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Gwaine's parties are the stuff of legend, if his own bragging is to be believed. He holds them every month or so, and he's been trying since freshman year to get Merlin to come to one of them. "C'mon," he always says, wheedling. "You don't know what you're missing. It's not like you're going to be doing anything, anyway."

Gwaine thinks anything less than full-blown partying is "not doing anything", and Merlin long ago gave up the fight to convince him that an evening spent in his room with a challenging essay or a good book is actually an enjoyable way to pass the time for him, and not grounds for pity. Merlin's never going to win that battle, and he knows it.

Usually, he shrugs Gwaine off. He's heard rumors about what goes on at Gwaine's parties, and mostly, it sounds like what goes on is orgies. Definitely not Merlin's scene.

Except…

Except that this time, Gwaine's timing is impeccable, and he catches Merlin when he's strung out from a week of unsatisfying wanking.

Usually Merlin jerks off in the shower before bed and he can get himself off in a matter of minutes. He knows exactly what sort of pressure he needs, exactly how fast to stroke and how tight to grip. It's almost rote at this point — or it had been, but this week his orgasm has been elusive, and he's gone to bed more often than not with an aching cock and his teeth clenched with frustration.

The problem is, it's not just an orgasm he's been wanting lately. His own hand won't satisfy because it's his, and what he wants is someone else's. He shuts his eyes and strokes himself and tries to fantasize that it's someone else getting him off, but his mind rebels. Who else in the world knows that he likes to skate the edge of his thumb across his slit on the occasional upstroke, or that if he spits into his palm and rubs it across the head of his cock, it'll make shudders run all the way down his spine? The fantasy falls apart, and all he's left with is a hard on he can't get rid off and a bone deep ache for someone else to be there with him, holding him and pressing in tight and breathing against his skin.

It's this state that Gwaine finds him in when he comes over after school, drops down onto their battered couch with his arm stretched across the back, and waggles his eyebrows as he says, "So. Party this weekend at my place. What's your excuse for not coming this time?"

And Merlin pauses with one of his usual protests right on the tip of his tongue, and thinks about the prospect of another evening spent alone and unfulfilled. The thought makes him suddenly weary beyond belief.

Gwaine's parties are known for their orgies, and that's not Merlin's scene. But maybe, he thinks with a wild, reckless thrill, maybe it should be. Maybe it's what he's been missing all along.

"Fuck it," he says before common sense has an opportunity to return and talk him out of it. "I'm in."

It's not like anyone from Merlin's school will be there. Gwaine's his neighbor, but he goes to school across town. His party will be filled with complete strangers who've never met Merlin before, and whom he will never have to see again. What's the worst that could happen?

Gwaine's face lights up with a brilliant grin and he whoops happily. "Oh my God, yes. Finally! I knew I'd break you eventually." He slings his arm around Merlin's shoulders and gives him a vigorous embrace. "You are going to have the best time. I'm personally going to make sure that you get the Authentic Party Experience."

"I have no doubt," Merlin says, forcing up a grin, and feels a little ill at the thought of what he's done.

#

Upstairs in the main floors of the house, Gwaine's get-togethers look like any other illicit high school party. There's music and rowdiness and a steady stream of alcohol, and it's all very boring. It's downstairs in Gwaine's basement that the real action's happening, and it's downstairs that Merlin is set on. But even so, he takes a few minutes to linger near the keg with his cheap plastic cup, drinking far too much beer far too quickly as he tries to steel his nerves.

He wants this. He's been breathless with anticipation for it all week, ever since that conversation with Gwaine, but if anything, that just makes it more nerve wracking, not less.

When the alcohol is buzzing through his system, making him loose and hot, Gwaine finds him and claps him on the shoulder with a grin. "You ready?"

Merlin gulps down the last of his beer as an excuse to nod wordlessly in answer. Gwaine's too busy beaming and steering him toward the stairwell to the basement to notice, in any case.

It's dark down there -- not black, but the lights are dim, crowding the edge of the room in shadows -- and not damp or cool like Merlin would expect a basement to be. Instead, the air feels hot and close, thick with the breath of a dozen other people.

Merlin drops his gaze before he can meet the eye of anyone down there, before he can see anything more identifying than a scuffed sneaker or the torn hem of a pair of jeans. He doesn't want to know who's here. That's the whole point of doing it this way, so that he doesn't know. So that it's not about the person, but the act.

Gwaine shows him where he can leave his clothes, but Merlin shakes his head. "I want the blindfold first," he says, his voice scratchy with nerves and anticipation.

Gwaine raises a brow at him as though to say, Are you sure?

Merlin just tightens his jaw and stares him down until Gwaine relents and retrieves a long strip of black fabric. Merlin turns his back and lets Gwaine wrap it around his eyes. He holds still while Gwaine ties a firm knot at the back of his skull, but the urge to shift and fidget is nearly impossible to ignore.

Still, it's better like this, in true, total blackness. It's easier to undress when he doesn't know who's watching, and so doesn't feel obligated to put on a show. He's undressed himself in the dark uncountable times in the course of his life. He tells himself that this time is just the same as any other.

He's lying and he knows it, but the thought steadies him. He wore a button-down shirt today, so he wouldn't have to worry about dislodging the blindfold as he pulled a t-shirt over his head. His hands are quick on the buttons now, methodical and efficient. As the buttons come undone, one after another, he thinks he hears a hint of a sound ripple through the people around him, like a sigh of pleasure or expectation.

His hands tremble a little when he lowers them to the fly of his jeans. The small sounds that have been a comfort until now, the unavoidable sounds of people breathing and existing in close proximity, turn to absolute silence as he works his fly open.

He knows they're all watching him now. That knowledge is unavoidable. They're watching him, waiting, probably staring at his crotch hoping to see whether the cock they imagined lives up to reality. He bites down hard on the side of his cheek and keeps his hands moving, pushing jeans and underwear both off his hips and down around his ankles in one swift motion. Like ripping off a band-aid, he thinks.

Someone wolf-whistles. Merlin flinches and turns toward the sound, seeking its source despite the blindfold. It's a reminder that, while he may be here with his own purpose, as far as everyone else is concerned, he's here for their enjoyment. Party favors, that's how Gwaine always puts it. He's here for them to touch and taste and enjoy. It's what he wants.

He lowers himself slowly and kneels there in the middle of the basement. Despite the warmth of the space, shivers steal over his skin as he waits for it to start. Time stretches until it seems he's been kneeling there forever. Nerves twist in his stomach, and this time, there's nothing of anticipation about it.

This was a mistake, he thinks. What on earth possessed him to believe that any of these people would want any part of him? It's not like there's a single soul who's ever expressed any interest in fucking him. Gwaine says he just needs to put himself out there more, but Merlin knows he's not anyone's physical ideal. He's too thin, too pale. He's all long, awkward limbs and bony knees. He's just going to kneel here, ignored and unwanted, until Gwaine or somebody takes pity on him and shows him back to his clothes, so he can slink upstairs to drown his shame in some of the harder liquor Gwaine's bound to have.

Someone touches him, a hand splayed wide across his chest, and Merlin jumps. The hand is warm, but the touch is cool, impersonal and possessive. It drags over Merlin's sternum and down his stomach like he isn't even there at all, like he's just a thing to be enjoyed -- and he is, he has to remind himself, that's the whole point of this game -- but it's not what he thought he was signing up for. He thought it would be fun.

Silly of him, but he thought they'd care about making sure he enjoyed it. It doesn't feel like anyone cares about him at all, though.

Warmth behind him is the only warning before another pair of hands spreads over his back. His heart lodges somewhere sharp and tight at the sudden feeling that he's surrounded, hands in front and behind, stroking and kneading and pushing him this way and that to their own liking. He flinches away from them both, his breath coming quick through his lungs. He can hear his own pulse in his ears, a thunderous drumbeat, and over it he hears unfamiliar voices protest his reticence. Someone nudges him back to where he was before and Merlin recoils from it.

Gwaine is a liar and Merlin's going to fucking kill him. He'd promised Merlin he'd have a good time, but he isn't. This is terrible. He wants to go home and wait out the last of his buzz from the beer and finish that lab report he's got due in chem next week. Even calculus homework would be better than this.

He reaches for the blindfold with shaking hands, his decision made to end this. Someone grabs him by the wrist and pulls his hand away like they meant to stop him, like they think they can convince him. When Merlin wrenches against his grip, it gives way suddenly and momentum sends him sprawling on his side across the floor. His lungs feel torn and raw and his heart is going to pound its way free of his chest any moment, he's sure of it. He grapples himself upright, ready to lash out at the next stranger who paws at him, when a growl rises up over the sound of his pulse and his labored breathing, and freezes him where he kneels.

It sounds more like an animal's growl than a man's, and there's something instinctual in Merlin that responds to it, that tells him to keep small and still and quiet and maybe he won't be noticed. He holds still, naked and blind with his heart battering against his ribs as there's the sound of some sort of commotion, of people's voices rising in protest and then a scuffling sound that can only mean a physical altercation.

It ends as abruptly as it began, silence falling so suddenly that Merlin's pulse seems deafening. Before he can catch his breath and reach for the blindfold a second time, strong fingers circle around his elbow and haul him to his feet.

"What--" It's a bare gasp, and it goes completely ignored as whoever it is who has hold of him drags Merlin unceremoniously across the room. He's stumbling, scared again and stammering over a protest. He barely notices it when a low voice growls, "Watch your feet," and so he trips and nearly goes sprawling when there are suddenly steps before him, unexpected. He pulls against the other man's grip and keeps his other hand on the stair railing as he's led up out of the basement at a pace that nearly forces him to jog to keep up.

They stop abruptly, though, at the top of the stairs, and there's a quick, snarled obscenity. The hand on Merlin's elbow disappears, but before he can think of escape, there's the rustle of clothing and something warm and a little heavy settles over his shoulders and is wrapped carefully around him.

It's warm from someone else's body, Merlin realizes, and it's a good thing he's standing still, or he'd have stumbled and tripped over his own feet at the thought.

"Come on," Whoever-it-is says again, a little gentler this time, a little less murderous. He puts his hand back on Merlin's elbow and guides him, and Merlin stumbles forward under his direction because he's at a loss for what else to do.

He pulls Merlin one direction and then the other, leading him through the main floor, though Merlin's lost his bearings so thoroughly that he hasn't the faintest idea where in the house they are any longer. It makes him think of the hands down in the basement, pulling and tugging him like a coveted toy being fought over by selfish children. This time, though, the fear and alarm keep to a low simmer. There's a possessiveness to the hand on his arm, to be sure, but mostly his grip feels steadying. Guiding. Merlin takes a deep breath, and then another when that one shudders unsteadily through his lungs.

He's led into a room, which he only knows because he hears the door latch shut behind them. It feels closer, too, though, less open and exposed. Or maybe that's his imagination, or the presence of the stranger standing so near beside him, still touching his elbow with his fingers pressed to the inside of Merlin's arm, like he can keep him there with just that simple touch.

Maybe it's not as audacious a thought as it seems on first blush. Merlin is still there, after all.

"What--" he starts to ask, at the same time as the fingers tighten around his arm and the stranger demands, "Are you all right?" in a voice that's gruff and brusque.

Merlin shakes his head slowly. It's more disbelief than it is denial, because how is he supposed to answer that? He doesn't feel all right. He feels like he's going to shake apart, just as soon as he's done being frozen with fear and dread. He's mostly naked with a stranger, wrapped in what can only be his coat, just the two of them in what can only be one of Gwaine's spare bedrooms. This is nothing at all like how he expected his evening to go, and he can't decide if he should be relieved or disappointed.

"Well?" the stranger demands, sharper, impatient.

"I'm fine," Merlin says, because he wants it to be true. He shakes off the touch and feels his way across the room until he finds the bed, and sits on its edge. "Why did you do that?"

That earns him nothing but a sharp laugh. "You looked like you could use the help."

"You don't know that. You don't know me." He's angry, angry that this didn't turn out the way that he wanted, angry that he let himself believe this night finally be something that he can have. He's angry with himself for being afraid when he'd known what he was getting into. He should have been stronger.

"You didn't see yourself," his rescuer snaps. The scuff of his steps tracks back and forth in front of Merlin, like he's pacing. "You looked like a lamb trussed up for the slaughter."

"Thanks." Merlin rolls his eyes. "I don't suppose you bothered to grab my clothes when you were dragging me up here?"

The sudden silence is answer enough. Merlin pulls the coat tighter around himself. It's warm and heavy, and oversized enough that it covers Merlin to the tops of his thighs. The body's wool, soft and just a little scratchy, and the sleaves are leather, and Merlin realized abruptly that it's not just any coat, it must be s letterman jacket. Whoever his rescuer is, he must have an active extracurricular life, because the sleeves are heavily adorned with patches and recognitions. Whoever he is, he's probably an athlete, probably the sort of jock who would never give Merlin the time of day if Merlin went to his school. He feels abruptly self-conscious, and wishes again for his clothes. No wonder he wanted to cover Merlin up.

"If you could just go get them," he says, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "If rather not go traipsing back through the house like this, if you don't mind."

He doesn't expect the stranger to mind. He dragged Merlin out of that room, and fought off the others down there when Merlin got frightened. He seems kind, if nothing else, so surely he'll take pity on Merlin's state of undress.

He doesn't hear anything but breathing after he asks, though. Merlin starts to grown. Before he can speak, the stranger does first, a burst of sound like he's been holding it back. "Why were you down there?"

Merlin runs his tongue over his lips thoughtfully. "I'd think that was obvious."

"Not really. You looked like it was the last thing in the world you wanted."

Merlin's lips twist on a wry smile. "Looks can be deceiving."

"So--" There's a sharp breath, a sudden shift. "You wanted that. You... want. This." There a weight to the words that makes Merlin shift uncertainly on the edge of the bed.

"You want it?" he counters, dubious. The prospect is abruptly less terrifying than it was downstairs. Those people were strangers, cold and impersonal. This boy may be a stranger, too, but he fought for Merlin when he seemed scared, he gave Merlin his coat, he asked if he was all right. Merlin lets out a slow breath as he realizes that this could be exactly what he wanted from this experience after all.

"I was down there, too." His tone is suddenly sharp and acerbic. "What do you think I was there for?"

Someone other than me, Merlin thinks, unbidden. Someone better than me. But what he says is, "You don't have to be an asshole."

There's a sharp sigh and the mattress tilts beneath Merlin, pulled down by the weight of the other boy beside him. Merlin jumps a little when a pair of broad hands frame his face and turn it toward him. "You should let me take this off," he says, pressing his thumbs against Merlin's temple, where the blindfold's fabric lays against his skin.

"No," Merlin says quickly. "I like it. I want it. Leave it alone." It still feels like protection, a shield between him and the harsh reality that waits for him beyond its darkness. If he takes it off, then this will just become anonymous sex between strangers, and it's going to be awkward and strange and that's everything Merlin didn't want from his first time.

The hands tighten on the side of his face, pulling him in. Merlin's breath hitches with anticipation the moment before lips skim against his, warm and dry and only fleeting. They draw away as quickly as they come and Merlin makes a sharp, distressed sound and presses after, trying to get them back.

The other boy laughs quietly, low and warm like Merlin's eagerness to be kissed is the hottest thing he's seen all day. When his lips return, this time they're wet and they glide easily against Merlin's. Merlin has a sudden flash of this unknown boy watching him and licking his lips for this, like he wants this, and it just twists the heat tighter through his belly. He surges up, reaching out for where he can sense the presence of the other boy, and throws a leg over his thighs to straddle his lap before he can set Merlin away or tell him otherwise. He slides his hand over skin and up until he finds hair, thick and straight and just barely long enough for Merlin to grab handfuls and drag him into a ravenous kiss.

The stranger kisses him back, making guttural sounds in his throat that go to Merlin's head faster than Gwaine's beer. His hands settle on Merlin's waist, fingers pushing hard against the sides of his waist, holding on tight. Merlin rocks against him and is staggered by the press of his hard-on against Merlin's stomach. Christ, he's stiff enough to drive nails, and all they've done is kiss. The irrefutable knowledge that he's desired sends warmth spreading all through him and makes him generous with his kisses. He nips and sucks and bites at his stranger's lips until he gives a sharp, overwhelmed laugh and pulls back with a shake of his head. "If you wanted to call the shots," he says, "then you shouldn't have put on the blindfold."

He catches Merlin's hands in his. His thumbs are a solid pressure against the insides of Merlin's wrists, pressing just hard enough that Merlin can feel his pulse there and a frisson of excitement runs up his spine like electricity. "This is what you want, right?" the other boy asks.

Merlin licks his lips and nods. It's what he didn't even really know he wanted until now. When he leans forward this time, it's in supplication, and he's rewarded with a kiss so fervent that it steals his breath, and the solid grasp of those hands around his wrists, keeping him grounded.

With both his wrists in the other boy's grasp, the jacket's only draped loosely about his shoulders. Merlin isn't thinking about his nudity, and is too far gone to care even if he did, but when he shifts on the other boy's lap to slide in closer, the jacket slips off his shoulders and falls to the floor.

The other boy breaks away from the kiss. "Hey," he says, laughing beneath his breath. "Careful with that. I just had to get it repaired, the varsity letter was falling off." He lets go of Merlin's wrists, wraps one arm around the small of his back to hold him in place as he leans to the side -- reaching to retrieve the jacket, Merlin can only assume, but he can imagine that the angle must be awkward, with Merlin on his lap getting in the way.

"Sorry," Merlin says, and stretches down, feeling blindly for it. The other boy makes a sharp sound and grabs onto his waist with both hands to keep him from falling off.

When Merlin's fingers brush wool, he grabs on tight and straightens. He can feel the stiffness of the boy's patches better this way, soft chenille with reinforced edges pressing into his palm. He traces his thumb over the contrast of textures and realizes that he's grabbed onto the varsity letter itself. His cheeks burn a little as he hands it over to the other boy, even though he's sure he didn't do anything that might have damaged it further.

"Thanks," he says as he takes it from Merlin, but Merlin is distracted by the sense memory of the letter pressing into his palm, all the straight lines and sharp angles of it. It's nagging at him, and it only takes a moment before he realizes why.

Gwaine earned his varsity letter last year, and Merlin still remembers sitting cross-legged on the floor in his room, helping him to sew it on. It was a big, blocky C, not a straight edge or a sharp angle to be found.

Merlin's mouth is suddenly dry, his heart fluttering, and none of it has to do with the pleasure of the other boy's hands sliding over him, thumbs brushing circles over the hollows of Merlin's hips.

Because he has to know, but he's too afraid to ask, he licks his lips and says instead, "That's a lot of patches. You must be on the varsity team with Gwaine, yeah?"

The sharp, derisive laugh he gets in response is no comfort at all. "At Caerleon? Hardly. Their team sucks." He grows still for a moment, and when he speaks again, there's a note of chagrin in his voice. "Oh. You're friends with him, aren't you? Sorry. It's nothing against Gwaine, he's one of the best players they've got. But you can't carry a game on the back of one man."

"You're not?" Merlin asks, his voice gone high and tight. His hands are on the other boy's shoulders and his fingers are gripping hard. Merlin's surprised he hasn't complained, wonders if he's left bruises in the shape of his fingerprints across that skin. "Friends with Gwaine, I mean."

"Not directly. It's more a friend-of-a-friend sort of thing. They invited me along." He shifts, leaning in. When his mouth skims along Merlin's throat, Merlin gasps and holds on to him even tighter.

There's a thought forming in the back of his mind, distant and hard to grasp. It seems important, so he struggles for it, but the slick heat of the other boy's lips and tongue tracking across his skin makes it slippery and elusive.

Eventually it comes, though. As the other boy leaves kisses down Merlin's sternum, the thought slips into his mind with a sudden clarity. The only other high school in town is Albion.

It's Merlin's school. Whoever this boy is, he's one of Merlin's schoolmates. Fear and panic twist through him all at once, because the whole point of coming here, the whole point of doing it this way, was that Gwaine's parties were always full of his own friends, his own schoolmates. There wasn't supposed to be anyone here who might know Merlin.

The thought that the boy whose lap he's currently straddling might pass him in the halls someday and recognize him is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.

He doesn't know if he makes some small sound in his distress, or if it's just the tension in him that catches the other boy's attention, but he stills and lifts his head from where he'd been working a spiral of kisses across Merlin's chest, slowly working his way in towards his nipple. "Still all right?" he asks, like he thinks he already knows the answer and he doesn't like it.

Merlin nods quickly, and then, because he never knows when to leave well enough alone, he asks, "What position do you play?" Because there's something else nagging at him, something he should know. Something he thinks maybe he does, but he hopes he's wrong.

There's laughter, short and a little breathless. "Football talk gets you hot, does it?" The other boy sucks at the curve of Merlin's shoulder, hard enough that Merlin squirms against him and thinks he's going to walk out of here with a hickey. "I can work with that. I'm the quarterback." He presses his thumb over Merlin's nipple and rubs small, firm circles over it. "Want me to talk about our plays? About strategy? About the big game we had against Mercia last week?"

"Oh fuck," Merlin moans, but it's not because he gives half a damn about football. It's because he knows. Albion High's varsity quarterback is Arthur Pendragon, and only the most popular guy in school. He's all bright smiles and brilliant good looks and Merlin has spent his entire high school career mooning after him from afar. He should have recognized his voice earlier, he thinks wildly. He's only been hanging on every word Arthur's ever said for the past four years.

He thinks maybe he can be excused just a little bit because not a single one of those words has ever, ever been directed at him. Arthur doesn't know that Merlin exists, and when Merlin thinks now that it's Arthur's broad hands splayed over his waist he feels a little bit like passing out, or maybe crying, or laughing until he's sick.

"We were down by nine points entering the fourth quarter," Arthur says, the words muffled against Merlin's skin as he kisses across Merlin's chest. He seems to be making for Merlin's other nipple, and the thought of it stops Merlin's breath in his throat. He buries his hands in Arthur's hair and urges him on. "Leon kicked a field goal, which helped, but with one minute left in the quarter and the line of scrimmage pushed back to the twenty yard line, we still needed a touchdown just to tie the game up."

"Are you trying to dirty talk me with football?" Merlin demands wildly.

Arthur's lips curve against his skin. "Maybe." He laps his tongue over Merlin's nipple and grins again when it drove all the air out of Merlin's lungs in a rush. "It seems to be working."

"Oh my god, shut up," Merlin says. "You don't need to talk dirty to me to get me hot, I'm already there." He rocks his hips in against Arthur's so he can feel the press of his erection, as proof. But Arthur's hard, too, his prick straining at the front of his jeans, and the feel of that pressing against Merlin's stomach is going to drive him out of his mind, because there's no way his sanity can survive the knowledge that he lives in a world in which Arthur Pendragon gets hard over him.

"Bossy," Arthur says, and sounds like he likes it, but then he flips Merlin over and pins him on his back in the middle of the bed. Merlin gasps beneath him, stunned by the weight of Arthur above him, by the strength of him, by the fact that he's there at all.

Merlin is going to have an aneurysm. He's going to have an aneurysm and die and it's going to be the best damn thing that's ever happened to him.

"I told you. If you wanted to call the shots, you shouldn't have put on the blindfold." Arthur stretches out over him, his weight pressing Merlin down into the bed. He nuzzles against Merlin's cheek, right where the blindfold and Merlin's skin meet. "You can always take it off, if you want..."

Merlin shakes his head wildly. He can't take it off. He can't take it off because there's no way that this is actually real, and the minute he takes the blindfold off the spell will be broken and Arthur's going to turn into a pumpkin, or a stranger, or this is all going to be revealed as the cruel joke that it must be.

He wants to hold on to this for as long as he's able. He wants to believe.

"All right," Arthur says, and sounds like he's smiling. "If that's what you want." He noses across Merlin's cheek and captures his mouth in a kiss at the same time that he reaches between them and takes a firm grasp of Merlin's cock.

Arthur is relentless, like he's trying to prove something. He makes the kiss slick and hot and filthy, his tongue sliding against Merlin's, his breath coming rapid and heavy. His shoulders are heaving with it, like maybe he's as affected by this as Merlin is, but that's another thought that Merlin can't examine too closely or for too long, because it's going to do his head in if he does. Because he's scrawny and bony and Arthur is a god, both on the football field and off, and there's no reason at all for him to look at Merlin and want him.

When he tightens his hand around Merlin's cock and growls against his mouth when it makes Merlin's back bow up off the mattress, though, there's no denying that he does. Merlin grabs at his hair and the back of his neck, whimpering urgently against Arthur's mouth. "Stop," he breathes, "Arthur, you have to stop," even as his hips move of their own volition, driving up into Arthur's grasp.

Arthur grows still. Even his breath stops, and Merlin realizes what he's done with a wave of panic. He called him by name, gave away that he'd figured out who Arthur is, and ruined the game of anonymity between them. He swallows down a lump of fear and wonders if Arthur's going to leave now, if Merlin has ruined it just like that.

He's only frozen for a moment, but it feels like an eternity. When he starts moving again, he tightens his grip on Merlin's cock for one more maddening pull, and grazes his thumb around the head on the upstroke, and Merlin makes a harsh, frantic sound against his mouth as he fights off the climax building within him. Not yet, he thinks desperately, biting at Arthur's lips for distraction. Not yet, not yet.

When Arthur takes his hand off his cock, it's simultaneously a relief and a crushing disappointment. He breaks away from the kiss and Merlin feels bereft. Arthur kisses beneath his jaw instead, though, and down his throat to lavish attention on the hollow of his collarbone. When he continues his kisses down across Merlin's chest, he makes a detour to suck Merlin's nipple into his mouth, but only briefly. As soon as Merlin arches beneath him, pressing up against his mouth for more, Arthur moves on.

He kisses a slow trail down Merlin's body, and Merlin can only hope that this isn't some elaborate tease. He's been making space for himself between Merlin's legs by slow degrees as he slides down, until when he's got his mouth sealed onto Merlin's hip, sucking and scraping a bruise there that Merlin's going to cherish for as long as it lasts, Merlin's legs are splayed for him. Arthur wraps his hands over Merlin's thighs and pushes them wider, then holds him there, knees pinned against the bed.

For the first time since Arthur dragged him out of the basement, Merlin feels exposed and vulnerable. It makes his breath come faster, makes him twist beneath Arthur's grasp just to feel him grab on tighter and press him down into the mattress.

When Arthur licks a stripe over the inside of his thigh, Merlin moans loudly, and doesn't care how wanton it makes him sound. "Please," he begs, "please, please," and Arthur licks him again, a long, hot drag up the underside of Merlin's cock, like it's a reward, and Merlin thinks that this right here is the moment when he's going to die. And it will be worth it, because he can't think of a better way to go than with the heat of Arthur's mouth blazing around him.

He tries to imprint it on his memory, because he never, ever wants to forget what it was like to have this, just for one night. He wants to carry this memory with him to his grave, clutched close like something precious, because that's what it is. It's a miracle, his miracle, and he never wants to forget the way Arthur's breath gusts warm against his skin, or the bite of his fingers in Merlin's thigh as he holds him down, because Merlin can't stop writhing.

He laps around the head of Merlin's cock, lazily, like he's got all the time in the world and he hasn't noticed that Merlin's dying. And when he shifts up on the bed, propping his elbows beneath himself and changing the angle so that he can swallow Merlin down in one easy gulp, he does it with a curve to his lips that stretches them around Merlin's flesh.

Merlin reaches for him, tracing his thumb around the shape of that smile, and wishes he could see it, so he could remember that, too.

Arthur sucks him for a minute, and Merlin keeps his fingers splayed across his face, feeling the way Arthur's cheeks hollow around him, the way his lips catch and drag across his skin. He lays them gently over his Adam's apple and feels the way it bobs when Arthur swallows around him, and the thought of coming down Arthur's throat and Arthur swallowing it is almost enough to make him shoot his load right there.

But Arthur is a bastard, and somehow preternaturally attuned to Merlin's responses, and so of course he pulls off when Merlin feels like he's half a second away from coming. He leaves Merlin bereft, his only touch in the hands that still hold his thighs open and the slight caress of his breath as he leans over Merlin.

Merlin snarls and curses at him. He thrashes, fighting against Arthur's hold, because if he can just get his hands on Arthur he's going to drag him in and make him finish what he started.

Arthur evades him easily, and keeps him pinned like it's nothing. He shifts his grip on Merlin's thigh to curve behind his knee, and pushes both his legs up until Merlin is bent in half, exposed in brand new ways, struggling to breathe because his thighs are pressed against his chest and Arthur is bending over him, his breath warm against Merlin's hole, and Merlin gapes at the ceiling like a fish.

He's unprepared for the first touch of Arthur's tongue against him, wet and gentle, like he's trying to ease Merlin into this. Like he hasn't realized that Merlin is one hundred percent, completely and totally on board with this idea.

He hooks his arms behind his knees, holding them up where Arthur has pushed them, holding himself bent double and exposed. Arthur hesitates for an instant, then his lips curve against Merlin's skin and slides his hands down Merlin's thighs.

His thumbs dig into Merlin's cheeks and spread him open. Merlin drops his head back against the mattress and breathes obscenities up at the ceiling. Arthur's smile just curves sharper against him. He draws away just enough to speak. "You've never done this before?"

Merlin's cheeks are burning, but he doesn't hesitate when he says, "I've never done any of this before."

Arthur grows still again, this time for longer. His breath still comes in rapid gusts against Merlin's skin, and his hands tighten on his flesh. He leans his forehead against the back of Merlin's thigh and breathes, "Oh fucking Christ. Never?"

Merlin shakes his head. His face feels so hot he's surprised it hasn't caught fire. He can't tell if Arthur thinks that's a good thing or a bad thing, and if Arthur decides this isn't what he wants after all, Merlin's pretty sure he's going to die. "Don't stop," he pleads when Arthur still hasn't done anything but breathe unsteadily against him. "Please don't stop."

"Oh my God, listen to you." Arthur mouths at the back of Merlin's thigh, where his skin is thin and sensitive and the sudden bolt of pleasure makes him suck air through his teeth. "Are you kidding me? Wild horses couldn't drag me away."

Merlin shifts, arching his hips up off the bed in invitation and demand. "Please."

Arthur moves his mouth from Merlin's thigh to the head of his cock, lips pressed just beneath the ridge. He kisses a slow trail down it and groans against Merlin's skin, "You were going to give your virginity to a group of strangers in Gwaine's basement? Are you mad?"

Merlin's lungs are heaving. He has to try twice before he's able to speak. "Is that more or less mad than giving it to one stranger in Gwaine's spare room?"

Arthur doesn't answer, and Merlin almost wishes he could see him, so he could read the expression on his face and know what he was thinking. Almost. The darkness behind the blindfold still feels like safety, though. And Arthur's still kissing him, still working his slow path down to the base of Merlin's cock, so he figures whatever Arthur's thinking, it can't be too bad.

Arthur spends a moment lapping and sucking at Merlin's balls when he reaches them, his mouth soft and warm and eager. And just as Merlin's bowing up off the bed, his fingers slipping on the sweat that clings to his skin, Arthur moves on, back down between his cheeks to drag his tongue over Merlin's hole in a long, broad swipe.

It drives the air out of Merlin's lungs in a breathless shout, leaves him gasping and writhing as licks circles around his trembling muscle and pushes in, easing him open. He can't hold still and his fingers are already slippery and so it's only a matter of time before his grip on his legs falters.

Arthur growls against his skin when Merlin's leg comes down. He bats Merlin's hands away and takes over, pushing them again as he works his tongue around and into Merlin's hole, until everything is slippery and good and Merlin's shaking beneath him, desperate for it.

The solid, blunt pressure of Arthur's finger against his entrance makes Merlin gasp with shock, his head reeling. He scarcely even notices the pleas falling from his lips. He's not sure what he's saying, only that he's begging for it to continue, desperate for more. Whatever the words are, though, they make Arthur's breath come faster, make his fingers bite deeper into Merlin's flesh. He's slow, though, even though Merlin knows he must be coming apart at the seams just the same way that Arthur is. He works his finger into Merlin by careful degrees, and the stretch is overwhelming. Merlin pants and whines for it, fingers digging into the sheets beneath him.

When he slides his finger in up to the last knuckle and twists, Merlin chokes on a garbled sound and jolts beneath him. "Fuck," he breathes. "Fuck fuck fuck, oh my god."

Arthur drags his tongue over Merlin's flesh where it's stretched around his finger. "Does that hurt?"

"No!" The word bursts from Merlin, sharp and appalled. "Oh my god, it's amazing, you're going to kill me, do it again."

He can feel Arthur's smile in the way his lips curve against Merlin's skin. He imagines that he can see it, too, bright as the sun, the way it lights up Arthur's face and makes little creases at the corners of his eyes. He's seen Arthur smile like that any number of times, while he's laughing and talking with his friends in the halls at school. But he's never so much as glanced at Merlin before, much less turned that smile on him. Merlin reaches down and traces his fingers over it, feeling shaky, and luckier than he has any right to be.

When Arthur slides his finger out, Merlin makes a high, sharp noise of distress. But Arthur doesn't even withdraw all the way, just to the first knuckle, and then he presses the tip of a second finger in beside it, bearing down with steady, gentle pressure as he laps his tongue around it to ease the way.

A hot flush burns across Merlin's face and spreads down across his chest. He can feel the heat of it burning him up, the sharp prickle like a sunburn. He rocks his hips up, pushing against Arthur's fingers, trying to force them deeper. His muscles burn as they stretch to accommodate Arthur, but it's a good pain. He wants to come right now, even as he wants this to never, ever end.

Arthur hisses air out between his teeth and spreads his other hand flat across Merlin's stomach, holding him down. "I know you're eager," he says, in a voice that's wrecked. "But I'm not going to hurt you."

Merlin thrashes his head back and forth across the mattress. "You're not, I promise you're not. Please." The word comes out as a sob, and once that one's out, he can't hold the rest back. He shakes with it, frantic and desperate. Arthur mutters something quick and fervent against the inside of Merlin's thigh, but he doesn't catch the words because they're lost under the rush of his blood in his ears and the tearing of his breath through his throat.

It's not important, anyway. What matters is that Arthur keeps moving his fingers, a slow in-and-out glide that makes Merlin feels like he's coming out of his skin with pleasure. Every time Merlin's breath catches, he bends down to make sure they're both wet and slick with saliva.

When he adds a third finger, the burn is almost too much. Merlin pants through it and twists on Arthur's finger until Arthur swears violently against his hip. "I can't," he says suddenly. He sounds like it's breaking his heart just to speak the words. "Not without some proper lube. You're so tight. I don't want to hurt you."

"The drawer." Merlin flails a hand out blindly, but all he encounters is the sheets that they've worked up into a tangle beneath them. "Check-- Christ. Check the nightstand. Arthur."

Arthur leans his cheek against the inside of Merlin's thigh. He sounds like he's fighting for breath. "You think they keep lube in the spare room?"

"Gwaine likes sex," Merlin says, and knocks his knee against Arthur's shoulder to urge him to move. "I bet he's got some stashed in here for emergencies. Now, Arthur."

He feels bereft when Arthur moves away and Merlin's left with nothing but the cool air of the room. He pushes up on his elbows and follows the sound of Arthur hurrying over to the nightstand and tearing open drawers. When he says, "God bless Gwaine and his libido," in earnest tones like he really means it, Merlin drops down onto his back again and beams giddily at the ceiling.

He makes room for Arthur between his thighs again, knees bent and heels planted into the mattress to give him leverage. Arthur lays a steadying hand on his thigh and Merlin hears the sharp click-snap of what can only be the lube's cap. He shivers in anticipation, then flinches when Arthur's fingertips press against his hole, slick and cold.

Arthur shushes him, pressing kisses to the inside of his knee. He presses his fingers in, two to start, and Merlin forgets about the cold in his startled appreciation for the way the lube makes everything so easy.

There had been friction before, even with Arthur's skilled tongue easing the way. Now it's just a slippery glide, the slight ache of the stretch disappearing beneath the hedonistic pleasure of Arthur's fingers moving in him like they were made to be there.

This time when Arthur starts working a third finger in, it aches but it doesn't hurt. Merlin twists beneath him, trying to ease the stretch, and breathes through it, but when Arthur starts whispering, "God, look at you, you're fucking gorgeous," as he pushes his knuckles past the muscle, Merlin has to throw a hand over his mouth to stifle his cry because there are still people other than them in this house, there's still a party going on just outside the door, and the last thing in the world Merlin wants is to have to start because someone decided to investigate and came barging in.

"Arthur," he breathes, because he loves the way it makes Arthur shudder against him and then go still when Merlin says his name. "Stop teasing. You're not going to hurt me. I want you."

Arthur groans like Merlin's words are painful. "Okay," he says. "Okay, just wait…" And then he moves back and his hands are gone, and Merlin shivers like a junkie coming off a high in their absence. He turns toward the sound of the bed sheets rustling as Arthur moves across them, orienting toward him like he's the sun. There's a ripping sound that Merlin prays to any god who's listening is a condom being opened. He reaches out and his fingers find the solid strength and wiry hair of Arthur's forearm. He traces it down to Arthur's hand where he's got it circled around his own cock, rolling it on. Merlin bats his hand away and finishes the job himself, trying very hard not to think about the fact that he's got his hand on Arthur's dick because if he does, he's going to lose it right there, untouched and and gaping like the virgin he is.

Arthur chuckles quietly and covers Merlin's hand with his, helping him to finish smoothing it on. Merlin might worry that if he did something wrong, something that belied his inexperience, except that as soon as the condom's on, Arthur keeps Merlin's hand pressed there against his cock and hooks the other behind Merlin's neck, pulling him into a kiss that's quick and needy.

Merlin climbs up into his lap and presses tight against him as they kiss, both their cocks pinned between them and pressing against their stomachs. He gasps against Arthur's mouth and clutches at him, until Arthur breaks away just enough to murmur, "This'll be easier if you're on your hands and knees—"

"No." Merlin's already shaking his head, grabbing on to Arthur's shoulders. He crawls backward across the bed, then stretches down across it on his back, pulling Arthur with him until he's spread out over him, his weight pressing down onto Merlin, pressing his hips into the mattress. "Like this."

"Yeah?" Arthur shifts his weight to one arm and uses his freed hand to sweep a thumb across Merlin's cheek, just at the blindfold's edge. There's a smile to his voice when he speaks. "I know it's not because you want to be able to see me..."

"Like this," Merlin just says again, stubborn. He wraps his legs around Arthur's hips and rocks up against him. "This is good."

Arthur's laughter is breathless and a little strained. "Yeah. All right." He slips his hand around to the back of Merlin's neck and kisses him as he adjusts their hips together, his cock sliding between Merlin's cheeks and grazing against his entrance before they finally get the angle right and it catches, pressing against his hole with a broad, blunt pressure that makes sweat break out across Merlin's skin. He gasps into Arthur's mouth, gapes against it, kissing forgotten as Arthur's hips flex, pushing him open with careful, minute motions.

"Talk to me," Arthur says desperately, his voice strained. "Merlin, talk to me." He lays a gentle kiss on Merlin's mouth. "Keep breathing."

"I can't," Merlin cries, leaning up to press his forehead against Arthur's. "Oh God, Arthur, it's so good. I want--" He breaks off on a strangled noise as Arthur pushes deeper. "Don't stop. Don't ever stop. I want to do this forever."

Arthur's laughter is strangled and choked. "We can do it again. As often as you want." He spreads a hand on Merlin's hip, to guide him or steady him, and leans more of his weight against Merlin, sliding in deeper.

It's easier now. Merlin's already stretched to take the widest part of him, and now it's just a slick glide as Arthur fills him up, sliding in deep and steady until their hips are pressed together and Merlin's moaning and wild beneath him, hands clawing down Arthur's arms as he begs for more.

Arthur groans like he can't bear it, like the sounds Merlin's making are going to kill him. He draws back, sliding almost all the way out, until the flared head of his cock pulls and stretches at Merlin's hole and Merlin grabs onto him, babbling desperate nonsense. Arthur just hitches his hips up to a better angle and slides back into him in a long, steady glide that drives their hips together and rocks Merlin up on the bed.

He sobs out a breath and grabs on to Arthur. It burns and it's good and he wants more, he wants so much more, but he can already feel his orgasm twisting him up inside and he knows he won't last. He should've gone and jerked off in Gwaine's bathroom before he went downstairs, he thinks. Arthur Pendragon is fucking him and Merlin's not going to last and that's the most tragic thing he's ever heard in his life.

"Come on," Arthur breathes, warm and close against his ear, and drives into him again, a solid snap of his hips that makes Merlin moan beneath him. "Come on, Merlin, let yourself go." He fucks into Merlin again, and again. "You're so gorgeous. I want to watch you fall apart. Don't make me wait."

Merlin shakes his head frantically and shudders hard beneath him. "Not yet," he gasps. "It's too soon."

Arthur's lips curve against his ear. "You're a virgin," he says, but there's nothing mocking or scornful about the way he says it, it's just warm and hot and full of hunger. "You're not going to be able to last. It's all right." Arthur drags his tongue around the edge of Merlin's ear, then laps down his throat, leaving a trail of wet, open-mouthed kisses all the way to his collarbone. "Come on," he says, and times it with another sharp snap of his hips. "Come for me. I've been waiting all night to see this."

Merlin shakes his head again, wild and desperate. His orgasm is clawing through him, pulling everything tight as it nears, but he fights it off. It's too soon. If this is the only chance he ever gets to be with Arthur, he wants it to last forever. But Arthur's skilled and determined, and he drives into Merlin relentlessly, urging him on, until he growls against Merlin's skin and wraps his arms around the small of his back, dragging Merlin's hips up and changing the angle so that suddenly, every stroke sends fireworks exploding through Merlin. He cries out and grabs onto Arthur, drags him into a gasping kiss as he shakes apart and his own come splashes hot across his chest.

Arthur stills while Merlin shudders beneath and around him, his forehead pressing into Merlin's shoulder and his breath still coming fast and heavy. "Fuck," he breathes. "Fuck. You're incredible." He stays close even as he slides out of Merlin. Merlin wants to hold on to him, wants to tangle up together and drift as the lassitude pulls at his limbs, but Arthur's still tense above him. When his arm moves in quick, jerky movements between them, the stunning realization that Arthur's jerking off above him chases away his fatigue.

"Oh my God," he breathes and reaches down to cover Arthur's hand with his own. "No. Let me do that. Please."

Arthur's hand stills beneath his touch, then slides away, leaving Merlin with his fingers wrapped around Arthur's cock, and Merlin is going to take this memory with him to the grave. He takes hold of Arthur in a firm grasp and starts pulling him off. Arthur groans against his shoulder like he's dying and fucks into Merlin's fist, his lips shaping soundless words against Merlin's skin, breathy whispers that sound like, "Yes, yes, oh god, just like that, Christ, Merlin, you're so good."

Merlin wants to cry he's so happy, wants to freeze this moment in time so it'll never, never end. But Arthur's shuddering above him, his lips catching on Merlin's skin, and the only thing better than knowing Merlin brought him there is knowing that he's going to make Arthur come.

It doesn't take long, and Merlin is unreasonably pleased by that. Just a few more moments of stroking him has Arthur's voice turned broken and hoarse. When he comes, he does it with a wrenching groan, driving into Merlin's grip and then holding himself there as he twitches and comes in Merlin's hand.

Merlin wraps his arm around Arthur's shoulders and pulls him down. Arthur sinks down bonelessly, like Merlin's sapped all the strength from him, and presses his face into the curve of Merlin's shoulder. Their come smears between them against both their stomachs, but Merlin doesn't give a damn, and Arthur doesn't seem like he minds, either.

All Merlin wants is to be able to hold on to him, just like this. A few moments of easy silence pass between them, then Arthur shifts above him, and turns his face so he can speak without the words being muffled against Merlin's skin. "Is that what you thought you'd get out of tonight?"

"No." Merlin grins so hard it makes his face hurt. "That was nothing at all like what I'd expected." And he's clearly going to have to work on his imagination, because the reality of fucking Arthur was about a million times better than even the most amazing night that he'd envisioned.

Arthur hums against his shoulder, and then shifts away. Merlin reaches after him, feeling chilled in the absence of his warmth, but Arthur slides his hand into Merlin's and gives it a squeeze. "I'm just going to go get something to clean up with."

Merlin settles back down and listens to Arthur move around the room, the quick rustle of clothes and then the sound of the door opening and latching quickly shut behind him. Merlin is covered in come and sweat and they're bot cooling across his skin, leaving him chilled. He feels abruptly silly, lying alone and blindfolded on a bed. When the thought occurs to him that anyone could stumble into this room and find him here — looking thoroughly debauched, he's sure — any of Gwaine's drunk party guests, and Merlin would never know it wasn't Arthur until it was too late, he pushes the blindfold up onto his forehead.

The room's only dimly lit, but it feels blinding after so long in the darkness. Arthur's letterman is still on the floor and a shirt is a crumpled pile beside it. Merlin's pulse races when he sees it, when he realizes that he's seen Arthur in it before, a forest green tee that he's worn to school before, that always makes Merlin bury his head in his locker until he's stopped blushing because it fits Arthur like a glove.

The bottle of lube is still sitting on the nightstand and the condom wrapper fell to the floor, at some point. It all makes the room feel very lived-in, makes this all feel suddenly real. His face burns and he's not sure if it's delayed pleasure or mortification or something else entirely. All he knows is that Arthur's going to walk back into the room any minute and Merlin's thoroughly unprepared to face him. Not like this, with the blindfold off and his eyes open and painfully aware of how very naked he is.

A surge of panic sends him scrambling up off the bed. He drags the comforter off and wraps himself up in it so he's covered from neck to toes, and sneaks out of the room with a quick glance down the hall before he hurries to the stairs.

The basement, thank fuck, has been abandoned, nothing left but the cold floors and a bare bulb glowing overhead. Merlin fists his clothes quickly, still in a pile in the corner where he assumes Gwaine left them. They're wrinkled now, but that's the least of Merlin's worries. He dresses quickly, his hands trembling, and uses a towel he finds down there folded on the washer to wipe as much of the come off of his stomach as he's able.

It feels like a minor miracle that he's able to make it upstairs and through the party and out without anyone taking any particular notice of him. The air outside is cold and crisp, the sky overhead brilliant with stars. Merlin takes a deep breath of the night air and feels like he's settling back into his own skin, like the world's reshaping itself into the way things are supposed to be, a world where Arthur's a god of Albion High and Merlin's a nobody, a world where Merlin doesn't do things like this, and this night becomes nothing more than a memory.

#

Gwaine's party was on Friday night, so Merlin has the whole weekend to try to get himself back to some semblance of normal. He does homework and works on his English essay, he smiles when his mother kisses him on the head, and when she asks how Gwaine's was, he tells her that it only reinforced his certainty that that's really not his scene.

It's not where he belongs, is the problem. And Merlin's smart enough to know to stick to his place.

By the time Monday morning dawns, too bright and too early, he feels almost normal. He meets Gwen at the bus stop as they always do, and they chatter about nothing and everything all the way to school and through the halls to their lockers. When Gwen asks how his weekend was, he tells her about the homework and the essay, and if he leaves out the part about Friday night, well, it's not a lie. Every word he tells her is the truth.

She's leaning up against the set of lockers beside his, going on about something her girlfriend Morgana did and Merlin isn't paying as much attention as he should, but when her ramble suddenly breaks off with an, "Eep!", all his focus snaps to her. She's staring over his shoulder, her eyes wide and a little stunned.

It feels inevitable when Merlin turns around and Arthur's standing behind him. He's wearing a royal blue henley today that brings out the color of his eyes, and Merlin's heart flips painfully in his chest. Oh hell, he thinks, oh fuck, I was so not prepared for this. Already his insides are going soft and gooey and fond, and his brain's busy trying to match up the sight of Arthur right here with the events of Friday night and build a picture to go with his memory.

It takes him a moment to realize that Arthur's smile isn't the brilliant, sunny thing that Merlin's used to seeing from him. It's slight and doesn't quite reach his eyes, and Merlin has a moment to wonder if Arthur's angry with him, if he's come over to make sure that Merlin doesn't try to presume on their encounter or get any sort of airs. Like any of that even needs saying.

"Uh. Hi," Merlin says when Arthur just keeps standing there, almost-smiling at him.

"Hi," Arthur says, and he doesn't sound angry, or stern, or any of the other unpleasant things Merlin imagines from him.

"Did you, uh, need something?" he tries again. If Arthur doesn't hurry up and say whatever it is that's on his mind, Merlin's going to miss the bell and be late for class. But Arthur's here, looking at him, probably the first time in his life that Arthur's actually looked at him, and Merlin would rather face a tardiness on his record than tell Arthur to hurry it up and be on his way.

"You forgot something at the party," Arthur says, and when the corner of his mouth kicks up, Merlin loses his breath on the realization that Arthur's smile isn't angry or warning or anything else Merlin imagined, it's guarded. Cautious. Wary. Hopeful.

"I really don't think I did," he breathes, the best he can manage, but Arthur doesn't answer, he just slides a hand along Merlin's cheek and leans in. His eyes are open as he covers Merlin's mouth with his, and Merlin can't look away.

Behind him, Gwen squeaks again. Merlin buries his hands deep in Arthur's hair and kisses him, kisses him like they kissed in Gwaine's spare room, open-mouthed and filthy, and he doesn't come up for air until Arthur's crowded him back against the lockers, his hands streaking down Merlin's sides like he wants a second round right here, right now.

"Oh," Merlin whispers when they finally part, and lets his eyes slide shut. Arthur is warm and solid against him and Merlin opens his eyes and looks at him just because he can. "Um."

"Yeah." Arthur laughs quietly, and his smile spreads to the sort of brilliance that Merlin is used to. He wants to hold Arthur close and bask in its radiance.

"That wasn't just a hook-up?" he asks because he has to, because he has to be sure.

Arthur raises a brow with a look that seems to suggest that Merlin is an idiot, and that is an expression that Merlin's very familiar with. It makes this all feel much more real. "Was it for you?"

"No." Merlin licks his lips because they're dry. Arthur's gaze follows the movement and darkens, like he wants to kiss Merlin again, and that is never something that Merlin's going to get used to. "Never."

"Good. Me either."

The bell rings. Merlin is officially late to class for the first time in his life. Arthur glances down the long row of lockers like he's on the look-out for hall monitors, then leans in and kisses Merlin again, brief and breath-taking. "We'll talk more at lunch, yeah?"

Merlin just nods dumbly and watches him leave.

As soon as Arthur's turned the corner, Gwen comes alive beside him. "A hook-up?" she hisses and smacks Merlin in the arm. "I ask you how your weekend was and you don't lead with that? Are you kidding me?"

"It wasn't a hook-up," he says, and just speaking the words makes a grin stretch across his face. He slept with Arthur and it wasn't a hook-up. They're going to talk at lunch. They're going to eat lunch together.

"Merlin." Gwen uses her serious voice, and plants her fists on her hips. "Are you dating Arthur Pendragon?"

"I think maybe I am," he says, and grins all the way to class.