“It happens in zoos sometimes.” Merlin had said, head tucked between his knees, body ducked up under his arms. “It might happen in the wild too, we don’t know. But we know about it in zoos, mostly with lions, because we can tell the dominant and submissive lions apart from one another. There was this whole book about it. They think it’s a stress reaction.”
“Oh.” Arthur had said, sitting across the room, attempting to absorb himself into the wallpaper and trying to distract himself by studying the texture of his socks. Neither had proven successful.
They hadn’t meant to do anything like this.
“What do they do with them?” Arthur asked after a long, morose pause.
“Separate them.” Merlin replied, head rising up from his armadillo curl so he could stare at Arthur for a long, quiet moment. Arthur dropped his gaze back to his socks.
Arthur Eigyrson was twenty-four and single. Every month since January ‘09 Arthur'd gotten an extra hundred pounds— along with his normal bi-weekly pay cheques from the community learning centre— in exchange for writing articles about the city’s nightlife for Loose Ends. It’s not the premier magazine for people who are, for whatever reason, looking for a bit of extramarital, single, or swinger fun, but it is the magazine that liked Arthur’s sample article enough to be willing to pay him for it. And since he only teaches at the community learning centre every Tuesday and Thursday evening he needs the supplemental income.
It wasn’t that Arthur wanted to be a writer, he just figured that between the two of them, Merlin and Arthur knew every single bar, club, dive, meet-up, hook-up and cruising spot in a fifty-kilometre radius of their flat. They’d been to the shitty ones, and the sketchy ones, they’d been to the learning groups for younger doms and subs that just wanted to get some practice in before marriage. They’d been to the swanky places, the elite places, the places you only got into by being out on the market so long that someone important picked you up and brought you home. They’d been to specialized locations, those for dedicated donalgists looking for a high-tolerance algoamist to cane, or with stables for pony-play, or places for feeders and eaters to party. It’d started as a hobby and turned into a full-blown Project.
Arthur was twenty-four and single. If someone were to create a dossier about him, for, say, a spy agency, or so he could become part of a super secret sub-band, they would note that he was blond, blue-eyed, 6 feet, 183 pounds, a sub, and an organ donor who’d gotten his driver’s license at the age of twenty because he’d watched too many driving movies. He lived in a two-bedroom flat with his best-mate-since-forever who worked as a barista for shit money (but decent tips), and a student for great money (provided you were the university in that equation.)
Arthur was twenty-four and single. He suffered through stilted small talk with his aunt and uncle on the phone once a month. He delighted in the care packages that Merlin’s mum sent them once a week. They had a modest liquor cabinet above the stove, a jar of maraschino cherries that neither of them bought, but which never seemed to go bad, three different kinds of half-eaten ice cream in the freezer (chocolate mocha, raspberry white chocolate, and double chocolate fudge. Arthur had bought all three of them, having forgotten the previous ones, all of which had about one bowl of ice cream left, and the containers each had sedimentary layers of frost), and a drawer full of silverware that didn’t match at all. The room he shared with Merlin had two bookshelves since Merlin kept books like some people kept pets, and he’d come home with new strays at the absolute minimum of once every three days. The living room had another two bookshelves to try and deal with the ever-growing population of Merlin’s book serfdom, but the end table was piled with more, and the floor generally had book-marked and notated books scattered everywhere.
“What’s that one about?” Arthur asked, window open and newspaper down on the floor while he added a coat of varnish to the sturdy jewellery chest he’d been working on since they’d sold the dinner table and he wasn’t able to afford supplies to start a new one right away.
Merlin looked at the new book he had and frowned, probably unaware he’d even had it. “The Story of The None.” then opened the inside flap. “It’s about a nun.” Merlin didn’t buy books because he wanted to read them, or the cover caught his eye, or someone told him to. Merlin bought books because they caught on his fingers and stealing was bad.
“Well, she’s non-dynamic. She’s a non-dynamic nun. That’s why it’s funny, Arthur.” Merlin tossed the hardcover between his hands.
Arthur would have rubbed his face, save his hands were somewhat stained with varnish, and there were things he had learned long ago not to do. One of those probably should have been “laugh at Merlin’s jokes or he will explain why they are funny.” But apparently, something about year six Merlin when he was enthusiastically explaining an oft-repeated dirty joke with: “it’s sex. That’s why it’s funny. It’s funny because they’re having sex.” tripped some wires in Arthur’s brain and now he just lets Merlin be a giant dork.
“—I outside a church every Sunday and ask the congregation who the Holy Spirit was, and, likely, never get a very clear or helpful answer. You might, perhaps, get the story of the tongue of flames that appeared over the heads of the Apostles if the person in question had been paying particular attention. But given that the Holy Spirit is an entire third of the holy Trinity and given so little notice or attention is, and always has been, baffling to me why it is only the dynamic-diverse that take note. The Holy Spirit is without sex. The Holy Spirit is without gender. It is without form, and so, it best defines those of us who do not fit the form society wants us to fit. ”
Merlin kept reading aloud as he walked past the kitchen doorway and Arthur settled the box in a way that it could best dry without splotches. It had the feel of a gift, the right shine, and weight to it to be a present for someone. He’d carefully matched the leaf-detailed latch with the same brassy root-like feet on the bottom, the carving reminding one of tendril vines. Merlin had four such boxes, one as plain and sharp angled as you liked. Merlin collected things in starts and stops, and Arthur made boxes for him to put his collections in.
Arthur was twenty-four and single. If asked he said that he was pretty sure his dom was taking suppressant drugs, he’d never been able to feel zer, just a buzzing, confused static echoing in the back of his head. The base of his right ring finger never tingled, never ached, never did anything. And then he’d shrug, smile, ask if maybe they wanted to get out of there, because he was twenty-four and he was single and he didn’t have to get up early, or he’d shrug and smile and suddenly turn to look at the sub he’d come in with, finding him, perhaps unerringly, in the crowd and say he had to go, but it was nice talking.
Arthur was twenty-four and single, and when it was necessary, he’d pick up his sleepy, frustrated flatmate up off the lopsided sofa they’d purchased for a song and dance and carried all the way home. His flatmate would grumble and complain about narrative and variants and culture while Arthur carried him to their shared bedroom, placed him on their shared bed and, through their shared efforts, got him in his flannel pajama bottoms, lifted the sheets, and got them both into bed. Merlin would wrap himself up around Arthur—who couldn’t sleep in anything more than boxers—and Arthur would stroke the base of his flatmates’ ring finger until he fell asleep.
Arthur was twenty-four, had been twenty-three, and would be twenty-five. But he was certainly single. You could ask anyone.
After Merlin got over his (“perfectly reasonable!”) Scarlet O’Hara episode with Freya, the three of them became decently good friends. Which, in Arthur’s opinion, was marvelous, seeing as how they moved to the city and knew no one, and all of Merlin’s uni friends looked down on him for not being in uni, and all of Arthur’s friends weren’t much good for conversation outside of a few very basic topics.
So Freya was good for them, as long as she didn’t wear green around Merlin, because Merlin wasn’t really a reasonable human being. “I’m not trying to put you on a pedestal or objectify you, I’m just getting you confused with an actual object that became this huge thing in my-Arthur save me from my mouth.” And Arthur would cover his mouth and Merlin would look at him gratefully. Merlin frequently needed to be saved from his mouth. Especially when burning hot molten lava cheese was involved, but mostly from fair-skinned burnettes in green.
She'd wrangled them up for a night in with her and Gwen, because she'd realized they were much more likely to actually come round if they then got to stay in and eat some form of snack food. They were watching “Moon.” Merlin wasn’t really paying attention, since (as his Netflix could tell you) he didn’t like “Understated Visually Striking Films”
Arthur loved understated films. He could sit there for days watching people give each other shifty glances and have mildly traumatic secret pasts that they kept under wraps. But then someone else found it out and kept it very quiet, and someone probably died in the beginning of the movie, but it was off-screen and you never even saw the body.
Merlin liked movies that if there were a body you saw it, but sometimes there wasn’t a body and that was exciting too. He liked overly dramatic shows, where everyone was cheating on everyone, and taking bond suppression drugs, and hints of adynamic play and whatnot and there was probably some cannibalism and incest in season four to keep things going. And then some singing, or lip-syncing, or something. Of course, they always brought in alternate sexualities and it always debased them and then he always had to stop watching, but that usually wasn’t until season five and he hated all the characters by then anyways.
“What?” Merlin asked because Arthur was enthralled with people, being people, staring at people. In space. “What is happening? Arthur, we said no more dialogue heavy movies. We said.”
“Why is it that you can read a book as thick as your head with no problems, but if a film has more than three minutes of talking you lose the plot entirely?”
“Words stay still.” Merlin shoved his face into Arthur’s stomach. “Words are beautiful and movies with too much talking are hateful. Either blow something up or start kissing.”
Gwen poked her head up, “What? Is it over? Were there aliens?”
“Not yet,” Merlin gave the telly a weary look, because this movie wasn’t the kind to have aliens. He liked movies with aliens. Aliens made movies better, even if they were terrible aliens. “I doubt there will be.”
Gwen yawned and leaned back against Freya. “You’ll tell me if there are aliens, right?”
“Of course.” Freya gave her an abbreviated neck rub and Gwen relaxed into it, already halfway back to sleep. “Right now there’s just a clone of him for some reason which I’m certain will turn out to be an evil government plot.”
“No, no it’s always The Company. The government doesn’t do anything. It’s just The Company.” Merlin corrected. “Remember Alien? Remember how that is a movie we should watch instead of this movie?”
“No.” Freya asserted. “Nothing bursting out of anything else. It’s a rule.”
Gwen stretched her legs out and plopped them on a discarded pile of blankets. “A clone is slightly more interesting than Justin Hammer going crazy on the moon.”
“You know, he wanted to play Tony Stark, until Robert Downey Jr. was like: no. No. Actually, I am real life Tony Stark. Give that part to me thanks.” Merlin made grabby hands as an example and moved to flop over Arthur more fully. Arthur’s hand came up to scratch the back of Merlin’s head.
“After this, we should watch something with explosions and kisses.” Merlin mumbled. “If I wanted to think about the social and personal ramifications of solitude and corporate greed, I would do my Globalization homework.”
Arthur pulled a face and Merlin looked at him a moment before mimicking him. Arthur examined Merlin’s face, then pulled out his lower lip with his finger because the look of distaste wasn’t quite right without the proper pout. Merlin reached over and poked up Arthur’s eyebrow, and Freya gave them a look and shook her head.
“You two are dysfunctionally twee. I hope your soulmates really like each other because you’re going to have to end up living in a run-down mansion somewhere.”
“Does Arthur fix the run-down mansion and do children tell folktales about me?” Merlin asked.
“Yes.” Freya kept her eyes on the screen, and she never had a problem following cerebral movies, even without paying attention.
“I like that about them,” Gwen said. “Telly always shows sub friendships as backstabbing and manipulative, but they’re not that. It gives me hope for the universe.”
“He’s playing with my eyebrows,” Arthur pointed to Merlin and Merlin continued to do so. Since he could. And all. Arthur had ceded control of his eyebrows to Merlin. “He’s being manipulative.”
“We need two more people here to be telly friendships,” Merlin said. “They’d have to be doms, and we could get into hi-jinks.”
“Six people is such a clumsy amount of people in real life,” Freya argued. “I mean, sure on telly it’s fine, but in real life it just gets confusing.”
“In real life, we hang out with seven.” Gwen pointed out.
“But we don’t all hang out together as a single unit all of the time. Like, on sit-coms, it’s like those six people are the only people who exist.” Freya scoffed and then went back to considering how best to make them a telly show. “We could drag Elyan in, so then we’d have the sibling relationship covered, we’ve got the two dysfunctionally co-dependant sub friends, so we’d need to bring in a dom that Leon is with all the time, so Percy. But I’m not sure what sit-com stereotype Percy fulfills besides huge and precious.”
“We can make that a stereotype.” Merlin insists. On time Merlin had sprained his ankle on one of their few mutual days off when they’d (Merlin) had wanted to go to the zoo, and Percy had come to carry Merlin piggyback for the entire day trip. True story.
“Wait, what stereotype is Leon?” Arthur asked.
“Earnest.” Everyone else answered.
“Gwen’s the weird flower child one who loves ponies and rainbows and then some third one that doesn’t fit with that at all.”
Gwen held up her feet to show her calluses and blisters, her strong and bent toes from dancing until they snapped and continuing onward. “Namely abusing myself for the sake of expression and social commentary.”
“Okay, so we need the weird one.” Freya looked at Merlin and Merlin raised his hand obligingly, Arthur pulling his head away so Merlin didn’t hit him in the face.
“That’s me. I claim that one. I’m charmingly offbeat. Arthur can be the fussily neurotic one.”
“Who's the harem master?” Merlin asked. “I vote Freya.”
“Seconded,” Gwen said. “Except her and Elyan sort of ruin that.”
“Lame,” Merlin grumbled.
“It’s telly, they’ll be a thing. But can I not be dumb? Like, I can talk about sex all the time, but in a smart way. How I Met Your Mother rather than Friends or Coupling but without the consent issues, because dear God, Barney, dear God.” Freya rubbed the bridge of her nose and Gwen head butted her to keep rubbing her head.
“Why is there another Justin Hammer getting destroyed?” Arthur asked of the telly and Merlin looked and shouted “Finally.”
“Six is a cumbersome amount of friends.” Gwen yawned when the brief moment of excitement ended.
“Also there would be no room on the couch,” Freya noted. “Especially as we had romantic hi-jinks waiting for our soulmates. And Gwen just having hi-jinks because this is something we don’t talk about.”
Gwen rolled over. “Who meets their soulmate and then goes soul-searching on bond-blockers in Tibet?”
Merlin and Arthur did not know the story behind this. They had only been in Freya’s orbit for about a month. it felt rude to ask, especially as no one had filled them in, as they had for most of their inside jokes.
“Can we not discuss what show our lives most resemble? It’s creepy.” Arthur said. “Especially given the sorts of shows Merlin watches, we’ll all die and hate one another.”
“How about the fact that we somehow all have Arthurian related names,” Merlin said. “Can we talk about that?”
Freya put her hand over Merlin’s mouth. “We swore never to mention that out loud.”
“I didn’t swear that,” Merlin said because she didn’t know how to cover his mouth properly. “I would have remembered it.”
“Well, we didn’t swear it outloud, because then we would have had to mention it. It was an unspoken rule.” Gwen frowned at Merlin, “Like Fight Club. You can’t talk about our names Merlin. Also, you and Arthur have to fight each other. Also, we’re all Tyler Durdan.”
“All of us,” Gwen insisted and flopped back to sleep so Arthur and Freya could turn back to the movie and Merlin could continue to whine how it needed more sandwiches because all great movies should have kissing, explosions, and sandwiches. Maybe a dog if you could swing it. But the dog had to be alive in the end. Otherwise, it was a terrible film and should burn.
Merlin Emmeryson was twenty-three and single. He’d shown up atfour-fifteen, right about half an hour after Gwaine got home from his shift. Gwaine had changed out of his work uniform, but hadn’t managed to put anything else on, just holding down the handle of his busted toaster so that his bagels would cook, enjoying both Pell and Owen being out, likely for the evening. He’d looked up at the knock on the door, didn’t put on trousers and opened up to Merlin’s smiling face, which was a vast improvement on his night, in Gwaine’s unimpeachable opinion. He would, of course, gleefully fuck Merlin (in his room. With the door locked. And the stereo playing) with his flatmates present and accounted for, but it was nice to do it without the commentary.
Merlin was the first sub he’d slept with who both didn’t have an exhibition kink, but also didn’t comment on their complete lack of tact or boundaries.
“Can Gwaine come out to play?” Merlin had asked, like a giant dork that said porn lines with complete sincerity. Gwaine had tugged him inside and forgotten about his bagels—which, thanks to the toaster being broken did not burn. They just sat there. Being bagels.
Merlin was twenty-three and single. He was a PhD track student up at the university, still currently working on his Masters. He knew a disturbing amount about animal mating habits. He liked when Gwaine pressed him down or against things, when he shoved him around a little—hauling him inside, and shoving him into the bedroom, but if Gwaine had to think of one adjective and only one adjective to describe him it would be “adorable”. Like some kind of puppy that was all feet and ears, and yeah, sure, he’d probably grow into them, but right now you just wanted to smash his face against a pillow and bite him everywhere—which was where the puppy metaphor ended. But he was still adorable and Gwaine wanted to hold him down and do bad, bad things to him.
Merlin liked being shoved around, he liked a little light impact play—paddles and hands, maybe a good suede flogger, but nothing with a bite or sting, and really nothing sharp—he really liked being picked up and held down, breathlessly whining if Gwaine gave a sufficient show of strength against him. He was deliciously physical: Merlin liked to be marked up, he forgot how to talk if you tied his hands up, but he liked to be bound or spread by his ankles, and, most of all, he liked role-playing. All of which were fine with Gwaine, even if he wasn’t especially good at acting. But he liked Merlin’s stories. Or, well. He liked how much Merlin liked Merlin’s stories.
“Suppose if I were the manservant of a right git and you were a handsome, rakish wandering swordsman, we could seduce each other. He could give me to you, for a night, since you don’t have anyone to help you take off your armour and bathe in a really historically inaccurate, sexy kind of way. And we’d get on like crazy and you’d want me to go with you and I would want to go but honour and jobs and stuff, so we spend a lot of time having really desperate sex in all the corners and alleys and everywhere. And then you’d have to kidnap me so the lord would pay my family, because I would have been captured in the line of duty. And then you rather like how I look, seated in front of you and bound up, so you would decide to keep me that way, and I’d be sort of entirely fine with that, and then we’d have a lot of adventures and adventurous sex.”
Gwaine had kissed the tip of Merlin’s nose. “I like it. Do I need to get a horse?”
“No, I’m good.” Merlin had said, like maybe there could be a circumstance where Gwaine would, in fact, need to get a horse. Gwaine had slung him over his shoulder and taken him to the bedroom while Merlin fake-complained bitterly about the state of things.
Sir Gwaine of Orkney sat in the private confines of his rented room, a thunderstorm pounding against the roof, but the room was warm and dry, decently clean and just big enough for a bed and a chair.
They were in the chair, presently, him and the pretty little prize that he’d won from the Prince in a test of combat. “You are, by far, the best thing I have ever won.”
“You didn’t win me, you kidnapped me.” Merlin panted, gripping the arms of the chair. If he let go, Gwaine would stop, immediately, whether Merlin wanted to or not.
“I liberated you,” Gwaine corrected, smoothly. He had Merlin settled in nicely on his lap, even though he was, perhaps, just a bit too gangly to do so entirely comfortably. Gwaine was a man who was more than happy to make do, and if he had to wiggle Merlin around a bit to get all of his limbs in order, then that was by no means a hardship. He had one hand curled around the meat of Merlin’s temptingly bare thigh, and another enjoying the heat of Merlin’s stomach through the thin linen of his new tunic, another lovely piece Gwaine had chosen to free from the oppression of somebody’s wardrobe. The fine weave caught on his calluses, but he liked the way Merlin shivered as the soft, fine cloth pressed against his skin.
Gwaine held Merlin tight to him and nuzzled into his long, bared neck, enjoying the little hiccup of enjoyment that echoed down in Merlin’s belly, right up against his hand.
“And can you cast even a shred of judgement on me for doing so? There you were, under the heel of a terrible cock of a human being, and you put up with him and did his laundry for whatever reason-”
“He was paying me,” Merlin interrupted. Gwaine opened his mouth and pressed his teeth into a remnant of a previous bite, into the straining tendon of Merlin’s neck until he rode up into it and relaxed his head against Gwaine’s shoulder, his narrow torso a singularly long arch, ghostly visible through the thin, fine fabric of his tunic. Gwaine felt Merlin’s pulse thump hard in his stomach, only interrupted when he needed to take a breath.
“-and I thought to myself, well, Gwaine. Why don’t you look at this gorgeous, intelligent, hardworking sub whose good nature is being taken advantage of right in front of your eyes? Why don’t you see what you can do about that? Especially since that disgusting little brat was so gracious as to lend you out to me.”
“He wasn’t disgusting, he just had a lot of pressure on him and-” Merlin briefly lost his ability to communicate as Gwaine slid his hand up the smooth skin of Merlin’s thigh.
“And you were so exhausted that you fell asleep right after I introduced myself-”
“Which you did, I might add, by jerking my cock and mauling my neck.” Merlin dug his nails into the chair arms. Merlin had come to Gwaine’s borrowed-chambers looking several kinds of beautiful, but also entirely exhausted, and Gwaine—being the courteous sort—had made him eat the dinner he’d brought for Gwaine and then offered to relax him.
Gwaine had positioned Merlin’s hands on the back of the chair, spread his legs wide, and told him all he had to do to make Gwaine stop was say so. And then he had, indeed, proceeded to introduce himself more properly by jerking Merlin’s cock and mauling his neck. Merlin had, still holding position, fallen asleep almost immediately, and so he’d hefted Merlin up and put him to bed, having to pry Merlin’s fingers off the chair, and kissing his knuckle to tell him he’d done well. Merlin had relaxed then, smiling to himself and snuggling into the covers.
“—and you were far too lovely a human being to leave to rot there for little pay and less recognition, ergo: liberating you.” Gwaine stroked his knuckles along the underside of Merlin’s rigid prick and sighed, “But with me, all of your accomplishments will be recognized. Like how you are currently being a very good boy and sitting still for me.”
Merlin wiggled, as he always did when embarrassed and pleased to be praised, and turned so he could fully press his face into Gwaine’s shoulder. “Stop it, all I’m doing is sitting here.”
Gwaine nuzzled the top of Merlin’s head. Thus far his experimentation in having a travelling partner had been a wonderful success, especially the part where Merlin seemed happiest when he got to fuss over someone a bit. Gwaine surprised himself with how much he genuinely enjoyed being fussed after. He liked especially the way Merlin’s ears turned red when given even a modicum gratitude owed to him.
“Ah, but you’ve been hard this entire time and you haven’t done a thing to try and relieve yourself, or to convince me to do anything but continue playing how I want to.” Gwaine wrapped his hand around Merlin’s hot little cock (not that is, in emphasis, small, as everything about Merlin could be sufficiently described with the word ‘long.’ It is a pleasant handful, but Merlin seems to enjoy it when Gwaine refers to it, and Merlin in general, as smaller than he is.) “Good boys take what they’re given.”
Merlin’s hips jerked up, but he settled himself down on his own, ears red and lower lip tucked neatly under his teeth. Gwaine undulated his fingers and nuzzled down to Merlin’s neck. Merlin’s hands are still curled to white-knuckled tension around the arms of the chair and Gwaine loves it.
“Here, hold on, lift your legs.” Gwaine commanded and Merlin just did, his stomach tense as he pulled them up as high as they would go and Gwaine moved his hands so he could catch Merlin by the knees, scooting them both back in the chair and resettling Merlin until he was awkwardly splayed open, his legs over his wrists as his hands continued to grip the knobs at the end of each chair arm. His body was curled in on itself and he needed one of Gwaine’s arms curled around his thighs to keep him from slipping too far down and getting a crick in his neck, or falling off the chair entirely.
Merlin shifted, but he didn’t have much leverage at all, not unless he untangled himself, and so he relaxed against Gwaine. “I’m going to strain something if you keep me like this long.”
Gwaine took his free hand and went back to slowly pumping Merlin’s prick. “Gives me a bit more room to work with, I think. Also I doubt you’ll last long, will you? You like being where I put you far too much.”
Merlin was delightfully easy; his cock was already dribbling. It was enough that Gwaine’s hand was slick as he moved: the skin of Merlin’s cock loose and hot, moving easily under his hand as Merlin struggled to, and then to not (because he wanted to be good) push up into it. And when Gwaine judged Merlin ready, he collected as much fluid as is available and sunk two fingers right inside him. They slipped in without stretching or effort, easily as if they belonged there, and Merlin just whines.
“I wouldn’t even need to stretch you, would I?” Gwaine asked, because Merlin’s body was just open. Everything about him is delightfully warm and welcoming in every aspect and he deserves some kind of reward for it. So Gwaine twisted his fingers and searched until he found that rough little place that made Merlin do a full body twitch. Gwaine hummed his approval, keeping his fingers crooked and moving in slow, teasing circles. Merlin’s cock spurted a thin line of fluid across his stomach, twitched heartily. It really always was nice to be appreciated. “I would just need to slick myself up a bit and you’d welcome me like a guest.”
Merlin huffed, but his thighs were shaking so Gwaine switched hands, letting the one supporting Merlin shift until he can still sink a few fingers inside, but also wrap his right hand around and seize Merlin’s prick. He fisted it in counterpoint to the thrust and twist of his fingers. He nuzzled his mouth against the swan-perfect length of Merlin’s neck.
“Not fair-” Merlin managed, his feet kicked the air, his toes in a hard curl and looking like he’s going to shake himself to pieces.
Gwaine caught a twitch out of the corner of his eye and ceased movement entirely. Merlin’s fingers had twisted to dig his nails into his own thigh. Gwaine lifted off, despite Merlin’s long, distressed whine. He sorted Merlin out, got his limbs all in the right order and Merlin just stared at him with wide, blown eyes, and needy little whimpers escaping on each exhale. Gwaine hushed him, soothed his hands down Merlin’s sweaty flanks and Merlin just panted at him, but Gwaine doesn’t even need to hold Merlin’s hands away. He stood as Gwaine redressed him and does nothing to try and satisfy himself—
—he finished watching Merlin tug up his corduroys. Merlin was, by far, the most eclectically styled sub Gwaine had ever slept with. One day he’d be dressed up to the nines for a shag—corset, make-up, choker, the whole of it—and then he’d come over in baggy corduroys, a too-billowy button-down under his thick jumper like he didn’t want a single human being to have the slightest idea of what he looked like under all that, and wildly flying between the two with no clear preference.
Merlin also liked to leave before finishing, he liked to leave still worked over, hard in his pants, no orgasm, no aftercare, just finish out the scene and get dressed.
Gwaine had found that out by accident. He’d gotten Merlin shuddering and shivering, as turned on as he’d ever been, and he’d gotten him all tucked away and then set him out in the hallway. He’d expected, at minimum, for Merlin to stand where he put him so Gwaine could fix himself up and he could spend an evening dragging Merlin around town a bit to embarrass him public a little, make him squirm during a film, or hide his face away on a walk around the block, his cock hard in his trousers and a splotchy flush working its way from his chest to the tops of his cheekbones. More likely, he’d thought, Merlin would demand to come back in, tackle him down so Gwaine would wrestle him down.
By the time he’d been dressed, Merlin had gone on home. Gwaine had left a message on his mobile, because. No. No that hadn’t been what he wanted at all. And then called Arthur and left a message on his mobile, and hadn’t calmed down until Merlin called later that night and said he was fine and not to worry and have a good night, sounding perfectly chipper about everything. Or, well, Gwaine hadn’t really stopped working until Merlin had come back the next day for seconds of the same. Gwaine had cheerfully given him more, because orgasm denial? Not a problem. He would happily tease Merlin into a perfect madness; it was just the whole Merlin leaving afterwards. It felt. Well it felt a bit like the first time his sub had asked him to cane him, and Gwaine had never caned a person before. Sure a pillow covered by a wet towel, but not a person. And he’d been nervous, so he hadn’t. It was one thing to think about the idea of someone who liked to get hurt a little, and you being able to do that for them. Another to actually…hit someone.
Gwaine got that a lot of people thought being a dom was a cakewalk. You got to tell people what to do, and people did what you told them to, and you didn’t have to throw yourself under someone else’s control. Except. Except that, to Gwaine, it wasn’t about dominating someone so much. They weren’t land to be conquered. Or if they were, you had to conquer it and then take care of it, not just run it into the ground with taxes and pretending the indigenous people were beneath you. You had to take care of it, work with it, and reach a peaceful understanding. He believed it was more like a trade agreement than anything, with diplomatic negotiation and the occasional embargo when things went wrong. He had aggressive tendencies, but so did every dom. It was hardwired in there, the need to control and fight and protect and he’d been taught to redirect them into something constructive and not get into fights or hurt anyone.
And then you had to let go of all that control and tell yourself they wanted to be hurt, but that didn’t conquer a decade of holding back. He wanted to make his subs feel good. He wanted them to leave happy and he wanted them to be comfortable. But he also wanted to hold them down, leave visible marks and see how much they could take for him. From him. It was a balancing act.
“I couldn’t sit still all the way home,” Merlin had confided, pushing his face against Gwaine’s stomach, having dropped to his knees right there in the entryway and thank fuck his flatmates were both out for a bit, because Merlin hadn’t even checked to see if they were in. Gwaine had just opened the door and Merlin had gone down. “I didn’t even care if anyone saw. Fuck. Arthur had to buzz me in and I dropped my keys and-“ that’s where he stopped, breathing heavily fingers clawed against Gwaine’s thighs. “Again, please, sir?”
“What? What did you do?” Gwaine carded his fingers through Merlin’s hair, entranced and thinking with his whip hand more than anything else. The door was still open. Merlin was looking at him like he was magnificent. He could see it, Merlin’s hands shaking
“Uh. Just. Wanked.” Merlin shook his head. “Got off like a clever analogy. You know. Um.”
Gwaine let it go, because he knew when he was missing something, but also could generally figure out when that thing was being hidden from him on purpose. He just couldn’t think of what it was.)
He liked the idea of Merlin going home hard, still reeking of sex and Gwaine. He liked the idea of having to sit on public transport obviously ridden hard and put away dripping. Which had to be balanced with his worry about Merlin going home still wrapped up in a story he was telling himself. So they did it again with the caveat that Gwaine got him a cab and paid for him to get home and had him on his mobile the whole ride there, since Merlin was pretty sneakily insistent that Gwaine not see where he lived.
Maybe he had another dom who liked that he came over ready to go and they finished him off. Merlin never said as much, and Gwaine had never asked, but he wasn’t an idiot.
And so for a bit they did that. Merlin showed up at his door and then they didn’t even need small talk. Pre-care would be wrapped up in fervent kissing, Merlin dropping the first idea of the scene as he dug his hands into Gwaine’s hair and Gwaine pressed his wrists down against the mattress. “I’ve kept it in, all day. Just like you said.” Merlin would say and, of course, Gwaine never told Merlin to do anything once Merlin left his flat, except to call and say he’d returned home safe, but he’d open up Merlin’s trousers and find he’d plugged himself, and Gwaine was more than happy to go along with it. More than entirely pleased to tease Merlin until he sobbed and whined and went completely lax and then send him on the way home, listening to him breathe on the other end of the mobile until he got back to his house and did. Did whatever it was that he loved so much.
“You could stay if you wanted,” Gwaine sprawled out across the hungry bed and watched him. “I know this is your thing, and that’s cool. But just so you aren’t thinking it’s me who wants you gone.”
Gwaine had slept with a fair amount of subs. Some he’d slept with right up until they found their dom in the queue of a coffee shop, or sitting in the next lane from them in heavy traffic, or, in once case, as said dom opened her apartment door and Gwaine snogged the living daylights out of said sub right up against it. That had been more than a little awkward, but still, a funny story.
Most people were just killing time with each other until they found their other half, and you knew it. That was the thing. Everyone Gwaine had ever shagged, you could feel their disconnect. They were with you, maybe, but they were focusing on that other presence in the back of their head, that strong live-wire flickering of soon and you could tell.
Merlin paused in the middle of buckling his belt, his back a nice, neat, naked arch peppered with bite marks. If the light weren’t so low, Gwaine imagined he would be able to see the beard burn colouring Merlin’s neck, the light trails of nail marks outlining his ribs and hips, but in the grey scale sort of non-light Merlin became a sort of soft-core art noir type of model, frozen in a way that could mean he was undressing for you, if you wanted to think of it like that.
Gwaine kept his body as relaxed as possible. And it wasn’t that he minded either way, honestly, he really didn’t. If Merlin was one of those subs that needed space after scening that was fine, that was what he needed. But if he was secretly longing to stick around, and didn’t because he didn’t want Gwaine getting ideas, that was bullshit. It was just stress relief, just a dom and sub having some fun before the inevitable day where Merlin fell to his knees before a complete stranger and he was off the market forever.
And Gwaine’s sub would maybe stop taking suppressant drugs, or whatever, because it’d been ten years already and this was getting ridiculous. He’d had zer for such a ridiculously short period of time, considering they were supposed to be with each other for life, and then ze had gone and blocked him. Just. He’d woken up one day by himself, no note, nothing and he didn’t know why. Gwaine was twenty-six and being shut out, constantly shut out, and, thus, single.
“Do you…uh. I mean.” Merlin searched around for his shirt. “I’m not leaving you to top drop am I?”
Everyone was just practicing, figuring out what they liked, what they didn’t like, so when they did it for real it was perfect. So they could go up to that one person made special-order, just for them and they could ride off into the sunset together in blissful co-existence.
Gwaine couldn’t ever help but notice that absence, that disconnect, because he wasn’t similarly distracted. The only thing he knew about his sub was that ze was still alive and didn’t want him in zer head. Merlin…wasn’t like that. He wasn’t waiting, or practicing or… killing time. It was a hard distinction to pick apart, but Merlin never went distant or distracted. The opposite, probably, actually, if Gwaine sat and thought about it. Merlin paid too much attention, if there were such a thing. He followed Gwaine’s hands carefully, like he could memorise them. He never closed his eyes and lost himself, he was always deeply, presently in the moment and it took Gwaine far too long to notice that that was what was making the entire situation a bit odd. That intense, single minded need to see everything
“It’s a thing.” Merlin defended, when Gwaine dismissed the idea. “It’s a total actual thing, and I don’t want to be an arse if you’re like, sitting here suffering and not saying anything because you’re too dommy.”
“I know top drop’s a thing, but it’s never been a problem of mine.” Gwaine promised and that was true enough. He’d never had anything a good sleep couldn’t fix, generally. “This is not a passive aggressive cry for attention and I don’t think you go home and pine on the underground.” Gwaine rolled up and dragged his pants on, because it was his flat and he didn’t need to wear trousers if he didn’t want to. “I just want you to know that if you want to kick around here a bit afterwards, that’s perfectly fine by me.”
“What does pining on the underground even look like?”
“Listening to sad music as you stare out the window and pretend you’re in a music video.” Gwaine answered handing Merlin his socks. “Or maybe writing my name in your notebook and sighing a lot. Staring at my number on your mobile, working up the courage to call, but oh, what would you say—”
Merlin shoved him and sat down on the edge of Gwaine’s desk to put on his socks. “I told Arthur I’d be back soon, and he’s keeping me on track for my essay.”
“So I was just a study break to you? The disgrace. The horror.” Gwaine put his hand to his forehead and Merlin threw a pen at him. “And now you’re throwing my own pens at me. For shame.”
“I have none.”
“I enjoy that aspect of your personality deeply,” Gwaine agreed.
“He said if I said another word about how irritating it is when people treat folklore like it’s only something you can study in, like, isolated hill folk and ‘indigenous people’ when it is not and anyone with a brain can see that it’s happening everywhere every day in how people interact with the world because we are the folk, and we’re constantly redefining our universe through stories and media and retelling who we are and… and…ah, well. Um. He was going to lock me out on the patio with a bowl of kibble and some water and not let me back in until I’d calmed down.”
Gwaine noted that Merlin looked a bit wistful at the thought.
Gwaine offered. “Well. If you need another study break shag I promise I will dutifully listen to the gibberish that leaves your mouth like it is actual word making sense.”
“Cheers.” Merlin grinned and hopped and wobbled on one foot as he tied his left shoe and Gwaine walked him to the door, rubbing the back of Merlin’s neck during a quick goodbye snog. Merlin’s eyes were still blown, and he leaned in heavily against Gwaine, but he was also clearly happy to get gone, so. So Gwaine let him go because that’s what he liked.
“Hey,” Merlin said and tucked his hands into his jacket pockets. “See you soon, yeah?”
“Sure,” Gwaine kissed his cheek and sent him out the door with a pat on the bum. Merlin gave him a face before sauntering down the hallway. Or, not so much sauntering. More like Merlin had seen a film with someone sauntering in it, once, long ago.
“Walk like a normal person, you berk.”
Merlin laughed as he turned down the hall and Gwaine went back to his bagels.
The Story of Psyche And Eros
There was a time that there were no soulbonds, and people did not know in whom they should trust and love, protect or obey, and it was up to the Gods to determine who it should be that would fall in love. The domme, God of Love, Beauty and Control, Aphrodite would send her obedient son to bind mortals in the ties of love as it suited her desires and rivalries with the other Gods.
Aphrodite was a jealous, possessive God, and thus determined that none should be more worshipped, loved and desired than her. Love is a possessive creature and should not be looked down upon. When Aphrodite heard of anyone, submissive or dominant, that the people spoke of being as beautiful as she, her punishment was cruel and immediate. And Psyche, princess of Greece, was the most beautiful of all her beautiful sisters, and the people spoke of her in glowing terms and her protector had many offers placed at zer feet in offer to win the submissive.
Aphrodite saw those offerings as belonging to her, and, in a rage, sent her son down to punish the mortal Psyche for her crimes. Eros, ever obedient, took his arrows and went to earth. Eros’ arrows were not physical weapons, but would pierce through the soul of one person and bind them to another. Eros, mischievous in mind, decided to bind Psyche to the soul of a goat, so none could ever look upon her with love.
He settled into her sleeping chambers, and being himself submissive, saw none of the beauty in features and none of the attractiveness in her presence, and was committed to his plan. He pricked her with his arrow and went out to find a goat. Had he found one of easier temperament, this story would have ended there. But Eros stumbled upon a goat the had once outrun Artemis’ hounds, and thus won her favour. Artemis enjoyed Aphrodite’s agony over Psyche and thus blessed the goat with the ability to sense the Gods.
Instead of pricking the goat with his arrow, Eros found himself kicked firmly into a mountainside and stabbing himself with his strand of Psyche’s soul, and none are immune to the powers of love, not even a God, and when he pulled himself up from the rubble, and despite being submissive himself, he was committed to a new plan.
Eros stole back into the castle, and, wrapping up his love in secrecy, stole her away to a mountaintop, where one of his many mortal homes waited (for when he so chose to take mortal lovers, as he and the other Gods so often did), and laid her to rest in a bed wrought of diamond in a home more beautiful than any mortal palace, with all the finest delicacies and luxuries that his Psyche would ever want or need for.
He thereupon returned to the castle, and in her place left many treasures and gifts, of such finery and beauty that her Protector would know that she had been taken by a God, though he was careful to keep his identity a secret, for though he was a God, and the thoughts of mortals mattered little to him, he did not wish to draw attention to himself.
Eros hid himself from sight, so that his wife might not know of their shared nature, and when she awoke, and though she could not see him, she sensed him in her mind, and loved him as any sub loves zer dom, and invited him into the bed, feeling no fear or worry for her family, because she felt loved to the very core of her being.
Eros claimed to be a hideous and deformed creature that had hidden himself from view, and he told her to never look upon his features, for she would not love him then, and she obeyed, as any sub would obey zer dom, even as she protested that she did not care about how he appeared, and would love him, that she had beauty enough for them both. He agreed and asked for her hand, and she gave it to him.
He proved himself a gentle, firm lover, though he had to play a part that sat wrong with him, but he did not mind, because his love was happy. They stayed in bed for many days and nights, Eros letting the dark hide him his wife’s eyes when night fell, and forbidding any light or lamp in their shared rooms. Food was delivered when she needed it, and he doted on her, knowing her every want and desire and granting it to her, and she, for many days and nights, had not a single worry or thought other than being with her husband, as well it should be with new soulbonds.
And, for a time, it was good.”
The air in the room had been sticky-desperate-hot. They’d shut and locked all the windows, stuffed sweaters under the crack of the closed and locked door, and shoved Merlin’s unpacked bag up against the closed heating vent and then sat away from any walls, in the middle of Merlin’s chaotically confused room. Half-started projects and half-moulded models, a one eyed head here, a base-painted train engine without details or wheels, all mingled into the crowded press of the things he had finished. The paintings, blue prints and sketches on every spare inch of wall, the pots and bowls from his pottery class filled with screws and coins, the eyeless papier-mâché masks hanging from the ceiling with diving airplanes and gently floating dirigibles.
The heat had grown the longer they sat there, their bodies filling up the small, crowded room as the sun rose and the day outside grew warmer and baked them from the outside in. They lay on the floor, like the opening and closing parenthesis to a clever aside that no one ever said. Merlin’s hands were tucked close to his body and Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and twisted to stare at the bellies of jet planes and the blank-eyed exaggeration of the masks.
At some point Merlin’s fist had crept away from his chest and his knuckles ended up brushing up against Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur had known it was coming, seen the movement as Merlin hand slid closer, and he hadn’t moved. His breath caught as Merlin unclenched his hand and his fingers trailed up over the swell of muscle. Merlin’s breath sounded shaky, but he inched closer and Arthur continued to lie still. Merlin’s hand stayed still, splayed over his shoulder and chest, both of them lying the heat and trying to breathe.
Then Merlin’s right hand began moving down the slope of Arthur’s right arm, trailing down towards where his fingers were protectively curled up against his own bicep.
[Promotional poster for independent psychological horror film Glass, written and directed by Howard Isen. The picture features two women: a shorthaired, angry dominant (the Stepsister, (Kelly Stan)) covering the mouth of a frightened blonde submissive (Cinderella, (Rachel Hans)).]
Arthur was seventeen, single, and on a bus. Arthur tugged his thick, charity-shop jumper tighter around himself and lifted his chin as he started out the window. There were two doms who’d just gotten on and immediately zoned in on him. He’d met the taller one’s eyes on accident, just sort of staring mindlessly into the middle-distance like anyone did on a bus, saw movement, tracked it, and ended up staring into the eyes of someone who was going to take it wrong.
He had his bag on the seat next to him, and the bus had plenty of open seats. It was an off-hour. Even the muggy exhaust-and-sweat smell of buses had started to air out, a little.
He wished he had a book. People left you alone if you put up enough defences. But some people, they would sit right next to you and make comments and ask what you were reading, if you read a lot, if it was for class, about this and that and whatever until you looked at them, and then the conversation would build and then they’d be giving you compliments you didn’t want.
Or they sat behind you, like these two, and you could feel the moist drag of their breath on your neck and the way they jostled each other and murmured comments to one another that you would be able to hear if you put any effort into it. There were doms who took their orientation to mean that they could do anything if they just pushed hard enough.
The one directly behind him gripped the back of his seat; Arthur could feel the hard points of his knuckles against his shoulders. Arthur was not scared. He wasn’t ever scared. When there were unannounced footsteps behind him in a car park his heart didn’t beat harder because he was about to piss himself, but because, much like Bruce Banner, Arthur’s anger was a seething, smashing monster that lived like a bezoar of undigested resentment lodged right under his sternum.
He rubbed the base of his ring finger, where, if he had a fiancée (which he did not, because he was single) there would be a protective ring (hence the name) both to signal he was taken, and to protect the sensitive bundle of nerves right there at the base of his dominant hand. He hated the bus. The way it started and stopped, the constant rocking motion. He hated the smell of it, and the knowledge that any seat you could sit on probably had had someone throw up on it at one point or another. Mostly it was the smell. And the noise. And the motion. And basically everything about the bus. Everything about it was horrible, except for the part that it was faster than walking.
It was better when he could listen to music, but it had been Merlin’s turn for the CD player (they shared, since Arthur had busted his, and Merlin had taken his apart for Reasons, and they’d only had enough money between them for one), so he was stuck staring out the window, which didn’t really help the headache, since it was unseasonably sunny. Better when it was raining and he could pretend the raindrops were protozoa eating one another.
(“I think everyone else races them,” Merlin would say, head on Arthur’s shoulder and eyes closed, ear bud in one ear, the mate in Arthur’s. “But what if they do morph into one giant Megazord raindrop? Who wins then?”
“They were overcome with their aggressive desire to win and decided to fuck it out in the coat room.” Arthur would say and Merlin would snort and shift around in the bus seat until he was more comfortable. “Everyone wins.”)
A rush of empathy exploded behind his eyes, rushing down his throat and coating his stomach like cold milk after a too-large-bite of something entirely too spicy. He sighed, got up and moved to the other side of the bus without comment. Most of the self-help books Dr. Whitman had prescribed for homework (all read aloud by Merlin as they flopped in his unmade bed and Arthur wrote short, non-committal sentences about how his day had gone in his “daily stress journal”) stressed the need to leave a situation when he thought he was going to have—and here, Merlin always substituted whatever buzz word the book was using for “a Hulk out”—and come back to it when he was calmer. He relaxed back into the seat and let the borrowed feeling soothe out the rough edges of his mood.
In school half his classmates looked drugged, their doms getting off on being able to gentle them into a soft, entirely-tupped submission, the other half going all alpha-top over everything one second, and then purring with satisfaction over their dominance of someone they hadn’t even met yet the next. You could walk down the halls and catch three moods off one person before you even finished turning the corner.
And then there were the lectures about it. A few years ago it had been Teacher Lester’s classes about learning to pick which was an emotion you were having, and which was feedback from your fiancée, and how to set up a signal when you needed to focus on something. About how the cluster of nerves in your ring finger was something physical and grounding that you could use to tell your fiancée “not right now, please” or “I could use some assistance.”
(“Or ‘fancy a wank?’” Jennifer Watz had muttered just-loudly-enough from her little co-op of friends.)
He opened his eyes and smiled, enjoying the growing warmth in his stomach.
One of the doms, who couldn’t have been much older than Arthur, but still had no business making a fuss, slid across the aisle to sit kitty corner to him, leaning forward enough that he took up most Arthur’s peripheral vision, close enough that Arthur could choke on his body spray if he wanted. The other just laughed like a dolt and Arthur was frustrated all over again, turning to look out the window “Hey there. Hey do you have the time?” The one right next to him asked, basically right into his ear. That’s what they did. They asked innocuous questions and then you were stuck with them for the rest of the bus ride, because you’d be rude to ignore them, right? They were just asking the time. Like Arthur hadn’t just gotten up to move away from him.
And Arthur got angry. His most immediate negative emotional response was anger. When his favourite character in a book died, he didn’t cry, he got pissed off. When two young, idiot doms—who were all hyped up because they’re dominants—thought they could stare at him like he was the last zebra in the Serengeti. Because, hey, they could do whatever they wanted and if they got in trouble they’d just front their way out of it. Arthur was positive if he’d been a dom, he’d never have to see Dr. Whitman for “anger management” because then it would have been “natural for his age” and it would have just needed to “run its course.”
Some days he had more patience than others.
“Hey, come on. Don’t be like that. I just want to know the time.” He knew flipping them off just encouraged them, and he could never get a good insult going. But ignoring them doesn’t help, and they’re still talking, to each other: shooting him glances. He could beat the piss out of them, if he wanted to—probably. People didn’t get into fights like they used to, like it is in older books or films, back before people could actually find their fiancées as opposed to them being— for the better part of the population— a steadying, loving phantom in their heads.
There used to be gun duels and sword fights, still were in movies, of course. Some people still thought was romantic, but Arthur—having actually been in a fight and broken two knuckles, bit his tongue, and had plenty of bruises besides and he was the one who’d objectively won—thought it unimaginably stupid.
And he was a sub. Most doms, generally, backed off once you started bending fingers back, or got them one in the nose. Most doms would go away if you just said you weren’t interested, most people were decent and left you alone if you didn’t look like you wanted to be approached. Being able to read your partner’s non-verbal cues was a huge, giant part of being a dominant. But sometimes you got morons. And morons were morons regardless of gender.
And so the dom touched him, put his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and shook him. “Come on, babe. Don’t be like that, I’m just being friendly.”
Arthur’s hands were hard from carpentry, covered thick with calluses, and his arms tight with hard-earned muscle. He had plenty of experience with rugby scrums and after-game scuffles.
He sat up and turned, grabbed the dom by the wrist, jaw set and he didn’t have a big, impassioned speech. He might have one later, but if he talked now it wouldn’t come out right, so he just shoved the man’s wrist back at him. Something about they’d always be sucky doms if they couldn’t read people, or… or something cool and action movie hero-y. Merlin could think of something, something awesome to say, so he could get up right at his stop and put them in their places. But as was he couldn’t stop grinding his teeth and if he didn’t want to punch and not stop punching the only real solution was to sit up at the head of the bus like a scared little dork who couldn’t handle himself.
“Jesus fuck, are you mental?” He heard from behind him and he held on to his bag and got off on the next stop so he wouldn’t become that bloke who got kicked off the bus for biting off someone’s ear.
(“If it makes you feel better, you did the right thing.” Merlin would say later. And then, “if it makes you feel more better I have ice cream and a really unhelpful anger management pamphlet that we can set on fire.” Which would, actually, make Arthur feel better.)
The Handy Pocket Five:
Tips And Tricks To Calming Down And Keeping Your Cool.
It’s important to your friends, family and peers that you keep yourself well. So keep these handy, so you can keep yourself in hand.
o Breathe: it sure may sound basic, but taking a second the breathe can help clear your thoughts, and helps your heart to slow down so your brain thinks it’s okay to calm down now. Try it!
o Walk Away: if you feel like you can’t control yourself, then the safest and best thing for everyone is to Get Out Of There! It’s not rude if the other option is to lose your cool.
o Evaluate The Situation: Is it really you whose angry right now, or did it come out of nowhere? Sometimes your bondmate can feed you feelings of anger, and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between what ze’s feeling and what you are. Take a moment and remember to breathe!
o Count To Ten: give yourself time to think about a situation. Don’t just count, but clear your thoughts, don’t just wait ten seconds to think of how to respond. Pretend it’s a little mini vacation in your head! If you’re still mad Get Out Of There,
o Learn Your Signals: you probably know when you’re getting angry long before it spirals out of your hands. Learn what specifically triggers your anger and why it does, and then, when you’re calmed down, talk it over with a responsible adult. They’ll probably have some ways to help that you never thought of!
Remember: we’re rooting for you!
Merlin and his mum had gone for a holiday to look for his mum’s fiancé, since ze was probably legal now. It was Merlin’s first proper trip, seeing as Merlin’s mum was always working. Arthur had never really been on one either, since he and his guardians had, somewhere along the line, decided that their barely functioning relationship would terminally suffer were they to be locked together with only each other as company for any extended period of time.
Arthur had felt oddly…nervous when Merlin had finally climbed into Arthur’s Aunt Rebecca’s car. No, maybe not nervous. Nervous was what you felt before a match you really wanted to win, or when a pretty dom looked at you speculatively and you felt your knees quake a little bit, or before you went to visit and see if your dad was having a good day or not.
He was cat sitting for them—Frizzle, since Missy had died last summer, and neither of them had gotten over it, but Frizzle was sort of helping. Better, at least, than coming home to a house you felt should have a cat in it that did not.
It took all of that long, drawling afternoon in oddly clean and sparse space of Merlin’s-house-without-Merlin for him to put two and two together. At first he just walked from room to room, double checking that he was alone, picking up little knick-knacks that he hadn’t had time to examine before. He’d been in Merlin’s house about as frequently as he’d been in his own, but it felt…weird, without anyone there. Merlin’s mum had made sure the fridge had plenty of his favourites, and if Arthur broke into her liquor cabinet, well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Hunith was one of those parents whom would rather you drink at her house where she knew where you were, and what you were drinking, and who you were with, rather than out in some field somewhere with strangers drinking whatever terrible concoction you could get your hands on.
He sorted through Merlin’s CDs and put in one because if he heard anything from the Moulin Rogue soundtrack one more time, he was going to throw something expensive at something really solid. Arthur also wished they’d left the carefully labelled five-member dom or sub bands back in the 90’s. He really did. There were always five of them, and they were always billed as the “____ One” and then you had to deal with magazines asking which one you could have a steamy affair with, or which one you would be if you were marketable enough.
It was weird. Everything about the house suddenly felt too big, and his skin felt too small, like there was more of him packed inside it than there had been previously. It felt like too much of him was feeling that strange crawling mixture of apprehension and excitement before he noticed that the dull, fuzzy, omnipresent weight that had sprawled in the corner of his mind was breaking apart, was clearing out like a fresh breeze rolling across his neurons. He stopped in the middle of the kitchen, gherkin half chewed in his mouth, filled with a foreboding-kind-of good-sort-of-weird, which was not how anyone else would write it. In books these had long, beautiful paragraphs about how these things felt. Poems that people put on t-shirts or said at weddings, or quoted at each other when they were high on love and stupidity.
Then again there were also a lot of songs with just the lyrics “you were made for me/I was made for you” repeated over and over to a thumping techno beat. So Arthur was, at least, better than that. Hopefully.
But he just stood with his hands on the corners of counter and tried to find the thread of the feeling like it was a thought he’d just lost track of, trying to focus on it, trying to lose himself in it like a daydream. Words didn’t work, or ideas, or pictures, but he was curious. Was this? This was what this was, wasn’t it? Because he shouldn’t be this apprehensive just standing around and snacking. So it had to be. And he had no idea how to…you didn’t send feelings. They weren’t packages. And you couldn’t make yourself feel really curious, but apparently just focusing on the problem helped, because the apprehension bled away and was replaced with a feeling like an exclamation mark.
The flickers he got of his fiancé were…pleasant. Happy, all of a sudden, like ze had just noticed Arthur, finally, and was entirely too happy to find him there, in zer head. Arthur shivered at the approval and leaned against the washing machine. Arthur was used to the feeling of being blindsided by anger. He knew what that was like. He’d had to sit in Dr. Whitman’s office and try to describe it, words fumbling out of his hands like he was a toddler with a spoon. But he’d never been stuck with joy like lightning. He’d never stopped still and felt everything in him expand as opposed to tighten, not without a reason. But here he was, smiling at the air, laughing like he’d lost himself somewhere.
His dom was happy with him, ze was finally there and ze was happy to find him. Ze was happy for him, and Arthur wanted zer nearby, he wanted to be able to greet zer, and flop all over zer, and drop right down his knees and not feel dumb or embarrassed or stupid about it. He slid down until he was sitting on the floor, legs spread open and he wanted zer right now, for zer to show up and the two of them could just. Leave. Get out of this place and they would bring Merlin and find Merlin’s dom and live together in some disgustingly domestic house somewhere and Arthur could be someone else entirely. Hopefully. Maybe.
His brain wasn’t yet used to separating his own feelings from the ones flicking in from the outside. He’d overheard a conversation at lunch, where someone said: “It’s like they’ve got a different smell. Like, your happiness smells like blueberry pie, because when someone asks you what makes you happy, that’s the first thing you think of. But then their happiness smells like engine grease because that’s what comes to mind for them. And you can kind of smell it, just a little bit, but you also feel happy.”
But currently Arthur couldn’t separate the bubbling laughter coming from outside and the sharp and painful relief coming from inside himself, or, obviously, it could easily be the other way around. His dom probably had been blocking Arthur out and now was sharply relieved to find him there, or was happy and Arthur was relieved ze wasn’t blocking him and Arthur couldn’t find the centre of it all. So he just laughed to himself, tilted his head back and basked in the attention, eyes squeezed shut.
It’s a disgustingly blissful thing, knowing that there is someone out there in the world for you, who’ll love you exactly for the person you are, and you can’t pretend around them because they’ll know, and they can’t hide from you either. Terrifying, a bit, but it’s like Merlin’s unrestrained love of Scarlet O’Hara, she’s not exactly likable, but you know why she’s doing what she’s doing and who she is and where she’s coming from and so you can get over her less sterling qualities because they are a part of her. “Except for the racism, which we would need to have a conversation with her about, but that’s true of most people,” Merlin would tend to add.
It was a soulbond. Not that people knew if souls were real, or whatever, and different languages had different words for it and different reasons. You had Plato in The Symposium with humans having four legs and arms, one head with two faces, but they were so awesome that Zeus hacked them up because Zeus is the worst person ever. So your soulmate was like a physical hunk of yourself that had been torn away from you, and you wouldn’t be happy until you found them again. Or the Jewish idea of “Bashert” that God had destined someone (or made all marriages in heaven) for everyone, and so they’re looking for their bashert, so it’s more like God made you both and set you on earth, to find one another.
Or a lot of other examples that Arthur hadn’t paid enough attention to, because his head had been fuzzy and unclear and so who even cared? Who cared about the mysticism or connectivity of souls or neurochemicals or the collective unconscious or single-flesh-theory or social structure theory, or any of it? It didn’t mean anything when you felt like you didn’t have one. And he didn’t care now, either, because who cared how it worked, or why? Why not just spend the rest of your life happily bouncing joy from one of you to the other like a tennis ball in space?
And then the happiness went out, just snuffed out because Frizzle was standing on Arthur’s leg and staring at him and Oh God, Merlin.
Arthur had been…disturbingly pleased to find Merlin was as cut off from his dom as Arthur was, because then Merlin wouldn’t become another one of the drugged-out looking classmates, only ever really half there and always looking like they’re just waiting for their turn to talk, instead of listening.
Your fiancé was perfect for you. Like, the one other person in all of creation who could stick by you through everything and would fill up all those dank, horrible empty places you kept finding inside yourself. And he didn’t want Merlin running off and loving someone else more than he loved Arthur. And his gut twisted up because now, here he was, going to be that guy who was only ever half there, sharing every second with someone Merlin would never really know.
There were pamphlets about it, about what happened when your best friend went and found himself his fiancé and you were just at this giant loose end because all those long, sleepy Saturdays and those adventure packed evenings were being spent with someone else who made your best friend happier than you ever could. There were coming of age books, and all these empty, stilted paragraphs about what you were supposed to do when your best friend went and got himself engaged and you were stuck by yourself and single, or if they connected with their fiancée before you did and you were stuck in your own head without a sympathetic audience. And all those paragraphs had been about frustration and jealousy and loneliness.
They didn’t hit on the bone-chilled terror of it, or being on the other end. What if Merlin came back and he had the same screeching microphone-feedback? What if Merlin also had his bond and now everything was going to be stilted and weird because they weren’t really sharing the same experience anymore? Or. Or fuck. What if Merlin had found his fiancée? What if, even if Arthur could now feel his other half, they were off in Finland or wherever and Merlin was cavorting with some idiot in Brixton who was going to love all his ideas, but not know about all the fence posts and gazebos they’d carved their initials into (but never living trees, because what if Ents?) Or worse. Or. Or so much worse, it would be Arthur who would turn into the distant, lovesick one and leave Merlin off to figure out things for himself, and Merlin was pants at that. Arthur got that friendships were supposed to grow and change and evolve, but, seriously. That was party line bullshit that no one actually believed. Maybe later, when everyone had their fiancé and you were looking for a couple to double date. Maybe then. Not a whole lot of friendships survived the Honeymoon period.
His worry was apparently enough to set his fiancé’s heart racing because now it was a weird, echoic kind of worry, heart hammering away and his palms sweating. Why did this have to happen now?
He should tell Merlin.
Merlin would probably be happy for him.
Maybe they could both renounce and run away to some commune somewhere and make jam for a living. And he knew that his fiancé must be feeling all this anger out of nowhere, but that was zer own damn fault. Arthur had been doing just fine without zer.
There was a sharp jab of worry coming from somewhere outside of him, and Arthur shoved it out of his mind. Why’d ze need to show up all of sudden for anyway? If ze’d been suppressing Arthur this long, why not a bit longer? Why now?
Frizzle jumped up onto the desk and stared at moment at the blinking cursor on the screen, before claiming the monitor as his territory. Arthur reached up and rubbed down his back, trying to find a sense of calm in the arch of Frizzle’s back, or the springy wiry curls of his fur, scratching underneath his chin.
He eventually tapped out: Did you get yourself in jail? Did you forget entirely how to type? I’m very disappointed in you, Merlin. I may steal your cat. and sent it, even though the words looked boring and bland and impotent just sitting up there, on screen.
He didn’t. There were not a sufficient amount of books about this. There were more books about this than a human could read in their lifetime. He should have some character to fall back on. Instead he was over-empathizing with the house from Wizard of Oz, because there it had been: being a house, which was suddenly ripped out of the ground for no good reason. Then it had gone and killed someone by mistake, far away from the place when it had any sense being and no magical journey to show for it. Just left there with all these munchkins and its foundation completely gone and all this colour everywhere like it had the right.
Merlin’s trip lasted another two days, and Arthur spent those two days in a feverish emotional hangover-y limbo. And maybe drinking more out of Hunith’s liquor cabinet then she’d be entirely okay with, but it was better than…well. It seemed the thing to do. That’s what people did in books when they had too much going on. They drank a lot. It didn’t actually help, at all, seeing as it just made his own emotions seem dull and boring, and the new ones bright as Christmas decorations. Merlin didn’t email him back or pick up his phone and Arthur was sort of happy about it. His ring finger throbbed and he refused to touch it. His chest hurt in fits and bursts, aching one moment, and completely fine the next. He didn’t. He didn’t know what to do with himself.
So he hid and stayed quiet. Those were the only things he was good at doing, besides breaking things, and that didn’t seem appropriate.
He’d fallen asleep in Merlin’s bed, Frizzle had made himself comfortable on his chest, and there wasn’t any safe place on earth, so he might as well sop around like an idiot where he was. Somewhere along the line, the sense of what was Merlin’s space and what was Arthur’s got completely lost to semantics. He was sort of drunk, but sort of not drunk and sort of wanting to go back to last week and live there, even if last week hadn’t been terrifically special, or even that good.
He’d woken up to a sudden, sharp jerk of terror, which sat him straight up, disturbing Frizzle right out of the room. The terror tempered itself into a strange, limping sort of happiness and sadness and…and Arthur didn’t know how he could separate one from another except that he could.
Arthur didn’t get what was going on right away. He just saw Merlin standing there. And Merlin was just standing there, not talking or doing anything. Just standing there like a complete idiot, with his luggage at his feet and the door closed following Frizzle’s departure.
So Arthur sat in Merlin’s bed and looked at Merlin and had the sudden, irrevocable urge to fall to his knees in front of him. But. It was Merlin. Nothing about Merlin was commanding. Effusive and extravagant, sure, someone you noticed and paid attention to, but Arthur’s knees were shaking and his throat was dry and his ring finger ached and it was perfectly stupid how long it took for him to understand what was going on.
Arthur had looked at Merlin’s shaking hands, he’d looked at the slumped slope of his shoulders, and how he was leaning heavily against the door. He looked at Merlin’s face, lit up only by the street lamps and the glow of various electronics left about the room, and it looked just as scared as the thudding, sick feeling in Arthur gut.
And. And then. Then. As slow dawning as Merlin’s Great Food Epiphany. And then he understood.
“But, of course, there came a time when Eros had to return to his duties and was forced to leave his bride, only able to return at night. She entertained herself in her new palace of wonders, as she had always learned to entertain herself, but began to pine for company besides the steady, loving presence nestled next to her heart.
“My dear husband,” she said, when they had finished for the night and were, by then, drowsing in the sheets as couples do. “Though my heart is completed by you, when you are away I find myself missing my siblings, who were great friends when we were younger and before they were wed. Might they come and visit while you are away? I do miss them so.”
“Of course, my dear wife.” Eros said, wanting only her happiness, and having felt the pangs of mortal loneliness in such a way that disarmed him utterly.
So it was that Psyche’s siblings were sent word of her marriage, and journeyed to visit her. While all lovely, not one was as beautiful or more desired than Psyche, and had, many nights, raged with jealousy over how they should only be wed by doms who’d sought Psyche’s suit and failed, for one reason or another, but been deemed worthy of a secondary prize. Their jealousy only worsened upon seeing her new home, with all its’ glorious wonders, its’ luxuries and comforts. One could not more than step in the door and feel the rest of the world pale in comparison, and had Psyche not loved her siblings so, she might never had longed for anything. Psyche did not know of her siblings’ jealousy, having only ever loved them and thinking her beauty no more than a passing token of the Gods.
They spent the morning feasting and carousing, like they had when they were children, and it was not until that it came time to leave that their jealousy returned. “But Psyche!” they cried, “Where is your husband?”
She told them that he had gone for the day and they pressed for details, but she could not tell them what he looked like. “He says he is a hideous monster and to look upon him would turn my heart to stone, but I could no more hate him than I could hate the very air.”
“Sister!” they warned, “If he is this monster, perhaps he has put a spell on you. You should protect yourself, keep a knife in your bed and a lantern nearby so you may know of what sort of monster he is.”
Psyche trusted her siblings, but loved her husband too much to pay them heed, and when she left she tried to put their advice from her mind, and took to study.
When Eros returned he stood in the shadows of her study and requested she blow out her lantern, so he might kiss her. Psyche had taken to study of monsters during the day, and none, she thought, could be her husband. He had no horns upon his head, his fingers were not clawed, and his feet were soft, human feet. When she had touched his face, his features had seemed fair, and these were the things she told him in the dark. “What is it you ask of me?” He pressed his face to her shoulder, because he knew that he would refuse her nothing.
“Do you love me?” She asked, and Eros stated that he loved her more than Apollo loved his lyre, than Hephaestus loved his anvil, and any husband had loved any wife in all the history of mankind, and with this was satisfied and asked nothing of him except to take her to bed.
Some time later her siblings came to visit her again, and they spent the afternoon having joyous fun, eating foods they had no names for and drinking wine until they were giddy, and the day passed as pleasantly as ever there has been. However, once again it came time for them to go, and once again they cried for their sister to be careful, that the monster was no doubt fattening her up to eat her, or would spring horrific, terrifying children upon her. Psyche loved her husband and tried to pay them no mind, but still, when Eros returned, she was in the study, thinking now of the fat, happy children she had intended to bare him as wretched in some way or other.
These were the things she told him in the dark, and once again Eros pressed his face to her shoulder and asked what she wanted of him. “Do you love me?” She asked of him again, and he responded that he loved her more than Hestia loved her kettle, than Artemis loved her bow, or any dom had loved any sub in all the history of all of the worlds ever to be or imagined, and with this she was satisfied and asked only that he take her to bed.
It was this night, after many nights of lovemaking, that Eros made a request of her, that she treat him as he had treated her these long, lazy, perfect nights. “It is because I am a monster,” he lamented, feeling it true, “if you wish to refuse me, you may, and I will love you still.” And she, being a loving and caring wife, could not refuse him, though she found the request odd and unsettling, as submissives are not meant to act as dominants, and the play suits them ill. Though she still loved her husband, Psyche felt herself filled with uneasiness.
For a third time her siblings visited, and they spent the evening in revelry, playing games, and listening to music and eating their fill of good food, and they all wished to spend the rest of their days as such. But, time came again for them to go and they were once again filled with jealousy that their sister should get to live so. So once again the counselled “Monsters are full of strange and unhealthy appetites, you must beware Psyche, you must find out what beast he is and be prepared.”
Psyche loved her husband, but recalled the night he asked her to hold the whip instead of him, and she was afraid. So once again she turned to study and when Eros came for her, late at night and thick with worry he held his hand to his breast and asked what he could do to calm her fears.
Though she worried, his presence soothed her, and she asked again, “Do you love me?”
And he said that he loved her more than the owl loved Athena, more than the sea loved Poseidon and more than any creature has loved any other and she was not satisfied, feeling fear again and held her hand to his face and asked him to show himself, so that she might better understand. And Eros, unable to refuse her anything did so in a single, glorious moment, and when he saw the recognition in her eyes and the worship begin to swell in her heart, he fled away, and in his despair, told his mother the whole, woeful tale, and he wept and her heart softened for her son’s plight. She saw the strand tying him to Psyche, and knew she could not break it without causing her son’s downfall.
So it came to Aphrodite to form a plan.”
It wasn’t until this that Arthur properly spoke to Dr. Whitman. Before it had been a trial, a game, a tourney, an experiment. Dr. Whitman was the enemy and Arthur had to outwit him when they were in private session, and endure during the family ones. That was the only thing you could do during a tribunal airing your every fault and mistake. Endure. Pretend you were someone else.
But this. This proved he was wrong. He was made wrong. Maybe he was like his father, maybe the car crash had ruined something in his brain and now he’d dragged Merlin into it. And Arthur could have endured this, would have been fine with the fuzzy nothing in his head and never finding anyone, if he hadn’t dragged someone else in it with him.
Merlin needed someone who could focus him. Merlin wanted someone big. Merlin was his best friend. Merlin was happy. Merlin was happy that it was Arthur. It filled him up to the brim, and he looked at Arthur like this was the greatest thing that could have ever happened and didn’t that just prove it? Sure Merlin was maybe slightly demented, but he wasn’t completely crazy. He wasn’t any kind of pervert or anything. So it had to be something of Arthur making him like this. Making him happy.
So here they were. The two of them. In Merlin’s darkened bedroom and everything was wrong about them. Merlin didn’t fight the urge to drop on his knees, didn’t try to look at Arthur with anything but worship. Arthur didn’t want it. He wanted. He wanted to be there, he was supposed to fall on his knees. He was supposed to find that person who would let him be angry when he was angry, but know how to calm him down. Stop him from shoving someone into the mud, or throwing things, or doing anything. They would let him be angry, but not do anger.
This was wrong. This was so stupidly fucked up.
So he fell too. He got on his knees because he wanted to. He wanted to be on his knees (but more, he wanted someone to put him there). He stumbled out of bed and onto the floor, because he knew that he was supposed to be there. But then they were on the ground together, staring at each other like the stupidest of morons, and actually? They probably were. They had to be. Or Arthur had to be. But Merlin didn’t help. Merlin was an enabler.
Merlin licked his lips and Arthur tracked the motion before looking away. “How. You’re. I’m.” And that encompassed everything. Just. The entire problem was right there. But you. But you are. But you are you and apparently I’ve been in love with you, but you’re you. Apparently we’re supposed to be together forever. But you’re you. And I’m me. And we’re not. This isn’t. We can’t. But you. How.
“Yeah.” Merlin swallowed, hands hanging loose at his sides, in simple agreement with everything to do with that. Arthur wanted to throw things, but he wanted to touch, he wanted to press his face into Merlin’s stomach, and he wanted to wrestle Merlin to the ground, and he wanted to run away and so he just…knelt there.
Merlin crawled closer, stopping just a breath away from him and then kneeling up again, his hands hovering in front of him but not breaching the gap. It was wrong that they were both down here, one of them should be on their feet, the other on their knees. Arthur should have. He should. But, similarly, somewhere in the lizard part of Arthur’s brain, he thought that if he saw anyone else put Merlin on his knees he would hate them out of existence. He wouldn’t even kill them. They would die from hate. Merlin was his. Merlin was made for him. He didn’t belong to another soul.
“What.” Arthur cleared his throat. “What did we do?” It had to be their fault. It somehow had to be their fault. Or. Or his fault. Because this wasn’t normal. This didn’t happen to normal people. As far as Arthur knew, this didn’t happen to anyone. You had subs and you had doms, and they were made for each other. You. That just made sense. You couldn’t have two subs or two doms that was just. That didn’t even work.
“My entire brain is this huge argument where one side wants you to shove me on the ground and fuck me so badly that I’m shaking, and the rest of it is shouting but that’s never going to happen..” Merlin lifted his hand to demonstrate the shaking and Arthur didn’t touch, because if he touched it’d be real.
Merlin watched him, his body trembling in uncontrollable shudders then wrapped himself around Arthur all at once, because Merlin had never met a whim he didn’t immediately fulfil. “What do we do?” Merlin asked into the crook of Arthur’s neck and Arthur didn’t know. Merlin was the one with the ideas,
“We could.” Merlin’s voice caught in his throat.
Sometimes things went wrong. Arthur’s father was still alive because the car accident had destroyed the part of his brain that would bond with someone else, that had bonded with one of Arthur’s mums. So instead of dying alongside his mate, he lingered on, remembering her sometimes, and sometimes not. The car accident hadn’t been the clean, controlled surgery of a permanent bond nullification procedure. The accident had damaged plenty of other tissue and so Arthur’s father had no ability to control himself, no way to regulate. According to the facility, sometimes he spent days in a mindless, hazy, stupor, and some days he flew in a manic rage and Arthur didn’t need to know more than that.
Someone had come to Arthur’s school to talk about it, to talk about how, in 15% of the population, something went wrong and the bond had to be severed or, at minimum, suppressed for the health of one or both of the participants. Mental illness. Extreme physical illness. Lasting emotional distress.
But you didn’t get a new one. That was the key. No matter what, you didn’t get a new one. You got one shot at the whole two-sides-of-the-same-coin deal, and after that you just had to stumble through life on your own. Half of a broken thing, maybe even meeting your fiancée on the street and never having any way of knowing or ability to do anything about it.
“Don’t be dumb, Merlin.” Arthur had said.
And Arthur had felt the zing of relief spark from Merlin right into his head and Arthur had no idea how. How this was supposed to work. You heard, sometimes, maybe, about doms getting off with each other. Like, with the Greeks at war, and whoever was the bravest got to put someone else on their knees in reward. Or an older dom teaching a younger one how to hit and what the lash felt like.
And subs, sure, subs might comfort one another. They were, generally (whether by nature or by nurture) more openly affectionate, and you had harems with a dom and zer partner, and then a gaggle of unmarried subs whose mates had died at war or they’d never had them, or whatever, and the general fantasy went along the lines of the subs kissing one another and playing around, but it was never real. It was a game.
No one had come to school to talk about this. They talked about switches, about what if this and what if that and what to do in this particular case, and there were short films with bad actors and unhelpful pamphlets with bad drawings or stock photography and young adult novels with boring one word titles, but there wasn’t anything about this. It was a giant hole in Arthur’s education.
“Do you think this has ever happened before?”
“It has to have.” Merlin rubbed the back of his hand against his mouth, thoughtfully. “Nothing new under the sun.”
Arthur watched the slow back and forth of Merlin’s hand. He’d never kissed anyone before. “What do you think happened to them?”
“Shh,” Merlin had said, changing gears entirely, because he was Merlin, and he could feel Arthur’s fear buzzing right up against his throat. “Shh, we’ll figure it out.”
He nuzzled against Arthur’s neck. “It’ll be okay, I promise. We’ll think of something. We’ll research. We’ll find out everything we have to. It has to have happened before. For some kind of reason.”
Arthur rested his head against Merlin’s shoulder, arms coming up and then clutching onto Merlin, fingers clawing into Merlin’s shirt, nails digging into the bony landscape of Merlin’s back, a landscape Arthur already knew, technically, in a haphazard, mindless way. He was fourteen and Merlin was thirteen. They’d lived in each other’s pockets for a decade, they’d gone swimming and changed in the same room and flopped around, too lazy to put on shirts. He knew the rising bumps of Merlin’s spine and the dips of his ribs. But he’d never cared before. He didn’t know why he should care now, except that he did. He cared like he was just now learning to read, and suddenly the world had untold meaning it hadn’t contained previously.
Merlin was the one who got them to their feet. He had to feel the same sickly-sticky drip of guilt that Arthur was, but he didn’t comment on it. Didn’t try and shove it away. He just let Arthur keep it. Merlin was thirteen and still dealt with change better than Arthur was ever going to.
Arthur was fourteen and Merlin was thirteen, and if they’d been normal then they wouldn’t be allowed to hang out without a chaperon of one kind or another until they were sixteen. If they were normal they would need one. Arthur had seen the films, the voice-over detachedly describing the instincts that took over when you first found your fiancé. How you, a young sub, might lose yourself in making them happy and doing whatever they said for a little while, might lose the sights of your own limitations. How they, a young dom, would be high on power, would be protective and possessive, and the two of you, young and untrained, might try something “unwise”. So it was best to have adults around until the two of you settled into your bond.
Merlin moved to the bed and Arthur stopped. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but. You weren’t supposed to. Not. Not at fourteen-almost-fifteen and thirteen-a-good-long-ways-from-fourteen,
“We’re two subs.” Merlin said in the face of his hesitation, sitting on the mattress. “What would we even do?”
And so Arthur had carefully slid under the blanket Merlin lifted up for him, on the side closest to the door, leaving Merlin all smashed up against the wall. They’d fallen asleep in the same bed before, plenty of times before, and this is how they’d always slept, because otherwise Merlin would fall out, and Arthur would step on him on his way to the loo. It felt different now. Like Arthur was keeping Merlin to himself.
They didn’t do anything, that first night. Not like how it should have been, the first night in bed with your fiancée: with fervent kissing, with the negotiation of words and bodies, leading and following each other until it didn’t even matter where they were going.
“It’ll be a secret,” Merlin said finally, carefully. They weren’t touching. They were breathing carefully so there could be no mistakes, a twin bed being what it was. “If nobody knows then nobody can do anything about it.”
“How do we keep something like this a secret?” Arthur’s fingers twitched forward, just a breath more and he could touch. He should be able to touch. Merlin was his, Merlin belonged to him, and he should be able to touch. He didn’t know if he was allowed to touch, what he should do with his hands, what to do with his anything.
“We already share a plate. And we spend all our time with each other. All we have to do is keep being how we always have and no one will ever know.” Merlin swallowed, shoulders hunched in on themselves, arms crossed over his chest, holding himself back.
“Your intense and complete inability to understand personal boundaries has saved the day.” Arthur would have normally shoved Merlin. Merlin even tensed for it, smile halfway on, before realizing he hadn’t been touched. Merlin looked at him, steeled himself and reached forward, pressing his finger to the tip of Arthur’s nose, his hope twisting in Arthur’s gut like poison.
“Can I touch you?” Merlin asked, after another awkward beat that was nothing like them at all. “I won’t do anything. I won’t. I just want.” His hand came up and he didn’t move. “Please let me.”
Arthur reached forward too, lining up his fingers with Merlin’s, feeling like he was breaking some kind of rule. “You can do whatever you want.”
Merlin made a noise low in his throat and then was on top of him. Not doing anything, just lying on top of Arthur like a lizard who’d found the ideal rock for sunbathing, shoving his face into Arthur’s neck and inhaling, mumbling into Arthur’s shirt like a moron. Arthur hesitated before wrapping his arms over Merlin’s back, fitting a hand to the back of Merlin’s neck with a shuddering, gasping, almost bone-jarring contentment.
Merlin breath sighed hot and wet over Arthur’s skin and Merlin’s fingers kneaded at his sides, a near constant hum of relief gushing out of him and into Arthur.
“What are you so happy about?” Arthur physically turned Merlin’s head so he wouldn’t just lose the answer in his own shoulder. Merlin shivered and Arthur’s hand flew away, hovering awkwardly in the air and was thankful he couldn’t see Merlin’s face.
“Most of what you say is dumb.” Arthur argued, but it fell flat and Merlin didn’t comment. Arthur put his hand down on the sheets. Merlin turned and settled down on Arthur’s side, pressed up along Arthur and the wall and Arthur knew his arm would go to sleep, but didn’t entirely care. “You’re stuck with me now. So tell me.”
“I’m stuck with you.” Merlin’s grin was audible. “That’s it. I’m stuck with you and you’re stuck with me, so we’re not going to end up like all those other people who lose contact with their childhood friends. We’re stuck together. You can’t go and leave me for a bunch of sports-guys.” Merlin wiggled and caught his right hand with his own. It was still a jolt—falling headfirst into Merlin’s head, feeling Merlin tangled up in his own, both of them suspended above the other, and Arthur had honestly thought Merlin was just going to get sick of Arthur. He’d figured that once Merlin could leave the neighbourhood, go to uni or something and then Arthur would never hear from him again.
He’d planned to just let him go and not say anything about it. Move away somewhere so Merlin wouldn’t have to see him when he came to visit his mum (also to get away from his aunt and uncle). Or maybe not. Maybe he would have been an asshole about it. Arthur didn’t really know.
He hadn’t known Merlin had been thinking it would be Arthur who would wander off. Would grow into himself and become fabulously popular at his school and not have any time for Merlin. And now that couldn’t happen. They’d never just be a story they told their soulmate one day with the ending of “I wonder what ever happened to him.”
“You’re mine now.” Merlin let the connection go slowly, flopping his hand down onto Arthur’s stomach. “Nobody is going to change that. We’ll figure the rest out.”
“Now, while it is important to remember that your child will not develop a fixed gender until just before (or during) puberty, it is also important to help them develop the skills and attitudes that will best help them fit into their eventual peer groups. A study of over nine hundred new American parents proved that while your child may not have a fixed gender until they’re eleven, they begin to associate with one gender more than another much earlier, which in nine out of ten cases, proved to be the child’s final fixed gender, and that final one out of ten included all non-conventional gender identities (e.g. switches, nones, ect...)
“This leads us to the developmental stage of “pre-gender orientation.” As I’ve covered in previous chapters, during the first few years of life a child will attempt to mimic the behaviours and habits of both submissive and dominant parents. It is vital that during this stage you do not attempt to push one gender identity over another because of what you want. Do not ignore the signals and behaviours of your child because you think if they “should” be one gender or another, as this can cause psychological distress later in life.
“For instance, to begin with a child may play with both dolls and trucks, but as ze gets older, ze may prefer to make loud noises while crashing two trucks together and cease paying attention to the doll entirely. The child may then start to display other key features, such as heightened energy and sense of agency (which can often be mistaken for heightened aggression), or prefers large groups of comrades as opposed to a singular playmate. It is then you can begin to introduce your child to pre-gender appropriate activities, letting your un-fixed submissive-leaning child learn how to negotiate and compromise, or teaching your un-fixed dominant-leaning child how to lead and intuit. Later in the chapter, I’ll cover the most obvious signs and signals for finding your child’s pre-gender identity” – Palmer A. in Teething Through Teenagerhood: Growing Up With Your Child, 7th ed, (HarperCollins: New York) ©1980
 For more on that, I suggest reading Dr. Howard Church’s entire body of work (labelled more specifically in my “Further Reading” appendix) which covers various disorders and psychophillias that can develop and acts as a comprehensive guide to mis-parenting, or, for a more personal and specific look into the subject, Entertainer Georgia Price’s autobiography Disoriented.
When Arthur and Merlin first met, Arthur had been an (endlessly) angry five-almost-six year old and Merlin been a dirt covered four year old and he’d been mobile for the better part of that. He had been a kicky foetus, and had been climbing out of his cot far before the rest of his peers. He, at four, had already been missing a tooth, because he’d fallen down the stairs, able to barrel around at great speeds, but not quite so good at stopping just yet. There had been a play-gate at the mouth of the staircase, and it had done its level best to slow him down, but the manufacturers had not taken into account the momentum of a fat baby covered in pots and pans stampeding right at it.
It had taken until then for Merlin to realise he could leave his own house, and oh, oh, he could go talk to a person if he wanted, without his mum helping. It had never occurred to him previously to try this, and like a switch was thrown, he’d gone from being a deeply shy and recluse toddler into Merlin: The Fearless Friend-Making Toddler Who Could Make Friends Anytime He Wanted. And, at that moment, he’d been playing in his garden, and Arthur had been sitting in his aunt’s garden, and it had been a prime Friend Making moment.
Arthur had been there for Merlin’s Epic Food Epiphany in which Merlin’s ten year old worldview had been entirely shaken when he’d realised that he could, if he wanted, venture into the kitchen, take things and create food and then eat the food without his mum being present or involved. He’d burst into Arthur’s house with the fever-eyed-gaze of a zealot and announced: “Arthur, we could make cookies.”
According to distant memory their first Friend-Making conversation had gone thus:
“Hi. I’m digging a hole to not-China.” The filthy creature (and, in Arthur’s later opinion, there really should be an adjective or adverb that encompasses the idea of “appearing from simply nowhere” seeing as Merlin and their furniture were both in the habit of doing so) in front of Arthur proclaimed.
“What?” Arthur had been, justifiably, confused.
“I can’t dig a hole to China, because of the map. So I want to see what is on the other side. It’s deep. Imma catch a tiger.” Merlin had said.
“The Indian Ocean.” Arthur had said, because his aunt and uncle owned a globe. A fancy one that had a fancy stand and it stood in the corner of the sitting room. He spun it a lot because it felt like the opening to a good movie. He’d found the other side of the globe from the UK (he couldn’t read the words, but he recognized the chocolate brown blob’s shape) and it had just been an expanse of tea-coloured ocean. When he asked his aunt which one it was, she’d told him. So the farthest you could get away from the UK was by swimming in some ocean somewhere that was kind of sort of near New Zealand. Which was sort of a tiny Australia but with fruit-that-was-birds-that-was-also-maybe-people according to the education programming on the telly.
Merlin had cocked his head and dropped the trowel he’d been waving enthusiastically. “Huh?”
“The hole is going to the Indian Ocean. You’d drown.” Arthur corrected and crossed his arms. “So you can’t, because that’s stupid.”
“Oh.” Merlin considered that a long moment, sticking his tongue in the gap between his teeth. “Then it’ll be a tiger trap.” He studied Arthur like a baby wondering if ze can fit zer fist in zer mouth. “You gonna go to a birthday?”
“No.” Arthur had said, and apparently Merlin had taken that as permission to grab him around the wrist and show him the beginning of his tunnel-now-tiger-trap, which hadn’t been nearly deep enough to catch a tiger, because Merlin had been digging it wrong, and so that’s how Aunt Rebecca found Arthur, him doing the digging and Merlin thumping out the door with capers because tigers wouldn’t just fall in without some bait. They weren’t stupid.
Aunt Rebecca had made Arthur take a shower straight off, but she hadn’t been mad at him, because it was, according to her, later, the happiest they’d ever seen Arthur in the year since his two mothers died and his father might as well have. Then Merlin had asked them over for supper.
“I’m sure you’d need to ask your parents, Merlin.”
“We’re gonna catch tigers and I have a cat.” Merlin had said, pointing to his house, “There’s food.”
They had ended up going to Merlin’s which was much better than the awkward, stilted meal that Arthur knew would have happened back at his aunt and uncle’s house: eating off the thick plastic plate they’d gotten him because they didn’t want him breaking or scraping the nice china, listening to his Uncle Tristan telling him to sit straight, and his Aunt Rebecca piling more overcooked peas onto his plate without even asking if he wanted any and then chiding him for not eating them all, even though they were gross and sewage swamp green and turned to mush the second he shoved them into his mouth.
Aunt Rebecca took Merlin’s mum aside, after they’d talked about whether it was actually okay for them to be over for dinner, whispering in a way that Arthur knew was about him, because you always know when adults are talking about you. The way they shoot glances, and turn away, the hot flush that sears the back of your neck like sunburn or a too-hot bath. Arthur had looked down at his hands as Merlin showed him his round up of toys with a semi-coherent stream of information about them.
Merlin’s mum had smiled and nodded, and then still handed Arthur a plate exactly like everyone else’s, with a steaming half-breast of grilled chicken all cut up into nice, even pieces-just like Merlin’s-a pile of slightly sweet and still-crisp carrots, a slice of wheat toast and she even asked what he wanted to drink. Aunt Rebecca gave Arthur apple juice for every single meal, like kids just drank apple juice and nothing else. Instead Arthur followed Merlin’s example with a glass of milk and liked how it didn’t leave a syrupy sweet aftertaste after every sip. She asked if Arthur or Merlin wanted more, and entirely unlike the dinner he’d been expecting, she served cake for afters. Aunt Rebecca never had afters, because she said it exacerbated his “condition.”
“Um.” Aunt Rebecca had started.
Merlin’s mum had waved it off. “You said he just gets a bit energetic, they can work it off in the backyard. Look, he’s getting along fine with Missy. She senses a calm soul.”
Aunt Rebecca had set her mouth and continued to stare at Arthur, like she was daring him to make one wrong move.
Merlin’s cat had taken a liking to Arthur, so he had to sit still and not talk too loudly, because he liked the heavy weight of her sprawling over his lap and the thick strum of her nearly constant purr. She’d been very soft, loving to be brushed and her shed fur a thick, cloudy tuff when he rolled it between his palms and he hadn’t thrown anything all meal, because Merlin had said that his cat had probably the Queen of Cats in Egypt, so he should be nice to her, and Arthur had liked the idea of a Queen using him as a throne.
After that he had spent a lot of time at Merlin’s house, and some of that sitting still while she sat on him, since Merlin was a bit of a whirlwind and after four or five hours Arthur usually needed to detox a little. And she would sit, happily, for as long as he could manage to stay still. He, to this day, misses her.
He’d told Dr. Whitman about that later (when he was older and anger still wasn’t something he had, but something that grew inside him like a parasite) awkwardly—as he told everything he told Dr. Whitman awkwardly: in starts and stops and extended pauses. Dr. Whitman had made a note of it, like he made a note of just about everything, and said something Arthur had thought only movie psychologists said. Arthur had replied he thought the cat was a more effective therapist than Dr. Whitman. Arthur still didn’t think it entirely fair for a therapist to write you up as having an attitude if the same said therapist was a giant cunt.
They’d played past dark, Merlin showing him the ant colony and the tree stump and the weird knot on the fence that looked like a face and Merlin wasn’t the best at walking, but when he fell over he just shoved himself up again without a fuss and unsteadily weaved over to the next item of interest, with Arthur trailing behind him, Missy crouching in the window and watching them lazily as the sun went down.
“For three days and three nights, Psyche wept in her palace of wonders. It had gone stale and nothing there could please her, for she knew to whom she was wed and he was the very opposite of a monster. Her love was the most beautiful there could ever be, but, in a horrible twist of fate, was the submissive God, Eros. He had pretended, for her sake, to be dominant, and had hidden himself from view so that she should never know the truth of their marriage. And though she knew she should not, she still loved him with all of her being.
When her tears had dried, she stood up, put herself into her travelling clothes and began to walk. Though their joining was unnatural, and though the Gods might frown upon them, she would not give up her husband, for he was hers and she was his, and this would be not be stopped. She found first a temple to Demeter, where she found the offerings in much disarray and in some disrepair. So she set herself to fixing it, sort the grains by type for many nights, and though she grew hungry, she ate nothing belonging to the temple. She cleaned the alter and washed the icon, and when she had finished, weary and famished, she prayed for guidance, because, of course, Demeter, who was full of such sorrow in the winter when her daughter was taken from her, would understand the need to bring one’s loved ones back to them. Demeter, pleased by the offering, told Psyche to eat her fill and take the rest, and Demeter would help her on her journey.
Psyche did so, and the next day she journeyed farther, until she came upon a donkey, weary and starved, beaten and lame. He shivered as she approached, and hung his head, and she sat and shared her food, talking to the beast until it laid down next to her, eating from her hand, and transformed into a magnificent beast, as well kept as any. From the forest limped an old man, carrying a hammer and tongs and she bent her head to him.
Hephaestus asked her what she wished for, and she told him her story, and beseeched him to help her, for didn’t he know what it was like to love? And being married to Aphrodite (though she did not return his love) he agreed and promised to help her on her journey, and put her upon the donkey and sent them along their way.
When she arrived at the bottom of the mountain she came upon a pack of robbers, and when they tried to take her mount and steal her food she stepped down and gave them her bag, but when they attempted to steal a token she had taken from the palace to remind her of her quest, a powerful rage came upon her and she killed the one while the donkey killed the other. Ares, pleased by this, gave her a knife with which to protect herself and promised to help her on her journey.
Finally she reached a temple to Aphrodite, and she fell upon her knees and pleaded that she help and guide her, that she loved Eros and this could not be changed. She cut off her long, beautiful hair that so many had admired, and laid it on the alter, and Aphrodite, pleased by this, did not ignore her, and instead sent her to do three labours for the right to see Eros again. First she was sent to Poseidon, and for him she had to wrangle four hundred of the sturdiest, strongest stallions back into the waves to return as dolphins. She could not pull even one, and the moment she approached they trampled away, and after a long while she called to Demeter for her aid.
She was surrounded with bushels of the freshest, fullest, most beautiful wheat, and it was with this that she led the horses to the ocean and they ate and became dolphins once more.
Second she was sent to Hades, who set her to capture a single soul that had attempted escape, but she must not look upon the world of the dead, for it would be too much for her and she would perish. She stumbled, blindly, seeking with her fingers for the lost soul, and finally, broken and bruised and bleeding, she called upon Hephaestus, and for her he created a chain and collar that would seek and snap around the throat of a spirit. She dragged the escaped soul back to Hades and he sent her on her way.
Finally she bent before Aphrodite, the hardest and worst task of all. Aphrodite stood upon the shorn-off locks of Psyche’s once beautiful hair and demanded that she say something that would cause her joy, to make up for past vanity. Psyche thought and thought and could think of nothing that would please the God, until, finally, she opened her mouth and called for Ares. Ares, being Aphrodite’s lover, appeared and set to distracting her, causing her joy and allowed Psyche to pass up another mountain. There she climbed and she climbed. She climbed until her body grew tough and her hands were as thick with calluses as any warrior, and then, finally, Zeus came in one of his many disguises
She bowed her head and continued to climb and he, as a gust of wind, tried to blow her off the mountain, but she clung on, and then continued to climb. He as a goat, stole her food and she let him, and she continued to climb. He came as the fog, and blind, Psyche reached and reached, stumbling and tripping, continued to climb. Finally he spoke to her and asked her what it was that she wanted.
“I have come for my husband, Eros.” She said and continued to climb, though she knew whom it was she spoke to. “I will not leave without him.”
“The two of you are ill suited, the union with end in tragedy,” he warned.
“I would have it be tragic and us together, than joyful and us apart. I will not leave without him,” Psyche said and continued to climb. She was dirty and baked from the sun, heavily muscled and scarred, no longer the beautiful maiden of song, and she did not care. She would not leave without her husband.
“Perhaps Eros does not want you. He has done nothing to aid your quest.” Zeus said, at last.
“I know that he loves me, I know that he loves me more than you have ever loved and I will not leave without him,” she said, knowing she spoke to the King of the Gods, but refusing to stand down though she was afraid.
“Very well.” Zeus said and she reached the top, where Eros lay bound and gagged, unable to help her and she freed him. They went to Mount Olympus where Psyche was given ambrosia, the drink of immortality, and a whip. The ambrosia burned away her submissiveness, so she and Eros would be best suited, and she had proved herself in this respect, showing patience, caring, protectiveness, understanding and tenacity. They were bound in eternal marriage, Eros kneeling to her and she standing over him, their hands joined as they should be.
It is through them that we now have the soulbond, with Psyche understanding the two people in all the world who can love each other fully and completely, and Eros binding them together with his arrows.”
-Dr. Henry Orthos “Complete Anthology of Grecian Myths Volume II”