With the crisp sheet of paper in his hand, Merlin Emrys stood with his feet firmly planted on the wooden boards of the school stage and had a small sea of faces in front of him looking both amused and cynical. In the back there was Arthur Pendragon and his band of followers – also known as The Camelot High Knights, the school football team. On the left there was the contrasting duo of Morgana Lefay and Morgause Gorlois. Morgana was a beautiful inky-haired girl, with shocking blue eyes and pale skin where as Morgause was the opposite with her blonde hair and dark brown eyes, so dark they almost melted into the abyss of her pupils. In the middle sat two of Merlin's closest friends – Gwen and Freya - and the only people before him who had any real interest in what he was about to announce. Gwen was Merlin's oldest friend, someone he had known since they were both children, a pretty tanned girl with waves of brown hair and not a bad word to say about anyone. Her twin Eli looked like a male version of her but he was someone Merlin had never really spent much time around. He was one of the Arthur's boys on the football team and he and Merlin really had nothing in common. At all. Growing up, whilst Merlin was happy to sit with Gwen and her friends, Eli was out in the garden, playing sports or rolling around in the mud.
Merlin cursed his luck as he observed his peers. Here he was, first time getting allowed to direct and act as stage manager for Camelot Academy's annual show and he was landed with a cast of jokers and miscreants who didn't really want to be there. Arthur and his squad turned up at auditions for a joke or a bet or something immature along those lines, and much to Merlin's surprise, five of them gave a good performance – so good that he cast them, despite their reasoning for auditioning. Morgana and Morgause were there as punishment. There was only so many times you could disobey the rules and get suspended before the staff needed to find some other punishment to deal them. And this was theirs. Merlin didn't take kindly to the suggestion that musical theatre was a punishment but sadly there was nothing he could do, he was only a student after all, and frankly? The turn out for auditions had not been promising. He needed everyone he could get.
Breathing deeply, he scanned the list in front of him once more before addressing the people in front of him.
“Good afternoon.” He spoke loudly, however over the noise of the talking and laughter, his voice barely penetrated and the only people's attention he had gained was Gwen and Freya. He tried again, this time raising his voice and it seemed that the other girls heard him because they both looked at him – a better description would be glared, but that's all semantics.
“Okay then,” He said to no one in particular. He rolled his eyes at the football team and then placed his thumb and middle finger to his lips and let loose an almighty whistle.
The room was in silence. The whistle had done its job and now the football team members were silent, looking at him like he had just sprouted a second head.
“Probably aren't used to people interrupting them or not falling at their feet.” he thought to himself.
“Right. Now that I have everyone's attention. Afternoon. For those of you who don't know, my name's Merlin and I'm a sixth form student, and this year I've been put in charge of directing the annual school show. Thank you for auditioning.” There was some laughter at that and he could swear that Morgause hissed at him but he carried on regardless.
“You're all here because you managed to at least make me notice you in your audition so I'm casting you, whether you want to be in it or not. As you may have guessed from the singing part of the audition, this year we're doing a musical. A very popular musical; Phantom of the Opera.”
He paused and walked to the front of the stage; he sat down on the edge, letting his feet hang down. Before he got the chance to continue he heard the deep voice of the long-haired goal keeper Gwaine.
“What if we don't wanna do Phantom from the Opera or whatever it's called? I wanna do something else. How about you leave it to us boys and we put on the Knight's Full Monty? With me in it, people would pay good money to see it?” He asked cockily, flicking his hair in an over the top and frankly quite ridiculous manner. He heard a snarky retort from Morgana but couldn't make it out over the rumbustious laughter of the four other guys.
“You know what Gwaine? You're right. I mean who wouldn't want to see the star players of Camelot Academy's football team get their kit off? I'm sure I could convince all the old ladies at the local bowling club to come and see that. They all seem to have a bit of a soft spot for you. It must be the hair flick that you stole from Justin Bieber. Oh and just so you know? It's Phantom of the Opera, not from the Opera. If you are trying to make a joke, at least get the basic information right,” Merlin snapped, causing an indignant “Hey!” from Gwaine and a gentle ripple of laughter from everyone else. He grinned widely and carried on.
“Now as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, we're doing Phantom. That's not up for discussion. The cast will be as follows. The leads will be Gwen Jones as Christine Daaé, Arthur Pendragon as The Phantom and Lance Dulac as Raoul.”
He paused, letting this sink in and noticed that most people were looking with surprise at Arthur. Apart from Gwen, who seemed to be switching between shooting little glances at Lance and staring at her feet with a huge grin on her face.
“Morgana Lefay and Morgause Gorloise, you are Madame Giri and Carlotta Giudicelli respectively. Freya Bastet you will be Meg Giri, Justin Bieber you will be Firmin, Percy Grail you will portray Andre and finally, Eli Jones you will be Ubaldo. Now I know most of you have no idea what I just said because you're an uncultured lot who haven't seen or heard of the musical. First piece of homework, when you get your scripts tonight, I want you to go home, research your characters and at least get a little basic information on them. For now, all you really need to know is their role in the play. Now any questions?” He asked, a content smile on his face. They may need work but they had the groundwork for a pretty decent cast in his opinion, at least when it came to talent. Their attitude needed a little work though so they would actually take it seriously. Much to his surprise it was Morgause who spoke up.
“We aren't all imbeciles you know? Some of us have seen it. You've cast me as a character who is stereotypically pretty heavy. I refuse to wear any form of fat suit or padding or cushions up my top, just so you know,” the blonde spat, crossing her arms and raising her eyebrows as if waiting for Merlin to argue with her. He didn't.
“Nup there is no need for you to wear a fat suit or anything like that. We have a pretty shit budget as it is so we can't afford a fat suit. Anything else?” He laughed, his gaze crossing around the room. When no one spoke up he continued.
“Well that's us for the night. We have twelve weeks to get this ready, rehearsals will be twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday. The Knights practice on Wednesdays and their games are on Sundays so their shouldn't be any problems with that. I have scripts in the back so I'll just run and get them, then you're free to go. On Tuesday we start on the readthroughs which I have scheduled to last two weeks maximum.” With that he lifted himself from his spot on the stage and walked across it and into the control room, hidden from view by the heavy black material hanging around the edge of the stage. He could feel the eyes of the 9 person cast on his back as he went, and he could hear the familiar rumblings of mumbled voices as they discussed what they had been told. No more than a few minutes later and he was back, a bundle of scripts under his arm. He made his way down stage, dropped the scripts onto the floor and made the jump from the stage to the audience. He picked up the scripts again and started making his way around the assembled crowd, thanking them for coming as he handed them their script. No one said anything back but he noticed that the majority of people weren't smiling. He took in the footballers and had to suppress his own grin. The way they were looking at the scripts was hilarious. You would think that Merlin had just asked them to read the original novelization of Les Miserable, an 1000 page long novel, not a script for a two hour long play.
The crowd slowly thinned until the only one's left in the room was himself, Gwen and Freya. It was Freya who spoke first.
“You cast Arthur Pendragon as The Phantom? Really Merlin? Arthur?” She asked dubiously. “What on earth were you thinking?”
“I needed to cast someone and out of all the boys who auditioned he has the best voice. It was him or Val, and you know how much of a nightmare he was as Romeo last year. I'm actually not looking forward to telling him that he didn't get a part in this,” He laughed.
“But Merlin, do you really think that Arthur will be much better? All he really cares about is the football team and his Knights. He probably won't even take this seriously and you have given him the lead. I'll be surprised if he even turns up to rehearsals,” Gwen spoke in a soft voice.
“I know he is a bit of a prick but honestly but honestly, his voice is too good to pass up. Don't worry. If he doesn't pull his weight and at least put some effort in, I've already spoke to Mr Gaius and Mr Bedivere from PE and they will make sure that he does. Don't know how they will do it but they said they would. Might threaten to take him from the team or something, I dunno.” He shrugged.
He could see by the looks on their faces that they weren't convinced and to be honest, neither was he, but before they could continue quizzing him about his choices he carried on.
“I'm just gonna tidy up the seats here and then head home, my bus is in twenty minutes and I can't miss it tonight, mum's going out and I need to make sure the dog doesn't destroy the furniture. I will text you both later or else see you tomorrow. “
They both smiled and nodded, gave him their standard hugs and made the usual goodbyes.
About two minutes after they left, he heard the signature squeak of the auditorium doors. He turned around from where he was stacking chairs on the stage and was surprised to see the blonde-haired form of Arthur Pendragon walking down the aisle towards him.
When Merlin was standing in front of everyone, he didn't take the time to take everyone in properly, but now that Arthur was swaggering towards him with a cocky grin on his face he had no choice to acknowledge him. His blonde hair was as dishevelled as ever, his skin lightly tanned. He was wearing the school uniform – stiff white shirt (not tucked into his trousers of course), perfectly pressed black trousers, the standard red and gold tie was around his neck in a loose knot. He had the 'I don't really care about anything look' done to perfection. Merlin could certainly see why the girls in school tended to fall at his feet. He was attractive. Very attractive. And if he didn't seem like a complete prat then Merlin could easily admit that he would be crushing on him. As it was though, he was a prat. An arrogant, self absorbed prat.
“Arthur,” Merlin addressed him when he was just below the stage. “Did you forget something? Cause I haven't came across anything.”
“Nup. I'm here to talk to you actually,” He responded, smirking.
Merlin raised an eyebrow sceptically. He couldn’t remember Arthur Pendragon ever willingly speaking to him apart from that one time where the ball they were using in PE rolled in front of Merlin's feet as he was taking score and Arthur told him to kick it back – which Gwen still hadn't let him forget. It wasn't his fault the wind carried the ball in the completely opposite direction from Arthur now was it? Of course Gwen just argued that he can't kick a ball to save him self. She was lying though.
“Well here I am. What's up?” He questioned, gesturing to himself.
“It's about the show actually. I don't think you should have cast me as such an important character,” He replied, keeping his voice casual. Merlin's eyebrows raised so much that they were almost in his hairline.
“Really? And why's that?” He asked, turning away from the chairs he had been stacking and walking down to the front of stage. He climbed down and soon he was standing face-to-face with Arthur. He couldn't help but notice his eyes were blue. A startling electric blue. It almost looked like contacts.
“Well, I'm sure you know I'm a pretty busy guy. What with the Knights, working part time and also having a social life. So really, you should just do yourself and everyone else a favour and swap Gwaine and I's roles. I don't have time to dedicate to it I'm afraid,” he explained. His voice was serious but it didn't take a genius to see that he was fighting the urge to laugh. The arrogance, coupled with the suggestion that Merlin didn't have a life, the dark-haired boy could feel a shiver of anger travelling down his spine. Arthur hadn't taken his eyes off him whilst waiting for his reply. Blue met blue and then Merlin spoke.
Arthur jerked a little as if he had been slapped before he regained himself and his brows got drawn together.
“I don't think you understand. I was trying to be nice but let me dumb it down for you. I don't. Want. To. Do. This.” He spat out, drawing his shoulders back, his eyes not leaving Merlin's.
“Tough. Didn't want a role. Shouldn't have auditioned. Simple.”
“You know what? Fuck you. I'll just go to the PE staff and tell them I can't do it. Then I'll be out of your shitty performance altogether,” he hissed, his face pulled together in an unattractive grimace. He made to turn away but before he got the chance Merlin had his pale hand wrapped in a tight grip around the blonde's bicep.
“I don't think so, dick. I've already spoken to both Gaius and Bedivere about casting you and they both think it's a fan-fucking-tastic idea. So don't even think about going crying to them. It won't work. You're The Phantom and that's that. Capiche?” There may or may not have been a hand placed on his hip at that point but Merlin was too angry to really care. Who did Arthur Pendragon think he was? Coming in here, trying to tell Merlin what to do.
Arthur pulled his arm from Merlin's grasp, spinning on his heel and glaring at the boy.
“Don't fucking touch me, freak. Do you know who I fucking am? You and this shitty school can't make me do this bullshit.” He snarled at Merlin, his face mere inches away from Merlin's in what was supposed to be an intimidating manner.
“Get out my face prat, you brought this on yourself,” he said stiffly before turning his back on the outraged looking school boy and climbing back onto the stage. He heard a huff come from behind him and the loud stomping of footsteps as Arthur charged back the way he came, no doubt muttering under his breath. Merlin turned around to watch him go but just as Arthur was about to push the assembly hall doors open he called out.
“And really Pendragon? 'Do you know who I fucking am?' I didn't know people actually said that outside of crappy Hollywood films.” He laughed a soft tinkering laugh before continuing. “And just so you know, being named after a legendary King doesn't actually make you royalty. Just in case you hadn't realised that.”
He could see the scarlet flush on Arthur's cheeks from the opposite end of the hall when he said that but this time the messy haired boy didn't say anything. Just stuck up his middle finger and swung the door open, causing it to slam against the wall as Arthur charged though.
“See you on Tuesday, your Majesty.” Merlin sang to the departing form and laughed.
Fucking Arthur Pendragon.
The remainder of the week and the weekend passed too quickly for Merlin. Between him working on an essay for English Lit, blocking the script for Phantom and working his weekend job in a small family run book shop on Saturday, it felt like he had very little free time or time to himself. That didn't stop him turning the altercation between himself and Arthur over and over in his head. He knew it wasn't very proper or mature of him to have reacted the way he did when Arthur cornered him. The last thing he wanted was any tension or an awkward atmosphere among his cast, but there was just something about Arthur. He just couldn't stand how arrogant the boy was. So he had some money behind him, he had looks Adonis would have been jealous of and he had a voice which was sheer perfection. That didn't give him the right to treat people like they were something that he scraped from the bottom of his shoe though, and Merlin hoped that by standing against him on Thursday may have made him realise that. He doubted it though. He told Gwen and Freya what happened on Friday and they were just as outraged as Merlin had been. Freya was all for confronting him about his 'dickishness' as she called it. Merlin managed to calm her down but he was glad to know that he wasn't over-reacting about it.
By the time Tuesday came around and it was time for the first group readthrough, it was be safe to say that Merlin was... well not nervous per se... but apprehensive. He had no idea how Arthur would act during it – or more to the point - if he would even show up.
Nevertheless, he was very much surprised when he got into the drama classroom to find Arthur already there, sitting on the teacher’s desk, lazily leaning back on his arms and appearing to be scanning the many show posters that littered the bland white walls, throwing some excitement into the room.
When Merlin opened the door slowly, the blond's posture visibly stiffened and he slid off of the desk, turning to face the door. When Merlin stepped into the room fully and shut the door behind him Arthur spoke.
“Good. You're here,” he stated.
“I am.” Merlin responded, confused. “You're here early. Everyone else won't be here for another ten minutes or so.”
“I know,” he replied.
“Right.” Merlin was confused.
They stood in silence for a few minutes. Arthur on one side of the classroom leaning against the desk and Merlin on the other, crouched down and searching through his satchel. It was Merlin who broke the awkward silence.
“Look, I need to apologise. For Thursday. I didn't mean to be quite so... rude,” he said, his eyes trained on his feet and his hands clasped behind his back.
“OK. Apology accepted,” Arthur said, and when Merlin looked up at him, he noticed that the blonde haired boy was looking at his hands and scraping beneath one of his nails with his other hand. “That's actually kind of why I'm here. Not to apologise. But maybe I shouldn't have been quite so pushy. Or forceful.” He spoke quietly, refusing to meet Merlin's gaze.
Merlin's mouth fell and his eyes widened. Arthur Pendragon admitting he was wrong. That must have been a first. Shame he didn't have a camera to record it. No one would believe him if he told them this. He laughed quietly whilst shaking his head and then continued.
“Cool. Non-apology accepted then.”
The silence fell between them thick and suffocating. Merlin was about to say something to break the awkward moment, but he was saved from needing to when Arthur did it instead.
“I still don't think you should cast me as The Phantom though.”
The dark-haired boy gritted his teeth and was about to make a snappy retort when the door swung open and the small squad of football players came bursting in, their laughter bouncing around the room. They grinned when they saw Arthur and he grinned back at them. His posture sagged and when the boys approached him they done that standard hand-arm grasping thing that guys like to do before he was quickly swept up in whatever mundane topic of conversation they were discussing. Merlin zoned out, grabbed the iPod that he had pulled from his bag and made his way to sit down in one of the seats scattered around the room.
It wasn't long before everyone else had arrived and he had directed them all to do the same and soon nine pairs of eyes were directed at him. Merlin always hated this part of directing. When everyone was in character he could tell them what to do easily and not worry about them following his direction, but this? Out-of-character and not really wanting to be there in the first place? He'd be very surprised if they listened to a word he said. He gained some confidence from the fact that it looked like they were all waiting to hear what he had to say ,but he had no idea how long this would last and how long it would be before they fell in to individual conversations and Merlin's voice became nothing more than background noise.
That was why he devised an ingenious plan. Although he had this session scheduled as a readthrough he decided that he would try and grasp the cast‘s attention by playing some of the major musical numbers and getting their opinion on them and letting them know the kind of music they would be singing. Not that he was expecting professional standards or anything. Gwen had a good voice but she was no Sarah Brightman that's for sure. He just hoped that he wouldn't scare them off before they even started.
But first, it was time to find out if anyone had done what he asked and actually researched the roles they had been cast in.
“Afternoon everyone. Thanks for coming. I thought for today that it would be best if we just maybe had a group discussion about what we think Phantom is, what it means and the characters. So I'm hoping that you all did what I asked and researched who I have cast you as. And then if we have time I'll put on a couple of the musical numbers, let you have a feel for the music,” Merlin said, trying to make himself sound as confident as he felt.
And so he began, telling them the history of The Phantom of the Opera, from when the book was written to the year of the first production, a list of previous cast members, and he even pulled out all the stops and read out a couple of reviews from the first productions done in London's West End and Broadway. He gave them a summary of the plot along side surmising the thematic aspects of the show and much to his surprise it appeared that no one was getting too bored. His eyes would scan thegroup in front of him and whilst there was the occasional yawn and the odd whispered conversation, most people were watching him and at least seemed to be listening to what he had to say. Well, apart from Arthur.
Arthur was being odd and this of course continually brought Merlin's attention to him, his posture the antithesis of his facial expression. His body spoke of nonchalance and gave the impression that he didn't particularly care to be there and on countless occasions Merlin noticed the boys gaze wandering around the room. However Merlin would notice that whenever he said something interesting or amusing there was a spark of amusement in the blond’s eyes or the beginnings of smile before it got quashed.
When it came to the time where Merlin asked everyone to tell himself and the others what they found out about the character they were portraying, it seemed that they all had something to tell him. Of course there were different levels of research done. Gwen and Freya of course had done some pretty in-depth research and he had to smile at this. Much to his own and everyone else's surprise Lance had done a large amount of research on Raoul. He would also have sworn that once he had finished talking, Merlin seen his eyes dart to Gwen with a nervous look on his face, and his shoulders visibly sagged when he saw that she was smiling back at him. Merlin found that little interaction very interesting indeed and made sure to file it away for future discussion with Gwen. Then there was some like the footballers who had done some but a bare minimum, not that Merlin was really expecting much but he was happy they at least put some work in.
So it was all going well. Really well.
Until it came to Arthur and it was his turn to speak.
Merlin decided to keep him to last for two reasons. One – he hoped that by saving him to last it would show the arrogant football captain that the others had done what he asked, and by not doing it then he made himself look like a bit of a prick, and two – if it all went disastrously Merlin could just call the meeting to an end and be done with it.
When Morgause stopped speaking, Merlin thanked her and smiled at her. She gave him a sarcastic smile back and her eyes, along with everyone else's turned to Arthur, knowing that he was the only one remaining who hadn't spoken.
“So Arthur, your turn.” Merlin said, trying to sound jovial and keeping the apprehension he felt out of his voice. He was almost completely successful. Arthur nodded and a small smile graced his features.
“OK. You wanna know about The Phantom?” He asked, looking at Merlin. The black-haired boy nodded. “Well. He's a Phantom. Who lives in an opera house.” He stated, raising his chain slightly, sitting back in his chair a little further and an infuriatingly smug grin on his face.
Merlin sighed loudly and shook his head. He saw Freya glowering at Arthur and if he wasn't mistaken Morgana actually tutted. This made him smile slightly.
He turned his gaze to the cocky prat and his eyesbrows rose a little.
“That's your plan?” he asked, amused.
“What?” Arthur laughed. “Plan?”
“You know, the Arthur Pendragon plan to get his own way and to get the role of The Phantom passed on to someone else? Gwaine wasn't it?” He questioned, trying to suppress a laugh at the look of astonishment on the other boy's face. Did he really think he wasn't completely obvious?
“Sorry. Not going to work.
Now, carrying on, as Arthur so rightly said The Phantom is a man – no a genius – who, born disfigured, was used to being treated with disdain and fear. When he escaped from the circus which he was used to living in and had been brought up in, he took to hiding in the shadows, indulging in the few things he excelled in and was truly passionate about – inventing and music. Living in the bowels of the Opera Populaire, he made it his home. It was riddled with traps and inventions of his own design. No one knew it better than he. He became obsessed with Christine when he first heard her sing and became her vocal coach – more than happy to accept the title of her Angel of Music just to get close to her. He loved her. So much. Too much. It became twisted though, and like himself, so used to being disfigured, his own love morphed into an ugly replica, a bastardisation of what love should be. Until he experienced the compassion given to him by Christine in the finale, he didn't realise this. He wasn't a bad man, just mistreated and abused to such an extent he thought that was the only way too live. Or at least that's the way that I see it. Feel free to disagree with me if you feel differently.”
The more he spoke, the more passionate he got and it wasn't long before his hands before hands were waving and pointing and jabbing. It wasn't until his speech finished he remembered he had an audience and he plastered his hands back to his side. His face flushed red and he gave a guilty smile.
“I think we have just enough time to listen to three, maybe four songs. So I'm thinking we will start with Christine's aria in Act 1 – “Think Of Me”, which will also be sung by Carlotta, so Morgause you should listen to this as well. Then I'll put on “Music of the Night” – Arthur, this is your song so you may want to listen to this. Then the title song, Arthur and Gwen, that will be a duet, and if we have time “Masquerade” - A whole group number. Which includes everyone and is quite a big production. Now, before I put this on, just remember. These are professionals. I don't think anyone will be expecting anything close to what you are going to hear but I have heard all of you sing. You wouldn't be here if I didn't think you could pull off the songs. So sit back and enjoy!” He finished with a flourish. He stood up and heard the mumblings of conversation behind him as he walked over to the sound system, connected his iPod to the speakers and clicked play.
Merlin walked back to his seat as the song started and he could feel the music pulling him under, relaxing him. Sitting down he let his mind wander, letting the notes flow through his mind as he pictured Gwen in her role, her dark locks pinned back and flowing down her back. He wasn't sure how they would manage the costume change yet but he was sure he would find a way. He could imagine her moving across the stage gracefully and elegantly, starting the number as a timid chorus girl with big dreams and ending the number as a fully fledged soprano
The song changed to the next one on the playlist. The dark and haunting notes of “Music of the Night” were reverberating around the room. He could see Arthur in his mind's eye, his blond hair slicked back, his face covered with a pristine white mask and his body encased in a black three piece suit with a sharp white shirt. He could hear him pouring his thoughts and feelings out to Christine – seducing her with his music, entrapping her and keeping her in wonder. He could feel the raw emotion and want that would come across when Christine collapsed, and he could see Phantom Arthur lovingly and gently placing Gwen Christine in the boat afterwards.
The song changed and the changed in Merlin's mind.
He could hear the voices of both Gwen and Arthur as they sang, voices flowing around each other, knotting themselves together and carrying the heavy music around the room, a battle of words. The song of submission as Christine sings on command. The soft white of her costume, a symbol of her purity and naivety a startling contrast to the Gothic scenery around them. The imposing and intimidating architecture and the candlebras surrounding the stage as they enter the phantoms layer.
And then then the music changed and this time he was in a party, a ball, an elegant and extravagant gathering, full of the crème de la crème of society and his cast were in the centre, their voices melting together into a medley of angelic music full of cheer and joy. The sound of celebration and elegance bouncing around the theatre. And then the tone changes. The phantom appears. Wrathful. Vengeful. Angry. Dominating. Arthur's red costume the drop of blood among the soft white flowers of the bourgeoisie. The mocking voice of the phantom as he points out the faults and mistakes of the arrogant cast. His sneer in place. Perfect for Arthur who seemed able to sneer on command.
As the music drew to a close Merlin opened his eyes but the images were still weaving their way through his thoughts and when he looked among his cast he saw them not as the people they were but the characters they would be. The characters that he would mould them into to, even if he had to fight them tooth and nail to do so. He stood up and made his way back to the sound system.
“So there we have it. Just a small sample of the kind of music we will be singing. Well, you will be singing. I'll be directing. Any questions?” He asked, his back turned to everyone else.
“I have one,” he heard Arthur speak up and turned around to face him.
“Fire away Arthur,” he responds, bracing himself for another confrontation with the blond-haired man.
“Well, if you know so much about the show, and it seems The Phantom, why aren't you performing in it? I'm sure you could play a much better Phantom than I could seeing as you understand him oh so well.” he says, a smug grin on his face.
“Well that's simple. I don't like getting told what to do. I much prefer to be the one bossing others about.” He laughed but by the way Arthur frowns he was sure that the other picked up on his double meaning.
He answered a few more question on the show and the time line and such, but about five minutes after his little interaction with Arthur everyone was packing up and heading for the door, with Arthur spearheading the swarm of people exiting the room leaving only he, Gwen and Freya left. They are whispering among themselves however once he approaches them they spring back, in an obvious attempt at trying to look natural which fails miserably for them. He raises an eyebrow but both girls have annoyingly innocent looks on their faces. It doesn't take a genius to realise what they were talking about. Arthur and his huge lack of interest in the show.
“Spit it out. I know you're both just dying to say it,” he all but hissed at them.
Gwen just smiled sympathetically at him where as Freya grinned evilly.
“I didn't want to need to say this so soon but... We told you so.” She smirked whilst trying to fight back laughter. Gwen hit her on the shoulder while Merlin took a deep breath and then grinned back at her.
“Laugh all you want Freya, but I'm telling you, by the time this is finished Arthur Pendragon will be playing the Phantom and he will be playing it well. I will make sure he doesn't mess this up for me. Even if I need to have one-on-one rehearsals with him until he gets the part perfect. I will drag that boy into this roll kicking and screaming if needs be but he will be the Phantom,” he retorted vehemently and triumphantly.
“Oh really... One-on-one lessons, Merlin? Just you and Arthur? You shameless hussy Merlin Emrys!” Freya laughed whilst Gwen giggled. Merlin shook his head at the both of them.
“Oh don't start you filthy hypocrite. Need I remind you about your little liaisons with Cedric behind the science block last year? Mhm I thought not.” He smirked and took pleasure in seeing the rapid reddening of her cheeks. Then he turned on Gwen.
“And you? Don't think I haven't noticed the little looks you have been given a certain tall, dark and handsome football player, young lady.”
He grinned at the silence that followed, confirming his suspicions.
“What's that I hear? Blessed silence. Such a wonderful thing.” He said sarcastically and quickly avoided a hand to the back of the head from Freya.
“No one likes a smart arse, Emrys” She griped at him in a playful tone.
“Nah, but you like this arse don't you Frey?” He smirked and this time he didn't avoid the hand in time. He was about to make another snappy retort when Gwen slippped her arm through his and did the same with Freya, standing in the middle of the two of them.
“That's enough. We're going to mine for dinner. No fighting. And no laughing at each other.” She grinned before dragging them from the room.
The following Thursday's meeting was less productive than its predecessor. Merlin went in with such very high hopes and within the first ten minutes or so they got completely shattered. It was clear to him and would be clear to an outsider looking in that the majority of the cast clearly didn't want to be there this time. They were restless and rowdy and he couldn't get them to listen to a word he was saying. Even his whistle didn't seem to work. He was trying to get them organised into a respectable-looking gathering so that they could start with the read through of the script, however that was proving incredibly difficult when no one was even sitting in the same place for any decent of time.
When he first got them together they were sitting in a circle, Gwen and Freya to his left, Morgana and Morgause to his right and the footballers taking up the rest of the chairs; however before they had even made it through the first scene, the footballers were no longer in their seats. Gwaine was standing up and looking out the window, his script in hand but not really paying attention and Merlin had to continually prompt him to read. Percival was reading his lines when he was supposed to, but he was saying his lines in the most idiotic voices imaginable. Eli was sitting on the teacher’s desk cross-legged and was whistling loudly and irritatingly, ignoring the evil glances he was getting from his sister whose facial expression was shifting between pity on Merlin's behalf and glares of death pointed at her brother and the rest of the football team – apart from Lance of course, who was sitting in his chair like a good little boy, not that he was saying much. The speed they were going at meant that they hadn't even reached the Christine rendition of “Think of Me” within an hour.
It was when they reached an hour that Merlin lost his temper. He prided himself in being calm and level headed in all situations. A gentle influence on those around him and a pleasure to be friends with. A happy person who didn't like confrontation and aggression. However, he could not stand being ignored or mocked and ridiculed. The football team all came back to their seats of their own accord, making him think that maybe they were going to start actually paying attention. However, when he looked down at his script for and looked back up he noticed they were all looking shifty and suspicious. He ignored it. They read through for another ten minutes or so and he checked his script again, diverting his gaze from the people in front of him. His eyes were looking elsewhere for barely a minute but when he looked back up he noticed they were all looking shifty again. He ignored it. It wasn't until he looked away again that he felt it, a soft thud on his ear. Thinking it was merely an itch he scratched it yet again.
When he checked his phone a little while later it happened again. Only this time it wasn't on his outer ear. He felt the annoying sensation of something flying into the ear itself and landing in it. Tilting his head to the side he felt something slide out and looked down, seeing what looked like a soggy bit of paper lying on the ground. Gross. He pulled his face together in a disgusted expression and then like a raving pack of hyenas, a howl of laughter erupted from the majority of the room. He looked around and saw Gwaine almost on the floor in laughter, tears streaming down his bright red face, whilst Arthur, Eli and Percy were chuckling away merrily. Morgana had an amused smile on her face. Morgause just looked as sour as ever. It wasn't until he seen the white straw clutched in Gwaine's hand that he realised what had happened.
“For fucks sake! Really Gwaine? Fucking spit balls?” He raged. “Do you know how fucking disgusting that is?”
Jumping up from his chair so sharply that he knocked it down behind him, he stormed over to the shelves where the satchels and bags were placed. Grabbing his own bag from the shelf he turned on the spot.
“This session is over. Clearly the majority of you cannot be bothered being here today and I am not wasting my time alongside everyone else's trying to get you to listen and pay attention when all you really want to do is act like children. So you're free to go. It's a lovely day outside, I'm sure you will fit in perfectly if you go to the playpark a short walk from here. Now, I want you all back on here Tuesday ready to actually make an effort this time? Got that?”
And with that he pulled the door open with such force it slammed into the wall behind it, causing a large bang to echo up and down the empty corridor. He door swung shut behind him and stomped from the building, leaving doors winging in his wake.
The rage kept burning in him all the way through his twenty minute journey home and it wasn't until that he had gotten into the house, made his way up to his bedroom in the attic and thrown himself onto his bed, his golden retriever Kilgarrah wrapped around his feet warming them that he felt himself relax. He felt steady rhythmic movements of Kilgarrah's breathing against his feet as the wide eyed animal looked up at him.
“One bad rehearsal. It's not the end of the world. I just need to keep calm. It's not an omen. It's not a portent of the future. It's not a sign. Just one bad rehearsal. These things happen,” he thought to himself, repeating it over and over again like a mantra. Resting his head against the soft pillow he felt himself being pulled under and soon giving in to the sweet temptation of sleep. The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was the smug grin of Arthur Pendragon, grinning at him like he had just won the lottery.
BEEP! BEEP! Bzzz! Bzzz!
The irritating squeal signalling an incoming text brought him back to the land of the living a few hours later. Bleary-eyed he stuffed his hand into his satchel which he had dropped at the side of his bed when he stormed in, and fished around for a few moments before emerging with his bounty.
Just checking you didn't get hit by a bus on the way home. - F
BEEP! BEEP! Bzzz! Bzzz!
p.s. I'm more than willing to rip Gwaine's balls off and feed him them if you want. Just say the word.
Merlin couldn't help laughing at that when he read it, a deep and boisterous laugh which helped relieve some of the tension he felt pitted inside his stomach. Trust Freya to turn straight to violence. He rolled his neck for a moment before sitting up in his bed and replying.
No need to separate Gwaine from his manhood just yet. Maybe if he acts like an arse on Tuesday. You and Gwen get home OK? And did anything happen once I'd left? - M
Sliding his phone into his pocket, he was just getting up from the bed when the door opened slightly and the crazily-haired brown head of his mother popped through and looked at him.
“Good. You're awake. Your dinner is in the oven.” She smiled, opening the door wide. “Burger and chips. Come on.” She then spun around causing her many golden bracelets and bangles to jingle as she padded down the hallway and all but skipped down the stairs.
It didn't take long until they were both sitting at the table, Merlin with a mountain-sized pile of food in front of him and his mother with a steaming mug of tea and a large slab of cake. They ate in silence for a while, until Hunith dropped her cake onto the plate and knotted her fingers together in front of her.
“Now, do you want to tell me why I found you lying in bed when I got home from work today?” she asked, her voice gentle and soft. He sighed loudly and put his knife and fork down.
“It's no big deal, really. Just the first read-through didn't go as well as I'd hoped,” he said plainly. He could tell she was worried by the look on her face.
“Are you sure that's all? You haven't done that since primary school Merlin,” she continued, one of her hands moving across the table to rub small circles into his.
“I'm fine mum, honestly. Just some rowdy people in the play,” he responded with a gentle smile.
“Tell me,” she answered.
“Really mum?” He whined and she simply nodded.
“Fine. Well you know that I told you 5 of the cast members were on the football team and “the popular kids” who auditioned as a joke in the first place?” He prodded.
“Yip,” she stated.
“Well they just weren't paying attention and kept carrying on and I just felt overwhelmed, so I kinda called the session short and stormed out,” he informed her, the heat rushing to his face.
“And that's it?” She questioned.
“Yes mum that's it. Really. I know I haven't done that since I had problems with some of the other kids in primary school but I promise you, I just fell asleep when I got home and lay on my bed.” He smiled and answered honestly and was pleased to note that some of the creases which were lining her forehead didn't look quite as deep as they did when they started the conversation.
“Well, that's good then!” she enthused, sitting back in her chair and taking a large gulp of her tea. “Now tell me, how's preparation coming along for the show? Apart from being rowdy, how are your cast?”
Merlin had to smile. His mother was so enthusiastic. She worked two jobs now, running the small bookshop she owned during the day whilst he was at school, and since he became old enough to legally look after himself at night, she started working at a local late night café just off of Camelot main street. However, no matter how tired she may be she always had time to just listen to him ramble on about music, the theatre, acting, anything that really took his fancy. And when he came out to her the previously year she was fantastic, just smiling at him warmly and nodding her head before telling him that she wanted him to do the hoovering whilst she was at work. That was it, no big discussion or questions or tears, just a simple acceptance for which he was glad. He didn't think he could handle his mother’s tears.
The rest of their small meal passed quickly and before he knew it, Hunith was away out to work again and Merlin had the blessed peace that came when it was only himself in the house.
For the rest of the night he just lounged in front of the TV browsing through the channels, and when his mother came home many hours later she found him dozing on the couch with Kilgarrah on his lap. She gently nudged him awake and he trudged upstairs sleepily, stripped down and tossed himself down, and for the second time that day fell asleep.
When he got to school the next day he found Gwen and Freya waiting for him at the gates as they usually did and much to his relief they didn't mention they previous day or the rehearsal. They were gossiping in the court yard and Merlin had zoned them out, opting instead to partake in some people watching and scanned those around him. His eyes fell on a familiar mop of blond hair at the other side of the courtyard. Arthur Pendragon was sitting on a low wall, his feet splayed out before him and a lazy grin on his face, his hair an artful disaster. Around him were the others from the show as well as few other boys from Merlin's year and some girls who were laughing and giggling like simpering idiots. Arthur threw his head back and let out a roaring laugh at something one of the others had said, the sound lost in the gentle September wind blowing around the yard, but Merlin couldn't miss the way the muscles in his neck moved and vibrated as he spoke. His eyes trailed down the expanse of soft skin of his neck down to the opening of his standard white shirt, which had its top buttons loosened, and the standard red and gold school tie was knotted loosely around his neck.
Blinking quickly he moved his gaze back to Arthur's face and was just about to turn away when the blond raised his eyes and met Merlin's. Expecting to be ignored, Merlin lowered his eyes but to his surprise the blond-haired boy nodded at him, a simple acknowledgement and a small smile graced his face. Merlin smiled back timidly before turning to join the conversation that was taking place around him.
Time passed quickly for Merlin the rest of the day but he had seen Arthur a couple of times as the day progressed and with every smile or nod he got a crazy feeling in his stomach that he couldn't explain.
The weekend also passed in its usual manner with Merlin working with his mum on the Saturday and visiting Gwen on Sunday.
Before he knew it, it was Tuesday again and he had nervous butterflies as he stood outside the door to the classroom, his hand lingering on the handle. He could hear everyone inside laughing and joking and he was fighting anxiety about going in. He was going to be so mortified. In his opinion he completely embarrassed himself by the way he acted and had no idea what he would say if questioned or confronted on it. Not that they could confront him as such, they were in the wrong here. But he should have held his tempter better he thought.
Gritting his teeth and taking a deep breath, his hand clenched around the handle and he pushed the door open and stepped in. The room fell silent as he stepped in.
He quickly surveyed the room as he walked in and made his way to a seat. Everyone was there. Everyone had brought a script. No one looked angry or annoyed. All good signs.
It turned out to be a much better session than even he could have expected. He got straight into things, immediately calling the room to attention and announcing they would be starting the readthrough.
An hour and a half later and he couldn't stop grinning. They had got half-way through the script, with little disruption and no major problems. Everyone was trying and no one mentioned his losing his temper the previous week. Obviously there were still some issues that had to be resolved and some issues that had to be dealt with, but for the most part it was a productive session which Merlin was incredibly proud of. He just wished he knew what had caused such a turn around in the behaviour and attitude of the football players. It would be a fair to say that he was crazily happy. Even Arthur – the one who had been so, so hesitant had gave it his all, singing and speaking his lines as required and genuinely appearing to be trying, and even slightly enjoying himself, if the smile he gave Merlin as he left the room at 5.30 was anything to go by. It made Merlin happy that he had stuck with his cast choices and strengthened his determination to make sure that everyone met their full potential. The images which had been conjured up during the session listening to the music were floating around his head this again, only this time, he could hear his actors in the voices of the characters as well as see them in the role in which they had been cast. He could hear the roughness of Arthur's voice as he sang “Music of the Night,” he could hear the switch in “Think of Me” where Gwen reached her full potential and truly became Christine. It made him relaxed and happy.
And his good mood carried on through till Thursday when it just got strengthened even further. When he, alongside everyone else got into the classroom, the group took their places and started work almost immediately, with just as much vigour as they had the previous session. During the session Merlin had very little to do. He was reading along with the cast, making sure that no one lost their places, and being there for direction should anyone need it. It seemed like everyone knew what they were doing and therefore he wasn't very occupied, giving his eyes time to scan around the room. He would get the customary smile from people as he looked at them and they would carry on regardless, but it gave him another chance to people watch. He couldn't help noticing that Gwen and Lance were now sitting next to each other. Very close to each other. Freya was on Gwen's other side with Morgause beside her who in turn was sitting next to Merlin. If he wasn't much mistaken then he could have sworn that Morgause kept looking at Gwaine, her mouth drawn in a tight line, almost looking at him like he was a puzzle waiting to be solved.
The session came to a close and Merlin smiled, standing up and walking behind his chair and placing his hands on the back.
“Thank you. All of you.” He said, truthfully and earnestly. “I know we got off to a rocky start last week” This was said with a pointed look at Gwaine who at least had the decency to make sure that his eyes didn't meet Merlin's. “And I apologise for reacting quite like I did. I'm hoping that this week being productive means that this thing may have a hope in hell of getting off the ground and us actually putting on a decent show. I know it's been boring and tedious but next week proper rehearsals start and I'm going to start getting the blocking down then, but it may run on to the following Tuesday. It will be another long process I'm afraid, but I'm hoping you won't get too bored seeing as how we will be on our feet actually doing something. Any questions?” He asked.
“Blocking?” A deep voice he recognised as Percy asked.
“Giving you your movements. I know people feel acting is all about the words and the speech but it's not. It's so much more than that. It's movement. It's facial expression. It's posture. You need to feel the words you are saying, and in this case, singing. You need to act throughout your full body, just not recite lines like you are reading them off a page.” Merlin spoke passionately, his eyes lighting up as he spoke.
“I know this is probably all sounding like a bunch of crap to you right now but please just trust me in this. If everything goes to plan, by the time we are ready to put this show on a stage in front of people you will be your character.” He was right. The majority of the room were looking at him like he was an idiot.
“Right, well, anyway,” he said, somewhat awkwardly. “We're done for the day. See you all on Tuesday. And don't forget your scripts. It's vital you have them with you when I'm directing your movements so you don't forget anything. One messed up movement can throw the entire cast off. ”
“Oh, so no pressure or anything then?” He heard the now irritatingly familiar voice of Arthur snark but bit his tongue to hold down a retort. The words out of the blond’s mouth broke what little resolve he had though. “Must be easy for some. Sitting in the audience whilst we are all up on stage doing the hard work.”
“Easy? You think having a full cast of people waiting to have you to tell them what to do is easy? Especially when I have you in that cast trying to make everything as difficult as possible already, and we are only a couple of weeks in? You think it's going to be easy trying to get lines into your thick skull? I seriously doubt it!” he snapped and levelled a glare at Arthur.
“Ooooh, ouch!” He heard Gwaine laugh and the long-haired boy was up, an arm patting Merlin on the shoulder and a grin on his face. “I like this one. He doesn't take Arthur pish.” He guffawed before walking to the shelves and grabbing his rucksack. “See all you fuckers next week.” And with that he was out the door, his laughter echoing behind him.
The group dispersed quickly after that in groups of two's or three's until it was only Merlin left. He laughed softly to himself and made his way out the door, leaving it to swing closed behind him.
“Maybe Gwaine isn't so bad after all,” he thought to himself and pulled his satchel over his shoulder.
Merlin was frustrated. Incredibly frustrated. The group had been on the stage for an hour and a half so far, and it seemed to Merlin that no one really knew how to take instruction very well at all. It wasn't that the group wasn't trying. They were. They were all trying but it just seemed like no matter how many times Merlin tried to tell them where to stand or how to move or where to enter from, something would go wrong and they would end up somewhere else completely. At one point he had Gwaine and Percival to enter from upstage left, and yet they somehow managed to walk in from downstage right. He had no idea how it happened. And it didn't help that the stage was so small. It made him doubt whether or not he had made the wisest choice of musical. There were so many extras and props which would be on stage at the same time as the actors Whilst there wasn't any on just yet, he knew that when he finally got around to finding extras for the production and getting all the props on stage, it would completely throw people off and make them clumsy. But that was a problem for later really. Right now his major problem was making sure that they all knew what they were doing in the first place. It didn't help that they were still on scripts. He hoped when they were off the page then maybe things may run more smoothly. He just had to remember that this was only the first time acting it out.
He was sitting on a chair out in the audience, having given the cast their movements for the first three scenes of the show, and now they were running it through one last time before he sent them home for the night, this time without his input, having ran it through with him interrupting. It wasn't a complete disaster. Sure it was rough and untrained and they were all holding back vocally. But they were at least managing. There were certainly some positive signs on the casting. Morgana had the perfect countenance for the stern and prim Madame Giri, Gwen was perfect as Christine – perfect parts innocent yet bold and confident at the same time, and Lance wasn't just acting his feelings as Raoul. It was so obvious to anyone watching the two of them performing “Little Lottie” that he was crazy on her. His eyes barely left her. Once again though, there was Arthur. Arthur Pendragon. Yes, he had the arrogant tone of “The Mirror” perfected yet when he sang, it sounded like he wasn't making an effort. His voice almost sounded bored. It grated on Merlin just how much the boy was dragging his feet on this. Merlin had heard him sing impressively, yet now? Now it seemed like Merlin had imagined it.
Merlin could hear the familiar strains as The Mirror changed into Phantom of the Opera in the instrumental he had playing through the sound system. He stood up, clearing his throat.
“That wasn't too bad. It was rough and wasn't exactly polished but it seems like the majority of you have managed to at least take notes on your movements. To be honest I wasn't expecting any more, so yeah, well done. I'm hoping that when we get on to rehearsing without scripts you will all be more confident than you are now, and hopefully it will run a lot easier – and hopefully I won't need to stick my nose in quite as much. On Thursday we will start from where we left off and hopefully get a bit more done than what we got today. I'll see you all then,” he said loudly, whilst the others were making their way down from the stage, collecting bags and school work as they went. He joined them and found himself in the middle of the small crowd as he went to collect his own satchel from the pile which had formed – his being on the bottom, seeing as how he had gotten to the auditorium first after placing a note on the door of the class room directing them to come here.
Twenty minutes later and he, Gwen and Freya were sprawled across the room of the his bedroom floor, books lying open and abandoned in front of them as they were meant to be helping Merlin with some of the homework he had abandoned whilst organising the show. He quickly flicked his hand out and Gwen's copy of Romeo and Juliet was flipped shut. She made an indignant noise as she looked at him.
“What the hell, Merlin? We’re supposed to be helping you remember? Be nice or you can write this stupid essay yourself,” she said.
“Never mind the essay right now, Miss Jones. We need to talk. Lance Dulac. I want details. Now,” he responded sternly and with a mock frown on his face.
“Yeah, Gwen. You've been holding out on us! Gossip. Now, woman.” Freya laughed, joined in and sat up, pulling Merlin with her and sliding an arm through his, linking them. Gwen bit her lip and didn't meet their eyes.
“Well, not much has happened. Really,” she mumbled quietly, playing with one of her curls.
“Mhm. You said not much. That means something has happened. Quit holding back and just tell us already. Don't make us force it out of you.” Merlin laughed and wiggled his eyebrows in the manner of an old silent movie villain.
“Fine. Nosey gits.” She laughed, sitting up alongside them and crossing her legs. “It was Friday night. He came to the house saying that he was looking for Eli. Yet Eli wasn't in. And I'm pretty sure he knew that considering the fact that Eli was with Arthur and the rest of them at a party that I'm certain Lance would have gotten an invite to. So I told him that. Well, I told him Eli wasn't in. Yet he was still standing at the door. So I kinda asked him if there was anything else. And then he asked me to walk him to the gate because he had something he wanted to talk about. So I did. And that was it. I walked to the gate and then he left. That's it,” she said, hesitantly.
“And?” Merlin quizzed.
“Well, he maybe kind of asked me to go to the cinema with him this Friday. And I might have said yes.”
Merlin didn't get a chance to respond before Freya was on her knees and squealing.
“You have a date! You have a date with Lance. Fucking finally,” she sang as Merlin laughed, smiling at Gwen.
“Yeah. If he didn't ask you out soon, I was going to do it for him.” Merlin chuckled and Gwen's cheeks flushed a scarlet red.
“Well we will just need to see how it goes. For all I know he could end up a total pig or we might not even get on. To be honest, I've barely said two words to him. It might end up a complete waste of time and effort,” she said, but by the gentle lines that creased her head, Merlin could tell she was seriously hoping that wasn't the case.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, comfortingly and said gently, “I'm sure that's not going to happen. He seems lovely.”
“Hope so,” she responded meekly.
“Just make sure he pays. For everything.” Freya grinned before her gaze fell on Merlin. “Your turn, Emrys. Spill.”
“Me? What have I to spill?” He asked, genuinely confused.
“Pendragon,” she said simply.
“What about him?” Merlin questioned.
“Why wouldn't he take his eyes off you at certain points today?”
“He wouldn't? I have no idea. I've not really spoken directly to him in a while,” he responded.
“Really?” she replied dubiously.
“Really really. If what you are saying is true, then he was probably planning the 101 ways to kill me and make it look like an accident. I don't think he likes me very much.” He laughed.
“Maybe not.” Gwen spoke up, almost timidly.
“What do you mean? Have you seen the way he speaks to me at times? It's like I'm the scum of the earth. Ponce that he is.”
“Well, it may be nothing. But... I heard Eli talking to Gwaine and Percival on Monday. They were talking about someone getting under Arthur's skin,” she continued, looking levelly at Merlin.
“And?” he asked.
“They were talking about you,” she said simply.
“Me? Don't talk rubbish.” He scoffed but he could feel his face reddening, and as much as he hated to admit it, he could feel a gentle smile pulling at his lips. The thought that he had somehow gotten under Arthur Pendragon's skin made a fluttery feeling bounce around his stomach.
“I'm not,” she stated.
“They probably mean that I annoy him then. That he hates me,” he retorted.
“But that's the thing about Arthur. People don't annoy him. If he doesn't like you, he ignores you. Simple as that.”
“Yeah, well, it's probably just that he can't exactly ignore me because I'm his director in this. Until the show is finished we will be seeing each other fairly regularly. Ignoring each other would never work.” He looked at Gwen, waiting for her to answer but it was Freya who spoke next.
“She may have a point, Merlin. I mean look at it this way, if Arthur was so dead set against the show why would he keep coming to rehearsals? We all know that if he really didn't want to take part then all he would have to do is go above your head and he would be out in an instant.” She clicked her fingers for emphasis.
“I... I don't know.”
“Exactly. He must have a reason for continuing to show up. Maybe Gwen is right and you have gotten under his skin. Maybe you are that reason,” she answered smugly.
“You both seem to be forgetting something pretty major here. I'm the gay one in our year. Not Arthur Pendragon. Fuck, really? You honestly think he could be gay? Have you seen the man? He's gorgeous. And has a continuous train of girls following him. He's as a gay as I am straight.”
“You know Merlin, me and Eli do talk?” Gwen asked, randomly, throwing Merlin off.
“And your point is?” he asked, unsure of where she was going with this.
“Well, Eli is the world’s worst at keeping secrets. Anyone's secrets... Including Arthur's... And he occasionally tells me these secrets – without meaning to of course – he's just a bit of a motor mouth at times. As is Gwaine... Who is also at my house regularly.”
“Where are you going with this Gwen?” Freya interrupted, voicing Merlin's thoughts.
“I happened to hear Eli and Gwaine talking once, a few months ago. It turns out Merlin isn't the only gay in the village so to speak.”
“You honestly expect me to believe that Gwen? Arthur Pendragon is gay?” Merlin asked, his voice laced with disbelief and his head spinning. He didn't think it could be true. Arthur was the typical man's man. Popular, liked sport, seemed to like girls, girls seemed to love him. He was just... blokey.
“It's true. He told the football team at the start of the year, and I heard the pair of them talking about it in Eli's room. Arthur is just as gay as you are.” She smiled.
“And why are we just finding out now?” Freya hissed. “The start of the school year was months ago! Why haven't you told us before?”
“Wasn't my secret to tell,” she responded swiftly.
“And now it was?” Merlin questioned.
“Well, no. But I can trust you both. I know you won't say anything. And hopefully it will make you realise Merlin, that maybe he doesn't hate you just quite as much as you think he does. That's all.” She smiled.
They left not long after that revelation and Merlin's thoughts were a mess. Arthur Pendragon. Gay. It didn't seem plausible. Yet at the same time it did. Sure the boy had a trail of girls after him, but now that Merlin thought about it, he could never actually remember any of these girls getting any of relationship started. Merlin just assumed he was a one-night stand kind of guy, not into serious relationships and all that jazz. But if he was gay? That would certainly explain it.
The rest of the night was spent with Merlin working on his essay and going over and over what Gwen and Freya had said to him. Had the smiles and looks he had been receiving from Arthur been attempted flirtations? Did Arthur really fancy him?
* * *
By the end of the following week, the group was close to finishing up the blocking of the show, with Merlin preparing to do the final lair scene with Gwen, Lance and of course, Arthur. Arthur. He hadn't been able to get what Gwen and Freya had said to him the previous week out of his head and Arthur himself was driving him crazy.
He was being less hostile towards Merlin, the icy attitude which had been aimed at the dark-haired boy thawing out slightly as they spent more time together in rehearsals. And then there was the smiles and the looks. The Thursday after the girls’ revelation Merlin made sure to watch Arthur discreetly, and it appeared that they were correct – a fact that he would loathe to admit to them. He would never live it down – but it did seem that Arthur spent an awful lot of time looking at him, more than was strictly necessary. And he was still smiling at Merlin occasionally. It was... unhinging. Merlin didn't know how to deal with it. Annoying Arthur he could handle. Arrogant Arthur he could handle. Pissed off Arthur he could handle. Aloof Arthur he could handle. Nice Arthur? That was a completely different story.
However there was one thing which was still pissing Merlin off, no matter how much he tried to ignore it and put it to the back of his mind. It was that Arthur still didn't seem to be putting in as much effort as the rest of the group. The majority of the cast now at least had a basic grasp of their lines, having been reading them constantly for a month now, but Arthur? Arthur was still on the page and still reliant on having the script in front of him. It was throwing everyone else off waiting for him to catch up or read from the page.
That was why he had made a decision. He was going to ask Arthur to stay behind for a few minutes and have a word with him about it. It wouldn't do for him to seem to be soft seeing as how he was the director and had to be in charge. So that was how he found himself waiting patiently for the trio to finish off the blocking which he had giving them, so everyone else would leave and he could get the blond’s attention. The time passed quickly and with a quick acknowledgement that they were finished with blocking and on to the proper rehearsals next week, he said goodbye to everyone before walking up behind Arthur and placing a gentle hand on his arm.
“Arthur, do you mind waiting back a few moments? There is something I need to talk to you about.” He asked plainly and the blond nodded before turning to Lance and Gwaine, telling them that he would meet them outside in a few. The theatre emptied and it was just the two of them, standing across from each other.
“What's up?” he asked nonchalantly.
“I've got one question for you Arthur,” Merlin answered before continuing. “Are you even taking this play remotely seriously? Because I am fed up.”
“Fed up? With what?” He asked, taking a small step forward.
“You didn't answer the question, Pendragon, and I'm fed up trying to get you to do something you clearly aren't interested. I give up. You win.”
“I win want?” He smirked, taking another predatory step forward. Merlin gulped.
“This... This little game between us. If you don't want the role. Fine. I will find someone else for it. If you want out, go ahead. I don't care any more,” he rambled and took a small step back.
“I don't want out,” he stated.
“You don't?” Merlin questioned and Arthur took another slow step forward.
“I don't,” he confirmed. “In fact, I'm rather enjoying it.”
“Right. Well, maybe it's time you start acting like it then,” Merlin retorted, squaring his shoulders and raising his chin a little.
“Maybe I just don't have the right... motivation. Or maybe I just need some more practice at it,” he said, a wicked smirk on his face. “In fact, Merlin. As a sign of just how... dedicated I am to this show, what would you say to a one-on-one rehearsal? Just you and me,” He asked.
Merlin took a deep breath before answering whilst Arthur took another step towards him, close enough that they were really only an arm’s distance apart.
“Well, if you think you need it, I'm more than willing to do it. Although I don't know what use just the two of us will be but if you really want it.” He smiled timidly.
“I really do. Do you think we will be able to meet here on, lets say, Saturday? At one o'clock. I have a game which doesn't finish until twelve thirty.”
Merlin simply nodded, and the image of Arthur in his football strip popped unwittingly into his head. The thought made his mouth water.
“That's great then. I appreciate it. A lot. I wouldn't want you thinking that I wasn't... making an effort for you Merlin.” And with that he took another step forward so they were almost chest-to-chest. Merlin couldn't help notice that whilst he was slightly taller than Arthur, the blond was so much wider around the shoulders. And his hair. It was incredibly messy. And soft. And looked like someone just ran their fingers through it. Merlin grew incredibly jealous of those fingers. And then his eyes trailed to the pink lips that just seconds before spoke his name in the most sultry manner possible, and he couldn't help but need to lick his own lips. His mouth was suddenly very dry.
Arthur's hand suddenly rose up and Merlin felt the heat against his face as rough fingers made their way down from behind his ear and down to his neck, and then the heat was gone and Arthur was smirking.
“You know Merlin, you're even more cute when you are flustered.” He laughed gently and then spun around, picked his bag up on the way out and was out the double doors before Merlin's thought process could catch up and his blood pressure lower slightly. He shifted himself uncomfortably in his jeans and thought to himself.
“What. The. Fuck.? What the fuck just happened.”
Arthur was late – not by long – but he was still late, and it made Merlin think that maybe he had been fucking with him on Thursday. Since the meeting between them Merlin had been constantly running over what happened in his head – repeatedly – and he could almost tell recite word for the word the conversation that occurred between them, however he couldn't decide just how serious Arthur was being during the full thing. Was he just setting Merlin up for a fall? Was he a big enough arsehole to do that? Make someone think that you like them and then stand them up? Merlin hoped he wasn't, but he couldn't help the niggling doubt that was drilling through his thoughts. He hadn't told Freya and Gwen because he knew exactly what they would say. Freya would be apprehensive and probably cynical, telling him something like Arthur was just playing with him and to rip his balls off before he got the chance to hurt Merlin, whilst Gwen would be more amicable, telling him to be careful but to trust Arthur not to do anything to nasty. She just had to see the best in everybody – even if there wasn't anything good to see in the first place.
He was pacing up and down the length of the stage, his eyes darting to the stage entrance instead of the auditorium entrance since he knew that the doors would be locked now – he had to get the keys from Mr Gaius so he could even get onto the stage on a Saturday. Whilst pacing he was frantically biting his nails down to little stubs, running through countless possible scenarios of what could happen if Arthur actually showed up. His current thought was that it might all be an elaborate set up to lure Merlin somewhere secluded, and then it would turn out he had a bunch of homophobe friends waiting for him. The thought made Merlin pale and he prayed that even Arthur wasn't that big a tool to set him like that. That would be pure evil.
He was considering just turning and running when he heard the door creak open and his pacing stopped abruptly. He listened carefully and he heard footsteps and it sounded like only one person is walking in. Well, at least he wasn't getting mobbed he thought. He heard the curtains rustle and turned round on the spot to see Arthur walking through them, the curtains waving behind him as he went. His white football kit with red accents stood out brightly against the dark material of the curtains. Merlin took in his appearance quickly and what he saw almost took his breath away.
Arthur was still in his kit, yet it was not the pristine white he saw in all the school photos of the team – this time the kit was dirty, with mud rubbed into the shorts and all over the top. The red socks were pulled up to his knees like they were supposed to be, but Merlin could see that he didn't have his shin guards on underneath and instead of his football boots he had a pair of ragged high-tops. His skin was flushed red, almost like he was running – which Merlin supposed he had been, but the game finished forty-five minutes ago, surely he would have gotten his breath back by now. Unless he ran from the pitch to here. His hair, usually stuck out in disarray was stuck to his head and looked wet, with what Merlin could only assume to be sweat. He clearly hadn't showered since the game. Merlin ignored the thoughts of just what else could make Arthur sweaty, and thoughts of Arthur in a shower, and tore his eyes away from him. The blond was smirking that arrogant and smug smirk again. Merlin was becoming surprisingly attached to that smirk. It made Arthur look almost predatory.
“You're late,” he said simply, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I am. The game ran longer than it was meant to,” Arthur replied. No apology, just the facts. Not that Merlin was really expecting an apology if he was being honest. This was Arthur Pendragon after all. He didn't apologise.
“Never mind. Let's get started on this then,” he said, gesturing to his script lying on the solitary table which sat at the side of the stage.
“Yes. Let’s,” Arthur replied, only his eyes didn't look to the script, in fact, his eyes didn't leave Merlin and Merlin could have sworn that he had seen him lick his lips after he spoke.
“I was thinking that we could maybe start with “Music of the Night.” It's one of the Phantom's most important moments so it's vital you get this right. If you don't get it right, if you can't convey the proper emotion in the song, then your full portrayal of The Phantom won't be the tortured individual that I'm aiming for but will end up nothing more than a comedic circus freak – something I really don't want to happen. Take your place and then we can get started. Just imagine you are acting with Gwen in this,” Merlin voiced in a steady and what was meant to be commanding voice. He wasn't sure just how commanding he came off, though. He walked into the control desk and pressed play on the sound desk whilst Arthur got himself into position. Merlin was intrigued to see that he had his script in hand but didn't appear to have looked at it. It wasn’t even on the proper page. Merlin frowned and was about to point it out when the music started and he could hear Arthur's voice, carrying around the stage. Only it was not the voice he was used to hearing by now, the bored and almost empty voice of someone singing the lines but not trying. This was a voice of confidence and self-assuredness – something much more in fitting with both the Phantom and Arthur. The voice that Merlin was wanting to hear all this time yet Arthur seemed to be holding back.
He stood in the wings, watching Arthur with narrowed eyes, his mind processing this new revelation. Why on earth was Arthur acting like he had no idea what was happening yet here he was now, singing with all the confidence of someone who knew exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it? Why on earth was he asking for one-on-one sessions when he clearly didn't need it? If any of the rest of the cast saw this they would be put to shame. This was just another aspect of Arthur that was tying Merlin in knots. He had no idea how to take the boy. At all.
He watched the full performance, not interrupting and letting Arthur just do his thing, and by the end he was speechless – his mouth might even have been open just a little, but that was something which he would deny to his last breath. He broke out of his trance-like state when Arthur turned to look at him expectantly, hands crossed across his chest.
“Well, how was I?” he asked, sheepishly. It was the innocent look on his face which made Merlin snap.
“How were you? How were you? What the fuck was that?!” he asked, hotly, whilst marching up to Arthur. Arthur paled slightly and almost winced at the dark-haired boy’s tone.
“You didn't like it?” he asked, almost sadly, his eyes lowered to the ground.
“Didn't like it? Of course I fucking liked it. It was perfect. That's not what I'm talking about here,” he spat and Arthur looked back up, a relieved and lazy grin on his face. “What I want to know is why the fuck are we even here. You clearly don't need any help and have obviously been holding back in group rehearsals for some other reason – as of yet unknown to me. Care to enlighten me?”
Arthur laughed before moving closer to Merlin, his hands moving to sit gently on Merlin's hips. Merlin didn't move to stop them from sitting there.
“Well. I had to find some excuse to get you alone didn't I?” he whispered in Merlin's ear, the soft breath cool against Merlin's flushed skin. The chill startled him and he went to pull away, spluttering, but Arthur's hand quickly made a ring around his wrist, pulling him back against him. His other hand moved behind Merlin's neck and Merlin didn't fight it. If anything, he just moved closer.
Both their eyes closed, and Arthur's lips pressed against Merlin's gently. Merlin's hand made its way into Arthur's hair, and even sweat slicked and grimy he was surprised to find it was still relatively soft. They were both lost in each other, tasting each other, when Merlin felt Arthur's hand that was on his hip working its way round to cup his arse, and it snapped him back to reality. He pulled away, gasping for breath, and looked at Arthur, pleased to know that Arthur looks just as dishevelled as he felt.
“Wh.. What.. What was that?” he spluttered out, his face flushed.
“That was a kiss. And a pretty fucking good one if I do say so myself,” Arthur answered, a smile on his face.
“And why in the name of all that's holy would you kiss me?” Merlin quizzed.
“Well see, the thing most normal people do if they find someone attractive is they make a move on them. Admittedly the kissing normally comes later but I'm not much for tradition. So that was me making a move on you,” he stated.
“A move? What? Wait. What? You find me attractive?” he asked, confused and his conversation with Gwen came flossing back. Maybe she wasn't so wrong about him after all.
“Yip, very attractive if I'm being honest.” He laughed before moving closer to Merlin again. “So what would you say if I asked you to go out with me?”
Merlin didn't say anything for a while, just paced back and forth whilst Arthur watch him, his mind reeling before he made his mind up. Taking a deep breath he turned to face Arthur, keeping a safe distance, out of reach of the boys hands.
“I'd say no,” he answered softly and apologetically. He couldn't look at Arthur but that didn't mean he ddin't hear the shocked sound that Arthur made, and the sound made a nasty feeling shoot through Merlin's chest – one which he attempted to ignore but failed in doing so.
Arthur didn't speak for a while and Merlin almost thought that he had left without him realising, when the blond spoke up.
“You're saying no? Seriously?” he asked, and he almost sounded hurt.
“I am,” Merlin answered simply, his eyes not meeting Arthur's.
“Can I ask why?” he asked quietly.
“I'm sorry, Arthur. I just don't think it would be a very good idea. Me and you. Us. It would never work. We are too different. And then to be honest – since this full show started you have been acting like quite a dick to me,” he replied truthfully and he made an effort to look at Arthur when he said it. He was shocked to find that Arthur looked surprisingly vulnerable standing in front of him, his arms behind his back and looking at Merlin with pleading eyes.
“I know I've been a bit of a dick recently and I'm sorry about that. I just don't know how to to do the full Mr Nice Guy thing. I'm not Lance.” He laughed, and the laughter almost sounded manic to Merlin's ears.
“And I'm not looking to date Lance. He's clearly mad for Gwen anyway! I just want someone that doesn't act like a douche,” Merlin replied, and a strange look lept into Arthur's eyes.
“I'll make you a deal,” he stated.
“A deal?” Merlin questioned, curious.
“Yeah, a deal. How does this sound? We will sing together. A duet. If I mess up, you don't need to go out with me for a date. If I don't, we have one date. One night next week. Just one, and then you can decide whether or not I'm a total dick. If you still I think I am, then I will stop annoying you and just make sure your show goes well, if you don't, well let’s just see where it goes from there.”
Merlin hesitated. He knew that Arthur clearly wouldn't mess up or else he wouldn't risk making the deal in the first place. He reasoned that he should at least give him a second chance, and it would be a good way to test just how much he knew about the musical, he could quiz him subtly on the date. And it was only one date. He could always refuse another.
“OK. Deal. What are we singing?” He asked.
“How about “Phantom of the Opera”?” Arthur responded. “Would you mind singing the part of Christine?” He asked, and Merlin nodded stiffly.
Merlin made to set the music up whilst Arthur moved into position.
The music started and Merlin moved into what would be Gwen's position, quickly clearing his throat. When he started singing he could see a look of shock on Arthur's face but that quickly got schooled into an appropriate expression for the song, and they soon got into their roles, Merlin as Christine and Arthur as The Phantom. The time passed quickly for Merlin as they moved and danced around each other, a slow and seductive dance as the Phantom lured Christine to him, just like Merlin was getting lured towards Arthur with the song. And just like Christine, Merlin knew that no matter how many times he tried to ignore Arthur or fight what he felt towards him – at least physically – that he wouldn't be able to and the resistance he was putting up was futile.
The song finished abruptly and both boys were left standing there, in the middle of the stage in an empty auditorium, their eyes locked.
Merlin nodded at Arthur and gave him a little smile.
“One date, Arthur. And then we will see where we go from there.”
Arthur smiled at him, a wide smile, showing teeth and it spread to his eyes. Merlin thought it was the first time he had ever seen a genuine smile on the boy’s face. He looked good when he smiled.
“Right. Cool. That's great!” He grinned and moved closer to Merlin.
“So how about Thursday next week? After rehearsals? We can go home, get changed and then we can meet back here? Go into town from here? Maybe go for something to eat? Or go to the cinema?” He rambled and Merlin couldn't fight the smile that came to his face when he saw Arthur flustered. He moved a step closer to Arthur and placed a finger on his lips.
“That's fine, Arthur. Seven o’clock on Thursday. At the gates. And I think the cinema would be a good idea.” He grinned. He removed his finger from Arthur's lips and the blond was about to start talking again when Merlin suddenly couldn't help himself. He leaned forward and placed a soft kiss against Arthur's lips and pulled back, grinning.
“I'll see you on Tuesday. And I'm looking forward to Thursday,” He said, before walking off. He picked up his own script on the way out, left lying abandoned on the table and turned around when he reached the door, a wicked grin on his own face, one he was sure that rivaled Arthur's trademarked one.
“You know, Arthur, I'm not the only one who looks cuter flustered. The look suits you.” He grinned and he saw a deep blush fill Arthur's cheeks.
Arthur shook his head and laughed loudly, the sound reverberating around the stage.
“Yeah, I seriously doubt that Merlin. Now stop making fun of me. Don't you know who I am?” He teased and Merlin laughs this time.
“Yeah, I do. The guy who sang just so I would go on a date with him, that's who,” He said and followed this by sticking his tongue out.
Arthur blushed again and held his hands up as if in defeat.
“Busted. And very mature Merlin, and you know? I can think of better uses for that tongue if you so wish?” he teased, and Merlin flushed red but didn't answer. “That's what I thought.”
Merlin let out a deep sigh and a content smile sat on his face.
“I'll see you later Arthur,” he said softly.
“Bye, Merlin. See you Tuesday.” Arthur waved and Merlin stepped out the door.
He didn't stop smiling as he walked home and all through the day afterwards, and when he walked through the school gates he looked back and realised he really did meant what he said. He really was looking forward to Thursday.
Merlin was going on a date. With Arthur Pendragon. Why did he agree to this? It was a date with Arthur for crying out loud. An actual date. Just the two of them. Together. In public. Doing datey things and being on a date. Yeah, Merlin wasn't panicking at all. He was quite happy to be sitting on his bed, naked apart from a towel around his waist and clothes scattered around him with his head between his legs as his mind was racing, and he couldn't decide what to wear. What exactly did one wear on a date with Arthur Pendragon? Jeans and a shirt? Dress trousers and a shirt? Jeans and a tee Shirt? A tracksuit? He had no idea.
He was due to be meeting him in thirty minutes time and he wasn't dressed yet, and considering the fact that it took twenty minutes for him to walk from his house to the school, then that gave him exactly ten minutes to get dressed – and that was if he wanted to show up just on time. He would have preferred to have shown a little early but it didn't seem like that would happen.
He took a deep breath to steady himself and stood up, tightening the towel around himself and looking down at his piles of clothes. He grabbed his underwear, a pair of faded dark straight leg jeans which sat nicely on him and had the bonus of being incredibly comfortable to wear, and an Air Force blue tee shirt with a deep V-cut neck. He got dressed quickly, ran his hands through his hair with a little product and was out the door with a few minutes to spare, a note left on the mantle telling his mother where he was and that he wouldn't be late home – although he did hope it was late enough that she would be sleeping. Then he would be able to postpone the inevitable game of twenty questions she would play with him when quizzing him on how it went, who he was with, what was it like, did he have fun, was it a date, would he see him again.
The walk to the school passed quickly, and before he knew it his feet had carried him to end of the street on which the school sat. Pacing in front of the gates, checking his watch every few seconds, was Arthur. Merlin approached him and when the dark-haired boy got noticed by him, his face split into an infectious grin which Merlin returned.
“You came!” he said, sounding relieved.
“I did. Didn't think I would stand you up did you?” Merlin asked, smiling.
“Well I hoped not but stranger things have happened” Arthur laughed. “Shall we?” gesturing in the direction of the nearest train station. They both started walking, their shoulders close together, occasionally nudging one another.
“Yes, but I couldn't exactly leave my leading man standing at the gates all by himself now could I?” Merlin asked, in an exaggerated and over-the-top posh accent. “That would be so unprofessional of me.”
“And dating said leading man? Wouldn't that be considered “unprofessional”” He asked.
Merlin turned to look at him, a cheeky grin on his face.
“We aren't dating yet, Mr Pendragon. This is only the first date,” he said with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, but you said yet so it's clearly inevitable, so why don't you just give up all resistance and admit it already?” He teased and Merlin would have kicked himself for the slip of the tongue if he thought he could have done it without Arthur noticing. Sadly he couldn't, and knowing his luck he would end up falling over his own feet and end up embarrassing himself spectacularly.
“Hmm well, we will just need to wait and see about that won't we?” He asked but he knew that Arthur was probably being truthful. Merlin didn't think he'd be able to say no to him if he tried, especially when he was acting like this – normal and nice and not the stuck up snob he acted like in school. Merlin much preferred this Arthur.
As they made their way to the train station, the both of them made small talk, talking about nothing consequential. The time passed quickly and before either of them realised properly they reached the train station. The fact that he could talk to Arthur so easily without the conversation seeming too strained helped to put Merlin at ease a little, and he could feel some of the tension leaving his shoulders.
"So what's the plan for tonight then?" he asked, casually.
Arthur smiled before he responded.
"Well I was thinking that first we could go to the cinema, then maybe go get food afterwards, depending on the time. Obviously we can't stay out too late or anything though, which kinda sucks. Really didn't pick a good day for this did we?" He laughed.
"Well no, but that doesn't mean anything. If you really want food when we leave the movie, there are plenty of take out places we could go to and pick something up. Maybe even eat it on the train on the way home." He grinned. "Who says romance is dead, eh?" Arthur laughed, a deep and rumbling sound which did strange things to Merlin's belly.
"Dead indeed. What more could a man want than a movie then take away on the train home? It's the height of chivalry and romance."
"Exactly." Merlin grinned at him.
The conversation carried on as they waited for their train, only this time, with both of them sitting on one of the benches dotted around the station, they were close and stationary and there appeared to be touching on both parts - whether it was just a light graze of the hand or the nudge of the shoulder. The easiness of it all made Merlin happy.
"What are we going to see by the way?" Merlin asked abruptly and a brilliant flush flooded Arthur's face.
"Well, that's the thing..." He spoke but Merlin interrupted him.
"If you say a bloody chick flick I'm going to hurt you Arthur. I'm not a bloody girl." He laughed and Arthur swallowed visibly before continuing.
"I don't actually know yet. I know that there are a couple of movies starting at eight, so if we get there on time we can look on the boards and see what is there. I had no idea what kind of film you'd want to see so I didn't actually plan this bit if I'm being honest," he added, almost awkwardly, and his hand went to rub the back of his neck.
"That's fine, we can just do that." He smiled and Arthur relaxed. "And for future reference, I like comedies and action films and musicals mainly. No chick flicks. It's bad enough Gwen and Freya force me to watch them all the time." Merlin shook his head.
"I'll remember that then. For the many more dates we are clearly going to go on since you are telling me all this stuff. I knew you couldn't resist the Pendragon charm for long. It's potent stuff." He smirked and Merlin smiled indulgently and shook his head.
"Clotpole? Really, Merlin? Is that even a word?" He asked, his face looking confused and Merlin blushed.
"Oh shush. It's something my mum says and it just caught on I guess," he said quietly, and Arthur laughed softly.
Just as Merlin was about to make a retort the train which would take them into the city centre and consequently the cinema drove up in front of them and pulled to a stop. They boarded the train in silence and found a set of seats, facing opposite each other before the conversation started up again.
"So you stole a word from you're mum?" Arthur teased playfully and smiled.
"Yeah I did." Merlin blushed.
"That's really kinda cute." Arthur smiled back before continuing. "So, do you have any siblings?" Arthur asked casually. Merlin shook his head.
"Nah. Just me and mum. Has been for a while now," he answered. "What about you?"
"I've got a half-sister. I think you know her actually," he answered and Merlin sat up a little.
"Really? Who is it?" he asked, curiously.
Arthur chuckled before answering.
"Nosey git. And it's Morgana. Morgana Lefay," he said.
Merlin's eyes widened in shock from the revelation.
"Really? Morgana? How do I not know this? You barely talk to each other!" he spluttered.
"Really really. Same dad, different mum," he explained.
"Oh right, OK," Merlin nodded.
Arthur changed the subject after that and the conversation flowed easily between them with very few awkward moments or moments where they were both just sitting in silence and looking at each other. It was comfortable and relaxing, and Merlin was shocked to find that he is actually enjoying his company a lot more than he thought he would and it gave him hope - hope that the night might not be a complete wash out, and hope that maybe he had prejudged Arthur too early and didn't get to truthfully know him. They conversation turned to the show as they were stepping off of the train and making their way out of the station towards the cinema.
"So what made you choose to direct Phantom?" Arthur asked, his voice sounding genuinely interested.
"Honestly?" Merlin asked.
"Yeah. Be honest," Arthur agreed.
"Christine," Merlin said simply.
"Christine?" Arthur questioned, sounding confused.
"Yeah. More specifically some of her songs - mainly “Think of Me.” She's one of my favourite stage characters and I think it can be incredibly difficult to discover an actress who can pull off the character realistically. When I met Gwen a few years ago, I remember thinking that she had the same kind of personality as the character, and then when I got the chance to direct and Gwen said she would audition it just sealed it for me. Gwen and Christine is what made me choose it. But I do just adore the production in general. I love the drama of it all, how dark and Gothic it can be. The mystery. The intrigue. The murder. The magic of the mysterious opera ghost," he said with an acknowledging nod to Arthur.
"I know this won't be up to the standard of a professional production and I'm not expecting it to be. It's a school production. On a teeny tiny stage. With a limited budget. I mean, my mother is doing the costumes for crying out loud. But I just couldn't give up the chance to direct it," he ranted and he could see a warm smile on the blonde's face as he watched him speak.
"You're clearly really into what you are doing then. You were getting so wound up there it was kinda frightening." He laughed playfully and Merlin made to punch him gently in the shoulder, a move easily avoided by Arthur.
"Well never mind me, your turn. Why did you audition?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Arthur looked embarrassed at this but doesn't look away from Merlin.
"A bet. Bohrs from the football team made a bet with me, Gwaine, Percy and Eli and if we lost the bet we had to audition. We never actually thought we would be given parts. Mind you, that didn't stop him thinking it was hilarious when he were," he answered, truthfully and sounding almost abashed.
"And why did you stay?" Merlin asked.
"Two reasons mainly, you said it yourself on that first meeting. You'd already been to the staff and they thought it was a good idea for me to take part so I couldn't use the football team as an excuse. And secondly - you," he answered and Merlin blushed.
"Yeah. In my full time in that school no one has ever stood up to me like you did. I'm not a git or a bully by any means but I'll be honest, I'm used to getting my own way. Always have been truth be told. But not with you. You didn't just let me walk all over you. It... interested me."
"Right... so if I just bowed down to you then you would have just left the musical then? Cause we both know that even if they thought it was a good idea, if you were dead set against it then the staff couldn't force you too participate. It's a school, not a prison," he questioned.
"Yeah, probably. I'd just have gotten bored and found some way out of it," Arthur answered.
Merlin didn't respond to that but thought over what Arthur has said in his head as they reached the cinema. They spent a few minutes deciding what it was they wanted to see, bought tickets - which Arthur wouldn't let Merlin pay for, no matter how many times Merlin protested and were soon sitting in the foyer outside the movie theatre.
They didn't speak for a moment as they sat down and then Arthur broke the silence.
"I'm glad you didn't just bow down to me," he said quietly and Merlin smiled.
"Me too." Gently squeezing Arthur's knee and then making no move to remove his hand from its resting place.
The conversation took a much more neutral tone after that, with the boys talking about a variety of topics - ranging from the classes they were taking, the unis they wanted to attend in September - or drama schools in Merlin's case - to sports (which Arthur found out Merlin hated with a passion) to books and culture (where Merlin found out that Arthur detested Shakespeare). And though they had their differences, they found out they also had more in common than they thought.
The movie showing opened and they made their way in, walking close to one another and Merlin would have sworn that he could feel Arthur's hand ghosting over the bottom of his back from time, but couldn't be sure. It was a comforting thought, even if it was all just in his imagination. When they got into the semi-darkened room, Arthur gestured to the very back row, a lewd smirk on his face, and winked at Merlin.
"How about we go up the back row?" he smirked, his eyebrows waggling comically.
"You wish, Pendragon. You keep your hands to yourself. What kind of boy do you take me for? This is only the first date after all," he answered, in a mock stern tone of voice. When they took seats in the middle of the theatre he couldn't help leaning in closer to Arthur and whispering into his ear.
"The back seats are saved for a third date with me." His breath caused goosebumps to erupt over Arthur's skin.
He turned to look at Merlin and licked his lips in an obvious fashion.
"And pray, dear sir, what does it take to get to a third date with the eligible Mr Emrys?" he asked and Merlin grinned back at him.
"You just keep acting the way you are acting and you may get further than just a third date," He said, running a finger up and down Arthur's bare forearm.
"Well, that's a very appealing thought I must admit."
There was no more time for talk then as the lights dimmed completely, and the screen lit up and both boys turned to face it. They didn't say much to each other during the whole of the movie or even during the advertisements and trailers which ran beforehand, but there was still plenty of interaction between the two of them. At one point Merlin leaned down to tuck his lace into the inside of his shoe and he felt a gentle line being drawn down the length of his back, causing him to shiver before sitting back into his seat. At one point he slid down a little in his seat and looked around the movie theatre, his eyes meeting with Arthur's in the darkness. The blond boy winked before yawning in what Merlin thought was the most fake manner ever and his arm made its way around Merlin's shoulder. He didn't push it off. Another time, Merlin placed his hand on the arm rest in between the two of them, and a second later he felt the palm of Arthur Pendragon pressed against his hand. He flipped his hand around and locked fingers with Arthur, the other boy’s thumb making its way between the netted fingers and rubbing soothing circles into the dark-haired boy’s palm. When the movie finally stopped, they were the last to leave the movie theatre, waiting until the credits had stopped rolling. They walked out of the movie with their hands still linked and neither one made to separate them.
"So, what do you say about being dead romantic then and going for a take away pizza for us to eat on the way home?" Arthur grinned, amusement dancing in his eyes.
"That sounds fantastic," Merlin grinned back and tugged Arthur gently in the direction of the nearest Italian restaurant that had a takeaway service.
They found one quickly and ordered their pizza, an 18" to share, with Arthur making a smutty joke when Merlin asked if he would be OK with a meat feast pizza, saying something along the lines of:
"How much of a disappointment of a gay man would I be if I didn't like a meat feast?"
"Almost as much as a gay man who doesn't go into subway and get a six inch hearty Italian."
"Oh, of course. You just need to love those six-inchers. I find I struggle quite a lot with the twelve inch though. It's just to much for me to take." Arthur laughed and Merlin blushed. Again. It felt to him like that was all he seemed to be doing the full night. His face must have looked like it had been painted the colour of a post box by now. A woman at one of the tables made a noise of what Merlin assumed to be either shock or outrage.
Their pizza came then and once again, Arthur refused to let Merlin pay, and they leave the restaurant, receiving a foul look from the hag-like old lady who made the noise, sitting at the table closest to where they were standing. There eyes met and they ducked out the door before they let out the laughter they had been holding in.
"Did you see her face?" Arthur said between bouts of laughter and Merlin took a deep breath, trying to keep his face straight.
"She looked like she was having a fit or something. I don't think I've ever seen a vein on someone’s head stick out quite so much." He howled.
"Yeah, well, serves the old hag right. Listening into a private conversation," Arthur answered indignantly, and Merlin nodded along with him.
They stopped laughing eventually and made their way down to the train station, discussing the film and the old woman and anything else that came up in conversation. Luckily the train was there when they get into the station and they found another couple of seats, this time beside each other and Merlin placed the food onto his lap. As the train pulled away, they ate their food in a laid back silence, their eyes occasionally meeting as they did so but never for long periods of time.
"Want the last slice?" Merlin asked eventually, making a gesture to the now almost empty box.
"Nah, you can have it. You look like you need fattening up anyway," he said playfully. "You're all skin and bone," he said with an accompanying prod to Merlin's ribs.
"Prat," Merlin retorted.
"Shut up and eat your pizza. My build is perfect thank you very much," Merlin stated.
In the end, neither of them ate that final slice. They left the train at their stop with it still in its box, which was now lying at the bottom of the train rubbish bin.
The walk back to the school was slow, almost reluctant, and Merlin knew that at least on his part it was because he didn't want to end the night, and at one point he felt Arthur working his hand into his again and smiled.
When they eventually reached the school gates, Arthur pulled Merlin in front of him and looked directly at him.
“I'm going to kiss you again Merlin. Is that OK?” he asked softly, his left hand pressed softly against the flaming skin on Merlin's face.
“Yeah, that's better than OK,” Merlin all but whispered, and as soon as he stopped talking he could feel Arthur's lips on his. He didn't know how long the kiss lasted but when Arthur pulled away Merlin was feeling pretty blissed and breathless. Arthur's head was resting against his and the blonde softly softly.
“I had a really good time tonight,” he stated simply.
“Me too,” Merlin replied.
“Good enough to merit a second date?” he asked.
“Definitely,” Merlin responded and placed another soft kiss on his lips, lingering for just a moment.
“Now I really need to go. But we really need to do this again. Now give me your phone number?”
Merlin walked the full journey home texting him, picturing the second date and thanking his lucky stars that he gave Arthur Pendragon a second chance.
After the date, things went perfectly for about three weeks, both in Merlin's private life and in his work on the production. They had two weeks left until the night of the show and the production was coming together magnificently. The set was looking good, the music was all prepared, the extras were chosen from the many choirs, bands and acting troupes which the school ran and the main cast members had their performances well on the way to perfect - much to Merlin's delight. And if he was being honest with himself then he would say that the production was actually turning out better than even he had anticipated. The thought brought an almost manic grin to his face.
And Arthur? Well, Merlin's relationship with the blond striker was going from strength to strength. They had now reached official date number four but had spent hours together either just relaxing in Merlin's house or making out on Merlin's bed. They'd went out for dinner together and had a proper meal this time, not just take away pizza to eat on a train on the way home. That night had almost killed Merlin. Spending hours sitting in front of a Arthur when the blond looked sinful in a nicely cut shirt which sat just perfectly on his broad shoulders and a pair of trousers which emphasised all of his best parts. And Merlin meant all of his best parts. They had announced their relationship to the group the week following their first date and much to the couple’s surprise, no one was that shocked by the revelation. According to Gwaine the sexual tension was so thick he was surprised they both hadn't suffocated in it yet. In private Gwen asked him if he was doing the right thing but when he told her he was happy with Arthur and that the blond wasn't as much as a dick as everyone liked to think , she stepped back and told him she was happy for him.
Alas, things didn't stay perfect forever.
Now, Merlin paid no attention to the school football team. At all. Arthur tried to get him to take an interest in it and Merlin did try, honestly. Whenever Arthur started talking about sports and the football team then Merlin would zone out. It wasn't intentional, but there was something about the thought of Arthur in shorts, all hot and bothered that made Merlin drool, probably the memories of that first one-on-one session the boys had had.
So that was why four weeks later, with Merlin getting dragged to Freya's cousin's and Merlin's friends Will football game for own local school, Ealdor High, he was surprised to see Arthur on the other side of the field, laughing and joking, surrounded by the rest of his teammates, and standing poised in the crowd was the form of Morgana, her eyes glued to him.
She smiled, a cool but authentic-seeming smile at him - one got to realise that with Morgana Lefay there was no such thing as warmness, the girl was permanently aloof and standoffish. So when she gestured for Gwen, Freya and himself to come across to her they did.
They exchanged the customary small talk for a while as they waited for the game to start, Merlin's eyes were constantly drawn to Arthur's training at the opposite end of the pitch. The boy looked marvellous and Merlin could feel himself getting lost in the sight. He was about to walk over to Arthur and let him know he was there when he felt a large arm getting thrown around his shoulders and a hand ruffling his hair - Will. His eyes met Morgana's whose had narrowed to a frightening-looking level, and she was glancing between himself and Will. He swallowed nervously before introducing them.
"Morgana, this is Will, a friend of mine. Will, this is Morgana, she's playing Carlotta in Phantom," He said, quickly.
"Yes, that's me. And I'm also Arthur's sister," she answered coldly."You don't go to Camelot Academy do you? That's not our strip."
"Nup, not me. I'm an Ealdor boy. And Arthur? Should I know him?" he asked, confused.
"Oh right. The boy Merlin's in a relationship with," she smirked.
"Wait what?" he asked, shocked, turning to Merlin quickly. "You've met someone?"
Merlin nodded and answered.
"I have. Name's Arthur Pendragon," he stated simply.
"How did I not know this?" Will questioned, sounding confused and slightly hurt that Merlin hadn't seen fit to tell him about it.
"Well, I've not really seen you recently have I? I thought Freya would have told you anyway. Or did she actually manage to keep her mouth shut for a change?" He smirked.
"Yeah, I guess."
The group was silent for a minute, with Will looking thoughtful and biting his bottom lip.
"Did you say Pendragon?" he asked finally, to which Merlin nodded.
"As in Pendragon, number 3? Captain of the Knights?" he questioned, sounding slightly worried.
"Yeah that's him. Why?" the dark haired teenager quized.
"Oh, no reason. Just he appears to be looking at me like he wants to murder me and then looking at you liked you kicked his cat. Repeatedly," he responded casually and Merlin swore.
"Fuck. I've not spoken to him yet. I didn't even know it was the Knights you guys were playing today. I'm gonna go see him. Be back in a few."
He made his way over to Arthur casually, who was standing tense and looking slightly withdrawn. Merlin looked around nervously, unsure of how to greet Arthur. It had become habit for the two of them to greet each other with a kiss but Merlin wasn't sure if Arthur would want to be seen kissing another guy in front of all his teammates and quite possibly his father. Merlin had no idea if the man was in the crowd watching, but from the way Arthur described his relationship with him, it wasn't a particularly friendly one, and from what Merlin could draw out of the conversations about his boyfriend’s family then his father wasn't exactly open-minded about same sex relationships.
The problem was taken out of Merlin's hands when Arthur took a step back, trying to stand as casually as possible.
"Hey you," Merlin smiled.
"Merlin. Didn't know you were coming to watch me play today," he replied simply.
“Honestly? Neither did I.”
“I see. What are you doing here then?” he asked.
“Will Freeman. Cousin of Freya's and a childhood friend of mine. He's the goalie for the Ealdor. Freya and Gwen dragged me to come and see the game cause I've not seen Will in a while,” he answered honestly.
“Oh right. OK,” Arthur replied almost robotically.
“Good luck out there today? Is that the right thing to say here? I would say break a leg but you know... that may do more harm than good in this situation,” he joked and was glad to see a slight smile was pulling at the edge of Arthur's mouth.
"Thanks, and I'll do my best not to break a leg," he replied. "I'd better go. The guys will be wondering what's taking me," he continued on, somewhat awkwardly.
"No worries. Will I see you after the game?" questioned Merlin and was relieved to see that Arthur gave a slight nod before jogging off to a small gathering of players in the Camelot away strip.
When Merlin got back to the others he noted that Will had already left and Gwen and Freya were speaking rapidly about something Merlin didn't understand, and Morgana? Well, Morgana was just standing in the same position as she was when he left, only now her head was tilted and she was looking at him like he was a particularly interesting specimen in a science lab. The stare made him nervous and made him feel incredibly intimidated.
The game kicked off not long after that and Merlin tried to get engrossed in it. Arthur on the field was certainly a sight to behold. His body was strong and forceful, and he moved with a steadfastness and a confidence in his movements. Merlin didn't know anything about the sport but even he could understand that Arthur was a good player - probably better than good in all honesty, and he certainly ran rings around his opposition. Merlin also appreciated the fact that his legs looked amazing in the shorts that he had to wear and the top would ride up slightly every time he stretched up for a high ball, giving Merlin the tiniest little peek of the skin which hid underneath. The sight of Arthur being so ... manly and energised certainly made Merlin look at the game in a whole new light. Maybe football wouldn't be so bad if Arthur was the one who was playing.
Merlin was so engrossed in his own game of Arthur-watching that he didn't hear the whistle for half-time, and it wasn't until both Arthur and Will were crossing the pitch in his direction that he realised they were both coming to speak with him, although Arthur was sending Will looks which could only be considered deadly as they both approached the sidelines.
Will was the first to reach him, and in usual Will style, he reached across and ruffled Merlin's hair, causing the dark-haired boy to swear at him and throw his hand off whilst Arthur approached, his brow drawn into a frown.
"Arthur, this is Will. Will, this is Arthur, my boyfriend," he introduced and the boys shook hands in a grip which looked to Merlin like it would crush his hand had he been on the receiving end. He was surprised that neither of them even flinched.
"So... who's winning?" Merlin asked, trying to start up a conversation.
A smug grin plastered itself onto Arthur face, reminding Merlin of the first time he met the blond.
"That would be us. 2-0"
Merlin chanced a look at Will, and his old friend looked sour.
"Haven't you been watching the game?" he asked, pouting.
"Well I've been trying to watch, honestly. But I just keep getting... distracted. You both know I don't do sports," he answered, his face flushing.
"Distracted?" Arthur asked, an evil looking grin on his face. "What could possibly be distracting you?"
"Oh, nothing much. Just thinking about the production," he replied, trying to sound as casual and relaxed as possible, his face flushed even more. Arthur was about to speak when Freya interrupted.
"He's lying. He's been having naughty fantasies about Arthur in his kit."
Will, who had been taking a drink from his water bottle at the time coughed and spluttered, the spray landing on Arthur.
"Oh shit man! I'm sorry! That was an accident! Blame Freya. She made me laugh! Shit. I'm sorry," he rambled whilst Freya and Gwen laughed loudly and Morgana looked slightly amused. Merlin stood stiffly, mortified.
"Right, I'd better go. After that unexpected shower. I'll see you guys later," Arthur spoke, throwing spiteful glares at Will as he did. They all bid him farewell and then he was gone, back to his team at their end of the pitch.
"Well, isn't he a barrel of laughs. What do you see in him?" Will asked Merlin, nonchalantly.
"Shut up, Will. You've barely met him, and from the little time you did spend in his company you ended up getting him covered in water. No wonder he wasn't exactly jumping for joy around you," Merlin snapped, turning back to face the pitch.
"Wow, sorry man. Didn't mean anything by it. Was just saying," he said, holding his hands up in a defensive motion.
Will only stayed for a minute or so after that before he too jogged away to rejoin his teammates whilst Freya and Gwen left to go to the food stall to pick up some snacks for lunch, leaving only the two raven-haired teenagers.
Morgana leaned on the fence beside Merlin, not looking at him and spoke.
"So Merlin. You and Arthur, huh?" she asked.
"Yeah, me and Arthur. Kinda poetic if you ask me," he responded.
"Poetic? In what way?" she quizzed.
"The names you know? Arthur and Merlin of legend, and then now I end up dating Arthur and my name's Merlin," he explained, and she laughed softly.
"I didn't even think of that to be honest. Never mind. Look, Merlin, I'm going to be blunt here OK?" she questioned but Merlin got the impression that she would be blunt whether he liked it or not. He nodded anyway and she continued.
"Good. You and Arthur, what's the script? How serious would you say it is?"
"Well, I really like him. I like him a lot. More than I thought I would when I first met him. I actually thought he was a bit of a massive dickhead at first, but you could say that he's grown on me. So yeah, I think it has potential to pretty serious if he wants it to be. I know I do," he answered honestly.
"Right, that's good to hear then. Just a word of warning though, Uther is a dick so don't take it personally if Arthur doesn't jump out the closet straight away, covered in glitter and rainbows and wearing pink spandex."
Merlin laughed at that. He didn't mean to, but the image was just to comical for him not to.
"I'm not expecting him to Morgana, don't worry about that. And I guessed as much from the little he has said about your dad anyway."
"Just as long as we're clear. And one last thing? Hurt him and I'll cook your testicles in a stew and force feed you it," she continued sweetly, causing Merlin to pale.
Thankfully he was spared from needing to reply to her by the timely arrival of Gwen and Freya rushing back and the whistle signalling for the start of the second half.
Merlin paid more attention to the game in the second half, and at one point he couldn't help noticing that Arthur and Will appeared to be arguing. It was just after Arthur had put a goal into Will's net that Merlin seen his friend gesturing at the ref and then shouting at Arthur whilst Arthur shouted back. Merlin couldn't hear what was being said, but he could tell by the tension in both of the boys that they weren't exactly making plans to have tea and biscuits at some point. The ref broke the shouting much up and said something to Will, causing an angry look to appear on his face before he went back into his goal and grabbed the ball, kicking it out to the rest of the field aggressively.
The game got pretty heated after that and the football got dirty. Very dirty. Yellow cards got shown on numerous occasions, to both sides for illegal tackles, diving, obstruction and all round unpleasant sport. By the time the final whistle blew, both sides are pissed. The final score was 3-nil to Camelot, and Merlin watched as Will ripped his gloves off and tossed them violently into the net which he had meant to be guarding and stormed into his teams changing room. Merlin was more interested in Arthur though. His gaze found him, and he watched as he congratulated his teammates for their game and they made their way into the opposite changing room. The blond boy was smiling, but he was tense and his eyes kept darting around as if looking for something or someone.
Merlin waited. He said goodbye to Gwen, Freya and Morgana and waited, standing leaning against the wall beside the changing room. He watched as Will came outside and with a nod and a wave the brunette teenager left, surrounded by his commiserating teammates and friends. The Camelot team trooped out in pairs and in threes, with Merlin acknowledging the players that he knew, and when he counted that Arthur was the last one in the changing room he walked in, opening and shutting the door as silently as possible.
Arthur was sitting on a wooden bench, his back facing the door.
“Good game,” he said casually, causing his boyfriend to startle and jump up, spinning round almost comically.
“Merlin! Didn't hear you come in there,” he laughed. “And thanks. Although I doubt you would really know a good game of football if it came up and danced naked in front of you wearing a wizard’s hat,” he smirked.
“True. But you won, didn't you? Couldn't have been that bad a game,” Merlin reasoned.
“I guess. I take it your friend Will isn't too happy?” he asked, a frown on his face.
“I imagine not, but I haven't spoken to him since half-time. What's up with you and him?” Merlin asked.
“What? Nothing? I don't even know him,” Arthur answered but his gaze wouldn't meet Merlin's.
“Exactly. Yet you got all weird and grumpy around him. Was it because he was your opponent?”
“Err... no, it wasn't that. I just don't like him,” the blond said casually, shrugging his shoulders.
“You just don't like him... bullshit. You've just met him.” Merlin laughed sardonically.
“I just don't OK! Drop it, Merlin,” Arthur snapped, heatedly.
“Oh, for fuck sake, Arthur. What is wrong with you? You've looked like you have been in a foul mood since you saw me and Will talking. Your team won for Christ's sake. You should be out celebrating and at least smiling,” Merlin snapped back.
“Fine! My problem? Will's my problem! You come to see him play and then he wraps himself all over you like a love sick fucking puppy, yet you don't even listen when I talk about the game! What's the fucking deal with that?” Arthur shouted.
“I didn't want to come! I hate sport. Freya and Gwen dragged me here because of Will. Will who just happens to be Freya's cousin and my closest friend since we were like 5 or something! I didn't come here to see him play. I came here so Freya could see him play, and so I could catch up with an old friend OK?” Merlin huffed back, shocked at Arthur's outburst.
“Oh, whatever you say Merlin. Just a friend. Fine. Freya's cousin. Fine,” he answered, no longer shouting but now sounding defeated, turning his back on Merlin.
The black-haired boy walked up to him and gently placed his hand on his shoulder, turning him back around to face him.
“I'm sorry I haven't seen you play before, Arthur and I promise you that if I knew it was Camelot that Ealdor were playing I would have told you. I didn't know. And Will? You don't need to worry about him. Promise,” Merlin soothed and Arthur pulled him into a hug, his head resting on Merlin's.
“I know... I was... I dunno. When I saw you here and I saw someone else all over you like that I just... Didn't like it. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that.”
Merlin pulled back at that, a smirk on his face.
“Arthur Pendragon. Were you jealous?” he asked and Arthur flushed.
“Maybe a little... this whole relationship thing is new to me.”
“I know. And honestly? It's kind of adorable. But like I said, you have no need to be,” he grinned and leaned in, his lips meeting Arthur's in a slow kiss.
“I know that now.” Arthur laughed when they pulled apart.
The rest of the day was spent in blissful laziness at Merlin's house, lying sprawled out on his sofa wrapped around Arthur as the pair of them made their way through a movie marathon made up of both of the boy’s favourites whilst indulging in numerous make-out sessions. In the opinion of both boys, it was a very, very good day.
“Ladies and gents, boys and girls, this is it. The night we've been working towards for a few months. I'm not going to have a massive speech and bore you all to death – we have a show to put on in a matter of minutes, so last-minute deaths are not allowed. However, I do have a few things which I would like to say to you before you go on. First and foremost, thank you. To each and every one of you. You have each worked tirelessly at this, to be honest and much to my surprise, and because of that hard work this little show you are about to perform is going to be phenomenal. Secondly, break a leg. When curtain's up, just let the adrenaline flow through you and perform like your life depends on it. And finally, enjoy it! You are the ones who have been working towards this – not me. Not really. I may have guided you in the right direction but it's your effort which has made tonight possible. So embrace it. Love it. Feed off the energy from the audience and just go on stage and have the time of your life.”
Merlin was standing centre stage, his cast in a line before him, head to toe in costume and fidgeting with the nervous energy which was buzzing amongst them behind the curtain. On the other side, Merlin could hear the last of the audience getting seated and tell-tale click of the auditorium doors closing. When he finished speaking he took a deep breath and looked towards them, his eyes automatically drawn to Arthur who looked stunning in costume, his blond hair slicked back and glazed-looking thanks to the wonders of hair gel and hair spray, some of his face obscured by the stark white mask, a blazing contrast to the black suit he was wearing, (one of his own tailored ones, which was cut to fit his body perfectly). Merlin opted out of the typical black cape draped over his shoulders, deciding that even though the cape may add enigma and mystery, it also added fantastical elements to the character and hoped that by leaving it out of his costume then it would add a more uptight yet human aspect to the character. Arthur was disappointed at first that he wouldn't be able to swoop around in a cape like some sort of superhero for a while, but Merlin managed to convince him that he looked better in the suit than in the cape. When the blond heard that he accepted Merlin's decision gracefully and with a small, wicked smirk.
The other costumes were similar - simple and, he hoped, elegant. Thanks to the ingenuity of Morgana and the unlimitedness of her Father's credit card, and her wicked control of him, she had been able to get Merlin the money to buy costumes from an actual fancy dress shop, not just limited to whatever his mother would be able to throw together for them. He appreciated what his mum was willing to do for the show but proper costume gave the cast so much more oomph.
He cleared his throat and checked his watch before speaking again.
“And it's time people. I'll address the audience and then ten seconds later, curtain will up and then we start. I'll be in the front row watching and I'll see you at interval.” He nodded.
“One thing before you go Merlin,” Gwaine interrupted and Merlin turned to him.
“Yeah?” He asked.
“GROUP HUG!” He yelled, and with that the cast descended upon him and he was laughing, and soon there were arms everywhere and he had the biggest grin on his face imaginable. His eyes met Arthur's in the huddle and the blond boy smiled at him warmly, and Merlin could feel his stomach doing flips – and he knew it was not just the nerves of the production. The crowd receded and he gave the group a simple smile before quickly crossing the stage, pulling the curtain aside slightly and sneaking out, letting it fall into place. Making his way down to the additional thrust section of the stage which was getting used as the phantom's lair, the lights slowly dimmed and a hush came across the gathered family members, friends and students. The spotlight burned on him and he cleared his throat.
“Good evening, ladies and gents. Thanks for coming to Camelot High's production of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Phantom of the Opera”, based on the book of the same title by Gaston Theroux. We hope you enjoy and there will be a short interval separating acts one and two.” He introduced, before quickly scurrying to his empty seat and seating himself just as the scarlet curtains hiding the set swung open and the stage lights brightened, revealing the prologue.
It didn't take long for Merlin to get lost in his friends’ words, movements and expressions. It was rewarding to him, watching these people, whom he started off barely knowing apart from a quick glance but had ended up becoming his friends through the process of working together, then reworking something and then finally reworking what they just reworked so that it could be as close to perfect as possible. The feeling of pride that swelled inside him when they reached the notes that were needed with perfect pitch, or when he saw them do something which he had suggested, whether it be some little movement to add an extra element to the production, or else an expression which he thought would be more suiting for the character. And he was even more glad that Morgana had her father wrapped around her little finger, because on stage, the costumes which he had spent hours painstakingly trying to decide upon looked marvellous.
The music was done superbly, having been previously recorded by the school's various orchestras and now being played through the sound system, and the lighting was flowing smoothly from one set up to another.
In his opinion, Gwen and Arthur were shining particularly bright. He knew they were good. In fact, he knew the full cast were brilliant. But those two had never been better than they were now, and the alone gave him an impressive grin as he watched them weave and dance across the stage, acting and interacting with each other like professionals.
Morgana had the stern persona of Madam Giri perfected and Morgause was the perfect Carlotta – arrogant, stuck up and downright nasty – and Eli was ideally submissive and effeminate as tenor Ubaldo, controlled by the overpowering Prima Donna. Percy and Gwaine as Firmin and Andre was perfect. They already had the bromance off stage and it was showing through on stage.
The extras he had selected were also doing him proud. The chorus – whilst substantially smaller than what would normally be used in this production played their role superbly.
Before he knew it the final chords of act one and “All I Ask of You” were ringing through the hall and the stage lights dimmed and the curtains swung shut whilst the auditorium lights brightened.
When he made it up to the stage it was a hive of activity as people used the fifteen minute break for set changes and costume changes. Everyone around him was doing something productive. The sight made another swell of pride form in his throat and he clapped his hands together a couple of time to get everyone's attention.
“Everyone! Get together for a minute please!” he announced, and the group swarmed around him, attentive looks on their faces.
“So far it's going amazing. Congratulations! I need to say it. You lot are amazing you know that? Keep up the awesome work and people will be leaving here speechless at the end of the night.” He grined and the others grinned back at him just as widely.
“Now, back to work! You have a second act to prep for!” he mock scolded, and they scurried off to whatever it was they were doing, apart from Arthur and Morgana.
“Merlin, can we have a word?” Arthur asked, trying to sound casual but his eyes quickly shooting to Morgana who looked worried but nodded as if urging him forward to do something.
“Sure. What's up?” he asked, nervous because of how weird the both of them are acting.
“We are going to tell you something, and try not to freak out or anything. Just... listen,” he spoke calmly, almost like he was talking to a child.
“OK. Good. Right. Well, I don't really know how to tell you this but...”
“Oh, for fuck sake Arthur, just spit it out already!” Morgana snapped, her hand whacking Arthur on the back of the head.
“Right. Calm down, woman! I was getting there!” Arthur sniped back.
“Will you both please just tell me what's going on? You're acting like something bad has happened. No one is pulling out are they?” He panicked and he could feel his heart racing at the thought, but before he could get worked up Arthur was in front of him, one hand resting on his shoulder and the other on his waist.
“No one is pulling out you drama queen. It's nothing bad. Just... it could have been, but it's not,” he soothed and Merlin relaxed, leaning into him.
“Myfatherhasinvitedatheatrecriticforanationalnewspaperandhe'sintheaudience,” Arthur said quickly and Merlin pulled back, looking at him, confused.
“I have no idea what you just said.” He laughed quietly.
“What my idiot of a brother tried to tell you is that our Father invited a critic from a national newspaper and he's in the audience,” she said calmly, and the words took a while to register with the dark-haired boy.
“Did you just say that there is an actual theatre critic out in the audience?” Merlin repeated, and she nodded.
“Bullshit. Why would a journalist come to a school show? Critics do professional shows that other people can go and see. Not one-night-only school shows with a bunch of amateurs.” He laughed.
“We aren't joking Merlin. You know I said that my Father ran a business but never really went into details?” Arthur asked, and Merlin was the one nodding this time.
“Well, he kind of owns the chain of Prophesy newspapers.”
“Well, FUCK! Do the others know?” Merlin asked, and the siblings shook their heads that they didn't.
“OK. Don't tell them. It will only make them more nervous and more likely to fuck up. I'll tell them when the show is done. Did you know when we first went on?” he questioned, and they both got slightly guilty looks on there faces.
“We did. We didn't want to tell you straight away though, because you looked kinda manic all day and we didn't want to give you something else to worry about,” Arthur explained.
“I was not manic!” he spluttered, and Arthur chuckled whilst Morgana just raised her eyebrows. “Well... OK. Maybe I was. A little.” He blushed before leaning up and placing a chaste kiss on Arthur's lips.
“Well you, mister, have a costume to change and I have an audience – with a professional theatre critic don't you know? - to address so we best get to work. Curtain up in two!” he stated, and after a final, deeper kiss at which Morgana promptly moved away leaving the two of them just staring at one another.
“I'll see you at final curtain,” Merlin stated and Arthur smiled.
He walked out the curtain again and stood in the shadows for a moment, checking his watch again and then signalling to Mordred, the lighting tech hidden in a booth at the very back of the hall, to dim the auditorium lights.
“Ladies and gents, if you would please be seated, Act Two is about to begin,” He stated simply, and the room quieted and everyone was seated quickly.
The second half went much the same as the first, with the cast members maintaining their high standard of work. The smaller auditorium was perfect in Merlin's opinion for this part of the show. The tense final moments being so much more dramatic than they would have been had it been staged on a professional stage.
The music was reverberating around the room and Merlin couldn't help but quickly glance at the audience seated behind him, and he was glad to see more than a few of them had transfixed or awed expressions on their faces. His eyes fell on Uther Pendragon for a second, and he was pleased to see a small smile on the man's face and then the dark-haired boy’s eyes went scanning around the room again, this time looking for whoever could be the critic that Arthur and Morgana had mentioned. The fact that there was a professional in the audience watching his production made him feel both ecstatic and sick at the same time. What if it had gone disastrously wrong? It would have been a nightmare for everyone involved.
It seemed to him like time flew by and no sooner had he sat down after introducing the show was he now clapping his hands in a frenzy in a round of applause that was carrying around the whole room.
The lights had dimmed and the music had stopped, and as the curtain fell the cast took their place on the thrust stage for their final bow, looks of relief and happiness, and in some cases surprise, on their faces and at that moment Merlin could not have been prouder. They may have been annoying at times, at times frustrating, he may have been impatient with them and they with him, but they had done it. They'd put on a show which he could not have asked to be done better, and that alone made the whole process worthwhile. He felt like he could kiss each and every one of them. Of course, the one he wanted to kiss the most was standing in the centre of the line, his hands linked with Gwen and Percy and the blond boy’s startlingly blue eyes met his, and Merlin pretty much melted into his seat.
At that moment Merlin couldn't help it. He grinned broadly and before his brain caught up with what his body was doing he had mouthed the words “I love you” to Arthur. The blond's eyes widened a little before an easy smile appeared on his face and his mouth was moving, forming the words “I love you too,” and at that moment both boys felt like they were on top of the world and unstoppable.