Merlin hummed quietly to himself as he walked out of the music hall, happy that he had gotten out of art early. The rest of the school was quiet and empty for once as he made his way to his locker.
As he was grabbing his stuff, however, he heard several loud noises from down the hall. Turning, Merlin found himself face to face with three burly students—clearly from the hockey team, or maybe even football.
Merlin wasn’t one for sports and he was too busy with his classes and art to notice—other than noticing Arthur Penn, the school’s gorgeous golden boy. Captain of both the football and swimming teams, Arthur was everyone’s dream bloke. Including Merlin’s, unfortunately.
“Um, can I help you?” Merlin asked politely, closing his locker door and hitching his bag up higher on his shoulder.
“Yeah, you can help us—help us beat you up, loser,” one of the larger boys grunted while the other two laughed.
“Excuse me?!” Merlin squeaked, backing away. He started to turn, thinking of where to run off to.
“Come here, little girl,” they called, grabbing Merlin by the back of his shirt before he had the chance to get away.
“Let go of me, you psychos!” Merlin screamed. “Help!”
His mouth was then covered by someone’s hand and he was suddenly dragged into a nearby boy’s loo. Kicking and punching had no effect because it was already three against one, and Merlin had always been on the skinny side, having not really filled in from his growth spurt years ago.
It was not the first time Merlin had been bullied—it came with the territory of being one of the only five out-of-the-closet gay boys in the school—but this was more than Merlin had ever experienced. This was the first time it was truly physical and almost even more humiliating even though it was rather private.
They weren’t really hitting him yet, just gripping him tightly and taunting him while shoving him into a wall next to the toilets. But it still hurt.
“Let’s see how much of a girl he is,” one of them snickered and then Merlin heard a ripping noise, and his chest felt exposed. They tore his shirt right off him, and he panicked, flailing and trying his hardest to fight back or scream, or anything.
He bit down on the hand that held his mouth shut, but the boy simply cursed and stuffed his leather jacket’s sleeve up, protecting himself from Merlin’s teeth. Merlin couldn’t believe this was actually happening to him.
“Oh, such porcelain skin, like a little doll,” they laughed. “Let’s see how red it turns with bruises, eh, doll?”
And that’s when the pain really came. The first punch was the worst and the succeeding ones all came like battering rams against his stomach, on his ribs. One was punching him while the other two held him up, and Merlin felt like vomiting.
“This is what you deserve,” they growled at him. “You think you can transfer to our school, get top grades and walk around like you’re actually something? You’re nothing, you little bitch. And don’t even think about telling anyone or this will be nothing compared to what we do to you.”
It stopped after that, graciously and finally, and Merlin heard the sound of a flushing toilet. Fuck, they had flushed his t-shirt—they cackled and left, the door slamming shut.
Merlin lay panting and near tears on the gross bathroom floor, his body aching as he tried to sit up. He looked up as the bell rang to dismiss class and he winced, struggling into a standing position. It was highly difficult, but he managed to grab his backpack and shuffle out of the bathroom.
He saw people coming out of the classrooms and he dived into the nearest closet he could see, which seemed to be some sort of janitor’s cleaning closet. Resting his back against one of the shelves, Merlin reached into his backpack for his spare sweater when he realized that he had given it to Gwen when she had gotten cold during lunch.
Great, I’m stuck , Merlin thought, sliding down and sitting on the floor. He winced in pain and held his hand to his bruised ribs. He pulled his cell phone out of his backpack and quickly dialled his best friend’s phone number.
“Hey, this is Will, leave me a message.”
“Damn it, Will. Call me back.”
Will had his car, so he could give him a ride home from school, but Merlin couldn’t leave the closet like this! He was half-naked and bruised, how would that look? What if they called his mum? She’d flip out and manage to shut the school down somehow.
Next he tried Guinevere’s number, but it was turned off as well. Damn cell phone policy at school. There was only one period left in the day, so he supposed he could just wait for another hour. His science class was last, but he’d never missed a day before and his teacher, Gaius, was actually Merlin’s uncle, so he could just tell him what he had missed in class.
Shuddering as the pain began to really set in, Merlin sat back and tried not to start crying. It was ridiculous; he shouldn’t cry just because he had been hurt. But… oh great, here came the tears. It was all his mum’s fault, she had raised him to be such a sensitive boy. Then again, what else could she do when his father had left when he was born? Really, she wasn’t to blame at all.
He started sniffling just when the door opened and he cursed, thinking that surely the janitor could help him and wouldn’t just laugh or something equally horrendous.
Merlin looked up at the distinctly familiar voice and gasped in shock when he saw none other than Arthur Penn standing there, staring down at him in equal surprise. They both spoke at the same time.
“You… are not the janitor.”
“You’re not the janitor!”
They both looked at each other and Merlin laughed huskily, gritting his teeth as it made the pain even worse.
Arthur started to speak again, stepping further into the closet and Merlin backed away.
“I saw the light on in here, and I was looking for the janitor because there’s some nasty stuff on the floor of the loo… What are—Oh, damn, are you okay?” Arthur asked and Merlin winced.
Great, now the hottest boy in school was going to see him at his weakest. Half-naked and on the floor of the janitor’s closet, bruised and bloodied. Oh no, what if he had come to finish the job that the other boys hadn’t?! Merlin started panicking again and breathing sharply.
But, surely, no, he has seen Arthur’s generosity and kindness, and if Guinevere, the sweetest person ever had dated him and they were still friends, then surely Arthur was not that horrible.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Arthur said softly, kneeling down as if talking to a hurt puppy. He reached over and closed the door, leaving them both in the closet alone. “What happened to you?”
“I’m— I’m fine,” Merlin tried to say, still gasping, from the pain and from the shock of being this close to Arthur, and from the after-effects of what just happened to him. “Just, um, ran into some trouble. I’ll be okay, you can go back to your business.”
“Like hell are you okay, God, are those bruises? Did someone beat you up? And… er, take your shirt?” Arthur sounded shocked to the core as he reached out to Merlin.
Merlin backed away even more, practically cowering against the corner of the closet. “Just—just go, please.”
“No,” Arthur said, his voice resolute and stubborn. What a prat. “I’m not leaving you alone here. Come on, we have to get you to the infirm.”
He started to pull off his jacket—oh my God, the jacket, Merlin realized—and then handed it to him. Merlin looked up in even more shock.
This jacket was known as ‘the famous red jacket’ around Camelot High. Arthur wore it practically all the time, and it was the right of his current girlfriend to wear whenever he gave it to her. When Guinevere had dated Arthur, three months ago, she had told Merlin that Arthur only gave it to the girls he really trusted.
And now, Arthur was giving it to him?! Oh don’t think of it like that, Merlin thought to himself frantically. He’s just being nice; he’s the world’s last gentleman, of course. Because being gorgeous, smart and athletic wasn’t enough right?!
Merlin shook his head and Arthur sighed. “Just, do me a favour and put it on, will you? I’d rather not have you limping and half-naked when I bring you into the infirm. They’ll think I had my wicked way with you.”
Blushing furiously at the boy’s teasing, Merlin couldn’t help himself and blurted out: “And they won’t think that if you give me your jacket? That’ll make it worse!”
“Put it on. Or else I’m not helping you out of here,” Arthur insisted, his voice going deeper. Merlin pursed his lips and rolled his eyes, reaching over and allowing Arthur to help him put it on. He cringed as Arthur’s hands brushed against his shoulder, where the bullies had gripped him tightly.
“God,” Arthur seemed to wince as well as he helped Merlin to a standing position. “Who did this to you?”
“Three jocks. I think they were hockey players or something… they were just… big and total arseholes.”
“I’ll say. It better not be anyone from my teams; I’d kick their arses.”
Merlin looked up in shock at Arthur, who was too busy getting them out of the closet. He put Merlin’s arm around his shoulders and then attempted to put his arm around Merlin’s waist but Merlin cried out in pain.
“Ouch!” Merlin hoped he didn’t sound like he was whining, but damn, it really hurt.
“Hold on,” Arthur said softly. He gently rested his hand against Merlin’s hip and Merlin’s heartbeat raced. “Look, I don’t know exactly why they did this to you, but I can guess. You have to tell the Headteacher.”
“Erm… I don’t know,” Merlin replied. He grunted in pain as they made their way down the hallway. “Why aren’t you in class anyway?”
“I was on my way to class, but I had to go to the bathroom, saw the sick on the floor… oh shit. Tell me that wasn’t yours--”
“No, I actually managed not to throw up,” Merlin laughed weakly. “Although I was pretty close to it.”
“Fuck,” Arthur swore under his breath. “Mate, this is just so messed up. This shouldn’t be happening to anyone, especially not because--”
He stopped suddenly and Merlin looked over at him. God, he was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at him. Perfect specimen of teenage masculinity, really. Even his crooked teeth made him more adorable. Merlin practically swooned at how close their faces were as Arthur held him up.
“Especially not what?”
“Just… I don’t know. Did they do it because you’re, you know… gay?”
Merlin laughed derisively and nodded. “Yep. Although, I’m pretty sure I heard something about my top grades in there, so hey, maybe they only have something against gay smart people.”
Arthur began to chuckle and then stopped, sobering. “How are you joking about this? Those boys beat you up and you’re joking around about it?”
“I find that a good joke can help, ugh,” Merlin winced as they got into the doorway of the infirmary. “Can help lighten the mood.”
“Oh my!” The nurse suddenly appeared, taking in the sight of Merlin’s askew form, propped against Arthur’s shoulder. “Come in, come in!”
Arthur helped him onto the bed, and the paper sheets crinkled underneath Merlin as he struggled to lie down fully. His ribs ached and he felt like shit, but having Arthur standing next to him was almost like having some pain meds or something, it helped dull the ache.
“Goodness gracious,” Nurse Alice tutted, looking over him and opening Arthur’s to see his bruises. “What in the world happened?! Wait a moment, you’re Gaius’ nephew aren’t you? I’ve seen you around! Let me go get Gaius and phone your mum.”
“Oh, no,” Merlin shook his head. “Don’t, I’m okay! I just, uh, fell down some stairs.”
Both the nurse and Arthur glared at him. “I was not born yesterday, dear,” Nurse Alice said. “All right, I’ll get Gaius after his class is over. Let’s get some ice and take a look at those ribs to see if you’ve broken anything.”
As Nurse Alice poked and prodded at him, Merlin kept looking over, waiting for Arthur to leave, but he didn’t. Finally, when Nurse Alice declared his ribs unbroken, she left the room to go phone his mum, despite Merlin’s protests.
“Your mum needs to know, Merlin,” Arthur said, staring at him from where he sat across the room.
At the sound of his name, Merlin looked over in surprise. There seemed to be a lot of surprises in store for him today. “How do you…? I didn’t think you’d know my name.”
Arthur looked up through his the fringe of his perfect blond hair and the chuckled. “You sit at the front of my Algebra II class; I know who you are.”
“Oh. Really?” Merlin asked, his voice sounding higher pitched than usual. He cleared his throat and hoped he wasn’t blushing.
“Yes. You’re Merlin Emrys. You’re really good at maths, so when you transferred to Camelot High last year, you skipped a section and ended up in the upper class, with me. You’re also in Art, and you were featured in the school’s exhibit last week, where you had this painting of a… well, I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It looked like a dragon, but I know you artists are weirdly abstract about some things.”
Merlin stared at the boy in awe, his heart nearly seizing at the fact that Arthur Penn, the Arthur Penn, knew all of this about Merlin, who was somewhat of a loner in school. His friends consisted of only Will and just recently Guinevere, who worked with his mum at her flower shop.
“Um… how do you know all that?”
“Well, like I said, you’re in my class. And… well, I still talk to Gwen after we broke up, and she had mentioned some things about you. And the reason I knew about the art, was, well…” Arthur cleared his throat and stammered uncharacteristically. “My cousin was featured as well. Morgana?”
“Morgana is your cousin?!” Merlin asked, shocked. “She’s great—her artwork is so, bloody hell, it’s amazing. She’s in the art class above me and the other day; she totally let me watch as she painted.”
Arthur laughed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you had a crush on her, mate.”
Merlin glared. “I do not! Obviously, since I’m lying here after getting beat up for being a shirt-lifter.”
Arthur immediately sobered and looked at Merlin’s body in what seemed to be sorrow. Clearing his throat, Merlin pressed the ice on his chest a little closer. “So… you can leave you know, you don’t have to stay.”
“Well… I mean, I’d rather not have to go to English anyway. My teacher is insane.”
“Who do you have?” Merlin asked.
“Morgause. I’m pretty sure she dreams of murdering Lance, Gwaine and I. She glares at us the entire time we’re in her class.”
Merlin laughed and shook his head. “Wow, hard to believe someone doesn’t like the Arthur Penn.”
“How do you mean?” Arthur asked, tilting his head.
“Just… I dunno, you’re like royalty at this school. Everyone loves you; I’m pretty sure they’re going to build a statue of you when you leave here.”
“I doubt it,” Arthur said wryly, rolling his eyes. “I only get the attention because my dad pays for a lot of the school’s stuff. They coddle me—it’s disgusting, really.”
Merlin sniffed and didn’t say anything. Arthur’s dad was rather famous for giving large checks to the school, but Merlin didn’t think that that was why people loved Arthur.
“I beg to differ; it’s because you rock at everything. And, on top of it all, you help skinny kids get to the infirmary. A modern day knight in shining armour, you are.”
Arthur stood up, coming towards him. Merlin shook slightly as the boy neared him. “Can you identify the blokes that did this to you? If I were to bring them close enough for you to see?”
Merlin nodded, wondering where he was getting at. “Yeah, I suppose. Why?”
Shrugging, Arthur leaned one arm against the edge of Merlin’s bed. “Anyway; tell me something.”
“Tell you what?”
“I dunno. Something about yourself—that I don’t already know.”
“Why do you care?” Merlin sighed.
“I have nothing to tell, really,” Merlin scowled. “I’m just one of those blokes that tries to go through school unnoticed, until I graduate and go to an Art institute.”
“Art institute, huh. I could see that. I’m going to try for Oxford, myself—if I can get in.”
“What are you going for?”
“Business, probably, like my dad.”
Merlin nodded and then sat up, still somewhat shaky but not as bad as before. Arthur watched him and Merlin realized that because he had sat up, they were much closer.
“Listen…” Merlin said softly. “I’m really— er, thank you.”
Arthur grinned at him and ducked his head, as if he were shy. “I was wondering when you’d offer your gratitude.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a prat about it; we were getting along.”
“What if thank you isn’t enough?” Arthur asked, his head still down.
“No way am I going to be your servant for a week, or whatever else is running through that head of yours. I may not be wearing a shirt, but I still have dignity. Plus, knowing you, I’d have to clean your nasty athletic clothes that stink with sweat and—“
Merlin never thought his first kiss would happen when he was rambling on about Arthur Penn’s sweaty clothes. Alas, these things were rarely planned. The kiss that started out in shock for Merlin and awkwardness on Arthur’s part, had soon morphed into a rather impressive display of their mutual interest, and just when Merlin thought that maybe this day wasn’t totally horrible, they heard coughing in the background.
Merlin broke away first, and looked to see where his mother, uncle and the nurse were all staring at them in shock.
“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry,” his mum said, walking over. “First tell me where you’re hurt and then we’ll talk about your excellent choice in boys later.”
Both Merlin and Arthur burst out in a fit of nervous giggles and when Merlin looked above his mother’s head, Arthur was grinning at him, his cheeks flushed.
So maybe today wasn’t totally horrible.
Two days later, when Arthur had regally stood upon a cafeteria table and announced his relationship with a blushing and stuttering Merlin, three hockey players stood up at the end of the hall and walked out, loudly proclaiming the school was full of fags.
And Arthur, now aware of exactly who these three were, decided to sick his swimming and football teams on them.
Let’s just say those three weren’t coming anywhere near Merlin ever again.