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De Profundis

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A black cab pulled up to the curb of Piccadilly Street and out of it stepped Arthur Pendragon. Walking a few blocks further, he dipped down one of London’s dark alleys to a wooden door which held behind it all the vice in the world. He glanced around and knocked on the door three times, paused, and knocked twice more. Elyan opened the door and stole a quick look before opening it the whole way.

“Welcome back Mr. Pendragon.” he said, closing the door quickly behind him. Arthur squinted as he tried to make out shapes in the poorly lit room. A man sauntered up to him and laid a hand on his waist. His breath ghosted at Arthur’s cheek.“What’s your name?” Arthur asked.

Arthur’s eyes adjusted to the dim light and he could make out the man’s strong face. Publicly, it was the kind of man his friends at the club would laugh at. His hair was long, his clothes stained with the mark of poverty, certainly not someone acquainted with the customs of the peerage. Privately, he was intriguing, marked with the scent of experiences Arthur would never enjoy, though he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to either.

“That’s not important; what’s important is that you’re here and clearly in need of some kind of service.” He whispered.

Arthur set a hand over the man’s breast, “Please, just, tell me your name and then we can move on to… other matters.” He said.

“I go by Oscar” He began softly nibbling at Arthur’s earlobe.

“Well,” Arthur smiled, “What’s your asking price?”

“For you? Twelve pound for a blowsy, twenty to knock,” he said. His hand drifted to the front of Arthur’s trousers, brushing teasingly at the thin material with his fingertips.

“Can we start with a blowsy and see how things progress?” Arthur placed his hand on the man – Oscar - neck and stroked the area between his neck and shoulders with a thumb.

“Only for you, my lovely boy.” Oscar said.

At this, Arthur seized the opportunity to press his lips to Oscar’s. The rough stubble scratched at his chin and reminded him why he enjoyed male company so much. Women could not offer the strength of a man’s hands, the scratch of stubble, the feeling of muscular legs squeezing your body with every thrust.

Oscar pulled away. “Well, lets head back then, shall we?” He grabbed Arthur’s hand and led him to a hallway that was decorated with doors, each leading to a familiar room with a woolen bed.
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Surrounded by a shield of curtains, Merlin was beginning to question why he had ever offered to paint portraits. The only light came from a meticulously placed incandescent lamp sitting on a table. Next to that table stood a man of great beauty, his blonde locks framing his face in a way only a true painter could find beauty in. Merlin brought a calloused hand up to his chin, studied the scene, made a noise of discontentment, and studied a bit longer. He retreated to his bedroom, the door to which was inside the curtain.

“Can I help you sir?” the beautiful man asked.

“No, it’s quite alright.” Merlin replied. He grabbed a blank canvas from his collection and set it on an armchair, which he then pulled into the curtained room. He positioned the canvas on his easel. “Please, have a seat.” Merlin said and retreated back behind the safety of his canvas. “And cross your legs – no, other way, that’s good, and place your arm on the chair, and you other hand in your pocket. Perfect.” He furiously began sketching away, outlining the basic shape.

“You said you studied at the Royal Academy of Art?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Well then you’re aware of the upcoming gallery I presume?”

“Certainly,” Merlin said and hid his smile from view. “I’ll be showing in it.”

“Oh,” the man straightened his posture, “Will this photo be included?”

“Oh, no no no, those paintings have to be done far in advance. This certainly can’t go in.” Merlin said. He looked at the sketch, looked at the man (who had unfortunately gone back to slouching) looked at the sketch, and back to the man. Everything looked just about right. He picked up his palette and a paintbrush and began.

“Oh, so what will you be showing?” the man asked, slouching again. Merlin really should learn the names of those he was painting, but there simply wasn’t time.

“Well, if I told you then there would be no reason to go, now would there?” Merlin smirked.

 

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April 23 1891
The Lord and Lady Le Gallois request the pleasure of Mr. Merlin Emrys’s company at an evening party on Monday, May 5 around the hour of 7.
An answer will oblige

The letter sat unopened on a table in Merlin’s apartment for days before he had the time to open it. With the beginning of the season every member of the peerage was coming to him to get his or her portrait painted. It hadn’t been this way in years past, Merlin recalled. He practically had to beg for people to sit for him. All that changed after painting a portrait for the editor of The Times, who then published an article calling Merlin “one of the most promising young artists to come out of the Academy in a decade.” Quite frankly, Merlin hated that portrait but he wasn’t one to argue either.

In between sittings he put the finishing touches on the pieces he was sending to the Royal Academy for their viewing in 2 weeks. Many of them were scenes from London with a few images of high society to keep them happy. His most loved by far though was the piece of child laborers as they sat toiling away in a shoe factory.

When things finally settled down and he was able to open the letter he felt incredibly embarrassed. He would just have to hope that the Lady Morgana would understand.
He grabbed pen and piece of paper and began immediately. If the letter reached the box in half an hour Lady Morgana would receive it within the next two hours.


April 27 1891
Lord and Lady Le Gallois,
I apologize for my gross ignorance of etiquette. I have been busy preparing for the Royal Academy’s viewing and haven’t had the opportunity to read your invitation until just now. If you’ll still have me I’d be glad to attend.
Sincerely, Merlin Emrys

The last post delivery of the day arrived just as Merlin was cleaning up from his final sitting of the day, a grumpy old bloke that left Merlin entirely too tired to be angry. He opened the letter.

April 27 1891
Mr. Emrys
We will still be glad to have you.
Sincerely, Lady Le Gallois

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“Oh! Have you met Mr. Emrys yet?” Morgana asked.

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t,” Arthur said.

“Well you simply must, he’s meant to be showing at the Gallery next week. One of the Academy’s most talented artists, if The Illustrated London is anything to be believed.”

“It certainly is.” Arthur smiled. As a Principle Journalist at the paper, he felt it was his job to protect the integrity of the newspaper, even from his half-sister's snide remarks. Morgana dragged him by his elbow to a small, skinny familiar boy who looked as though he had just walked all of London in a day.

“Mr. Emrys, this is Lord Arthur,” Morgana said.

“A pleasure to meet you, Lord Arthur,” Mr. Emrys shook his hand loosely.

“You too, Mr. Emrys,” Arthur nodded.

“Please, call me Merlin.”

“Well, in that case, please call me Arthur.”

“Arthur is currently a writer for The Illustrated London, I believe he recently wrote the review of Wilde’s Dorian Grey.” Morgana said.

“Well, unfortunately I haven’t had the time to read the newspaper lately, my hands have been tied. I’m going to assume that it was a mixture of praise and critique though.” Merlin clasped his hands behind his back. Morgana left the two of them, presumably to attend to other hostess duties.

“Most reviews are. Morgana mentioned you were an artist, one of Academy’s best?” Arthur said.

“Well, I don’t know if I would say that.” Merlin looked towards the floor.
“But you are showing at The Academy’s gallery next week, am I correct?”

“Yes, but-”

“Well, then you must be great, The Academy only shows the best. I’m looking forward to going.”

“And I’m looking forward to not having to worry about it anymore.” Merlin laughed.

“So, how do you know my sister?” Arthur asked.

“I painted her and Lord Percy’s wedding photo last year.”

“Oh, that’s why you looked familiar!” Arthur said, he placed a hand on Merlin shoulder. “It was quite the celebration, no?”

“It certainly was something.” Merlin shrugged Arthur’s hand off. Arthur frowned.

“Excuse me everyone!” Morgana said from her position at the front of the room, “But dinner is ready to be served!”

All of the guests promptly found their partner for the evening and quietly proceeded to the room.
------------
Arthur stole glances at Merlin all throughout dinner. He traced the strong curve of his jaw line as Merlin sipped at his soup and admired his ears as one of the servants whispered their next course. Certainly there was more to be appreciated, but Arthur was always taught that it wasn’t polite to stare.

Other than this newfound habit, Arthur felt dinner went over pretty well. There weren’t any unforgivable mistakes on Morgana’s part, the food was delicious, and the company was wonderful. Afterwards, all the ladies made their way downstairs, leaving the four men to talk amongst themselves, as was the custom.

“Lets say we play a little Commerce while the ladies do what ever it is they do,” Percy said. He grabbed a deck of cards from one of his jacket pockets and put it on the table.

“Well, now you’re asking for trouble,” Lance said. He pulled a pipe from his jacket and lit it, leaning back in his chair.

“Am I now? Last I recalled, you still owed me a couple shilling from the time before last,” Percy said. He shuffled the cards.

“We’ll see about that after we finish this round.”

“I’m afraid I’ll just be watching this round, I’ve left all of my spare quid at home,” Merlin said, his hand scratching at the back of his neck.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, I’ll spot you a couple shilling,” Arthur said.

“Oh, I couldn’t accept, it’s fine, really,” Merlin said.

“Nonsense, you’ll just have to owe me,” Arthur insisted.

“Merlin, come on, it’ll be fun,” Lance said.

“Alright, but I’m only doing this since you all insist,” Merlin said.
Arthur handed Merlin the money and they began their game.

“Anyone seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the Vaudeville? I went with Morgana the night before last, it was quite good.” Percy said.

“No, but I’m going to see it soon, the paper has asked for another review,” Arthur said.

“Well, look at you, all cultured,” Lance grinned.

“Shut up,” Arthur said. “Honestly, I’m beginning to think that’s all they’ll ever have me do.” He glanced at his cards, “Fold.”

“Well, don’t get down on yourself, there has to be some story somewhere,” Lance said. He tossed a coin in the center.

“Look at that Sherlock Holmes fellow, he’s always got an interesting story to tell,” Percy said.

“Oh if only the world were half as interesting as Doyle would like to think,” Arthur sighed.

“Let's show,” Percy said, he laid his cards out on the table and Lance and Merlin followed.

“Aha!” Percy grinned and reached for the coins in the center of the table, proud of his luck.

“Nonsense, you’ve rigged the cards!” Lance exclaimed.

“Oh come off it, you’re just angry that you can’t pay off your debts,” Percy said.

“That’s not true! I’m angry because you can’t be bothered to play fairly.”

“Fine, lets play another round and you can deal this time,” Percy said. Everyone threw their cards to the center and Percy gathered them up and handed them to Lance who looked at them with disgust and then began to shuffle.

“So, Arthur, found yourself a lady yet?” Percy asked as Lance dealt the cards.

“ How is my sister treating you?” Arthur raised an eyebrow. “The talk of the club is that you’re lucky to have a single shilling left.”

“Well clearly that isn’t the case.” Percy tossed a coin in. “Besides, why are you acting as though you never heard my question?”

“What question?” Arthur said.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, just answer the man,” Lance sighed.

“Merlin, your bet,” Percy said.

“Oh, sorry.” Merlin looked at his cards then at his pile of coins. He tossed one in. Arthur chuckled, he heard painters could be a bit air-headed and Merlin was proving the stereotype.

“If you must know, I haven’t found one yet, though its not because they aren’t clamoring. The longer I put off marriage the more annoyed my father gets, and I do find that to be a great deal of fun,” Arthur replied.

“What about you Merlin, do you have a lucky lady?” Percy said.

Merlin blushed. “No I’m much too busy to worry about such things.”

“Understandable, I could see why a women wouldn’t be eager to marry a painter.”

“And why is that?” Arthur asked. He tossed in another coin.

“Well, it’s not as though their pockets are full to the brim,” Percy said.

“Alright boys, let's show ‘em,” Lance said. He displayed his cards on the table.
“I’ll have you know that I make quite a good sum of money selling my portraits, one that would satisfy any lady,” Merlin said, he put his cards down on the table. “Oh, well, look at that, it seems I’ve won.” He smirked and grabbed the coins from the center.

“Well, we best go downstairs. They’re probably wondering what has happened to us,” Percy said. Everyone nodded and followed him down.

Arthur made the familiar walk to Saint James Street once again that night and found himself more anxious that usual. His pace was quicker and he yearned for something unknown. When he went to turn into the alley that held the solution to these problems, Arthur was shocked. Knocking at the door with a familiar slim calloused hand was Merlin. Arthur almost followed him in but he decided it was best not to. At least he knew that his suspicions were true, now he just had to find a way to woo Merlin. He left the alleyway and headed straight home.
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Merlin stepped slowly into the brothel, squinting to try to see through the darkness. His eyes adjusted slowly and when they did he immediately wanted to be near blind again. All about the room were men on other men’s laps whispering into each other's ears. The floor was marked with dirty footprints and the seat cushions marked with things Merlin didn’t want to think about. A mixture of sweat and moans filled the air, nearly suffocating him. The door man saw his worry and immediately walked over to him, slinging an arm around his shoulder.

“Relax, it’ll be fine. We only have the best here. Have a drink.” He handed Merlin a glass. It smelt of vinegar and rotten eggs, but Merlin drank it anyway. His face contorted to look like a Goya painting.

While he was drinking the doorman left. Someone walked behind him and placed their hands on his shoulders.

“Relax,” they whispered in his ear.

Startled, Merlin turned around, some of the contents of his glass spilled out and onto the man’s shirt. “Oh, I’m sorry, let me get that for you,” Merlin said, and he tried to dry the shirt with the sleeve of his suit. The man grabbed his hand and entangled their fingers.

“This your first time?”

“Yeah, well, I mean, I’m not a virgin if that’s what you're asking, and I’ve visited other, but this-”

“Shh.” The man placed a finger on Merlin’s lips. “I’ll take care of you.” He grabbed the glass from Merlin’s hand and set it on the floor. He led them to the back of the building.
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There was a letter on the floor in front of Arthur’s door when he got home that night. He looked at it and frowned.


May 5 1891
My dear son,
I do hope that London is treating you well. It can be quite overwhelming, especially for a boy as young as you are. Morgana wrote and told me she was having a dinner party and she invited you. Did you find any of the ladies particularly interesting? I hope that if you did you didn’t mention your profession. A lady is looking for a man with worth. You must find a profession worthy of someone of your class; otherwise I fear you may never marry.
Sincerely your father,
Uther Pendragron.

 

Arthur immediately ripped the letter in half and placed it in the trash. How he ever managed to live with his father was beyond him. Then he sat down at his desk and took out a pen and piece of paper.

 

Dearest Mother,
I miss you terribly. Ever since my arrival in London letters from father have been frequent and they are slowly driving me mad. He asks nothing of my health or well-being, but is only concerned with my work and whether or not I’m engaged to be married. Certainly if you were here you would help him to understand that he has no need to worry.

I think of you often mother, of curling in your lap as you read me a story, or hugging me tight after I fall and scrape my knee. Your memory serves me as ever comforting. You are a part of the few select women in this world I could ever feel love for.
Your loving son,
Arthur

Arthur folded the letter up and placed it in a drawer with the others.

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Merlin finally had an opportunity to sit down and finish the last of the Academy paintings when there was a knock on his door. He sighed and got up from his seat to go answer it.

“Oh, Lord Arthur, I wasn’t – “

“Please Merlin, I think we’ve had enough pleasantries. Call me Arthur.”

“Well,” Merlin twisted one of his feet and clasped his hands behind his back, ignoring the fact that he’d just smudged paint all over one of them with his brush. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Likewise.” Arthur smiled, it was contagious and Merlin found himself smiling too, though he’s not sure what about.

“What can I help you with today?” Merlin asked.

“Well, I came to inquire about buying one of your paintings, I’ve heard your quite good and my house could use a bit of freshening up,” Arthur said. He tried to get through the door way but Merlin stopped him.

“I’m sorry, I’d love to, but I really can’t,” Merlin said, quickly adding “Well, not right now at least. See, I’m getting ready for that showing and things are just so busy. If you want, you can come by when all this fuss is over. I’d love to show you what I have.”

“Fair enough. I’m assuming you’ll be at the showing its first day?”

“Oh, definitely. Couldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Well, I’ll see you there and then we can make plans,” Arthur said. They shook hands and then Arthur left.

A moment later, Merlin felt the knob turn and someone try to open the door. He backed away and the door flew open.

“If you don’t want to live with me you can just say so Merlin.” Gwaine smiled.

“No, no, it’s not you, I’m just worn out,” Merlin said and back at his seat behind the canvas. Gwaine came and stood behind him, looking at the painting.

“Is that another academy painting?” Gwaine asked.

“Yes, the final one.” He said and painted a little stroke.

“Thank heavens, I thought you’d never finish!”

“Well, I appreciate your faith in me,” Merlin said.

“Oh, you know what I mean. You’ve been working on them for ages.” Gwaine went over to the cupboard and pulled out a muffin he'd bought on the street the other day and saved. He plopped down in one of the chairs by the fireplace.

“Exactly, which is why you should attend the gallery’s opening night next week.”

“What day is it?”

Merlin sighed. He had only been reminding him for the past month. “It’s on Monday, and I can get you in for free if you’d like.”

“Sorry Merlin, I’ve made plans,” Gwaine said. Merlin suppressed the urge to go paint all over his face.

He painted the last stroke and left the painting out to dry a bit. Then he went and put the kettle on to warm water for tea. “One of these days you’re going to end up in a cell with those Cleveland Street boys.” Merlin rolled his eyes.

“Oh, could you imagine the fun we would have? It would be marvelous,” Gwaine said. Merlin couldn’t help but laugh.

“Speaking of rent boys, who was the one walking away as I came to the apartment?” Gwaine asked.

“That is Lord Arthur Pendragon, and you’d be better not to speak of him as a rent boy lest you get written up in The Illustrated,” Merlin said. He poured himself a cup of tea and went to sit down across from Gwaine, putting his bare feet up on the table between them.

“A journalist Merlin? And you’re telling me I’m going to be nibbed.”

“Oh chuck it up Gwaine, I barely even know the fellow,” Merlin said. He rolled his eyes. “And so far he’s only done reviews.”

“Reviews you said? Did he tell you what he thought of Wilde?” Gwaine perked up.

“No, like I said, we’ve barely spoken. He wanted to buy a painting.”

“And you told him no? Are you ill?” Gwaine reached over to put a hand on Merlin’s forehead. Merlin quickly swiped it away.

“No, I’m not ill, I’m busy. You’ve seen the work I’ve been doing. I didn’t have time to show him my things.”

“Well you better find the time, and quickly, or we’ll be in the alms house soon.”

“Correction, you’ll be in the alms house Gwaine, I’m not the one spending my money on rent boys and opium.”

Gwaine laughed. “Maybe that’s your problem,” he said.

Merlin picked up a pillow and threw it at him.
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True to his word, the next time Merlin saw Lord Arthur was at the showing. He was standing and looking at Merlin’s painting of the children in the factory. Merlin thought he looked mysteriously like the thinker. Merlin went and stood next to him. The academy had done a good job by placing it next to a painting he had done after attending a particularly dreadful ball.

“What do you think?” Merlin asked.

“It’s horrendous, it must have been something the artist had a nightmare about.”

“Really? I thought it was quite beautiful,” Merlin said and clasped his hands behind his back.

“I mean, it’s painted wonderfully, the technique is great, but it just gives me a sense of horror. Especially juxtaposed to the other one,” Arthur said.

“I think the beauty of the ball is meant to bring out the horror in the factory. It’s like putting a diamond next to horse droppings. Suddenly, the horse droppings just seem ten times more horrible.” Merlin shifted on his feet.

“I don’t know, I would think the horse droppings would make the diamond look better, not the other way around.” Arthur sighed. “The piece just seems so out of place, I mean look at all the others surrounding it, ladies all dressed up, men in their best suits. It just doesn’t fit.”

“Maybe that’s the point. The image of London, the one that gets talked about at least, makes it all seem so very rich and exciting, what people don’t see is the children laboring in shops. Maybe the artist is trying to mirror society, show them that they’re forgetting about something. Making this the only piece in the collection relevant to suffering is what makes it stand out.”

“Nonsense, you’re just blabbering on,” Arthur said. “The artist is just clearly just an idiot who doesn’t understand how to make a collection cohesive. He just painted things willy nilly and now you’re trying to defend him. Is he your friend or something?”
“You could say that,” Merlin replied.
“Well, I’d like to meet this fool,” Arthur replied. “Is he here?”
Merlin grinned. “You’re looking at him.”

“What, you’re the – Merlin, I must apologize, I didn’t realize—” Arthur said. He brushed a hand over his mouth and glanced around nervously.

“No, it’s perfectly alright. It can be hard to get an honest critique in person, I brought it entirely on myself.”

“Well, as long as we both agree.” Lord Arthur laughed. The stood in silence for a few moments as Arthur continued to look at the artwork. “By the way, I’d still be interested in purchasing if you still want to sell,” Arthur said.

“As long as you promise not to tell your friends that you thought the artist was a fool,” Merlin smiled.

“Certainly not. I’ll tell them what a genius he was and that they should all buy his paintings before they’re snatched up,” Arthur said.

“Well, can’t say I have any issue with that,” Merlin said.

“I’ll meet you at your apartment next Sunday around noon ” Arthur said.

“I shall be there,” Merlin said. They shook hands and Arthur left.
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“Oh for heaven’s sake, quit playing with your bollocks and be still for a moment!” Merlin groaned behind the canvas. As punishment for not attending the opening night of the showing, Gwaine had agreed to let Merlin paint him nude, but Merlin was beginning to think that it was more his punishment and not Gwaine’s.

“I just want to make sure that the perspective is right.” Gwaine said, he shifted on the sofa, “Don’t wanna leave it out of the painting.”

At that moment, there was a knock on the door. Merlin immediately bolted up and threw Gwaine’s discarded clothing at him. “Damnit, it’s Lord Pendragon, get your clothes on!” Merlin whispered in an angry tone.

“Oh?” Gwaine smiled as he put his shirt on. “What’s he here for?” Gwaine raised his eyebrows.

“If you must know, he’s buying a painting, now hurry up!”

“Probably won’t be the only thing he’s buying,” Gwaine said.

Merlin ignored him and answered the door, thankful that Gwaine was hidden behind the curtain. “Good afternoon Arthur.” Behind him, Gwaine was slowly sneaking out of the curtain and into his bedroom.
--------

“Good afternoon Merlin.” Arthur said. Merlin of course, looked utterly breathtaking. His hair stood up in odd ways and there were flecks of paint dotting his smooth face. Arthur let himself in to the apartment, his hand brushing across Merlin’s stomach as he did so. The apartment was cozy Arthur thought, if a bit messy. The cupboards were open, revealing small amounts of dishware, and the floors could do with a good scrubbing.

“The paintings are stored away in my bedroom,” Merlin said, stuttering. Arthur followed him through the curtains and through a doorway. Merlin’s room was covered in canvases and artwork, and where there wasn’t artwork, there were brushes and paints of all different colors. He was simply overwhelmed as he looked around the room. Clearly, the Times had been right in its praise of Merlin. The paintings Arthur had seen at the gallery were not even a glance at Merlin’s abilities as an artist.

“Sorry about all the clutter, I’ve just been so busy and well, you know the story.”

“I do, so, tell me, which one is your favorite?” Arthur asked.

“Well, I don’t know if I have any favorites, per se. I’m emotionally attached to all of them, to claim a favorite wouldn’t be fair to the rest.”

Arthur nodded at this. As he looked around the room he spotted a portrait of a women bent over a stove as she stirred a pot. Arthur had never known his mother, but the portrait was done exactly the way he had imagined her. “How much for this one?” Arthur asked.
Merlin looked up from picking stray paint containers off the floor. “That one’s not for sale,” he said.

“And why not?” Arthur asked and crossed his arms over his chest. “You should know not to put out paintings you don’t want people to buy.”

“It’s not for sale because I don’t want to sell it, and I’m sorry that most of us don’t have thousands of rooms where we can just store whatever we please,” Merlin snapped.

“My apologies,” Arthur said quietly. He cleared his throat. “Listen Merlin, this isn’t why I came here.”

“Oh, did you come to insult my work? Because you’ve done a tremendous job of that so far!” Merlin snapped.

“No, actually, I came because I saw you on St. James Street the night after Morgana’s party.”

Merlin quickly looked away from Arthur. “I think you’re mistaken,” he said.

“Actually, I don’t believe I am. In fact, I’m pretty sure you were heading into the male brothel.” Arthur stood behind Merlin, his breath ghosting at the hairs on his neck and making Merlin’s insides turn.

“No, no, that wasn’t where I was. You can ask my flatmate, I came straight home.” Merlin insisted.

Arthur placed his hands on Merlin’s hips. “Relax.” He whispered into Merlin’s ear. “I’m not here to find the newest Cleveland Street scandal. There’s nothing interesting going on in that brothel that I’ve seen.”

Merlin swallowed the lump in his throat. “You, you’ve been in there?” he asked.

Arthur turned Merlin so that they were facing each other. “You really are a fool, aren’t you?” He laughed and brought a hand to Merlin’s cheek. They stood like that for a few moments before Arthur caught a glimpse of the clock. “I must be going, my sister is expecting a visit from me soon. Would you mind continuing this conversation later?” Arthur asked.

“Yes, that’s fine.” Merlin said, his eyes refusing to meet Arthur’s.

“Grand, I’ll write you the moment I’m free.” Arthur said. He placed a soft kiss to Merlin’s cheek and left.

The Turf club was a short walk away, made even shorter by Merlin’s quick steps. When he stopped to inform the man at the door that he was someone’s guest, Arthur quickly showed up and hurried him into a back room. Merlin barely had anytime to appreciate the ornate decorating or architecture. The smoke blurred his vision and made him reach out to grab the sleeve of Arthur’s jacket.

“What is this place?” Merlin whispered into Arthur’s ear.

“Only the most exclusive club in London, Merlin.” Arthur laughed.

“Well of course, I’m aware of that.” Merlin coughed, “This just isn’t how I would have pictured the inside of it. It’s quite hard to see.”

“Well, we all know that looks can be quite deceiving.” Arthur smirked at him. They reached their table, which was already set with two glasses of wine. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the opportunity to order for you.”

“Oh.” Merlin said and took a sip of his wine. “And just want did you order, Lord Pendragon?” Merlin raised an eyebrow.

“The lamb cutlets, they’re simply delicious.”

“Well, we’ll just have to see.” Merlin said. They sat there for a few moments while Merlin became accustom to the smoke. It only took him a few minutes to stop his coughing. He was quite proud of himself.

“So, Morgana said you were a journalist at The London Illustrated? I didn’t know someone of your class could have such a job without being shunned.” Merlin said, finally breaking the awkward silence.

“Yes, well, my father’s not to happy about it, which, well, that’s not a horrible thing.” Arthur laughed. “Honestly, it’s just so I can say I’m doing something while I work on my novel.”

“A novel?” Merlin said, “What’s it to be about?”

“Well, I haven’t really decided yet. Maybe a love story, maybe a mystery, maybe a combination, it changes everyday.”

“Well, at least you know you’re going to write it.” Merlin laughed.

“Yes, I suppose your right.” Arthur grinned. “May, I’ll even let you do the illustrations.”

“Who says I want to do them?” Merlin said, raising an eyebrow. “I’m becoming famous, I have little time to do things like illustrations for a silly little novel.”
“Oh, now who’s insulting the others work?” Arthur said. He took a sip from his wine glass. Merlin laughed.

“You know, I’ve been wondering all day, just who was that women in the painting you were being so stubborn about?” Arthur asked.

“I wasn’t being stubborn,” Merlin insisted. “It’s the last portrait I painted of my mother.” He said studying the wooden grain of the table.

“Oh, I don’t have a mother either, but I never knew her. It must be tremendously hard.” Arthur said quickly..

“It has been. “ Merlin said. He looked up at Arthur and smiled. “But, lets move to brighter subjects, don’t want to ruin the evening.”

“Yes, of course. “ Arthur said.

The waiter arrived at that moment with their cutlets. They were just as good as Arthur had promised, but Merlin made sure that Arthur didn’t know that.

After both men had finished their dinner, Merlin folded his hands in front of him and sighed heavily. “I don’t mean to be rude Arthur, but I’m not quite sure why I’m here.”

“For pleasant company of course!” Arthur smiled. Merlin looked at him skeptically. “Fine. You’ve found me out.” Arthur leaned over to him, breath hovering over Merlin’s ear, “I’m planning to ravish you, kill you, and then throw your body out to the dogs.” Arthur leaned back into his chair, completely straight faced. He could only hold his composure for a short time though before he burst out laughing. Only then did Merlin breathe a sigh of relief, and let out a chuckle of his own.

“I’m sorry, I just needed to see how you would react.” Arthur said as his laughter died down. “Truth be told, I just thought you would be pleasant company.” He said. He lightly twirled his wine glass in his hand. “And, I was curious as to whether or not you’d be interested in doing a couple of illustration for the paper. We’ve got some lovely artists, but none of them are near as good as you, and maybe having someone to illustrate my stories would give me an opportunity to do something other than reviews for once.”

“Well, I’m certainly flattered Arthur, but I’m so busy with the portraits, and I’m already thinking about next years gallery…”

“You’ll still have plenty of time to do those things! I’m only asking for one or two, and if you feel like you don’t have time after those, you can feel free to never sketch another thing for me again.” Arthur reached across the table and grabbed Merlin’s hand.

“Alright, but only one or two.” Merlin said, looking down with a red tint to his cheeks.