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The Practice Boyfriend

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“You do realize this is the most ridiculous idea ever?” Elena asked Merlin as she sat on his bed and watched him dig through his wardrobe.

“Of course I do,” Merlin said as he pulled out a shirt and shook it at Elena with a questioning look, when she shrugged noncommittally Merlin hung it back up. “But I’m still going through with it.”

“I still don’t get why you just don’t wait until Lance gets back from Thailand.”

“He’s not going to be back for another six months. I’m twenty-four years old, El, it’s pretty sad that I haven’t had a proper boyfriend yet. I don’t want to be the pathetic sod that’s pined for Lance for four years.”

“I think it’s sweet.”

“That I’m an enormous loser that has never been on a real date?”

“No, that you’re so sure about Lance. I’ve never met anyone so sure. You just know, you know? And I think that’s sweet.”

“And pathetic,” Merlin said as he grinned at her over his shoulder.

“Well, yes, that too.” Elena grinned back.

Merlin sat down beside her on the bed. “I just want to have some experience. I don’t want to be an absolute spaz with Lance.”

“You’ve dated before, you’re not completely clueless.”

“Going to the cinema with Will and attempting to give him a hand job in the back row is hardly what I’d call a smashing success.”

“But you did try,” Elena said cheerfully. “How were you to know that old woman would start screeching so loudly when she saw the two of you?”

“They actually stopped the film and escorted us out,” Merlin said, turning red at just the memory.

Elena bit her lip in thought. “You went out that one time with Gwaine.”

“Doesn’t count. He bought me a pint, saw you, and ditched me before I could even finish it.”

“He didn’t ditch you,” Elena said. “He did ask if it was okay.”

“Like I was going to say no when the two of you were gazing at each with stars in your eyes.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Elena frowned.

“Hey, not your fault,” Merlin said as he gave Elena’s hand a squeeze. “You two are much more suited to one another.”

“Still,” Elena said.

“You’re not backing out on me, are you?”

“Of course not. I told you I’d take you and I will.”

“Good, because I don’t want to be wasting all of this time over-analyzing every single piece of clothing I own for nothing.”

“I still think you should wear the purple button-down, you look lovely in it.”

Merlin got up to pull the shirt out of his wardrobe and hold it up to himself. “Really?”

Elena nodded. “Really. With the jeans you’re wearing and that first jacket.”

“You’re better than a gay bestie,” Merlin teased as he took the shirt off the hanger.

“I know,” Elena said smugly as she hung over the side of the bed to dig a pair of shoes out from underneath it. “And these shoes.”

“So tell me about all the cute guys that’ll be there tonight.”

“I want to introduce you to Percy first. He’s as big as a fucking mountain but the sweetest person I know. He’s like an overgrown puppy with a big, dumb smile that’s too adorable for words.”

“Sounds promising.”

“There’s also Leon but I’m one hundred percent sure he’s having sexual congress with Mithian.”

“Sexual congress. Really, El?”

“Would you rather I say that I suspect Mithian straps one on and rides him like a pony? Cos I can word it that way instead.”

“Erm, no thanks.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Elena said smugly. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Merlin ignored her. “Who else?”

“I’m fairly certain Stewart and Aidan are of the gay persuasion and they’re both gorgeous, I’ll be sure to introduce you. I’m also thinking possibly Charlie,” Elena’s voice trailed off as she considered all of the blokes she could potentially set Merlin up with at her work do.

“What about Arthur?” Merlin asked.

“Fuck me, no,” Elena said. “No way. Not a chance.”

“Why not, you said he wasn’t picky about the boy and girl bits.”

“Because he’s a manwhore. No. I’m not subjecting you to Arthur. He’d date a broom if it had tits. Or a dick. And a negative IQ.”

“But you said he was gorgeous.”

“Of course he is, and he knows it too. Manwhores are always gorgeous, it’s part of what makes them manwhores, but that doesn’t mean you should date them.”

“He seems like the perfect solution. He’d obviously not want a relationship of any sort.”

“On paper he seems the perfect solution, maybe, but in reality? God no. I don’t want you to catch anything.” Elena scrunched up her face at the thought.

“He can’t be that awful.”

“He is.”

“You said he was nice,” Merlin kept at her.

“He’s incredibly nice, a brilliant boss, but as a boyfriend? He’d make your delicate little heart cry within the first fifteen minutes.”

Merlin threw a balled up sock at Elena’s head. “I’m not some delicate petal.”

“Trust me, in regards to Arthur Pendragon you are. He flirts with anything with a pulse, and he’s terribly good at it. Only the hardcore can survive him. You need to take things slow. Think Percy, Merlin, not Arthur. No Arthur.”

“Okay, fine. No Arthur. Percy,” Merlin said.

“Just keep repeating that mantra and you’ll be fine,” Elena said as she got up from the bed to tug at Merlin’s jacket. “God, you’re gorge. You’ll pull all the boys tonight.”

“Here’s hoping.” Merlin grinned nervously.

~*~

When Merlin and Elena showed up for the party Merlin got properly snogged by Gwaine, much to Elena’s delight, and was promptly introduced to Percy, Stewart, and Aidan. Elena was holding off on Charlie because she said she had to consult with Gwaine and his gaydar over whether or not Charlie was an option. She always claimed her gaydar worked better when combined with Gwaine’s.

Merlin thought she was full of shite.

He was now stood in the corner talking to Percy; who was as gorgeous as Elena had said, and as large - Merlin was getting a crick in his neck just looking up at him - and he was as sweet as could be, but there was just nothing there. Merlin thought he’d like to hang out with Percy as a friend rather than a boyfriend. He inwardly cringed at the thought of having to break the news to Elena, who had been none-too-subtle in introducing them to one another. Merlin had confessed straight off to Percy that he was looking for a date, if he hadn’t already been able to tell that from Elena’s enthusiastic introduction. Thankfully Percy had laughed good-naturedly and said he’d love to have a chat with Merlin despite the fact he considered Elena a good choice for a friend. He’d said it with such fondness Merlin knew Elena was a favorite of Percy’s as well and that he was only joking with him.

They were having a really lovely chat when Merlin was suddenly bumped into by someone from behind him.

“Oh, sorry, mate, didn’t mean to nearly run you over,” a voice from behind Merlin said.

“No worries,” Merlin said as he started to turn around. “Thankfully my drink stayed in my hand.”

“Thank fuck for that, I’d never in my life want to inadvertently murder a perfectly innocent drink.”

Merlin had opened his mouth to respond to that idiotic reply but he was stopped short by blond hair and blue eyes and teeth. Teeth everywhere. And a smile. Yeah, a smile too.

“You’re ridiculous, Arthur,” Percy said. “You do realize.”

“Of course, but that’s neither here nor there,” he said as he waved Percy off and directed his attention back to Merlin. “And you are?”

“Merlin. I’m called Merlin.”

Merlin blushed when he realized what he’d said and could hear Percy chuckling quietly at his side.

“Fantastic. I’m called Arthur. And he’s called Percy,” Arthur said as he pointed at Percy. “Now we’re all friends. And seeing as how we’re all friends I feel it my duty to rescue you from Perce who, while quite lovely in his own right, is a tremendous bore.”

“You only say that because I think Arsenal is complete crap.”

“I say that because you’re obviously brain damaged and I can tell Merlin is tired of humoring you and your simpleton ways.” Arthur grinned when Percy snorted then swung an arm over Merlin’s shoulder. “Merlin, come. I have more interesting things to tell you.”

“You saying they’re more interesting doesn’t actually make it true,” Percy said.

Arthur sighed. “Fine. But I’m still taking him, though I didn’t bollocks up his drink it’s in dire need of a refill and I can master that quite nicely. Off you go, Percival.”

“You’re just as ridiculous as Percy claimed,” Merlin said as he let Arthur drag him over to where the bar was set up.

Arthur just smiled at him. “I’ll do my best to add charming to the list, or at least make it outrank ridiculous.”

“I suppose you could try.” Merlin shrugged his shoulders.

“Ha.” Arthur barked out a laugh and slapped Merlin on the back. “Not letting me get too big for my britches, I see. Did Elena get to you first by any chance?”

“No,” Merlin spluttered but he knew he blushed because Arthur just laughed again.

“You’re a poor liar, Merlin, but fine, I’ll pretend like she didn’t warn you off of me. I suspect the word, ‘manwhore’ was bandied about, and I should probably fire her, but I enjoy her face around the office too much to actually carry through with it.”

“Lucky for her then.” Merlin smiled.

“I know,” Arthur drew out conspiratorially and Merlin laughed. “So, what are you drinking?”

“Whisky. Straight up.”

Arthur was about to take Merlin’s glass from him, but he stopped, looked at the glass, then up at Merlin, and started laughing this loud, slightly obnoxious and absolutely brilliant laugh that made Merlin laugh right along with him.

Merlin blushed and shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to say that. Somehow saying, ‘a pina colada straight up’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

Arthur laughed again and grabbed Merlin’s glass. “This isn’t a pina colada, is it?”

“No, but -,” Merlin began but he was interrupted.

“Abort! Abort! Merlin, abort!” Elena hollered at him as she bee-lined her way toward the two of them, nearly knocking people over in the process. “Abort!”

“You’re hardly covert, Elena,” Arthur said and raised an eyebrow at her when she slumped against Merlin’s side, flushed and out of breath.

She just waved her hand in Arthur’s face. “Whatever. Abort, Merlin.”

“Elena,” Merlin sighed. “Good grief.”

“Remember your mantra,” she said as she started to drag Merlin away by his arm. “Gotta go, Arthur. See you later.”

Merlin rolled his eyes but let Elena drag him away. He turned back when Arthur shouted, “I’ll get you that whisky, Merlin, come hell or high water. I promise you.” Merlin laughed and half waved at him with the hand that was holding his drink. Arthur saluted him with his own.

“He’s not actually that bad, Elena.”

“Oh my god, Merlin, what did I tell you? That’s what Arthur does. He lures you in and then bam! you’ve slept with him and he never calls you again.”

“I’m not going to sleep with him straight off,” Merlin hissed.

“Yeah, you say that now.”

Elena.”

“What?”

“Give me some credit.”

Elena sighed. “Okay, okay. I know you can look out for yourself but you’re just such a wee little baby to all this dating, flirting, manwhoring business. I feel like I need to look out for you.”

“I’ll be fine, El, trust me.”

Elena leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and then looped her arm through his. “So, what did you and Percy talk about?”

“We talked about what a good fuck Arthur is,” Merlin said as he tried to hide his grin.

“Ugh, Merlin,” Elena huffed. “Honestly.”

~*~

Merlin suffered through the evening and the rest of Elena’s embarrassing introductions. Each one was worse than the last and by the time he got to Charlie - Gwaine and Elena having decided he was gayer than a pride parade - Merlin was visibly cringing. It didn’t help matters whatsoever that Merlin could see Arthur keeping track of his progress out of the corner of his eye. He was always there, just hovering off to the side and not even trying to hide his amused smile. Merlin couldn’t decide if it was irritating or entertaining.

He finally broke away from Charlie by claiming he needed to the use the toilet and he was just about home-free when an arm shot out in front of him to block his way through the door.

“Having a lovely evening?”

Merlin turned to look at Arthur who was smiling like an idiot as he kept a steady gaze on Merlin.

“I couldn’t imagine a lovelier evening,” Merlin said.

“Same here,” Arthur said cheerfully. “I think my favorite part was when Elena introduced you to Charlie by telling him you enjoyed mushroom risotto and collecting vintage postcards. Oh, and that you were quite clever at board games. Merlin, I never knew.”

“Ha ha, laugh all you want, but I actually am quite clever at board games.”

“It just so happens that I adore board games, Monopoly in particular. I play it with my mate, Mithian, and I’m quite pleased to say that I’ve made her cry on several occasions with my pedantic playing strategies.”

“I wouldn’t brag about making your mate cry.”

“You haven’t met her, if you had you’d be extremely impressed.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Arthur took his arm down from the doorway but he leaned against the wall. “So what’s up with all of these charming Elena introductions? I can’t imagine this is how you wanted to spend your evening.”

“Not exactly, no,” Merlin admitted.

“So -?” Arthur left the word hanging in the air.

“What makes you think I’m going to tell you anything?”

Arthur shrugged. “Nothing, I’m just taking a chance that you might because I’m incredibly curious why someone as gorgeous as you is allowing himself to be taken to market by Elena. She might as well have had them all check your teeth and your gait.”

Merlin tried to stop himself from flushing with heat at Arthur calling him, ‘gorgeous.’

Arthur kept looking at him and Merlin didn’t know what came over him but there was something in Arthur’s stare that made Merlin want to tell him everything. There was a sincerity in his eyes that made Merlin sigh and answer his question.

“Well, if you must know,” he said, “She’s helping me find a date.”

“I thought that was rather obvious, my question is why?”

“Because I need one.”

Arthur laughed. “Don’t we all?”

“No,” Merlin sighed again. “I need one so I can practice and be able to have a proper date later on. Or at least one without an ill-conceived handjob.”

“Handjob?” Arthur stood up straight and Merlin laughed at his Pavlovian response to the word. “Tell me more about that bit.”

“Absolutely not,” Merlin said as he kept laughing. “No way.”

“Spoilsport,” Arthur grumped.

“I just admitted to needing practice dates and you want to dwell on the handjob?”

Arthur shrugged it off. “I can deal with the practice dating weirdness later, but I’ve been fixated with your hands all evening so the handjob is a bit more interesting to me right now.”

Merlin felt himself flushing again and for some reason he shoved his hands behind his back, out of Arthur’s sight. He didn’t know what made him do it but he was suddenly self-conscious after Arthur’s confession. He knew it was just Arthur being ridiculous and flirtatious like Elena always claimed he was, but the thought of Arthur fixating on his hands like that sent a strange little thrill up and down his spine.

“Oh, now, don’t do that,” Arthur said as he reached around Merlin and grabbed onto his right wrist to pull his hand out from behind his back. Arthur was so close, and smelt so good, that Merlin found himself leaning a bit closer to him. Arthur’s fingers around his wrist were warm and Merlin didn’t know how to react.

“Do what?” Merlin asked inanely. Arthur just rolled his eyes at him but smiled anyway.

“So, practice dates?” Arthur asked, his hand still curled around Merlin’s wrist. “Dare I ask what they are?”

Merlin was decidedly unsettled by Arthur holding his wrist, it felt far too intimate and he wanted to pull away but Arthur’s thumb found his pulse point and started rubbing back and forth.

“They’re exactly what they sound like, practice dates,” Merlin said with a hint of irritation in his voice, he didn’t like feeling out of sorts in such an unfamiliar way.

“Yes, well, where I come from they’re simply called dates.”

Merlin stared at his wrist and Arthur’s hand and didn’t answer him immediately, but when he did he was oddly candid.

“I’ve had very few dates, like four actually, and all epically disastrous. There’s someone I like, that I want to date,” Merlin couldn’t look Arthur in the eyes so he kept his gaze down and soldiered on. “Proper dates, ones that don’t lead to disaster, so I thought I should practice, you know?”

Arthur just hummed and kept his thumb rubbing along the inside of Merlin’s wrist. The quiet sound of Arthur’s hum drew Merlin’s eyes up to his face.

“Is that stupid?” he asked. “It’s stupid isn’t it? Elena and Gwaine think I’m barmy but they’re still helping me because they’re, well, them, and they love me anyway, despite my idiosyncrasies.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid,” Arthur said. “It sounds fairly logical to me.”

“Oh god, now I know it must be stupid if you think it makes sense.”

“Hey now,” Arthur laughed, “what did I ever do to you to earn such a low opinion?”

“Elena’s told me things.”

“Elena tells lies, stories, fabricated imaginations.”

“Everything she tells me sounds fairly legit, especially having now met you for myself.”

“Oh, is that so?” Arthur asked.

Merlin could only smile at the question because Arthur seemed incredibly amused by their entire conversation.

“Well then, if that’s the case I think I ought to be one of your practice dates,” Arthur said. “If only to alleviate you of such horrendous and erroneous assumptions.”

“Are you asking me out?” Merlin asked. “I couldn’t tell through all of those big, impressive words.”

Arthur laughed. “Okay. Fine. I’ll make it simple. You. Me. Food?”

Merlin shrugged, but he found himself grinning uncontrollably.

“Maybe an ill-conceived handjob?” Arthur added, along with the gesture.

“Oh my god,” Merlin said as he slapped at Arthur’s hand with his free one. “What if someone is looking over here?”

Arthur seemed terribly unconcerned. “Pfft, they’ve all met me.”

“I think I should find it disturbing that this isn’t out of the ordinary for you,” Merlin said.

“We’ll deal with that later, the important thing right now is whether or not you’ll allow me to be a practice date.”

Merlin was prepared to say no, to heed Elena’s warnings about Arthur, but looking at Arthur standing there in front of him, still holding his wrist gently in his hand, made Merlin rethink his answer.

“Okay,” he said, then nodded. “Yeah, fine, I’ll go out with you.”

“Your enthusiasm is making me weak-kneed. Truly, Merlin.”

“You’ll get over it.”

Merlin didn’t know what had come over him, he wasn’t usually this way with people he’d never met before. He was never able to joke or tease, at least not successfully, he always seemed to make a tit of himself but Arthur laughed in response and it was all Merlin could do not to smile like a halfwit.

“I suppose I will, eventually,” Arthur said. “So are you free tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow? So soon? Shouldn’t I play hard to get or something?” Merlin asked. “I don’t even know how to respond.”

“Playing hard to get is asinine, just a stupid game,” Arthur said. “It’s always best to be direct and truthful, don’t play games. That’s lesson number one for you.”

“That’s a relief because I’m sure I’d be completely pants at it if I tried, so, yeah, I’m free tomorrow. Where do you want to go?”

“How about the classic; dinner and a film?”

“I could do that.”

Arthur smiled at him and asked for his mobile number as he pulled his own out of his pocket to get Merlin’s from him. It was only then, when Arthur let go of him, that Merlin noticed Arthur had still been holding his wrist. They had spent their entire conversation with Arthur leaning into him and holding his wrist. Merlin wondered how they’d looked to anyone that cared to watch them and he felt a momentary rush of white hot anxiety at the thought of being out with Arthur on his own the next evening. He had a feeling that no matter where they went or what he did with Arthur they’d always be on display, noticed, looked at, Arthur was just that sort of person. Merlin? Not so much. He didn’t know if he was anxious with anticipation or anxious from fear at the thought of it.

“I look forward to tomorrow, Merlin,” Arthur said quietly once they’d gotten their number situation sorted.

“Me too,” Merlin found himself answering, and actually meaning it.

Anticipation or fear, it didn’t matter, he was going to do this.

~*~

“Merlin,” Elena sighed. “What did I tell you about Arthur?”

“To stay away from him and his manwhoring ways?”

“Exactly. And who are you seeing in less than an hour despite repeated warnings?”

“Arthur and his manwhoring ways?”

“Yes. Now tell me why all of my warnings were in vain.”

“They weren’t in vain,” Merlin said as he flopped down next to Gwaine on the couch, who was doing his best at not listening to a word Elena and Merlin were saying and was watching football instead. “He seemed nice though, I liked him.”

“Of course you did,” Elena said. “Everyone likes Arthur, he’s a very likeable guy, and therein lies the problem.”

“How can it possibly be a problem to be likeable?”

“Everything comes too easily to him, Merlin, and too often. You need to start off with someone more sedate and less Arthur-ish.”

“Just because he’s dated a great deal doesn’t mean anything at all. We’re only going to the cinema and out for a bite to eat, it’s not like he’s taking me away for a holiday to Paris. We’re being very basic here.”

There must have been a break in play because Gwaine stretched himself out and then said to Elena, “Let Merlin be, El. Arthur’s hardly going to eat him alive. It’s like Merlin said, they’re only going to see some crap film and eat at an overly posh restaurant. He isn’t likely to break Merlin’s heart in a single evening.”

Merlin was fairly impressed Gwaine had been listening to them in the first place, and he was thankful he’d taken his side as well. Once Elena got going there was usually no stopping her. The only one who ever managed was Gwaine.

“Well, he just might,” Elena argued as she crossed her arms and glared at Gwaine. “He’s done it before. He hardly means to, but he does. Arthur just wasn’t meant for a relationship.”

“Which should make him perfect for Merlin,” Gwaine said. “He isn’t interested in a relationship, he’s interested in learning how to not be a complete twat on a date.”

“I feel as if I should thank you, but I’m not sure I will,” Merlin told Gwaine, who only laughed and gave him a small shove.

“I’m only looking out for him,” Elena insisted. “I don’t want him to get hurt.”

“And I won’t,” Merlin assured her. “I know you’re irritating me with the best of intentions and I love you for it, but kindly bugger off.”

Elena gave him a quick kick to his shin but she rolled her eyes and smiled at him. “Fine, I’ll bugger off, but when you’re crying into your ice cream and stacks of chocolate bars don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I promise,” Merlin said. “I’ll binge eat and weep on my own and never say a word to you about it.”

“Good man,” Gwaine nodded at Merlin as he absently gave his shoulder a squeeze and turned his attention back to the telly.

Elena gave him a worried look, but she kept quiet and Merlin was grateful.There was no need to worry.

He’d be fine.

~*~

Arthur had surprised him by meeting him at a nearby tube station, after having traveled on the actual tube, and taking him to a rather small, unassuming restaurant. Merlin had been expecting something posh and was mildly panicking over having to order something dreadful like oysters while pretending he knew which fork to use. Instead he got an enormous plate of pasta and a laughing Arthur trying to eat his own without getting sauce all over himself. Merlin had anticipated being the only clumsy clod and it was a more than pleasant surprise to see Arthur less than perfect. It made Merlin relax and enjoy himself more than he thought he would.

Arthur had then taken him to the most dreadful film Merlin could remember seeing and he loved every minute.

“You cannot honestly tell me you liked that film,” Merlin argued as they left the cinema and headed down the street.

“Liked it? No. Loved it with every fiber of my being? Yes.” Arthur was feigning seriousness and Merlin couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re clearly an idiot.”

“Don’t be a film snob. There was a zombie cat, Merlin. A zombie cat. That alone makes it the most glorious film ever created.”

“You’re a man of simple pleasures, aren’t you?”

Arthur laughed. “I am, extremely simple. Give me zombie cats eating brains and I’m beyond thrilled.”

Merlin smiled and shook his head. “Admittedly, there’s not many things that are more amazing than a zombie cat.”

Arthur hummed in agreement, but then stopped walking and grabbed Merlin’s elbow to bring him to a stop as well. “Unless there’d be a zombie goat. Oh my god, Merlin, there needs to be a zombie goat.”

Merlin laughed. “I’ll have to make that happen then. I’ll ring Hollywood.”

“Would you?” Arthur asked. “I’d appreciate it.”

“I’m on it,” Merlin promised. Arthur smiled and took his hand, wrapping it in that familiar warmth that Merlin had felt surround his wrist the night before. It made his breath catch a bit and he didn’t know what to do with himself. The combination of his hand in Arthur’s and the thought of what he must look like walking along the pavement with someone as beautiful as him made Merlin’s skin prickle with heat.

“Is this okay?” Arthur asked as he squeezed Merlin’s hand a bit tighter and gave it a little shake.

Merlin nodded and managed to get out a, “Yeah.”

“I just figured we’d go for all the dating basics here,” Arthur said as he pulled Merlin closer to his side.

“Seems logical.”

“I’m nothing if not logical,” Arthur said.

“Or the exact opposite of logical, you know, either one.” Merlin laughed and Arthur smiled at him.

“So, you had a good time?”

Merlin didn’t answer right away because it took him by surprise to realize that he had. “You know what,” he said, “I think I did.”

“You seem shocked by the notion,” Arthur said, clearly amused by the situation.

“Well all my other ones have been disasters up to this point so, yeah, it’s a bit shocking that something hasn’t gone tragically wrong this evening.”

“The night is still young.”

Merlin laughed. “Promises, promises.”

“I was hoping for an ill-conceived handjob but I see none are forthcoming.”

“Nor will they be,” Merlin said as he felt his face flush with heat.

“Spoilsport.”

“Hey now, that was a highly traumatic experience in my life, no need to dredge it up.”

“I’m absolutely going to dredge it up,” Arthur said. “On our next date I want all of the details, every minute, embarrassing one of them.”

“Our next date?” Merlin asked and Arthur turned to look at him with a flash of uncertainty in his eyes.

“Don’t you want a next one?” he asked. “I thought, maybe, while we’re at it -. But if you don’t want to that’s fine as well.”

For some reason Merlin felt like it really wasn’t fine with Arthur, that they only had this one date, and that made him inexplicably happy.

“No,” Merlin started, “I mean yes, I’d like another, not no, I don’t want to.”

Arthur laughed softly and it was low and felt sort of intimate in a way that made Merlin aware like he’d never been before. It spoke of possibilities and that want for more, something he hadn’t experienced on any of his other botched dates.

“Was that sentence supposed to make sense?” Arthur asked. “Because I’m not sure it did.”

“It did to me,” Merlin blurted out.

“Well,” Arthur smiled, “as long as it did to you.”

“Are you free tomorrow?” The question was out of Merlin’s mouth before he could connect with his brain and stop himself. He was about to take it back, but Arthur answered him before he could.

“How does seven sound?”

“You’re free tomorrow?” Merlin asked.

Arthur nodded. “I am,” he said as he stopped them so he could properly look at Merlin. “Are you really serious about all of this? The practice dating and everything?”

“I told you I was, even if it’s a stupid idea I’m still serious about it.”

“You know I don’t think it’s stupid,” Arthur said, “I’m just wondering why you think you need to do it.”

“I’m doing it for Lance,” Merlin answered. “I don’t want to muck everything up with him. I want to finally have something real, and I want it with him. Every effort I’ve ever made at something real has ended in either embarrassment or disaster, or both, and I want to figure out how to not be a bumbling tragedy.”

“You did just fine with me.”

“That’s because there was no pressure, if I’d been worried about the outcome I’d probably have vomited on you by now.”

Arthur laughed. “Vomit, Merlin? Really? You’re going with vomit?”

Merlin waved his hand in the air. “Well, you never know. I’m a mess, Arthur.”

“But an endearing mess,” Arthur said, “which I believe works in your favor.”

Merlin could only laugh at that. Arthur was being incredibly sweet, which he hadn’t expected based on all the horror stories about his serial dating that he’d heard from Elena. He’d managed to make the entire evening less painfully embarrassing than it could have been. Merlin had mortified himself with his decision to go ahead with it all and was fully prepared to be mortified in actuality during the date, but Arthur was amazingly easy to be with. Merlin could see him as a mate after all of the dating business was over with and that made the evening even easier to get through. Of course there was anxiety and nervousness and the desire to turn tail and run, but Arthur’s carefree smile had made all of that go away.

They had been walking quietly, still holding hands, when Merlin realized they were just about to his tube stop. “Shouldn’t I walk you home? Isn’t that what I’m meant to do on a proper date?” he asked.

“Well done, Merlin, very gentlemanly, but I promise I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.”

Merlin just managed to stop himself from sighing and rolling his eyes at Arthur. “Tomorrow night then?”

“Yeah, tomorrow night.”

Merlin was about to let go of Arthur’s hand to head down to his train when Arthur pulled him closer instead and kissed him on his cheek. It was unexpected, and sweet, and it somehow rattled Merlin more than anything else had throughout the night.

When he pulled back Arthur smiled at him and it was the same reassuring smile that had set Merlin at ease at the beginning of their date, and even though he was still thrown by the kiss he returned the smile with one of his own.

“See you,” Arthur said quietly as he took a couple of steps backwards before turning around.

Merlin gave him a small, awkward wave before Arthur turned his back on him and then watched him walk away before heading down to his train.

For some reason tomorrow seemed really far away.

~*~
“Okay,” Arthur said after they’d been seated and ordered their food. “This dating practice business, let’s lay it all out on the table here. What do you want from this?”

Merlin was startled by the abruptness of the question. They hadn’t talked about his ridiculous plans the night before so he’d hoped Arthur would gloss over that bit. He made an awkward sounding noise and grabbed his water glass to take a drink before answering Arthur.

“Um, more of last night?”

“Is that a question or a statement?”

Merlin was about to stumble through another idiotic answer when he looked up at Arthur and saw him smiling at him.

“Oh, shut it,” Merlin laughed as he sat back in his chair and gave Arthur a look.

“I didn’t ask you anything last night because I thought we’d just have a go and see how we got along before figuring out if we should do this.”

“And you still want to do this?” Merlin asked.

Arthur shrugged. “Sure, why not? You had fun, didn’t you?”

“Aside from your terrible taste in films I think the night went rather alright.”

“Well, see, I think we can manage this then. You still want to do it as well, don’t you, even after all the things I’m sure Elena’s filled your head with?”

Merlin blushed, he didn’t want to tell Arthur that he was right - at least about Elena - she’d given him quite the earful when she heard that not only did he have fun on their date but that he was seeing Arthur again. He didn’t want to repeat some of the things she’d said about Arthur.

Arthur noticed Merlin’s hesitation because he spoke again. “It’s okay, whatever she said. It’s probably true anyway. We might as well have full disclosure here; I’m a one night stand addict, I’m allergic to relationships of any kind, and I’m probably the most superficial person you’ll ever meet.”

Merlin watched Arthur’s face as he reeled off the list of his faults, watched him as he tried to sound like it didn’t matter, but Merlin could see that it did. There were cracks in Arthur despite the facade he showed to the world. He wasn’t going to prod Arthur about it, he was just content to know at least one small thing about Arthur that he could hold onto.

“But she also told me you were amazingly kind,” Merlin said instead of telling Arthur he didn’t believe him.

“I’m a nice guy,” Arthur said, “it still doesn’t mean I’m in it for the long haul.”

“Which is why you’re perfect for me.”

“Exactly.” Arthur gave Merlin a soft smile and just looked at him for a moment before continuing on, “So, back to what you want from this.”

“I just want to be more comfortable being out with another man, I’ve been absolute pants at it so far and it’s put me off the entire business. I keep thinking it must be better than this, but it never really is.”

“Have you even given yourself a chance? How many dates have you actually been on?”

“Four.”

“Four?”

“Don’t laugh at me,” Merlin said even though he could see Arthur hadn’t been planning on it. Arthur just frowned at Merlin until he responded with a, “Sorry, sort of a knee-jerk reaction of mine. Whenever people hear I’ve managed to get to age twenty-four and have only been on four dates they either make fun or give me the pity look.”

“I was going for neither, just so you know,” Arthur said.

Merlin looked at Arthur and saw he was sincere. “Thanks.”

Arthur shrugged it off. “Well, I’m in the same boat, except for the opposite reason, obviously. When people hear of my miscreant ways they crack smartarse jokes about it or look at me like I’m the most pathetic thing to ever live, so, yeah, I would never do the same to you.”

It looked like Arthur wanted to drop the issue all together so Merlin decided to carry on with their initial conversation.

“I want to do date-y things,” Merlin said and then grinned when Arthur snorted in amusement at the word, ‘date-y’, “I want to have fun with someone instead of being traumatized by my own awkwardness, I want to be relaxed for a change and have more things to say than just stilted, boring conversations about the weather and what I do for a living, I want know what to do at the end of the night rather than shaking the other person’s hand and acting like a pillock, I want to know how to flirt so the other person knows I’m flirting and not just having a stroke and speaking gibberish. I want to be normal.”

Merlin took a breath at the end of his ramble. Arthur stared at him without an ounce of judgment, or really a reaction of any kind that Merlin could figure out, but then he slowly smiled.

“Is that it?” Arthur teased.

Merlin was about to fire off a sarcastic insult, but as always his mouth tripped over his brain and what came out instead was a rush of words.

“And I want to hold hands again. I want to hold hands and walk down the pavement and have butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of the next time our shoulders will brush and get flushed and warm just thinking about whether or not it was accidental or on purpose.” Merlin stopped and felt his face heat up, but took a breath and repeated quietly, “I want to hold hands.”

Merlin wasn’t sure what Arthur’s reaction was going to be and he definitely wasn’t prepared for Arthur leaning across the table and kissing him. It was a small, soft kiss, but Merlin hadn’t been expecting anything of the sort. He doubted he reacted as gracefully as he could have, and it was over before it had even begun, but it was easily the best kiss he’d ever had. Merlin didn’t say anything as Arthur settled back down in his chair, he just rubbed his lips together hoping to keep the feel of Arthur’s kiss trapped within them.

“I want to tell you how sweet you are,” Arthur said, “but that always sounds incredibly condescending somehow, and yet you are and I can’t figure out a better way to put it. You’re a really good person, Merlin, and it absolutely baffles me that no one has figured that out yet.”

Merlin shrugged, embarrassed, he never could handle compliments. “Yeah, well, so far I’ve eluded all the gay men I know. I guess I have a talent.”

Arthur shook his head, unsatisfied with Merlin’s response. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. The more I’m with you the more certain I am that you’ll be the type of person to find someone and love him until the day you die and I think that’s really wonderful. I hope Lance figures out how lucky he is.”

Merlin looked at Arthur, surprised he saw that in him. He’d always felt that way, knew he was too much of a romantic at heart, and was subsequently embarrassed over it, but Arthur made it sound almost perfect. It made Merlin incredibly happy and warm inside.

“Thank you,” he said with as much sincere warmth as he could manage with two words. “I hope he does too.”

~*~
As they walked back to Merlin’s flat after their date, Arthur had driven to his place and met him there before they’d headed to Merlin’s favorite nearby restaurant, Merlin found his hand clasped in Arthur’s. It made him smile to look over at Arthur and see the self-satisfied look on his face. Merlin teased him a bit for it but liked walking down the street with Arthur’s hand in his own too much to tease him wholeheartedly. And every time their shoulders brushed Merlin wanted to laugh outright.

It was an amazing walk and Merlin hadn’t wanted it to end.

When they reached his flat Arthur gave him another kiss like the one at the restaurant; soft, quick, just barely there, but it was enough that Merlin closed his eyes to just let it sink in. He felt Arthur’s fingers brush across his lips just before he opened his eyes up again, but the touch was so brief and gone before he could actually see it that he wasn’t sure it had happened.

Before Arthur let his hand go and turned to leave he’d leaned in and said, “Just so you know, every shoulder brush? Totally on purpose.”

Merlin had laughed at that and Arthur swept in to place a kiss on Merlin’s cheek before walking away. Merlin stood on his front stoop and watched him until he turned the corner and he couldn’t see him any longer.

He had no idea what Elena was talking about, Arthur couldn’t have been more perfect for him.

~*~
It was the end of their fifth date and Arthur had just dropped Merlin back home when he laid his hand on Merlin’s thigh stopping him from getting out of the car.

“You know, now would be the perfect time to ask me up for a drink,” Arthur said.

Merlin laughed to cover his quick rush of nervousness. “I’m not that sauve. Do I really look like a person that offers people drinks to lure them up to my flat?”

“To be perfectly honest?” Arthur asked with a smile. “No. But you said you wanted to learn how to play the dating game, it’s really past time you ask me up to your place.”

Arthur’s hand moved further up Merlin’s thigh and he couldn’t stop staring at it.

“What could I say instead of drinks?” Merlin asked quietly, his eyes still focused on Arthur’s hand. “To get you up to my flat?”

“To be perfectly honest again?” Arthur asked. “Pretty much anything at this point. I’ve been wanting to kiss you properly for ages.”

The mention of a kiss made Merlin turn his focus to Arthur’s mouth.

“We have had proper kisses,” Merlin said inanely, thinking of the brief brushes of Arthur’s lips that had happened on their previous dates.

“I suppose so, yes,” Arthur said as he leaned toward Merlin, “and that’s the problem, they’ve been far too proper.”

Merlin’s eyes nearly crossed following Arthur’s mouth and it took him a moment or two to process what it was Arthur had said.

“Oh,” Merlin breathed out. “Um, yeah. Way too proper.”

“We should really take care of that,” Arthur said, his lips just hovering over Merlin’s and he felt himself warm up from Arthur’s closeness.

“Come up to mine?” Merlin asked quietly, simply.

“Absolutely.” Arthur pulled back from him and gave him a soft smile. “That was perfect by the way,” he added, “far better suited to you than asking me up for drinks.”

Merlin felt foolishly proud of himself. It was such a simple question, but it was a really big one for him.

“Show me up then,” Arthur prompted when Merlin didn’t move.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Let’s go.”

They got out of the car and Arthur followed Merlin up the front steps and into his building. Merlin felt what could have been an awkward silence start to build between them as they waited for the lift, which Merlin has happy to see was actually working, but Arthur stayed close to him and kept his hand on the small of Merlin’s back and for some reason that settled Merlin’s racing thoughts.

Once Merlin had let the both of them into his flat and closed the door behind them Arthur had him in his arms and up against the wall.

“Sorry, can’t wait any longer,” he said before pressing a kiss to Merlin’s neck. “Hope you don’t mind if we start the, ‘can’t keep our hands off of each other so we wildly make out in the front entry’ portion of the date.”

Arthur’s left hand settled on Merlin’s hip and his right slipped around to his back just low enough to make Merlin shiver.

“No,” Merlin gasped. “I don’t mind.”

Merlin thought he heard Arthur mutter, ‘good’ but by then Arthur’s mouth was on his and all he could think about was kissing him. Merlin had been kissed before, sure, but not terribly well and he’d never quite figured out what the big deal about it was. He’d never wanted to just kiss and kiss and kiss someone and never stop, but as Arthur pressed him against the wall and showed him what a kiss was supposed to be Merlin finally got it.

Kissing Arthur was making him stupidly weak-kneed, which he had no idea was an actual thing until that moment, but as Arthur’s hands tightened their hold on him and his lips parted just the tiniest, teasing bit, Merlin knew he could very easily lose all control in his legs and just slide down the wall to a totally graceless heap on the floor.

And his thoughts, fuck, his thoughts were scattered all over the place. He was going from incoherence, to panic that he was an absolute shite kisser, and then back to flaming incoherence every other second or so. All he could think was; Arthur, lips, Arthur, Arthur, Arthur, oh fuck, what am I doing, am I doing it right, lips, Arthur, lips, am I the worst kiss of his life, Arthur, Arthur, oh god.

Merlin hadn’t realized he’d tangled his fingers up in Arthur’s hair until Arthur started walking them into Merlin’s flat and towards his couch, Arthur had pulled away for just a second to look where they were walking and Merlin had yanked his lips right back to his own.

They stumbled onto Merlin’s couch, Arthur ending up on his back with Merlin on top of him. Merlin gasped when he landed and felt the entire length of Arthur pressed against him.

“Oh god, sorry,” Merlin gasped as he tried to lever himself off of Arthur.

“Sorry for what?” Arthur asked as he pulled Merlin back down.

Merlin laughed. “Obviously nothing,” he said and went right back to kissing Arthur.

Arthur’s kisses started getting more and more breathless until finally his hands gripped Merlin by the waist to turn him to his side as he followed suit.

“Couldn’t breathe,” Arthur huffed as he laughed and pressed Merlin against the back of the couch.

“I don’t know if I should be insulted by that or not.”

Arthur just smiled against his lips and started kissing him again, but this time the kisses slowed down a bit and they settled into something close to laziness. Merlin was sort of done in by them, it just felt so good being so close to Arthur and just having his arms around him, slowly tasting him.

“Is this okay?” Arthur asked, his hand against Merlin’s jaw and his thumb pressing against his chin.

Merlin nodded and they bumped noses as he leaned in to kiss him to prove it.

“Had to slow it down a bit,” Arthur said between kisses. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to stop at all.”

Merlin pulled back from Arthur. “Really?”

“God, yes, it should be a bit obvious,” Arthur halfway laughed as he shifted a bit and Merlin felt himself blushing a deep red when he latched on to what Arthur was implying. He full out laughed when he saw the expression on Merlin’s face.

“Sorry,” Merlin managed to splutter out. “It’s just that I’ve never had that effect on anyone.”

“I can’t imagine why not.”

Merlin just had to look at Arthur for a while, take him in after he said that. He’d never met anyone who could sincerely compliment as easily as Arthur. He truly believed Arthur meant every word he said, he never pandered to Merlin, never said things simply to get something out of him, and he realized Arthur was amazingly candid in that regard.

“I think it’s you,” Merlin said, wanting to return the kindness. “I think you bring it out in me, whatever it is you see in me.”

“That’s what makes me a good practice boyfriend,” Arthur teased. “I’m building you up so you can go out and break hearts far and wide.”

“I don’t want to break anyone’s heart, I just want to hold onto the one.”

Arthur gave Merlin another one of his soft smiles as he traced his bottom lip.

“You’re a good person, Merlin, you shouldn’t worry so much about being a perfect boyfriend for Lance. I think you’ll naturally do just fine.”

“But really, I haven’t done fine. I’ve been an absolute tragedy with everyone but you.”

Arthur propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at Merlin. “That’s because I’m easy,” he teased.

“You are,” Merlin said without thinking, when Arthur snorted and laughed Merlin quickly blabbed, “not like that, god, Arthur. I meant you’re an easy person to be with.”

Arthur just looked at Merlin for a moment as he slowly traced a finger over the bridge of his nose and across a cheekbone. He seemed sort of lost in thought and Merlin couldn’t resist reaching out and touching Arthur as well.

“Thank you, Merlin,” Arthur said softly as he pressed a kiss to the corner of Merlin’s mouth.

Arthur rested against Merlin for a couple of seconds and Merlin felt goosebumps rise up on his skin as Arthur’s warm breath fanned across his neck. Merlin felt absolutely bereft when Arthur slowly pulled away from him and slipped out of his arms as he got up from the couch.

“I should get going,” Arthur said, with what Merlin hoped was a bit of reluctance in his voice. “It’s a little bit too early on for me to overstay my welcome.”

Merlin wanted to tell him that that could hardly be possible as he couldn’t imagine wanting Arthur to be anywhere but where he was right then.

“Don’t want you to feel pressured to do anything more.”

“Yeah, I’m not that kind of boy,” Merlin teased, and hoped it didn’t fall as flat to Arthur’s ears as it did to his own.

“I’ll see you again soon though, yeah?” Arthur asked.

“Of course,” Merlin said as he got up from the couch to walk Arthur out. He reached out and took hold of the back of Arthur’s shirt as he walked in front of him to the door.

“Good.” Arthur turned back into Merlin and pulled him into a hug. “I had a really great time tonight.”

“Yeah, me too,” Merlin said as he hugged him back.

“Talk to you soon,” Arthur said as he gave Merlin one last, quick kiss.

As Merlin closed the door behind Arthur he tried to stop himself from wishing Arthur would call him from the lift and come right back to his door.

~*~
“Oh, what’s this? I come bearing food? I must be the most amazing fake boyfriend in the history of fake boyfriends,” Arthur said as he walked past Merlin and went to set his bag of take away on the kitchen table. “Lesson number whatever, always come bearing food.”

“Duly noted,” Merlin said as he went to grab plates and silverware. “I’m starving.”

“And I have food. See, already in your good graces and the evening hasn’t even truly begun. Lesson learned.”

“I bow down to you, great master of the obvious,” Merlin said as he set a plate in front of Arthur.

“Hey, this is sage advice here.”

“That every person with a brain could figure out, I mean who doesn’t like food?”

“I dunno, people on a hunger strike?” Arthur asked as he waved his hand in the air. “Work with me here.”

Merlin laughed and sat down across from Arthur. “You’re such an idiot sometimes.”

“It’s a gift,” Arthur said before starting to shovel food onto his plate.

They ate in companionable silence for a while until Arthur’s foot moved up Merlin’s trouser leg and he flushed red and started to laugh uncontrollably.

“What?” Arthur asked. “My feet, I can’t control them.”

Merlin rolled his eyes at Arthur but stretched out his leg to make it easier for Arthur’s wayward foot to make its way up his leg.

As they continued eating Merlin noticed Arthur keeping a concentrated eye on him, like he was looking for something, or thinking about how to say something to him which wasn’t like Arthur at all. He usually just said whatever was on his mind at the exact moment it crossed his mind, it was an endearing, and slightly annoying, habit of his.

“So, last time,” Arthur finally said, “that was fun, yeah?”

“Um, yeah?” Merlin mumbled around a mouthful of thai noodles.

“We should do that again.”

Merlin hummed his agreement and kept eating.

“What are your thoughts on sex?” Arthur asked casually as he sat back in his chair and watched Merlin. “We should have it, right?”

Merlin choked on his noodles and tried not to spit them all over his plate. “What?” he managed to cough out.

“Sex. We should have it,” Arthur repeated, as if that helped matters.

“Um. Okay.” Merlin suspected there was steam coming off of his face since it felt like it was burning off.

“Unless you don’t want to,” Arthur said. “I’m not going to pressure you, I’m just curious as to how far you want us to go with the whole boyfriend thing. Do you want to practice that aspect too?”

“Oh god,” Merlin said as he dropped his head onto the table next to his plate, “what is my life?”

Arthur just reached across the table to pat Merlin on the head.

“There there.”

“Ugh,” Merlin groaned as he swatted Arthur’s hand away and sat back up. “This is such an embarrassing conversation.”

“But one we need to have,” Arthur said. “I want to know where we stand on this. Is it something you want us to do?”

Merlin thought about his one epic failure with full on sex and cringed. Yet another thing he’d been abysmal at and couldn’t see the point of repeating. Logically he knew it was just that one time and that sex was actually fun, but he had never been able to move past it, especially when he’d never been on a date with anyone he’d want to have actual sex with until Arthur.

And there was his answer right there. He wanted to have sex with Arthur, with Arthur and his face and his mouth and his arms and his hands, and well, pretty much all of him. Plus he obviously knew what he was doing so that was always a bonus. The only thing Merlin was dreading was how awful he’d be at it. He could absolutely picture Arthur having to stop halfway through to laugh uncontrollably at Merlin’s complete and utter lack of skills of any kind.

“You have had sex before, right?” Arthur asked.

“Really bad sex, but yeah, I have.”

“Well, see, now’s the time to improve on that really bad sex and transform it into really average sex.”

Merlin laughed. “You sell it so well.”

“I’d sound like a pompous twat if I told you the truth.”

“Which is -?”

“Mind. Blown.” Arthur said as he spread his hands out in front of him.

Merlin laughed again. “Completely unlike how I’d sell myself: Life. Traumatised.”

Arthur laughed at that but reached across the table to grab Merlin’s hand.

“You’re gorgeous, Merlin.”

And somehow, inexplicably, Merlin believed him.

~*~
“You’re going to have sex with him yet too?”

“Oh my god, stop talking so loudly,” Merlin said to Elena as they sat eating brunch in a very crowded restaurant.

“It’s about time,” Gwaine mumbled around a mouthful of eggs. “I’m afraid your cock’ll fall off if you don’t use it soon.”

“You’re not helping,” Elena said as she waved her knife at Gwaine. “Shut up and eat your food.”

Gwaine saluted her and went back to his plate.

“Yes I’m having sex with him, what on earth is wrong with that?” Merlin asked.

“I hope you haven’t anywhere to be,” Elena said, “the list is long.”

“Stop. Just stop,” Merlin said. “I don’t want to hear any of it because I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what you object to in this situation. I’m not looking for longterm here, you know what I want out of it all and you know that Arthur is exactly the sort I need so I really wish you’d stop having a freak out everytime I tell you something about us.”

“I know that’s the way you see it, Merlin, and yes, on paper Arthur is exactly the sort that you need. I don’t have any objections to that part of the plan, but the thing that I worry about is the other side of Arthur; the side that’s kind and caring despite what he says and does, the side that gets him into trouble because it’s the side that his flings fall for, and it’s the side that causes them heartache. People fall for Arthur, Merlin, he doesn’t mean for it to happen and he always feels badly about it afterward but it doesn’t erase the fact that it happens.”

Merlin reached over and took Elena’s hand. “I know you’re looking out for me and I love you for it, you know I do, but you also know I’ve been stupidly in love with Lance for the last four years of my life. He’s my best friend and all I’ve ever wanted but have been too afraid to go after, but now that he’s gone to Thailand I have the chance to get the courage I need to go after what I want. Arthur’s going to help me, that’s it, El. I’m hardly going to throw away four years of my life and the person I know I’m supposed to be with for a guy I’ll have only known a few months.”

Elena slumped down in her chair. “I wish I could believe that, Merlin, but I know you, I know how you wear your heart on your sleeve, and I know Arthur and all I can think about is how this is all going to end really really badly.”

“Are you going to weigh in on this too?” Merlin asked Gwaine. “I don’t suppose I need to even guess that you’re on her side.”

“I’m not on anyone’s side,” Gwaine said.

“But you have an opinion, surely, you have one about everything else I do.”

Gwaine leaned forward and looked at Merlin. “You really want my opinion?” he asked, “My honest to god opinion?”

“Of course I do, I wouldn’t have asked otherwise.”

“I think El’s right, and it’s not because I want to have sex again sometime in my lifetime,” Gwaine added quickly before Merlin could make a smartarse comment. “But because I know you’re not a coward. I’ve never ever known you to be one, so if you were one hundred percent sure that Lance was the one you wanted you would’ve gone after him no matter what your history. You’re a ridiculous, romantic little sod and you make grand gestures even if you know you’ll be embarrassed in the end and yet you haven’t with Lance. I know the both of you and the way you are together, and yes, you two would make sense in a really nice, really sedate kind of way, but there’s more to you, Merlin. You’re not waiting for courage, you’re waiting for more.”

“Yes. That,” Elena said as she pointed at Gwaine.

Merlin didn’t know if he could open his mouth without shouting at the both of them so he sat there quietly for a moment or two before gaining enough control to speak again.

“It’s so good to know how little you think of me and my ability to know what’s best for myself.”

“Merlin,” Gwaine said, “that’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Apparently not,” Merlin said as he waved his hand around. “Apparently I’m too simple to grasp human emotions, thankfully the two of you are here to remind me of that.”

Merlin got up from his chair to leave, both Elena and Gwaine grabbed at a wrist to try to pull him back down into his chair, but he yanked his hands away from them.

“Not now, okay,” he said as he pulled on his jacket. “You just need to leave me alone for now.”

Merlin managed to walk out of the restaurant without stomping out like a four year old, and he was thankful that Elena and Gwaine knew enough to shut up and let him do it. Once he was out on the pavement he shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to get his anger under control.

He couldn’t believe the two of them, acting like they knew what was best for him and being so damn condescending about it. And for them to have waited so long to say anything about it, granted he’d never been as serious before and had never actively done anything about it, but still, they both knew how he felt about Lance and now that he was finally doing something about it they decide to open their gobs?

It was completely unfair of them and Merlin had every reason to be angry. Every reason.

Which really didn’t explain why he was feeling the beginning quivers of doubt deep down in his gut.

~*~
“Elena and Gwaine are freaking out about us doing, well, you know,” Merlin said, slouched against Arthur’s side as they watched TV.

“You told them?” Arthur asked, and Merlin could feel him twist a bit as he looked down at him.

Merlin shrugged. “Yeah. I pretty much tell them everything. Does that bother you?”

“No, of course not. You can tell them whatever you like,” Arthur said and turned back to the television. “Why are they freaking out though?”

“Well technically Elena is the one doing most of the freaking out, Gwaine’s too lazy to freak out full throttle.”

“Elena warning you off of me again?” Arthur asked.

“God yeah, like waving a pitchfork in my direction warning me off. She thinks you’re going to break my heart.” Merlin snorted.

Arthur didn’t laugh as Merlin had expected him to do, he’d just hummed quietly and asked, “You mean the heart that belongs to Lance?”

“Exactly,” Merlin said as he sat up to fully look at Arthur. “That’s what I told her. I wish she’d stop nattering on about it, you can’t break a heart that belongs to someone else.”

“She’s only looking out for you. You’re lucky having someone care for you that much.”

“I suppose,” Merlin huffed as he slumped back against Arthur.

They were quiet for a while and kept their eyes on the TV, though Merlin was fairly certain neither one of them were paying attention to what was on it.

“You don’t talk about Lance much,” Arthur said as he broke their quiet.

“No, I don’t.”

“Why not? I’d think you’d want to talk about him all the time.”

“I do, it’s just that, well, I want to keep him separate from all of this, from us. It just feels weird talking about him when I’m with you. Why do you even want to know about him?”

Arthur shrugged. “I’m just curious. I want to know what it is about him that made someone like you love him so much. I was just thinking he must be pretty special, is all.”

Merlin felt like a dick not wanting to talk about Lance with Arthur, but it was so awkward. His and Arthur’s situation was strange at the best of times, and adding in him waxing poetic about Lance would just send it into territory Merlin didn’t want to travel to. He was fine with what he was doing as long as he focused on Arthur alone when he was with him, if he thought about anything, or anyone, else it would all come crashing down on him. He knew he was compartmentalizing things like a pro, but he couldn’t stop himself from doing it.

“I’m sorry,” Merlin said, “it’s just weird. I can’t.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Arthur said as he laid his hand on Merlin’s thigh. “I understand.”

Merlin ran his hand over Arthur’s. “Yeah, I knew you would,” he said, “you’re kind of amazing like that.”

“Besides, we should really talk about sex instead.”

Merlin laughed. “Annnd you ruined the moment. Thanks.”

Arthur grinned at him. “What? Can you blame me? I get to fluster you and figure out when I’m going to ravish you, it’s a win-win all around.”

“Ravish me? You’re such a loser.” Merlin burst out laughing when Arthur grabbed at his sides and went to the exact place he knew Merlin was the most ticklish. “I don’t know why I ever thought you’d be a good fake boyfriend,” Merlin spluttered out between fits of laughter.

“Because you thought I was hot,” Arthur said as he maneuvered Merlin onto his back with himself on top of him. “My raging masculinity overwhelmed you.”

Merlin snorted and smacked at Arthur’s leg with his foot. “Oh god, yes, it gave me a raging boner.”

Arthur laughed at that then leaned down to kiss Merlin, his hands framing Merlin’s face, and his fingers threaded through his hair. It was so easy, and fun, and perfect that Merlin couldn’t believe how lucky he’d gotten finding Arthur at all. He could happily spend hours beneath Arthur; kissing him, touching him, and feeling so damn warm inside.

Merlin couldn’t stop himself from moving up into Arthur, rolling his hips and hooking a leg around the back of Arthur’s thigh. Arthur moved a hand from Merlin’s face to grasp at his hip, Merlin loved the way Arthur’s fingers dug into him, the way Arthur held him made him feel wanted, maybe even desired, and he’d never felt that way before.

Arthur moved with Merlin and before long Merlin found himself all but rutting against Arthur’s thigh. He was gasping into Arthur’s kisses and seeking any kind of friction to ease the want settling into every part of him and the heavy ache of his cock.

“Tell me what you want,” Arthur whispered against his jaw.

Everything. Merlin wanted everything but he didn’t know how to make himself say the word without sounding pathetically desperate and pleading.

Merlin dug his fingers into the hair at Arthur’s nape and answered, “I don’t know,” instead.

“Yes, you do. Tell me.”

“I don’t -,” Merlin began to say but Arthur stopped him.

“You do. Tell me. Don’t be embarrassed about what you want.”

Arthur had pulled away from him slightly and was looking down at him, trying to get Merlin to make eye contact with him. All Merlin wanted to do was press his face against Arthur’s neck and hide but he forced himself to look up at him. All he saw was genuine curiosity, Arthur’s face was open and free of any judgment.

“I’m going to be awful at anything we do,” Merlin answered truthfully. “I don’t want to be awful.”

Arthur looked down at him, brushed a thumb under his eye along his cheek, then leaned down to quietly speak. His mouth was brushing against Merlin’s skin and he was so close Merlin closed his eyes.

“It’s okay,” Arthur said, “we’ll work at the not being awful part together.”

Merlin let out a small puff of laughter and he felt Arthur smile against his cheek.

“Easy for you to say,” Merlin said, “you’re not awful.”

“But how do you know?” Arthur asked as his hand made its way underneath Merlin’s shirt to rest against his stomach. “I could very well be the worst ever.”

“No,” Merlin argued, “that would be my first boyfriend, Harry, who managed to get just the tip in before coming all over himself and shouting, ‘fuck,’ at the top of his lungs so that my mum came running into my room to see what was the matter.”

Merlin jumped at the loud bark of laughter that came out of Arthur at that confession.

“Shut up,” Merlin said as he slapped Arthur’s arm.

“Oh god, you’re brilliant,” Arthur said to him as he smattered kisses across Merlin’s chest. “You’re absolutely brilliant.”

“Well I’m glad someone thinks so.”

Arthur levered himself up, his hand still warm against Merlin’s stomach, as he looked down at him. “I can safely say that I’ll at least manage to get more than the tip in before coming all over myself and shouting, ‘fuck,’ as loudly as I can.”

“I should hope so,” Merlin said.

Arthur smiled down at him then and Merlin felt everything inside of him settle. It was the strangest feeling, but he just knew in that moment that everything would be fine, and even if it wasn’t it was okay because it eventually would be.

“Are you ready to do this?” Arthur asked quietly.

Merlin nodded. “I’m ready.”

Arthur looked at him with such a relieved, pleased, expression on his face that Merlin couldn’t help but smile at him. He couldn’t entirely believe that Arthur, Arthur, had been worried about him actually saying no. Merlin would’ve had to have been more than slightly mental to say no.

Merlin lightly pushed at Arthur’s chest to get him to sit up and allow Merlin to slip out from beneath him. Once he was standing again he stretched his hand out toward Arthur and felt the most wonderful, secret thrill race through him when Arthur reached out his own and took it.

“Bedroom’s this way,” Merlin said.

Arthur stood up and followed Merlin. Once they were inside Merlin’s bedroom Arthur started stripping off his clothes and tossing them into a pile on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Merlin asked, equal parts amused and panicked.

Arthur hopped around as he struggled with a sock. “Just thought I’d get this bit taken care of,” Arthur said, “it might make you feel slightly more comfortable to be at the advantage here.”

“And your being naked will help with that?” Merlin stuttered.

Arthur was down to his boxer-briefs by then and he just looked at Merlin and shrugged before he hooked his fingers into the waistband and slid them down his hips and to his ankles. Merlin almost choked when he kicked them off completely.

“Well, now I’m the naked weirdo who should be massively embarrassed and you can just sit there and point and laugh at me.”

Merlin sank down onto the side of his bed and just looked at Arthur incredulously, he couldn’t decide if the gesture was flat out crazy or incredibly sweet in a really twisted sort of way. All he could do was snort in a mixture of amusement and disbelief. Arthur, who had been keeping a keen eye on Merlin, just laughed, a full out, infectious kind of laugh that made Merlin join him.

“You’re certifiable,” Merlin managed to get out as he held his side and kept laughing at Arthur who was slouched slightly forward and still laughing at himself as well.

“See,” Arthur said once he’d managed to get himself under control. “embarrassment averted, now you can rest easy in the fact that whatever you do it couldn’t possibly be as embarrassing as this.”

Merlin had pulled his feet up onto the bed and was sitting cross-legged as he watched Arthur, who by then had done a little dance and was standing stranded in the middle of Merlin’s bedroom with a gorgeous flush to his skin.

“But what if I’m experiencing secondhand embarrassment on your behalf now?” Merlin asked, hoping to distract Arthur into talking so he could keep looking at him.

Merlin had never really gotten a proper look at a naked man before, well, one that was actually in his presence at least. And god, was Arthur naked. And equal parts beautiful and ridiculous. Merlin couldn’t deny that there was an inherent absurdity about naked men, what with all their bits just there and flopping about. Cocks and balls were just fucking funny and Merlin would never be accused of being overly mature about anything, much less this, but beyond all of that there was sort of a sweet vulnerability to it too and Arthur putting himself on display like that, laying it all out there as it were, made Merlin feel unbearably fond. But then his focus turned to the rest of Arthur; his chest, the curve of his neck into his strong shoulders, his stomach, and his fucking edible thighs, and he was left a bit breathless by the sight.

“Ah, bless your precious, tender little heart, Merlin,” Arthur teased and Merlin just snorted at him.

Arthur seemed to be done with his preening because he walked over to Merlin and knelt down in front of him and took his hands in his own.

“We’ll do whatever you want tonight,” Arthur said, his voice clear and earnest and his eyes focused on Merlin’s. “You call all the shots, okay?”

Something in Merlin’s heart pinged at that, he couldn’t help it, Arthur was too good to him and he couldn’t figure out what he’d done to get so lucky.

Merlin gently pulled one of his hands out of Arthur’s grip and smoothed it along his jawline.

“I want you to show me everything,” Merlin said with complete and utter sincerity, because he found he meant every word of it, he wanted everything from Arthur in that moment. He was ravenous for it and wanted all that Arthur was willing to give.

“Well, that might take more than one night.” Arthur smiled at him. “But we’ll see what we can manage.”

Arthur rose up to kiss Merlin and Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s shoulders, revelling in the feel of his warm, bare skin. When Arthur crawled up onto the bed Merlin unfolded his legs and spread them to draw Arthur down between them. He moved his hands from Arthur’s shoulders down to his hips and as he felt Arthur move against him he wanted to feel Arthur’s skin against his own. He wanted nothing between him and the feel of Arthur’s cock growing heavy and warm against his thigh.

“Mine too,” Merlin gasped against Arthur’s lips as he pulled at his shirt with one hand. Arthur seemed to get the message and pulled back enough to push his hands up under Merlin’s shirt. Merlin’s breath hitched and his stomach jumped when he felt Arthur’s hands on him. He let go of Arthur’s hip with his other hand to help him push his shirt up and over his head. They both laughed breathlessly when it got stuck on his ear.

“Bloody big ears,” Merlin huffed.

“I love your ears,” Arthur said before kissing along the curve of one and taking the earlobe gently between his teeth.

“You would, you exhibitionist weirdo.”

Merlin could feel Arthur’s lips turn into a smile and it made him feel so damn warm. Just to have Arthur in his arms, pressed against him and wanting him, and smiling that stupidly beautiful smile of his sent Merlin’s heart racing.

Arthur moved down to Merlin’s chest and pressed a trail of kisses across it as Merlin dug his fingers into Arthur’s hair. Merlin’s breathing picked up as Arthur made his way down his chest to his stomach and over to the dip of his hip that was just peeking out from his jeans.

Arthur’s hands traveled over his skin and came to settle on his belt buckle. He looked up at Merlin with questioning eyes until Merlin breathed out a, ’yes,’. Arthur tugged at the buckle and got to Merlin’s zip. Merlin pushed down on his waistband helping Arthur as he pulled down on Merlin’s jeans. Arthur gripped the fabric so tightly at Merlin’s hips that he pulled Merlin’s boxers with them. Merlin lifted his hips to help Arthur along.

Merlin shivered when Arthur tossed his jeans aside and settled back between his thighs, taking his cock in his hand. Arthur gently stroked him as he brushed his lips along the side of Merlin’s cock. His breath was warm on Merlin’s skin and it was the most delicious, agonizing sort of teasing Merlin had ever experienced. He didn’t know whether he wanted to push up into Arthur’s mouth or tell him to never stop those barely there touches.

Arthur rubbed his thumb over the tip of Merlin’s cock and he pushed up into Arthur’s hand and all but begged him with a moan. Arthur finally took him in his mouth and Merlin had to bite his lip to keep from crying out. When Arthur started holding him at the hips it was all Merlin could do not come right then, the feel of Arthur’s hands holding him down switched over something deep inside him, made him feel needy and on the brink.

Suddenly Arthur’s mouth was gone and Merlin realized he had closed his eyes against the sensations, he opened them and reached out for Arthur, wanting to drag him back down, but he was already off the bed and digging around in his jeans pocket.

“I brought these, just in case,” Arthur said dropping some packets at Merlin’s side as he sat down on the bed and kissed the inside of Merlin’s knee. “I didn’t know if you’d have anything.”

Merlin felt himself blushing as he picked up the condoms and packets of lube. He felt so stupid, of course he didn’t have anything, well, condoms at least, and he blushed at the thought of what an idiot he had been not thinking to buy anything.

“It’s okay,” Arthur said, rubbing slowly up and down Merlin’s leg, “it’s not like we planned it for tonight.”

“But it’s something I should have had,” Merlin said. “Normal people have that kind of stuff. God. I mean how pathetic am I?”

Arthur moved so that he was hovering over Merlin and looking down at him. “Shut up already,” he said, “and just focus on me. None of that other stuff matters right now.”

Merlin turned to look up at Arthur and saw that it really didn’t matter, Arthur had it all covered, they were fine, all Merlin needed to do was let go of his doubts and just go for it. “Yeah,” Merlin nodded. “Okay.”

“There you go,” Arthur said as he moved back and slid his hands down the insides of Merlin’s thighs. “Ready for more?”

When Merlin nodded Arthur reached for a packet of lube and coated his fingers. Merlin’s stomach dropped, he was nervous and excited and wanted Arthur so damn much that he couldn’t keep his hands off of him.

“You’re so gorgeous,” Merlin quietly said as he ran his hands over Arthur’s shoulders. He sat up enough so he could reach Arthur and kiss him. Arthur opened up to him and somehow the kiss was more than the other ones they’d shared. Merlin felt like it was the beginning of everything else that was going to follow.

Arthur lingered over the kiss but then pulled away and kissed his way back down Merlin’s chest and stomach to his cock. He took Merlin back in his mouth and the shock of it was just as intense as the first time. Merlin was pretty sure Arthur’s had a fucking perfect mouth and he could have laughed with stupid giddiness at the thought.

Just looking down at Arthur and seeing that perfect mouth wrapped around his cock was enough to nearly push him over the edge, but it was Arthur’s fingers gently brushing beneath his balls to his hole, teasing him until Merlin arched his hips up, that were making him even more crazy. When Arthur started to push a finger inside him Merlin moaned at the foreign feeling of it. He’d fingered himself a few times, had loved it, but having Arthur being the one between his legs was something else entirely.

“Is this okay?” Arthur asked, his mouth against the inside of Merlin’s thigh, still near his cock and so damn intimate he almost said, no, no it wasn’t okay, it was all too much, but he nodded, moaned again, and Arthur pressed further inside him.

It was agony, the anticipation, Merlin wanted to push down, force Arthur in further, but the slow burn was almost delicious. He didn’t know it could feel that way, that it wasn’t just quick and awkward and over too soon, that everything could be drawn out and slow.

Arthur kept at Merlin with just one finger, his other hand lazily stroking Merlin’s cock, and it was too much. Merlin had to ask for more. He looked down and saw a small smile curve up the corners of Arthur’s mouth as he pressed his face back into Merlin’s thigh, almost as if to hide his delight, and Merlin’s heart clenched at the sight. It was so much the opposite of what he’d expected, that Arthur’d be sure of himself in an endearingly cocky way, but this Arthur was so much softer and Merlin reached down to brush his fingers through Arthur’s fringe. His fingers curled up, tightened, in Arthur’s hair when he pushed a second finger inside Merlin.

It seemed to go on forever, like Arthur was a kid in a fucking sandbox and couldn’t be bothered to want to be anywhere else but between Merlin’s thighs stroking him, teasing him, bringing him to the brink of the most intense pleasure he’d ever experienced. When Arthur added a third finger Merlin was already twisting under him, writhing and all but whimpering over each wave of heat that washed over him. It was such a glorious agony.

“Arthur, oh god,” Merlin gasped, his fingers still twisted in Arthur’s hair and alternating between pushing him away and pulling closer, senseless as to what he was doing. He wanted to articulate that he was coming, but he couldn’t get out the words before he was spilling all over Arthur’s hand and his face, his fucking gorgeous face with Merlin’s come across his cheek.

“Oh fuck. Oh fuck,” Merlin moaned as he turned his knees in, curled his toes up into the duvet, trying to twist up into himself and trap all the lingering waves of pleasure skipping through him. “You don’t even know,” Merlin sighed. “You don’t know.”

Arthur’s mouth was at his hip, and his fingers still inside him lazily fucking in and out. “Know what?” he mouthed against Merlin’s skin.

“What it’s like for me,” Merlin swallowed around his words, still trying to find his voice and the energy to speak. “God. To feel that way. I’ve never -.”

Merlin felt more than heard Arthur’s low laughter. “I think I do,” he said. “I remember what it was like, that first time.”

Merlin turned his head to the side, buried it in the pillow. “I only wish you’d had been my actual first time.”

“You couldn’t have handled me, Merlin,” Arthur said in an entirely serious voice and Merlin let out a burst of laughter that was quickly followed by one of Arthur’s own.

“You’re such a twat,” Merlin said as he smiled down at Arthur.

Arthur pulled his fingers out of Merlin, who knew he must have whimpered pathetically at the loss, and moved up the bed until he was curled beside him. He smiled at him and kissed the side of his neck.

“But you enjoy my company anyway,” he murmured.

“Well, when you do that -,” Merlin said and Arthur laughed. Merlin watched as he rolled off the bed and went into the bathroom to wash the lube off of his fingers. When he came back into the bedroom Merlin noticed he hadn’t exactly been reciprocal with the attention. “Oh my god,” he said, turning red, “I can’t believe I was so selfish.”

“What?” Arthur asked as he crawled back into bed next to Merlin.

“Well, that, obviously,” Merlin said as he waved at Arthur’s cock.

Arthur just laughed. “Who says we’re done yet?”

“Uh, probably my body since I can barely move.”

“Lazy sod,” Arthur said as he moved on top of Merlin, his body just hovering over him. “I guess I’ll have to do all the work this time too.”

“My laziness is all your fault so deal with it.”

Arthur laughed and laid himself down on top of Merlin and started kissing him. The kisses were slow at first, just as lazy as Merlin himself, but then Arthur started deepening the kisses and they started to fill Merlin up with this kind of insatiable need. He felt a bit like he was devouring Arthur as he grabbed at him, swept his hands over every piece of him he could touch as he arched his body up into him and felt a surge of want run through him. All of Merlin’s lethargy was forgotten with Arthur’s kisses and the feel of his cock rubbing up against the inside of Merlin’s thigh, hard and insistent, and he wanted all of it. Everything.

“Do you want more?” Arthur asked, his lips still against Merlin’s mouth, words spoken between kisses.

Merlin shook his head yes, he didn’t trust himself to say actual words that made sense at the moment. All he could concentrate on was the feeling rushing through him; he was loose-limbed and so full of desire for Arthur, he’d never felt that kind of need so clearly, it was piercing in its intensity. He reached for a condom and tried to tear it open with his shaking fingers. Arthur was patient with him as he tried to roll it onto his cock. It took a couple of tries and Arthur’s hand on his wrist to hold him steady but he managed to roll it on. It was a foolish little accomplishment but every small step he took made him feel more confident and self-assured.

Merlin gripped Arthur’s hips when he pushed into him and felt like he lost his breath altogether as he felt the burn slowly give way to something so much more than he could have imagined. Arthur took his time and Merlin was alternately thankful and frustrated because he wanted all of Arthur, every part of him. He wanted Arthur inside him and his arms and legs firmly wrapped around him so he stayed as close as possible.

“Okay?” Arthur whispered in his ear.

“God yes,” Merlin breathed.

Arthur started moving a little faster and the desperation for him, instead of slacking, seemed to heighten and all Merlin could do was hold onto him, cling really, and ride it out. He got hard again embarrassingly quickly, but every thrust of Arthur’s hips sent jolts of shocked pleasure through him. In the back of his mind he had known it could be like this, that it had to be otherwise people wouldn’t nearly kill themselves trying to get it, but it was still a little too overwhelming to take in.

Merlin could barely catch his breath and with Arthur whispering in his ear, saying things that went straight to his cock; dirty, filthy things mixed with words sweet and full of pride telling Merlin he was amazing, fucking perfect, and he believed in that moment he was.

“Touch yourself,” Arthur said in his ear. “Bring yourself off, I want to feel you around me when you come all over yourself.”

Merlin laughed sort of crazily, embarrassed but wanting exactly that. Arthur moved back from him, sat back on his knees and hooked his arms under Merlin’s own knees. He hiked Merlin’s legs up and dragged him down the bed so his hips lifted up as Arthur fucked into him. Arthur was watching him so intently he almost felt embarrassed taking his cock in his hand and starting to stroke himself but once he did the look that came into Arthur’s eyes was enough to make him start stroking faster. He was so fucking close anyway that it wouldn’t have mattered for long, his embarrassment, because he had to touch himself, bring himself off.

“Gorgeous,” Arthur whispered.

Merlin wanted to say it in return, he wanted to say so many things, but he was nearly out of his mind with all the new sensations swarming through him that all he could do was try to breathe beyond gasping as he came. He lost any sense he had left when Arthur let go of one of his legs to run his hand through the come on Merlin’s stomach before wrapping his hand around Merlin’s and stroking his cock with him through the slippery mess. Still hard and coming down from his second high, Merlin’s cock was so damn sensitive to the touch that he wanted to shove Arthur’s hand away, but he loved how slowly, how carefully he was stroking him. Arthur had slowed down his fucking as well, seemingly mesmerized by touching Merlin.

“Am I good?” Merlin asked, suddenly wracked with doubt. Arthur hadn’t come yet and he didn’t know what he should do.

Arthur looked up at him then and stilled his hips and his hand.

“Are you good?” Arthur repeated Merlin’s question in disbelief. “Oh god,” he said as he moved to wrap Merlin’s legs back around his hips and leaned down to speak against Merlin’s lips. “You’re brilliant.”

Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s shoulders and arched up into him, kissed him, and marvelled how Arthur could say that with so much sincerity. Merlin knew he was awkward and that he flailed around and was hopelessly inept at anything having to do with sex, but there Arthur was making him feel like it was the opposite of all those things.

As Arthur kissed him back he picked up the speed of his thrusts again, his breathing becoming more shallow the more they kissed until he gasped Merlin’s name into his mouth. Merlin felt Arthur still against him, felt the shudder that ran through him. He slid one of his hands down Arthur’s back to the curve of his arse and to his hip where he held him tightly. Arthur’s ragged breaths sounded incredibly loud in his ear and he as he settled himself down on top of Merlin.

They were both hot, slightly sweaty, and fastly becoming incredibly sticky in all the wrong places, but Merlin didn’t want Arthur to move and didn’t let him go.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Merlin quietly teased as he ran a hand up and down Arthur’s back. He felt Arthur’s answering snuffle of amusement and soft rumble of laughter against his jaw and along his neck. “Mind, I’ve had better though,” he added.

Arthur laughed softly again. “Oh god, not even better than Halfway In Harry?”

“Nope, not even close,” Merlin said. “And that would be Just The Tip Harry, halfway in would’ve been an accomplishment.”

“I take back all the nice things I’ve said about you,” Arthur said into Merlin’s ear. “You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”

Merlin smiled and turned his head into Arthur so he could find his lips and kiss him again. Those lips of his were quickly becoming one of Merlin’s favorite things.

Arthur finally had to move off of Merlin, ease out of him. Merlin didn’t want to tell Arthur he felt strangely empty now, without him. He just watched Arthur get up and take care of the condom and get a cloth to clean the both of them up. When he started gathering up his clothes Merlin sat up in bed.

“Are you leaving already?” he asked.

Arthur didn’t look at him when he answered. “Yeah, thought it’d be a bit weird if I stayed? I dunno, this being what it is I shouldn’t exactly stay the night, should I?”

Merlin wanted to say, yes, stay the night, please, but Arthur already had his underwear and socks back on and was getting a leg into his jeans and it seemed like maybe he shouldn’t say anything at all. They were what they were. Right?

When Arthur was completely dressed he turned back to look at Merlin to see he had been watching him the entire time. He moved to sit down on the side of the bed next to Merlin.

“It was good,” he said. “Really good, and if this was different -.”

Merlin watched Arthur closely, he’d yet to see him at a loss for words about anything.

“You were amazing, Merlin,” he whispered instead before he gave Merlin a quick kiss. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

Before Merlin could answer him properly he was out the bedroom door. Merlin listened carefully for the front door of his flat to close behind Arthur before he gripped the sheets and willed himself not to get up and chase after Arthur.

Because that would just be pathetic.

~*~
last night was weird, yeah?

Merlin looked down at his mobile and frowned, but before he could respond it beeped for a new message.

the leaving, i mean, not the before.

Merlin was stupidly relieved Arthur had clarified. A moment of absolute panic had overcome him with the first text. He’d been about ready to leap off a building. Well, maybe not a building, but definitely his desk.

yeah. really weird.

i’d rather it wasn’t. we should try it again.

we should.

but talk first?

definitely.

Merlin smiled to himself as he pocketed his phone after making plans with Arthur for the next evening. He almost wanted to save the texts to show to Elena so he could tell her to suck it, Arthur wasn’t a completely emotionally stunted twat.

But that would’ve been really immature.

~*~
Their ‘talk’ didn’t really consist of much other than Merlin saying that being able to sleep with someone was just as important a thing to practice as the sex, so, it only made sense for Arthur to spend the night now didn’t it?

After that groundbreaking bit of conversation things devolved into a massively gropey make-out session on the couch that turned into a lesson in blow jobs in the hallway and ended up with Merlin learning how to properly ride Arthur in the bedroom.

So, yeah, a fairly successful, and productive, evening overall.

When it came down to the actual sleeping both of them turned really, tragically awkward. Arthur got up to put his underwear back on, and Merlin dithered over what to wear because he wasn’t going to wear the old saggy plaid pyjama bottoms and worn out Star Wars t-shirt he usually wore to bed, not when Arthur looked like a Greek statue in boxer briefs. The thing Merlin didn’t realize was that Arthur was quite enjoying the view as he stood naked in front of his bureau contemplating his messy drawer of pyjamas and old t-shirts.

He was nearly at his wits end and almost pulled out the pair of actual pyjamas his mum had given him five Christmases ago that were flannel with little cartoon reindeer all over them when he felt Arthur standing behind him.

“Looking for these?” he asked as he handed over said ratty pyjama bottoms and embarrassing nerd t-shirt. Merlin blushed and grabbed the clothes. “So,” Arthur continued, looking at the t-shirt Merlin was pulling over his head, “you made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs too, huh?”

“Oh, shut it,” Merlin said as he stepped into his pyjama bottoms.

Arthur just laughed and wandered into the bathroom to take a piss. They then proceeded to bumble around about toothbrushes until after having watched Merlin curse and look, unsuccessfully, for a spare toothbrush for a good five minutes Arthur took pity on him and used his finger instead as Merlin sat on the toilet and apologized for his lack of spare toothbrushes.

“Please tell me you at least buy a new one every couple of months and haven’t had the same one for seven years,” Arthur said after spitting a mouthful of foam into the sink.

“Eight years, actually,” Merlin said entirely straight-faced as Arthur gave him a look. “It’s neon orange, Arthur. Neon orange. How could I possibly give that up?”

“I’m going to stop kissing you from now on.”

“But you’re so minty fresh now,” Merlin said as he got up and slipped between Arthur and the sink, “why waste that?”

“Your logic is flawless.” Arthur laughed and kissed him.

“You really stand by your convictions, I see,” Merlin teased as he turned to grab his toothbrush.

“I just choose to believe in your good sense and the fact that that toothbrush isn’t actually eight years old.”

“You also choose to give in to your complete lack of self-restraint.”

Arthur grinned. “Yeah, that too.”

Merlin snorted and went back to brushing his teeth. He watched Arthur wander back into the bedroom and stand helplessly by the side of the bed. He randomly straightened a pillow and gave a tug to the sheets, but just stayed standing there awkwardly.

“I sleep on the right side,” Merlin said around a mouthful of toothpaste. “Um, looking up from the foot of the bed.” Merlin waved his toothbrush at the side closest to the bathroom when Arthur looked over his shoulder at him with a questioning look.

“Thanks,” Arthur said as he gave Merlin a small smile and then crawled into bed and scooted over to the left side.

Merlin finished up and walked into the bedroom. “I can take the left side if you normally sleep on the right, it’s not a big deal.”

“No, I usually sleep on the left, so -.”

Merlin pulled at the bottom of his t-shirt, twisting it up in his fingers. “So, I guess that works perfectly then.”

“Guess so.”

Merlin twisted his t-shirt up one last time then pulled it down to straighten it out as best he could before taking a big breath and crawling into the bed. He gave Arthur a light smack with the back of his hand when he laughed at him for taking such a deep breath before getting into bed.

They laid there on their backs just looking at the ceiling until Merlin finally sighed and said, “Okay, how do we do this?”

“We just go to sleep.”

“No, I don’t want that.”

“You want the full cuddle?” Arthur asked, amusement clear in his voice.

“Well when you put it that way -. No.”

“Aw, come on, Merlin. Let’s have a cuddle.”

“Fine,” Merlin huffed. “Let’s cuddle the hell out of this thing.”

“I like your determination,” Arthur teased. “Your conviction is giving me a boner.”

“You know,” Merlin said as he got up on an elbow and looked down at Arthur, “you’re incredibly sexy, but then you open your mouth.”

“And I get even sexier?” Arthur asked.

“No.”

“Well I was envisioning a blow job scenario there with the whole opened mouth business so that’s why I went with the sexy.”

Merlin looked at Arthur as he said all of that with a completely straight face and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling at the stupid bugger. Arthur smiled back up at him and asked, “Big spoon or little spoon?”

“Uh, little spoon?” Merlin answered quietly as he felt himself flush pink.

“Little spoon it is,” Arthur said with total disregard to Merlin’s embarrassment as he moved closer to him and pushed at his arm a bit to get him to roll to his side. Once Merlin did Arthur slipped an arm around his waist and settled in behind him.

Merlin held himself stiffly as Arthur fitted himself to Merlin’s back; his knees pressing up against the backs of Merlin’s, his front to Merlin’s back, and his cock pressing up against Merlin’s arse. It wasn’t the least bit hard, just warm and so obviously there, but for some reason Merlin thought it a weirdly sweet thing. Arthur seemed a bit vulnerable like that somehow and it made Merlin less uncomfortable himself. He felt his rigidity leave him as his muscles slowly relaxed and he settled back against Arthur.

When he felt Arthur’s nose against the back of his head, the warmth of his breath on the back of his neck, he reached out and clicked off the bedside lamp. In the darkness he slid his hand down Arthur’s forearm, the one that was solidly wrapped around his waist, and slipped his fingers between Arthur’s own.

Arthur snuffled a bit and Merlin felt an achingly soft brush of lips against the back of his neck, almost so light as to barely be noticed at all. It was then he felt the heaviness of his eyelids and that dragging weight that always pulled him toward sleep. It was incredibly easy to just let his eyelids drop.

The last thing he heard was Arthur mumbling in his ear.

“I think your t-shirt is really sexy, by the way.”

~*~
Merlin woke up warmer and more comfortable than he’d ever been. He usually woke up buried beneath his duvet but Arthur was like his very own hot water bottle and he was wonderfully warm.

He was on his back and Arthur was wrapped around him, his head on Merlin’s chest and his arm and leg draped over him as well. Merlin wanted to tease him about being so clingy but there was such an innocence to Arthur in his sleep that Merlin didn’t have the heart to tease him. He just laid there, content to lightly brush his fingers through Arthur’s hair and wait for him to wake up.

Arthur had set the alarm on his phone the night before and it went off just a few minutes after Merlin woke up. He was disappointed he’d had so little time to lie there with Arthur, but Arthur waking up was equally entertaining.

Arthur was not a morning person. He was a grumbling, mumbling, cursing sort of person in the morning. He bitched and moaned as he reached behind him to grab his phone on his side of the bed. Once the alarm was off he flopped back over to Merlin’s side and pressed his face down into the center of Merlin’s chest.

“Call in sick to work for me, will you?” Arthur muttered against Merlin’s skin.

“Aren’t you the boss, who would I call?”

“I dunno. Elena? She’s seems awfully bossy to me most of the time.”

“Aww, poor Arthur,” Merlin smiled as he petted Arthur on the head. “I’ll make you some breakfast,” he added as he turned to roll himself off the side of the bed. Arthur groaned in protest when he ended up on the mattress sans Merlin.

“I like my toast burnt,” Arthur said to Merlin’s retreating back.

“You’re gross.”

“I know.”

Merlin smiled to himself as he made his way out to his tiny kitchen. He listened to Arthur’s disgruntled mutterings as he got himself out of bed and into Merlin’s shower. Merlin was fairly certain he was mumbling and bitching in there as well.

When he heard the shower turn off he was just about to pop some bread in and set his toaster to, ‘the fiery inferno of hell’ to burn Arthur’s toast when he saw the pile of mail he’d abandoned the day before. It was odd that he’d forgotten to take a look at it, usually he obsessively checked his mail for any letters from Lance.

Lance was a technophobe of the highest order. He hated emails and texting and barely even talked on his mobile when he could find proper reception. Lance was a letter writer, and an amazing one at that. Merlin had stacks of letters carefully saved in his right hand desk drawer, letters that were pages long. The rest of his desk was a disaster area, but that drawer was perfect and tidy in every way as it preserved some of Merlin’s most treasured possessions.

Arthur found him pouring over his letter when he came out to the kitchen.

“What’s that?”

“A letter from Lance,” Merlin said as he looked up at Arthur with a huge smile. “I got it yesterday. I can’t believe I forgot to check for it. Lance writes the best letters.”

Arthur dutifully looked at the letter Merlin waved at him. Merlin was too busy getting back to reading the letter to notice how unsure Arthur had become standing there wondering what to do.

“Ah, I should go,” he finally said. “Work and all.”

Merlin briefly looked up from the letter. “And bossy Elena as well,” he said before going back to his reading.

“Yes, her as well,” Arthur said quietly. He stood looking at Merlin for a few more seconds before saying, “I’ll see you later then?” When Merlin didn’t answer right away Arthur said his name.

“Huh?” Merlin asked as he looked up.

“See you later?” Arthur repeated.

“Oh yeah. Sure.”

Arthur made a cursory look around to see that he’d gotten everything he’d come with, sneaking quick glances at Merlin as he did so. When it appeared as if Merlin was lost entirely to his letter he made his way to the front door.

“Bye, Merlin,” he said.

It wasn’t very loud, he hadn’t expected a reply anyway, so he wasn’t surprised when none came.

~*~
“Oh my fucking Christ, Merlin!” Elena screeched at him when she saw him next.

“What?”

“You’ve slept with him now, haven’t you?”

“What? No! I haven’t. Shut up. How did you know?” Merlin flailed.

Elena waved at him. “You’ve got sex bliss face. Jesus, Merlin, what did I beg you to do? I was hoping you’d listen to me and not actually sleep with him.”

“Sex bliss face?”

“Not the issue here,” Elena said and clapped at him. “Focus.”

“You told me to stay away,” Merlin said. “But what you didn’t say was how bloody good he is at sex, because let me tell you, he’s stellar at it. Really gold star work.”

“Merlin! Gross.”

“I’m well on my way to becoming a porn star at this rate.”

“Honestly,” Elena huffed. “I don’t need to hear anything else.”

“You brought it up with your sex bliss face nonsense.”

Merlin had to admit he knew exactly what Elena was talking about. Ever since he and Arthur had started having sex he’d been walking around in a sort of daze. He could barely go ten minutes without thinking about Arthur and what Arthur could do to him, or what he could do to Arthur.

After that first sleepover, and yes, Merlin called them sleepovers because it amused Arthur to no end, Arthur had started sleeping over more and more. At first it was every couple of days, then every other, until suddenly it was every night and Merlin was perfectly fine with that. Arthur had clothes at his place, and his own toothbrush, finally, and they’d figured out how to be with one another. They fucked like rabbits and knew every inch of one another, they knew how to move with each other in the night so they never woke each other up, and they had their morning routine down to a science.

Merlin had deliberately not gotten together with either Elena or Gwaine for weeks simply because he knew they’d figure it out the second they saw him. He was walking around with the face of a perpetually well-fucked man. It was a wholly new experience for him since he’d spent the first twenty-four years of his life walking around as a perpetually sexually frustrated man.

“You’re really digging yourself in deep,” Elena said.

“I’m not really,” Merlin argued. “We’re just having fun. You know I need to be more normal with guys and Arthur is helping me do that.”

“Oh god, sweetie, you were perfectly normal as is. Well as normal as anyone else is at any rate.”

“Well, not more normal, but you know what I mean.”

“I do, but you seem to be talking more about Arthur these days than Lance.”

“I haven’t forgotten Lance, Elena, god,” Merlin said. “Like I ever could. He’s the reason I’m doing all of this.”

“You know Lance already loves you.”

“As a friend,” Merlin said bitterly. “I’m always just a mate, a goofy friend, no one ever sees me and thinks anything more than that.”

“And Arthur does?” Elena asked.

“You know what, yes, yes he does,” Merlin said. “He calls me gorgeous and he looks at me like he wants me and it feels amazing, El. I feel more confident now because of him, I feel more myself.”

Elena looked at him and Merlin felt like squirming under her scrutiny.

“If you’re going to harp at me again, just don’t,” Merlin sighed.

“As a matter of fact I’m not,” she said. “I’m actually going to say good on Arthur. You’re changing, Merlin, and I think for the better.”

“I am, and Arthur is a huge part of that.”

“I’m starting to see that,” she said. “Maybe I was possibly a little bit wrong about him. Just a tiny bit though”

“Oh no, he’s still a manwhore.” Merlin laughed. “He’d be appalled to know you think he actually possesses a heart.”

“Well I’m not saying he isn’t an ass, that still applies.” Elena grinned.

“He’ll be happy to hear it.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Elena rolled her eyes. “He gets off on me nagging him.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Merlin asked. “It’s so sexy.”

“I know Gwaine thinks so.”

“Gwaine’s cracked in the head.”

“He is indeed, and he’s all mine.”

~*~
“Tell me something I don’t know yet,” Merlin said as they laid in bed on their sides facing each other. Neither one of them was tired enough to fall asleep yet.

“About me?”

“Of course about you.”

“I have a sister.”

Merlin raised himself up on an elbow. “You have a sister? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t talk about my family a lot.”

“Obviously.”

“Don’t be mad,” Arthur said.

“I’m not,” Merlin said. “I just feel stupid because you know everything about me and I babble all the time and here I didn’t know this really important thing about you.”

Arthur reached out and took Merlin’s hand and started playing with his fingers. “I don’t talk about her because she’s always been something in my life I like to keep to myself. I’m selfish about her.”

“Why?”

“My father and I never really got along when he was alive and my mum died when I was eight. She’s been the one constant in my life. The one person who loved me after my mum died. She’s actually my half-sister, but that’s never mattered to me, or to her. She just loves me, as is.”

Merlin twisted his fingers up with Arthur’s. He never could stop the way his heart clenched in his chest whenever Arthur opened up to him. He so rarely did it. Arthur wasn’t a sharer, he was a listener more often than not, usually to deflect attention from people asking him more personal questions. Merlin found himself wanting to know everything about Arthur, he wanted to dig and dig until he got to the very core of Arthur because he was certain it would be worth it. Merlin knew there was so much more to Arthur than anyone else ever managed to reach.

“I get it, wanting to keep her to yourself,” Merlin said, “like a treasure.”

Arthur smiled at him and leaned in to kiss him, like he was proud of Merlin for figuring it out, for understanding him, and it made Merlin’s insides flip over.

“Do you want to come to mine tomorrow?” Arthur asked quietly, hesitantly.

In the three months they’d been sort-of dating Merlin had yet to go to Arthur’s home. He knew it was strange, but because of what they were he never pushed it. He was fine having Arthur at his and Arthur seemed to prefer it so Merlin left it at that. But the way Arthur asked the question it was almost like he expected Merlin to say no, like he wouldn’t want to be where Arthur called home.

“I’d love to,” Merlin said.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Why wouldn’t I?”

Arthur shrugged, but didn’t say anything for a while. Merlin let the quiet stretch on because he knew Arthur would say what he wanted to say eventually, he just sometimes thought too long about it.

“I don’t ask people back to mine,” Arthur said.

Somehow Merlin had known that. He didn’t say anything about Arthur’s revelation, he just leaned in to kiss him, wanting nothing more than to show him how much it meant to him that he’d made the offer.

“Tell me about her,” Merlin said quietly when he pulled away from the kiss.

Arthur smiled at him, sort of shy and sweet, and told him about the one person that meant the entire world to him. And Merlin took his turn at listening.

~*~
When Merlin showed up at Arthur’s door he let him in then stood awkwardly at Merlin’s side, his hands in his back pockets.

“You’ve got a really nice place,” Merlin said.

“Yeah, thanks. It’s fine,” Arthur said. “It’s not as nice as your place though.”

Merlin looked around at the sweeping expanse of hardwood floors and shiny surfaces that looked like it was straight out of a design magazine and laughed.

“Are you kidding me? My place is a dump, who are we kidding?”

“Your place is a home,” Arthur said quietly.

Merlin looked back over his shoulder at Arthur, saw that he truly meant it, and he supposed it was true in a way. Looking at Arthur’s flat it was all clean lines and really sort of sterile and empty. Merlin thought about Arthur rattling around by himself in such a huge space and it made his heart ache. He walked over to Arthur and reached around behind him so he could gently pull his hands out of his pockets and wrap them around his own waist instead. Arthur smiled a bit then and held Merlin more closely.

“Sure, if you equate a filthy mess with home, then yeah, I suppose it’s a home,” Merlin teased quietly as he spoke in Arthur’s ear, his fingers toying with the ends of Arthur’s hair.

“You do excel at making a mess,” Arthur said, and Merlin could hear the smile in his voice.

“Show me around?” Merlin asked as he stepped back out of Arthur’s arms.

“You’re just trying to figure out where the bedroom is.”

Merlin laughed. “You read me like an open book, Arthur.”

Arthur rolled his eyes at him but gave him a quick tour of the flat. Merlin didn’t want to admit he wanted to linger in all the rooms so he could snoop around. Since Arthur barely gave anything away Merlin was hungry for every tidbit about him he could find out.

“I ordered Chinese, hope that’s okay?”

“Sounds good to me,” Merlin said. “Should we do a film?”

Arthur nodded and waved over at the shelves that flanked either side of his enormous television. “Have your pick.”

Merlin scanned the DVDs quickly and saw most of them were action films. He felt like he should give Arthur grief for being such a stereotype, but when he pulled out a DVD and saw there was a row behind the outside one so he started pulling more off the shelf. Merlin smiled to himself when the back row revealed what Arthur had been attempting to hide, although not very well. There were musicals and Disney films and Merlin was pretty sure Arthur owned every Audrey Hepburn film ever.

“What’s your favorite film, Arthur?” Merlin called out to him.

“Why?” came the suspicious reply from the kitchen.

“No reason, just curious.”

“You found them, didn’t you?” Arthur’s voice was getting louder and Merlin knew he was standing in the lounge.

“What’s your favorite?” Merlin repeated.

“Lion King,” Arthur sighed, his voice resigned.

“Made my choice then,” Merlin said as he pulled out the DVD.

“Don’t be ridiculous, we don’t have to watch that.” Arthur walked over to Merlin and tried to snatch the DVD out of his hand.

“But I want to, I love Lion King.”

Arthur didn’t say anything, he just shrugged, but there was a strangeness to his quiet and Merlin wondered if maybe he’d made the wrong choice. He couldn’t understand why though. He watched Arthur go back into the kitchen to get the plates, silverware, and beer he had been in the process of gathering up before Merlin interrupted him.

When he came back into the lounge he set everything out on the coffee table and silently turned the DVD player on so Merlin could put the disc in it. Arthur fiddled with the remote as Merlin sat down beside him. He chose to sit right next to him, as close as he could, hoping it would make Arthur say something.

It took sitting through all the bits at the beginning and Circle of Life before Arthur said anything.

“It’s just that this is the last film I remember seeing with my mum, she’d sing the songs to me all the time.”

Merlin just slipped his arm through Arthur’s and curled his legs up to the side so he could lay his head on Arthur’s shoulder. He felt Arthur start to relax against him.

“I’d sing to you too, but I’m a terrible singer,” Merlin said quietly after a couple more minutes. He was rewarded with a quiet little burst of laughter from Arthur.

“Yeah, please don’t, I’d like to preserve the sanctity of the songs, please.”

Merlin gave Arthur’s arm a squeeze and settled back to watch the film.

The food came a little while later and as they were eating Merlin noticed Arthur was singing along to a song. He knew Arthur was completely unaware he was doing it. He was sitting cross-legged, his plate on his lap, and he was singing Hakuna Matata. He looked utterly ridiculous and sweet and Merlin had to set his plate down because his hands started to shake and his stomach dropped right out of him since it was in that moment, with perfect clarity, that he realized he could love Arthur for the rest of his life.

He could love him. Love him.

“‘Scuse me,” Merlin mumbled. “Toilet.”

Merlin was vaguely aware of Arthur looking up at him and nodding okay as he scrambled off the couch and ran to the bathroom. He shut the door behind himself and dropped down to the floor. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, and his hands were still shaking, but the sharp pang of love for Arthur that had shook him apart was still rippling through him. It was violent and all-consuming and he didn’t know how to handle it.

His love for Lance had been a slow burn. They’d started out as friends and then came the love, at least on Merlin’s end, and it was warm and safe and calm. It was nothing like the shock of love for Arthur he’d just felt. It had come on so suddenly. All he wanted to do was run home, but Arthur had been so worried about asking him over, had given up more of himself that he ever had before and Merlin wasn’t going to make him regret that. He couldn’t do that to Arthur.

He got up and splashed some water on his face and tried to settle his nerves before going back out to Arthur. He took some deep breaths and hoped he could cover up his massive freak out enough that Arthur wouldn’t notice.

“You okay?” Arthur asked when he came back out and sat down beside him. “You sort of made a mad dash there.”

“Oh yeah, had to wee,” Merlin mumbled.

Arthur laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “Idiot,” he said fondly.

Merlin had been worried about acting normal around Arthur, but strangely enough the moment Arthur touched him, had kissed his cheek, everything had settled and quieted inside him. And reaching out to touch Arthur back, to lay his hand on Arthur’s thigh, stopped it from shaking.

Merlin smiled at him. “Yeah, I know.”

Arthur leaned into him and went back to watching the film. Merlin took another deep breath and decided he’d let the night happen and he’d deal with everything in the morning.

~*~
To add insult to injury when he got home the next day after work he found another letter from Lance. He suddenly felt like he was cheating even though he wasn’t with Lance, and wasn’t really with Arthur either.

And there really wasn’t anyone he could talk to about it; Lance and Arthur weren’t options, obviously, and neither was Gwaine since he’d tell Elena immediately, and Elena, well, she’d be Elena about it all.

It was all so stupid anyway. He couldn’t even do a practice relationship right, how would he ever manage an actual one? He’d gone in with a plan and he had wanted Lance for so long that it all made sense to him. There wasn’t any confusion at all, and Arthur? Well, Arthur had entered into things with the belief that Merlin wanted nothing from him other than practice for something else. And now because Arthur sang some stupid song and Merlin nearly had a heart attack he was stuck wondering if everything he’d ever wanted had just drastically altered itself.

And it wasn’t like it was wholly surprising, the last few weeks, ever since they’d started sleeping together, Merlin had discovered countless things about Arthur that made him so much more than just practice. More and more Merlin found himself wanting to talk to Arthur first whereas before it was always Lance, when he was still in London, or Elena and Gwaine. Arthur was always on his mind and getting some smartarse text from him was enough to brighten his entire day.

It made sense, in so many ways, but Merlin had still been bowled over by it.

He looked at the letter in his hand and realized that there was only a passing desire to tear it open to see what Lance had to say. And what desire was there was more that of a friend than anything else. What he wanted even more was to hear Arthur’s voice, and to crawl into bed beside him and just sleep until everything was magically sorted.

It was like Arthur read his thoughts because his mobile beeped with a text from him.

going to the market. will make food. i cook. sexy, right?

Merlin laughed as his heart started to pound in his chest at the thought that Arthur would soon be home.

Home.

God, he was absolutely fucked.

~*~
“I’ve got pasta and wine,” Arthur said as he let himself into Merlin’s flat. “Prepare to be amazed.”

“And to get pissed.”

“That too.” Arthur laughed. “It certainly helps with how good you think my cooking is.”

“I’m sure it’ll be delicious,” Merlin said. Arthur was flushed from the hike up five flights of stairs, the lift in the building seemed to be permanently out of order at the moment, and Merlin could hardly look away from him he was so beautiful.

“I’ll remind you you said that,” Arthur said as he grinned at Merlin over his shoulder.

Merlin just smiled back and sat down at the small table he had crammed into the kitchen so he could watch Arthur chop and mix and stir and make the evening feel absolutely perfect.

Because it was probably going to be one of their last.

Merlin had read Lance’s letter and the part where he told Merlin he was coming home early, this Saturday to be exact, and that he couldn’t wait to see him. He knew he had to tell Arthur and then that would be the end. The end of shoving at Arthur’s shoulder in the night when he started to snore, the end of fights over what they were going to eat and where they were going to go, the end of being with Arthur and having the freedom to touch him whenever he wanted.

It was the end of being with Arthur the way he wanted to be with him. As a friend, and, Merlin was willing to admit to himself now, his forever.

“You’re shockingly quiet tonight.” Arthur had made his way over to Merlin’s side without him realizing it and he jumped a bit at Arthur’s voice. “Jumpy too,” he added as he leaned down and kissed the top of Merlin’s head.

Merlin reached out for him, touched his fingers to Arthur’s side, and shook his head. “It’s nothing, just in a quiet mood, I guess.”

“Well that’s new,” Arthur teased and Merlin gave him a small smile.

Merlin tried to act normal the rest of the evening but he knew he wasn’t managing it because Arthur kept giving him odd looks and side-eyeing him. Merlin knew he was being too clingy, touching Arthur every chance he could get, but he couldn’t stop, it was like he was storing up on Arthur, and he couldn’t make himself tone it down.

When Arthur crawled into bed beside him later that night he turned on his side so he was facing Merlin.

“Are you going to tell me what’s really going on or am I going to have to guess?” Arthur asked.

Merlin reached out and touched his fingers to Arthur’s mouth. “Lance is coming home,” he answered quietly. “This Saturday.”

Arthur pulled away from Merlin and scrambled to sit up, his back against the headboard.

“I thought we had more time,” he said, and Merlin thought his voice sounded strange, sort of caught on the words.

Merlin sat up as well so he could see Arthur’s face better. “He wasn’t supposed to be home for another two months. But he said something about a surprise, and it’s his parents’ anniversary, so -.”

Arthur didn’t respond, he just sat with his hands in his lap and stared past Merlin. Merlin didn’t know how to handle the situation and all he wanted to do was crawl onto Arthur’s lap and kiss him, so that’s what he did. Arthur’s arms went around him and held him so tightly he could barely catch his breath enough to keep kissing him. Merlin clung to Arthur, his fingers grasped at his shoulders and back, and it all felt a little desperate and rushed but Arthur didn’t seem to notice.

Arthur set one hand on the mattress next to them and used it as an anchor to lift Merlin up and onto his back as he kept his other arm wrapped tightly around his waist. Merlin hooked his legs around Arthur to keep him as close as possible as they continued to kiss.

Merlin felt Arthur’s cock against his thigh as he rolled his hips against him and Merlin started to push Arthur’s underwear past his hips. Arthur was working at Merlin’s own with one hand as he kept a hold of Merlin with the other. They managed to scramble out of their pants and when Merlin reached for a condom Arthur stopped him with a hand to his wrist.

“Fuck me?” he asked, his voice low and quiet and his eyes never leaving Merlin’s.

Merlin nodded. “Ye -,” he started but couldn’t get the rest of the word out so he took a breath and closed his eyes and tried again. “Yes.”

Arthur took Merlin’s face in his hands as he kissed him with an all consuming earnestness that made Merlin shake. When Arthur pulled away from the kiss he moved onto his back beside Merlin and simply looked at him. He didn’t say a word, and neither could Merlin, but Merlin made himself move because he wanted Arthur so badly then that he could barely wait to be inside him.

Being on the other side of things was exciting and fucking scary as hell and Merlin knew, he knew, he’d do something wrong but Arthur’s eyes were steady on him and he felt like he could do it as long as Arthur didn’t look away.

Merlin had been between Arthur’s thighs before, many times, he’d done things between those thighs that made him blush when he thought about them too much. It was only when he was with Arthur that he felt unashamed, alive, and he was here with him now and that’s all he needed to settle his nerves and to do try to give Arthur as much pleasure as he’d given him.

Merlin wanted to laugh out loud, joyous and obnoxiously smug, when Arthur writhed beneath him and pushed back against his fingers, silent but begging. Merlin felt a delirious kind of power in making that happen, in pushing inside Arthur and rocking with him, fucking into him and making him gasp and claw at the sheets beneath him. He was the one stroking Arthur, bringing him off, and the moment overwhelmed him. With Arthur’s come all over his hand, he hooked his arms under Arthur’s knees and fucked into him, wanting to draw out the moment forever and at the same time never stop coming.

Arthur was still panting beneath him, his face red with it, and Merlin lost all focus but to find Arthur’s mouth with his own. He nearly folded Arthur in two as he leaned down into him to kiss him, but Arthur stayed with him. He grasped at Merlin’s shoulders to pull him down closer as they kissed. Arthur was all around him, sweaty limbs, gorgeous mouth, and tight heat, and Merlin wanted to hold on forever but it was impossible to stop the coil of heat rushing through him. And in the end it was Arthur there beneath him, stroking his cheek and whispering his name in his ear over and over again.

It was the only time he ever felt that word meant something.

~*~
Merlin had barely been able to let Arthur go the next morning. He’d lingered in his doorway kissing Arthur goodbye and feeling like it was forever. Which it was because Arthur had given him a small smile and suggested a goodbye dinner for that night. Merlin had nodded and let him go, not trusting himself to say anything.

And the dinner, god, the dinner. It was awkward and over too soon and not soon enough. Merlin had wanted to run away from the uncomfortable silences mixed with questions from Arthur about Lance and what Merlin would do now that he was days away from getting what he’d wanted so badly. But he’d also wanted to stay at that little tucked away table and sit across from Arthur for the rest of his life.

It had been a miserable evening.

At the end of dinner they were standing on the pavement waiting for a cab. Arthur was standing with his hands shoved into his pockets staring out at the road in front of them, and Merlin was staring at him.

“We’ll still stay mates, yeah?” Merlin asked, praying his voice didn’t sound as pathetically hopeful to Arthur as it did to his own ears.

Arthur glanced over at him and quickly away again. “Yeah, of course. Of course we will.”

The ‘of course’ sounded like ‘I doubt it’ and Merlin kind of wanted to sit down on the ground and cry.

When a cab came close Arthur flagged it down and opened up the door for Merlin to get in.

“No, that’s yours,” Merlin said. “I’m taking the tube.”

“It’s yours,” Arthur said. “My treat. I want you to get home safely.”

Arthur.”

“Just get in, okay Merlin?”

“Yeah, a’right.”

Merlin got into the cab and Arthur followed to give the driver his address and to hand over what Merlin knew was way more money than was needed to get him home. He reached out and brushed his fingers over the soft wool of Arthur’s jacket, a fleeting touch he was sure Arthur didn’t feel.

Merlin clenched his fingers into fists and held them in his lap when Arthur started to draw back out the door. Merlin had to look away out the opposite window, he couldn’t stand looking at Arthur leaving. He thought he was just about in the clear when he sensed Arthur hesitating and moving back into the cab. Before he knew it he was wrapped up in Arthur’s arms as he knelt at Merlin’s feet. Merlin gasped and found his arms moving around Arthur to hold him right back.

“Be happy, Merlin,” Arthur whispered in his ear and just like that he was out of his arms and gone.

“You too,” Merlin said breathlessly, but it was too late, Arthur had already shut the door.

~*~
Merlin walked around in a daze for the next several days. He avoided Elena and Gwaine at all costs and just bided his time until he had to make an appearance at Lance’s parents’ place, which was where Lance was living until his subletter’s lease ran out.

He was still excited to have Lance back, thrilled, really, but it wasn’t the same kind of thrumming excitement he’d felt before Arthur. Before Arthur Lance was all he thought about, he was his goal, his future, and now that place inside him belonged to Arthur.

When the day of Lance’s return actually did arrive and he was at the welcome home party he’d had to make a run for the toilet to press his hand over his mouth to stifle the hysterical laughter that was bubbling up inside him when Lance had showed him his ‘surprise’ and introduced him to his beautiful fiancee, Gwen.

Of course. Of course.

Merlin had to laugh otherwise he’d burst into tears at the whole fucked up situation.

Logically he’d known it was a possibility for Lance to find someone, he’d been away for over a year, but Merlin had held onto such a stupid, pathetic hope that he’d come home and finally see Merlin the way he wanted him to that he’d pushed reality aside and now here he was, in love with someone who wasn’t interested in love and the person he’d done it all for engaged to someone else.

He had gathered himself up, controlled his hysterical laughter, and had gone back out to make nice with Gwen and to welcome Lance back properly. She had been more than lovely and Lance had seemed so incredibly happy that Merlin felt a little bit calmer by the end of the evening.

When he was getting ready to leave Lance had come to give him a hug goodbye. As he’d held Merlin in one of his massive Lance hugs he’d whispered in Merlin’s ear.

“What’s up with you?”

Merlin pulled back so he could look at Lance and answered, “Nothing, don’t worry about it.”

“Liar,” Lance had smiled.

“I’ll tell you later, I promise.”

“You’d better.”

“I will,” Merlin said, and Lance had given him a kiss on the cheek and sent him on his way.

Merlin knew he’d only tell Lance part of the story, he didn’t want him to feel badly about it, and Lance would if he ever found out what Merlin had felt for him. But for the time being Merlin wanted to wallow, and try to figure out what to do without Arthur.

~*~
Merlin was buried under his duvet, like he had been for the last four days, when he heard a knock on his door. He was hoping whoever it was would go away but when he didn’t answer the knocks became more insistent and didn’t stop. He figured it was Elena since she’d been calling him repeatedly over the last few days, or maybe Lance since it seemed like they were taking phone shifts.

He groaned and got out of bed when it seemed like the knocking wasn’t going to stop.

“God, El, go away,” Merlin said as he got to the door.

“It’s not El,” an unfamiliar voice said.

Merlin hesitated for a moment but opened the door. Standing on the other side was the woman he’d seen in what few pictures Arthur had in his flat.

“Merlin?” she asked.

Merlin nodded. “Morgana, yeah?”

She gave him a small smile and a nod. “Could I come in?”

“Yeah, sure,” Merlin said as he stepped aside.

Morgana walked past him and then came to a stop in his lounge. She turned to look at Merlin and smiled at him again. “I knew you’d be adorable,” she said and Merlin could feel himself blush.

“Thanks?” Merlin didn’t mean for it to sound like a question but he didn’t know how to respond.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“It’s okay.” Merlin shrugged. “Do you want tea, coffee?”

“No thank you,” Morgana said. “I know I’m intruding so I want to say what I came to say.”

“Okay,” Merlin said hesitantly.

“I came here because of Arthur, obviously,” she began. “I’ve gotten bits and pieces of what went on between the two of you and I know you want to be with someone else, but I wanted to ask a favor of you.”

Merlin had no idea what Morgana could possibly want from him but if it was for Arthur he would do whatever she asked of him.

“Yeah,” he said, “of course.”

“Arthur mentioned something about staying friends, or staying in touch, but I’m asking you not to do that. I’m asking you to stay out of his life.”

Merlin was shocked by her request. “What?”

“It’s not anything against you,” she was quick to say, “it’s for Arthur that I’m asking this.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I just don’t think it’d be good for him right now to be around you. I don’t know, maybe after a while,” Morgana said, “but not now.”

“But why can’t I see him?” Merlin knew he sounded sort of desperate but the panic that had settled in at the thought of not seeing Arthur was too much to handle.

“Merlin, my brother doesn’t love easily and it breaks my heart because he has such a capacity for it, but his father did a number on him and left behind a man who finds it really difficult to trust other people and to get close. This is already hard enough for him, I don’t want him to have to go through anything that he doesn’t have to, and seeing you would just about kill him right now.”

Merlin had to sit down on his coffee table, it was the nearest thing to him, because he couldn’t quite trust his legs to hold him up. He looked up at Morgana and saw she was giving him a strange look.

“He does,” Merlin said, “he has such a great capacity for love, his heart -. He has such a good heart but he doesn’t let anyone see it.”

Morgana sat down on the chair across from him. “You didn’t know, did you?” her voice was resigned.

Merlin shook his head. “No, I didn’t,” he whispered.

“Of course you didn’t because my brother is an emotional cripple. Oh, fuck me.”

Merlin’s heart was racing in his chest and he had to hold onto his knees to keep his hands from shaking. “But it’s okay,” he told Morgana, “it is, because now I know. I didn’t know before.”

He knew he probably sounded a bit manic, but he was just so damn happy.

Morgana was apparently master of the stare down because Merlin was nearly squirming under her scrutiny. “You love him too, don’t you?” she finally asked.

“God, yes,” Merlin gasped somewhere between laughter and a sob, the whole situation was so messed up, but it was going to get better, so much better. “You have no idea.”

“Oh fuck,” Morgana said as she stood up. “I thought you -. But what about Lance?”

“He’s engaged,” Merlin laughed, because now he could. “To someone obviously not me. But it didn’t matter, because there was Arthur and it didn’t matter.” Merlin knew he was babbling like an idiot but he didn’t care.

“Well for fucksake go take a shower, because you stink to high heaven, and then get your cute little backside over to my brother’s.”

Merlin lifted his arm and took a sniff. “I do,” he laughed again, “I fucking reek.”

“Well don’t be proud of it,” Morgana rolled her eyes, “go get yourself together. I’ll head back over to Arthur’s and get my husband and kids out of there and he’ll be all yours.”

“Your husband and kids?” Merlin said inanely.

“Yes, and god only knows what they’ve done to him while I’ve been gone. Like he wasn’t in a state already.”

Merlin saw Morgana to the door and just before she left she turned to pull him into a stranglehold of a hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered fiercely. “He was drowning, Merlin, fucking drowning and I didn’t know what to do.”

“Don’t worry,” Merlin said, “I’ve got him now.”

~*~
When Arthur opened the door Merlin was tempted to simply fling himself into Arthur’s arms. He looked more beautiful than Merlin remembered. His hair was mussed and slightly wet and he almost laughed because it was obvious Morgana had been at work.

“Merlin,” Arthur said, and god, there was so much in that one word. Merlin just watched Arthur’s face and saw surprise and wariness and a deep happiness underneath it all and Merlin knew that happiness was for him, that it belonged him.

“Just get out of the shower?” Merlin asked as he stepped past Arthur and walked into his flat.

“Yeah, my sister is staying with me and she threw a fit about me having a shower before she rushed her entire family out the door.” Arthur shrugged. “I don’t even ask anymore, I just do.”

“Wise choice,” Merlin nodded. “She’s a bossy thing, isn’t she?”

Arthur looked like he was about to agree but then he stopped himself and said instead, “How do you know that?” Arthur took a step back from Merlin. “She went to see you, didn’t she? Shit. Shit shit shit. I told her to mind her own damn business but she can never manage to do anything you ask her to and I’m sorry, Merlin, I’m so sorry. She shouldn’t have bothered you, you didn’t need to know -.”

Arthur was babbling and it was adorable, Merlin had never seen it happen before. He took a step toward Arthur, and then another one until he was close enough to take Arthur’s face in his hands.

“Merlin,” Arthur whispered brokenly as he wrapped his fingers around Merlin’s wrists and half heartedly tried to pull them away, “please don’t. I can’t -.”

“I needed to know,” Merlin said.

Arthur shook his head. “You have Lance and your plan, you didn’t need to know I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain.”

Merlin touched his thumb to Arthur’s bottom lip. “I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain either.”

Arthur looked up at him, confusion in his eyes, but a spark of hope behind it. “What?”

“I didn’t stick to the plan either. I guess we’re both fucking pants at planning.”

A small gust of laughter escaped from Arthur’s mouth.

“It’s actually a good thing though,” Merlin continued, “worked out quite nicely, I’d say. It’s always a good thing when the person you love loves you back.”

“Merlin,” Arthur breathed and let his forehead drop against Merlin’s. “I don’t -, what about Lance?”

“Getting married, apparently,” Merlin smiled at Arthur, “guess I really missed the boat on that one, didn’t I?”

“You really are the worst kind of idiot, aren’t you?” Arthur’s voice was gaining volume and solidity and Merlin laughed with happiness.

“Guess so,” Merlin said cheerfully.

Merlin felt the tentative touch of Arthur’s fingers on his hips and he stepped closer to him hoping he’d tighten his hold.

“Merlin, I -.” Arthur stopped himself and Merlin could have shaken him, he knew Arthur still wasn’t sure and he needed to see that he was.

Merlin leaned in to press his mouth close to Arthur’s ear.

“I love you, Arthur.”

Arthur’s fingers dug into his hips, to a nearly painful degree, but Merlin didn’t care because it meant Arthur was there beside him. Merlin could hear Arthur’s labored breaths and feel them against his shoulder, but he waited and gave Arthur time to get to where he needed to be, just like he always did. Careful Arthur, god, how he loved him.

“I love you too,” he said finally.

Merlin smiled at him and wrapped his arms around Arthur’s shoulders. “Against your better judgment, I’m sure,” he teased, trying to pull the intensity out of the moment, but Arthur was having none of it.

Arthur shook his head. “You’re the best judgment, Merlin, the best. That first night I saw you, I wasn’t going to say yes to your stupid plan, but then I did. I couldn’t stop myself.” Arthur looked at him, touched his fingers to the side of Merlin’s neck. “You’re the best judgment,” he repeated.

It hardly made any sense, what Arthur said, but it made perfect sense to Merlin and he couldn’t imagine being happier than he was in that moment. He slid a hand up to Arthur’s neck to hold him in place as he kissed him because it was all he wanted and because he could.

He could kiss Arthur forever.

Merlin walked Arthur over to the couch and pushed him down, and he followed, his legs straddling Arthur’s as he sat in his lap.

Arthur pulled back from the kiss suddenly and smiled up at Merlin. “You’re going to be a smug bastard about this to Elena, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Of course I am,” Merlin said as he flopped his hands up in the air then let them drop to Arthur’s chest. “I’m fairly certain being able to rub it in her face was one of the main reasons I fell in love with you in the first place and made you love me back.”

“Lucky for you I obliged.

“Yeah,” Merlin said quietly, his fingers tracing Arthur’s lips, “lucky me.”

 

~end