half the girls in their senior class. Not unlike Gwaine, only the latter was a lot less discriminatory in who he dated. Arthur was just “searching” as he liked to put it, though he had yet to find what he was searching for. Well, actually-
“Now that you think about it-”
“Shut it, Gwaine.” Arthur snapped, turning his back to them once again to fiddle with something in his locker.
Elyan came up behind him and patted him on the shoulder before turning to the rest of the guys and shrugging. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
“No, there really isn’t.” Gwaine said, thought it seemed subtly directed at Arthur who scoffed at him in return.
“I thought we said we don’t know if he’s gay?” Percival reminded them, it was, after all, only a shirt.
“Whether he’s gay or not isn’t the point, no one should have to deal with bullying.” Ever the voice of reason, Lance came in at just the right moment to bring everyone back to the issue at hand. Everyone came around to gather around a bench in a circle sort of shape.
Elyan looked around at his friends, then back at Lance. “But what can we do about it?” He said motioning to their small group of friends.
“Tell my father?” Arthur suggested, apparently deciding that alerting authority was the best route.
“And what good will that do?” Naturally this was when Gwaine’s disapproval of authority let itself be known.
Leon eyed the two warily. As much as they all were friends, Arthur and Gwaine were like water and oil, and they had a tendency to clash. “Well, what else can we do?”
The boys grew pensive as they all mulled the question over. Percival sighed and leaned back, staring into nothing and everything. He didn’t like what he saw abck there, and it was possibly one of the more absurd things he’d seen. He just didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Gwaine had a point, aside from giving out detention without anymore proof there wasn’t much the faculty could do. He huffed again and hung his head, looking at Elyan’s pink socks.
His head snapped up so fast it cracked but he didn’t care, he had it. His eyes darted from Elyan’s socks (a mishap from trying to do his own laundry) to Arthur’s shirt. He freaking had it. “I think I know what to do.”
He was a genius. Immediately after practice he and the guys had hit up the nearby thrift store. When they were through with that, and only after much fanfare from the old woman who ran the shop, they headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. By the end of the day they had enough merchandise to fill a large cardboard box for each of them to take home.
Percival was going through a mental checklist in his head. “Okay, so Arthur you-”
“I’ve called Morgana to let her know. She thinks it’s a brilliant idea and will pass them out to the cheerleaders in the morning.”
Percival nodded, satisfied with the report, he turned next to Leon, but before he could open his mouth the other boy already started speaking. “I posted the event on Facebook, and we’ve already gotten at least forty people saying they’ll do this.” And, being ever efficient he added, “I’ve also put the word out on Twitter, tumblr, foursquare, Instagram, and Google Plus.”
Percival didn’t even know what half of those were. “Forty, really? Wow.” Sure he thought that the people at Camelot High were pretty cool, but this was giving him a whole new outlook on humanity.
“And I’ve texted the football, soccer, swim, lacrosse, and volleyball teams.” Lancelot added after loading the last box into his truck. Lance was big on sports, and did almost all of them, along with Arthur.
“Right,” said Percival, glad that his friends were taking this as seriously as he was. “So all that leaves is-”
“Gwen.” Finished Elyan, “Who I’ve called, and after she yelled at me, for no reason might I add, she agreed to keep him away until we’re ready.”
“Perfect. Operation Pink is underway.” A few of the guys groaned at his cheesy title, but the spirit was there all the same. Someone had to make a stand; it may as well be them.
Percival got to school early the next morning to make sure that everything was going smoothly. He checked in with all his friends, the sports teams, and even Gwen before she met up with the kid.
“You’re really doing all this for him?” She asked him as they were packing away boxes.
“Partly for him, partly for all the kids like him. You should have seen him yesterday; he was as scared as a kitten. That kind of stuff isn’t cool.” He said, shaking his head. “This is about standing up to bullies in general, they can’t keep getting away with this stuff.”
When he finished Gwen just looked up at him with big doe eyes.
“What?” He asked starting to feel self-conscious.
Gwen laughed and shook her head. “The last time I saw you, you were running away with my brother after booby-trapping my shower.” She reminded him.
He chuckled at that, remembering their little prank. At the time he thought they had gotten away with it, at least everyone but Elyan. It seemed that Gwen knew all, and for some reason, that didn’t seem to surprise him at all.
Gwen smiled at him, one of her true, genuine smiles that just lit up the room. He liked that smile, he felt kind of honored to receive it. “You’re a good man Percival.” She patted him on the cheek in a way that was reassuring more than condescending. “Anyways, I better go before he gets here.” With that Gwen ran off to the drop-off area to finish off her part of the deal.
Percival finished loading the rest of the boxes into the large dumpster behind the school. They all had to go somewhere after all, if they didn’t want to end up yelled at by the school’s custodians. When he finished up with that, he walked back around the side of the school to meet up with the rest of the group. They were able to convince a good number of their friends to participate, which was pretty sweet deal because they used up most of the shirts they bought. He was starting to feel pretty good about this when he turned the corner to the front of the school where everyone was congregating.
What he saw absolutely stunned him. In front of him was a sea of people, hundreds of students who were wearing bright pink shirts of some fashion. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and looked again; the number just kept growing. Students were arriving or getting dropped off also wearing pink t-shirts. He couldn’t believe it, when he had organized this whole event he thought maybe at most a hundred people would do this, and that was being optimistic. But this, at least half the school was here wearing pink shirts to stand up against bullying, that was mind boggling to even think about.
Percival’s reaction wasn’t the only one, across the crowd, most of which were smiling and talking amongst themselves, stood a lanky boy in a blue shirt. He was looking at the pink sea of students in front of him, back to Gwen, and then back to the students, seemingly uncomprehending. He watched Gwen laugh and point him to Percival. Wait, that was him.
As the kid crossed the courtyard the people parted, giving him looks. Not dirty or judgmental looks, but kind ones, ones of support and of friendship and assurances of safety. These were good looks and good people. Eventually, he reached Percival, and the crown reassembled to give the two their privacy. Only, it wasn’t really privacy, because everyone was trying to listen in, but it was the thought that counts.
Percival gave the kid an awkward smile. “Hey.” Well that truly showed off his mastery of the English language.
“Hey, it seems I missed some sort of memo.” The kid said looking around him then back down to his blue shirt. In the sea of pink he really stuck out and was hard to miss, which is probably not what he wanted. Oh well, can’t take back what you did now.
“Maybe it got lost in the mail?” Percival teased, trying to lighten the mood. The kid looked like he was about to fall over any second now.
“Did you really do all this?” He asked, his eyes big and round like fish.
“I had help.” He said gesturing to all the people around them wearing pink.
The kid nodded, understanding what he meant for the time being. “All this is for me.”
“Kinda.” At the eyebrow raise he got he shrugged, “It’s a stand against bullying.”
“Because of what happened yesterday?”
“Why?” Percival looked up at that. The kid, he seemed to honestly question him as if what he’d done had been the mist illogical thing in the world. And yeah, he admits that it’s a bit over the top, but the message was still the same.
“I couldn’t just let it slide.”
Again this kid was just knocking him off of his game. Did he really think so little of himself that he thought that what happened yesterday was okay? Just how many times had something like this happened to give him that sort of mentality? This is exactly what he hated. “Because you matter, and it looked like those guys were trying hard to make you forget that. They shouldn’t have been calling you those things.”
The kid looked scared for a moment, as if he were fighting with himself for what he was going to say next. He looked down and in a small voice muttered, “But I am.”
“Am what?” Percival asked, not quite following along. Did he really that he deserved any of what he got yesterday?
“I’m Gay.” The look on the kid’s face right then nearly broke him. He looked so scared, so ready for rejection and pain, but at the same time so hopeful. He’d never had someone look at him like that, and he hoped no one ever did again. No one should be that scared.
“And I’m lactose intolerant. We are what we are, that doesn’t change things.” Besides, it’s not like the thought hadn’t crossed his mind, or the minds of everyone here. If anyone had a problem with a person’s sexuality, they weren’t about to voice that opinion in this crowd.
Percival was snapped out of his internal monologue once again by Merlin, who seemed to have recovered from being accepted, but was still coming to terms with, well, everything. “But you don’t even know me.”
“I could get to know you.” He was being completely serious about that too. He’d already staged an entire movement for the kid, may as well get to know the person he was fighting for. He seemed like a good enough guy after all.
“I don’t even know your name.” The kid countered, looking a little sheepish at that.
He shrugged, “That’s alright, I don’t know yours.”
And finally, there it was. Merlin. It was kind of a funny name, but he liked it, it was unique. It was funny, wasn’t it, that he never stopped to ask the guy’s name, but this entire time he’d just been affectionately calling him “the kid”. Not once had he bothered to get a name of the person he was doing all of this in the name of. He liked that he finally had one. Holding out a hand he gave the kid a small, genuine smile.