It is a truth universally acknowledged that any party with enough drinking eventually devolves into Truth or Dare.
Or. Something like that, Merlin thinks, it’s all a little fuzzy because of the drinking. (His first dare involved drinking rum straight until someone yelled “Stop,” bless Gwen for being the only one of them with pity or sense, and it’s only gone downhill from there.) He’s also pretty sure it’s Gwaine’s fault, because everything is Gwaine’s fault except maybe the things that are Morgana’s fault. And the things that are Arthur’s fault, but those are things he mostly tries not to think about, especially when he is very very drunk and Arthur is sitting next to him looking unfairly rumpled and gorgeous.
“Dare,” says Elena, because she is a very brave woman and doesn’t take the easy way out even though it’s Morgana coming up with her torture.
Sure enough, Morgana gets a look of unholy glee on her face. “Fine, then, I dare you to give someone a lapdance.”
Elena tilts her head to the side. Or maybe can’t keep it properly upright anymore, that is also a distinct possibility. “Someone? No one in particular?”
Morgana waves a hand. “I’m a benevolent dictator. The person of your choice.”
Everyone knows that’s a dare of its own, but Elena is either too drunk to care or wouldn’t care anyway, so she stands up and looks around the room, hands on her hips. “Well, I don’t fancy someone’s dick getting too interested in the proceedings, so a lady it is,” she says, and climbs into Mithian’s lap without further ado.
Gwaine lets out a whoop, Mithian lets out a surprised squeak, and Freya, exempted from the game on the grounds that she is playing DJ in the corner and also she looked like she was going to stab Gwaine when he attempted to drag her in and she is the only person who gets away with gainsaying him, switches the music over to something bass-heavy. Merlin watches, mostly because his alternative is watching Arthur and that doesn’t seem like a wise decision. Elena is less dancing and more engaging in some really clumsy dry-humping, but nobody really seems to care, from Mithian with her head tipped back and her chest heaving to Leon, the only one of them not drunk because he’s their Designated Decision-Maker (none of them having to drive), crossing his legs looking mildly traumatized.
Eventually, Elena stops, gives Mithian a brisk pat on the shoulder, and dismounts, leaving Mithian looking rather wrecked and overwhelmed. Merlin can sympathize. Like that thought called Elena’s attention over to his corner, Elena swivels where she’s still standing in the middle of their loose circle, almost falling over in the process, and points dramatically at Arthur. “Okay, Pendragon. Truth or dare?”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Truth.”
Elena’s eyes flick to Merlin just long enough that he has a sudden premonition that’s she’s going to do something that she thinks will be very helpful but actually won’t be at all, and before he can think whether it’s a good idea or not, he shoots to his feet, blurting “Shit, I don’t feel very well,” and flees for the bathroom, where he splashes water on his face and tries not to listen to anything happening out in the main room of Gwen and Morgana’s flat. He hates them a little for thinking an end-of-term party was a good idea.
He isn’t exactly surprised when someone knocks lightly on the door a minute or two later, when Merlin is idly wondering if he can move into this bathroom and if Gwen would bring him food. The knocker is probably either Leon, who is good at patting Merlin on the shoulder and pretending they aren’t having an emotional moment, or Gwen, who has been getting increasingly giggly and making eyes at Lancelot for the last half an hour but who knows about the messy crush on Arthur and would want to check with him, so Merlin heaves himself from sitting on the toilet seat to open the door.
It’s Arthur. Arthur would have been not quite at the bottom of the list of people Merlin was expecting, but he definitely comes somewhere after nearly everyone. “You okay?” he asks, shifting about, hands in his pockets.
“Yeah, sorry. Just had too much to drink.”
Arthur stares at him. “Can I come in?”
Merlin stares back. “To the bathroom?”
“I want to wash my face.” Merlin steps out of the way, because he can’t exactly disprove that, and Arthur brushes by him right to the sink, shutting the door behind him instead of letting Merlin escape. “Got tired of the game?”
It takes Merlin a moment to confirm that Arthur meant that as a question, and then he manages something that he thinks counts as a shrug, catching Arthur’s eyes in the mirror. “Truth or dare stopped being fun when I was fifteen, even if we play the drunk pretentious grad student version now.”
Arthur snorts. “You have to admit it was kind of funny when Mithian and Morgana and Percival were trying to out-English-major each other at the beginning there. Demonstrate a dialogue you would like to have with your father indeed.”
“Elyan’s fire-breathing was pretty badass, though.”
“Yeah.” Arthur turns around, still leaning on the sink. It’s pretty clear he’s got no intention of going anywhere anytime soon. He’s not blocking the door or anything, but Merlin still feels frozen in place, moving from the giddy part of drunk to the tired part now that he’s away from the energy of the party. “Elena just asked me about my most embarrassing moment. It wasn’t—I don’t know if you were worried, but it wasn’t anything to do with you.”
Merlin is suddenly, fiercely glad that he’s drunk almost past coherence, that there’s even a small chance he might not remember this in the morning, because he thinks any other time he would be humiliated. Arthur knows something, it seems, and maybe he’s going to let Merlin down while he’s drunk. That seems sort of backwards, somewhere in Merlin’s fuzzy brain. Isn’t the heartbreak supposed to happen before the drinking? “I didn’t figure it would be. Just felt sick, that was all.”
“Right.” Arthur fidgets with the hem of his shirt, staring unfocused somewhere past Merlin’s left shoulder. “I don’t know why I thought—”
“It’s okay. It’s … you know. Just, thanks for checking up on me, I guess, and—”
“Normally I never ask for truth,” Arthur blurts, like Merlin hasn’t picked that up across the few half-hearted drunk games they’ve played before. “Not even from Morgana. It’s just that Elena told me earlier that if I asked for a dare from her she was going to tell me to do something I’ve been sort of putting off, but I think maybe I should do it anyway.”
Merlin stares at him. “I don’t think that made as much sense as you want it to make.”
Arthur kisses him. Which also doesn’t make sense, but Merlin isn’t going to complain, because Arthur sort of lunged and now he’s pinned against a wall and they both taste like Morgana’s lethal sangria and like the rum and coke they took out later when they got more serious about getting drunk. And maybe that’s bad, but Arthur said, he said it was something he was putting off, and—Arthur is pulling away. They stare at each other dazed for a few seconds. “That went much better than I thought it would,” Arthur says eventually.
“I didn’t think it would—you thought it would—what?” Merlin manages. He’s holding on to Arthur’s shirt, he’s got no clue when that happened.
“Eloquent as always, Merlin.” Arthur’s mouth quirks up in a smile. “We should try it again.”
Merlin’s about to kiss him in answer, because Arthur has gone insane and Merlin is going to encourage this at every possible opportunity, but someone knocks on the door. This time it is Leon. “You two haven’t killed each other yet, have you?” he asks, sounding very put-upon indeed.
“Nobody is dead,” Arthur calls back.
Leon’s long-suffering sigh is still audible from the other side of the door. “In that case Morgana said I was to tell you that if you fuck in her bathroom she will make you scrub it all up with your own toothbrushes.”
They start laughing, because it’s either laughter or a healthy dose of terror and laughter is much easier. “We’ll be out in a second,” Merlin says.
Arthur grins at him. “I live right next door, you may recall. There is a bedroom. There are two, in fact, but one of them is even mine. We don’t—I mean, we’re drunk as fuck, so we shouldn’t have sex, but you could stay. If you wanted.”
“I definitely, definitely want,” says Merlin, and then they’re kissing again, until Leon knocks on the door again, and then they stop and go out, Merlin feeling quite sheepish and ducking his head when Leon grins at them.
Everyone in the main room stops what they’re doing (Elyan is in the middle of the circle doing what looks like ballet and freezes in the middle of a move that seems sort of impossible to freeze in the middle of, which supports Merlin’s theory that Elyan is actually magic; also, Elena is on Mithian’s lap again, and Merlin is going to have to remember to ask about that in the morning) and stares when Merlin and Arthur come by. Merlin’s about to stop and say something no-doubt embarrassing and obvious, but Arthur stops him, hand wrapping around his wrist. “We’re turning in.”
Morgana, sprawled sideways in the comfiest chair in the living room, gives a lascivious waggle of her eyebrows. “Are you, now?”
“Merlin’s not feeling well, and I thought you might stab him if he fell asleep in your bathtub.”
“And you are very invested in his not being stabbed.” Morgana frowns to herself and turns to Gwen. “That made sense, right?”
Merlin interrupts before Morgana decides to humiliate them further. “I am very invested in me not being stabbed. Night, everyone.”
There’s a chorus of goodnights—Gwaine winks, and Lancelot gives them his good-luck-and-godspeed nod, and Mithian grins and then goes back to being distracted when Elena shifts on her lap, and Merlin ducks his head and follows Arthur out the door when Arthur tugs on his arm.
“You owe me dinner at the restaurant of my choice,” Gwaine says triumphantly to someone on the other side of the door the second it shuts behind them, and then, “Come on, Elyan, you haven’t finished your interpretive dance about your feelings on Star Wars yet.”
Merlin grins at Arthur, catching his grin in return, and follows him home.