Merlin followed as Will led him through the narrow passages. Will’s enthusiasm was nearly overwhelming. They had arrived in Venice late the day before, and while Merlin had hoped to enjoy the city, discover her secrets, visit some museum, Will only wanted to buy as many souvenirs as possible and take as many selfies as his phone could contain. Similar to what he'd done in Rome and Florence before.
What should have been their first trip together was slowly becoming a kind of nightmare for Merlin. With each passing day, he discovered another difference of view between Will and him… With each passing day, Merlin wondered more and more what he was doing with Will.
They finally stopped as Will had apparently found what he was looking for. Some kind of trinket for his grandmother.
Patiently, Merlin waited for him and looked around. He walked toward a small bridge over a canaletto and looked at the gondoles… That could be a great idea! It was so cliché, Will would certainly love it and it'd allow Merlin to finally enjoy the city at a slower pace!
As soon as Will came out of the shop, Merlin asked him about the gondola.
“Will, what do you think about a gondola tour?”
As expected, Will was quite enthusiastic about the idea and he ended leading Merlin to the quay. They bought their tickets and waited for their turn.
When their gondola approached the pier, Merlin’s eyes were attracted to the gondoliere. He was fit… His arms were so muscled Merlin wondered how his striped t-shirt wasn’t torn already. Though, the most alluring thing about the bloke was his shy smile and his gentle eyes. Eyes that met Merlin’s for a brief moment. A moment long enough for Merlin to feel a shiver along his spine. A moment broken by Will’s hand taking his.
They had booked an hour long tour as Will insisted he wanted to see as much of the city as possible to take the best pictures.
An hour Merlin spent watching the gondoliere as much as the city around him. He couldn’t pinpoint why but he was irresistibly attracted by the man… He knew he shouldn’t watch how his muscles moved as he rowed, how his neck stretched with each move or how his eyes sometimes came to meet his. He was there with his boyfriend, he shouldn’t look at another man like that.
Though, each time Merlin turned to Will, he found his boyfriend taking another selfie and it didn’t really gave him any motivation to get closer. A gondola tour should have been a romantic moment. This was clearly far from it. So Merlin went back to watch their gondoliere with a little less remorse.
He nearly lost it when the gondoliere wiped the sweat from his brow making his shirt ride up, revealing his toned six-pack. That man was fit. Merlin was immediately drawn by the feeling of safety and softness that came from him behind all the muscles.
Their tour ended too soon and Merlin only had time to turn and give the gondoliere a sad smile before Will wall leading him away, going back to his souvenir search.
That night, Merlin had trouble sleeping thanks to a pair of gentle blue eyes troubling his thoughts.
On the next day, Merlin was even more obsessed. It was like being bewitched. Each time they saw a gondola, Merlin hoped to see the man again. He knew it was ridiculous but he couldn’t help it. He barely listened to Will and followed him without really knowing where they were going.
A few hour later, as they had dined in a small pizzeria nestled in a small piazza, Merlin finally saw his chance.
“Will? Would you mind if we’d split for a few hours? I’d really like to see some museum…And I know you don’t like that so…”
“Oh, okay, no problem! I think we can survive for a few hours without each other!” Will answered, putting a small kiss on Merlin’s cheek.
“We meet here for supper, then?”
Will nodded. “Around 6PM?”
Merlin stood up and left the piazza, unable to look at Will as he did so.
Merlin was disappointed when he didn’t saw the Gondoliere there… Of course, he was probably manoeuvring his gondola somewhere else in the city. Merlin would have been lucky to find him again. He sighed. It was probably a sign… A sign of how ridiculous he was acting. Merlin had always been well-behaved. Never had he thought about cheating on someone. Though, there he was…
He sighed. Torn between his want to see the gondoliere again and his moral.
Much to his surprise, that’s when a gondola came near the pier, manoeuvred by the man Merlin was looking for. Their eyes met instantly. Merlin didn’t know what to do. He stayed on the pier, looking as the passengers came out of the gondola. The gondoliere then smiled at him with what Merlin interpreted as a inviting gaze. Merlin went closer.
“Sei il ragazzo di ieri?”
Merlin’s basic knowledge of italian was enough for him to understand the question. The man had recognised him. He nodded.
“Prendi un biglietto per due ore…”
The man showed Merlin two fingers to help him understand. Merlin nodded and went to buy the ticket.
Without Will to help him, it was the gondoliere who held his hand to help him into the gondola and Merlin felt a shiver when they touched. The man’s grip was firm and he kept Merlin’s hand in his a little longer than necessary.
Merlin sat in the gondola and the gondoliere started rowing. They kept silent but their gazes were still fixed on each other.
For Merlin, it felt surreal, out of time, like the city surrounding them had disappeared. It was just him and that man he didn’t even know.
They didn’t took the same way as the day before. They went in narrower canals, less touristic, more intimate.
After a few minutes, the gondola stopped in front of a door with just three steps leading directly in the water.
“La mia casa.” the gondoliere explained, extending his hand towards Merlin.
His house. The invitation was clear. Merlin hesitated just for a few seconds, just until he saw the gentleness and the hesitation, too, in the man’s eyes. He took the proffered hand.
As he stepped out of the gondola, he tripped and fell against the man’s muscled torso. He mumbled an apology but the man put his arms around him, effectively shutting him up.
“Mi chiamo Percy… E tu?”
“Merlin…” he repeated with an accent that made Merlin shiver.
They smiled at each other and a breath later, Merlin felt Percy’s lips on his.
For a brief moment, Merlin thought about Will. Then, Percy did something with his tongue and Merlin decided to forget there was even a world outside of these arms.
Merlin’s head was on Percy’s shoulder. Their breaths were still laboured, their skin sweaty, their lips bruised.
Never Merlin had felt so much passion intertwined with gentleness. Merlin felt cared for like he was the most precious thing in the world for Percy. At the same time, the man had me him feel sensations Merlin had never imagined possible. It had been shattering… Both times.
And now, their time together, outside of the real world, was ending. In a reflex movement, Merlin tightened his grip around Percy’s torso.
“Tu sei incredible…” the gondoliere murmured, kissing Merlin’s hair.
“Anche tu.” was all Merlin could say. The man was incredible.
The more he stayed there, the less he wanted to leave. He had to leave, he knew it. What was for them after all… They barely knew each other. Great sex wasn’t enough for a relationship to be build on. They didn’t speak the same language, didn’t live in the same country.
“I need… Devo andare. Go .” Merlin said but didn’t move.
Merlin looked at Percy and saw the sadness in his eyes.
“I...I can’t stay…” Merlin answered.
“A causa del tuo novio?”
Boyfriend. Merlin nodded.
“Tu sei innamorato di lui?”
Do you love him? It was the question Merlin dreaded since he had no answer for it.
There had been love between Will and him. But now? Now there was tenderness, friendship but also difference, misunderstandings, habits…
Was Merlin ready to put this at risk for the dream of something with Percy?
Once again, the singing accent made Merlin shiver once more. Percy immediately hugged him tighter.
“Hold me close.” Merlin wanted to bask in Percy's warmth.
In the end, Merlin didn’t leave Percy’s house that night.
Merlin waited, his eyes fixed on the screen with the arrival. Percy plane had just landed. In a few minutes, Percy will be there, with Merlin, in London… for good .
It had been two years since they met in Venice. Two years of a long distance relationship. Two years of happiness, of skype conversations, of emails, of weekends in London and holidays in Venice. Also, two years of doubts and fear. Merlin knew some of his friends disapproved of his decisions, he knew his mother worried.
Though, when Percy came running towards him and embraced him, Merlin knew it had been all worth it.