Dr. Whitman’s office was calculatingly soothing. Everything was cream coloured, the pictures on the walls were pointedly inoffensive, and there were things on the table between them to fiddle with. Arthur stared down at the dice, the glitter-liquid filled baton, the Rubik cube and eight other assorted oddities while his aunt explained every single iota of his existence to the Doctor:
The car accident. The period of not talking. Merlin. The Hulk-outs. Seeing his father (once, only once, never again. Not ever). How he never brought anyone home from school. What he would eat. What he wouldn’t eat. The time he fell down the stairs. That time he was found on the floor amidst his uncle’s malaria pills. Arthur sat while she detailed his life like everything was symptomatic, arms crossed and staring stonily at the wall.
“We read the books,” his uncle says, fiddling with a stack of cards. Shuffling. “We thought he identified pretty strongly as a pre-gender dom, so we let him get away with his tantrums. But clearly if that isn’t the case, we needed to do something.”
No one asks Arthur to talk.
“Hey,” Gwaine said to Merlin’s drowsing form. It was after round one, with a distinct possibility of round two around the corner. Merlin stretched against his side and nuzzled closer.
“Gimme a sec.” Merlin mumbled rubbing his hand over Gwaine’s stomach. “Or, like, thirty minutes. Or you need thirty minutes. One of us needs thirty minutes. We could order a pizza. Pizza would get here in thirty minutes. Then we could have pizza.”
“No, I mean hey, as in a start to a conversation, not hey, can you hand me your belt for a quick second.”
“It’s a good belt.” Merlin agreed, reaching over to where it was curled on the bed. “Good belt, you get a biscuit.” He yawned and then looked up to Gwaine. “What you want to talk about?”
And, considering that most of Gwaine’s conversations with Merlin, outside of sex, had gone about as deep as “hey, you want get a takeaway or something?” Merlin looked wonderfully unconcerned. Which sort of made Gwaine just want to ask if he wanted to get a takeaway, because he didn’t really have an evidence of weirdness. He just had a feeling. A weird sort of sideways feeling, and that wasn’t really worth bringing up, was it? Wanting to go home, still in subspace, still hard, rather than stay over to be coaxed out of it. The way his entire being studied Gwaine like he could save him for later. Not wanting Gwaine to know where he lived. Arthur. Gwaine didn’t need to know. He didn’t. He should let it alone.
“So you know how you’re a fountain of useless knowledge about weird animal mating habits?” Gwaine said instead of anything helpful at all.
Gwaine knew this because it was Merlin’s come on. He’d introduce himself, mention that slugs had prehensile penises that were several times longer than them, which would get stuck in the female slug so she’d have to chew it off, and then round off with “and now that you have that in your head, any sex you have tonight will be awesome and completely normal in comparison.” Gwaine didn’t know how effective it was, but it’d worked on him. Or. Well. Merlin smiling at him in an over-big hoodie, looking for all the world like some poor country boy who’d just come to the big city and needed a big strong dom to save him from the evil sex slugs worked on him.
And then afterwards Merlin had shown up at his flat with the reasoning of “Male angler fish can’t hunt for themselves so they spend their entire lives trailing after the scent of female pheromones until they find her and then they gnaw into her flesh while liquefying until they’re just a pair of balls she can use to impregnate herself with, and in comparison to that, me showing up again at your flat in the hope of sex is totally normal and fine, I swear I’m not going to stalk you.”
“Vampire bats have the highest rate of monosexuality among animals that aren’t dynamic-normative.” Merlin agreed drowsily.
“So me and my mates always do a pub quiz on Tuesdays, and we’re pretty well-rounded when it comes to sports, music and pop culture and the like, but we’re rubbish when anything about animal science comes up, and one of the bartenders is studying to be a zookeeper or something. So, like, last week, one of the questions was what animal had the biggest cock in proportion to itself and I said slugs, because, you know, the thing, but it turned out it was barnacles.”
“Well it’d have to be. They just sort of latch onto stuff, so in order to fuck they’d need really long and mobile pricks.” Merlin considered him a moment. “So you want me to come out with you so I can share my extensive, but not creepy or indicative of a fetish, knowledge of animal sex and mating habits?”
“You could bring some of your mates too, obviously. Especially any film buffs, because we’ve got Hector who’s into quirky indie films and Citizen Kane or whatever, but he’s got this giant hole where shlocky-horror flicks and B science fiction movies should be. And Kay is a good bloke for music made between 1950 and 1976, and we’re good for anything after 1990, so there’s this giant gap between the two that needs filling, Lan is good for high fantasy stuff but shit for science fiction, and obviously you’ve seen what good Owen and Pell are in anything but a cat calling contest.” Gwaine rubbed the back of Merlin’s neck. “So you’ve got the science fiction and the biology stuff down solid, and I swear this is a completely selfish bid to use your for your brain and not a secretly a date or anything, because you said no dates and I respect that.”
Merlin turned his head and considered it, or considered something. “Maybe,” he said at last, which wasn’t really helpful at all, but he also didn’t get up and start getting dressed, which was a win. Gwaine gave him a moment and then soothed his hand down Merlin’s back and Merlin sighed, relaxing.
After a prolonged round two, he got Merlin dressed again, leaving his cock trapped between his stomach and his waistband, tugging his baggy shirt over the weeping head and zipping his jacket up to his chin. Merlin clutched onto him, whining and hips making tiny, little aborted thrusts. Gwaine cradled his head, stroked his neck, and calmed him down until Merlin was leaning his full weight on Gwaine, face pressed to Gwaine’s shoulder, relaxed and completely inattentive of his prick. Gwaine couldn’t quite resist sneaking his hand under Merlin’s layers and resting his fingers against the head of his dick.
“Shh, hey, you want me to send you home like this, don’t you? You like riding home reeking of sex and still hard in your pants.” Gwaine rubbed his thumb over the leaking slit of Merlin’s prick and kissed his ear. “What do you get off on? Is it the people staring at you? Is it being turned away, all used up an unsatisfied?” Gwaine nuzzled down the slope of Merlin’s cheekbone and couldn’t resist the urge to curl his hands around Merlin’s face and kiss him, drink him down like a mug of hot soup. When he let up Merlin just smiled at him, bright-eyed and legs barely able to support him. Gwaine gathered up more of his weight easily, curled his left arm under Merlin’s shoulders and Merlin automatically just giving Gwaine control of how to arrange him. Automatically trusting Gwaine to take care of him.
Gwaine could have happily moved into that moment and lived there. His hand was caught between the two of them, Merlin all loose and happy and laughing a little to himself, staring at Gwaine. He’d probably do anything, just then.
“Look at you. You must be a sight when you finally stumble home.” And wouldn’t that be a surprise, if Gwaine were the person Merlin was stumbling home towards. Wouldn’t it just be gorgeous, having this beautiful, willing boy collapsing at your feet and out of his head. Maybe it was a game, and it wasn’t one Gwaine minded being apart of, if Merlin did have some dom at home who got off on Merlin smelling like someone else. Maybe they liked Merlin to repeat everything Gwaine did to him, maybe they liked the way Merlin talked. Of course they did. You couldn’t like Merlin and not like the way he wanted to conquer the world with his voice.
“What does Arthur think of it, hmm?” Gwaine asked absently, figuring Merlin wasn’t really paying attention to words. Or. Or maybe not really paying attention to what he was saying either, wrapped up in the idea of Merlin getting home, only to be put through his paces that little bit more. But then, when wasn’t Merlin paying attention to words? Merlin loved words.
Merlin whined high and helpless at that. Gwaine took his hand away, moving it back to Merlin’s stomach and rubbing against the firm skin and muscle. “Hey, hey. Shh. It’s okay. Everything is okay. I’ve got you.”
He was onto something. He just wasn’t wholly sure what. Embarrassment kink? Exhibitionism? Arthur was the only person Merlin had ever mentioned; with just enough information that Gwaine knew he was submissive too.
“Does Arthur watch?” He tried, because he was a curious bloke, really, and he figured it was far off the mark, because, well. That didn’t happen outside of porn. But then Merlin was nodding and Gwaine got them into a controlled fall to the ground because. Uh. Unless. This was just Merlin feeding into some sort of two-sub-one-dom fantasy? Gwaine should not have picked a real person to get this going with. Merlin could make a fantasy out of anything.
Merlin licked his lips and his stomach was wet with all his pre-come and Gwaine didn’t resist the urge to rub it into his skin. Merlin fell backwards across the floor, and Gwaine followed him.
Merlin’s pulse thudded under Gwaine’s lips, under his palm, Merlin’s breath as quick and laboured as a rabbit and when Gwaine pulled up the edge of Merlin’s jacket, he’d leaked straight through the thin cotton of his shirt. “You like me to send you home desperate for shag, so what? You’re terrible at being quiet, so he must not mind how noisy you are, at the least. What happens next? Do you tell him what I did to you?”
The yes that came out of Merlin was so quiet that Gwaine was certain he was supposed to miss it, but he was listening carefully as he rubbed Merlin’s stomach. “Shh, it’s okay. You like talking, I know you do. And he likes listening? You always pay such good attention.”
Merlin nodded that little tiny bit and this was interesting. If this is what makes him happy, then Gwaine can give him something to talk about, pleased, suddenly, that he might know what’s going on. He doesn’t know the whole story, he really doesn’t, but he knows more.
“You’re a good boy,” Gwaine kissed Merlin’s throat. “So generous. I’ll make sure you have plenty of stories to tell him next time. Ride you hard and put you away soaked. Would you that make you happy?” He rubbed his cheek over Merlin’s exposed skin, and bit the back of his neck. “I’ll make it so good for you that you’ll need to make up new words to tell him about it. Whatever story you want, and you’ll think of something brilliant. I know you will.”
“Fuck,” Merlin’s arms flailed and he caught Gwaine by the hair. “Please kiss me, or touch me. Touch me, just please. Please, please, please-” His eyes squeezed shut before flaring open again, studying him and Gwaine tugged Merlin’s head back and sucked a bruise under his jaw, bright and visible and beautiful and Merlin keened for it. Rising up under him and panting, thanking him because he was a good boy. He had manners. Gwaine stroked through his hair and told him as much. He could eat the sounds Merlin made, the way he twisted up. Gwaine held him down, shoving his wrists against the carpet. Merlin’s fingers curled inwards, relaxed, head tilted back and neck stretched long, belly up and hips lax. Gwaine settled himself over Merlin, sliding a knee in close and Merlin rode up against it, tiny little choked off noises getting bottlenecked in his throat.
“Tell me.” Gwaine ordered, nudging his nose against Merlin’s cheek. “What do you do when I send you home?”
Merlin bit his lip, eyes wide and blue and Gwaine kissed his nose. “Shh. It’s just a story you’re telling me. You tell me lots of stories. Once I invited you to my secret lair on Skullcrusher Mountain. You met my assistant Scarface.”
Merlin smiled, then, fingers flexing. “I can’t.” He said, though.
Gwaine squeezed Merlin’s wrists and slowly dragged them over Merlin’s head, pressing them down to the carpet. Merlin liked being manhandled. Merlin liked being told what to do, but he liked—far more—to just be made to do it. For someone’s domination over him to be silent and sure and real, because words are something Merlin lives in. Words don’t trip him up like actions do. Merlin should, at any opportunity, be shoved and held down and pressed against things, in Gwaine’s not-so-humble opinion. Gwaine settled the fingers of his free hand under Merlin’s shirt, not even trying to resist the urge to tickle him a little. Merlin arched up and fucking giggles right on cue and Gwaine in these moments (and, perhaps, others) wishes they were in the kind of novel that would mean he could just...have this. Always.
Merlin’s mobile rang.
Merlin’s hands jumped under Gwaine’s grip, so he let go. Merlin fumbled over his body for his phone, but he couldn’t seem to get the co-ordination together, so Gwaine got it out for him and showed him the caller ID. Arthur, speak of the devil. “Do you want to answer?”
Merlin nodded, hands fluttering in front of his chest like lost birds.
“Can you talk?”
Merlin’s throat clicked as he swallowed, and his hands shook as he tried to take the phone.
“I can hold it up for you.”
Merlin nodded and Gwaine flicked it open and held it to his ear, stroking Merlin’s belly, sitting up on his knees over him
A single, breathy little “Arthur,” was all Merlin could manage, and Gwaine was glad they’d gotten to the floor from the way all of Merlin just went completely drugged-up relaxed. Gwaine could hear Arthur speaking, a low, tinny rumbling through the speaker of the phone. Gwaine supported himself over Merlin, held the phone steady.
Merlin listened for while, eyes dark and lips bitten all to hell, eyes flicking up and over Gwaine, his cock still obviously red and hard, his shirts rucked up to under his armpits.
“I’m coming home.” Merlin said, licking his lips. “I’m. I’m coming home. Arthur. Arthur.” His voice cracked and he looked up at Gwaine helplessly. “He’s got me. It’s okay. I’m coming home. He’ll take care of me. It’ll be good. I’ll be good.”
Merlin rocked his head to the floor and Gwaine picked up the phone, riding high on instinct and low on judgement and pressed the speaker to his ear, not really listening. “I’m sending him home to you. The cab will be here in a bit.”
Arthur’s voice stuttered to a stop on the other end, there was a beat and Gwaine stroked an open palm down Merlin’s chest.
Gwaine heard it. He heard the way Arthur was listening, and he wasn’t going to push. He wasn’t going to drag out something best left in the dark, but there was something there. Gwaine pressed his thumb into Merlin’s mouth and set the phone aside on the ground, still active. If Arthur wanted to disconnect, he could.
“Don’t come.” Gwaine ordered, just loud enough to maybe, possibly be overheard, if someone wanted to hear it. “You need to save that up for later, don’t you.” He ran the heel of his hand over Merlin’s prick, enjoying the way pre-come just dribbled out steadily, smearing over his stomach, shiny and obvious. “I’m going to suck you down, and you need to stop me before you go off.”
Merlin let out a serious of meaningless fricatives, gutting himself like a candle and Gwaine unwrapped him a little, got his prick free but sorted out the rest of him, tugged his shirts down, fixed his jacket and his hair, before crawling back and pulling Merlin into his mouth. Merlin was too wrapped up in himself and Gwaine to move much, hands flopped against the floor and a high noise struggling out from his chest. “Gwaine. Gwaine. I need. I have to. Home. I have to.” Merlin mumbled and his legs kicked weakly. Gwaine squeezed the base of Merlin’s prick, kept the blood trapped up top and sucked hard. “Arthur’s waiting. I have to. I have to go. Arthur.” Merlin dropped his hands over his face. “Arthur needs to.”
Gwaine kept sucking and Merlin’s hips rolled up into his mouth and so Gwaine held them down with one hand, digging his fingers in to the bruises he’d already collected from the previous two rounds. He let up, letting the spit cool before sucking him down again, tongue undulating and Merlin helplessly kicked against the carpet. “Arthur.” Merlin tried again, and then after another few moments, “Gwaine, I have to. You need to stop. You said-“
Gwaine lifted off and rubbed Merlin’s hip. “You’re close? You have to hold onto it, otherwise you’ll be empty by the time you get home.”
Merlin sobbed, cock standing high and purple, balls heavy against the fly of his trousers pulsing, but he didn’t come. Gwaine rocked back, letting Merlin calm down and he picked up the mobile. He listened to the harsh noise of Arthur’s breathing and then settled it against Merlin’s ear. Merlin blinked fuzzily and mumbled “Arthur” again, before the honk of the cab outside the door gave him the impetus to tuck Merlin away again and help him up. He shut Merlin’s mobile and slipped it in his pocket along with the address of the pub, giving Merlin a kiss to the temple. “Let’s get you downstairs.”
Merlin kissed him hungrily before getting into the backseat of the cab, Gwaine paid the fare and gave the cabbie some extra to make sure Merlin got home safe and sound. Merlin stared from inside the cab, turning as it drove off slowly in the traffic. Gwaine shoved his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to do with himself, hyped up on power and hard in his trousers himself, head as empty as it’s ever been. He went back up to his flat, got to his room. He received a short phone call about two hours later saying Merlin got back and he doesn’t know what to say then, either, and the phone call was over before he could think of anything.
He won’t blame Merlin, later—when he’d come down and back to a saner frame of mind— when Merlin doesn’t ever stop by again. He won’t know what it’ll mean, won’t try and come up with any theories, and won’t tell any of the blokes. It. It wouldn’t be his business.
It was never any of his business.
“How best to prepare myself? With creamy
egg wash over my still unbaked body
rising too big for these confines? My war
paint over fluttering eyelashes and dry
lips, streaked pretty pink across
my cheeks to appeal to that dewy innocence
that cramped twin bed.
It left tangles in my hair, set fire to my under
growth and I walked proudly back to my
own hairbrush, smoothing back ringlets and rises
of fingers that were not yours. I will not be your blank
canvas, but leave
the whorls and depths
of my imperfections so your brush’s
fingerprints are that much more dear
than on the newly stretched nothing
of that wobbly wide-eyed I brushed aside.”
● “Brushwork” by Cynthia Lawrence found in Faux Fire: And Other Poems.
Arthur had come home after his first paycheque from his new, better paying job, with two pairs of expensive, padded, handcuffs. They had a built-in timer, a wireless panic button along with a set of physical keys. The timer could be set up to six hours; the panic button worked immediately, both pairs springing open. Merlin kept the keys on a chain around his neck, more for a symbolic gesture than anything.
Merlin wanted to be next to the phone, so Arthur took the panic button and tied it to the headboard, easily within the grasp of his hands, even if he had to do a bit of awkward fumbling to get it.
They were set for two hours, both of them with the handcuffs behind their backs, leashed to tie-points on the bed frame so they had to strain forward. Merlin liked the tug in his shoulders, the burn in his arms from the strain of leaning forward. They just had enough give to reach forward, kiss, just enough to rub tongues, to just barely lip at one another, a slow, steady, maddening tease. Merlin smiled at him, nudged his nose against Arthur’s, happy with the surprise. He loved surprises.
The toys weren’t enough. Of course they weren’t. It wasn’t what they really wanted. Arthur had smacked Merlin’s ass until it blared red, because it wasn’t like he couldn’t. The actual physical actions of dominating weren’t hard, he knew how to spank and use a paddle and a crop, he could hold Merlin down, and he could pinch and bite and scratch. That wasn’t hard; it was the whole instinct of it, the whole mentality. Arthur was always doing it because Merlin made up a story that gave Arthur a reason to. And he would, and Merlin would sort of get what he wanted, and Arthur would end kissing up Merlin’s spine afterwards, licking up the sweat and kissing his neck, wiping under his eyes, stroking over his cheekbones and wiping away the tears. And then Merlin would kiss him, four or five quick happy pecks, nuzzling up against Arthur. And Arthur could hold him, but he’d feel shaky and nervous the whole time, frantically worried that he was doing it wrong, that he was going to hurt him, that…that… And Merlin would just let him keep going, trying to prove how brave he was, and Arthur would keep trying to make sure he was happy and blissed out and good and Arthur was bone-deep terrified he was going to go too far, in some sort of horrible feedback loop.
“We have a soulbond.” Merlin would shrug, “I think you’ll notice if I don’t want you to do something.”
“There should still be verbal limits.” Arthur would reply, because he didn’t like leaving things nebulous.
Or Merlin would hover on all fours over Arthur’s face while Arthur sucked him off, lying passively underneath him. Well, not all fours, on his knees at least, the two of them holding hands until he was just about to go off and then he’d pull past Arthur’s wet, bitten, suck-thick lips and come on his face, crawl down and lie down on top of Arthur and whisper “Look who made a mess of himself.”
Arthur would wipe it out of his eyes and pant, cupping his hand over Merlin’s neck.
“Lick it up.” He’d say, and Merlin would.
So the toys weren’t what they wanted. But they helped. Made it feel a little more normal than if they got rid of the trapping entirely. If they tried it without anything then it felt a little too…weirdly animalistic.
Arthur pressed his forehead to Merlin’s.
“I love you too.” Merlin agreed, wrapping his legs around Arthur’s, rubbing his calf against Arthur’s knee.
They played with vibrators set on random, intervals changing, them on the bed curled up around each other, rubbing off against each other, Merlin holding on so tight and burying his nails into Arthur’s shoulders, Arthur’s hands tied behind Merlin’s back so neither of them would take off the cock rings and go too quickly, Merlin talking, talking, talking and getting them so deep in a story that everything was fine.
Arthur bit him, he’d scratch his nails down Merlin’s back, except they were blunt and just slipped down his skin, and he never bit very hard. Merlin wanted him to, but Arthur refused. “Do you know what kind of diseases are in the human mouth?”
“I know, I know I just…” Merlin buried his face into Arthur’s shoulder. “Please. Please.”
“I know.” Arthur said back. Arthur squeezed Merlin’s calf between his legs. “I could try and teach you any kind of contact sport “
Merlin shuddered, hips jerking against Arthur’s thigh.
“Remember how that felt? You were bruised and sore in the morning, because I kept slamming you into the ground. That was good, right?”
“Yes.” Merlin said pressing harder against Arthur’s hip. “Oh please, yes.”
“I want to touch you.” Arthur whispered, hands flexing behind him, “I just…”
“You can’t.” Merlin reached and Arthur pulled away and Merlin licked his lips. “Kiss me, come on. Please.”
“No,” Arthur said, flushing, and Merlin laughed. They rubbed off on each other like that, giving and denying kisses, Merlin reaching forward and Arthur pulling back, then Arthur surging forward and kissing him as hard as he could, gasping into Merlin’s mouth as they moved, Merlin fingers twitching behind him.
Once the timer hit zero, the handcuffs just sprang open. Perfect. Arthur pushed Merlin down, because he liked to protect and Merlin liked to be covered. Except then Merlin would wrap around him like a clinging vine and they rolled so Arthur was on his back, supporting him, because that worked too. Merlin thighs tight around Arthur’s hips, kissing under his chin as they thrust and Merlin finished first—he always did, it was just one of those things—and he lay there, tangling a hand around Arthur’s cock and his knuckles smearing the come on Arthur’s stomach. “I’m not even going to let you wash it off.” Merlin mumbled, nuzzling Arthur’s neck. ‘Just going to leave it there until it’s dried and flaky and itchy and you’ll love it.”
It wasn’t the same as what they wanted. But they were trying.
Loki and Sigyn
Ragnarök is still far off yet, my loves. Loki is tied, deep in the dark, by the entrails of one of his sons, his wife catching the venom of Skaði’s snake, mourning each time the liquid falls into the eyes of her chosen beloved, causing all that is and was and could be to shudder and shake and wonder...will it be this time? Will it be this time that he snaps free and closes all that has been and will be and has yet to never come?
Ah. Yes. Chosen.
Loki, father of Hel, father of Fenir, father of Jörmungandr, father of Nari (or Narfi), sometimes-father to Váli and mother to Sleipnir, is known to many as a creature of tricks, of insults and wit, who will bring doom to the gods as a sleight-of-hand for offering aid. Unlike Odin and Frigg, whose love was destined and written in their bones before they could ever be, Loki was without bondmate or soulmate, and no one’s name was written upon his ribs, him being of equal nature and gender, and a creature of both decisions. So it was that Loki had many sorts of children, who carried monstrous natures, because his nature demanded he obey some, such as the female jötunn Angrboða, to whom he gave his service, when it suited him best.
But there he lies, tied to rocks and protected—as much as she can protect—from the wrathful punishment that has been bestowed upon him, until such a time as he slips his bonds. How came such a union? She was not twice souled, so she, somewhere has a proper bondmate, a man or woman to whom she should obey with all of her being.
And so it was that Sigyn was a proper daughter, with a name scripted upon her ribs, and the feelings of another heart bumping against her own, and it was thus that she waited, most faithfully, for such a time as when her beloved would arrive and they would be married.
Loki is a creature of many natures, but still a creature of desire. Some called him “of fire”, and it is to him that we owe the end of all things, and to no other. And it so happened that there was a day where, perhaps, Loki desired Sigyn. Or a day where, perhaps, he desired simply to cause deceit or harm. Perhaps he merely wished to know what it was that he could do, and so set his course. Do not, my loves, presume to know what a creature of many natures thinks, for that is not known even to them all at once.
Loki was amusing himself when he saw a thick strand of destiny. Presumably he sees many such things and does nothing to any of them. Or, perhaps, this was his first and he felt compelled to his mischief. Perhaps he would have left it alone on another day. Perhaps he would never have seen it at all.
But as it was, he saw what it is that joins two souls and did not leave it to its’ rest. On one end of the rope stood a handsome, striking dom, and upon the other stood a lovely, dutiful sub. Both were of their own merits and Loki, being a creature of many natures, did not know which he desired, or he wished both. He gave his submission to his monstrous dom lover, when it suited him, but equally he took his right with others as it pleased.
For one reason, as clear as coin’s choice as it still flips in the air, or another, Loki turned his eyes to Sigyn. He cut a hole through himself, tearing out the muscle and bone, leaving them as they lay and laced the rope through him, looping it around his rib and slicing through it, letting the dom’s end shudder and die, nourishing the remainder with his blood and power—for all it did not connect to him truly, (for the soil of his soul was not rich enough for roots) it did knot to his bone, clinging to what nourishment that it might have.
It was not, my loves, a true bond, for her name did not appear on his ribs, nor did her heart begin to beat with his, but he could feel her through the cord and could make her believe she felt him, plucking the cord as if it were an instrument. It is by this way, though Sigyn felt a terrible pain in her heart, it soon settled as if it had never been, soothing her with the fine trembling of love and ownership, and if it felt different than it had, Sigyn soon put herself at ease knowing that it remained.
Loki, sewing his skin shut around the cord so it would not close entirely and cut the bond, journeyed to her Protector’s house in order to keep her and have her as his own.
“If what you want is more discipline I can make sure you get that,” Aunt Rebecca had said, sitting in his room (his room), having followed him up there after Arthur had been done with their conversation. “We can send you to school that will monitor you more closely. If you don’t want to talk to Dr. Whitman we’ll just let them put you to rights.”
“I’m not going to go to boarding school.” Arthur grit through his teeth. “I am fine. Just leave me alone.”
“I’m not going to leave you alone.” Aunt Rebecca crossed her arms and stood in front of the door. “You need to learn how to behave in society. We coddled you long enough. You keep acting out and that tells me you need to learn your boundaries. So, either you talk to Dr. Whitman, or you can expect us to start making calls. No more telly, no more computer, and you can just say goodbye to your friends here.”
Arthur went cold and his throat tensed up. He wasn’t going to go. He wasn’t.
“Your behaviour is unacceptable, and if you think that anyone in the real world is going to care a lick why, you are sadly mistaken. No one is going to care that your parents died, all they’re going to see is that you are out of control. And don’t for one moment think that if you end up in prison your uncle and I are going to do anything about it.”
“I won’t be, because the second I get out of this house and away from you, I’ll be fine.” Arthur didn’t yell. He didn’t yell. His throat was tight and he wasn’t going to cry. “You’ve made it very clear that you don’t want me, so once I’m gone you won’t need to hear from me again. So how about we just don’t talk until I do.”
“Well, I’m the one who needs to listen to your teachers, and explain your behaviour. Your actions reflect on this family.”
“So I’ll just run away and you won’t have to deal with me.”
“And what? Become a prostitute? You’ll be dead in months. You are not running away and you aren’t going to ignore this. You have a problem and I’m not leaving until you admit it and talk to Dr. Whitman.”
It was one of those arguments that never was going to go anywhere, with two people digging in their heels. Especially as Arthur couldn’t escape and Arthur’s aunt had no intention of backing down. The sort of argument where threats escalated and Arthur started to hear a buzzing in his ears. He couldn’t win, because he couldn’t argue his way out of it, and if he lost his temper then that was just more proof he was mental. He couldn’t leave, because that was just avoiding the problem. He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t. When you cried people insulted you for not being rational. He’d tried leaving. He had. He had tried leaving and now it was just...
He didn’t want to be here anymore with his aunt listing every single one of his faults- but then she mentioned Uther, so he threw his water glass across the room. When his aunt jumped out of the way, he pushed out the door and down the stairs. He didn’t grab his shoes, or his jacket; he just got out of there. And he ran.
“So wait, is this a universe were submissives are automatically bought and sold, or is this a debt indentured servant thing again?” Arthur asked as Merlin drafted the plot in the air with his hands. “Or are they bred for it? Because I’d like one where dominants are sold too, because you can’t tell me rich subs don’t want a bit of rough.”
“Damn that gets meta.” Merlin noted. “I like it. I’m making a note for later. We already did robots, and that was fun, and genetically designed companions, but not where we buy the top, so maybe later.” Merlin placed his fingers in front of his mouth and considered their options. “I suppose it could be a bit of a classism thing, where parents of lower classes sell their children when things get too tough. Or, or-” Merlin interrupted himself. “Because of all this nonsense with America outlawing hormonal birth control, because sex should just be between soulmates and what have you, there’re all these unwanted children and instead of an adoption system, unwanted children go into The System. And they aren’t all brought up as companions, but that adds a lot of political weight to the whole scenario.” Merlin made a face. You could only have so much societal commentary in a scene before it turned into a meta discussion and nobody got off.
“It really does.” Arthur agreed. “The robots one was good because we were just robots, but then it was weird, because we were robots. I like the robots one better in writing when it’s not us.”
“Robots in love are the best things.” Merlin chewed on his lower lip and stared up at the ceiling. “Aliens?”
“Yes, but then we’ll spend all day scripting the alien culture, unless we steal wholesale from someone else, and then we spend all day nit-picking sci fi shows.”
“Right. But once we figured it out it would be amazing, because if the aliens are the ones who regulate their submissives, because, I don’t know, sex hormones, then it’s less political. But then if Master is also an alien, things get taken as read and that just gets confusing again. Like with the robots.”
“We could go for historical again. Conquering King subjugating the bratty but handsome Prince and his noble, adorable whipping boy.”
“Why are you always handsome and I’m always adorable?” Merlin pressed his face into Arthur’s stomach and bit at him. “I mean, that’s always fun, but then we don’t get to use any of the toys, which seems a shame, because we spent money on those. Oh! Oh, I know.” Merlin slid up and curled in close. “I have it perfect. Alright, we’re us. We’re the two of us, basically, and we need money.”
“Sounds realistic thus far.” Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin’s waist, because Merlin was warm and no one could see them.
“And selling yourself as a submissive isn’t quite as entirely skeevy. I mean. A little skeevy, yes, but not totally skeevy, due to reconstruction of societal mores and whatnot and we find some rich sugar daddy who likes both of us and offers to pay us to be his subs. And there aren’t any soulbonds or anything, people just…fall in love, and we’re in love.”
Arthur cupped his hand around Merlin’s waist. “So we just fell in love?”
“There was a lot of distress and pining and whatnot, but we’re past that, I think. Or, or, we’re really good friends who are in love and work together and don’t say anything. Or that’s our shtick. We work for this super classy escort service, or at least expensive, and that’s our thing. Our thing is we’re two subs and we’re kind of in love and people get into that. And we are in love, but it’s better if people think it’s just pretend. So we get to be some rich dom’s pet boys and we get to kiss and cuddle and adore all over each other and get paid for it.”
“We’re very clever hookers.” Arthur rubbed Merlin’s back and grabbed one of the pillows to wedge between one of Merlin’s many bony places and one of Arthur’s tender ones, because bruises should be on purpose and discussed beforehand. Merlin fidgeted and played drums on his thighs like he always did when he was on a roll.
“And so Master comes in and sees us and we play a few times, and he’s probably played by Robert Downey Jr. in my head and yep, yep that got in there. Can’t be changed.”
“Really, you can see him playing a top after Iron Man, really?” Even though Marvel claimed all their heroes were doms except for the doms’ sexy sub fiancées, who were also, occasionally, superheroes, because no. No. If Tony wasn’t constantly begging for love and affection and control and attention then Arthur was natural redhead.
“Can’t be changed.” Merlin intoned. “Anyways, and after he keeps coming back a few times because we’re awesome and hot, he decides to put us on contract, and he’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but one steady client is easier than more-than-one and he gets us this big soft mat that we fall asleep on at the end of the day, and sometimes he holds us both afterwards and we can’t do anything, because we’d wake him up, but we can’t stop kissing or touching because. Well.” Merlin shrugged and cupped one of his hands around Arthur’s neck and nuzzles in closer. “And he doesn’t mind that.”
“So just a bit of asshole?”
Merlin grinned and nuzzled into Arthur’s neck. “You like rich, entitled assholes who look like famous actors. Don’t pretend. And so we live in his house and he has rules in the contract about how much we can touch. Like. Not how much, I guess, because he likes the way we flop all over each other and that, but what ways we can touch.”
“Chastity devices?” Arthur settled his hand under Merlin’s shirt, curling it around to the divot of his natural waist, nosing at Merlin’s hair. “We need to invest in some of those considering how much they turn you on.”
Merlin nodded against his chest and rubbed his palms over Arthur’s shoulders. “But we need to save up so we can get good ones, because I don’t want to cripple my prick with some cheap shit.” Merlin sighed. “At least the fucking machine works.”
They’d made it. They were quite proud.
“What’s the name of this one?”
“I don’t know yet.” Merlin tapped his fingers against the back of the sofa. “Graham, maybe? No, that was someone in my lessons. Erik? No, Erik Howler is the hipster spider I made a tumblr for. Ronald, Fred, Peter, Robert—no, that gets weird— Gregory, Howard, Daniel, Quince, Cecil, Joseph, Patrick, Loren, Baxter! Baxter? Baxter. Baxter? His name is Johan Baxter and everyone calls him Baxter except his mother and he plays tennis but hates it, but he had to take lessons for most of his childhood, and so he might as well and he owns six nice suits and nine very nice sports jackets, even though he doesn’t need them for work, but he liked the way the sales associate smiled at him when he came in, like she remembered him, even though he knew she didn’t really, and he always let her pick out the shirts and ties even though he had plenty because she just looked so happy, until he came in and found out she wasn’t working there anymore, but he’s grown to love the way he looks in charcoal pinstripe.”
Like all of the back stories Merlin made up it came tumbling out of him in a rush and then he hopped up to get a file folder so he could work on Johan Baxter’s file, which would include things about tennis and menswear, as well as what he liked and didn’t, how much he was paying them, and what he did for a living.
They had a locked file cabinet for the people they made up to own them, Anderson, Lydia (mechanical engineer who’d taken two prototypes home to monitor their behaviour in a structured environment, wearer of jeans a bit too big and fell down her hips and tank-tops that never quite covered her torso which caused her some degree of frustration, but at work she wore coveralls, so who really cared what she did at home? She, the drinker of novelty beers and maker of a damn good artichoke dip, scientifically interested and artistically motivated, loving in the same way anyone loves their best and most brilliant toys.) would now be followed by Baxter, Johan, instead of Curtis (asexual but not adynamic vampire who captured them both and decided he liked them in his own way, refusing thus far to either kill them or let them go, used to work in silent films and lived a scavenger lifestyle of thrift store cast-offs rather than leather or silk, living in converted and abandoned real estates and plucking furniture from where ever he pleased, nesting like a magpie and off-handedly cruel as frequently as he was awkwardly kind.)
Each file folder was layered with a typed up dossier and then littered with scribbled napkins and sketchbook pages, magazine collages and fabric or paint samples, extra typed pages filtering in as this or that developed, each one as lovingly maintained as any of the rest of their toys. They kept it clean and organised and occasionally flipped through when they were both a little drunk and in the mood for it, Arthur’s head on Merlin’s stomach as he read the dossier out loud and they edited, or added.
Merlin’s hands trailed down to Arthur’s right arm, picking it up and Arthur just watched as Merlin’s thumbs worked at the strained and tense tendon in his forearm. “So, let’s say we’ve been living with Baxter awhile. We’re just pet boys, he’s got help for cleaning and he orders in for food. So our entire job is to just be good and pretty for him, and I study in his giant Beauty and the Beast library, and we read aloud and do whatever during the day when he’s off doing whatever it is rich people do.”
“Business.” Arthur relaxed as Merlin smoothed out the thick, angry pain of his arms and moved up to the cramped muscle of his palms, the increase blood flow making his fingers tingle.
“Rich people business things,” Merlin worked at the meat of Arthur’s thumb and Arthur trailed his nails over the curve of Merlin’s ribs. “And sometimes he’s gone for days, and calls us to make sure you’re getting your thorough daily fucking with the machine.”
“Why don’t you need one?”
Merlin started at the tip of Arthur’s pointer finger and slowly massaged his way down to the second knuckle. “I’m easy, but you. You always take so long to go under, so he’s training you up to sufficient sluttiness. Until you get cranky and angry without your daily hour of it.”
Arthur’s breath caught and Merlin started in on Arthur’s middle finger, working down and careful to keep his fingers from straying.
“And in support, I go in and help you.” Merlin worked his way back up Arthur’s hand and then caressed down the sides, over his wrist and back over the top, stroking his fingertips up Arthur’s pinkie (bent at an odd angle from a fight, but that didn’t need thinking on).
Arthur tucked his face against the top of Merlin’s head and pulled him close, hand trailing upwards to under his arm, back down again, breathing in with as much measured calmness as he can.
“But he likes how much we like each other, even when he figures out it’s not an act. And he doesn’t mind. Doesn’t make fun of us, and doesn’t try and split us up. When he brings us along we both go, and we always get to sleep together, and he’s always on the right, and you’re on the left and I’m in the middle.”
He touches the top of Arthur’s ring finger and Arthur is trying very hard not to thrust up against Merlin’s arse, trying, also, not to beg, or to whimper or to buck up and fight it off, because Merlin’s need to do the same is curled up tight inside Arthur’s head and it’s always. It’s always strange, when one of them begs the other and they can feel that need bouncing back right to them. “He ties us up so we can just reach each other to kiss and we do and I get to watch when he canes you.” Merlin thumb presses right up against the base of his ring finger, right into the nerve cluster and he does thrust up, and their arousal is all tangled up together. Arthur grabs for Merlin’s hand and grips hard, Merlin’s breath gusting out of him, right over Arthur’s neck.
Merlin feels closer to him than his own lungs, their every thought an feeling mirroring back towards the other until they’re not even really two people, just one big mess of neurons and skin and Arthur can feel the way Merlin thrusts up against his stomach, the hard press of it and the soft give of his own belly, the harsh bite of Merlin’s zip.
“He’s tired from travelling, a lot. He’ll come home jet lagged and exhausted and he’ll just sit, sit right over there and tell us to give his eyes a rest.”
“Does he tell us what to do?”
Merlin nods, trying to catch his breath. “Sometimes. He’ll tell you to press me down. He’ll tell me to bite your neck. He knows us. He doesn’t interrupt and we can just. Right on the couch. We can just. And he loves it.”
“And you’re happy?” Arthur asks. “We’re happy?”
“We’re so fucking happy.” Merlin squeezes his hands and whines. He clearly he wants Arthur to hold him down, his neck is arched and his mouth is open and so Arthur takes him to the second bedroom—
And Arthur wasn’t jealous. One of them needed to keep their head, and, for the most part, he acted well enough. Mostly they get Merlin to do the things one really should be high on trust and adoration for. But Baxter wasn’t....satisfied with Arthur pretending or Arthur acting as a support role. He never had been. He had never blamed Arthur either, thankfully, because it wasn’t Arthur’s fault he’s sub-on-hard-mode. It was not. Baxter sometimes blamed their...lifestyle choice. Baxter sometimes sits over them and stares at Arthur, like he could detangle all those knots Arthur’s made of, if only he could find a single, loose end at which to start. But he had never once blamed Arthur, or himself. He just... kept trying.
Merlin squirmed up under Arthur and ruffled his hair. “Don’t look so grumpy. Do you want to be on your front or your back or what? He says we can switch, but it needs to be the full hour.”
“He’s setting me up to have extremely high expectations of his stamina.” Arthur grumbled, but rolled onto his back and lifted up as Merlin tucked a pillow under his hips. He liked being on his hands and knees better, he didn’t like so much of his chest on display, but it was just Merlin and Merlin had seen it before.
“He also said I can only use two fingers today and not to go overboard on the foreplay and take advantage,” Merlin sighed and rested his chin on Arthur’s stomach,, one of his legs hooked under Arthur’s. “So try to focus on relaxing, please.”
Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and fidgeted. Some days he was turned on and some days he wasn’t, but that second one was getting less and less frequent. He had to let the machine fuck him anyways and he was getting used to it. It was usually around the same time, and just like he got hungry before lunch, or sleepy before bed, his stomach would twist right around this time of day. Merlin stared at him and rubbed his fingers against his arse, dipping them in slowly.
Arthur was terrible at going down, and he wasn’t going to today either, and he only got to come when he properly let go and stopped caring if he got to (which was counter intuitive, really), so his balls felt overly full and he sort of wanted to take his dick out back and have a talk about setting itself up for disappointment.
“Hey, it’s just me.” Merlin rubbed at Arthur’s hip. “I’ve seen it all already. I think they’re badass. The machine doesn’t have eyes. It does not judge. It is a machine.”
“Baxter never asks.”
Arthur turned his head and Merlin slipped up his body and kissed his neck, his jaw, and his ear. “About any of them. He hasn’t asked you, has he?”
Merlin shook his head and kept pushing his fingers in and out of Arthur. “You can only really see these ones,” he traces over the worst few scars, “the other ones you could see better when we were younger, but they’ve all faded out now. Sunlight and time. They got all stretched out and skinny because you’ve grown.”
Arthur rolled his hips up into Merlin’s fingers, so Merlin pulled them out and put the machine in place, slipping a condom on it and then nudging the head up against the ring of Arthur’s hole. “Ready?”
“Let’s just get this over with. Start the timer.”
Merlin did as he slid the head in and started the machine.
It was on a slow, steady pace, deceptively quiet and it took some awkward shifting and positioning before it slid in and out as fluidly as they would like. Arthur let his hips fall open and Merlin curled up in next to him and kept his hands above Arthur’s navel and off his own prick, because he was only allowed to get off by himself if he put on nipple clips. Baxter wanted Merlin to work on his pain tolerance and Merlin’s nipples are, and always have been, a ripe and ready target. Arthur could take a great deal, even liked to, mostly. He needed to be tied down for it, because otherwise “but I want this to be happening” gets lost in translation to his body. He also just liked the smell of rope, liked watching the knots being formed, liked...liked having skill up next to his skin. He just hated how he couldn’t move right up until he liked it for the same reason.
The machine was reliably relentless. They could vary the pace, to some degree. It could go faster or slower, but this setting was the one they’d discovered was most effective. Fast enough for Arthur to feel it— for there to be enough friction and heat—but not so fast that it would leave him swollen and sore for it the next day. Baxter hated, above all, for them to be hurt due to negligence.
Merlin was warm beside him, fingers sliding over Arthur’s nipple, cheeks pink, lips chapped, and Arthur turned until he could catch Merlin by the mouth, pulled until Merlin was half on top of him and Merlin went easily, even when Arthur started pushing back up against the machine. Fifteen minutes in, he was sweating from holding still and getting frustrated.
“I…I can’t-” He growled.
“It’s not about that.” Merlin tangled their fingers together, something they did in secret, in private, when Baxter couldn’t see. “Just let what happens happen. He just wants you to feel it. Relax. It’s about relaxing.”
“I should be able to.” Arthur got frustrated with himself. With…everything, really, because he wanted to. He wanted to be good, he did. He wanted someone to see him and know he was trying and he just couldn’t, most of the time. It’s not even subspace, that’s beyond him, if it exists, really, at all. He’d given up on that. Just. Just to get into a decent headspace, really. To get into a place, mentally, when he isn’t pushing back because he has to because…
“Hey, hey, it’s fine. It’s just us. No one here but us chickens.” Merlin smiled and he’s a calming influence, he sat heavy on Arthur’s chest and Arthur rubbed his hands over Merlin’s arms, his neck, his scalp because he isn’t going to go down, but he feels better for having Merlin there and—
Still, he got hard, which is something, and at the end of the hour he and Merlin are both turned on and tangled and confused, gripping on tight to one another and quietly—quietly, quietly—rubbed up against one another, so close together that it didn’t count, it didn’t count, it didn’t count if you didn’t make a sound. It didn’t count if they got close enough that no one could tell them apart. It didn’t count if they were asleep. It didn’t count if they were in the second bedroom. It didn’t count if it was just a game. They weren’t broken, because it didn’t count.
Sigyn awoke in the night with an astonishing heat, having gone to her chaste bed alone, as was her custom. Her body felt as if an earthquake, shuddering. Her body felt as if a fire, consuming. Her body felt as if on an anvil, beaten and glowing. And in her head, as if next to her ear, the words come my love, for I am here, and I am me.
Never before had she heard the words of her dearheart, but the order was inescapable, and so it was that she left her Protector’s house and entered the night, barren and new, as a deer taking its’ first steps upon the grass. The air trembled and she bowed her head, waiting for her dominant to come and claim her, feeling him come ever closer, though not knowing how she knew his sex.
Kneel before me, my love. For I am here, and I am me. The voice echoes down from deep inside her, and though she was afraid—for she’d never heard of a bond with words—she fell into her most worshipful prostration and felt as if the ocean itself could not contain her joy when the fingers of her dearest landed atop her head. “I have found you at last,” he spoke, “and we shall never again be parted. We will be away.”
“Will you not ask your price from my Protector?” She asked and did not raise her eyes, instead loving dearly the sight of her dearest’s feet, pressing her fingers neatly to his toes.
“I require no possession but for you. We will be away.”
“Will you not wed me as is proper?” She asked and did not raise her eyes, instead loving, completely, the smell of him, as fierce as smoke but pleasant as homecoming.
“I require no one’s approval or sanction to take what is rightfully mine. And you, no one’s but mine. We will be away.”
“Will you not allow me to say goodbye to those who have sheltered and protected me, all in wait of you, my love?” She asked, and did not raise her eyes, instead loving the stroke of his voice, strong as mountains and deep as rivers.
At this he was silent and he helped her to her feet, and she did not raise her eyes. “So it shall be. We will have a single day and no more, and then we will be away.”
She was filled with joy and thus they returned to her Protector’s house, and he lay with her as a husband lay with his wife, though they were not married. She gave him her submission, and he took it with ferocity, subsuming her self, remaking her into a shrine to his power. If she felt anything was wrong, she decided it to be the sorrow she felt over her need to leave her family.
When they awoke she looked upon the face of her love and saw him for who he was, because he had done nothing to disguise himself.
“You have tricked me.” She said and he opened his eyes, staring into her, and he smiled.
“You are of two natures,” she said. “Your soul cannot be tied to mine, because your soul is complete unto itself. Free me of this farce and give me back my other self.”
Loki disrobed and knelt in front of her, out of spite perhaps, or to let his being melt more fully into her knowledge. Do not guess at the aims of madmen, my loves, for you will simply turn yourselves into them. He showed her the knotty rose of flesh where the cord that tied them together had burned into his being. “Would you carve it out of me? The other is dead, the bond severed and he was no more.”
“This is unnatural.” She protested, covering herself for the first time and turning away, for though she believed her words, the love she felt would not be quenched. “There is no room for me, in you. I will be crushed. You have killed the one who was for me. I cannot forgive you.”
And at this she fled.
Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Tristan did not take the news of his gender orientation well.
“What?” Aunt Rebecca had asked and Uncle Tristan had just sort of frozen and stared at him over his bowl of heart-healthy cereal. Arthur hadn’t even particularly felt like telling them either. But he knew and he could feel it in his bones, and it was just a matter of time before everyone else could just tell, and he didn’t want to walk in one day and have them demand to know why he hadn’t even told them.
“Are you sure?” She tried after a moment, and Arthur frowned, spoon stuck in the same heart healthy cereal as his uncle, because good sense knew that his aunt wasn’t going to buy two kinds of cereal, that was just madness. “I mean.”
“You like sports, you have a large group of friends, and you’re very assertive.” Uncle Tristan frowned a bit harder, like assertive was a curse word. But it wasn’t like you could just disagree about someone’s orientation. It was what it was. “Is this about Merlin?”
“If you’re lying we’ll find out about it soon enough, and you and Merlin can still be friends even if you are a dominant.” Like she hadn’t just yesterday been giving Arthur a tacit speech about how people grow up and develop separate interests and maybe it was time for him to expand his horizons. “It’s just. You’re not terrifically.” She cleared her throat. “We’ve just been operating under a few expectations and this is. Well. It’s a paradigm shift.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be on a sports team with a group of newly oriented dominants.” His uncle ground out, because that was the issue at play here. That. That was the issue.
Arthur felt his face heating and he gripped his spoon. “I’m not quitting footie just because you decided I should. I’m not a dominant, so what.”
“Well. Your behaviours and attitudes did align you more closely with a pre-gender orientation of dominant. So we just. But this is good. We’re happy for you.” She said, suddenly, like she was remembering that she was supposed to be.
“Yes.” His uncle said and then continued to stare at him like Arthur was just some random stranger who decided to eat breakfast with them and they were simply too polite to mention it.
When Merlin had told his mum she’d just ruffled his hair and told him good job on growing up, and they’d gone out for dinner. Merlin had even identified early and his mum hadn’t even batted an eye, and Arthur was a year later than average so it wasn’t like he hadn’t given himself time to be sure or anything.
“You’ve always just been so. Independent. We thought.” She cleared her throat. “Are you certain? You don’t have to rush it. Just because you missed the average doesn’t mean you have to force anything, plenty of young adults take until they’re thirteen or even fourteen to find themselves. I hope you don’t think we’re pressuring you.”
Arthur clenched his teeth, pulse thundering down in his stomach and it was either leave or throw the dishes again because they weren’t even giving him a chance to talk, and it wasn’t his fault they’d gone and decided he was going to be a rich, married dom in a socially acceptable and profitable field who graduated with top honours even though he had just-passing marks. And it wasn’t even that they were pressuring him to succeed, they just ignored him and talked about his future like it belonged to somebody else who they liked more. Some sort of fictional Arthur that only existed when real Arthur wasn’t around to see him.
“Maybe you should take some time to think this through before announcing it legally.” His uncle had cautioned and Arthur had gotten up and gone to steal Merlin away. He’d physically recognise soon enough, and then they wouldn’t be able to say he was a liar just because they’d decided to raise him the way they did. Not every sub was…well. Merlin.
“Mom said she figured I was a sub since basically forever, but she also said she hated the way people forced gender stereotypes on their kids so she’s let my interests have free range.” Merlin had told Arthur at one point or another. “Her parents really forced it on her, so you know, all the dolls and stuff and she had to wear dresses all the time and if she got too loud they sent her to her room, but that was bullshit so she wasn’t raising any kid of hers that way, no sir. Some people would say I’m just a sub because I didn’t have a strong dominant influence, but plenty of single parents raise oppositely gendered kids, so, you know, stuff that where the sun don’t shine.”
So Arthur grabbed Merlin and Merlin’s coat (because Merlin was a skeleton who had no ability to regulate his own temperature) and Merlin showed him another one of his million-and-six-places-no-one-else-knows. They hid in a car that had been abandoned so long a tree grew through it. Merlin had somehow moved a bench into it and they hadn’t said anything for a while, sitting there, Arthur laying with his head pillowed on Merlin’s lap, looking up at the leaves through the rusted out roof of the car. Merlin tinkered with his CD player and eventually got it playing loud enough for them to hear the music— tinny and echoing— coming from the cheap earphones resting on Arthur’s chest, the heavy weight of the vibrating CD player resting on his stomach like a living thing, Arthur completely not caring that he was skipping school, and Merlin not having school because they were supposed to be home and working on their projects. Merlin’s was something about ground up crab shells being good for burn victims because something, something, something, so he put it on plants to see if it held water in and sped healing and apparently it did very well and he and Arthur had been hacking away at the research report. Or shrimp shells. Some sort of edible crustacean, but Arthur had mostly been working on the graphs. Merlin was terrible with Excel.
“I think they’re just upset that I didn’t just do what they wanted because it was convenient,” Arthur said at last after the CD player had run out of batteries and they’d listened to all 50.03 minutes of Lynn Harrel and Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Beethoven’s 1st and 2nd cello sonatas (sonatas 3-5 were on the second CD which had been broken, as CDs tended to do, especially in Merlin’s room. Merlin strongly believed in messes).
“It’s not even like your uncle is a really bottom-y sub either.” Merlin agreed, tucking himself deeper into his coat.
Arthur sighed and pressed his face into Merlin’s stomach. “I don’t even know why they care. It’s not like we talk or anything. It’s not like it affects them. I’m just me either way. But they just decided it one day so it has to be true.”
“They also decided where you’re going to university and what you’re going to major in.” Merlin agreed and Arthur was still angry about that conversation because he was 12, who even cared about uni right now, and he didn’t want more years of school, school was rubbish. Everything about going to school was horrible, because his teachers could lecture all they wanted about the different kind of currents and electricity and whatever for two weeks and it wouldn’t sink in, but Merlin showed him how that broke down in a single afternoon and everything was fine, mostly because Merlin commented on how awesome Tesla was and how much a giant flaming failure of human being Edison was, and that helped things stick in his head better.
When he got home he was in for a lecture, but until then they were in a slight gap in time and space, and that was the best you could ever reasonably expect.
Merlin’s birthday was a thing that happened. It used to be that they’d skip school, provided Merlin’s birthday didn’t land on a weekend already, and they would ramble about, spending all their pocket money on food and then clambering over to one of Merlin’s spots to hide out for the day, reading and adventuring. These days Arthur made him a present, they stayed in all day, they watched movies, they bought a cake from somewhere and ate it all themselves, along with Merlin’s Very Special Mum Care package, and maybe they might have sex and maybe they wouldn’t. But it would be a day to flop all over each other, lock the door, disconnect the phone (after calling Merlin’s mum) and not have any kind of celebration until after a full 24 hours of being attached at the hip and drunk off it were over.
But Arthur’s birthday was an event, produced, directed by, and starring Merlin. Merlin took Arthur’s birthday extremely seriously.
“Come on, come on come on come on-” Merlin tugged on Arthur’s arm. “It’ll be fun. I absolutely guarantee you will have fun. If I sense you are not having fun I will be there and make fun happen.” Merlin futzed with Arthur’s hair a bit more and then leaned in for a quick kiss. “It’s just a house party. Not a club, the music won’t be ridiculously loud, they’ll be nice people, decent food, and we can go the second you want to.”
Arthur had woken up to Merlin sitting on his hips and holding a mug of the best coffee in walking distance and the best breakfast available for carryout (which were not, unfortunately, available from the same location). Arthur had yawned and pulled Merlin down, putting the container of somehow-still-warm Eggs Benedict on his stomach, letting Merlin stuff pillows behind his back, the two of them sharing bites of flaky-warm roll topped with thick, juicy pieces of fried ham and tangy-perfect hollandaise covered-poached eggs between sips of coffee and crispy-flaky nibbles of warm bacon.
And now they were going to a house party, because Arthur’s aunt and uncle had somehow gotten it into his head that it wasn’t really a birthday if you didn’t go out and do something, even if you didn’t really want to. Especially as Merlin had actually cleaned the living room so they could make a fort in the center, curled up and marathoning disturbingly graphic crime procedural shows for seven hours while switching between eating brownie batter and cookie dough. Cooking things were for tossers who didn’t suspect the oven smelled like gas every time they turned it on.
They were highly suspicious of that oven.
“Come on. We’ll dance, we’ll eat too much guacamole, we’ll drink too much and sit on the couch and talk about embarrassing things too loudly, and no one will mind if we cuddle too much because we always cuddle too much and we’ll be drunk.”
Merlin figured that most people would put any of their slip-ups down to subs being affectionate and he was purposefully friendly with everyone in their circle of friends so that no one could call him on it when he nuzzled Arthur for a space too long.
He’d once spent an entire evening with his face in Freya’s cleavage, with the explanation of: “My laurels, I shall rest them here. I shall make a mighty laurel kingdom, here.” And she just drank around him, so Arthur figured that any slip-ups could be attributed to Merlin being a baby koala of cuddling.
“Woe upon ye,” Merlin had declared once, latching onto Leon’s back, “for you have awakened my marsupial rage, and for this you must carry me the next block.”
“I honestly hadn’t noticed you were there until you announced yourself.” Leon had replied. Which may have actually been the same night as the cleavage incident. The thing with Merlin putting upon ridiculously affectionate behaviour on top of his natural ridiculousness is that he had a tendency to go to certain extremes. So it was Arthur’s job to rein him back, reel him in, and settle him down, hopefully before someone decided that Merlin’s overt and militarized friendliness was an indication of interest.
This duty of stealing Merlin away from doms coincided nicely with the limping and confused possessiveness crawling in the back of his skull like Gollum. It knew it wanted the Precious. It didn’t know what it wanted to do with the Precious, but by God, it wanted. Arthur knew Merlin was his, he was entirely and fully secure that Merlin belonged to him, that Merlin would always come back to him, and part of him relished this fact like it was the last food in a shipwreck. And the rest of him felt like he couldn’t really claim Merlin because he couldn’t be what Merlin needed in terms of...bedroom things.
And then he had to take a drink because, thus far, Gollum/Ring was probably the closest literary equivalent to their current relationship.
“Which one of us is the deformed hobbit and which one of us is the mega weapon designed for the complete destruction of all that is good and happy in the world?” Merlin had asked when Arthur had mentioned it, the two of them home for the evening and spending time together by doing entirely separate activities in the same space. “And who’s Sauron? Because that’s information I need to know, since he gets you all tortured, and if he wears me the world ends.”
“No, the possessive voice in the back of my head is the deformed hobbit, and you’re the symbol of all that is evil and foul in the world, and it just wants to touch you all over.”
“So what are you, then?”
“A cave system, apparently.”
“Does Smaug-voiced-by-Benedict-Cumberbatch live in you too? Cause I could get on that. Except then Martin Freeman steals me away, and while I like him, he’s married.” Merlin had handed over the tub of ice cream so Arthur could eat while Merlin read his research aloud, Arthur eating ice cream and going over his carefully maintained inventory to see if he could make something out of the odds and ends of bigger projects.
Merlin tugged on Arthur’s arm again and Arthur shoved his hand in Merlin’s face as Merlin leaned back to avoid it. “Stop tugging me. I’ll move as fast as I want.”
Arthur had allowed Merlin to dress him up a bit. Not whole-hog traditional, Merlin only went for complete sub-dress when it was time to write up a new article for Loose Ends and they needed to get into somewhere Old Guard, but it was certainly dressier than Arthur would ever put himself in.
“It’s nice jewellery,” Merlin had defended, “It’s classic. You made it. It’s all wood and hemp. You cannot get more toned down than this. It’s not actually possible. You can be a walking advertisement for yourself. ”
And Arthur had sighed and gone along with him, because Merlin had cheated and wrapped up Arthur in his own excitement. Merlin was never above cheating. Merlin had practically been dripping with exuberant affection, kissing the long stretch of Arthur’s bared collarbone, hands cupped around Arthur’s neck and fiddling with the hemp and wooden bead necklace he’d looped around it from his own collection. Merlin had had to pop open a few buttons from Arthur’s (purchased from the dom’s side of the shopping centre, ergo, tapered but not form-fitting) button-down collared shirt, which Arthur would wear sans tie (ties were... evocative) and with the top button undone for the sake of comfort. All the shirts on the sub side were too tight in the shoulders (and, well, everything else) and didn’t even have the top three buttons, which was sort of insulting actually.
He could still probably get away with going to church in a get-up like this, it was beyond modest for the current clothing industry (Merlin owned one pair of pants that he could not physically get on without assistance. Merlin’s wardrobe was an eclectic mix of whatever he felt like wearing: baggy corduroys and peasant skirts mixed in with nonsensically slim trousers and a black cocktail dress that showed off a...daring...amount of back, if Arthur wanted to talk like a 70 year old) and Merlin had only been able to talk him into some mascara and lip-gloss, and the lip-gloss only because Merlin had kissed him enough beforehand.
“It’s at Leon’s. You like Leon. You wrestle him to the ground sometimes, which isn’t even slightly erotic to watch at all.” Merlin hustled Arthur out the door, laying himself over Arthur like he was the buttercream icing over Arthur’s sufficiently chocolate-y chocolate cake. “It’ll be fun. There’ll be good music, and good liquor and you won’t have to punch anyone, I promise.” Merlin nuzzled his neck as they made their way down the first flight of stairs. “And when we come home we’ll both be turned on and I’ll have a present for you and it’ll be the best birthday ever.”
“Do you remember when you thought birthday was a word that encompassed all fancy things? You called going to church ‘birthday.’” Arthur reached to scritch the back of Merlin’s neck and quietly allowed himself, since it was his birthday, to just...sort of lose himself in Merlin’s head for awhile.
“I also called all animals Missy.” Merlin kept tugging and pushing Arthur down the stairs. “We’ll only get a little drunk, just enough so it isn’t weird.” The stairwell was empty and Merlin stroked his knuckles down Arthur’s side. Arthur grabbed him by the wrists and continued to drag him down the staircase. “I have the perfect thing for tonight. The perfect thing. You will lose your ability to even. Even-ing will be completely beyond you.”
There is a tease of arousal right up against Arthur’s mind, as quick as a slip of tongue right before heading out the door, and Arthur tightened his grip on Merlin’s wrists, Merlin’s arms still thrown over Arthur’s shoulders as they waddled down the stairs. Once they got outside, though, Merlin was already a few steps to the side of Arthur, their hands kept to themselves, Merlin already rolling out a story about work yesterday, about his sleepy co-workers and his regulars and the evolution of a ridiculous coffee drink. (“It starts normal: they want soy milk, sure, cool, they want whipped cream, that’s fine, and then they think ‘oh hey, what if I try a flavour shot?’ and it just spins out of a control from there.”)
Arthur tried to tuck his hands in the pockets of his trousers, but they don’t have pockets, because that would ruin the line of them, apparently. His jacket had both of their purses in the pockets, so he couldn’t really get his hands in there. Merlin only had his one jacket on, so he’d need Arthur’s by the time they were ready to walk home.
It was about a thirty-minute walk to Leon’s house, which would translate to a forty-five minute bus ride, not including wait times and the inevitable walking they’d have to do anyways. It was brisk out. Windy. The sort of thing that stains your face red but didn’t get down deep in your bones. It was too rainy to have a proper autumn—the sort that happened in the panoramic opening of a young someone-or-other coming of age as they stared thoughtfully out the window while the opening score went with either piano or violins to get you in the introspective mood.
Here was the funny thing about walking:
When Merlin walked down the street and someone else was walking the opposite direction, he would give zer the right of way, no matter who it was. He’d do it for mothers with strollers, he’d do it for five-year-olds stampeding down the street, and he’d do it for doms walking along like they own the world. Merlin will flatten himself up against a wall to get out of people’s way. He’d open doors for people (provided they are close enough for it), and has been late to things because he just got stuck holding a door open for a crowd. (On the other hand, he’d collected about thirty quid in tips because people thought he was a doorman, so there was that.). That was just who Merlin was. He gave up his seat on the bus, he let other people have his cab, and if he remembered his umbrella it was soon in the hands of someone else who didn’t have one. He had come home in January without his winter coat because someone looked cold. (They’d returned it. That and Merlin’s purse that he’d left in the pocket like an idiot).
Arthur would only alter his path if the person coming towards him had a good reason for not altering theirs (stroller, a lot of shopping, children, wheelchair). People could open their own doors, and if someone needed a seat when there wasn’t one, then someone else could give theirs up (unless Merlin had already defaulted his). He does not alter his path just because a dom is walking towards him, because they never need to. When Freya walked down the street, she walked with the full expectation that people will move out of her way. She could stroll along with her arms over her head, basking in the sunshine, without anyone focusing on the long line of her back and how they could leave their mark there.
The doms are two steps away and Arthur doesn’t change course, and the dom on the left turns his attention to Arthur a sight too late, frowning and then their shoulders connect, neither of them slowing down, Arthur spinning the dom around, because he’s big and focused and doesn’t change course. The dom turned to stare at him. “What’s your problem?”
“You could have gotten out of the way too,” Arthur said, stopping. Merlin balanced on one foot, preparing for his signature dismount onto a park bench.
The dom frowned, wrong-footed. “I wasn’t paying attention, you clearly were. So why didn’t you move?”
“I didn’t feel like walking in the gutter.” Arthur squared his shoulders and this is one of those things Dr. Whitman would have told him to let go. He would have made a rational argument for Arthur moving. The dom hadn’t been paying attention, he–as the attentive party—should have moved to accommodate him, or, at minimum, said “excuse me” to signal his presence. Or, if they hit by accident, he shouldn’t have made a production of it. Apologize and move on. “Pay attention to where you’re going, yeah?”
Arthur turned and went back to walking as the dom dug into his pocket to see if Arthur had been pick-pocketing him, before giving one last shout of “Dyke!”
Arthur had been, and would continue to be, called worse. A kid in primary had lead the assault, for about a week, of shunning Arthur. There’d just been a random week where Arthur could not find a partner to work with, or a table to sit at, or anything. He hadn’t figured out what he’d done wrong, exactly. He hadn’t thrown up, he hadn’t had a tantrum at school, he hadn’t called any of the teachers mommy or anything. All he’d done, at all, was miss one sleepover that he hadn’t even been invited to and then suddenly his name had become an odd sort of punchline. “If you lose the ball then you have to go sit next to Eigyrson.” or by calling him the very clever: “Lick zer bum” even though that didn’t even rhyme, really.
One day he’d been being safely ignored, and then he’d come to school and everyone in his class had scooted away from him and giggled to themselves. They’d put pebbles in his shoes and stole his bag away from him the moment he put it down. They passed handouts around him, and the day he’d forgotten his book, no one had been willing to share. The only thing that had happened had been Willard Fowler’s birthday sleepover that he hadn’t gotten a card for.
So Arthur had broken all of Will’s coloured pencils. Fowler’d had more coloured pencils than possibly any other child Arthur had ever met. He’d bragged about how they were real, professional pencils, not the ones you got from the crate in art class (where there was never any red or black) and he’d kept them in this special box so they wouldn’t lose their tips, and even then, he’d had the best sharpener in the class. So Arthur had hung back from recess, sat down and broken all of them, systematically, into the smallest of pieces he could, before putting them away in Will’s special box. When Will had opened it and found them all shattered he’d cried in front of everyone. Full on sobbed, snot trailing down his face, eyes puffy, screaming crying and he had become the new class punchline by the next day, Arthur safely forgotten once more.
Arthur had been called names. He clenched his jaw and kept walking, because it was his birthday, and he wasn’t going to let anyone ruin that for Merlin. Arthur’s birthday was Merlin’s favourite holiday. He put a sparkly heart sticker on the calendar for it.
Merlin looked up from his triumphant landing on the pavement and looked around. “What?”
“I thought I heard something.” Merlin frowned and looked back at the dom and his friend who were just turning a corner. He turned back and looked at Arthur and Arthur shrugged, pulling Merlin along by the elbow and Merlin happily followed, looking into shop windows and throwing his arm over Arthur’s shoulders.
“However, the Catholic Church— while hardly a champion of those with non-traditional sexuality and their rights—has always stood as a symbol of sanctuary for the outcasts of society, for a given definition of sanctuary. That is provided, of course, those self-same outcasts were willing to make sacrifices for their safety. The message is far and above one of mercy and compassion, and to this day, the church remains the number one shelter and safe house for the dynamically-diverse, including: broken pairs, the non-dynamic affiliated, persons outside the gender binary or persons without mates, offering a place outside of society and with people in similar situations, in exchange for devoting their lives to the church in the form of monasteries or convents.
“Hardly, one can imagine, the ideal situation for everyone, but much better than viewing a bondless person as having no soul and thus subject to enslavement, exile, ritualistic brutality, or death as in many religions, cultures and governments predating the Catholic Church’s rise to power. Still, the Catholic Church has been very vocal on it condemnation of same-dynamic partners who do not choose to remain chaste and instead attempt to ‘mimic’ the behaviour of Church approved dynamic partners, calling the behaviour a ‘gross parody’ or ‘subversion” of God’s will.” –Forven M. (2000) The Story of The None Oxford: Hart
Arthur had a lot of practice with not talking.
They sat in silence. The clock was digital, but Arthur could still hear it ticking away in his head. It was the sort of situation that should have the slow click-...-click of some sort of stately grandfather clock (and, according to Merlin, there had been such things as grandmother clocks, which had only an hour hand because “ladies need not concern themselves with minutes” which is one of those things Arthur knows and has no use for.) He didn’t fidget. If he were Merlin he would have probably come up with a story about how he was a captured prisoner, or being interrogated about a crime or...something.
“If you want, you could think of it this way. You can an hour each week staying silent and perhaps forcing your uncle and aunt to do something more drastic, or you can at least try talking to me. I think you don’t really like losing control of yourself. You’re angry right now because you didn’t choose to come here. But that’s part of life, Arthur. There are going to be a lot of things you can’t control. What you can control is how you respond to it.” Dr. Whitman put down his pen and paper and clasped his hands together. He had a ring on his finger. Married. “But all not-talking does is allow other people to put words in your mouth. Your aunt had a lot to say about your behaviour over the years. If you don’t talk then you don’t have an opportunity to defend yourself. Maybe I’ll find you don’t have the kind of anger problem she thinks you have.”
He’d been offered a fizzy drink. He’d been offered tea. He’d been offered an ice-lolly. He wasn’t five. He wasn’t going to be bribed into co-operation. Or threatened, either, not by his uncle muttering about approved schools, or any of the like. This was bullshit. This was clearly bullshit and he wasn’t. He wasn’t going to do any of it.
“For instance. In this report I have from your school, it has plenty about the other boy’s side of the story, but it says you refused to comment. So now all I have is a boy saying you shoved him into a pile of slush and sat on him so he couldn’t get up again for no reason. And I don’t think you did that for no reason.”
Gregory Cooper had stuffed someone younger kid’s comic in the loo, and Arthur hadn’t been able to do anything about that, having walked in while the strange boy had been crying after it was already said and done with. But Arthur had been able to take Cooper aside and shove his face into the thawing slush and mud until he begged to be let up, twisting his arm behind him and not much caring if his uniform got dirty. Not all of Arthur’s fights were for other people, and he didn’t just get in fights. He took people’s things, too: broke them sometimes, just kept them others. But at school he was mostly fine, people chose him to play sports with, and he had his footie team.
But when he got back to his aunt and uncle’s house the atmosphere was oppressive. They treated him, constantly, like he was a monster in their home, like at any second he was going to lose his head and break all the fine china, and he wasn’t. He did that when he was younger, a bit, sure. But now. He goes to his room. He pushes the bed in front of the door. He breaks, maybe, his own things. One time his aunt grabbed him by the wrist and he might have pushed her too hard to get her off of him. It wasn’t his fault that they were just bad at parenting.
He’d had screaming tantrums, sure, when he was younger. Not recently. Not since he was nine, and that was ages ago. They didn’t have to treat him like another one was right around the corner.
“I want to give you a chance to tell your side of the story, Arthur. I would like to hear your impressions. I’m not going to take anyone’s side in this.” Dr. Whitman continued.
And the last time had been because they’d gone to a funfair and it had been too loud and too crowded and Arthur had been hungry and tired. They hadn’t gone on a single ride, they just kept looking at stalls and not getting any snacks because his uncle thought they were too full of fat and sugar and he’d just wanted to go home, but they didn’t listen to him, and didn’t let him touch anything and his aunt had kept a firm grip on his wrist like she thought he’d run off. So he’d just had enough. And he’d just wanted to go home. He’d just sat down and refused to move, and when she yanked his arm he’d just ... he’d just wanted to go home.
And they had, and she’d snapped at him that she had never been so embarrassed, and his uncle had said they couldn’t take him anywhere, that they had thought he could be a little more adult by now. But he’d said he was hungry, and he’d said he was tired, and he’d just wanted to go on one ride or try one game and they’d just kept walking past everything interesting. And he’d told Merlin that. Merlin was always on Arthur’s side.
He didn’t need a psychiatrist to listen to his side of the story, because he had Merlin for that.
It was less a birthday party and more an Arthur Party Of The Most Arthurness. Merlin made the playlist, so every single song is one Arthur liked, which was a pleasant change from the normal party line-up of “I don’t know this song, I don’t know this song, I don’t know this song, and I want to shoot this song in the face.” And Merlin even left off the songs Arthur was embarrassed to like, unless they’re particularly fun to dance to.
The snack table was piled high with Arthur’s favourite crisps, his favourite brand of pickles, his preferred dips, and cake and cookies. They’ve got his favourite lager, his favourite wine, Merlin’s favourite blue lemonade mixer and citrus vodka because liked to make “Sonic Screwdrivers” and he couldn’t be stopped, and best of all, everyone just let him poke around as he wanted and didn’t make a big production of him.
Freya gave him a Happy Birthday fist bump, Leon clapped him on the shoulder and talked about sports---the basis of their entire relationship--Elyan stole his cupcake and noisily stuffed it in his mouth to balance out Gwen giving him a hat that she knit— all by herself and it had some dropped stitches, not too many, and she went back and got most of them, and it’s really warm, but here she ran out of red yarn, but he liked blue too, so she added blue, and that isn’t too Captain America? “My name is Jack,” Merlin said tugging it over Arthur’s ears “Union Jack.”
“I’m sorry, was that a ‘Please, Arthur, please shove my face into cake?’” Arthur grabbed Merlin by the neck and tried to drag him towards the cake and Merlin was laughing and wiggling away. Percy moved between them, and the cake because no one wanted to eat a Merlin’s faced cake. Percy had made it himself, because Percy had dated a pastry chef, and thus had felt it his duty to make every single birthday cake ever for all of them. There was ganache and sour cream chocolate icing and whatnot. (The pastry chef had gotten a better job in Wales, and Percy—being Percy—had helped her move, and visited once a week, until she’d fallen for her restaurant’s Head of House—who he then had became good friends with. True story.)
By ten the party had a slightly higher percentage of People He Did Not Know than he would have liked- people bringing their roommates, and those roommates bringing a friend to talk to, and that friend maybe bringing their partner or whatever- but even they dropped money in the hat for alcohol and brought snacks, and no one rushed him, so it was fine. The living room was free of furniture, the windows cracked open so the dance floor didn’t get oppressively hot. Merlin was flailing somewhere in the middle, three drinks in, and a cheap date to start with. Arthur himself had tipped over to friendly and people were more than entirely used to seeing Merlin flop on him while dancing.
“Arthur!” Merlin flung his arms up in the air. “You’ve returned to me. Were you seduced by my awesome moves. I know you were. Join me in the dance of my people.” Merlin ended with his arms haphazardly over his shoulders as the singer promised “show me what a real whip hand can do/I’ll make you forget everything else when I’m through” and the bass thumped up hard from Leon’s speaker system, which was better than the oft-repeated “beat me black and blue for you” that Arthur had sort of expected from the song the first time he’d heard it.
“The dance of your people is to awkwardly stand next to the wall and scuff their feet against the floor.” Arthur punched his stomach lightly. “How drunk are you?”
“The importance of written erotica on the Internet is that it allows people of all walks of life to take active control of the kind of porn that they want to read, putting forward their fantasies and desires so they can be mirrored back by like minds.” Merlin lectured him in that careful way people trying to not to sound drunken sounded. “By allowing it to be published online for free means that people, especially people still discovering themselves, can explore their sexuality and interests in a safe, controlled way, understanding how something feels and sounds, and being allowed to imagine it how they want without an image being forced upon them.”
Merlin always talked about porn when drunk. It was just a thing that happened. Arthur shuffled along with his swaying sort of dance, people jumping and swinging their arms up around them and shimmying at each other while laughing at their own ridiculousness.
Merlin was flushed and bright eyed, and Arthur gave it another hour before he sobered up enough for them to walk home and they did whatever it was that Merlin had planned for tonight in the second bedroom. He was warm, and happy, and he sort of distantly wished he could kiss Merlin right now, in public, but mostly he was happy. He was his own happy and Merlin’s happy all jumbled together in his stomach like a pit of puppies with a squeaky football.
He felt the burst of shock hit him a split second before it appeared on Merlin’s face, eyes wide and body still. Arthur frowned and turned to look even as Merlin was scrambling at him in a flurry of rapid-heart-beat excitement.
And so, like there was a cinematographer for their lives, the crowd parted and standing in the doorway (not surrounded like a halo of light, but there might as well have been) was Scarlet O’Hara.
Merlin was attracted to doms fairly indiscriminately. He preferred they be bigger than he was, he liked them taller and didn’t mind the nature of their bigness, having sat cradled in the lap of a rotund dom who had about five stone (or more, given that Merlin did not eat enough) on him as gleefully as he’d been hoisted up against a wall by a thick and interested body builder, but he’d gone home with the short and the svelte provided they engaged his interest enough. Merlin just liked people, provided they were worth liking, and he would come home, bitten to all hell, and still sort of out of it, climbing into Arthur’s lap and describing everything, hands clasped together as Arthur explored the marks and bruises on Merlin skin, shotgunning Merlin’s high, greedily soaking up Merlin’s experience, half feeling it and half hearing it and happy, again, that Merlin had come home to him to come down.
However, while Merlin’s indiscriminate attraction to just about any sufficiently nice person who proved willing to rough him up was like a well oiled machine of data gathering, the one thing, the one thing that would throw a wrench in that was, of course, Scarlet O’Hara. It wasn’t even a conscious choice, it went past gender or personality or sexuality. If a pale, dark haired woman in green walked in, Merlin was thrown up against decades of his brain filling her in for every mystical faerie queen, every venom-toothed sorceress, every helpless princess in a dungeon, every quick-eyed spy, nimble-ankled ballroom dancer, sharp-tongued owner or lost chance from across a room.
Merlin was going to get himself murdered someday by a brunette in emerald.
Arthur was already adjusting his balance so Merlin could use him to support himself. Merlin gawked openly for a few seconds then shoved his face into Arthur’s shoulder. “Arthur, Arthur, I am too drunk for this. Stop me from looking like a moron.”
“That I can’t help you with, but I can stop you from going over to some poor...” Arthur looked back and squinted, but he’d lost sight of her, so he shrugged. “Well, some poor someone and being disturbing.”
“She was so pretty.” Merlin punched him in the shoulder and Arthur moved him over to the couch, the people already on it smunching closer to each other without comment. Merlin flopped on top of him and shoved his face into his neck. “I need to not go over there and stare like I’m disturbed. I need to not do that. Was she as pretty as I think she was?”
“Yeah, probably. You’re also demented, so she might have taken on qualities no human has. Did she glow?”
“Lil’ bit.” Merlin flailed at the air. “I could say hi. I could say ‘hi, you’re the most beautiful person I have ever seen and I just wanted you to know that, and now I’m going to go back over there. Now.’”
“Did you even catch her orientation this time?” Arthur had not, but the room was crowded and he hadn’t looked at her very long.
“Wait, is he O’Haraing again?” Freya looked up from her conversation and waved her hand in front of Merlin’s face. He frowned at her and Arthur nodded. Granted, Merlin’s sort of serial killer specific crush was the only reason they even knew Freya, and thus their current group of friends, because, of course, she’d come in with an forest green waistcoat and that was enough for Merlin, really. “Who is it?” She scanned the room.
“Our babies would have such small toes.” Merlin informed them, “they would be the smallest toes and they would kick them. They would kick them toes.”
“He’s going to be gone for a while,” Arthur said.
“Does he do the entire bond pairing from meeting until death, or...” Elyan asked.
“From what I can tell it starts off contemporary and then slowly becomes Gone With The Wind but both of them playing Scarlet.” Arthur moved to sit Merlin on the couch. “I don’t know, if he doesn’t tell me it’s because the world is better off not knowing. I’m going to go get some water, make sure he doesn’t do anything psychotic.”
Freya nodded, toasting her drink to him as he shoved through the crowd of people to try and get some air.
According to the American-based “Center For Human Sexuality Research And Awareness” (CHSRA, pronounced, normally, “Chess-Ra” ) one out of every thousand bonds ended up being between same-dynamic partners . It is “very likely”  that the phenomenon is more common than that statistic suggests, since the statistics rely on such couples announcing themselves (see: William/Abdul (1972)), or for their legal guardians doing it for them, often in the form of getting them therapy and medication (see: “John”/”Stacy” (1950 ) case study) or, in more extreme examples, forcibly severing the bond (see: Jackson vs. The State of Oklahoma ) which has since become illegal in the United States in all cases without the express consent of both parties, or in the case of minors or persons unable to consent, only as a last resort in the case of marked emotional and mental duress that, at minimum, three independent specialists agree is either caused by the bond, or offers a clear and present danger to the second half of the bond, regardless of the dynamic leanings of both parties. (Jackson vs. The Supreme Court).
There are fifteen countries worldwide that allow any form of legal recognition and protection of same-dynamic marriage, which ranges from the freedom of Canada’s Complete Acceptance Policy  (full legal rights, provided the advocating couple undergoes standardized independent review) to the weighted-compromise Norway’s Non-Dynamic Partnership Laws  (which will not legally recognize the couple as soul-bonded, but will allow them the same benefits and legal rights as any romantic partnership) and finally to the limitations of the United States own policies, which range wildly from state to state, but federally will allow registered same-dynamic partners to file taxes together , become each other’s medical and legal proxy , not testify in court against one another , and both be listed as legal guardians of any child that comes out of the union  (whether the couple would be allowed to adopt a child, varies from state to state , however, even in states that allow non-dynamic, or same-dynamic partners to adopt, these couples are subject to review far more (in some cases nearly four times as many visits ) than their dynamic-normative counterparts ).
There are many countries, communities, cultures and religions that do not allow same-dynamic couples to legally register as soulbonded , but same-dynamic couples can still find protection within the legal system, with the governments allowing for de facto partnerships of romantic, non-dynamic, asexual, same-dynamic partnerships, or even dynamic couples who, for whatever reason, do not wish to declare , of any couple that lists themselves as such on their tax forms, or are rearing a child together. These de facto partnerships do not have the same legal or fiscal responsibility should separation occur, no required child support or division of assets, no alimony, but while the couple is in said partnership, they can apply for medical proxy, retain joint finances, and may both be considered the legal guardian of any child or dependant gained from the union or that either partner brings into the union.  Such countries include Spain, Australia, Argentina and France.
And finally, there are governments who will forcibly separate, institutionalize or medicate  any couple suspected of same-dynamic partnering , often to a greater degree than even their non-dynamic counterparts . There are, in all countries, extremist groups, religions, sub-cultures, and political parties that oppose same-dynamic couples, even with evidence of a viable and otherwise healthy soulbond, calling for blocking, termination, or separation of the couple in question. 
Merlin found him. As he always did. It was a little cave they’d dug out and stamped down and dragged a binned rug to. It was just about too small for him, and certainly too small for the both of them, save curled up together and ignoring how dirty they got, the roots dangling from the ceiling, the strong smell of earth and clay mingling with the moulding and musky stench of the rotting rug.
“They figured out that octopi have something like soulbonds, except they aren’t pack animals, so they hate other octopi, and if one wanders into their territory they kill it or run away, so they troll the sea for the one octopus that doesn’t make them want to kill it, and then they mate and then the male dies after he ejaculates and the female gives birth to eggs and blows water over them or something, and stops eating and dies of basically post-partum depression shortly after the eggs hatch. And octopi are smart, which makes it that much more tragic, you know? The blanket octopus has an immunity to the Man-of-War jellyfish poison, so he takes them and uses them to whip other animals to get them to go away. And they have this huge billow cape to scare the fuck out of everything else in the sea.”
“Why do you know these things?” Arthur had asked, Merlin elbow digging into his side, his head no doubt digging into Merlin’s collarbone. He’d only had to wait an hour before Merlin had ducked his head under the lip and looked at him, holding out a thermos of drinking chocolate. Arthur had taken it from him silently and Merlin had crawled in.
“I’m pretty sure if your daemon is a blanket octopus it means you’re one badass motherfucker.” Merlin had replied, because they could swear as much as they wanted when no one was around, and Merlin took a singular minded delight in it, because at his school they still washed your mouth out with soap. Unless you could give a good linguistic reasoning behind it, but Merlin’s school was weird. “When is the next one of those due?”
“Next year, they said.” Arthur sipped out the dregs from the thermos lid and Merlin screwed it back over the top. “Will’s world without daemons and Lyra’s world without soulbonds.”
“Give me a daemon any day.” Merlin tossed the thermos out of the tiny cave, where their feet crawled out and they lay on Merlin’s jacket, since the rug seemed...unhygienic. “A voice that can actually talk to you and reason and supports you is better than some...phantom person who you aren’t even sure of meeting. It’s daft, isn’t it? This one person who is supposed to be everything you want out of a partner and society just...hangs their hat on how much better you’ll be if you find them. But they’re just a person. They’re someone who doesn’t even know you, not really.”
“So, what? You wish you’d identified as switch and you could make your own destiny?” Arthur did, sometimes. Switches weren’t exactly the most acceptable in society, but they always seemed...self-confident, on the telly and in novels. Their own closed circuit, not waiting, not looking towards some partner on their arm, not looking inward for the thread of someone else.
“Many cultures view switches as complete persons, who should be looked to for guidance because they are self-contained.” Merlin mused, feet kicking at the loamy dirt outside the cave that they were getting too big for, and just getting bigger.
“And many other cultures kill them because they think they’re either empty and thus can become whatever they want, or an evil spirit is filling in the rest of them. So, you know. There’s that,” Arthur argued.
“Someday we’re going to go to London and find at least one secret or magical world hiding in it.” Merlin said voice echoing oddly up from his chest and into Arthur’s sinuses.
“Well. I figure that most of the magical and secret worlds are real and just all hiding from one another, and also we probably have Borrowers in one of our houses, but they’re really very good at hiding.”
“Well, that’s rather the point of them, isn’t it?” Arthur had replied. “You’re not going to find some just because you want to. They’re trained in these sorts of things.”
“Mmm.” Merlin agreed lazily and then inhaled.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Arthur cut him off and Merlin let out his next sentence as a sigh and Arthur stared at striations of dirt on the wall. “I just -- If everyone just left me alone, I’d be fine. I get angry. Someone tells me that when I get angry I should just leave the situation to cool down. I actually try and do that and they stop me. I can’t leave from class, I can’t leave at the house. So what?”
Merlin didn’t say anything and Arthur poked him in the side. “What? I thought we weren’t talking about it. I’m not saying anything. Ergo, we’re not talking about it.”
Arthur pushed himself out of the space and sat down on the heavy rock they’d moved to mark their space, the long grass and tree roots obscuring the actual entrance. Merlin continued to lie in the glorified overhang and Arthur picked at his nails.
“I’m not mental, though. I’m not.” He chewed off a bit of cuticle and it tore away with a tiny bead of blood. “She compared me to my dad.”
“Your dad has massive brain damage and tried to kill you,” Merlin replied, bluntly. “You throw things and punch tossers in the face. You also come up with really elaborate schemes of how you’re going to get one over on jerks, but everyone does that. And you’re more likely to shut down and fester than act out.”
Arthur chewed at his thumbnail and Merlin slowly backed out of the cave, brushing himself and his jacket off. “Okay, so. You’re not mental. I know you’re not. You know you’re not.”
“My aunt’s going to think I’m dodgy no matter what I do, and my uncle just wants an excuse to get me out of his house.” Arthur spat out a jagged fingernail, “And I don’t really feel up to acting like a good boy now and forever, do I? I tried. I did.” Arthur had tried being good. But he’d always-- There’d always been something. They’d demanded he talk, and then he’d talked too much, or about the wrongs things, or he was too sad, or he was too boisterous or... it was always something. He was always wrong, somehow, and he wasn’t going to kill himself trying to fix it. He wasn’t. “I could just move in with you, yeah?”
Merlin dropped his head onto Arthur’s shoulder and Arthur continued to pick at his nails. “Just poke around the Doctor. Don’t tell him anything important. Just. See what he’s like. Test the waters.”
“That’s how they get you. You start talking about something you think is safe and then all of a sudden you’re just going and they’re grabbing stuff you didn’t even say and you’re gone forever.”
“Then count the words to your response first.” Merlin took Arthur by the wrist and took his abused hand away. “If he gets too personal too quickly you can always stop talking again. But at least you’ll have talked, and she can’t get angry at you if you’re talking.”
“She would.” Arthur dropped his head back and stared up at the sky-speckled foliage. “And then what?”
“You tell me how it went and we form a tactical plan to convince him you’re just high spirited. We’ll con him. We’ll be con men. Maybe he’ll help you learn how to best utilize your high energy. Oh! Maybe we can convince him that what you really and truly need is a dog. It’s brilliant.” Merlin poked his cheek. “Trust me. Do it. Trust me. I’m brilliant. I am the most brilliant con man.”
Arthur looked over and him and he was grinning. “You’re the nutter.”
“Misunderstood genius.” Merlin intoned solemnly and hoisted Arthur up. “Come on, let’s take a walk and then stay at my house for supper.”
She fled, for the first time, from her Protector’s house, and though she did not know how her life had come to be, she was determined to not let it remain so. Surely now that the madman’s pleasure had been gained he would cut their bond and allow her to join her love where their souls could be together.
She ran through the forest, not caring if it was dark, or if the thorns scratched her. She did not care if beasts hungered for her blood, or if she tripped and fell into murky water. She kept on, fleeing, hoping for the false bond to snap and leave her dead.
But a wolf pursued her, charging furiously ever at her heels, but she did not cease. She did not stop even as she tired. Not even as the voice of her fake-love rang in her hollowed-out insides. She clambered up hills, leapt off rocks, dodged past trees, until her body gave out from under her at the edge of the forest and she collapsed. The wolf came to a halt and bent to lick her wounds, tending to her injuries and catching animals for her to eat until she regained her strength. Come back to me my love, for you are you and you are mine.
At that she fled once more, into the frozen wasteland. She did not care that she was cold, that the wind cut through her. She did not care that her feet turned frozen at the ends of her legs that her stomach hollowed out once more for lack of food. She continued to flee, trudging through the deep snow, head bent as she refused to bow to the wind.
And all the while she was pursued by a bear, keeping pace with her, and when she could go no further, at the edge of the snow banks, he wrapped himself around her and warmed her body, licking life slowly back into her feet and finding her fish and plants to eat until she was strong once more. Come back to me my love, for you are you, and you are mine.
At this she dove into the freezing oceans, not caring that the salt stung her eyes, not caring that the water tried to drag her down to join sunken ships and lost cities. She swam on, pushed back by waves, pulled down by undertows, but still she swam on. The water was murky and black, freezing and deadly, singing her sweet lullabies about falling into it and rejoining her lost and only. But a seal pursued her, slipping through the waves, keeping pace as she flailed and shivered and struggled forward.
And at long while she could go no further and she sank down, letting the cold water pull her into zer embrace and she did not struggle, even as her lungs burned and her heart sank and panic, panic, panic beat alongside her ribs.
The seal dove down and saved her, swimming until zer found land, laying her freezing body upon the shore and when she refused to eat and refused to be gentled, he turned back into Loki, staring down upon her. “What form would you have me in?” He asked, “You are mine, and you belong to me. I will care for you, if you will give me your submission.”
“But you are not mine, and if you have no need for me, then I have no purpose.” She loved him still, though and so cupped his face, her soul tied to his rib and she unable to free herself. “If you wish to do me any kindness, you will unbind me and allow my death.”
“I have much need of you.” Loki replied and showed her how his wound wept. “I would not take another’s submission, I will feel this agony, and you will love and tend for me. I have great need of you, for it is my lot in life to cause suffering and to suffer, and there is none who would stay my hand or comfort me. My need is great, and you love me still. You love me as a wife loves her husband, you wish to obey me. If you deny me that, then cut yourself free.” He gave her a knife and held himself as if a sacrifice.
She held the knife and pressed it to his breast, where the wound wept more, an unnatural, ugly knot of flesh around some unseen thing that felt precious and fragile. If she were to do this, she would die and go to the dom whose name was written on her ribs. But if she were to not she would stay with the switch who had chosen her to put into himself. And she thought about this for a very long time, she had not met her beloved, and she had met this man, and he had followed her and tended for her and she felt his love like a scream in a cave, and she could not cut herself free from this.
And it was thus that they were bound, and it was thus that she chose. And while he is bound, deep, deep and a snake put above him, she continues to choose, for she has a bowl, yes, to catch the poison. But she also has a knife, my loves, and she does not use it to kill the snake, no, but she does not use it to cut herself free.
And this is the story of Sigyn, whose son’s entrails tie her false-bondmate down to be tortured, until he slips free and closes this world, but that has not happened yet, my loves. It has not happened yet.
-Christine Boroson, “These Are Our Wrong Turns.”
Morgana was used to standing out in a crowd.
She’d been modelling for as long as she’d been taking self-defence classes, stretching on back from before she knew that most little kids didn’t spend long hours sitting demurely in make-up chairs, trying on an endless rotation of outfits and listening to photographers, smiling for a paycheque that was bigger than most people could earn at three times her age. That was simply what little kids did, she thought, seeing the other child models, posing with older doms and subs like she was their child, laughing as a trained dog rolled onto set, eating from buffet tables.
When she went to school she was the most put-together, even with the required skirt-and-jumper uniform, everything primly ironed and set just so, hair in springy sausage curls, or pinned up high on her head, or braided in complicated plaits and dangling down her back, nails manicured and polished, shoes always shined. She’d never gotten a haircut in memory, her dad helping her wash her hair, condition and dry it, brushing it out and dry as they sat in front of the telly for the evening, from the bottom up in slow, careful, gentle tugs and strokes.
By the time she was eight she knew how to disable someone twice her size, was the fastest runner in her class, and got a beautiful, one-of-a-kind frock ruined by shoving a sixth former into the mud and holding her there until she apologized for making fun of Morgana’s friend. She did all the make-up for the school nativity, outlining eyes and lips, patting blush on chubby cheeks and frowning over the costuming and tut-tut-tuting the sad excuse of direction on set.
By the time she was eight she’d been in over sixty-five separate magazines, and had done a total of four hundred shoots, smiling over big bowls of oatmeal and holding her hands out for a ball in the latest trends of kid’s sportswear, bravely jumping off diving boards in swimsuit after swimsuit after swimsuit, holding trucks and dolls, waking up fake-Christmas morning after fake-Christmas morning grinning down at a latest this or a cutting-edge that for just $49.99 this holiday season. By the time she was eight she could do fifty push-ups without a pause, she’d been to France sixteen times and spoke enough French to order for herself when she, her father and their agent went for lunch. She’d been to America four times, and each one had been for a job that she hadn’t gotten, but they’d still seen New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco, and she was very good at popping her ears back from the pressure of taking off or landing.
She’d been dozens of flower girls, she’d been the daughter of any number of fake couples, she’d licked hundreds of mashed potato ice cream cones, thrown softballs and baseballs, kicked footballs and been placed by cherry-picker on every single tree in the area, her own pouting or beaming face looked up from the glossy pages of magazines as a make-up tutorial, advertisement for sandals or what deodorant to buy.
When she identified as a switch, her father was just happy that it meant she could take more roles. Even if no one could tell what you were from off a screen or a page, photographers swore they couldn’t shoot a dom as a sub, which it interfered with the something or other. When she identified as a switch and all her classmates started talking about their soulmates, she lifted her head, became a picture of dismissal, and she was just happy that there wasn’t a single soul on all this planet who could sway her away from what she wanted.
When Morgana looked in the mirror, she didn’t see herself. She saw a tool. If she put this shade of lipstick on, with this mascara, and this outfit with those shoes, she was confident, in control. If she applied lip gloss just so and plucked her eyebrows like this, then she became somehow softer, quieter, eyes down and demure. If she tugged on those jeans and that top, lined her eyes just wrong, chipped her nail polish and slumped her shoulders she vanished entirely. Her body was a tool, a presentation, and a show. Designers used her as a walking clothes hanger, she was a production. She could walk in six-inch platform heels, she could move under sixty pounds of draping fabric.
The modelling work had just continued as she grew up. Some kids who had been cute when they were five, turned horrifically gawky or disorganized when they were fifteen. Some gorgeous fifteen years olds had been bland or not right when they were five, but Morgana handled aging just as well she handled learning throws, holds, and couture fashions. She’d had her first kiss for a shoot, leaning forward at the waist, hands primly behind her back as the boy across from her did the same, in an advertisement for shoes. Other models talked about their soulmates, about how this felt, and that, and a few even stumbled across their fiancée, everything coming to a standstill while people celebrated.
Morgana relished the privacy of her own head, the stability of her own solitary, complete existence. She read about the switch-high-priestesses of the Triple Goddess, who were considered more holy because they were a single body with a complete soul. She read about the culling of switch-adolescents, thinking that missing half had been packed in by an evil spirit. She read:
“I spit on the term switch. I am not light bulb to be turned on or off. I am not one thing or another based off what others determine me to be. I am in constant flux. I am not one moment and then another, I am not confused, I am not indecisive, I am not broken. I am complete unto myself. I am not oil and water. I am emulsified. I am singular. I am heels and neckties. I am complex. I am inscrutable. I am me. And no part of me is yours.” She read whenever she had a moment, because millions of books had switch main characters, but as someone who woke up, went to their closet and decided they’d be submissive that day, or as someone who could never choose, or as someone who needed to be shown the way by their main romantic interest, always safely in one role or another by the end of the book.
Morgana knew her mind. She wasn’t an actor. She could present herself in whatever way someone wanted, but it was an illusion that didn’t hold past the picture of it. She could make herself look bigger, smaller, prettier, sexier, she could be imposing, she could be approachable, she could flutter her fake eyelashes and pout her lined lips, stand firm in heels and dare the camera to try something. She didn’t remember lines, she didn’t become anyone, and inside she was only ever herself. She was a presentation. She was a show. She knew how to stand out in a crowd, how to walk down a runaway and be remembered for it. She got her own paycheques, she changed representation two, three, four times. She took down a mugger with a belt across the face and then wrapped firmly around her neck.
She was, it seemed, constantly just a breath away from really, properly, making it big. She’d been to Italy, she’d walked in Spain, she’d gotten three callbacks in New York, her portfolio was heavy, neatly organized, and impressive. “You’re striking. You stand out. You’ve got an old-fashioned sort of quality to you, like a silent movie star.” Her agent had said. “You’re growing up right. You’re going to make it big. You’re going to make it huge. Sexy. Classic. They won’t be able to stop you.”
She’d been on book covers for YA coming-of-age novels. She’d frolicked in lingerie with doms and subs. She’d been in up-and-coming magazines, won a few industry awards that didn’t mean anything except that a sufficient number of people were noticing she existed. Her hair hung long and coiled down her back, stuffed under wigs and pinned, pressed, pulled this way and that for just the right look. At seventeen a photographer tried something and she pinned him to the ground in just her bra, underwear and stilettos. At seventeen she was bare feet and t-shirts doing homework in the wings. At seventeen she had more kisses under her belt than anyone could count, but only one she’d wanted, with a pretty sub that’d melted under her touch like everything beautiful in the world.
At seventeen, just as at seven, she was the main breadwinner. Her father’s career was to further hers. She worked far too much to make any really proper, lasting friendships. Someone wanted to have sex with her and she said no. Someone politely requested to scene with her, she’d turned them down. Someone gripped her by the wrists and commanded her attention and she hadn’t given it. Someone had tried to force the issue and she’d dropped them. Someone had acted the brat to try and get her to put them down, and she’d ignored them. Someone had laughed with her, joked with her, gone to calorie-counting dinners (not so little that you look like you couldn’t take/give a hit, not so much that the clothing didn’t fit) worked out when she did, and she had asked him, and he’d said yes, two weeks of bedsheets and inside jokes before he’d gone to the Canary Islands and she’d gone to be in a music video in Iceland.
At seventeen she wasn’t famous. She was visible, certainly, she got work when she wanted it, she had enough offers to turn things down. She was her agent’s darling. She did a shoot where she was a selkie and liked the thought of it: being two simultaneous things, and never happy forced into a single role. Sometimes she got recognized. Sometimes she gave autographs. At seventeen she was alone. She’d met movie stars and posed half-naked next to them in their own shoots. At seventeen she’d posed as a living mannequin at one of the top boutiques in London. At seventeen she’d been to the kind of parties where people snorted the finest coke in the marble bathrooms and got properly drunk off vintages she had carefully studied. At seventeen she sometimes picked pockets because her father had taught her how to do that while she was still all wide-eyes and perfect baby teeth and they didn’t know how long it’d last. She knew how to stand and not pay attention while looking attentive. She knew how to make herself heard. She knew how to dress for her mother’s funeral, how to put on the right amount of make-up, how to stand and present solemnity.
At seventeen she found out she had a half-sister, sitting across from her at the dinner gathering later, holding a mug of coffee while Morgana sipped water (Morgana was fairly constantly aware of how white her teeth were and should be, and even with photo manipulation, you wanted to be as close to the unattainable perfection they demanded as possible.). Her sister’s arms were corded with muscles, her eyes were heavy with smudged eyeliner, her lips bare, her dress just a bit too fancy for the occasion, her shoes just a little too plain, her hair a simple coiffed affair that was slowly unravelling about her face: the picture of a dishevelled, grieving daughter. Morgana picked her apart by rote and, if she were any less skilled, would believe the artifice. But Morgana knew a presentation when she saw one. Morgause was an art house exhibit, an installation of grief, evocative and abstract. Morgause studied Morgana carefully.
She was a dom, but Morgana couldn’t blame her for that. She was an artist: a musician. She was a highly ranked professional fencing duellist. She had scars. She was five years older. She was blonde and tanned where Morgana was dark-haired and pale. Her muscles had bulk, had mass, where Morgana kept herself as sleek and sharp as a knife. Morgause rode horses, she had calluses on her fingers, her nails had chips, her left hand was bare of a ring and she never mentioned her fiancée. She didn’t look on Morgana with pity, or reverence, for being a switch. Morgause invited her over and her flat was the template of domestic cosiness, and Morgana could see the precise placement of vases and curtains to achieve the effect. It was the precise, cheerful lay out of a home-store shopping guide.
It was breathtakingly contrived.
At eighteen Morgana was living with Morgause. At eighteen Morgana watched Morgause as she took down a stalker with a baton, crushing his face into the pavement and making him repeat, over, and over that he was to forgot Morgana existed, that he was dirt, until she removed her foot and he was still repeating like it’d become a personal mantra. At eighteen Morgana was so close to making it big that they practically lived off the flavour of it. At eighteen Morgana watched Morgause sing in bars and the run down sort of places that she’d never had a chance to climb out of. At eighteen Morgana could be anyone’s terrifying bar trollop, if she wanted. She couldn’t change that she was a switch, but in a tight crowd it was always hard to tell who anyone was unless you looked closely. Morgause could fit in anywhere, could go anywhere and be one of them, or go anywhere and be an unapproachable and cold as the vacuum of space. Morgause could steal a car, or get someone to give her one. Morgause stood at shoots and watched over everything, calm and knowledgeable, perfectly capable of staring down a charging-diva and putting her prim and proper back in line.
Morgana wanted to be her so badly it ached like growing pains.
“How do I make someone like me?” Morgana would ask and Morgause would study the person, watch them for a day, or two, and then tell her. Morgana wasn’t an actor, but people would fill in the blank places with what they wanted, if you gave them the right framework. Morgause would tell her what that framework was and left Morgana to decide if it was worth it. Sometimes it was. At eighteen Morgana had had fifteen separate partners, playing with them until they didn’t have anything more to offer each other. She switched up, she switched down. At eighteen she and her father exchanged emails, and her father joined her agent’s agency, signing on some other young hopeful and her agent kept in contact with her, and wherever there was work to be had, that’s where she and her half-sister went.
At parties, if someone got too fresh with Morgana, Morgause became the image of control and fury, slapping their hands with her baton, standing firm against their bodyguards, against anything. But then, equally, she knew when to step back and let Morgana wrap someone around her fingers. You didn’t get famous in the looks industry if you couldn’t keep the right people looking at you.
At nineteen, Morgana was technically an orphan. Morgause dressed her for the funeral. It was a slow news week so it even got in a few gossip rags. She let him be buried in the suit with two thousand notes sewn into the lining and said nothing.
By the time she was twenty-four Morgana was making enough money that she preferred to go places that didn’t cost anything, just for a change of pace. She’d dated B-listers and had hung on the right arms, smiled at the cameras and made enough of an impression for gossip rags to have something to remember her by. You didn’t get anywhere by being good. She left her fingerprints in all the right, incriminating, ways. By the time she was twenty-four she’d stopped having to be on the arm of someone to get an invitation and started getting her own. By the time she was twenty four, she had been to every major continent other than Antarctica, she’d been on five reality telly shows, she’d been the murder victim in two detective shows, had been the guest host of a game show, had walked more catwalks than she could even begin to count, and the most expensive thing she’d ever worn had sold for several million dollars, one of those unique pieces with precious gems sewn into the gold-woven fabric. It had been about as uncomfortable as one would imagine.
At twenty-four Morgana had been in four runs of cosmetic advertisements, had a Facebook page with 133,000 likes, a Twitter with 45,000 followers and was fully aware that she needed to expand her business, because the shelf life for a pretty face was short, especially with new ones popping up every year. She and Morgause were working on it, considering Morgana had another decade—at maximum—before she was well and truly outdated. She could release a perfume, or a clothing line, or become the pretty little thing of a rich couple, or unbonded someone or other. She’d gotten plenty of offers, considered a few, played with two. Plenty of the girls she’d seen at other shows had already dropped off the map—finding their soulmate, finding someone else to play with, finding a longer lasting career, getting tired of the lines, of the looks, of the work it took to keep afloat.
At twenty-four Morgana had found herself, quite by accident, at a house party. She didn’t know anyone there, but that hardly mattered. There would be enough people, say she was a co-worker of a friend of a friend. Morgana, at twenty-four, is fearless about parties, when she sees all make and model of bicycles chained together, and she can hear the sounds of indie rock swishing down from the windows. She puts her fifteen hundred quid coat in the pile with the others, drops a tenner in the jar by the door and in ten minutes has someone convinced they’re in the same bio chem. lab. There’s charity shop and put-together furniture, department store shoes along the walls and pre-made cookie dough cookies piled high on a table in the corner. It’s someone’s birthday, judging from the cake, and lager is flowing slightly more than freely with the way people are smiling and stumbling into each other, comfortable in their drunkenness.
She texts Morgause to tell her where she is, which is a good several blocks away from where she should be, but if you don’t engage into the occasional bout of spoiled diva behaviour than people won’t ever treat you like you deserve. She picks out a bottle of cider, opens the cap with her ring and delights that it is not champagne or wine. And the wine here comes from a box, or bottles with strange names and colourful labels. She smiles down at one that simply says “Red” on it and pours a someone a glass when their cup comes close enough.
Morgana is used to standing out in a crowd. She’s in an emerald wrap dress, wearing both heels and a necklace (because she can), and she is far outnumbered by flannel shirts and jeans, though there’s a few subs in dresses, necklaces and ballet flats taking pictures of one another. There’s a few doms in suits, heeled boots and fedoras talking about ethnomusicology next to the cookie-table.
“Hey can you get a picture of us?” A dom asks and she takes the digital camera, fiddles with the settings a moment and then directs them towards the best light she can find. They pretend to eat one another and she snaps the photograph, handing the camera back so they can upload it somewhere and forget about it. She doesn’t know any of the five songs that have played since she walked in (“we’re going to shake this town of playing cards, playing card, playing card houses.”) but they have their own spark of familiarity, something she can twirl a stranger to, just with more accordion and glockenspiel accompaniment than she’s used to.
At twenty-four Morgana likes parties. Not the kind of debauched parties that famous play-doms and partysubs throw, or the stiff, awkward charity balls where you smile and smile and smile. But these kinds of parties she likes, where you can just about hear yourself think and you can overhear conversations about modern connotations of fairy tales (“No, but Disney’s Little Mermaid, is equadynamic, Ariel has a previously stated desire to go on land, she does not like what duties she had to perform in the ocean. Eric is just the symbol of that. She trades a skill she does not want (i.e. singing) for one she does (i.e. legs) out of her own agency. She’s not soulbonded, she doesn’t have a soul ergo she’s not under Eric’s spell, he’s under hers and she’s taking power over her own life. I mean, yes, Hans Christian Anderson’s story was bullshit, but she’s not just going along with the status quo and doing as she’s expected. She’s doing what she wants.”) and someone at the sink is displaying how to break a bottle with your palm and inertia. It shatters to the sound of people making impressed noises.
The dancing is silly and frenetic, uncoordinated people jumping and dance students showing off. People spinning one another and laughing, drinking to the beat and sashaying back and forth. There’s a couple playing a complicated looking hand-game to the music on one of the recliners. She thinks about getting involved, it’s easy to clap and jump, you laugh, you make yourself look silly and you’re part of the group, but thus far, it’s the sort of party that respects someone’s choice to stand by the liquor table and watch. She catches people staring at her, but then, she’s a switch. They represent about five percent of the total population at birth. They get stared at. Morgana is used to standing out in a crowd. Often she’s the sole representation of her gender.
She’s in Hugo Boss evening dress, Joan Lyrica heels and a necklace with actual jewels on it, designed by an independent jeweller in Prague and that tended to get stared at too. Stares were good. Stares were how she measured her success. If she did an advertisement that someone stared at just a bit longer, than Lancôme got better business and she got better jobs.
She steps away from the liquor and looks at the sub behind her. He’s dressed for a shag, or, at the least, dressed to call attention to himself. Different context than a club, more like a Halloween costume than anything. Maybe it’s his birthday party. He stares at her another moment, her hair, her eyes, her dress, and then all back up. “Um. Hi. I just wanted to tell you that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I mean that in a way that you’ve kind of, maybe, ruined my life a little bit, but that’s fine, I wasn’t really using it, so now I’m going over there and crying into a pillow. So. Yes. Good job on your everything. Your bone structure makes me want to burn down London. Sorry. Yes. Thank you.”
And then he dives across the dance floor and leaps behind the couch.
Morgana, at twenty-four, is not, exactly, used to that.