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Perfection

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Being perfect is kind of well-known for not being a thing in this world. Well, Arthur can say that he was pretty close to it…once upon a time.

His string of luck lasted for about 18 years. Yup—high school. The time that is nearly imperfect for almost everyone of human descent. Not for Arthur.

He was everything one person wasn’t supposed to be. He was a perfect student—straight A’s, great friends, and captain of the football team (soccer, for you American folks), swim team and track team. He was attractive and had a steady boyfriend of three years. He had a good heart, but was a bit spoiled, as his friends constantly liked to remind him, but it wasn’t his fault that his father was the CEO and owner of a multi-million-dollar company.

His home life couldn’t be better. His father and mother, Uther and Ygraine Pendragon, were high school sweethearts and married after 7 months of being together, conceiving Arthur and his older sister, Morgana. They all got along, for the most part, but him and his sister were as different as day and night. While Arthur was broad and blond and took after his mother, Morgana had dark raven-colored hair, was petite like her mother and had the attitude of her father. It caused more than a little tension in between each other, but Arthur and Morgana loved each other like anything.

Now, when someone has a long stretch of perfection like that, it’s only natural to assume that it will last, well, not forever, but definitely for longer than they expect. So when Arthur went off to college (Oxford for business school—only the best), he expected nothing short of perfection.

And it so happened that it was perfect—for the first semester at least.

_______________________________A~

Arthur woke up smiling, despite the annoying horn blaring from his phone’s speakers at an obscenely early time in the morning. It was the last day of finals before he got to go home for winter break.  He rolled out of bed and ran to the bathroom to get ready for classes. He only had one final left to take and then he would be on a train back to Camelot where his boyfriend, Valiant, would pick him up from the station. He could only imagine how it would be seeing him, everyone, again. It’s been way too long.

Arthur had been dating Valiant since his second year of high school. They’d both been on the football team—Arthur, the captain, and Valiant, the co-captain—and the first year of flirting and attraction had led to a four year long relationship, which they just celebrated last month. Valiant couldn’t come over, and neither could Arthur, so they Skyped.

Arthur frowned at his reflection in the mirror, toothbrush sticking out, foam around his mouth. When he thought about their Skype date, he was so keen in having some intimate time with Valiant, but when he suggested it to him, Valiant brushed it off and said he had an assignment due the next day. He shook it off then, and even now, as he straightened his posture and started brushing his teeth vigorously. It was only a matter of hours until he got home. Then, they could both be as intimate as they wanted.

After grabbing his bag, he tried to wake up his roommate, Gwaine. He was on the football team here at Oxford with him, and was quite the party animal. He chuckled to himself as he remembered Gwaine coming in last night around 4am with his 8am class just hours away.

“Gwaine, get up, you pillock. You have class in like half an hour,” Arthur said.

He received a grunt in response, so he moved to the next stage to of his “Wake Up Gwaine Project”.

He pulled the covers off of him, grabbed the megaphone, which was already on loud, and put it to Gwaine’s ear. Then he turned on the siren sound.

Gwaine jumped out of bed and tackled Arthur to the floor, and yanked the megaphone out of his hands.

“What the fuck, Arthur?! Can’t you see that I was fucking sleeping?! You know what bloody time I got in this morning!”

“That’s not my fault, Gwaine. And you know what always comes next after I throw off the covers. It gives you a good thirty seconds before the siren goes off.  Besides, don’t you have your final today? For Spanish?”

Arthur started to laugh as Gwaine’s eyes widened at least three inches and let out a series of curses. He proceeded to trip over the mess of clothes on the floor and Arthur’s legs as he made it out of the door in record time.

“Have a good winter break!” he yells after Gwaine. He can faintly hear a “you too!” yelled back as his friend races to make his final on time.

Gwaine and Arthur had become fast friends. Within the first two months, they’d had so many stories to tell that when they met people, they would either assume they were brothers or friends since childhood. He was amazing on the pitch, fit, and, against all odds, actually smart. He was double majoring in foreign languages and economics, and Arthur learned that Gwaine was just as enchanted with both subjects as he was with shagging anything with two legs. It was a wonder how he happened to be doing so well.

He was ruggedly attractive. Always a light stubble on his face, framed by shoulder-length dark brown hair that, honestly, looked like it belonged in a hair commercial. If it wasn’t for Valiant, Arthur would be all over him. Even if it would be a one-time thing. It is what Gwaine is famous for anyway.

*********

“Hello?”

“Hey, Arthur. It’s me.”

“Hey Val, perfect timing. I was just calling to let you know that I’m on the train. We should be leaving in abo—”

“Actually, Arthur that’s why I was calling. I can’t pick you up from the station today. My professor sprung out another assignment to us today, and we have to turn it in by tomorrow. I’ll be in the library all day today.”

Arthur frowned. He was always perceptive when it came to lies. It must’ve been because of all the ones Morgana told him growing up. Or maybe it was a sixth sense. “Valiant, don’t lie to me. You know I know when you’re lying. If you don’t want to pick me up, just say so.”

He heard Valiant sigh. “Arthur, listen. I don’t…I can’t pick you up. Don’t make it harder for me, okay?”

“Make what harder for you, Valiant? I don’t understand.”

“Call me tomorrow, okay? We’ll talk then. I have to go.” The line clicked.

“Hello? Valiant?” Arthur sighed as he shut his phone off.

Arthur sighed and leaned his head against the window as he felt the train leave the station. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t noticed a change in their relationship since school started. He knew a long distance relationship would be hard, but they talked about ways and solutions for them. But it seemed like one of them wasn’t invested enough.

They’d always been skyping, calling each other, and…ahem, calling each other, but a few weeks after football season started, Valiant got a little bit distant. Arthur hated talking about feelings, so he let it happen—he chalked it up to school work being demanding. And he could understand that. But this? Refusing to see each other after months? Arthur had to admit that he was more than a little disappointed.

Arthur closed his eyes and tried not think about it. It was just a three-hour train ride—everything would be fine soon. It was just a matter of being face-to-face with him. Then everything would be okay. Right? He put in his headphones and let the angry music guide him to a dreamless sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~

Three hours later, he was standing in front of his door, excited beyond belief to see his family. Since he left home, his parents had been taking up extra duties at work since both their children were gone, so they weren’t able to visit him during school. It’s been a whole four months since they’ve seen each other.

When the door opened and he saw his mother’s face, he dropped his bags and ran into her arms, tears threatening to spill from his eyes.

She laughed as she put her arms around him. “Arthur, it’s so good to see you.”

“I missed you, mum. More than I expected to,” he said. His voice sounded a little too rough for his taste.

“I think we both missed you more than we expected to, honey. It’s been too long.” She carefully unwrapped herself from his embrace and cradled his face in her soft hands. “Let me look at you.”

He laughed as he did the same, using his thumbs to wipe away the warm droplets falling down her face.

“You’ve grown up so much, Arthur.”

“I know, mum.” He could feel his cheeks burning pleasantly from smiling so much, when he glanced up and saw his father walking towards him.

“Arthur, it’s good to see you,” he said, all too casually.

He took his hands off his mother’s face and stepped around her to give his dad a proper handshake. Uther had never been one for emotion.

“You too, Father. It’s been too long.”

Uther hummed in agreement as he stepped back and gave his son a once over. His father had always been uptight about appearances, and he must’ve not liked what Arthur had been wearing or something because he pursed his lips and turned around to walk back to his study.

“Don’t mind him, dear. The merger we’ve been working on has been a lot. We sometimes forget how much we actually missed when we were taking care of you and your sister.”

“Speaking of, when is Morgana coming in?”

“She should be here early tomorrow morning. Now, why don’t you go upstairs and freshen up. Dinner will be ready shortly, and I’m sure you already have plans with Valiant.”

He put on a small smile. It’s feels like it’s been ages since someone’s fussed over him like that.

“Thanks, mum,” he said. He leaned in to give her a kiss on the cheek as he picked up his bags and headed upstairs to his room.

It’s cleaner than he left it, for sure. In the last few hours of his packing, he threw his clothes all around the room, shirts flying one way and underwear another. He put his bags down and started unpacking. He undressed as he headed to his bathroom to wash off the stench of the train.

He thought about the last time he was in here, the night before he left, and how Valiant took him against the wall of his shower. His hot breath against the back of his neck, lips trailing to his ear as he whispered how much he was going to miss Arthur. He thought about how Valiant marked him, too possessive for his own good. He was covered in those marks for days afterwards, blushing every time someone mentioned them. And Pendragons do not blush.

He let out a soft groan as his hand found its way to his hardening cock. He moved his hand back and forth slowly, remembering how Valiant’s large, calloused hands felt on his body. It felt so real, something that he would feel again in no time. Something he could cherish. He pumped slowly, so slowly, making sure it lasted. He hadn’t had a proper wank since finals week started. He traced two fingers along the side of his stomach, slowly making a trail to his ass. When he found his hole, Arthur stroked it over with his fingers and moaned rather loudly. He slowly drove both of his fingers in straight to his spot and imagined it was Valiant’s large cock hitting him there, taking him hard and fast, making sure Arthur remembered the burn he felt after, each thrust met with a bite to his neck. It could’ve been the best sex of his life, had his sister not walked in to make sure he was okay. Those screams and yells and strings of oh fucks. And as Arthur remembered how Valiant licked his come out his hole, Arthur came and watched it swirl down the drain. He sighed, and felt tears prickling at his eyes. Something told him that that was the last time Valiant would ever be part of anything so intimate.

**********

“Arthur, you’ve gained weight.”

Arthur dropped his fork. Uther was always straightforward, but he never sounded so disgusted about anything Arthur’s done before. Even when he came out, Uther took it a lot better than he expected, not going into detail about anything. Even then, there wasn’t a trace of disgust in his voice. But now…

“Yes, Father. It’s mostly muscle, though. You know how hard football training is. It’s Oxford. If we don’t gain weight, we’d never make it on the teams.”

“Mostly muscle? Arthur, your stomach is sticking out of your shirt. Your skin is being pushed out from under your chin. You’ve always been fit. What’s happened?”

“Uther! How can you speak to your son like that?”

Arthur was taken aback. “Excuse me?”

“Ygraine, you’ve seen it. He looks like…he looks not like Arthur. He’s so…fat.”

“Uther James Pendragon. Go upstairs. Now.”

Uther blanched. Never, at least as far as Arthur was concerned, has his mother used his dad’s middle name, let alone sound so cold and angry. They’ve had their fights and squabbles, but not once has she pulled the middle name out. She was furious.

Arthur watched his father go up the stairs, rather gloomily, if he said so himself, as he silently fumed in his chair, calming himself so he doesn’t yell at his poor mother.

“Arthur, dear, don’t mind your father. You know how he is.”

“Don’t mind him? Don’t mind him? Mum, he’s always been disapproving of me no matter what I do. First, was when I introduced you both to Valiant, because he claimed he was too good for me. Then it was, ‘Arthur, why is Valiant better at you in everything?’ Then it was my major, and now my weight! Will he never be satisfied with what I try to do for him?! All I want to do is make you proud, but it feels like I never will.”

Well…so much for calming down.

“Arthur, you know your father loves you. Yes, he is emotionally stumped in many ways, but he does. I know it. You and Morgana are all he ever talks about at the office.”

His eyes water as his mother talks, and he doesn’t even know why.

“Mum, that used to mean something to me. It really did. Now, it just sounds like empty words. Please excuse me. I’m not feeling too hungry right now.”

He manages to close the door to his room before the traitorous tears fall. All he wants to do is cry, but he’s not a bloody girl. So he calls up Valiant instead, hoping he could help—maybe set up a game of football or a trip to the gym. Maybe he would want to see Arthur in a less couple-y setting?

“Arthur, I can’t talk right now. Didn’t we already say we’d meet tomorrow?”

“I know, I just wanted to talk. My dad—”

“Arthur, I really can’t talk. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hears the line click, stares at his phone, then proceeds to throw it against the wall.

He looks down at the shambles and thinks about how the image has an uncanny resemblance to how his heart feels right now.

**********

At 3pm the next day, Arthur makes his way to the coffee shop he was supposed to meet Valiant. He ordered himself a black coffee, and got Valiant a mocha Frappuccino. It was one of the things Arthur liked to tease Valiant about. He would always try and be macho and manly, but he would always have drinks that were so…not manly. He smiled, albeit a little wistfully, as he thought of him, and then stood and waved when he saw Valiant walk through the door.

He saw Valiant give him a very long once over, and when he saw his beautiful lips turn into a scowl, Arthur nearly ran out of the shop to go punch someone.

“Hi.”

Valiant sighed. “Arthur, look. I called you here because I wan—”

“Wanted to break up with me. That much was clear when you refused to talk to me for a week and literally scowled when you saw me here today,” Arthur said, trying to hurt.

“I’m glad you understand. I know how hard footie is on Oxford. I’ve gained some weight too, but I’ve always been smart about what I eat. Maybe that’ll help.”

Arthur stared at Valiant and tried to close his mouth. He really tried, but instead, he said, “You’re…you’re breaking up with me because I gained weight? Out of all the things that were wrong with our relationship, you pick appearance? Really Valiant?”

“Babe, it’s not just that. I…I’m really popular at school. I’ve been hit on a lot, and it’s getting harder to tell them no.”

He might as well have just slapped him in the face.

“Well, thank you, I guess, for not cheating,” he said sarcastically.

“Arthur, don’t be like this.”

“Like what, Valiant? Like you didn’t just insult me? Like you didn’t just say you were tempted to cheat on me? Were our—did our four years together mean absolutely nothing to you?”

He sighed. “Arthur, I’m sorry.”

He didn’t even know when he started crying, but when he looked to the table, he saw drip after drip on the ugly brown surface, making a small pool. Too bad it wasn’t big enough to drown himself in.

“Arthur, I—”

“Don’t bother, Valiant. I hope you have fun in college. You more than deserve it,” he says. He gets up from the table, leaving his coffee, too tempted to throw it in Valiant’s face if he picked it up.

He storms out of the shop and runs to the gym. He was going to go anyway since he is on a schedule for football. He goes straight up to the punching bag in the back corner of the room, and continues to punch the bag for 15 minutes straight. When he comes out of his trance, he finds the room staring at him, blood on the bag, and snot and tears dripping down his face.

 

**********

After a trip to the ER, he finds that his right hand is sprained and he’s told that he can’t play for two weeks to let his hand fully recover. His coach is going to kill him.

“Arthur? Is that you?” his mother says as he heads inside his house.

“Yeah. I’m just going up to shower.”

“Arthur, the hospital called me. What hap—Arthur! What did you do to your hand?!”

He sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it, mum.”

“Arthur Pendragon, you are going to tell me what happened, whether you like it or not.”

He took in a shaky breath as he said, “Valiant broke up with me, so I went to the gym and punched the boxing bag for a bit.”

“Oh Arthur, I’m so sorry. But taking out your anger on a bag with the consequence of injuring yourself is not the way you handle your feelings.”

“Really, mum? Then how am I supposed to handle them? Write them in my diary? Talk about them with my girlfriend over cocktails and nail polish? I don’t have friends here anymore mum, and I’m not a girl. And it doesn’t help that you and dad told me to hide my feelings because I was a growing boy, and boys don’t cry. Well, that’s all I want to do right now, and I can’t do it without feeling like I’m failing you both. So what am I supposed to do?! I don’t even have a boyfriend to talk about it with anymore!”

“Arthur, I didn’t mean—”

“I’m just going up to my room. Please don’t bother me.”

He tries really hard not to slam the door, and just barely manages not to. He throws himself on to his bed and stares up at the ceiling as he thinks of the perfect 19 years he’s had, and how badly he’s going to fall in the upcoming years. It’s not something he’s looking forward to.

He sits up and looks at his reflection in the mirror. He sees what he’s always seen in the mirror: blond hair, blue eyes and a body covered in inches of golden colored skin. But when he gets up and walks closer to the image, he sees what his father and Valiant told him about. He can see his stomach poking out of the shirt he’s wearing and sees the lines of cloth hanging around the pot belly. He looks up to his chest and sees bulge’s popping out. Are those…man boobs? He looks up to his face and sees about an inch of skin under his, now less defined, jawline. He can barely see his neck and when he looks at his face, it’s contorted into the face Uther made. He’s disgusted with himself.

This is not the Arthur Pendragon that was the jock, straight A, perfect student in high school. This is—he doesn’t even know who this is. He lifts his arm to punch at his reflection because he doesn’t recognize who it is, but he looks at his bandaged hand, blood seeping through the white bandage. He lowers it and takes in a shaky breath as he makes his way back to the bed. he pulls up Netflix and clicks the first movie he sees—Mulan. And when he watches Mulan sing and contemplate about how she doesn’t recognize her reflection, Arthur cries as he eyes his reflection in the computer screen.

***

The rest of the break goes about the same. He comes down for meals, ignoring his mother’s attempts to make him feel better, ignoring his father all together incase of criticism, and he shuts himself into his room, sometimes eyeing himself in the mirror, mentally noting the ways he’s become someone he doesn’t know, or watches Disney movies because they make him feel good.

When he gets back to campus, it’s even more nerve-wracking than he ever imagined. After what he’s heard from Valiant and his father, he’s terrified of staying outside more than necessary, for fear of others judging him. He practically runs to his room, and finds Gwaine debating over which shirt to wear, no doubt for a pub run tonight. He turns his head when he hears the door shut.

“Ah, Princess! Welcome back, welcome back! How was break? Mine was fucking amazing. Every single night, I pulled! Every. Single. Fucking. Night. It was magnificent. How was the boyfriend?”

“He broke up with me.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m…”

Gwaine raises his eyebrows, prompting Arthur to finish his sentence.

“…fat.”

His roommate’s mouth falls open. “He—excuse me? He said what?”

Arthur rolls his eyes and makes his way towards his bed to start unpacking. “You heard what I said, Gwaine. I’m not repeating it.”

“That fucking…douchebag! That cockhead! Who the fuck does he think he is?! You’re not fat! You’re fit! You’re healthy! There’s nothing wrong with you! Fuck him, Arthur. What does he know?”

“Enough, apparently. He said that he gained some weight because of football as well, but he maintains it better than I do.”

“That wanker. Where does he go to school? I’ll go up there and teach him a lesson. Maybe three or four. I’ll bring Percy.”

Percy is another bloke on the team. Or, rather a mountain than a bloke. He’s enormous. He’s at least 6 foot 7 and weights 260 pounds of muscle, and he’s also one of the sweetest guys Arthur’s ever met. He’s so fit, but as straight as they get.

He laughs at Gwaine’s persistence. He really is a good friend, and it makes him feel a bit better.

“That’s it. You’re coming out tonight with me. We’re gonna pull for you. And if anyone can make it happen, it’s me. I’m the best fucking wingman.”

He sighs. “Gwaine, I have an 8am every day for the rest of the semester. What makes you think I’m going out on a Sunday night?”

He smiles oh so deviously. And if that’s the reason Arthur decides to go, Gwaine doesn’t have to know.

**********

He’s five pints and four shots in, and he’s feeling a little more than tipsy. Gwaine’s been feeding him shots like birds take to seeds and he’s spinning. Or the floor is spinning. Or they’re both spinning. Either way, he’s not feeling too good.

“Come on, mate, one more! One more for good luck!” Gwaine says, way too soberly.

“Gwaine, I don’t think I can do it.”

“Sure you can. It’s like drinking water really quickly. Only it tastes really bad.”

He tries to give him a menacing glare, but since Gwaine laughs, he doesn’t think it works.

“Fine. Last one though. You have to promise. I feel like I’m about to fall over.”

“Arthur, you can’t! We still have to find someone for you to pull! I promised, and I never break promises.”

“Yes you do, Gwaine.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No I—when did I break a promise, then?”

“Second week last semester. Me. Fountain. No clothes. And a certain picture.”

Gwaine starts laughing. “Okay, that was only one.”

“Goats. Cheese. And that pen. Remember those?”

His eyes widen slightly, gravely. “Shit, I forgot about those. Okay, so I don’t keep my promises.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’m in a new year, so I’m a new man. I’ll keep this one. Now drink up!”

He shakes his head as he takes the dubiously colored shot from Gwaine, lifts it up in cheers, and downs it. He looks at Gwaine and wonders how there were suddenly three of him.

“Gwaine? When did you clone yourself? One Gwaine is more than enough trouble to deal with. We don’t need three.”

“Oh no,” he hears one of the Gwaine’s say, and the next thing you know, he’s on the ground and it’s black.

***

“Hello? Mate, can you hear me?”

“Slkoiwje”

And for some reason, he feels warmth coursing through while the strange man chuckles. “Still not there yet. Give him some more water.”

He feels his head being lifted up from the warm ground, and feels the cool liquid flow down his throat. It feels like being doused in cold water during one of the hot summers London never has.

“Ugh, my head. What happened?”

“You passed out, mate. Your friend here is responsible. Almost had alcohol poisoning. Lucky for you, I’m studying to be a trainer, so I’m in the process of studying remedies for health.”

He looks up at this miracle worker for the first time. He’s still hazy, but he can make out a face with blue gems in place of eyes and his hair is black like licorice. He looks like a character that could be in an animated Disney movie. A Disney Prince! And now he wants some licorice while he watches Disney movies.

He hears the bloke’s marvelous chuckling again but he also sees two red blotches on those really well defined cheekbones. “Keep giving him some water. He’s still not coherent.” Guess he said that out loud.

“Thanks for your help, mate,” Gwaine says.           

“Anytime. I have to go, my friends are waiting for me, but take care of him,” he hears The Disney Prince say, voice fading away. And strangely, he feels cold when he can no longer hear the Prince’s silky voice. He pouts.

He hears Gwaine sigh. “Alright, mate. Let’s get you home.”

“Are three of you’s going to be enough? I think I’m too fat for you all to carry.”

“Oh, Arthur. You’re not fat. C’mon. Let’s get you up.”

He gets to his feet, and the next thing he knows, he’s in his bed being tucked in.

“No wonder you got fucked up, mate. Don’t drink away your feelings. One roommate who does that is enough. We don’t need another one.”

Subconsciously, he knows he should talk to Gwaine about that, but not subconsciously, he pulls his friend in for a hug. “You’re my bestest friend, Gwaine.”

“You’re mine too, mate.” He hears fondness, but also sadness. He wonders how the two can be so correlated. Just like he wonders how death and hope can be correlated. He’s so humiliated about himself he wants to die, but he hopes with the same vigor that everything will work out in the end.

He choses to hope because he does love his life, no matter how shitty it’s become. It can only get better, right?

_________________________________________

 “I want to marry Elena,” his best friend tells him. So naturally, he spits out his coffee onto said mate’s work suit.

“What?!”

“What?”

“…”

“Oh, don’t give me that look! I’ve waited long enough. Longer than I’ve wanted to. It’s been six bloody years, and, Arthur, I want her for the rest of my life.”

“Gwaine, that’s amazing! I was wondering when you were going to realize she’s the one! I’ve literally been waiting for this day since you guys first met.”

And to his surprise, Gwaine blushes. Like a red balloon.

“You’re…you’re blushing! You never blush!”

“Shut up, Pendragon! Some fucking best friend you are.” He gets up to leave, clearly embarrassed by the stares that he didn’t mean to draw.

He grabs for his wrist. “No, Gwaine. I’m sorry. I’m just so excited for you!”

Gwaine stares at him with wide eyes. “You’re…what?”

He replays what he said in his head. It wasn’t anything bad, was it? So he slowly says again, “I’m…excited? For you?”

“You’re actually excited about something?”

“Oh, shut up. I’ve been plenty excited. I’m excited that this sandwich was actually made properly this time.” The last two times he came here for lunch with Gwaine, they slathered it with mayonnaise. He asked for mustard.

“No, mate, you’re missing the point. You’re excited. You’re never excited about anything anymore.”

He scoffs. “Please, you’re making it sound like I’m depressed or something.”

When he doesn’t hear a retort coming from his best mate, he looks up at Gwaine to find him staring at him with something very similar to pity.

He sighs, and starts packing up his things. “Gwaine, we’re…I’m not talking about this again. I’m happy for you! It’s your fucking moment, not mine. Stop trying to bring this up. I’m done talking about it.”

Gwaine is still silent, which is really saying something. He never shuts up.

“Arthur, we’re just worried about you. You haven’t been out of your house for nearly three years.”

“Gwaine, you’re being ridiculous. I go out. Hell, I’m out now.”

“You know what I mean.”

He sighs. “It sounds like you’re not dropping it.”

“Precisely.”

“Then let’s not do it here. Come to mine for dinner. Bring Elena if you like.”

“Nah, I’ll bring my other girlfriend.” Alcohol.

“I’ll be home by 8.”

“Sounds perfect. See you then.”

He puts his laptop in his bag and heads out the shop to his office.

**********

It’s been 12 years, 16 failed dates, 23 hurtful comments, 20 extra pounds (not muscle) and 1 broken self-esteem later, and Arthur Pendragon feels hopeless. He should’ve chosen the other option. So he’s stuck with the “move-on-with-life-until-you-drop-dead” option.

Every date he’s had since Valiant broke up with him all failed because he was too scared that they would break up with them because of his weight. And coming home from those were the worst because he felt like complete shit—he didn’t think he would ever find anyone who could take him as he is.

As for the hurtful comments, he’d be in bars with Gwaine, at work, or just out shopping/grocery shopping, and he would hear hushed, but not well enough concealed comments about his weight. The worst ones were “He’d be so attractive if he wasn’t so fat.” He’d then go home and drown himself in that week’s supply of tequila. It’s happened more times than he can count, and Gwaine and Elena, bless their hearts, would try everything to make sure he would be okay after one of those debacles. It seldom worked, though. He would put on an act, for Elena at least, since she couldn’t see through his bullshit, pretending he felt a lot better. But at nights like this with Gwaine, he would talk about his insecurities, and even then, he wouldn’t open up all the way. He would let out just enough so he wouldn’t frighten Gwaine away with his problems. Or, so he thought.

“Arthur, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you. I don’t care how many times or how many problems you bring to me. I’ll listen to them and I’ll do what I can. You’ve always done so for me. What makes me so different?”

You’re about to get engaged, eventually married. If you wanted, you could totally isolate yourself from me. And that’s fucking terrifying. I’m scared I’m not a good enough friend for you.

“You’re a fucking wanker, that’s what.”

Gwaine sighs, then chuckles. “I’m never gonna get a straight answer out of you, am I?”

Arthur answers by taking another swig of his tequila bottle. Gwaine has learned to just go along with it.

“Enough about me. Now tell me about your plan for Elena.”

He smiles, so soft-heartedly that Arthur wants to puke.

“Ugh, you’ve already gone soft.”

Gwaine punches him in the arm. “Shut up. When you find someone like Elena, you’ll get it.” And with that, he gives Arthur the gist. He’s looking for a ring now, but after Elena’s big project, which ends in three months, he’s going to take her ice skating, fall in front of her (which shouldn’t be a problem), then propose. It’s how they met, after all. Without the proposing bit. Then he plans on getting married a year after. Elena’s an event planner, so she’s going to want to go all out when she accepts. Of course she’s going to accept. They’ve been in love with each other since they fell on each other.

And that’s when it hits him. His best friend is going to get married, and he’s going to look like shit. And that’s something he doesn’t want in a million years. He wants the day to be perfect for Gwaine.

“Hey, El said she had a friend who’s a personal trainer, right?”

Gwaine puts down his drink cautiously and stares at Arthur.

“What are you thinking?”

“I just—Gwaine I hate feeling like this. Especially with your wedding coming around, I want to look good for it. For you guys.”

“Arthur, El and I love you for who you are. Just because you’re a little overweight doesn’t mean that it won’t be perfect for us. If you’re going to do this, do it for yourself. It makes it a lot easier.”

Arthur mentally rolls his eyes. After meeting Elena, he’s become a lot more feeling oriented. Which is both good and bad.

“I am doing it for myself, Gwaine.”

He looks content, and calls Elena.

“Hey babe. I wan—”

“Gwaine, honey, if it isn’t important, please wait till you get home. I’m trying to relax. It’s been a really fucking hectic day.”

Arthur could hear how exhausted she was through the phone.

“I know, El. It’s about Arthur.”

“Arthur? Is he okay? What’s wrong?” he almost laughed at how he could hear her suddenly alert.

“Nothing, I think. He wants the name of your friend who’s a trainer.”

“Um, is—”

“No, I talked to him about it. He’s doing it for himself.”

“Oh okay. I’ll text him Merlin’s information. And just tell Arthur that he’ll know right away if he’s lying about his reasons for getting in shape. Merlin is very perceptive.”

Arthur covers up a scoff by pretending to choke on his drink. How anal can one person be about losing weight?

**********

Arthur ends up meeting Merlin on a Saturday, a week after he and Gwaine had their talk.

He finds Merlin at a gym about a ten-minute walk from his flat. It’s huge. The place is covered in multiple types of machines, two rows of treadmills and ellipticals and stair thingies. It has a full kitchen, an office with three desks, and a separate room with a wall of mirrors. Right now, there’s a yoga class going on in there, with the door halfway closed, to keep privacy, Arthur assumes. There’s also a spin class going on in the back corner of the gym, and there are countless people on machines, some with trainers, but most without. No one is looking at anyone, except for himself because he’s new, but it makes him relax a little more to think that no one will be paying any particular attention to him.

A voice breaks his survey around the room. It sounds familiar, but he can’t quite place it.

“Come on, Alice. There’s just five more left to go! Then you can have all the water you want.”

The woman, who looks about 60 years old, laughs as she lifts a 45-pound dumbbell over her head like it’s a piece of cake. Huh.

“You’re sworn on killing me, aren’t you, Merlin?”

Merlin laughs. Another peculiarly familiar sound that makes him feel all warm and fuzzy.

“Only because you’re dating my uncle.”

She smiles at him, and pumps out three more reps before she drops the bar. She rests her hands on her knees and looks like she’s about to keel over, so Arthur makes his way towards her.

“Are you alright, miss?”

Two pairs of blue eyes turn to him, and the sudden attention makes him back off…rather too quickly because he trips over a couple of dumbbells placed behind him. He lands with an oomph and keeps his eyes closed to fend off the embarrassment.

To his surprise though, the chuckling he hears is comforting.

“I see you haven’t changed much, then.”

He opens one eye to see a sea of ocean blue staring at him, and rosy red lips cracked up into a small smirk. The man’s jet black hair is sweaty, so it’s plastered to his porcelain white skin. The longer he’s staring the strange man, the more the pink in his cheeks spread and turn red. Then it hits him.

“You’re the Disney Prince! Um, I mean…”

The man’s white cheeks go dark red as he turns around to mumble something to the older woman. She walks away shaking her head and smiling, and he turns back to Arthur with a shy grin and says,

“Um, no. You did say that last time we met too, though. I’m Merlin. I’m assuming you’re Arthur?”

He holds out an arm covered in skin-tight black cloth, hand outstretched for Arthur to grab onto. He grips Merlin’s big palm and slim fingers and pulls himself off of the floor. He steps back to adjust himself.

“Yes, um…sorry about that. This and last time. Wasn’t really myself.”

Merlin looks him up and down, and Arthur can feel his cheeks heating up for the second time today.

“Nah, alcohol always brings out the weird side of people. So you’re Arthur, huh? Who would’ve thunk it.”

And Arthur just kind of stares at Merlin. Appalling grammar aside, the man is just a smidge taller than Arthur, in skin tight clothes that show off the slight muscles in his stomach, bulging chest and outlines of his biceps. His face is round, but defined and kind of roguish, like Gwaine’s. His neck is long and his collarbone highlighted by the slight muscle around it, veins showing off as he tilts his head to the side, waiting for Arthur to answer him. And he very much wants to bite at it. There’s no stubble on his face, but there might as well be, because Arthur is truly and utterly fucked. Because his potential personal trainer is the hottest thing he’s seen in his life.

So naturally, he swallows down his feelings and puts his foot in his mouth.

“Do you have some sort of mental affliction? You do know that ‘thunk’ isn’t actually a word? How did you get certified with grammar as atrocious as that?”

Merlin’s beautiful lips form a rather impressive “O” shape that has him thinking about what kind of things he can put in there. Particularly his cock. Yes. And how those cheekbones would hollow out every time he dragged his cock in and out of that mouth.

Merlin laughs, crosses his arms across that really unfairly defined chest, and retorts, “Um, okay. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable in any way. If I did anything to offend you, I’m sorry. You don’t need to be a prat about it.”

“Me? A prat? You’re joking. You’re the one who looked me up and down like—”

As soon as he said it, he knew he said to much. This word vomit thing was new to him.

“Oh, not that’s not—” Merlin blushed again. “It wasn’t what you thought I was doing. I promise. All my clients are looked at without discrimination or judgment. I can assure you of that.”

“Yeah, okay. That makes me feel loads better.”

“And as for the other thing, it was stupid. I’m an editor, so I hope I have good enough grammar to know that ‘thunk’ isn’t a real word.”

“You’re an editor? How do you still have a job?”

Merlin sighs. “Let’s just talk about you, shall we? I have another appointment in 45 minutes. If you want to do this, we need to talk a bit about you today. Do you still want to do this or no? I can refer you to someone else if you prefer? I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Arthur looks around the gym and sees a young, dark-skinned woman and another attractive man working with people, and he doesn’t know why, but he feels more comfortable with Merlin for some reason. And it’s not just because he’s hot. Okay, well maybe it’s a little bit because he’s hot. But just a bit.

“No, sorry. Let’s talk.”

Merlin gives him a small smile and leads him into the room with the desks. He grabs a folder and some papers as he motions for Arthur to sit down in the chair. He grabs a clipboard and starts writing things down as he makes himself comfortable on the desk.

“So, Arthur. Tell me about yourself.”

“Um, okay. I’m 30 years old and I work at Pendragon Inc. Took over it after my parents died in a car crash. I—“

Merlin’s hand cover’s his, and Arthur looks up at him, seeing concern and sympathy. “I’m so sorry, Arthur.”

“Oh. Um, it’s fine. It’s been almost four years now, so…um. Yeah. I—I live alone, don’t really have any hobbies except for grocery shopping and watching football. Um…”

He looks up again to see Merlin writing furiously. “Okay, and what about your health? Why did you want to come here?”

“Well, my best friend’s planning to get married in about a year, and I want to look my best for him and—”

“Gwaine’s going to propose to Elena!?”

Shit. “No! Yes! Just not now! God, you can’t tell her!”

“Oh my God, she’s been waiting forever! She’s going to be so excited.”

“Merlin, you can’t tell her. He’s not going to propose until after this project. She’s so busy right now.”

Merlin snorts. “I’m not actually an idiot, Arthur. I’m not going to tell her.”

“Oh, okay.”

“But you know I can’t help you if you’re doing it for them. I’m more than sure that Elena told you this.”

Shit. He forgot about that. “Technically, I am ultimately doing it for myself. I want to look good.”

“For their wedding.”

“What difference does it make?”

“More than you realize.”

Arthur raises his eyebrow. “Oh really?”

Merlin sighs and stands up. “Follow me.”

He takes Arthur to see a man who looks about 40 years old, doing push ups with 20 pounds on his back. He looks really fit. He’s wearing a tank top that shows off his biceps, bulging with each downward motion. His face is so set, like he’s had that face for a hundred years or more, covered with an orange beard, long, red hair sticking to his cheek from the exertion.

Merlin looks at him with a bit of fondness and sadness.

“That’s Leon. He came to me five years ago because he wanted to lose weight for his girlfriend. He wanted to look good for her. He was embarrassed that she was so beautiful and he didn’t think he and he wanted to be the best he could be for her. He was 360 pounds. He was with me for 5 months and had lost 40 pounds when his girlfriend broke up with him.”

And that hit Arthur closer to home than he would’ve liked.

“He came in the day after she dumped him and broke my jaw. Said I didn’t do enough for him to keep her. He was still ugly. I hope you can see as well as I that he’s not an unattractive bloke. Quite the opposite, actually.”

Arthur nods silently.

“He was devastated. He’s actually a really good friend of Gwen, another trainer who works here. He was close to taking his life, he was so depressed. He felt he wasn’t good enough for anyone. I went up to him one day about three years ago and told him that he was gorgeous, and the only way anyone would be able to see that is if he could see it himself first. He laughed in my face. He came in a week later and said he wanted to try. He wanted to try and be healthy for himself first, to try and love himself. He’s 194 pounds now. He comes in every day for about an hour. He’s engaged to one of my best friends now and they love each other like anything.

“He’s much happier now, obviously. And he loves himself before he loves anything else. Though, if he finds out I told you about this, he’d probably murder me. That’s why it’s important, Arthur. You could try and please anyone you ever wanted by doing what you think they want, but in the end, if it’s not good enough for them, you’re going to end up blaming yourself, or me, that you were never good enough. You have to want to prove it to yourself.”

He looks at Arthur, eyes almost watering with emotion, but face beaming with pride that he was able to do this with Leon. He’s so sincere in wanting to help Arthur that he almost wants to give in now, just say he’ll do whatever it takes just so Merlin can look at him that way.

“Look, I know it’s a lot of feeling crap, something you don’t see to fond of,” Merlin continues with a smirk on his face. He can’t decide if he wants to punch it off or kiss it off, but the emotions go hand in hand, really. “But if you change your mind, I work here every day, from 6-8am and 3-8pm on weekdays and from 10-7 on weekends. Stop by whenever you like if you change your mind. I’ll be here.”

Merlin smiles at Arthur, then heads back to the office, putting the paper he wrote on in a folder. He comes back towards Arthur with a small slip of paper in his hand.

“Here’s my business card. If you feel like leaving a message with receptionist, that’s Freya, she’ll can make an appointment for you.”

Arthur still hasn’t said a word. He’s too caught up with the emotion he’s not used to feeling since his parents died, so having all this just laid on him within the span of 15 minutes is more than a little overwhelming.

“Thank you, Merlin. I’ll be in touch.”

Merlin gives him a small smile, then turns around to head towards the now closed yoga room. And Arthur…he makes his way to his apartment so he can drown himself in another bottle of tequila a week ahead of schedule. Might as well make the last one count.

_________________________________ M~

“I’m telling you, Gwen, I think I scared him off. I’ve never seen anyone so afraid. Though I think I did rant a little too much.”

Gwen smacks Merlin across the back of the head.

“Merlin, I keep telling you to not tell Leon’s story! For someone new, start off with a success story a little more uplifting, like mine or Lance’s.”

Merlin sighed. He has done that for his two newest clients. It was just, something about Arthur made him want to let him know that he’s worth what he’s going to put himself through.

“I know Gwen. But he seemed like someone who would probably be squeamish after hearing about your and Lance’s romance.”

Gwen blushed. Making her blush was his favorite past time. It happens so often so it never fails to make him smile.

“You know that’s not what I mean,” she says with her smile growing.

Gwen and Lance were two of his best mates who met at Merlin’s first yoga class. Lance was a bit chubbier and Gwen wanted to improve her flexibility. It was love at first sight, just like the Hollywood romances are portrayed. There was even background music, and they met during Merlin’s 6pm class, so there was even the lighting provided by the sunset. It was all very dramatic and disgusting. Now, they’re both personal trainers at Gaius’, his uncle’s, gym and yoga instructors every weekend.

“I know,” he replies with a smile of his own. “But there was just something about him. I think he needed to hear it.”

Gwen shakes her head at him. “Sometimes, Merlin, I wonder what goes on in that ridiculous head of yours.”

“No doubt visions of me,” he hears a voice call out from behind him.

“Will? I thought you weren’t supposed to be back till tomorrow!” Merlin turns around and runs into the outspread arms of his boyfriend.

Will hugs Merlin back, then pulls back to give him a kiss, albeit a little too dirty for public eyes. “I was, but then I realized that I could do all they wanted me to do back at home with you in your bed.”

Merlin laughs and grabs his bag from the floor. He’d finished all his appointments for the day, so he gives Gwen the key, says goodbye then heads out of the gym with Will.

Will has been Merlin’s boyfriend for 9 months, the longest Merlin’s ever had a boyfriend. They met in the company, Camelot Publishing, Will being the assistant to the CEO and Merlin, the editor. They met constantly, as Merlin works with the CEO uncommonly closely. They’d become good friends in the past year, so Merlin’s been helping him with any necessary editing, obviously. Tristian, the CEO, sent Will down one day nine months ago with a file of papers, only to have coffee spilt on them because Merlin always has been, and always will be, clumsy. They ended up staying in the copy room together, talking away, and it ended with a plan to go on a date later that night.

Will and Tristian just came back from Berlin, finalizing a deal with the company they’re buying out. It’s what Merlin’s been helping out with the past few months.

“So, how’d it go?”

“Fantastically. We bought the company in only three days. And the fact that Tristian scored a date with Isolde, the company’s boss, doesn’t hurt either.”

Merlin snorts. “What, they’re going to marry so they have better relations? What is this, the 3rd century?”

Will throws his head back and laughs, and Merlin is immediately drawn to his Adam’s apple, how it bobs up and down with every laugh that comes out. Out of a sudden impulse, Merlin pushes will up against the brick wall of the pub they’re supposed to be in and sucks his neck.

“I missed you,” he says.

Will grunts and tilts his neck to the side, giving Merlin easier access to make bite marks. He’s always been a little possessive.

“Me too. I thought about you all night last night. I couldn’t wait to come home to this. To you,” Will says.

“Let’s go to my place, yeah?” Merlin bites once, hard, and licks up a stripe up his neck to his ear and starts whispering hotly as he slowly, so very slowly, ruts against Will’s thigh.

“How long’s it been since I’ve fucked you nice and slow, hmm? It was always too fast for my taste. You always take it nice and hard, my cock slamming in and out of your pucker. You keep begging for me to go so fast, yeah? Well I’m gonna take it nice and slow tonight, Will. I’m gonna make you beg for it. I’ll start with your cock. Lick it slowly, tonguing your slit, maybe I’ll let you fuck my mouth, huh?”

Will moans too loudly for an alley way. “Fuck, Merlin your goddamn mouth will be the end of me.”

He smirks, “That’s what I plan on.”

Will takes Merlin’s face in his hands and smashes their lips together, kissing him dirty, using too much tongue. Merlin lets himself be devoured. It’s been three months since they’ve last done anything. Will’s always too busy with this merger or that deal, so they seldom see each other as it is. So when moments like this come along, Merlin tries to make the most of it.

Merlin pulls away, a little too devilish smile on his face and hails a cab. They try and make the cab ride bearable, but Will’s hand inches closer and closer to his crotch every minute they’re in the cab. By the end of the car ride, they’re both hard, and Will’s hand is down his pants, giving him a very overt hand job in the back of the cab. The cabbie is not impressed.

Merlin gives the cabbie at tenner, yelling at him to keep the change, because Lord knows he deserved it. Will pulls him into the elevator and pushes Merlin’s pants down to his knees and kisses him filthy while tugging on Merlin’s cock.

“Fuck, Will. Wait till…fuck, uhn, till we get inside,” Merlin gets out between kisses.

“It’s not my fault you have a filthy mouth. God, Merlin, almost had me coming at the pub. I missed your mouth.”

The elevator dings open, and Merlin hopes to God there isn’t anyone on his floor waiting for the lift. Luckily, his prayers are answered, so he and Will stagger slowly to his door. It takes him two times to finally get the key in the door, and another three for him to turn the handle before they both fall inside his door. Merlin manages to kick the door shut just as Will wraps his lips around his prick, bobbing slowly.

“Mmm, Merlin, you taste so good.”

“Uhn, Will. God…fuck.”

Merlin looks down at Will and his face screams bliss. His eyes are closed, head bobbing up and down like he’s jamming out to music, and his light brown hair is plastered across his face. He looks like a fucking wet dream.

Of course, it’s then when Will’s phone rings. At first, Merlin thinks he’s going to ignore it, but then, Will all but leaps for his phone, almost as if he wasn’t sucking Merlin off on the floor of his flat.

“’Lo?”

Merlin could barely make out what was going on.

“Yeah. Mmmhmm. No, I told you I couldn’t do that. Fine, yeah. Okay. See you tomorrow.”

“Everything alright?” Merlin asks.

“Yeah,” he sighs. Not a good sign. “I’ve got to be home. Apparently there are a few things Tristian forgot to give me to do, and I’ve got to finish them before tomorrow’s meeting.”

Merlin sighs. It’s not the first time it’s happened like this. In the nine months they’ve been together, Merlin has successfully come to orgasm with his partner three times. And they were all rushed.

“Merlin, don’t look at me like that. You know as well as I do how Tristian is.”

“I know, Will, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell him no from time to time. I’ve heard you say it to him before. I know you’ve done it for less before. This is literally the fifth time it’s happening. Can’t you talk to him about it? I don’t mean to sound clingy, but I do want to spend some time with you. We’ve barely seen each other as it is.”

“Merlin, we spend nearly every day together.”

“Will, you know what I mean. I’ve been getting myself off for months now. I want some alone time with you.”

“I do too,” he says as he comes face to face with Merlin. He takes his face in his hands and kisses him gently. “I do too. But it’s going to have to wait a little longer.”

Merlin sighs. “Okay.”

“I don’t want you to be mad at me, Merlin.”

He laughs. “Will, you know I won’t hold this against you. It’s work. I understand.”

Will smiles at him as he zips up his pants and grabs his bag from the floor.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah.” He kisses him once more before he heads down the hallway to catch the lift.

Merlin watches him go down, head against the door post. The past few weeks had almost felt like Will was running away from him, but after today, he had a little hope. Maybe he was the one. Maybe in the end, everything they went through would be worth it.

Merlin smiles to himself as he shuts the door, locks it, then strips off his clothes while on the way to the bathroom.

He’d had a long day. He read three books, two of which were from the author that no one actually liked in the industry, but still managed to sell a tremendous amount of books. So basically, he was rubbing his eyes on a cheese grater for four hours.

He went under the showerhead and finished himself off to thoughts of Will on his prick, four fingers deep inside his hole, no where near enough to fill the whole in his heart.

*********

“Merlin! Your next appointment is here!”

“Frey, I don’t have any appointments today. I’ve been reading and commenting all day, and I swear, I can’t take another one of these author’s that think they’ve got the next Harry Potter. No one’s fucking beating Harry Potter.

“Can’t argue with you there,” says a very not-feminine voice.

He spins around so fast, he loses his balance and falls into his chair only to look up to find the pair of blue eyes that have been haunting him for the past two weeks.

“Arthur! You’re here! In my office…why?”

Arthur fidgeted as he explained: “Well, I’ve just recently started working half days, and you said if I had decided to let you know, so I thought I might as well do it in person. I didn’t know…I’m sorry if that was the wrong thing to do. I should’ve just—”

And Merlin couldn’t help but laugh, because here was a tremendously attractive bloke who looked like he could kill with his bare hands stumbling over an apology about meeting someone in person.

“Arthur, you don’t need to worry. It’s more than fine. Please, have a seat.”

Arthur blushes a beautiful rose color, fidgets for a second more, then sits down in the chair in front of his desk.

“So, I didn’t think I’d hear from you. I thought I’d scared you off from seeing me again.” And God, was he…flirting?

“At first, you did. A lot of the things you said…well, let’s just say they hit me closer to home than I ever thought.”

“Oh,” Merlin says. Because what do you say to that?

“But I thought a lot about it, and you’re right. I’ve always been trying to please the people around me, but I haven’t been doing anything for myself. Actually the only thing I’ve ever done for myself was starting to work half days, which I only just started about a week ago.”

Merlin smiled at him as Arthur took in a deep breath to keep going.

“Look, I don’t know why I’m saying all this to you. I haven’t even told my best mate about most of this, but there’s something about you that makes me want to trust you. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to trust you. It might be a stupid thing to do since I barely know you, but it feels like the right thing to do. Merlin? Are you alright?”

Um, no. Merlin’s not alright, thank you. The breath’s been knocked out of him. He’s never heard anyone sound so open and vulnerable before. He’s never had someone trust him so openly. He’s never seen or heard anything as sexy as that before. He didn’t even know that he found that sexy. But…what?

“Uh, yeah. Sorry.” He cleared his throat and went on, cautious smile on his face. “I don’t know what it is Arthur, there’s something about you that makes me want to be there for you. So I’m going to help you as best as I can.”

Arthur blushes. “You have to say that to all your clients.”

Merlin smile grows wider, more genuine. “Just the ones I like.”

And Arthur blushes deeper, and holy Lord almighty, fuck Gwen and her blushes. He wants Arthur like this always. But then he realizes what he said.

“I mean, there are really annoying clients, and really stuck up ones. I like the ones that are more honest and seem hardworking. Which you do. Seem hardworking. So I like you. Not like that! Just as a person. Like you as a person.”

And Arthur looks like he’s about to laugh. Prat.

“Merlin, I have Greg on lin—oh my. Are you both alright? You look positively flushed.”

“Uh, just turn on the cooling a bit, Freya. Thanks.”

“Okay. Greg’s on line two for you. He wants to talk about his manuscript.”

“Right. Thanks.”

Arthur clears his throat and makes to get up, shadow of a smile on his face. “I should go. Sorry for bothering you at work.”

“No, it’s fine. Um, let’s meet at the gym today at 4? We can discuss your training regimen there.”

“Sounds perfect. See you.”

“Bye.”

Arthur walks out of the room, and Merlin tries really hard to not stare at his ass. Really, really hard. He sighs as he loses his control and stares at his backside, round ass swinging from left to right with each step. Ugh, he has a boyfriend, for God sakes. Maybe he’s just horny. Yeah, that’s it. Just horny. He hasn’t had sex in nearly two months.

“Greg, how can I help you?” Merlin says as he answers his landline.

“Ah, Merlin. I wanted to talk to you about—” and he continues to go on about how Merlin’s comments on his manuscript completely ruin his work. The thing is they don’t ruin his work. They make it infinitely better. Why did they hire Greg again? Merlin swallows down a sigh as he calmly tries to explain to Greg, in the nicest manner possible, that his writing sucks balls. And not pleasantly, either. All while trying to keep the vision of Arthur blushing out of his head.

***********

“So, how does this work, exactly?” Arthur asks when they meet at the gym at 4pm.

“First thing’s first. I’m going to have to take measurements, pictures, goals and your diet plan from you, then I’ll give you only a half hour work out today. We’ll start the real training regimen tomorrow. Today is just getting a sense about how you feel and what you can and can’t do. Is that alright?”

“Uh…”

“And don’t worry about your information getting out. You see those lockers over there?”

Merlin points to the long row of silver lockers next to his office.

“My bag, which never leaves my sight, contains all of my clients’ information. The bag is locked, the locker is locked, and when I’m home, my door is locked. And I sleep with the door closed. So if anyone tried to get in and steal my bag for whatever reason, no one could. I mean unless I’m asleep and they break in. Um, because I’m a really heavy sleeper. Um.” And Merlin really has no idea why is spitting all this out. All he’s doing is staring at Arthur in his work-out attire: white tank top that is sort of see-through, so you could make out the shape of his nipples, which holy God that’s unfair, and his baggy shorts that show off his big, but seemingly muscular thighs. Ugh, he can’t take it.

And Arthur? Well, his beautiful full, pink lips turn upwards with every word Merlin keeps on throwing out between them. In fact, they turn up so much, that Merlin can make out that he has a crooked tooth. Which is so fucking unfair. They’re supposed to work against people, not make them look irresistible.

“Merlin, I thought you’ve had at least 8 years of experience under your belt. It’s rather unusual to be nervous, isn’t it?” And is that bastard smirking at him? Is Arthur trying to kill him? God, he has a boyfriend. Of nine fucking months. He should not be thinking like this. He must be really goddamn horny. He needs to call Will.

“How do you know I’ve had that much experience?”

“Well, I’m hardly going to just let you train me. I needed to check out your background to make sure you were actually legit.”

At this, Merlin raises his eyebrow. His uncle would be proud. Gaius’ eyebrow raising skills are beyond compare.

“Looked me up, did you?”

Arthur blushed. Score, Merlin thinks and smiles at Arthur.

“For educational purposes.”

Merlin chuckles lightly. “Of course. I would’ve done the same. Now let’s go into the studio to take your measurements. There’s a door we can close for, um, privacy.” And if he blushes as he says that and Arthur walks into the room, ass swaying, Arthur doesn’t have to know.

They walk inside and Merlin instructs Arthur to take off his shirt, but he looks hesitant. So Merlin lightly grabs Arthur’s arm.

“Look, Arthur, you can trust me. I’m not going to make fun of you. Like you said, I’ve had more than enough experience.”

Arthur looks a little more relaxed, but his hands still shake as he strips off his shirt. And…he’s not fat, per say. He has a pot belly that is a little out there, but there is some definition, evidence of previous exercise experience.

Merlin starts to look Arthur up and down, measuring exactly which areas he needs to work Arthur. They could start off with his abs, making the pot belly disappear, give the stomach a bit more definition, build up his arm muscles. They should also work on the chest, getting the muscles to be firm instead of coming out. He circles around Arthur and makes a mental note that his back is already a little defined, just needs a little more work. His thighs could use some work as well as his calves. And Merlin, he swears, tries not to drool.

He looks up at Arthur, about to let him know he’s ready to take measurements, and he realizes he’s as red as a tomato, and trying really hard to not look in the mirror. Merlin frowns.

“Arthur, there’s no need to be ashamed of yourself.”

His eyes snap to Merlin’s, as if he can’t believe he just said that out loud.

“How did you—”

Merlin gives him a small smile. “You forgot how long I’ve been doing this. I’ve seen that look more times than you can imagine.”

Arthur sighs resentfully. “It’s just, I’ve slowly been doing this to myself. I can’t…I’m ashamed that I let it get this far. I’m…” He shuts his eyes and turns his head away from Merlin.

“Hey. Would it make you feel better if I told you that I was worse off than you are?”

“Merlin, don’t lie to me,” he snaps out.

Merlin sighs and digs out his wallet from his back pocket. He’s only shown this picture to a handful of people, but for some reason, he wants Arthur to see it. To know that it’s okay. To know he’s not the only one struggling.

He thrusts the picture into Arthur’s hand and looks away, trying to find the measuring tape and materials as he explains part of his story.

“My weight was always a problem when I was younger. It wasn’t that I ate a lot of junk food, though I did a little, but anyway. I was almost 110 pounds by the time I was 10. My mother tried to make me eat healthier. Completely got rid of junk in the house, which I was compliant with. But I still gained weight. She took me to the doctor and they told me it was hypothyroidism. Which is like…only five percent of people are diagnosed with that before age 15.” He took a deep breath. It’s been a while since he told his story, and the fact that it wasn’t all of it was killing him a little bit.

“So my mom took me to a gym and found me a personal trainer when I was 14. It was the most…it was a terrible time for me. One of the worst I’ve ever faced. It was so hard, so degrading and…yeah. But I was back on track with my weight and my condition was improved by the time I was 24. I still have to take a pill every month, but for the most part it’s gone. My trainer is actually the reason why I wanted to become a personal trainer though. Along with being an editor, obviously.

“So basically, Arthur, what I’m saying is that everyone has their own story, and not everyone has to know about it, but it’s just…you’re not in this alone. And everyone here knows that every person in here is trying to make themselves healthier than they were before. No one will judge you. Everyone’s ashamed of themselves, even the most beautiful people in the world. So you don’t need to be ashamed. I’m still ashamed of some things. Like when I eat a whole large pizza by myself.”

Arthur chuckles at that, and Merlin smiles. He gives Merlin back his photo and looks at him. Merlin looks back, and he feels his eyes melting into something rather soft. Something he hasn’t felt in a while.

“I don’t know what it is about you, Arthur, but I’ve already had really deep heart-to-hearts in the two times that I met you. I’ve never had so many serious conversations in my life.”

Arthur completely ignores Merlin and says, “Thank you, Merlin. For sharing that with me,” with such intensity and ferocity that it nearly knocks Merlin over.

“Anytime,” he replies breathlessly. “So, um. Measurements.” Because they’ve already spent 15 minutes talking.

Merlin takes his measurements, being so cautious that he doesn’t grope Arthur. Which is really challenging considering he is literally within his grasp. And then when he goes to measure his thighs, God, all he wants to do is bite and lick all over them. They’re glorious. When he takes the tape away from his thigh, Merlin’s hand stutters back to the leg, but Arthur sneezes and Merlin jumps up at the sound. He clears his throat and tells Arthur to put his shirt on and meet him outside. Merlin practically runs out of the room and smacks his head on a wall, willing himself to get it together.

To start off, Merlin makes Arthur run on the treadmill in 1 minute intervals, seeing what pace would be ideal for him to follow. They then wander over to the weights, and Merlin marks which weights are too easy and too hard for Arthur to lift.

“Do you know how to jump rope?” Merlin asks.

“Um, no. Why?”

“I’ll have to add that to the list. Jump roping is a great way to burn calories if you don’t feel like running. Which, for me, is all the time.”

“So what, you just jump for 30 minutes instead of being on the treadmill?”

“Precisely.”

“That sounds very unpleasant.”

Merlin laughs. “It’s actually not. It was at first, but after about a month, it was very relaxing. It’s kind of like being on a treadmill. I mean, you’re in one place and performing a repetitive motion. And it’s very good for your calf muscles, which we are going to work on defining as well.”

Arthur shoots him an eyebrow. “Am I going to have to buy one?”

“No. We have a few here. We’ll work our way up to the weighted ones.”

“There are such things as weighted jump ropes?”

“Sure. The heaviest ones I could find are one pounders in the handles. Then I add ankle weights that weigh about 4 pounds. It’s very good for definition.”

Merlin laughs at Arthur’s face. How could he not? He looks like Merlin just told him to lick the floor.

“Like I said, we’ll work our way up there.” He glances at his watch. “Well, that’s it for today. What I want you to do for tomorrow is to write down what you eat up until the time you come in tomorrow, and to take a walk for about 20 minutes before you come here. Can you do that?”

“You want me to write down what I eat? Like…in a diary?”

Merlin smirks. “Why? Do you keep a diary, Arthur?”

Arthur, surprisingly, blushes. “N-no. I’m not a girl, Merlin.”

Merlin smiles. “S’fine if you do.”

“I do not keep a diary.”

“If you say so.”

Arthur harrumphs and makes his way to the locker rooms to grab his bag when Merlin spots his next client, Elena.

“Merlin!”

“Hey, Ellie. How are you today?”

“Amazing,” she says, actually glowing.

“Why? What happened?”

“Elena, nice to see you,” says Arthur.

“Arthur! You’re here!”

Arthur ducks his head as he replies, “Yes. Today was my first day.”

“Well, how was it? Did Merlin threaten you with jump roping already?”

He lifts his head up at that and looks a little terrified. “You know about that? He hasn’t actually made you do it yet, has he?”

Elena laughs, a bright cackling which is so her. “I’ve actually made it to the half pound weights in the handles.”

“Oh, God. I’m never going to make it through this.”

“Yes, you are Arthur. I’ll make sure it happens, and I’ll be with you every step of the way,” Merlin says rather forcefully. His eyes widen as Arthur’s eyes go from sky blue to a deep cerulean for some reason, and turns around to see Elena’s eyes gazing at him curiously. He doesn’t like that look. So he turns back to Arthur and babbles some more because he has no filter.

“I mean, um. Encouragement works best in this field. I say that to everyone! Even El, right, El? So, um. Go Arthur?” he says weakly as he pumps his fist in the air.

Arthur clears his throat and says, “I should go. I have some papers to look over. See you tomorrow, Merlin,” and all but runs out of the gym.

“What was that?” Elena asks. And Merlin recognizes that tone and he doesn’t like that either. Not at all.

“What was what?”

Elena narrows her eyes. “Don’t think I’m not on to you, Merlin Emrys. I have eyes.”

“Really? I thought those were buttons and you were a snowman.”

“You’re really, very funny, Merlin. Don’t think we won’t talk about this later.”

“And don’t think I forgot about that homework I asked you to do. Let’s see if you did it, shall we?”

Elena’s eyes widen a little, and then she gives him a smirk. Welp, there goes his plan of torturing her till she forgets about it.

“You’re on, Emrys.”

___________________________ ~A

Arthur settles in the bed for the night with his journal in his lap and writes down what he had for dinner tonight and makes a space for his meals tomorrow. As he finishes up his entry for today, he sighs. He does not have a diary. No matter what Morgana or Merlin tell him. It’s a journal. It’s more manly. “Diary” makes him sound so…premature.

Today was not at all how Arthur expected it. He was half expecting Merlin to give him some crazy routine to follow right off the bat, but he was surprised to find that it was a pacing and very mutually exclusive thing. But he was most surprised with Merlin’s story of himself. He never expected it, especially with someone who was so fit. Those arms, that neck, and God those legs. And he’d only seen just the outline of his ass as his sweatpants today blocked any view of that particular area. Pity.

But Arthur was amazed and rather embarrassed by Merlin’s story, thinking he was the only one who ever struggled with his image. Which is ridiculous, because he knows people who are not happy with how they look. But he guesses having an anecdote from a personal trainer makes it legitimate. Which is stupid, but…

His phone rings, breaking him out of his thoughts.

“Hello?”

“So, princess, Ellie tells me you’ve finally gone and seen Merlin.” And Gwaine really shouldn’t sound like a proud father. It makes him feel like he’s five.

“Gwaine, I’m not five.”

He laughs, if a little conspiratorially. “We’ll see about that. So, how’d it go?”

“Not too bad, actually. It was nice to finally be on the same page as someone, I guess. Someone who understands what I’m going through and not just saying things to help me be motivated.”

“So he told you, then? About himself?”

“You know?”

“Yeah. Remember now that I’ve been dating Ellie for like 6 years. And they are best friends. So I’ve met him multiple times before,” he says with a teasing tilt to his voice.

It’s weird to Arthur to think that Gwaine has a life outside of his small one with Arthur. It’s selfish of him to think that Gwaine is only Arthur’s friend, but it’s been that way for so long, he doesn’t really see it any other way. He suddenly feels extremely tired and overwhelmed, so he moves to hang up and go to bed.

“Right. Forgot about that bit. Look, I’m knackered. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, yeah?”

Gwaine’s quiet for a bit before he says, “Yeah. Goodnight, Arthur.”

“Night.”

“Arthur, wait. You—you do know that you’re my best friend, right?”

Arthur closes his eyes against the tears that start to well up for no reason.

“We have been friends for like 12 years, Gwaine.”

He ignores Arthur. “I know I don’t say it much, but you really are my best mate.”

The past two weeks have been way too filled with emotion. So much more than he’s used to.

“And you’re mine too, mate.”

“Good.”

There’s a silence for a few seconds, charged with emotion Arthur knows both of them are too uncomfortable to talk about.

Then he hears Elena, in what can only be a seductive tone, as she says, “Gwaine, I have a surprise for you.”

He hears Gwaine take in a breath and can tell he’s smiling when he says, “Gotta go, mate. Ellie got me a present. And—God, Elena…”

“Okay, bye,” he says as he hangs up. There are some things that are meant to be kept from best mates. And the idea of heterosexual sex had always made him a little queasy.

Arthur shakes his head to get rid of that train of thought as he jots down his last sentence in today’s entry and puts it in his drawer. He reaches for his bag and grabs his laptop, finding a movie to watch for the night. He can’t sleep without a movie playing. Preferably an animated movie, just so he doesn’t have any unexpected nightmares popping up in his already, mostly bad, sleep cycle. He decides on How to Train Your Dragon, one of his favorites, puts the volume on very low and the brightness to dim as he snuggles in and listens to Hiccup drone on about his village. The last thing he remembers, before he passes out, is how gently Hiccup touches Toothless’ nose, how the music swells, and how much he sees himself and Merlin in their place, with Merlin’s hand gently grabbing Arthur’s arm. And Merlin’s smile. That goddamn smile.

**********

Arthur wakes up when his alarm goes off at 5:45, an hour earlier than usual. He makes himself get up, gets ready and goes for a walk for twenty minutes before he has to go into the office. He thought about it and reasoned that after work, he would probably end up doing more work since he’s only doing half days at the office now, and completely forget about the walk.

It was surprisingly nice to be outside so early. Even if it was only a few minutes earlier than he is usually outside. But then again, he doesn’t casually stroll through the concrete buildings. He walks around the city, watching it wake up, making him feel relaxed for some reason. He didn’t think about a lot while he walked, just thought about how different this building looked different in the dusky highlight of the sun, and how this road looked so much longer now that there were only a few cars on it instead of the million horns he hears blaring on his way to work.

He walks for about 10 minutes and comes into range of the gym. He peers inside and sees men and women on the machines, working out, if a little blearily, but working out nonetheless. He smiles a bit then turns around to start making his way back to his flat when he runs into someone and falls on the ground

“Jeez, sorry mate. I didn’t see—Arthur?”

Arthur looks up from the floor and sees Merlin. “Merlin?”

He smiles down at him, then, for the second time, draws his arm out to Arthur to help him off of the floor.

He laughs a little as he says, “You always seem to be falling over whenever I see you.”

Arthur blushes a little, embarrassed as he replies. “Well, you knocked into me, this time. So it was your fault.”

Merlin grins a little sheepishly. “Yeah, sorry about that. I’m always in a different world when I run.”

“Clearly.”

“But what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I was on my walk. It just about fills my time quota.”

“Oh, you live nearby? So do I! It’s why I run here everyday. It’s about 20 minutes away.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Anyway, I should be going. I’m running a bit late for a client.”

“Wait, didn’t you say you’re an editor? And I’m pretty sure I saw your office. Aren’t you going in today?”

“Yeah. Work starts at 9am for me.”

“So you…volunteer to get up this early?”

Merlin laughs. “Uh, that’s one way to put it. You’re not a morning person, I take it?”

“If by not a morning person you mean I’d like to sleep all day and be up all night.”

Merlin smirks, almost fond and a little bit of something else, as he walks slowly around Arthur. “I’ll keep that in mind.” And Arthur blushes for no reason. “I really have to go, Arthur. I’m sorry. I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“At four. Yup.”

Merlin smiles at Arthur one last time, then he reaches for the door, muscles flexing in the skin-tight black sleeves as he opens the door, and disappears into another world.

Arthur shakes his head and walks briskly back to his flat. He makes it there in 8 minutes, and it’s still not fast enough to get away from the flutter he felt when Merlin smiled at him. Fuck.

**********

“Dear brother, you look positively haggard,” Morgana says.

“Morgana, what are you doing here?”

“I believe we had a lunch date? One we’ve been planning on for about two months?” she says amusedly.

Arthur looks up at her for the first time since she walked in and takes into account her face. She’s usually never too eager about their monthly lunches, no matter how much they actually do love each other. But since they’ve been too busy these past few months, they haven’t had a chance to actually talk. There’s something about her face this time that makes him tread carefully. She looks like she’s ready to burst, ruby lips slightly downturned when they’re usually carefully bent up into a teasing smirk. Her eyes are dull and full of sympathy. Something’s not right.

“Stop reading my face, Arthur. You know I hate it when you do that.” She turns around and sits down on his couch.

“Something’s happened.”

“Let’s just go to lunch. Please.”

He regards her quietly, saves his work and packs up his office. He’s done for the day.

They’re quiet until after they’ve given their orders at the restaurant. He stares at Morgana, willing her to stop fiddling with the salt and pepper shakers and waits for her to spit out whatever bad news she’s has.

“Arthur, I…”

“Morgana, what happened? Are you sick? Is Helios okay? Please tell me what’s wrong so I can stop almost dying from a heart attack.”

All of a sudden, her face changes. She’s practically glowing, and Arthur wants to smack himself for not seeing her mask before.

“Jesus, you almost gave me a heart attack, Morgana! Can you not do that ever again?”

She reaches for his arm and grasps it gently as she cackles. “You’re way too easy to fool, Arthur. It’s my only source of fun nowadays.”

“Shut up. Tell me what’s really going on.”

She smiles, a genuine, filled with fondness smile. A smile he’s only ever seen when she looks at Helios.

“Arthur, I’m pregnant.”

And Arthur can only stare at his sister. He can feel his lips slowly forming into a smile, one of the most genuine he’s had in a long time. He can feel tears, that haven’t stopped falling for the past 2 weeks for some reason, form in the back of his eyes, burning him. But he loves this feeling.

“What?”

“You heard me, stupid. I’m pregnant!”

He gets up from his chair and goes to Morgana and gives her a hug. They’ve never hugged before, believe it or not, but Morgana and her husband, Helios, have been trying to get pregnant for over 4 years now, and they’d almost lost hope. When he pulls back, he sees tears flowing from her eyes and he can’t blame himself if Morgana laughs and wipes tears from his own face as well.

“I’m so happy for you, Morgs. For both of you.”

She smiles again, only this time, it’s a soft, gentle smile. It definitely doesn’t suit Morgana, but he can’t help feeling like they’re kids again when Morgana smiled at him when he told her he punched her boyfriend in the nose because she was crying. Of course, he did end up going to the hospital for a broken nose, but the smile she gave him was absolutely worth all of it.

The rest of the lunch was only filled with good-heartening topics, and Arthur can’t remember being so happy. It’s been way too long.

**********

“Long time no see, huh?” he hears Merlin say behind him.

Arthur turns around and smiles, maybe a little to brightly because Merlin looks quite concerned. Or something. He looks like he’s about to run away.

“Um, you okay? Only, you look like you’re about to explode from smiling too hard.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I just had lunch with my sister, and I found out she’s pregnant. I’m just really happy for her.”

“Oh, that’s great! Congrats, mate!”

“Thanks.” And he can’t stop smiling. Damn him.

Merlin just keeps staring at him, mouth opening slightly. Is it really that weird to see Arthur smile? Arthur quirks up his eyebrow as best as he can, causing Merlin to blink furiously then cough as he looks down at his bright purple sneakers. “So um, you write down what you ate today?”

Arthur breaks out of his happy mode and visibly shakes to remember where he is.

“Right, yeah. Here.” He hands Merlin his book and he immediately wishes he was smart enough to start a new one for this particular thing. Because Merlin looks way too smug with the worn out book between his hands.

“So you do have a diary.”

“It’s not a diary! It’s a journal.”

Merlin raises his eyebrow again, and really, there should be a limitation on how high eyebrows should raise because it really is too patronizing.

“It’s…I mean…I…fine. It’s a diary.”

And suddenly, all Arthur can see is miles of Merlin’s neck, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. Why? Arthur doesn’t know. All he can see is red with how much he wants to attach his lips and teeth and mark that beautiful ivory neck.

Oh, Arthur thinks when he sees Merlin’s enormous smile. He looks ridiculous, lips stretching across his face, white teeth and eyes sparkling in the florescent lighting and face pink. He’s laughing.

“I was only joking, Arthur. I keep a journal too. It really doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just pulling your leg.”

Arthur sighs and wonders why Merlin, a person he’s met all of three times and knows nothing about, makes him feel so relaxed and normal.

Merlin smiles again and Arthur pinches his nails into his palms to try and stop the fluttering from happening again. It doesn’t work. He observes Merlin’s eyes as they scan the words on the page. He closes the diar—journal, and goes back to the office to grab a few papers and a pen.

“Alright, so most of what you’re eating now is carbs and sugar. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you should add a little more veggies and fruit into your diet. What we’re going to try and do is substitute your sugar intake with something a little healthier. Most fruit have an abundant amount of sugar, like bananas and strawberries, so you can eat a serving or so of those to replace, say, cookies, cake or a muffin.

As for the carbs, you can still eat those, but just try and limit yourself to one or two per day in small amounts. So, say for breakfast you have toast and jam, for lunch have a salad so at dinner you can have a bread roll or something. We’ll start off small, but the more we work together, we’ll start forming a regular diet plan for you. I just want to see what routine works best for you. Can you cook?”

“Not particularly well.”

“Okay, I’ll also teach you simple recipes to work on next week. But right now, let’s get started on today’s work out. Shall we?”

They start off with intervals on the treadmill again, and it’s a surprise when Merlin gets up on the mill next to him. He smiles a little sheepishly and says, “I’ve been sitting down all day today. I need to do something.”

Arthur suspects that he’s doing it out of courtesy but leaves it. He kind of appreciates it.

They’re on the treadmills for about 20 minutes, then Merlin goes around the gym and demonstrates the exercises one by one and it’s a struggle for Arthur not to ogle Merlin’s backside, arms, legs, face, fingers…everything really. And then when Merlin adjusts Arthurs grip (Arthur really wishes there was a pun intended), he almost drops the weight on Merlin’s foot because, holy motherfucking shit, how are personal trainer hands so soft?

***

The next two months go on like that. Merlin and Arthur bantering and chatting as they exercise, Arthur staring at Merlin, trying to control himself. When Arthur finds out that Merlin has a boyfriend, he’s in a bad mood for a week. He calms himself, though, when he realizes that Merlin actually seems happy when he accidently catches him talking to his boyfriend over the phone. And he feels guilty that he was mopey.

Arthur and Morgana change their monthly lunches to weekly, and she can tell that Arthur has lost weight each time. She also notices how much happier he is, how he smiles at the small things, and how he actually seems to want to participate in conversations.

Gwaine also notices a change in Arthur. He seems a lot more open that he has been since Valiant, and he definitely does smile a lot more. In fact, he shows his emotions more. Even if it’s just a tad more that he usually did. He really does feel like a proud father, watching his son change in front of him into someone what he deserves to be. To someone who’s trying to make himself happy again.

Arthur feels better. He gets up at 5:45 in the morning a week after his first meeting with Merlin and goes for a walk because he feels like it. He can feel himself getting stronger, and he almost cries when he finds that he needs to tighten his belt a notch a month after he started training. He goes in that day and nearly hugs Merlin, who looks like he also wants to hug Arthur after he tells him the good news. They’d become good friends. Something that Arthur hasn’t had for a long while. They’d go for a walk to the pub every Thursday when Merlin had no more appointments and they’d talk for an hour or so before Arthur had to head back to finish the work he was supposed to have done already.

So it was a surprise to Arthur when one Thursday, Merlin said he couldn’t make it to their pub night.

“Sorry, Arthur. Will’s leaving tomorrow for another business trip, and I haven’t seen him in almost three weeks.”

Arthur feels his heart sink like an anchor, latching onto his stomach, but he manages a smile. Something he’s perfected over the years. “Don’t worry about it. I’m getting sick of seeing you everyday, anyway.”

Merlin laughs, but he can tell it’s a bit stiff. “That bad company, am I?”

“Merlin, you idiot. I’m just teasing you,” he says. He hopes it doesn’t sound too fond.

Merlin softens a little, but when he glances out the window, he stiffens back up, eyes tense and body ready to run.

“Merlin?” Arthur asks softly. “Is everything alright?”

He turns towards the large window and sees a man with light brown hair kissing a girl. Well, mauling the girl’s mouth is more appropriate for the situation. And from the disgusted and hurt look on Merlin’s face, Arthur can only guess what’s going on. He makes to grab for his arm, but Arthur is startled when Merlin turns abruptly and stares at him, eyes shimmering with tears he knows all too well, and says, “Hey, do me a favor, would you? Why don’t you start on your sets of jump rope? Try to do 50 without stopping. I’ll be right back.”

Arthur nods his head, but Merlin’s already halfway to the door.

____________________~M

Over the past two months, Merlin’s relationship with Will became so much better. He was happy. So happy, in fact, that he wanted to ask Will to move in with him. He had been starting to come over every couple of weeks, had lunch with him everyday and spent the weekends at his flat. It was the most affectionate and couple-y they’ve ever been in the past almost 11 months and it made Merlin giddy with happiness. Well, happiness and a little bit of guilt.

The more time Merlin spends with Arthur and the more he sees him change, both emotionally and physically, the harder it is for Merlin to stop looking at him. Merlin always thought Arthur was attractive, has thought that since the moment he saw him on the floor of the pub. The vulnerability and shyness Arthur exuberated when he was drunk and barely conscious contrasted his voice and appearance to when they met properly so much so, that Merlin couldn’t stop staring. He didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t help it that Arthur was in the back of his mind constantly, but he was so happy things were finally back on track with Will.

Or so he thought.

When he gets outside, the cold hits his eyes first, and the tears that were stinging finally fell down his face, warming his cheeks as if in a comforting gesture as he watched Will’s hand grab the back of the girl’s head. Gently. Intimately. He clears his throat silently and gets out,

“I was beginning to think you forgot about where my gym was. I guess not.”

The couple break apart and Will gapes at Merlin. Like it was his fault that his gym happened to be in front of where they were making out.

“What are you doing, Will?”

The girl looks at Merlin, then looks to Will. “Who’s that, babe?”

And Merlin laughs. Like a maniac. Of course this would happen to him again.

“Bridget, why don’t you go back to my place and I’ll meet you there. I just gotta talk to my mate here.”

She smiles impishly, gives Will a smack on the ass and turns around to head back to Will’s flat. Somewhere Merlin’s never been before.

Merlin stares at him, waiting for an explanation. And Will just says, “Can we do this somewhere else? Back at your place, maybe?”

“Meet me at the pub in ten minutes,” Merlin says. Then he turns around and heads back into the gym, ignoring Will’s yelling.

He walks inside and lets the warmth sink into his face, his body, but he still feels the chill his heart sets off inside of him. Again. It happened again. He was being used. He can feel it in his bones now that it’s all out in the open. He runs a hand down his face, stares at the ground and then straightens his back as he walks towards Arthur, where he’s tripping over the jump rope. He’s gotten better. Merlin smiles to himself as he watches Arthur curse silently as the rope catches between the soles of his feet while his arms swing the rope around.

“I told you, it’s all in the wrist movement. You keep using your arms.”

Arthur looks over at him. He’s worried.

“Is everything alright?”

His smile is fake. He knows it. But he puts it on anyway. “Just a little spat with Will. I’ve actually got to go and figure it all out. Can we finish for today? I can stay ten minutes extra tomorrow.”

Arthur stares at him for a few seconds, but gives in. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

Merlin nods, grabs his bag from the office then heads out to the pub. He sees Will in their corner booth on the phone, no doubt reassuring his girlfriend he’ll be home in a bit.

“I want you to cut the bullshit and tell me exactly why you were with her, and what you were doing with me,” he says as soon as Will hangs up.

“Merlin—”

“I said no bullshit, Will.”

He sighs, but goes on. “When I first met you, I really was attracted to you, Merlin. The first two months were real. Believe me.” Merlin really wanted to laugh.  “The first time it happened, it was an accident. Remember the office party you couldn’t go to? I got pissed, and I ended up in bed with Mordred. And it was fun and kind of exciting. And I was getting you and him, and it was fucking great. But then he got clingy and wanted a relationship, but I told him no. Then there were three others. It started off with just fucking, but each time they wanted more and got so fucking clingy. But you’re not like that Merlin. You were so…mature, I guess. And you knew when to give me space.”

“So you’re saying…that you cheated on me because it gave you an adrenaline rush which made sex with other people more pleasurable, and that the only reason you didn’t leave me was because I was emotionally stable and gave you enough space to fuck around?”

“Well, when you say it like that, you make me sound like a dick.”

Merlin nods his head, stands up, grabs his bag and walks to Will’s side of the booth. He stood up, not knowing what to expect, and was knocked to the ground with the right hook Merlin threw at his face. And Merlin has a certificate as a professional boxing coach. He went over the bar and asked the bartender to call the ambulance, because one of his customers has a concussion and a broken nose. The bartender stares at him, clearly having witnessed what happened, but Merlin doesn’t care. He goes up to a table, grabs Arthur’s arm, who looks gob smacked that he was discovered, and walks out of the pub.

________________________~A

 

Arthur follows Merlin to the pub. He can’t not. After Merlin came in, he stopped by the door and looked so broken. Like he’d gone through this before. And the way Merlin pulled himself together, it just about broke Arthur’s heart. To see someone so clearly upset, only to hide it from any and everyone. So when Merlin walked out, Arthur followed him.

And he was glad he did. Merlin punched Will square in the face. There was blood gushing from Will’s nose, but he was motionless. The bar looked petrified. But not more than Arthur when Merlin walks straight up to him and grabs his arm. Like he knew that Arthur was here the whole time.

He stares at the back of Merlin’s head as they’re walking. Well, as Merlin drags Arthur along. He wonders what he’s thinking about. But mostly, Arthur’s thinking about how soft his hair looks; how the jet black reflects the pale white coming from the full moon. He trails a soft curl with his eyes, staring at how it lands just so behind one enormous ear. And then Merlin turns around abruptly and asks Arthur,

“Why were you at the pub?”

Arthur opens his mouth, only to close it again when Merlin gives him the eyebrow.

“I just wanted to makes sure you were alright.”

Merlin drops his arm and sighs.

“I’m fine.” He chuckles dryly. “But I guess that’s the problem, huh?”

Arthur cocks his head. “What do you mean?”

Merlin stares at him. His teal blue eyes are pinned on Arthur, and he can’t help but fidget until Merlin opens his mouth, like he’s going to say something. But then he smiles. Not like that awful fake smile he gave Arthur at the gym.

“I’ll be fine, Arthur. Don’t worry about me.”

Arthur opens his mouth to protest, but Merlin cuts him off.

“Fuck, look at me. I’ve dragged you halfway to my flat already. Sorry about that. Let me pay for a cab back for you?”

At that, Arthur looks at his watch and curses. One, because Merlin said ‘dragged you to my flat,’ and two, because he forgot his dinner with Morgana and Helios.

“She’s going to murder me.”

“No, she won’t. Let me come with you and I’ll explain everything, yeah?”

Every part of Arthur’s being says that’s a bad idea, mostly because he knows how well Morgana and Merlin will get along, but something in the back of his mind is nagging at him, thinking about how Merlin might not want to be alone right now, so he says yes.

They’re at the front door of Morgana’s house, when Arthur turns to Merlin and says, “I’m just warning you, Morgana and Helios are unbearably affectionate and intense, and it’s only gotten worse since she’s gotten pregnant. So if you feel uncomfortable, I’m sorry in advance.”

Merlin snorts and rolls his eyes. “I’ve heard the stories, Arthur. And if they’re anything like Gwen and Lance, I’m sure I’ll be able to handle it.”

And Merlin’s right. Gwen and Lance are almost as bad as his sister and her husband. They’ve gone off into the locker rooms in the middle of their training sometimes, only to come out with their hair out of line and clothes a little out of place, but the same soppy looks on their face. Everyone in the gym is used to it by now.

Morgana answers the door with a frown on her face, mouth open, undoubtedly about to go off on Arthur for being late, when she spots Merlin.

“Why, hello there. What are you doing here?”

And God, she really is ready to be a mother, isn’t she? He feels like he’s five again.

“Morgana, this is Merlin.”

“Oh! Merlin? The Merlin?”

Merlin chuckles as he sticks out his hand for Morgana to shake.

“Only if you’ve heard good things about me.”

“Oh, believe me, Merlin. All I’ve heard about you are good things. Though, some of them are quite bad if you take them out of context.” At that, Arthur chokes and trips over the doorstep and falls on his face. He knew he shouldn’t have told Morgana about his feelings about Merlin. Or rather, what he would like to be feeling on Merlin. He vows to swear off of alcohol and hides his face in his arms.

Morgana laughs, and suddenly, he hears Merlin’s chuckle in his ear. “I think you might be clumsier than me. And that’s not easy.”

Arthur looks to his left where Merlin is crouching down, nearly nosing at his cheek with a smile on his face that is full of so many things Arthur can’t decipher. He tries to hold in his blush as he grabs Merlin’s hand, yet again, and gets off of the floor.

“Don’t listen to anything she says. She’s a liar.”

Merlin and Morgana give him the eyebrow and at that moment, he knew he made a mistake.

“I knew I never should have introduced you two.”

They both laugh at that, and it makes Arthur happy that he was able to make Merlin laugh after what just happened.

They both end up staying for dinner, and it wasn’t all that bad. Of course, there were the embarrassing stories that Morgana told Merlin and the fact that Helios and Morgana couldn’t stop patting at her belly and giving each other heated but somehow affectionate looks, and though it was mortifying, there was a sense of domesticity that fueled Arthur to get through the night. That, and the fact that every so often when Arthur looked over at Merlin, Merlin looked back and gave him a smile.

After they said their goodbyes and Merlin was hunting for a cab, Morgana grabbed Arthur’s arm and turned him around.

“Morgana.”

“Arthur, he’s perfect. He’s everything you ever wanted.”

“Morgana…”

“Shut up, Arthur. I know you know it. And I know he knows it too.”

“Morg—”

“I’m serious.”

He sighs. He knows she’s right, but he can’t bring himself to give a fuck about it. At least not right now.

“He literally just broke up with his boyfriend. I can’t just—”

“Don’t be stupid, Arthur. I’m not telling you to jump him. Just be there for him. Just like he was there for you. Like how he is there for you.”

And she’s right. He hates it when she’s right. He smiles at her, hoping she gets the message, and she smiles back and hugs him. Her bump is getting bigger, so much so that he can feel it against his stomach, but not so much that he can’t wrap his arms around her completely.

“Tell Helios I said bye,” he says as he pulls back.

She smiles at him then looks over his shoulder and says, “Take care of him, Merlin.”

Arthur turns around and is surprised to find Merlin right behind him. They’re standing foot to foot. Merlin looks at Arthur and says, “I will. Don’t you worry.”

Arthur hears the door close and the horn of cab, but he doesn’t dare move. He’s stuck in the middle of a blue ocean, and he can’t bring himself to care that he’s already halfway to drowning.

***

After Arthur gets home, he locks his door, throws his bag on the floor and strips his clothes as he runs to his bathroom. He needs a hot shower now.

The car ride home was silent, for the most part. Merlin commented on the dinner, his sister and how he had a nice time, but Arthur couldn’t say anything back. He was too focused on how close he was sitting to Merlin. How their thighs were touching, how Merlin’s hand grabbed Arthur’s when he went to pay. How his voice sounded so close and…and melty (which…is that even a thing?) when Merlin said softly, “Don’t worry about it, Arthur.”

Arthur groans as the hot water hits his back and he reaches for his already hard dick. He doesn’t waste any time and gets two fingers up his hole, imagining it’s Merlin’s long, beautiful fingers inside, and his mouth on his prick. And Arthur comes. With barely four strokes. He rests his head on the wall of his shower, thinking about all of the times he’s wanked to fantasies of Merlin over the past two months. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s like he’s back to being 13 and realizing he was gay, wanking literally four times a day because he finally found what was missing.

He sighs, finishes his shower and heads to bed. When he settles in, he takes out his journal and writes down his meals for the day along with his daily entry of his feelings. He’s done this since he broke up with Valiant; this is his fifth journal. But it’s not like anyone actually knows. Okay, well Merlin might have guessed it since he saw it, but nothing’s certain.

He closes his journal as he thinks about his night with Merlin. He seemed so depressed and distraught about what happened with Will, but after dinner with Morgana, it was like…well, it was almost like he forgot about it. I’m fine. But I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it? is what Merlin said to him after they left the pub. What could that mean?

Arthur gives up, suddenly tired, and puts on Mulan for the fourth time that week (don’t you dare judge) and falls asleep even before his normal angst session with Mulan as she sings to herself. He wonders when they’ll be able to look in the mirror and see someone they’re proud of.

 

____________________~M

Merlin doesn’t even know how he’s feeling right now. He’s sprawled across his bed, face against the pillow as he stares out of his window, watching the rain pelt against it in, what was typically a rhythmic, soothing noise. Now, it’s just irritating the fuck out of him.

Will cheated on him. Arthur followed him to the bar. Will used him. Arthur was worried about him. Will was his boyfriend of almost a year, and Arthur was his client who somehow became his best friend within the span of three months. Will was his fucking boyfriend for almost a fucking year, so why the fuck was it so easy to forget about him?

After he dragged Arthur out of the pub, Merlin couldn’t stop thinking about how his hand felt around Arthur’s arm. It was wider and a lot more muscular than three months ago, and it was warm. His fingers were wrapped around the middle of his arm, so his pinky just barely grazed over Arthur’s pulse. He could feel the blood course through his veins, faster and faster with each step they took, but still so much slower than when he first grabbed Arthur. It was almost as if…as if Arthur was aroused by Merlin dragging him along. That made him turn around and ask Arthur what he was doing at the pub in the first place.

Merlin sighed and dug his face deeper into the pillow, not ready to think about something new but not-so-new at the same time. Right now, he needed to get pissed because he was just dumped. Again. He rings up Gwen and Lance, telling them he has an emergency, and they’re over in less than 20 minutes. This is why he loves them.

***

“I can’t believe the nerve of that motherfucking, cunt sucking, dick—”

“Gwen, I never knew you had it in you,” Lance says.

“Shut up, Lance. This is serious. I can’t believe…Merlin, how are you okay, right now? I would be curled up on the floor ready to give up on life. After everything you’ve been through, I can’t even—”

“Gwen, I don’t even know, to be honest with you. I just—I socked him a hard one. Knocked him out and broke his nose. I guess that was therapeutic enough.”

She narrowed her eyes. “There’s something else you’re not telling us.”

Merlin bit his lip, not sure if he should share his current predicament.

“Just tell us, Merlin. We’ve never judged you about anything. You know that,” Lance says. And he’s right. They’re the most unbiased and unprejudiced people he knows. So he takes a deep breath and tells him about Arthur.

Everything about Arthur. How he’s always thinking about him, the couple (okay, four times) he accidentally jerked off imagining him. How he can’t stop staring at him when he’s at the gym. Or the pub. Or whenever they see each other. How normal it felt to walk out with him after he punched Will. How perfect dinner with his sister was. How he doesn’t even feel a sting from Will. How his heart ached after he said goodnight to Arthur that night. How he wanted to kiss him, make love to him. It was not normal.

“It can’t be normal, can it? I’ve gone insane. Call up the mental hospital, Lance, would you?”

They both stare at him for a second, then look at each other, then back at Merlin.

“And you said you’ve been feeling this way for how long, Merlin?” Gwen asks, voice precariously soft.

“Why? Am I in trouble?”

“Merlin, just answer the question,” Lance says impatiently.

“From maybe since the moment I met him?”

Lance and Gwen look at each other again, and Merlin sees Lance flash a quick smile.

“Merlin,” Gwen starts, about looking ready to explode from…well, he isn’t familiar with that expression. “I want you to take a few days off from work. Think about everything you’ve been through, and how all of those experiences made you who you are at this moment.”

Merlin rolls his eyes, but Gwen smacks him not-so-gently across the head.

“Ow.”

“I’m serious, Merlin. You like Arthur. You might even love him.”

“I—I don’t—what are you even—,” Merlin starts. Gwen holds up her hand and continues.

“But before you decide whether or not you want to give this a go, I want you to be cautious about what you’re doing. You need time to heal over Will, no matter how over him you think you are, and you need to spend more time to get to know Arthur, maybe even tell him the full story of who you are. Because you might love him, and he might love you back, but if it doesn’t work out, I want you to know that it’s going to hurt you like nothing you’ve ever been through.”

“Gwen, I don’t—how do you even know? What do you know about—I don’t love Arthur. I just lust after him! He’s a fit fucking bloke, and sweet, caring, and a bit of a prat, but, he’s…just sort of wonderful. He’s perfect. And I’m—I’m far from that. I can’t—I don’t want more than just to lust after him. He’s untouchable.”

Lance’s small grin grows into a full-spread smile, unfairly white teeth blinding his eyes.

“Shut your mouth, Lance. Your perfect teeth are hurting my eyes.”

“Merlin, I’ve known you since before Cenred, so I’ve been with you through literally every relationship you’ve had. You’ve never, not once been so—girly about a bloke before.”

Merlin can feel his face flush and can only imagine how red he’s gone. “I’m not girly about Arthur, Lance.”

“You’re like Gwen when she watches Love, Actually. Literally squeals at every single fucking part.”

“Why don’t you invest in ear plugs, then?” she spits out.

“Because it’s one of the things I absolutely adore about you.”

Gwen blushes and ducks her head, Lance grabs for her hands and kisses her knuckles, and Merlin reaches for the half-empty liter and a half of wine and chugs a quarter of that, taste of alcohol burning his throat, filling his stomach.

“You guys are gross.”

“Yeah, but you still want it anyway, don’t you?” Gwen says breathlessly, eyes never leaving Lance’s.

He looks at them, trapped in their own world, and smiles wistfully at them. She’s right; it’s all he’s ever wanted. But everything in his life so far has only made him doubt love like that will ever exist for himself. He chugs the rest of the bottle, bids Lance and Gwen good night as he walks up to his room and shuts the door. He takes out the bottle of vodka he’s stashed for moments like this, downs that in less than two minutes and falls back on his bed, still not feeling a thing.

But as his eyes start to droop, he imagines a blond head next to his and warm arms around his body, and he feels as drunk as he’s never been. And isn’t that something.

***

Merlin’s always had a high alcohol tolerance. He guesses he has his father to thank for that.

In uni, everyone tried to get him drunk, giving him shots upon shots of vodka, tequila, mixed drinks. Basically tried to feed him a damn liquor store, but he would never get drunk. Never. And what’s even more amazing is when he gets up in the morning, he doesn’t have a hangover. Doesn’t feel a damn thing.

So why drink? He doesn’t even know. It’s better than when he used to pick up a knife and carve into his skin and take pills he didn’t need. He doesn’t do it much anymore, though, because he does want to live long enough to at least be 80. And because he found exercise therapeutic enough to not need to drink anymore. He just needed an outlet for a while. Like he needs some space to think about what he’s going to do about Arthur.

So when he gets up the next morning, 5am as usual, he thinks about what Gwen said last night and makes a decision. He texts Freya to let him know he’s taking a few days off and to hand over everything to Mithian, his assistant, for the time being, and then he texts his clients for the week and says he’s not feeling well so he won’t be able to train for the next few days. They’ll pick up again on Tuesday. Three days should be enough time to sort through everything, right?

He tries to go to sleep again, since he’s not accustomed to sleep past five in the morning, and is about to slip into slumber when his phone beeps. He’s confused, because none of his clients are up this early. But his heart rate picks up when he remembers Arthur started taking walks in the morning.

Sure enough, it’s him.

Arthur: Hey, I hope you feel better. I’m sorry about what happened yesterday. Hope your time off helps clears your head a bit.

Merlin smiles as he replies.

Merlin: No need 2 b srry, m8. It is wut it is

Arthur: …

Arthur: Merlin, please tell me you don’t actually text like that.

Merlin: Y? iz there a prblm w/ the way I txt?

Arthur: You’re an editor. Isn’t there some type of code or something that enforces you to text properly?

Merlin snorts.

Merlin: Not really, but I was just pulling your leg. At least I don’t text like you. You sound like a prat even over text. Enforce? Who even uses that word while texting?

Arthur: Why, Merlin? Can’t understand plain and simple English? Maybe I should dumb it down for you. You text bad. Make better.

Merlin: That just made you sound like a caveman.

Arthur: Didn’t you know that all men are considered to be cavemen?

Merlin: Only you, Arthur.

Arthur: Only me what?

Merlin: Only you would be so ridiculous at five in the morning. I guess you really aren’t a morning person.

Arthur: I did tell you that. I would prefer sleeping until dusk.

Merlin: Well then, maybe you can help me. I can’t fall asleep. It’s so weird still being in bed.

Arthur: Have you tried counting sheep?

Merlin: That doesn’t actually work.

Arthur: It did for Morgana. Still does, actually.

Merlin: Oh my God

Arthur: Don’t tell her I told you! Jesus, she’ll skin me if she finds out I told anyone

Merlin: Don’t worry. I’m a great secret keeper.

Arthur: Good. Hmm…try putting on a movie. It helps me sleep at night.

Merlin: Really?

Arthur: Um…yeah

Merlin: Huh. That’s interesting. Which one helps you best?

Arthur: Just, um…anything really.

Merlin: :( can’t you tell me? Dying to know what it feels like to sleep past five am

When Arthur doesn’t answer for a few minutes, Merlin feels a bit guilty having clearly pushed too far about something Arthur isn’t very comfortable talking about.

Merlin: Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I’m sure I’ll find something :)

Arthur: Mulan.

Merlin: What?

Arthur: That’s one of my favorite movies to fall asleep to

Merlin: I love that movie! It’s a great choice. I’ll give it a try and let you know what happens ;)

Merlin grabs his laptop and finds it on Netflix, puts the volume on low and brightness on dim as he tries to fight down a smile. As he takes in the familiar plot, characters and music, he thinks about how Arthur really was a special brand of wonderful. His eyes start to droop when Mulan walks into the camp for the first time, and the last thing he remembers is Mulan placing the doll by Shang’s sword.

As he snores while the light flows into his room, a text waits for him on his phone.

Arthur: Sleep well, Merlin. May Mushu guard you from any mayhem you may encounter on your path to healing.

______________________~A

Arthur can’t think straight all day. It may be that his routine is thrown off because of Merlin not being there. It could be because he told Merlin that he watches animated movies to fall asleep. It could be because he was texting Merlin till 6am instead of taking his morning walk. It could be because of Merlin. Just maybe, though.

He can’t tell because his mind is fuzzy and he’s been smiling since he got a text at 1:32pm from Merlin saying, I can’t believe I slept for that long. Thanks for the advice, oh great and honorable ancestor. Mushu was a big help ;)

He’s still smiling when he meets Morgana for lunch, and she’s quite concerned about him because she’s said his name four times and he’s eating her fish. He hates fish. She gets fed up, slams the table and yells, “Arthur! For the love of all that is mighty, would you please get your head out of the fucking clouds!”

Arthur jerks so hard that his wine spills on him.

“Morgana, was that really necessary?” he says, scowling at her as he mops the wine off of his pants. And isn’t that just great. It looks like he pissed himself.

“Arthur, are you alright? You’ve eaten half of the salmon that ordered. And I was really craving it.”

Arthur looks at his food for the first time and almost pukes on the plate. He’s eaten more than half of it. There’s only two bites left.

“Morgana, why didn’t you stop me?! You know how I feel about fish!”

“I tried to, but your fucking head was somewhere else!”

Arthur blushes behind his water glass, hoping she can’t see it, which is pointless because, well…it’s glass.

“Arthur, you’re blushing.”

He rolls his eyes. “Always were terribly observant, Morgana.”

She narrows her eyes. “It’s about Merlin, isn’t it?”

“No.”

She sighs. “Arthur, how many times do I have to tell you that you’re a horrible liar. Really, you put Pinocchio to shame.”

“Shut up, Morgana.”

“Tell me what happened.”

His hands stop fiddling with his napkin as he considers it. She’s the only one who knows how he feels about Merlin. Maybe he can ask for help with how to be there for him? Or maybe tell him good job for comforting him? Because he’s always been shit at that sort of thing. Actually, he hasn’t made a new friend in ages…so he doesn’t even know if he’s doing this friendship thing right. Have the rules changed? He weighs the pros and cons, and decides to go for it, because in the end, she is his sister and they do love each other. Sometimes.

He hands over his phone after pulling up the conversation with Merlin. He fiddles with his napkin some more as he watches her read, eyebrows slowly going up and up and up, and eventually watching her lips following the motion. He feels like he’s a teenager again (which, really, this has been happening a lot recently) as he waits for her approval. Or something.

She looks at him over his phone, gaze profoundly soft and a bit sympathetic. Jeez, babies really do fuck with the hormones.

“You’re all soppy because of this? This is barely being there for him, let alone offering him comfort. But I guess it’s all good because he’s as besotted with you as you are with him.”

His eyes grow wide and hands stop immediately at that.

“How—how do you know how he feels?”

She raises an eyebrow and turns the phone back to his face where he finds a new text.

Merlin: I need help with being on the path to healing. Care to come with me to drown in a pint or two? Though I have to warn you, I don’t actually get drunk. Could use some company, though.

Arthur can feel his cheeks burning as they scrunch up to form a smile, and he’s pretty sure he looks like a maniac like that. He just stares at it, amazed and flustered, smile never leaving his face, even when Morgana clears her throat. He looks up, grin growing even wider, if that’s even possible.

Morgana just laughs. “Oh, Arthur. You’re ridiculous, I swear. Are you just going to sit there and stare at it all day, or are you going to respond?”

“He texted me. To go out. For drinks. With him. Tonight. Together.”

Morgana turns red as she curls her lips inward, cheeks puffed out far enough to look like a chipmunk, though instead of holding in nuts, she’s holding in a large and loud snort and laugh that echoes in the restaurant.

That breaks Arthur’s soppiness as he ducks his head and tries to become invisible. Stupid Merlin, making him sound like a fucking girl. Which he is not, thank you very much.

“Arthur. Oh my God, Arthur. I never knew you were this precious.”

“That’s just your hormones talking, Morgana. Can we leave now? Please?” The entire restaurant was staring at them, and he didn’t think he could take anymore of it.

“Only after you send him something back. Poor thing is probably hovering over his phone waiting for your reply.”

He springs into action, maybe a little to hastily, because when he hits send, he smacks his head on the table after re-reading his incomprehensible text.

Arthur: Yah surles goij wen and wher d wat me?

They’re out of the restaurant, thankfully, when he shows Morgana what he typed, and she laughs again.

He stares at her, a little baffled by how much she’s been laughing recently. She must really be happy, he thinks. She’s always been very secure of her emotions, much like Arthur, but now, her head thrown back, loose black curls bouncing on her back and hands on her now a little more noticeable stomach, she looks as beautiful as ever.  And he can’t help but be happy for her.

“I love you, Morgs,” he says from his car as he watches his sister walk up to her house and kisses her husband, looking in love and happy for the first time since their parent’s death.

And, almost like she’s heard him, she turns around and gives him a smirk that shows way too much emotion.

He cries the whole way home, feeling a flicker of hope inside of him. It’s been way too long.

***

When he gets back to his flat and starts changing for a walk (he still needs to work out, with or without Merlin), he sees that he has a text from Merlin.

Merlin: Haha I’m just going to assume that means Yeah sure where and when do you want to meet. Let’s say our pub at 7pm?

Arthur tries to tame his smile. He said our pub. Like they have a thing. Which they do together. Which, they do, but like…it’s a big deal, okay?

Arthur: Perfect. Sorry about that. Was trying to text under the table. Had a lunch date.

Merlin responds after about an hour, which is weird. Whenever he’s at home and has nothing to do, he takes at most three minutes to respond. Not that Arthur was counting. Or even tracking Merlin’s texting patterns. That’s just creepy.

Arthur’s just come back from his walk when he sees his text.

Merlin: Oh, sorry! didn’t mean to disturb you. We can go another time if you still have plans with your date.

Arthur: Oh, I meant Morgana. I had a lunch date with Morgana. Not a date date. I haven’t been on a date in ages.

Arthur: Not that I don’t want to go on a date. Just haven’t had time.

Arthur: I mean, I’ve had time. But I just don’t really meet that many people.

Arthur: That I fancy. Or want to take out on a date.

Arthur: Um…

Arthur: Oh my God please stop me or I’m just going to keep going.

Merlin: Hahaha Arthur, don’t worry about it. I’m not judging you about dating or not dating.

Arthur: Cool.

Merlin: Cool.

Arthur: So, we’re still on for tonight at 7?

Merlin: Yup

Arthur: Then I’ll see you there

Merlin: Can’t wait :)

Arthur sighs contentedly as he gets in the shower. It’s 5:36 now. He has enough time to go grocery shopping before he heads down to the pub. He gets out after he’s done, and…done…and puts on sweats and a hoodie since it’s gotten a bit chilly out. He’ll change when he comes back.

When he does come back, it takes him 30 minutes to pick out an outfit that fits him. All of his clothes have gotten loose and he hasn’t had time for shopping. So he tries on his jeans that were always too tight for him, and he finds that they fit. Perfectly. He stands in front of his mirror and he thinks he doesn’t look half bad.

It’s the first time he’s actually really looked at himself in a mirror since he was too scared too. He knows he’s lost weight—they have a weekly weigh in—but seeing himself in the mirror with tight-fitting jeans, that actually make his butt look good, he assesses himself. He starts from his face.

His jawline has become more pronounced, and his double chin is just about gone. His cheeks are less puffy and his neck looks long again. He looks at his collarbones, which aren’t exactly popping out, but one could make out a soft outline of them. His chest is…wow. His chest no longer contains man boobs. They’re tighter and more pronounced then he would’ve ever thought. His eyes flicker down to his stomach and his breath catches at how it’s actually defined. There’s still a bit of a belly, but it’s firm, and the lines on either side of it makes it look like he’s growing a six pack. And he can actually see his toes! He wiggles them and laughs, feeling elated. He looks at his legs, eyeing them up and down, turns sideways so he can see how he looks…and his ass…it looks good. That thought makes his eyes flicker back up to his face, finding the same blue pool staring back at him, familiar voice crowing at him.

Don’t think so highly of yourself, Arthur. You’re still not there yet. No one would look at you like this.

It makes him think about all of his failed dates, all the snide comments that he’s heard about him over the past years, and his mood deflates considerably. So he stands up tall, rolls his shoulders back and walks back into his closet and picks a loose fitting shirt to make himself feel a little better. It’s his favorite shirt. The deep maroon color has faded into a soft dark red and it feels good against his skin. He grabs a light jacket and a gray scarf, puts on his trainers, grabs his wallet and keys and heads out the door without looking at the mirror again.

***

The walk to the pub is pleasant, bringing back up his mood a little. It’s just about dusk and the sky has turned a lavender with splashes of a bolder pink and orange with little stripes of light blue showing. A row of black flapping wings passes through a cloud, squawking as they fly to the west. He looks to the side of him as he hears voices growing louder and he sees a little girl, maybe about four, being pulled along by a dog about three times bigger than her. He looks over his shoulder and sees two women running to catch up to them, smiles on their faces. Their hands are entwined, a glimmer of florescent orange coming off of the rings on their fingers.

“Max, heel!” one of them cries, trying not to laugh.

They rush by Arthur, finally catching up to the dog and the girl, and Arthur doesn’t realize he’s staring until the little girl looks at him, smiles and waves over her shoulder as her moms take Max’s lead and the girls hand, moving forward. He waves back, smiling, staring after them as they disappear between the buildings. He closes his eyes and takes a breath of the crisp, autumn air, and then his head is throbbing and he’s on the floor. Seriously? Again?

He hears laughing as it draws nearer to him, and the cold he inhaled seeps out of him as a more comfortable warmth flows through him. He knows that laugh.

“Merlin. Why am I not surprised?” Arthur says, still not opening his eyes. He’s way too embarrassed about what just happened.

“Arthur. Don’t think it was very smart of you to walk with your eyes closed.”

He does open his eyes at that, and sees Merlin’s pink stained face about two feet from his own, lips cracked into a small, private smile. 

“It was only for a second,” he says with a small smile of his own.

“I’m sure it was.” He extends his hand towards Arthur for the nth time, and Arthur takes it again, almost flying to his feet.

“Are you doubting me, Merlin?”

“No. What makes you say that?”

“Whatever. It’s not like you were watching. You don’t know what happened.”

Merlin’s already pink cheeks flush to a more prominent red. Is it really that cold out?

“Let’s get you inside before you turn into a tomato. Seriously, Merlin, are you really that cold?”

And he grows redder at that. “No.”

Arthur rolls his eyes and shakes his head as he takes Merlin’s arm and pulls him into a pub. They wave to K the Bartender (no one actually knows his name) who nods back, and they make their way to their booth in the back corner.

“So,” Arthur asks as soon as they sit down. “How was your day off?”

“Ugh, don’t even get me started. I could barely sit still. I went running for two hours after my nap and then finished the work I was supposed to hand over to Mithian. Poor girl’s been waiting for a shot at the work for a year and I go and do it for her.”

Mithian, a sweet but incredibly sassy girl, is Merlin’s editorial assistant. She’s been working for Merlin for about two years and has yet to actually do any editing.

“What do you normally do on the weekends? Can’t you just do that?”

Merlin raises his eyebrows. “I train from 6am till 4pm, workout myself, go home, shower, eat dinner and go to sleep. If I don’t have any work to do that weekend.”

“What, you’ve never just had a weekend to chill? Watch Netflix? Go for a movie? Shop?”

“What’s Netflix? And I haven’t been to the cinema in ages. And I don’t shop until my clothes have literal holes in them.”

Arthur stares at Merlin, mouth hanging open, and Merlin stares back at his open mouth, then back to his eyes, then to his pint, which magically appeared, it seems. “Shut your mouth, Pendragon.”

“You…you don’t know what Net—okay, you know what? I actually need clothes because all of mine don’t fit me right now. I was going to go tomorrow. You’re coming with me, and then we’re going to see a movie, eat junk food and then go back to my place and finding a show on Netflix to watch.”

Merlin’s eyes grow wider with each word, and also gets red again, and then Arthur realizes that this all sounds like a date.

He shifts in his seat, tightening his hands around his own pint, as he says, “I mean, if you want to. You don’t have to. It’s not a date! I just…I’ve never had good fashion choice, and now that my clothes don’t fit I don’t even know where to start looking. And there’s this good movie out that I wanted to see, but Morgana doesn’t want to and Gwaine’s getting his proposal plan ready to put in action for Elena, and—”

Merlin’s laughing. His eyes are glowing with amusement, still red in the cheeks, but lips are spread wide across his face, teeth shimmering and a truly musical noise coming from that glorious mouth of his. His Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down again, and Arthur’s nether regions start bobbing too. Just up, though. He closes his legs, willing it to go down.

“Oh my God, Arthur. You’re ridiculous.” But his eyes are a soft blue like the sky just after dawn and lips shaped into an even softer smile. “I’ll go. It’s not like I have anything better to do anyway.”

“Still a lazy ass then, Merlin?” a sharp, male voice says.

Arthur looks up and finds a scrawny man with unruly, shoulder length brown hair and scruffy beard staring down at Merlin, eyes intense and wild with anger.

“Good to see that nothing’s changed then.”

“C-C-Cenred.”

Arthur’s eyes snap to Merlin. He’s grown three shades paler than he is and his lips are trembling along with the rest of his body, eyes brimming with tears. He stands up and finds that he’s a bit taller than this Cenred fellow.

“And who’s this chubby ponce? Your new boyfriend? Is that really the best you could do, Merlin?”

Arthur flinches at that and shrivels up just a bit. But that comment seemed to break Merlin out of whatever trance he was in. He was still shaking as he stood up, though, toe to toe with Cenred.

“Get the fuck out of here, Cenred.”

He smirks. “Why? What are you gonna do to me? Punch me back?”

Arthur feels nauseated at what he was implying.

“You bet the fuck I am. It’s what I’ve been training for, anyway.”

Then Merlin kicks Cenred in the balls and uppercuts his chin while he’s bending over. Cenred stumbles back, shock not missed across his face, as he charges towards Merlin again. Arthur tries to move forward, but Merlin shoves him back as he punches Cenred straight across the face and the whole bar watches, stunned, as Cenred falls back and hits his head on a booth, falling over unconscious.

K the Bartender walks up to them, calls the police and tells Merlin to leave with a pat and squeeze to his shoulder. Merlin takes a shaky breath, wipes his forehead with his sleeve, grabs Arthur’s arm again, and pulls them both out of the pub.

Arthur is most definitely missing something.

____________________~M

They’re just standing outside of the pub. It’s started to rain, but Merlin can’t move. He didn’t expect to ever see him again. Of course, he hoped he would so he could do what he just did, but he wasn’t actually sure it would ever happen. Because of the restraining order his mother made him get and all.

He sighs and looks at Arthur, who’s just staring out into the rain, morose. He’s obviously thinking about what happened back in there. And he wants to tell Arthur, he really does. He just…doesn’t know where to start. He hasn’t told anyone about it since all the people he knows had been with him through almost all of it. When Elena told him one day that it was getting serious with Gwaine, they’d been dating for almost a year at that point, Merlin decided it would be better for her to tell Gwaine because he couldn’t bring back all the memories that it took him almost six years to forget. He told the same thing to Freya, and after both men found out, the next time he saw them, they gave him a long hug and got thoroughly pissed with them. He was uncomfortable with them for a while, thinking the only reason they were friends with him was out of pity. But then one day, all of his friends were sitting around watching a movie at Merlin’s, and it was a moment when they brought up the first time they met Merlin that he was sure they were friends because they wanted to be. Not out of pity.

“You have a bump on your head,” he says to Arthur. Because he has a bump on his head from when he ran into the lamppost. Arthur jumped slightly, startled by Merlin’s voice.

“Oh. Do I?”

“Yeah. Want to walk back to the gym? I have a first aid kit there.”

“Sure.”

They walk in silence for the five-minute walk to the gym. Gwen and Lance are inside, closing up the gym for the night.

“What happened to you, Arthur?” Gwen asks.

He blushes and ducks his head. “I…um, ran into a lamppost.”

Gwen and Lance look at each other, obviously trying to hold back their chuckles.

“Oh. Well, um. We hope you feel better, yeah?” Lance gets out between coughs that sound suspiciously like laughs.

“Thanks.”

“I’m just going to put some ointment on his head,” Merlin says.

Gwen stares at him for a bit, narrowing her eyes, but she must’ve seen something because she looks at Lance, gives him a look, then they’re both looking at him. Smugly. As if they know. Which, they probably do.

“Okay. Well, we’re going home for the night. See you both later.”

They walk out, arms around each other as they open their umbrella to brace the rain. It’s grown slightly heavier.

“First aid kit’s in the room.” Merlin motions for Arthur to follow him into the giant activity room. He looks in the bottom cubby in the line of boxes across a side of the wall and finds the kit. He makes Arthur sit on the table on the other side of the room. He opens the box and grabs an ointment as he starts applying it to his forehead.

Merlin can feel Arthur’s gaze on him, and it makes him flush a bit. He’s forgotten what it’s like to have someone stare at him like that. And he feels guilty that he wants to look at Arthur like that without letting him know who he is exactly.

He meets Arthur’s eyes for a second, then draws his eyes back to his forehead, blush gone heavier.

“That was my ex. We—we were together for about two years. And the first one year was great. It really was. But…it got worse after I turned 19.”

He drops his hand from Arthur’s forehead, closes the box and fiddles with it for a bit as he keeps speaking.

“It started out verbally. He’d call me lazy, fat, insolent, stupid. And I tried not to let it get to me, because he was sweet to me for a while. Then one day, when I came home from the gym, he slapped me. Said I wasn’t trying hard enough to…” he can feel the balloon swelling up in his chest again. He starts hyperventilating, but Arthur puts his soft, warm hand over his. He looks up at him, and Arthur offers him a small smile.

He takes a deep breath and continues.

“When my mom first started taking me to the personal trainer, I was 14 and just diagnosed with hypothyroidism. She mostly started taking me so we could get away from my dad. He was a drunk, and he was always verbally abusing us. When she found out what was wrong with me, she took me in hopes that if I lost weight, he would stop abusing me, at least. And my trainer, he was young. About my mother’s age. I was going for about 8 months and one day I went in a bit before my appointment and found them together. About a year after, my dad found out. I have no idea how, but the day after, he killed himself. Said in his note that we killed him because he felt unwanted. Like he was a loser and we should’ve made him feel better.

“On my 18th birthday, my mom fainted, and when she got her diagnosis at the hospital, she found out she had stage 3 breast cancer. And I couldn’t deal with it. So I started working out harder at the gym and I started gained weight. That’s when I met Cenred. He was a personal trainer at the gym I went to. I stopped seeing the other one since he was dating my mom. But he told me with my condition, if I was too stressed out or pushed myself too hard with working out, I’d only gain more weight. So he helped me. And then we started dating. Like I said, it was fine for a year. But after I turned 19, he started doing what my dad did. And I thought I could take it since I’ve had so many years of practice. But then he started hitting me. And I convinced myself that no one would be as accepting as he was because I was fat and he loved me for me. Fat and all.

“My mom came in three months after I turned 20 with the police and they found him beating me with a baseball bat. She took me to the hospital and made me file a restraining order against him. I had internal bleeding, three broken ribs, a broken shoulder and a sprained knee. She helped me after that for about three years. Then she died.”

He felt strong fingers skim across his cheek softly, chasing away the warm sea that was falling from his eyes.

“She left me, Arthur. And I didn’t know what to do. My uncle Gaius said I could stay with him, and he introduced me to his gym. He helped me drop about 100 pounds. That’s where I met Gilli and Mordred. I dated them for about three months before I found out that they were using me. Gilli tried to swipe the shop from under my uncle and me, but thankfully Gwen found out before I got in too deep, and Mordred tried to use the gym as a base for selling drugs, but by that time I knew Elena and, well, you know how she is about her friends.”

Arthur snorted a bit at that, fingers still lightly swiping against his cheek.

“And then Will…I had years of therapy after Cenred, and even more after my mom passed. And my therapist, Dolma, helped me with sorting out my emotions so I could control them better. I thought I could do it, and I did. I was so good at it and thought that it’d be a good thing, but Will, he used me because I was emotionally stable.”

Merlin paused to take a deep breath, steeling himself so he could get this out. So he could let Arthur know that he’s not the only one who comes with scars.

“Arthur, I don’t…I—I wanted to tell you this because you’re my friend. But also because—because I… I like you. A lot. And—I don’t know. I haven’t liked anyone this much in a while. But—I…I want you to know that I come with scars too. And I still have doubts about how much love I deserve and issues about who I let in, but it doesn’t mean that you have to push people away because you don’t think it’s worth it for them. And that’s what I’m doing with you. Because I trust you. And I want you to trust me and…”

Arthur pulls him into a hug, strong arms around his small but muscular frame, and Merlin has never felt as safe as he does now. He cries into Arthur’s shirt for, he doesn’t know how long. But when they break apart, his left shoulder has gone from a soft dark red color to a dark red, almost black.

Merlin looks up at Arthur, wary after everything he’s just said. He takes an involuntary sniff while he says, “I’m sorry about your shirt.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I—I don’t usually cry. I just…there’s something about you that makes me want to let go. And I don’t know whether to find that embarrassing, frustrating or happy.”

Arthur smiles at him softly and says, “Me too.” He keeps stroking Merlin’s cheek as small tears roll randomly down his face, sapphire eyes never leaving his.

Merlin coughs awkwardly, tries to step back to try and give them some space as he realizes how close they are, but Arthur just pulls him flush against his chest, and Merlin’s hands land on each side of Arthur’s chest, and he can’t help but gasp at how strong they feel.

“So, you like me, huh?” Arthur purrs. And really, it shouldn’t be sexy considering the situation that they were just in, but it is.

“Um, yeah. I do.”

“Well that’s good. Because I like you too.”

“Really? Even after everything I just told you?”

“Merlin, you literally just said that everyone comes with their own scars, and each scar is a different shape and size. I come with my own, as you already know, most of which you don’t know. But still, here we are saying we like each other.”

Merlin looks up from where he was this close to pawing at Arthur’s chest and smiles at Arthur.

“Since when did you become so knowledgeable?”

“I read a book.”

“Did you, now?”

“One of my favorites.”

“Really? What’s it called.”

Arthur smirks as he leans his face closer to Merlin’s.

“Merlin’s a gorgeous idiot.”

“And you’re a gorgeous loser.”

“And you need really need to learn when to shut up, Merlin.”

Arthur closes the distance because Merlin’s too gone to realize what that meant. So when he feels those plump, beautiful lips on his, he can hardly believe it.

His eyes are open as Arthur pulls back then goes in for another. Then, as to wake him up, Arthur, very slowly, licks a trail across Merlin’s bottom lip, then bites it softly, pulling his lip. Arthur’s eyes open slowly, smile on his face as if to say, are you going to kiss me back, idiot? So Merlin grabs the back of Arthur’s neck and hauls him back in returning the nips, licks, and touches that Arthur gave to him before.

When they break apart, they’re both grinning like maniacs, and Merlin can’t help but take in Arthur’s disheveled hair, magenta face and pink mouth morphed into a wide smile. His heart stutters, skips a few beats, and then its as if someone punched him in the stomach right after he came up for air.

Oh, he thinks. So this is what love feels like.

***

Merlin goes into work on Tuesday, after having spent the whole weekend with Arthur, and he can’t wipe the smile off of his face. Freya sees him and double takes, Mithian looks at him like he’s about to faint, and when he gets to see his clients, they all ask him if he’s pregnant. Or something. He kindly reminds them that he is, in fact, a man, and that he just had a really good rest. Even if most of it was not resting.

They haven’t even had sex yet. Merlin and Arthur came to some sort of unspoken agreement that it was too much to soon. But they did have lengthy make out sessions and rubbed each other off. There were even a few hand jobs.

Merlin frowned at the thought of the first one he gave to Arthur. He tried to lift up Arthur’s shirt at one point, but Arthur panicked and pushed his hand away, and his dick dropped a little. Of course, Merlin did his part and made sure that Arthur blacked out from the best blow job of his life, but he couldn’t help the nagging feeling that there was something he was missing. Because Arthur surely couldn’t still be that self-conscious. He was fucking gorgeous! And he’s become so fit; almost every part of his body has become muscle, and he’s a little more than halfway to his goal weight.

Merlin shakes his head as Ms. Rains asks him how to do this exercise for the fifth time. She really doesn’t want to be here today, does she?

“Ms. Rains, if you don’t mind me asking, is anything the matter? It’s only, you don’t seem to be that invested, in well, everything we’ve done today.” And she really is one of the hardest workers here. Aside from Arthur. But that could be because he’s biased.

She turns to him and starts crying. Well then.

“I—l keep—I’m only gaining weight, Merlin.”

“Ms. Rains, I assure you, you’re not. Maybe in muscle, but not in fat. I’ve read your journals and watched you work, and you’re one of the hardest workers here! But you’ve only been here for three weeks. It’s very typical to gain weight in muscle because your body is working out areas that it isn’t used to. But I’m absolutely sure that by this time in a couple weeks, you’ll be down at least six pounds. As long as you keep working hard and eating right.”

She sniffs, and it makes her look like she’s a toddler again, brown eyes wide and glimmering with unshed tears. He wonders if he looked that way to Arthur the other day.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I’m one of his clients, and I felt the same way as you do now.”

They both turn around to see Arthur, leaning against a machine looking way too hot. He glances nervously at Ms. Rains and hopes she’s not interested. But between the tears and hope in her eyes, he can’t see anything.

“But by the two-month mark, I couldn’t fit into the work pants I wear everyday and I had to tighten my belt two notches. This idiot over here isn’t good for nothing, I promise.”

“Hey!”

“It’s only true, Merlin,” he says with a smirk. His crooked teeth are showing, and Merlin really just wants to lock them in the room and do things to him. Amazing things.

“Oh,” Ms. Rains says softly, looking between the two. She looks at Arthur, eyes narrowing just a bit. “And you’re not just saying that because he’s your boyfriend?”

They both look as red as the exit sign over the door, but Arthur gathers his voice first. “Not at all. Believe me, if it wasn’t for Merlin, he probably would’ve never looked at me, anyway. I looked like a giant marshmallow with blond hair that wore a suit everyday!”

Ms. Rains and Arthur both laugh, but Merlin stares at Arthur. Is that really what he thinks? That Merlin only likes him because he lost weight?

“Um, Ms. Rains, do you want to go home for today? Sort out a few things? I don’t like to skimp people of their workouts. Come back tomorrow, yeah? I won’t charge you for today.”

She smiles softly at him, the last of her tears falling down her freckled face. She grabs his arm and squeezes it once. “Thank you, Merlin.”

He smiles at her, but only he can tell it’s forced. He can’t get what Arthur said out of his head.

When she’s out of the door, Arthur comes up behind him and hugs him, chin resting on his shoulder. He gives Merlin a kiss on his cheek and his knees almost give out. Arthur must’ve felt it because he feels vibrations against his back.

“Do my kisses usually get you this weak-kneed, Merlin?”

“Among other things. Am I your boyfriend?” he asks as he turns around in Arthur’s arms.

His head ducks and he turns from a faint pink back to the beautiful red from earlier. “If…if you want to be.”

Merlin keeps in a sigh. He really is still self-conscious, isn’t he? He smiles softly at Arthur, then punches him in the arm.

“Ow! What the hell was that for?!”

“Of course I want to be your boyfriend, dummy. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent all weekend with you. And you call me an idiot.”

“Jesus, you should’ve at least given me some warning. You do have a boxing certificate after all. It’s only fair if I know so I can prepare myself before hand.”

Merlin smirks and leans in to his boyfriend’s body, mouth right at his left ear. “Like to prepare yourself, do you?”

Merlin hears Arthur gasp and feels something bump against his thigh. Merlin groans into his ear. “Yeah? You like that?”

Arthur’s slightly panting into his neck now and he cants his hips so softly, it could’ve been seen as accidental. They are in a public place after all. But Merlin grinds his hips into Arthur just a bit harder and he can feel Arthur’s knees give out. Arthur whines as Merlin does it again and wraps his hands around Arthur, hands landing on his ass. He squeezes once into a slow grind, and they both gasp. Merlin mouths at Arthur’s neck, licking and biting softly.

“M-Merlin. We—the gym. We…should work out,” Arthur says. He sounds like he just finished running on the treadmill.

“Yes, you really should be working out. Seriously, Merlin. I know you’re a bit of an exhibitionist, but at least think of your reputation as a trainer. It looks like you’re about to have sex with one of your clients in the middle of the gym.”

They pull away from each other at the first sound of Gwen’s voice, and Merlin sees the very smug look on her face. He turns to Arthur whose face is going a little blue.

“Really, even when Lance and I started dating, we at least had the decency to do it behind closed doors.”

“Well you know me, Gwen. Always the exhibitionist.”

“I’m…bathroom,” Arthur manages to get out.

“Well, hello there, bathroom. I’m Lance. And you look flushed.”

Merlin can’t help but burst out laugh at Lance’s perfectly timed bad joke/pun. Gwen slaps his arm but is hiding her smile behind a hand and Arthur’s eyes go comically wide before he nearly breaks out into a run all the way to the bathroom. But Merlin sees his lips turn up before he turns away.

Merlin watches Arthur’s ass as he sprints away and he thanks the gods that he chose to wear sweatpants today because Little Merlin’s doing quite the work out under there. And he always wears sweatpants a size too big. Just a habit of his. He turns around to find Gwen and Lance looking at him.

“I take it you told him, then?” Lance says.

He can’t help but smile at that. “Yeah.”

“And it’s going well so far?”

“Yup.”

“And Arthur’s happy?”

His face falls a little at that. “I mean, I think so. Just now with Ms. Rains he said that if it wasn’t for me helping him lose weight I would’ve never looked at him.”

“Oh, Merlin he must know that he’s not unattractive and that you’re not that shallow,” Gwen says.

“You would think so.”

“Well, what are you going to do? You do know you have to tell him that you don’t like him just because he lost weight.”

“Yeah, I know. I just don’t know how.”

“Well, start out with a conversation and then slowly start to use a little PDA. It’s what I did with Lance.”

Merlin’s head shot up at that. “What? Lance?!”

He looks down sheepishly as he explains. “Well, she was just so beautiful. I couldn’t believe that someone like her would actually pick someone like me. But she convinced me that she loves me as much as I love her.”

“But Lance, you really couldn’t have felt that way, could you?”

He looks calmly at Merlin. “Merlin, I know what you’re feeling, so thank you for having so much confidence in me. Really, it was that, confidence in me from you and Gwen that made me accept who I am today. But when we first started dating, I doubted myself so much, even if I lost so much weight. But after living with yourself one way for that long, you can’t just…let go of how you felt. It was different for you because you had therapy, and I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing you did. But you just had a way of coping with it. And…I—I had nothing. No one.”

“Until me,” Gwen says rather forcefully, eyes wet.

“Until you,” Lance says. He grabs Gwen close and kisses her on the lips once, then hugs her. He kisses her on her forehead then turns back to Merlin.

“I have some sense of how Arthur must be feeling. And all you can do is reassure him that he is the only one you want.”

He looks at them both then wraps his arms around them.

“Every single one of my friends are idiots. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

They break apart when they hear someone clear their throat.

“Merlin, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to get some training in today,” Arthur says.

He smiles at Gwen and Lance, then turns to Arthur and kisses him on his lips. He feels his lips stiffen for a second, and they’re still stiff when he kisses back. So Merlin pulls away and sees that Arthur’s eyes are searching around the gym for something thing that doesn’t exist. Judgment.

He grabs his hand and smiles. “Let’s go, Arthur. We’ll start with the treadmill today. Then, I have something to show you after everyone leaves.”

He looks at Arthur and finds he’s looking at their entwined hands. They didn’t do that all weekend. Merlin did try, but Arthur would always move his hand away at the right time. He wasn’t sure if it was intended or not, but after today, he knows. And he’s going to fix it.

____________________~A

“Is…is that Gwaine? And Elena?” says Merlin. Arthur was doing bench press, so he couldn’t see, but since he was going about 10 pounds heavier, he was losing his grip.

“Merlin, could you please help me before I break my face?”

“What? Oh, sorry Arthur! Here.”

This was always Arthur’s favorite part of doing bench press, watching Merlin take the weight from him. His arms looked scrawny and non-muscular. But when he grabbed weights and showed off the reps…God he looked hot. Arthur still had his eyes fixed on Merlin’s arms when Elena and Gwaine ran into the gym looking, well frankly, all shagged out.

“Um, hello? I thought we weren’t meeting today, Elena.” Merlin says.

“Merlin. Oh sweet Merlin. I came here because I needed to tell you that GWAINE PROPOSED TO ME! JUST NOW!!”

Merlin’s mouth fell open and looked from Elena to Gwaine, who was also smiling like a lunatic, and maybe bouncing, back to Elena. He then proceeded to scream as loud as Elena did. “OH MY GOD ELENA HOLY SHIT CONGRATULATIONS!”

They hugged each other and Elena was telling Merlin about how Gwaine proposed, so Arthur made his way over to Gwaine and hugged him.

“Finally did it, then?”

“Yeah. God, Arthur it was amazing. She said yes! I can’t—I can’t believe she said yes! We almost shagged right there on the ice rink floor, but the guard came and kicked us off,” he said. He was glowing. Without the effect of alcohol.

“That’s great, Gwaine. I’m so happy for you mate,” Arthur said. He smiled at him, but Gwaine said, “Oh, come here you,” and pulled him in for another hug.

“Oi, get your newly engaged hands off of my boyfriend, Gwaine,” Merlin said.

Gwaine pulled back so fast he almost fell onto the floor and looked at Arthur with an eyebrow raised.

“When did that happen?”

“Just two days ago. Chill out. We haven’t told anyone yet,” Merlin answered for Arthur because he was too busy blushing and gaping like a fish. Gwaine looked at him and smirked, but his eyes were serious. They were definitely going to talk about this later.

“This calls for a celebration, then! Gwaine, shall we?” said Elena.

“Of course, my fiancé.” And they grinned at each other like they were in a rom-com. It was disgusting.

“But Arthur still has to finish his work out and I have clients until 7.”

“Well, we can take Arthur to get properly trashed before you come along, you alcohol death trap.”

“Shut up, Gwaine. I warned you the day you met me that I could out-drink you. It’s not my fault you got sent to the emergency room.”

“Yeah, yeah. So, how about it, Arthur? D’you think you can leave your boyfriend for a bit to come celebrate with me and Ellie?”

“Um…” on one hand, he really did want to celebrate with Gwaine. He was so excited for him! But…he really wanted to ogle Merlin some more.

“Go, Arthur. You’ll have plenty of time to ogle me later. Don’t think I didn’t notice,” Merlin says. He smirks at Arthur then smacks his ass before he turns around, swinging his goddamn hips on purpose. Even in those fucking awfully large sweatpants his ass looks amazing.

“That fucker,” Arthur mumbles under his breath, too fond, while Elena and Gwaine are laughing way too hard.

“Let’s go, you soppy tossers,” Arthur says as he grabs his bag from his cubby. “First round’s on me.”

***

“So,” Arthur says after they’ve had their first round of shots. “What do you want to ask me?” He was walking in front of the mumbling couple the whole five minutes to the pub. He figured they were coming up questions to ask him.

Gwaine didn’t look surprised at all that he knew what they were thinking, but Elena looked mildly shocked.

He smiled at her. “I’ve been his friend for way too long, Ellie. I know when wants to have a serious talk.”

She smiles back at him. “Well, you’re not wrong. We just want to know if Merlin told you…everything. Or if someone told you.”

“He told me Friday night. We went for a pint, then Cenred showed up. I’d already hit my head against a lamppost—don’t ask, Gwaine—so he took me back to the gym and told me while he was putting ointment on my head.”

Elena’s lips were pinched together and she looked like she swallowed a lemon. “Cenred was here?”

“Y-yes. The police came after Merlin knocked him out, though,” Arthur said. He was wondering if he was saying too much. But he hasn’t lied to Gwaine or Elena before, and that wasn’t going to change.

Gwaine’s arms wrapped around her shoulders. “It’s alright, love. He can take care of himself. You know that.”

“But why wouldn’t he tell us? Gwaine, I didn’t know. I should’ve been there for him.”

“If it helps, he was with me all weekend. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to think about…everything too much.”

“Arthur, I’m saying this because I care about you and Merlin. Don’t hurt him. He’s…I’m—I’ve tried to be there for him. Through most all of it. But he only gives me, even Gwen and Lance, bits and pieces. He won’t let us be there for him because he knows what we’ve had to deal with.” Gwaine squeezes her shoulder tighter at this and gives her a kiss on the forehead.

“I just—if he trusted you enough to tell you everything in one night, he really likes you. I don’t know what it is about you, Arthur, but there just is something. I like you, I really do, but I’m telling you now: if you hurt him, I’m not going to just sit still and watch him get hurt again.”

Arthur swallows the lump in his throat. Was he really that special to Merlin?

“I won’t hurt him, Ellie. I swear. He’s…he’s important to me. More than you’ll ever know.” He eyes Gwaine because if anyone could understand what that means, its him. Gwaine nods at him and calls for the bartender.

“Well, this has been very heartfelt and serious, so I call we do another three rounds of shots. Aye?”

Elena playfully slaps his arms but rests her head on her shoulder, tears silently falling down her smile and Gwaine pats her head while he orders the rounds. And Arthur, he stares out the window wishing, no, hoping, that that will be there for him too. All he’s ever wanted was to fall into someone’s arms.

***

They’ve had six shots by the time Merlin comes around, and God does he look delectable in his jeans. He must’ve gone home to change and make himself look shaggable.

“Um, no, actually I carry extra clothes with me, Arthur, but thanks for the compliment,” Merlin says. He leans down and kisses Arthur on the mouth, and when he pulls away, there’s a nice pink that’s settled on his cheeks. “Yes, you did say that out loud. And you look downright sexy right now.”

“Oh,” Arthur says. Because what does one say to that? Thanks?

“Ah, Merlin! Come have a shot with us!” Gwaine shouts on his way back from the bar.

“Gwaine. Looking positively sloshed as always.”

“There’s no better way, really. Unless I look positively shagged.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Elena and she laughs.

“Not now! God, you’re insatiable. Let Merlin drink a bit first, then we can head off.”

“I love you, pet. You’re always right.”

Merlin rolls his eyes and says, “Oh my God, let’s just drink, shall we?”

So they drink until Arthur is passed out against the booth and Gwaine and Elena are drunk enough to be borderline shagging on the tables.

“Okay, time to go. Gwaine, your cab is waiting outside. Go before you get kicked out of here, please.”

Gwaine grunts, but pulls Elena out of the booth, winking over his shoulder to Arthur who just barely catches it.

He feels Merlin exhale on his cheek as he says, “Alright. What do we do with you now, hmm?”

“You could always take me back to your place,” Arthur says. He tries to be seductive, but since Merlin’s laughing, he guesses it didn’t work.

“I could, but then I’d want to do naughty things with you.”

“I love naughty things with you.”

“Arthur, you’re plastered.”

“Wanna be plastered all over you,” he says as he leans forward and hugs Merlin’s stomach. It’s nice warm and solid, and he can feel Merlin’s intake of breath when he starts nuzzling his stomach. He lets his hand wander down to his pert ass and he lets himself squeeze and knead it when he feels something hard against his chest. He looks down and sees something sticking out of Merlin’s pants, wanting to come out.

“Oh, what’s this?” he says as he brings his hands to…oh. That’s his cock.

Suddenly, all he feels is cold. He looks up and finds Merlin’s ass walking away from him to the bar. He pouts when Merlin starts walking back to him, glass of water in his hand. His lips are in a firm line.

Did he find that repulsive? Did he not like when Arthur touched him like that? Is…is he ugly?

He looks down to the floor as Merlin helps hands him the glass of water. He drinks it in three gulps, then Merlin helps Arthur up and out of the pub. “I’m sorry, Merlin.”

“Arth—what? Why are you sorry? Do you even know what was going on in there?”

“Yes. I’m sorry you didn’t like it and that I’m too ugly for you to—”

Suddenly, Arthur’s back is pushed up against a wall and he’s whimpering while Merlin bruises his mouth with possessive kisses. His tongue is all the way inside Arthur’s mouth, licking all around and his teeth bite down on his bottom lip, tugging his warm lip into the chilly evening air. Merlin uses his right leg to push Arthur’s legs apart and starts grinding slowly, and when Arthur moans into a particular kiss, because where the hell did Merlin learn how to do that, Merlin pulls back. His face and hair are wild and his eyes are dark, almost like Toothless’ when Hiccup finally frees him of the rope. Scrutinizing and unforgiving, but underneath it all, kind.

He feels a puff of air on his mouth while Merlin laughs.

“You really are wonderful, aren’t you?”

He shrugs his shoulders and Merlin stuffs his face into the crook of his neck and snuggles closer to him. Arthur wraps his arms around Merlin, fitting his own face in between Merlin’s long neck and broad shoulders. “Let’s just go home for now, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says a little breathlessly.

In the cab, they hold hands and the last thing Arthur remembers is Merlin kissing his head when it falls on Merlin’s shoulder. He grins, and the world turns black.

***

The first thing Arthur notices when he gets up in the morning is that it’s still dark outside. He wonders if he hasn’t slept at all, but when he gets up to look at the lock, his head is pounding. He closes his eyes, waiting for it to subside, and when he opens them again, he finds that it’s 5am. And he’s not in his bed. he looks around and tries to take in as much of the dark room as he can when he sees a sliver of light peeking through the closed door. He gets out of bed as slowly as possible, minding his headache, and he walks towards the door, only for it to open and smack him on the forehead.

“Oh my God, Arthur! I’m so sorry! I thought you were still asleep! I was just going in to wake you,” Merlin says.

“Well, I’m up now,” he replies rubbing his forehead. There’s going to be another bump, isn’t there?

“Ooo, looks like another bump is swelling up. Lemme get the ointment.” Merlin turns around to get the first aid kit, wherever it may be, when Arthur realizes that he’s in Merlin’s flat. And then he remembers grabbing Merlin’s prick and him running away from him. He’s moaning, face in his hands, when Merlin finds him. He laughs as he leans down and lifts up Arthur’s head.

“I take it you remember what happened last night, then?” grin way too smug for five in the morning.

“Ugh, can we please not talk about this until after we’ve had coffee?”

Merlin chuckles again in answer, fingers cool on his warm forehead. He takes a moment to trail his face again. The first time Merlin did this for him, Arthur really just wanted to kiss him all over his face. It looked so light and fragile in the low light streaming in from the gym. His eyes and cheeks were covered in sharp shadows, making him look closed off and mysterious. But when he opened up about his story, Merlin looked like…like water. It was as if Master Oogway touched the oscillating pond to make it motionless, making everything seem clearer.

After Merlin finished, while Arthur was hugging him, Arthur came up with two conclusions. One, he wanted to protect Merlin from anything and anything that came towards him. He’d lock him up in his flat away from the world if it came to it. In a totally non-Beauty and the Beast way. But how accurate was that? Anyway…second, that he really needed to stop watching animated movies before he went to bed. He’s literally becoming a girl, quoting Kung Fu Panda and comparing his relationship to Beauty and the Beast. Who does that?

“Arthur!”

“What?” Merlin looked concerned.

“Are you okay? I’ve called your name like seven times. Are you sure I didn’t hit you too hard?”

He pushes Merlin’s hands off of his forehead and tries to get up, only to fall back on his butt. He really, really isn’t a morning person.

Merlin laughs at him but gives his arm regardless, helping him up.

“Let’s get some coffee in you, useless.”

And Arthur’s too tired to respond to that.

After they’ve had some breakfast and coffee, Merlin clears the dishes while Arthur goes in the bathroom to wash up. When he comes down, Merlin is staring at the water coming out of the faucet.

“You’re wasting water, you know,” Arthur says. Merlin jerks at that, turns off the faucet and turns to face Arthur.

“Yeah, well. I was thinking. I need to show you something today. After the gym closes.”

Arthur eyes him warily. “Is this the part where you kill me and make sure no one finds my body?”

Merlin snorts and laughs, loud and uncaring so early in the morning, and he looks beautiful. So Arthur steps into Merlin’s space and kisses him mid-laugh. It takes a moment for Merlin to catch up, but when he does, he flips Arthur against the fridge and with one last lick across his lips, starts to mouth and suck on Arthur’s neck.

“Mmm—Merlin. Merlin—ahh. Mer—I have to…uhn…go to work.”

“Don’t go,” he says. He starts licking up a trail from the base of Arthur’s throat to his Adam’s apple and gives a particularly hard bite before he licks it better. He kisses a trail up to Arthur’s ear and sucks on his earlobe. Jesus God Almighty.

“I h-h-ave to. Meeting today.”

Merlin pulls back and pouts. Pouts. And he looks exactly like a puppy.

Arthur’s about to give in when Merlin palms his already thick-as-a-log cock, but Merlin puts his mouth over Arthur’s, not letting anything come out but moans, gasps and oh God’s.

He pulls away, both his mouth and his hand, and backs up to the counter, smirk on his face. His lips are swollen, puckered and blotchy, and hair in every which direction. His eyes, now a dark, stormy blue, trail Arthur up and down, almost like a blind man taking in an image for the first time, trying to memorize every detail, scared that it’s going to fade away again.

“Hmm. My work here is done. I have to go to the gym now, actually. I was waiting around for you to wake up. Didn’t want to leave without saying bye.” Merlin walks up to him, grabs his neck and pulls him in for a soft peck on the mouth, nose, forehead, pulls back and says, “Bye. See you at four.”

After Merlin’s out the door, Arthur slides down against the fridge like an avalanche finally letting go, legs no longer capable of holding him up. Wasn’t he running away from Arthur yesterday? What was this morning? But he raises his hand to his nose and the growing welt on his forehead. The kiss was so tender and intimate, as if, Arthur dares to say, as if they were lovers.

Fuck, he thinks. I’m a goner.

Arthur can’t focus for the rest of the day, but that isn’t much of a surprise to him, or Morgana, when she comes to pick him up for lunch.

“It’s going well with Merlin, then?”

“Hmm? Yeah. Really well.”

“Mmm. Something tells me you’re leaving something out, Arthur.”

Arthur sighs, “Morgana, I’m scared. This morning, he…”

She holds out her hands and interrupts him. “Oh, no. I don’t want to hear about your sex life. Please.”

“God, no, Morgana! We haven’t even had sex yet! Well, not penetrative sex, but…”

“Oh my God. Arthur, please just tell me what you were going to say.”

“I…he kissed me.”

“Okay…”

“Like…he kissed me. Softly. Like he wants to be with me for a long time.”

“And that’s…bad.”

“I don’t know, Morgs. I’m scared that I’m going to fuck it up again. Like last night, I did something…bad, but this morning, it was as if it never happened and I felt like he wanted to be with me for a while. And I want that too, but I feel like…I don’t even know. All I know is that I really, really don’t want it to go away.”

“Okay, Arthur. Stop right there. This is exactly how your other relationships failed. You didn’t think you were good enough so you isolated yourself instead of facing this issue. If you care about Merlin as much as I think you do, you’re going to talk to him about how you feel. If you want this to work, you have to face this together. I don’t want to hear you moping about you imperfect you are, Arthur. The whole damn planet is fucking imperfect. I bet you even Merlin’s imperfect.”

Her words stung him, but she was telling the truth. He was always scared himself to the point where he would just think the other person really didn’t want anything to do with him, so he iced them out, thinking it would be better for them and easier for him so he wouldn’t have to face the humiliation and hurt. But with Merlin…with Merlin, it was different. He wanted to stay with Merlin. For a long, long time.

“You’re right,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

“I said you’re right.”

“No, I know what you said. But…did you just…agree with me?”

He smirks up at her. “Oh, come off it, Morgana.”

“I most certainly will not. This is the first time that you’ve ever said ‘you’re right’ to me. Joshua? Yes, can you bring one of each dessert you have on your menu? And please give the bill to my brother, here. He’s treating me because I’m right.”

He rolls his eyes, but smiles and gives in, handing the waiter his card.

As Morgana’s starting on her fourth of the seven desserts, really, how much room does a pregnant woman’s stomach have, he gets a text from Merlin.

Merlin: Hey! So I got the gym to close early today, but it has to stay open till five. Can you meet me then instead of four?

Arthur checks his watch. It’s 3:45. He doesn’t want to wait to see Merlin. After this morning, he just wants to be with him. And talk with him about what happened.

Arthur: How about I come around at 4:30 and try and seduce you to leave early?

Merlin: Mmm…you could try. But Alice is working out at four today and she’s a tough old lady. You’re going to have to fight her off.

Arthur: I’m sure I could take her.

Merlin: I’d put my money on Alice if I were you

Arthur: Got faith in your boyfriend, I see

Merlin: Oh, there’s a lot I’d like to put in my boyfriend. One thing in particular ;)

“Arthur! Stop sexting at the table!” Morgana hisses.

“Merlin started it! It’s not my fault!”

Morgana cackles loud, drawing a whole crowd of the restaurant to look at her laughing and Arthur’s purple face.

“I hate you.”

She just smiles, sticking another spoonful of chocolate in her mouth, eyes flicking to his phone and back to him. Get on with it, then.

He sticks his tongue out at her, not caring how old that makes him look, then turns back to his phone where he finds three new messages.

Merlin: Well, two, maybe four, things. Fifty points to Gryffindor if you can figure out what it is

Merlin: Arthur??

Merlin: Oh my God did I scare you off? I’m so sorry please ignore what I said. I’ll see you at five. Hopefully.

Arthur smiles, thinking of how flustered Merlin must’ve felt.

Arthur: Morgana nearly confiscated my phone after you sent that text, you bastard. Is that a thing of yours? To get your boyfriends all hot and bothered and then mocked by their siblings?

Merlin: Oh, thank God. I thought I’d scared you off

Arthur: Not from you, no. Though you are kind of scary. I haven’t had such an active sex drive since…well, never. But I’ll come by at five. There’s something I need to talk to you about.

He holds his breath as he waits for Merlin’s reply.

Merlin: …come in at 4:30. I’ll see what I can do.

Arthur looks up at Morgana, not bothering to try and hide the blush and smile on his face. Her eyebrow is raised, bright pink lips up to one side.

“I take it that’s my cue to leave. Thanks for lunch, baby brother. See you next week.” She kisses him on the cheek and smacks him across the back of his head before she’s out the door. Arthur waits for Joshua to bring the bill back, and after he gets his card, he runs to his flat, literally runs, changes his clothes and is out of his flat by 4:15.

It’s 4:32 when he finally gets through the doors of the gym. He walked extra slow so he could figure out exactly what he was going to say to Merlin. He opens the door and sees it’s as packed as always. Guess they wouldn’t let him clear it till five. He tries and spots Merlin, eyes roaming around the familiar room, when they fall on Lance. He’s pointing to the activity room, something weird in his eyes. He waves to Lance as he makes his way across the floor. The door is closed so he knocks twice to be sure nothing’s going on.

“Come in,” he hears Merlin say.

He opens the door, only to stand in the doorway, mouth wide open and cock all the way up.

Merlin’s naked. He’s sitting against the mirror casually, like he does this everyday.

They haven’t seen each other fully naked yet, and Arthur never thought he would get to this point because he thought Merlin would be repulsed by him, so he takes in his sculpted body as much as he can. His muscular legs, sprinkled in dark hair, are bent just enough that Arthur could see his cock jump when Arthur walked in. His arms are resting over his knees, long fingers curling lazily making them look miles longer. And, holy fuck, his neck is stretched out as his head leans against the mirror, eyes closed. And his stomach. He can’t even begin to describe his stomach and chest. It’s perfect—he’s perfect. He looks so open, so beautiful and approachable, like a siren. And Arthur’s scared he’ll wake up before he gets that kiss.

Merlin’s eyes open when he doesn’t hear anything for a few moments.

He smirks at Arthur, eyes opening slowly. “Will you close the door, at least? You can ogle me all you want after. I don’t want anyone to see.”

That brings him back to life. Barely. He clears his throat, closes the door, locks it, for good measure, and places his bag in front of the door.

“Merlin, I need to talk to you. About last night.”

Merlin’s face is impossible to read. “What exactly do you remember?” he asks as he stands up, making his way towards Arthur. And Arthur tries so hard not to stare down at his cock, just focus on his gorgeous, confused blue eyes.

“Um, I remember grabbing you and your…” he motions to Merlin’s cock, and clears his throat again as he goes on. “And I remember you walking away because I offended you.”

Merlin stops, halfway to where Arthur is, and looks down at the floor and laughs. But it sounds off. It’s short and choppy, almost dry, but it still has a trace of amusement in it.

“Only you would remember that bit that way.”

What’s that supposed to mean? “Look, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. The truth is…” he sighs, and it sounds too shaky to be considered strong, but he plows on anyway. “The truth is I’m not confident about myself. I’m…I’ve always had image issues, like you probably have already guess, and I’m scared that you don’t like me because I’m…fat.” He wants to cry because he feels like a five-year-old saying this.

“Ugh, what I’m trying to say Merlin, is that I understand if you don’t want to date me anymore, even though we’ve only just started to, but just…don’t do what you did this morning. It hurt me so much because it made me want more with you. And if you…I—I just—I’m sorry.”

He closes his eyes, too ashamed to look at Merlin, turns around to leave the room, but a hand on his arm stops him.

“Arthur. Look at me.”

Reluctantly, Arthur turns around and finds Merlin right in front of his face, his hands trailing up his arms to cradle his face.

“You stupid, stupid man. The only reason I walked away from you when you groped me last night was because I was this close to bending you over the table to fuck you.”

Arthur’s mouth falls open again, and Merlin’s eyes stare at it for a few moments before he looks up at Arthur, purpose in his eyes. It would be terrifying if Arthur wasn’t already so lost in them.

“Let me show you how I feel about you, Arthur.”

He drops his hands from Arthur’s face and pulls his arm to stand in front of the mirror. Arthur looks at himself in the mirror and it feels like the first time he’s ever seen himself. He feels like a blank canvas waiting to be marked.

Merlin unzips his jacket slowly, whispering each word hotly in his ear.

“The first time I saw you, Arthur. You were lying on the pub floor cuddling a beer bottle. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, but you were beautiful. You looked so peaceful and fragile. I wanted to fuck you there, on the floor with everyone watching. I wanted them to be jealous at how I got to fuck you nice and slow while they watched, envied over something they couldn’t have. Then you called me a Disney prince and I wanted to take you home and cuddle with you.”

He threw Arthur’s jacket to the side and started reaching for the hem of Arthur’s shirt, but Arthur’s immediate reaction was to push Merlin’s hands away.

“No,” Merlin says with a bite to Arthur’s neck. It’s unforgiving and hard, and Arthur gasps like a glass falling down five stories, not knowing if it should feel happy or lost after it’s been broken from its chains. “You’re going to see what I see. Because you’re beautiful, Arthur. Your eyes, your voice. Your kindness, your pratishness. All of it.”

Merlin reaches for his shirt again, and this time, Arthur closes his hands into fists, trying not to grimace at what’s about to happen. The shirt is over his head, and when he looks in the mirror, he sees a pair of hands across what looks like a natural belly. Not the pot belly he’s been used to. He doesn’t know who this is.

“When I saw you in my gym, I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was hallucinating. And then you called me a Disney Prince again, and, God, Arthur, I was already gone by then. When I looked you up and down that day, I was checking you out. The suit fit you so well, and you looked so confident in it…” Merlin’s words trail off into a soft groan that echoes in Arthur’s mind.

He feels a poke above his ass, Merlin’s erection growing. Merlin bends his knees so his cock is right on Arthur’s crack and he starts to hump his back, hips canting up and back slowly. Arthur throws his head back and sighs as Merlin licks his down his throat to his collarbone. He nips there twice, then brings his lips slowly back to his ear where he sucks and speaks only in hot whispers.

“Do you see what you do to me, Arthur? I’ve wanted you for ages. Look. Look at you.”

Arthur opens his eyes and looks in the mirror. There’s only one light open in the large room, so the glow is soft. He looks at himself and doesn’t know what to say. The light passes off him him like an artwork that’s displayed there purposely, working the light to show off it’s potential.

“Do you see? Let me show you.”

The overwhelming heat is gone from his ear, but Arthur feels soft, warm lips kiss the back of his neck, in between his shoulder blades, middle of his spine, right above his trousers. And while Merlin kisses downwards, his hands slide across the front, softly revealing what Arthur has never seen. His fingers tease between the skin and fabric, lightly stroking his hip bones. When Merlin finally slides the trousers down all the way, he lets his hands stay on his thighs, slowly pushing his pants out of the way.

Merlin keeps kissing in the back, one kiss on the right cheek, one kiss on the left. One in between. When Arthur gasps at the contact, Merlin bites the left cheek, lets the pants fall to the ground and stands up, mouth pressed to his ear again. He pushes Arthur against the mirror, and it’s a strange contrast, to be so hot pressed to such a cold surface.

“Let me show you how beautiful you are, Arthur.”

Merlin pulls his hair back and catches Arthur’s mouth on his. His tongue drives inside of Arthur’s mouth, taking over a battle that’s barely there. His teeth are strong, pulling at his lips, his tongue, his chin, his neck, and Arthur can’t breathe.

“Merlin.” It’s barely a whisper.

“Yeah, Arthur. Yeah.”

Merlin slides his hands back down Arthur’s back, landing on his ass. He goes down again, in front of Arthur’s ass and spreads his cheeks apart and blows on his hole.

“Uhn, M—Merlin”

“Shh.”

Merlin licks a warm trail from Arthur’s hole to the base of his cock, does it a few times until Arthur starts writhing against the mirror. He barely recognizes his face when he looks at his reflection. His blond hair is plastered all over his face, mouth open, cheeks pink. He looks absolutely disheveled with his legs spread out so wide and Merlin between his legs. He looks blissful but pained because Merlin won’t put his fucking mouth on his cock. So when Merlin licks at it again, Arthur thrusts it into Merlin’s mouth. And the bastard smirks.

Merlin pulls off, grabbing Arthur’s prick in his hand, working it slow and tantalizing.

“Do you see how you look Arthur? How worked up you are? You want me to swallow your prick, don’t you? Want to see me bob up and down while your dick is in my mouth? Do you want to pull my hair? Let you guide me on how I suck it?”

Arthur can’t help but groan and do exactly how Merlin says. He tugs his black hair back, then forward again onto his prick so far, he can feel Merlin gagging. But then, he feels vibrations around his cock, so he presses his face against the mirror and watches, amazed, at how expressive his face is.

“Fuck, Merlin. Faster. Please.”

His blue eyes fly open and stare at Arthur as he picks up his pace, just slightly, but enough so Arthur starts bucking into his mouth, wanting more. Merlin pulls off after a few sucks then licks at his slit, spreading the pre-come around the head. He sucks down all the way to the base four times, making Arthur bang his head against the mirror each time, then he pulls off and licks a trail back to his hole.

Merlin pulls back and looks up at Arthur while he slowly traces the rim of Arthur’s hole with feather-like touches, alternating between his tongue and fingers.

“You’re so good for me, Arthur. Begging me. I didn’t even have to ask. Do you want a reward? Do you want me to eat you out? Like having my tongue in your hole? I’ll get you so nice and wet, Arthur. Then I’m going to fuck you. Right up against his mirror. I get to watch myself fuck the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. I’ll trace your whole body with my tongue while you watch me. Fuck, Arthur, I—Yeah? You like that?”

Arthur keens, torn between wanting to kiss Merlin into the next life and wanting his tongue inside of him. Thankfully, for both of them, Merlin starts lapping at his hole, flat tongue going over it again and again. Then, he licks around the rim, teasing his tongue in and out, before thrusting it in, making Arthur throw his head back and let out a loud yell. Merlin stands up, stomach pressed to Arthur’s sweaty back as he brings his fingers to Arthur’s mouth. Arthur closes his eyes as he licks at Merlin’s fingers then moans when Merlin pushes them in.

“Fuck, Arthur you’re so good. Fuck. Mmm.” Merlin starts pulling out his fingers, and Arthur almost objects, but Merlin slowly drags them back in. He starts licking around each finger, then in between each one as Merlin spreads them out in his mouth.

“Fuck, Arthur. Look at you. Look. You want it so bad, don’t you? So gorgeous, licking my fingers like that.” All the while, Merlin’s cock is humping Arthur’s ass, slow and steady. Arthur pushes back, wanting to feel more, when Merlin bites his neck again and laughs deeply in his ear.

“Want me in there, yeah? Want me to fuck you nice and slow? God, you’re gonna feel so good and tight, Arthur. You’re gonna be beautiful.” Merlin drags his fingers out of Arthur’s mouth and circles his hole with his wet finger before pushing it in. Merlin keeps biting his neck, keeps saying things that Arthur starts to believe. He stares at Merlin and him in the mirror. His hips are bucking back into the press of Merlin’s fingers, now four, slick and pumping inside of him, and he sees Merlin’s face gone completely slack from watching Arthur fall apart in front of him.

“Fuck me, Merlin. Now. Fuck me now.”

Merlin leans away from Arthur, most likely to grab a condom, but Arthur pulls him back. He swallows as he says, “I trust you.”

Merlin’s eyes go wide with lust, but Arthur can tell he’s conflicted. So he reaches behind him to grab Merlin’s dick and puts it at his hole. He pushes his ass back onto Merlin’s cock, taking it inch by inch. He lets his head fall back onto Merlin’s shoulder, both of them sighing and moaning at how it feels.

“F-fuck. Art-Arthur o-o-oh. Yeah, baby, take it. Yeah, just like that. Fuck, look at you.”

Merlin tugs Arthur’s head back when he’s all the way inside of him and kisses him slowly, lips dragging across lips until his cock is almost out of Arthur’s hole, and reattaching them when he drives back in. It keeps like this for a bit until Arthur can’t take it anymore. He reaches behind again and grabs Merlin’s ass, pushing and pulling to the rhythm he wants. He feels Merlin’s breath stutter into the kiss and he feels him laugh as he grabs Arthur’s hands and pins them against the wall.

“Fine. We’ll do this nice and hard this time. But next time, I’m making you beg for it.”

Arthur swallows at the words but whines when Merlin doesn’t move.

And so Merlin moves faster, and harder and together, like a brush and paint, creating something new and unfounded.

Merlin tells Arthur what he sees him as: the descriptions unfold as the color follows the paintbrush, a new word spreading the color over the blank canvas that becomes bolder, newer and more cherished. And when they finish, Arthur can barely recognize it. He can’t see what Merlin sees—he never will. But he believes him. Merlin loves him. So he lets himself feel what he never thought he would.

“I love you too, Merlin,” he whispers to the sleeping head on his arm. The body scoots closer to Arthur’s, lips pressed to his throat, so Arthur can feel the words whispered back. He smiles as they fall asleep, his reflection staring back at him, proud and confident, ready to start something new.

**********

**Epilogue**

11 years later

Yes, it’s been 11 years since Arthur and Merlin started dating. Merlin can hardly believe it. Between the fights and the good times, time flew by. They were married eight years ago, and since then, it’s like all of their problems evaporated. Their days were filled with intense bickering and petty arguments, but never a full-fledged fight like they used to have when they were dating. It was almost as if now that they knew they had each other forever, it was a guarantee that they would be perfect for life.

**

Merlin stares at Arthur as he gets into his suit. They were supposed to be at the party 20 minutes ago, but since it was just upstairs, Arthur thought it would be okay to have a round, or three, before they left.

“Merlin? Merlin? Are you even listening to me?”

“Hmm? Yes, that’s good. Great even.”

There’s silence on the other line, for more than two seconds, so Merlin’s prepared for it when Morgana launches into another rant about how he needs to get his head out of the clouds and how her brother has been the same way recently. And can’t they both please get out of the honeymoon phase? It’s been 8 years since the wedding.

But Merlin’s only looking at Arthur. Even after all this time, he can’t get over how fit he looks in a suit. He’s combing his blond hair back, smirking in the mirror because he knows exactly why Morgana is yelling at him. He breaks his gaze with Arthur when Merlin hears screaming on the other end of the line.

“Is Ygraine alright?”

“Yeah. She, Elyan, Rose and Sefa are fighting over the Barbie’s again. Hold on—kids, be quiet! You’re going to wake Morgause and I’ve only just got her to sleep.”

Merlin and Arthur adopted Ygraine just a year after they were married. She was one at the time, and Arthur had fallen in love with her because she looked just like his mom, and Merlin fell in love with her because he’s a softie and fell in love with all of the children there. And because he loved how Arthur looked at their daughter.

Sefa and Morgause are Morgana’s and Helios’ daughters, one ten and a half-years-old and the other just two. Gwen and Lance’s son, Elyan, and Gwaine and Elena’s daughter, Rose, were Ygraine’s age. Since they were all around the same age, the parents alternated the house in which the children held a playdate every week.  

Coincidentally, one such playdate landed on the day of Merlin’s new book release party in New York, so Morgana offered to watch over her while they went away for a week. They decided to make a vacation out of it, because why not?

Merlin hears a chorus of apologies and stifles a giggle. “May I talk to my daughter, please?”

“Ygraine, your papa wants to speak with you.” Merlin puts it on speaker phone and walks towards Arthur where he’s trying to tie his tie but fails, fingers shaking.

“Papa! I miss you and Daddy. When are you coming home?”

“We miss you too, sweetie. We’ll be home tomorrow morning. We have Papa’s party for Auntie Mithian’s book tonight, remember? Are you being a good girl for Auntie Morgana?” Arthur asks.

“Yes. I promise with cherries and sprinkles on top.” They can hear Morgana’s “It’s all lies” in the back and Merlin can’t help but snort.

“Try and be good, princess. We’ll be back before you even know it.”

“Okay. I love you Daddy! I love you Papa!”

“We love you too,” they say in unison.

The phone clicks and Arthur drops his hands from where he tries to fix his tie again.

“You would think that after years of business parties and book signings that you would finally get the hang of ties. And you call me the idiot,” Merlin says as he loops around Arthur’s tie until it’s snug on his neck.

“Well its not my fault that I think of you spanking me with my hands bound by a tie whenever I have to go to one of these events, Merlin,” he says suggestively.

“Not now, Arthur. We don’t have time and you know it.” But he still pulls him forward by his tie and kisses him long and deep. But Arthur pulls away when he trails his hands down to his husband’s ass and finds it bare.

“You’re not ready yet! You don’t even have your underwear on, you tease.”

Merlin winks at him. “But you love me anyway.”

“Don’t you doubt it for a minute.”

And he doesn’t. They both don’t doubt it. Arthur smacks Merlin’s ass as he walks to the closest to change for the party.

It was hard at first. After they had sex the first time, Arthur was so caught up in emotions, he was so cautious about how he acted around Merlin, trying to be someone he wasn’t until Elena kicked some sense into him, figuratively, and Gwaine bullied him into talking to Merlin, literally (he still had the scars to prove it—okay it was one scar that Gwaine gave by accident, but still), and Merlin listened to him, talked to him and helped him out as if nothing even happened.

From then till their marriage, it was a struggle to find the right balance between Merlin’s lack of self-worth and Arthur’s lack of self-confidence. But once Merlin proposed, all issues faded away with the sighs and moans of their first night together as husbands.

Merlin eyes his ring glimmering in the light of the closet and grins. He’s happy. They both are. He smiles at himself in the full length mirror as he hears Arthur yell, “Come on, Merlin, we don’t have all day.” He rolls his shoulders and straightens his back, gives the reflection a wink then walks out in the new suit he bought just to see Arthur’s reaction.

He walks into their room and stands in front of the closet door, tapping his foot impatiently. Arthur looks up from his phone and just stares, mouth wide open. He swallows, and Merlin follows his Adam’s apple as it bobs up then down, then up again and he wants to mark it again where it’s now fading.

Arthur’s making his way over, but he fails to see his shoe in his path so he stumbles forward, stumbling into Merlin’s arms. They both laugh as Merlin tugs Arthur up, straightening his suit and fixing his hair.

“Still falling around me, I see.”

“Really, though. What you do to me, Merlin. Especially in that suit.”

“Bought it just for you, you know. You like it?”

Arthur licks his lips and leans forward to nibble at Merlin’s jawline, fingers studiously undoing Merlin’s bowtie.

“A-Arthur. We’re going to be really late.”

“I’m sure Mithian won’t mind. She knows we fuck like bunnies anyway. Gwaine would be proud.”

“Uhn, can we please not talk about Gwaine while you’re fucking me?”

“But we’re not fuc—”

Merlin cuts him off by bring their lips together. His hands wander down to pull down Arthur’s pants as well as his own, then he turns himself so he’s facing the wall and sticks out his ass, still wide and slick from when they fucked not even twenty minutes ago.

As Arthur slides in, he takes his turn and paints Merlin a picture of how he sees him. Figures and lines, shapes and edges, bumps and planes, all with their own scars and imperfections. But when Merlin looks at it after he’s done, all he sees is perfection.

Because it’s not bad to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you back.

~~~~~~~~~~