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Duck and Bunny Rescue

Chapter Text

"Hey!"

 

Gwaine jerked at the unexpected sound, his forehead connecting with the bumper of the car. He winced and tried to rub the pain away, sending a murderous look his roommate's direction. "Fuck. What do you want?"

 

"Are you still under that stupid car?" Leon asked, bending low to survey the situation. "You're supposed to be getting ready for your date."

 

"Ugh. Not you too. She's roped you into doing her dirty work."

 

"She's my fiance. She doesn't have to rope me into things."

 

"Right. That implies you have some choice," Gwaine muttered. When Morgana said jump, Leon didn't even ask high. He acted first and then confirmed he did it the right way, repeating it if she didn't like the first time.

 

"And it's not dirty work. You haven't had a date for awhile and..."

 

"And why is that even your concern? You know I've been focusing on getting this heap of junk running again. I shouldn't be worried about dating if I can't even transport myself to the date, right?" Gwaine crawled out from beneath the old Honda and gingerly touched the knot forming on his brow. "Great. That's attractive."

 

"You know you can use my car. And you'll probably need to since you're supposed to meet Morgana there in a half hour. Come here, let me get a look at that. Ah, you'll be fine."

 

"I didn't exactly think it was life threatening." They turned back to the house, Gwaine wiping his hands as he walked. "A half hour? I'll never make it. I might as well just..."

 

"Don't say cancel. You are not going to cancel on this. You are going to love Merlin."

 

Gwaine stopped in his tracks. "Merlin. You two are setting me on a date with a guy named Merlin ."

 

"He's a great guy. I know you don't trust Morgana's taste, but I'm your best friend. You know you can trust me."

 

"You realize I don't trust Morgana's taste in men precisely because she's with you, right?" Leon only smiled as the barb completely failed to pierce him. "Fine. What does this Merlin the Great do."

 

"He rescues ducks and bunnies. Probably baby chicks, too."

 

"He rescues ducks and bunnies," Gwaine repeated slowly. "Is he a cartoon character?"

 

"He looks a little like one. But only in the really great and cute way," Leon was quick to add.

 

"Great, you're setting me up with a cartoon character who rescues ducks and bunnies. Rescues them from what? Wile E Coyote? The Big Bad Wolf?"

 

"Stupid parents and their spoiled kids, actually. You ever go to a pet store around Easter?"

 

"People still buy live animals for their children on Easter?"

 

"Sure. But then those cute baby animals grow up and their noisy and stinky and require attention and food. Apparently most people just set them free in the wild to fend for themselves."

 

"That's...pretty awful."

 

"Exactly."

 

"Why not just kill Roger Rabbit themselves and serve him up for dinner? Then the kids learn a valuable lesson about the food chain and the circle of life."

 

Leon looked so horrified that Gwaine just had to laugh. "I know you're not serious about that."

 

"Sure I am. People do eat rabbits, you know. And ducks. And chickens, for that matter. You've killed more than one bucket of the Colonel's Original Recipe."

 

"That's not the same."

 

"Yes, it is."

 

"No it's not! Just...please don't say that to Merlin. He's a really sweet guy and that would totally upset him."

 

"Please tell me he's not a vegetarian, too."

 

"Pretty sure he is."

 

Gwaine rolled his eyes and opened the back door of the ranch house he shared with Leon. They'd were best friends in high school and pooled their money together for a down payment as soon as they graduated, finding a house together which they both agreed would be Party Central. And it had been for the first year or so of their residency there, but now all of their friends were working on their college degrees, or getting married, or simply drifting away into another place and another life. And Leon was stuck with all the bills, the only one who still had a regular paycheck.  They didn't get much company these days, and Gwaine didn't have much reason to leave anymore. He'd been laid off from the job he had since he was sixteen, there weren't any others in the area, and his social life was at the bottom of its downward spiral.  Thus, Leon and Morgana's urgency. They thought something was wrong with him.

 

Morgana wasn't one to mince words. She flat out said that she thought Gwaine was slipping into a depression, and she was bound and determined to stop that from happening. He told her that was real easy--find him a job. She decided it would be easier to find him a date. Why she thought that would help, he had no idea.

 

"Go get in the shower. I'll let her know that I got you out from under the car."

 

"Also let her know that you've damaged me in the process. She should probably warn Merlin that I look like the Elephant Man now."

 

The bump was even bigger than he expected. A goose egg, as his mother would call it, right above his right eyebrow. It was tender, but it looked much worse than it felt. Gwaine took his phone from his pocket and snapped a quick picture. If he decided not to go after all, he'd at least have photographic proof of a pretty great excuse. Sorry Morgana. Can't meet your friend tonight. As you can plainly see, I need to go to the hospital.  Actually, if he sent that text message he would have to go to the hospital. Because if Morgana came home and found him drinking beer on the couch, she'd give him a one-way ticket to the emergency room. There were few things he hated more than blind dates, and wasting an entire night in the ER was at the top of that list.

 

Gwaine showered quickly, scrubbing away the oil and dirt and using Morgana's special conditioner in his shoulder-length brown hair, then went through an abbreviated version of his regular primping and grooming process. Leon tapped on the door every five minutes, apparently convinced that Gwaine couldn't read a clock or properly experience the passage of time.

 

"Go without me if you're in such a big hurry!" Gwaine shouted back.

 

"Just get your ass in gear! Morgana said he's already there."

 

"Well we wouldn't want to make him wait, I guess," Gwaine muttered. "Wouldn't want to keep him from his ducks and bunnies. I'd never forgive myself."

 

He didn't appreciate Morgana's meddling, but even he had to admit that she could have been far more sadistic about it. Instead of forcing him into a one-on-one date that he'd find awkward and painful, she suggested they all meet at the Farmer's Market for dinner. That way, he could experience all the awkwardness of a first date in front of her so she could better critique him and inform him everything he was doing wrong. Probably in front of Merlin because that was just how Morgana rolled.

 

Since they were going to meet at the Farmers Market, he threw on his normal Farmers Market attire--jeans and a Black Sabbath T-shirt.

 

"Are you really going to wear that?" Leon asked when Gwaine emerged from his room.

 

"Yeah. Why? What's wrong with it?" He looked down, pulling his shirt away from his chest to inspect it. "It's clean."

 

"Don't you have anything nicer than jeans and a T-shirt?"

 

"Oh, did you want me to break out my Versace? I didn't realize there was a dress code."

 

"Morgana..."

 

"Morgana didn't lay my clothes out for me this morning so I guess she was willing to take a risk on me dressing myself."

 

Leon rolled his eyes at Gwaine's sarcasm and grabbed his keys. "If I run a few stop signs we won't be late."

 

"Right. That sounds like a great idea."

 

The Farmers Market was a weekly event from June to October, held every Tuesday night in the center of town. Most things in Appleton were pretty lame, but Gwaine had to admit that the Farmers Market was a good addition to the town. He wouldn't admit it out loud, of course. Morgana didn't need to have a bigger head and she already acted like she was single-handedly responsible for everything from the concept to the sweetness of the farmers' corn. Granted, she was responsible for an awful lot. Which was why Leon had a reserved parking spot waiting for him near the Beef Kabob vendor.

 

Most of the faces were unfamiliar to him, but he still nodded and smiled at everybody who paused long enough to stare at his head.

 

"Are you sure I look okay?" Gwaine finally asked. "Really, I don't want to meet this Merlin if he's going to spend the whole night staring at my lump."

 

"You can barely notice it."

 

"Barely notice? The only way that could be true was if my face was so naturally misshapen that another bump wouldn't make a difference."

 

"Right. Like I said. You can barely notice it."

 

"Haha, real funny guy."

 

"Morgana thinks so."

 

"She does appreciate a good joke. I've got a few she might want to hear. Maybe I should share those."

 

Leon leveled a look at him that was supposed to be a warning but only revealed how deeply uncomfortable the thought made him. "I don't think she'd like those jokes."

 

"For your sake, I hope we never have reason to find out. Ah and speak of the devil."

 

Morgana was winding her way through the crowd, moving towards them with a coltish boy in tow. Even from a distance, Gwaine could see that the boy was above average for their little community. He had an angular face and a square jaw that was softened by full pink lips and long, almost girlish, eyelashes. His clothes were baggy, mostly obscuring his body, but Gwaine could see his small but well-defined biceps and that was encouraging. His long fingers and big ears were also encouraging. He knew people thought big feet corresponded to big dicks, but in Gwaine's experience it was all about the ears and the nose. Merlin's were large without being clownish.

 

His smile was huge. The whole world could fall into that smile. It stretched from ear to ear and lit his entire face.

 

Maybe Morgana didn't have completely terrible taste in men. Gwaine supposed the real test would be when Merlin opened his mouth.

 

"Glad to see you made it," Morgana greeted, wrapping her arms around Gwaine in a quick hug before stepping in Leon's embrace. She spun around in Leon's arms without releasing him, gesturing at Merlin. "Gwaine Landon this is Merlin Christensen."

 

Gwaine put his hand out. "Pleasure to meet you, Merlin."

 

The boy's smile grew even wider, if that were possible, and his grip was firm and strong. Much stronger than Gwaine expected, and he found himself enjoying the pressure around his knuckles. "It's great to finally meet you. Morgana's been telling me all about you."

 

"All about me? That must be boring. The abridged version packs a lot more punch."

 

"Merlin has a booth set up here. He's the newest member of our little family here," Morgana cut in.

 

"Oh really? I'd love to see it," Gwaine said, trying to sound excited about it. But there was only so much fake enthusiasm he could muster for it.

 

"Well let's go. I need to get back to it before it turns to chaos. See you guys later." He waved at Morgan and Leon. "So how long have you known Morgana?" Merlin asked as they left them behind.

 

Too long. "She and Leon started dating about three years ago. But we all went to school together." And in a town the size of Appleton, that meant K through 12.

 

"She's really great, isn't she?"

 

"Yeah, she's a peach."

 

"When I first moved here, I didn't know anybody. I thank my lucky stars for the day I met her. She's really done a lot to help me out."

 

"She's a natural giver." Mainly a giver of headaches. He hoped Merlin didn't want to spend the whole night talking about Morgana. That would make the date awkward to say the least.

 

"She's really fond of you. She's always talking about you. I finally asked to meet you because I wanted to see if the stories were true."

 

"Prepare for disappointment."

 

Merlin laughed warmly at that, his eyes wrinkling at the corners with his amusement.

 

"I'm not joking."

 

"Well I'll let you know how it goes."

 

"Merlin!" A girl standing beneath a purple banner proclaiming the existence of the rather unlikely "Buck and Chick Animal Rescue"  excitedly waved him over. "There he is now. Merlin, this is Mr. Pendragon. Mr. Pendragon, this is Merlin."

 

Mr. Uther Pendragon was fifteen, maybe twenty years older with black hair shading to gray at the temples and friendly brown eyes. He wore his age well.  Gwaine recognized him vaguely but never met the men and didn't really know anything about him, except that he drove a big blue Bentley. He greeted Merlin with a warm smile, taking his hand and gripping his shoulder in a surprisingly familiar gesture. "Merlin, it is such a a pleasure to meet you. I've heard so much about your work, but I've been abroad for the past year."

 

Gwaine was surprised to hear that. People talked about rescuing ducks and bunnies? Was that some political movement he missed out on? And who the hell had been driving that Bentley around town? Maybe Gwaine had his strangers mixed up. Maybe that had been Mr. Salts or something.

 

"It's a pleasure to meet you, too," Merlin said with surprised enthusiasm. Clearly, everybody was feeling quite pleasured. Gwaine didn't find anything immediately objectionable about Merlin--he seemed a nice enough guy--but he still looked around and considered his escape options. Clearly, Merlin had business there besides Gwaine, and since this proto-date wasn't even Gwaine's idea, he had no problem fading out of sight and finding his own entertainment.

 

But even Gwaine couldn't justify that level of rudeness. He waited at a polite distance, half listening to their conversation and half watching for pretty girls. He might have been on a date with a dude, but he definitely appreciated the eye-candy. He didn't tune in until he heard Mr. Pendragon say, "I'd like to write you a check."

 

Gwaine waved his fingers to catch Merlin's attention and then gestured at the Bar-B-Cue booth with its massive grill and sizzling beef and pork. Big Ray drove all the way from Pawnee every week for their market--that was over a hundred miles both ways and Gwaine was sure thankful he did.  Merlin nodded and Gwaine mouthed "good luck" before ducking away. The scent of the roasting meat hooked his nostrils and pulled him along until he was standing in front of Big Ray, pulling his thin wallet from his pocket.

 

"Smells good today, Ray."

 

"Better than last time?"

 

"Better than anything ever," Gwaine said solemnly. Ray laughed and threw a sourdough roll on his plate for free. Gwaine thanked him with a few extra bucks in the tip jar. In some ways, his relationship with Ray was his best. Probably his most healthy. They met at the same time every week, exchanged the same words, and always threw in a little extra sugar for the other. Yes, he could have bought that rolle for two dollars rather than tip Ray an extra three, but why mess with a good system?

 

Gwaine dug into his plate as his stomach growled at him to move faster, his mouth pulling into a smile of pure pleasure once the tender steak hit his tongue. Oh yeah, that was the stuff. God bless Big Ray. And God bless Morgana for bringing him into Gwaine's life.

 

Shit. Morgana. She was going to be pissed when she heard how swiftly their little date ended. She'd probably insist he should have stood there and waited for Merlin to finish his business. But Gwaine wasn't stupid. He saw the flicker of interest in Mr. Pendragon' peppery eyes, and he wasn't Merlin's boyfriend. No need to hover where his presence wasn't needed. Satisfied he had an argument that would best his nosy friend, he cut another tender bite away, his chewing interrupted by Merlin's sudden appearance at his side.

 

"Sorry about that. That was kind of rude."

 

Gwaine shook his head and quickly swallowed the food down. "Not at all. You've got to take care of business, right?"

 

"I don't need help from somebody like him."

 

"What's wrong with him? He seemed nice enough."

 

"He's got a PR nightmare on his hands and he thinks if he's affiliated with me, it'll help his company. Why he thinks I want to help him, I don't know."

 

"Why don't you want to help him? Seems like he was willing to make it worth your time."

 

"Do you know who that was?"

 

Gwaine shook his head. Was it rude to eat a steak in front of a vegetarian?  

 

"You never heard of Uther Pendragon? Pendragon Pharmaceuticals?"

 

"Oh, he's that guy? I had no idea."

 

"Yes, he's that guy."

 

"What does he want your help with? What would he need with ducks and bunnies?" Gwaine's eyes widened with horror. "He wasn't trying to buy your rescue animals was he?"

 

"No, but he was trying to buy my good name. There's a lot of people angry with him right now, and they're going to be fucking furious in a few days when the Times publishes their expose on his company and their policies on animal testing."

 

"What are they?"

 

"They're terrible is what they are. He thinks he can clean the slate if he gives me a big check. Then he can say he doesn't hate animals, in fact he supports those who work to rescue abused and mistreated animals."

 

"I thought you rescued easter bunnies and baby ducks."

 

"Not quite. That's how I got started, though. I worked at a preschool for rich kids, and every year about half the class would bring in their new pets for show and tell the week after easter. One day a little girl asked me if I wanted her bunny. I said I didn't want her bunny, I wanted her to keep her bunny. Her face just...collapsed. She was always a ray of sunshine and that was just the saddest thing I ever saw. She said her mommy told her she couldn't keep Buck and she had to find a good home for him. I guess Dad bought it for her since she went to Easter at his house and Mom didn't appreciate cleaning up after it. So I took it. And then I ended up with a duck that same week."

 

"Was the duck's name Chick?"

 

"Yep. Me and Buck and Chick lived in a little tiny studio apartment. They were best friends. You never saw anything so cute. I had to get a bigger place the next year when our little family expanded. Once the parents realized I'd take unwanted pets off their hands, I got all kinds of phone calls for all kinds of things. Turtles, snakes, spiders, rats, a red macaw once."

 

"Why didn't you ever say no?"

 

"Because I was worried they'd just dump the animals and let them starve to death. I inherited some money two years ago and decided to buy a bigger place out here in the country. With more room and a staff larger than just myself, I could expand to take lab animals, too."

 

"Do you have any chimps?"

 

Merlin laughed. "No. But that's usually what people want to know. Why is that?"

 

"Haven't you seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes? People probably want to make sure the super-intelligent apes aren't in their backyard. So...do you want to get some dinner?"

 

Merlin looked pointedly at his plate. "You have your dinner."

 

"Oh yeah, but I don't..." Gwaine didn't know how to finish that sentence. 'I don't want it' was too big of a lie. So he went with the technical truth. "I don't have to eat it." It wouldn't kill him to toss it aside, it would only destroy his soul and burden him with lifelong regret.

 

Merlin's brow furrowed in a moment of confusion, then cleared again. "Oh. Don't worry about me, Gwaine. I'm not offended by the sight of people eating meat just because I'm not a carnivore."

 

"Still, I don't want you to sit here and watch me eat."

 

"I'll go grab something and meet you back here."

 

"I was thinking we could go sit over closer to the stage. I know the band. They're not bad."

 

Merlin smiled. "Okay. Meet you over there?"

 

"Sounds like a plan."

 

Gwaine staked out a perfect patch of grass near the make-shift stage area. Morgana believed in supporting local musicians, even if the majority of them were mostly terrible garage bands. Bob Hawkes did not fall under that category. The only category he fell under was Unbelievably Fucking Awesome. A fact Gwaine informed Merlin of as soon as he sat down with his vegetarian kabob and hummus.

 

"He used to tour with all kinds of people. I buy him a beer any chance I get because he's got the craziest stories. You wouldn't believe the shit that goes down backstage. He's too good for this place."

 

"Yeah, he's a great guy. I'm going to a party at his house this weekend. It's his daughter's birthday."

 

"He invited you to his daughter's birthday?"

 

"Sure. We see each other here every week, and his daughter loves animals. She comes over to the ranch to volunteer every weekend. Anyway, you're welcome to come with me to the party. He said I could bring a guest."

 

"How old is his daughter?"

 

Merlin smiled. "She'll be turning eighteen."

 

"In that case I'd love to go. I just wanted to make sure she wasn't twelve or something. I don't think a teenage girl's party is really my scene. Unless she's legal." Merlin didn't laugh so Gwaine added, "Um, you know, because a eighteen year old is easier to talk to then a thirteen year old."

 

He snorted. "I know what you meant."

 

"Didn't want to sound like a complete creep."

 

"Only complete creeps sound like complete creeps."

 

"Maybe I'm only a forty-percent creep."

 

"You're too hard on yourself. I'd say no more than thirty, thirty-five percent."

 

Gwaine smiled. "I can live with that if you can."

 

"It's just the right level for me. Do you want a bite of this?" He held his kebob up.

 

"No offense, but that's all my least favorite parts of the kebob."

 

"Not a fan of vegetables?"

 

"Let's put it this way. If I were a dinosaur I'd be a velociraptor."

 

"Not a T. rex?"

 

"Eww, no, are you kidding? They were dirty scavengers. According to a Discovery Channel documentary I saw a few years ago. I could be misremembering it."

 

"Do you hunt and kill all your own food?"

 

"No, but I would if I were a dinosaur. What would you do if you were a dinosaur?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"Come on, you never once thought about how kick-ass it would be to be a dinosaur?"

 

Merlin laughed. "No, I never really thought about that."

 

"Well, what's your favorite dinosaur? I hope it wasn't the brontosaurus."

 

Merlin laughed again, and Gwaine realized he wanted to spend the rest of the night making Merlin chuckle. That was it. That was all he wanted to do. "No. I'm going to go with pterodactyl. Flying dinosaurs. You can't get much cooler than that."

 

"That's a good answer. Except pterodactyls were not dinosaurs." "They weren't?" "Not at all. They were flying reptiles." "Oh. Then I guess I will say brontosaurus. They were herbivores, weren't they?"

 

"They might have been if the brontosaurus ever existed. If you were one of those, you never would have existed and that would be a real shame."

 

Merlin bit a piece of yellow squash from the wooden skewer. "It'll be a real shame if you don't try this. It's good." He held the skewer out again, where the other half of the squash still rested. Gwaine leaned forward, closing his teeth around the spot where Merlin's mouth had just been. The flavor of garlic and spices exploded in his mouth, and maybe it wasn't totally terrible.

 

"Do you like it?"

 

"I do."

 

Merlin grinned, pleased. He was pretty when he smiled like that. "I like a man who's not afraid to try new things."

 

"I make it a point to try a new thing everyday." Or at least he would from now on. "You know one thing I've never done?"

 

"What's that?"

 

"Take a private tour of an animal rescue facility."

 

"Then it's lucky for you I can help you out with that. I conduct private tours every morning at ten. Starting tomorrow."

 

"I'll be there."

 

Maybe Morgana wasn't always wrong about everything.

Chapter Text

Leon had to work but Morgana was more than happy to give him a ride out to Merlin's ranch. It was about ten miles outside of Appleton, and she kept up a non-stop commentary on Merlin for the whole ride. Gwaine let her talk, but he really didn't need to hear the hard sell. He was fully aware of Merlin's greatness. They watched Bob until long after dusk, and when the Market started to close down and pack up, Gwaine found he didn't want to leave Merlin's side. But he couldn't think of any reason to prolong their date, and then Merlin had to get back to the booth he'd abandoned all night. So Gwaine reluctantly walked back to Morgana and Leon, his heart light and his head spinning. He didn't kiss Merlin--barely touched him at all--but it was all he could think about.

 

He was still thinking about kissing Merlin when he went to bed. He lay naked on his soft sheets, idly rubbing his dick until it hardened, and then his touch was anything but idle. His mind drifted from fantasy to fantasy, but none of his usual go-tos was enough to get him going. Then he thought about Merlin's mouth and in his imagination the night went on a much different path. He felt a little guilty for having such dirty thoughts, but maybe Merlin was having the same sort of thoughts? Merlin also made a few cameos in his dreams, and when he woke that morning it was with a feeling of eager anticipation.

 

So no, he didn't need Morgana to convince him that Merlin was amazing. But he was happy to let her keep talking because then he wouldn't be forced to agree that she was right, that Merlin's existence changed everything. He was passionate and funny, easy-going yet intense, and the more time Gwaine spent staring at Merlin's face, the more he liked it. They parked in front of Merlin's house a few minutes before ten, and Morgana flashed a knowing smile.

 

"Go get him, Tiger."

 

"I'm just here to visit the ducks and bunnies. That's all I want."

 

"Mmm-hmm, and when was the last time you got out of bed before noon for anything?"

 

"I'll have you know I'm often out of bed before noon," Gwaine returned with a haughty sniff. But it wasn't true and they both knew it. He spent a year working nights and he never bothered to shift his hours back after he was laid off. Ten in the morning felt a lot like two in the morning to him, but when Merlin suggested the time it never even occurred to Gwaine to negotiate. If Merlin was willing to do as much as talk to him at ten in the morning, then Gwaine would find a way to be awake.

 

"Just text me when you're done with the ducks and bunnies."

 

"You're not going to come in and say hi?"

 

"My goal is to get you laid, Gwaine. I'm not going to pull a cockblock."

 

"You know, if you really care about getting me laid, there were much easier ways to go about it."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

"One word, my dear. Threesome."

 

Her lips twitched. "Threesome? With who? Me and Leon?"

 

"Close. Now just think about this before you say anything. You. Me. And your sister."

 

Morgana rolled her eyes with irritation and hit his arm. "Get the hell out of my car. Go on."

 

"Ow, stop hitting me. I was just joking. Unless you think Morgause would be into it."

 

"Get out." She tried to sound mad, but he saw the smile still pulling on her lips and at the corners of her eyes.

 

"Love you." Gwaine got out of the car and shut the door, turning to add through the open window,  "Give my love to your sister, too."

 

Merlin was waiting for him at the door wearing cargo shorts and a white V-neck. Gwaine normally hated the look, but on Merlin it looked fine. Perfect, even.

 

"Hey. It's a beautiful morning for a walk don't you think?" Merlin stepped forward and Gwaine took his offered hand, pulling him close for a partial hug. The night before his nose had been full of the smell of meat and fire and people, but there the air was clean and still and when he inhaled all he caught was the slight spice of Merlin.

 

"Absolutely," Gwaine agreed, taking his time releasing Merlin. Merlin, for his part, wasn't doing anything to pull away. He felt good, the warmth from his body settling over Gwaine's skin, his muscles solid. His clothes still hid his build, but now Gwaine could feel just how solid and compact his backs and chest were.

 

"Do you want anything before we head out?" Merlin pulled back slightly to meet his eyes. His pupils were dilated, turning his blue irises into nothing more than a sliver of color. "Maybe a cup of coffee?"

 

"Coffee would be great." Was he really offering coffee? Gwaine couldn't tell. Maybe he was letting his own lust and wishful thinking cloud his vision. He was seeing things that weren't there. But it was so bright outside that Merlin's eyes should have been big pools of turquoise instead of  with only a drop of ink in the middle.

 

It was cooler and darker inside the old ranch house. It also smelled of animals. Gwaine automatically wrinkled his nose as he tried to sort through the layers of scent surrounding him.

 

"Sorry. You do get used to it. We get all kinds of animals here and some of them need close supervision."

 

"I get it. Nothing to apologize for. It's getting better already." It wasn't, but the smell did fade slightly as they moved to the kitchen at the back of the house. It was bright and clean, and the freshly brewed dark roast helped make everything better.

 

"How do you like your coffee?"

 

"With lots of sugar."

 

Merlin smiled. "Me too. You know it's not good for your teeth."

 

"Dentures are easier to take care of anyway."

 

Merlin pulled mismatched mugs from the cupboard. Gwaine watched Merlin's long fingers, strangely entranced, as he poured the coffee and dished spoonful after spoonful of sugar into each cup. His fingernails were tripped short and flat, and there were a wide array of scratches and scars on the back of his hands. Merlin noticed him studying them and smiled self-consciously.

 

"Pretty bad, I know. But rabbits have these awful claws. I almost named this place the Spamalot Rescue, but Eric Idle probably would have sued so hard my grandkids be paying his long after we were both dead."

 

Gwaine looked at him blankly. "Because you like Spam a lot?"

 

Merlin busted up at that, his laughter fading when he saw Gwaine wasn't joining him in the chuckles. "Have you seen Monty Python's Holy Grail? Do you remember the killer rabbit?" He held his hand up to his face, hooking his two fingers in front of his mouth like fangs. "Heh? Heh?"  

 

"I might have a long time ago. There was a killer rabbit?"

 

"Yeah, he was brutal. Lots of blood. The point is, that's a lot closer to reality than a lot of people realize. Sure bunnies look all cute and sweet, but they're not fucking around. When it's time to fight they go for blood. And sometimes they leave scars."

 

"Sounds like some girls I used to know. The sweeter they looked, the meaner they probably were."

 

"I'll have to take your word for that. Girls have always been sweet to me."

 

"Were you trying to sleep with them?"

 

"No."

 

"That's why. There's no sport in being mean to boys who aren't chasing them."

 

"Then I guess they are a bit like bunnies. So you...like girls?"

 

"I like everybody. Always have. Which isn't exactly easy around here. Too gay for some folks, not gay enough for others. You know how it is."

 

Merlin laughed. "I don't. So you're bisexual?"

 

"Yeah, I guess that's the label for me."

 

"No." Merlin shook his head. "You shouldn't be labeled. You're just fine without it. Besides, I don't really like labels myself."  Merlin slid the mug across to Gwaine. "Tell me how you like it. I'll make another if it's crap."

 

Gwaine was worried he'd have to take him up on that. He could be picky when it came to his coffee. But his tastebuds danced with happiness at the first sip. "I have no idea how you did this but it's how I've always wanted to take my coffee."

 

"Glad you like it."

 

"Like it? I love it. I want to hire you to make my coffee for me every day."

 

"Or you could just come over here and I'll be happy to give you a cup."

 

Morgana was supportive, but he couldn't imagine she'd want to ferry his ass back and forth. "Once I get my junker running I'll be bugging you for coffee every day."

 

"Good. You know, Pendragon made a pass at me yesterday."

 

"Did he?" Gwaine asked with mock surprise.

 

"Yeah, it wasn't cool. I was trying to be nice so he'd leave me alone, and I guess he thought that meant I wanted to jump his old bones."

 

"Was that before or after he tried to give you money."

 

"After. He was basically like, well if you don't want the money how about I buy you a late dinner."

 

"Maybe you should have taken him up on that. Dinner is good. Free dinner is better."

 

Merlin's face twisted. "No way. I can afford to feed myself. Besides, I kind of hoped I'd be busy. I mean, too busy for a 'late' dinner."

 

Gwaine's ears perked up. "How late was this dinner supposed to be?"

 

"After the Farmers Market."

 

"I see." Gwaine slowly lowered his mug to the counter. "Merlin, can I ask you a question?"

 

"Sure."

 

"When you invited me in for coffee did you actually mean you wanted to stand in the kitchen and drink coffee?"

 

"No."

 

Merlin's hand was resting on the counter, and Gwaine covered it with his. "Why don't you tell me what you actually meant? Because I'm good, but I'm not a mind reader." He moved his thumb in slow circle over Merlin's knuckle. "And if you can't tell me, you can always show me."

 

Merlin turned his hand, pressing his palm to Gwaine's and locking their fingers together. Merlin had a slighter build than him, and that gave the impression of being smaller, but standing that close he realized Merlin was an inch, maybe two, taller than him. His free hand went to Gwaine's face, his fingers skimming over his soft beard before sliding to the back of his neck. He tilted his head, moving in closer and closer but not quite touching their lips together. He was so close Gwaine could almost feel him, could almost sense the firm pressure of Merlin's lips. His breath caught, shoulders hitching, tongue running over his lips. Merlin's darted out to touch his and they tumbled into the kiss together, sparks of electricity jumping between their tongues.

 

Gwaine re-affirmed his hold on Merlin's fingers and brought their joined hands up to his chest, his other hand curling around Merlin's neck, mirroring his hold on Gwaine. Their mouths moved in an easy rhythm of give and take, Merlin's lips fitting against his so perfectly. Gwaine turned slightly, nudging Merlin's back against the counter. He was easy to move, amenable, every touch and flick of his tongue conveying how much more he wanted from Gwaine. As a result, Gwaine got harder by the second, his cock throbbing urgently for attention. All he could think about was relieving that pressure, his whole life narrowing to the hot confines of Merlin's mouth.

 

"Let's take this to the bedroom," Merlin panted against him. "Somebody could--"

 

Gwaine didn't care what the reason was. "Where?"

 

"Just down the hall."

 

Gwaine had his pants unzipped and hanging open by the time Merlin pulled him into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Gwaine stepped out of his jeans as Merlin let the shorts slip from his narrow hips. Gwaine took it upon himself to pull Merlin's shirt off, desperate to get his hands on the other man's body.

 

Without his clothes it was easy to see what Gwaine had already sensed—Merlin was beautiful and his cock was huge. Gwaine actually couldn't believe what he was seeing, but no matter how much he stared, nothing changed. No wonder his shorts are always so baggy. He's trying to hide this anaconda. His own cock still throbbed, but Gwaine's priorities shifted from receiving to giving. He had to become better acquainted with Merlin's lovely dick.

 

"Gwaine?"

 

"What…oh…you caught me staring."

 

"You've been staring for like a full minute."

 

"It's a lot to take in."

 

"Yeah, so I've heard."

 

Gwaine's grin was slow and he pulled Merlin against him again. "Are you going to fuck me with that behemoth."

 

"If you earn it."

 

"Oh really? And how might I do that?"

 

"The good ones don't have to be told."

 

"I like a challenge," Gwaine murmured before capturing Merlin's mouth, simultaneously pushing him back to the bed.

 

He dropped to the mattress with a little bounce, his cock flopping back to his stomach. Gwaine reached for it, wrapping his hand around the thick shaft with a spark of awe. He didn't exactly have small hands and his thumb and forefinger didn't even touch. But Gwaine really did love a challenge, and he was already thinking of the best ways to get the thick meat into his ass.

 

He tickled Merlin's stomach with his beard, brushing it back and forth over his skin as he moved his mouth lower. Merlin was ticklish and he twitched and giggled with each brush of whiskers, trying and failing to escape the torment. Gwaine held him down with one hand, though it didn't take much force to keep Merlin in place. He placed a series of hot, slopping kisses down his abs to the base of his cock. He continued the earlier torment, rubbing his chin and jaw over Merlin's shaft, though it seemed to tickle him less.

 

"Do you like to be fucked?" Merlin asked breathlessly.

 

Gwaine grunted the affirmative, his attention fully consumed by the task of skimming his lips over every inch of Merlin's cock.

 

"Do you think you could take mine?"

 

That question deserved a verbal answer. "Fuck yes I do."

 

Merlin laughed and lifted his head. "Really? Have you…with anybody this big?"

 

Gwaine smiled wryly. "You're not the only guy with a big dick in town. But right now you are the guy with my favorite dick." He wanted to worship Merlin with his mouth, his mouth tingling with anticipation, but he denied himself the weight of the shaft against his tongue. Timing was everything.

 

"I haven't fucked anybody in a long time."

 

Gwaine hummed, though he thought that was a shame. Somebody with a dick this fine should be using it all of the time, and Gwaine just happened to be the perfect volunteer—fun, safe, and holding a bag full of tricks that would make Merlin's eyes cross. He broke one out now, snaking his tongue out to trace the circumference of his fat head. Merlin moaned and fisted Gwaine's hair, gathering up the long strands in a firm grip, and pleasure rolled down his spine as he gave it a good, hard tug.

 

"And when did you last get your cock sucked?"

 

"Last night."

 

Gwaine's head jerked up. " What? " He wasn't upset, but he did want to know who around here he'd have to muscle out of the way. He liked competition, it kept him sharp.  

 

Merlin chuckled. "I didn't. I'm sorry, I just wanted to see what your reaction would be."

 

"Well maybe I don't like to be toyed with," Gwaine said, releasing Merlin and pushing himself up from his knees.

 

"What?" Merlin sat up, too, face twisting with disappointment. "It was just a joke, Gwaine. I didn't mean anything by it."

 

Gwaine tried to maintain a straight face, but Merlin looked genuinely upset—and Gwaine supposed that was with good reason. He let his smile break through and relief immediately flooded Merlin's eyes.

 

"There. Now we're even."

 

"Let's not play like that anymore."

 

"Deal."

 

"I haven't been with anybody for awhile, by the way." Merlin sighed and fell back. "The gay scene isn't exactly booming around here."

 

"Didn't really think about that when you moved from the big city, did you?"  Gwaine joined him on the bed, crawling over him and sliding down his body. Merlin's hand returned to his hair, his fingers flexing and relaxing, pulling the fistful of hair rhythmically, guiding Gwaine lower until his mouth was hovering over Merlin's twitching head.

 

"No, I really didn't."

 

He increased the pressure, pushing Gwaine's head down, forcing his lips to the hot flesh. Gwaine parted his lips in preparation, blowing warm air across his leaking tip. He pressed the flat of his tongue to the Merlin's head, dragging it over the fluid, tasting it, spreading it over his velvety skin. Merlin moaned and shifted his hips, trying to push up, trying to force more of his length into the hot confines of Gwaine's mouth. But Gwaine resisted, closing his teeth tight while he continued to tease and caress with his lips and whiskers, slicking Merlin's skin with more and more pre-come. If he was this copious now, what would it be like when he finally busted his nut? Gwaine loved the guys who could come and come—he speculated that he'd been warped by porn at an early age.

 

Gwaine had a big mouth--literally and metaphorically--but the width of Merlin's cock was almost too much for him. He relaxed his jaw, angling his head to take it all the way to his throat. He'd never had a problem doing that before, but he never had anything with Merlin's girth sticking halfway down his throat, either. He couldn't help gagging, his body automatically convulsing. Merlin sucked his breath in sharply, sounding pained, and that's when Gwaine realized that his teeth and caught against the tender skin at the base.

 

"Shit, sorry," Gwaine said, pulling his mouth off.

 

"What are you doing? Don't stop. Please," Merlin panted.

 

"I didn't hurt you?"

 

"No, I'm good. I promise I'll tell you. Just please...don't stop okay?" Merlin smiled distractedly, his cheeks flushed and his blue eyes wide. "Unless you want to. Do you want to?"

 

"No," Gwaine assured him. "I don't want to stop."

 

"You gagged so...you know lots of people are willing to try but it doesn't always work and I...oh..." Merlin's mouth stopped moving as soon as Gwaine took him in his mouth agian. Yeah, he gagged. So what? He'd had even felt uncomfortably overwhelmed for a moment, but he definitely didn't take that as a sign to stop. If anything, it meant he needed to try, try again until he got it right.

 

Gwaine took him in slowly, angling his cock to slide along his tongue to his throat. The roof of his mouth scraped across the tender crown, and he felt the tips of teeth resting against thin, taut skin. He knew it would only take a little bit of pressure to damage that skin, and a part of his brain was fully dedicated to watching that. When the crown hit the back of his throat again, he shifted, taking deep breaths through his nose, fighting off the impulse to gag. Now that he knew what to expect, he could control his reaction. Still, he took it slow, not pushing for too much before easing off, sliding his lips back up to the top.

 

Merlin's taste was exquisite. a little bitter and a little sweet. He imagined Merlin showering that morning, carefully watching his cock in preparation of Gwaine's mouth. He could taste the soap until Merlin's pre-come completely overwhelmed his tastebuds. Then there was only salty arousal, dancing over his tongue while the rest of his senses drowned in Merlin's responses. His nose twitched at the smell of sex and sweat, and his ears were attuned to soft moan and change in breath. But the solid sensation of Merlin's body beneath his, moving and twitching, the texture of his skin and in his light covering of hair, the bristles at the base of his dick and the softer hair covering his balls, the tension in his strong thighs as they gripped his head--that was heaven. It was more than a pleasure. It elicited something like joy inside of him. An emotion that he hadn't known in a very long time.

 

Being with Merlin was a little like working on his car or when he played around with his guitar. After a few minutes, he didn't even need to think about what he was doing. He was on full auto-pilot, somehow knowing all the little nuances to the living, breathing puzzle of his body, solving mystery after mystery in his quest to completely unlock him. When Merlin did fuck him, he wanted to be fucked by a man on the edge of losing control. The blowjob itself was wet and sloppy and hot. Of course he was drooling over the dick in his mouth--he couldn't help that. But Merlin was still producing so much pre-come, and the fluids mingled together making his smooth skin so slick. He wanted that slick, hot shaft buried inside of him, and it was all he could do not climb right on top of Merlin.

 

"Do you still...want me to...fuck you?"

 

Gwaine nodded vigorously, grunting his answer around the cock wedged in his throat. He could actually feel Merlin's pulse throbbing within his throat, knew his pulse was racing just as fast.

 

"I want to get you ready for me. Please."

 

Gwaine pulled himself off Merlin's dick with great reluctance, but how could he turn down an offer like that? His own cock was absolutely aching, and that ache was so pervasive he felt in his thighs and his stomach and his toes and his fingers. He felt tender, like an exposed nerve, and Merlin hadn't even really touched him yet. How was he going to keep it together once Merlin actually stroked his cock? He didn't even want to think about how he'd probably lose it when Merlin finally fucked him.

 

"Get up on your hands and knees," Merlin instructed, rolling from beneath him. Gwaine obeyed, dropping his between his shoulders and resting on his elbows as he waited for Merlin's next move. The bed shifted as he stood and Gwaine heard him rummaging around the room before the mattress sank beneath his slight weight again. He put a warm, steadying hand on the small of Gwaine's back, his fingers tracing soothing, random patterns. Gwaine didn't realize how truly touch-starved he was until that moment. The feel of Merlin's fingers didn't only light up his pleasure receptors--his whole body flared to life at once like a match touching newspaper doused in gasoline. Gwaine couldn't contain his whimper, and he wondered if Merlin realized it was a whimper of pure relief.

 

Merlin continued to caress him, but that wasn't enough to distract him from the sudden flood of cold lube being squirted between his cheeks. He jumped and chuckled, and Merlin answered with a small chuckle of his own. "Sorry, I know that was probably unpleasant."

 

"No. It was good. Just surprising."

 

"Let me know if you need me to stop or anything, alright?"

 

"You won't need to. Trust me, I...I need this."

 

"That doesn't mean you'll be able to take it," Merlin muttered, smearing the lube over his pucker with a surprisingly delicate touch. Gwaine mewed, the light touch almost painful. He was too sensitive. He didn't want gentle and delicate and ticklish caresses over his raw body. Merlin was afraid of hurting him, but honestly, that was the way he liked it. Merlin thought it was hard to be gay in their little community, he should try being a bisexual painslut.

 

"Not so soft, please."

 

Merlin adjusted immediately, applying more pressure but still content to merely circle the opening, occasionally probing into the flesh but not actually entering him. Gwaine started to rock, trying to push himself back on Merlin's finger because he needed it. Wasn't Merlin supposed to be preparing him for that massive cock? Was driving him out of his ever-loving mind part of that preparation? Maybe it was. Maybe he wanted to hear Gwaine beg. Well, that wasn't a problem. He could definitely do that.

 

"Please, Merlin. I can't take it anymore."

 

"What? Is this what you want?" His long digit pushed past the sphincter, sinking all the way to the knuckle.

 

"Yes," Gwaine moaned.

 

It wasn't enough, but it was a good start. He swiveled his hips and rocked back to meet each thrust as Merlin pumped his wrist. The sensation absorbed Gwaine, suffusing his flesh with even more desire. He was so caught up in what Merlin was doing with his finger that the sudden heat of Merlin's mouth on the back of his balls surprised a shout from him. Merlin lipped and licked his heavy sac, then kissed the delicate skin stretching up to his taint. And oh yeah, that was good. Merlin skimmed his lips up and down the tender skin, sending a hurricane of electricity through Gwaine with each pass. He really might have a problem if Merlin kept that up because he didn't want to blow his top too soon.

 

Merlin upped the ante, adding a second finger without slowing his rhythm. The extra thickness stretched his hole slightly, but that was barely enough sensation to register. Not with so many other things going on.  Gwaine was still excited to feel the second digit, though. It meant he was incrementally closer to accepting Merlin's cock.

 

A third finger and now he was feeling it a bit. Merlin gripped Gwaine's cock and pulled it back to his mouth. His lips closed around the head and he sucked hard enough to make Gwaine see explosions of light behind his eyes. Merlin's fingers never stopped moving, but now they were entirely secondary to the magic Merlin was working with his mouth. His lips formed a tight seal around his crown and the pressure around his flesh was unreal, the suction and the heat making his pulse skitter and spike. He thrust back, wanting to be even deeper in the heat, whimpering and begging. So he doesn't notice when Merlin slides his hand away completely. When his fingers returned, all four were coated with fresh lube. He felt the four tips pressing against his hole, then they were working inside. It was fine at first, and then it was bearable, and after Merlin got past the middle knuckle it became a bit more painful.

 

Then it became a lot more painful.

 

"Oh shit," Gwaine gasped, fingers curling into the blanket with white-knuckle intensity.

 

Merlin released his shaft with a loud pop. "Want me to stop?"

 

"No. Just...keep going."

 

"You need a second to catch your breath?"

 

Gwaine shook his head. No, he didn't need to breathe. He didn't need anything except for Merlin to finish what he started. Merlin recommenced, invading him ever so carefully, giving his tight channel plenty of time to stretch. The lube helped, as did the previous stretching, but ultimately, both did very little to alleviate the initial burn. It wasn't until Merlin's fingers were fully inside that the burn began to shift away from pain to something...deeper.  

 

Merlin was gentle, but insistent, as he began to move his hand, pumping his fingers in and out, spreading the lube, smearing it around his walls. Gwaine shuddered every time Merlin thrust forward, and the shudder turned into a full body quake when Merlin found that little bundle of nerves buried inside. His fingers did know more than brush against it for a second before sliding back again, but each time it happened it was like detonating a bomb beneath his skin. He could feel the slickness on his cock, knew he was leaking as much as Merlin had been earlier. The thought of Merlin's salty pre-come made his mouth water, and he twisted his head around to beg for another taste.

 

Maybe Merlin was secretly a mind reader because he repositioned himself before Gwaine could find the energy to form the words, his hand still buried in Gwaine's body, but he was on his knees at Gwaine's side now, and his cock was in easy reach. He wrapped his lips around the head with a small moan of pleasure, his eyes falling closed in utter bliss. With Merlin's fingers in his ass and his thick cock against his tongue, he was happily filled. Though he knew it wouldn't be enough for very long. But forcing his mouth around that monster gave him a feeling of trepidation he didn't have before.

 

"You're doing good," Merlin murmured encouragingly. "I can't wait to fuck your ass. It's going to feel so fucking good. I promise. It'll be worth it, once I'm in you and we're really going. It'll be so worth it."

 

Gwaine pulled his mouth away. "Do it."

 

"Now?"

 

"Yeah. I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

 

"How do you want to do it? Does this position work for you?"

 

"Might be easier this way," Gwaine choked out, completely past the point of caring. Merlin could flip him onto his head and drill straight down into his ass, and Gwaine would love it. Or at least he'd be grateful for it. "Oh...please...Merlin...please. I can't...I can't wait anymore."

 

Merlin disappeared from his side, moving to kneel between Gwaine's thighs. He listened to Merlin tear the foil packet of his magnum condom--would a magnum even big enough? Did they come in bigger sizes than that? He also heard the lube bottle again, so he knew Merlin was making himself good and wet. Then he felt it--big and hot and hungry and demanding entry. The lube was still cold, but the heat from his dick, even through the condom, was so intense that Gwaine couldn't even feel the lube. Merlin rubbed his cock up and down a few times before pressing at the much smaller hole. It felt like he was trying to shove an apple through an opening the size of a nickel.

 

For the first time, Gwaine considered calling the whole thing off. Merlin would understand--he had proven himself to be a very understanding guy time and time again. And it wasn't cowardly to want to protect a very sensitive region of his body from an assault with a giant blunt weapon, which was exactly how this was beginning to feel. But when he opened his mouth to announce he'd had enough, he found the words wouldn't come. Merlin remained still. God knew he was giving Gwaine enough time to pull his thoughts together. But the words didn't come and they didn't come and Gwaine had to admit to himself that maybe he really didn't want Merlin to stop.

 

Merlin pushed forward and the tight pucker gave just a little. He did it again with just a little more force and then Gwaine felt like he was being torn in two, split right down the center seam of his body. The burn was back, hotter than ever, taking him over in a flash. He dropped forward, face buried against the pillow, his popping a little higher into the air. Merlin gripped his cheeks with both hands, massaging the tense glutes and pulling his cheeks apart so he could see his dick disappearing into the narrow cavern.

 

"You okay?" Merlin huffed out.

 

"Good."

 

"Okay. Need anything?"

 

"More."

 

Merlin rocked his hips, gaining centimeters rather than inches. Gwaine wished he could just slam back and take him in a single stroke, but satisfying his impatience was not worth the likely damage that could cause. He could get away with that with just about every other dick he'd ever fucked himself on, but Merlin was different. In every way a person could be different. He didn't want to be literally torn open, so he let Merlin keep his control, holding his body on a tight leash of restraint. Merlin wrapped his arm around his waist, seeking out Gwaine's cock. He stroked his palm up and down at a faster pace, building the pleasure to combat the pain he was sure he was causing. Gwaine appreciated the effort--especially when it started to work.

 

"You're doing so good."

 

Gwaine couldn't help but smile at the comment, especially since he could hear the pride and affection in Merlin's voice. This was probably a rare treat for him.  Merlin's monster was almost enough to make him stop and he never backed down from anything.

 

"I can take more."

 

"I don't want to go too fast."

 

"Do it," Gwaine ground out. "Please. I can take more. Even if it hurts."

 

Merlin grunted and shifted, pulling back to get better leverage. When he thrust forward again, it wasn't with a gentle pump of his hips. It was far more powerful, and Gwaine realized that Merlin put his full strength behind that thrust. Gwaine's body gave as anything malleable would when faced with a superior force. He screamed into the pillow, somehow finding relief from the pain with the outburst. It felt so good he did it again, the sound ripping from his throat.

 

"Don't stop," he quickly choked out, in case the screams did more to alarm Merlin than turn him on.

 

"You sure?"

 

"Fucking A."

 

Merlin huffed a laugh and gripped Gwaine's hips. Instead of moving himself, he forced Gwaine forward, allowing much of his cock to slide out before he yanked Gwaine back. The resulting scream was really more of a shriek and not the least bit manly. He didn't know if he was experiencing absolute pain or extreme pleasure. Until the next stroke, when he decided with confidence that it was pleasure. That was what Gwaine had really been waiting for--the moment where the wires crossed and in the resulting explosion everything got confused. Up became down, left was suddenly right, and pain became pleasure's identical twin, and they both worked in harmony to carry him to greater and greater heights of personal satisfaction. That was the moment Gwaine lived for, and a part of him was very impressed with Merlin for getting him to that point so quickly.

 

Merlin must have sensed some difference in him. Gwaine didn't feel like he was doing anything different, but the quality of Merlin's touch and rhythm changed. Like he simply sensed Gwaine had carried himself over the final rickety bridge of doubt, making himself ready and open for anything Merlin wanted to do.

 

And Merlin wanted to go fast. Gwaine could tell. Anybody who paid attention to the way Merlin moved could guess that. He was constantly jittery, like a coffee addict who couldn't drink less than two pots a day.  His nervous energy had the tendency to work itself out through various ticks. Gwaine had noticed as much the night before. And when that didn't help, he became the king of fidgeting. Gwaine had made note of all of that the night before, so it came as no surprise to him when Merlin panted out, "Can you take more?"

 

"Yes…yes damnit whatever you've got. Don't hold back on me."

 

Merlin unleashed himself, funneling all that nervous, sparkling energy through his hips. Gwaine felt like a piece of flotsam on the waves, passed back and forth, sent this way and that, completely out of control as the waves built up and crashed around him, plunging him into the darkest depths and then throwing him back to the sun. He was amazed at the power he felt in Merlin's slight body, and he wanted to know more, wanted to learn all about Merlin's secret stores of energy--though he was getting one hell of a lesson at the moment. The sort of lesson that he wasn't going to forget for at least two or three days.

 

Merlin's thighs slapped against with almost bruising intensity, and the lengths of his stroke, the rhythm driving them forward, never shifted. It was almost...musical. Like they were pounding out a rock and roll tune between their bodies, and Gwaine had to wonder if this strange and lovely creature played the drums. He should--he would have been hell on the skins.

 

Unfortunately--or maybe not unfortunately--Merlin couldn't keep that pace up indefinitely. Gwaine's body pulled tight, rigid with tension from his jaw to his toes. Merlin felt him tense, must have felt it in the way Gwaine clenched down on his pistoning dick, and he adjusted his hold on Gwaine's hips, holding him tighter. Gwaine tried to tell Merlin he needed to stop, or slow down, but that effort went nowhere. All he could do was gasp and swear under his breath, his balls throbbing, his body pulling tighter.

 

"Please...please..." Gwaine wasn't sure exactly what he needed or wanted Merlin to do to end this torment. It seemed like a hand wrapped around his aching member might be a good way to start. He collapsed entirely, no longer using his arms to hold himself up, his cheek flat against the mattres. He'd seen his partners reach this state--where there was nothing at all except the bliss of getting fucked--but he'd never been there himself. He gave up on trying to stave off his orgasm, knowing that he was well and truly out of control.  Seconds after the epiphany, Merlin slammed so hard into his prostate that he wanted to scream, but when he opened his mouth only a strangled sort of moan escaped. His cock jerked violently against his stomach, and then he painted his stomach, fresh fluid shooting from him every time Merlin plowed forward--like he'd found the magic button that turned Gwaine into a jizz dispensary.

 

There was no mistaking Merlin's orgasm when it happened. Gwaine was caught in a limbo of breathlessness, trying to swim up through the layers of ecstasy to find blue sky again, but he still knew exactly what happened. Merlin buried himself to the hilt and then completely spazzed out. The core of his body jerked like he'd been shot with a taser and his arms flailed. Even his shout seemed all wrong, half-broken and high pitched. His massive dick twitched against Gwaine's bruised walls, sending a riot of chills through him. The chill didn't stop until Merlin stilled.

 

"Sorry about this."

 

"About what?" Gwaine asked hazily before Merlin yanked his dick out--even soft it was huge--and lit up Gwaine's raw nerves all over again. Gwaine gasped and fell to the bed without Merlin to support him, goosebumps covering him like a rash. Merlin immediately settled beside him and pulled Gwaine close, wrapping him up in a prison of spindly arms. Gwaine never considered himself much of a cuddler, but he had to admit there was something nice about the way Merlin held him.

 

"You okay?" Merlin asked, skimming his mouth over Gwaine's hair.

 

"Fucking fantastic."

 

"Did I--"

 

"Don't ask if you hurt me. If you did, it was only in the commission of your duties. So it doesn't count."

 

He chuckled. "Okay. Fair enough."

 

"Damn right that's fair enough. Especially since we will be doing that again."

 

"You have my full and enthusiastic agreement on that point. I'm really glad you came over."

 

"Oh, me too." Gwaine's eyes felt heavy. He was afraid to close them, though. Sure they were cuddling and he'd just his brains fucked out, but maybe Merlin still planned to give him a tour of the ranch? He didn't want to fall asleep, even if Merlin's even breathing was more than lulling, and something about his touch was...soothing. Maybe everybody felt calmed by Merlin's touch. It could explain his choice to work with children and animals--two populations that Gwaine always respected but feared. He couldn't swallow his yawn.

 

"I'm worn out," Merlin sighed.

 

"Good thing we don't have anywhere we need to be. Do we?"

 

"No...we have time for a nap."

 

"Good." Gwaine's eyes fell shut and he pushed back, closing the maybe half-inch that separated their bodies. He knew when he woke up he'd be hurting, but a part of him was eagerly anticipating that pain. He always liked to be fucked good enough to feel it the next day. There was something sexy about the pain, like a lover's touch reminding him constantly of how he'd been held and loved and used. He'd have to be careful around Leon and Morgana though. Especially Morgana because she'd be watching with her hawk eyes, looking for any signs of her plan's success. If she caught him walking funny, she'd never let him live that down.

 

Maybe he'd ask Merlin about the possibility of a bath later. The heat would help his sore muscles and keep him from getting too stiff. It wouldn't offset it, of course, but it would be a good start.

 

He drifted to sleep surrounded by Merlin's heat and the scent of their fucking, Merlin's taste still salty on his tongue, and the sound of his even breathing. He saw Merlin's face even with his eyes closed, and it hung in front of his mind's eye as he finally fell out of consciousness. Merlin was still there, in his dreams, kissing him between smiles.

Chapter Text

Merlin woke him from his nap with a slow, wet blowjob that went on and on, coaxing Gwaine from the depths of his sleep into dizzying heights, where the world spun out to the speed of Merlin's tongue circling his swollen head. When Gwaine could move again, they made each other sandwiches and ate them on the back porch with a pitcher of lemonade. Merlin told him more about the animal rescue, and then took him on the promised tour, their hands laced together. It was a beautiful spread, but Gwaine had been too distracted by Merlin's mussed hair and pink mouth to register too much of it. Merlin invited him to stay for dinner, then dessert, and then they were in bed again, Gwaine riding Merlin like a wild pony well into the night.



If Morgana noticed he was walking funny the next day, she didn't mention it.  He assumed she was saving it for a special occasion, like his birthday party or Christmas. She did ask him if he had fun on his play date, and he just blushed and muttered, "Yes."

 

"Wow, he must have given it to you good. I never knew anybody to leave you speechless before."

 

"He did."

 

It was the most he was willing to elaborate on because what else could he possibly say? He'd never been shy about sharing all the filthy, dirty details of his exploits and he wasn't picky about his audience. Anybody who would find the tales shocking, offensive, entertaining was good enough for him. But Merlin wasn't a fly-by-night fancy. He wasn't somebody who could live inside a story because this story was just beginning. It seemed unlucky—and disrespectful—to kiss and tell, or blow and brag as Leon once accused him of doing.

 

"Well, gee, don't sound so excited there. You may give yourself a heart attack."

 

"I don't really have anything else to say about it."

 

"I guess you don't need to say anything at all. Except thank you for coming to get you first thing in the morning. Are you hungry? I haven't grabbed breakfast yet."

 

His mouth had been too busy with his farewell kisses, hickeys, and blowjob for food. "I'm starving. Let's go to Dana's. I could eat a stack of pancakes as tall as you right now."

 

"Sounds good. I need to speak to Dana anyway about sponsoring one of the little league teams this year."

 

She chatted about her plans for the day for the rest of the drive, Gwaine tuning her out to focus more intently on Merlin. He would have stayed on for the day, but Merlin said he had a busy day ahead of him and Gwaine didn't want to be a distraction. No, that wasn't quite right. He very much wanted to be a distraction, and so he thought it best to go home and work on his car so he'd never have anything standing between him and regular visits to the Buck and Chick Animal Sanctuary.

 

Dana's Diner had been a staple in the community for over forty years, owned and operated by Dana Stills. She still went to work every single day, though her two sons now split managerial duties. She loved Morgana, and they were no sooner seated in their favorite corner booth before she emerged from the kitchen like a silver-headed tornado. Gwaine flirted with her shamelessly until she took their order back to the kitchen, agreeing to sneak a few extra pancakes onto his double stack.

 

"What the hell, Gwaine? Did the two of you do some cross-country running."

 

"I always have a big appetite after sex. Don't you?"

 

"I don't eat like there's a hole in my stomach."

 

"Sounds like Leon needs to step it up then. If he did it right, you'd be ravenous the next morning."

 

"So are you going to give me any details?"

 

"Nope."

 

"Is he big at least? He's got those ears, you know."

 

Gwaine wanted to take the high road with that question, but he found himself leaning over the table so he could eagerly announce, "It's fucking huge."

 

"How big are we talking?"

 

"His trouser snake is more like a trouser anaconda. And that might be an exaggeration but not by much."

 

"And you let him…you know…?"

 

Gwaine grinned. "If you can actually articulate the question I'll be happy to answer it."

 

"I was trying to be genteel and ladylike. We are in public, after all."

 

"Well you could always whisper it, you know."

 

"Did you let him fuck you with that anaconda?" She asked in a stage whisper.

 

Gwaine pressed his lips together and mimed zipping them and throwing the key before his grin burst through again and he nodded. "Yeah, more than once. It was kind of pretty great."

 

"That sounds hot."

 

"It was so hot. You have no idea. I want to see him again."

 

"Of course you do."

 

"I mean, right now. I want you to drive me back to his house."

 

Morgana's eyes widened and her smile faltered slightly. She recovered quickly, but he still had time to register it and its significance. He'd given himself away. Nobody else would have noticed, but Morgana noticed everything.

 

"I'm just glad you two hit it off."

 

"Yes, for once your matchmaking meddling didn't blow up in my face."

 

"Hey, I resent the implication."

 

"What implication? I didn't imply anything, I stated it flat out."

 

"Then I hate the flat out statement. Not all of my meddling blew up in your face. What about Candace?"

 

"She dumped me for Leon's brother. That was hardly a successful match."

 

"Well…yeah…but you two had fun before that, right?"

 

"Oh yeah, she was a real blast." Of bullshit mostly. Honestly, he'd never minded that she ran off with Bill, it had been a relief.

 

"Ms. Chase?" A familiar voice from over Gwaine's shoulder. He had to crane his neck to confirm it was indeed the loathsome Mr. Pendragon. "Excuse me for interrupting. Do you have a moment?"

 

"Mr. Pendragon, how good to see you. This is my friend, Gwaine Hanson."

 

"Yes, we met briefly last week." He moved into Gwaine's line of sight and held out his hand. "It's a pleasure to see you again. Forgive me for interrupting your breakfast, but I do need to steal the loving Ms. Chase for a quick minute."

 

"Don't mind me." He stretched back against the booth and smiled. "I can entertain myself."

 

Morgana shot him a questioning look before smiling up at Mr. Pendragon. "I was just on my way to grab a newspaper."

 

He'd probably catch hell for that, but he didn't care. He wasn't going to put himself out for that man's benefit. Especially not when he had pancakes on the way. What business did he have with Morgana? Was he trying to use her to get to Merlin? The thought made Gwaine chuckle to himself. Nobody could use Morgana for anything. And she would politely but brutally cut down anybody who thought they could try.

 

He lost track of time while he waited, his mind immediately drifting back to Merlin without Morgana there to keep him focused. What was he doing at the moment? Was he working outside? Playing with his animals? Something boring and routine like balancing the books? Should he text Merlin now? Or wait until he got home?

 

No, he couldn't wait.

 

Hey how are the bucks and dunnies?

 

Gwaine put the phone on the table, sipped from his cup of coffee, looked around for Morgana and Pendragon, and checked his phone for a response even though it hadn't dinged a notification. It came alive in his hands, the screen glowing bright blue to illuminate Merlin's response.

 

Lol they are good. How are you?

 

He stared at it for a solid minute, debating his response. He'd never been tongue-tied before but a simple text question completely tripped up his brain. He was great and miserable all at once.

 

Good. Getting my grub on.

 

What are you eating?

 

Pancakes and eggs. Lots and lots of them.

 

I needed to some protein too. Was feeling spent.

 

Haha I bet you were. What did you eat?

 

Sausage.

 

No I mean what did you eat for breakfast lol

 

Haha. It was good sausage too all big and thick and juicy. A little spicy but I like it that way.

 

You're giving me a breakfast boner

 

I don't know how to feel about that.

 

Hungry for more sausage

 

I'm always hungry for more sausage

 

Good. Brb pancakes have arrived

 

Gwaine's mouth watered with the sight of the crispy, golden tower made of thick buttermilk pancakes, and his stomach cramped with a fresh hunger pang as the smell hit his nostrils. The eggs arrived on a separate plate—four overeasy—with a few strips of bacon. He just hoped it would be enough to last him awhile since he didn't have any food at home. He drenched the double stack with butter and real maple syrup, and leaned forward, ready to tuck in.

 

"Dana's pancakes are my favorite, too. I never order anything else when I'm here."

 

Gwaine froze with the bite halfway to his mouth as Pendragon slid into the booth across from him, a cup of coffee in hand.

 

"Morgana will be joining us shortly," Pendragon continued. "She's haggling with my assistant over meetings. Scheduling can be a real beast."

 

"Yeah I'm sure." Just the sight of the older man made Gwaine's appetite start to fade. He'd been mildly perturbed when Merlin told him what a scumbag the guy was, but he was much more annoyed today.

 

"But I thought we could take this time to get to know each other better."

 

"Did you?" Gwaine brought the pancakes to his mouth with much less gusto than he would have used before Pendragon's arrival.

 

"Yes. I think you may find we have a lot in common."

 

"I find that hard to believe," Gwaine muttered.

 

"We both pancakes. And that's not the only similar taste we have."

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

"Merlin is a rather remarkable young man." He sipped from his mug, his eyes never leaving Gwaine's face. "Wouldn't you agree?" When Gwaine refused to answer or acknowledge the question, Pendragon leaned forward. "I know you two have recently become close."

 

Gwaine's brow furrowed. "Who the fuck are you?"

 

The blunt question drove Pendragon back, as though Gwaine slapped him across the face. "Excuse me?"

 

"Who the fuck are you to ask me about my business?"

 

"Ah, fair question. I'm the guy who can ensure that you will never work in this town again. Now, shall we start over?"

 

"Threatening me? Look, just do us both a favor and say whatever you came here to say. Clearly you know everything you think you need to know or you wouldn't have sat down. "

 

"Very well. I need photographs of Merlin's ranch."

 

"For what?"

 

"Let me be concerned with that."

 

"Um, no. If you want me to get involved in some stupid scheme, I think I have the right to know what the hell is going on."

 

"No you don't," Pendragon returned calmly. "You don't have the right to anything. Not around here. It's my town."

 

"Yeah, but I'm the one who got the prize. What's the matter? Feeling a little butthurt because Merlin has standards?"

 

"Standards?" Pendragon chuckled at the joke. "You think he's interested in you because he has standards. It's the exact opposite. You're not the first…ah, how can I put this delicately? Perhaps down on his luck. Yes, you're Merlin's first down-on-his-luck suitor."

 

"I'm not his suitor at all. I'm the guy he's fucking. Now that we've got that cleared up, you can feel free to leave anytime."

 

"But nothing's been cleared up. Not yet. I'm going to give you a small camera. It'll fit right in your shirt pocket. You'll never have to take it out. All you have to do is push a button you'll hold in your palm, and you'll be able to get all the shots you need."

 

"I appreciate that you think you're a Super Genius with a plan that can't be beat, but you can count me out. I'm not going to sell out my friend."

 

"You will. Because you might like Merlin, but you're not stupid. You know that you can't spend the rest of your life unemployed. Sure, you can move, but where will you go, Gwaine? You have no family, no money, you don't even have a running car. Before too long, you won't even have a place to sleep. You're not planning to stay when Morgana marries Leon, are you? They're going to need the space for a nursery."

 

"What the fuck? Are you spying on me?"

 

"Spying? This is a small town and your life is hardly a state secret.  And Morgana was happy to fill in the missing pieces. She's such a…gregarious young woman."

 

Gwaine kept from flinching, though he realized what must have happened. She probably bragged that she managed to hook up the two gayest guys in town, and Pendragon jumped on the chance she'd accidentally given him. Made sense. A man didn't get to be as rich as Pendragon without being sharp as a shiv and fast on his feet.

 

"I don't want you to think I'm trying to attack you, Gwaine. Actually, I want to help you. The problem is,  I can't do that unless you help me."

 

"And what do you think you can do to help me?"

 

"How does a starting salary of sixty thousand dollars, full benefits, and two weeks of paid vacation sound?"

 

"And what would I be doing for that?"

 

Pendragon shrugged. "Whatever you'd like. Name a place and a position, and I'll put in the call."

 

"All I have to do is agree to take some pictures?"

 

"No. All you have to do is bring me back pictures I can use."

 

"Use for what?" Gwaine asked.

 

"To ruin the sanctuary."

 

Gwaine laughed. He couldn't help it. All Pendragon was missing was the dramatic lighting and the maniacal chuckling. "Shut him down? Why would you want to do that? Do you have something against cute, innocent animals?"

 

"No, and I have no intention to harm them ."

 

Which meant he only wanted to harm Merlin. "Is this what happens when you can't get your dick wet? You hit on him, he said no, and now you want to take away his whole life? Besides, what do you think will happen to the animals after you've found your harmful photos?"

 

"He'll lose his funding and then I'll jump in with an offer he can't refuse. I'll keep the sanctuary open. I'll even keep the same staff."

 

"What makes you think there's even anything to take a picture of? Just because you have some elephant-sized skeletons in your closet doesn't mean he does."

 

"I'm offering you sixty-thousand dollars and any job you want. I expect you to find something usable."

 

"Look, I don't—"

 

"Before you finish that sentence, ask yourself if you can really afford it.  Can you really afford to not work again? By the time I'm finished there won't be a factory, warehouse, garage, or shoestand within a hundred miles that'll give you the time of day."

 

"Do people still get their shoes polished in this day and age?"

 

"Here's my card." He slid it across the table, waiting for Gwaine to reach for it before lifting his fingers. "Call me when you've got the goods."

 

Much to Gwaine's own surprise, he took the card and slid it into the front pocket of his flannel shirt. The painfully honest answer to Pendragon's question was no . He simply could not afford to turn his back on this offer. Not that any place within a hundred miles seemed to be hiring in the first place. A job—any job, anywhere—was better than being flat-ass broke.

 

But was any old job better than his potential future with Merlin? Sixty thousand dollars a year would go a long, long way. He could find somebody else. He could find another dozen people like Merlin to keep him company when he was lighting Cuban cigars with hundred dollar bills.

 

"Okay," Morgana announced as she returned, "it took some doing, but we have everything sorted. We'll have an hour to meet on Thursday before the Farmers Market begins."

 

"Excellent." Pendragon stood, offering a sickening shit-eating-grin. "I can't wait to continue this conversation with you. Unfortunately, I just realized how late it is, and I'm running late for another meeting."

 

"It was great to see you." She shook his hand, gave him a half hug and walked him to the door. Gwaine didn't look up from his cooling pancakes, his mouth dry, his appetite suddenly gone.

 

"What was that all about?" Gwaine asked dully. He didn't care what business they had together, but he wondered how Morgana could stomach working with him. What would she say if she knew about his little blackmail scheme? Should he tell her?

 

"We might actually get funding for the early readers initiative. You remember that, right? We've been trying to get the library to adopt it, but their funding has been so sparse for the past few years…well, Mr. Pendragon says he's wants to make a sizable donation to the library to get it started. Isn't that exciting?"

 

Was that part of his plan to get to Merlin through Gwaine? Or did he suddenly have a vested interested in the early readers program?

 

"And what does he want in return?"

 

"Nothing. Why would you say that?"

 

"Nothing?" Gwaine snorted. "Come on, Morgana. You're smarter than that."

 

"Well…between you and me, I think he's running for city counsel next year. He needs good will and connections. This kills two birds with one stone."

 

"Ugh, that asshole on city counsel? You're not going to help him, are you?"

 

"I might," Morgana said neutrally.

 

"Why?"

 

"He's got a lot of great ideas, Gwaine. And he really cares about this community."

 

"He's an asshole."

 

"So you said. But he's an asshole I need."

 

"No. Nobody needs him. Just because he thinks he's God's gift to Indiana. Least of all you. Since when do you work with assholes?"

 

"Since they agree to fund programs that will increase literacy rates and expand the library by at least twenty percent."

 

"So that's the price of your soul?"

 

Morgana blinked at him. "Excuse me?"

 

"That's your thirty pieces of silver?"

 

"I think you should be careful about what you say."

 

"And I think you're better than whoring yourself out to the richest asshole within a hundred miles."

 

"Whoring myself out?" Morgana repeated the words slowly as she stood. "Where do you get off?"

 

"Maybe the same place you dumped your integrity."

 

"You know what? I have too much on my plate to waste time here, having this conversation with you. I'm sure you can find your own way home."

 

"Morgana. Wait."

 

But she was already walking to the door, and Morgana was not the sort of woman who looked back once she made up her mind. Gwaine had no choice but to watch her sashay out of the diner and across the street where she left her car. Gwaine's phone buzzed in his palm.

 

How are the pancakes?

 

Mmmm , Gwaine slowly tapped out. Delicious.

 

What are you doing for dinner tonight?

 

Gwaine read the question a few times before putting his phone to sleep and slipping it back into his pocket. He couldn't answer that question. Not yet. Not until he figured out how he was going to deal with Uther Pendragon without destroying what remained of his young life. He definitely couldn't tell Merlin about this because he was a fighter. He'd dig his heels in and put his dukes up, and then things could get ugly. Merlin had to live and work in the community, same as everybody else, and Pendragon would probably strike without regard, each blow calculated to deal as much damage as possible.

 

He couldn't betray Merlin if he wasn't seeing Merlin, and at the moment, that was the only hope he had.  He could string Pendragon along for a little while at least. After a year of having no money, he was great at stalling when somebody called him to collect. Whether that was money or blackmail material, Gwaine could always buy a little bit of time.

 

When he figured everything out and beat Pendragon at his own game, Gwaine would find a way to tell Merlin. Then pray that Merlin could find  a way to forgive him for his disappearing act and dickish behavior. It was a risk, but any risk was worth the slimmest chance of preserving what he and Merlin might one day have.

Chapter Text

Merlin sent Gwaine three texts on Friday night, two on Saturday, one on Sunday, and debated sending one on Monday but figured maybe he ought to take the hint. He went through the motions, completing his chores, playing with his dog Rosie, and accepting three pot-bellied pigs who'd been found rooting through a dumpster in an Indianapolis suburb, but Gwaine was all he could think about it. At first he thought Gwaine's phone was dead, and then he thought Gwaine himself might be injured or dead, but when he never heard any bad news from Morgana, he was left with only one conclusion.

 

Gwaine just wasn't that into him.

 

It seemed utterly impossible after the day and night they shared, but what else could think? What else should he think? He kept replaying their hours together, going over them for any clue or sign. Had he offended Gwaine? Had he hurt Gwaine? If he did, it was hardly his fault. He only fucked Gwaine as hard as he wanted, and Gwaine was the one who crawled on top of him in the middle of the night and went for a ride.  Still, Gwaine wouldn't be the first guy who didn't return his calls after an overly-vigorous night of fucking.

 

Maybe he hated animals.

 

Maybe he thought Merlin had bad breath.

 

Maybe he wasn't as lonely as he let on, and there was a girlfriend or wife demanding his attention.

 

Maybe he was just a jerk and didn't see any problem with his behavior. Merlin knew that flavor of jerk well. He'd dated more than his fair share. But Gwaine had seemed different, and Merlin thought he'd found a good one.

 

Maybe he was a user and a bottom-feeder. Somebody who jumped from host to host, taking what he could, getting all he could take.

 

Maybe he thought Merlin was annoying. Maybe he was irritated by the constant fidgeting, by the barnyard scent Merlin could never fully wash away from his clothes, by the long tangents he went on about each animal in the sanctuary, complete with stupid voices and even stupider names. Merlin thought it was funny, but had Gwaine smiled or laughed during the tour? Merlin couldn't even remember now.

 

By Thursday's Farmers Market, Merlin's hope was gone and his spirits were low. He had plenty of theories but no explanations. He hoped to find Gwaine there, but he also hoped he didn't lay eyes on the other man. His hurt feelings were ridiculous. Gwaine didn't owe him anything; he didn't have the right to be upset now. Gwaine never promised more than a quick fling, a one night stand, a good time.  He would play it cool if he did run into Gwaine. He would not seek the other man out, though, and he definitely wouldn't ask for any sort of explanation. If Gwaine played it cool and walked by Merlin without seeing him or giving him acknowledgement, what would he do?

 

Pick up the pieces of his stupid broken heart.

 

It served him right for falling so swiftly, so hard, for a man he barely knew. But it was hard not to feel drawn to Gwaine's smile and beautiful brown eyes. They reminded him of a mountain stream, where the clear water was colored by the brown and gray rocks beneath, by the green moss and the silvery fish and the sunlight riding the waves. How could he stop himself from responding to the heat in Gwaine's touch? How could he ignore the duel, deep wells of passion and intelligence?

 

But all of that must have been an act. Or he was as great as Merlin imagined but Merlin had blundered his way into ruining everything.

 

He didn't feel like spending an entire night manning the booth at the Farmers Market. Normally, Thursdays were his favorite, the absolute highlight of his week. He got to interact with members of the community, raise awareness about the importance of animal rescue, recruit volunteers, and even receive donations. But any joy he might have received from his weekly appearance was negated by the fact that Pendragon would be there and Gwaine wouldn't.

 

He'd rather be home with the animals than stuck there talking about them.

 

The smell of the Bar-B-Cue both always turned his stomach a little bit, but now he found he had an entirely different reaction to the scent of charred meat when the wind he picked up—sadness because he missed Gwaine. Which only served to highlight the ridiculousness of the situation. What was he doing falling in love with an unemployed, irreverent carnivore? That hardly seemed like it would be a good match for his life.

 

He wasn't tempted to flee until he saw Morgana approach with her familiar quick step and bright smile. She was a whirlwind who would probably be mayor one day, if only because everybody in town owed her a favor, a vote, or loyalty. She could probably bypass the whole electoral process and convince the town fathers to simply appoint her, if she really wanted to.

 

Merlin wasn't sure if he was up to this, but he didn't have a clear escape route.

 

"Merlin! How are you?" She walked under the purple canopy, holding her arms out. He had no choice but to return her embrace, summoning whatever enthusiasm he could.

 

"Fine."

 

She immediately pulled back, holding him by the shoulders and studying his face. "What's wrong?"

 

"What? Nothing." He forced himself to smile. "Why would you think anything's wrong?"

 

"Because you sound terrible and you look worse. Is there something wrong with Rosy?"

 

"No, no, she's fine. Gwen is taking her around the park right now." He tilted his head. Did she really not know? He thought she was close to Gwaine. If she didn't know what was going on, how was he supposed to pump her for information?

 

"Then what is it? Something's going on, Merlin. You can't fool me."

 

"And woe betide the man who tries." Merlin sighed. "Is Gwaine okay?"

 

"Gwaine? He's fine. Why do you ask?"

 

"He hasn't returned my calls or texts. I haven't heard from him since the morning you two went to breakfast."

 

"That's been five days." Morgana's face turned thunderous. "I'll kill him."

 

"Um, okay. You don't have to kill anybody. I'm sure he has a good reason."

 

"We're going to find out exactly what's going on in his head."

 

"Is he here?"

 

Morgana pointed at the line winding next to the Bar-B-Cue booth. Gwaine's brown hair was just visible over everybody else's heads, and Merlin's heart did a strange little shimmy.

 

"You wait here. I'll be right back." She spun on her heel and stalked off, making a beeline for her friend. Merlin shifted his weight from foot to foot, rubbed the back of his neck, bit at the hang nail on his index finger, smiled at a little girl who paused long enough to point to the picture of Buck and explain, "Bunny!" to her uninterested parents.

He couldn't hear any of the words exchanged, but Gwaine visibly flinched when he saw her approach, as though he knew exactly what was in store for him. It was like sending his big sister off to fight his battles. He didn't like it when he was eight, and he definitely didn't like it now that he was almost thirty. He'd almost would rather never have any closure from Gwaine at all.

 

The exchange ended with Morgana—who seemed even more pissed than before—grabbing Gwaine by the arm and physically dragging him from the line. Gwaine tried to pull away, but she was surprisingly strong and kept her grip on him. He tried to dig his heels in, he even raised his voice loud enough to carry over the din of the crowd separating them, but she would not be dissuaded.

 

Merlin's heart sank at the display. Was it really so awful to talk to him? Did Gwaine want to avoid him that desperately?

 

"Merlin, Gwaine has something he wants to say to you," Morgana announced as she dragged him to within a foot.

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"Well, thanks, but don't do me any favors."

 

"No, Merlin…" He yanked free of Morgana's hold and stepped forward. "God, I was hoping not to get close to you tonight."

 

Merlin flinched back, too stunned to articulate a response.

 

"That came out wrong. That's not what I meant. It's just…it's easier…if we don't, or rather, if I don't, see you."

 

"What's easier? What are you babbling about?"

 

"I can't really explain. Just trust me. And forgive me please, because I am sorry."

 

"Sorry for what? If you don't want to see me anymore, just tell me. It'll be easier that way."

 

"It's not that. Merlin, you're amazing. Probably one of the most amazing people I've ever met, and what we have…had…it's special." Gwaine rested his hands on Merlin's shoulders and met his eyes without wavering, no hint of deception in their glimmering depths. "Thank you for everything. You gave me a lot. Maybe more than you know." His sexy mouth curved into a sweet smile, and even though Merlin realized this was a break-up, he wanted to melt into that smile like chocolate on a hot day.

 

"We could have more," Merlin pointed out, his voice even but surprisingly thin. They both wanted the same thing. Merlin knew they did. So why was he ending things just as they were getting started? Why couldn't he let them have the chance to have more?

 

"Trust me. I know that's asking a lot but…"

 

Gwaine stiffened, his face going from intently sincere to thoughtful, his full concentration shifting away from Merlin. He had a reputation for being a bit of a drunken brawler—according to Morgana that was really his most serious flaw—and now Merlin could see that he was more than somebody who liked to get drunk and throw around their fists. For a moment, he seemed downright scary, as though something triggered his most primal fight or flight response, and his body was ready to execute any plan of attack.

 

Rosy got like this too when certain people crossed into her space. She was the sweetest dog he ever owned, but she was possessive, too, her throat gargling angrily every time somebody ventured to the barns and sheds that she patrolled nightly. What on earth could have set him off?

 

"Trust me," Gwaine repeated, and then he was gone, ducking out from the back of the canopy and disappearing into the crowd. He weaved left then right, his feet light and his senses on alert. Merlin wanted to trust him. But something was obviously rotten in the state of Denmark.

 

"Why Ms. Chase. What a delight it is to see you."

 

Merlin felt a shiver to disgust and turned around to face Peters. He was wearing his typical shit-eating-grin and looking at Merlin with wolf eyes.  He glanced over his shoulder again, confirming that Gwaine was long gone and out of sight.

 

"It's good to see you, too, Mr. Pendragon. I see you've been doing some shopping for yourself."

 

He held up a plastic bag full of vegetables.  "Yes, I've had a yen for salsa all week. I thought I'd try my hand at making a batch."

 

"Oh, let me know how that turns out. Have you ever tried mango salsa?"

 

Merlin was trapped. He didn't want to stand here listening to Morgana make small talk with a man he loathed. Everybody else around treated him like he was royalty—obviously even Morgana could be cowed by him—but Merlin wasn't impressed. He sensed the older man was bothered by that. Perhaps even angered and insulted. He actually made a few veiled threats when Merlin turned down his advances. Nothing specific, just hints of you'll rue the day you crossed me ! Merlin hadn't taken him very seriously, but perhaps he should have?

 

Pendragon was responsible for tonight's disappearing act, maybe he was responsible for the other as well? But how? Did he threaten Gwaine? Did he tell Gwaine that one's mine so keep your grease stained hands off of him? Merlin thought it was possible, but Gwaine wouldn't be that easily intimidated. There had to be something else going on. Some sort of blackmail or threat. Perhaps Pendragon thought he could use Gwaine for some sort of leverage against Merlin, and as soon as Merlin gave him what he wanted, Pendragon would ease the pressure on Gwaine.

 

Regardless of the specifics of the situation, Merlin wasn't going to stand for it. His hand curled into a fist as Pendragon laughed at something Morgana said, but he held himself back. It would only do more harm than good at this point, even if Pendragon sorely deserved a pop in the nose. His lips twitched at the image of his perfect nose gushing perfectly red blood all over his perfect white shirt. In this fantasy, everybody gathers around to laugh at the bleeding jerk before he runs away in disgrace. In reality, everybody would rush to his side to make sure was okay and then Merlin would be hauled away in the back of a police car.

 

An eternity passed before Pendragon finally excused himself. Merlin did not say one word to him. He busied himself around the booth, and then he stood in front to greet the people passing by. He didn't acknowledge the conversation happening just a few feet to his left, nor did he look up when Pendragon said his farewells. He waited until Pendragon was out of earshot before he hissed, "It's his fault."

 

"What?"

 

"He's the reason Gwaine just broke up with me."

 

"Why do you think that?"

 

"Because Gwaine ran like a tiger with his tail on fire. Do you know if they talked?"

 

Morgana frowned. "Yeah, they did. At the diner."

 

"What did they say?"

 

"I don't know. I stepped away to speak to his assistance, and when I came back I could tell they were in the middle of some conversation. But I didn't think much of it because you know Mr. Pendragon. He has business with everybody."

 

"He does not have business with me. But maybe he's trying to get to me. Or at least make sure that nobody else can have me."

 

Morgana's eyes narrowed. "This is unacceptable."

 

"Tell me about it."

 

"Let's drag him over here and make him explain himself."

 

"No, we're not going to do that. He's still helping you with the library and…"

 

"I don't want his help. Not if he's going to treat my friends like they're nothing more than pawns in his game."

 

"I know, but we can play this smart and get everything we want. And you know that's more satisfying than refusing to play at all, right?"

 

Morgana smiled slowly, as if recognizing the kindred spirit standing in front of her. "So what are you thinking?"

 

"First we have to figure out what he said to Gwaine. Do you think he'll tell you what happened?"

 

"I think I won't give him much of a choice. He's probably ran all the way back home now. We'll have a little chat and I'll get back to you."

 

The corner of Merlin's mouth lifted. By himself, he probably couldn't do much. But Mr. Pendragon would come to see they make one hell of a good team.

Chapter Text

Leon was only five minutes behind him, the front door banging closed as he took his long strides to Gwaine's bedroom. "What the hell, dude?"

 

Gwaine didn't look up from his guitar. He wasn't really playing it—he hadn't really played it in years—but it was comforting to hold it and pluck out the opening bars of Stairway to Heaven. He knew seeing Merlin would be upsetting, but he never imagined he'd be forced to talk to Merlin. He wanted to confess, to explain everything, but that wasn't the time or the place. Plus, he still believed Merlin would respond by taking the fight to Pendragon, and that was still a bad idea.

 

"What? You didn't need to follow me home."

 

"Yes, I did."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because you've been acting weird all week. Like…like my little sister when she's got a crush on some idiot boy."

 

"I'm not acting like Mary. Shut up and leave me alone or I'll tell mom. I mean, Morgana."

 

"From the looks of it, she's not very happy with you at right now. "

 

"Is she here now?"

 

"No, but I saw the two of you at the Market. She looked like she could spit nails right into your eyes. What's going on?"

 

"She was just mad on behalf of her new best friend, Merlin." Gwaine shrugged, trying for indifference. He strummed over the strings glumly, wondering if she would eventually forgive him, or if he'd fucked things over with two of his favorite people.

 

"What did you do to Merlin?"

 

"I don't really want to talk about it."

 

"So? Think of me as your lawyer. Whether you want to talk about it or not, I'll be your advocate in front of the judge."

 

"I can stand up for myself."

 

"No you can't. If you could, you wouldn't be hiding in your room. Now stop with the bullshit. The sooner we get through this, the sooner we can watch cartoons."

 

Gwaine sighed. "Fine. She's pissed at me because I didn't call Merlin back or respond to any of his texts."

 

"At all? You've shut him out for the past week?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Why? I thought you liked him. Did something weird happen when you went to spend the night? Did he want the bunnies to be involved or something?"

 

"What? No. Nothing like that. There was nothing wrong with him at all. He's great."

 

"Then why don't you talk to him?"

 

"Leon, have you ever thought about where I'll go after you two get married?"

 

"Why would you go anywhere?"

 

Gwaine snorted. "Seriously dude? You're not going to want me hanging around. You won't be able to have kids until you get the big baby out of the guest bedroom."

 

"We don't even know if we want kids yet. Plus, you're my brother. I would never kick you out on the street. What would you do? Sleep in your car?"

 

"My car that doesn't run." Gwaine set the guitar aside and ran his hands through his hair, pushing it away from his face. "What if I could get a job? A good job. One so good that you could take a year off and I could support you for awhile."

 

Leon raised his eyebrow skeptically. "Yeah, and what if I could fly to the moon? Aren't we a little too old to be playing the what-if game?"

 

"It's not a game. I'm tired of being worthless around here. If it wasn't for you, I would have starved or frozen to death. Or I'd be in jail."

 

"Hey, you're not worthless. You help out around the house and oh yeah you're my best friend in the whole fucking world. I don't care if you wanted to spend all day sitting on your ass, I just like having you around.

 

Why couldn't Leon like boys? Gwaine wondered, not for the first time. If Leon were gay, they could just get gay married and be gay happy for the rest of their lives. Instead of being a moocher, he'd be the little wifey, happily taking care of all his husband's needs. And the woman he wanted to marry would never agree to stay home and take care of all his needs.

 

"Thanks bro, but something needs to change around here."

 

"Great. You need a job. What the hell does this have to do with Merlin? Do you think you need to have money to date him? The dude rescues baby animals for a living. I don't think he's terribly concerned with money."

 

"No, it's not that. I don't think he cares at all. But…I don't think I can tell you."

 

Leon held up his fists. "Thirty seconds. That's how close we are to fisticuffs. So start talking."

 

"You're not joking, are you?"

 

"No. I'm going to get a straight answer from you even if I have to beat it out of you. Twenty seconds."

 

"Fine, fine. Mr. Pendragon, right? He butted in on breakfast last week, killed my appetite, and basically blackmailed me into helping him blackmail Merlin."

 

"How? And why? And how?"

 

"He told me that if I helped him, he'd get me a job anywhere I like, starting at sixty-thousand, full benefits, all that good stuff. I told him I was not interested, so he flipped it around. Said he could make sure I never work in town again."

 

"Nobody is hiring now anyway."

 

"He included the surrounding hundred miles. I'd have to move to find work, and hey, if I could afford to do that, I would have done it by now."

 

"And what did he want in return?"

 

"Something that would embarrass Merlin. A picture of an abused animal, I suppose. It sounded like if I couldn't find one, I should rough one up myself and take a few shots of that."

 

"Why?"

 

"Revenge, basically. Merlin isn't interested in helping him out, and so now he wants to retaliate."

 

"And that's what he said exactly? He wants an animal being abused?"

 

"No, he said he wanted something to embarrass Merlin so he would lose his funding."

 

"And do you think maybe there's a good chance that most of the people in rural Indiana who support him might have a problem with, I don't know, gay sex?"

 

Gwaine looked up sharply. "Dirty pictures? You think that's what he wants? Pictures of Merlin. Oh. Oh shit, that would be exactly what he wants. Even if he never passes them around, he can still, you know…what an asshole."

 

"Yeah, I'd say. You didn't tell Merlin any of this, did you?"

 

"No."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because he's like Morgana's long lost twin brother. If he finds out any of this, he's going to want to take the fight to Pendragon."

 

"Yeah, well, if there's one thing I learned, it's that if you stand in the way, you'll just get bulldozed, too. It's much better to stand off to the side somewhere with chocolate and massages."

 

"It's not a fight he can win."

 

"You don't know that. It's a fight you'll both lose if you keep this up, though."

 

The front door crashed against the wall, quickly followed by "Gwaine Hanson!" and thunderous footsteps.

 

"Now just tell the nice lady everything you told me and nobody will get hurt," Leon instructed in a low tone as Morgana reached the bedroom door.

 

"What the hell is going on? And I advise you to cut out the bullshit."

 

"Uther Pendragon bribed me to take dirty pictures of Merlin having the gay sex in order to blackmail him. Or just get new material in his spank bank. We're not sure which. I didn't want to tell Merlin and I didn't want to take the pictures, so I've been avoiding him."

 

Morgana seemed taken aback—either because of the swiftness of Gwaine's reply or the scandalous content. "Don't make things up, Gwaine."

 

"I'm not. He has a thing for Merlin, didn't you know that? Apparently he's been trying to get a meeting with Merlin for awhile, and he finally cornered him at the Market a few weeks ago. Actually, it was right after we met. First he offered to write Merlin a check to buy his loyalty, and then he made a pass at him. Merlin shot him down. So now he's on the attack."

 

"Huh." She slowly lowered herself to the corner of the bed, chewing on her lip with a troubled look. "I knew something was probably up but I didn't think Merlin was right. He said he thought you might have some trouble with Pendragon but…tell me everything."

 

So Gwaine started with the meeting he witnessed, continued with what Merlin told him, and wrapped it up with their breakfast meeting. "He's got me by the short and curlies here. I didn't talk to Merlin because I didn't know what to do."

 

"Well, it's obvious what we have to do."

 

Leon and Gwaine exchanged a questioning look. "It's not that obvious to us, sweetheart."

 

"We give him what he wants," Morgana explained. "And then we get the goods on him. I'm calling Merlin over. You don't move."  

 

Leon leaned over to whisper, "What do you think she's talking about?"

 

"I don't know." He didn't exactly like the idea of giving Pendragon what he wanted. Nobody should have dirty pictures of his…Merlin…except him. "But I think it's going to be a long night."

 

"I'll go put some coffee on."

 

Leon left him with a friendly slap on the back and a kiss to the top of Morgana's head. She watched him walk away with a look of complete fondness, her ear still glued to the phone. Gwaine supposed it was just as well that Leon didn't like boys. Maybe he'd be a good little wifey, but he'd never love Leon like she could. Like she did.

 

"Okay, Merlin's on his way over. I'm going to go grab my camera."

 

"Wait. Camera? Are you really going to give him what he wants?"

 

Morgana gave him a winning smile. "Trust me, I got this. I just hope you aren't camera shy. Go trim your beard though, will ya? You look like a hobo. Come on, stand up."

 

One of these days, he was going to stop letting her push him around. But that wasn't today, and she herded him into the bathroom with firm instructions to "clean up and look presentable." He did want to look good for Merlin, but he had a feeling that wasn't her main concern.  He trusted her with his life—more than that, he trusted her with Leon's life—but he had the feeling that she had pure insanity in mind.

 

Well, at least it should be fun before it blew up in their faces.

 

#

 

Pendragon didn't want to hold their meeting in his office and instructed Gwaine to look for him at the Farmers Market, which served Gwaine's purposes nicely. He made eye contact with the older man, who gestured for him to follow to the parking strip on the east side of the park. Gwaine went all the way to the end before he found him, leaning against his Bentley and smoking a cigarette. So he did drive the Bentley. Why did he lie to Merlin about being abroad?

 

Gwaine was so over dealing with this dude.

 

Pendragon held his pack out as Gwaine approached, but he waved off the silent offer. Even if he did want a smoke, he wasn't about to take anything from Uther Pendragon.

 

"I was pleased to hear from you. I worried if you forgot about our little arrangement."

 

"How could I?" Gwaine took the manila envelope from beneath his jacket and held it out. "I trust this will satisfy our deal."

 

"We'll see," he muttered, ripping the corner with his teeth then sliding his thumb across the top to rip it open. The pictures were all high-gloss eight by tens. His idea. At least it would be harder for these shots to make their way on to the Internet—harder than if he just handed over the thumb drive they'd considered using.

 

"What is this?"

 

"Embarrassing pictures of Merlin. That's you asked for, isn't it?"

 

Pendragon flipped through the stack of pictures faster and faster, his face crumbling with anger. "You can't even tell any of these are Merlin."

 

"Trust me, you can tell if you know what you're looking for."

 

His attention flew to Gwaine's smiling face. "Do you think this is funny?"

 

"No, as you can see from the photos, I took all of this very seriously." He wasn't even smiling in half of them. "I even used the camera you gave me."

 

"Where is it?"

 

"What?"

 

"The camera I gave you!"

 

"Did you want it back? I thought that was part of the deal."

 

"Yes, I want it back. And I want it full of pictures of Merlin's ranch . I told you that."

 

"You said you wanted embarrassing pictures of Merlin," Gwaine countered. "How was I supposed to know what you wanted?"

 

"Because I told you! And what made you think I wanted pictures of Merlin's dick?"

 

"Are you kidding? Look at that thing. Who wouldn't want pictures of that? Besides, I know you made a pass at him. Besides, if you want to cut off his funding, what do you want with pictures of the ranch?"

 

"I'm not going to sit here and explain everything to you, Gwaine."

 

"Maybe you should. Clearly I can't help you if I don't know what you're doing."

 

"I don't need your help, I just need you to do what I say."

 

"Sorry, I've never been that good at following orders."

 

"You better get good at it."

 

"Is that a threat?"

 

"I don't threaten people, but sometimes, if I like them I'll give them a friendly warning. And I think I've given you more than enough at this point."

 

"And I've had more than enough of this?" Merlin announced, bursting out of his hiding place.

 

Shit, Merlin, what are you doing? Can't you stick to a plan?  

 

The plan was abandoned and Merlin had smoke coming out of his ears. He marched right up to Uther Pendragon, grabbed him by the collar and held him against the car, his smiling face transformed into a fearsome mask. There was nothing out of control about his anger. His fury was focused and quiet, narrowed to a laser point between Pendragon's eyes.

 

"I know you think you're the big man around here, walking around with your dick swinging, right? I've seen your kind before, and guess what? I'm still not impressed. They think you were just being an old pervert, or maybe looking for some pile of dead animals to show what a rotten person I am.  But I know you want code violations. Guess what? Everything's up to code and I have the recent inspection to prove it."

 

"Unhand me now or I'll…"

 

Merlin slammed him backwards hard enough to make his teeth clack together. Gwaine's eyes widened. He shouldn't have been surprised, he felt Merlin's great strength before, but it still shocked him. It clearly shocked Pendragon, too, because he remained still.

 

"You'll what? Make me? No, you're done issuing orders around here, Rod. You've lost. You're not going to get the ranch, you're not going to get my support, you're not going to get me, and you're not going to bully Gwaine, either. He doesn't need a job from you. I've already found him one."

 

Merlin released him suddenly and took a step back, smoothing the wrinkles from his shirt. "If you want to rehabilitate your image, stop being such a prick. That could go a long ways."

 

"Gwaine will never work in this state again," Pendragon vowed darkly.

 

Merlin laughed, shaking his head. "Wow, you just don't give up, do you? Haven't you figured it out yet? You don't own everybody and you're not the high king of Indiana. He'll be working for me at the sanctuary."

 

Wow. Really? Gwaine looked over to Merlin to confirm, but Merlin was entirely focused on their nemesis. Merlin's eyes were steady and calm, but Pendragon kept looking around for an escape path. He was probably ready for the conversation to be over. Gwaine knew he was more than ready himself.

 

"I never want to see you again. Don't come sniffing around me or my friends, or I will personally guarantee you regret it. Like you, I don't pass out threats. Unlike you, I have plenty of people who are willing to help me without resorting to bribery, blackmail, or extortion. Including the police."

 

Impotent rage shaped Pendragon's red and sputtering face. It was all Gwaine could do not to laugh at him. He held it together, though. Unlike Merlin, Gwaine still had a healthy respect and understanding for who pulled the strings in the town. Pendragon could get even nastier, of that Gwaine had no doubt.

 

"Come on, Gwaine, let's go." Merlin folded Gwaine's hand in his and turned back to the Market.  They marched off together proudly, Gwaine stifling the urge to look over his shoulder, hoping a rock wasn't rushing toward his head. Pendragon didn't fire a missile though, and when Gwaine finally did look back, he was long gone.

Chapter Text

"I think I'm going to be sick," Merlin muttered. "Oh my god, I thought he was going to punch me in the face."

 

"You were amazing."

 

Merlin held his hand up. "I'm still shaking. Look at that."

 

Gwaine caught his hand and brought it to his mouth, softly kissing each knuckle. "You were more than amazing."

 

"Were you recording all of that?"

 

"Of course. Don't worry, I got everything."

 

"But we left the pictures behind."

 

"It's okay. There's no identifiable features." There were plenty of suggestive situations and shadows, but nothing anybody could trace back to either him or Merlin.

 

"Is he following us?"

 

Gwaine threw a quick look behind him, but the coast was still clear. "No, we're good. I don't think he'll be bothering you anytime soon after the surprise you gave him."

 

"I know…I'm sorry, by the way. I know that wasn't part of the plan, but he just infuriates me. I hate people like him. Bullies."

 

And bullies hated it when people stood up to them. But Gwaine wasn't going to worry about that or point it out to Merlin. "You were awesome. Somebody needed to stand up to that asshole."

 

"My heart is still pounding. I felt like I was channeling the Hulk or something."

 

Gwaine laughed and pulled Merlin closer, against his body, He was still trembling, like a frightened bunny. Even his nose twitched. It was adorable. Gwaine couldn't help himself. He hooked his finger under Merlin's chin and leaned in, kissing the tip of his nose. Merlin giggled and tried to look away, but Gwaine wouldn't let him. His heart was racing, too, and he was feeling heady…happy.

 

"Come here," Gwaine murmured, leading him to a bank of trucks.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"I need to be alone with you."

 

"There's too many people around here."

 

"There's not anybody back here. Look, see? We're all alone." Gwaine pulled Merlin against his chest, wrapping his arm around his back to hold him tight. "Thank you, by the way."

 

"For what?"

 

"Forgiving me for being an asshole."

 

"You're not an asshole. You were being pushed around by a bully."

 

"Then forgive me for being a coward. I should have stood up to him the way you did."

 

"He'd just put the screws to you. But now he doesn't have anything to hold over your head."

 

"You're really giving me a job?"

 

"Yes, but it's not very glamorous."

 

"Is it shoveling shit?"

 

"Mostly. But I don't want people to think I'm playing favorites."

 

"It's okay." Gwaine nuzzled against Merlin's jaw, skimming his lips over the corner of his mouth. "The perks more than make up for it."

 

"I was thinking, I have an extra bedroom."

 

"Are you inviting me to move in?"

 

"I'm letting you know it's an option. Oh for God's sake, Gwaine, will you just kiss me?"

 

Gwaine slid his hand over Merlin's ear, fingers sliding into his silky hair. Merlin's hands went to his hips, fitting their groins together. They'd been kissing and petting for the past week, but neither made the move to take it further than that. Even when they took the pictures, it was more suggestive fiction than explicit porn. Morgana had been the photographer, and so things really never got out of hand.

 

But they were about to. Gwaine's adrenaline went up as his blood went south, and the tip of his tongue was met with a soft moan of welcome. He probed deeper, and was immediately caught in the whirlwind of Merlin's desire. The kiss went to a new level, one of challenge, and Gwaine had no choice but to respond in kind, kissing Merlin with equal intensity, daring him to push back. The din of the Market fell below the throbbing in his ears, and his dick rose up against his tight jeans. He shifted against Merlin, grinding into his hard girth, shivering with the need to ride it.

 

He backed Merlin up against the nearest truck, the smell of hot rubber from the sun soaked tires drifting over his senses. Just after that was the nearby scent of sweet churros and green leaves in the sinking sunlight. Anybody could round the corner and find them there—and anybody might have. Gwaine was so numb to the world outside of Merlin that anything could have happened, he wouldn't have noticed. If it wasn't Merlin's mouth, Merlin's body and hands, Merlin's tongue and dick then Gwaine just didn't care.

 

He tugged at Merlin's fly, freeing the zipper and fisting his prize. Merlin's relief was obvious as Gwaine pulled him free of his boxers, and his mouth watered for the hot flesh resting in his palm.

 

"We shouldn't do that here."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because it's…oh fuck Gwaine…oh fuck you've got to stop."

 

"Because it's what? Mmmmm, that's it, move your hips like that."

 

"Oh it's…it's…"

 

"It's good isn't it? Let me show you how good it could be."  

 

#

 

Morgana wrinkled her nose as the talking stopped, only to be replaced by the sound of loud slurps, sucks, and groans. The speaker was taped just below his collarbone, and so there was no problem picking up every single second of their reunion. At first, Morgana had thought it was cute. Now it only felt like she'd caught her brother jacking off…or blowing his boyfriend.

 

"Hey." Leon popped his head into the tent. "How's it going? They okay?"

 

"What? Oh yeah. They're fine. It all went to plan. Well, mostly. I didn't plan for Merlin to come out of nowhere and threaten him, but now we have him on tape confessing to the bribery and blackmail. If he tries it again, then we've got something to use against him. But I don't think he'll come around again."



"Are you worried about retaliation?"

 

"How will he retaliate? I've already told him we don't need his money. I'm going to be organizing the fundraiser for later this summer. I'm going to go over it and maybe I can trim the pricetag down a little, too. I'll figure something out."

 

"I know you will. You always do." Leon's brow furrowed. "And now what are you recording?"

 

"I believe that's Gwaine sucking Merlin off."

 

"Oh. Gross. Why are you recording that?"

 

"It's not gross. Do you think it's gross when I suck you off?"

 

"Um, yeah, it's disgusting. I don't know why you do it for me and I'm thankful every day you haven't realized that it's gross. I mean, way thankful. Can I ask you a question?"

 

"Sure. Is it about blowjobs?"

 

"Why are you still listening to it?"

 

"Um…well…it just started. It's not like I've been sitting here for the last ten minutes or anything."

 

"Right."

 

They both lapsed into silence as the sounds changed, became more rapid and…explicit. Before she might have been able to pretend it was something else, but now there was no doubt that they were listening to one very enthusiastic blowjob. And Merlin was hung, by the sounds of it.

 

"So, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Leon asked.

 

"We find them and scare the hell out of them?"

 

He smiled. "I love that you're going to be my wife."

 

"I love it, too." She stood and took his hand.  "Come on. I think they're over on the north end, behind the food. By the way, what do you think about having a baby?"

 

"Uh…I don't know…we don't have the room."

 

"We will if Gwaine moves out."

 

"Then I guess we'll talk about it then."

 

She squeezed his hand, silently agreeing to wait. It's going to be sooner than you think, sweetheart . She was sure by the time she shared the news with Leon, Uncle Gwaine and Uncle Merlin would already be shacked up, partners and guardians of ducks and bunnies everywhere.