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Arthur frowned as he stomped out of the locker room on his skates. He had his gloves in one hand, his stick in the other as he made his way to the ice rink. Coach Kilgarrah had just given them news which was responsible for his foul mood.

In the last game, the one against those damn Gryphons, their center had brutally cross-checked Gwaine into the boards, and the ref had missed it. Even injured, his teammate had still managed to finish the game. Arthur smiled bitterly to himself. That was Gwaine, no matter how much it hurt, he had the absolute will to win. Arthur had helped to get him off the ice after the match because Gwaine had hardly been able to put his weight on his right leg any longer. Turned out that the overexpanded cruciate ligament in his knee had ripped partially.

The Coach’s words still rung in Arthur’s ears. “Gwaine had his surgery yesterday; he’s doing well so far. But - and this is the bad part for us - he’s out for the season.” The guys had moaned and some voiced their concerns of how they would make it to the play-offs without Gwaine. He was an essential part of the team; they had nobody who was better in that position. As a matter of fact, they had nobody else who played center at all. Peter, who had been the second stringer, had been tossed off the team for some behavior issues just three weeks ago and they hadn’t found someone to replace him yet. And now they had to find someone to replace Gwaine. Which was impossible; Gwaine just couldn’t be replaced.

As the others made plans to smuggle beer into the hospital and to get their injured team mate some issues of Playboy magazine or porn vids, Arthur had grabbed his gear and headed to the ice. He needed some time alone, a bit of space to think. He was sure that the Coach would ask his opinion about the predicament the Dragons were in. Which one of the others could they let play center? Owaine came to mind, but Arthur immediately dismissed the idea. They had discussed him as a replacement of Peter before; he was just too slow. They could pull Elyan from the goal and put Marcus there. But no, if they were weakened on one position they just couldn’t weaken themselves further by letting their best goalie play a different position. Elyan was best where he was. Lance? An elegant skater, but not quick enough in his thinking. And no way could they let Leon take over. He was a good skater and went through with all the plays as they were, but he was a stickler for rules, a bit too stiff most of the time. Gwaine thought outside the box; saw the plays before they happened. If they were going to make the play-offs, they needed someone like that.

Arthur sighed as he sat down in the stands and took his helmet off. They’d been over all this before and hadn’t come up with a solution. They’d even held try-outs but none of the blokes showing up had been good enough to be even considered. Hopelessness crawled up Arthur’s spine. This was his last year as captain of the Dragons; he’d go to university after summer. Last year they had lost the final and he had worked everyone so hard as to not let that happen again. He wanted to leave with that win in his pocket, wanted that damn cup. And now it looked as if a simple injury would make it impossible to even get through to the play-offs. Fuck.

And if this stupid figure skating idiot out there wouldn’t clear the ice soon, they’d have even less time to practice and get used to their new situation.

As the team came out of the tunnel, the boy on the ice finished his routine of jumps and large gestures and sissy movements, took his earbuds out and made his way off the ice.

Arthur didn’t pay too much attention to the not-so-nice comments of the others and was just about to grab his helmet to join them on the ice as Coach Kilgarrah approached him. For a moment, he didn’t say anything. Then he asked, “So, what do you think, Arthur?”

Shrugging, Arthur sighed forlornly. “I really don’t know. We’ve been through all the options when we lost Peter. It didn’t work out. Either we hold new try-outs and hope for someone to show up who hasn’t been here before or…,” he made a face, “we just hope for a miracle. Gwaine is irreplaceable.”

The coach sat down next to him on the bench. “There’s someone else.”

Arthur’s head shot up as he looked at the coach in surprise. “Who? Where is he?” When he saw the strange look on the man’s face, he took a deep breath. “Don’t tell me it’s that girl again! We’ve discussed that before. The guys don’t want a girl in the team and none of those who showed up so far were good enough to play anyway.”

Kilgarrah shook his head.“No girls.”

“Then who?” Arthur had the feeling this wouldn’t end well.

“Did you see the bloke who practiced just before us?”

“The…figure skater?” Arthur’s eyes went wide in disbelieve. Coach couldn’t be serious!

“Yes, him. Have you ever watched him?”

“Why would I? What does figure skating have to do with us?”

“You should be a bit more open-minded, Arthur.”

Snorting, Arthur shook his head, knowing that this alone could get him on the coach’s bad side. But he didn’t care. Why would he watch a figure skater?

“At least he can skate…” The coach offered.

Arthur shrugged indifferently. “He probably can. But he’s…he’s…a figure skater, Coach! He’s…basically a girl!”

Coach Kilgarrah got up. “Twenty bench presses more for you later and you’ll do rounds tomorrow. And if I ever hear a remark like that again, Pendragon, you’ll be off the team faster than you can blink.” The tall man got up and made his way to the rink where the other players were already warming up, leaving Arthur deep in thoughts.

Merlin blinked and couldn’t believe his ears. He looked up at the man he knew was the coach of the Dragons hockey team and was sure that the way his mouth hung open gave him a not-very-fortunate look. “Excuse me?”

The man smiled. “I can understand if this surprises you, Merlin, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation we’re in.”

Nodding, Merlin fiddled with his scarf. He couldn’t believe that Coach Kilgarrah had just asked him to join the hockey team.

“You’d do us a really huge favor if you could help us out. You skate very well and I understand you know a bit about hockey, too. It would only be until Gwaine comes back… or we find someone who’s actually into the sport.” He laughed.

A little frown crept on Merlin’s face. “So you want to use my skills for your brutal sport and if someone more willing comes along, you’re going to drop me.” He hadn’t meant to say that out loud but it was just what the coach’s comment sounded like.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” The coach waved at someone behind them. “Arthur, come on over. Convince Merlin to join us.”

Merlin turned and saw one of them hockey brutes skate his way over, not really slowing down before he stepped off the ice. He pulled his helmet off and revealed a shock of blond hair and Merlin’s breath caught when he found those piercing blue eyes focused intently on him. Oh dear Goddess, this was The Arthur Pendragon, whose photo was on Wikipedia, right next to ‘jock’, and ‘prat extraordinaire’. A damn good skater and star of the Red Dragons, but also one of the most arrogant people around. Of course he’d seen him before and he had a hard time keeping a little blush off his face. Everyone fancied Arthur Pendragon…and Merlin was no exception.

But by the way Arthur looked at him, Merlin knew that Arthur was just as unenthusiastic about the coach’s idea as he was.

“Hi,” Arthur murmured.

Merlin just nodded and watched as Arthur dropped his helmet on a seat, took his gloves off and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He didn’t feel the need to say anything; the coach wanted Arthur to speak.

All he did was look at Merlin, though: looking him in the eyes, taking in his face and, of course, his ears. Merlin blushed under the stare. He knew that his huge sticking out ears were definitely not his best feature, but he was born with them and he had heard about every insult and ear joke on the planet. And yet, there was something else in Arthur’s look. His eyes wandered down Merlin’s body and Merlin couldn’t help but shiver. What was this? A cattle market? The longer Arthur looked at him, the more uncomfortable and irritated Merlin became.

Arthur shrugged. “It’s your decision, Coach.”

Without even noticing, Merlin copied Arthur’s pose, crossing his arms in front of his chest, staring back.

“We’ve discussed that, Arthur. Merlin is the only option we have at this point in time, so you should ask him nicely if he’ll help us.” The coach stared at Arthur pointedly.

“I don’t think it will work. He’s not fast enough. But okay,” he turned to Merlin. “Would you consider joining the team until our missing player is back from injured reserve?”

Merlin snorted. Not fast enough? “That’s what you call asking nicely?” He reached for his skates and slung them over his shoulder. “What do I care about a bunch of stupid hockey players?” He threw the coach a disgusted look and turned to leave. He’d known it all along: hockey players were all just idiots. Instead of begging on their knees that he’d save their arses, they were quick to insult him without even having seen what he could do.

“Merlin!” The coach called after him.

Raising his hand in a mock acknowledgement, Merlin left the rink without looking back.

“Merlin?” A soft rap at his door made him jump.

“Come in, mam.” His mother always knew when something was off.

Hunith entered the room, put a cup of steaming hot tea on Merlin’s nightstand, sat down on the edge of Merlin’s bed and waited. She knew her son; he would talk when he was ready.

“Coach Killgarah called.”

After a moment of silence, Merlin looked at her. “I can’t, Mam, I just can’t.” He sighed and put his chin on his knees, hugging them closer to his body.

“It’s your decision, dear.”

Swallowing hard against the lump in his throat, Merlin looked at her again. “He’s never even seen me skate and still he says I’m not fast enough.”

“He doesn’t know that you didn’t start out as a figure skater, sweetheart. He doesn’t know that you know a thing or two about hockey. And it might do you good.” Hunith reached out for him.

“I swore to never play hockey again. What good did it do? It only made us unhappy. It won’t do me any good now.” Stubbornly, Merlin pushed his lower lip forward into a pout.

Hunith couldn’t help but smile at that. Merlin had done this since he was a little kid. Each time something happened that made other children stomp their feet and throw a tantrum, Merlin had pushed out his lip like that and frowned. Even though he was growing up and the man he would be one day was already clearly visible – at least to her – he still did that frown.

“It had nothing to do with hockey, Merlin, and deep down you know that. You’ve always loved the sport. Maybe you should give it another chance?” She ran the back of her fingers down Merlin’s cheek.

“I’m a figure skater now.”

Getting up, Hunith leaned over and put a kiss on Merlin’s hair. “You will make the right decision, I know that.”

“You’re an idiot, Princess.” Gwaine rolled his eyes and tried to shove the pillow in a more comfortable position.

“But Gwaine, he’s…a figure skater!” Arthur reached for the pillow, fluffed it up for him and stuffed it back between Gwaine and his hospital bed.

“Consider yourself lucky that they haven’t brought me my crutches yet or I’d hit you over your thick skull with them by now.” The boy fumbled around for a scrunchie and tied his longish hair back, leaving the too-long fringe out of the pony-tail. Arthur thought this was ridiculous, but Gwaine claimed that this had an emphasizing effect on his smoldering look that drove people wild – lads and lassies alike - and Arthur knew that Gwaine wasn’t picky when it came to either gender.

“But…” Arthur sighed and sat down on the window sill. He hated hospitals, everything about them. The look, the sounds, the smell and seeing his best friend being unable to get up out of bed and with a large bandage around his knee was something that gave Arthur the creeps. He’d had his fair share of injuries, but usually that was done and over with after a quick x-ray and some bandages. He never had to stay.

“But what? He knows how to skate. I’m sure he’ll out-dance every single one of us; he’s fast and has to have good timing. Why shouldn’t he be able to do the same with a stick in his hands, chasing a puck?”

“He’s…Gwaine, you should see him, he’s so…girlish.”

Gwaine laughed at that. “Coach was right to make you run laps until you puked. Merlin is anything but girlish. He has broad shoulders, nice pecs and an arse to die for!”

Arthur groaned. “You’d die for any arse if it’s just willing enough.” He shuddered. “Okay, he’s taller than I thought…” Arthur grudgingly admitted.

“Taller than you.”

Glaring at his friend, Arthur started to pace. “But…I just don’t see him having the will to fight. He’s used to be alone on the ice. He won’t be able to throw himself into a group of guys armed with sticks, willing to kill him over a little piece of hard rubber.”

“And that’s why you lashed out right away and didn’t even ask him to try out?” Gwaine crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at him.

He’d come here to get support and comfort, but Gwaine was taking the same line as the coach had. And somewhere deep inside Arthur knew he’d been wrong to judge Merlin too quickly. He rubbed a hand across his eyes. “You think I should ask him again?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” Gwaine’s voice was dripping with sarcasm as his hands made quotation marks in the air, “ ‘Listen, girlish boy, I didn’t think about it again but everyone else made me do this. So…are you in?’ He will sure kiss your feet and jump into the uniform right away with that kind of incentive.”

Sitting down again, Arthur worried his lower lip with his teeth. “Then tell me…what I should do?”

Up in the stands, in the upper row that the lights didn’t reach when the rink was just used for practice, Arthur sat in the shadows, watching. He had been here before Merlin even stepped on the ice and he hadn’t moved since.

After Coach Kilgarrah had yelled at him and made him run laps on the track for his behavior towards Merlin as well as his talk with Gwaine, Arthur had a sleepless night. In the wee hours of morning, he’d decided to at least watch the figure skater. Maybe he would be able to judge his abilities a bit better and then eventually find a way to ask him again if he wanted to join the team.

In the beginning, Merlin had gone through his warm-up routine. That wasn’t too much different from what the team did to warm up, aside from the extensive stretching he’d done off the ice. Then he’d skated a few really fast rounds before he’d started to practice a certain jump. A toe-loop? Arthur wasn’t sure. When it came to figure skating he got bored right away and didn’t see too much of a difference in all of those jumps. But his sister Morgana annoying him by watching figure skating events on TV all the time had obviously rubbed off.

But, as the other boy sped up and went for the jump again, he had to admit that he had been wrong assuming that Merlin was too slow. He held his breath when he noticed that something was off and gasped as Merlin crashed onto the ice, sliding all the way over to the boards that finally stopped him. That must have hurt. Those figure skaters didn’t wear any protective gear, did they?

To his surprise, Merlin just cursed and got up, examining the newly-created hole in the sleeve of his long-sleeved t-shirt that he wore over the skin-tight lycra suit as he skated around the rink again. As fluid as the motion had been, there was something determined in it, too. Arthur watched as Merlin shoved his red neckerchief back into the front of his suit and swung about to repeat the jump.

Arthur didn’t know why Merlin wasn’t content when he landed the jump the next time…and the next and the next four or five times. They’d looked pretty good to him, but then Arthur admitted to himself that he had no clue what they should look like to start with.

When Merlin finally left the ice and put the skate guards on his blades, Arthur still hadn’t moved. He had seen quite a few things that made him think.

For one, Merlin was fast. They’d have to find out how fast he really was, especially wearing a lot more gear than just a too-big T-shirt and a skimpy suit that left little to the imagination. He was coordinated in his movements and even elegant as far as Arthur could judge. And that the figure skater was willing to work hard to achieve a goal. He was sure that Merlin would have continued to practice that jump over and over hadn’t it been for the fact that the rink would get locked up in less than twenty minutes.

What preoccupied Arthur the most, though, was something that he hadn’t really seen. It was more of a feeling. The determination and underlying anger that he’d sensed might be something they could work with. And if they could manage to hammer the rules of the game into Merlin’s head fast enough, he could make an acceptable player – at least until a real one showed up.

Merlin couldn’t concentrate on anything. Just like everybody else, he had heard of Gwaine’s injury and even considered sending him a card. They had met a few times at parties and there was even this one incident where Gwaine had almost kissed him…if only his teammate hadn’t called out for him at just that moment. Oh well, too bad… but since Gwaine never showed interest again, Merlin had thought that this just had been a result of too much alcohol. And in some way, he was glad that it hadn’t happened. Gwaine was on the team and it was too much of a hassle to get off the ice without being shoved, teased, and called names as it was.

The team. Chewing on the end of his pencil, Merlin stared out of the window. There had been a time where he’d loved hockey. His dad had put him on skates when he was only three. When he was five, Dad had taken him to the practice of the team. Immediately Merlin knew he wanted to do this.

Against the protest of his mam, his dad had bought him the equipment and taken him to practice every week and worked with him alongside the team. Merlin had adored his father, adored hockey and everything that came with it and had done everything to make him proud.

But when Merlin found out that he liked boys a few years ago, his dad had caught him snogging another player after practice. It had been the most embarrassing moment of his life. Dad hadn’t yelled. He hadn’t even looked sadly at him or with disgust in his eyes. He just never mentioned it again.

And then he had left; walked out of their lives, left Mam and him behind. Mam had told him that they had problems and that it was better that way, but Merlin couldn’t help but feeling that it had been his fault. If he didn’t like blokes, maybe his father would have stayed with them. So Merlin had stopped playing hockey; it was just too painful now that his Dad was gone.

Last thing he had heard of his father was that he had taken a job as a hockey coach somewhere up north.

Over the years Merlin had come to terms with the fact that he liked men. There was nothing wrong with it and he couldn’t change it even if he wanted to. So he had accepted it. He never felt the need to flaunt it but he never lied about it, either.

And because he loved skating and felt really bad when he stopped playing hockey, he had started to figure skate instead. It was different from hockey, sure, but he could be on the ice and work out, even though he was nowhere near being great at it. He had won a local competition or two, yes, but he would never be one of the really great ones. But that was okay with him.

The thought of putting on the gloves and helmet again haunted Merlin. He knew that the team needed someone badly, but he’d never thought they were desperate enough to ask him. Obviously, they were. Should he do it? If it only had been Coach Kilgarrah asking him, he might have said yes. But that stupid clotpole of a team captain had made it very clear that he rather lose all the remaining games than having him on the team.

He sighed and got up to make himself a fresh cup of tea. Why was that always coming back to him? The way Pendragon had managed to ask him to join the team and insult him in the same sentence… And why the hell was exactly that the thing that made him actually consider trying it? He didn’t have to prove anything to Pendragon. He was sure that the prat hadn’t even known his name before the coach had informed him. Why was he willing to chase the puck again to show someone who didn’t care about him at all that he could indeed do it, and do it well?

Merlin blew across his tea, watching the steam vaporize in the air as he made up his mind.

Just as he’d landed one of those damn double toe-loops that he just didn’t manage to make triple, Merlin caught movement in the corner of his eye. Pulling his earbuds out, he skated over to where one Arthur Pendragon made his way onto the ice. “Hey! You’re not on yet. The rink is mine for the next,” he checked the big clock on the wall, “twenty minutes.”

Arthur wasn’t impressed and continued to skate toward Merlin. “Didn’t look too bad. You might be not as slow as I first thought.”

“What would you know about it?” Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Merlin glared at Arthur.

“I’ve been watching you practice.”

“Are you stalking all the figure skaters or am I the only one who’s graced with this honour?”

Arthur laughed. “Just you. I’ve been up there,” he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, “last night. You’re good.”

“And you know enough about figure skating to be able to judge that?” Merlin snorted.

“No, actually I know nothing about figure skating,” Arthur admitted, “but I notice speed and strength when I see it.”

Merlin stared. He had never heard the mighty Arthur Pendragon admit a mistake or a weakness. And nobody ever heard him apologize. But this sounded almost like one. “You’re saying?”

“I’m saying that I’ve changed my mind. Let’s see what you can do and what we have to work on for you to make the team.” He threw a couple of pucks onto the ice and held out the extra stick he had brought along.

The nerve! One second, Merlin was almost willing to think that Arthur wasn’t so bad after all and that he’d ask him to join the team again after apologizing, and now he made it sound as if Merlin had begged to be part of this.

Merlin viciously kicked one of the pucks aside. “Get off my ice.”

Arthur stopped and looked at him for the first time. “Merlin.”

“Oh, you know who I am.”

“Of course I know who you are. You are the new player to replace Gwaine.”

“I’m first and foremost the bloke who throws you off his ice. You’re wasting my time.”

“Merlin.”

It almost sounded pleading. Well, he’d better be... because if this was Pendragon’s idea of team building, Merlin would change his mind about joining the team.

Arthur skated away but came back. “Please?”

“Please what?”

Merlin almost laughed at the look on Arthur’s face, which showed that he’d rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than doing this.

“Would you please reconsider joining the team? We need you.”

He’d never thought he’d hear Arthur say something like this and he knew that it hadn’t been easy for him. Nevertheless, he took a moment before he answered.

“Okay.”

Merlin went to speak to his figure skating coach about the decision to join the hockey team for the rest of the season.

“If this is what you want, my boy.” Coach Gaius looked at him, a kind smile on his face.

“The season is over and I didn’t make it to the last competition.” Merlin felt the need to explain. “And I could help the team out this way. Broaden their horizons or something.”

“I understand,” his coach said calmly.

And yet, Merlin had an odd feeling. The way Coach Gaius looked at him, he knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.

“But you do realize that if you get injured, it might take you out of figure skating forever.”

Merlin nodded. “I’m fully aware of that.”

“You might have to change your way of skating to play hockey. It might not be easy to switch back again.”

“I did it before, I can do it again.” Merlin meant it. He had never meant to quit figure skating for good because of this. He just wanted…oh, he didn’t really know what he wanted himself. To help out the team? To play hockey again? Or to just show that blond prat with the piercing blue eyes that he had it in him?

“I know you can.”

“And after the season I will be back and we can work on that triple toe-loop again.”

Coach Gaius, who everybody called by his first name – some said he was so old that in his time last names weren’t in style – nodded at Merlin and turned back to his papers.

That was the sign for Merlin to slip out of the room. The talk had gone better than he expected. Now he had an appointment with the equipment guy for the Dragons.

“Mr. Knight?” Merlin knocked on the door of the equipment room and then opened it to peek his head inside.

Looking up from some papers, the tall man’s face lit up in a smile. “You must be Merlin! Come on in.” He put down his clipboard and waved Merlin in.

“Yes, that’s me. I’m here to…”

“Get your equipment.”

Standing by the door, Merlin nodded. “Coach Kilgarrah said to come to you, Mr. Knight.”

“Call me Percy, all the blokes do. And actually I should have a word with the coach. He seems to think I’m the equipment manager while I’m actually a physio.” Grinning, he winked at Merlin. “Come along; we’ll see what we have that might fit you.”

Merlin trotted along behind Percy, not very enthused by the thought of being given second-hand equipment. He already made a mental note to ask his mam for a new helmet and gloves and maybe he had enough money left from his birthday to afford new skates, too. So he gaped when Percy opened the door of a large storage room. The walls were lined with shelves which were packed with jerseys, gloves, helmets, socks, jock-straps and everything else a hockey team could ever want, all of it brand new and still in boxes or wrapped in foil.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t realize the team had such a large budget.” Merlin frowned. The figure skaters had to buy their own skates and costumes and called themselves lucky if there was enough money left in the budget to pay for their trips to the competitions. And the hockey team had more stuff than they would even use in a whole season!

“Close your mouth,” Percy laughed. “Pendragon senior pays for all of this.”

“No wonder the junior is captain of the team.” He hadn’t meant to say it. But it all made sense. Why else would the obnoxious prat have such an important position?

“Might look like it, but actually, Arthur is captain because he knows what he’s doing on the ice. He’s one of our fastest skaters and knows how to handle a puck. He keeps a clear head in tight situations and knows how to motivate a team. That’s why he is captain…not because his father has lots of money.”

Blushing, Merlin cast his eyes downward. He was good at putting his foot in his mouth. If Percy told the coach about this, he’d be off the team much faster than he had been in, and for some reason, that bothered him.

But Percy just laughed it off. “Don’t worry; this little conversation will not leave this room. And let’s see if we’ll find the gear for you. What’s your shoe size?”

Once again, Arthur was up in the stands, watching. He had been so relieved when Merlin had finally agreed to try out and Arthur had even liked how he hadn’t given in right away. Nobody had ever dared to throw him off the ice like that before. Maybe Merlin was a fighter after all? The way Merlin had crossed his arms in front of his chest and let him work for what he’d wanted had impressed Arthur. Usually, people bent over backwards to accommodate to Arthur’s wishes. And here was this funny figure skater with enormous ears who had challenged him and almost made him beg before he’d agree to help. And after Arthur gave in, Merlin had still taken his sweet time about it. But instead of yelling a whole-heartedly enthusiastic “yes,” he had simply answered with an almost bored-sounding “okay.”

For some reason unbeknownst to himself, Arthur liked that kind of boldness. If Merlin showed that attitude towards the opposing team, he might at least stand a chance of not being completely skinned alive by them.

When the coach had told him that Merlin would be getting his gear that afternoon, Arthur had known that Merlin would be back on the ice right away, trying it all out. At least that was what he would have done. And he had been right. He hadn’t waited long before Merlin came up the tunnel, a new pair of hockey skates slung over his shoulder.

Arthur watched as Merlin unlaced the skates and put them on. The way the other boy was tying them up, pulling the laces just so...it looked so familiar. Not at all as if he’d never worn a hockey boot before. But maybe he just hadn’t seen that correctly, Arthur mused. He was rather far away, after all.

And then Merlin was out on the ice, taking a few tentative strides with the new skates, it was all in fluid motions. Arthur had never cared to know much about figure skating, but he knew that the blades of their skates were wider, sharpened in a different way from hockey skates. They also had these prickly things at the front that enabled them to push off and do jumps and such.

So, knowing all that, Arthur believed it should have taken Merlin some time to get used to the glide and the feel of the thinner, sharper blade on the hockey skates. But that was not the case at all. Merlin’s motions were smooth and strong and confident…a lot more aggressive than the last time he’d seen him skate, his strides so much more powerful than he’d expected.

Watching open-mouthed for a few moments, Arthur blinked. If he didn’t know it better, he could have sworn that Merlin had been on hockey skates before. But that couldn’t be, right? He was just a figure skater, one of those girly boys who twirled around and made huge gestures with their arms to music and looked ridiculous. But Merlin did none of that stuff; not today. Instead, he flew back and forth, skating sprints up and down the length of the rink, turning seamlessly to skate backwards for a while before stopping and speeding off in a different direction.

Percy came out of the tunnel. “So, what do you think, Merlin?”

Merlin skated over and stopped centimeters in front the physio/equipment guy and leaned his hip against the boards. “Pretty good.”

“Need ‘em a half size bigger?”

Shaking his head, Merlin stepped off the ice and onto the rubber at the end of the tunnel. “No, I think they’ll do. Can I still exchange them after wearing them a few times? I mean, if I notice that they won’t work no matter how they feel right now?”

“Sure, you saw our storage.” Percy laughed. “Let’s go. We’ll fit a helmet to you and put your name on a jersey.”

Merlin snatched up his trainers and skate guards before following Percy down the tunnel into the locker room.

Arthur was still as a statue in his seat for a long while after Percy and Merlin were gone, trying to make sense of what he’d just seen. Maybe there was more to this Merlin guy than he’d first thought?

“You’re late, honey.”

Merlin put his backpack down and took his jacket off. “Sorry, Mam. There was so much to do.” He pulled his trainers off and padded into the kitchen.

Putting a huge bowl of soup on the table in front of her son, Hunith smiled. “Eat.”

“Don’t you want to know what I did today?” Merlin looked at her balefully, but eagerly grabbed his spoon and began shoveling the soup in his mouth.

Hunith smiled and shook her head indulgently. “You’re going to tell me now, anyway.”

Reaching for the glass of water she was holding out to him, Merlin took a large gulp from it before setting it down on the table. “I’m not sure if it’ll work,” he admitted around mouthfuls of soup.

Moments later, Merlin’s spoon clinked against the bottom of the bowl and he stared at it, dumbfounded, as if he couldn’t figure out where all the soup had gone.

Taking the already empty bowl away, Hunith cocked a disapproving eyebrow at him. “What did I tell you about inhaling your food, Merlin?”

Merlin shook his head, not willing to get sidetracked. “Mam, are you listening? I said I’m not sure if it’ll work.”

Hunith pulled a steaming plate of food from the microwave and set it down in front of Merlin carefully. “Eat. Slowly. You will need your strength.”

“I’m not talking about food, Mam.”

She sat down at the table and just looked at him for a while, her eyes wise and perceptive. “I know, Merlin. You made a decision. You talked to Gaius and then you told the coach and Arthur that you’d be on the team.”

Merlin paused in his eating to gape at his mother. “How did you know?”

Chuckling, she reached over and cupped Merlin’s cheek with her hand. “For how long have I known you now, sweetheart? Two years? Three? Oh, wait, seventeen, isn’t that right?” She smiled fondly at her son. “You already knew deep down that you would join the team the first time they asked. You only had to convince yourself to put aside your fear and try. So don’t doubt yourself now. I know you’ll be great.”

“I’d forgotten how different the skates are. I’ll need a lot more practice.”

“Talk to Gaius. Maybe he will let you keep your ice time so you can remember all the things you think you’ve forgotten?”

Smiling, Merlin nodded and shoved a huge fork-full of vegetables in his mouth. If he worked really hard, maybe he really could be part of the team.

Arthur tossed and turned in his normally comfortable bed. He still didn’t know what to make of what’d he’d seen of Merlin. What if this bloke was just having them on pretending to be a figure skater? But no, Arthur knew that was silly. Merlin had won competitions and Arthur knew you needed some serious training for that. He had been working with Coach Gaius for more than two years and, from what he knew of the old man, he wouldn’t waste his time on someone who he didn’t think was worth it.

A couple of years back Arthur had challenged Morgana to switch skates. Of course he had bet on her landing face-down on the ice while he would be able to handle using her “twirl girl” skates perfectly. Oh, had he been wrong! That ‘toe pick’ thing was the Devil’s invention, surely… They had both ended up sprawled on the ice with plenty of scratches and bruises and he had suddenly become twenty pounds poorer.

So Arthur knew firsthand that it wasn’t easy to switch from one type of skate to the other if you weren’t used to it. But Merlin hadn’t so much as wobbled once. He might need a bit more practice to adjust to others being on the ice with him and to just move around without a fixed choreography and concentrating on the puck instead. But all of a sudden, instead of dreading Merlin’s addition to the team, Arthur had a good feeling about it.

When he closed his eyes, it wasn’t Merlin’s movements he saw on the back of his eyelids. Rather, it was his black hair and those sparkling blue eyes and that wide dazzling smile of Merlin’s that made his eyes crinkle up. It was the smile that he’d given Percy when he stepped off the ice. That smile had been full of life and joy and it did something funny to Arthur’s insides; something he couldn’t place. Something that made no sense. Merlin was a boy, and a figure skater, besides. And he, Arthur Pendragon, was not interested in boys. Not at all. He was a ladies’ man all the way.

So why was it that Merlin’s smile haunted him now?

Realizing he wasn’t getting to sleep anytime soon, Arthur sighed deeply. He got up and switched on his laptop. Maybe Gwaine was still awake and, if so, maybe he could discuss hockey tactics with him. Ah, there he was.

Hey Gwaine, how’s it hanging?

Princess! Just checking my options in the chatroom…

Do I even want to know?

There’s this cute bloke, you know…

Okay, I DON’T want to know!

LOL. How can you say you don’t like it if you haven’t even tried it?

If you offer your assistance again, I will never ever talk to you again.

You always say that and still you do *grins*

I hate you.

Love you, too. But what’s up?

Aside from your…err..no, don’t want to go there. Nothing’s wrong.

Aaahahahahaaaaaa! You’re thinking about my prick, up and ready to fight, too. Got you, Princess!

Urghs. Make that image go away!

ROTFLMAO! If I tell the lads about this…

You’ll die a slow and painful death if you do!

:*

Gwaine?

What is it that’s keeping you from sleeping?

How do you know I can’t sleep?

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning?

Arthur sighed. His friend knew him too well. Blowing out a deep breath, he stared at the screen.

Don’t know, it’s just…

The new kid on the team? Did he say yes? How is he? Does he look as good on skates as I do?

That’s the issue.

Is he bad?

No, not at all.

That good?

I’m not sure. He only got his gear today.

So you haven’t seen him on hockey skates, what’s troubling you then?

I have. I watched him try them out.

So?

He seems to know what he’s doing.

You’re saying…

That I think he did this before.

Wonderful! Then we won’t have to teach him the tricks of the trade!

Still…

If he really played hockey before, all the better! Now stop worrying and go back to bed. We all know how grumpy you are when you didn’t get your beauty sleep, Princess.

You’re getting somewhere with that bloke…

Dead on. LOL. Night, Art.

Arthur stared at the screen for a while before shutting the laptop down again. Maybe Gwaine was right and he was worrying too much. But he just was like that. Even though this time, he didn’t even really know what he was worrying about.

“Team, listen up.” Coach Kilgarrah waited for the noise and chatter to die down while Merlin stood awkwardly next to him. “This is Merlin Emrys. He’s going to help us out for the rest of the season and replace Gwaine at center. Give him a warm welcome and help him with the playbook and everything else. I count on you, boys.” He patted Merlin’s shoulder as the team clapped even less enthusiastically than Merlin had expected. There were first murmurs of ‘figure skater’ and ‘twirl girl’ but to Merlin’s surprise, Arthur got up and held a hand out.

“Welcome to the team, Merlin.”

Merlin looked at the hand and then up at Arthur before reaching for a powerful handshake. What did that mean? Had Arthur actually come to terms with playing on the same team with a figure skater? Or was this some kind of trick?

Arthur let go and turned around. “Leon, Lance, help him with the gear. We don’t want him to hurt himself before he’s even out on the ice, do we?”

Merlin’s cheeks burned as he made his way to his locker. Prat. Utter prat. Welcome to the team, sissy boy who can’t put his stuff on himself. That was all that Arthur had said. Once again, he had thought that Arthur might do something actually nice only to be disabused again. He pulled his things out of the locker and started to change, trying to ignore the stares and whispers.

“Hey.” A tall guy with wild curls approached him.

“Hi.” Merlin braced himself. Of course Arthur would send a huge bloke to intimidate him; that was so Pendragon.

“I’m Leon.” He held tape out to him. “Here, for your socks. I noticed they forgot to put it on your shelf.”

Merlin looked at him in surprise. “Thanks.” He took it and started taping his socks up.

“You’ve been in the lockers before, even though on the other side of the corridor. I guess I don’t have to show you the way to the rink.” Leon laughed.

“I think I won’t get lost, thanks.”

Another boy came over. “Lance.” He carried a few little boxes. “Percy said you should find the one that fits.”

Mouthguards. Merlin hadn’t had one in ages; they were just not needed for figure skating. He looked at the boxes.

“Took me a few weeks to find one that really fit.” Lance laughed. “Keep them all and just try them.”

Merlin fiddled with his elbow pad and Leon immediately reached over to fit it. “Better?”

Starting to relax, Merlin nodded. These blokes were actually pretty nice. And not bad-looking either. What if…? But no, he wasn’t on the team to find a boyfriend. He better not tell them that he preferred blokes in the first place. That information could be dangerous in an environment like this. It was difficult enough to pass as a hockey player as it was. “Thank you,” he murmured and pulled the jersey over his head.

When he had his gloves on, he reached for the helmet and stick.

“You almost look like a hockey player.” Lance grinned. “Let’s go, the ice is waiting.”

 

Merlin took a deep breath. So this was the moment. He paused at the edge of the ice and looked around. His whole routine of warming up didn’t seem necessary here. The others were warming up, but quite differently from what he was used to now. And going through his bending and stretching would have gotten him even more hostility than there already was.

Putting on the helmet, he stepped out on the ice and tried to get used to skating with the stick. On his first round, a huge player checked him into the boards not quite so accidentally. “Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there.”

Merlin just nodded and skated away, trying not to grimace. Of course he’d seen him there, the goon! He tried to skate a few laps to limber up. He found he couldn’t ignore the whispered ‘twirl girl’s and ‘fag’s, but he did manage to outskate any other potential physical attacks.

The Coach called them together and gave a speech about how they were lucky enough to have a bye-week the upcoming weekend before the difficult game against their arch rival, the Tigers, the weekend after that. Of course a pep talk followed about yes, how unfortunate it was to lose Gwaine in a such a critical phase of the season and how fortunate they were to find Merlin and that if he heard anything like the hassling in the past minutes again, the Dragons would miss more than one player since whomever said anything derogatory would be benched for the rest of the season.

Then he split the team into groups to practice different drills before pulling Merlin aside.

“That looked really good.”

“Coach?” Merlin shuffled his feet.

“It looks like you practiced with the new skates already. That’s the spirit.”

Practiced? Yes, four or five years ago, he’d practiced. “A bit.”

“Do you think you can chase the puck already?” Coach Kilgarrah dropped a few of them onto the ice. “Show me what you can do. No need for tricks, just try to keep it in control.” He pointed. “To the other end of the ice and back.”

Merlin nodded. He hadn’t done it in ages, but how hard could it be? He started out in one direction, but had to double back when he got a bit too fast for his stick movements and lost control over the puck. He fetched it again and finished the exercise in front of the coach.

“Not too bad.” Kilgarrah looked him up and down. “Either you’re a natural or…”

“Or, Sir…but I’d prefer if the team didn’t know about that.” The coach had made it clear that he knew about Merlin’s hockey past when he first approached him about this. It was most likely the main reason why he had done it in the first place. “I’d like to find my way back into the game, get a bit more practice, learn the playbook and such.”

Nodding, the coach scribbled something down on his clipboard. “I understand. Practice with the puck some more.”

It didn’t take long before Merlin grinned widely. Even though he had tried hard, it was as if he hadn’t forgotten a thing. The stick became an extension of his arm again and the feeling of being totally in control of the puck sent a thrill through him. He knew he was far from being a hockey player and he had only been thirteen when he quit, but he’d forgotten how much fun this was!

Coach called them back together to practice shots on goal. He gave Merlin a discrete nod and Merlin waited for his turn at the back of the line.

“Think you’ll even know where the net is, twirl girl?”

Merlin tried to grit his teeth and ignore it, but all the remarks were really starting to rub him the wrong way. Getting control over the puck didn’t mean he would be good at shooting at the goal. When it was his turn, he felt everyone in the whole rink looking at him. Taking a deep breath, he skated two steps forward and prepared to put all his strength into the shot. Little could he know that behind him, one of the players had followed him and put out his own stick, which made Merlin trip and lose his balance. Before he realized what had happened, Merlin found himself flat on his face, the laughter of the team ringing in his ears.

To his surprise, Lance was at his side right away. “Are you okay?”

Merlin nodded as he scrambled up. It might not have looked as elegant as if he was on his other skates, but just as the bulky gear had softened his fall, it was also made it more complicated to get up when it was on.

“Just ignore those idiots. The coach and Arthur will take care of them.” Lance looked at him. “You’re bleeding, let’s get you to Percy.”

Merlin shook his head stubbornly. He didn’t want to ignore this; he was way too angry. So he scooped up his stick and then quickly shot a puck at the offending player, which pinged off the guy’s hard plastic chest pad, knocking him off balance. Then he turned on the spot and fired a wrist shot at the goal. Elyan had been so surprised by Merlin’s response that he hadn’t even had time to react before the rubber disc was sliding five hole, between his legs and into the net.

The shrill sound of Coach’s whistle was so loud it hurt Merlin’s ears. “Craig! Merlin! My office, now!”

While Elyan skated over toward them, the other boys whispered in surprise and made way for Merlin to pass through.

Merlin didn’t want to look at any of them. He’d screwed up. He’d let the whispering and name-calling get to him and he had just reacted. But shooting a puck at a teammate was unforgivable. It had to be. That was it, he was off the team. Merlin was sure of it.

“Did you see that?” Leon stared after the trio as they made their way into the tunnel. “He placed those pucks! There’s no way can he be just a figure skater!”

“He knew what he was doing! He’s done that before!”

His team mates were all talking over each other excitedly as Arthur just stood there and stared at the now empty tunnel. It hadn’t been fair of Craig to ice Merlin and it was more than okay with him if the coach bit his head off now. And he would do the same thing once Coach was finished with him.

He had watched Merlin throughout the practice. And even though it was clear that he hadn’t done it in a while, it was also pretty obvious that he knew how to handle the stick and puck. He just needed a bit more practice. Had Merlin once been on a team? The way he had shot the puck at Craig only to turn and fire again so quickly that Elyan didn’t even have a chance of seeing it coming… Nobody who was on hockey skates for the first time would be able to do that.

“Lance?”

Immediately Lance skated over. “What is it?”

“Make sure Merlin sees Percy about that scrape on his chin and I want you to give him a ride home when the coach is done with him.”

“A ride home? He lives at the other end of town!”

“It looks like he’s started to trust you. We need to find out a few things…”

Of course the coach had yelled at them. And Merlin knew exactly that he had every right to do so. One just didn’t shoot pucks at their team mates like that…even if said team mate was a wanker. He hadn’t actually meant to hit Craig square in the chest with it. He’d just wanted to give him a little scare by flinging that puck his way. It only showed how out of practice he was. That the other puck had gotten past the goalie had been pure luck, as far as Merlin was concerned.

So he stood in front of the coach’s desk, his helmet in one hand, gloves in the other and hung his head in shame.

“If I ever see anything like that again, you’re out…both of you!”

“But Coach…” Craig started.

“Shut up, Craig. You knew that it was Merlin’s first time in practice and that he’s not a hockey player. Icing someone like that is not a prank; he could have injured himself badly.”

Merlin lifted his head a bit. Maybe showing off his scrape would get him a few brownie points. But then the coach turned to him.

“And you, Merlin. How could you shoot a puck at a team mate like that? You could have easily taken his teeth out!”

“I didn’t mean to…”

“Oh, you’re telling me you’re so good at this that the puck hit exactly where you had intended?”

Merlin felt smaller by the second. “No, Sir. Actually, I had meant to…”

“I don’t care! You are team mates. You are supposed to work together out there, not against each other! Now apologize.”

“Sorry, Coach.”

“Not to me! To each other!” The tall man tossed his clipboard on his desk.

“Sorry,” Merlin nodded at Craig in acknowledgement. He really was; he had overreacted and nearly hurt someone.

“Yeah, man, sorry.”

“Now get out.” Coach waved them out the door. “And Merlin?”

Merlin turned in the doorway. “Sir?”

“Let Percy take a look at that scrape. You bled all over your jersey.”

Merlin had been a bit worried about taking a shower with so many fit blokes. They were the team and he wasn’t interested in them, but he couldn’t help looking once in a while, could he? And he was only human. What if his body reacted to the things he saw?

But by the time he was out of the coach’s office and Percy had cleaned his wound and put a large bandage on it, most everybody had cleared out already. Only Lance was left and he was already dressed and blow-drying his hair.

“Hey, your head is still on, great!” He grinned as Merlin dragged himself over to his locker and sat down.

“Barely.”

“Come on, it couldn’t have been so bad. Even the Coach knows that Craig deserved that. And you were really good! Never thought you had it in you to place a puck like that.”

Tiredly, Merlin pulled the jersey over his head and tossed it in the hamper-thing with all the other jerseys. “Thing is…I didn’t.”

“You didn’t what?”

“Place it. I just wanted to fling it in his direction to startle him. I never meant to hit him with it.” And why did that stupid elbow pad cling to his undershirt?

Lance put the blow dryer down. “Let me help you.” He came over and helped Merlin out of his protective gear.

“Thanks.” Merlin sat down again and sighed. “I’m not sure if I can do this.” Maybe it would have been better not to say that here. This Lance guy probably wasn’t really as nice as he pretended to be.

“Of course you can. You’re good! We’ll make a hockey player out of you in no time. And now go get a shower. I’ll wait and give you a ride, okay?”

Merlin was sure that Lance would be gone by the time he came out of the shower, but he had waited just as he said he would and took him home. On the way to his house, Merlin had been quiet. He was tired and worn out. But Lance babbled away, told him about the other players and some of the games this season and asked Merlin questions about figure skating.

“Lance?” They’d finally stopped in front of Merlin’s place.

“Yeah?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Why am I doing what?” Lance turned and looked at him.

Merlin took a deep breath. “Why are you being so nice to me when everybody else hates me?”

“Nobody hates you. What makes you think that?”

“Are you trying to tell me that the huge bloke who cross-checked me into the boards likes me? Everyone who called me a twirl-girl is just over enthusiastic about having me there? Craig shows his love by giving me this?” He pointed to his chin. “And Pendragon is so smitten with me that he constantly insults my skills?”

Lance laughed at that. “Come on, we’re guys.” He shrugged. “A hockey team. We’re not supposed to have tea parties and conversations about the weather. We’ll make sure that nobody calls you names any more, but after they’ve seen what you can do, that’ll stop soon anyway. And don’t worry about Arthur. If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t have bitten Craig’s head off again after the coach was done with him.”

“He…he did what?” Merlin looked surprised.

“Of course he did. What kind of alpha would he be if he didn’t protect his pack?” Lance winked.

“He…”

“He sure did. You’re a Dragon now, Merlin.”

Reaching for his backpack, Merlin grunted. “I don’t feel much like a magical beast at the moment, though.”

“Get some rest. We need you on the ice again tomorrow.” Lance patted his shoulder. “Night, Merlin.”

“Night, Lance. Thanks for the ride.”

Merlin made his way to the house and waved at Lance, who only started the engine again when Merlin had opened the door. Maybe Lance was one of the good guys after all?

Rolling out of bed an hour early, Merlin headed to the rink to get some extra practice in. His arms and shoulders were killing him and apparently there were muscles in his body that he didn’t even know existed. And he’d thought that he was fit! Everything ached and protested, but he still put on his new skates and made his way to the ice. The stick in his hand felt good and after a few really fast laps to warm up, he started to take shots on net to improve his accuracy. The next time, he wouldn’t accidentally hit a team mate and the goals he scored wouldn’t be accidental, either.

When he was done, he made his way back to the locker room. Merlin was surprised to find Leon leaning against the wall right next to the entrance.

“Morning, Merlin.”

“Morning.” Merlin opened the door and felt Leon following him. “You’re up early.”

“I…I thought I’d catch you here.” The tall bloke blushed.

“You’re here for me?” Merlin put the stick and gloves back in his locker, then sat down and untied his skates.

Leon didn’t say anything until Merlin looked up again. “Actually, yes. That shot last night was fantastic, but…Lance said you said that you hadn’t meant to hit Craig. So I thought…maybe…maybe you might want someone to practice with?”

Trying to pretend that he was all casual, Merlin put his shoes back on. Why would Leon offer to practice with him? “You mean in that time where I usually practiced ‘twirling’? That would mean extra practice for you.”

Leon nodded. “I know.”

“You would have to get up at odd times and stay longer, too.” Merlin threw him a look.

“Yes, I know.”

Grabbing his backpack, Merlin got up. “Why?”

Leon looked at him for a moment before he sighed. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you? You’re not just a twirl-gi…figure skater, right? You’ve been on a team before. It’s important that we know exactly what you can already do and what we still need to work on.”

Not that he had talked a lot with Leon, but that last sentence didn’t really sound like something he’d say. But it sounded a lot like something Pendragon would say.

Merlin frowned and pushed past Leon. “If you really just want to go out there and work with me, fine. But, if you’re just doing this to spy on me and report back to Arthur, get lost. Tell him to come and practice with me himself if he so desperately wants to know.”

A few days later, Gwaine was released from the hospital and Arthur went to see him.

“Good that you’re at home again.”

“Yeah,” Gwaine slumped back onto the couch and put his injured leg up with a grunt.

“What did they say? How long do the doctors think it’s going to take?” Arthur sat down in a chair and helped himself to some gummibears from the bowl on the table.

Gwaine frowned. “Six weeks at least. Eight is more likely.” He sighed. “I’m sorry; I hoped that I could be back before the playoffs.”

Shaking his head, Arthur chewed. “Don’t overdo things. I’d rather you be back on the team next year than ruin yourself by wanting too much now.”

“But we wanted that cup together, Arthur. And it’s your last year.”

Gwaine had to state the obvious. No matter how good Merlin turned out to be in the end, he wasn’t Gwaine who knew how everyone on the team ticked and how they played, how they thought. Arthur wanted to win this thing, for himself and for his best friend. Gwaine was a year younger and if it were up to Arthur, he’d be the next captain of the Dragons, but he would have loved to do this together with him.

“Hey, stop moping. Next year, you’re in college and I will come visit so often that you don’t even notice I’m not there in classes with you.” Gwaine grinned. “So, tell me about Merlin. Is he as cute as I think?”

Arthur got up. “I know he’s got a secret.” He went over to the kitchen and got two cokes from the fridge. When he came back, he handed one to Gwaine and sat down again. “I know nothing about the cute part. You should probably ask Lance about that.”

Gwaine didn’t miss the face Arthur pulled when he said Lance’s name. He looked almost…jealous. Could it be? He knew his friend always claimed he wasn’t into blokes. But why did it bother him that Lance showed interest in the new kid? Gwaine raised an eyebrow. “A secret?”

“He might not be a figure skater after all.” Arthur took a large gulp and then looked at Gwaine.

“What?” Gwaine blinked. “He’s been training with Coach Gaius for two years. What do you mean, he’s not a figure skater?”

“Well, he is. Now. But I think – we all do – that he has been a hockey player before.” He leaned back and blew out a breath before he told Gwaine about what happened at the practice and what he had seen as well as what Leon had reported.

Readjusting the pillow underneath his knee, Gwaine listened and then remained silent for a moment. “You mentioned something when we chatted the other night. But if he really played hockey…” Gwaine’s face lit up, “You know, I was really worried that he would be the weak link and ruin everything for you guys. But now it looks like I don’t have to blame myself any longer for this injury!”

“You act as if everything was crystal clear now and we won’t miss you at all!” Arthur cried indignantly.

“Aww, Princess, how sweet of you to miss me!” Flicking his hair back, Gwaine blew Arthur a kiss.

“Not funny.” Arthur popped open another can of soda and took a sip.

Grinning, Gwaine ran a hand through his hair. “Actually, it is. If you struggled less, it wouldn’t be so much fun. Anyway, tell me about Merlin, what’s he like?”

“How should I know?”

“He’s on your team and you haven’t even said hello?”

“I said hello!”

Gwaine laughed at the look on Arthur’s face. “But that’s about it? You didn’t say more than ‘hello’ to the poor bloke?”

Arthur got up and started pacing. “I told him Lance and Leon would take care of him. And I gave Craig a piece of my mind for doing what he did.”

“But otherwise, you haven’t said anything to him?”

“Why would I suck up to him? Lance already did a wonderful job at that! Instead of pressing him for information on his past in hockey like I told him to, he made nice with him! Can you believe it? He had a clear order to find out where Merlin had played and all he came back with was ‘he’s really nice’.”

“Sit back down, you’re making me dizzy.” Gwaine popped a gummibear into his mouth. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you have a crush on your new center. One so bad that you can’t even talk to him.”

Arthur was so astonished that he really did sit down. “I have a what on who?”

“A crush. On Merlin. Come on, Arthur, it’s not like you to not talk to the new guys. Give them speeches and a pep talk, trying to find out what else they like, where their strengths and weaknesses are and such. And Merlin is kind of cute.”

“Cute? As long as he doesn’t grow enormous boobs and long blond hair, he’s not my kind of cute.”

“Arthur, Arthur, Arthur,” Gwaine shook his head mockingly. “One minute you say Merlin’s too girlish, the next you say you would be into him if he had long blond hair and boobs. We’re all confused about our sexuality at a certain time in our life. I just never thought it would happen to you so late.” He laughed until a sharp pain in his leg made him wince.

“Serves you right,” Arthur mumbled. “I’m not confused and I am not into blokes with blue eyes and huge ears!”

Gwaine stopped all movement and just looked at him. But instead of pointing out that Arthur wouldn’t notice such details if he wasn’t interested, he just said, “If you say so.”

Merlin was exhausted. He had made up his mind; he was determined to be part of the team. He hadn’t been part of anything in way too long and it felt good.

Being a figure skater was a lonely business. In figure skating, you didn’t have friends, you only had competition. And between all the practices and the meets, his schedule left little time for anything else. Okay, there was Gwen, his friend from before they’d moved here, after dad had left. They talked online and on the phone, but since Gwen had discovered that boys were fun diversion, their talks got less and their emails shorter. Until there was someone new and Gwen filled pages with descriptions and gushing…which only made Merlin feel even more alone.

Now was Merlin’s chance of being part of something again and he wanted to take it. So he trained with the team and in his old figure skating block when the ice was his alone. Even though he had been rude and sent Leon away that first day, he still showed up and Merlin was secretly grateful. Together, they worked on things like passing and one-on-one scrimmages for the puck. Leon was fun, not to mention tall, gentle and someone who knew the rules inside and out. But Merlin soon discovered that he could also be hilarious and made funny remarks when Merlin least expected it. He also had a great singing voice, as Merlin found out one morning when they hit the showers.

Sometimes Lance came along and joined them on the ice and Merlin was grateful for all the help. It almost felt as if he had made friends.

Merlin had gotten over the initial fear about his body betraying him when he was with the team in the showers, but he still was extra careful about trying not to look at anyone too closely. However, he wasn’t always successful. At night, the images of all those naked blokes around him came back and even though he was tired, they didn’t let him sleep. When the temptation and frustration became too much, Merlin gave in and pulled himself. A few quick, hard strokes and he’d come and finally his mind was exhausted enough for him to slip into vivid dreams. A lot of them featuring Arthur, which disturbed him.

Why Arthur? Why was it that he could see Arthur’s face before him split seconds before he came? Or in very explicit dreams that reenacted scenes from those adult movies on the internet, except with him and Arthur as the stars? It was ridiculous! He would not crush on his captain! A bloke who showed no interest in him at all, not even as a team member, much less as a person.

And besides…weren’t there rumors that he was dating Vivian Somerset?

Merlin cranked up the volume of his Ipod, readjusted his earbuds, pulled the beanie over his ears and took off at a brisk jog. He was starting out a little late, but if he was fast enough, he thought he could squeeze his daily five-mile-run in before breakfast.

The moment he’d found his rhythm and he didn’t have to think about pacing and movement, his mind drifted off. Once again, the image of Arthur danced through his mind as his feet pounded against the frozen ground. But why Arthur? Because he looked so good? There were a lot of good-looking guys around, even on the team…guys who actually talked to him and who seemed to like him as a friend. But none of them was as blond as Arthur or had eyes that were this wonderfully unique shade of blue.

Maybe it was the hockey itself that made him have those thoughts? He never had a boyfriend, skating didn’t leave enough time for that. But if he tried to convince himself that he didn’t want to at least snog and hold hands with someone while he was figure skating and those thoughts only came to him because he was playing hockey again, he’d be a big fat liar. He was seventeen. Everyone wanted someone when they were that age.

But why Arthur specifically? He was good-looking, yes, but he was arrogant and full of himself and had pretty much proved that he didn’t want anything to do with him aside from playing center for the Dragons. Maybe exactly that was the reason why he was fixating on Arthur: he was a safe fantasy. Because it was unthinkable, not ever going to happen. Even if Arthur were into lads, he would never want to be with a boy like him. Merlin was sure that Arthur would choose someone like Leon. Or Lance. Or Percy, if he weren’t too old.

Just as Merlin’s thoughts wandered, he felt someone next to him and he startled. It was dark and he was in the park and he was alone…was he being mugged? That was one of the biggest reasons why his mam was always so furious when she found out that he went running at this time of day. Merlin didn’t dare to took to the side to see who it was; he didn’t want to tip the person off that he knew they were there. What should he do? Run faster? What if that guy had a gun? Or a knife? If he didn’t, he so would not give his Ipod up!

“Hi.”

Merlin heard the voice, but with his music playing, he couldn’t recognize it. He ripped his earbuds out and threw the man a look. He looked oddly familiar. About his size, a baseball hat on his blond hair, blue eyes…”Arthur!” Merlin was so surprised that he stopped.

“Yeah.” Arthur grinned.

“What…what are you doing here?”

“Is it forbidden to go for a run in the morning?” Arthur nudged Merlin’s arm and motioned for them to keep running. “Come on, don’t stop, you’ll get cold and we’re not putting all that hard work into you to make you a hockey player only for you to be benched with a cold.”

Merlin started moving again, wondering what Arthur really wanted. He lived in another part of town, so this definitely wasn’t his usually leg. But he fell in step next to the other boy, throwing him looks from the corner of his eyes as they ran shoulder to shoulder.

“I like this park.”

“You didn’t come here to talk about landscape gardening, did you?”

Arthur didn’t say anything for a moment, just huffed out breath that turned into a white cloud in the cold morning air. “No, not really.”

“About what, then?” Merlin couldn’t believe that Arthur sought him out at this time of day to make nice. He was surprised that he even knew that he was running here in the morning at all. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to talk to you about your extra training schedule.”

“Extra training schedule?” He already worked out hard, was on the ice every spare minute to get fit for the game on the weekend. What more did Arthur want him to do?

“Yeah. As you can imagine, Leon and Lance didn’t only work with you for the fun of it.”

“I know they are your spies.”

To Merlin’s surprise, Arthur laughed. “Of course they are!”

Merlin couldn’t help but grin. “Are they good spies? Do they report my every move?”

“I like what they report back to me.” Arthur stopped and looked at Merlin. “You’ve played hockey before, didn’t you?”

Sniffing and rubbing the back of his hand underneath his nose, Merlin didn’t know what to do. In the beginning, it was easy to make them all believe he was just a figure skater. But the more often he worked with Lance and Leon, the more his previous hockey training came back to him. He found it was so much easier to control the puck now, and it was more thrilling to try to snatch it from them on the ice. His progress was coming along too fast…and he knew it. His heart was racing, but Merlin knew this was the moment. “Yeah.”

Arthur still looked at him. “Yeah? That’s all? Come on, there must be a story to it. Someone who plays hockey doesn’t want to figure skate unless they’re gay.”

Merlin gasped. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Arthur was just as shocked as Merlin. Why had he said that? It was a stupid cliché and it didn’t matter anyway. Merlin was one of them now and it didn’t matter if he dated girls or boys. “I’m...I didn’t mean it that way! You know what I mean. I mean…why give up a sport like hockey? For something like…figure skating?”

Cursing himself for letting his guards down, Merlin started jogging again. “None of your business, Pendragon.”

“You’re right, it’s none of my business. It’s just interesting because I don’t understand it. I wouldn’t give up hockey for anything.”

Merlin just went on and didn’t even look at Arthur.

“Okay, okay, keep your secret. But we have to work with your former hockey experience.”

They were back on a safer topic now. Merlin felt sick. Should he have told Arthur that he was gay? But that, just as the reason for him quitting hockey all those years back, was very private and nothing Arthur needed to know. It was bad enough that Merlin couldn’t even hate him for these questions. In fact, it was nice to run through the dawn right next to Arthur. Surprisingly, he found that he liked Arthur’s company.

“We already do.”

“Come on…at tell me how long you’ve played, who you played for and what positions you know. When did you quit?”

Sighing, Merlin knew he wouldn’t get his five miles done before breakfast. He stopped and waited for Arthur to come back. “I started playing when I was five. I played for the Polar Pups and then for the Mighty Mites, which you’ve most likely never heard of because they aren’t from around here. I played everything but goalie and I switched over to figure skating about four years ago. And yes, I’m…,” gay, he’d nearly said but could stop himself in the last second. “I’m fine with that. I like figure skating. Any more questions?”

Arthur just listened calmly. Something must have happened that Merlin quit hockey and one day he would find out what it was. But he would let it go for now. “Yes, one.”

A groan escaped Merlin and he crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What now?”

“Breakfast at Penny’s?” A wide grin spread over Arthur’s face. That was the longest thing he’d ever heard Merlin say and he liked how careful Merlin was. He wanted to know more. Not only about his hockey past, but about him as a person, too. When Merlin shook his head, Arthur’s face fell.

“Mam’s waiting.” Merlin’s mind was running a mile a minute. Maybe he shouldn’t brush Arthur off like that…perhaps should he just invite him to come along? But wouldn’t that mean letting him into his life? With all the dreams he was having about Arthur already, was that a wise decision? Before he could dissect the moment any further, his mouth moved on its own. “I’m sure she will make a few pancakes for you, too.”

For a moment, Arthur was sure that Merlin would tell him to back off, that he would tell him he was nothing more than just a team mate. So the invite to a homemade breakfast surprised him but he felt himself grinning. “Sure. Thanks.”

Merlin put a big wet smooch on his mam’s cheek when he came in, Arthur in tow.

“Mam, that’s Arthur. We met in the...we went running together. I invited him for breakfast, if that’s okay?” Belatedly, Merlin realized that maybe he should have phoned his mother to let her know in advance, so he made an apologetic face.

“But of course!” Hunith just pulled Arthur into a hug. “Any friend of Merlin’s is more than welcome in this house. I hope you like pancakes, dear?”

Arthur stood there, rooted to the spot. He hadn’t been sure what to expect of Merlin’s house, his mother, the breakfast. But definitely not this. It was so different from anything at his house where the cook made sure they all got a healthy breakfast at a neatly set table in the dining room. Father usually was already gone by the time he and Morgana had breakfast. And nobody in his house would just hug a stranger and call them a friend. Ever. “Yes, I do. Thank you, ma’am.”

“Call me Hunith.”

Merlin closed his eyes for a moment. Maybe it hadn’t been such a brilliant idea after all. His mother seemed to think that they were friends, not just two blokes who happened to be on the same team.

Before Arthur could react, Hunith went on “Go, wash up, boys. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.”

“Bathroom’s upstairs, second door to the right.” Merlin motioned upstairs and didn’t wait for Arthur to reach the top stair before he turned and washed his hands at the kitchen sink.

“Mam, that’s Arthur.”

“You said so, dear.” Hunith poured the pancake batter into the pan.

“He’s the captain of the team.”

“I know, dear, you’ve told me before.”

Groaning, because his mother didn’t seem to understand, Merlin started setting the table. “He’s only here because we need to talk about my training. He’s not a friend or anything, so if you could not adopt him right away…?”

“Don’t forget the maple syrup, dear.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and sighed.

Upstairs, Arthur found the bathroom right away. It was hard to get lost in a house as tiny as this one. The part of his house where the employees had their rooms in was bigger than this. He went inside and closed the door behind him, feeling weird. This was where Merlin got ready in the morning, where he took a shower before he left the house, there were Merlin’s things on the little shelf: His toothbrush, his deodorant and his razor. This was all too intimate so Arthur quickly washed his hands and face and left again.

The door across the hall from the bathroom had a ‘Private – stay out’ sign on it. The scribbled ‘I mean it, Mam!’ underneath made Arthur smile. So that was Merlin’s room. His fingers itched to just open the door and look around, but if he stayed too long, they would miss him downstairs. And he wasn’t a child any more. He wasn’t here to snoop, he was here to talk training tactics and workout schedules with Merlin.

The smell of fresh pancakes filled the staircase and Arthur smiled. Those were just an added bonus.

Merlin hated the gym. Wholeheartedly and with every fiber of his being. He only ever worked out in here when he had to, preferring to be outside, even if it meant to be in the pouring rain or the ice cold winds. He rather get his clothes dirty doing push-ups or sit-ups on the grass, even though mam always frowned at it. This way he could avoid looking at all the athletes with their muscled bodies as well as avoid any other…problems that might arise.

But he knew Arthur was right when he said he needed to work on the strength in his upper body. So now, here he was on his back on a press bench and held a weight over his head, looking up at Arthur, who kept up a constant stream of encouragement.

“Yeah…good…just a bit longer…you can do it.”

What was meant as monitoring and encouragement by Arthur sounded downright dirty to Merlin. And it didn’t help that, looking up at the other boy he couldn’t help but notice the bulge in Arthur’s workout-pants. Damn, Merlin, focus! Weights, this was about weights and about getting more muscles in his arms. Just like Arthur, who had great arms, arms that would most likely feel pretty good wrapped around him…

“Come on, Merlin, one more. Give me just one more!”

Merlin groaned and closed his eyes.

“No, none of that. Look at me. Come on, one last push.”

If Arthur ever found out that Merlin’s mind played a porn movie for him with these exact words, he’d smash his head in with the weights. But Merlin couldn’t help it and even though his body was struggling with the barbell, the thoughts running through his head sent signals down to his groin. Oh fuck, he was growing a boner!

With a strangled grunt he hefted the weight back into its holding device and got up. “Sorry, gotta go, emergency.” He almost ran to the locker room.

Arthur blinked. He had worked out with a lot of blokes here before, so he knew what he was doing when he was monitoring someone, the words coming automatically. Usually he could concentrate, but seeing Merlin like this, lying in front of him, all sweaty, muscles straining, that let his mind wander.

When Merlin ran out, he came back to reality. What was wrong? Did Merlin feel sick? Had he put too many weights on for him? He needed to make sure that Merlin was alright. Ignoring the looks the others threw him, he rushed after Merlin.

“Merlin?” Arthur checked the locker room, but Merlin didn’t seem to be there, so he made his way over to the loos. Just as he pushed the door open, he heard a groan. Was Merlin in pain?

He heard a whispered “fuck” and some sounds that made his cheeks burn. It sounded like…no that couldn’t be! But the sounds were familiar. It sounded just like when he was beating off at night. Did Merlin…a low groan, followed by a ‘nnngh’ made it pretty clear that Merlin indeed did!

Slowly, Arthur stepped back and made sure that the door didn’t make a noise when he pulled it close. His heart was pounding and the blood was rushing south as he imagined Merlin in the stall, his sweatpants shoved down far enough to pull his prick out, his long fingers wrapped around it, tugging quickly and desperately.

Arthur had heard of blokes who got off on working out. Was Merlin one of those? Or was it because they had been so close? Arthur knew exactly where you looked first when you lay on that bench, being monitored by another guy. You couldn’t help looking there. But Merlin wouldn’t grow a stiffie from looking at him, would he?

And what should he do now? Pretending nothing had happened! But he still needed to pretend to check on Merlin. So he took a deep breath, trying to calm his body down and walked all the way back to the locker room door and opened the door it with a loud bang. “Merlin? Are you okay?”

Merlin stood at the sink after washing his hands and couldn’t even look himself in the eyes in the mirror. What the fuck had he done? He’d run out of a workout session because he’d popped a boner from just looking at Arthur. How should he explain that? ‘Oh, Arthur, I looked at your big bulge and wondered what it would taste like or feel up my arse so I ran out to wank’ sure wouldn’t do any good. His cheeks burned in shame. How should he explain that?

The door to the loos opened. “Merlin, are you in there?”

“Yeah,” he answered weakly.

“Are you alright?” Arthur went for his best concerned look. Nothing had happened, he knew of nothing.

“Yeah.” Merlin tried his best crooked smile. “Felt a little dizzy there for a moment. Maybe I should have eaten something before we started?”

Nodding, Arthur tried not to look too closely at Merlin, but couldn’t help noticing the way his cheeks were flushes and his pupils were blown wide. Not a bad look on him. “Yeah, you should do that next time. Think you can do a few miles on the treadmill or the exercise bike?”

“I need a moment, just go ahead.”

Arthur was happy that he could flee. Something like this had never happened before. He’d never before listened to someone else beating off. And nobody had ever grown hard just looking at him. Why on earth did he have a happy grin on his face and secretly wished he could have watched Merlin do it, too?

Game day. Merlin was nervous as hell. He knew that he would spend most of it on the bench, just watching, trying to get a feeling for the real situation instead of just practice. But what if Coach sent him out there and he failed? What if they lost the game because of him?

Sitting in front of his locker, he was totally lost in thoughts.

“Come on, Merlin, we have to go out there to warm up.” Lance sat next to him. “Hey, it’s not that bad. You’re good, you can do it!”

“I feel sick.”

“That’ll pass as soon as you step on the ice.” Leon stood next to them. “Remember my first game, Lance?”

Lance laughed. “Of course I do, you puked more than you ever ate.”

Chuckling, Leon hit his stick against Merlin’s shin-guards playfully. “But I survived the game and had fun. And so will you. Come on.”

Swallowing hard, Merlin stepped out on the ice. He tried to ignore the spectators and the other team, just concentrated on himself and warming his muscles up. He was used to spectators, there were always a few at figure skating events, too, but they sure were different than this crowd, who shouted loudly and held up signs.

But the sounds all came back to him. The scraping of blades on the ice, the hitting of sticks, pucks being shot against boards, the crowd commenting on everything…his heart jumped a little and he knew he had missed this.

So he warmed up with the rest of the team and then sat down on the bench. He didn’t lose his concentration one second, cheered his new team mates on and tried to find a gap in the way the other team played.

He kept silent in the breaks and just listened to what the team said, trying to fade into the background and didn’t expect to get any ice time at all. It was a tight game, the score was 3:3 with 5 minutes to go in the third period. Coach wouldn’t send him out there, he was still a risk and not really a functioning part of the team.

Nobody was more surprised than him when the Coach yelled “Emrys!”.

He exchanged a look with him and jumped over the boards as Steve came back in. Maybe Coach thought he couldn’t destroy anything now anyway with only a few minutes left. So he tried to find his spot in the complex structure of the team.

Merlin was happy that he didn’t make any major mistakes and even managed to block one of the offense players of the opponent team.

A quick glance at the scoreboard showed him that there were only mere seconds left when he noticed Arthur charging down the ice on a breakaway towards the other team’s goal. He took off after him and when that small, agile player snuck the puck from Arthur but couldn’t get it under control, Merlin just held out his stick. The puck bounced off of it and found its way to Arthur again, who drove it into the net short side between the goalie and the post.

A huge grin spread Merlin’s face. It had been pure luck and he knew it. He had simply been at the right place at the right time. Arthur skated over, hugged him and patted his helmet as the final siren sounded. They had won the game!

The team gathered and there were cheers and shouts and everyone wanted to pat his shoulders or back. They had won the game!

Merlin was still beaming when he came out of the showers. There had been remarks of how the twirl-girl had won them his first game and towels were snapped at him, everyone was in a good mood.

“O’Leary’s, Merlin. Make sure to show!” Lance and Arthur left, making sure that Merlin knew where the pub was.

Merlin rode his bike over and took a deep breath before he entered the place. He wasn’t big on going out. Most of the time, he spent his evenings at home reading or watching a movie. But he was greeted with cheers and more shoulder-patting and smiled widely. It almost felt as if he was part of the team now.

He talked to Lance for a while and then Arthur came over. It was pretty clear that he was already quite drunk and Merlin blinked at the smell of alcohol on Arthur’s breath as Arthur put his arm around his shoulder and raised his glass.

“To my new friend Merlin!”

“To Merlin,” the team echoed and Merlin blushed.

“I couldn’t have done it without him! For someone who likes twirling better than the real sport, he wasn’t half bad today!”

Oh, another one of Pendragon’s dubious compliments, but Merlin couldn’t keep the grin off his face.

“I’ve just been lucky.”

“Just when we needed it.” Arthur nodded and pulled Merlin even closer.

Merlin tried to convince himself that he just wrapped his arm around Arthur’s waist to steady the swaying drunk. But he couldn’t keep the blush off his face. He knew that Arthur would never act like this if he didn’t have a couple of beers too many, but it felt wonderful. And he’d probably never get the chance to do this again, so why not take advantage of it? And why was he entertaining these thoughts? This would never happen. Maybe it had been a bad idea to join the team after all; it only made him crave things he could never have even more.

“Gwaine!”

All the motion on the ice stopped when Lance spotted the other boy at the boards. And then they all skated over to him, everyone talked at once and the practice was forgotten.

Even the loud whistle of Coach Kilgarrah couldn’t break the chatter.

Gwaine was on crutches, still going easy on the knee, but seemed to be in a good mood. “Good to be back here.”

“Good to have you back,” the coach smiled. “How’ve you been?”

Shrugging, Gwaine grinned widely. “Just wanted to make sure the guys aren’t slacking off while they’re pining for my return.”

Even Merlin grinned at that. His cheeks burned. He wasn’t sure if Gwaine remembered that one party but Merlin clearly did. He wouldn’t have minded kissing Gwaine that night, but what if Gwaine did remember?

“Enough chatter, you can talk later. Back to practice!”

After practice, Merlin was the last one to step off the ice, since the Coach had called him over to tell him that he was very proud of him and that he was making good progress. Of course, he had pointed out a few things Merlin needed to work on, but for being on the team for only a bit more than two weeks, the Coach thought that Merlin was doing well and would get more ice time at the next game.

Smiling and content with himself, Merlin made his way to the locker room. Even out in the corridor, he could hear the chatter and the laughter. They were all happy that Gwaine was back. Of course he was far from returning to the team - his knee had to heal completely before he could even think of that - but they liked having their friend back. And if Merlin played his cards right, Gwaine might even give him some hints and advice.

When he opened the door, Gwaine grinned widely. “And there he is, the man with the soft lips!”

Merlin pretended to not have heard that remark, but he felt the blush burning on his cheeks again. He made his way over to his locker and put his helmet and gloves on the shelf before he pulled the jersey and shoulder pads off in one motion. Sitting down, he started to untie his skates.

“He’s back for ten minutes and already has the hots for the new kid.” Elyan laughed. “You’re incorrigible!”

“Oh, come on, look at him. It’s difficult not to get the hots for him!” Gwaine flipped his hair back and his grin almost split his head in two.

“And how would you know that he has soft lips?” Lance was already back from the showers and tossed his used towel across the room.

“Maybe I’ve tried them before?”

Oh no, oh no, oh no! Merlin’s face burned. If Gwaine…

“At that party – remember, Merlin? – we’ve almost locked lips.”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckety fuck. He’d done it. Gwaine had outed him. The one thing he never wanted to happen. Merlin closed his eyes and tried to breathe evenly, even though his heart was beating wildly.

The locker room fell silent. Everyone was staring at Merlin…and then the first murmurs set in.

“Of course…”, “twirl girls all are”, “so that was the reason he quit hockey” and stuff like that reached his ears. Merlin hung his head and tried not to hyperventilate.

“Merlin?” Leon squatted in front of him, put a hand on his knee and looked at him gently. “Gwaine’s got a big mouth and most of his stories are made up anyway. Don’t…”

But Merlin didn’t hear that anymore. His heart was racing and his mind whirling. Why did Gwaine do that to him? He wasn’t trying to shove him off the team, he was just replacing him until he was healed up and could come back. And there he’d thought that Gwaine would be kind enough to help him. Instead he had done the meanest thing ever. But there was no use in denying, it was true. Merlin would have just preferred to come out on his own terms.

“He didn’t make that up,” he whispered.

“What? You mean…?”

Merlin expected Leon to move away, to jump back, to be disgusted to have ever touched him, but to his surprise, Leon did none of that. So he swallowed hard, raised his head and looked at his new friends, who would soon be his ex-friends. He nodded. “He’s right. I’m gay.”

And as expected, all hell broke loose. He braced himself for things thrown his way and some of the taller guys to throw him out of the locker room.

“Guys!” Gwaine got up. “GUYS!”

Merlin glared at him. How could he? How could Gwaine do that to him and now yell for attention? But of course he got it, those were his friends. How stupid of him to think that they would be on his side now.

Tears prickled at the corners of his eyes and Merlin tried to hold them back. He would not cry in front of the team. So he bit the inside of his cheek and got up to stuff his belongings into his backpack. This was the end of it, so he could as well leave before they could throw him out.

“What’s the big deal, guys?” Oh, Gwaine again.

“He’s a figure skater and he’s gay!” Marc yelled.

“So what?” Gwaine approached the sturdy bloke. “What if he’s gay? It doesn’t matter. He switched from figure skating to hockey to help the Dragons out. He knows what he’s doing out on the ice! Because of him you won the last game!”

Merlin didn’t really listen; he needed to get out of here.

“But what if he looks at us in the showers?” Steven frowned.

“Oh, as if you ever minded me looking at you!” Gwaine flicked his hair back to glare at the others.

“A Dragon can’t be gay!”

“Shut up, Ronny! You all know I’m bi and you were all more than happy to be looked at.” He threw the other boy a pointed look. “What difference does it make?”

“None,” Arthur had come back from the showers to check on the turmoil. “It doesn’t make a difference. Gwaine is a Dragon and so is Merlin! Last weekend you celebrated him for that assist! Why would that be different now?”

Those who had spoken out against Merlin grumbled and turned back to their lockers.

“Hypocrites.” Gwaine murmured loud enough for everyone to hear.

Merlin didn’t know what to make of the situation. All he wanted was to get out of the locker room to be alone. To rethink everything that had just happened. The way Gwaine had shoved him out of the closet was something to get angry about, but then he had defended him and tried to make the team see that there was nothing wrong with being gay. And then Arthur had stepped in. Big, tall, straight Arthur who made his skin tingle by just being in the same room. But if he ran out now, he would just be the gay twirl-girl they thought he was.

When he looked up, Gwaine stood next to him.

“Hey, man, I’m sorry. I thought you were out. I didn’t mean to do it. Especially not that way.”

Merlin wanted to believe this. “You did it anyway.”

“If it had been my intention, I’d just have grabbed you the moment you walked in and snogged you silly.”

That and the twinkle in Gwaine’s eyes, the smirk that played around his lips, made Merlin smile, despite himself.

“You know what?” Gwaine gave him one of his famous half-hidden-by-hair smoulders. “Let me buy you a drink and I’ll tell you all their dirty little secrets, so every time someone says something stupid – and trust me, they will – you have something to outdo them with.”

“I don’t know…”

“Get into the shower, I’ll wait here.”

Arthur stared at his computer. The cursor was mocking him on an empty page and the notes he wanted to take for the next game floated somewhere in the back of his mind, but didn’t want to be written.

He couldn’t think of anything else but what had happened in the locker. Damn Gwaine and his big mouth. He had done a good job rescuing the situation, but he shouldn’t have outed Merlin in the first place. And to think that Merlin was really gay… Arthur closed his eyes.

Since Merlin had joined the team, there was hardly anything else he thought about. The way Merlin had managed the hockey skates, the way he held himself during practice, the way he handled the puck and the way his black hair stuck out from underneath the helmet, curling at his neck when he started to sweat, the twinkling of his blue eyes following a game, and those ridiculously huge ears sticking out from the sides of his head.

Arthur leaned back in his chair and let his head roll back. He was so screwed. He never thought about another bloke that way. Never ever. But since Merlin had shown up, he had floated through his mind and touched things inside him that he never wanted to think about. And now Gwaine had torn Merlin’s secret out in the open. Merlin liked men. His emotions had been mixed up enough when he thought that Merlin was straight. But now he was even more confused than before.

And at this point in time, Gwaine was out with Merlin, buying him a drink, trying to make up for what he’d done. He could picture them sitting in a niche at the pub, beers in hand, Gwaine making Merlin laugh that beautiful laugh of his and telling him stories about the guys of the team. And Gwaine knew all the gossip. Arthur’s stomach churned as he imagined Gwaine leaning in and brushing his lips against Merlin’s, making good of that promise to snog him silly that he had heard in the locker room.

He pulled up the photo someone had sent him. He and Merlin, hugging on the ice after that goal in Merlin’s first game, both of them huge smiles on their faces. As he slowly slipped his hand into his sweatpants, he wondered what Merlin’s lips would feel like pressed against his.

Merlin tossed his backpack into a corner and slumped into his chair, trying to rethink what had just happened. Mam hadn’t mentioned anything about him coming home so late, so she probably knew something was off but she left him alone, which was good.

He was still grumpy at Gwaine. How dare he out him like that? But Gwaine had assured him it hadn’t been his intention and if he knew that Merlin wasn’t out yet, he’d never have said anything. Merlin knew Gwaine was a cheeky one and liked to joke and have fun, but from what he’d heard about him from the others, Gwaine had a good heart, was always there for his friends and never brought anyone in trouble on purpose.

And at the same time, Merlin felt relieved. He had been so afraid that he’d out himself by accident; by some bodily reaction in the showers or a gesture that couldn’t be misunderstood or by holding a handshake too long or a hug over a scored goal. It wasn’t as if he didn’t care about that anymore: if he sported a boner again in the gym, everybody would know about what and that would be even more embarrassing. But at least the team knew and even though he would have to take some teasing and probably a mean remark or two, he didn’t feel like lying to them anymore.

What he worried about was Arthur. Arthur had come out of the showers to his defense like a knight in shining armor, but what did he really think? Would he allow him to stay on the team? And why was Arthur’s reaction so much more important than that of the others?

As he stared at the screen of his laptop, a little chat window opened.

Hey Merls

Gwen, hi.

What’s up?

Gwen…

Oh my God, what’s wrong, Merlin?

Merlin smiled sadly. He didn’t even have to talk to her, she always knew when something was up, as if she could read it from the way he typed her name.

I don’t know, Gwen.

What happened?

The smile was a bit more genuine now as he pictured her face, her expression a mixture between curiosity, concern and sternness that should tell him if he dared lying to her, she would do unspeakable things to him.

Boy trouble?

She asked before he had typed up anything.

Kind of

Before he could type more, his mobile rang.

“Tell me all about it.”

Merlin sighed. Maybe it would have been easier to type all of this up, but it was good to hear her voice.

“I…I switched back to hockey.”

“I know, you told me. What’s wrong? Are they mean to you?”

Chuckling, Merlin would have given a lot to be able to hug her. Even when they were twelve, he was a lot taller than her and now he had something like fifteen centimeters on her. But she’d have kicked anyone’s arse who dared to do him wrong without asking twice.

“I love you, Gwen.”

“I know, what did they do?”

Merlin got up from his chair and started to pace. Slowly, he told Gwen what had happened. She gasped and ranted for a full ten minutes before he could get another word in.

“It’s not that bad, Gwen.”

“Not bad? He outed you! What a jerk!”

“I could have denied it. But I didn’t.”

“That would have meant lying and you are no liar! Aaargh, I wish I were there, I’d shove one of his crutches so far up his…”

“Gwen!”

“Yeah, sorry,” she chuckled. “I just hate the mere thought of this. It wasn’t his place to tell them this.”

“No, it wasn’t and he was really sorry about having done it. We had a coke together.”

There was silence at the end of the line.

“Gwen? You still there?”

He heard a deep, forcedly calm breath. “That arsehole outed you in front of the whole team and you went out with him?”

“He’s not that bad, Gwen. To be honest, I even had a good time. He has so many stories about the others and he’s fun to be around. And he promised to help me with my training.”

“You let him get off the hook way too easily, Merlin.”

“I need any help I can get. And having him on my side might make it a bit easier with the blokes who don’t like having a fag on the team.”

“Merlin! Never ever call yourself that again!”

“Well, it’s what I am. I’m just worried…” Merlin sat down again and put his feet up on his bed.

“About what?”

“I don’t know, it’s probably nothing, but Arthur came out of the shower to side with Gwaine and me.”

“Arthur?” Gwen’s tone of voice turned playful and Merlin groaned. He shouldn’t have mentioned him.

“Yeah, Arthur. I think it’s his job as a captain to protect each and every single one of his players. It’s not as if I’m special. He’s friends with Gwaine, so he probably doesn’t mind when people aren’t straight.”

“Then, what are you worried about?”

Merlin chewed on his lower lip. “I don’t know. He hasn’t been very nice in the beginning and I think that has changed a bit after the run in the park.” Merlin got up and started pacing again.

“And the breakfast your mam made – by the way, say hi for me, will you? – and the way he discusses tactics with you…”

“But he might hate me now, not only being the new guy who can barely keep up on the ice, but now being new trouble.”

“New trouble? You said he made it clear to the team that he doesn’t tolerate any bashing?”

“Yeah, but what if other teams find out? He has no control over what they’ll do.”

“You worry too much.”

“That’s what Gwaine said.” Merlin sighed.

Gwen giggled. “You, my dear friend, have a huge crush.”

“I do? On Gwaine? No way. He’s nice and all, but he flirts with anything that has a pulse. Heck, I think he’ll even flirt with a potted plant if he thought it got him anywhere.”

The sigh that followed made Merlin practically see Gwen roll her eyes. “On Arthur, dummy.”

“On…Arthur?” Merlin’s cheeks burned. Just because he had physical reactions to Arthur’s admittedly well-built body didn’t mean he had a crush on him.

“Yes, on Arthur. You talk about him a lot, his opinion matters to you, you try to be on his good side…”

“Doesn’t mean that…”

“Oh yes. Come on, I know you well enough to know all the signs. Tell me, what does he look like? Do you have a photo?”

“He’s…about as tall as I am, blond, blue eyes…just the average bloke.” Merlin knew he would go to hell for that lie alone. Nothing about Arthur was average.

“There must be photos from the games. Come on, Merls, send them over so I can see him, too!”

With a sigh, Merlin sat down in his chair again and browsed through his laptop where he found the photo of Arthur hugging him after that goal in his first game and sent that to Gwen while he searched for a few more.

“Oh fuck!”

“Gwen!”

“Merlin…are you serious? Average? He’s drop-dead gorgeous! We need a masterplan how you can lure him in!”

“Gwen, he’s straight.”

For the next fifteen minutes he had to listen to Gwen rant about how some blokes just pretended to be straight and reminded him of that time when he had gone out with ‘that Freya girl’ and even he had to admit that it had been a horrible idea to date the bitch Nimueh.

“So you can’t tell if someone’s straight or gay like that. He never said anything, so…just keep watching and don’t give up. You do like him, don’t you?”

Merlin didn’t say anything for a moment and then blew out a deep breath. “Yeah, Gwen, I think I do.”

Arthur was pacing back and forth in his room. How long would it take for Gwaine to show up online? He’d gone with Merlin after the incident in the locker room and it had been hours. They needed to talk.

Not only that he had to snarl at Gwaine for outing Merlin, he had to find out what exactly they’d talked about and what they’d done. And why did it confuse him so much that Merlin liked boys?

When he saw Gwaine’s name show up in his contact list, he plopped back in his chair and immediately texted him.

hey

Hi there.

How did it go?

Getting right to the point, no time for pleasantries, as always.

Hi, how are you, how was your evening? *eyerolls*

Hi, I’m fine, the evening turned great.

How did he take it?

Listen, Arthur, I feel like a total arsehole for outing him. I didn’t know he wasn’t out!

Oh, and that nobody knew anything about it didn’t give you a clue?

It’s not like I’ve been hanging with him for years.

But now you do?

Yeah, I think we’ll spend more time together from now on.

So he didn’t kill you?

He was close, but I think we’re kind of friends now.

Arthur chewed his lower lip and frowned.

How come?

Well, we talked and even though he might not have forgiven me completely, he accepted my help.

Help? With what? The gay stuff?

LOL. The hockey stuff. You all said he’s pretty good already for someone who hasn’t played in years. With my help, he might get into that position a bit easier.

Good thinking. Did you…

Did I what?

Nothing, forget it.

Of course he accepted my help with all the blackmail stuff. *grins*

Blackmail?

Yeah, you don’t know half of what I know about everyone. So if they get nasty, Merlin can draw on that and shut them up.

Hmm…that was a very Gwaine way of thinking, but maybe it would work.

I’m done with the outing, though. It’s up to him to tell everyone else.

He’s a Dragon now. If someone says something nasty, he has a whole pack to protect him.

Oh, I thought that since I have nothing better to do at the moment, I could take over the burden of protecting him… ;)

I think I got the situation under control, thank you Gwaine!

LOL. Rushing to his aid like a knight in a white towel again? :D

Arthur stared at these words for a while before he shut the chat. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought this queasy feeling inside him was jealousy. But that couldn’t be, could it?

“Arthur!” Coach Kilgarrah bellowed across the ice. “My office! Now!”

He didn’t even wait for Arthur to skate over before he vanished behind his door.

Arthur handed Leon his stick and pulled the gloves off his hands as he made his way over to the tunnel. He had a very good idea of what was coming.

After knocking and the coach calling him in, Arthur stood in front of his desk.

Looking up from his papers, Coach Kilgarrah gave him a long look. “What’s wrong, Arthur?”

“Wrong? Nothing, Sir.”

“You’re on the team for three years now. Have you ever seen anyone get away with ‘nothing’?”

Arthur hung his head. Of course not. And he knew exactly that he’d messed up.

“Where are your thoughts lately, Arthur, can you tell me that?”

“I…I’m sorry, Coach.” His thoughts were with one tall, dark-haired, big-eared, blue-eyed newbie on the team, but he couldn’t tell Coach that. He knew he’d watched Merlin skate too often when he should have been practicing, but the elegant way he was skating just seemed to draw and hold his attention.

“One assist in the game on Saturday, Arthur, was that asking too much? All you needed to do was just hold out your bloody stick, nothing more! But you weren’t happening at all! It was like you were a ghost! If you hadn’t been on the ice, nobody would have noticed!” Coach got up and started pacing.

“Sorry, Coach.” Of course the coach wasn’t happy. He wasn’t happy with his own performance, either, how could anyone else be? In shame, his eyes cast downward, fixating a worn spot on the floor as he let the Coach’s speech wash over him, pointing out each and every little detail where he had failed. He knew he could have gotten away with one or two bad plays, everyone had a bad streak once in a while. But all of these things piling up higher and higher were pretty damning. His mind definitely wasn’t in the game the way it should be.

“Go home, Arthur.”

“Coach?” Arthur’s head snapped up. “I got gym in my schedule now.”

“I said: Go home. Relax and work on whatever’s on your mind. I want you back on the ice tomorrow, your head back in the game. Understood?”

Arthur sighed. “Yes, Coach, thank you. Good night.”

“Here!” Lance shouted and Merlin turned without thinking, maneuvered the puck through Leon’s legs and shot it over to where Lance stood.

“Whohooooo!” Lance shot the hard rubber into the empty goal and skated over to where Merlin and Leon did a little celebratory dance.

The three boys turned when they heard someone clapping at the side of the rink.

“Gwaine!”

They skated over.

“Not bad, not bad at all.” Gwaine nodded.

“Where are your crutches?” Leon beamed at Gwaine.

“Gone and I hope they won’t be back any time soon.”

Lance took his helmet off and slicked his damp hair back. “When will you be back?”

Merlin stood with them a bit awkwardly. It was good that Gwaine’s knee was getting better and he liked Gwaine. He’d helped him a lot with training, understanding the play book and such. He’d also told him a lot about how the different guys on the team played, so it was easier for him to blend in and be a functioning part of the team. He was happy for Gwaine that his recuperation was going so well. But that also meant he would be back on the team soon, didn’t it?

“Aw, you’re missing me. So sweet of you, Lance.” Gwaine tossed his hair back. “Not in a while, though.” The grin on his face faltered.

“What does the physio say?” Leon had taken his gloves off and scratched the stubble on his chin.

Gwaine leaned against the boards. “She won’t go out with me.”

Laughing, they all shook their heads.

“You asked your phsysio for a date?” Lance chuckled. “That’s so you.”

“What?” Gwaine gave them wide innocent eyes that nobody bought. “We’re seeing each other every day and she’s really hot.”

“She must be at least ten years older than you.” Merlin smiled.

“Age is just a number!” Gwaine explained.

“So, aside from your predicament, what did she say?” Lance’s eyes flicked to Gwaine’s knee and back up.

Gwaine sighed. “Depends on how far you get in the play-offs.”

“There’s a chance that you’ll be back for the play-offs?” Leon’s face lit up.

“Only if there’s a miracle healing. So far, I’m just happy to be rid of the crutches.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, Merlin. We’ll fight for that spot on the team next season. This season, I’ll just be teaching you the tricks of the trade.”

“I’m not worried.” Which, of course, was a lie. He had worked so hard in the past weeks to replace Gwaine, to be as good as he was and the prospect of all of that having been for nothing nagged in the pit of his stomach. “I’d have a lot more free time if you were back.” Merlin gave Gwaine a wry smile. “And those fellas here wouldn’t have to spend their time chasing me across the ice.”

Leon laughed and Lance patted Merlin’s shoulder. “You’re doing great.”

“Hey! Not as great as me!” Gwaine laughed. “But you’re damn fine out there, Merlin. Listen, I watched a few of the Falcon games. Let’s go discuss how you can switch off their defense.”

Merlin nodded and stepped off the ice.

“I have an appointment,” Lance shrugged. “You’ll have to tell me later, Merlin, okay?”

Leon nodded. “Me, too. I have to take my granny to the vet.”

The boys stopped and looked at him before they burst out laughing.

“With Mipsy, her poodle!” Leon blushed but laughed with them all the way to the locker room.

They sat at a table at Penny’s and Merlin eyed the burger Gwaine had insisted on ordering for him. Mam wouldn’t be happy when he came home and had already eaten, especially something like a burger, but it was nice of Gwaine to do this, wasn’t it?

Gwaine had talked about hockey for the last half hour and Merlin had tried to soak up every word. The other bloke knew a lot about the sport and Merlin needed any information he could get about the opposing teams. The more he knew, the easier it would be to find into the game and become an essential part of the team.

“So…you and Arthur.”

Merlin choked on his Coke. “Huh?”

“I mean…you’re getting on much better now, don’t you?” Gwaine grinned.

Just nodding, Merlin still coughed. “Yeah, a bit.”

“He’s great, you know. A bit rough around the edges, but once you really know him…”

Shrugging, Merlin took a careful sip of his soda. “He’s your best friend, right?”

“Yeah, for years now. I know he seems to be all arrogant and know-it-all, but he’s really not like that. His father pushes him really hard, so this is his way of dealing. Deep down, he has a really sweet side.”

“He knows how to cover that pretty well, then.” Merlin blushed when he realized what he’d said. Why was Gwaine telling him about this, anyway?

Laughing, Gwaine shoved a few chips into his mouth. “I know. So…you got a boyfriend?”

Merlin coughed again. “What?”

“Are you seeing someone?”

Studying the other boy’s face, Merlin was at a loss of words. One moment, Gwaine told him that Arthur’s idiot behavior was only a cover-up for his softer side, the next, he asked about him having a boyfriend. Slowly, Merlin shook his head. “Don’t have time for one.”

Gwaine threw his head back in laughter. “Once you meet the right one, you will find the time. Maybe we can work on that, too?”

“Finding time for a boyfriend?” Merlin raised his eyebrows.

“No, I mean…we’re working on your improvement in hockey, we can work on making your love life better, too. What’s your type?”

Tall, blond, blue eyes, he’d almost said but immediately thought better of it. “Dunno if I have a type.” Merlin tried to shrug as if he was bored.

“Oh, but you have to know what you like. I mean...” Gwaine gestured, “would it be more a guy like Lance, tall, dark, serious and noble…or more like Steve, stocky, ginger, not so clever but nice….or more the tall, blond, blue-eyed type?”

Merlin blushed deeply. “I don’t know. I think I’m more into nice and intelligent, it doesn’t depend so much on what he looks like.” Pendragon wasn’t nice and sometimes he said things that weren’t really intelligent. So why was his heart beating faster just thinking about Arthur’s arm around his shoulder and the way his sweaty hair clung to his forehead?

Merlin dragged himself into the locker room. It had been a really tough game. He’d thrown himself into every skirmish and in the end he hadn’t felt like the weak link of the team for once. But he had paid the price. Not only did he ache all over, his side gave him serious trouble after that rock-headed goon on the Devils had been a 4 minute major for cross checking him so badly.

But he’d had an assist again, even though it hadn’t taken them anywhere. He was sure that it probably seemed worse right now than it was and, in the morning, he might show a bit of a bruise but be okay otherwise.

Dropping onto the bench in front of his locker, he winced and just tried to concentrate on breathing evenly.

“What’s wrong, Merlin?” Lance threw him a concerned look.

“Nothing, just tired.” Carefully he pulled his jersey off, trying not to make the sounds that were forming in his throat. A long hot shower was what he needed now and he’d feel better.

He only half-listened to the coach and watched the others go about their usual business but couldn’t bring himself to even lean over to take his skates off.

Finally, Gwaine noticed and came over. “That was one hell of a body check. Are you all right?”

Slowly untying his skates at last, Merlin hissed against the movement and nodded. “If feeling like being run over by a truck is all right, yes, I’m all right.”

Ruffling Merlin’s hair, Gwaine got up again. “Take a shower and if it’s not better then, let Percy take a look at it, okay? And then come find us at O’Leary’s.”

Merlin felt as if he moved in slow-motion. Everyone else was already done and he hadn’t even made it to the showers. After promising Lance and Leon that he would join them for a drink, he had the locker room to himself and only then removed the last of his gear, wincing and groaning as he went.

Tiredly, he grabbed a towel and his shower gel and padded over to the showers. There was no need for modesty; the door had just shut behind Steven, who was usually the last one to leave.

For a moment, Merlin just stared at the water as if his brain needed to figure out what to do next. When he finally stepped under the spray, he sighed in relief. The water was almost too hot, the steam around him getting in his nose, but he didn’t move. Moving was too much work and it hurt. But the pounding of hot water on his shoulders soothed the aching muscles a bit. If he just stood here long enough, maybe the aching in his side would go away, too? He wouldn’t have minded if it had taken all night either. That way he wouldn’t have to move.

His thoughts wandered back to the game. They all had known it would be a tough one. The Devils were known for a rough and brutish way of playing that bordered on unfair, but they got away with a lot. Of course they had known that he was the new kid, and no matter how hard he could have worked in the past couple of weeks, there was no way he would be the team’s number one player. They knew the Dragons had no other centers in reserve and, in their place; he would have done the exact same thing. But trying to keep someone out of the play and trying to almost kill them were two completely different things in his book. With their team’s reputation, though, it shouldn’t have surprised him that the Devils went for the latter option.

Merlin made a mental reminder to thank Lance and Leon for trying to protect him out there, even though they probably shouldn’t have. Had they not been so busy keeping an eye on him, they might have had more opportunities to turn the game in their favor. Due to them, though, Merlin managed to keep trouble away from Arthur, and even assist in that one meager goal they’d shot.

Arthur had not been happy after the game. Those stupid idiots had done nothing but attack Merlin all game long. And Coach only took Merlin out for a few minutes after that huge body check he’d taken in the third. He had been way too distracted trying to keep more harm from Merlin and yelling at Lance and Leon for not doing their jobs on the ice to do his own. Which was scoring. And that showed on the board after the game and a loss at this stage wasn’t something they could easily accept. Especially not against the Devils.

So he didn’t even make sure if everyone was all right after the game; he just took a shower and left for O’Leary’s as soon as possible. A couple of nice beers would probably help take his mind off things for a while.

When he parked his car in the street outside O’Leary’s and reached for his mobile on the passengers’ seat, his hand came up with nothing. Groaning, Arthur hit his head against the head rest repeatedly. It obviously was where he had put it before the game: on the top shelf of his locker, right next to his watch and ring that were missing, too. He knew nobody would take the stuff, but he felt naked without them, so he started the car again and went back to the rink.

Could anything go right for him these days? Arthur knew that Coach wasn’t happy with his performance lately. He was preoccupied and needed to get his head back into the game. He hated that. Hockey was his life; there shouldn’t be anything that kept him from giving his all. And yet, everything had changed in the past weeks. Since Gwaine had been injured, to be exact. Since Merlin had showed up. There, he finally thought it.

Merlin was constantly on his mind. Arthur admired how hard Merlin worked. He could have just said “Okay, I’ll do it.” and then half-arsed it; but he wasn’t. He was really trying to earn his spot on the team. And then Gwaine had blabbed about Merlin liking men and all the admiration Arthur had felt had turned into something he couldn’t quite handle. He had always liked girls. But now he wasn’t so sure of that any more. Was it possible to like girls and Merlin?

Deep in thought, he entered the room and went for his locker. Some stupid git had left the lights on and they would surely get another reprimand from the janitor for wasting energy. Ah, there were his things, just where he left them. Arthur slipped the mobile into his pocket and the ring on his index finger. Just as he fastened the wrist band of his watch, he realized that the shower was still running, too. Oh, if he ever caught the one who left without turning the water off!

He started for the showers and stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed that someone was still in there. He gasped when that someone turned out to be Merlin. As if Merlin wasn’t already constantly on his mind, he had to just stand there, all naked in the shower, not moving. Something was off with him and Arthur knew he should have at least made Merlin aware of his presence, but all he could do was stare.

Arthur had stolen glimpses of him more than once lately, he knew that Merlin wasn’t the slim twirl-girl most guys still thought he was. His eyes took in how the water made its way over broad shoulders and arms that had gained a lot more muscle in the past weeks, down a broad chest with the occasional dark chest hair, almost-defined abs that needed just a tad more work in the gym, straight down to… fuck, that cock was…Arthur didn’t have a word for it. He had never needed any adjectives to describe another bloke’s dick, but just looking at Merlin’s turned him on. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and tried to will his growing erection away. So that was it: he’d grown hard looking at Merlin’s body. Fuck, he was so screwed.

The noise of the water running over him blocked the world out for a while, but at some point, Merlin knew he had to get out of the shower. He eyed his shower gel balefully and decided that the amount of water that had poured down his body was enough; he would wash up properly tomorrow morning. So he turned the water off, reached for his towel and turned.

His eyes went wide when he saw movement in the locker room. He’d thought for sure that he’d be alone by now. Oh, but that was probably just Percy or Carl, the janitor, who wanted to lock up. Carefully, he wrapped his towel around his waist and made his way out of the showers.

But it was neither Percy nor Carl. Merlin froze when he noticed Arthur standing there, his back to him. “Hi.”

Arthur turned slowly. “Hello.” His breath caught. He had thought Merlin was beautiful in the shower before, but standing there in nothing but a towel, water still dripping from his hair and droplets rolling down his chest…Arthur just stared for a moment before he caught himself.

“I…I’ve forgotten…” He held up his arm and pointed to his wrist.

Merlin gave him a small nod, took a deep breath and turned to his locker. Arthur was on his mind way too often but he was just tired and beat and wanted to go home.

When the other boy turned, Arthur frowned. There were the beginnings of a huge bruise on Merlin’s side.

“Merlin? Are you okay?” He stepped closer.

Merlin turned his head, only then realizing that he had turned his hurt side so Arthur could see. “Yeah, don’t worry.”

“That bastard!” Arthur had his eyes fixed on Merlin’s ribs. “Lift your arm.”

“Casualty of war, Arthur, nothing more. I’ll be fine.” He tried to turn away, but Arthur grabbed his upper arm and held him steady.

“Let me take a look at that. Are you sure there’s nothing broken? Do you have trouble breathing?”

As Merlin shook his head, he tried not to think about how Arthur held on to his arm and looked his body over. He was in full captain-mode, there was nothing to it.

Carefully, Arthur touched his fingertips to the outline of a bruise that already was about as large as his hand. And he had a pretty good idea how much it would have spread come morning. “That doesn’t look good. Why didn’t you let Percy take a look at it?” He looked up and met Merlin’s eyes, only now realizing how close they stood and he was totally lost. He saw Merlin’s lips moving, but what he said didn’t register.

“I think he was already gone when I went into the shower. I’ll show him tomorrow.” Merlin looked up, too. The way Arthur’s fingers touched his skin sent shivers through him. How many nights had he imagined what it would feel like? But all those fantasies were nothing to the real thing. And that look in Arthur’s eyes…

They just stared at each other for a moment and when Merlin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he felt Arthur’s lips against his. Very chaste, almost questioning, as if they were looking for something. Merlin’s insides melted. Had he taken a hit to the head, too? This could only be his mind playing tricks on him. No way Arthur was really kissing him!

Arthur’s heart was racing. He had no idea what made him do it, but since this was probably the only chance he’d ever get, he took it. And maybe this way he could get all thoughts of Merlin out of his system. If Merlin only shoved him back, glared or yelled that could have been the end of it. But Merlin didn’t do any of that. Instead, he kissed back. Very carefully, as if not to chase him away. Arthur sighed into the kiss.

That little sound encouraged Merlin enough to step a bit closer. He parted his lips and let Arthur take what he wanted. This was too good to be true. As he felt Arthur’s tongue against his, Merlin couldn’t hold back any longer; he wrapped an arm around Arthur’s neck and kissed him deeply.

All the nights he had spent wondering what Merlin’s lips might feel like pressed against his, what he would taste like… but reality was so much better. It was not only feel and taste, it was smell, it was pressure, it was texture and breath and it sent his mind reeling. Arthur felt the moisture left on Merlin’s chest from the shower soaking through his t-shirt, he felt his heartbeat and the pressure of a very hot and hard prick searching for friction against his. That thought pulled him up short. Oh dear God, what was he doing?

With a strangled cry, he pulled back and stared at Merlin with wide, terrified eyes. And then he ran. “Get that bruise checked!” Arthur called, not daring to turn around for fear of what else he might do.

Merlin blinked when the warm pressure, the tongue against his, the strong body he’d leaned into were gone. One second they had shared the most wonderful kiss Merlin had ever shared with anyone, the next the door of the locker room fell shut, leaving him alone. Groaning, he hit his fist into the nearest surface. Why was his life so fucked up?

Merlin’s side hurt like hell. What if he had a broken rib? He had been so happy when he made it back home and found his mam had a late shift. He wasn’t up to her fussing about it. As a nurse she could have checked him and given him something to stop the pain, but the way he knew her, she would have dragged him to the A&E right away and he was just too tired and wound up for that.

When he finally made it up the stairs to his room, he just dropped onto the bed, only to groan in pain when he landed. Lying flat on his back wasn’t an option, so he squirmed around for a while before he found a position that allowed him to breathe without wincing. He should have taken some aspirin, but those were in the cabinet in the bathroom, across the hall, which might have well been on the moon for how far away that seemed. It didn’t make a difference; he wasn’t about to move now that he’d gotten semi-comfortable.

What a night. Aside from the bruise, this night had been more exciting than anything. He’d kissed Arthur Pendragon. Or rather, Arthur had kissed him, which made it even better. Merlin doubted that Arthur had ever kissed another man before. It had felt so careful, searching, exploring…just plain wonderful. The thought alone made Merlin smile. But then something had gone wrong. Maybe he should have pulled back when he felt himself hardening? But Arthur had been just as hard and didn’t seem to mind. For a while.

But then he had pulled back and ran. Maybe he didn’t like kissing guys after all? What if he had been so bad that it turned Arthur off forever?

Merls, you there?

The pling of his messenger sounded loud in the empty house. He pulled the laptop from his nightstand to lie next to him on the bed and smiled.

Hey Gwen

How was the game?

You know already that we’ve lost.

Yeah. Sorry. How was it?

Brutal.

Any dead?

Yup. Me.

OMG, what happened? Are you alright? Wait, I’ll call you.

Don’t.

They killed your voice?

Merlin chuckled as he typed the answer, which turned out not to be a good idea because laughing hurt.

Can’t hold the phone.

You broke an arm?

No

What then?

Bad bodycheck. Bruise on my left side. Hurts like fuck.

Ouch.

Exactly.

What did the doctor say?

Haven’t seen one. It’ll be okay in the morning.

You know what?

Huh?

You’re turning into one of them.

What?

Merlin the figure skater would go and have an injury like that checked. Merlin the hockey player is all tough macho and thinks it’ll go away on its own.

Maybe.

Want me to leave you alone? You’re tired, right?

No. Yes, but no, don’t go.

There was a moment of silence and Merlin thought Gwen might have left the chat. He tried to reach for the water bottle he had left on the other side of the bed the night before and grunted at the effort of lifting it up.

What is wrong, Merlin? Aside from your bruise?

Merlin took a careful sip from the bottle and put it right next to him.

Everything

Masterplan gone wrong?

He smiled at the way she knew exactly what he meant.

There was no masterplan. But yeah, that.

Tell me.

For a moment, he pondered calling her anyway, but decided against it.

He kissed me.

O.O MERLS!!!!!!!!!!! OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!! That’s fantastic!!!!

And then ran.

What do you mean, he ran? Give me the details! I’m dying here!!!!

As Merlin slowly typed up what had happened, interrupted by two messages that said ‘type faster!’, his heart sank.

He…did…what? What an arse!

That wasn’t really the answer he had expected, so he blinked at the screen as the next message came in.

He plays peeping tom in the showers, snogs you dizzy and then runs? What an idiot!

Merlin’s mouth went dry. That was a part he hadn’t even thought of.

I don’t know. I only met him when I came out of the showers.

Oh, come on, Merlin, he must have been there for a while! I’m sure he checked you out!

But why…

Because you are hot! That’s why!

No, I mean…Gwen, I’m so confused. He kissed me and got really into it and then he just runs?

Maybe that’s his problem.

What?

That he got so into it. You said you think it was his first boy kiss, right? Imagine you think all your life you like boys and then all of a sudden you kiss a girl and get really excited?

I can’t imagine that.

Try, you can.

I don’t want to imagine that.

See? Maybe that’s just what happened! He never wanted to imagine getting the hots for a boy and there you are, in his shower, all gloriously naked, water running down your sculpted body..

Gwen?

…the light coming from behind, giving you an ethereal glow…

Gwen!

…he hears the angels sing as you slowly turn towards him…

Stop reading those crappy romance novels, Gwen!

*giggles* Sorry, got carried away. Anyways, if you ask me, that’s just what it is. He got scared.

But what did I do to scare him away?

Oh, dummy sweetheart, it’s got nothing to do with you as a person. He likes you, otherwise he wouldn’t have kissed you. He’s just scared of the whole…boy thing.

Merlin could just imagine the gesture she made with her hand.

It sounds so easy when you say it.

Maybe it is. Talk to him.

Talk?

Merls, don’t turn into a boy all of a sudden!

I am one.

You know what I mean. Tell him that you didn’t mind what happened and if he wants a repeat, you’re game.

How would I do that?

Don’t know, but you’ll think of something. Gotta go, my parents just came back. Love you!

Merlin stared at the screen for half an hour after she had signed off. Maybe Gwen was right, Arthur was just scared of what he was feeling and he should talk to him. Or Gwen was wrong and this had just been an experiment. If Arthur wanted more, he knew where to find him, right?

With a sigh, he switched the laptop off and carefully arranged himself on his right side. Sleep didn’t come for a long time.

Arthur sat in his car in front of the house for half an hour, his head resting on the steering wheel, frozen in place. What the fuck had just happened?

He had finally kissed Merlin. That was something he had secretly wished for, yes, but more like something that would never come true, a fantasy. It wasn’t right to kiss another bloke when you liked girls. But then he had seen him standing there and got the chance to touch him – that bruise really looked nasty – and then it just…happened.

And he had liked it.

Arthur’s cheeks burned in shame just thinking about it. He had kissed a bloke and liked it. If the others found out, he was dead.

But then again…it was Merlin and Merlin wasn’t bad.

The way Merlin had looked at him, like something really big was happening, the way his skin had felt under his fingertips, the way his lips melted against his…oh damn, he was getting another hard-on just thinking about it! And recalling the feeling of how Merlin’s hard-on had pressed against his didn’t really help now!

Damn, damn, damn. Merlin Emrys, the figure skater cum hockey player, had grown hard for him. But maybe he did with every bloke he kissed? Maybe that was normal reaction amongst gays? But wouldn’t that mean that he was gay, too? He wasn’t! He couldn’t be!

But what if? What if he was gay? But he wasn’t! He was straight, that much was clear. He liked girls; he did!

He just…really liked Merlin. And he so wouldn’t mind if got another chance at kissing him. This time, he wouldn’t run. But…

More than once, he pulled out his mobile and started typing up a text to Merlin. But what would he tell him? Hey, I want to snog you again, when would be a good time for you? That was stupid. He was the one who ran like a girl; Merlin sure wouldn’t want to try again. He would come to him if he wanted a repeat, right?

If he didn’t punch him in the face the next time he ran into him.

Merlin sat on the bench in Percy’s office, dangling his legs. Mam had still been asleep when he left the house but he needed someone to look after the injury. He’d had a bad night and only moved carefully.

The tall man sighed. “Why didn’t you come to me right away?”

“I didn’t think it was that bad.” Merlin offered a disarming smile.

Percy frowned and asked a few questions, then started moving Merlin’s upper body in this direction and that.

“Did you take anything?”

“Huh?” Merlin startled.

“Aspirin? Anything stronger? I know your mom’s a nurse, you sure must have something at home?”

Merlin shook his head. “No, we never have anything stronger than ibuprofen in the house and I only take that if things get really bad.”

“Not even an aspirin?”

“No, not even that.”

“Okay.”

Percy made a few notes and Merlin almost jumped when he nudged him. “I’ll tell Coach Kilgarrah that you’ll stay off the ice today.”

“No, I will…”

“No, you won’t. I’m pretty sure that nothing is broken, but we don’t have to risk anything either. Take an aspirin every few hours and put this salve on the bruise,” Percy handed him a tube, “it’ll help the bruise dissolve faster. If you’re not better by tomorrow, we’ll have you x-rayed.”

Merlin stared at the tube and didn’t say anything. Maybe it was good that he didn’t need to get dressed in the locker today and wouldn’t have to face Arthur out on the ice, even just for practice. Things were awkward enough as they were.

“Merlin?”

He still dangled his feet, the rhythm of the motion soothing him and making it easier to think.

“Merlin, I said you can get dressed again.”

“Huh? Oh, sure. Thanks.”

Percy leaned against his table. “What’s wrong with you today, Merlin? And don’t tell me it’s nothing or that it’s just the injury. I know bruises of the ribcage hurt a lot, but you’re jumpy and unfocussed and miles away.”

“It’s…,” Merlin blushed, “it’s got nothing to do with hockey.” Carefully, he pulled his sweatshirt over his head.

“It has everything to do with hockey, right?” The big man smiled softly and sat on the small stool. “Or rather…with a certain player, right?”

Merlin stared at him in horror and blushed even deeper.

“I want to be honest with you, Merlin. I came back last night to get the laundry basket.”

“You…,” Merlin’s breathing sped up. Oh no! Percy had seen them! He would tell the coach and he would throw both of them off the team. Which wouldn’t be too bad in his case, but Arthur lived for hockey!

“Merlin,” the soothing voice made Merlin look up again, “yes, I saw what happened. Not all of it,” there was a small grin tugging at the corners of Percy’s mouth, “but enough. Just wanted to let you know that if you need someone to talk about it, I’m here, okay?”

“You…,” Merlin’s mind was reeling. Everything he said now would find its way to the coach.

“You really think the guys like me because I tell the coach their secrets? As long as it’s nothing illegal or harmful, I see no need to inform anyone.”

“But…what exactly did you see?” Merlin tried to cross his arms in front of his chest, which was a bad idea; it hurt.

Percy chuckled. “If you must know, I saw two fine young men sharing a kiss. Nothing wrong with that. As soon as I noticed, I left.”

“And…you don’t mind?”

“Merlin, since that unfortunate incident with Gwaine, we all know that you like men. What’s the big deal? And that you found someone on the team is very nice, you share the same interests, get along very well, as long as you don’t put all that over hockey for the next couple of weeks, I see nothing wrong in it.”

“It’s just…everything’s so complicated.” Merlin sighed deeply.

“Only if you make it complicated. You can’t chose who you like, Merlin, and I know what I’m talking about. If you like him and he likes you, everyone else will come to terms with it… and if they don’t, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs.”

“That’s not what I meant. It’s…”

Percy just looked at him and waited.

“…he started it. He’s straight and he still started it. And then…,” Merlin looked at Percy and sniffed, trying to hold the tears back, “he just ran out. I’m sure this all was just a stupid joke. A dare or something. Kiss the gay guy and we’ll buy you the beer to wash the yucky taste down.”

“Merlin,” Percy shook his head gently, “from what I saw, it wasn’t a joke for him.”

“And yet, he ran.”

“Maybe he’s just scared of what he was feeling? I’ve never seen Arthur with a boy before, so I guess you must be pretty special for him.”

The encouraging smile Percy gave him made him feel a tiny bit better. “But…”

“I can’t tell you what to do, Merlin. But why don’t you just try to be friends with him? I know you’ve had a rocky start but that worked out rather well. And now…maybe he just needs a bit of time to find out what he really wants?”

Merlin nodded and slid off the bench just as the coach poked his head in.

“How does it look, Perce?”

Percy snapped back into professional mode. “Looks like just a bad bruise to me, Coach. Keep him off the ice today; no training at all. If it’s not better, we’ll have it x-rayed, but I’m sure Merlin here will be fine tomorrow.”

The coach obviously wasn’t happy with the situation, but nodded. “Okay. Get some rest, Emrys.”

Merlin didn’t know what to say and made his way to the door after the coach had left.

“If you want to talk, I’m always here, Merlin. And if you have questions…just ask, okay?”

“Thanks, Percy.”

“Anytime.”

Gwaine sat down heavily next to him in the stands. “How bad is it?”

Merlin swallowed the ‘very bad’ that was on his lips when he realized that Gwaine was talking about the injury and not Arthur. “No training today; we’ll see tomorrow.”

“Fuck, the team needs you.”

“I guess they’re fine without me. See,” Merlin pointed to the ice where the guys were practicing some plays, “they’re already working on replacing me.”

Gwaine snorted. “They won’t replace you. They just have to worry about that if there’s a chance for you to still be on IR for the next game.”

Merlin looked over. “How’s the knee?”

“Better each day.”

“Then you can take over again.” Maybe that was the solution to all of his problems? Gwaine would be back on the team and he could leave and never look back.

Chuckling, Gwaine shook his head. “I’m far from being allowed back on the ice. And when I finally am, I guess I’ll have some tough competition.” He winked.

Merlin just sighed.

“We’ve missed you last night.”

“Didn’t feel like going out.” Merlin had his eyes fixed on the ice rink, his gaze being drawn to where the player with the number 15 was aiming shots at Elyan in the net.

“Injuries can do that to you.” Gwaine nodded. “But you missed all the fun. How about…we dash out as soon as coach lets us? We’ll go for a hot chocolate or something? The two injured ones…”

Merlin shook his head. “I think I’ll go home and lie down. My side hurts.” But it wasn’t that bad. He knew he was only using the bruise as an excuse.

“It’s a bruise, man. The more you move about, the sooner it’ll dissolve. Chocolate’s on me and you really look as if you needed some company.”

 

On the ice, Arthur watched Merlin’s every move, even though he took care that nobody noticed. He was worried. They hadn’t more than acknowledged each other in the locker before Merlin went to see Percy. But he wanted to know what was wrong.

After Coach had instructed them with their practice, he had skated over.

“Merlin’s missing, Coach.”

“He won’t be working with us today.”

“Is the bruise that bad?” He chewed his lower lip. How could he know about the bruise?

“We don’t know yet. He’s on injured reserve until further notice. Now go, work on what I told you.”

A short while later, Merlin had showed up in the stands and sat down. He moved carefully and Arthur wanted to go over and make sure he was okay. But of course he couldn’t. Not after what happened. He could consider himself lucky if Merlin ever talked to him again.

“Hey, Pendragon! Daydreaming much?” Elyan shouted from the goal. “You ever gonna shoot a puck at me or can I go home now?”

Oh, right, practice. Arthur aimed and shot the puck full force at Elyan.

Next time he got the chance to look up was the end of practice and he saw Gwaine and Merlin leaving. Together. Fuck.

The next day, Merlin was back on the ice. He knew he wasn’t in fighting condition and it was questionable if he would be until the weekend. But at least he didn’t feel like an outsider any more. Watching from the stands was boring.

But the longer the week went, the more it became clear that he would be ready, that he was fighting his way back onto the team roster. He didn’t come here to not play. And even though the first few days the bruise hurt – especially at night – he was happy when he got clearance to play.

He still hadn’t spoken with Arthur and Arthur seemed to be avoiding him. So what? He wanted to play hockey, not make nice with Pendragon.

Of course it showed on the ice that there was something wrong. Their communication was horrible and more than once they messed up just because they could barely look at each other.

In the third period, Merlin decided to do this his way. Screw Pendragon and his non-communication. It wasn’t his fault that the coward had run. And it shouldn’t affect the team the way it did.

So in the end, a few figure skating moves saved the day. If he had gone by the playbook, this had been another game they’d lost. But once Merlin let his instincts take over, he’d out-danced two of the really huge guys from the other team and pulled a few moves that could as well have led to an elegant jump had he been wearing the right skates. His moves confused some of the other team’s players so much that Craig managed to shovel the puck past their goalie twice. Which was enough to win the game, but Merlin wasn’t happy that he’d had to resort to that.

As he sat on the bench in front of his locker and pulled his socks down, he examined his knee. Would there ever be a game where he wasn’t suffering from bruises?

“Great moves, twirl-girl,” Steven grinned and for once Merlin had the feeling that this wasn’t an insult but a compliment.

“Yeah, did you see him?” Craig came over and patted his shoulder. “Next time just wear your other skates, twirl around and confuse them so much that we can score again and again.”

Everyone had a comment about Merlin doing his figure skating moves to distract the other team.

“I didn’t do anything illegal.” Merlin still poked at his knee.

Eylan snapped his towel in Merlin’s direction. “Nobody says you did. It was great. I expected you to do one of those…what are they called? Salcows or something any minute.”

“Salchow, and I’m not really good at them.”

Leon laughed. “The Dragons’ secret weapon: Salchow-Emrys and his deadly twirls!”

Lance rolled his eyes, but grinned. He sat down next to Merlin. “Everything okay with your knee?”

“Yeah, guess so. I should take a shower.” He pulled his undershirt over his head and Lance gasped.

“Fuck, I knew it was big, but that looks really nasty!” He pointed to the bruise that now had taken on every possible color and had spread all over his left side. “You know, Arthur has this wonder salve that his dad brought from a shaman in Canada. I’m sure he’ll share, won’t you, Arthur?”

Arthur had just entered the room after talking to the coach and looked up. “Share what?”

“That crazy shaman stuff you got?”

“Sure, it works wonders. Why do you think I’m always this fit?” Arthur put his helmet on the shelf in his locker and laid his gloves next to it.

Lance looked at Merlin. “See, he shares.”

“Errr…” Merlin felt Arthur’s eyes on him and lifted his head to look back. “I’m…I think I’m fine without it.”

Arthur took a deep breath. “It’s no problem, really.” Come over to my place later, I got more than I can ever use, really, and maybe we can talk. But he was too tongue-tied to get any of that out, so he just watched Merlin break eye-contact and head for the showers.

Arthur entered O’Leary’s a bit later. It hadn’t been an elegant win but a win nonetheless and therefore it had to be celebrated.

The place was packed and most of the others were there already. Arthur scanned the room. Was Merlin there, too? Oh, yes, over there, next to Gwaine.

He didn’t know what he had expected. Merlin was part of the team and celebrated with them. Maybe a tiny part of his mind had hoped that Merlin would rather not be here, where he was. Obviously he didn’t mind being in the same room, that was good. But why was he hanging with Gwaine? Jealousy reared its head, even though Arthur had no right to be jealous of anyone. He was the one who had messed up.

Someone put a bottle of beer in his hand and before he could decide how to go about Merlin, he was dragged into a conversation about the game.

It got later and later and Arthur knew he should have gone home already, but it was good to be here with his friends. The alcohol buzzed through his system – he’d handed his car keys to Mithian behind the bar long ago – and he felt good.

“…and hadn’t it been for my friend Merlin here…”

Arthur turned around when he heard Gwaine’s voice, just in time to see him wrap his arm around Merlin’s shoulder.

“The man of the game,” Arthur announced. “You’re right, Gwaine!” With a not so gentle motion, he brushed Gwaine’s arm away and put his own around the strong shoulders. He raised his bottle. “To Merlin!”

Everyone shouted ‘to Merlin’ and drank and Arthur watched Merlin blush, which was very endearing.

Merlin’s head turned and all of a sudden he was close, very close, close enough to kiss. Arthur forgot that he was in a pub, amongst friends, all that counted were Merlin’s lips. He needed to taste them again.

Merlin finally managed to forget about the situation with Arthur for a while but then he showed up, butted into the conversation and wrapped his arm around his shoulder. Normally, Merlin wouldn’t have minded, but their whole…thing…was so messed up that he couldn’t help but staring at Arthur. Was he that drunk? Or had he forgotten what had happened the week before?

Before he could come up with an answer, Arthur looked at him and leaned in. Oh fuck! This couldn’t happen, he just couldn’t allow this to happen. Not that he didn’t want to kiss Arthur again. But not here, not in front of everybody, not where Arthur could claim later that he had been too tipsy to know what he was doing. So Merlin turned his head again and grabbed Gwaine’s glass to down it in one big gulp.

When Merlin turned abruptly, Arthur blinked and pulled back. Fuck fuck fuck fuck! What had he done? Had anyone noticed? He looked around but aside from Gwaine, who threw him an amused smile, nobody else seemed to have realized that he had been about to kiss Merlin. Which was good. Gwaine he could deal with.

But what about Merlin? He’d obviously noticed, too, or else he wouldn’t have turned his head. And that he turned away could only mean one thing: He didn’t want to be kissed by him. Arthur’s arm slid off Merlin’s shoulder. He felt sick.

“’scuse me.” He stumbled towards the loos.

He just had the time to splash his face with some water and to stare at himself in the mirror, his hands left and right on the sink, before Gwaine barged in.

“What the fuck was that?”

Arthur paled and blushed at the same time. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Gwaine leaned against the wall next to the sink. “You know very well what I’m talking about. You almost kissed Merlin.”

“Could you yell any louder? I think there’s someone at the other end of town who hasn’t heard you yet!”

“Oh, come on, just admit it. You were trying to kiss him and chickened out!”

Arthur said nothing and looked down at the sink as if it held the answers.

“You like him! That’s why you’ve been so strange all week long! It all makes sense now.” Gwaine grinned smugly.

“You know nothing.”

“Then tell me. I saw you being out of it all week. You act strangely, you explode at the slightest thing, you…fuck, man, you’re in love! Why didn’t I think of that straight away!”

Arthur twirled around and glared at his friend. “I’m NOT in love!”

“But you want to snog him!” Gwaine even grinned when Arthur fisted the neck of his sweatshirt and pressed him against the wall.

What was he doing here? His whole life was upside down. He wanted to kiss a boy and now he was attacking his best friend when he was just stating the facts. Slowly, Arthur let go of Gwaine and sighed.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Of course it is! Arthur, do you know how often Merlin mentioned your name last week? How he watches what you do on the ice? How he asks careful questions about what you like and what you do when you’re not playing?”

“He…he does? What did he say?” Arthur completely forgot that just by asking this, he had dropped his pretense of not being interested.

Gwaine grinned. “Damn, you really do like him. I’m so proud of you.”

Sighing, Arthur crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the sink. “I’m not.”

“Oh, cut it out, Arthur. There’s nothing wrong with it. Look at me. You like me, no matter if I’m with a girl or a man, right?”

“You’re my friend.”

“And you’re mine, no matter who you get it on with.”

“This’ll go nowhere, I screwed it up already.”

“Fuck, Arthur, this was one accidentally gone wrong kiss! Now go out there and snog him properly.”

He wanted to do this so much, but he couldn’t. “I already did.”

After Gwaine had coaxed the story of last weekend out of him, Arthur didn’t wait for a verdict and did what he was really good at lately – he left.

On Sunday afternoon, Merlin decided to take action. He’d had a rather sleepless night, tossing and turning and wondering what Arthur was all about. One day, he hardly looked at him, the next, he tried to kiss him. Gwen was right, they needed to talk.

He had no idea what he wanted to say and where this all would end – for all he knew, he could screw the situation up even more – but they couldn’t go on like this.

So when his shin sported yet another purple bruise, he rode his bike over to the Pendragon estate. He had heard the other blokes talk about it, but he never imagined that Arthur lived in a house this huge. This was more like a palace than a house and Merlin’s ears burned in mortification when he thought of that time where he’d taken Arthur to his house for breakfast.

After parking his bike next to the entrance, he stepped up to the huge door and rang the bell. Taking a deep breath, Merlin braced himself for facing Arthur and repeated his rehearsed sentence in his head again. What he wasn’t prepared for was the polite man who opened the door.

“Err…hi…”

“Good afternoon, sir. What may I do for you?”

Wow, who’d have thought that such a thing as butlers still existed outside of TV?

“Yeah…hi, I’m Merlin. I’m on the team with Arthur. Is he there?”

“Merlin, of course. Come on in.” The man opened the door wide and Merlin stepped into a huge entrance hall. “Is Arthur expecting you?”

Is he…oh! “No,” Merlin shook his head, “I was just in the area and thought I’d say hi. If he’s busy, I can come back another time.”

“If you’d just wait here, I’ll see if he’s available.”

As the man briskly walked away, Merlin wondered why someone would like to work as a butler at all. It only meant doing the stuff that others were too lazy-ass about, right? Arthur was old enough to know how to open a door, wasn’t he? He looked around and felt like he was in a movie. This wasn’t a real place, just some set to a Hollywood blockbuster, wasn’t it? It was too big, too expensive-looking to be real.

While he pondered, the man came back. “Arthur is expecting you.” He looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Err…thank you, but…” He had never been here before, so what was expected of him now? To follow the man?

“Oh, of course, you don’t know the premises. Just upstairs, turn right and then it’s the door straight ahead. If you’d follow me.” He made a gesture with his hand.

“Thanks! Don’t worry, I’ll find it.” Merlin was already halfway up the stairs. Turn right and then straight ahead. Wow, that was one long corridor!

Just as he reached the door, it opened and he was faced with Arthur.

“Merlin…”

“Hi.”

“What…what are you doing here?”

Merlin took a deep breath. “I have this nasty bruise on my shin and Lance said you have that magic salve?” Yes, it was just a thinly veiled excuse, but it was the best thing he could come up with.

Arthur’s heart had been beating faster since Cedric had announced that Merlin was here, at his house. But seeing him standing there, at his door…after all that happened in the past week, he hadn’t thought this would ever happen. He smiled carefully when he heard the question about the salve.

“Sure, come on in.” He stepped back and turned towards his bathroom.

While Arthur rummaged through a cabinet in what must have been his bathroom – who had their own bathroom? – Merlin looked around. The room was quite different from what Merlin had expected. He’d thought it was like the entrance hall, overly huge, with expensive furniture but without soul. But while the corridor had been very long, this room wasn’t at all that big. Still a lot bigger than even the living room in his house, but not like you could fit an olympic-sized pool in it. It had a desk where Arthur’s laptop stood and where papers and magazines were stacked, a little area with a couch facing a flat-screen TV (something that hadn’t found its way into Merlin’s house at all yet, much less into his room) and a huge bed that looked very comfy. The walls were covered with hockey posters and photos.

Arthur found the salve right away, but took a moment to calm down. Merlin was here. Merlin was in his room. After all that had happened, he hadn’t punched his nose in. Maybe there was still hope?

Merlin didn’t want to ponder too long on how comfy the bed looked and was happy when Arthur came back.

“Here you go.”

As Merlin reached for the little tube, Arthur held onto his hand.

“Arthur?”

“Merlin?” Arthur said at the same time and they both chuckled, relieving a bit of the tension.

Just then, there was a knock at the door and when Arthur answered, the man brought in a tray with tea and cookies and various soda cans. “I thought the gentlemen might like a refreshment.”

“Thank you, Cedric.”

Merlin immediately took the tray out of the man’s hands and set it down on the little coffee table by the couch. “Thank you.” It felt odd that someone would serve them tea.

When the man had left, Arthur pointed to the tray. “Care for some tea?”

“Sure.” Merlin busied himself with pouring it for both of them while Arthur nibbled on a cookie.

“Where were we?”

Merlin sighed and sat down carefully on the couch. “I…can we talk, Arthur?”

Talk. Oh god, talking wasn’t his strong side. But Arthur felt himself nodding. “Yeah.”

“What are we doing, Arthur?” Merlin watched the steam coming from the tea cup.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…I don’t know…last week…,” Merlin looked up and met Arthur’s eyes, “What did I do wrong? Did I do something you didn’t like?”

Arthur swallowed hard. Last week…and last night… He shook his head. “No…it was me.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong!”

“I ran.” Arthur laughed dryly.

“And all I want to know is…why?”

There was silence for quite a while before Arthur took a deep breath. “Because I liked it too much.” Which was probably the dumbest explanation ever but it was the truth. He ran because he liked Merlin way too much.

Merlin’s cheeks burned. Arthur liked it? He liked him? He really did? So, Gwen and Percy had been right about this. “But…”

“Oh, I don’t know. This is all new. Too complicated.” Arthur ran a hand over his eyes.

All new. So he had been right assuming that Arthur had never kissed a bloke before. He had been his first. And he liked it! Merlin wanted to jump up and down and yell it out to the world, but remained in his seat, as calmly as possible.

“You’ve never been with a man before?” He asked quietly.

“I never even thought I might like one this way.” Arthur looked anywhere but at Merlin. This was difficult. He just bared his innermost thoughts to someone who was basically still a stranger.

“What if…”

“What if what?”

“What if…that man likes you, too? Would that make it easier?” There, he’d said it. Now it was up to Arthur.

For the first time since they started this difficult conversation, Arthur looked at Merlin. “You…”

Merlin nodded, a small smile on his lips. Yes, he liked Arthur.

Arthur laughed and he didn’t even know why. Was it relief? Was he laughing at himself for getting them into this situation? Or was he just happy that Merlin hadn’t punched him in the face or at least told him to fuck off?

Why was Arthur laughing now? What was so funny? Merlin started squirming in his seat. He had never told anyone that he liked him before, but this was definitely not the reaction he had anticipated. “So…I mean…if you don’t want to…I won’t do anything about it. I just…it’s good that you know. And I…” He attempted to get up, but Arthur grabbed his wrist.

“Don’t go.” Arthur grinned. “I don’t even know…it’s got nothing to do with you. I’m an idiot.” Merlin liked him. “What…what are we going to do now?”

Merlin chuckled. “What would you do if I were a girl?”

Looking at Merlin, Arthur moved a bit closer and took in the big blue eyes, the ridiculous ears, the black hair that was more of a pelt than a hairdo and did what he wanted to do for so long. He leaned in and pressed his lips against Merlin’s.

Yes, that was more like it. Merlin tried to go about this all carefully. He didn’t want to scare Arthur away again. But the more he felt Arthur’s lips, the more he got into the kiss. And when Arthur wrapped his arm around his waist and pulled him against his chest, Merlin all but melted. A little moan built in his throat as he felt the warm tongue against his lips and parted them. Damn, that was even better. Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s neck and kissed back.

Actually, this wasn’t so different from kissing a girl. Merlin’s lips were soft against his and when he granted him entrance, Arthur tried to remember all he ever learned about kissing. The arms around his neck were a lot stronger than a girl’s and Merlin smelled different, but there was nobody in the world he wanted to kiss more.

Merlin had never thought it could be like this. The few kisses he’d shared with other blokes were inexperienced and interrupted by giggles. This was different. Even different from the last time. Arthur seemed to have made up his mind that he wanted this as much as Merlin did and it showed in the way he held on to him as he sank backwards, pulling him along. Merlin didn’t mind lying on top of Arthur at all, to feel the warmth of his chest radiating from underneath his sweatshirt, never breaking the kiss. Had it been up to him, he would have gone on forever.

This was definitely better than anything ever before! Arthur didn’t understand why he’d chickened out twice. This was wonderful, he felt it through his whole body right down to his toes and back! His hand rubbed little circles on Merlin’s back and all of a sudden he gasped and pulled back. Fuck, he was getting hard and had no chance to escape!

“What…?” Merlin blinked his eyes open when he felt Arthur hesitate before he felt the reason. He blushed and grinned.

“I’m…I don’t…” Arthur stammered and tried not to look at Merlin.

“Hey…,” Merlin didn’t know what to say, so he pushed his hips forward. “I’m…you’re doing this…” The kiss had affected him just the same way. But wasn’t that what had made Arthur run last weekend? “I…” He scrambled back self-consciously.

Arthur’s mind was reeling. Once again, Merlin had made him hard just by kissing him. Okay, and laying on top of him, but still, it was Merlin’s doing and it scared the hell out of Arthur. But he’d grown a boner kissing a girl before, so why would that be different kissing a boy? He just didn’t really know what to do about it. He just knew that he didn’t want Merlin to leave. So he grabbed for him and pulled him back against him. “I…you…stay?”

Merlin chuckled as he melted against Arthur again. “Better?”

“Mmhmm.”

“What are we…?”

Merlin didn’t get further with his question because Arthur was kissing him again. Not as careful as before, he was really getting into it, moving them around on the couch until they were both on their sides, facing each other.

“I don’t know…I didn’t…have you?”

Touching foreheads with Arthur, Merlin tried to make sense of this. “Have I what?”

“Done this before…I mean…have you ever…?” Damn, this was difficult and awkward. He had been sixteen his first time and Sophie had known what to do; she had read all the books and done all the research.

Merlin’s eyes went wide. “You want to do it?” Wasn’t that a bit too fast? Aside from a bit of fumbling he had no experience at all. His cheeks were burning. “I…”

“No!” Arthur’s heart was racing. Nonononononono, he didn’t…he never touched a dick aside from his own, he didn’t even look at them in the showers, no way would he do stuff now. Or at any time!

A relieved chuckle escaped Merlin. “I’m…I’m not sure I could do that already.”

“Me neither. I don’t know if I can do it at all.”

“At all? But they say you’ve dated a lot of girls.”

“A few.” Arthur chewed on his lower lip. “But…it’s different with girls. It’s…I don’t know.”

This was getting complicated. “We don’t have to…I mean, we can…kissing is good, isn’t it?” Merlin blinked sheepishly.

Chuckling, Arthur nodded. “Kissing is good.”

And so they both leaned in and kissed some more.

Merlin hummed and whistled as he set the table.

“You’re in a very good mood, dear.” Hunith smiled and arranged dinner on the plates.

“Mmhmmm.” Merlin beamed. Of course he wouldn’t tell his mam why he had come home so late last night and that Arthur hadn’t run away for once and they’d kissed until their lips were sore. No way in heaven would he tell her about being constantly hard and carefully rubbing against Arthur without it going any further. Yes, that had gotten uncomfortable but it didn’t matter; the nice wanking session he’d had when he came home had taken care of it.

“So you’ve had a nice day yesterday?”

Had mam’s smile just turned into a smirk? Oh, he didn’t care. He was happy. He had snogged the boy he liked and said boy had snogged back. Even though neither of them had spoken about it, Merlin hoped there would be a lot more smooching in the not too far future.

“Yes, Mam.” His mobile beeped and he threw it a longing look. What if this was Arthur? But he had an agreement with his mother that meal-times were mobile-free. So he shoveled the food into his mouth in huge bites and washed them down with water.

“Merlin!” The warning tone in Hunith’s voice was enough for him to look guilty. “Eating, not inhaling, alright?”

“Yes, Mam. Sorry.” He tried to slow down but threw his mobile glances.

When he was done, he looked expectantly at his mother, who smiled and nodded. “Go ahead, it might be important.”

He jumped up, put a smooch on her hair and dashed out of the room. His heart was hammering in his chest when he saw that the message was from Arthur. Had he changed his mind? Didn’t he want a repeat of the day before?

With trembling fingers, Merlin opened the message.

Burger at Penny’s? Now?

Merlin chuckled as he grabbed his jacket. “I’ll go out, Mam.” One arm in the sleeve of his jacket, he typed a see you there and just nodded when Hunith reminded him to be home by ten. It was a weeknight and all.

Arthur entered the coffee shop and smiled widely as he saw Merlin at a table in the corner. This was their third official meeting.

He had been all worked up and confused when Merlin had left his house on Sunday. The kisses were fantastic and even though he was a bit scared about what to do with his hard-on while Merlin was around, he was happy. He never thought that he could be happy because of a bloke, but this was so much better than anything he’d ever had with a girl. So he had tried to find out what all of that meant, but he knew he had to see Merlin again… and so he had typed up that text.

Merlin had dashed into Penny’s that first time, out of breath from cycling, his hair sticking in all directions and Arthur was lost. He knew he wanted it. This. Whatever this was. He just didn’t want everyone to know. It was all too new and scary.

So they had agreed that nobody else should know, they would keep it a secret. Their secret. They would act casually in practice and while the others were around and only be ‘them’ when they were alone.

“Hey,” Arthur slipped into the seat across from Merlin and, after taking off his gloves and jacket, he pulled out his tattered notepad. Another cover should someone see them. They had it all worked out.

“Hi,” Merlin blushed slightly. He loved their little secret. He didn’t know how long this would last, but he was determined to enjoy it as much as possible. They had planned everything, nobody would ever notice.

“Did you already order?” Arthur couldn’t keep the goofy grin off his face. He’d waited for three days for them to have time for another date. Yes, that’s what their meetings were: dates. And it felt good to think of them as such.

“No, I just came in. What do you want?” Merlin looked at the menu that was written on huge chalk boards above the counter.

“Hmm…how about…a caramel macchiato latte and a brownie?”

Merlin laughed. “Who’d have thought?”

“What? What’s wrong with brownies?” Arthur grinned, he loved when Merlin teased him like that.

“Not the brownie, dufus, the caramel macchiato…that’s a quite girly drink.”

“It is not! What do you want?”

“It is, but I think I’ll have the same, but a cookie instead of a brownie.” Merlin laughed.

Arthur went to the counter and ordered for both of them. When he came back and placed the huge mug in front of Merlin, he smiled.

“What?”

“This feels like a real date.”

“Oh, and the others before didn’t?”

“They did, I just needed to say it.” Arthur sat down and smiled when he felt Merlin’s ankle press against his under the table.

Merlin couldn’t keep the stupid grin off his face. He never thought that he’d find time for dates with his busy schedule, but for Arthur, he made time. And the way the cream stuck to Arthur’s upper lip after drinking from his mug was just adorable, wasn’t it?

They sat and talked and at some point, Arthur reached for Merlin’s hand on the table. Merlin looked around, alarmed. They had wanted to keep this a secret…what if anyone saw them? But Arthur didn’t let go and Merlin relaxed into the touch.

For a short moment, they didn’t realize that the door had opened and a group of blokes came in. But one of the voices sounded familiar. Damn!

Merlin pulled back and straightened up in his seat. Fuck, it was Gwaine! Act casual, as if nothing was going on! He couldn’t keep the blush from his face, though.

Arthur almost jumped when he heard the voice of his best friend at the other side of the coffee shop. Hastily, he let go of Merlin’s hand and grabbed his notepad. Leafing through it aimlessly, he babbled about hockey, as if he was explaining something to Merlin.

“And there…,” he pointed to a sketch of dots and arrows, “this is what I was talking about.”

“Mmhmm,” Merlin nodded, a bit too enthusiastically. “You’re saying if someone goes this direction and waits long enough for the other to…”

Gwaine stepped up to their table. “Hey there.” He held a huge cup to go and grinned widely.

“Oh, hey Gwaine. Didn’t see you there. How’s it going?” Arthur looked up at him.

“Same old, same old.” The grin on Gwaine’s face grew wider. “What are you two doing here?”

“Arthur’s explaining a few plays,” Merlin threw in quickly. “You know, for Saturday. There might be a way to crack the defense of the Penguins.”

“Plays…” Gwaine smirked. “Okay.”

Some of the others yelled for him and he knocked on the table. “Then I’ll leave you to your plays. See you at practice.” He turned and left again.

They were quiet when the group had left.

“Do you think he bought it?” Merlin eyed the playbook before looking at Arthur.

Just as Arthur took a deep breath and was about to answer, his mobile beeped. He checked the message and then turned the display towards Merlin. “I don’t think so.”

CONGRATULATIONS! it read.

Merls? The little chat window pinged open.

Gwens?

Hey there!

Hi!

So, anything new? New injuries? New wins? New hickeys?

What do you mean?

Oh, don’t play innocent with me. You didn’t write in days. You were busy!

Merlin blushed. He should have written her sooner. Or called her.

Yes, I was. It’s called training.

And what exactly did you train? Smooching?

That, too.

There, he’d typed it. Gwen could know; Gwen was his friend and she was far away enough to not be a danger.

Oh! Oh! Oh!!! How was it? Tell me!!! Tellmetellmetellme!

LOL. Just like that.

Exciting?

Very.

Come on, Merls, don’t leave me hanging here!

We talked and then kissed and then went on dates and kissed some more.

Whohooooooooooooooo!

Yeah, something like that He couldn’t keep the huge grin off his face.

I’m so happy for you! I just squeed the house down!

Thanks.

So you’re officially together now?

Well…

This wasn’t a one-time thing, was it?

No, but…

What now, Merlin?

It’s not official.

What do you mean?

We’re seeing each other, but nobody else needs to know.

The silence that followed said it all. Gwen was unhappy with him.

So you’re the dirty little secret?

That’s not what it is!

What is it, then?

He’s never been with a man before.

And that’s why you have to hide?

We’re not hiding. We’re just… Hmm…what were they? waiting for the right moment

If you say so…

Gwen demanded more details, which he happily provided. But she wouldn’t understand why they weren’t out in the open. Nobody needed to know. Life was good the way it was.

“So, you and Merlin.” Gwaine grinned.

Arthur pretended to be busy looking for his car keys in his backpack.

“Oh, come on. Give me the details. How did that happen after you ran like the coward you are?”

“None of your business.”

“It so is my business. You’re my best friend, we share all our secrets.” Flicking his hair back, Gwaine leaned against Arthur’s car.

Opening the car doors with the remote of his key fob, Arthur tossed his backpack into the back seat and got in. He waited for Gwaine to climb in, too, and arrange his leg. “How’s the knee?”

“Don’t change topics, Art. Are you two…you know, together now? Or was that just a date to tell him no? It didn’t look like it.”

“Gwaine!”

“If you told me about it, I wouldn’t have to let my imagination run wild.” Gwaine smirked.

Groaning, Arthur started the car. “There’s nothing to let it run wild about. He came over for the salve and we talked and then…things happened.”

“Is he a good kisser? With lips like those, I bet he is!”

“Yeah.” Arthur grinned. If it were up to him, he’d spend all day every day kissing Merlin. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“You said that before. So, he’s a good kisser. And…?”

“And nothing.”

“Oh, come on, Art. Why so secretive about it?”

Arthur concentrated on the road for a moment, thinking about the question. “I…”

“It’s you. Coward old you. What’s so different about liking Merlin? Nobody will give a damn.”

You don’t give a damn. They’re not all you.”

“Oh, I do give a damn. You’re my friend and he’s cute. So if you do anything wrong, I’ll kick your arse and go for him myself.” Gwaine chuckled.

“Only you can say you’re my friend and want to kick my arse at the same time.” Arthur rolled his eyes.

“That’s what friends are for.“

Taking a deep breath, Arthur threw Gwaine a look when he had to stop at the traffic light. “Just…let us do this in our pace. Promise me, no more outings.”

“Hey, that last one was an honest mistake. I won’t do that again! Take all the time you need.” Gwaine rummaged through his own bag.

Arthur didn’t say anything until they pulled up at Gwaine’s house. “Here we are.”

Gwaine reached over and pushed a few little packages into Arthur’s hand. “Here, you might need this.”

“What…?” Arthur couldn’t keep the blush off his face when he noticed they were condoms and lube packages. “You always have this stuff in your bag?”

“Gotta be prepared!” Gwaine grinned. “You know you can’t handle him like a girl. Blokes don’t lubricate themselves.”

“Gwaine!” Arthur squirmed in his seat. Never in a million years did he want to have a conversation like this with his best friend.

“What? It’s important. If you just shove in, you’ll hurt him big time. Or…” he threw Arthur a sideways look, “…or he might hurt you big time. So…rule number one: Preparation.”

“Me??” Arthur’s eyes went wide. He never thought about it this way. He hadn’t thought about it very much at all. Couldn’t two blokes have sex without all the yucky parts?

“Yeah, whatever, that’s for you to decide. So…preparation…”

Arthur hardly listened to Gwaine going on and on about lube and fingers and stretching and more lube. His cheeks burned and so did the tips of his ears.

“Questions?” Finally, Gwaine seemed to be done.

“Errr…”

“Just send me a message if you have. I’m always there for you.” Gwaine patted Arthur’s shoulder, grabbed his bag and got out of the car. He waved once and turned to slowly make his way to the house.

Arthur stared down at his hand where he still held the little packages.

Practice didn’t leave him too much time to see Arthur in the next days, but they had agreed to sneak out of the after-game-party as soon as possible. Merlin liked those parties. No matter if the Dragons won or lost, they went out together. It was easier to process a loss when you were in the company of your team mates, able to analyze the mistakes and not having to blame it all on yourself. It was even more fun when they won, these fellas knew how to party!

But all Merlin wanted to do was spend time with Arthur. Since they hadn’t talked about it – they usually were too busy kissing – Merlin didn’t dare call him his boyfriend. Maybe Arthur didn’t even want that, so he wouldn’t touch the topic. It was okay to just be with him, feel him at his side and his lips on his own. But if Gwen would ask again, Merlin would admit that he had a huge crush. She knew him well enough to know that this translated into ‘I’m in love.’

“When will you be back?”

“Mam!” Merlin frowned. She knew it was game day and she knew they’d go to the pub later.

She smiled at him. “Just give me a call if you stay somewhere else, okay?”

He blushed. “Why would I stay somewhere else?” Not looking at his mother, Merlin stuffed his things into his backpack.

“Merlin Emrys!”

His head snapped up only to find her smiling gently at him. “Don’t you think I’ve noticed that you’ve been beaming in the past few weeks? And that you have said ‘Arthur’ a lot more often than you breathe?” She reached over and cupped his cheek. “It’s nice to see you happy. I just want you to be careful.”

“Mam…”

“Do you have everything?”

No way would he have a conversation with his mother about condoms and such! Merlin blushed deeply. “It’s not like that.”

“That it’s not like that doesn’t mean it will not turn into that. I just want you to be prepared.”

Merlin hugged his mother and put a smooch on her hair. “Don’t worry. I am prepared.”

It had been quite awkward to order the lube and condoms online and time it so his mother wouldn’t accept the package, but he had these things deep down in his backpack ever since he got them. He wouldn’t need them today, he was sure, but it felt like a naughty pleasure to know he had them.

“Good. Now go, be great, win this game and have fun!”

Hunith followed him to the door and looked after him as he mounted his bike and rode away.

It was a tough game; neither team willing to give as they charged down the ice towards the opposing team’s goals. More than once it was just Elyan’s quick reflexes that saved the Dragons from falling behind. Leon was checked badly and Lance broke two sticks skirmishing in the corners for the puck.

Merlin was highly focused and so into the match that he didn’t even notice that there were spectators who were cheering them on. He loved this state of mind, he didn’t have the time to think about it as Steve passed him the puck and he immediately started another offensive up the ice. A few dekes and turns later, he had to decide whether to try for a goal himself or to pass the puck to Arthur. It didn’t take him a split second to judge the situation and flip the puck over to Arthur at just the right speed for him to pick it up and score while the goalie was still focused on Merlin.

The scoreboard switched to 4-3 a few seconds before the final buzzer rang.

Merlin was totally shot, panting hard, but beaming like crazy. The members of the team hugged and patted each other’s helmets before they skated to the middle, where they shook hands with the other team before they made their way to the locker rooms.

There was lots of yelling and laughing as they showered and got dressed. More than one towel was snapped at Merlin’s butt for that assist and even more at Arthur, who just laughed it off by telling everyone they should know he was the greatest.

Even the Coach came in and congratulated them again on their win, which he usually saved for the next practice session.

“Go out tonight, guys, but don’t party too hard, the next game is just around the corner.” He winked at them and left.

Leon came in from Percy’s room and rubbed his hip.

“You okay?” Elyan frowned.

“Yeah, it’ll be okay, don’t worry.” He grinned. “Who’ll give me ride?”

Merlin would have loved to ride with Arthur, but he didn’t dare. He was in such a good mood that he might have done something inappropriate for just friends, like putting a hand on his knee or something. So he was happy when Elyan offered him a ride to the pub.

The place was already packed when they arrived and immediately they were drawn into conversations about plays and people bought them beers. Merlin knew he was a lightweight, so he just held on to the beer bottle and threw Arthur looks across the room.

“I don’t think you need the extra practice any longer, Merlin.” Lance grinned. “You’re so much part of the team now that nobody even notices that you haven’t trained with us from the beginning.”

Merlin beamed. “Thanks, Lance. But if this is just a way of sneaking out of the extra hours, you only need to say it!”

“He’s right,” Leon sipped from his beer. “You’re really good. And with those twirly tricks you do, you don’t need extra ice time. In fact, if we make it to the…”

“Ssssh!” Merlin and Lance went unison. As all sportsmen, they were very superstitious and ‘play-offs’ was the word of the week. They knew they had to win one more game to make it there and until they had that win under their belts, the word wouldn’t be mentioned.

“Yeah, if we make it there, and it looks good as you know, we all need our strength and our down-time.” Leon nodded. “Percy said we shouldn’t overdo it.”

Merlin still thought he needed the extra training time, but he could work out on the ice without the others, so he just nodded and then yawned widely. “Speaking of down-time, I think I should go home, it’s getting late.”

On cue, Arthur appeared. “I’m on my way home,” he announced.

Merlin tried not to smile. “Me too.”

“Want me to give you a ride?” Arthur busied himself with his jacket.

“How many beers did you have?” Merlin eyed him. He wanted to spend time with Arthur, but he knew better than to get into a car with a drunk driver.

“None, I’m driving.”

Lance chuckled and Leon grinned as Merlin nodded. “Okay, then you can give me a ride.”

They didn’t even make it to Arthur’s room before they were all over each other, kissing frantically in Arthur’s car in the driveway. Merlin had waited for this moment all week long. And now the adrenaline rushed through him and he didn’t know if it was left over from the exciting game or if it was just being with Arthur that made him so giddy.

“Let’s…get…inside.” Arthur whispered between kisses and Merlin nodded.

They snuck up the stairs, even though Arthur had assured Merlin that his father was on a business trip and his sister was at university. The employees wouldn’t care. But it was still thrilling to sneak to Arthur’s room at this time of day.

Arthur pulled Merlin along and as soon as the door to his room closed behind them, he pulled Merlin into his arms again. “You were fantastic out on the ice today.”

Merlin smiled. “So were you.”

“No, I mean it. While we still saw a bit of the twirl girl in recent games, you were 100 percent hockey player today.” He kissed the tip of Merlin’s nose, who immediately wriggled it in response.

“So you don’t want me to use my tricks if needed in the future?”

Grinning, Arthur leaned in. “You can use all your tricks on me.” With that, he pulled Merlin over to the bed. He was in too much of a good mood to think about what this could lead to, he just wanted to snog Merlin properly and his bed was so much more comfortable than the couch.

Merlin didn’t object, he dropped his backpack and got out of his jacket before he kicked off his shoes. Then he just flopped down on the bed and looked at Arthur, who was still struggling with the sleeve of his leather jacket.

“Very elegant,” he chuckled.

Arthur got rid of the jacket and crawled onto the bed. “Are you laughing at me?”

“Would never dare to do such a thing!” Merlin went for his most innocent look, but couldn’t help giggling, so that was a total fail.

Reaching for Merlin, Arthur silenced the giggles with a deep kiss. He’d wanted to do this all week long but they just didn’t have the time. Now they had and he wanted to make the best out of it.

Merlin wriggled closer to Arthur and moaned into the kiss. This was something he could never get enough of, he could do this all night.

They kissed lazily for a while, wrapped up in each other, oblivious to the rest of the world, but then Arthur started shifting. This was wonderful, but tonight, he needed more. So his hand found its way underneath Merlin’s arrangement of several t-shirts and the ever-present plaid shirt. His fingers were shaking as they touched warm, soft skin.

Holding his breath, Merlin tried not to squirm. Yes! He wanted Arthur to touch him badly. He’d done it after that game where he had the bruise, and Merlin had needed to feel these fingers back on him ever since. But they were so careful and uncertain and touched a certain spot on his side that tickled the most. So he couldn’t help giggling into their kiss.

Arthur drew back. Damn, he’d done something wrong. Merlin wasn’t supposed to giggle!

“Don’t…I’m just ticklish.” Merlin touched foreheads with him and smiled.

A smirk made its way onto Arthur’s face. “You’re giving away dangerous information.”

Merlin hadn’t thought about it this way. “Just…there.”

“Yeah, right,” Arthur grinned and kissed Merlin again. He needed to distract him from the ticklish part and since he knew Merlin didn’t mind, his fingers trembled not as badly as before when they found another patch of soft warm skin. He sighed into the kiss.

Merlin’s fingers found their way into Arthur’s hair as he pressed himself as closely to the other bloke as possible. He didn’t care that Arthur would feel his erection, he needed to be as close as possible to him. And those wicked fingers making their way up his side felt so good.

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered and that was all Arthur needed. He pulled back a bit and reached for the hem of Merlin’s shirts.

Once his t-shirts were gone, Merlin tugged at Arthur’s sweatshirt. Off with it! He had snuck glances in the shower and in the locker room, but he’d never dared to touch. Now seemed to be a good time. He swallowed hard when he finally saw Arthur’s chest.

“Merlin?” The way Merlin was looking at him was unsettling. Was there anything wrong? Did he have second thoughts? Arthur knew he should have them, but he didn’t. He wanted this with Merlin. But what would he do if Merlin got up now and left?

But then Merlin carefully touched his fingers to Arthur’s chest and all the nervous thoughts were gone. Nobody had ever touched him that way. Not even the girls he had been with, this was different. Arthur stretched and looked at Merlin.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Merlin whispered, his eyes still trained on Arthur’s chest, his fingers running through the fine blond hair.

Arthur gasped as Merlin’s fingertips brushed his nipple. “Merl…”

“Good?” Merlin smiled like a kid at Christmas.

“Do it again?”

Merlin obliged and Arthur arched into the touch that went straight to his dick. “Fuck.” But before he could utter another sound, Merlin’s lips were back on his and Arthur was lost. The mixture of kisses and those touches were almost too much and he felt an orgasm building.

Had he done something wrong? Merlin blinked confusedly as Arthur pulled back almost violently. “Sorry?”

A blush burned high on Arthur’s cheeks. He was supposed to be the macho hockey player and now he’d almost come in his pants just from some kissing and fumbling and Merlin hadn’t even touched him there. Oh Gods, he would come in an instant if he ever did!

“What…?”

“Nothing wrong. This…this is just so good…I…” How could he tell Merlin what he was doing to him?

Grinning, Merlin reached for him and pulled him close again. He kissed him softly and then started nibbling down the side of his neck.

“Merlin!” An almost pained sounding whisper. Arthur was close, so very close. And when Merlin’s hand slid down his side and played at the waistband of his jeans, Arthur gave a strangled cry. “Slow down!”

All he wanted to do was make Arthur feel good. But he was going about it all wrong. Merlin was biting the inside of his cheek. He felt stupid. All the things he read about this were obviously wrong. Arthur didn’t like them.

Once Arthur had calmed down a bit, biting his lower lip hard and thinking about the last algebra lesson, he turned towards Merlin, but didn’t know what to say. So he just reached over and pulled Merlin’s head close again. “Feels too good.” He hoped that Merlin would understand.

Merlin just looked at Arthur for a while before he nodded. Oh, Arthur had been too close, that’s why he jerked back like that! So he hadn’t done it wrong at all…he’d done it too well! A smile crept onto his face, but his eyes fell shut the moment Arthur touched him in the same way. He shuddered and sighed as Arthur took his time exploring his neck and chest with those wide calloused hands of his.

When his fingers reached the waistband of Merlin’s boxer briefs that peeked above his jeans teasingly, Arthur stopped all movement. He was so hard that the way his dick pushed against his zipper started hurting and from what he saw, Merlin was just as hard. But could he just reach for him? He’d never touched another bloke’s cock, this was a big step.

As he felt Arthur hesitating, Merlin opened his eyes and gave a little nod. He wanted to feel Arthur’s fingers everywhere. Not that he had done this with anyone else. At least not in a while. But now he didn’t need to think about it, he just wanted to feel. When Arthur still didn’t move, he reached over and slid his own hand along Arthur’s waistline.

Taking a deep breath, Arthur knew that this was what he wanted. It didn’t matter that he’d never done it before, that he might never do it with any other guy besides Merlin. Carefully, he opened the button of Merlin’s jeans and slid his fingers under the waistband.

Merlin held Arthur’s gaze as he first caressed Arthur’s butt through his jeans and then opened the fly and zip. He wasn’t the expert here, but he needed to see Arthur’s reaction. He might not get another chance if he screwed this up. But even though Arthur’s look was anything but certain, he didn’t pull away. The way Arthur sucked in his belly was almost funny, there was nothing to suck in, and Merlin tried not to grin as he pushed his hand inside. A little surprised sound escaped him as his hand cupped Arthur’s hardness through his briefs.

First he looked into Merlin’s eyes but then his gaze followed Merlin’s fingers and Arthur gasped when he felt them on his prick. Okay, technically they were still separated by a layer of cotton, but it already felt fantastic. Experimentally, he moved against Merlin’s hand and moaned loudly.

Wow, that felt…Merlin’s mind couldn’t find the right words for this feeling. He didn’t wait for Arthur’s permission and pulled the briefs down enough to free the erection. He wanted to look, touch, feel, taste, but just holding it in his hand was crazy enough. It didn’t matter that Arthur didn’t do the same to him, he just wanted to make Arthur feel good.

“Merl…” Arthur was too breathless to even say the name. And he didn’t really know what he wanted to say. He knew he should do this to Merlin, too, but he couldn’t really move as Merlin’s hand started stroking up and down. He would come any second if he kept that up.

He needed to get his prick out of its confinement and so Merlin shoved his pants down far enough to free himself. As he turned back to Arthur, he almost yelled out when their erections accidentally touched. More on instinct than on anything else, he wrapped his hand around both their cocks and gasped again at the feeling. So this was what it felt like to feel someone else’s skin there.

Arthur frowned as Merlin shuffled around but then his eyes went wide when he realized that it wasn’t just Merlin’s hand that was back on him, but his hot stiff cock, too. He shuddered and grabbed Merlin’s shoulder as Merlin started to stroke both of them. It only took Arthur seconds to come harder than he ever had before, Merlin’s name on his lips.

Merlin came, too, the new sensations too much for him to last any longer. Fireworks exploded behind his closed lids and then he went all slack. He heard someone panting and didn’t know if it was him or Arthur as he slowly drifted off to sleep.

Merlin woke up to a strange but familiar sound. Who was calling him in the middle of the night? And where was his mobile?

And where was he?

It took him a moment to remember the evening and to identify the snoring right next to him as Arthur’s.

Where had he left his backpack? Ah, there it was, right next to the bed. He fumbled for his mobile and sat up. Fuck!

“Mam?”

“Merlin, where are you?” She sounded worried.

He sighed. “How late is it?”

“It’s 2 AM and you promised to call. Are you all right?”

Was he all right? That was the understatement of the year. He was fantastic! “I…yeah, I’m sorry. We…we fell asleep watching TV.”

“Merlin Emrys, I know exactly when you’re lying!”

“I’m…I…”

“Can you stay there? I don’t want you to ride your bike home at this time of night.” Oh, good, worried Mam was so much better than accusing Mam.

“Yeah, I can stay. I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Okay, we’ll talk later.”

“Love you, Mam.”

The last thing he wanted to think about now was a serious talk with his mother about this.

“Everything all right?” Arthur’s voice sounded sexy when he was sleepy.

“Yeah. Can I…”

“Can you…?”

“Can I stay?”

Arthur sat up and kicked the jeans off the bed. “Where would you go?”

“Dunno…home? If you wanted me to leave…” Please say no. Please, please say no.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Come back here.” Arthur slumped back and scrambled around for the blanket. He was already half asleep again when Merlin had kicked off his remaining clothes and snuggled against him.

Gwaine tied his boots up and took a deep breath.

“Are you sure you should do this already?” Arthur was out on the ice, just skating back and forth.

“No, but I have to.” Gwaine stood at the board and then took a step out on the ice.

“Did your doctor approve this?”

When his friend didn’t answer, Arthur frowned. “Get off the ice.”

“Just a few laps, Arthur. They can’t hurt.”

“Oh yes, they can. I’d rather not have you back on the ice this season than have you injured forever!”

By the careful way Gwaine skated, Arthur knew that he wasn’t fit enough to do this. But he understood how badly Gawine must have wanted this. He sighed. “Only two laps, maximum, okay?”

Biting his lip, Gwaine nodded. It felt good to be back out here, but he knew his knee wasn’t stable enough just yet to really skate, no matter how much he wanted it.

So he finished his two laps and left the rink, sitting down on a bench.

Arthur followed and sat down, too.

“You’re in a good mood.” Gwaine grinned and didn’t even attempt to take off his skates, enjoying the feeling a bit longer.

“Am I?” Arthur couldn’t keep the grin off his face.

“So…you got somewhere with Merlin?”

Leaning back, Arthur spread his arms over the back rest.

“Oh, come on, spill it. How was it?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Gwaine laughed. “That good?”

“Better!”

“So it was good that I gave you the condoms and lube, wasn’t it?”

Arthur blushed. “We didn’t need them.”

“You…,” Gwaine looked at him stupidly for a moment before he got it. “Oh, okay. I get it.” He reached over and patted Arthur’s shoulder. “I always told you that you’d like it.”

“Oh, shut up.” Arthur knew he liked Merlin; that was the reason.

“So…you two are an item now?”

“Guess so.”

“It’s good to see you happy, mate.”

Merlin couldn’t keep the grin off his face. His mam had given him a talk about responsibility and how worried she was and that he should just call or send a text or tell her in advance when he would stay somewhere in the future and he knew she was right. But that couldn’t lessen his good mood.

He had a long chat with Gwen, who for once understood the need to type. No way could he have told her about this on the phone. She was happy for him but still a bit concerned because they weren’t officially a couple. Merlin didn’t mind, as long as he had Arthur to himself.

It wasn’t easy to go back to being mates in the locker room and on the ice, but aside from some smiles Merlin sent Arthur’s way, he thought they’d managed perfectly.

They won that last essential game and the noise level in the locker room was even higher than usual. Everyone was happy and talking about the play-offs and how they’d just mopped the floor with the other team.

“Okay, Dragons!” That was Coach Kilgarrah’s usual way of getting their attention.

Someone turned the music down and they all gathered in the middle of the room, in various states of being dressed.

“Great game today, men! That was a solid team effort, just the way we worked on all year long. Elyan, great saves. Arthur, Craig, good goals. Merlin, nice assists.” The large man grinned. “You’ve got real competition next year for first string Center, Gwaine.”

Everyone laughed, even Gwaine.

“You deserve to celebrate tonight. But I expect you all to be back here 100% on Monday. We have a cup to work for.” With a sharp nod, the coach turned and went to his office, but they couldn’t miss the small smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

Merlin was completely shot, but wired at the same time. It had been a tough game and he had given his all and he knew as soon as the adrenaline wore off, he’d sleep like a stone.

But of course he went to the pub with the team. The coach had given him praise and that alone made him beam. Arthur kept close to him all evening long, they toasted each other and when Merlin started to yawn, Arthur offered to take him home.

“They will notice when you keep doing that.” Merlin smiled as he fastened his seatbelt.

“What?”

“You don’t drink so you can drive and you always offer to take me home.” Merlin’s heart was beating faster.

“So?” Arthur worried his lower lip. They had agreed on not telling anyone, but Merlin was right, if he continued acting like this, the team would find out sooner than later.

“You don’t mind?” Merlin looked over expectantly. He was okay with their arrangement as long as he got enough Arthur-time. But of course he wouldn’t have minded if they didn’t have to be so careful.

“To be honest,” Arthur said after a moment of silence, “I’m not sure. It’s still all very fresh. I…I want this, I really do, but I’m not sure if I can share it with them yet.”

Merlin nodded. He knew this and he had said he was okay with it, but somehow he was disappointed.

“Soon, Merlin, okay?”

Nodding again, Merlin blinked when he noticed that they once again where at Arthur’s house. “Arthur…I’m…”

“I’m tired, too. Let’s just watch a bit of TV?”

It didn’t take them five minutes snuggled up on the bed to be fast asleep while a detective chased the bad guy across the screen.

They were two weeks into the play-offs, had won some games and lost a few, but it had always been enough to move on to the next level.

Arthur loved the thrill of this. He wanted to hold that trophy at the end of the season, that was what he had worked for so hard all year long.

And having Merlin at his side made everything so much better, even though he hated to see how the players of the other teams went after him. Of course it was a known fact now that the Dragons had a figure skater amongst them and that he had a few tricks up his sleeve that other hockey players just weren’t able to do, but was that a reason to check and gun for him every chance they got?

Merlin managed to outskate most of the attacks, he was just as fast as he was elegant in his moves and dekes to get out of holds or to escape wayward sticks. But Arthur just about bit through his mouthguard when he noticed yet another bully pressing Merlin against the boards, trying to hurt him with his stick away from the eyes of the refs.

He skated over and ignored the referees whistle and shoved the other player. “Get off of him!”

“What’s your problem?”

“You! I said let go of him!”

And before the referee could intervene, they had tossed their sticks and gloves on the ice. Arthur didn’t like fighting like this. But this arsehole had attacked Merlin for no reason! He could have injured him and would have gotten away with it! So he had one hand fisted in the other’s jersey and the other one connecting with the other player’s jaw. But the other player didn’t give, he was fighting back.

“Is he such a sissy? Not able to fight for himself?” The other spit out between hits.

Merlin tried to separate them. “Stop it! Stop this right now!”

But Arthur saw red and he just couldn’t let go. He knew Merlin could fight for himself, but this guy was much taller and broader, Merlin wouldn’t have stood a chance.

“Does the sissy twirl girl need his boyfriend to get him out of trouble?”

Arthur grunted as he felt a fist on his own jaw and just kept hitting aimlessly. It didn’t matter, as long as he was able to connect his fist with some body part of that idiot.

The referees finally managed to separate them and of course, they were both sent off the ice for five minutes for fighting and Arthur had gotten an additional two minutes for instigating.

Sitting in his confinement, Arthur hung his head. What the fuck had he just done? He was known as a fair player, unsportsmanlike conduct was nothing anyone connected with him. He had won a trophy as fairest player in the league last year. And now he completely flipped out because someone was attacking a team member. No, not just a team member: Merlin.

Swallowing hard, Arthur didn’t even dare to peek over at Coach Kilgarrah. He knew he was in for some serious yelling. And he knew he deserved it.

He pretended to watch the game continue without him and made a face when Elyan had to reach behind him to retrieve the puck and the Gryphons lead the game with 2-1. That first goal had been his fault, too. He had been paying so much attention to Merlin that he didn’t react on time. He needed to get his head back into the game. Which was difficult with Merlin right there.

Trying to focus, Arthur stepped back out on the ice when his time was up and with more luck than anything else they managed to turn the game and won 2-3.

Coach Killgarah paced his office and Arthur squirmed uncomfortably. He didn’t even get the chance to get changed. He was still in his uniform and even on skates when the Coach had yelled for him.

But the silence he was greeted with was even more unsettling than the yelling.

“What is wrong with you, Arthur?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, Sir.”

“We better find out soon or you’ll ruin this for yourself. If I ever see you doing anything like that again, I’ll bench you. And you know what that means.”

Yes, he knew. If Coach decided to bench him for the rest of the season, he wouldn’t be part of the winning team – if they won this. It would mean that he’d have shattered everything he had worked for so hard.

“I know that you are friends with Merlin, Arthur, but he is a good player. He doesn’t need a nanny out on the ice; he knows what to do when he’s attacked. He might have his own unique way of dealing with it, he does not need a bodyguard.”

Arthur started to fidget. How much did Coach Kilgarrah know? Did anyone see them together? Had Gwaine once again opened his big mouth?

“I’d have done it for everyone else, too.” That was a lie and Arthur knew that the Coach knew that, too.

“Nonsense. Don’t give me crap like that, Arthur. You’ve never done this before. For anyone. Whatever this is between you and Merlin…,” Coach gave him a long look.

“I…we…” Damn, he wouldn’t tell the coach about this. It was private.

“I don’t care, Arthur. As long as you keep it away from the ice. You are good, Arthur; we all know that. You could be great if you chose this as your career path. Don’t let it be ruined just because you have feelings for someone .”

Arthur blushed. Feelings. Yes, they were the issue. There were so many of them lately and sometimes he hardly knew how to contain them. But Coach was right; there was no space on the ice for this. He had failed in his role as captain.

“Sorry, Coach,” he mumbled.

“And talk to Merlin about this. I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t want a chaperone out on the ice, either. In the beginning, I thought he was just a compromise...a way we could get by. But he has developed into a valuable player. The team needs both of you at your best. And I expect you to have that talk in private. Understood?”

Nodding, Arthur waited to be dismissed. He had screwed up. Not only his own record, but he’d also let down the team with his actions. This wouldn’t happen again.

When he came back to the locker room, Merlin was dressed and waiting for him. Most everyone else was gone already, but Arthur didn’t even look at Merlin. He didn’t know if he could at the moment.

“Are you okay?” The concern in Merlin’s voice killed him. Merlin was supposed to be as angry as Coach Kilgarrah.

“Yeah.” Arthur sat down to untie his skates after getting rid of his jersey and protective gear. “I…I think I won’t go to the pub tonight. I’m going home.”

If that confused or hurt Merlin, he didn’t let it show. “Okay.”

He wanted to reach out for him, pull him against his chest, bury his nose in his neck and seek comfort just in Merlin’s presence, but Arthur didn’t find it in him to say anything as Merlin took his backpack and left.

“Merlin?” Hunith came from the living room, a little frown on her face.

“Hi, Mam.” Toeing his shoes off, Merlin hung up his jacket at the same time before he reached for his backpack again.

“You’re home early.”

“Yeah.”

“Is everything all right?”

She knew him too well.

“Just tired.” Merlin nodded and made his way up the stairs.

He closed the door, dropped his back pack and just threw himself across his bed. What the hell had happened today? They had been fighting hard and yes, that stupid idiot had attacked him every chance he got. But he’d had it under control. And then Arthur had charged like a raging bull and couldn’t be calmed down. Why on earth had he done that?

On one hand, it was flattering that Arthur would fight for him like that. But on the other…he didn’t need this. He could fight for himself. He was no damsel in distress that needed to be rescued.

Merlin didn’t even react when his mam knocked and then brought in tea and cookies. She just sat down at the side of the bed, like she’d always done when he had troubles. When he didn’t say anything, she gently touched his shoulder, got up and left again. Merlin buried his face in his pillow. Why was everything so complicated?

His mobile beeped. Was that Arthur?

Where are you? We need you here in the pub! Oh, just Gwaine.

He typed a quick “Didn’t feel like it, have fun.” back and tossed the mobile onto the mattress next to his pillow.

It didn’t take long for the device to beep again. What did Gwaine want now? But it wasn’t Gwaine. It was Lance, asking the exact same question and just as Merlin typed back the exact same answer, Leon sent a message, asking for his whereabouts.

Merlin smiled sadly. He knew the blokes didn’t need him to celebrate at the pub, but it was nice to know that the others missed him, too. He just couldn’t bring himself to go.

Talk to Arthur and straighten this crap out. Merlin stared at Leon’s message for a moment before just sending a ? back.

His mobile rang shortly after.

“Yeah?”

“Leon here. Listen, Merlin. We all know that you and Arthur have a thing going, so just go talk to him before it breaks both of you.”

“Excuse me?” They all knew? Gwaine! Gwaine had told them! And why would it break them both? Arthur didn’t feel like spending time with him tonight; it had been a tough game, maybe he was just tired after the talk with the Coach?

“Oh, don’t give me the innocent face. He runs to your rescue – not that I’m saying you needed that – gets yelled at by the coach and then you leave without him and don’t show at the pub. Straighten this out, will you?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Merlin stared. Leon was calling from the pub, he could tell by the noises he heard in the background. And by the way he was yelling into his phone, Merlin was pretty sure everyone could hear him.

“I think you know. Just don’t mope in your room; do something. Arthur’s too much of a…what do you call him all the time? A clotpole…to know how to deal with this.”

And then the connection was interrupted and Merlin sat in the dark.

Arthur?

Arthur’s head shot up when he heard the message pling up on his screen. He’d been sitting in his room in the dark since he’d come back, staring out of the window, trying to figure out why exactly he had snapped like that on the ice. He felt so bad about it, it had been pure luck that they managed to turn the game or else it would have been his fault alone if the team didn’t manage to advance in the play-offs.

He knew that Coach Kilgarrah was right. He shouldn’t let his emotions for Merlin influence how he played. But how did Coach know about these feelings anyway? Hadn’t they been careful enough?

Ignoring all the messages on his mobile – everyone asked where he was, as if they needed him to get drunk or something – he’d sat in the dark until the message showed up on his screen. It was too early for any of the blokes to be home already. So this could only be one person…Merlin.

hey

Are you all right?

Arthur smiled. He could practically see Merlin’s concerned face.

don’t know. You?

Don’t know. Can I come over?

Could he? Arthur wasn’t sure. This was what had gotten him into this situation. Before Merlin, he hadn’t been distracted.

I understand.

No! That wasn’t what he wanted either!

He grabbed the jacket from where he’d tossed it on the couch and fumbled his car keys out of the pocket on his way to the car. He needed to see Merlin.

“Arthur!” Hunith opened the door to the late visitor and was surprised to see her son’s boyfriend standing there. “Are you all right?”

Why was everyone asking if he was all right tonight? Running a hand through his hair nervously, he gave her a wry smile. “Good evening, Hunith. Is Merlin there?”

She glanced towards the stairs. “Yes, he came home rather early. Why don’t you come in?”

“I need to talk to him.”

A little smile on her face, Hunith waved him in and explained how he could find Merlin’s room. Arthur was up the stairs before she was finished. He knew where Merlin’s room was. Knocking on the door, he wasn’t sure what he would tell Merlin. Or if Merlin wanted to see him at all.

“Merlin?”

Merlin groaned. Now he was hearing voices! To make a very bad day worse, Arthur hadn’t even reacted when he had asked if he could come over. He didn’t want to see him at all! And now he imagined Arthur’s voice.

The door opened a crack and when Merlin looked up, it was Arthur standing there.

“I…can I come in? You probably don’t want to see me right now, but I need to…” Arthur didn’t know how to finish his sentence. See you? Talk to you? Tell you something? He just didn’t know.

Merlin sat up and nodded, but didn’t dare to smile. He wanted to see Arthur, wanted to wrap his arms around him, wanted to tell him that he could take care of himself, wanted to tell him that he liked him so much that he missed him when they weren’t together. But why had Arthur come? Most likely to break this off, to dump him.

Without opening the door much further, Arthur squeezed himself into the room and looked around. So this was where Merlin lived. The whole room was smaller than the area of his room where the bed stood; even Merlin’s bed was smaller than his. The whole place was stuffed with books and magazines, the walls plastered with posters, a pinboard nearly falling down under the weight of all the things pinned to it. His eyes caught on the photo of Merlin and him, from that first goal they’d done together, both of them smiling happily. The very same photo Arthur had started to wank over and which he secretly carried around on his mobile.

Merlin waited for Arthur to be done inspecting his room. He hadn’t expected anyone, so it was a bit more chaotic than it could have been and it was so much smaller than Arthur’s room. He didn’t even have a couch; the only place to sit aside from the bed was the chair at his desk.

“Merlin, I…I don’t know.” Arthur just slumped into the chair.

So this was it, Arthur would dump him. Over a stupid incident on the ice. It already hurt like hell.

“I don’t know what got into me this afternoon. But when I saw this arsehole attacking you over and over…”

Looking up, Merlin didn’t know what to make of this. “I could handle it.”

“Thing is…I know! I know you are perfectly capable of handling such situations. You’re not the fragile twirl girl I thought you were in the beginning. You are a Dragon. One who knows unique moves, too. And yet…” He hung his head, not even sure what he was trying to say.

“You were pretty scary out there.”

“I just saw red. Nobody attacks you like that and gets away with it!” Arthur tried a crooked smile.

Merlin kept silent for a moment. “Nobody ever did anything like that for me.”

“You mean…you’re not angry?”

“Of course I am angry, Arthur! You made me look like a little girl out there! I can fight my own fights and I chose to not do so with fists. But…,” Merlin sighed and couldn’t help but smile, “nobody ever fought for me. And even though this was bullshit…,” he grinned, “…it felt nice.”

Arthur laughed when he heard Merlin swear. He knew he had screwed up. But Merlin wasn’t half as angry as he pretended to be.

“Just…promise me one thing.”

“And that would be?”

“Don’t do it again? It was too difficult to stay focused on the game and I think everyone knows about us now.” Merlin threw Arthur an uncertain look.

Arthur chewed on his lower lip. “Would you mind everyone knowing?”

Shaking his head, Merlin still looked at Arthur. No, he wouldn’t mind at all, but he wasn’t sure about the consequences.

“Then screw them all. Let them know. I’m sick of hiding. It only leads to stuff like this afternoon. What do you say?” Arthur didn’t know where his sudden courage had come from, but he knew he meant what he said.

“Are you sure? What about the consequences?” Merlin’s heart was beating faster. Would he finally be able to take Arthur’s hand while they were in public or just put a smooch on his cheek when he felt like it?

“We’ll deal with them.”

“And the team?”

“I think they all know already.”

Merlin reached over, took Arthur’s hand and pulled him over to the bed, causing Arthur to almost fall onto him. Just as Arthur was about to kiss him, he pulled back and looked at him. “You still haven’t promised.”

“Promised what?”

“That you won’t do that again. That we keep this off the ice.”

Arthur knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he at least had every intention to try. “Promise.”

A heavy weight fell off Merlin’s shoulders and he smiled happily as he leaned in for a kiss.

Skates scraped over the ice and sticks were hit against the boards or wherever they touched the rink. There were yells and cheers but Arthur hardly realized that there were a lot more spectators than they usually got.

He blinked the sweat off his eyes and charged down the field towards the goal. The last game against the Icebergs had been tough but for some reason they seemed to have lost the will to fight today. At a score of 4-1 this still wasn’t a reason to slow down. They needed to win this in order to stay in the play-offs.

Of course he threw glances over to Merlin once in a while, but he managed to keep from interfering when once again, Merlin was checked. He knew he could handle this himself. Even though he was used to it by now, he still grinned when Merlin once again did one of those odd almost-figure-skating jumps to escape a close situation.

Leon and Lance had greeted them with wide smiles as they arrived together. From all the messages they both had received after that last match, it was pretty clear that the whole team knew they were together, so it made no sense to keep up the pretense. Gwaine even offered to switch lockers with Merlin, so they could ‘move in with each other’, but Merlin had thrown his glove in Gwaine’s direction and laughed.

It had been much easier than Arthur had expected. Of course, there was teasing and the same blokes that had been against Merlin being on the team in the beginning had a few stupid comments, but once again Gwaine had stepped in and given them a piece of his mind. Arthur had given a little pep talk that no matter who liked whom, they needed to be a team out on the ice and it seemed to have worked. They played better than ever and when the final buzzer rang, they had crushed the Icebergs to tiny little ice cubes.

The obligatory celebration at O’Leary’s was even louder than usual. They’d gotten so far, everybody was keen on going to the finale. They laughed and cheered Gwaine on, who sat in the middle, beer in hand, and was telling the story of how he saw the game from the stands.

Merlin didn’t care too much about the story. Not that he didn’t like listening to Gwaine, he was a great story-teller – if you were willing to not take everything too seriously – but his mind was somewhere else today. Or rather, with someone else. With the blond bloke right next to him. He threw a look around and when he thought nobody was watching, Merlin carefully slid his hand into Arthur’s. He didn’t know what to expect. Would Arthur pull away? Or was it enough for him to be standing close when they were in public?

Arthur felt himself smiling when he felt Merlin’s fingers entwining with his. He chewed on his lower lip and threw Merlin a grin. He’d wanted to do this since they had entered the pub, but wasn’t sure how Merlin would react. Squeezing Merlin’s fingers, he took a sip of his drink.

Now that they touched, it didn’t seem to be enough and after a while Merlin got restless. He wanted to kiss Arthur, reward him for that great goal, be close – preferably with their clothes off. Some of their team mates had noticed that they were holding hands now, but none of them blinked an eye. He didn’t want to ruin that by snogging Arthur in front of everybody.

Arthur finished his Coke and looked at Merlin. He felt that Merlin had started fidgeting and grinned. “We’re going home,” he announced and Merlin blushed deeply.

Could he be more obvious? Why hadn’t he shouted “We’re going to have sex now!”? Merlin felt the tips of his ears burning.

Of course, the teasing set in right away. Everyone wished them fun and Gwaine reminded him of ‘the things’, but Arthur didn’t care. He wanted to be alone with Merlin.

They stumbled into Arthur’s room a short while later, already trying to get out of their clothes in the hallway. In the beginning, Merlin was always careful not to make any noise until they had reached Arthur’s room. But he’d learned that hardly anybody lived in this house anyway and that Arthur’s area was so far away from anyone else’s that it didn’t matter if they were noisy or not.

Arthur had his hands under Merlin’s shirts before Merlin had managed to take his jacket off, their lips locked in a deep kiss.

“Bed?” Arthur panted.

Merlin nodded and freed himself long enough to toe his runners off and pull his shirts over his head. He swallowed hard when he saw that Arthur was naked already and fumbled with the button of his jeans.

He liked to watch Merlin getting out of his clothes and hoped he would be able to talk him into doing a slow sexy strip for him one day, but Arthur didn’t dare to utter such wishes yet. He wanted Merlin any way he could get him and all the kissing and rubbing, nibbling and stroking in the past weeks had been fantastic.

Standing in front of Arthur’s bed naked, Merlin chewed his lower lip. “What?”

“Nothing. I just like looking at you.”

“That’s odd.”

“What’s odd about wanting to look at my boyfriend?”

Merlin stared. They had never talked about it; it was enough to know that they were together. None of them had ever used the b-word and his heart was beating a bit faster. “I’m…your boyfriend?” A slow smile crept onto his face.

“You sure aren’t my girlfriend, are you?” Arthur scrambled up and leaned his back against the headboard. He’d assumed that they were boyfriends, was there anything wrong with it?

The wide beam on Merlin’s face told him the answer and it took only mere seconds for Merlin to be in his arms, kissing him wildly.

“I like being your boyfriend.” Merlin took Arthur’s face between his hands and put little kisses on his lips. “I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

“Me neither,” Arthur chuckled and stroked his hands up Merlin’s sides. “But I really like it.”

Merlin kissed down Arthur’s neck and down his chest, teasing Arthur’s nipples with his tongue, the way he found out drew little sighs out of Arthur. He nibbled down his abdomen and loved to feel the muscle moving underneath the warm skin.

When he felt Arthur’s erection against his chin, he pulled back and looked at it. He knew that Arthur didn’t like being ‘inspected’ as he called it. But he couldn’t get enough of the most perfect dick he’d ever seen.

Arthur just stared and squirmed a bit. It was still a bit awkward to have Merlin look at his most intimate parts like that. But then Merlin looked up at him and there was something in his eyes that totally blew Arthur away. Mesmerized, he watched as Merlin lowered his head again and gave his dick a tentative lick.

When his tongue connected with the hot skin of Arthur’s cock, Merlin closed his eyes. He had absolutely no idea what he was doing; he just knew he wanted to try. The blokes on the internet always started sucking right away, deep-throating their partners, but Merlin doubted he would be able to do such a thing. He gagged when the dentist touched his tongue with that little mirror thing a bit too far in the back. How would he ever be able to take Arthur in all the way? So he just ran his tongue up the length and hoped Arthur would like it.

That there had been hand-jobs and a lot of frottage lately had helped Arthur to hold on a bit longer, but damn, Merlin was so hot that he still didn’t have the stamina he would have loved to have. And just the sight of him going down on him was enough to bring him close. But that evil hot little tongue that left wet streaks up his cock made him grit his teeth in an effort not to come right there and then. And now his devil of a boyfriend blew across the moisture he’d left. “Fuck!”

Merlin peeked up at Arthur and grinned. He might not be able to act like a porn star, but it seemed he was doing okay if the sounds Arthur was making were anything to go by. He wasn’t sure if he could handle it like this when Arthur came, but he was willing to find out. So he stuck his tongue out and touched the few drops of liquid at the tip of Arthur’s cock. They felt odd on his tongue, but it wasn’t half bad.

Where did those strange sounds come from? Oh, that was probably himself. Arthur bit his lower lip when Merlin looked up at him with such a dirty grin on his face that he thought he was lost. Who’d have thought that his pure, innocent Merlin had this in him? And then that wicked tongue licked at the slit where pre-come was already leaking out and Arthur’s eyes went wide. “Merl…,” he panted out and dug his hand in Merlin’s hair. He needed the connection and hoped he could give Merlin a fair warning when he came.

Just as Merlin wrapped his lips around the head of Arthur’s cock and tried to feel his way with his tongue, he felt a sharp tug at his hair. He pulled back in time but felt bereft as he watched Arthur’s dick pulse and spurt out semen.

Nobody had ever done anything like this to him and Arthur just couldn’t hold back any longer. He yelled out when he felt Merlin’s hot mouth leaving his skin and the cool air of the room hitting his heated cock. He panted hard and wasn’t able to utter a sound. What were you supposed to say after this?

Merlin looked up at Arthur and then slid his fingers through the sticky mess on Arthur’s belly. He wasn’t sure he could have swallowed this, so he was grateful for the warning, but he still wanted to taste it. So he sat back on his haunches and sucked the come off his fingertips.

Opening his eyes just when Merlin did that, Arthur moaned again. That was the damn most fucking sexy thing he’d ever seen. “Merlin…”

The grin was back on Merlin’s face as he leaned forwards and kissed Arthur, letting him taste himself on his tongue. It wasn’t a bad taste, Merlin was sure he could get used to this. But he was achingly hard himself; sucking Arthur was such a turn-on.

Arthur smiled into the kiss as he felt Merlin rubbing against him. So he reached over and after a few hard strokes, Merlin had plastered his side in come, too.

Blinking his eyes open in the dark room, Merlin groaned. They should have cleaned up before they fell asleep, but it had been so mind-blowing that none of them had been able to move. And now the mess had dried and he was kind of stuck to Arthur.

Arthur chuckled when he felt Merlin moving about.

“What’s so funny?”

“You, trying to un-stick yourself.”

“This stings, there’s hair involved, you know?”

“Oh, I do know.” Arthur grinned.

“You do? Did you do this with anyone before?” Merlin stopped all movement, his heart hammering in his chest. Had Arthur only told him he was the first man he was with?

“No, but I did a lot of wanking before you came along.”

With a last ‘ouch’ Merlin freed himself and made his way over to the bathroom, a smile on his face. “Good.”

When he came back with a moist cloth and a towel, he tossed the things at Arthur, who caught them and started cleaning himself.

They crawled under the blanket and Merlin melted back against Arthur’s side.

“Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you do that with anyone before?”

Merlin pulled back and looked at Arthur. “No, why do you ask?”

“It was fantastic. So…maybe you’ve practiced it before?”

Now Merlin pulled all the way back and sat up. “I didn’t! I told you I haven’t been with anyone like that before!”

Arthur reached for him and pulled him back against him, putting a soft kiss on his lips. “You seem to be a natural. I just…”

“You wonder what I’ve done before, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re a possessive prat.”

“I’m your possessive prat.”

Merlin couldn’t help but chuckle.

“So, who were you with?”

The question hung in the dark between them. Arthur knew he had no right to ask, but Merlin was his. And if he knew tricks like the one he just showed, Arthur wanted to know who had taught him.

“Nobody.”

“You never kissed anyone before me?”

Merlin drew patterns with his fingers on Arthur’s chest. “That I did. Years ago. Not in a long time.” This brought back memories and he sighed.

“Who was he?” Merlin sounded sad and Arthur pulled him a bit closer.

“He was nobody; I don’t even remember what he looked like. I was thirteen and I was experimenting; it meant nothing.” He took a deep breath. “But it changed everything.”

“How so?”

“It made my dad leave us.”

Arthur blinked. “How could you kissing a bloke make your dad leave you?”

“He saw us.”

When Merlin didn’t continue, Arthur stroked his upper arm. “And then?”

“He didn’t mention it. Two weeks later, he had moved out.”

“But not because of you. I mean…he would have said something if he didn’t like it.”

“No, he was not like that. He saw me kissing a boy and left.”

“Nonsense,” Arthur frowned. “You know, when we do something that father doesn’t approve of, he yells and then tells us what he expects us to do. And only then gives us the silent treatment until we’ve done what he wants. He wouldn’t just leave.”

“He did. And after that, I couldn’t play hockey anymore.”

Arthur perked up. “You quit hockey because your father left?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t get it.” Arthur tried hard to understand what Merlin was telling him, but it just didn’t make sense.

After a sigh and a moment of silence, Merlin started telling Arthur about how embarrassed he had been and that his father hadn’t said a word. How he couldn’t look at him for fear of seeing contempt in his eyes and that hockey had everything to do with his father. So after he’d left, he just couldn’t bring himself to put on the helmet and grab the stick any longer.

“But I missed skating so much. So I switched to figure skating.”

“What did your mom say?”

“She thought all of this was bullshit.”

Arthur couldn’t help but chuckle. The few times he’d met Hunith, she didn’t seem like someone who would call anything ‘bullshit’.

“Not funny.”

“Yes, it is funny to imagine your mom saying ‘bullshit’.”

Even Merlin had to smile at the image. “True. She didn’t say it that way.”

“I understood that much.”

“But it was basically what she was saying. Told me that she and dad had problems before and that they couldn’t fix them, so it was better that he left.”

“And it had nothing to do with you.” Arthur was convinced of that.

Merlin nodded. “I didn’t believe her for a long time.”

“And now you do?”

“Sometimes I’m not sure, but…”

“You don’t mind having a boyfriend, you’ve switched back to hockey and I don’t have the feeling you don’t like it.”

“I love it.” Merlin admitted. It had been like he had cut off a part of himself without even noticing how much he missed that part. Now it was back and he felt like a whole person again.

Arthur smiled. “It had nothing to do with you. And it’s good that you decided to become a Dragon. Otherwise we’d never have met.”

Merlin snuggled closer and buried his nose in Arthur’s neck. “Mmhmm.”

“Merlin?”

“Hm?”

“Thanks for telling me this.”

Merlin just put a little kiss on Arthur’s neck.

“Merlin?”

“Hm?” He nuzzled the soft skin and breathed in the smell of Arthur’s hair.

“I…you know…I really like you.”

Merlin grunted as the air was pressed out of his lungs when that huge goon checked him into the boards again. Fuck! Once again he hadn’t been fast enough to escape the attack. He bit down hard on his mouth guard and frowned.

“Take that, fag.”

A stick was rammed against his back.

“Get off our ice, fairy.” The other player skated away.

So that was what this was about. Merlin could deal with the attacks, but this was personal. Or rather…not personal since Merlin was sure it had nothing to do with him as a person. But obviously news had gotten out that he was gay and some blokes from the other team didn’t take that news well.

Merlin took a deep breath and concentrated on the puck again. The only way to beat them was to win this game with technique and finesse. He wouldn’t let them scare him off the ice.

Arthur fumed when he saw that they tried to take Merlin out. They didn’t miss a single opportunity to slash or check him. His stomach was cramping in anger and his jaw was set tight. He’d promised Merlin not to get in a fight again, so he tried to hold back.

With another elegant turn, Merlin got out of a hold and charged down the ice, jumping over a stick that was clearly not aimed at the puck. He would show them what the little gay figure skater boy could do.

When Merlin passed the puck over, Arthur wasn’t prepared. He had been too busy watching yet another attack and the Weasels snatched it from right under his nose, charged down the ice and scored. Fuck!

“Concentrate!” Merlin snarled when he passed him by. It wasn’t happening again, was it? Arthur wouldn’t do anything stupid like ‘protecting’ him again, would he? Merlin didn’t mind Arthur taking care of his bruises after the game, but he wouldn’t allow any more crap like when Arthur had gotten into that fight.

Arthur’s head snapped up and he glared at the next best Weasel, but that didn’t keep the guy from checking Merlin again and spitting out some insult. Merlin repaid him by wrestling the puck from him and passing it over to Lance, getting it closer to the Weasel’s goal. Leon missed, but Arthur didn’t have eyes for that.

Merlin just tried a twirl to get out of a tight situation again, when he saw Arthur blocking a player who was going after him. This couldn’t be! He could do this by himself! He didn’t need help.

So when the first break came, Merlin walked over to Arthur. “Cut it out, Arthur. I know what I’m doing. Concentrate on your game, not on me, okay?”

Arthur was busy taping up his stick. “Yeah, sorry.”

He wasn’t convinced. This didn’t sound honest. “We’ve talked about this protecting stuff before. You promised, Arthur.”

Taking a sip of his water bottle, Arthur nodded. He knew he had promised. But he couldn’t help it. He wouldn’t let them injure Merlin. Not matter what.

The second period wasn’t any better. The Weasels tried to take Merlin out of the game every chance they got and Arthur did all he could to block them before they reached Merlin or take the hit for him. Not that he was very successful but at least he tried.

In the second intermission, Merlin barged into the locker room. He grabbed Arthur’s shoulder and spun him around.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing out there?”

Arthur didn’t answer. He was trying to protect his boyfriend, so what?

“You’re doing it again, aren’t you?” Merlin’s voice got louder and louder. He didn’t want to yell, but he couldn’t help it. “Fuck it, Arthur! You promised! I don’t need this shit!”

“Merlin…” Arthur felt miserable. He knew he screwed up. He was not only embarrassing Merlin, he let the whole team down by being unfocused and busy with something else.

“Don’t give me that look! It won’t work this time! I’m not a fragile little girl you have to protect! I CAN HANDLE THIS!” Merlin glared at Arthur.

Glaring back, Arthur pressed his lips together but he couldn’t help it. “I know you aren’t, but they are out there trying to kill you. They want to rid the ice of fairies and by that, they mean you. They don’t care if they break your bones; they’re do this on purpose.”

“I know! But I can handle it! I’m not made from glass! So either you cut that crap out…”

“I won’t!” Arthur yelled back. “You’re my boyfriend and I won’t stand by and watch them kill you!”

Merlin closed his eyes for a moment. He was so angry. He swallowed hard and glared at Arthur again. “If you don’t trust me enough to know I have everything under control, I can’t be with you anymore.”

Ignoring, the gasps of the others, Arthur glared back. “Oh, is that so?”

“Yes, that is so. So either you cut that out, or this is over!”

“FINE!”

“FINE!” Merlin snatched his helmet and made his way out of the locker as quickly as possible. He felt like throwing up. He knew Arthur meant well. But it just didn’t do them any good if he insisted on protecting the fragile little boyfriend. So if he didn’t have a boyfriend any longer, he didn’t need to pull this shit out on the ice and there was no reason for him not to concentrate on the game.

Back on the ice, everything went downhill. There was close to no communication between them and it looked as if they were fighting each other and not the other team. Merlin took a few more hits, but managed to get out of the worst attacks and Arthur tried not to hold back and jumped into each of the situations. The game became a minor matter and in the end, they’d lost it.

Merlin didn’t even glance at Arthur as he stormed off the ice.

Merlin examined his elbow as he walked to Percy’s room. There was nothing wrong with it, but Percy had said to come to him when he had problems. And that thing with Arthur was a problem.

“Come on in, Merlin.” Percy noticed him standing in the doorway. “Close the door behind you.”

Merlin did and all of a sudden, he didn’t know what to say.

“Is it your elbow? Let me take a look at it, and then we take care of your face.”

Shaking his head, Merlin reached for the door again. “No, not the elbow. It’s nothing, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not nothing. We’ve all saw what happened and heard you. You guys yelled loud enough.”

Slumping onto a small stool, Merlin sighed. “Why is everything so complicated?”

Percy smiled gently. “It’s life.”

“But…why did he do it again?” Merlin felt miserable.

Getting the bottle with the stinky red fluid that made scratches heal faster from the shelf, Percy grabbed some cotton and came over. “He wants to protect you.”

“I can do that myself.” Merlin frowned when he felt the anger rising again. “He had no right to do it! We’ve talked about it before and I thought he finally got it!”

“We all know that. And he does, too. But he likes you and doesn’t want you to get hurt out there. Hold still.” Percy dabbed the scratch on Merlin’s cheek with the saturated cotton ball.

Merlin knew he should feel the sting, but he was too angry. “But because of him, we lost the game!” He didn’t know what to do. He felt miserable. They had managed to keep their relationship off the ice since that first incident. But now, it all had crumpled down and it was all Arthur’s fault!

“Because of him?” Percy met his eyes. “I think your explosion in the break had quite a bit to do with it, too. And the rest of the team reacted to that and didn’t play their best either.”

“I…,” Merlin put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hand, “I broke up with him. In front of everybody. I…I’m such an arse.”

Percy didn’t say anything for a while and busied himself with putting the bottle away.

“What am I going to do?” Merlin peeked up at the tall physio.

“It depends on what you want. Talk to him. He’s just as confused and hurt as you are. See it from his perspective. He tried to keep harm from you out there, put the game at risk, let his team down and you break up with him. There are still a few games left and we can still go to the final, but only if you two get this sorted out.”

“Maybe I should just quit.”

Percy raised an eyebrow and that reminded Merlin so much of Coach Gaius that he almost laughed.

“That would mean letting the whole team down. You have worked so hard for this, you’ve come so far. And now you want to quit over an incident that was actually meant as a nice gesture?”

“But he’s so stubborn! When this happened the first time, he promised not to do it again! And now he embarrassed me in front of everybody!”

“I don’t think that this was his intention. I’m not saying that I agree with him, mind you, but Landry attacked you pretty badly. The bruise on your cheek where his stick met your face is evidence enough. I saw that happening, that wasn’t an accident. And he tried again and again.”

“I could handle it!”

“I know. And Arthur knows, too. I’d say he just cares so much that he couldn’t help himself.”

Merlin sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What is it you want?”

“Arthur.” Merlin didn’t need to think about this question. He wanted Arthur and now he had lost him. No, not lost, he’d driven him away.

“Then go tell him that.”

If only that were so easy. Merlin sighed again before he got up. “I’ll call him.”

“Do that.” Percy smiled.

“Thanks, Percy.” Merlin pulled the door behind him shut.

Arthur didn’t know what was worse. That he was fuming because of the lost game, or because he was fuming over being dumped like that. Or maybe he just wanted to break down because of that. He had never been dumped before. Usually it was him who broke things off. But Merlin had made it very clear that he didn’t want anything to do with him from now on. And he’d only meant well when he blocked Landry a couple of times! So what if he had missed opportunities to score because of this? He just didn’t want his boyfriend to get hurt again. His…ex-boyfriend.

After the quickest shower the locker room had ever seen, he had put on his clothes, glared everyone away who might have had a comment, grabbed his bag and left. He so wouldn’t go to the pub with them. He would just get drunk at home.

When he tossed his bag into the trunk, he heard steps approaching across the parking lot.

“Hey, faggot, all alone here? Where’s your little boyfriend?”

Arthur rolled his eyes and turned. “None of your business, Landry.” Every muscle in his body tensed when he noticed it wasn’t only Landry, but his whole entourage. Five of them. And there was nobody from his team in sight.

“You know, we don’t like fairies on the ice.”

“Then don’t go see Holiday on Ice.” Arthur shrugged and tried to open the door of his car.

One of them, a huge guy they called Wrench, put his hand on the door with a mean grin on his face.

“Pretty cheeky for a fudgepacker. Let’s show him where he belongs.”

Merlin still didn’t feel any better when he left but he was determined to make that call. It wouldn’t be easy and maybe it wouldn’t help at all, but he had to try. He already missed Arthur.

As he reached his bike, he heard commotion in the parking lot. What was going on there? There was yelling and grunting and it sounded as if someone was being beaten up.

“Hey!” Oh dear, there were at least five huge blokes hitting and kicking someone on the ground. Pulling his mobile from his pocket, Merlin approached. “I’m calling the police. Stop that!” He yelled loudly.

The mob didn’t even acknowledge his existence until he grabbed one of them by the shoulder and just let his fist find the bloke’s face. He was probably the next to lie on the floor but he didn’t care. Five against one was just unfair. As he tried to shove the next one away, the others stopped their action and they turned and ran.

“Hey, mate, they’re gone, you can…” Shaking his hand that had connected with the guy’s face, Merlin registered that it was Arthur’s car they had been close-by and that the bloke on the ground was indeed…

“Arthur!”

He was next to him in an instant. Oh no, oh no! “Arthur, talk to me! Are you all right?” Of course he wasn’t all right. But he was breathing.

Merlin glared around when he heard quick steps behind him. Had they come back to finish him off, too?

“Merlin? What happened?”

Oh, that was Percy.

“I don’t know. I came here and some blokes from the other team were beating him up!” He turned to Arthur again and the way Arthur lay and held his stomach and the blood on his face made Merlin’s stomach turn. “I’m right here, Arthur. Stay with me, okay?”

“Call an ambulance, Merlin.” Percy was next to Arthur, too. “Let me check him.”

“But I…” He couldn’t let go of Arthur. Not now! He needed to be with him.

“Call an ambulance. I know what I’m doing; let me give him first aid.”

Merlin had never heard Percy so determined and shuffled a few steps away to give him room as he reached for his mobile again.

“They’ll be here in a few minutes.” Merlin didn’t even notice the tears streaming down his face. “Will he be all right?”

Merlin was pacing the corridor where he and Percy were waiting. They had tried to reach Mr. Pendragon, but he was out of the country and it would take hours for Arthur’s sister to drive from her university.

“Sit down, Merlin.”

“But…” Merlin sniffed and rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. The ambulance had taken Arthur away and Percy had ushered Merlin to his car so they could follow. They were sitting in a corridor, waiting for a doctor to tell them anything and it had been two hours now.

“Have you called your mother to let her know you’ll be late?”

“She thinks I’ll…” Merlin swallowed hard. After games, he had stayed at Arthur’s.

Percy nodded. “Call her anyway, she might want to know.”

Merlin knew that Percy just wanted to give him something to do as the waiting drove him crazy. They weren’t sure if the doctor would tell them anything anyway since they weren’t family. But he didn’t want to miss the moment when a doctor would come to them. He pulled out his mobile anyway and went outside.

His mam was concerned and offered to come over right away, but he refused the offer. “Percy’s here and we’ll wait for the doctor. Maybe I can see him.”

“Let me know as soon as you know something new, okay?”

Merlin promised and pocketed his mobile again before rushing back to the stuffy corridor. “Anything new?”

“Nope, not yet.”

It took almost another hour for someone to show up.

“Mr. Knight?”

Merlin jumped up as Percy nodded. “Doctor.”

“I understand that you are connected with the Dragons hockey team and therefore in charge of Arthur Pendragon.”

Percy nodded. “His family has been informed, but it will take them a while to come here as they are out of town. How is he?”

Merlin chewed on his lower lip. What was wrong? Why didn’t the doctor tell them right away that Arthur was okay?

“It isn’t as bad as we first thought.” The doctor threw Merlin a look.

“I’m his boyfriend!”

A smile tugged at the corners of the doctor’s lips at the defensive tone of voice and he looked at his clipboard. “You must be Merlin.”

Blushing, Merlin nodded. Had Arthur mentioned him? That must mean that he was okay, right?

“We couldn’t find any fractures or other injuries but a few cuts and bruises. He seems to have a mild concussion and we would like to keep him here overnight just to make sure.”

Percy nodded and Merlin started fidgeting again.

“Can I see him?”

The doctor smiled. “I think that can be arranged. They’ll take him from the A&E to a room upstairs. The nurse will let you know when he’s there and how to find him.”

Arthur blinked tiredly. He hated it, even though he couldn’t even tell what ‘it’ was, what he hated most.

He’d only tried to protect his boyfriend with the result of not having a boyfriend any longer. Merlin had been really pissed.

And then there was Landry and his gang, who had ambushed him in the parking lot. Arthur had some trouble remembering exactly what had happened. His belly hurt when a doctor had examined him and his face felt as if a truck had connected full force with it. They’d put a plaster on his eyebrow and some stinky tincture on his lip.

“We’ll keep you overnight, Arthur. And if all goes according to plan, you can go home tomorrow.”

“I can’t stay.”

And amused twinkle showed in the doctor’s eyes. “Why is that?”

“I hate hospitals.”

The doctor laughed. “That’s a very valid reason. But since we can’t move everybody to your house there’s no other option.”

Arthur pouted. Hospitals were stupid. They were loud, there were sick people, you had no interesting TV channels and it smelled funny. He wanted to go home. He felt safer there. And nobody would watch him fall apart.

Merlin didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore; he’d made that much clear. But if his memory provided him with the right images, Merlin had also rescued him in the parking lot. Then again, that might only have been a delusion of his hurting head.

Leaning back into the pillow, Arthur closed his eyes and tried to not let the tears escape. “I have to go home.” Maybe he could call Merlin and try to make him see that he was sorry for his actions. Arthur tried to chew on his lip, but damn, that hurt.

“We know that there is nobody waiting for you there, Arthur.” The tone of the doctor’s voice had switched from teasing to serious. “Your sister told us that your father is not even in the country. She is on her way here, but you know that’ll take a few hours.”

“’Gana is coming?” He hadn’t used that nickname since he was too little to be able to pronounce her name properly. He frowned, but even that hurt.

The doctor checked his clipboard. “Morgana Pendragon, yes.”

“Fuck.”

A nurse came in. “Doctor Will, you are needed in room O-5.”

“Nurse Henderson will take good care of you, Arthur. And you’ll see; you’ll be out of here in no time.”

Arthur stayed quiet as the nurse checked a few things and then someone came in with a wheelchair to bring him to his room.

He held on until everyone was gone before he let the tears run freely. Damn, this was all Merlin’s fault. A Pendragon never cried! And here he was, all alone in a hospital, sobbing his heart out because a stupid little figure skater had dumped him.

He didn’t even hear the door opening and only noticed the nurse coming back in with a tray when she set it on the little table in front of him.

“Now, now, a little concussion is no reason to cry.”

Arthur sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Not the concussion.”

“Are you in pain?” She gave him a stern look. “You shouldn’t be; they gave you some meds.”

“Not like that.” Sniffling again, Arthur tried to sit up.

“Oh, affairs of the heart?” Nurse Henderson smiled. “That happens at your age. But whatever it is, I’m sure it’s not half as bad as you think.” She adjusted the little tray-table.

“It’s worse. I’ll…” Arthur swallowed and looked at the soup she’d brought him.

“Do you think you can eat some soup?” She held out a spoon to him, but he shook his head. His stomach hurt and he wasn’t sure if it was because of those arseholes kicking him or because of the stress of this all or because of…Merlin. Tears started to well up again.

Arthur didn’t see the small grin on the nurse’s face. “Do you think you could eat some soup if someone else kept you company?”

“Nobody’s here. My sister won’t arrive for a few more hours.” Arthur had never felt so alone.

“Judging by the way he’s nervously pacing the corridor and driving all of us crazy by asking for you, I think there might be someone else.” She smiled.

Arthur’s head shot up. “Who?” It sounded like…but no, that couldn’t be.

The door opened and someone peeked in. “Arthur!”

Oh, just Percy. “Hi Percy.” Arthur leaned back into the pillow dejectedly.

“Just wanted to check on you. How do you feel?”

“Miserable.” It was the truth. It hurt where they had beaten him, but what happened before was worse.

Percy nodded. “Maybe it would make you feel better if someone else was here to keep you company?”

Arthur just threw Percy a look. Of course Percy would know about everything. He had been there, had heard Merlin yell at him. But nobody could make him feel better now. He just wanted everyone to go away. “Nobody is.”

Grinning, Percy turned and waved somebody in before he left with a wave.

Taking a deep breath, Merlin entered the room. He didn’t like hospitals too much, but who did? But it was Arthur lying in there and he needed to see him, even though he wasn’t sure if Arthur would want to see him.

“Hi.”

Arthur swallowed hard. Could this night get worse? Why had Merlin come? To see him like this?

Taking in the black eye and the bruises, Merlin had a hard time not to run over and wrap his arms around Arthur. “Are you okay?”

Arthur didn’t even want to look at Merlin. “Nothing’s okay.”

“Are you in pain, should I get the nurse?” Merlin was next to Arthur in an instant. If he was in pain, they surely could do something about it, right?

“Why are you here, Merlin?” Arthur’s heart ached. He wanted to touch Merlin, wanted to tell him how sorry he was for his stupid actions, wanted to curl up with him and breathe in his scent. But if Merlin was only here to mock him…that was something he couldn’t take. Everything was bad enough as it was.

Merlin worried his lower lip. “I needed to see how you are. I…it was horrible to see you there. When can you go home?”

“They said tomorrow.” It was horrible to see him there? Maybe Merlin still cared a bit for him? Maybe at least as a friend?

Pulling up a chair, Merlin sat down and looked at Arthur. “That eye looks nasty but the doctor said you have no fractures anywhere, that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Guess so.”

Reaching over, Merlin’s hand hovered over Arthur’s. Was he still allowed to hold it? The pained look in Arthur’s puffy red eyes made him hesitate.

Maybe this was the last time Merlin would touch him, so Arthur reached up for Merlin’s hand and held on. “Merlin…”

He squeezed Arthur’s hand lightly. “I’m sorry, Arthur.”

Okay, that was it. Merlin would tell him again that he was an arse and that this was it. “Me too.” He was; he really was. “I’m an idiot. I know I promised not to do it again but when I saw Landry attacking you…” He sighed. “I know you could have handled it. But when he gave you that bruise…” Arthur wanted to reach out and run the pad of his thumb along the scratch on Merlin’s face.

“Oh, that’s nothing.” Merlin held Arthur’s hand tighter. “Forget it. Forget what I said.”

Shaking his head lightly, Arthur sighed. “I’m a jerk, acting like you belonged to me. I never meant to embarrass you in front of everybody. Seems like everyone in the building knew you are a great player but me.” He laughed without humor.

“We’ve had that talk before.” Merlin tried to muster a smile. “You promised you wouldn’t do it again. But you did and I lost it. I was so angry. It’s as if everyone got it by now that I’m not a little boy. Everyone but you. As much as I appreciate that you tried to take care of me…I want a boyfriend who treats me as a partner, not as something fragile he has to look after.” Merlin didn’t know what else to say. He wanted Arthur back, but he needed him to understand why he exploded like that.

“I know.” So that was it, he was finally breaking it off. Arthur turned his head to the window, unable to look at Merlin, and swallowed hard against the tears. Merlin would not see him cry.

“And then I saw you lying there, in the parking lot. Arthur, I swear, that was the worst moment of my life. I thought…” Merlin tried to swallow around that lump in his throat. “I was so scared that they had killed you.”

“I’m still alive.”

“Which is wonderful.” Merlin lifted their hands and pressed Arthur’s to his cheek. “I…after all I’ve said, I understand if you don’t want this anymore. And after this…” he motioned towards Arthur’s bandages, “I understand if you think it’s not worth it.”

A surprised gasp escaped Arthur and he turned his head back to look at Merlin. “No.”

Merlin slowly let go of Arthur’s hand. “Okay.” There were tears prickling in his eyes, he had finally blown it. What a shitty day. He should just have told Arthur that he could take care of himself and that he should concentrate on the game. It would have worked and they’d left together and they would be snuggled up on Arthur’s bed now and not in the hospital with Arthur in this state. Of course Arthur didn’t want him anymore.

“I don’t want to break this off.” Arthur’s heart was beating faster. He wanted to fix this. It was his fault but if he had a chance to get Merlin back, he would take it.

“You don’t?” Merlin looked up at him, eyes swimming with tears.

“No. I’ve been happier in those few weeks with you than in my entire life before. I know I deserve being yelled at like that; I’m an arse. And getting beaten up isn’t really nice and I hope it never happens again, but…I want this. I want you. I’d do anything to get you back.” He meant it. He wanted Merlin, needed him and if there was a slight chance of having him back in his life, he would take it.

Tears were streaming down Merlin’s face as he laughed and turned Arthur’s hand to put little kisses on the palm. He had caused Arthur so much pain and yet he still wanted to be with him. “I love you,” he whispered.

Hey Merls, how’s it going? You around?

Hi Gwen

You sound tired.

You hear that by how I’m typing?

Of course! It’s part of my magic. So, what’s happening?

Merlin took a deep breath and started typing a detailed report for Gwen.

You broke up with him? *sadface*

Yeah. In the locker room. In front of everyone. I yelled at him.

You’re an idiot.

I know. But that wasn’t the worst that happened that night.

He kept on typing, told her about the beating.

OMG! Is he all right? Merlin!!! Tell me he’s okay!

He is now.

Merlin took a sip of his tea before he continued his report of how they followed the ambulance to the hospital and about the agonizing hours they waited to see Arthur.

Fuck. That’s bad. But at least he wanted to see you.

Gwen, we talked. We made up.

He reported that he’d stayed all night and that Arthur’s sister had found them asleep – Arthur in his bed, him with his head on the bed, their fingers entwined – when she arrived in the early morning hours.

What is she like?

A bit intimidating at first.

And then?

She’s fun, I think. She gave Arthur a speech about what an idiot he is to let himself being beaten up but that she’s happy that he’s allowed himself to be happy for the first time in his life.

What does that mean?

I’m not really sure, but I think she means that Arthur has always just been with girls to please their father.

So she knew he’s gay?

*shrugs* I don’t know. He didn’t even know it himself.

I knew before you knew, remember?

Yeah. *grins* Unfortunately I do.

Then he told Gwen about bringing Arthur back home and taking care of him and Morgana insisting that he stayed until Arthur was better since he obviously couldn’t be left alone without ending up in hospital and he seemed to be the best babysitter for the task.

So you’re back together again?

Yes, we are.

\o/ Yay! I’m happy for you, Merls!

Gwen?

Yes, Merlin?

I think I told him that I love him.

I know you do.

+++

Of course, Arthur was benched for the next game and didn’t like it at all.

“I can play!”

“No, you can’t.” Coach Kilgarrah checked some files. “You won’t go out on the ice until your black eye had completely vanished. Then we can be sure that the concussion is gone, too.”

“But they said it wasn’t a concussion.”

“They also said you couldn’t remember what happened.” The coach gave him a stern look.

“But I remember now! I can play!” Arthur almost pouted.

“Not the same. You won’t. And that’s final.” Coach looked around. “Get ready, guys, we have a game to win.”

Merlin taped up his socks and threw Arthur, who just sat down in front of his locker, a look. “You okay?”

“How can I be okay? Coach won’t let me play!”

“Arthur.”

“I know.” Sighing heavily, Arthur got up again. “Got everything?”

Merlin nodded.

“Just watch out for Saunderson, he’s dangerous. You’ll…”

Smiling, Merlin grabbed his gloves. “We’ve talked about that.”

Gwaine came over and threw his arm around Arthur’s shoulders. “Come on, Princess. I know the best seats in the house and if it helps get rid of that long face, I’ll buy you some junk food.”

Arthur wasn’t convinced and sighed again. “All right.” As they reached the door, he turned around and yelled, “Dragon Fire!”

Which was met with “Dragon Fire!” from everyone in the room as he left with Gwaine.

“Let’s go out and win this for him.” Leon looked at the others.

“We can’t win it without Arthur.” Mike threw in.

Merlin got up and shook his head. “If you all think that, we won’t.”

“Merlin’s right.” Lance took his helmet. “We can win it. No matter who’s on the ice.”

“As long as we stick to what we practiced all week, we can do it!” Merlin put his helmet on.

Lance nodded. “Let’s win this for Arthur!”

“For Arthur!” A few of the other yelled and Merlin rolled his eyes. It wasn’t as if Arthur was dying or something but of course he was determined to go out and give his best.

“How do you do it?” Arthur sat down in a seat that Gwaine insisted was the best in the house and took a bite of an odd-tasting hot-dog.

“Do what? Be the irresistible good-looking sex-God that I am?” Gwaine flicked his hair back and grinned.

Groaning, Arthur rolled his eyes. “Sitting up here; watching the games.”

“It’s tough. Don’t think I don’t want to be part of it. The better my knee gets, the bigger the itch to throw myself into it again.”

“But you’re not allowed to yet.”

“Nope. Back in training, as you know, but still not full force. If I blow the knee again, it might be the end of it.”

Arthur had hardly ever heard Gwaine so serious. Everything was usually a joke for him. So he just reached over and patted his shoulder. “Just a bit longer and you’ll be as good as new.”

Gwaine took a bite of his own hot-dog and nodded. “You’re right,” he said around a mouthful of food, “I’ll be better than new!”

They watched the Dragons do their warm-up and discussed the players of the other team.

“So…,” Gwaine threw Arthur a side-ways look as the teams got ready for the start of the game. “Everything okay between you and Merlin again?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Arthur smiled.

“That was a really big fall-out last week.”

“And he was right in everything he said, though.” Arthur looked at the player with the number 77 and smiled.

“Whoa.”

“What?”

“I never thought I’d hear you admit that you were wrong with anything.”

“You’re saying?”

“He’s good for you.” Gwaine patted Arthur’s back. “I’m happy for you, mate.”

“So am I.” Arthur blushed slightly and watched his boyfriend shake hands with the opposing team.

“Oh my God, that last plié, Merlin…I thought I’d die in my seat!”

Merlin laughed. “It wasn’t a plié, just a little turn he didn’t expect.”

“You could have done a Biellmann-pirouette and stunned them into awe.” Arthur talked excitedly. It was so different to watch a game from the stands than to be on the ice. Aside from Gwaine, nobody knew what the team had practiced and what tactics they wanted to use and seeing them perform so well and going through with everything was just thrilling. He was so proud of his team and had yelled the loudest when first Lance and then Merlin had scored.

Merlin laughed. “I was in the wrong skates to do that. And I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway; I’m not that flexible.”

“Oh, I think you are.” Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin from behind when Merlin fumbled with the key.

The door opened and Hunith smiled at them. “Come on in, boys. I just made apple pie.”

“Mam!” Merlin rolled his eyes and entered the house. He loved his mother dearly, but sometimes she seemed to have forgotten that he wasn’t five anymore.

“Good evening, Hunith.” Arthur had let go of Merlin as soon as she had opened the door.

“Arthur! It’s good to see you, how are you? You gave us a bit of a scare there.” She ushered him into the kitchen.

Sitting down on a stool, Arthur smiled. It felt good to be around Merlin’s mom, she made him feel so welcome and at home at her place. “So much better, thanks. I expect to be back in training next week. And thank you so much for the cookies and the fudge. They were delicious.”

She patted his hand and smiled. “Glad that you liked them. And I hope you haven’t eaten yet; there’s stew on the stove.”

Merlin threw Arthur a look. He wanted to be alone with him but he knew they wouldn’t get a second to themselves as long as his mother was still here. “When does your shift start, Mam?”

Laughing, she filled plates with the stew and motioned for Merlin to get spoons. “You’ll be rid of me soon enough. Just eat up; you can take some pie upstairs later.” Hunith set a plate of stew in front of Arthur, who thanked her.

They ate and she asked questions about Arthur’s injuries and the game.

“All right, boys, I have to run. Night shift is waiting.”

“Night, Mam.”

“Night, Hunith. Thanks for dinner.”

Hunith patted Arthur’s cheek and then kissed Merlin’s, grabbed her bag and was gone.

“Finally.” Merlin sighed.

“Your mom is nice.” Arthur looked after her.

“She could be worse,” Merlin grinned and put their empty plates into the sink.

Pulling Merlin against him, Arthur smiled. “No, really, I mean it. I don’t even know what it feels like to have a mother. But from what I see from the others, yours is great.”

“She is. But…are you going to gush about my mam all night long?” Merlin grinned.

“No, I’d much rather just go to your room and curl up.”

Merlin nodded. Of course he would have liked a bit more than just curling up, but it had been a tough game and curling up wasn’t bad either. So he took Arthur’s hand and led him upstairs.

“This is my room,” he announced after he’d opened the door.

Arthur chuckled. “I know, I’ve been here before.”

“But not like that, not…officially. Not…planned.” Merlin blushed. The room looked different from last time Arthur had been there. It had taken him two hours to clean it up.

Looking around, Arthur nodded. “You know, last time, I didn’t have eyes for your room. But…I really like it. It’s cozy.”

“If cozy is another word for small…” Merlin sat on the bed.

Shaking his head, Arthur looked at the posters and photos. “That’s not what I mean. I don’t care if a room is large or small. This is…this is you, you know?”

Tucking his feet under him, Merlin watched Arthur looking around.

Arthur threw a look at Merlin’s laptop. “So…this is where you watch your porn?”

“I don’t watch porn.” Merlin blushed and bit his lower lip.

“Oh, come on!” Arthur grinned.

He couldn’t help but grinning back. “I do research!”

Arthur laughed. “Only you would do research on sex.”

Blushing more, Merlin rubbed his hand under his nose and sniffed. “You know…I’ve never done it before, so…a man has to be prepared.”

A similar blush spread on Arthur’s cheeks. “Me neither…but…I mean…hypothetically speaking…”

Merlin looked at him, unsure what to make of this. “Yeah?”

“I mean…if you would do it with someone…would you…are you…” Arthur just didn’t know how to say it. He was okay with being naked with Merlin, more than okay, it was fantastic. But talking about it was fucking difficult.

“Am I a top or a bottom?” Was that what Arthur was asking?

Slumping into the chair at Merlin’s desk, Arthur nodded. “Yeah. I mean…I can’t imagine…”

Merlin watched Arthur intensely. Sometimes it was really difficult to understand what he was trying to say.

“How would you want it?” Arthur peeked up and saw Merlin staring at him. Oh, maybe Merlin didn’t want it at all? “I mean, just…if you want it…sometime in the future…with someone.”

He almost chuckled at the way Arthur beat around the bush. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I think both ways might feel really good. I mean…look at what it feels like when we’re beating off. Imagine your dick being surrounded by tight hot…I dunno.” Merlin blushed deeper.

Of course he had thought about this but it was still odd to talk with Merlin about it. Arthur chewed on his lower lip. He had sex with a girl before, but it sure was different if you pushed into a girl’s…places that were meant for that than into a bloke’s…you know.

“And…it feels really good to…” Oh damn, that was difficult. Why couldn’t things just happen? Merlin wasn’t opposed to bottom but he wanted to try it the other way around, too. To find out what he liked better, since…how could he know what he liked if he hadn’t tried it?

“I know.” Arthur felt like his face was on fire. It felt good to be touched there. “I just don’t know if I could handle it. I mean…anything bigger than a finger or something.” He fixed his eyes on a spot on Merlin’s wall, avoiding his eyes. If he had to look at Merlin now, he’d die of embarrassment.

Merlin nodded. “Did you…did you ever…” This shouldn’t be so difficult between them.

“What?” Oh dear, what would Merlin come up with now? He’d obviously given this a lot more thought that Arthur and Arthur felt stupid and inadequate for not having done research. Of course he’d watched some gay porn and saw what those blokes did, but he wasn’t sure if he could do it, too.

“I mean...did you ever…have you ever felt anything inside you?”

Shaking his head, Arthur squirmed. “Just…what you did the other day.” Which was trying to push a finger inside him. But as good as it had felt to feel Merlin’s fingers on him, touching and exploring on his skin, he’d totally freaked when he felt something intrude him.

Merlin blushed when he thought about that. “I’m sorry. I…”

“’s okay, don’t worry. I just…I think I’m not ready for that yet.”

Arthur looked so lost that Merlin got up from the bed, took the tree steps over to him and wrapped his arms around Arthur’s neck.

Immediately, Arthur’s arms wrapped around Merlin and he pressed his face against Merlin’s chest. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Merlin nuzzled into Arthur’s hair. “You don’t want that at this point in time. Maybe you’ll change your mind one day.” And he intended to be there when that day came.

“You…” It was so much easier talking about it when he didn’t have to look at Merlin. “You want to be…in me?” What if Merlin didn’t want it the other way and they were just not as compatible as they thought?

“Maybe? But I like what we’ve done so far, too.” And all he wanted to do now was curl up on the bed with Arthur and snuggle close and hold him. Merlin didn’t care if they ever took this further.

“Me too.” Arthur slid a hand under Merlin’s shirts and caressed the soft skin above his waistband.

Merlin smiled and dug his hands into Arthur’s hair at the touch. He loved those big strong fingers on him, any way he could get them.

After a while of just breathing in Merlin’s scent, Arthur pulled back a bit and lifted the front of Merlin’s shirts to put little kisses there.

Wiggling, Merlin chuckled.

“Tickles?”

“A bit. But…don’t stop.” Even though it tickled, it felt great to have Arthur’s lips on him again and feel his hot breath skim across his belly.

Now that they weren’t talking about awkward things anymore, Arthur knew exactly what he wanted. It had been a while since they had spent time like this. First, he was in the hospital, then everyone fussed about his probable concussion and then Merlin had been so busy with hockey that they just didn’t get together outside the rink.

Merlin’s breathing sped up and his dick already pressed against the front of his jeans. The things Arthur could do to him. Just a bit of touching and kissing in the right places and he wanted to jump his bones. “Bed?” he breathed out.

Arthur just ignored that. Everything they had done so far happened on a bed, having Merlin stand in front of him while he was sitting in a chair was exciting and new. He shoved Merlin’s shirt up higher, a bit annoyed by the way it fell back on his face until Merlin understood and pulled the offending fabric over his head.

A little moan escaped Merlin's throat as Arthur was nuzzling against him, kissed and licked at his navel and let his fingers dance along his waistband. Merlin tried to press closer, getting more friction, but Arthur held him in place and then pulled back.

His fingers fumbled with the button of Merlin’s jeans and he pulled the zipper down. He would do this now, for the very first time. Merlin knew how to do it and it felt great feeling his lips on him, but he had never done it to him. Arthur wasn’t able to lift his eyes and look up at Merlin or all his courage might have left him.

Merlin held his breath when he understood what Arthur was up to. He didn’t dare to move. Would he really? He had dreamed of Arthur’s mouth around him, but would it really happen? He moaned when Arthur pulled his aching dick out of his boxers and just held it in his fist, looking at it.

Arthur’s heart was pounding. This was…was it…yes, he wanted to do this. And if it was only to say later that he didn’t like it. But maybe he would like it. He’d never find out if he didn’t try. So he licked his lips nervously and put a careful kiss on the tip of Merlin’s cock.

“Nnnnnnnnnngh.” Merlin tried to keep still, but the contact sent shivers all through his body. His hands ran through Arthur’s soft hair. His whole world narrowed in on the feel of Arthur’s lips on his prick. And now that Arthur had wrapped his lips around the head and felt around with the tip of his tongue, it made Merlin’s knees buckle.

Letting go for a moment to shove Merlin’s pants down further to give him more room, Arthur licked his lips again. That wasn’t half bad. And by the noises coming from Merlin, he wasn’t doing it wrong either. Encouraged, Arthur threw Merlin a look before concentrating on his dick again. The taste was something he had to get used to, but the texture, the softness despite the hardness, the heat, the way he could feel the blood pulsing, that was exciting. He wanted to pleasure Merlin, draw those sounds from him, make him come.

Merlin grabbed Arthur’s hair and yelled out when he felt him taking his cock in really far and trembled. “I’m…Arthur,” he panted, “close…” He was far too close already and when Arthur started to suck, he was lost. White lights exploded behind his eyelids and it was possible that the strangled cry was his, he didn’t know, it was too good.

Arthur heard the warning, but something made him not pull away. He needed to taste Merlin. And yet it surprised him when he felt Merlin’s come hit the roof of his mouth. He swallowed, trying not to gag but didn’t really manage. When he pulled back, he coughed and wiped his mouth as Merlin stumbled backwards to slump down on his bed.

Totally blissed out, Merlin lay on his bed, not even aware of his pants around his ankles and the fact that he was still wearing his shoes. He felt Arthur fumble around and somehow ended up snuggled against him in his bed.

Merlin was no help at all when Arthur undressed him and shoved him between the sheets before undressing himself and climbing in with him. This bed was ridiculously small for two people, but the way Merlin pressed against him made up for that. He stared at the ceiling for a long time. He had sucked Merlin off. He’d had a bloke’s dick in his mouth. His heart was still hammering in his chest as Merlin made a little sleepy sound and buried his nose in his neck. It was so worth it!

Merlin woke up to someone drawing patterns on his back with their fingers. Mmmmm. “Arthur.”

“Merlin?”

Trying to blink awake, Merlin stretched and smiled at Arthur. “You okay?”

“Never been better.” Arthur smiled back and he meant it. That he had been able to make Merlin almost black out blew his mind. Okay, Merlin hadn’t really blacked out, but he had fallen asleep instantly.

When Arthur turned, Merlin touched foreheads with him and then kissed him deeply. He’d never thought Arthur would give him a blowjob, but this one had been fantastic! Not that he had any references, but this definitely had been fantastic.

Arthur slid his hand down Merlin’s side and to the small of his back to pull him even closer. He’d heard that some guys creamed their pants when they blew another bloke. He had been excited, yes, but everything was so new and thrilling that he hadn’t even thought of himself. Now, with Merlin pressed to him like this, his body definitely showed interest. Letting his hand slide over Merlin’s buttock, Arthur stilled his movements for a second. Should he…?

Merlin moaned into the kiss. Arthur was the devil. He sucked him off and now he touched him in ways that made his dick spring to attention again. But then he felt Arthur hesitate and broke the kiss. “Arthur?”

Blushing, Arthur chewed on his lower lip. “Can I touch you?”

“You’re already touching me,” Merlin smiled.

“Yeah, but…”

“Oh!” The smile turned into a grin. “You want to touch me there?” Merlin captured Arthur’s lips again. “Wait.” He pulled back and turned to rummage in his nightstand.

The blush on Merlin’s cheeks was adorable but Arthur suspected he didn’t look any different when Merlin shoved lube in his hand and whispered “Use this, it feels even better.” and then simply turned to lie on his belly.

Merlin buried his face in the crook of his arm and waited. Maybe he had gone too fast and was a bit too eager and had scared Arthur away? But he really wanted to feel Arthur’s fingers on his arse and held his breath when he heard the tube of lube being opened.

Swallowing hard, Arthur was glad that Merlin couldn’t see his face. His mouth was hanging open and his eyes tried to take in the sight before him. Of course he’d seen Merlin’s naked back before and snuck more than once glance of his firm little butt in the showers, but Merlin offering himself so willingly…that had never happened before.

A soft sigh escaped him when he felt Arthur’s lips on his shoulders. He had expected Arthur to go right for what he wanted, but that he was taking it slow and worked his way down his spine with kisses and little licks, sometimes just pressing his lips to a spot, was sweet and very sexy. Merlin ground his prick into the mattress and tried not to wiggle.

Running the tip of his nose over Merlin’s skin, Arthur closed his eyes for a moment. His cock was so achingly hard and he wanted to do something about it. But exploring Merlin like that was even better. So Arthur took his time kissing and nibbling, drawing a bit of impatient squirming and a lot of dirty sounds from him. He put a kiss on the small of Merlin’s back and drew back to lube up his fingers.

Merlin’s head was already swimming. He didn’t know what would happen next, but he knew if Arthur didn’t do something soon, he would explode again, just like that. And whatever Arthur did next…he would come soon anyway. So he pulled his knees a bit closer to lift his butt and hoped that Arthur would get the hint.

Once again, Arthur swallowed, then took a deep breath and when he looked up from his fingers to Merlin, he groaned. Who’d have known that his boyfriend was such a slut, presenting himself like this, wanting it so badly that he couldn’t wait? Carefully, he slid his fingers over soft skin and gasped when they touched the ring of muscles. “Merlin…”

“Arthur.” It was a mixture between a breath and a whimper but Merlin couldn’t help it. After their talk, Merlin had thought Arthur would back out, but the careful fingers on him drove him crazy. He moved against them and moaned again.

So he wasn’t doing too badly, Merlin seemed to like it. Holding his breath, Arthur let his fingers explore the texture and felt the way the muscles were moving, almost like they wanted him to intrude. But in the back of his mind, Gwaine’s voice yelled at him “it’s all about preparation!”, so he took his time, tried to shove Gwaine out of his mind, circled the opening and felt the muscles relax slowly.

Oh God, oh God, oh GOD! If Arthur kept that up, Merlin would shoot in no time. Biting his lower lip so hard it might have drawn blood, Merlin tried not to move too much. He didn’t want Arthur to stop what he was doing and if he wiggled around, his prick would get even more friction from the sheets and that would be the end of it.

Arthur didn’t even notice that he was panting hard and that his erection almost hurt as he carefully tried to push a finger inside Merlin, trying to read his reaction. But Merlin squirmed some more and pushed back onto his finger. “You okay?”

Okay? This was heaven. But all Merlin could utter, was a breathless ‘yeah’ and a nod. Of course he’d felt his own fingers there before, but having someone else’s finger inside was a totally different thing. And he craved…he needed… “More…”

When one finger had been a tight fit, it wasn’t any easier with two. Arthur had half a brain to use more lube, even though this stuff seemed to get everywhere, and before he knew it, a second finger was finally inside Merlin. He was so tight and clenched around his fingers and Arthur didn’t dare to imagine this feeling around his cock or else he would have come right away.

Merlin had never felt so full. He stilled for a moment and tried to relax when Arthur started to move his fingers, started to open him. Breathing heavily, he fought the urge to clamp down around the fingers and just let them do what they wanted.

Arthur was surprised at the growling sound his throat produced. He’d never thought that sight of this turned him on so much. He had his fingers inside Merlin’s body, the lube had spread everywhere and made Merlin’s arse and balls shine in the light coming from the little lamp on the nightstand and the sounds Merlin made spurred him on even more. “Merlin?”

Taking some deep breaths, Merlin turned his head a bit. “Yeah?”

“Can I…?” Fuck, how did one ask that? A few hours ago he would have sworn he’d never ever do this, but all he wanted now was being inside Merlin.

“Condoms…in the drawer…” Merlin swallowed hard. So it was about to happen. Much quicker than he thought it would, but he was okay with this. He was so turned on that there was nothing he wanted more.

Arthur fumbled around, trying not to get lube on everything in Merlin’s room and finally found the condoms, ripping one open with his teeth, his hands being way too slippery to do the job. He grit his teeth as he rolled it onto himself, certain that any more stimulation would make him come.

Merlin got up onto his knees a bit more, breathing hard. He wouldn’t think about this now. Thinking only led to him clamping down again and he didn’t want that. He tried to relax as much as possible as he leaned his forehead onto his arms and waited.

Okay, what do to now? Or more…how to do it? It seemed so…so tight, how would he fit? Trying to be careful, Arthur touched his cock to Merlin’s arse and moaned loudly. “Fuck, Merlin.”

A low chuckle escaped Merlin. “Yeah…fuck…fuck me, Arthur.” He grit his teeth and breathed hard as he felt Arthur breaching him. Fuck, this was a lot bigger than two fingers! He should have known! As he tried to fight the urge to push, he felt Arthur’s hand on the small of his back, which was soothing.

“Slow, go slow,” Arthur murmured, even though his whole body screamed for him to just push in. The tight heat around the head of his prick was enough to make him see stars. He had never felt like this before. Merlin was killing him, but what a way to go!

Merlin tried to breathe evenly, but made Arthur stop again and again, so his body could get used to the huge cock inside him. He might not be overly huge, but at least it felt HUGE, capital letters, and it burned like fire, even though Arthur used more lube each time he made him stop. But then, it seemed like he was all the way in and Merlin almost giggled in joy. It still felt a bit uncomfortable, but he’d managed to take it!

Arthur bit his lower lip and gripped Merlin’s hips. This was the best feeling in the world and he didn’t understand how he could ever think he wouldn’t be able to do this. The way Merlin’s body held him in a tight grip was almost too much. When he felt Merlin relax a little bit, he tried to pull back.

“No!” Nonononono, Arthur couldn’t pull out, not now, not when Merlin was just getting used to being filled to a point where he thought it might rip him apart. But still it felt fantastic! No comparison to fingers. Slowly he relaxed and felt Arthur rolling his hips against him. He moaned again.

Closing his eyes to the onslaught of images only made him concentrate on the sensation more. When Merlin relaxed a bit, he just moved against him, holding him steady by his hips. This was the best thing that ever happened to him. With each movement, he pulled out further, only to push back in. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer. This was way too exciting!

Merlin’s eyes flew open when Arthur pushed against something inside him and he gasped. “Do that again!” Oh yes! He’d read a lot about the spot, but he doubted that the things he read were correct. But he had to admit that they were; each time Arthur’s cock pushed against it, little white stars clouded Merlin’s vision and he keened with every movement.

The sounds alone could have made Arthur come, but the way Merlin tightened around him each time he seemed to hit a certain place inside him was too much. His legs were trembling as his body stiffened and he pulled Merlin as close as possible as he came.

Feeling Arthur growing even bigger inside him and then pulsing out his load finished Merlin off. He came again, without even being touched. Heck, he hadn’t even realized that he had gone hard again. His knees gave way and he slumped onto the bed, panting hard.

Arthur just fell onto Merlin’s back, unable to hold himself upright any longer. He didn’t even try to get his breath back, just closed his eyes and panted into Merlin’s neck. After a while, he carefully pulled out, already missing the feeling of Merlin’s hot body around him, and discarded the condom that started to feel uncomfortable.

Merlin was totally boneless. His arse hurt but he didn’t want to miss this for anything in the world. A little disappointed sound escaped him as he felt Arthur slipping out, but he couldn’t move. That was it; he would just lie here with Arthur forever.

But of course, forever couldn’t last and they moved around on the small bed until they were all cuddled up in each other’s arms.

Arthur made a disgruntled noise.

“Hmm?” Merlin wasn’t capable of uttering more than sounds.

“Wet spot.” Wiggling around, Arthur tried to find a better position, but the bed was too small.

Merlin couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Oh, shut up.” It didn’t sound as harsh at it could have, in fact it came out rather affectionate. “Next time, we’ll do it in my bed. More space to avoid wet spots.”

Nosing into Arthur’s neck, Merlin nodded. There would be next times. Many next times. All the time if it were up to him.

They settled down again and Merlin was about to fall asleep when he heard Arthur whisper, “Love you”.

Arthur switched off the little bedside lamp and listened to Merlin’s breathing as his boyfriend fell asleep. He couldn’t believe he just had sex with a man. With Merlin! And he had just told him that he loved him. He’d never told anyone before, but he meant it. Slowly, Arthur drifted to sleep, a huge smile on his face.

“You lucky bastard.” Gwaine flicked his hair back and made his way to the boards. He’d been back in training for a few days now, even though the season would be over soon. Practice was over for today and even though he had gone slow, his knee didn’t feel back at 100%.

“Huh?” Arthur had skated after him and took his helmet off.

“I saw the looks you two were throwing each other. You did it.” Gwaine stepped off the ice and sat down on a seat in the stands.

“I did what?” Arthur tried to be all casual.

“Come on…don’t give me that innocent face. Merlin could hardly walk on Monday and you both have these goofy grins on your faces.” Gwaine nudged him and winked.

“Well, if you know it already, there’s no reason to tell you anything.” Arthur grinned proudly.

Gwaine got up and slowly made his way to the locker room, Arthur at his side. “Told you you’d like it.”

Merls, Merls, Merls, Merls, Merls, Mer…

I’m here, Gwen, no need to fill my screen with that ridiculous nickname you gave me.

You didn’t complain when I invented it

I was 8 at that time.

So? ;)

How are you?

What’s up, Merlin? Going all formal on me?

:D

I’m fine, thank you for asking. I just wanted to tell you I got my ticket.

Which ticket?

The one for the train…

Merlin blinked at the screen.

Okay, I’m going to ask: Which train?

The one that takes me to your big game.

You…you’ll come to the game?? O.O

Yup!

Gwen! That’s wonderful!!!

That’s just me. *smiles modestly* I really want to see you play. And I need to meet Arthur.

You need to?

Yup, to give him the speech.

The speech? Merlin could practically see her ‘I suspect bullshit’-face and chuckled.

Someone needs to let him know that if he treats you badly, I’m going to kick his arse!

Merlin laughed.

And that someone is you, personally.

Indeed. So, what happened since last time we chatted?

For a moment, Merlin pondered whether or not to tell her. But it was too exciting; he just had to share the secret with someone.

We did it.

You did…OMG, Merls!!!!!! Really? How was it? How do you feel? Will you do it again?

LOL. Yes, we did. It was great. Still a bit sore. And yes, definitely.

Wow

There was a moment of silence.

TMI?

Not enough!! Gimme all the details!

Merlin laughed as he typed Wouldn’t you wish!

But…Merls…sore? Are you okay? Did he hurt you? If he did, I’ll..

I’m okay. I mean…he’s really big and all, and it had to fit…there, you know…

TMI, TMI, TMI!!!! *puts fingers in her ears* Lalalalalalaaaaaa

LOL. You wanted the details!

Maybe not that detailed.

Love you, too, Gwen.

Love you, Merls. Gotta go, Mom’s nagging at me to walk the dog. CU Saturday!

The atmosphere in the locker room was tense, everyone trying to focus but not overthink the fact that this might be the final game. If they won today’s game, they were league champions.

Leon taped his stick up for the fifth time, only to remove the tape again and start over. Lance checked the chin-strap of his helmet and readjusted it for the gazillionth time. Gwaine tied the laces of his boots again and again. Merlin just sat there and tried not to look at Arthur. It could be Arthur’s last game as a Dragon ever. They had worked for this; they wanted that damn cup. But it was sad to think that after tonight, Arthur would never again don the bright red jersey with the golden dragon logo.

Arthur tried to shove those thoughts out of his mind. They had to win this; this was their big day. All the hard work of the past year would pay off today. It just had to.

Merlin felt sick to his stomach. He knew that the stands would be packed with people. Even his mam and Coach Gaius would be there. Gwen had arrived just in time to give him a little plush dragon as good-luck charm before he left for the locker room. That little dragon was now being turned between his nervous fingers over and over again.

Coach Kilgarrah came in and held his usual pep-talk, only this time it was much shorter than all the other times. He ended with the usual ‘Good luck, Dragons!’, which was answered with the usual “Dragon Fire!”

Merlin knew it was time to go, so he put the little plush toy on his shelf, put his helmet on and grabbed his stick.

Arthur took a deep breath, even though his heart was beating faster. Would he ever step out on that ice again after today? Part of him wished for it, but the bigger part wanted it to end right here, today, on home ice, with the cup. He threw Merlin a look and gave him a grim smile.

Nodding, Merlin put his gloves on as he entered the rink and started his warm-up routine, trying to block out the crowd that was cheering them on. At each figure skating competition, he’d sought out his mam and knew that Coach Gaius was at the side of the rink, but today he didn’t want to know where they were, not even where Gwen sat – most likely next to his mam – and waved the huge sign she had talked about. He needed to concentrate on the game.

Arthur chewed on his mouthguard as he looked around. Stepping out onto the ice, he’d immediately noticed Morgana in the stands. She stood out so much in her designer clothes and her almost bored expression. For a moment, he smiled. She only pretended that all of this was a horrible ordeal, but that she was present meant a lot to him. Their father had only texted him an ‘I expect you to win this trophy today, Son’ from Singapore this morning.

Merlin passed the puck to Leon, who passed it on to Lance, who gave it back to Merlin. It was nothing they hadn’t practiced a thousand times before and Merlin could do it blind, just by the sound of the puck hitting the stick. It was only a couple of minutes before the game started and he saw Gwaine skating towards him.

“Just wanted to wish you good luck, Merlin.”

“Hey, you are here, too. You’ll get your ice time.” Merlin felt odd. Gwaine should be here on the ice instead of him. But he was only back in training for a bit more than a week and his knee still gave him some trouble. So the coach had decided that Merlin would play.

Gwaine shook his head. “I’ll be on the bench where I belong. You brought the team this far, Merlin; you should be the one to win this.”

Merlin didn’t know what to say, so he hugged Gwaine and patted his helmet, and was secretly determined to let Gwaine be part of this if he saw a chance.

Arthur made his round, had an encouraging word for each one of the players and almost managed to shove the thought out of his head that after this, he might never say those words to them again.

The ref called them together and went through with the usual procedure and the game started.

All other thoughts vanished from Arthur’s mind and all he could think about was hockey. His eyes followed the puck and as he skated across the ice, he saw the insecurities of the others vanish, too. They all were focused, which was good.

Merlin threw himself into each and every skirmish and even though the other team knew about his little figure skating tricks, he managed to surprise them once in a while. He didn’t hear the crowd cheering. He didn’t spare a thought about what it looked like what he was doing. He only thought about how much he wanted to win this game.

The game went back and forth, sometimes saved by the goalies, sometimes shots were missed and they had to fight for the puck again. Before the first intermission, Leon managed to score, but that had been hard fought. So they all made their way to the locker room, panting, grim expressions on their faces.

Arthur took off his jersey and shoulder pads; he needed to cool down. He listened to Coach Kilgarrah give new instructions about how to crack the Gryphons’ defense open.

Quickly taking his left boot off, Merlin handed it to Percy for re-sharpening. Lance switched helmets and Elyan fiddles with his protective gear as Leon re-taped his stick once more…and then it was already time to get on the ice again.

Merlin put his skate on as Arthur wriggled back into his shoulder pads and adjusted them. They left the locker room in silence, each of them deep in thought.

They tried to implement Coach Kilgarrah’s new tactic and it seemed he was right as Merlin managed to slap the puck in over the goalie’s shoulder short side. 2-0. But that was no reason to relax as the Gryphons only played harder.

As he passed the bench, Merlin noticed Gwaine standing at the boards, yelling with all the others and when the play was over, he skated back, gliding on his right skate and pushing with his left, gesturing that something with his newly sharpened skate was wrong. He motioned for Gwaine to take his place and jumped over the boards.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing there, Emrys?” Coach was furious, as Merlin had known he would be.

“Giving Gwaine his chance to be part of this.” It was the truth. There was nothing actually wrong with his skates. He didn’t need a breather; he just wanted Gwaine to be a part of the winning team, too. He knew that Gwaine would only take a short shift, he wasn’t really fit yet.

“We’ll talk about this later!” As Coach Kilgarrah glared at him, Merlin noticed that Gwaine was already skating over after having managed to block an attack.

“The ice is yours.” He nodded at Merlin and climbed over the boards laboriously.

Merlin didn’t even hear Gwaine’s comment as he was out on the ice as soon as Gwaine’s feet had left it. Lance had blocked another offensive and they were on their way to the Gryphons’ goal again.

But their goalie was just too good and caught Steven’s well-placed puck just as the buzzer sounded the end of the second period.

The break was pretty much a repeat of the first one: Coach Kilgarrah talking tactics, Percy being busy with treating some minor injuries.

Merlin didn’t dare to look up at Coach. He knew he shouldn’t have decided on when Gwaine would get ice time or if he got any at all. But what could the coach really do about it now? He was still in the game and he knew he was too important to the team to be benched in this game. If Coach Kilgarrah threw him off the team after the season, who cared? Arthur wouldn’t be here any longer, so it didn’t matter much anyway.

Arthur couldn’t help but throw Merlin little glances. He wanted to kiss him for doing what he’d done for their friend. Gwaine had been clever enough not to overextend his stay on the ice, but Merlin had given him the chance to be part of the play, which meant he would be included on the roster if they won the cup. Arthur was so proud of his boyfriend.

But then it was time to go out again and finish this game. They were still leading 2-0 and they intended to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the Gryphons seemed to have found a way to get past their defenses and it only took them ten minutes to score twice and tie it up.

All the blokes on the bench jumped up and yelled, as did Coach Kilgarrah, but Merlin didn’t understand a word: he was too focused on not letting it happen again. The play clock was ticking down and Merlin tried not to get nervous. If they didn’t finish it now, there would be yet another game and chances to win this on foreign ice were much slimmer.

Arthur was in the zone: he didn’t hear or even see the crowd in the stands, he didn’t look up to see if Morgana was still there, he ignored the Coach. All he wanted was to win this game. And then, all of a sudden, he saw the chance. He snatched the puck from his direct opponent in a split second of inattentiveness and charged down the ice. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Merlin had picked up on what he was doing and followed him on the other side of the ice.

So when this huge defenseman caught up and blocked him, Arthur didn’t think twice and passed the puck over to Merlin. It didn’t matter who shot the winning goal in this, as long as someone did.

Merlin kept control of the puck and skated in from the outside towards the goalie, who was fully focused on him now. Out of the corner of his eye, Merlin noticed that Arthur had deked around his cover and was standing just to the side of the net wide open, so Merlin no-look passed the puck back over to Arthur and watched as he hammered it home before the Gryphon’s goalie had a chance to react.

3-2

And the buzzer went off.

They…they had done it!

Arthur pumped a fist up in the air as everyone started yelling.

A huge smile spread across Merlin’s face. Arthur had won the game, the championship, the cup. He had never been happier in all of his life.

All Arthur wanted was to get over to Merlin, but everyone had skated over: the team, the guys from the bench, even the Coach and Percy were on the ice and trying to get to Arthur and pat his shoulder, his helmet, to hug him and celebrate with him.

Merlin was pulled into the group hug and couldn’t stop laughing. They had done it! They had worked so hard and won in the end! He shoved his helmet back. It was so unbelievable.

The refs called them to the middle to shake hands with the Gryphons and Arthur knew he shouldn’t grin all that widely as he did so, but he was just too happy. Life was good!

The Gryphons made their way to the locker rooms with their heads hanging low as the ice was prepared for the ceremony and the cup was being brought in.

It was only now that Arthur got the chance to skate over to Merlin.

“Thanks.”

Merlin shook his head. “You did it.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you.”

And then, on the middle of the ice, where everyone could see them, Arthur pulled Merlin against him and kissed him deeply. They didn’t notice that the crowd fell silent for a moment and then erupted in cheers again. They didn’t hear Gwen screaming the loudest or see her sign that was a big heart with their names in it. They didn’t notice the smile on Morgana’s face and didn’t care about the few people in the rink who made rude remarks.

As they did their lap of honour a while later, the cup hoisted between them as them refused to let go of the other’s hand, Merlin leaned in. “This is like a fucking Disney movie.”

Arthur threw his head back and laughed.