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The Meat Feast

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The life of an artist was not all that it was cracked up to be. It was 2am and Merlin had finally finished the concept art he was doing as a favor for Gwen. Product design wasn’t exactly the glorious future he had imagined for himself, but it paid the bills.

“Why can’t I make a living off drawing pornographic pictures of Arthur Pendragon in a Roman kit on Livejournal?” He frequently lamented to Gwen over a pint, before she’d kindly remind him that he’d get the crap sued out of him and that Arthur would forever think of him as a creepy-stalker-artist-perv.

That, and Arthur would likely get a restraining order against him, and then Merlin would never be able to get his autograph at SDCC come July.

And damn, Merlin hated reality just the tiniest bit when she reminded him of that.

He looked at the gaudy perfume bottle he had just created (Un Amour De LeFay, how self absorbed could his boss get?) and rolled his eyes. It wasn’t the fanart of Arthur Pendragon that he wished he were drawing, but it was a paycheck.

His official position was called Creative Concept Consultant – whatever that meant. He was brought on board when Gwen, his partner in crime masquerading as his best mate (and fellow fan of The Roman), had landed a splashy job with Avalon Cosmetics’ marketing department and dragged him with her.

As much as Merlin wanted to turn her down because he was an artiste and refused to cave to The Man, he had rent to pay and knew that she was only doing this out of the goodness of her heart.

That, and working as a contract artist for Avalon Cosmetics wasn’t really that bad. He wasn’t exactly wild about creating the look for upcoming products he didn’t care two bits about, but the CEO and CFO (Morgana LeFay and Morgause Gwyar, respectively) were nice – if not a little scary – and very hands on with the direction they wanted their company to go.

So Merlin consoled himself with porn and fantasies of Arthur Pendragon that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jilly Cooper novel. At least there were smutty pictures of the cast of The Roman that he could draw in his spare time.

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to fend off the pain in his eyes from being awake too long. He thought about going straight to bed, but needed to do something creative to wipe the odious taste of corporate schlepping out of his mouth.

He popped on Livejournal to see if there were any new KinkMe_Roman prompts to draw or reports from production, but aside from someone squeeing over having met Lancelot DuLac on a train from London to Cardiff, there was nothing new.

It was almost shameful how excited Merlin was for Series 3. There were two weeks left until the premier, and after a 6-month hiatus, Merlin was ready to commit murder to obtain a new episode. He might die if he didn’t get any new episodes or the resolution to the unbelievably cruel cliffhanger of series 2.

Like, literally die from lack of new episodes. His tombstone would read, “Here Lies Merlin Emrys, Dead From Lack of Roman Hotties.” There were certainly more dignified ways to go, but if he didn’t get some fresh arse shots of Arthur Pendragon soon, he was going to explode from sexual frustration.

When he was about to shut things down for the night and lobotomize himself in preparation for his presentation at Avalon tomorrow, Google Notifier chirped, alerting him to a new email.


To: MEmrys@gmail.com
From: WSmith1985@yahoo.uk
2:39am
Subject: Don’t you dare delete this!!!!
OMG, you’ve got to see this video. This guy is SOOOOOO FIT. Seriously. Ignore the ones I’ve sent you in the past, and DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT £200, GO STRAIGHT TO HIS PAGE.

hxxp://www.themeatfeast.com/watch?v=lKoN-dTaepA

PS: You’re welcome.

Merlin rolled his eyes at Will’s email, and closed it without bothering to click the link. Will was notorious for subjecting Merlin to the substandard men he wanked over when binging on internet porn.

And honestly, The Meat Feast? Really? Where the hell did Will come up with these sites?

He didn’t want judge Will for his tastes – bugger, who was he to judge when he wanked off to pictures of Arthur Pendragon in character – he just wished Will would understand that video porn wasn’t exactly his kicks and to please stop flooding his inbox with men who weren’t Arthur Pendragon.

Which wasn’t exactly fair, because the chances of Arthur Pendragon ending up on the internet spread-eagle and pleasuring himself were nonexistent.

And Merlin was horny.

“Bugger,” he huffed, and opened Will’s email back up and clicked the link, fully expecting some waxed twink or juiced-up bear.

Only, it wasn’t a twink. Or a bear. No, maybe, for the first time ever, Will had gotten Merlin’s tastes right. He felt the familiar rush of arousal as he looked at the paused video on the screen. The man in the video was leaning back in a chair with his thighs spread wide and entire package on display.

He couldn’t see the man’s head, but he could see everything else. He had a smattering of blond chest hair and a torso that would give even Arthur Pendragon a run for his money.

If Arthur Pendragon were an internet porn star, that is.

But where Arthur’s artfully draped toga started, or HBO would keep things at 18 rather than R18+ with a creatively placed table or vase, this man was proudly showing off a set of muscular thighs and a thick, erect cock. The lighting in the room wasn’t spectacular, but it was bright enough for Merlin to see that the man had the hint of a tan and a curious scar that ran down his thigh, close to his groin. It wasn’t a particularly large or severe scar, but it was dark enough for Merlin to see even with the man’s shitty webcam.

Merlin had never been one to have a scar kink, but he couldn’t ignore the urge to run his tongue along the imperfection to the base of his shaft.

He was surprised by how turned on he was. He’d seen these sorts of videos before: man jacks off on camera while making obscene sounds – nothing overly arousing, but this guy? There was something about him that made his insides twist up with desire.

He wasn’t Arthur Pendragon, but gods, he’d do.

Merlin was curious to see if the man could live up to his fantasies and pushed play. The man in the video grabbed himself almost tentatively and began to pull the length of his cock from balls to tip. His initial hesitancy made Merlin wonder if this was the first time he’d ever done something like this, which made his chest swell with a small amount of affection for the stranger.

After a few seconds of tentative stroking, the man seemed to gain his confidence and twisted his cock in addition to sliding his fist along the shaft. His stomach muscles tightened, and Merlin wanted to run his tongue along the defined ridges of his abs. The man’s erection was slick with pre-cum, and he glided thumb over the pinked head, massaging it with small circles before he closed his fist tightly around his shaft once more and stroked faster then the casual pace before.

Merlin’s own erection was straining against his jeans. He rubbed it with is palm, feeling the heat of his arousal warm through the fabric. He itched to reach through the computer screen and replace the man’s hand with his own. His lungs tightened from a chocked gasp when the man in the video raked his nails across his chest through the patch of blond hair, leaving red trails in their wake. Merlin’s own hand trembled as he mimicked the move. He bit down hard on his lip to suppress a moan.

The man in the video was quiet, unlike any of the porn stars Merlin had seen before. His breathing was labored, but there were no bawdy noises falling from his lips off screen. Rather, the man’s noises were choked gasps of surprised pleasure, like he had never felt so good before. He’d tweak a nipple and inhale sharply, like he hadn’t expected it to feel so good. His actions made Merlin weak with want and dizzy from the intense need to get off.

He yearned to know whether or not he could make that god-like man scream in pleasure or if he was the sort to pinch his face tight in a silent shout during the flush of an orgasm. The broken, low grunts of pleasure were erotic, and seemed to fit this headless man somehow, even though Merlin didn’t know him from Adam.

He was surprised to find that he wanted more. He used to think he was above this kind of anonymous video porn, but the erection straining against his zipper begged to differ. He squirmed in his chair and attempted not to shame his pride by rutting the air. His finally snapped and slipped his sweaty palm below his waistband and squeezed his erection, sagging against his chair in pleasure.

It was tortuous, stupid ecstasy. That a ridiculous Meat Feast video could reduce him to such dirty, guilty pleasure cut into him like a knife, and served to make him hotter and harder. His heart was hammering in his chest and he could feel perspiration dampen his neck. He struggled to keep his strokes slow, not wanting to end it all before the man in the video came.

The anonymity was sexy and all thoughts of Arthur Pendragon flew from his mind as he watched the stranger massage his balls and arch his hips off the chair. The man’s thighs were beginning to quiver, and Merlin longed to know whether or not his lip was being bitten raw between his teeth and he pleasured himself silently.

The man lifted his free hand up to tweak his nipple and Merlin squeezed his own in response. The jolt of pain shot straight to his groin and he could feel his balls beginning to tighten. Though he couldn’t see above his neck, he knew the man had thrown his head back in ecstasy from the way the muscles corded where his neck met his sternum.

Merlin’s struggled to keep his own noises at a minimum while he watched, enraptured, as the man’s rhythm got more erratic. Merlin’s own hand started to pick up the pace and he nearly lost control when his porn star’s stomach muscles clenched. The man’s breathing was finally getting louder and little grunts could be heard over the sound of his hand fisting his cock.

White sparks danced in Merlin’s mind as as his orgasm rolled through him, and he opened his eyes just in time to watch the man’s balls tighten, his entire body go taut, and semen shoot up onto his chest.

It was one of the hottest things he had ever seen. There was no loud grunt or cry when he came, just a choked-back groan when Merlin watched his chest exhale.

The video went black.

Merlin checked to see if there were any more and was disappointed to find that there weren’t. For the first time, he noticed that the man posted under the username Excalibur, and Merlin had to laugh, because really? What kind of arrogant twit used the name Excalibur when referencing his penis?

Merlin shook his head, still amused, and shut his laptop. He had four hours until he needed to be up for Avalon, and was finally ready for bed.

~*~

The next evening found Merlin scribbling yet another picture of Arthur Pendragon. He felt inspired after watching Excalibur’s video, and decided to draw Aurelius, Arthur’s character in The Roman, in the corner of a dungeon.

He drew Aurelius pleasuring himself as Excalibur had done, only with the added bonus of chains, dirt, and a delicious spunk-covered kit that lay in tatters surrounding him. In silent tribute to his muse, Merlin drew a scar on Aurelius to match Excalibur’s.

The picture was rough, but so was the subject material, and Merlin was pleased with it. While he had drawn loads of porny pictures of Arthur and his costars in the past, never before had his art felt quite as intimate and secretive as the picture he had just finished.

He posted it to his journal and grinned when he got five responses within thirty seconds. He was used to receiving a lot of comments on his art, but they usually didn’t come in quite so fast.

God love the Livejournal fangirls and their obsession with porn. Though, who was he to talk?

A few hours later, he still couldn’t stop thinking about Excalibur and the way his muscles flexed or his breathy moans when he was near coming. He went back to Excalibur’s page to see if there were any new videos, half pretending that he was indifferent if there weren’t.

After all, wanking over one stupid video didn’t mean he was some sort of video porn convert, did it?

Of course not.

Though, the curling arousal of anticipation as the page loaded that left him half-hard begged to differ. Merlin chose to ignore his inner voice screaming that he was a hypocritical twat and focused on the flush of hot blood running to his erection instead.

When the page finished loading, Merlin most certainly did not groan aloud when he found out that Excalibur’s page had been changed to members only. He wasn’t so far gone over a stupid internet bloke that he needed to sign up for the bloody Meat Feast to watch a stranger get off.

He was better than that. Above it, even. He was hard because of a potential wank, not because of the hottest body he’d seen since Arthur Pendragon.

Gods, he needed some real sex – and soon. He was turning into a dirty old perv. Well, dirtier than a perv who spent his spare time drawing pornographic pictures – because that wasn’t dirty, that was art.

He frowned and turned to look at the poster of Aurelius he had hanging over his drawing table. In a fit of frustration he slammed his laptop shut, pushed back from his table and stood up. He carded his fingers through his hair and took a few deep breaths, ignoring the erection throbbing in his trousers. He refused to be reduced to a quivering puddle of arousal by a cheap exhibitionist whore who took cheap thrills from posting a video on a porn site. Refused!

He fished his mobile out of his pocket and rang Gwen.

“Hey, I was wondering when you would ring,” her cheerful voice answered. “Morgana loved you at the meeting today. Said your designs were a dreamy fusion of haute fashion and Once Upon a Time.”

“Erm, what does that even mean? Once Upon a Time, as in fairy tales?” What kind of ridiculous jargon was that? Merlin was baffled and awed by how stupid The Man was (his affection for Morgana notwithstanding).

“It means she loved it, and – can you keep a secret? – she’s going to offer you an official position on the design team!” Gwen’s resulting squeal made him wince and pull his mobile back from his ear. “Isn’t that wonderful? That means more money and better benefits!”

Merlin frowned. Again? This was turning into a sort of dance. Every few months Morgana offered him a position on her team and he always refused. This would be offer number five. “I like being a contract consultant! It helps me leave my options open.”

Merlin could practically hear her roll her eyes. “What other options? You’ve not taken on another company’s project in over six months. And,” her voice started to waver, “don’t you want to work together? Permanently?”

Merlin hated her in that moment. Hated that she knew exactly what to say to get him to do what she wanted. On the surface, Gwen was kind, genuine, and honest, but Merlin knew better. He knew that she hid a surprisingly devious and manipulative streak that she only dug out when she really wanted something. It made Merlin feel like a cad because what she wanted now was nothing more than working side by side with her best friend.

“Of course I do!” He tried to sound sincere. “I’ll really give it some thought, yeah?” Merlin wanted to slam his head into the wall and wished that he knew what he wanted out of his future. As attractive as the larger paycheck was, something about committing to Avalon didn’t feel right.

“Speaking of your art, I loved that picture of Aurelius you put up on LJ this evening,” she gushed, her BAFTA-worthy guilt trip performance already forgotten. “I think that’s your hottest piece yet. I had to fan myself when I noticed the scar you added next to Aurelius’ groin. Rawr!”

Merlin blushed, and hoped that she wouldn’t ask where he came up with the idea for it. “Thanks! It was fun to draw.”

“I can about imagine. Are we still on for our series 1 and 2 marathon next weekend? I could use a little more Lancelot DuLac in my life. I’m dying for the series premier!”

“You and me both,” Merlin sympathized. “Also, you can have Lance. Gorgeous, brunette, and honorable don’t quite do it for me. I prefer my blokes blond and bitchy.”

Gwen’s responding laughter was light and wonderful, easing the Avalon-sized ache in his chest. “Keep him!” she teased. “He’s too big a prat in real life for me to want him.”

“But that’s what makes him irresistible!” He was grinning, and it was moments like this that he treasured Gwen’s friendship. She possessed an infectious joy for life that Merlin couldn’t help but admire. They finalized the date and time for their marathon and hung up.

Feeling better than he had all day, Merlin pulled out a canvas and acrylics and began to paint. It had been far too long since he worked with actual paint, and it felt great to have a brush in his hand again.

He didn’t have a specific image in his mind when he began, but the more he painted, the more the image began to turn into an blurred cityscape and a man with his back turned to the viewer. He was reaching out for someone just out off canvas, though Merlin didn’t have any specific idea of who or what.

The man’s back and broad shoulders dominated the image, and he had subconsciously framed the canvas so it cut off at the neck. He painted the man in a black suit jacket, but he looked oddly naked to Merlin.

He stood back and looked at the work. It wasn’t his usual style (an apparent theme of the day), but it he liked it. He put his pallet down and was frustrated to find that he was still hard. He had been unconsciously thinking of Excalibur, right down to framing the image without a head. He was loathed to admit that he had created this painting by thinking of some exhibitionist porn-star-wannabe, but the evidence spoke for itself.

There was a padded room in his future, first with the pornographic pictures of Arthur, and now with the non-pornographic picture based on a porn star. Great. Fantastic! He was perfectly sane.

Merlin threw his brushes in the sink, quick to clean them before they dried, and went back to his abandoned laptop. When he opened the screen, it was still on Excalibur’s page.

“Fucking hell,” he muttered. “I need to get out more.” He moved the cursor to the JOIN HERE! Hyperlink and clicked it, cursing Will for starting him down this path.

~*~

There was a new video that had been posted in the last couple hours that was going to be the end of him, if the image on the paused video was any indication. Excalibur was sitting in the same chair as the first video, still with his head off camera, and his legs thrown over the armrests. His fingers were inserted deep into his arse.

“Fuuuuuuuuuck.” He was going to die; this video was going to kill him! He licked his lips, and wondered if it was healthy to be as hard as he was right the fuck now. With his last shred of coherence, he pushed his trousers down and pressed play.

(The Aurelius fanart that this latest video inspired garnered his highest comment count yet, and Merlin promptly decided that there was a special kind of hell for pervs such as himself.)

~*~*~


To: APndgn@gmail.com
From: Gdaddy4evs@gmail.com
7:42pm
Subject: the crazies r comin 4 ya

To His Royal Highnass, King Arthur of Rome,

my most beloved sovereign, ur going to die of the lulz when you see this! can u believe some of the shit that’s out there? the “esteemed” Lady Sophia sent this to me – it was put up a couple mins ago – tho I’m trying not to think of why she was looking at this to begin with. stere clear of her, mate!

hxxp://drag00nthegreat.livejournal.com/tag/roman%20art

creepyness aside, I feel the need to defend how perfectly my graphic likeness represents me. it’s a relief to know that this pervert artist has a strong sense of how manly my manhood is. I’ll never allow u to bugger me, no matter how much this artist seems to want u to, but its good to kno wshe appreciates my luscious hair, perfect body, and undeniably amazing, thick, flawless cock.

I wouldn’t blame u if you felt the need to print that solo one of me out and paste it to ur trailor. or next to ur bed. u could wake up with me ever morn! don’t lie too yourself, Kingy-Old-Man, u’d fucking luv it!

but back to the creepy, check out the most recent one of u. look how well she got u! not that I make a habit of peekin in on ur bits (we all know that’s Percy), but, well, just check it out, yeah? (sure u don’t know this bird? crazy ex-gf maybe?)

Ever your loyal servant, Sir Gwaine of the 5th Regiment

Sent from my iPhone.

Arthur rolled his eyes at his friend and costar. Emails from Gwaine were an exercise in patience and restraint. Also, that ‘King Arthur’ bullshit had to stop. Ever since GQ came out with an article titled It’s Good to be King, the media had latched onto the historical parallel and refused to let it go. His friends, costars, and crew found this wildly amusing and exploited his historical namesake every chance they got – much to his eternal chagrin.

He clicked on the link ready for a laugh and promptly dropped the pint he’d been nursing. It landed on the wood floor of the hotel room he was staying in and shattered, splashing Bass all over his trainers and jeans. “Fuck!”

This wasn’t supposed to happen. His video had been anonymous, damnit! He’d made sure of that about fifty bajillion times, and an additional forty quintillion for good measure.

Oh god, his agent was going to kill him. And his publicist! This was going to end up on Gawker or TMZ by the end of the day and his career would be over. OVER.

GORGEOUS, DAZZLING, ARRESTINGLY CHARMING KING ARTHUR GETS OFF ON WANKING FOR YOUR PLEASURE

His head swam with potential headlines and his heart was battering his chest. He felt dizzy with fear. Damnit, he knew that video was a bad idea. His video had barely 200 hits, and it was on an obscure gay website. How did this idiot fangirl find it, let alone know it was him?

He looked at the picture closer. Aside from the fact that it was obviously “him” by nature of the art being Aurelius, the cock was his and the scar next to his groin (prop accident while filming series one) was definitely his.

In his panic, Arthur went to his Meat Feast page and quickly made it members only. He thought about deleting it entirely, but there was no proof that this fangirl had any idea that it was actually him in the video (Oh god, why did he make that video?).

Maybe it was all some sort of random happenstance of chance.

His hands were shaking as he went back to the artist’s blog. The art in question had couple hundred comments, but no grand declaration that the artist had seen him naked recently. This struck him as odd, because who wouldn’t want to brag about that? He was gorgeous! She should feel honored that she got to see him naked…from the neck down.

And also, Dragoon the Great? What the fuck kind of name was that? This had to be some sort of epic prank that Gwaine was playing on him. He compared the picture that had been put up earlier that evening to one that had been done a few months back. There was a distinct difference in both the style and the, ahem, nether regions.

The artist had definitely seen his video.

Arthur scrolled through a few of the non-art entries. They were few and far between, and there were no personal details that could give the person’s identity – or intent – away (aside from generic fannish love for The Roman). Arthur didn’t give two shits about Dragoon’s rage from being out of Jaffa Cakes (He was a Hobnob man, himself.) or her opinions on Fulham’s latest performance (How Shameful! Arsenal was a far superior team.).

A few pages back, he found a picture of a couple in the lobby of Avalon Cosmetics. There was no corporate identifier or anything in the picture, but Arthur had been there plenty of times when he was on break and in the mood to harass his harridan sister, the company’s CEO.

What was this couple doing at Avalon? The caption at the bottom read “Me and G cavorting with The Man.” The man in the photo had a large black portfolio and his shorter companion carried a standard leather briefcase. Were they both employees there? A call to Morgana might be in order…if he wanted to serve up his pride on a silver salver.

The couple had huge smiles on their faces. The man was gorgeous; he was tall and spindly with black hair, blue eyes, and the most charming smile he’d ever seen. His entire face lit up from its brilliance. The woman next to him was shorter and had wild, curly hair that was barely contained behind her head. She was pretty, but nowhere near as alluring as the man standing next to her.

Arthur assumed that the girl was Dragoon and that the man beside her was her boyfriend. Did tall, dark, and gorgeous know that his girlfriend got off on gay porn, or that she drew pornographic pictures of himself and his costars?

A quick Google search of “Arthur Pendragon + Porn” turned up some horrifying results, but none of the Gawker, TMZ, or ONTD variety that he was concerned about.

Arthur wanted to test her. If he posted another video, would she draw another picture? In a backwards sort of way, this was why he had made the original video in the first place – he loved to be on display. The idea of someone getting off on his pleasure was his dirtiest secret, and if Dragoon had serendipitously decided to use him as her muse, then he would consider it his good deed for the day to oblige her.

The fear of his video exploits leaking to the press was always present in the back of his mind, but it was this fear that drove him to do it.

Damnit, why couldn’t he have normal kinks? Why couldn’t he get off on cruising for blokes on Craigslist or Grindr (non-disclosure agreements at the ready) like the rest of the homosexual stars of the entertainment world? No, he had to get off on the idea of people getting off on him.

Which wasn’t arrogant, by the by, it was erotic.

He sighed and contemplated his options. Viv would have his head on plate if she found out what he was doing, shrewd, caustic bitch that she was. Nevertheless, as long as his head never entered the video, it could be covered up if a scandal ever broke out. After all, Viv wasn’t the best publicist in the biz for nothing (Though, he’d rather admit to being a giant flaming poof on GMTV than tell her that. 13% of his gross was acknowledgement enough for that rapacious harlot.).

Once he calmed down – with the assistance of several finger of 32 yr old Oban – the whole thing was almost funny.

He would pay good money to see the look on Dragoon’s face when she realized that she was drawing porn inspired by the real Arthur Pendragon instead of some anonymous body. He snorted, amused, and began crafting his next show.

He carefully sidestepped over the mess of broken glass and warm beer and moved his laptop to the table where he had filmed his first video. He undressed, careful to remove his iconic necklace and ring, and shoved it all in the bathroom for paranoia’s sake – heaven forbid he be discovered by a pile of discarded clothing on his bed.

Nervous energy took up residence in his stomach, but this was part of what he loved, part of why he was driven to make the anonymous video in the first place. The constant fear of “what if…” thrilled him, and the idea of doing something that his handlers, fans, and the media would melt down over if they found out was enough to leave him hard and panting.

He sat in the desk chair he used for the first video and pulled his lube out of the desk’s drawer. He was judicious in how much he squeezed into his palm, as he was in no hurry to request another bottle from his assistant. The look she had given him last time he made the request was uncomfortable enough, and he was in no position to kip on down to Boots to pick up a bottle for himself.

(The last time he tried, he chickened out at the last second and grabbed a tube of foot cream instead, and ended up in HELLO! a week later with some unflattering photographs and embarrassing headlines. He swore he could hear Morgana’s laughter all the way in Italy.)

Arthur positioned his laptop and camera frame with his clean hand, and settled into position. He hung his legs over the armrests and pushed record.

He inhaled deeply and tried to slow his heartbeat down. His hands were trembling, but the nervous excitement and idea that someone would see this sent tremors of erotic anticipation up and down his spine.

He gave only a cursory stroke to his erection before he started pushing into his arse with two lubed up fingers. The shock burn of being penetrated made him slump down farther in his chair and throw his head back. He scissored his fingers for a few seconds before he started thrusting them in as far as his reach would allow.

He used his free hand to thread his fingers through his hair and pulled hard on it. His hand was greasy and disgusting from the lube, but it was dirty, erotic, and felt amazing. The pain shot straight to his cock and his hips gave an involuntary arch off the chair. He used the momentum to push a third finger in and curled his fingers up to his prostate.

He thought about the people watching him. The thought of the public finding out that Arthur Pendragon was a giant cockslut made him squirm with arousal. He started pushing into himself harder and faster, and trailed his other hand down his body until it fastened securely around his erection.

His pre-cum was dripping down his stomach and his cock got harder when he brushed his prostate and thought about the people watching him and his fans. Did they touch themselves thinking about him? Did they get off fantasizing about him or his character? He stroked himself errantly, relishing in the pleasure mixed with pain as he squeezed his cock harder.

He loved the tightening coil in his abdomen as he felt himself get closer and closer to the edge. He imagined the picture that Dragoon would create from this video and almost cried out from the delicious deception of it all. He thought of that gorgeous guy in the photograph watching him finger himself and thrust his hips in the air like a shameless, wanton whore.

He thought of that gorgeous guy smacking his arse raw before he shoved his cock in with minimal preparation, burning Arthur as he slid in to the hilt. He thought of that gorgeous guy touching himself while watching Arthur get off on thinking about him.

He felt the inevitable tightening around his fingers and arched his body like a taut string off the chair as his balls tightened and he shot hot cum all over his chest. He collapsed down in his seat, breathing hard, momentarily frozen from his orgasm. After a few seconds, he gathered himself and stopped the recording.

He queued up the video to watch and ensure that anything above his neck never entered the shot. Huh. He didn’t know he had a mole there. Fascinating the things one learns about oneself when watching oneself finger their own arse on camera. “Stay classy, Pendragon,” he mused.

Arthur leaned back in his chair with a self-satisfied smirk. Your move, Dragoon.

~*~

When Arthur got to his trailer the next day, there was a nude picture of Gwaine’s character done by Dragoon taped to the trailer door. In red sharpie he had written “Printed out so you can tape it next to your bed!” across the bottom corner.

Arthur ripped it off the door and crumpled the offending paper in his hand. It was only 6am and already he could tell that it was going to be one of those days. He hadn’t slept well, and the compulsion to check his mobile every five seconds to see if any sort of scandal hit the ‘net was difficult to suppress.

He left a large tip for the hotel staff as an apology for the broken glass and spilt beer, but still felt a bit bad about it. He hated leaving messes like that. No matter how many years had passed since his father’s death, he could hear Uther’s autocratic voice in the back of his mind chastising him for behaving so crudely, and just what kind of son did he think he was? Arthur sighed, already done with the day.

He heard someone come up behind him and was ready for the firm pat on his back shoulder.

“Gwaine’s been having a ball with those. They’re taped all over the set.” Lancelot handed Arthur a small, disposable cup filled with his favorite tea. “You should have seen the one he hung on my door. It was, uh,” Arthur raised his eyebrow at the flush that was creeping its way up his friend’s neck. “It was, um, well, racier than the one he taped on your door.”

Arthur could imagine, having scrolled through some of Dragoon’s catalogue. “And they’re all over, you say? Bugger.” Arthur took a sip of tea and felt the beginnings of a tension headache.

Lancelot’s sympathetic sigh beside him did little to assuage his simmering anger. “I think Leon’s taken most of them down by now, but there are probably a few that he missed.” Arthur groaned aloud. “Gwaine thinks this is funnier than the time we were asked about those certain types of fanfic at Comic Con last summer.”

“I thought we had all agreed that we wouldn’t discuss or exploit the more, ah, bawdy aspects of our fans adoration?” Arthur scratched the back of his neck and hoped he wasn’t blushing.

Lancelot nodded. “Yeah, but you know Gwaine. He’ll keep at it until it looses its appeal.” He paused a beat. “Or until Leon catches him and forcibly convinces him otherwise.”

Leon, The Roman’s lead director, had little patience for Gwaine’s – or anyone’s – juvenile behavior. Arthur and Lancelot grinned, knowing that Leon would have this petty prank nipped in the bud before shooting began. Their conversation shifted comfortably into shoptalk until Arthur spotted the poster taped on the wall outside of the main sound stage.

The poster was sizable. It looked to be about 32” by 24” and was in full, horrific color. This was not how Arthur wanted to encounter Dragoon’s latest riposte. If porn were chess, she had just put him in check and he hadn’t even had the chance to move more than a pawn.

And fuck, it was 6am! When the fuck did she have time to do this? Did she not sleep? Arthur’s heart was racing and his palm itched with the desire to grab his mobile check the internet for signs of scandal…again. The disposable cup buckled under his tense grip and burst in his hand, scalded him with hot tea.

“Bloody fucking buggering shit fuck damn,” Arthur raged. “I am going to kill him. I will run him through with my prop sword and watch him bleed out a slow, agonizing death in front of us all.”

Lancelot was pale beside him. “Wow, that is certainly a, erm, graphic depiction of you.”

Which was perhaps the understatement of the fucking century. Dragoon’s latest masterpiece was of Aurelius spread eagle in front of the entire Roman Senate with his toga costume puddled around him and his fingers shoved up his arse.

Aurelius’ head was thrown back in ecstasy as he fingered himself, with his other hand on his cock. As with the previous picture, Dragoon’s attention to detail was exquisite, right down to the scar on his groin and his previously unnoticed mole.

The parallels that Dragoon had drawn between Excalibur and Aurelius weren't exactly lost on him, but he was too fucking stunned to give them much thought.

Anger simmered deep down inside of him. Anger at Gwaine for being such an immature, douchey cunt, anger at Dragoon for being such an unforgivable perv who deserved a special place in hell, and anger at himself for making another fucking video and being the tiniest bit turned on by Dragoon’s art.

He threw the crumpled cup on the ground, marched up to the picture, tore it off the brick and ripped it into dozens of tiny fragments. When he turned back to face Lancelot, Gwaine was standing beside him with a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

Arthur felt nothing but white-hot rage and would have pummeled his friend into the ground, punching that grin off his stupid, ugly face were it not for Leon walking up behind them.

“Let’s not make poor Freya spend hours covering up bruises for the foreseeable future, okay?” Leon said, giving Arthur a pointed look. His voice was a tempered calm that had likely been perfected by years of dealing with high-maintenance movie stars and high-stakes productions. Not that The Roman had either of those, but calm, collected command seemed to be second nature to him.

Leon grabbed Gwaine by the shirt collar and gave him a hearty shove in the direction of the pile of shredded poster Arthur had just created. “Come on, Gwaine. Clean up your mess and take down the rest of ‘em before Arthur here gives you an injury Freya won’t be able to hide with make-up.”

Gwaine had the audacity to give Arthur a wink and a cheeky grin as he passed him. Arthur closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to help swallow the urge to ignore Leon’s warning and stab Gwaine in the eye with a dull, plastic spork.

“Let’s get you boys to make-up and costume,” Leon said, steering Arthur and Lancelot toward Freya’s trailer. “No bloody violence until we film today’s battle, and even then, please try to keep the fighting fictional, yeah? I don’t think the producers or insurance carrier will be all too thrilled if you run poor Gwaine through.”

Arthur didn’t dignify that with a response. If Gwaine ended up with a fresh scar across his perfect fucking face before the day was out, then he had no one to blame but himself.

He clenched and unclenched his fists as he followed Leon and Lancelot. Judging by the looks they were giving him, they thought he was skulking.

He wasn’t.

He was thinking of that stupid fanbrat and how he wanted to crush her. He refused to be checkmated by some anonymous twat, but bloody hell, no more videos for a while. Maybe no more videos ever.

He tried to figure out how he could control the rules of their game.

~*~*~

Two weeks had passed since Excalibur put up the video that inspired Merlin to draw Aurelius on the floor of the Roman Senate fingering himself. There had been no new videos since then, and Merlin was driving himself mad over the disappearance of his accidental muse.

He wanted to lie to himself and pretend that he hadn’t been compulsively checking The Meat Feast every single day, multiple times a day.

But he had.

And for all intents and purposes, Excalibur had vanished into the ether of the internet. Maybe his performance was only a twice-off thing? He did seem rather unsure of himself in the beginning. Maybe he decided that public exhibitionism wasn’t his deal.

Merlin ached, physically ached, to get off how he used to get off – with a hot, half-naked picture of Arthur Pendragon on set – but Excalibur had spoiled him. He was real and so fucking hot.

It wasn’t that Aurelius wasn’t real, but Arthur Pendragon wasn’t making erotic videos and putting them on the internet. Until he was, Merlin was forced to concede that maybe Will was onto something with those videos.

Stupid Will! It all came back to Will. If only he hadn’t sent Merlin that link in the first place; then he wouldn’t be sitting in his chair at 2 in the morning dying of sexual frustration.

The Roman had premiered the night before, and as satisfying as it was, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t have that sensual, dirty quality of Excalibur touching himself like he was doing it for Merlin alone. Also, HBO still refused to film Arthur Pendragon naked, despite a strong letter-writing campaign from his fans (James Purefoy was allowed to go nude in Rome! Why not Arthur?).

For about the four millionth time in the last two weeks, Merlin looked at the MESSAGE ME link on Excalibur’s page. He gnawed on his lower lip, uncertain of whether or not he should go through with it. He wanted to ask Excalibur for a 1:1 Skype session, but only the perviest of pervs did that sort of thing, right?

Oh gods, he was thinking about his special place in hell again.

Merlin weighed his options. He could live in a near combustible state waiting for a new video that may never come, or he could get over himself and message the bloke on the off chance that he might say yes. If he said ‘No,’ then that would be that.

It took another fifteen minutes of sitting at his laptop, squeezing his fists, before he actually grew a pair and opened up a message box. Which was followed by another fifteen minutes of staring at said message box.

It was time for an alcoholic intervention.

Merlin fixed himself a gin and tonic that was more gin than tonic. It tasted like shit, as he couldn’t afford top shelf, but it did the trick. He mainlined two more before he wandered back to his desk.

He cracked his knuckles and began to type.

Hey Excalibur! I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoy your videos. I’m not normally the kind of guy who gets off on anonymous video porn, but there’s something about you that makes me want more. Do you think you might be interested in a potential 1:1 session on Skype? If that’s not your thing, I totally understand. I just thought it might be a new and intriguing way to explore oneself. If you’re up for it (heh), send me a message. My Skype acct is DragoonTheGreat. I hope to hear from you!

Merlin stopped tying. Not only was his message epically pathetic, he wondered if he should he create a new skype account specifically for Excalibur. It wasn’t as if Excalibur would actually say yes, but what if he discovered Merlin’s art? If he found it then he’d discover that he had become Merlin’s unwitting muse.

Merlin highlighted his text, deleted it, and tried again. And again. And again.

After several LAME attempts, he decided some more liquor was in order. He fixed himself a fresh drink and downed it before going back to the once-again-empty message box.

Hey Excaliber! Fancy letting me shov my sword into your stone? Or, I suppose given yourn name it would be your sword into my sotne, but let’rs be straight here (HA! or NOT!) I want to slam my cock into thatt fiiiine apple ass sof you’rs. Your videos make me ahrder then a priest surrounded by altar boys. How about a 1:1 Skyupe wankathon with me? DragoonTheGreat. Let me know!! <3!

Merlin laughed, now feeling fearless and hazy from mainlining half a bottle of gin in a span of time no one outside of uni should attempt. He was making a bigger deal out of this than it needed to be. It was just a stupid message for a stupid anonymous internet exhibitionist. No need to sweat it!

He clumsily attempted to toggle a new window to register a new Skype account for a fresh message when the tab key inadvertently shifted the cursor to SEND! and sent the message.

It took him several seconds longer than it should have to realize what had just happened. When he finally did realize it, he felt like the floor had fallen out beneath him.

“FUCK! No! Come back! Oh god oh god OH GOD!” He jabbed at his keyboard furiously, as if that would bring the message back. “Nooooooooooo!

Merlin felt ill. He hadn’t meant to toggle the cursor to send! Could he take it back? Take it back! Excalibur was going to think he was the biggest idiot on the planet. He was the biggest idiot on the planet! No no no no….

~*~*~

Soooo, not the girl…and apparently an idiot. Awesome. The typos suggested inebriation, but maybe Dragoon was just a creep. Arthur’s luck never ceased to amaze him.

Tall, dark, and gorgeous was a haplessly incompetent internet creeper who drew explicit porn of him and his costars. Once again, awesome.

Arthur sat in one of the five make-up chairs in Freya’s trailer and digested that for a while. He was torn on how to feel and what to do. Was he elated that Dragoon was that bloke with the gorgeous smile or disappointed that he was an epic tosser? Did he want to continue their little tête-à-tête, or block the creep like he strongly suspected he should? If he continued things (which he shouldn’t, because Dragoon was a pervy freak), where would they go from here?

Where could they go from here? The circumstances surrounding the initial situation hadn’t changed. Arthur was still King Arthur Pendragon: International Heartbreaker and Achingly Beautiful Star and he knew nothing could ever come of an association with some random, anonymous pornhound – no matter how great the sexual gratification might be.

Thankfully, Freya’s hair and make-up minions took pity on him and left him to brood as one skillfully applied fake dirt and sand to his skin and the other worked on styling his hair to make it look like he had been sword fighting in a sandstorm after several hours of sex.

Gwaine and the others had all forgotten the porny picture prank and moved on like it was just another day at the office, so he should forget about them too, right? He frowned at that notion, not liking the fact that he was slightly more relieved than he should have been to find that Art Perv was a guy. A gorgeous guy.

Who was also an idiot.

Arthur sighed for the ten billionth time that morning and ignored the inquisitive look Miss Make-Up Minion gave him.

He was supposed to be above this kind of petty fan-stalking. Not that what he was doing was stalking. Checking Dragoon’s blog every night after filming was curiosity, not stalking. He was the celebrity here! Not Dragoon. He didn’t care that no more pictures appeared after the one of Aurelius in the Roman Senate, and he certainly wasn’t invested now that he knew Dragoon was a man.

No, Dragoon was a muttonhead, and he was going to forget about him and focus on the scene he was filming today. He didn’t associate with starry-eyed fans or Star Fuckers (He learned that lesson the hard way in the beginning of his career.), so he certainly wasn’t thinking of Dragoon’s sunshine smile or allowing it to weaken his resolve of non-contact.

God, he was such a fucking queer. Arthur rolled his eyes at the heavens, heaved a belabored sigh, and realized that apparently he did associate with starry-eyed Star Fuckers who had hair styled by a first year, amazing cheekbones, and giant, cinnamon bun ears. He opened his mail app.

You’re an idiot.

Viv’s constant screeching over how careless he was with his image and how epically naïve he was with his misplaced trust gave him pause before sending the reply. He was momentarily disconcerted over the fact that something she frequently bitched about was starting to stick, even though he was ignoring her…again.

He knew he should leave things be, curiosity be damned, and that he was playing with fire. Nevertheless, something unknown inside of him compelled him to hit send.

His heart was racing in much the same manner that it had when he posted one of his videos, and the same pangs of fear tugged at him. If Dragoon’s response was normal, then he’d think about messaging him again. If he responded like a creepy-stalker-perv- imbecile, then that would be that, and his curiosity would be sated.

~*~

The response came two hours later when he was checking his mobile while the crew was setting up the next shot.

You’re the one who calls his dick ‘Excalibur’!

And yeah, I may have been a little drunk last night. Sorry about that. I swear I’m not normally so forward. I’ve never messaged anyone before, let alone asked a perfect stranger for a 1:1. Am feeling a bit sheepish (and hung-over) this morning.

Arthur laughed – laughed! – out loud, because no, he wasn’t forward, he just drew explicit porn on the internet for everyone and their mother to see.

A pristine sense of relief washed over him as he realized that maybe Dragoon wasn’t a complete and utter nutter. Maybe he really was just incredibly intoxicated when he sent that message. It wasn’t as though Arthur couldn’t relate to that. A seed of excitement was planted deep within his chest.

He quickly toggled to the reply icon and started typing.

I don’t call my dick Excalibur!

Arthur stopped typing and scratched his chin, because damn, he couldn’t exactly tell Dragoon that he chose Excalibur based on his name. He thought it was a funny irony at the time; now he just felt stupid.

I happen to be a fan of the Arthurian legends. You know, history? Reading? I wouldn’t expect an internet creeper such as yourself to appreciate something as exalted as independent learning.

Arthur snorted and smirked, wishing he could see Dragoon’s face when he read that.

So what’s all this about a 1:1? How exactly does that work?

He clenched his hand and thought a long moment before he sent the reply. He shouldn’t encourage continued discourse and he certainly shouldn’t encourage a mutual wank via Skype, but a familiar beat of pleasure began to take form and he wanted to see how this would play out.

~*~

It was late afternoon before Arthur had another moment to himself. His right shoulder and upper arm throbbed painfully from the choreographed fight that had taken most of the day to film. One of the stunt actors had missed his cue and landed the flat of his prop blade down hard on Arthur’s bicep. The force of the blow knocked him off balance, and sent him careening into the wall.

It hurt like hell, and the shot was trashed. It was currently being reset so he could do it all over again. Huzzah.

He fished his mobile out of a hidden pocket in his leather kit and was pleased to see another reply.

I’m a creeper?! Says the perv who puts up videos of himself on the bloody MEAT FEAST. Obviously it takes one to know one.

Arthur’s eyes widened and he quickly shoved the mobile to his chest to hide the screen from potential onlookers. He whipped his head left and right to see if anyone was reading over his shoulder, and waited a few beats before he slowly pulled it back to read. Geez, did the idiot have to use all caps?

As for your slander against my intelligence, I’d kindly like to point out that criticism from a naked, blockheaded exhibitionist doesn’t carry much weight.

Look, I’ve never done a 1:1 thing before – never wanted to – so I don’t exactly know how this works. I figured, since you enjoy getting off while people watch you and I enjoy getting off watching you, maybe we could do it over Skype? What do you say? I think this might be fun if you’re able to keep your mouth shut. Judging from your previous comments, people like you should be seen and not heard.

Arthur rolled his eyes and grinned. The idea of anyone thinking he should be seen and not heard was beyond the pale.

Dragoon’s candor and spark were refreshing. He knew that if he knew to whom he was corresponding the imbecile would probably clam up and freak out, so the anonymity was akin to freedom.

He looked around to see if Leon or any of the producers needed him, but they were all busy with resetting the shot. He estimated another 15 minutes of privacy before work came calling, so he started his reply.

Says the drunken sot who said, and I quote, “Your videos make me harder then a priest surrounded by altar boys.” Classy. If anyone should be seen and not heard, it’s you.

I’ve never done anything like this before either, so if we’re to go ahead with this, I need to set out a few ground rules:

1) Welcome to Wank Club. The first rule of Wank Club is: you do not talk about Wank Club. The second rule of Wank Club is: you DO NOT talk about Wank Club!¹
2) No camera angles above the neck. Let’s try to keep this as anonymous as possible, yeah?
3) No questions about anything personal. My life is my business and your life is yours. That means no talk of work, girlfriends/boyfriends, hobbies, emotions, problems, or anything other than how fantastic your cock feels while you stroke it and fantasize about it deep in my “fine apple ass.”
4) No use of image or likeness allowed outside of the Skype window without the other party’s expressed consent.

Arthur paused, and then deleted that last one. It would be a massive lie if he said he didn’t want to see the art that Dragoon created from their 1:1 encounter (as long as it didn’t end up on his trailer door). He allowed himself a secret grin as he thought of the possibilities.

He wondered if he should request a pic or something. It seemed unlikely that ‘Excalibur’ would allow a mutual wank session with a fugger or someone he hadn’t previously seen. Barring another massive misassumption, he knew what Dragoon looked like, but Dragoon didn’t know that.

4) Send me a picture or description of yourself. I don’t fancy doing this with someone who has an unfortunate physique.
5) Tell me what kinds of fantasies you have and toys you like so we can keep this fun and interesting. I hate it when sex gets boring.
6) I reserve the right to change and/or add to these rules at any time of my choosing.

If you find these conditions agreeable, then I suppose we can proceed.

As he sent the message, Arthur wondered if maybe he was trying to drive Dragoon away by being a spectacular douche. He knew his message would come across as demanding and prattish, but the stakes were much higher than Dragoon realized. If any of this leaked out…well, this was his career on the line.

He hoped he didn’t chase him off, because the idea of a 1:1 session with that dork was becoming more appealing with each passing minute.

~*~

It was half past ten by the time Arthur was shuttled back to his hotel. His muscles were sore, but the hour-long massage he just got back from dulled the pain and left him relaxed and ready to turn in.

The next day’s call sheet said he didn’t have to be on set until noon, so he was eagerly anticipating his first lie-in in ages. Bollocks, he wasn’t old enough to be as tired as he felt.

He grabbed a bottle of Heineken out of the mini-fridge, a bag of toasted almonds, and collapsed down on the hotel’s settee with his laptop balanced on his thigh. He thought about getting some work done on the next day’s script, but decided to put it off until morning.

He checked his email, and felt a little surge of relief when he saw a reply from Dragoon. He had wondered if his previous message would scared the man off, and seeing his name in his inbox pleased him more than he cared to admit.

There was an attachment included with the message, so he opened that first, and promptly choked on the swig of beer he just swallowed. He coughed loudly and pounded on his chest in an effort to clear his throat.

Holy Mother of God! He didn’t actually expect Dragoon to send a picture of himself naked, but that’s exactly what he got. Everything from the neck down…and wow. His cock was. Wow. That would. Yeah. Dragoon could slam his cock up his arse whenever he wanted. Right the fuck now would be fine with him.

Arthur licked his lips and started to casually drag his bottle of beer over the ridge in his jeans that covered his erection. He switched windows back to Dragoon’s message and started to read.

Awwww, it’s not your fault you’re a butterface. And bloody hell, your highn-ass, would you like me to sign my firstborn away before we do this as well? Swear an oath of fealty to you? Geez! It’s not like the tabloids are going to seek you out for getting off with another guy.

No, it was exactly like that, moron.

Anyway, you’re only adding to my stack of evidence of why you should be seen and not heard. Which I’d still like to, by the way. See you, that is. When would you like to do this? If you’re in the mood for a little fun this evening, I’ll have my Skype on and you can message me. Otherwise, let me know a date and time that works for you.

I don’t know what time zone you’re in, and judging by your amazingly douchey list of demands, you won’t tell me. So! I’m going to make this easy on the both of us and set Greenwich Mean Time as the time zone we base all of our times around. I should be around until roughly 2am GMT tonight. Hope to see you later. DragoonTheGreat. Don’t forget!

Arthur rolled his eyes. As if he could! He debated about messaging Dragoon for all of half a second before he went to Skype.com to download their client and register for a name. He was exhausted and ready for bed, but a little fun and stress relief would do him wonders to help him sleep through the night.

He stripped down, got into place, and sent the first IM with trembling fingers.

~*~*~

Of all the things Merlin expected Excalibur to be, a diva prat was not one of them.

Not that he had a clear list of expectations to begin with, but if he had, diva prat would not have made the list.

It was almost laughable how every succeeding message he got was exponentially more dickish than the preceding one. Thank God he was only in it for the sex, because holy hell, what a douche!

When Merlin got the list of rules, he thought about throwing in the towel and running as fast and as far away from the paranoid git as possible. What was his deal? It was a simple mutual masturbation! Merlin saw no need to lay out the Code of Hammurabi for a fucking wank.

Was he married? A closet-case? Shy? No, probably not shy; he wouldn’t have put up an anonymous video in the first place if he were shy. So why the freakish level of paranoia? Merlin understood that there were crazy internet freaks out there – and perhaps he came across as one in his first message – but it wasn’t like they were going to find out each other’s identities. It was just a stupid, anonymous wank!

Merlin sighed. Excalibur was proving more trouble than he was worth, and Merlin was seriously considering forgetting about all if it. He pushed back from his desk, scrubbed his hands over his face, and yawned.

It was approaching 5pm and the employees of Avalon were beginning to clear out for the day. It was his first official week as an actual employee instead of a consulting artist. He was relieved to discover that nothing but the size of his paycheck had changed. His workload remained the same, and aside from a nice drafting table and an office he could officially call his own, it was business as usual.

A swift knock on the open door of his office drew him from his thoughts. Morgana strode in with a vase of belles of Ireland mixed with eucalyptus and placed it on the flat corner of his drafting table. “I’m glad you decided to join us in an official capacity, Merlin.” She looked around the small, windowless office. “You’re settling in okay?”

“Yes, thank you.” Merlin rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a little intimidated. Morgana was gorgeous, but her rapier tongue was the stuff of legend around the office.

When she was displeased with something, she never hesitated to let the offending party know – usually with an incisiveness that could fell even the strongest of wills. “It will be nice to leave some supplies here so I don’t have to do all of my work back home. This is a great table, thank you!”

Morgana smiled brightly. “Glad you approve.” He watched her eyes sweep over the few images he had stuck to the wall – a rough pencil sketch of Arthur, Gwen, his mother, a few random people that caught his attention during his lunch hour, and one of Morgana that he had done to stay awake.

She looked at the one of herself with a softness he hadn’t seen in her before, and ran her index finger along the edge of the paper. “When did you do this?”

“A couple weeks ago during the perfume meeting.” Merlin felt sheepish, and wondered why he had put the rough scribble up in the first place.

“It’s beautiful. Do you mind if I…?” She removed the image from the wall and examined it closer.

“Of course not, but I can do a better one if you’d like? That one was just a quick scribble in the middle of a meeting to stave off boredom…not that I’m ever bored in your meetings or anything,” he quickly amended.

Morgana laughed. “Of course not,” she said. “And no, I don’t want you to make me a better one; I love this one. It’s only a few scribbled lines, but it’s obviously me. How did you do that?” She shook her head, smiling. “I’ve obviously hired the right man for the job.”

It was an odd thing to say, because fine art and marketing development were two different animals. Merlin didn’t know how to respond to her, so he didn’t. She didn’t seem to mind, as she was now honing her attention in on the Arthur scribble. She lifted that image from the wall as well and looked at it closer. “May I have this one as well?”

Her request caught him by surprise, though this entire conversation was entering the surreal. “You’re a fan?”

Morgana smirked. “Something like that.” She lifted the two images in silent salute and headed for the door. “Thanks, Merlin. I’ll see you in the meeting tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with for our new spring collection.”

Merlin nodded as she turned to walk away, and looked to his now-emptier wall and tried to catch up on what had just happened. It was as though something important had just transpired, but he had no idea what. But that wasn’t quite right, because nothing important had just happened. It was a weird feeling.

Merlin shook his head to dismiss his thoughts and gathered his stuff to leave for the day.

~*~

It wasn’t until 8pm that night that he allowed himself to think about Excalibur again. He was doodling a fill for KinkMe_Roman (Captured-by-the-Gauls-and-imprisoned-as-their-sex-slave!Aurelius) when he subconsciously started using Excalibur’s body again.

When he realized what he was doing, he set his stylus down and frowned. Was this going to become a thing? Whenever he doodled Aurelius he was going to think of Excalibur instead?

He stood up and moved to his fridge to grab a beer. Excalibur was a prat of gargantuan proportions, but maybe he had good reason to be paranoid. Maybe Excalibur was the Prime Minister, or something! Merlin’s gag reflex acted up and he decided that if Excalibur were the Prime Minister, he would never get hard again, no matter how spectacular his body was.

Merlin picked at the bottle label with his fingernail. So maybe Excalibur was a prat, but since this was just sex, did it really matter? He wasn’t exactly using him for his recondite conversation skills. And honestly, the idea of getting off with him via Skype still made him painfully hard, even though he knew what a git he was.

His decision was made. He stripped off his clothes, went back to the drafting table where his laptop was idling, and turned on the computer’s internal camera. He tried to position the angle to mimic how Excalibur was framed, but he wasn’t quite sure of his success.

He felt embarrassed looking at his naked body in the camera’s window, but aroused by what he was doing. He was nowhere near as built as Excalibur, but he wasn’t a total loss. His body was decent enough, and he’d never had any complaints about the size of his cock. He grinned, stroking himself a few times before he took the picture. He captured himself reclining in his desk chair with his hand wrapped loosely around his cock and his other hand resting on his thigh, fingers splayed.

He was no model, but he figured that he’d be good enough for some paranoid-twat-exhibitionist. He sent the picture and went back to finish the picture of Aurelius riding some random chieftain (who may or may not have looked like Joe Manganiello) surrounded by the rest of the tribe in the middle of Stonehenge.

The first message came around 10:30pm.

Excalibur83: Did I get the right drunken idiot?

DragoonTheGreat: And you wonder why I insist that you should be seen and not heard.

Excalibur83: You would be the only one.

Merlin rolled his eyes, already annoyed. As horny as he was, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to put up with Prince Paranoid’s twattish tendencies.

DragoonTheGreat: If we don’t get to some mutual wanking soon, I’m going to block your prattish arse.

Exclibur83: No you won’t. You want my hot body too much. ;)

Damn him for being right.

The Skype-phone started ringing a few seconds later. Merlin’s heart started pounding when it finally sunk in that he was going to do this. He realized he was still wearing clothes, having put them back on after sending the nude shot of himself, and started discarding them like they were on fire.

Excalibur83: Are you going to pick up the damn thing or not? This was your idea!

Merlin rolled his eyes at the screen. Impatient little brat, wasn’t he? He downed the last of the beer in his bottle and cracked his knuckles.

DragoonTheGreat: Don’t get your knickers in a twist! I had to take care of something first.

Excalibur83: If you picked up the damn phone, you’d see that I’m not wearing any knickers. Or pants. Or anything at all.

This time when the phone icon started ringing again, he answered the call.

When the window opened, it showed Excalibur in full nude and erect glory, sitting in the same chair where he made his videos. Merlin’s mouth went dry. He didn’t know what to say, or how to start. He would have stared at Excalibur forever, given the chance, which he added to his case of why Excalibur should be seen and not heard.

Excalibur was the first to break the silence. “I have to ask – how does a guy as skinny as you get a piece like that?”

Merlin laughed, not quite sure what to make of that, but grateful for the ice to be broken. “I don’t know, genetics? It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, mate.”

“Mmm…I have.” Excalibur’s admission went straight to his cock. His voice was smooth, posh, and oddly familiar. An errant thought of David Cameron entered his mind, and he felt himself wilt a little.

“Look, I know we’ve agreed that we aren’t going to talk about anything other than sex, but you have to answer me this one question: you’re not the Prime Minister, are you?”

Excalibur gave a hearty laugh that shook his whole body. Any wilting that occurred while thinking of his Prime Minister’s sex life was counteracted by that rich, baritone sound. “No, I can promise you that I’m not the Prime Minister. You don’t honestly think that David Cameron’s got this body under those suits, do you?”

Merlin chuckled and shook his head, belatedly realizing that Excalibur couldn’t see that. “I don’t know what David Cameron’s got under his suits; I try not to think about it. I just figured it was a possibility since you’re as paranoid as a Prime Minister, and obviously a butterface.”

“Who says I’m a butterface!?” Excalibur’s affronted tone made Merlin smile. “And you can’t keep using that term – I’m not a girl!”

“No, and thank God for that.” Merlin closed his fingers around his erection in a loose grip and started making lazy strokes. He thought he heard Excalibur moan, but he wasn’t sure. He did, however, watch Excalibur grab his own erection, and start to stroke. “So how do you want to do this? You mentioned fantasies, toys, and nothing boring.”

“I’m not bored yet,” Excalibur said, spreading his thighs and cupping his balls. Merlin sucked his lower lip into his mouth and hummed. Out of all of Excalibur’s incredible features, his thighs were his favorite. They looked thick and powerful. The idea of them hooked around him as he drove into Excalibur’s arse made his cock twitch.

“You have the sexiest thighs I’ve ever seen. I want to bite into them and make you a babbling puddle of ecstasy while I finger your arse.” It was fascinating and spine-tinglingly sexy to watch Excalibur go from a bossy, demanding loudmouth to a man near silent in his sexual pleasure.

Unlike earlier, every breathy gasp, noise, and grunt was like rapturous music to Merlin’s ears. They were barely seconds into it and already he felt like he was teetering on edge. Every ounce of pleasure he got from watching the videos was increased tenfold knowing that Excalibur was wanking just for him.

It was becoming his obsession, watching Excalibur glow with pleasure. He tried to slow his hand down, but his willpower was shot to shit when Excalibur lifted a hand up to his chest and raked deep, red lines over his pectoral. Merlin imagined the burn across his own chest, and dug his fingernails into his thigh, leaving deep, bruising crescents.

His hands were shaking and if he didn’t slow down, it was going to all be over. He was half-gone, aching to come, but not wanting it to be over when he started babbling.

“Look at you,” he whispered, as Excalibur hooked his leg over the armrest of the chair and penetrated himself with a finger. “Fucking gorgeous.” He wanted to melt from the sight. He felt like the heat rolling off of his skin would ignite the air.

“You’re like a brazen, wanton whore, getting off over the fact that I’m watching you. Knowing that you’re on display for me, and me alone. Does it make you harder knowing that I can’t keep my hands off my dick while watching you? That you’re the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life?”

Merlin didn’t expect to be answered, so he was surprised when he heard a low, ground-out “Yes.” And gods, that little ‘yes’ did funny things to his insides that made him tingle with pleasure and power. He was harder than he could ever remember being, and seconds away from ending the hottest sexual encounter he had experienced in years.

With a Herculean effort, Merlin lifted his hands from his thigh and cock and placed them on the arms of his chair. If he were any stronger, the wood beneath his tight, white knuckles would have buckled and splintered. “Stop,” Merlin commanded. “Take your hand off your erection right now.”

“Are you fucking mad? I’m about to come!”

“Yeah, but I can’t help but notice that you stopped.” Merlin smirked. He wanted this to last, and that wouldn’t happen if they both spilled themselves in less than two minutes. “I don’t know about you, but I was hoping that we could do something a little more enjoyable than thirty seconds of hard friction. If you have a problem with that, then feel free to finish yourself and go to bed.” Merlin prayed that that wouldn’t be the case.

Excalibur growled, weakening Merlin’s resolve not to touch his cock. “How are we supposed to get off together if you won’t let me get off?!”

“You’ll get off, your highnass,” Merlin promised. “But if we’re going to do this, then we may as well go for broke.”

“I think…I hate you.” Merlin would have paid a million pounds to see Excalibur’s face at that moment.

It was a heady and powerful feeling when he commanded Excalibur to stop and he listened. It made him want to push the envelope farther and see what else he could command the arrogant bastard to do. Merlin had never before considered the idea of making someone submit to his will, but the idea of Excalibur doing it was tantalizing and arousing. “Do you have any toys? A dildo or something?”

Excalibur responded with an annoyed groan. “Hang on.” He angled the screen partway down and turned the laptop. He couldn’t see much because of the distorted view, but it looked like he was facing a large bay of windows. It was late, so they reflected like a mirror. He could just make out the edge of a luxurious room, and wondered if Excalibur was a high roller. Not the Prime Minister, but maybe a member a top executive?

On the bottom half of the screen, Merlin could see the edge of Excalibur’s keyboard. It was sitting on a fancy antique table. A leather folio with The St. David’s Hotel and Spa embossed on the cover was lying a few inches back from the laptop. He tucked that bit of information away.

Merlin could hear Excalibur’s return before he could see it. After a few seconds, the computer was shifted and he saw Excalibur holding a sizable rubber dildo, with a suction cup at the base of the fake rubber balls.

“Ooh, bit of a size queen, eh?”

Excalibur didn’t answer that, but his low grumble was answer enough. “What do you want me to do with this? I can’t exactly do much sitting in a desk chair.” His voice was acerbic, and Merlin again silently cursed him for having a gorgeous body and a drama queen personality. His petulance made him want to knock him down a peg.

“Stick it to the desk, use the chair as support, and take it.” He paused a beat. “Or, is that too much for you?”

Excalibur paused longer than he expected from someone who got off on exhibitionism. Merlin began to wonder if he was all talk about his toys, fantasies, and lack of boring sex and no action. Aside from one rather sizable dildo and two trite videos on the internet, he seemed to be rather vanilla. Not that there was anything wrong with vanilla, it just seemed incongruous to the image he had exuded earlier.

“Look, you don’t have to. I—.“

“No,” Excalibur snapped, interrupting him. “I’m trying to figure out the logistics. I can’t exactly stick a rubber didlo on an 18th century desk and fuck myself. I’m trying to think where I can, oh! Okay. I’ve got it. We’re going on a little trip.”

Excalibur once again angled the screen down and carried the laptop to a clear glass table. He fixed the angle of the screen, and Merlin watched him suction the dildo to the table. He disappeared from view again and returned a few seconds later with a tube of lube.

Excalibur made a show of squeezing a small dollup into his palm and rubbing it onto the dildo obscenely. Merlin wanted to see him lean over and lick the tip, maybe swallowing it whole, and lamented Excalibur’s insane privacy issues.

He struggled not to lift his hands from the arms of the chair and take himself in hand, but he refused to do so until Excalibur was ready to burst. He refused to be beat in this one arena.

“There!” Excalibur removed his hand from the toy and Merlin could hear him shift into place. “The angle’s gunna be a bit wonky, but I don’t think you’ll mind.”

He was wrong; the angle wasn’t wonky at all. The camera perfectly captured his incredible thighs as he held himself suspended over the tip of the dildo. He used his hand to position it and guide it in as he sunk down on it. He grunted and exhaled loudly.

“Oh my god,” Merlin muttered, eyes wide with shock. How did he do that?! Merlin twitched in his chair and couldn’t stop himself from thrusting in the air just the tiniest bit. Excalibur must have noticed, because he could hear a deep chuckle come from the speaker.

With one hand supporting the dildo on the table and the other grasping onto the edge, Excalibur lifted himself back up, and then sank back down, this time to the bottom.

“Oh my god,” Merlin exclaimed again, much louder this time. His hands were clutching painfully to the arms of his chair like they were the only things keeping him grounded to the planet. He stretched his out legs and curled his toes, overwhelmed with the desire to touch himself, but refusing to give Excalibur the satisfaction.

As if reading his mind, Excalibur said, “Aw, don’t be like that. You know you want to.” His voice was scratchy and guttural, and if he sounded like that all the time, Merlin wouldn’t mind listening to him whinge.

“No, what I want you to do is shut up,” he lied, but he wasn’t about to let that prat get the better of him. “I want your hands where I can see them and I want you to ride that cock like there’s nothing else that matters.” Excalibur grunted, but complied, and fuck, Merlin could get used to that.

Pre-cum was dripping down his erection, and he momentarily wondered if he’d be able to come without touching himself. He wondered what else he could get Excalibur to do.

Excalibur’s thighs were starting to quiver from the exertion of fucking himself, and every few thrusts resulted in a choked moan when he must have brushed his prostate. Merlin couldn’t see the top of his erection, but he could see the base of the shaft and his balls. Pre-cum was running down his shaft and dripping onto the glass table, making Merlin want to claw through the screen and lap it up with his tongue.

“Reach up and squeeze your nipple as hard as you can.” Merlin couldn’t see him do it, but he could hear a low hum of pleasure. “Now I want you to take your fingers and pinch the tip of your cock, slowly dragging them down to the base.” Merlin bit his lip hard as he watched Excalibur comply with his request.

The need to touch his own cock was beginning to fog his mind and make him dizzy, but he knew that if he did it now, it would all be over with a couple of quick, tight strokes.

“Finish yourself off,” he choked out, unable to hold out any longer. He wasn’t sure what constituted as a victory in their little game, but he wanted – needed – to come so fucking bad that he didn’t care anymore. He felt vindicated to note in the last few seconds of coherence that Excalibur seemed to be in a similar predicament.

Excalibur had given up on fucking himself and was stroking himself fast enough to start a fire. However, he could have impaled himself upon a sword for all Merlin noticed or cared in that instant. He was blind with the need to come and release the built up tension, and aside from his fist pumping his cock, nothing else mattered.

When he came, every muscle in his body locked up and let go with sweet, agonizing relief. He fucking hurt with pleasure, and felt his body shake with the thunderous beat of his heart.

“That was hot,” Excalibur whispered with something akin to awe. Merlin opened his eyes and wondered how much time had passed since Excalibur came. He had thought it was only a few seconds, but Excalibur was already back in his chair, wiping the cum off his stomach with a plush white towel that looked like it cost as much as a month’s worth of groceries. How long had he had his eyes closed?

“Is it normally that good for you?” Excalibur asked.

Merlin frowned, trying to gather himself in his post-orgasmic haze. He wasn’t sure if he was quite ready for any witty repartee. “What makes you think it was good for me?”

Excalibur snorted. “I have eyes.”

Merlin shifted in his chair to sit up straighter. “It wasn’t bad.” He refused to give Excalibur the satisfaction of knowing that he was responsible for one of the best orgasms in his life.

Excalibur started laughing. “You are something else.” He paused a beat. “So when are we doing this again?”

Excitement lanced through him at the request. “You tell me.”

“Saturday good for you? Around 9pm?”

NO! That’s when The Roman was on! Merlin cleared his throat. “How about 10?”

Excalibur laughed harder than Merlin thought was strictly necessary for adjusting the time by one hour. “10 it is,” he agreed, still chuckling. Merlin furrowed his brow, wondering what was so terribly amusing.

“Alright, until next time, then. Cheers!” God, this was the most awkward part. Saying goodbye. Would it be too terribly rude to just close the window? Was he supposed to wait for Excalibur to do it first?

Thankfully Excalibur did it for him. He murmured a quick “Cheers” back and closed the window. Merlin flipped his screen down and sat back. It went better than he had expected it to. Excalibur had still been an ass, but he wasn’t nearly as harsh as he was in his correspondences. Merlin was shocked to find that he took well to instructions, and even more so that he enjoyed giving him.

He looked down at himself and frowned. He felt disgusting and spent, so he headed for the shower and then collapsed into bed with the image of prattish twats fresh in his mind. As sleep took him, he dreamed of how Excalibur would look in a Roman tunic….

~*~*~

“Why are you still in your clothes?” Arthur asked, when their video window opened. It was 10pm on Saturday and he was ready to go. Dragoon, however, was not, if his paint-splattered, oversized hoodie was any indication.

“I don’t think I can do this tonight.” Dragoon sniffed loudly.

“What’s wrong?” Arthur was mildly alarmed. He could barely deal with the emotions of the people close to him, let alone a semi-stranger he only knew sexually. He liked Dragoon, but in the three times that they met up, they had kept the chatting to a minimum.

“It’s horrible! I just,” Dragoon blew his nose. “I can’t believe what I just saw.”

Arthur’s alarm increased. Had Dragoon witnessed some sort of horrible accident? “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine! It’s not me. It’s Julius!” Dragoon cried loudly, sniffling again. “He took an arrow in the heart to save Aurelius, and died in his arms. It was horrible!”

Arthur sat back, stunned. Dragoon was a snotty mess over The Fucking Roman?! For the first time in his life, his own show was cock-blocking him. He slapped his palm against his forehead and groaned. “I’m sure he’s going to be fine, you moron. Now take your clothes off and I’ll make you forget all about it.”

“Fine!? Are you out of your mind? People weren’t fine in the first century when an arrow pierced their heart! Julius isn’t going to be fine! And Quintus! Oh gods, Quintus! How could he betray them like that?! And after everything Aurelius has done for him!”

Lancelot, or, Julius to the fans, really was going to be fine. He had forgotten that tonight was the start of a multi-episode arc where Quintus, or Gwaine, plays the other side to get information to save their legion while Lancelot hangs between life and death for a few episodes. The betrayal was a ruse, but Dragoon wouldn’t know that for another five episodes.

Touching stuff, unless you had plans to get off that night.

He didn’t judge him for his reaction, though. If anything, he felt a little chuffed that he was able to deliver such a convincing performance. The entire episode had been one of the most intense filming experiences of his career, and it took him several hours (and beers) to shake off Aurelius’ pain.

“I hardly think it’s as dire as you’re saying. Are you sure Julius is actually dead? Maybe he’s just injured.” It was so weird talking to someone about his show that had no idea he was in the show. He wished he could tell Dragoon what was going to happen so he could salvage the night and get off, but the odds of that happening weren’t looking good.

“You don’t understand!” Dragoon protested. “Aurelius and Julius have been best friends since they were boys! They grew up in the fields of Tuscany together! And Julius,” Dragoon blew his nose again. “Julius bled out in Aurelius’ arms. Are you even listening to me? His best friend! Shot in the heart by his other best friend! Dead in his arms!”

Arthur rolled his eyes. He did not need to be lectured on the finer aspects of his own show. He cursed his luck that one of the hottest guys he had ever met was bat-shit crazy. He had been hard for most of the afternoon in anticipation of their encounter, so to be cock-blocked by his character – or more accurately, Lancelot’s character – was unbelievable.

It was chilly in his room and it didn’t look like he was going to be working up a sweat anytime soon. He sighed and walked away from the desk. “Excalibur?” he could hear Dragoon ask in the background.

“I’ll be right back, you great big girl. It’s cold and since it looks like you’re going to be worthless to me tonight, I’m going to throw something on.”

He could hear a faint “Oh” in response, but the jumper sliding over his head and Dragoon loudly blowing his nose again muffled the reply. He should just leave Dragoon alone for the night and head down to the bar to pick up a more willing partner (with actual flesh and blood!), but a not-tiny part of him wanted to stay in.

He grabbed a beer before he sat back down, feeling like he was going to need alcohol to deal with what was sure to be a bizarre conversation.

“Don’t you watch The Roman?” Dragoon asked when he returned.

“I don’t, actually.” Which was the truth. He always felt awkward watching himself on screen. It was difficult to watch the show and not see all of the technical flaws. “I keep up with it, though.” He wanted to get the conversation away from The Roman. “What else do you like?”

“What do I like? What happened to rule #3: No personal information or questions?”

“I evoke rule #6 that says I can change my mind whenever I want. Also, I think you pretty much threw rule #3 out the window when you came blubbering to me over your ridiculous show.”

The Roman is not ridiculous!” Dragoon snapped. Arthur grinned. It was too easy (and too fun) to bait him sometimes.

Dragoon tilted his screen up, and Arthur’s breath caught in his throat. He knew Dragoon was good looking below the neck, and from the photograph he wasn’t supposed to know about on his blog, but to see him like this was entirely different.

Dragoon’s face was flushed, and he had a shy expression. “I know you want to stay anonymous, but I would rather you were looking at my face instead of my crotch while we chat. Are you okay with that?”

Arthur was more than okay with that, which was a bit of a problem. He was supposed to keep Dragoon in the porn category only, and at an arms length. Unfortunately, he was happy to be sitting there chatting with the idiot instead of cruising for blokes in a bar. Thus the problem.

“Whatever you want.” He hoped he sounded more casual than he felt. “As long as you don’t expect the same, we’re good.”

“I don’t.” Then Dragoon smiled, fucking smiled, and Arthur wanted to tell him to tilt the camera back down, and that this was a bad idea. He had second thoughts about staying in, and wondered how long it would take him to ring a few of his mates and go out, far away from Dragoon and his stupidly endearing face.

“Are you even listening to me?”

“What? Huh? Oh, no, sorry.” Crap! Arthur felt like an idiot. He was glad that his camera was still squarely on his chest so Dragoon wouldn’t see the flush he could feel creeping up his neck. “What were you saying?”

“I asked you what you did watch since you don’t much fancy The Roman.”

“Oh, um, Football, mostly.”

“Football? That’s it? No Doctor Who? Spooks? Misfits? Law and Order? Big Brother?”

“Jesus! No need to list me the entire fucking line-up; I’m well aware of what’s on, thanks.” Arthur snapped. He felt exasperated and out of his comfort-zone. Talking with Dragoon was like a weird, invisible game of hopscotch because of what he could and couldn’t say. He didn’t want to be dishonest, but he didn’t want Dragoon to know him either. He felt torn between his desire and his fear.

“You don’t have to be a prat about it!” Dragoon gave him an annoyed look. “I was trying to ask you the most innocuous, non-revealing thing I could thing of. If you don’t want to do this, then we won’t. We can set up a time to meet again and keep things strictly sexual.”

“No, wait.” Arthur rubbed his face in frustration. Dragoon was giving him the perfect out, but he didn’t want to take it. “Look, chill out, okay? This is new to me.”

“Conversing with humans is new to you?” Arthur’s insides curled with affection at Dragoon’s arched brow and cheeky smile. It was a million times better seeing his face than only hearing the tone.

“No, you muttonhead! Conversing with pervert stalkers is.” Dragoon rolled his eyes, but smiled, and Arthur knew he had made the right decision in staying. “I work a lot. And by a lot, I mean literally all the time. Well, okay, not literally, but you get the point. I don’t watch much telly because I don’t have the time. The occasional football game is about all I can catch.”

Dragoon nodded, and Arthur could practically see him bursting with curiosity and desire to ask him what he did, but he didn’t push. “What about you? You fancy yourself an artist?”

Dragoon’s comically wide eyes were priceless. “What? How did you—“

“You’re hands,” Arthur interrupted before Dragoon could descend into full-on meltdown mode. It was difficult to contain his laughter. “They’re covered in paint.”

Dragoon lifted his hands and looked at them as if he were seeing them for the first time in years. The sheepish grin on his face was delicious. “I was painting before The Roman came on. I’m so used to being covered in ink and paint that I don’t really see them anymore. Do you have any idea how hard it is to wash off India ink?”

“Can’t say that I do.”

“Right, well,” Dragoon lifted a hand and scratched the back of his head, making his already-disastrous hair stick up even more. “It’s not easy.”

“May I see it?”

Dragoon’s brow furrowed. “My painting? It’s not done yet.”

“I don’t mind if you don’t.”

Dragoon shrugged, and got up from his desk. With the camera still tilted up, Arthur was able to see a good chunk of Dragoon’s tiny flat. It looked cozy and lived in, with take-away boxes littering a coffee table in front of a small, raggedy couch. There was loads of art on the walls (some looked to be Dragoon’s and some the staple classics), and the edge of what looked to be an abominably tiny kitchenette.

Arthur didn’t know Dragoon outside of a few snippets of conversations they’d had in the past few weeks, but seeing this tiny, warm flat felt like a riddle unraveling. A little pang of envy grabbed him, at how homey a flat that was the size of his hotel suite’s bathroom looked. It made him miss his own flat, though that had never felt like home either.

He shook his head, wanting to derail that train of thought, and was grateful to see Dragoon return seconds later with a sizable canvas.

Arthur wasn’t sure what he had been expecting when he asked to see Dragoons art. More porn maybe, not that he’d show Excalibur that. But whatever he expected, this painting wasn’t it.

It was a picture of a young boy – around 8 or 9 – with a massive headdress of a lion on his head. The lion’s face and mane dominated the canvas, but the boy’s innocence and guileless blue eyes grounded the image.

The painting was done in reds, golds, browns, and other warm colors, except for the eyes. The eyes were a striking cobalt blue, making them a surprising focal point. Arthur didn’t know a thing about brushwork, but whatever Dragoon had done made the image look like it was alive and moving. The thick lines of paint were reminiscent of Van Gogh.

If Arthur hadn’t known that Dragoon was responsible for those blushingly pornographic pictures of him and his costars, he would have never guessed that the same person could have created this painting.

“It’s not bad,” Arthur said finally. He couldn’t see Dragoon’s face, but he could see the slump of his shoulders. He immediately felt guilty. “Actually, it’s pretty damned good.”

“I know it’s not great or anything.” Dragoon shrugged, and Arthur hated himself for making him sound like a kid who had been caught doing something bad. “I’m still trying to make a name for myself and get my work out there, but –“

“It’s fucking amazing, alright? Don’t sell yourself short. If I were in a gallery and I saw that on the wall, I’d buy it in an instant. No lie.”

Dragoon didn’t say anything, but he straightened his posture, which made Arthur feel like less of a twat. He lifted the painting off the chair and sat back down. “I’m trying to get a collection together to present to a gallery. The one you just saw is the first in a series of four based on Arthur Pendragon. Er, the king, not the actor.” Dragoon’s face was fascinating to watch as he babbled on about what he loved. He was vibrant in his expressions and gestures as he talked about his passion.

“My uncle Gaius was an Arthurian professor, so I grew up inundated with the legends.” He had a soft smile on his face, and a far-away look in his eyes. “The older I got, the more the stories resonated, so it seemed only natural to paint them.

“I still maintain that the only reason I love Arthur Pendragon the actor, is because he’s got one hell of a namesake.” He paused a beat. “And a fantastic arse. But more the namesake than the arse.”

Arthur grinned and decided to bait Dragoon some more. “I think my arse is better than Arthur Pendragon’s arse.”

Dragoon laughed. “No offense mate, but no matter how hot you are, you’ll never be as hot as Arthur Pendragon.”

“Really? Never?” It was remarkably fun goading Dragoon, knowing that he had no idea who he was.

“Never. It’s a universal impossibility.” Dragoon’s teasing grin cushioned the smugness in his voice. “From every interview I’ve watched or read, he’s a bit of a douche – kind of like you! – but that doesn’t matter, because he’s so hot, you could melt butter on his stomach.”

Arthur threw his head back and laughed. “You could melt butter my stomach, but I hope you don’t. That’s disgusting, and if we’re going to be lubing ourselves up, I’d prefer it to be with something a little more not-going-to-leave-permanent-grease-stains-on-my-sheets friendly.”

“Yeah, but, well. Shut up!” Dragoon said laughing and blushing. “You’re gorgeous and you know it – except for the fact that you’re obviously facially challenged.”

~*~

Three hours flew by like three minutes, and Arthur was shocked to see that it was already 1am. Dragoon was easy to talk to and fun to listen to. He was a huge dork, but that was part of his charm.

He started caring less and less about censoring his words and panicking about whether or not Dragoon would connect the dots and realize that he loved the exact same things as his favorite actor.

When they finally signed off and bid each other good night, Arthur sat back in his chair and thought about the night. It would be difficult to go back to a sex-only relationship, and given his circumstances, that was a Bad Thing.

He liked Dragoon, but he couldn’t trust him. If Dragoon ever did connect the dots and realize who he was, he would probably sell his story to the media. Then Viv would kill him and CAA would drop him and he would become the Clay Aiken of England: an international joke, only without the creepy baby.

But he liked Dragoon. And crap, he should have never let that happen.

He was fucked.

~*~

Arthur half-heartedly pushed a cherry tomato around on his plate, wondering when he would be able to make his escape from the restaurant Morgana had bullied him into taking her to. Not that he didn’t normally enjoy his lunches with Morgana, but today he wasn’t in the mood.

He had a lot he needed to do before his 6am flight, and he wanted to be done before 11pm so the rest of his night could be free.

“Stop looking at the door, Arthur. Your little plan is written all over your face.” She sipped her Bordeaux and gave him a superior look. “At least have the decency to pretend you’re interested in your lunch.”

Arthur pursed his lips and made a point of looking at his watch. “I’m not entirely certain that you haven’t poisoned it.”

“Nor will you ever be.” She smirked. “Maybe I sprinkled ricin over it while you were in the restroom washing your hands.”

Arthur made a point to take a large bite and chew with his mouth open. He swallowed loudly and relished Morgana’s disgusted wince. “At least I’ll know what to tell the emergency room when I’m rushed there.”

“You’re a barbarian.”

“Says the woman joking about poisoning me.” Arthur took a deep drink of his water and wished it were something stronger. He knew better than to be inebriated around his beloved sister. The last thing he needed was to be harpooned by her while he was under the influence. “Why must you insist on continuing this little tradition? I’m busy the day before I have to travel internationally. You know that.”

“Yet you always manage to make time for me.” Morgana ran her finger up and down the stem of her wine glass and smiled. “Whether you choose to believe it or not, I miss you while you’re away. Even though we don’t see each other often, it’s still nice knowing you’re only a train ride away.” She lifted the corner of her lips into the ghost of a smirk. “And don’t even pretend like you don’t feel the same; I know you love me.”

Arthur shook his head and feigned indifference. “Occasionally, when you don’t act like you’re about to unleash ten plagues upon me.”

“Oh please, if I were going to come after you, it wouldn’t be with some messy plagues. I’ll sick Morgause on you, I think. I’d hate for your fans to find out my part in your untimely death and come after me.” She flashed her teeth in a playful growl, and Arthur rolled his eyes.

“You’re not exactly reassuring me right now, you evil harpy.”

She laughed, and then reached down into her bag and pulled out a small, wrapped package. She slid it across the table toward him. The paper was black with an embossed damask print and garnished with a crimson ribbon. “I’ve been meaning to give this to you for the past several weeks. It’s, well, take a look.”

Arthur unwrapped the gift and inhaled sharply. “Where did you get this?”

Unless he was very mistaken, he was holding a small sketch done by Dragoon in rough, scribbled pencil. It was of Arthur, not Aurelius, and was unlike any of the other images Dragoon had done of him. It was rough, but affectionate, and not done with any sort of photographic reference that he could tell. Morgana had taken the liberty to place the drawing in a tasteful cast-iron frame that brought out the shade of graphite.

Morgana leveled him with a measured look. “Your reaction….” She trailed off. “It would seem that you’ve seen that artist’s work before.”

“What?” Arthur racked his brain to deflect his mistake. He couldn’t very well tell her that the artist of this sketch enjoyed drawing scarily accurate porn of him in his spare time. “No! Of course not. It’s just that I’m impressed by it, is all. Do you know the artist?”

“Hmmm,” she hummed, giving him a predatory look. “I think the better question is, do you know the artist?”

“No. I’ve never met him.” Arthur cleared his throat. He hated how she had the ability to suss out every lie he ever told.

Her eyes shined with glee, and he recognized her going-in-for-the-kill look. He looked longingly at the door, wishing he were anywhere but in front of her. “Then how did you know that the artist was a ‘he’?”

“Because you said so?” Arthur felt his cheeks burn and forced himself not to sink down in his chair and pout at her like he used to when they were children. In his mental scrambling, he’d failed to notice that she hadn’t mentioned Dragoon’s gender, and that he’d basically offered himself up to her on a silver salver.

She ignored his discomfort and casually swirled her wine around in her glass before taking another sip. “How do you know him, Arthur?”

Arthur scowled at her, not wanting to talk about something that he was still unsure about himself. “I don’t know him. I wasn’t lying when I said that, and if you push me anymore, I’ll revoke your favor and you’ll have to find another actor for your summer advert.”

Morgana’s eyes widened. “Ooh!” She licked her lips. “What has my little Merlin done to you to make you so tetchy?” She gave him a knowing look. “He is rather handsome, isn’t he?”

Merlin. Dragoon’s name was Merlin. Arthur’s insides danced with that piece of information.

“I wouldn’t know, seeing as how I’ve never met him. Why don’t you change the subject before you have to stage a casting call. Though, that said, it might give you a chance to test out that new couch in your office.”

“Don’t be vulgar!” She said, scandalized. “And Arthur? You might be lying to yourself, but you aren’t lying to me. I don’t know what you two have going on, but I’d really hate to fire him if he breaks your heart. He’s the best market artist I’ve ever had and it took two years to convince that skittish commitaphobe to work for me.”

Arthur frowned. “What on earth makes you think that this Merlin, someone whom I’ve never met, could break my heart? I’m not some woobie girl whose heart is on her sleeve, nor am I reckless in my relationships. I’m a grown man, and you need to learn to stop sticking your witch’s nose in where it doesn’t belong.” He puffed his chest out a bit and hoped that he managed to look smug.

“Oh Arthur, didn’t I just tell you that you’re a terrible liar?” She had a look of affectionate pity on her face that made his skin crawl with irritation and made him want to lash out. “How you’ve made it as an actor I will never know. As for Merlin, I’m not saying he will break your heart, I’m just saying that I know how you are. That’s all.”

Arthur wanted to throw up his hands towards the heavens and scream that there was no relationship with Merlin, but it would have only been a half-truth and Morgana probably would have sussed that out as well. Instead, he sighed and changed the topic to the production schedule in Italy, and how Morgana should schedule a visit so Leon could give her a full tour, wink wink nudge nudge.

Morgana kicked him in the shin when he suggested that, but he had seen the telltale flush of pink touch her cheeks that she couldn’t hide.

~*~*~

Merlin was working on a some concept art for the Summer product line when Morgana walked into his office and sat on the corner of his drafting table. The look on her face was a cross between consideration and condemnation, and he wondered what he could have done to deserve it. Was the Lady in the Lake bath and shower collection really that bad an idea?

“How long have you known Arthur Pendragon?”

Merlin was flummoxed by her question. He blinked, trying to process what she had just said; surely he hadn’t heard her correctly. “I’m sorry?”

“Arthur Pendragon. How long have you known him?”

“Uh, I know of him, but I don’t know him.” Merlin scratched his head. “Why do you ask?”

“That sketch you made of Arthur – when did you do it?”

Merlin tugged at the collar of his shirt, not wanting to tell her. “Um, well, er, you might fire me if I tell you.” She arched her brow and he ducked his head. “I did it during the winter end-of-quarter meeting. It was dragging on for so long, and it was really interesting! But my hand was itching for something to do while I was paying rapt attention to you and Morgause.” He shrugged. “It just sort of moved itself.”

Morgana tapped her lower lip with her index finger and looked thoughtful. “So you’re saying that you’ve never met him before.”

Merlin shook his head. “I haven’t and I’m 110% certain I’d remember if I had.” She frowned like she wasn’t expecting that answer. “Why do you ask?”

She evaded his question. “You’re sure?”

Merlin nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Hmmm.” She furrowed her brow and gave him a look with such intensity that he couldn’t help but squirm under her gaze. He had no idea what she was looking for, but it felt like she was peeling back layers of his skin in her search.

Without so much as another word, Morgana slid down from the edge of his desk and swept from the room, leaving Merlin stunned and very confused about what had just happened.

~*~

Later that evening, Merlin and Gwen were stretched out on his beat-up, patchwork couch picking at their cartons of Indian take-away as they watched Lanclot DuLac’s screen debut. It was the worst WWII drama known to man: Bayonetto. It was a like wrong AU of Rambo, set in 1943 in France with Jason Statham as Rambo Bayonetto. Merlin couldn’t emphasize the word “wrong” enough. Every historian ever wept in horror from this cinematic gem. Lance only had a minor supporting role, but Gwen had insisted.

They were unofficially celebrating Julius’ survival on The Roman and indulging in their favorite actors’ first projects. Next up was Arthur in The Secret Prince: a decentish book, but an unbelievably shit movie-of-the-week adaptation butchered by Hollywood. The singing and dancing didn’t help, either.

Only the most die hard of fans suffered through these painfully embarrassing projects voluntarily (And only the die hard with a vengeance fans owned them. Merlin and Gwen may have fallen into that latter category.).

During the intermission, when Gwen returned from the kitchenette, Merlin brought up his conversation with Morgana. “I had the craziest conversation with Morgana today. She asked me how long I’d known Arthur Pendragon, and then proceeded to look at me like I was lying to her when I told her that I’d never met him.”

Gwen furrowed her brow. “What? That’s odd. Why would she think you know Arthur?”

“That’s what I want to know! It was completely out of the blue, too. I was working on the Lady of the Lake collection when she slipped into my office all ninja-like and then proceeded to ask how long I’d known him.”

“Again, why would she think that you know him?” She angled her body to face him and curled her legs beneath her. “You don’t know him, do you?”

“Gods, of course not! I think I’d remember it if I ever met Arthur Pendragon.” Merlin glanced quickly at the poster of Aurelius he had hanging over his drafting table and shrugged. “I think she was confused because of that sketch I did of him in that meeting a couple months ago, but why she assumed that I knew him, I have no idea.”

“That pencil scribble one you did the same afternoon you made the Lancelot one for me?”

“Yeah, that one. When I moved into my office, I put that one and a few others up on the wall to drown out the monotonous ocean of beige. Morgana liked it and asked if she could have it.” Merlin searched his memory and tried to recall that conversation as well. “Now that I think about it, that conversation was really weird, too. I asked her if she was a fan of Arthur and she said “something like that.” How off is that?”

Gwen wagged her eyebrows and leaned toward him in a conspiratory manner. “You know, there are rumors around the office that Arthur and Morgana are secretly dating.”

Merlin’s eyes widened. “What? And you didn’t think to mention that sooner?” He hadn’t heard those rumors, and he was pretty damned certain he’d remember if he read something about Arthur Pendragon dating his boss on the internet. Mean_Roman would have been all over that shit, going on for 700+ comments about what a cow Morgana while Gwen gave him a gleeful blow-by-blow commentary of the fandom fallout.

“Because I don’t think that there’s any truth to them.” Gwen shrugged. “You know how office gossip is. I don’t pay it any mind.”

Merlin tapped his chin and hummed. “That would explain Morgana’s odd behavior, but has there been any evidence to support the rumors?”

“I don’t know for sure, but the rumors say that Arthur’s been spotted in Avalon visiting her sometimes, and no one knows why. Morgana’s secretary claims to have seen him twice, but the visits were months apart. I don’t know why she’d make that up, but it’s hard to imagine someone like Arthur coming to Avalon. Or having a secret relationship for several months without any of the paparazzi picking up on it.”

This surprised Merlin. In the two years he’d been a consulting contributor at Avalon, he’d never heard or seen anything that would support Arthur visiting Avalon. Not to mention the sheer unlikelihood of a big-shot celebrity hanging around a cosmetics company.

In fact, if he had known that Arthur frequented Avalon, he would have let Morgana hire him ages ago under the guise that maybe one day he could see the gorgeous star in person.

Merlin frowned and slumped against the arm of his couch. “Whatever. If they’re secretly dating each other, then good for them. He’s gorgeous. She’s gorgeous. They can be gorgeous together.”

Gwen nudged him with her shoulder and smiled. “You can meet him at my wedding. Naturally he’ll be Lancelot’s best man. You’ll spot each other across the room, pulled together like magnets, and realize you’re each other’s one true gay love!” Gwen was gesticulating their meet-up with wide, sweeping motions. “Then you can pull him into the ally behind the building and show him how to walk on his knees.”

Merlin didn’t much care about the one true gay love part, but he sure as hell wouldn’t mind any knee-walking….

~*~

Merlin lost track of time, so was caught by surprise when his laptop chirped, signaling a message from Excalibur at 11:15.

He made a show of stretching and yawning exaggeratedly. “Gosh, Gwen. I’m completely knackered. You okay with calling it a night?”

She looked at him incredulously. “But the movie isn’t over yet. We’re not even to the part where Lulu finds out that Arthur is a prince!”

“I know, but, it’s really late, and we both have to be up early tomorrow.” Merlin fingered the fraying threads on his sleeve and forced himself not to look back at his laptop to see if Excalibur was still there. If he wasn’t, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d huffed off for the night if took Merlin longer than 30 seconds to respond to his summons. “And I’d hate for you to have to take a taxi because you missed the last train.”

Gwen looked at the time on her mobile and gave him a confused look. “Merlin, the trains aren’t going to stop running for another hour or so.” But she gathered her stuff and stood up anyway. “Don’t think I don’t know when I’m being dismissed.” She looked over at his open laptop and then gave him a teasing smile. “Are you meeting your secret boyfriend?”

He vehemently shook his head, but knew that his flush gave him away. “No. Definitely no. Just. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow, yeah?” Of course, by ‘everything,’ he ‘nothing.’

Gwen patted his cheek and gave him a knowing smile. “You’d better.” She allowed him to all but shove her from his flat.

He locked the door behind her and took his clothes off as fast as possible without falling flat on his face as he made his way to the open laptop.

Excalibur83 23:15: You ready?

DragoonTheGreat 23:27: Sorry! Are you still here? I had to get rid of a friend.

The call came a second later, and Merlin was relieved that Excalibur had stuck around.

“I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”

“It’s fine.” Excalibur sounded exhausted and snappish. Over the past few months, Merlin had sort of learned to navigate Excalibur’s drama queen mood swings by the tone of his voice. It would have been easier if he had facial cues to accompany his voice, but he considered it a work in progress.

Tonight, Excalibur sounded like he was ready for a fight instead of a wank. He was about to suggest keeping things simple when Excalibur spoke. “Is that…The Secret Prince on in the background?”

Oh. Shit. Merlin had forgotten to shut the movie off. He couldn’t see Excalibur’s face, but he could about imagine it. He pictured a mocking glance with a slightly furrowed brow and a hint of a teasing pout to his lips.

He quickly grabbed the clicker and turned it off. “No! Of course not. I wouldn’t….” He coughed. “I would never voluntarily own or watch something so cheesy.”

Excalibur laughed. “You own it? Do you hate yourself or something?” If Merlin were an ostrich, he would have buried his head in the sand.

Later, when he would reflect back upon this conversation he’d find it strange that Excalibur recognized The Secret Prince, a massive bomb with no recognition outside of Arthur Pendragon’s most loyal fans, from a few bits of muffled dialogue in the background, but at the moment he was more concerned about his shame.

“It is,” he struggled to find an appropriate adjective to describe the movie.

“A piece of shit?” Excalibur offered.

“Yeah, pretty much.” Merlin couldn’t disagree with that. He wasn’t watching for the plot, after all. He and Gwen paused the movie and went frame by frame during Arthur’s shower scene for the amazing “cinematography,” not the cock they swore they could see poke out beneath the towel as he danced to Frank Sinatra.

“Then why are you watching it?” Excalibur still sounded exhausted, but his tone had softened considerably and he seemed amused.

“Gwen. It was all Gwen. She insisted.” Merlin grinned. “And if you thought The Secret Prince was bad, then it might interest you to know that we started off the evening with Bayonetto.”

Excalibur’s responding laughter was warm and rich. “Oh no! Bayonetto? Why? Why would anyone subject themselves to that?”

Excalibur’s laughter always did warm things inside his chest that he wasn’t sure he was ready for. He liked Excalibur, but the lines of what category to file him under were beginning to blur. He was more than a body, but not quite a friend. He was bossy, annoying, and paranoid, but he was also witty, funny, and sexy. It wasn’t that Excalibur needed to be categorized; it was just that Merlin wasn’t sure where they stood beyond basic sexual urges.

He was starting to like the twat, and he wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. He decided to push those rebellious thoughts into the background and ignore them for the time being.

“You know what? It’s time for a little less conversation and little more action². You should feel blessed that I lowered myself to The Secret Prince because I’ve been inspired.” Merlin picked up his laptop and carried it to the bathroom.

There wasn’t a counter or shelf in the tiny room, so he flipped the lid of his toilet down and set his laptop down on that, angling it to face the shower.

“Er,” Excalibur cleared his throat. “What are you doing?”

“I think this is the part where I make some salacious comment about how dirty I am and how I need to clean myself off, but I’m not a webcamming whore.” Merlin paused mid-step and grinned. “Okay, I am a webcamming whore, but!” He started speaking in a tone that he hoped was reminiscent of a skeevy porn star. “Did you know that in the original script of The Secret Prince, there was a wank scene that was supposed to go after the prince’s bathroom boogie?” Merlin wagged his eyebrows.

“Wait,” there was a pause longer than Merlin felt was strictly necessary to wrap one’s mind around a cheap porn set-up. “What?” He sounded confused, and Merlin lamented that he was all body and no brains.

“Shut up and watch me pretend I’m hot like Arthur Pendragon while I wank in the shower!” He snapped. “You’re the one who’s always going on about keeping things fresh and fun, so sit back and let me do the work tonight. You’re tired, right?”

“Yeah,” Excalibur answered tentatively.

“Then shut yer gob and watch me get off for your viewing pleasure.”

“Fine, but, quick question, won’t the steam from the shower fog up the camera and cause damage to your laptop?”

Merlin heaved a dramatic sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll use bloody magic to keep the camera clean, okay?”

“Alright.” Excalibur’s tone made Merlin picture an amused look on his face that he was sure he would have wanted to punch off if he had the chance. “Then please, enlighten me, what did the scriptwriters of The Secret Prince have in mind for the prince’s shower scene?”

Merlin responded by opening the glass door of his shower and turning on the water. The erection that he always got whenever he opened the Skype window with Excalibur had wilted while they exchanged petty comments, but started coming back as he let his annoyances wash down the drain.

He was grateful for the pane of glass between him and his computer. Excalibur. Though they had been Skyping for roughly two months, this was the first time Merlin had ever deliberately performed, and that made him feel more naked than his nudity ever could.

Unlike Excalibur, he wasn’t used to getting off on the thrill of others watching him, but it was powerfully arousing knowing that he was responsible for Excalibur’s pleasure that night. Maybe there was something to that whole exhibitionism thing after all.

Rivulets of water skated down his skin and he scrubbed his fingers through his soaked hair. He looked through the glass at his laptop screen as he caressed the water-soft skin down his body. Excalibur’s image was blurry, but still visible. His position was more relaxed than when Merlin had looked before, and he was sitting back in his chair stoking himself lazily.

Merlin was suddenly struck with the thought that their roles had somehow reversed. Excalibur looked like he did when he first stumbled upon his video and now he was the one performing. How they had ended up in this erotic imbroglio was akin to falling down a rabbit hole, but gods, it made him feel heady with happiness, arousal, and lust.

He spared a quick thought of what that said about him. He was evolving into a dirty, shameless, exhibitionist and he liked it. He liked having the power to get Excalibur off. He liked standing in his shower touching himself as Excalibur got off watching him.

It made his toes curl and cock ache with pleasure. He wanted to feel the burn of Excalibur’s eyes on his skin. He wanted to feel the physical heat of his gaze, because right now he wasn’t hot enough. When he wanked alone, nothing felt hot enough anymore. He turned the cold water down and the hot water up and hissed as the water quickly turned from luke-warm to lava, leaving his skin red and burning where it pounded down on him.

The water hurt in the most fantastic way. He felt like he was standing under a shower of fire, and that the burn was physically crawling deep inside of him, imbedding itself inside of his heart. His skin was hot and red, but it wasn’t the hot water that burned him, it was the knowledge that Excalibur was getting off on this. Getting off on him.

He wanted to get off now, not concerned with making this last, and stroked himself quickly, shielding his erection from the scalding water with the quickness of his fist. Did Excalibur know how turned on he was right now? The glass on his shower door had fogged up from the steam, so he could no longer make out his body in the laptop window. Was Excalibur stroking himself as fast as he was? Could he feel the heat that Merlin was sure was radiating through their Skype window?

Imagining Excalibur watching him burn was hotter than the water, and it made his blood simmer. He felt weak in the knees and braced his free hand on the wall in front of him to keep his balance. He dropped his chin to his chest and groaned as the hot floodwater slid down his overheated skin.

He was stroking himself as fast as his muscles would allow, and he could feel a cramp forming in his forearm. He leaned his forehead against the tile under the showerhead, shocked at how cool it felt against his skin. He switched hands to stroke his cock and moved the other one to the glass partition to keep himself upright.

He felt like he was swimming in heat, pleasure, and pain. His skin was raw against the hot water, and sparks of pleasure flared behind his eyelids. He didn’t touch any other part of his body aside from his cock, afraid that it would be too much. The water burned him more than his fingers ever could.

His muscles began to tighten and he could feel his orgasm building. When he felt his release, he braced himself against the glass pane, and accidentally pushed the door open. He lost his balance and footing on the slippery floor and came crashing down.

He thought he could hear Excalibur shout “Holy shit! Are you okay?” faintly in the background, but the water was still raining down and he was certain a flock of birds was circling his head, making all other noises sound like a background hum. Not to mention the orgasm that he could still feel echoing in his body.

He quickly gathered his wits, turned off the water, and shakily stood up. “You know, that went much better in my mind.” Merlin frowned, grabbed the towel next to the shower, and carefully stepped over the large puddles of water on his bathroom floor.

Apparently Excalibur had been assured of his safety, because at this point he started laughing. And laughing and laughing and laughing. He was laughing harder than he’d ever heard him laugh before. If he weren’t so embarrassed, he might have been laughing too. As it was, his ass hurt and he suspected that there’d be a nasty bump on his head where he smacked it into the wall.

Merlin wrapped the towel around his waist, grabbed his laptop, and moved back into the main room. He was curled up on his couch by the time Excalibur’s laughter finally subsided.

“I see why the scene was deleted,” Excalibur said finally.

“Shut up,” Merlin scolded without much heat. “Did you at least get a chance to come before my grand finale?”

“I did.” Merlin felt like he was being examined, though he couldn’t see Excalibur’s face to determine this for sure. “Are you sure you’re okay? It looked like you might have hit your head when you slipped.”

“I’m fine,” Merlin insisted. He wanted to forget that ever happened, crawl into a hole, and never imagine himself as a porn star ever again. He would leave the shameless exhibitionism to Excalibur from now on. His head still hurt, but it had waned to a dull throb.

The only thing injured was his ego.

“Christ, I’m disgusting. I need to go wipe off; I’ll be right back.” Merlin shrugged, and reached for his slanket as Excalibur wondered off screen. He thought twice before covering up with it, but decided that falling in the shower whilst wanking was far more shameful than owning a blanket with sleeves. He was cold, wet, and Excalibur could fucking well mind his own if he noticed it.

Merlin took the opportunity to notice that Excalibur seemed to be in a different room than the St. David’s Hotel suite. The computer was angled down and the room was fairly dark, so he couldn’t see much, but it appeared to be homier than the hotel suite. He wasn’t sure what specifically gave the room a more ‘homey’ vibe, but from the small area that Merlin could see, it was cluttered with DVD’s, books and magazines.

It was unexpectedly messy compared with the pristine state in which Excalibur seemed to keep the hotel room. Merlin strained his eyes to make out a name or something on a magazine or a piece of post, but it was too dark to see anything clearly.

For the ten millionth time Merlin wondered what Excalibur did for a living. What kind of business brought a person to Cardiff for two months? He appeared to be some kind of high roller, but he had seen no clues that would indicate any specific profession. Excalibur was always careful not to leave anything lying around or not to reveal anything too personal.

It was enough to drive him bloody mental when he couldn’t sleep at night.

After a couple minutes, Excalibur came back wearing the same Arsenal FC sweat pants and white jumper he seemed to favor when they chatted after a wank and sat back down with a glass of water.

More often than not after their non-sexual Skype session, Excalibur would initiate conversation when they were done. It always amused Merlin, because he managed to be domineering even in suggesting simple conversation. He approached it as if he assumed Merlin would hang around and talk with him instead of kip off to bed like a normal person would do in the middle of the night.

Merlin mentally rolled his eyes and smiled at the man who was slowly becoming his friend. “You have a long day? You sounded tired earlier.”

He never knew what was safe to ask and what wasn’t. Sometimes Excalibur would answer without hesitation, and other times he’d accuse Merlin of being “a nosy bastard” when Merlin asked him something stupid and innocuous like how he liked his tea. Merlin had yet to discern what questions would set him off and what ones wouldn’t, so until he did, he felt like he was walking on eggshells.

“I’m still tired, but yeah: long and busy. Always busy. I’ll be traveling internationally tomorrow, so I had a lot to do to prepare for my trip.” Merlin was surprised that he had admitted that much.

“I know all about that,” he teased. “I travel internationally everyday. It’s so bothersome to see fantastic places all over the globe. My life is so hard!”

Excalibur groaned, and Merlin imagined him with an exasperated smile. “You’re an international idiot.”

“I had a long day, too. I think my boss might be seeing Arthur Pendragon.”

Excalibur spit out the water he had just taken a sip of and started coughing. “What?!”

His reaction surprised Merlin. Maybe Excalibur was more interested in celebrity gossip than he had previously observed. “Right? How wild would that be? I know it’s just an office rumor – you probably know how those are – but today my boss came and asked me how long I’d known Arthur Pendragon. Not that her asking me is directly related to the rumor of her dating him, but why else would she ask me that? When I said that I’d never met him, she looked at me like, I don’t know, like she was shocked that I hadn’t. It was very bizarre.”

Excalibur’s sigh sounded exasperated, and he lifted his hand to his head, though Merlin couldn’t quite tell what he did with it. “I know all about rumors. Look, I wouldn’t put much faith into them unless photographs end up on the cover of HELLO!, yeah?”

Merlin thought he could hear a bit more annoyance in Excalibur’s tone than there was a few minutes ago, and his reaction puzzled him. Why would stupid gossip annoy him? Or, maybe he was annoyed by the fact that Merlin was talking about such mundane crap. Merlin wanted to tug on his hair in frustration. Talking with Excalibur was almost as frustrating as talking with Morgana. He would swear they were related if he didn’t know better.

“Oh! No, it’s not that I believe the rumors, I just think it’s weird that my boss seemed convinced that I knew him. Anyway, it doesn’t matter; it’s not like I’ll ever meet him.” Merlin shrugged, and that was that.

Excalibur made a non-committal sound, and then cleared his throat, “Right, well, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll be out of the country for a spell. My schedule will be erratic, so it’s likely that I won’t be able to arrange anything with you for a few weeks. I’ll send you a message if I have any time, but I can’t make any promises.”

“I know you’re not going to tell me, but ARGH, what do you do? You have the weirdest schedule ever.”

“I’m an international man of mystery.” Excalibur sounded he it was aiming for smug, but ended up sounding tired and ready for bed.

“You are definitely an international man of mystery, but not in the awesome and cool way that Austin Powers is.” Merlin opened up the chat window and typed his mobile number in and hit send. After he sent it, he was momentarily struck at how normal it felt to be giving it to Excalibur.

“What is this?”

“My number. Look, I know you’re bat-shit crazy when it comes to your privacy, but I figured that you don’t actually have to know my name to use my number, and vise versa. They’re just digits, yeah? You can put me in your phone as the sexiest guy to use a shower ever.” Excalibur chuckled, and Merlin knew that he had made his point.

“Also, you’re probably one of the least creepy guys who’ve ended up with my number, and considering the fact that you’re a paranoid, pratty, exhibitionist, internet perv, that probably doesn’t say good things about the blokes I give my number to.” Merlin grinned.

Excalibur was silent for longer than felt comfortable, making Merlin feel compelled to fill the silence. “You don’t have to text me or call me if you don’t want to, I just thought I’d throw it out there.”

Excalibur sighed, but grabbed a pen and paper and jotted the number down. Merlin felt his heart skip a beat knowing that he would at least think it over. “I can’t make you any promises, but I’ll give it some thought.”

Merlin almost opened his mouth to say something along the lines of, “You know you will; you’ll miss me if we don’t see each other for a month,” to tease him, but was startled to find that he would be the one who missed Excalibur, not the other way around. Their weekly conversations had turned into something of a routine, and wanking had never been more satisfying than it was when he did it with the gorgeous man in front of him.

That realization unbalanced him and he felt his universe shift the tiniest bit in that moment.

“Excellent. Then, if you don’t mind, I’m headed to bed for the night. If I talk to you soon, great, and if not, then best of luck on your business trip.” Merlin quickly closed the window before Excalibur could say anything, and sat on the couch for several minutes before he moved. His heart was pounding like it did when he sent the first message, and it took quite a while before he felt it slow down. He didn’t want to freak Excalibur out, but he wanted to push the weird thing they had between them forward.

He fell asleep thinking about it and was jarred awake a few hours later by the sound of a message on his mobile.

You’re a massive idiot. Who says ‘goodnight’ without giving the other person a chance to do the same?

He groggily realized the message was from Excalibur, and warm relief flooded through him.

PS: You’d better put me in your phone as the Most Gorgeous Man to Walk the Earth.

Merlin’s insides twisted with affection, and he did exactly what Excalibur told him. He tried to fall back asleep, but couldn’t. He groaned and looked at the time. 5:40AM. He had to be up in an hour for work anyway, so he stretched and got up for the day. The next text came fifteen minutes later.

PSS: I’m up for the day and at Heathrow getting ready to board a plane, so I hope these messages wake you up and that you can’t fall back asleep. Serves you right for keeping me up so late.

He grabbed his mobile and texted him back.

Stupid bastard. I hope the person in the seat behind you kicks your chair for the entire flight.

Excalibur’s response came seconds later.

That’s not a problem in first class. I have my own flight attendant whose sole purpose of existence is to ensure my comfort and satisfaction.

Merlin chucked his mobile across the room, hating that Excalibur managed to sound smug even by text.

Still, he started his day with a smile, and that had to count for something.

~*~*~

Arthur had the unfortunate pleasure of being woken up by his publicist, Viv, screaming into his ear about secret relationships, Morgana, and Charlie Sheen-esque stupidity. After the rush of adrenaline faded when he realized that she was talking about his lunch with Morgana rather than his other less-than-hetero relationships, Arthur thought she was being a tad melodramatic.

He was only been photographed at lunch with his sister, not telling the world that he was a high priest Vatican assassin warlock with tiger blood and Adonis DNA. But, when Viv got going, he knew better than to try and shut her up.

Also, a not-tiny part of him was relieved that this was what she was freaking out about rather than some pornographic videos on The Meat Feast. If the media wanted to speculate about an imaginary relationship between him and Morgana over a couple of blurry photographs taken by a dishwasher, then let them.

There was nothing special or intimate about the pictures, but there was one of Morgana sliding the wrapped picture across the table. Obviously gift giving meant that they were fucking, and the story had predictably spun out of control. Rumors that ranged from Morgana being his secret wife to a high-end call girl began to crop up in gossip blogs all over the internet.

To make matters worse, Morgana’s secretary sold out to HELLO! and followed the photographs up with an interview claiming that she’d seen him at Avalon periodically over the past several months and that she was certain that they had been engaged in a secret relationship.

Arthur almost pitied the secretary, because he knew the second Morgana found out, she’d kill her, rip the body apart, and scatter the pieces all around the streets of London. Or, at the very least, fire her and make it impossible to find another job within a five hundred mile radius.

He tuned Viv out as she raged on about how difficult he made her life and her plans to release a series of statements claiming that he and Morgana were nothing more than old friends and blah blah blah. The public wouldn’t believe it, but as long as they didn’t find out that she was his half-sister, he didn’t much care.

Some facts were best left buried with the rotting corpse of Uther Pendragon.

After twenty minutes of listening to her rant about his carelessness when it came to his image and lack of consideration for others, she had roped him into agreeing to a six-week fauxmance with some burgeoning starlet to draw attention away from his alleged relationship with Morgana.

Not only would a fauxmance draw attention away from Morgana, but it would give him six weeks of free press and would lessen the damage should any less-than-hetero things get leaked to the media. Not that they would, though. He considered himself to be exceptionally careful when it came to certain proclivities.

All things considered, it could have been a lot worse and the feeling that he had dodged a massive bullet made him think of Dragoon.

He rolled over in bed and checked the time. It was 7:12am, which meant it was 6:12 in London. He smirked and started a text.

According to TMZ, your boss and Arthur Pendragon are secretly dating. Looks like you were right. Please feel free to harass her about this all day today.

It took Dragoon a couple minutes to respond.

First, fuck you. My alarm doesn’t go off for another 45 mns, & if you don’t stop txting me at ass-o’clock in the morning, I’m going to block your number. Second, I think I’m going to pass on that. I’m not in the mood to get fired today.

Arthur grinned, enjoying the ability to harass Dragon over text message far too much. Dragoon was still his favorite dirty secret. He’d gladly subject himself to months of tedious fauxmances if it meant he could keep Dragoon to himself just a little bit longer.

He tried not to think about what Dragoon was coming to mean to him, but when he did, his heart skipped a beat and sizzled with arousal, desire, and fear.

Don’t be sad – it’s not like you had a shot with Pendragon anyway. If you want, I can console you with my cock when I’m back in London.

Arthur hovered his finger over the send button before deleting the message. He wanted to meet Dragoon, but he didn’t want to ruin the easy relationship they’d developed over the past two and a half months. A simple non-disclosure would ensure Dragoon’s silence, but nothing would bring back the easy friendship he’d come to enjoy with the relative anonymity.

If you want, I can make it up to you tonight. Work should wrap up around 10pm GMT.

It had only been a couple of days since they had last Skyped, but Arthur was ready to see him again. He felt himself harden, imagining Dragoon sleepy and pliant in bed, and sent another text before Dragoon had the chance to respond to the first one.

Want to fuck you awake right now. Am hard just thinking about it, imagining myself working you open, and then sliding in you deep and slow.

Arthur relaxed back into the mattress and started lazily stroking himself. It was nice and easy, waking up and thinking about Dragoon. A distinct warmth began to spread throughout his chest, which was beginning to happen a lot when his mind wandered to Dragoon.

Arthur’s mobile chirped with Dragoon’s response.

I’ve been hard since I woke up. Would love for you to fuck me. Am touching myself now thinking about it. Are you?

Arthur was, and the warmth residing in his chest spread to his cock. He imagined how it would feel with Dragoon pressed tightly to his chest as he slid into his tight arse. He wanted it to be slow and sweet, and kiss his neck as he stole him back from the sandman.

I want your back to my chest so I can bring you off as I fuck you awake. I want to kiss your neck and whisper Good Morning in your ear as you open your eyes and see nothing but sparks of pleasure.

God, that was soppy even to him. His early morning brush with fear and Viv had left him unusually sentimental. He increased the rhythm of his hand in an attempt to draw his thoughts away from sentimentality and back to the safety of a meaningless morning wank.

So sexy. Want you to pin me to mattress with your thighs and slide into me so deep that I feel you for hours.

Arthur’s eyes rolled back into his head as he thought about Dragoon feeling him all day. Thinking about him all day. His cock was slick with pre-cum and he thought of what Dragoon’s goofy grin and ridiculous ears would look like first thing in the morning.

He thought of him naked and sweaty, pinned to his chest as he picked up the pace from slow and sweet to hot and fast. He imagined Dragoon’s arse tightening around his shaft, and coming all over Arthur’s hand. He imagined what Dragoon would taste like if he brought his fingers to his mouth and licked them clean.

Desire flooded through him and he pulled at his cock tighter and faster. Dizzy thoughts of Merlin lying sated and smiling in his bed in the early morning sun pushed him over the edge and he spilled himself seconds later.

He relaxed back in his bed, breathing hard, and hating the fact that Merlin’s stupid, goofy grin was the last thing he thought of before he came.

The name Merlin in his mind, not Dragoon.

He heard his mobile chime a few minutes later with a new message.

Have a good day at work. Talk to you tonight.

He heaved a sigh, not sure what to do about the fact that he wanted to fuck Dragoon slow and sweet, and wake up next to him in the morning. He watched the time on his mobile shift to 8:00am before he responded to Dragoon’s text.

You too.

It didn’t feel like enough.

~*~


To: APndgn@gmail.com
From: MLeFay@avalon.com
10:58am
Subject: Your little bird

Avalon’s gossip tells me that your favorite little bird got a gallery showing at the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens. I haven’t had a chance to view the collection myself, but rumor has it the collection was inspired by King Arthur (Are we still pretending that you two don’t know each other? I’ve lost track.).

hxxp://www.theserpentine.org/2011/05/merlin_emrys_serpentine_gallery.html

In other news, Viv called me this morning to fill me in on your exciting new romance with Elena Prince. Congratulations! With all the talk of romance this morning, I can’t help but wonder where I should send the fruit basket….

This communication, including attachments, is confidential, may be subject to legal privileges, and is intended for the sole use of the addressee. Any use, duplication, disclosure or dissemination of this communication, other than by the addressee, is prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete or destroy this communication and all copies.

Arthur reread the email and frowned. Dragoon – Merlin – hadn’t told Excalibur about the showing. A small pang in his heart shouted that he had no business feeling slighted, as he withheld vital information about pretty much everything, but he still felt an uncomfortable tug.

Arthur wasn’t proud of what he did next, but when he’d defend his actions later, he’d claim that he didn’t have time to think things through because Leon was about to call him back to set. He rang his assistant and told her to her buy the entire collection anonymously and have it shipped to his flat after the gallery showing.

When he got off the phone with his assistant, he opened his email to reply to Morgana. He figured it was too much to hope that she wouldn’t find out about what he did, but he saw no sense in encouraging her.

There were no rational reasons for not telling Morgana about Merlin (save the whole pornographic angle), but Merlin was his business and his alone. He didn’t want to share him or shine a light on whatever it was that they had going on for fear that their bizarre tentative fledgling friendship thing (Arthur still had no clue how to label Merlin in his mind), would vanish like it had never existed in the start.


To: MLeFay@avalon.com
From: APndgn@gmail.com
12:49pm
Subject: re: Your little bird

Just because I can’t see you right now doesn’t mean I don’t know that you’re giving me that look that you like to think is a combination of ‘knowing’ and ‘intimidation.’ It’s not, for the record. You look like you’ve got indigestion when you give me that look.

If I find out that you’ve sent either Elena or Merlin a fruit basket “congratulating” them, TMZ will mysteriously find themselves with a handful of photographs featuring you and your most recent fling. That way, when I go out with Elena, my fans will think it’s because you broke my heart and every ounce of good press you and Avalon have received in the last 24 hours will disappear.

Stop prying.

-La Vie D’Arthur-

~*~

Arthur wasn’t able to check his mobile again until filming wrapped for the day. His arse and thighs ached from riding a horse all day and the most important thing in his life at that moment was jumping into the shower and scrubbing the make-up and dirt off of his skin. He was sweaty, hot, and disgusting, and no way he was going out in public smelling like a medieval barn.

Gwaine had somehow managed to convince him that it was of dire importance that they make their presence known in the clubs of Italy, or their lives as they knew them would be over. It had been a couple months since he and Gwaine had been out together, so it was easy to say yes. He was actually kind of looking forward to going out for a night of mindless entertainment.

Arthur towel dried his hair and checked his phone. There was a text message from his assistant telling him that everything had been handled at Serpentine and another one from Viv with Elena’s number and the date of their first public outing. Arthur carded his fingers through his hair and sighed, wondering what had possessed him to agree to that?

Oh, right, Morgana, whose email was waiting in his inbox as impatiently as mindless technology would allow.


To: APndgn@gmail.com
From: MLeFay@avalon.com
5:17pm
Subject: re: re: Your little bird

So you’d rather not have me bring up the fact that I overheard Merlin telling a coworker how incredible it was that all four of his paintings were sold after only one day on the floor to an “anonymous” buyer who hadn’t even seen them in person because he “loved them so much” on the website?

Honestly, Arthur, anonymous? Are you even trying?

-Show quoted text-

Arthur was trying, but it was getting harder and harder to remember why it was important to stay anonymous.

He tucked his mobile into the pocket of his favorite pair of jeans as Gwaine walked into his trailer unannounced. Gwaine grinned madly and shamelessly smacked his arse. “Can’t help but notice you wore your easy-access jeans.” He wagged his eyebrows suggestively. “We ready for a night of gorgeous Italian hotness?”

Arthur hoped sleeping his way through Rome for a night would take his mind off Merlin. “More than you know. Anyone else joining us?”

“St. Lancelot has a date with his morals, and the rest of the guys are pussies. It’s just you and me tonight, Kingy.”

Filming had lasted fourteen hours that day, so Arthur didn’t really think ‘pussies’ was an apt description of those sane enough to turn in for the night. Arthur would have done the same himself if he hadn’t been itching to dig his fingers into someone else’s thighs for a night of hot, anonymous fucking.

A voice in the back of his mind whispered something about a promise he had made that morning to call Merlin, but Arthur ignored it and allowed Gwaine to sling an arm over his shoulder and steer him towards the waiting taxi.

It was 11:15pm when they rolled into Babylon, and things had yet to really get started. He hadn’t partied in Rome since the previous series finished filming, and it was nice to return to an old favorite.

Gwaine got the first and second round of shots, and Arthur the next four. With the shots on top of the pints they were drinking, combined with their empty stomaches, the world was beginning to get dark around the edges. Arthur knew better than to drink that much on an empty stomach, or a work night, but his desire to forget about Merlin drowned out the voice of reason scolding him in the back of his mind.

The clock slid past one, and Arthur surveyed his prospects. There weren’t as many gorgeous men as he was expecting. They all seemed too short, too tall, too muscular, or too ugly. He was drunk, but not drunk enough to lower himself to some substandard pleb.

The bartender was cute, though, and he was making eyes at him. He was lithe and thin with moppish black hair and onyx eyes. He looked fit enough, and Arthur had enough alcohol in his system to want to take him out back.

Bar Man picked up on Arthur’s interest and begin to slide his hand down a bottle of tequila in an obscene manner. He caressed the neck of the bottle with the pad of his thumb, and rubbed slow, massaging circles up to the lip. Arthur closed his jaw and swallowed tightly, realizing that it had fallen open as he watched the bartender give the bottle a hand job.

He then lifted the bottle, flipped it up in the air, and caught it just in time to pour a measured amount in a glass, and push it over in his direction. Arthur was no stranger to the fancy tricks that bartenders could do, but knowing that it was being performed solely for him was deliciously erotic. His jeans strained over his erection and he resisted the urge to reach down and adjust himself.

Arthur licked the valley of skin between his thumb and forefinger, and then drew the length of his forefinger into his mouth. He would never have been so public in his display if he hadn’t been so intoxicated, but right now he didn’t care. He sucked hard enough to hollow out his cheeks and looked at the bartender to make sure if he was watching. He was.

Arthur pulled his finger out of his mouth, swirling it with his tongue as he did so, and lifted the glass to his lips and downing the liquid. The tequila burned down his throat, and the lemon wedge he sucked between his teeth made him wince from the tartness. Bar Man blushed.

Gwaine nudged him knowingly and gave him a lewd grin. He gestured towards the dance floor and motioned towards a leggy blond wearing a shirt masquerading as a dress. He nodded at Arthur in their silent language signaling that he was going in for the catch. Arthur nodded back and turned his attention to the bartender.

He barely spoke two words of Italian, but that didn’t matter. He nodded his head in the direction of the backroom, and the bartender smiled. It wasn’t the goofy grin he was hoping for, but it would do. Arthur downed the rest of his pint and one more shot of tequila for the road as the bartender leaned in and said something to the other bartender – presumably to cover him while he and Arthur fucked in the backroom.

Arthur turned his head to look for Gwaine in the throng of bodies moving to shitty techno music but couldn’t spot him; he must have pulled the blond off the floor for a private show. Arthur felt a tentative squeeze of his bicep and turned his attention back to the cute barman. He gestured for Arthur to follow him.

He felt his cock throb to the beat of the music and ache pleasantly with anticipation. The skinny bartender had more muscle than he anticipated, because after he unlocked the backroom and opened the door, he shoved him up against the wall of the back hallway and crashed his lips down on his own. It was messy, rough, and out where anyone could see them. Bar Man tasted like whisky and nicotine, and Arthur wondered if he had downed a shot while he was looking for Gwaine.

He bit down on Arthur’s lower lip, making him hiss in surprise and pleasure. His brain was completely fogged over from alcohol and arousal, so he used his last shred of coherence to move into the backroom and shut the door behind them.

Bar Man pushed him back against the closed door and slipped his hand below the waistband of Arthur’s trousers and gripped his cock. Arthur’s mind exploded into sparks of pleasure, and he leaned his head back against the door and groaned. He thrust his hips forward, searching for tighter, hotter friction.

Bar Man pulled back, stilled his hand on Arthur’s cock, and said something in rushed Italian. Arthur belatedly realized he had asked him a question and was now waiting for a response. Arthur had no idea what he said, so he shrugged and tugged him closer for another kiss, hoping their mouths could do the talking instead.

The obscene display Bar Man had done earlier to the bottle was only a hint of the amazing things currently happening to his cock. Long, slender fingers were wrapped tightly around him and his thumb massaged its way up to the tip of his shaft.

He started twisting his hand in such a way up and down his length that made Arthur see stars and his knees buckle. Arthur tugged on Bar Man’s lower lip and sucked it into his mouth, finishing with a wet, sloppy kiss. Bar Man pulled his lips from Arthur’s mouth and dragged his tongue along the shell of Arthur’s ear. The hot, invasive breath sent shivers down his spine and made his toes curl and hips thrust into Bar Man’s sure grip.

He began whispering things in Italian that Arthur didn’t understand, but sounded devastatingly sexy in his gravely, smokers voice. Arthur’s was dizzy with pleasure and arousal. Bar Man trailed his tongue down his neck and suck hard on his collarbone.

Arthur was so lost in arousal, alcohol, and ecstasy that he knew nothing beyond the incessant background throb of the music pulsing through his body, syncing up with the beat of his heart and radiating out through his cock.

His orgasm crept up on him and he scrubbed for purchase on the splintering wood behind him as he felt his body tighten up with hot pleasure. Arthur dropped his forehead to Bar Man’s shoulder and let his heart rate steady before he turned his head and licked a salty, wet strip up his neck to his ear, where he bit down on his lobe and worried it between his teeth.

Bar Man groaned his appreciation, and Arthur flashed him a wicked grin. He was still shit-faced drunk, but his orgasm had lessened the dire need to get off, leaving him pleasantly floating on a drunken cloud. He dropped to his knees, and unzipped Bar Man’s black jeans.

He fished a condom out of his back pocket and rolled it onto Bar Man’s cock. He smelled like smoke, whisky, and sweat. Arthur frowned and tried to block out thoughts of what Merlin would smell like (Acrylics, ethnic food, and sex: not that he had spent a significant amount of time thinking about it.).

He wanted to pull the curtain of haughty indifference back over his brain so he could enjoy sucking off Bar Man without thoughts of Merlin creeping in and making him feel pangs of guilt he had no reason to feel.

Arthur closed his eyes and swallowed Bar Man’s length in one go. He would have felt loftier, had Bar Man had anything worth bragging about. Bar Man leaned heavily against the wall as Arthur hollowed his cheeks and worked his cock with a suction and speed that Arthur knew made men see stars.

With Bar Man’s eyes screwed shut, Arthur could almost imagine that his irises were blue instead of black. His physique was about right, though the cock was significantly smaller, and his sounds of pleasure were nowhere near as pleasing as….

Arthur swirled his length in what he knew was an impressive trick of the tongue and hoped it would be over sooner rather than later. Bar Man cried out in garbled Italian, and Arthur prayed that meant he was getting close.

He worked him as fast as his mouth and gag reflex would allow, and Bar Man responded by groaning louder and threading his fingers through Arthur’s hair, giving Arthur half a mind to use his teeth if Bar Man tugged so much as one strand from his head. He reached his other hand up and gently rolled his balls in his palm, and caressed the sensitive skin behind them with a finger.

He used his other hand to grip the base of Bar Man’s shaft and squeeze while he swirled his tongue around the head of his cock and sucked. His thighs were quivering, and Arthur could feel the length tighten in his hand and knew Bar Man was about to come.

Arthur pulled back and let the condom do the rest. Bar Man sagged against the wall and slid to the ground as Arthur stood up and straightened his shirt and trousers. He felt unsteady on his feet and foggy in his mind, though all things considered, lucky to still be conscious given how much liquor he had ingested.

“Grazie,” he said as he tipped his head at Bar Man and walked out of the backroom without so much as a second glance.

He didn’t bother to look for Gwaine as he walked through the club to the front door. He knew there’d be a text on his mobile when he bothered to look at it telling him he brought the girl, (or girls, knowing Gwaine) back to the hotel.

Arthur leaned against the cool brick outside of the club and sank down to the sidewalk, trying to make the earth stop moving beneath him so he didn’t fall off the planet. The world-spinning dizziness from too much alcohol was now accompanied by an empty ache in his chest that had never been there before. Especially not after a fantastically hot encounter with a hot bloke in the back of a club. Why was it there now?

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned, knowing exactly why his chest ached. He started thinking about how a flawless night at a great club with a good-looking bloke had turned the corner to schmaltzy, uncharacteristic pining. He thought about art that he shouldn’t have bought, and sexy barmen who no longer sexy enough.

He inelegantly pushed himself up off the sidewalk and moved gracelessly towards a waiting taxi. He spared a fleeting prayer that there were no photographers around to capture his drunken stumbling on film. After giving the cabbie his destination, he sank down into the backseat and closed his eyes.

He was in front of his hotel after what felt like a fraction of a second and Arthur shoved a wad of bills in the driver’s hand, not sure how much he was forking over, and not caring. He was drunk, exhausted, and loathing his 7:00am call time later that morning. The clock on the taxi’s dashboard said it was 3:04am, but it felt much later.

He managed to make it to the lift without calling too much attention to himself and he hoped that he pushed the right button to take him to his floor. He couldn’t stop thinking about Merlin, and how he would have probably enjoyed himself more if he stayed in and had a solo wank over the phone instead of an anonymous backroom hand job. He also couldn’t help but think he’d have hated himself less in the morning if he spent the night talking to Merlin rather than getting completely knocked off his arse in a club.

He had the sudden urge to tell Merlin this, and to curse him out for ruining a perfectly good evening that should have been balls-to-the-wall amazing. He leaned heavily against the wall to balance himself as he dug his mobile out of his pocket.

He closed the text message from Gwaine, not bothering to read it, and searched through his contacts bleary-eyed for Secret Shower Perv.

The phone rang for several seconds before a sleepy voice finally picked up. “Swear to god I’m going to block you if you continue to wake me up in the middle of the night.”

Arthur grinned, feeling warmth replace the ache his chest. “Merlin. Merlin. What kind of name is that, anyway? Is it because you’re a birdbrain?” Arthur barked out a laugh, assured that he was the funniest person alive. He stumbled out of the lift and down the hallway, barely managing work the key to get into his suite.

“How do you know my name?” He sounded distinctly more awake and a bit more snappish than Arthur felt was necessary.

Merlin.” Arthur said the name slowly, rolling his tongue over each syllable, relishing the feeling of saying it aloud. “I am a master of everything and a knower of all!”

“What,” Merlin groaned. There was a few seconds of rustling that sounded like Merlin sitting up. “What does that even mean? Shit, how much have you had to drink tonight?”

“A fair amount,” Arthur admitted. He stumbled through the dark suite and nearly lost his life as he tripped over the small step leading to the living area. “Fuck!” he shouted as he crashed to the ground.

“Excalibur?” Merlin sounded alarmed. “Are you okay?”

“Oooh,” he moaned. “I hope that doesn’t leave a mark, ’r Freya’ll kill me in the mornin’.” He managed to crawl to the bathroom, mobile in hand, and pull himself up enough to roll the damp, sticky jeans off of his hips. He stood in front of what he hoped was the toilet, and let half a bottle of tequila and three pints of lager evacuate his system. He couldn’t stop the moan that escaped him as four hours of pressure finally relieved itself. “Mmm, that’s nice.”

“Okay, this is lovely. I’m so glad you rang,” Merlin said annoyed. After a few seconds of silence where Arthur stared uncomprehendingly at his reflection in the mirror, Merlin’s voice dragged his attention down from the clouds. “You need to get some water in your system. Do you have any nurofen, ibuprofen, or anything like that?”

“Um,” he said, digging through his leather traveler’s case. “Yes?” He struggled to get the bottle open and finally gave up with a muffled, “Fuck this,” and threw it down on the floor. He brought his boot down on it soundly, causing the bottle to break and pills to roll out over the tile. Arthur picked two up and popped them into his mouth.

“Alright. We good then? Ready to get you to bed? What time do you have to get up tomorrow, er, later today?”

“Too fucking early,” Arthur grumbled as he stumbled out of the bathroom and over to the bed. He collapsed onto the mattress and sighed happily. “I should have stayed in. Instead, I sucked some bloke off in the backroom of a club. After I came, I realized that your voice bringing me off would have been infinitely more satisfying than any number of anonymous club fucks.”

“I,” Merlin drawled out the vowel. “Don’t quite know what you want me to say to that.”

Arthur frowned, thinking that Merlin should have been as thrilled by his realization as he was, even though he hadn’t realized the truth of it until he said it aloud. Merlin seemed to like him well enough, so maybe they could fuck in person instead of over the internet? At that moment, Arthur couldn’t think of a single reason why that would be a bad idea.

He briefly thought about calling up Leon to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to film that day so he could hop on a plane to London and do naughty things with Merlin until they were both sweaty and spent. Maybe Merlin could draw him in person, or paint a mural on his body with chocolate and then lick it off.

Thinking about Merlin and his art made the pang he felt earlier when he found out about the gallery showing return full force. “Why didn’t you tell me about your gallery showing?”

“My what! How did you know about that? Are you the one that bought my collection?!” Merlin’s alarmed, raised voice made Arthur wince and pull the phone away from his ear. 

“No! Well, maybe. Okay, yes. But give me a break! It’s not like I can hang your porn in my dining room.” Arthur shrugged. It made sense to him.

“MY WHAT!?”

Arthur hissed and once again pulled the phone away from his ear, “Fucking hell, a little volume control, please?”

“Excuse me for being mildly concerned that a complete stranger, who happens to be a drunken, slutty, internet exhibitionist, knows who I am and went all stalker on me today by buying my art.”

“For fucks’ sake, Merlin, it’s not like a person couldn’t Google Dragoon The Great and get about ten billion hits of explicit fanart.”

“I…I didn’t think you had seen them. You’ve never mentioned it before, even after I showed you my painting.”

Arthur shrugged, forgetting that they weren’t on Skype and that Merlin couldn’t see him. “It didn’t bother me. Well, it bothered me when Gwaine taped them all over the set, but that wasn’t your fault.” Arthur paused, missing the sharp intake of breath on the other end. “Okay, it sort of was your fault for drawing them in the first place and making them public, but you had no idea that he was going to be an epic douche about it.”

“Oh my god.” Merlin’s voice held a mixture of shock and disbelief, which didn’t make sense to Arthur. Didn’t he just get done telling the moron that he was cool with it?

Merlin was nothing but an endless source of exasperation. He thought he was being exceptionally good-natured about the pornographic drawings. Most celebs would have freaked out and gotten a restraining order where as he thought they were rather entertaining. “What is your deal? I told you that it was okay – kinda hot, actually. Makes me want to see what else I can inspire you to draw. Maybe you can expand your Arthurian collection. I bet the gallery would love a collection of nudes, especially if they’re inspired by me.”

Arthur was too drunk to get hard, but god, he wanted to be. “I can see it now: The Knights of the Round Table, sans clothing, swearing their fealty to me! Or maybe you can use my naked body as your canvas and photograph your work. What do you think?” Arthur waiting a few seconds for a response, but didn’t hear anything. “Merlin?”

Arthur looked down at the phone and noticed that it was dead. He had no clue how long he had been talking to himself, but was too gone to care. There was a niggling sensation in the back of his mind that was tugging at him to remember something that was probably important, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about anything other than how soft his bed was and how bad his hangover was going to be when he had to get up for work.

~*~*~

The call dropped right after Excalibur slurred, “Makes me want to see what else I can inspire you to –“ and then there was nothing. Merlin tried to call back after the connection went dead, but it went straight to voice mail.

“Hey, it’s Arthur, leave me a message.” Merlin dropped the phone like it was on fire.

Arthur.

He said his name was Arthur and he mentioned someone named Gwaine, and oh god, this was not happening. This was not his life. He was still dreaming. Excalibur did not just drunkenly anonfail while confessing that he liked Merlin’s pornographic pictures of him.

Merlin was a hair’s breadth away from hyperventilating. Excalibur – Arthur – was obviously blitzed out of his mind when he called and proceeded to melt Merlin’s brain, but the thing that Merlin couldn’t quite wrap his mind around was why hadn’t he changed his message?

It had been a week since he had given Merlin his number. Surely he would have remembered that one simple detail given how paranoid he’d been up until that point. It didn’t make sense. Did Arthur subconsciously want Merlin to know who he was?

Merlin’s heart was racing, his hands were shaking, and he felt like he had just mainlined an entire case of Red Bull. He gave up on any chance of sleep for the rest of the night and stumbled out of bed to go turn on his laptop.

He still wasn’t entirely convinced that Excalibur was Arthur Pendragon, because honestly, what were the chances? He had heard of celebs liking some freaky deaky stuff, but posting pornographic videos on the bloody Meat Feast? That seemed to be a bit of a stretch. What if someone had recognized him? And there had never been any indication that Arthur was gay. No reports, no rumors, no photographs. Actually, it was rather the opposite. Arthur was known for being seen around town with a different starlet each month, most of whom gushed about what a gentleman he had been and how they wished they could have been with him longer.

Obviously they hadn’t met Excalibur, who was a surly, crabby, arrogant, bossy, entitled prat.

But the longer Merlin thought about it, the more the little details he had gathered in his mental ‘Who is Excalibur’ file made sense. The extended stay in Cardiff, his knowledge of Julius’ survival, his body (Merlin blushed at this one), his ability to recognize The Secret Prince from a few random lines of dialogue (Merlin would never be able to watch Arthur’s bathroom boogie again without remembering his horrifying fall in front of the star himself), and his voice.

How had he not recognized that rich, spine-tinglingly sexy voice? No, seriously! How had he not noticed? It seemed obvious, now! He felt like a massive idiot. How had he failed to connect the dots for so long?

Merlin loaded up KweenBea’s livejournal to check her recent set reports. The show was finishing up series three at Cinecittà studios in Rome. Had Excalibur mentioned Rome? He mentioned traveling internationally, but Merlin couldn’t recall if he ever mentioned Italy.

Merlin’s eyes landed on a table of dates KweenBea had in an entry. The date Excalibur left matched up with the travel dates of the cast of The Roman. Merlin felt like the bottom of the floor was going to give way beneath him, and he gripped onto the edge of the table.

Excitement, fear, arousal, and adrenaline all bubbled up within in, making it near impossible to stay sitting in his chair. He wanted to jump up and down and run circuits around his tiny apartment. He would have to run a marathon to work off the energy spiking inside of him because OH MY GOD, ARTHUR PENDRAGON.

He had Arthur Pendragon’s number. ARTHUR PENDRAGON’S NUMBER. And had seen him naked. SEVERAL TIMES. NAKED. And oh god he’d been wanking with Arthur fucking Pendragon over the last few months while making fun of him for not being as hot as Arthur Pendragon.

Merlin tried to calm down again and focus his attention on a recent entry with new set pictures. He scrolled through the photographs from fans who had visited the studios, while trying to reconcile what he thought he knew about Arthur with what he did know about him.

He Googled The St. David’s Hotel and Spa + Arthur Pendragon, but nothing definitive came up. He wanted to ask fandom if anyone knew where the cast stayed while filming in Cardiff just to make sure, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Maybe if he asked anonymously on meme?

KweenBea’s most recent entry was a link to a Tumblr with an Arthur encounter story. The girl, who looked to be around 16 or 17 years old, had met Arthur on his way out of the hotel earlier that day. She said the encounter happened around 8:15am, and she posted a pic of her and Arthur mugging for the camera.

She went on for a couple hundred words about how ‘EEEEE SO SWEET’ he was, how he looked like he had just gotten out of the shower and ‘UNF UNF HE SMELLED LIKE SEX AND HEAVEN’ (Merlin blushed at that), and how even though he was about to get into the hired car to take him to Cinecittà, he had taken a couple minutes to talk to her and ask how she liked the current series.

Merlin wanted to be a little embarrassed on her behalf because of her shameless, enthusiastic stalking outside of his hotel, but he was the one who had begged to be fucked not an hour before the girl’s encounter – not that he knew to whom he was begging.

He looked closely at the picture. Arthur’s blond hair shined brightly in the sun, and his smile was warm and friendly. Merlin couldn’t stop the smirk that snuck up when he thought how disappointed that girl would be if she found out what a stupid twat Arthur was in real life.

Not that a few months of Skyping gave Merlin any real authority over what Arthur was like in real life, but at least there was no pretending between them. Or, he didn’t think there was. Suddenly he didn’t know. There were loads of times where Excalibur would beg off answering something, but Merlin didn’t think he had ever out right lied.

He didn’t know what to think anymore. He was struck with how little he knew about Excalibur – Arthur – now that he knew the truth, or, what he thought was the truth.

Merlin was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of his alarm. Time had somehow slipped past dawn while Merlin quietly freaked out at his desk. It was going to be a struggle to stay awake during Morgause’s meeting later that day, and he dreaded his next contact with Arthur – Excalibur – Arthur…Merlin wasn’t sure what to think of him as now.

He picked up his mobile and started a text.

You alive?

He deleted the message before sending it, not sure if Arthur even remembered calling him a few hours earlier. And god, what now? If Arthur didn’t remember calling him, did he pretend that he didn’t know? Should he act like everything was normal? He was fairly confident that pretending he wasn’t talking to Arthur Pendragon wouldn’t be a problem the second Excalibur opened his mouth and said something totally douchey; it was a character defect of his that was as reliable as the sunrise.

Merlin chuckled, and smiled to himself. The decision was easy. If Arthur brought it up, then they’d talk about it. If he didn’t, then they wouldn’t.

Merlin rubbed his eyes and wished he got more than two hours of sleep as he got ready to face the day.

~*~*~

A company-wide memo greeted Merlin when he got to work announcing plans for an upcoming ad campaign for the Lady in the Lake collection that would be featuring Arthur Pendragon and Janet Monterey. As if his life wasn’t filled with enough Arthur already, now the prat would be invading his work. He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that he wouldn’t be directly involved in the campaign.

Merlin leaned back in his chair and stretched, yawning. The discovery of the previous night continued to ring through his head. He felt beginnings of a headache and popped two pain pills before it could burst into a supernova of pain.

There was an addendum to the memo in which Morgana went on at length threatening immediate termination to any employee caught gossiping or talking to the media, an obvious rebuttal to the photographs leaked to TMZ and interview in HELLO!.

In his shock and spastic panic the previous night, he forgot about the connection between his boss and his wanking partner. Arthur had even teased him about it the morning the pictures leaked. Was this some kind of game to him? He chuckled darkly and wondered if Morgana knew her boyfriend was using the internet to get off with men. If she didn’t, Merlin was in no rush to enlighten her.

They hadn’t spoken privately since the day she demanded to know how long he’d known Arthur – a conversation that suddenly made much more sense. She never broached the subject with him again, but he frequently caught her giving him considering looks when they were in meetings or when they passed each other in the hall.

The situation was making his head spin. How long had Arthur known his full name? How much did Morgana know about their non-relationship? He barely knew anything himself, so how did she know so much? What kind of relationship did she have with Arthur? Would she fire him instantly if she found out the dirty truth of it all? Merlin’s stomach twisted up in knots and he regretted not phoning in sick for the day.

As if she could smell his discomfort and fear, Morgana knocked on the open door of Merlin’s office and strode in. She looked at him curiously, and he imagined her thinking that he must look like someone on the wrong end of a bender.

“Congratulations on selling your art.” Morgana had a hint of a smirk on her face, and Merlin couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or sincere.

“Thanks.” He tugged on his sleeve and picked at a fraying thread. There was a beat of silence and Morgana gave him another considering look. He wished she would just out and say what it was that she wanted. “I’ve got the Lady in the Lake mock-ups, if that’s what you’re looking for. I was about to hand them to—“

“I’m not worried about the mock-ups; I’m sure you’ve done a lovely job. You’ve seen the morning’s memo, yes?” Merlin nodded. “Good. The commercial is filming the weekend after next. If you’d like, you’re welcome to join us on set. It would be a good experience for you to see the production side of concept art.”

Merlin could hear Admiral Ackbar screaming, “It’s a trap!” in his head, and a steady stream of ‘she knows’ repeated itself over and over in his mind. He knew that his presence wasn’t needed on set, as his role was product design only. Was this Morgana’s way of letting him know that she suspected his and Arthur’s extracurricular activities? Was this an elaborate set-up to lure them out into the open so she could fire him?

Merlin’s paranoia was exploding into full on panic. He was going to end up like Morgana’s ex-secretary: out of a job and blacklisted on the entire island, and all because Arthur was a stupid twat who had stupid kinks and couldn’t keep it in his pants or off the internet. He was innocent in all this. Innocent!

“Thank you for the offer. Unfortunately, I’ll be in Wales that weekend. It’s my mum’s birthday, and I’ve already arranged my train ticket.”

“That’s a shame. I’m sure my brother will be disappointed to hear that.”

Merlin furrowed his brow, thrown by her comment. Brother? Was he going to fire him? Oh god, was she going to have her brother beat him up for having cyber sex with her boyfriend? “You’re brother’s going to be there?” He was aiming for a politely detached, yet mildly curious tone of voice, but he failed when it cracked on the word brother.

He was living on borrowed time; he was certain of it. Morgana’s brother was coming to the shoot for the sole purpose of killing him. Was it too late to call his mother and bid her goodbye?

“Obviously.” Morgana replied slowly, as though speaking with someone slow, as though he were a moron for not knowing that she was hiring out his assassination. “He didn’t tell you?”

“Who didn’t tell me? Your brother?” Merlin blinked slowly, utterly confused as to why Morgana would think that he was in contact with a person who was probably going to end his tenure on Earth. “I’m afraid I’ve not yet met your brother.” Merlin could feel the supernova throbbing in his skull, and resisted the urge to rub his temples.

“He didn’t tell you then.” Morgana heaved a sigh and leaned against the drafting table. Merlin, confused and feeling as though he had missed something crucial, frowned at her. “That idiot,” she muttered. “Arthur. Arthur didn’t tell you. I thought he would have after the pictures were published, but I guess he’s slower than I thought.”

Merlin gave into the urge to rub his temples, not certain he was hearing her correctly. He wasn’t exactly in top comprehending form at the moment, but it sounded like Morgana was implying that her brother was Arthur. He snorted at the very thought of it, because that couldn’t be right; Arthur Pendragon didn’t have any siblings. It was one of the things that the magazines and tabloids loved to fixate on the most about him: his lonely and isolated childhood.

“Right, so Arthur Pendragon was supposed to tell me that your brother would be disappointed that I won’t be there?”

Morgana rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. “By the gods, you are as simple and slow as he is.” She took a deep breath and clenched and unclenched her fists a couple times before she continued, speaking as though he were a child. “I like you, Merlin, and given that my brother just bought all of your paintings in one fell swoop on a whim, I’m fairly certain that he likes you, too. Arthur's not the sort to do things like that, and seeing as how he's crap at articulating what's in that thick head of his, I’m going to spell this out for you since he is too idiotic to do so himself: Arthur is my brother, not my boyfriend. Those pictures captured us having lunch and nothing more.”

Morgana leaned toward him infinitesimally, and narrowed her eyes. “I know you know him, and vise versa, so I would appreciate it if you two stopped going on like you’ve never met. I’m neither blind nor stupid.”

Merlin sat back in his chair, stunned. Arthur and Morgana were siblings? Is that how Arthur knew about his art and found out his name? Does that mean that Morgana knows about Arthur’s penchant for pornographic exhibitionism on the internet?

Merlin’s head began to swim with what she may or may not know, as well as what he did and did not know. Basically, did she know there was porn involved? Because as much as Merlin liked and feared Morgana, he wasn’t sure how he felt about her knowing about the porn.

And gods, there was a lot of porn involved in his and Arthur’s sordid little tale.

“Huh,” he said thoughtfully, after a lengthy silence. “So, does this mean that you’re not going to fire me?” Morgana’s answering expression was a combination of pained annoyance and exasperation, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine a similar expression on Arthur’s face.

The relief he felt in the knowledge that his boss was not, in fact, shagging Arthur Pendragon and that his job was safe was palpable. The stress began to melt from his body and he relaxed into his chair. “You know, he sent me a text yesterday encouraging me to tease you about your alleged relationship.”

Morgana snorted. “He would.” There was a fond smile on her face that mirrored the affection he glimpsed when she looked at the sketch he had done of Arthur. Suddenly that exchange made a world of sense.

He smiled, grateful for her confidence, even though he wasn’t sure of her true motivations for telling him. “Thanks. For telling me, I mean. I know you didn’t have to, and I doubt Arthur ever would have. I imagine he gets some sort of sick pleasure out of imagining me fretting over you firing me all the time.”

Morgana gave him another considering look, making him wonder if he had already overstepped his bounds. “Let me get one thing straight – I didn’t tell you for you; I told you because I love my brother. If you do anything to jeopardize his career or misuse his trust in you, you will sincerely regret it.” Merlin’s eyes widened, and he wondered what Arthur had told her about them to make her threaten him like this.

There was a seriously twisted woman underneath that polished exterior. He swallowed thickly as she smiled sweetly, like she hadn’t just threatened to put him in cement shoes and drop him in the Thames. She hopped off the edge of his desk and reached out to pat his shoulder. “Just so we understand one another.”

He nodded. “Of course.” Only, he wasn’t sure he understood a thing.

~*~

An Arthur Pendragon shaped steamroller flattened Merlin’s brain. He was banging his forehead repeatedly on his desk when Gwen knocked on his office door and walked in. Merlin looked at the clock and was startled to find that it was lunchtime already, as he had spent the last three hours doing fuck all.

“Are you okay?” She frowned when she caught sight of him.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Just a late night, is all.”

She pursed her lips, but didn’t press. “You look like you’re about to fall asleep at your desk.” She paused a tic, before a sly smile spread across her face. “Another late night with Arthur?”

Merlin choked and floundered a second before he remembered that Gwen had no reason to think he had spent any amount of time with the real Arthur. “Yeah, something like that.”

She happily began to tell him about how fandom had exploded that morning over a fan report on meme swearing that she had seen Arthur in some Italian club making out with a guy the previous night. Gwen snorted and said something along the lines of “As if Arthur Pendragon would actually be caught in public making out with a bloke,” and went on to tell him how that report quickly devolved into fat wank with a side helping of religious wank (“How those crazy bitches can bring religion in to a wank report about him making out with a bloke, I’ll never know. Meme-logic transcends normal logic, Merlin.”) She started giggling and stopped when she noticed that he wasn’t paying attention. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Merlin could hear her words, but none of them were sinking in. He was too exhausted to think rationally and he looked at Gwen without really seeing her. His brain was functioning on backup generators and only the words Morgana, brother, Arthur, naked, and skeevy git in a club managed to break through the fog.

The longer he went without answering, the deeper the furrow between Gwen’s brow got. A yawn crept up and pushed itself out, and he stretched in his chair. He rubbed at his eyes, trying to make the three Gwen’s in front of him merge into one. “You know, I think I’m going to take a half day,” he said at last.

Gwen’s expression looked sympathetic and she squeezed his shoulder. “Okay. Go and get some rest, yeah? Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.” She turned to exit his office and stopped mid-step. “Oh! And I almost forgot! I baked some oatmeal cookies last night.” She reached into her lunch sack and pulled out a small sack. “They’re magic, and will make you right as rain.”

He grabbed the proffered cookies and smiled. “You are amazing. Like one of those storybook characters whose flawless perfection radiates through everything they do,” he teased. “You’re a real life Mary Sue.”

Gwen punched his shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be mean. Girls who are perfect don’t spend their work hours trolling meme, reading slash or fantasizing about men who are so far out of their league, they may as well not be real.” Merlin felt a rush of guilt. He had forgotten that he couldn’t tease Gwen the same way he could tease Arthur.

Arthur. Gods. A fresh wave of frontal-lobe agony rolled through him. He wondered if he should bite the bullet and tell him about last night’s conversation so he could be aware that his Italian club exploits had hit the net.

He looked up at Gwen with bleary eyes and attempted a smile. He stood up and made a show of kissing the back of her hand. “Thank you for the cookies, fair maiden.”

Gwen rolled her eyes and laughed. She squeezed his hand with affection. “You look sick, pathetic, and we both know that I’ve not been a maiden since secondary school. Now, go home before I tell Morgana that you’re skiving off work and selling her secrets to the rags.”

~*~

Merlin mindlessly nibbled on one of Gwen’s cookies on the train back to Hammersmith. His mind drifted back to when he first started Skyping with Arthur, and how paranoid Arthur had been. No wonder the man had been so imperious with his stupid rules. Was that what it was like for all gay celebrities? Living in constant fear of exposure, never able to be open with themselves?

Merlin had never considered what it must be like for Arthur to live under a microscope, but he thought about it now – especially with recent rumors of his gay exploits hitting fandom. His every move was tracked, photographed, and analyzed on the internet by everyone (himself included). How had he managed to keep so much of himself secret for so long?

The Arthur he knew was rude, sarcastic, arrogant, and surprisingly kind. How many people knew that Arthur? He smiled to himself. Somehow it wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be to reconcile Arthur with Excalibur. Nevertheless, despite the knowledge that they were one in the same, Excalibur seemed real where as Arthur was still a puppet on a screen. Over the past few months he had come to genuinely like Excalibur, bossy, prattish paranoia and all.

He knew the right thing to do would be to tell Arthur that news of his encounter had leaked onto the internet, but he didn’t want to lose the easy friendship they had developed. Would it be so selfish to put his desires above a potential media disaster? It wasn’t even guaranteed that anything would come of the anonymous report.

He didn’t want to give Excalibur up on the hypothetical chance that an internet rumor might turn into something more.

Merlin frowned and sighed. No matter how much he longed for otherwise, Excalibur wasn’t real and Arthur Pendragon was. How much longer could their game have gone on before it reached an impasse? Would Arthur have ever come clean? Why did he buy his art? Did he view Merlin as a friend? His heart ached from the fear of losing his friend, Excalibur, rather than the unreachable Arthur Pendragon in his ivory tower.

Arthur was never his to lose.

Merlin was so lost in thought that he nearly missed his stop. He quickly slipped through the closing doors and walked to his flat with heavy feet. When he got home, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

~*~

He was jarred from his nap by his mobile ringing. He grabbed it and blearily looked at the caller I.D.

Most Gorgeous Man to Walk the Earth. Merlin groaned, flung his arm over his eyes to block out the light, and answered the call.

“Swear to fucking god, I am going to do horrible, irreparable things to your manhood if you wake me up one more time.” Any apprehensions he had regarding his next encounter with Arthur were superceded by exhaustion and annoyance. There was a long pause before Arthur actually spoke.

“It’s the middle of the day; don’t you have a job to be at?” Merlin let the familiar voice wash over him and he groaned again. How was it possible to sound so cheerful after being as drunk as he had been the previous night? Was the stupid blond brat impervious to hangovers?

“If you thought I was at work, why are you ringing? Also, not that you need to know, but I took a half day and left at lunch.” He burrowed deeper under his covers and closed his eyes again, debating between hanging up and asking how much he remembered from the previous night.

“Right, erm, sorry for waking you up. I’ll catch you later, yeah?”

Merlin heaved a sigh and flung his covers off of him, letting the cold air attack him. He stretched and pushed himself into a sitting position. “No, it’s fine. If I don’t get up now, I won’t be able to sleep through the night.”

“Do you want to jump on Skype?”

“Skype? You want to do that now?” Was he for real? Wasn’t he supposed to be on set or something? How was he even functioning, let alone up for a wank? Was he some kind of inhuman Roman sex machine? Not that that was necessarily a bad thing, but just, no. No.

“God, can we just, I don’t know, not? I’m so exhausted I can barely see straight and I doubt even you could arouse me at the moment, which is saying something, because that stupid pensive look you do is usually enough to make my balls blue, but –“

“No! No, god no,” Arthur interrupted. “I wasn’t implying that I wanted to--. No. I thought maybe you might want to talk?”

“Oh.” Huh. He wasn’t expecting that. Did this mean it was time to tell Arthur his gay sexual exploits had reached fandom’s ears? Was it too late to feign arousal and have a wank instead? He was talking to Arthur Pendragon – an erection shouldn’t be too hard to manage, despite his levels of exhaustion. “Actually, if you wanted to we could --.”

“No,” Arthur interrupted again. “I like you for more than your cock, you know.” Merlin was glad they weren’t already on Skype, because he could feel his cheeks burn and his heart clutch at Arthur’s admission. “So, um, how was your day?”

Merlin laughed. He had landed in the twilight zone. Arthur Pendragon was making awkward idle prattle, and this was really happening – had been happening. “You’re asking after my day?”

“That is what one generally means when they ask you how your day went. I’m not sure I can spell it out any simpler for you,” Arthur snapped. Merlin longed to see his face. Did Arthur feel as awkward about this as he did? Did he know Merlin knew?

“Well aren’t you a charmer. Why don’t we hop on Skype so I can remind myself that there’s a fit body attached to that worthless mouth of yours.”

“Most people like my mouth,” he heard Arthur mutter, not entirely certain he meant to say that aloud. “I’m not sure I want to Skype with you now. What if I go blind from the light reflecting off your lily-white arse? Daylight can be a cruel, cruel mistress.”

“Quit being a prat and turn on your damned computer!” He heard Arthur start to respond, but he disconnected the call before he could finish whatever he started. Merlin allowed a hint of smugness at being the one to disconnect this time as he reached for his laptop and booted up Skype.

When the call came and the window opened, Merlin couldn’t tear his eyes away from the spot of familiar red resting on his chest: Arthur’s iconic red tooth necklace. He looked at his hands and spied the famous index finger ring as well. Merlin couldn’t help but wonder if that was intentional, or if Arthur had forgotten to take them off given the odd time of their call; he had never forgotten before.

“What’s with that look on your face? Your expression is even more idiotic than usual.”

Merlin couldn’t see above his neck, but it was easy to imagine his face. He was struck anew that he was talking to Arthur Pendragon, and staring at him in the Skype window, and bloody hell, was this real life?

“Seriously, what is wrong with you? You’re acting like a berk. This isn’t about The Roman again, is it? Didn’t I tell you that Julius was going to be fine?”

Merlin rolled his eyes. “Julius was fine weeks ago. Now they’re on some ludicrous plot involving the Gauls invasion in the north and subterfuge within the Senate, again.” Merlin smirked. He would have cackled and done the Mr. Burns fingers were he not on camera. “Thank god Arthur is pretty, because he can’t act for shit.” Merlin fought back a smile when he heard Arthur’s indignant snort. “Did you see Saturday’s episode?”

“No.”

“Well, Aurelius has been apprehended by the evil Senator Quintus, played by the insanely gorgeous Percival Gallois³, under suspicion of helping the Gauls sack the northern border of Rome’s territory. He’s currently being held in the dungeon for questioning, but the only questioning going on is the question of who’s going to top and bottom. The eye fucking between Arthur and Percival is so hot it melts the screen.”

“WHAT?” Arthur started breathing in indignant huffs, like he wanted to defend himself but knew he couldn’t.

“Oh yeah! I’ve never seen two blokes who want to get into each other’s pants so much.” Arthur’s fists began to clench and unclench, and Merlin struggled not to laugh. “I’m sure the interrogation sessions between those two are long, hard, and filled with tough, rigorous questions that delve deep into the problem.”

“Are you mad?!” Arthur shouted. Merlin had to bite down on the knuckle of his index finger to hide his smile.

“Definitely not. If Arthur and Percival aren’t fucking in real life, then it’s only a matter of time.”

“Percival’s straight!”

Merlin raised his brow. “And Arthur isn’t?”

Arthur sputtered for a few seconds before Merlin took pity on him. At least now he knew for certain that Arthur didn’t remember anonfailing the previous night. “You know I’m just takin’ the piss. I don’t actually think they have this deep-seated attraction to each other. They’re hot as fuck when they act together – and don’t do it nearly enough – but there’s no unbridled attraction there.”

“There are some who do,” Arthur muttered.

Merlin snorted. “And here I thought you didn’t follow The Roman or its actors.”

He watched Arthur twist his ring around his index finger. “Just because I don’t watch the show doesn’t mean I don’t know about it. Also, I think you need a different hobby.” The tone of his voice made it sound like he was rolling his eyes, and it was the closest Arthur had ever come to acknowledging his knowledge of Merlin’s fanart sober.

Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Speaking of my hobby, I heard some news this morning. But first, I need to ask you a question.” He picked up a pencil and began to flip it between his fingers in an effort to keep from trembling. “Why aren’t you at work right now?”

Arthur began fiddling with his ring again, and Merlin suspected that he was as nervous as he was. “I saw the call registry this morning after my mobile got a bit of a charge. There was a twenty minute call to you last night that I don’t remember.” Arthur paused and Merlin swallowed, wondering if this was the moment. “That said, I suspect you already know why I’m not at work right now.”

Merlin wanted to pull his hair out and shout at him for not saying the damned words, but held his tongue. The ache from his earlier headache still resonated faintly in his skull, and Arthur wasn’t helping matters. “I don’t, actually. I’m not sure how a multi-million pound production copes when its lead actor comes in hung-over, or, as I strongly suspect, still drunk.”

Arthur’s reaction was not the one Merlin was expecting. He expected the prat to shout, argue, or maybe even deny it. Instead, he was completely silent. Merlin sighed, watching whatever was left of his friendship with Excalibur shrivel up and die in the silence.

“You could at least angle your bloody screen up,” Merlin snapped, unable to take the awkwardness any longer. “Even if I didn’t already know, you forgot to take off your necklace and ring. That’s a dead giveaway to any fan.”

“Pfbt. If by ‘fan’ you mean stalker.” Arthur angled the screen up and Merlin clenched his jaw to keep from visibly reacting. Arthur’s eyebrow arched in a manner Merlin had seen a hundred times before on his telly. If he weren’t so nervous, he would have been hard from how gorgeous Arthur looked – all tousled and freshly showered. The pencil Merlin had been holding in his hand snapped from the force of his grip, startling them both.

“Fuck, this is awkward.” Merlin closed his eyes and tried to laugh. He shook his head and smiled weakly. “I feel like I should introduce myself, or something. Like, ‘Hi, my name is Merlin! I enjoy drawing pictures of you naked in my spare time.’”

Arthur rolled his eyes, but the corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. Merlin felt some of the awkward tension lessen. “I can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation like this before.”

A wry smiled tugged Merlin’s lips. “What, you’ve never had a face to face conversation with someone you’ve been intimately acquainted with over the internet?”

“You know I haven’t.” Arthur’s mouth settled into a pout and Merlin had to pinch himself because he was talking to Excalibur who was Arthur and just. Arthur fucking Pendragon.

It had been the surrealist twelve hours of his life.

Merlin inhaled deeply, focusing on the matters at hand and drew on the remnants of his courage. He hoped Arthur handled the news of the gossip well, because damn, he wanted to see Arthur’s ‘O’ face.

“I didn’t, actually, but – look. I would love to talk to you like a normal human being and wank with you until my dick breaks, but I’ve got a bit of bad news. Someone saw you making out with a bloke last night at the club you went to.”

Arthur frowned. “Were there pictures?”

“I haven’t seen the post yet myself, but according to Gwen, it was a fan report from someone who saw you at the club last night. The reaction seems to mostly be ‘Pics or it didn’t happen,’ but seeing as how you actually were at the club last night making out with a bloke, I figured I should probably let you know. I assume you celebs have some sort of Damage Control Action Plan for when stuff like this happens?”

“Uh, no, just publicists who excel in spin. Can you send me a link to the report? I’d like to see what we’re dealing with and pass it along to my publicist.”

“Um, I don’t think you should look at the post.” Arthur furrowed his brow. “Well, see, aside from the ‘pics or it didn’t happen!’ comments, according to Gwen, the post devolved rather quickly into a spirited, ehrm, discussion about your appearance and an argument over whether or not your staunch Christian background would allow for such devious ‘immoral’ behavior.”

“My staunch what background?”

“Oh, you know, your deeply religious background that shapes everything you say and do.”

Arthur blinked in confusion and scratched the back of his head. Merlin bit his lower lip in an effort to not to laugh his expression. “But I don’t have a—“

“Yeah, I know, they’re all crazy. I’d steer clear of the post and that entire corner of fandom if I were you.”

Arthur’s confusion gave way to an amused look. “Don’t you hang out there?”

“No, of course not!” he quickly replied, hoping the heat he could feel burning his cheeks wasn’t visible. “Gwen does. She claims the board is like her abusive ex-boyfriend that she can’t say no to when he comes around begging for a lay.” Arthur opened his mouth to say something, but Merlin cut him off. “Don’t ask.”

“Right,” Arthur drawled. “So let me see if I have this right: a bunch of squabbling fans are arguing over a report they don’t even think happened because of my non-existent conservative religious values?”

Merlin shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Then I’m not worried. This isn’t the first rumor to hit the internet, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. I’ll let Viv handle it, and as long as there are no pictures – there weren’t any pictures, were there?” Merlin shook his head. “Good, then it’s no big deal.”

“Arthur, you don’t understand, once it’s out there –“

“Leave it, Merlin,” he cut him off. “If I got whipped up over every single rumor that cropped up, then my life would be spent worrying.”

“But this isn’t actually a rumor!”

Arthur waved him off. “Let my publicist handle it. She’s the one paid to deal with this shit – it’s none of your concern.”

Merlin frowned, but nodded. He didn’t think Arthur was talking this seriously enough, but it wasn’t for him to judge.

“So we’re okay?” He was still waiting for the other shoe to drop and have Arthur realize that he was talking to a self-proclaimed creeper fan and run like his pants were on fire.

“Why wouldn’t we be?”

There was any number of responses Merlin could have given, but instead ignored them, thanked his stars that Arthur still wanted to talk to him, and changed the subject. “So how does a lead actor call in sick?”

“He doesn’t.” Arthur huffed and Merlin thought he could spy a bit of pink working it’s way up his neck. Arthur lifted hand to his neck, covering the blush, and looked off to the side. “Leon decided that it was in the best interest of the production to rearrange the schedule and film scenes that didn’t involve me today.”

Merlin nodded, and the two of them lapsed into a brief silence. The easy conversations they’d shared when anonymous were gone, and Merlin almost wished he didn’t know who Excalibur was. Arthur himself didn’t seem to be faring much better, as his attention seemed to be divided between the computer screen and some unseen point out of frame.

“So,” Merlin drawled slowly. “You wear a skirt for a living.”

Arthur’s attention snapped back to the Skype window with a perfect expression of indignant outrage on his face. “It’s not a skirt! It’s a warrior’s kit and it’s very masculine,” he argued. His eyes narrowed when he noticed Merlin fighting to hold in his laughter. “Shut up! At least I don’t draw porn for a living.”

“I don’t draw porn for a living! I draw make-up and perfume bottles.” Merlin frowned theatrically, though he was pleased that they were at least talking. Maybe something could be salvaged after all. “How did you find out, anyway?”

Arthur rolled his eyes and carded his fingers through his hair, making it resemble a blond haystack. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to Google your name and find a billion hits of explicit art.”

“Er,” Merlin could feel his cheeks burning and tugged on the collar of his shirt. “You’re very inspirational?”

Arthur smirked. “Is that a question?”

Merlin wanted to die of embarrassment and rejoice simultaneously that he and Arthur were finding their familiar thread of ease, even if it was at his expense. “Why didn’t you mention it sooner?”

“The porn?!” Arthur threw his head back and laughed. “Why didn’t you?”

Merlin grinned. “Because drawing pornographic fanart of fictional characters isn’t exactly lauded as a worthy pastime.” He leaned closer to the camera and pretended to whisper conspiratorially, “Not exactly the sort of thing you bring up with an anonymous stranger.”

Arthur shook his head with a fond expression on his face. “How did I end up in a relationship with the creepiest internet stalker art perv ever?”

Merlin’s heart stopped at the ‘R’ word, and he wondered if Arthur had meant to say that. Could their association be called a ‘relationship’? He wasn’t even sure if they’d be able to overcome their newly minted awkwardness from Arthur’s drunken adventures.

Still, talking with Excalibur the last few months had been the most fun he’d had in ages, and he thought that had to count for something. “If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black, then I don’t know what is. Speaking of creepy internet stalking, thanks for buying my paintings.”

Merlin relished the sheepish look on Arthur’s face and smirked. “Right, well….” He trailed off.

“How did you know I was having a gallery showing?”

“Morgana.”

“Ah.”

Arthur furrowed his brow. “Why didn’t you tell me about your showing? It’s kind of a big deal.”

Merlin swallowed the lump in his throat and looked away from Arthur. “I wasn’t trying to hide it or anything – I just didn’t know how it would go over.” Merlin smiled softly, and focused his attention on the leafy trees outside of his window. “You should have seen the email the gallery owner send me at the end of the day. That was a laugh! He went on and on about how all four of my pieces had sold to some mysterious buyer from the internet and how unheard of something like that is for an unknown artist.”

Arthur cleared his throat and Merlin looked at the screen just in time to see him tug his shirt off. “Screw this, I’ve been hard for the last half hour and I think we’ve talked enough.”

Merlin felt his grin split his face. “I knew you only liked me for my cock.”

Arthur licked his lips. “Obviously. Now, are you going to get naked, or am I going to have to take care of this hard on myself?”

~*~

“Jesus fucking Christ, Arthur, this isn’t even funny any more! I really am going to block you if you keep calling me in the middle of the fucking night!”

“Merlin? Who’s Arthur?”

“Gwen? Shit,” Merlin rubbed his face and looked at his bedside clock. “What are you doing calling me at 1:30 in the morning? Are you okay?”

“Raising the alarm. Turn on your computer and go to TMZ.”

Merlin groaned and buried his face in his pillow. “I highly doubt anything on TMZ will be worth leaving the comfort of my bed.”

“Merlin,” Gwen demanded imperiously. “Turn on your computer and go to TMZ.”

“Any chance of you telling me what this is about while I wait for the machine to wake up?”

“I can’t. I just, I can’t. I sent the link to your inbox.” Merlin could hear her voice quaking and wondered what had happened to throw her enough to ring him in the middle of the night. Whatever had happened must have been huge.

When TMZ finally loaded, Merlin nearly dropped his phone. A large picture of Arthur making out with a man was on the front page.

“Holy shit!”

“Right?!”

“Yeah. I just….” Merlin trailed off and stared at the picture. The resolution of the photograph was grainy and dark. It looked like it was taken with an old mobile, but despite the crap quality of the image, Arthur was recognizable. “So…that happened.”

Gwen laughed. “Yeah, it really did.”

TMZ Exclusive

~*~*~

“NO PICTURES, ARTHUR! YOU ASSURED ME THERE WERE NO FUCKING PICTURES!” Arthur pulled the phone away from his ear, wincing. He looked at the clock; it was 1:30 in the morning.

“What are you on about, Viv? What pictures?”

“Your little rendezvous in the Italian club two and a half weeks ago. There’s a grainy photo of you making out with a man on the front page of TMZ.”

“What? Fuck!” Arthur reached for his abandoned laptop on the side of his bed. “What are we going to do?”

We?” Viv snapped. “You are going to say and do exactly what I tell you. I am going to do what I do best and spin this shit into gold.” Viv paused, and Arthur could hear her clacking on her laptop. “I’m setting up a date for you and Elena tonight.”

“You mean photo-op?”

“Don’t you dare try my patience now, you reckless idiot.”

Arthur felt his heart throb painfully as he waited for TMZ to load. When it finally did, he felt his breath escape him. The photo was dark and blurry, but it was definitely him. “Fuck.”

“Yes, ‘fuck.’” Viv snapped. “Thanks to your carelessness, I get to clean up your mess while I should be asleep. My inbox is already flooded with over four hundred messages, and my phone won’t stop ringing.”

“Viv, I…” Arthur trailed off and Viv heaved a sigh.

“Look, I know this is a rather large bump in the road, but it will be fine. I’m not the best for nothing, okay?”

“I don’t need you to reassure me, Viv.”

Arthur chose to believe that a dramatic eye roll did not accompany Viv’s exasperated sigh (even though he knew it did). “Liar. But really Arthur, the picture is shit and you’re barely recognizable. It’ll be a snap to deny it’s you. This will all blow over in a couple of days.”

A corner of Arthur’s mind knew that she was right, but it was difficult to be rational when faced with a potentially career-ending disaster. “I know. Thanks for the help, Viv.”

“Don’t thank me – just allow me to bask in the glory of ‘I told you so’ when all of this is over and NEVER DO IT AGAIN.”

Viv hung up, leaving Arthur wide-awake and left to his own devices. His fingers could barely work the track pad of his laptop because they were trembling from the adrenaline. A thousand scenarios of how his career was going to go up in flames played out in his mind.

He went to The Meat Feast and deleted his videos, though he knew it was unlikely that anyone had drawn the connection. Better safe than sorry, he figured. A grainy, shit picture was manageable to deny – pornographic exhibitionist videos were not.

He closed his laptop and knocked his head back into his headboard. It was still business hours in LA, so he imagined the photograph spreading like a bushfire across the gossip outback, destroying his career as it grew (He really need to stop watching disaster/Armageddon documentaries on The Discovery Channel.).

He knew Viv would be able to handle the situation and that he was far from the first celeb to have such a scandal hit the media (Memories of Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Jake Gyllenhaal’s leaked gay photos came to mind, and they still had a career.), but the fear was so fresh and cutting, it was difficult to see the forest through the trees.

The fact that he used to get off on the threat of getting caught sickened him. He was disgusted with himself. Was jeopardizing his career really worth a few good orgasms?

Arthur closed his eyes and thought of Merlin. Stupid, ridiculous, wonderful Merlin, who was as kinky as he was, and an unexpected boon in his pornographic venture. When he thought of Merlin, a tingling warmth of happiness flooded his chest. Arthur had been afraid that things would change after Merlin had discovered Excalibur’s identity, but after the initial awkwardness, nothing had changed. If anything, their encounters in the past two weeks were sexier and more satisfying.

Merlin had become important, and that concerned him. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that they could continue down this path without things changing; they would eventually reach a point where they would either take that logical next step and actually hook up, or let things fade away.

He ached, because he would never be able to have a normal relationship with Merlin if he wanted to thrive in acting. Merlin deserved more than an impersonal chat box on the internet interspersed with a few hookups. He deserved more than the leftovers of Arthur’s attention and time, and he deserved more than being forced into a closet because of Arthur’s career choices. Merlin was the first person he ever wanted to protect from his crazy world.

“Arthur?”

Arthur, startled, blinked into the darkness trying to see the source of the voice. “Morgana?”

“Emergency key – I let myself in.”

He was more distracted than he thought; he hadn’t even heard his front door open or close. He turned on his bedside lamp. He was surprised to find her in a pair of rubber duck pajama bottoms and a polka-dot tank top. “Making house calls in the middle of the night now?”

“I figured I might as well pop over. I haven’t had the chance to see you since you finished production.”

“At two in the morning?” Arthur closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Call my PA and schedule an appointment; I don’t want to see you right now.” His words chased her away, but he slid over allowing her enough room to sit down when she approached the bed.

She slid under the covers and shifted so that they were sitting thigh to thigh, and looped her arm through his. “Maybe I’ll do that.” The last time they had sat like this was when Uther had screamed himself hoarse after Arthur informed him that he’d be forgoing college temporarily to pursue acting (And that one time when Morgana’s boyfriend dumped her for another woman when she was twenty three, but she had promised to leak embarrassing childhood photos to TMZ if he ever brought it up again.).

She rested her head on his shoulder and angled the laptop sitting on top of the comforter to face her. “That’s not one of your better photos,” she said. “Though, he does seem to be your type.”

Arthur snorted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That is obviously not me.”

“Of course it’s not. Does Merlin know?”

“Everybody knows, Morgana,” Arthur snapped. He looked at his mobile on his bedside table and wondered if Merlin had seen the picture. “Not that it’s any of your business, but he knew before the photo that is obviously not me leaked.”

She hmmm’ed, and Arthur pretended not to hear the judgment in her tone. Merlin was the last thing he wanted to think about. He opened his iTunes movie directory and loaded up The Great Escape. Morgana raised an eyebrow at his choice.

They watched Steve McQueen in silence until dawn.

~*~

Arthur’s date with Elena had been one of the most trying experiences in recent memory. He could still see the flashbulbs from all of the photogs behind his eyelids.

Viv had arranged for them to “eat” at Zuma, knowing full well he couldn’t stand Japanese cuisine. Elena had been remarkably wonderful about everything, and played the part of adoring girlfriend perfectly. She basked in the attention without appearing desperate, and touched him affectionately without hanging off of him.

If Viv had her way, there would be bearded wedding bells in his very near future and a two-year contract of marital bliss between them. Arthur tolerated Elena well enough and her career was in the perfect stage to be bolstered by a marriage to someone else more popular. If his career didn’t die like a dying thing, he’d have to give it some serious thought. Legal-bound heterosexuality certainly couldn’t hurt his image.

They fed each other sushi, and he tried not to gag as he choked the stuff down. The warmed sake made him gag even more, and he tried not to cough when he swallowed. Out of all the shit he’d swallowed in his day – and he considered himself quite the champion when it came to swallowing – sake ranked among some of the most disgusting.

After two and a half hours of pretending to love raw fish and rolled-up balls of Satan, he felt confident that part one of his evening was done. Unfortunately, Viv was a sadistic, cunning bitch, and his punishment for the careless photo wasn’t just dinner. She had arranged for an entire evening of being seen around London’s hottest clubs – all of which he loathed.

Viv’s silent ‘fuck you, I hope you suffer for making me suffer’ was loud and clear. He promised himself that he’d never ignore her ever again.

The only highlight of his day was when he got back to his flat to find a 6-pack of Harp and a Burger King Whopper waiting for him on his kitchen counter. Bless Morgana and her refusal to adhere to his boundaries. He unwrapped the burger and shoved it down his gullet like a man who hadn’t eaten in days. It was cold and borderline disgusting, but it tasted like comfort, happiness and sinful, delicious fortification after a night of prostrating himself to the media machine of the Entertainment Industry.

Arthur collapsed on his chaise lounge and pulled out his mobile. He had ignored it for the past twelve hours and was not looking forward to surveying the damage of his life. He was sickened to find sixty-eight voicemails and three hundred and forty-seven text messages. Three hundred and forty-eight, three hundred and forty-nine…. He turned the blasted thing off and ignored each and every one of them.

He grabbed his laptop and bravely opened Google. He typed his name into the search box and watched his info pop up even before he finished his last name. The top of the results said News for Arthur Pendragon, and “Arthur Pendragon’s Leaked Gay Kiss” followed by one thousand and thirty-three related articles. The adrenaline he felt when Viv told him was hitting him all over again. His heart was racing and his stomach churned uncomfortably – though that could have just been the Whopper.

He had Morgana’s commercial shoot in roughly five hours, but he was too wired to go to sleep. He read E!News, TMZ, and more articles then was probably considered sane, but he felt like his life depended on the information he’d find there.

He could already see the waves of Viv’s PR minions’ denying that it was him in the photograph – and it mostly seemed to be working – but there were still thousands of doubters and crazy arseholes in the comments sections.

And god, why did he read the comments sections? Not only did the public think he was a homosexual freak, they thought he was a crap actor, a fat couch heifer, and a terrible person on top of everything else.

By the time he had to get ready for Morgana’s shoot, he had been torn to shreds. He had never felt like a more worthless human being than he did right now, which was quite an accomplishment, considering his father was Uther Pendragon. Viv always warned him against reading his own press, and once again, he should have listened to her. His life had become a cautionary tale for her other clients: “Listen to me, or end up like Arthur Pendragon!”

His exhaustion was catching up with him, and could imagine perfectly how Morgana was going to kill him for showing up to the shoot half-dead. He wished he could cancel, but familial honor aside, he knew he needed the damned ad now more than she did. HBO had renewed The Roman for another two seasons, but he needed to be proactive in keeping his name out there and above the scandal.

He showered, dressed, and prayed that he’d survive the day.

~*~

“You’re only thirty minutes late – I’m impressed.” Morgana made a show of looking at her watch and glaring at him from behind her Prada sunspecs. Arthur plastered on a smile and fell into step beside her as she lead him to his trailer. “You’ll be pleased to know that I managed to convince Merlin to stay and help out. Unless,” She lifted her glasses and winked at him, “He’s already told you?”

Arthur could feel his fake smile falter, and tried to regain his composure before Morgana noticed. “My mobile’s still off. I haven’t spoken with anyone since Viv rang.”

Morgana gave him what she probably thought was a sympathetic smile, but it came off a bit pained. “He’s inside your trailer. I brought him in as your makeshift assistant. I’ll send hair and make-up over when they finish with Janet.” They reached the microscopic trailer and she opened the door. He stepped up, but froze before he crossed the threshold. “Well?”

Arthur steeled himself and stepped through the opening as Morgana closed the door behind him. Merlin was standing in the back of the tiny trailer, half hidden behind a rack of clothing that took up most of the open space. For a fraction of a second, his problems melted away and he saw a future with Merlin, filled with vibrant eyes, too-large ears and radiant smiles.

“Hi! It’s er – you’re probably used to bigger.” Merlin’s smile was bright enough to light the dark, and Arthur couldn’t help but return the grin.

“You were big enough, last time I checked.” Arthur relished the flush that covered Merlin’s face and neck. He looked nervous, and fidgeted with a few of the hangers on the rack. Arthur stood silent for a few moments to take him in, not feeling any of the nervousness or anxiety he might have expected upon seeing Merlin for the first time. Not that he hadn’t seen Merlin before, but meeting him in person was better than he’d imagined.

He recognized Merlin’s paint-splattered black hoodie, and it looked like he had styled his hair. Or, had attempted to. As if Arthur hadn’t already seen it at its bird’s nest worst. He wanted to laugh at how ridiculously endearing it all was. He had obviously tried to look like he wasn’t trying, but likely spent an hour in front of his mirror “not trying.”

Merlin stepped out from behind the rack and fiddled with his hands, seemingly unsure what to do with the appendages. It was stupidly sweet, and Arthur wanted to live in a world where he didn’t have to choose between his career and his charming, pornographic, village idiot.

“Merlin, relax. You’re hardly the first person I’ve met that’s drawn mind-blowingly pornographic pictures of me in his or her spare time.” Arthur stopped and postured himself to pretend to think. “Though, you are the first one to see me naked and draw said pornographic pictures.”

He was good at making his fans feel at ease, but he didn’t want to treat Merlin like a fan. Nevertheless, his attempt at distraction worked, and Merlin’s face broke into a heart-stopping grin. “Which reminds me, how many times do I have to tell you that you should be seen and not heard?”

Arthur rolled his eyes in mock-exacerbation, but smiled at the jibe. “Weren’t you supposed to be in Wales this weekend, or something?”

“Yes, but Morgana convinced me to come. I wasn’t a tough sell, though - I wanted to be here to help. I sent you a text letting you know, but….”

For the first time since the scandal broke, Arthur had forgotten about it. Until Merlin mentioned his damned mobile, he had actually forgotten that what he was doing right now would likely land him in the tabloids until the end of time. He took a casual step back and leaned against the trailer wall, trying to put distance between them without appearing to put distance between them. “My mobile’s out of commission at the moment.”

“What happened?”

“My life.”

Merlin nodded sympathetically, and Arthur wanted to tell him to shove his pity up his arse. “You look tired. Do you want me to get you a coffee or something? That’s sorta my job today.” He grinned. “I can wait on you hands and knees if you’re interested.”

Arthur was unexpectedly pleased. “You’re my manservant today?”

Merlin frowned. “I wouldn’t go as far as that, but I am your set assistant.”

“Have you ever done it before?”

“How hard can it be?” Merlin licked his lips and Arthur felt his trousers go tight, hating himself for not being able to take the high road and walk away from temptation.

He pushed off the back wall and closed the distance between them. He felt his blood rushing to his cock, and arousal curling in his groin. “Are we still talking about you being my manservant?”

Set assistant. And I sure as hell hope so, as I wouldn’t want you to think I’m new at, er, other things.”

Arthur laughed. He was close enough to feel Merlin’s breath tickle his skin without actually touching him. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Merlin looked at him under hooded lashes and licked his lips, drawing Arthur’s eyes. “I might be new at this set assistant stuff, but I’m pretty sure this is the part where I offer to help you out of your clothes.” Merlin slipped his fingers under his t-shirt and slid them up his chest, drawing the shirt with him. Arthur shucked the fabric and stopped for a moment to cradle Merlin’s chin between his thumb and forefinger.

Merlin closed his eyes in anticipation of the kiss and Arthur looked at him for a moment. He had kissed more people then he cared to admit, but he wanted Merlin to be different. This would be the only time he’d allow himself to be with Merlin, so he wanted to appreciate it – savor it. He nuzzled Merlin’s cheek and inhaled the scent of his skin.

He shifted his hand to cup the side of Merlin’s face, and stroked his cheekbone with the pad of his thumb. He smelled Merlin’s after-shave and felt the freshly shaved skin with the tip of his nose. He imagined for a moment that he could slow down time and hold this second forever.

Merlin, apparently impatient with Arthur’s pace, slid his hands from the front of his chest to the small of his back, and tugged him forward so a flash of pleasure shot through him when their groins aligned. They were both hard and hot, and Arthur exhaled as he finally leaned in to brush his lips across Merlin’s.

Merlin’s mouth was soft against his chapped lips. He was tentative, and willing to let Arthur take what he wanted. He wanted to ask him where this passivity came from, and brought their lips together hard and bit down on Merlin’s lower lip in an effort to bring him out of it.

It worked. Merlin’s mouth came alive and started to dominate. He was all hot breath, wet lips, and insistent tongue. He slid his hands down to his arse and squeezed, rubbing their erections together as he pulled him forward.

Arthur’s world began to spin, and he pushed back before he frotted himself into orgasm. He licked his lips and nearly regretted his decision to step back when he opened his eyes to take in Merlin’s visage. His cheeks were red, his pupils blown, and Arthur’s fingers had attacked his hair and raked the silken strands into a stacked mess.

“I can honestly say that the other assistants I’ve had haven’t been quite so enthusiastic in their positions.” His voice sounded husky, and he cleared his throat to try and regain control over it.

“Then they were obviously incompetent idiots.” Merlin’s hands wandered to the front of his jeans and he pressed the flat of his palm against Arthur’s straining erection. He hissed and thrust forward into Merlin’s hand. Merlin popped the button open and slipped his hand in to cup his balls through his trunks. “I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure this is the part of my job where I drop to my knees and suck your cock.” His grin was devilish. He licked his lips as he dropped to his knees and slid Arthur’s jeans to his ankles. He tugged on the elastic waist of his low-rise trunks and rolled his eyes. “I didn’t even know Paul Smith made underwear.”

“You don’t even know who Paul Smith is, you impoverished waif.” Arthur tugged them off and then smacked the brightly striped pants across Merlin’s head. “I like the colors; your dirty, paint splotched hands match them.”

Merlin snatched them from Arthur’s hand and laughed. “Of course you like the colors.”

“Your wet dream is standing in front of you naked and ready, and you’re using the time to mock my trunks?” Arthur raised his hands heavenward and heaved a great sigh. “And to think – I thought you, of all people, would be able to handle the job.” He heard Merlin snort before he felt a wet warmth envelope his cock.

Arthur looked down as Merlin looked up. He was one of the hottest things Arthur had ever seen; his cheekbones looked sharper than ever as they hollowed around his cock, and his eyes twinkled with mischief and arousal. His lips worked the length of his shaft and the velvet warmth of his mouth was the most agonizing heaven he had ever experienced.

Arthur struggled to keep his eyes open as Merlin pulled back, sucking and running the flat of his tongue up the underside of his shaft, making Arthur see stars. His arousal was thrumming in his veins and he could feel the curling sparks of fire sending him towards nirvana. A particularly deft swipe of Merlin’s tongue along the edge of his foreskin made his knees weak, and he reached down and buried his fingers in Merlin’s hair to keep his balance. He was beginning to lose himself to the wet heat of Merlin’s mouth, and the soft, black mop running through his fingers.

Merlin swirled his tongue around the head of his cock and licked the slit. Arthur reflexively tugged Merlin’s hair, and Merlin pushed his tongue against his slit harder, making him moan and fight back his climax.

He could feel the remnants of his control slipping and his vision blur as he watched Merlin’s head bob back and forth on his cock. Merlin seemed to pick up on his unraveling composure and swallowed his cock in a manner that made Arthur question as to whether or not he had a gag reflex, and he was forced to concede that no, Merlin was not a novice at sucking cock.

Merlin’s hand started massaging his balls as he swirled his tongue around the shaft from base to tip. Arthur’s mind was starting to shut down to everything except tight, wet heat, when Merlin’s finger wandered past his testicles to his anus and started rubbing around the entrance with a finger.

Merlin’s dry finger breached him, and the rough friction combined with his tight mouth made him thrust forward and knock the back of Merlin’s throat with the head of his cock. Arthur looked down apologetically, but Merlin’s attention was focused solely on his task, and took Arthur’s uncontrolled thrusts in stride.

The farther he pushed his finger the deeper he swallowed his cock. And god, it felt so fucking good Arthur couldn’t do much more than feel as the remains of his control cracked and he began to slip over the edge. The soundless noise of his orgasm grew louder in his ears, as he forced himself not to fuck Merlin’s mouth raw as he gripped his hair, unable to stop himself or loosen his grasp on the finger-fucked strands.

And fuck, Merlin brushed against his prostate and sucked his cock so hard, Arthur’s knees buckled and he fell into the side of the trailer as he exploded. With a finger up his arse, a fist slickly pumping his shaft, and Merlin’s wet lips sucking his head, Arthur came in a brilliant flash, lost completely in the thundering rush of release singing in his veins.

When he came down from the most brilliant orgasm he’d had in months, he took in Merlin’s red, swollen lips, a spot of cum on his chin, and the bluest, happiest eyes he had ever seen. His chest burst with renewed pain, because he wanted this, him, for more than a one-off tryst in the back of a tiny trailer. Feeling heavy with regret, Arthur forced his feelings to the back of his heart and leaned in to lick the spunk off Merlin’s chin. He moved up to lick his lips, and then kissed him properly, tasting the residual saltiness of his release in his mouth.

“Would you like me to return the favor?” Arthur asked when he finally pulled back from Merlin’s lips.

“I, erm, with my hand, while you were,” he said, looking sheepish. His voice was raspy and low, and left little to the imagination of what the two of them had been up to.

Arthur licked his palms and then ran his fingers through Merlin’s hair, trying to fix the mess he had tugged it into. Merlin jerked back and scrunched up his face. “Oh, ew! Did you just lick your hands and then run them through my hair?” He raised his hands to his hair and tugged on a strand to examine it, even though it was too short for him to properly see.

Arthur laughed. “Asks the man whose mouth was just around my cock. Do you want to go out there looking like birds ransacked your head? We’re filming a perfume commercial, not an Alfred Hitchcock remake.”

Merlin turned to look at his reflection in the mirror behind them, and grimaced. “I think my hair is the least of my concern.” He pulled a tube of ChapStick out of his pocket and applied it to his swollen lips. Arthur took the moment to reflect on the bizarreness of his life, and cursed himself for being too distracted to remove Merlin’s clothes when he had the chance. Was it too much to ask for a shot at the tripod before he started his homo-celibate life?

“You know, your lips are chapped. I’m fairly certain you didn’t have chapped lips in my fantasies.”

The odd statement jarred Arthur from his thoughts. He raised his Eyebrow of Disdain™ – a gesture he stole from his father’s assistant, Gaius, when he was a child. “I’m sorry to disappoint you?”

“No! I like it. You. Just.” Merlin thrust the tube forward. “Here,” he said, handing it to Arthur.

Arthur accepted it and laughed. “I don’t think anyone’s ever given me a used tube ChapStick after kissing me before.”

“I aim to impress.” Merlin’s eyes crinkled from the force of his smile, and Arthur took a mental snapshot. He knew he was doing the right thing in walking away from Merlin to preserve his career, but he’d always have their stolen morning to think back on.

He took a fortifying breath and walked over to the rack of clothes Morgana had left out for him. “You’re a pants assistant. I was supposed to be out of here ten minutes ago.” He thumbed through the various outfits hanging up. “What one did Morgana want me to wear?”

~*~

Arthur’s stolen moments with Merlin that morning turned out to be the highlight of his day. Morgana’s forty-five second commercial spot took fourteen hours to film, and was a disaster from start to finish. Janet, though beautiful, was as empty-headed as they came. They wasted dozens of unnecessary takes because she either a) was distracted, b) forgot her single line of dialogue, or c) was standing in the wrong position. It mystified Arthur how she was able to function on a normal basis. Before he had met her, he had thought it was impossible for a person to be that incompetent.

As the day wore on, Arthur’s, and the rest of the crew’s, frustrations grew. At one point the boom operator dipped the microphone into six consecutive shots, and Arthur had to bite his tongue so he didn’t scream the fool down in front of the entire production crew. As his exhaustion grew more pronounced, he began flubbing his lines, snapping at everyone within range, and contemplating how to assassinate Janet without getting thrown in the pokey.

Knowing that Merlin was there to witness his every mistake added embarrassment to his shame, and fueled his anger. He hadn’t wanted to face Merlin to begin with, and he certainly didn’t want to face him now. The vain part of him wanted Merlin to see him at his best, not snapping at the crew, incompetent with his lines, and falling asleep between takes.

By the time the shoot was complete, Arthur well past exhausted and spoiling for a fight. Before he could escape to his trailer, Janet cornered him and offered him her ‘services.’ Arthur was torn between shoving her away with enough bodily force to propel her to France, or playing Happy Hetero and giving her his number in case any crew members were watching. He was saved from having to make a decision when the director approached and pulled Janet away, cooing over how beautiful she looked on film, and how grateful he was for her presence. Arthur hoped he distracted her enough so he wouldn’t be forced to deal with her again.

Morgana was waiting for him in his trailer when he finally got back, fourteen hours later. She tore into him as soon as the door closed behind him, though why she waited for the door to shut was beyond him; anyone within a fifty-mile radius could have heard her tirade. She screamed at him for being an incompetent fool and accused him of ruining her commercial. He knew as well as she did that it was Janet who made things difficult, but she wasn’t Janet’s sister and couldn’t scream herself hoarse at the brainless starlet.

Still, even though he knew Morgana didn’t mean it, and that she was screaming out her frustrations with the production more than she was at him, it stung to listen to her berate him. Under any other circumstances her censure would have rolled off his back like water off a duck, but after days of no sleep, his publicity nightmare, and the shoot from hell, he was fucking done. Done with Morgana, done with her fucking perfume, done with everything.

And to end it all, he smelled like a goddamned brothel. Whatever Morgana had in her perfume smelled like a French prostitute, and if he never smelled it again, it would be too soon.

When Morgana finally ran out of steam and left, Arthur collapsed against the bench in the back of his trailer and rubbed his forehead to try and abate his massive headache. He didn’t even notice Merlin tip toe in.

“Can I get you anything?” Merlin’s voice was cautious, and Arthur hated him for walking on eggshells after Morgana flayed his chops.

“No. You can piss off and stop looking at me with those scared baby deer eyes.”

Scared baby deer eyes? Have you been hit with a sword upside your head one too many times?” Merlin, unknowingly mimicking Morgana’s earlier stance, stood akimbo, causing Arthur’s temper to reignite.

“Stop being cautious around me! You look like a goddamned woodland creature, all wounded and, and, pathetic looking.” Arthur’s exhaustion and anger were making his insults laughable, but the idea of Merlin seeing him like this was intolerable. “Just,” He waved his hand in the air in a circular motion, “Fuck off!”

“Well excuse me for checking to make sure you were okay!”

“I don’t need you to check up on me and protect me from my sister, Merlin. I’m a grown man who can take care of himself.” Arthur shot up from the bench and nearly lost his balance in his haste.

Merlin’s expression looked confused, and frustrated. “I wasn’t trying to protect you from Morgana! She scares me more than you. I just—“

“You just what? Here to finish what we started this morning? Think that you’re deserving of a repeat performance after your hard day on set?”

Merlin’s hands clenched into fists at his sides and he took a step back. He inhaled deeply, and then held his hands out in front of him in the universal sign for peace. “Wow, okay, you’re tired and crabby. I’m going to go and you can cool off and ring me when you stop being such a drama queen.”

Arthur nearly launched forward and slugged him, stopped only by the rack of clothing between them. “Fuck you!” he shouted. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, so you don’t get to judge.”

“Bloody hell, Arthur, I didn’t say I did! I didn’t think it was possible, but you’re actually a bigger arsehole in person than you were when we first met.” Arthur’s stomach locked up painfully and he gripped the rack of clothes tightly, the hangers cutting into his palms. He knew things with Merlin were going to have to end, but to have them end so disastrously made him regret everything.

“Last time I checked,” Arthur hissed quietly, “it’s not your career on the fucking line.”

“Career on the line? Fucking hell, how does your mind work? How did you go from having a shit day, to having your career on the line? Nobody’s career is on the line, Arthur.” Merlin sighed. He folded his arms across his chest and seemed to shrink back into himself. Arthur held his ground, not giving in to the desire to reach out and wrap his arms around the skinny man, and apologize to set things right.

No, not right, less disastrous; pushing Merlin away was right.

Arthur swallowed thickly, pushed his regret down his throat, and continued. “My career is on the line, you daft git, or have you been asleep for the last three days? You know, with the picture of me making out with a man floating around the internet?”

“Arthur, everybody’s going to forget about that in a week. The gossip sites have already moved on to Sean Maher, and he’s not even as popular as you! I know you’re upset about what’s happened, but hell, even your fans are mostly over it. They wanked themselves silly for two days, and are now bickering over how fat Niobe looks in her costumes.” Merlin shrugged.

“Like I’m going to take some star fucker’s word on what’s happening in the entertainment industry? Get a fucking clue, Merlin. You have no idea how my world works.”

“Star fucker!” Merlin’s expression was the picture of hurt and stunned disbelief, and Arthur hated himself for being the one to put it on his face. “I thought we were friends!”

“Friends? Have you misguided yourself into thinking you’re worthy of being my friend? You were a good blowjob and nothing more. If I were to prance around town with a fucking queer, it sure as hell wouldn’t be you.” And with that, Arthur knew he put the final nail in the coffin of any relationship they might have had together.

Merlin reeled, as if Arthur had physically struck him. His eyes were wide and shining with unshed tears, and he stepped back toward the door. “Oh,” he said softly, his voice shaking, “my mistake. You know, you might be able to treat the rest of your staff like shit, but I deserve better than that. Fuck you, Arthur Pendragon, you didn’t just lose a fan, you’ve lost a friend.”

Merlin exited the trailer and shut the door quietly behind him. The effect was far more devastating than if he had slammed it. Arthur lay down on the trailer's floor and buried his face in the crook of his elbow and contemplated all the ways his life had gone to shit. He hurt more than he did when he found out about the leaked photograph, and found it harder to convince himself that what he had done to Merlin was the right thing for his career – that pushing Merlin away would be worth it in the long run.

The silence was stifling. His eyelids felt like sandpaper rubbing his eyes raw, and he wished for once that he had it within himself to cry, because if there was ever a time to shed a tear over his fucked excuse of a life, it was now. Every muscle in his body screamed in revolt, and the desire to throw-up was nearly overwhelming.

“Fuck my life.”

~*~*~

Merlin hesitated outside of Gwen’s flat, not sure if he was ready to tell her about his day. The wounds were still fresh, and unless he told her the whole sordid tale, she wouldn’t understand why he wanted to simultaneously crawl under a rock and die and stab Arthur’s too-pretty face with a spork.

After several minutes of indecision and two separate neighbors eyeing him suspiciously through cracked-open doors, he finally knocked. When Gwen answered, her excitement was palpable and her face had the biggest grin he had ever seen on it. She opened her mouth to speak, but Merlin covered it with his palm before she could get any words out. “No – alcohol first, story second.”

Gwen stepped back, befuddled, and then opened the door wide and stepped aside. “Of course, come in come in. Guinness or Bass?”

“Something stronger?”

Merlin didn’t like the judgey, side-eying expression she shot him, but she remained silent as she bypassed the open fridge for the bottle of Jameson on top. “Jamie and Ginger it is. Then you can tell me why it looks like Arthur Pendragon just told you Santa doesn’t exist.”

Gwen handed him a drink and he stared into it like it held the meaning life itself. Merlin had to give her credit; she was dying to know what had happened, but was patiently waiting for him to speak first. He leaned back into the cushion of her couch and sighed, not knowing where to start. He knew he could trust Gwen, but what had transpired between him and Arthur had been special. Or, at least it had been before Arthur turned into an epic arsehole and shat all over it.

“He’s a prat,” he said eventually.

Gwen’s expression let him know she thought he was simple. “And this news? I’m pretty sure we’ve known that all along…”

Merlin rested his glass between his thighs and covered his face with his palms, exhaling audibly. He wished Gwen were psychic so she could read his mind and spare him the drama of telling her – though not really, because she’d probably die over the NC-17 bits. “Yes, but he really is the biggest prat I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting.”

Gwen placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. “I’m sorry, Merlin, I know how excited you were to meet him. Was he really awful to you?”

“Yes.” Merlin replayed his and Arthur’s encounter in his head over and over. He was searching for the hidden kernel that would make their entire exchange make sense. “No? I don’t know. I mean, he was lovely at first. Really lovely.” Merlin could feel his cheeks heat up. “But then he went off on one of those celebrity diva trips that we’re always reading about on ONTD.” He threaded his fingers through his hair and looked at the damaged stucco on her ceiling. “It’s like he’s bipolar or something.”

She looked up at him and chewed her lower lip. She smiled slowly and nudged him in his ribs with her elbow. “Was he at least pretty?”

Merlin rolled his eyes, and gave a weak laugh. “Trust you to focus on what’s important.” He gave a wistful sigh. “His eyes are bluer than anything I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t expecting that, ya’know? The colour doesn’t come across that blue in the show or in pictures. They were like the sky on a cloudless day.”

Gwen clutched at her chest over her heart and made a sympathetic pout. “It’s too bad he’s such a prat. I had sort of hoped that maybe you two would hit it off.” She wagged her eyebrows and nudged him with her elbow again. “If you catch my meaning.”

Merlin picked up a pillow and proceeded to bury his face in it. The embarrassment, anger, shame, and arousal he felt that day were still making him feel sick to his stomach. “I may have sucked his cock,” he mumbled into the over-stuffed pillow.

Gwen was eerily silent for a minute, and Merlin lifted his face from out of the cushion and peeked at her. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? It sounded like you said you tripped and landed face first onto Arthur Pendragon’s dick, but that can’t be right, because you’d be ecstatic if that actually happened.” She pulled the pillow away from his face and set it on the floor beside her.

Merlin downed his drink in one go and winced when the burn of alcohol hit his throat. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his frayed nerves. “Ehrm, I did. Oh god,” He took a fortifying breath. “I’ve been having anonymous sex with Arthur over the internet. We just met for the first time in person today, and there may have been fellatio involved, and then he sort of melted down like a diva prat and said mean things to me.”

There was a lengthy silence. Gwen slowly set her glass down on her coffee table, and turned to face Merlin head on. “You’re having me on, yeah?” He shook his head.

There was another pause where Gwen blinked owlishly for a minute, then shook her head, reached for the pillow she had just placed on the floor, and smacked him repeatedly over the head. “And you didn’t think to mention this sooner?” she shouted.

“Gwen, I didn’t know it was Arthur!” he cried defensively, trying to snatch the pillow-turned-weapon away from her. The hurt on her face made him feel like an arsehole in addition to the wronged mistress he was already feeling like, thanks to Arthur. “When we first started, erm, talking, I mean. I swear, if I had known, I would have told you immediately. But let’s be honest here, having it off with an anonymous bloke over the internet isn’t the sort of thing one tells their best mate. Do you tell me what you get up to after you read a particularly sordid fic?”

Gwen sat down on the couch like a deflating balloon, her lower lip jutting out in a petulant expression. “No, I understand. It’s just,” she flailed her arms a bit. “Arthur Pendragon! Holy shit, Merlin! This is kind of a big deal! How did this happen? Did he know it was you at the shoot today? How long has this been going on?”

Merlin eyed the bottle of Jameson over in her kitchenette and wondered how much it would take before he could tell her the story without chickening out. He got up to fetch it. “You know how Will likes to send me links to cheesy porn videos? Well, one night….”

~*~

Gwen was thunderstruck, and Merlin couldn’t blame her. It’s not everyday one hears about their best friend having a secret, non-relationship with a celebrity.

“So,” she drawled. “That happened.”

“Pretty much.”

“Another drink?” Gwen asked, dangling her empty glass it in front of his face.

“God, yes.” She got up and headed into the kitchen for a refill, though Merlin couldn’t help but wonder if she needed to get away from him for a moment to digest his story. “So there you have it – the entire sordid tale.”

“What are you going to do now?”

Merlin moved to join her. He poked his head over the refrigerator door and furrowed his brow. “What do you mean, ‘what am I going to do’? Arthur made it perfectly clear that whatever we had is over, and after his behavior this evening, I’m quite okay with that.” He paused thoughtfully, and stroked his chin. “I mean, really, he’s been a prat all along. It’s probably for the best that this happened.”

Gwen sighed and shook her head. “You’re such a liar, Merlin. Anyone with half a brain can see how hung up you are over him. Besides, I don’t think you’re being fair to Arthur.”

Not being fair to Arthur! Were you listening when I told you how he flipped the fuck out over every little thing, or did your brain lose its ability to function after I described the sex?”

“Now who’s being a prat?” Gwen rolled her eyes and poked him in the forehead. “I said that you’re not being fair to Arthur because you haven’t put yourself in his shoes. Can you imagine how he must have been feeling these past few days? You said it yourself that he hasn’t slept in days. That, coupled with the biggest scandal of his career, well,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m not trying to excuse his behavior or say it was okay, I’m just saying that I can see why he was a bit of a loose cannon today.”

Merlin leaned back against the counter and folded his arms across his chest in a subconsciously defensive position. “He made me feel like the gum on the bottom of his shoe.” Merlin had to stop for a moment, feeling the fresh cut of Arthur’s words all over again. “He said that we were never friends.” His frown deepened “But the thing I don’t get is, if he never thought of us as friends, then why did he buy my collection? Does he keep mementos of all the people he’s fucked over and hurt?” He could feel his eyes starting to water, so he tried to take control of himself by making a joke. “He’s probably got some Warehouse 13’esque storage space somewhere that’s a shrine to all the people he’s gleefully wronged.”

“Merlin,” Gwen stepped forward to reach out to him, and then stopped. She shook her head sadly. “Arthur was wrong. How he treated you today? It was inexcusable, and I’m so sorry that happened.” She licked her lips and glanced out the window behind him. “But I think you’re making a mistake in letting him go. Arthur was an arsehole, yes, but I think he’s scared. I think you’ve come to mean more to him than you realize, and he doesn’t know what to do with that other than push you away.” She once again made eye contact, and held his stare. “I think you should sleep on it before you decide what you want to do.”

“There’s nothing to decide, Gwen! Arthur took that out of my hands.” Merlin shoved his hands into his pockets. “Besides, even if there was a choice, I’d walk away. I deserve better than a stupid, closeted, idiotic coward.”

Merlin brushed past her into her living room so he didn’t have to see the sad, pitying expression on her face. He felt like he was somehow disappointing her, even though his business with Arthur was none of hers. He could see that she wanted to tell him something, but she wasn’t saying whatever it was that she had to say. He was reminded of Morgana for a moment, and idly wondered if Arthur was having a similar conversation with her.

No, that would be silly. Arthur didn’t care enough about him to give a shit about what had happened that evening. Merlin almost laughed over the memory of Morgana’s threat of bringing him harm if he ever broke Arthur’s heart. At least he would be safe from her wrath, as it was his heart that was broken and not Arthur’s.

He looked up as Gwen sat tentatively down next to him on the sofa. “Is now a bad time to tell you that I booked our hotel for Comic Con this afternoon?” She handed him a full glass and gave him a cautious smile.

“No, it’s fine. Comic Con is two months away, and filled with twenty billion attendees. Chances of running into him are remote. I’ll just slip into the back for The Roman panel; no sense in waking up at half three to see his ugly mug from the first row.”

Merlin curled into the corner of her couch and reached for his rucksack. He pulled out his drawing pad and began to sketch. The end result was a graphic, detailed picture of the evil Senator Quintus using Aurelius as his chamber pot. He even included brown bits of poo dribbling out his arse. He smirked maniacally as he posted it to LiveJournal.

~*~*~

“Who are you and what have you done with my brother?” Morgana asked before she stuffed a fork of arugula in her mouth. Arthur groaned under his breath and was reminded why he’d been avoiding his sister for the past four weeks. “Your three week bender in LA? Nice touch.”

He pasted on a serene smile and swirled his glass of chardonnay, not even caring about his non-alcoholic rule when it came to dealing with his sister. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was in LA for auditioning, and you know it.”

Morgana leveled him with a thunderous expression. “Cut the bullshit, Arthur,” she hissed, carefully pitching her voice so as to not draw attention. “You’ve been acting like a petulant child since that pic leaked. What’s going on with you?” Her expression softened. “I’m concerned. You haven’t been answering my calls, Merlin’s acting like someone killed his puppy, and you’ve been parading around Los Angeles and London with a different starlet on your arm every night for the past four weeks. What about Elena? Wasn’t she supposed to be your beard? I thought Viv was going to set up a contract for something more permanent.”

Arthur’s eyes widened in shock, before they quickly narrowed. “Are you out of your fucking mind? We’re in public, Morgana!” He looked around, nervous that the plants surrounding their table had audio recorders and cameras hidden in them.

Morgana rolled her eyes, unconcerned. “I made arrangements with the owner beforehand to ensure our privacy.” She waved him off and sipped her Bordeaux. “Keep yourself in check and we’ll go entirely unnoticed.”

Arthur squeezed his hands into fists under the table and took several calming breaths. “I should have told the maître d’ to poison your wine.”

Morgana threw her head back and laughed. “Oh Arthur, how I’ve missed you.” She reached across the table and ghosted her index finger over the back of his hand, an affectionate gesture she rarely allowed in public. “I give you my solemn word on our privacy. I assure you that anything we discuss will not be overheard.”

While he was still paranoid, he trusted Morgana and nodded. “That may be so, but I still don’t want to talk about it.”

She lifted her shoulders in a delicate shrug. “Suit yourself.”

Arthur hated her in that moment. He knew her well enough to know that she’d manage to squeeze every last detail out of him before their lunch ended. Rather than fight her, he decided to give in.

“It wasn’t going to work out with Elena.” Morgana raised her eyebrow as she took another bite, silently commanding him to continue. “I don’t know; what do you want me to say? I think she was deluding herself into thinking that our relationship was real rather than the farce it really was. I think she thought that I would somehow forgo my wicked homosexual ways for her lush, nubile body.” Arthur made a gagging motion at his throat and Morgana laughed.

“And Merlin?” she prodded.

He poked the expensive slab of steak in front of him, not hungry. His stomach tightened at every mention of Merlin’s name. “I fucked up pretty big, Morg.” That admission alone made him close his eyes and rub his forehead, still fighting his feelings of guilt.

“Morgana,” she automatically corrected. Arthur smirked at her frown. “And what happened?”

Arthur told her about their fight after the shoot, and didn’t skimp on the gory details of his melt down. She winced when he told her about how he told Merlin that even if he were out, he’d never be out with him.

“Oh, Arthur.” Her voice was gentle, tinged with pity. He shrugged and focused on his plate, not brave enough to look her in the eye. He took a bite of his steak, and tried not to choke when he swallowed after not chewing enough. “And you’ve not spoken since?”

He shook his head. “He was pretty upset when he left, and I can’t say I blame him. I was horrible to him. I’m fairly certain any overture from my side would be unwelcome.”

He had been stalking Dragoon’s LiveJournal regularly with the hope that maybe Merlin would give him some sort of message that he was missed. The only messages Arthur observed were “Fuck You, Arthur Pendragon.” Merlin had put up four pieces of fanart in the last month, all of them less than flattering. Not that Morgana needed to know that, though. In fact, the less Morgana knew about the porn, the better.

“Anyway, what would be the point of contacting Merlin? It’s not like we can have a relationship or anything. I have to play the straight card if I want to have a successful career.”

“That’s not true, and you know it. You shouldn’t pit your happiness against your career.”

Arthur leaned back in his chair and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. “My happiness is my career.” He had lost track of how many times he had repeated that to himself in the past month, as though saying it enough times would somehow make it true. “I made this choice, and I’m fine with it. Besides, Merlin deserves more than some paranoid actor who can’t even take him on a proper date.”

“You’re miserable and you know it,” she chided. “This little display you’ve done over the last month? That’s not you, Arthur. I don’t know who you’re trying to convince at this point, but I’m worried it’s yourself instead of the public.”

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before he answered. “I don’t know what to tell you, Morgana. I’m doing what I have to do to ensure a successful future. End of story. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.”

She pursed her lips and clucked at him. “You’re making a huge mistake. If you don’t fix this now, you will regret it for the rest of your life. I’m not even talking about Merlin at this point; you need to fix your priorities or the costs will be huge.”

He rolled his eyes. “Able to see the future now, are we?”

She looked at him in that manner she did sometimes that made it look like she was seeing everything that he didn’t want her to see. Like he would always be laid bare before her, no matter how many walls he’d erect between them. He felt a shiver go down his spine, and hated how intuitive she was.

“You think that you know what you want out of your life, but you’ve got it completely wrong. You do what you do because you crave the adoration and praise that you never received as a child. You’ve got it mixed up in your head that somehow you’ll get that from your fans, but Arthur, that’s not love.

“Uther fucked us up, and that’s not your fault, but if you keep on like you have this past month, you’re going to lose everything that matters to you.” She gave a bitter chuckle and shook her head. “And the saddest part, my dear brother, is that you don’t even realize it; you haven’t the slightest clue of what truly matters to you. One day you’re going to wake up twenty years from now surrounded by meaningless awards, sycophants, and no one who loves you for you. So wake the fuck up and quit hurting yourself before it’s too late.”

Long seconds stretched between them. A cold chill gripped his chest and he felt the truth in every painful word she uttered. A glass in the background fell to the floor and shattered, breaking the spell Morgana’s words cast over him, startling him enough to jump. “Bloody hell, have I told you lately how much I enjoy our lunches together?”

Morgana tutted. “Hide behind your sarcasm all you want; it’s your future on the line.”

Arthur buried his face in his palms and groaned loudly. “Jesus Christ, I get it. Fix shit with Merlin. Can we change the fucking subject, or would you like to divine my miserable future some more?”

Arthur didn’t like the grin that made it’s way onto her face. “Sure. Why don’t you tell me the story of how you and Merlin met?”

Arthur fell forward and knocked his forehead into the table. “I hate you. I hate you so very very much.”

“Come now, I’m sure it’s adorable.” She made little cooing noises that sounded wrong coming from her.

“I’m sure it’s none of your business.” He pointedly looked at his watch, signaling that he’d jump ship if she pushed any more.

Morgana pouted. “You are a stick in the mud.”

“And you’re a nosy old crone.”

“Arthur!” She gasped, pretending to be scandalized. “You wound me.” She tossed a lock of hair over her shoulder and smirked. “Whatever, I’ll get the truth out of Merlin.”

Arthur laughed, confident that that would not be the case. “You can try, but I guarantee that you’ll fail. Trust me on that.”

Morgana frowned, but relented her badgering. “Then tell me about your next project. What’s this I hear about you auditioning for Chris Columbus’ new project? I had to read about it in Variety. For shame, Arthur, keeping your sole surviving family member in the dark…”

~*~

When Arthur got home after lunch, Morgana’s words were still rolling around in his head. He missed Merlin – more than he cared to admit. The longing for his contagious laugh, brilliant smile, and ridiculous ears never lessened as the weeks passed. Arthur could still see Merlin’s devastated face as though it had just happened.

He picked up his mobile and scrolled through his contacts for Secret Shower Perv. He debated all of five seconds before he sent the message.

I’m sorry.

He wasn’t really sure what he expected when he sent the text message, but he was disappointed when Merlin hadn’t responded after five minutes. He reached for his laptop and loaded up Merlin’s LiveJournal for the billionth time that month. There was a new post that he had been added that morning. Arthur clicked on the familiar You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults and took a drink while he waited for his crap connection to load.

Cue spit-take.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Arthur slammed his laptop shut and rubbed his eyes. Merlin’s latest artistic “masterpiece” was of Aurelius having intercourse with his beloved dog, Bucephalus.

He opened the screen back up and winced when the picture was once more in view. “Oh dear god, that’s not right.” He really should have Googled knotting before he clicked the link. He had assumed it had something to do with tatting, not full on pornographic bestiality. The NC-17 tag Merlin flagged the entry with should have been a clue, as well as the other porntacular pics Merlin had drawn since their fight, but Arthur lived in the Land of Ignorance, where no one drew pictures of people fucking their dog.

He quickly scrolled past the offensive image and began reading the comments. There were over three hundred of them, all of them spewing effusive praise. “What is wrong with these people,” Arthur muttered after reading the last “OMG THIS IS SO SEXY MY OVARIES CAN’T STAND IT!” comment he could handle.

Something inside of him snapped, and he saw the future Morgana had threatened him with at lunch. He felt the loneliness of celebrity and the empty victories of his success. But most of all, he thought of Merlin: happy, wonderful Merlin who would settle down with someone who wasn’t him.

Hoping that it wasn’t too late, he scrolled to the top, holding his hand physically over Merlin’s picture as he went, and clicked on “Create An Account.” Merlin’s radio silence sealed his fate, and Excalibur83, the LiveJournal edition, was forged. If Merlin wouldn’t talk to him via text, then Arthur would give him the home field advantage.

He bypassed all of the account customization settings and immediately went back to Merlin’s account. He opened up a comment box on the knotting entry and began to type.

While I highly doubt Aurelius would spend his free time brutalizing his beloved dog in such a manner, you’ve captured Arthur’s flawless body perfectly. Well done. I think.

Before Arthur posted the comment, he spared a passing thought of whether or not someone would somehow figure out that it was him posting, but decided that there was little to no way for them to know. He hit Post Comment and eagerly waited to see if Merlin would respond.

~*~*~

Merlin wasn’t sure what shocked him more: the text from Arthur seemingly out of the blue, or the suspicious comment notification from Excalibur83 in his inbox when he flipped his mobile on after the movie.

“Oh my god, guess who just texted me an apology.”

Gwen plucked his mobile from his fingers and started scrolling through their texts. “Most Gorgeous Man To Walk The Earth Seriously? Couldn’t you be a little subtler in your utter and complete adoration for him? Besides, aren’t you supposed to hate him with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns, or something?”

Merlin quickly snatched his mobile back before she could read any of their more inappropriate texts that he hadn’t gotten around to deleting, and rolled his eyes. “His Highness deigned I put him in my contacts as that himself. It was a royal decree and I treated it as such. As for my anger,” Merlin drooped his shoulders and sighed. “That faded into sadness weeks ago.”

“Well, it sounds like he is as sad about your absence as you are his.” Gwen said with a knowing tone of voice that Merlin didn’t like. She predicted that Arthur would do this weeks ago, after Merlin first told her their story, but was thankfully big enough to refrain from saying “I told you so.” Her smug smile was “I told you so” enough.

He cleared his throat and hoped the blush he could feel burning his cheeks wasn’t as pronounced as it felt. “You’re crazy and making more out of this than it is. He’s merely texted a long overdue apology, and has reminded me that he is a stalking stalker who stalks.”

She grabbed his mobile once more and hugged it to her chest, as if it were a physical representation of Arthur himself. “Awww, he misses you! You’re going to forgive him, aren’t you? If Arthur is a stalking stalker who stalks, then you are a pining piner who pines.”

“First of all, I don’t ever recall mentioning anything about pining. And second, while I may not actually be mad at him anymore, I’ve since moved on to staid indifference. There is definitely no pining going on.”

Gwen rolled her eyes and Merlin imagined for a moment that she wasn’t just humouring him when she didn’t contradict him. At least she had the decency to ignore the fact that his pervasive sadness was about as far from staid indifference as one could get. They both knew the score, so there was no sense arguing.

“I guess you weren’t kidding when you said you were doing those pictures to piss him off. Looks like you got his attention after all!”

Merlin stole back his mobile and looked at the comment in question. He hadn’t clicked on the email, so he didn’t know what it said. His insides tied up into a familiar knot and he rubbed his knuckles against his stomach. Arthur’s text message made it sound like he was looking for forgiveness, but maybe he had sent that before he saw the series of offensively graphic pictures Merlin had drawn.

“I know. Funny thing is, I didn’t even do this latest picture as part of the, ‘Fuck you, Arthur Pendragon’ series. I quit that when the pictures became less disgustingly offensive and more unintentionally hot. I mean, that one I did last week where his evil uncle was fucking him?” Merlin shrugged. “Anyway, I did this one for Abby’s Porn-ebration Bestiality Challenge. How was I supposed to know that fucking a dog would be the one to send him off the deep end?”

“Is he actually mad? What does the comment say? I can’t believe he has a LiveJournal! You didn’t tell me he had a LiveJournal! Can I friend him? He wouldn’t mind if I friended him, would he?” Gwen babbled in a rush.

I would mind if you friended him! Don’t! Not until I get a better handle on the situation. And hang on, the email is loading.” Merlin burst out laughing when he saw Arthur’s comment and wordlessly handed Gwen his mobile.

Gwen read the comment and then got an odd sort of smile on her face. Like part of a riddle had been solved, and that she would lord it over him until he figured it out himself. “I’m not sure what amuses me more, his arrogance about his ‘flawless body’, or the fact that he appears to be missing you as much as you miss him.”

Merlin hated that one stupid comment was enough to send his insides dancing and heart racing. He wondered what it would take to hold on to the anger he wasn’t quite ready to let go of yet. Nevertheless, a shiver of excitement shot through him when he thought of Arthur missing him as much as he missed Arthur, and a tiny flame of hope was reignited.

“Well? Are you going to reply?” Gwen was squeezing his arm, and Merlin suspected she was seconds away from grabbing his mobile and replying herself. He stepped back just to be safe.

"I will when I get home.”

Gwen scoffed. “What about the text message?

Merlin laughed at her expression. “Aren’t you the one who’s been telling me that I should make him work for it when he came crawling back?”

“Yes, but that was before he actually came crawling back!”

Merlin shook his head, feeling lighter than he had in weeks, and linked his arm around hers. “Come on, drinks at my place and I’ll let you aid me in crafting my reply.”

She beamed, and pulled him forward, urging him to the underground faster.

~*~*~

I don’t think you’re very familiar with the source material then, because passionately embracing Bucephalus is all Aurelius can think about when he’s not cracking skulls open.

It wasn’t the text message Arthur had been hoping for, but it was a start. He smiled, feeling lighter than he had in weeks, and wondered if he should send another text message or stay on LiveJournal. He didn’t like the public nature of Merlin’s blog, but if that’s where he would talk to him, then Arthur would play along for the time being.

He cracked his knuckles as he thought of a response.

Is that so? I’ll have to keep that in mind then if I ever do a rewatch of the show.

Do you take requests?

He really wanted to ask him if they could quit this silly conversation and fix things over Skype or in person, but he wasn’t sure if Merlin would be willing. Also, seeing Merlin on his own turf presented a picture of him that he hadn’t seen before. He was intrigued to see this part of his world, and as well as some of his other fans (the creepiness of a few of them aside).

A couple hours later, when the moon was just beginning to creep up the sky, Arthur’s mobile chimed with Merlin’s comment. He paused the football game he had on to distract himself with while he was not waiting for Merlin’s response.

That depends entirely upon who’s doing the requesting. hxxp://drag00nthegreat.livejournal.com/995.html

In addition to Merlin’s response was a friend request. Arthur wasn’t sure what being Merlin’s friend on his blog entailed, but he accepted the request anyway.

When he clicked on the link in the comment, it went to a new entry Arthur hadn’t seen before. There was a rough sketch of him that looked like it had been done on the day of the commercial shoot. It reminded him of the drawing Morgana had given him, and he almost wanted to call Merlin and tell him to take it down. It felt too intimate to share with the public.

He almost toggled to the texting app, but stopped when he read the text below the image.

I’ve set it so we’re the only two who can see this post.

Arthur scratched his head. How could no one else see the picture? Merlin had thousands of watchers, so why couldn’t they see it? He could see it so theoretically they could too. Frustrated and annoyed that Merlin would share something like this on his blog, he sent him a text.

How can I be certain that no one else can see your post?

A minute later Arthur got a response.

You either trust me or you don’t. Your choice.

And, well, in for a penny in for a pound. Not fully trusting that the image was as private as Merlin claimed, but not wanting to sour their first encounter since That Night, he studied the image closer.

The Arthur in the picture looked stripped bare. The image showed a tired, defeated man that Arthur tried his hardest to hide. How Merlin had managed to not only see that, but capture it so effortlessly with a few scribbles boggled his mind. The Arthur in the picture had his arms folded over his chest and was looking at someone out of view – presumably Janet, given the annoyed expression on his face.

He picked up his phone and sent another text.

Why this picture?

He wanted to know why Merlin had chosen this particular image to show him. He resumed the game in an effort to distract himself from dwelling on it, but missed an important goal from his lack of attention.

Merlin’s reply came a few minutes later, and he pretended for a fraction of a second that he hadn’t been eagerly watching the clock, waiting with bated breath for a response, before he picked up his mobile to read the message.

You need to see what you look like to me. I may draw horrifically offensive pictures when I’m mad at you, but that’s just play, and I don’t really see you like that.

He frowned, not sure how to feel about that. Was this really how Merlin saw him? Tired and broken? He almost preferred the bestiality and scat play to this haunting image that was far too real for his liking.

I look tired.

You were tired.

Arthur sat on his sofa and stared at his mobile, not entirely certain of the end game of this conversation. He wanted to fix things with Merlin, but he was at a loss on how to do so. He was reaching out, but it didn’t feel like Merlin was reaching back. It stung, because Arthur wasn’t usually one to be denied anything.

A rogue thought that sounded like Morgana reminded him of his childhood and how past experiences told a different story, but he shoved the memory of his father away and focused on the present. If Morgana was to be believed, then Merlin wouldn’t let him down.

I also look like an arsehole.

:-) You were an arsehole.

Arthur groaned, and pulled at his hair. Merlin wasn’t giving an inch, and Arthur wanted to shake him and somehow show him how much he regretted his actions from that day.

I really am sorry for the way I treated you.

Okay. Don’t do it again, yeah? You owe me a proper explanation.

“Finally!” he exclaimed, and then felt like a moron for pumping his fist in the air and talking to himself out loud. He could only imagine how touched he must look to anyone glancing in through his windows from another building. He nervously rubbed the back of his neck and sat down in front of his laptop.

Yes, I know, but can we quit this shit and hop on Skype? I haven’t had a proper wank since we met.

He booted up Skype on the off chance that Merlin would actually agree and muted the football game he still had playing in the background.

LOL If you think I’m going to let you off the hook that easy, think again.

He grinned. If Merlin was joking with him, then surely that was a good sign, right? Arthur was rewarded a few minutes later when Dragoon’s name lit up in his contact list. Arthur sent the call and was more than a little relieved when Merlin answered.

Seeing Merlin’s face after a month of imagining it was almost too much. He wasn’t good at dealing with anything emotional, and he could feel his throat tighten up and choke his words off at the source.

Merlin raised his eyebrow, silent, and Arthur had to close his eyes, overwhelmed. “I’m so sorry,” he said finally. He shook his head and once again looked at Merlin. “The things I said to you were wrong, and the fact that I made you think that you didn’t matter to me – that you don’t matter to me,” Arthur choked on his words and attempted to swallow around his dry throat. “I regret my actions.”

Merlin gave him a small smile, and nibbled on his lower lip. “Yeah, well, I probably shouldn’t have drawn a picture of you fucking your dog knowing that you were going to see it.” Merlin’s smile widened, and Arthur’s heart swelled with relief.

“I can’t say that it was one of your better pieces, but I can see why you might have done it.” Arthur rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you did that one of Percy using me as his chamber pot.” He shuddered. “I hope he never, ever sees that.”

Merlin laughed. “If it makes you feel better, I can make that one friends-only, which would prevent any random surfer from seeing it, or, at least lessen the chances.”

Arthur smiled, touched that he would do that even though the picture was harmless and Arthur was the one in the wrong. “No, it’ll give Gwaine something to look forward to the next time he searches out salacious art.”

“He really does that? I mean, you mentioned the printing-out thing he did back in the beginning, but he doesn’t honestly search stuff out, does he?” Merlin’s expression was one of disbelief, and Arthur wondered what he’d need to do to make things truly right between them. He didn’t think Merlin was humouring him, but unless they actually talked about what happened, he could never be sure.

“He says he doesn’t, but I suspect he’s lying. I secretly think he likes to see the crazier shit you fans do. The negative stuff is like water off a duck’s back with him and the majority of it all amuses him.” Arthur thought about his last time out with Gwaine, and how he’d admitted, when drunk, that he’d read a couple of the racy fics that the rest of them avoided like the plague. Arthur laughed his head off at the time, but purposely never mentioned it again in case his own exploits ever came to light.

Merlin’s eyes got wide. “Oh god, you have to let me tell Gwen that. She’d fucking die. I promise you that she’s trustworthy. She’s the most trustworthy person I know, actually. She’s one of those people who are pure, and good, and should probably be sainted or something.”

“Yes, of course.” He smiled, and was reminded of his own saint. “She sounds a bit like Lancelot.” Merlin made a funny choking nose, and appeared to be cackling silently.

“Uh, am I missing something?” he scratched the side of his head.

“No, it’s just that Gwen stans for Lancelot.”

Arthur furrowed his brow. “What does that even mean?”

“It means that she’ll subject herself and her love ones – read: me – to Bayonetto, because she thinks he is the greatest man to ever walk this earth.” Merlin shook his head. “Nevermind. Fan stuff. I don’t want to subject you to that. It’s a bit creepy, I suppose, talking about someone you’re close friends with like that.”

Arthur shrugged, not really seeing how watching Bayonetto was creepy if you were a fan of someone in it. His Nathan Fillion DVD collection was testament enough of that. “No, I don’t mind. Gwen sounds like an amazing person and I hope I can meet her someday.” He stopped when Merlin cocked his head to the side, like he didn’t quite believe what Arthur had just said. Remnants of his guilt squeezed around his chest once more, and Arthur couldn’t blame Merlin’s mistrust, even though it stung to know that it was his own fault. He had been nothing short of a spaz since basically day one, and god, he needed to fix this.

“Listen,” He tugged at his collar and looked down at the table, not able to look Merlin in the eye for his Big. Declaration. “I,” he paused, swallowing. He could feel his throat beginning to constrict again, threatening to swallow his words before he could get them out. “I really care about you. A great deal. I,” he closed his eyes and swallowed, trying to clear the blockage. When he opened them, Merlin’s face was so earnest and hopeful, that the blockage in his throat loosened the tiniest bit. “I want us to be okay again. What can I do to make us okay again?”

Merlin leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful expression on his face. Arthur wanted to be cool and act like whatever Merlin was about to say didn’t matter to him, but the truth was that he was almost as nervous as he was when he was waiting the results of his audition for The Roman.

After a long silence, Merlin finally spoke. “You can’t keep shutting me out.” His voice wasn’t accusatory, but rather, it was sad. “Not just like the day of the shoot, but before that as well. You’ve been shutting me out since the day I sent you that message on The Meat Feast.” His voice was soft and resigned, and Arthur felt terrible for not being better, sooner. “I understand why you did, and that it was necessary to a certain extent, but I think if you want to make us okay again, you need to give a little.

“I’m not saying you have to tell me everything now – I don’t want you to – I’m just saying that unless you make the effort to open up, then I don’t think this is going to work. Whatever ‘this’ is. Hell, I don’t even know what you want ‘this’ to be. Before you sent that text message earlier, I thought you had forgotten about me and that none of it mattered to you.”

Arthur sighed and nodded, because everything Merlin said was true. He tried to make Merlin think that he didn’t matter, and he had purposefully hurt him to push him away. “I don’t know what ‘this’ is, either,” he confessed. “But I’d really like the chance to make it up to you, so I’ll start with LA.,” Arthur gave a self-depreciating chuckle and sighed. “I really shouldn’t have gone to L.A..”

Arthur proceeded to tell him the story of his four-week vacation from his senses, how Viv had been so angry with him she almost quit, and how Morgana finally shook some sense back into him. Merlin was quiet and attentive when he listened, interjecting a comment or question from time to time, but mostly absorbing what was being said. Arthur finished up with Merlin’s scribble, and how it gutted him a bit to have Merlin see him as a sad, tired puppet.

“No!” Merlin interrupted. He shook his head and sighed. “You missed the point of why I showed you that picture. I don’t see a ‘sad, tired puppet,’ or whatever other self-deprecating tags you’d like to label it with. I see a human being with real thoughts, and real emotions. I was trying to show you that I fell for a human being, not some untouchable celebrity. When I look at you and talk with you, I’m talking to you, not some…some…half-naked hot-as-hell Roman slut.”

Arthur laughed at the unexpected descriptor. “A Roman slut?”

Merlin gave him a huge smile. It was the first big, real smile Arthur had seen in weeks. “Have you seen my art? You’re a total slut.”

“You like me slutty.” Arthur wagged his eyebrows and licked his lips.

“I love you slutty!” Merlin agreed.

Arthur stripped off his shirt, confident that he could finally move on past their serious conversation. “That’s good, because I wasn’t joking or exaggerating earlier when I said I haven’t had a proper wank in a month.”

Merlin’s grin was wide enough to split his face, and Arthur’s heart was fit to burst. “And you’re looking to fix that?”

He stood up and unbuttoned his trousers. “I was hoping so.” He pushed them to the floor and stood starkers in front of the camera.

Merlin eyed him appreciatively. Arthur knew he wasn’t difficult to look at, but knowing that Merlin appreciated him made it that much sweeter. Merlin licked his lips and gave a coy smile. “So you’re thinkin’ that you’re going to get lucky? Just like that?”

“Have you seen my abs?” Arthur flexed and pointed down at them. “You could melt butter on them!” He teased, making fun of Merlin’s comment from before he knew who Excalibur was.

Merlin’s face lit up like a tomato and he laughed. Arthur felt something slot into place that had been missing for the past month, and wondered how he had gotten his priorities so wrong. “I’m glad to see some things never change. As always, you’re best when you’re seen and not heard.”

“And as always, you’re the only person who thinks that.” Arthur gave Merlin a petulant look, and then picked up his laptop. “We’re going on a little trip. I expect you to be naked and ready by the time we get there.” He carried the computer to his bedroom, not bothering to angle the screen down. It wasn’t like Merlin could see much in the short walk to his bedroom, but it was the point of the action that mattered.

He set the computer down on his mattress and started rifling through his bedside drawer for inspiration. “Oooh, this could be fun…” Arthur picked up the object and then turned to face the camera. As ordered, Merlin had shucked his clothes and was sitting in his chair nude. “Have you ever used one of these before?”

“A butt balloon⁴?” Merlin raised an appraising eyebrow. “Okay. How long has it been since you’ve properly stretched yourself?”

“Three weeks.” The wicked look Merlin got on his face sent a shiver of anticipation through him. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I don’t want you to.” There was a challenge in his eyes that went straight to Arthur’s cock.

“Kinky,” Arthur said.

Merlin grinned. “Says the man who owns the butt balloon.”

He reached into his drawer for his lube. He coated two fingers and arranged himself so that he was lying on his back and presenting towards his laptop. “I missed this,” he confessed, watching Merlin as he began to push both fingers into his arse at once, coating his hole with lube.

“Me too.” Merlin was hard, but he wasn’t touching himself. Arthur smirked, knowing that he would only be able to hold out for so long before he crumbled – especially after a month-long dry spell. The anticipation itself was enough to send his pulse racing and a spot of pre-cum to come out.

He squeezed a liberal amount of lube over the head of the balloon, and began to slowly push and massage it inside of him. It was too wide too fast, but the aching stretch he felt as he slowly worked the toy inside of him felt good.

“God, look at you,” Merlin whispered. “So fucking hot.” His voice was like honey, and Arthur gnawed on his lip to keep from moaning. How Merlin managed to turn him on like no other baffled him. It was like every utterance of encouragement was hardwired to his cock, and made him tingle with arousal.

The balloon was beginning to hurt as he worked the widest part on the edge of his hole. He turned on the balloon’s vibrator, and shivered as he felt the tremors resonate through him. He fucked himself a couple of times before he pushed it all the way in, feeling breeched, stretched, and indefinably right in a way that wanking with Merlin only could.

“Good,” he could hear Merlin mutter. Arthur opened his eyes, not having realized he closed them, and bit his lip when he saw Merlin stroking his erection. Arthur reached down to give his own neglected erection a couple of cursory strokes, but subconsciously stopped when Merlin did. “Pump up the balloon a couple times.”

“Just give me a moment, I need to adjust to the stretch first.” He was flat on his back, with his legs spread open and bent at the knees. He grabbed the balloon’s controller and increased the level of vibration.

“Pump up the balloon a couple times,” Merlin repeated with a hint of sternness that sent shivers through him, so he did. He squeezed the pump once, twice, and hissed at the feeling of expansion inside of him. The burn of being filled was incomparable. It had been years since he used it, and he wasn’t used to being stretched in such a way.

“Now a couple more,” Merlin ordered. Arthur had never been one to follow orders in bed, but something about his tone of voice and the fact that Merlin obviously wanted to give up his pretence of control, stroke his cock, and come made it a fun sort of game between them. Merlin liked to believe he was the one pushing Arthur, when in fact, Arthur was the one pushing him. Whenever Merlin gave a command, Arthur could see a bit of his self-control crumble, until it would collapse completely and he’d let go. It was the sexiest thing Arthur had ever seen.

He did as Merlin requested and pumped it up two more times. He was as full as he could ever remember being, and he felt his thighs begin to shake from the force of his arousal. He turned up the vibrator as high as it would go and stroked his cock. It was nearly too much. He could feel the vibrations of the balloon in his dick and touching it made him feel like a loose cannon ready to go off.

“Take your hand off your cock.” Arthur nearly bit through his lip with the effort of removing his hand. He pinched a nipple instead and thrust his hips in the air as if the motion would relieve the intense pressure inside of him.

Everything was tingling. He was rutting the air in desperate need for relief, and trembling with the effort to not touch himself. He was stretched so far that it hurt in the most blissful, amazing way, but he was quickly approaching his limit.

He could feel his grasp of control beginning to slip, and wondered how much longer Merlin would be able to hold on before he snapped. He was still ignoring his erection, but Arthur could see the mess of pre-cum drip down his cock and abdomen. He wanted to lap it up, but instead drew a finger in his own trail of pre-cum and sucked at it.

“Pump it up one more time.” Merlin’s command carried through the haze of Arthur’s pleasure-pain, and he looked at the screen in disbelief.

“I can’t,” he choked out, his own voice unrecognizable to his ears. He was so full, and it hurt, but it felt so fucking good, but he couldn’t…not once more. “More than I can handle.” He couldn’t stop shaking, and he was certain that if he pumped it up one more time, he would break. “Please,” he whispered brokenly, “I need to come.” His head fell back and he fisted his sheets to try and hold on to control.

“You can take it.” Merlin’s voice sounded rough around the edges, and he knew they were both close.

He shook his head. “I can’t.” It was too much. Too full. He couldn’t even touch himself without fear of flying apart. Pre-cum was dripping down his cock and he was so ready a strong gust of wind could have made him come at this point.

“Once more, and you can come.” Merlin’s sounded wrecked. Arthur looked at his screen, his vision blurry, and was rewarded to see Merlin trembling, as desperate to get off as he was. Arthur nodded. He reached a shaky hand for the control of the balloon and pumped it one last time. It expanded inside of him and he fucking cried out, it hurt so much and felt so good. The pain was white-hot, and wonderful. It was all so much to bear, that it felt like he was cresting a mounting, and he came all over his stomach.

He deflated the balloon and sagged on to the mattress, sated and breathing hard. He felt stretched, open, and achy. Merlin had come as well, and he was disappointed that he had missed it when he was focused on not flying apart at the seams. He closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath, feeling like he had just run a marathon, not had an orgasm.

After what felt like hours, but was really only about five minutes, he opened his eyes and gave Merlin, who was sitting there quietly watching him with a contemplative expression, a smug look. “Was it good for you?”

“Eh, I’ve had better.” Merlin was biting on his lower lip to suppress his grin, and Arthur couldn’t stop the flood of affection rushing through his heart. He reached for a dirty shirt and wiped the mess off his chest. He turned and looked at Merlin once more, watching him do the same, only with a tissue instead of a shirt. “Hey, we okay?”

Merlin smiled softly, and nodded. “Yeah, we are.”

~*~*~

Merlin looked at his and Gwen’s reflections in the massive bay of windows at the San Diego Convention Center. It was half-three in the morning and they were huddled together, shivering, in line with three hundred other people crazy enough to get up before dawn to see their favourite booth, panel, or whatever at Comic Con.

Rumour had it that the WB was handing out one hundred limited edition canvas tote bags with The Roman logo emblazed on the front at their booth when the con opened, each with an autograph wrist band inside for the cast autograph session at 4pm that afternoon.

Merlin cursed the Comic Con gods for having too many incredible things at once. The official line-up for The Roman cast autograph session began at 11am in the Sails Pavilion, so there was no way he’d be able to line up for a chance to win an autograph and attend the 12pm panel in Ballroom 20.

Gwen had teased him the previous night about how he could get a cast autograph anytime he wanted, but it wasn’t the same. There was something to be said about experiencing the cast yourself and getting to meet them at the table, even if it was for only a fraction of a second before you got shoved down the line.

“I still can’t believe you didn’t tell Arthur you were going to Comic Con. I thought you said you two made up? What’s the matter with you!”

“I don’t know!” He said defensively. “We did make up. Sort of. It’s. It’s complicated.”

“How is ’Arthur, I’m going to Comic Con. Maybe I’ll see you there!’ complicated?” she said in a fair mimicry of his voice. “I thought you said that you’d been talking regularly since that night a month ago?”

“We have been, it just never came up.” His excuse sounded lame even to his own ears.

“Not even when he told you last week that he was flying to LA for an audition, and then was planning to drive down to San Diego for the con, and would you perhaps like a memento from the California coast – didn’t come up then?”

He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling guilty all over again about not telling Arthur. “I don’t know. It’s just. I haven’t seen him since That Evening. We’ve been talking on Skype again, and it’s always easier there. He hasn’t mentioned meeting up, so I figured that maybe he doesn’t want to? Maybe we work better with that disconnect between us.”

“Oh, Merlin.” Gwen rested her hand on his thigh and squeezed. “You’re crazy and you’re stupid. I’m sure you’re making a bigger deal of it than it really is. Have you considered that maybe he’s just as nervous to meet up again as you are? After all, he knows that it went badly last time because of his own actions.”

He shrugged her off, not willing to entertain the thought that she might be right. On the internet, Arthur was just Excalibur, not some fancy celebrity who had millions of fans and a lucrative career. Excalibur: who was mostly an idiot, kind of a prat, and shockingly sweet when Merlin least expected. It was all too easy to forget that Excalibur was Arthur Pendragon, even though he stared him in the face (or crotch) every time they Skyped.

Seeing Arthur in his out-of-reach and untouchable element was not how Merlin wanted to meet up with him again. It ached in a funny way, because Merlin was a little bit in love with Excalibur, but Arthur wasn’t someone he was allowed to be in love with if their last encounter was anything to go by. He felt gun shy and uncertain, and he didn’t know how to react.

“You’re over thinking this. He’s just a boy; are you forgetting that?”

Merlin blinked in surprise. “How did you know what I was thinking?”

Gwen laughed. “Your thoughts are written all over your face.” She poked his cheek with her index finger until he smiled. She smiled back. “Stop over thinking this.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes I forget that Arthur and Excalibur are one in the same, and that there’s no reason to treat him like they’re not.”

“Good! Now, go get us some coffee. The Starbucks in the Hilton isn’t due to open for another two hours and I want coffee now. Trot on up the Gas Lamp district to that 24-hour grocery store a couple blocks over, yeah? And bring me a banana.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and gave her a cheesy bow. “As you wish, my lady.”

~*~

By the time noon came rolling around, Merlin’s nerves were shot to hell. He and Gwen managed to score seats in the center of the second row, directly in front of the panel table. The urge to relinquish his spot and bury himself in the middle of the crowd of four thousand was nearly overwhelming, and only Gwen’s steady hand on his forearm kept him seated.

When it was time for the panel to start, the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed. The moderator stepped out, keyed up the crowd, and then called each of the cast members to stage. When Arthur finally stepped out, Merlin thought he might suffer permanent hearing loss from the decibel level of screams. How did Arthur ever get used to that? How did anyone?

Arthur’s smile was huge as he waved at the crowd and took pictures with his mobile. It took several seconds after he sat down beside the rest of the cast for the volume in the room to return to a manageable level. During that time, Arthur continued snapping pictures with his phone.

At one point, Merlin thought Arthur spotted him in the second row, but he passed over him quickly, and Merlin assumed he was safe. A few seconds later, he felt his mobile buzz in his pocket.

U stupid idiot, y didn’t u tell me u were coming 2 cc?

Attached to the text was a picture of him and Gwen in the second row. “Busted,” Merlin said into Gwen’s ear as he showed her the picture. Gwen giggled and raised her hand to wave enthusiastically at Arthur. Merlin quickly forced it down, but not before Arthur smiled at her and gave a nod of his head.

Merlin’s mobile buzzed again.

It’s gud 2 c u

If Gwen were standing, she would have been jumping up and down. As it was, Merlin’s upper arm was dangerously close to losing all circulation and falling off. His face felt like it was on fire and he didn’t hear a word the moderator said. Something about Percival’s faux treachery that season and Lancelot nearly losing his life.

Don’t get any ideas – she stans for Lancelot. Also, STOP TEXTING ME IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR PANEL. PEOPLE WILL NOTICE. THERE ARE 4000 CAMERAS FOCUSED ON YOU, PRAT!

Arthur only glanced down for a fraction of a second, and if Merlin didn’t know that he was reading his text message, he wouldn’t have noticed. Arthur’s answering smile was breathtaking, and Merlin felt tingly all over knowing that he was responsible for said grin. He empathized with the girls behind him sighing dreamily.

Gwaine nudged Arthur and leaned over to look at his mobile. He gave Arthur a questioning look. Arthur looked pointedly at Merlin. Gwaine’s eyes followed, then he pointed in Merlin’s direction, and looked back at Arthur with another questioning look. Arthur nodded once and Gwaine smiled, also nodding once.

“Merlin,” Gwen whispered. “Did Gwaine just point at you?”

“The girls squeeing behind us seem to think he pointed at them,” Merlin responded. Gwen sniggered, knowing better, and turned her attention back to Leon’s lengthy answer of a question Merlin missed.

Oh my god, please tell me Gwaine did not just point at me in the MIDDLE OF YOUR FUCKING PANEL STOP IT WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU LEON IS TALKING

Arthur showed Gwaine Merlin’s latest message, causing them both to chuckle, arousing the attention of the rest of the table. To Merlin’s supreme relief, Arthur put his mobile in his lap and focused on what was being said.

A few minutes later, when Niobe was talking about her character’s development over the season, Merlin felt his mobile buzz again. He looked down to see another text, and was surprised that he hadn’t noticed Arthur’s fingers move over the phone under the table.

plz com 2 the auto tbl.

Merlin shrugged off Gwen’s questioning glance and eyed the person on his other side. Thankfully they were absorbed in what was happening on stage.

I can’t, I didn’t win a ticket. I decided to see your ugly mug from the 2nd row instead.

Arthur’s reply arrived a few seconds later, this time while Gwaine was talking about the action sequences he enjoyed filming.

I’ll make arrngmnts.

Merlin wanted to strangle Arthur for taking the decision away from him. Arthur was Arthur, but the rest of his mates were the cast of The fucking Roman! Merlin may have gotten over his freak out about Arthur’s celebrity, but that didn’t mean he felt the same way about his cast mates.

Because that wouldn’t that be awkward.

Once again, Arthur’s reply came within a minute, this time as he himself was telling some ridiculously adorable anecdote about his love for his horse. He could actually hear the ovaries of the women surrounding him explode when the moderator threw up a pic of Arthur cuddling his horse.

STOP BEING A GIANT GRL & CUM 2 THE DAMNED TBL

Merlin would have never known Arthur was screaming at someone via text had he not received said text himself. He was charming, gorgeous, and completely on point the entire time in front of the crowd.

Which was a bit disgusting, actually. How was he able to do that? Merlin felt like any second one of the girls around him was going to scream “ELEPHANT EARS IS TEXTING ARTHUR PENDRAGON!” He knew he was being ridiculous, because no one was actually paying attention to the skinny, tall bloke in the second row texting, but his heart was still pumping with adrenaline.

“Oh god,” Merlin mumbled as he quickly shoved his phone in his pocket. Gwen looked at him questioningly, but he shook his head, signaling he’d tell her later. No sense in worrying her with his neuroses.

Ten minutes later, when they were showing the blooper reel, Merlin felt his mobile buzz again.

u hard?

Merlin sank down in his chair, as if everyone surrounding him would know that Arthur Fucking Pendragon had just sent him a text message asking him if he was erect. He was, but that was beside the point. He adjusted the bag on his lap, just in case, and shielded his hand over the screen so Gwen couldn’t see it.

Not that she was paying attention; her eyes were glued on Lancelot and Lancelot alone. The world could have been crumbling down around her, and she wouldn’t have noticed if Lancelot were in her field of vision.

NO!

Arthur’s reply came within seconds.

Liar.

Merlin looked up to see Arthur looking straight at him. Merlin arched his eyebrow and licked his lips. Two could play at that game. His heart was pounding so hard, he could hear it throbbing in his ears.

You’re right, I am. If 4000 people weren’t surrounding us, I’d climb up under your table and suck your cock. Once I got you close to the edge, I’d fuck you raw and hold back your release until I was satisfied. Would you like that?

Arthur shifted in his chair and Merlin longed to see under the table, even though he knew that if he could see, everyone else could as well. The glow of Arthur’s mobile screen could be seen on his red shirt, and Merlin wondered how many others in the audience were watching him right now wondering what he was doing. His phone buzzed with Arthur’s reply.

Obviously.

Merlin closed his eyes and took a calming breath. Knowing Arthur was as hard as he was made him dizzy with want. He reminded himself that they were in a room with thousands of people and thousands of cameras. A part of him wanted to see how far they could take their game, but a larger, more rational part, knew how stupid it would be. As he typed his response, he idly wondered how long it would take for his erection to go away.

Then put your fucking phone away before the rest of ballroom 20, and in turn, THE WORLD, finds out as well, you stupid prat. Now isn’t the time or place.

Merlin was close enough to see Arthur’s pout in the dark, and wasn’t surprised by the text that came seconds later.

spoilsport

But Merlin could see him slip his mobile into his pocket before the lights came back up.

The rest of the panel was a bit of a blur. Aside from some serious secondhand embarrassment from the Question and Answer segment, it flew by in one surreal rush. Watching Arthur in his element was something to marvel at. He had gotten a taste of Arthur’s celebrity during the commercial shoot, but that was small potatoes compared to the massive crowd of fans in Ballroom 20.

Merlin was reminded why he fell head over heels for Arthur-the-celebrity in the first place. He was funny, charming, self-depreciating, and gorgeous. The way his hair shined under the stage lights lit him up in a way the Skype box never could.

When Arthur and the rest of the cast left the stage, Merlin sat back down in his chair, having stood for the massive round of applause the cast got at the end of the panel, and grinned.

“That was worth the price of airfare alone,” Gwen said, looking as fuckstruck as he felt at having been sitting within spitting distance of their idols.

“And how,” he agreed. “I’ve hear fans say that they’re more beautiful in person all the time, but I honestly didn’t believe it until today. Did you see Gwaine’s hair? He looked like he was ready to go shoot a shampoo advert.”

Gwen laughed. “I couldn’t tell you - I didn’t see anyone but Lance. Unf, did you see him?” She slumped against Merlin’s shoulder with a serene smile on her face. “How is such perfection possible?”

Fifteen minutes after The Roman panel ended, Ballroom 20 looked like a wasteland. A few hundred fans remained for the next round of panels starting at 2:00, but the rest of the room had emptied out.

Merlin stood up, careful to hold his oversized WB bag in front of him to hide any evidence of his leftover erection, and looked to the exit. “Lunch?”

“Yes! Let’s go somewhere private so you can spill the goods on what you and The Most Gorgeous Man To Walk The Earth were texting about.” Gwen cackled and rubbed her hands together.

“He asked me who the gorgeous woman next to me was, since Lancelot was asking. He wants to introduce the two of you so you can get married and have lots of babies,” Merlin deadpanned.

“Shut up. That’s not even funny!” Gwen slugged him in the shoulder, before they both started laughing. “Don’t even joke about that! I mean, can you imagine? I might actually die!” She placed her hand over her heart.

“Trust me Gwen, I can imagine.” Merlin thought back to the night he found out about Excalibur, and thought about how he very nearly did died from shock.

Just before they were about to exit the room, Merlin’s mobile buzzed again.

When you go to line up, tell the line guard that you cry like a girl when you watch Sophie’s Choice. Bring Gwen too, if you want.

“What now?” Gwen asked.

Merlin frowned. “I thought he’d given up on that. Arthur wants us to come to the autograph table at the WB.”

“WHAT?! For real?! Can he do that?!” Gwen started doing that thing where she was nearly hyperventilating.

“He’s the star of the show, Gwen, of course he can.” Merlin frowned again, and quickly keyed in his reply.

WHAT?! NO. I’m not going to say that. You’re mad.

“You better tell him that we’ll be there! Or that I’ll be there, if you decide you want to stand in the corner like an awkward little sad thing.”

You have to tell him that so he knows you can have access to the table.

Merlin looked at Arthur’s reply and groaned. “Ugh! Fine, yes, of course I’m going. But only for you, mind. I can see that stupid prat whenever I want.” He was secretly thrilled, though. Arthur aside, he had wanted this autograph since he first heard about Comic Con. It was a bit like a dream come true.

This is your doing, isn’t it? Fine, yes, we’ll be there.

Merlin flashed Gwen his mobile so she could see his response. She beamed and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank god your cock is like a pixy stix.”

“Oh my god, Gwen, ew! No! Never bring up my cock like that ever again. In fact, never bring up my cock.”

“Sexual napalm,” she said in a sing-song voice, and Merlin vowed right then and there that he would break her of her ONTD addiction. Thankfully, Arthur’s response distracted him, and he forgot about Gwen’s disturbing analysis of his and Arthur’s sex life.

Maybe.

He grinned as he sent his next text, meaning the opposite and knowing that Arthur would get the message.

I hate you.

Arthur’s reply came a few minutes later, and Merlin wondered what he and his cast mates were doing. Gwen heard from the internet grapevine, aka, board bitches at meme, that Arthur and the gang had a press junket scheduled immediately after the panel. He imagined some poor table of journalists being ignored while Arthur banged away on his mobile, even though he knew rationally Arthur was far too professional to do that.

Of course, if he was “professional” enough to text in the middle of his panel, who knew what else he was capable of….

You love me. Why else would you have gotten up at 3am to see my gorgeous face from the 2nd row?

“Ugh,” he groaned. The last thing he wanted or needed was to catch shit for waking up in the middle of the night like a crazy person from the very individual he was waking up to see.

I told you – Gwen stans for Lancelot. You were an unnecessary fringe benefit. Besides, we didn’t get up at 3am today.

Arthur’s reply came with a photograph of a small, round table surrounded by five journalists in what must have been the press room. He had attempted to take a self-picture, so the angle was wonky and cut off below his nose. The image was mainly forehead, blond hair, and his blue, blue eye, with the five journalists (looking a little more star-struck then was probably professional) poking out behind him. It was one of the most ridiculous shots of Arthur he had ever seen, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

You’re such a liar. You know you can’t resist me. And you did too get up that early. I have my sources, you know.

Merlin looked at Gwen, who was looking through the Comic Con schedule grid, and grinned an evil grin.

Rumours and untruths that I shall deny until the day I die. And just for that, I’m leaking that photo to the internet.

“Hey Gwen, are you still tracking meme? Because I’ve got something for you…”

~*~

To say the crowd surrounding the WB booth was a zoo would be a gross understatement. As Merlin and Gwen fought their way towards one of the security guards, they held on to each other tightly so as to not get separated.

“Say it, Merlin!” Gwen hissed, when they reached a tall security guard who would not have been out of place guarding The Rock back in the Sixties.

Merlin grimaced, gave a world-weary sigh, and then gave the guard a helpless look. “I cry like a girl when I watch Sophie’s Choice.”

Gwen burst out laughing, and Merlin shot her the most disgruntled look he could muster. The security guard merely nodded, like he heard weird shit like that everyday, and waved them through.

“Honey, it’s Comic Con. There are furries here and other strange folk who should probably not be seen during daylight hours. I hardly think they care about some tall nerd crying over Meryl Streep.” Gwen patted his back consolingly. “Besides, we’re about to meet the frigging cast of The Roman!”

And Merlin had to concede that that was pretty bloody epic. His smile was so wide his face hurt. Just as he was about to check the time, the crowds surrounding the booth began screaming at eardrum shattering levels. Merlin couldn’t see a thing from where he was standing, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the cast had arrived. The security guards surrounding the line and table were doing their best to corral the masses, but Merlin couldn’t help but wonder how they’d react if the fans decided to rise up and charge the table.

Did Arthur ever think of that? There were literally several hundred people in a tiny space all screaming their heads off for Arthur and his cast mates. If he were at the table, security force or no, he would have been terrified.

The autograph line moved surprisingly fast, and Gwen squeezed his hand as they started getting closer to the table. They were both silent, without words that could possibly convey their emotions and thoughts over meeting the cast. They watched raptly as the actors interacted with their fans. It was a bit inspiring to see; each actor treated the fan in front of them like they were the only person on the planet for the second or two that they interacted. Some fans were silent and some were chatty, but each was treated like someone special (even though Merlin was sure the cast had to be rolling their eyes internally at some of them).

They were signing an 11x14 poster of the cast that the WB provided. When it was Merlin and Gwen’s turn, Leon, Niobe, and Percival (whose biceps were literally larger than his head) signed their poster and greeted them politely, each thanking them for coming. When Merlin was in front of Gwaine, he expected the same, and was surprised when he deviated from that.

“You’re Merlin, yeah?” Gwaine asked, smiling.

Merlin didn’t know how to answer that, so he nodded like he was simple. It wasn’t that he didn’t know his name, it was that Gwaine knew his name. He may have been Arthur’s friend, but he was still a bit awe-inspiring in person.

Gwaine quickly looked down at Arthur, who was busy with another fan, and back at Merlin. “It’s really nice to meet you.”

Merlin nodded, feeling like an utter and complete nutter for not being able to articulate himself better. “Likewise,” he answered. He decided to go for broke, and held out his hand. If he was going to be an awkward idiot, he figured he might as well go all the awkward way.

Gwaine returned the handshake and laughed. “I can see why he likes you.”

Gwen was nudging his side, signaling that he needed to move down to Lancelot. He was a bit stunned from his interaction with Gwaine, so he was thankful when Lance smiled politely and didn’t do anything more than sign his poster, and thank him for his attendance, saving Merlin from making a bigger arse of himself.

When he finally reached Arthur, who was at the end, he didn’t know what to say. Arthur looked up at him with a smile that nearly stopped his heart, and every rational thought inside his head vanished.

“Fancy yourself an artist, do you?”

“What?” Merlin asked, startled. He wasn’t sure how he expected this encounter to go, but Arthur vaguely alluding to his porn wasn’t it.

Arthur looked down. “Your hands? They’re covered in ink and paint.”

“Oh! Right, erm,” Merlin looked at his hands, “Merlin,” he said. And he wanted to kick himself, because of course Arthur knew his fucking name, and God, he really needed to stop being awkward. This was so far removed from their private, Skype sanctuary that he didn’t quite know how to act.

Arthur laughed. “Arthur – though I suspect you knew that already.” He stuck out his hand and Merlin stared at it blankly for half a second before his brain kicked into gear and he returned the gesture. He didn’t know why he was acting like some sort of besotted fool, when he knew perfectly well that Arthur was a prat, and that he’d had the prat’s cock in his mouth at one point.

But here, in front of a thousand fans at Comic Con, the real world faded into the background and he was left blinded by the shining lights above the table and the glow of Arthur’s celebrity. He felt Arthur push something warm and pointed into his palm, and he looked down to see what it was.

Merlin’s jaw dropped. “This is…,” he trailed off, staring at Arthur’s famous red tooth necklace nestled in his palm. “You can’t –“

“Take it,” Arthur insisted. He noticed Arthur signing his poster out of the corner of his eye, but Merlin couldn’t take his eyes off the necklace. He quickly shoved it in his pocket before anyone else noticed what had happened. Gwen seemed absorbed with Lancelot, so he doubted she caught the exchange.

As if on cue, Gwen bumped into his side, looking shell-shocked from having just met Lancelot. He stepped aside to give her some room.

“Hello, lovely,” Arthur said as he stood up and gave Gwen a quick hug before he signed her poster.

Gwen’s eyes went wide and she froze. Merlin smile hugely at Arthur, oddly grateful that he would do that for her. Arthur chuckled and shrugged. “Er,” he said, looking at a catatonic Gwen and then back at Merlin. “That doesn’t normally happen.”

Merlin laughed. “She’s in shock from meeting Lancelot, and you just tipped her over the edge. I wouldn’t let it go to your head.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Of course not.” He looked down the table at the waiting fans, and turned his attention back to Merlin.

“I know,” Merlin said, before Arthur could say anything. “Thanks for this, by the way. It was nice to see you.” Merlin could feel the necklace resting in his pocket, secret and safe.

Arthur graced him with a brilliant smile that Merlin couldn’t help but return. “Always,” he said, and then the moment was over. His attention was on the next person in line, sharing that smile with them.

Merlin slipped his arm around Gwen’s waist and led her from the table, away from the crowds.

“Did he just…? Oh my god, he just…,” Gwen babbled as Merlin lead them outside the Exhibition Hall.

Once outside, Gwen livened up and unrolled her poster. She brushed Lancelot’s signature with her finger and sighed dreamily. “I can die happy now. Look at the way he signs his name! It’s perfect; just like him.”

Merlin looked over her shoulder at the signatures and then unrolled his own poster. He spotted every cast member’s signature except for Arthur’s. In the lower corner of the picture, was a curious message:

Omni 2020 6:30

“I can’t hang this on my wall!” Merlin exclaimed. “Why couldn’t he just text me this?”

Gwen looked at his poster and laughed. “Subtle, isn’t he?”

“Like a herd of elephants in a glass museum.”

“Seriously, you two, stop being so adorable!” She cooed. Merlin rolled his eyes, but stuck his hand in his pocket, rubbing his thumb against the cool polish of the red tooth necklace. He twisted his finger around the soft chord of the leather and allowed himself a secret smile.

~*~*~

Merlin stood in front of Arthur’s hotel door and thought about the crazy rollercoaster that brought him here. It seemed like another lifetime ago when he got that silly email from Will with a link that would change his life. He was surprised to find that he wasn’t as nervous to see Arthur like he was the first go around. He was anxious, and a tiny corner of his mind was afraid that there’d be a repeat of the first disaster, but he was mostly excited.

At the end of the day – this day – Arthur was Arthur. Sometimes he ran around in a leather kit swinging a sword in an elaborate show of pretend or he entertained a crowd of four thousand with silly anecdotes, but to Merlin, he was a daft, self-conscious prat who made him laugh.

Merlin’s fingers once again threaded through the cord of the necklace and he looked at the door. He was twenty minutes early, but Gwen threatened bodily harm if he didn’t stop pacing in their hotel room. Now he was pacing the hall in front of Arthur’s hotel suite, which was even worse.

The suite door opened, and Merlin searched for something to hide behind like a total creeper. He settled for leaning against a glass table in the hall, aiming for a casual stance, and hoping he didn’t look like an idiot. He looked at his mobile as though he were someone important who had important things to check up on.

In reality, he was reading the fan reports Gwen was flooding his email with from KweenBea, Roman_Network, and meme. Mostly meme, though, as Gwen was sending him her favourite responses to the wank his photo of Arthur caused (Some people are actually saying it’s fake! Can you believe it? I can’t tell if they’re trolling, or if they’re genuinely that oblivious, she emailed.).

“Merlin?”

Merlin looked up from the email to see Gwaine and Lancelot standing outside of their room. He quickly stuffed his mobile in his pocket and cleared his throat. “Er, hi? Arthur said I should come by?” He winced, not meaning for that to come off as a question.

“It’s okay,” Lancelot quickly assured. “He told us you were stopping by.” He stepped forward and held out his hand. “I’m Lance, by the way. I remember you from the table earlier. How are you enjoying the con?”

Merlin suddenly realized why every fan report of meeting Lance read like a 12 year old girl gushing over her first crush. He returned the handshake and smiled. “It’s fantastic! I’m here with my friend Gwen; we’ve never been to California before. It’s so different from London! I wish we could get out and see more of the city.”

“Gwen,” Lance said, considering. “Was that the woman you were standing beside at the table? With the curly brown hair?”

Gwen was going to die a thousand deaths when Merlin told her that Lancelot remembered her. “Yes! She loves the show. Well, I mean, we both do, but--”

Gwaine started laughing and cut him off. “So I’ve heard.”

Merlin’s heart hammered in his chest. He didn’t know what Gwaine knew, or how much Arthur had divulged about how they met. Rather than say anything, Merlin gave an awkward little smile and nod.

“Gwaine,” Lance chastised. “We need to get going. Arthur’s in the shower, so feel free to wait in our room.” Lance pulled out his room key and reopened the door, motioning for Merlin to go inside.

He thought it was odd that two celebrities were letting a complete stranger and self-confessed fan into their room without supervision, but who knows what Arthur told them.

“Don’t shag on my bed!” Gwaine called from out in the hall.

“Gwaine!” Merlin watched Lance punch Gwaine in the shoulder as the door shut behind them, leaving him alone in the room. He could hear the shower running, and examined his surroundings. The suite was huge. There was a full sized living/dining area, and two king sized beds in the back. It made the room he and Gwen were sharing look like something that belonged in a youth hostel.

Aside from their luggage, there were three large gift baskets on a table filled with various alcohols, snacks, and fruits. The largest basket appeared to be from HBO, and was filled with all sorts of swag that was being handing out at the con. Merlin coveted an aluminum water bottle with The Roman logo on it, and wondered it Arthur would notice or care if he stuffed it in his rucksack.

He walked over to the window and looked out at the view of PETCO Park before he gave into temptation and actually raided the swag basket. The last thing he needed was for Arthur to come out of the bathroom and catch him with his hands on the goods like a kid in the cookie jar.

He felt awkward and out of place alone in a room filled with his favourite celebrities private possessions. Unable to stand the silence any longer, he knocked on the bathroom door, not entirely sure what his game plan was, but needing someone to ground him in this drifting sea of surrealism.

“For Gods’ sake, Lance, if you have to piss, just come in and do it!” Arthur shouted through the door.

Merlin grinned and suddenly knew what he wanted. He stripped off his clothes and slid into the shower behind Arthur. He snaked his arms around Arthur’s waist, in case he slipped from the surprise.

Arthur went rigid in Merlin’s arms, and then turned. He heaved a sigh of relief, and wrapped his arms around Merlin’s waist, holding them chest-to-chest. “Jesus fucking Christ! I thought my roommates had gone barmy! When did you get here?”

“Just now. I arrived as the others left, so they let me in.”

Arthur wiped the water from his eyes and looked at him. He lifted his hand and caressed his cheek. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were coming.”

Merlin leaned forward and rested his forehead against Arthur’s, letting the warm cater cascade over them both. “I assumed you’d be busy with work. I didn’t want to distract you.”

Arthur closed the distance between their lips and kissed him chastely. “Best distraction ever.”

Merlin’s cheeks hurt from the force of his smile; it was like everything was finally going right for once. “I don’t know why I didn’t come to Comic Con sooner, if I could have been shagging the celebrities.” He could feel Arthur’s erection poking him in the thigh, so he reached down and began to tentatively stroke it.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Arthur punctuated each word with a kiss. “It’s the only reason to come to a con, honestly.”

“Mmm,” Merlin moved in for another kiss, and this time opened his mouth and gave in to Arthur’s gentle assault. Arthur’s hand slid down his chest and grasped his erection. The sure grip around his cock and wet tongue caressing his lips made Merlin dizzy, and he couldn’t stop his hips from thrusting forward. He pulled back to gather his wits. “As glad as I am that we’re on the same page, I don’t have the best track record in showers, if you’ll recall. Can we move this to the bed?”

Merlin could feel, rather than hear, the low chuckle resonating from Arthur’s chest. He turned the water off and grabbed his towel. “Of course. I was about to jump out before you jumped in, anyway.”

“I feel obliged to tell you that Gwaine has forbidden any intercourse on his bed. Any particular reason why Gwaine chose to say that to a perfect stranger?” Merlin raised an eyebrow at Arthur as he reached for a towel and dried off.

Arthur pulled a face, indicating disgust. “Because if he weren’t sharing a bed with Lancelot, I’d defile his spot and leave it spunk-covered and dirty.”

“Dare I ask…why you feel such vehemence towards Gwaine’s place on the bed?”

“Because shortly before we left Rome, Gwaine came back to the room we were sharing, drunk, and ended up fucking on my bed instead of his. I happened to be with Lancelot and Leon at the time, so I didn’t notice said defilement until I came back around half-three. Needless to say, he’s been waiting for me to retaliate.” Apparently satisfied with their level of dryness, Arthur herded him out of the bathroom. “But come to think of it, Lance can sleep with me.” He gave Merlin a toothy grin, and ran and jumped on a bed that was presumably Gwaine’s.

Merlin shook his head. “You’re ridiculous.” He smiled fondly, and climbed over Arthur on the bed. He ran his nose along Arthur’s skin as he went, inhaling the fresh scent of soap and something headier and more Earthy. He caught a few errant drops of water with his tongue as he crawled up his body.

“Speaking of the others,” Merlin paused in his exploration, and settled onto Arthur’s chest. “How much do they know?”

“Only Gwaine and Lancelot know, and they know about everything except your art,” Arthur grabbed Merlin’s chin firmly and looked him directly in the eye, “and they will never, ever know about the art. Especially Gwaine.”

Merlin lifted himself off of Arthur’s chest and ran his fingers through Arthur’s wet hair, making it stick up in wild angles. “I still can’t believe you got a LiveJournal.” He looked at Arthur with all the fondness he felt, uncaring if Arthur was able to see the love in his eyes.

He was surprised to see Arthur’s cheeks redden. “You wouldn’t respond to my texts.”

“In my defense, I was in a movie at the time, and had my mobile turned off. You’re the one who panicked and stalked me on the internet.”

The pink on Arthur’s cheeks became a full-blown red and Merlin couldn’t help but lean in and nuzzle the hollow of his throat, nipping and kissing his way up Arthur’s neck. He reached an earlobe and took it between his teeth and sucked. “We really need to drop this line of conversation and move on to more productive things, like defacing Gwaine’s pillow with our bodily fluids,” Arthur said, gasping when Merlin tweaked his nipple.

He could feel Arthur’s heart beating against his chest, and his erection, hot and dripping pre-cum, branding his hip. Unable to resist the chance to tease him once more, he whispered in his ear, “Those are some smooth seduction lines you’ve got there, Mr. Pendragon.”

Arthur opened his mouth in mock scandal, “I still have time to pick up another willing fan. You’re all interchangeable, you know.”

Though he knew Arthur was teasing, he leaned down for a rough kiss, proving that there would be no need for anyone else to kiss those lips. “I don’t really think that’s necessary, do you?”

In a show of strength and power that left him wide-eyed and breathless, Arthur flipped Merlin over, pushed him into the mattress and straddled his hips. He was solid, strong, and real in a way he’d never been before. Their erections brushed together and Merlin had to close his eyes, for fear that he’d shoot off like a teenager catching his first glimpse of a porn mag.

“I’m going to ride you until everything fades away except your cock sliding in and out of me. You’re going to come, shaking and incoherent in your pleasure, with nothing but my name falling from your lips,” Arthur whispered, low and hot in his ear. Merlin shuddered and couldn’t stop himself from writhing to the sound of his voice. It was the sexiest thing he had ever heard, and he was already dizzy with want. Arthur was driving him up hotter and harder, as he licked and kissed his way down his neck, intimately acquainting himself with Merlin’s body.

“And then I’m going to fuck you, brand you with my cock, and make it so you’ll be unable to sit down without feeling the echo and ache of me inside of you.” The sensations of Arthur around him and the promise of Arthur inside of him were so intense, he clawed at Arthur’s back, raking his skin in an attempt to push Arthur to do something; he was done with this slow torture of hot promise, and needed to get off before he expired from the sheer power of his arousal. Arthur looked up with an amused expression before he took one of Merlin’s nipples roughly between his teeth and bit down.

Merlin closed his eyes and arched up, the shock of pain going straight to his groin. “Condom,” he whispered brokenly. “Please tell me you have a fucking condom.”

Arthur pulled a condom from out of thin air, or maybe he had it on the bedside table, Merlin didn’t know. He was so desperate to feel Arthur around him that the side details didn’t much matter to him as long as there was a condom on his dick and sex in his future.

It was so fucking much, the feeling of Arthur rolling the condom over his erection and the expression of complete adoration and arousal, that Merlin felt like he was having and out-of-body experience, and that he’d wake up in his bed any moment covered in sticky sheets.

Arthur grabbed Merlin’s hand and sucked his index and middle fingers into his mouth, coating them with saliva. He removed the fingers and guided Merlin’s hand to his arse. “Get me ready,” he ordered. His voice was rough and laced with need. Merlin was so entranced that he could do little more than nod as he pushed his fingers against Arthur’s entrance and worked them in.

He took a moment to marvel at how tight and hot Arthur felt, squeezing around his fingers as he worked him open. He curled his middle finger up in search of Arthur’s prostate, and was rewarded when Arthur hissed and bucked up off Merlin’s hips. He brushed it again, wanting to see how much farther he could push Arthur in his ecstasy.

Arthur’s hands were gripping Merlin’s shoulders roughly and he dropped his forehead to rest against Merlin’s forehead. He was starting to thrust his hips up and down as Merlin pushed deeper and stretched him wider. Merlin arched his neck to reach for Arthur’s lips, and drew him in for a kiss, savoring the wet slide of their mouths as he fucked him open with his fingers.

“Enough,” Arthur ground out, forcibly removing Merlin’s fingers from his hole and positioning himself over Merlin’s erection. He could do nothing than watch and try to keep his heart from stopping as Arthur slowly slid down his length. With little more than spit, Arthur’s pre-cum, and the minimal lube that was already on the condom slicking the way, the friction was rough and making him see stars.

Arthur was halfway down Merlin’s length when he stopped and allowed himself a moment to relax and adjust. The room was silent, emphasizing their harsh breaths and pounding pulses. Merlin bit at the tendon on Arthur’s neck and sucked a deep bruise into his skin. They had barely begun, and his need to come was already overwhelming. He was beginning to tremble at the restraint to not split Arthur open and finish himself.

When Arthur began to move down again, Merlin’s restraint snapped, and he grabbed at Arthur’s hips, gripped them tightly, and thrust in to the hilt. Arthur cried out, thrilling Merlin that he had finally broken Arthur’s silent control. Arthur’s fingers were digging into Merlin’s shoulders so hard, he was sure finger-shaped bruises would remain long after they finished. The pain distracted him momentarily from his need to come, and he released one of his hands from Arthur’s hips to reach up and pull his face down for a sloppy, uncoordinated, delicious kiss.

He pulled out and thrust back in, again and again, as Arthur’s powerful thighs caging his hips began to shake. “Finish yourself,” Merlin ground out, dangerously close to the edge. Arthur released his grip on his shoulder to stroke himself, and seconds later, Merlin vaguely recalled feeling hot cum splash his chest as Arthur bit down on his clavicle in silent, gorgeous release.

The pain and sensation of Arthur’s muscles squeezing his cock pushed every nerve in his body off a cliff and electrified him. Unable to hold off his orgasm any longer, he came in white bliss and nearly blacked out from the fantastic power of letting go.

~*~

Merlin felt sated and blessed out. He was idly drawing his finger through Arthur’s chest hair when he felt Arthur’s fingers brush his collarbone, touching the bite mark he left when he came. “Where’s the necklace?”

“Trouser pocket, on the floor by the bathroom.”

“Mmmm.” He could hear Arthur’s low rumbling response in his chest, making him feel warm and tingly. “And here I’d hoped you’d put it on.”

“You know, you didn’t have to do that today.” He stilled his finger and lifted his head to look Arthur head on. “I didn’t need a gesture or anything – I just needed you to not go off Diva style, or be a prat.”

“I did it more for me than for you, to prove I could. I wanted you to have something that’s important to me; it seemed right.” Arthur shrugged as much as he could with Merlin lying on top of him.

“Aren’t you worried about the press that’s going to come of that? Fans everywhere know that you’re never seen without that necklace. I mean, there are Tumblr accounts dedicated to just pictures of you with that necklace on.”

Arthur pushed Merlin off of him and rolled off the bed. He walked over to the discarded trousers on the floor and began searching his pockets. He pulled out Merlin’s mobile and unlocked the screen, giving Merlin a cheeky grin as he did so. “Three missed texts from Gwen, the last one demanding to know whether or not we’ve shagged yet.” He wagged his eyebrows. “I think I’ll tell her that we have, and that you came before I even touched you, unable to control your desperate and all-encompassing need for me,” he said, moving his fingers across the phone.

“Oh god,” Merlin grabbed the closest pillow and threw it over his face. Arthur pulled the pillow away a few seconds later, and was lifting his neck to slip something around it. Merlin’s hand flew to his collarbone, and he realized it was the necklace.

After he finished knotting it, Arthur tugged on the tooth gently, a fond smile on his face. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the public finding out. I can’t come out of the closet and I can’t show the world that I’m in love with you.” Arthur paused, and Merlin wondered if he could hear his heart thundering in his chest. He wanted to tell Arthur he loved him back, but as if he anticipated Merlin’s response, Arthur sealed his lips with his index finger.

“I’m going to tell Viv we’re together. She needs to know in case we’re, well, when we’re seen together in public. And I’m definitely taking you out, so she needs to be prepared.”

It was almost too good to be true, and Merlin didn’t quite want to believe it. So many thoughts were screaming in his head, he didn’t know where to start. He settled on the easy way out and asked about Viv. “She’s not going to threaten to quit again, is she?”

“Are you kidding?” Arthur’s smile was huge. “She lives for this shit! Viv was just stomping her heels during the LA bender-that-shall-not-be-mentioned because she was tired of cleaning up my messes. Me dating you is not a mess – it’s part of her job. She loves doing spin on this sort of thing, no matter how loudly she complains; she’d be in the wrong business otherwise. As long as I’m not doing bags of drugs with faceless starlets in the backrooms of LA’s clubs, Viv and I are good.”

Merlin winced. “Yeah, I’m not the drug or club sort.”

Arthur leaned over and kissed him on his nose. “I know, and Viv’s going to love that.”

Merlin thought for a few moments: about Arthur, about their insane relationship and how it could possibly work, and about Gwen, who was going to freak out over becoming his +1 around Arthur’s famous friends. He thought of fandom, and how he’d gone from and anonymous face in the crowd, to a sought-out face in the crowd receiving salacious text messages.

He couldn’t stop a laugh from escaping when he thought of the rest of fandom, and how they spent their days arguing about the trufax of Arthur and the rest of the cast - facts that he was now privy to. “I kind of want to troll your fans on the meme,” he confessed, imagining the fall-out over random, innocuous bits of information, like drops of blood in a tank of piranhas.

Arthur laughed. “I thought you said you didn’t go there!”

Merlin blushed. “I don’t! I meant Gwen is going to troll your fans!”

Arthur rolled his eyes and flicked him in the forehead between his brows. “Troll away. Just don’t do any permanent damage, and let me know beforehand what you plan on letting slip.”

“Of course, and I promise that Gwen won’t do any permanent damage…to you.” Merlin cackled. He and Gwen were going to have a field day and paint fandom red.

“Great, whatever, have fun.” Arthur slid his hand down Merlin’s stomach and began running his finger around the tip of his flaccid cock. “For the time being, let’s focus on fixing that boring, vanilla sex first, yes?”

“Boring, vanilla sex!” If Arthur weren’t so obviously kidding, Merlin would have been offended. Nothing about their sex had ever been boring. Vanilla, yes, but boring?

Arthur’s wandering hand moved lower to cup his balls, rolling them in his palm. Merlin could feel his arousal beginning to stir in anticipation of round two. “Boring, vanilla sex,” Arthur repeated, drawing his finger down to circle at Merlin’s entrance. “Don’t you remember Rule #5: No boring sex?”

Merlin arched his eyebrow, amused and curious as to what Arthur had in mind. “I seem to recall that rule, yes.”

Arthur gave him a predatory grin. “Excellent. Then I was thinking that we should…”

Epilogue

Arthur walked through the familiar doors of Avalon and nodded his head toward the security guard as he went to the lift. He pushed the floor of the design team instead of his sister’s office.

When he stepped out the lift, the secretary’s eyes widened into dinner plates. “Er, can you point me in the direction of Merlin Emrys’ office?” He gave her a winning smile with the hope that she wouldn’t react audibly over seeing him. It wasn’t like he was new to the building, or anything.

The secretary nodded dumbly for a few seconds before she seemed to snap back to attention and pointed to a spot on the map in front of them. Arthur tipped his head in thanks and quickly walked away before she asked for a picture or autograph. The office that the secretary had pointed to on the map was open, and Arthur quickly ducked in before anyone else on the floor could spot him, checking the nameplate on the door to make sure he was in the right room.

Merlin was hunched over his desk, inking a picture of what looked to be blush or eye shadow – he wasn’t sure. He watched him work for a few moments before he crept over and snatched the pen from his hand.

Merlin jumped and spun in his chair. “What the--!” His eyes widened when he saw Arthur and his face split into a grin. “What are you doing here?”

Just as he was about to lean in for a kiss, Morgana knocked on the door and strode in. “I got paged that you were in the building. I should have known that you’d be here to see him instead of me.” She did a fantastic job of managing to look putout.

“Does this mean I need to consult with you when I want to stop by and invite my boyfriend out to lunch?” Arthur asked, teasing her.

Morgana rolled her eyes and leaned against the doorjamb with her arms folded across her chest. “Oh please, we both know you’d curl up and die before you’d ever consult me.” She examined her nails as though she were bored and adjusted the cuff of her sleeve. “So are you ever going to tell me how you two met?”

Arthur nearly laughed out loud at how obvious her curiosity was. Merlin looked up at him, slightly alarmed. Arthur tried to reassure him with a smile and a caress on the back of his neck. Merlin shrugged and Arthur grinned. “Merlin found my online porn collection.”

Morgana threw her hands up in the air and huffed in exasperation. “Fine then! Don’t tell me! It’s not like I’m burning with curiosity at how my baby brother and star creative designer met. Why would I be?”

Merlin and Arthur both laughed as Morgana hied herself from the office.

Finally alone, Arthur closed the door to the office and leaned over Merlin’s chair and licked the shell of his ear. He delighted in Merlin’s shiver. “I’m actually here for a shag, but I figure it’d be bad form to ask without at least offering you a meal.”

“Yeah,” Merlin choked out, doing that stupid nod that made him look simple. Arthur felt his chest swell with affection. “A high protein lunch sounds fantastic.” Then he bestowed Arthur with the most incredible smile he had ever seen.

The End.


¹Wank Club quote shamelessly lifted word for word from Fight Club. Credit given where credit due, and all that rot.

²ELVIS!!!!!!! Ripped straight from the song (A Little Less Conversation). I heart it liek woah.

³Percival Le Gallois – French movie meaning Percival the Welshman. Since dear ole’ Percy doesn’t have a surname and I wasn’t keen on trying to think one up, I chose the illustrious Gallois.

This is a butt balloon– fun for all couples (and singles!). Good times, etc.